Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Fires of Heaven, Read Through #8: Asmodean's Killer

Asmodean's Killer

by Linda

For this discussion on the murder of Asmodean, I thought I'd do something a little different and give you the comments of three of us here at the blog, starting with myself.

Linda's Opinion on Asmodean's Death

It's interesting that Jordan wasn't interested in Asmodean's death much as part of the story. It happened effectively off stage – which means it wasn’t worth showing up close. Jordan may have planned to reveal the murderer one of two books later, but readers’ reactions made him think there was more mileage to be gotten out of withholding the identity of the murder. This indicates that the murder was banal.

Most Darkfriends have had banal deaths in the series. I tallied them up in the Darkfriends article, and of the 41 deaths, all but those of say Ishamael, Ingtar and Rahvin were banal. I've long been convinced that Asmodean's was the same. In fact Jordan's murder mysteries have been pretty ordinary and straightforward.

This is why I really don't favour anything complex, unusual or exotic.

The murder was unpremeditated, very quick, and left no body. Asmodean instantly knew the murderer and that they were deadly and hostile. He was more than a match for a non-channeller.

Judging by this threat from the Dark One, he was probably balefired:


Lord of Chaos, Prologue

Moreover Asmodean said any of the Forsaken would kill him on sight now (The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows). Hence his reaction.

Some time elapsed between the balefiring of Rahvin ‘that morning’ and the death of Asmodean since in the meantime Rand received reports from the Aiel of gates holding and people giving aid and that the hunt for Trollocs ‘goes on’. Some Maidens made soup for Rand, and Rand had already been thinking about future plans.

However, it was still bright daylight since Mat wore a hat against the sun. I would says that a few hours had elapsed, but not much more.


Jordan himself eliminates Fain:

Padan Fain didn’t because he wasn’t in the right place at the right time. He would have if he had been in the right place at the right time, but he wasn’t.

For reasons explained above, the murderer is a channeller whom Asmodean knew and they used a small amount of balefire.

Not Moiraine, since Asmodean wouldn’t suspect Moiraine of being hostile. He had no way of knowing that she had listened in and knew who he was. And she was rather busy in another world.

While Moghedien's tactic is to lurk, she was collared and unable to channel.

The only other Forsaken who would have business in Caemlyn are Graendal and Sammael. Both expected Rand in Illian, and either would have come to Caemlyn later in the day to see if they could find out what went wrong with the plan.

I favour Sammael slightly over Graendal because he was enraged at Asmodean teaching Rand. He repeatedly tried to kill Rand and his aides before the murder (such as sending the Darkhounds to kill Moiraine and co in Illian). Balefire from a male would be much less risky, since the residues from Rand's large amount of balefire that morning would still be lingering. My post The Case Against Sammael on Theory Corner has more details on Sammael as a suspect. Acting as though he thinks Asmodean is still alive in Lord of Chaos, was just good tactics on Sammael's part.

Mark's Opinion on Asmodean's Death

In my opinion there are only two plausible suspects, Graendal and Sammael. TFOH contains only four active Forsaken who are militant in their desire to bring down Rand - these are Lanfear, Rahvin, Sammael and Graendal. Moghedien was happy to hide out until after Tarmon Gai'don and was Nynaeve's captive, and the other Forsaken were either dead or dormant in this book. Lanfear was dead or captured at this stage, and Rahvin was killed only a chapter earlier. That leaves Graendal and Sammael.

Sammael is the most vocal about killing Asmodean. Asmodean knew that he had stumbled upon someone lethal and knew that his life was in grave danger. He would react to any of the Forsaken in this way, even Moghedien, in his weakened state.

The key clues to Asmodean's death are the books which lead after TFOH. RJ has specifically told fans that he inserted clues to qualify the killer. In LoC and ACoS, Graendal and Sammael discuss Asmodean twice. In both instances, Sammael angrily says that he would kill Asmodean if he could find him. In both instances Graendal says that Asmodean is dead. She tries to sound offhand, as if Asmodean's location and health are of secondary importance to her, yet she is the only Forsaken to place a firm opinion on the renegade Forsaken's fate. As late as KoD we see that Aran'gar thinks that Asmodean must be dead, which shows how the theory has been left hanging for most of the Forsaken.

