WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT
The Gathering Storm begins with:
Ravens and crows. Rats. Mists and clouds. Insects and corruption. Strange events and odd occurrences.Written contemporaneously with current events, the extract describes the chaos of the Last Days. So far we have not seen evidence of the night being worse than the day. But then we have seen little of what Lanfear (who particularly made people fear the night in the Age of Legends) and Moghedien have been doing.
The ordinary twisted and strange. Wonders!
The dead are beginning to walk, and some see them. Others do not, but more and more, we all fear the night.
These have been our days. They rain upon us beneath a dead sky, crushing us with their fury, until as one we beg: "Let it begin!"
—Journal of the Unknown Scholar, entry for The Feast of Freia, 1000 NE
The passage ties in with the prophecy:
The tides of men run out, and the hours dwindle. The wall is pierced, and the veil of parting raised. Storms rumble beyond the horizon, and the fires of heaven purge the earth. There is no salvation without destruction, no hope this side of death."The veil of parting being raised refers to the dead walking. To save the world Rand and his aides either cause destruction, or cannot prevent it; plus many, including Rand will die. The disorder in the Land engendered by the Shadow damages the Wheel. With the Wheel damaged it is hard to keep order in the Land and the Pattern – a vicious cycle.
- The Fires Of Heaven, Opening prophecy
The Wheel of Time world is based on “As above, so below” and therefore overturning proper world order and imposing Wrongness will destabilise the Pattern making the world. Prophecy (and omens too) “works” in this world because the whole, the Pattern, can be read in even the smallest part. But not if the Pattern is disturbed. Warp things enough and ultimately the Pattern and the Wheel can be broken. At the least, by engendering chaos people can be prevented from reading Tel’aran’rhiod, dreams and omens to learn what is soon to happen.
Freia refers to the Norse goddess of love, fertility, war, death, magic, prophecy, and wealth Freyja, a parallel of Tuon, who is also Empress, a justice/order/fortune goddess and queen of the Underworld (see Tuon essay).
The Borderlander POV begins with black and silver clouds and these have been seen before: in the local area around Thakan’dar, but now they are moving out over the Land. It’s an indication that the Dark One’s sphere of influence is spreading. Soon his touch will be as great as it was when the Bore was open.
These silver clouds are not the sort to have a silver lining. Their silver appearance was likened to steel:
And what to make of silver clouds? Bulging between the black ones, like places where polished steel shone through metal crusted with soot.The clouds are burnished or brandished like weapons and show the Land under threat. The Dark One has used weather/climate as a weapon before when he tried to hold the Land in summer.
The Gathering Storm Prologue
The clouds let through silver light instead of the golden light of the Sun. A reference to moonlight; it reminds me of Lanfear’s moon associations. It also shows the anti-naturalness of the Dark One opposing the Creator/Nature.
Renald the farmer and some-time smith sacrificed his best scythe to make a weapon. It was hard to do:
At the tool wall, he reached for his third-best scythe, but stopped. Taking a deep breath, he took the best scythe off the wall instead. He walked back out to the forge and knocked the haft off the scythe.He is aware of why they need to convert tools to weapons and go to fight:
The Gathering Storm Prologue
“How can we just go off?"In Aiel society blacksmith’s don’t fight; they are too valuable because they provide weapons and tools for the clan. The unnaturalness and wrongness of the Dark One is ensuring that nothing will grow, and so the growers must also fight for the health of the Land. It’s time to make weapons instead of growing things. The people could all starve, but if they don’t fight they will all die anyway.
"Because," Renald said, "if we don't leave, then it won't matter if we planted or not."
