Thursday, March 28, 2002

The Aelfinn's Answers

By Linda

Mat, Rand and Moiraine separately went through the redstone doorway ter’angreal in Tear to the world of the Aelfinn, mysterious snaky non-humans. They each wanted answers—true answers to questions concerning their future. This article details these questions and the answers where known. For information on the functioning of this ter’angreal, see the Ter’angreal Doorways and Arches article. For information on the Aelfinn, see The Aelfinn and the Eelfinn article.

Usage of this doorway ter’angreal is subject to an agreement with the Aelfinn: the petitioner can ask three questions about past, present, or future and the Aelfinn will always answer them, though perhaps in a way not always understood by the petitioner. Any person can step through the doorway, since channelling is not required, but they can use the ter’angreal only once. When Mat stepped through the doorway a second time, he was not transported; the ter’angreal did not work at all. The petitioner must ask all three questions and hear the answers before they leave because otherwise the agreement cannot be fulfilled, since the petitioner cannot re-enter this ter’angreal. Frivolous questions are punished, though what may be serious for one can be frivolous for another. Most importantly, questions touching the Shadow have dire consequences for the petitioner—they may be killed or injured if they ask them (The Shadow Rising, Doorways). The answers are true so long as they are about the petitioner’s own future.

Moiraine speculated on how the Aelfinn are able to read the future of a petitioner:

That world is . . . folded . . . in strange ways. I cannot be clearer. It may be that that allows them to read the thread of a human life, read the various ways it may yet be woven into the Pattern. Or perhaps it is a talent of the people. The answers are often obscure, however.

- The Shadow Rising, Into the Doorway

If the Aelfinn do read the thread of a human life, it may be necessary for that person to be in front of them, or in their world at least. This would explain why their answers to questions about the future of other people are not true. They truly are alien however.

In exchange, the Aelfinn savour the petitioner’s experiences and emotions. The petitioner must also abide by the treaties and agreements and carry no iron, instruments of music or devices for making light (The Shadow Rising, Into the Doorway). The Old Tongue is the preferred language of trade. Rand and Moiraine needed an Aelfinn translator but Mat already understood the Old Tongue well by this point.


Mat asked the Aelfinn should he go home to help his people. He intended to ask how to get away from Aes Sedai and how to recover the lost parts of his memory, but their answer to his first question so angered him that he forgot them (just as well, since Mat would not have believed their answers, because they would have been identical with their first answer: "Go to Rhuidean") and instead asked three other questions all stemming from their first answer.

With his usual luck, Mat was able to coerce four answers to his questions out of the Aelfinn by refusing to leave. These were:

  • 1. He should not go home to help his people, but to Rhuidean.

  • 2. If he does not go to Rhuidean he will die.

  • 3. He will die because he will have sidestepped his fate and let his thread drift on the winds of time and those that don’t want that fate fulfilled will kill him.

  • 4. His fate is to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons; to die and live again, and live once more a part of what was; and to give up half the light of the world to save the world (The Shadow Rising, Into the Doorway).

In the end, he was thrown bodily out of the doorway.

Mat chose to heed their advice and went to Rhuidean, where he entered the world of the Eelfinn, who gave him memories from past adventurers—memories with which he is living a part of the past. He was killed in Caemlyn, but only temporarily because Rand undid Rahvin’s actions by balefiring Rahvin. Mat married Tuon, then Daughter of the Nine Moons and now Empress. Without his knowledge of war acquired in Rhuidean, he would not have his followers—the Band of the Red Hand—to protect him and help him save Tuon (whose respect he earned with his knowledge) and he would have been killed.

For a while, Mat thought that “Go to Rhuidean” was what the Aelfinn told everyone, because Rand also planned to go there; when Rand confirmed the Aelfinn said nothing about Rhuidean to him, Mat took their answer as a trap to make sure Mat returned to their world so they could capture him. Especially when he felt bound to go a third time…


Rand asked how he could win and survive the Last Battle (despite knowing the dangers of asking questions touching the Shadow) and was cryptically told “If you would live, you must die” (Lord of Chaos, Connecting Lines) and “The north and east must be as one. The west and south must be as one. The two must be as one.” (Knife of Dreams, News For the Dragon).

A complete text of this question is in Robert Jordan’s notes on Rand:

"How can I fulfill the Prophecies of the Dragon and survive?"
Answer: "The west and the south must be as one; the north and the east must be as one. Two cannot be one; you must stand against the two as one. If you would live, you must die."