For this reason, and for this reason alone - Graendal slightly outpips Sammael as Asmodean's killer.

Dominic's Opinion on Asmodean's Death

To me there isn't that much to tell about it. I don't buy the hypothesis that Sammael was lying to Graendal. He had no good reason to and it's more his style to have boasted he took care of the mess Lanfear had left and went to make sure they were safe, bumped into Asmodean and eliminated him 'at high risks for himself' or some such, especially that he wanted to seed the idea in Graendal's mind that he was about to be named Nae'blis. Graendal on the other hand had the perfect motive to lie: Sammael showed her, just by how snappy he was, he was worried Asmodean was not dead but hidden somewhere by Rand. Graendal wanted to orient Sammael on Rand, and she was doing this by pushing his buttons. She had all the reasons to claim on the one hand Asmodean must be dead, but on the other hand refuse to provide the evidence to keep Sammael destabilized. I think it's what she's done, and it has worked. He just surprised her by deciphering the first layer of her plot, which was to use him to bypass Shai'tan's orders. That he puzzled out and turned against her, forcing her to collaborate with him and pretending to have his truce etc. He didn't see her second goal, which was to get him killed - and THAT is one more reason why she musn't reveal to him she has eliminated Asmodean. Sammael was all 'I'm mighty and will be named Nae'blis", Graendal was rather accentuating her frivolous, even gossipy aspects as a deception. Reminding him how dangerous she truly was, and how daring, went against her agenda - she knew he already knew that, no need to increase his feelings even more!

I even see in all of this a logical progression, a chain of events. which I know you don't agree with, but that I personally find explain everything nicely. Sammael sees how dangerous it was to let Asmodean near Rand after he killed Rahvin, in fact he was worried about that even before and wanted Asmodean found and killed (coming right after the battle occurring is bad timing, though - Rand would be on his guard for just such an attack). He fears Rand hides Asmodean somewhere in LOC, and he doesn't believe Graendal when she claims he must be dead and for me it rings perfectly genuine and thus eliminates Sammael as suspect. He had motive and opportunity, but he just didn't do it.

So what would Sammael do to put an end to Rand's training later? Place spies and try to find out where Asmodean might be, obviously. Rand then went and set up an Academy, and he let know openly around that he's hoping for technological advances in weaponry - could Asmodean have convinced Rand that with engineers he might be able to help create OP weapons? Heck, even sisters like Alanna and Verin could, with help from craftsmen - Asmodean might have done the same. Or was the Academy just a sham in Sammael's mind, just a deception? The Academy would have attracted Sammael's attention, all the more since there is an obscure savant there, a loner, with whom Rand has taken the habit of secluding himself - with guards on the door. All the Academy would be abuzz with rumours, especially in Cairhien. What would Sammael conclude? That he's probably found Asmodean's hiding place/alias. Hidden as Herid Fel. And that is why Sammael sent the gholam - which was completely overkill against a non-channeler. He did believe Fel was Asmodean, the gholam could even report afterward if he was right or not. All the theories about Fel's murder jump to the conclusion that a Forsaken managed to find out what went on privately between Rand and Fel, what topics they discussed together, but how would they have done that? Fel wasn't killed for what he told Rand, it's what I conclude, and the Forsaken with a gholam is Sammael, so... It should also be noted that Fel isn't, as he is often misrepresented, a specialist of questions like the Seals and the Bore. He actually had to make research, read and take much time before he could even give Rand basic answers. So Fel's reputation as scholar wouldn't in itself be enough to attract the attention of Moridin and co. It should also be noted we have zero evidence the books Min borrowed are all books written by Fel. Most of what she calls 'Master Fel's books' are probably in truth books he owned, and even more borrowed from the palace for research on questions asked by Rand - so yes, they are likely to hold valuable info, and whoever had Fel killed cared not one bit about THAT - suggesting Fel's research had nothing to do with the motive for his murder. And yeah, Jordan told us Fel was killed because someone feared what he might tell Rand. I think RJ was deceptive on this one. It's the truth, but from a certain POV - that also happen to be the reason why Sammael wants Asmodean dead - for the knowledge he feared he was passing to Rand.