The Gathering Storm Prologue
Humble people are the first to react and go north to confront the end fighting. They accept that it is the end – the Last Days. (Likewise there are signs in Towers of Midnight that other animals as well as the wolves look/move to the north.) Their dedication and courage contrasts with the reckless actions and ambitions of nobles. Narishma, who is a skilled fighter and yet of humble origins, expands on this later in the book:
"A Borderlander's place is guarding the Border," Narishma said. "I was a cobbler's son, and yet I was trained with the sword, spear, bow, axe and sling. Even before joining the Asha'man, I could best four out of five trained southern soldiers in a duel. We live to defend. And yet they left. Now, of all times. With thirteen Aes Sedai." He glanced at her with those dark eyes of his. "I want to trust them. I know them for good people. But good people can do the wrong thing. Particularly when men who can channel are involved."The rulers’ and their armies’ absence from the Borderlands is convenient for the Shadow. Darkfriends among their advisors may have encouraged the rulers to take more forces than they should have. RJ said on his blog that this was a plot of Shadow:
- The Gathering Storm, Scents Unknown
The Forsaken are a group of power hungry people who don't like one another and vie with one another for power as much as they vie with the forces of the Light. Much like the internal politicking in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But look at the situation in the world as it actually stands, from the White Tower divided to crop failures caused by a too-long winter and a too-long summer and people fleeing their farms because the Dragon Reborn has broken all bonds, meaning still less food, and that spoiling at a fearsome rate, from chaos in Arad Doman to a large part of the Borderland armies out of position, from the arrival of the Seanchan focusing too many eyes on them instead of the Shadow to the strongest single nation, Andor, riven by civil war in all but name and Tear split by open warfare, from.... Well, take your pick. There are lots more to chose from. Take a step back and look at what the forces of the Shadow have wrought. The world and the forces of the Light are in bad shape. At this point, boys and girls, the Shadow is winning.Paitar’s aim was to test Rand and if he didn’t measure up, kill him. Yet Rand said if he didn’t have the memories he gained from his epiphany, he would have balefired them with the True Power (which he appears to know how to weave).
Ethenielle said they had all left enough forces unless Trolloc Wars come again…Yet Moridin is planning worse than that. At the end of the Eye of the World Ishamael told Rand that massive armies would come:
Armies you have not dreamed of will yet come.He wasn’t lying.
- The Eye of the World, Against the Shadow
Obviously the forces that remain won’t be enough and we see that in Towers of Midnight, with large areas of the Borderlander nations except the city of Maradon overrun. Lan’s force of 14 thousand in Tarwin’s Gap is pitiful against over a hundred thousand Trollocs. However, they have to make a stand, because, as Fel said:
“Belief and order give strength.”and thus lessen the Dark One’s influence. Let’s hope the Pattern comes through in time for them.
- Lord of Chaos, Thorns
The smith Thulin has taken a leadership role and is encouraging others to aid the army in the north. Smiths are very important in pre-modern societies because they make the weapons and tools everyone needs for survival. And that what it’s all about now: survival. It’s interesting that Renald too knows smithing.
The smiths move first, but the wolves wait until Rand’s epiphany and the assurance that there will be a Last Battle. This POV looks to Perrin’s role in the next two books which is of leadership, creating a weapon and accepting that he will be taking others into danger (for a discussion of his roles and parallels, see Perrin essay). Among the animals, the wolves seem to be leading the way. Perrin as blacksmith and wolf king is thus the epitome of a leader in the Last Days.
Smiths are associated with the sky in many mythologies (eg Slavic) and with volcanoes (Ancient Greek). Volcanic eruptions can be associated with severe thunderstorms. Renald hammers as loud as the thunder, a piece of the storm. The smiths in the Prologue have responded to abnormal skies sooner than others. Perrin will stand on the volcano Dragonmount in Tel’ran’rhiod and witness Rand’s epiphany. The wolves with him will rejoice the Last Battle is on and spread the word. In A Memory of Light I predict that the twin volcanoes of Shayol Ghul and Dragonmount will erupt.
Renwar and Thulin have not been seen again in the books, so far.
Next we have two Seanchan POV’s and they complement each other.
Falendre’s POV links back to Knife of Dreams A Plain Wooden Box - which would have benefited from another POV besides Rand’s - and it also looks forward to Tuon’s meeting with Rand.
Cadsuane sent Nynaeve to urge Rand to leave soon. Merise refuses to be commanded by Rand. Nynaeve talks to him as though he had no rank. With three marath’damane not subordinate to Rand, it is no wonder Falendre fears a plot. She sees these marath’damane as manipulating him, even controlling him. Certainly anyone interrogating her will get that impression. Falendre is suspicious of Rand’s actions, even his gift of horses; they could be a scheme.
Falendre intends to deliver Rand’s message to Tuon that he still desires a meeting, that there must be peace between him and the Seanchan, that he will be in Arad Doman to quell the fighting as a sign of good faith, and that Anath was Semirhage – eventually. She thinks it will be difficult to get the opportunity to report to Tuon anyway.
The sul’dam fears losing the right to wear the a’dam, or even that she will be made da’covale. She intended to report to Suroth and she had plenty of time to do so before Tuon returned and stripped Suroth of rank. Like so many people Falendre is more worried about her own position than keeping a vow, following orders, or reporting what happened.
