Aviendha compares the appearance and dangers of the Three-fold Land to that of the Westlands to the latter’s discredit. Yet both have hidden dangers: for all that Aviendha thinks the snake’s den is obvious, she has personally seen five people fall to such a snake’s ambush, and there would be many more killed that she did not see. As other characters say, there are no safe places. It’s a matter of the dangers one knows:
It was always preferable to face the enemy or the danger you could see than to fear the one that hid behind the faces of lying wetlanders.She has been afraid in the Westlands because a) she doesn’t understand Westland society well enough to recognise the dangers, particularly Darkfriends, and b) she left the Three-fold Land soon after Rand’s advent brought Darkfriends out of hiding, so she associates the Westlands with the horrors of the Last Days and the Three-fold Land with comparative stability and safety.
Towers of Midnight, In The Three-fold Land
While Aviendha is parochial, she is honest with herself that, for all its unfamiliarity, she has enjoyed life in the Westlands. However she sees this as a weakness for luxury. Running to Rhuidean to follow custom has reminded her of Aiel ways and brought out her insular side. She is determined that all Aiel should return to the Three-fold Land, to become strong again with their traditions reaffirmed. At this stage she hasn’t considered that she could live in the Westlands without luxury if she wished. Too much hanging about in palaces recently.
The approaching end of Aviendha’s apprenticeship has “brought her honour back”. While she was an Apprentice and not a Maiden she felt low in status. Once she goes through the glass columns and is fully initiated as a Wise One Aviendha feels that she will have enough status to be Rand’s equal partner, and therefore can propose to him without being the lesser of the two.
And now for Aviendha’s meeting with the mysterious Nakomi. When Aviendha closes her eyes, I think she falls asleep and reaches Tel’aran’rhiod. The rest of the chapter is in Tel’aran’rhiod, although Aviendha is unaware of this. She didn’t hear Nakomi approach because in Tel’aran’rhiod Nakomi can just will herself at a place. The fire was warmer than it should be, according to the amount of tinder Aviendha put on it, and it had more coals than it should have, which is further evidence of Tel’aran’rhiod. Nakomi willed the fire hotter so it could cook tubers, and the roots cooked faster than they “should” – in the time it takes to make tea! Moreover the food tasted better than expected, so much so that it amazes Aviendha, who has dined royally recently, again indicative of Tel’aran’rhiod. Aviendha nearly doubted her taste test, but quickly rationalised that this was evidence of the superiority of the Three-fold Land. I smiled when the fourth wall of Aviendha’s dream was nearly broken here, but parochialism won the day. Nakomi vanishes – Aviendha can’t trace her – and so do her belongings once Aviendha leaves them and Nakomi thinks of them as gone.
So why was Nakomi hanging about in Tel’arna’rhiod? We haven’t seen any Dreamwalkers dream “across time”, as it were. So she either dwells in Tel’aran’rhiod or has reached it from the contemporary world. Nakomi may be a Hero of the Horn waiting for her rebirth or for the Horn of Valere to call her to the Last Battle. Her conversation with Aviendha is reminiscent of Birgitte’s contact with Perrin, Elayne and Nynaeve in Tel’aran’rhiod in the early books. When Nakomi appeared in the real world at Thakan’dar and spoke to Rand, the Horn had been blown and Heroes were still abroad in the waking world.
Aviendha queried Nakomi on where she is from, and got a cryptic answer:
"I am far from my roof," the woman said, wistful, "yet not far at all. Perhaps it is far from me. I cannot answer your question, apprentice, for it is not my place to give this truth."Nakomi's home and people are far from her and unreachable because she is dead, yet still feels tied to the Aiel. Looking further, Nakomi is far from the main world, yet not. Tel’aran’rhiod surrounds the waking world, yet as a shade, Nakomi cannot touch it. By the precepts, those dwelling in Tel’aran’rhiod can’t speak to someone who knows they are in Tel’aran’hiod, but then Aviendha doesn’t know. To tell Aviendha that she is a dead Hero would be to make Aviendha aware she is in Tel’aran’rhiod, and so, violate the precepts. It might also make Aviendha more doubtful of what Nakomi says.
Towers of Midnight, In The Three-fold Land
Nakomi was able to track Aviendha’s thoughts very well, as an Aiel would. She tested Aviendha about her opinion of Rand and the Westlands, and made sure Aviendha believes Rand’s revelation. Aviendha’s negative opinion of the Westlands and her belief that they are supposedly weakening the Aiel earned Nakomi’s disapproval. Nakomi’s favourable opinion of the Westlands, emphasising their beauty and lushness, is as though they are familiar to her, as they would be if she had roamed about Tel’aran’rhiod long term and had cut ties with the Three-fold Land. She would be unlikely to feel this way had she remained in the Waste or only left it recently; recent contact with the Westlands would inspire the kind of wariness or alienation expressed by Aviendha.
Nakomi deftly drew out Aviendha’s concerns about the Aiel being weakened, and the effect of Rand’s revelation that the Aiel are Oathbreakers and no better than the despised Cairhienin. It is the bleakness resulting from this shame which has broken the Aiel – their hypocrisy and oath-breaking – not the Westlands themselves. Aviendha does not yet accept this.
Following the Dragon and fighting in the Last Battle will redeem the Aiel and meet their toh and thus restore their honour. Nakomi emphasises that serving the Dragon was the whole point of their time in the Three-fold Land and it is now time to move on.
The effect of their encounter is to make Aviendha more pro the Waste - where food tastes better than that in a palace - but also disturbed that old ways of violence may not have any purpose, let alone honour. Nakomi wants the Aiel to stop their violence and join the other nations. The Aiel need to embrace the Fourth Age as well as modern ways; right now they are too tribal and traditional. What Aviendha sees next will show her their degradation if they don’t.
Aviendha does not see that toh being met means the Aiel are free of the Three-fold Land, raiding and violence; just as the Sharans are free of the Pattern after playing their adversarial part in Last Battle. Nakomi makes her point and leaves; she doesn’t want to overdo it, or argue with Aviendha, but just nudge her in right direction. And, of course, there are the precepts, too.
Nakomi’s name is reference to Nokomis, the grandmother of Nanabozho/ Manabozho, the trickster figure of the Ojibwe Amerindians. She is in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha:
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,In fact, in the Ojibwe language, the language of the traditional tale on which Hiawatha is based, Nokomis means “my grandmother” (see Character Names N article for further discussion of Nokomis/Nakomi and Hiawatha/Rand).
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest.
Nakomi is not literally Rand’s grandmother although she is wise and knowledgeable. Bair said her name was ancient, and recognisably Aiel, so it is likely she is a Hero who was an Aiel from the distant past in one of her recent births, particularly considering her legendary name.