As for the murder of Asmodean, it's fairly obvious and banal. I think Jordan didn't foresee how big a 'thing' it would become, and as he didn't intend to use this or reveal the killer it is extremely likely he didn't get out of his way to make it too interesting or complicated. It must have been most banal.

I personally rule out all the non Forsaken. Mat, Aviendha, Moiraine, Slayer - they all fall in the 'crackpot theories' for me. Slayer just isn't up to this task, neither is Mat. Moiraine was a prisoner, and Aviendha is obsessed with ji'e'toh. She could have killed Asmodean, but she would have incurred serious toh toward Rand for killing his teacher/bard. Aviendah would have met her toh, going to Rand and telling him she killed Asmodean, or she would have obsessed over it as she did over the matter of sleeping with Rand. Aviendha's like this, and she didn't go through that, so she didn't kill Asmodean (and that's beside all the physical problems - she was behind in the garden and he was giving no clue of where he was going - he didn't know himself - how could ANYONE be waiting for Asmodean behind the door - it's clear as day he surprised someone who was there for another reason altogether). She also doesn't have a motive, really.

It has to be one of the four Forsaken involved in 'the plan', the others had no motive to come this close to Rand at that time (several have been ruled out or ruled themselves out anyway - like Demandred and Semirhage, Moghedien), when he would be on his guard. To come to Caemlyn to gather the rumours about what happened was enough for them (it's probably what Demandred has done, incidentally), but not into the palace itself, near Rand. Rahvin obviously isn't the killer. Lanfear was a prisoner and is ruled out, as far as I'm concerned. That leaves Sammael next, but I think his lack of knoweldge about the fate of Asmodean in the next book is genuine. So bt process of elimination it's Graendal who came to the palace, something she repeated among Asha'man and Rand, no less, in Illian. Awaiting the cue to go capture Rand in Illian, Graendal also had motive to keep in touch regularly with Rahvin and Sammael. She may have come to Caemlyn because he failed to meet her at an agreed upon hour. She had a similiar meeting planned with Moghedien that same day, one Moghedien failed to come to, of course.

Like Sammael, she had the motive to stay around a bit - she needed to find out what REALLY was going on and what Rand planned next, because it could be coming for her in Arad Doman (I consider the fact we're told Asmodean knew her hiding place to be THE big clue in TFOH) or go to Illian. A small door leads to servants's quarters - most likely - an area in which Asmodean thought he might find a pantry (a room used by servants, and holding basic goods like wine, tea etc. Asmodean was wrong, in Andor this all goes through the kitchens). Servants could be compelled and used as spies and they would find themselves near Rand and his entourage. A ta'veren twist put Asmodean on her path as she was doing this, she eliminated him, end of the story.

It wasn't planned for sure, not even Asmodean knew a second before he did that he would open the door - he was wandering lost in his thoughts, not going straight anywhere. The killer was probably alerted that someone was about to barge on her, but she didn't know until the last second it would be Asmodean. She just got herself ready to strike at anyone. Pure murder of opportunity/self-defense. Only a minute amount of balefire would be used - the killer could not afford to remove more than mere seconds from the life of anyone who was opening that door. She didn't know what the person was doing even minutes ago and what sort of alarm she might trigger by removing too much of the thread. That wasn't exactly the right day to leave traces behind a Forsaken has been around - both Sammael and Graendal could suspect Rand knew where to come for them. It had to be balefire. The residues were already all around, a bit more wouldn't be noticed in that area. After the deed, Graendal probably left, or went on doing what she had been doing when Asmodean opened that door and surprised her. A male channeler was running risks, a female not so much, not with many Wise Ones already channeling in the area.

So all in all, a very banal murder. Jordan was in fact never terribly inventive with those (and he never even attempted to follow basic whodunnit rules - it wasn't his purpose nor this sort of novel, really), and I expect Asmodean's to follow this pattern, especially since the real purpose of this murder for Jordan was obviously to increase yet a bit more Rand's paranoia about traitors, not to turn this into a big 'who killed Asmodean' phenomenon. The fans did that, not Jordan.