It is very telling that Falendre keeps looking Rand in the eye, when even long time Seanchan colleagues don’t once one of them is promoted to the Low Blood. She recognises Rand’s rank, is dismayed he was insulted by the marath’damane, yet she meets his eyes.
He’s just a male marath’damane - or worse.
Tuon is a lot like Elaida in her attitude to the Dragon Reborn and these false impressions that the Aes Sedai are controlling Rand will make her all the more eager to destroy the Tower. If the Aes Sedai control Rand, they simply must be destroyed as soon as possible. Then she will move on Rand. It is no use moving on Rand until his controllers are defeated. Tylee, who has the second Seanchan POV in the Prologue, also influences Tuon’s decisions.
When Tuon and Rand do meet she just wants him under tight control and instigates the raid on the White Tower.
I liked the imagery of Rand’s eyes being caverns of ice:
For a moment, his eyes were even colder. Not harder. That would have been impossible. But for that long moment, they seemed to hold caverns of ice.contrasting with the caverns of fire in Ishamael’s eyes and mouth in his previous body, but found “medical aid” to grate as a WOT anachronism.
- The Gathering Storm, Prologue
Tylee's POV shows that she respects and is fond of Perrin. It is two weeks since Malden and she is one day’s march out of Ebou Dar. She knows she has been made one of the blood as Galgan commanded. She doesn’t know what is going on in the world but knows that Perrin does: the dead appearing, the Dark One’s warping of reality. Mishima’s assessment of Perrin as too focused, too driven, but otherwise a good commander is quite accurate.
Most unusually for a Seanchan Tylee wants to ally with the mainlanders rather than conquer them:
We can't afford to be fighting these people, she thought. It was a rebellious thought, one she wouldn't speak to Mishima. She didn't dare ponder it. The Empress, might she live forever, had ordered that this land be reclaimed...Mishima’s first name of Bakayar means ‘fool!’ in Japanese. He was a fool not to believe Trollocs a danger. Tylee may be a ‘fool’ to rebel against Seanchan policy – which she did in The Gathering Storm, Gambits, openly telling Tuon her opinions that they should ally with Rand’s forces against the Shadow and put the Return aside. The Seanchan are fools for prosecuting the wrong war.
None of them would listen to suggestions that they should be looking for allies among the people of this land, rather than enemies. Thinking about it was close to treason. Insubordination, at least. She sighed and turned to Mishima, prepared to give the order to begin scouting for a place to camp for the night.
She froze. Mishima had an arrow through his neck, a wicked, barbed thing.
- The Gathering Storm, Prologue
Mishima’s death in the Trolloc attack spurs Tylee to question even more. She realises Trollocs are worse than Aes Sedai, Aiel, etc, and are as horrible as Perrin said. What a price to pay to find out though! The Seanchan are fiddling around with the Return, when the real enemy is the Shadow.
Where did the hundreds of Trollocs near Ebou Dar come from? They are far too late to be after Rand or to rescue Semirhage; he’s been moving around a lot in these two weeks. Tuon arrived back in Ebou Dar the same day Tylee was attacked. Perhaps the Trollocs were aimed at Tuon. Note that Tylee did not see a Myrddraal, only Trollocs.
Tylee’s POV looks forward to her report to Tuon in The Gathering Storm Gambits, where her boldly expressed opinion spurs Tuon to delay the attack on the White Tower until after meeting Rand. Tuon resolves to question Tylee thoroughly. Tylee’s views will inevitably colour her report to her superiors in small ways even if she manages to hold back most of her opinions. And their inevitable misinterpretation of events will only fuel her frustration.
Tylee’s sighting of the omen of two dead rats before the Shadowspawn attack:
Earlier today, she'd seen two dead rats lying on their backs, one with a tail in the mouth of the other. It was the worst omen she'd ever seen in her life, and it still chilled her to think of it.What Tylee saw is something similar to a rat king, which is when rats are joined by their tails fusing or knotting together. It was regarded as an evil omen in earlier times. Tylee thought the two rats the worst omen she’s ever seen, and indeed she suffered heavy casualties, including Mishima, and nearly died herself.
- The Gathering Storm, Prologue
Rats are the Dark One’s spies, and a rat with the tail of another in its mouth might be a reference to the situation of the Seanchan and the mainland forces fighting each other being a plot of the Shadow. On a more personal level, it warns of the danger Tylee and Mishima will be in from the Shadow.