Rand initially interpreted the first sentence as meaning that he must conquer everything. When he saw how entrenched the Seanchan were, he realised that this part of the answer may mean that since the Seanchan hold the west and south, he will hold the north and east and they should make an alliance to fight the Last Battle. This ties in with two of the Prophecies of the Dragon, Rand tying the north to the east and the west to the south (A Crown of Swords, Ta’veren) and Rand binding the Nine Moons to serve him (The Dragon Reborn, The Hunt Begins) and also the Aiel Dreamwalkers’ dream of Rand cutting the wetlands in two with a sword (Lord of Chaos, Matters of Toh). He persuaded Fortuona to sign a peace treaty to this effect, respecting their borders, in exchange for Seanchan participation in the Last Battle (A Memory of Light, Older, More Weathered). This part of the answer covered the military battle only.

The riddle of the last sentence also took a long while to understand, particularly with Min harping on the most negative interpretation of her viewing of Alivia, but just as Min’s tactlessness annoyed Aviendha enough to declare her punishments unnecessary, so Rand realised that helping him die might not be fatal…Being believed dead by nearly everybody would still be a loss, for them and for him, but he would be alive at least.

To a degree, Rand regrets at least one of the questions that he asked and feels he could have made better use of the opportunity. Of course, once you know the answer, it seems too easy. Rand also asked how to cleanse saidin, and received a riddle for an answer; a riddle, that according to Herid Fel, stated "sound principles, in both high philosophy and natural philosophy" (The Path of Daggers, Message From the M’Hael). The answer, as given in Robert Jordan’s notes on Rand is:

"What is unlike, attracts. What is like, cancels. Let the one absorb the other."

Rand solved the riddle and used saidin’s opposing power, saidar, as a filter and the taint and its opposing power in Shadar Logoth to annihilate each other (Winter’s Heart, With the Choedan Kal).

Rand’s last question was not described in the books. In Robert Jordan’s Rand notes, the last question is said to be "How can I destroy the Dark One?" and the answer:

"What was, is, and will be. To choose is the fate of your kind. Without choice, humankind is dust."

While the answer is not a riddle, Rand did not understand it until the very end, which is why he said:

"I see the answer now," he whispered. "I asked the Aelfinn the wrong question. To choose is our fate. If you have no choice, then you aren't a man at all. You're a puppet . . ."

A Memory of Light, Epilogue

Rand had been convinced that killing the Dark One was the way to remove evil from the Land, but realised that this idea was wrong, and a wasted question:

He understood, finally, that the Dark One was not the enemy.

It never had been. …

A Memory of Light, Epilogue

Rand’s answers were riddles that he had to solve, thus resulting in a time delay. The Aelfinn may have done this deliberately, knowing a delay was ‘part of the Pattern’ or it may have been a consequence of their non-human nature and being unable to express themselves clearly in human language. Or they just like to make people sweat!


It is not known what Moiraine asked, or what answers she received. They are not in Robert Jordan’s notes.


Written by Linda, February 2008 and updated June 2013, July 2017 and January 2019


Dominic said...

There is an important clue in a conversation between Moiraine and the girls as to what her questions would be related to:

"If I can not make him reach a decision, I may have to step through".

I suspect her three questions are directly and indirectly related to that, her motive to risk using the ter'angreal.

One of her questions would definitely be how she can guide Rand/bring him to let her guide/advise him. Based on her later decisions in the book (and her secretive smugness about 'remembering how to control saidar') I suspect she got back a riddle about just that - and she puzzled out their riddle was a metaphor about saidar while in the Waste.

I think it's likely one of her answers concerned the need for her eclipse/the Eelfinn - as a riddle, of course. Her questions could have been related to how she can make her plans (and Siuan's) succeed, perhaps what she can do to help Rand unite the world. I always thought there was more to her decision to go to the world of the Eelfinn than strictly what she saw in the Arches.

And so it's not all obsolete by AMOL, I greatly suspect the third answer is a clue to what she needs to do once/if she returns.

alreadymad said...

Or she may have asked if it was worthwhile for Rand to make the trip to Rhuidean.

Molly said...

I always thought one of her answers concerned her marrying/ becoming the lvoer of Thom and his erscue of her; partyl due to her letter starting with "my dearest Thom" but mainly due to when Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve are discussing Rand and marriage in TSR she saws says she knows the face of the man she will marry better than any of them and tehn looks irritated at letting that slip.

Linda said...

Moiraine tells the girls she knows the face of the man she will marry in TSR Doorways which is before she goes into the Doorway to ask her questions in TSR Into the Doorways.

Min telling Moiraine of a viewing is the most likely explanation.

Neth said...

I think it's fairly likely that Rand's third question was something like "How can I learn to channel Saidin". Throughout TSR there are many references to him knowing and expecting forsaken to come to him in disguise. He is clearly expecting Lanfear and it is also fairly clear that Asmodean is the other he expects. He doesn't guess their disguises, but that doesn't matter. I see no way he could have had such specific expectations about the forsaken following him without an answer from the Aelfinn hinting as much.

Kb said...

I am on my third read through the series and I noticed something interesting, and wanted to get a second opinion.