Anonymous said...

As per Dominic's theory, it also raises the important question of whether any darkfriends other Sammael even know about the Gholam. I cannot recall any other Forsaken mentioning gholam besides Graendal, and I forget if she was simply regretting their creation generally (as background for the reader) or fretting about one being loose in the Third Age. If Sammael was, however, the only forsaken aware of the gholam, its future role in the story would seem to me to align far more with Fain than with Moridin. Both are evil non-channelers with fantastic powers and both are rogue unlike the only other comparable character, Slayer. All three, notably, are hunter archetypes.

Dominic said...

Graendal is sort of an open issue, though personally I think the passage in which she mentions her previous near fatal encounter with a gholam pointed to something from the War of Shadow, not recent times.

So, yes, I suspect Sammael was the only to know a gholam has been released.

A possibility is often mentionned by theorists (incl. me at some point) that Sammael may have found the gholam and his collection of AOL objects by looting Ishamael's lair after TDR. In that case, Moridin may or not have noticed he's been robbed. It might have been an interesting way to take at some point, but at this point I think RJ probably intended Sammael to have simply found the gholam in a stasis box on his own.

As for comparing the gholam to a wild card in the vein of Fain, I totally agree with you.

It seems to me Graendal's comments about gholam was introduced both to prepare the reader for its arrival in the plot, and as foreshadowing. And by this I don't mean Graendal will be killed by the gholam, but that RJ was setting the stage for the fact the Shadow has loosened somethign they could lose control of and which might bite them back in the arse later on. With Sammael dying, then the gholam beginning to free itself, I think it's very likely going this way.

So yeah, I think the gholam will cause trouble for the Shadow before the end (and probably a bit more for Mat/Elayne too!). I expect it to follow Mat and become involved in the 'Battle of Caemlyn'.

I see the gholam has being an hubristic attempt - I think Graendal's judgement on them was dead on the money.

For me, the gholam falls under the motif/theme as the Shadow considering the evil of Shadar Logoth 'an old friend' at the same time as an old enemy, as balefire which can destroy everyhting etc.

The Shadow has longed toyed with means that hold in them the seed of its own destruction, and the world's. The Light cannot use those means, not if it doesn't want a victory as bad as a defeat. It also belongs to the 'chaos' theme - chaos is serving the Shadow, but it also imply the Shadow has introduced in its plans all sort of things they have little or no control over. Chaos is all well and good to weaken the pattern, but the Shadow is also a mess of competing plans with dangerous lose ends everywhere. The gholam is one of those lose ends. Theorically, a Forsaken could still bring it back under control, though Graendal's little encounter suggests it's not automatic and an accident might very well happen. A gholam wouldn't care about black sisters, hidden Forsaken or Taim and his Asha'man either. I would not be too surprised if the gholam kill some important Shadow player, or force a Forsaken to drop the Mask to flee or bring the gholam under control. Several Forsaken would be good choices. Graendal would be one. Lanfear/Cyndane another. Both have tried to use Sammael to their own ends, and Jordan likes ironic payback. Aginor himself would have been the most ironic, though his return is improbable, I guess. Aran'gar is especially foolish about stuff like this. Mesaana would fit the mtoif that she is like a gholam in her games to destroy the Aes Sedai. Semirhage herself is little less monstrous than a gholam. Demandred would be extremely ironic, and it could play with Mat's insane luck that the gholam takes out Demandred to get him out of the way when Mat is facing him in battle, then goes after Mat.

So a great deal of possibilities there, even if I expect more minor Shadow players than Forsaken might get wiped out, truth be told.

Anonymous said...

Do you think it could ally with Fain, or that Fain could assert some kind of control over the gholam? Fain has kind of drifted out of the main course of the plot for a while now, but I am convinced he will have a very important role to play in the end. Maybe something not unlike Gollum, a character he resembles in some ways.

Anonymous said...

It is noted in Winters Heart that Isam/Luc can access Tel'aran'rhiod in the flesh and is used as an assassin as when he is sent to Far Madding to kill Lan and Nynaeve "his nephew and the wench" I'm fairly sure at that point it refers to him doing it