When Mat is the the realm of the Aelfinn after he asks his question it reads.
"Should I go home to help my people? He asked again.
Three sets of slitted lifted from him-reluctantly, it seemed-and studied the air above his head. Finally the woman on the left said, you must go to Rhuidean.

I found this very interesting in relation to Min's viewings since the images she sees always appear above their head.

So this leads me to hypothesize that Min's talent is the same talent that the Aelfinn posses, only that they understand all the images than Min does not.

This would also seem to explain their complaints of strain on their realm, since Min comments often that Aes Sedai always have images, and ta'veren have even more still.

Sorry if this is long but I'd love some opinions on my theory :)

Linda said...

RJ answered this in a TOR question of the week. The very first one, as it happens:

Week 1 Question: Also, is there any relation between what the Aelfinn do and Min's ability?

Robert Jordan Answers: No, there is no connection between what the Aelfinn do and what Min does.

MJ said...

I haven't seen this put down anywhere else, so I just thought I'd highlight it: in the chapter Deceptions of TSR, Moiraine tells Thom that she guarantees Tanchico will not kill him, and by the Three Oaths he should know it for truth. This may be to do with her previous statement about knowing the face of the man she will marry, perhaps to do with a Min viewing, or it could be to do with a question since she goes to tell Thom right after she leaves the ter'angreal...

PlatinumDream said...

“The north and east must be as one. The west and south must be as one. The two must be as one.”

Strangely, it forms the Aes Sedai sign, with the Dragon's fang and the Flame of Tar Valon. Symbolism again :P

Kim said...

I'm curious at the ascertations that Caemlyn was when Mat died and lived again - apparently something Jordan or Sanderson said hinted at it being the case? I have a problem with that though - the "living again" occured as a result of balefire - which doesn't undo an action so much as make it so it never happened - how can divining the pattern or a person's thread include an event that, as far as the pattern is concerned, never happened?

I really think the original assumption of his dying and living again is when he was hung in Rhuidean - an event which drastically changed his character by causing him to (sometimes) become a lot more careful and give a lot more credence to knowledge - as he says: I was hung for knowledge, or rather, a lack of it

TrueCrew said...

Two things on this subject.

One, I have to agree with MJ and feel that one of Moiraine's questions (and answers) deals with Thom surviving Tanchico/their future together.

Though a viewing of Min's is a possibility, I do not think so. Because if Min viewed a Thom/Moiraine marriage, then she's have been talking about TWO failed viewing dealing with Moiraine, not just the one that Rand would fail w/out a woman who was dead and gone she does talk about.

Therefore, since we can now rule out a Min viewing of a Thom/Moiraine wedding, I think it is safe to say that Moiraine's info about Thom came from the Doorway, as the location in TSR suggests.

Second, since we are nearing the end, how about a short essay on the Eelfinn's gifts?

We now know Mat's three, and one of Moiraine's, but she still has two more.

Lazlo said...

As far as I know, Moiraine knows she will marry Thom from the Rings in Rhuidean, not the Doorway in Tear. I don't know if she says anything illuminating before she enters Rhuidean but after she leaves Tear, so I can't confirm. But whenever she talks (or writes) of her trip through the Doorway in Cairhien with Lanfear, she references someone else's secrets (the Wise One's secrets of initiation). I assume this means everything she knows of the future relates to her trip into the Rings in Rhuidean. As for the questions she asks in the Doorway in Tear, it may have to do with entering Rhuidean herself, though the Wise Ones are the ones who bring it up due to their knowledge of the future (also probably from the Rings of Rhuidean).

Linda said...

Lazlo: You are mistaken; see my comment above which quotes the chapter in The Shadow Rising that she tells the girls in Tear that she knows the face of the man she will marry.

Aelys Sedai said...

But Linda, how does she do that? If it's not a viewing - which Min would have spoken of as failed - and she had not been to the Aelfinn yet... Hmm.

Well, evidence supports you anyway. I will assume it was a viewing of Min's that told Moiraine of Thom, and that RJ forgot to mention it. Stranger threads have been woven in the Pattern.

Linda said...

Yes, Aelys, she got this information from one of Min's viewings. We know this from the timing of her declaration - before she went into the redstone doorway - plus it was confirmed at a booksigning q and a.

Anonymous said...

Moiraine/Thom *is* the failed viewing. When she says that Rand will "fail without a woman dead and gone" it is not a failed viewing as we have not seen whether Rand fails yet. Besides, way back in TEOTW, when Min explains her ability to Rand, she is looking right at Moiraine and Thom when she says that when she knows two people will marry, it will happen.

Unknown said...

What was the deal with Rand's lost hand? Never understood it as a real reference to losing, or something prophetic. It's not part of these riddles?!

Linda said...

No, Rand losing a hand was not part of the riddles or the prophecies. It was one of Min's viewings.