I have made it through about two-thirds of book 4 of the Wheel of Time series, and will be discussing it below. If you’re concerned about spoilers, consider this your warning.
As I make my way through The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan, I can’t help but think how quickly things are moving all of a sudden. All three ta’veren have stepped onto paths that are going to lead them to their final destination as leaders who will shake the world. Of course, there’s still a far way to go before it’s done, but it’s interesting to see how one decision can take a character down a completely different path.
As ta’veren, however, they’re not just changing their own lives. In this book, Rand takes his place as not only as the Dragon Reborn, but also as the Aiel’s savior-figure, He Who Comes With the Dawn. His place as their so-called Chief of Chiefs raises some troubling questions. Externally, as a reader, it brings up the question of Rand’s place as their leader. He has Aiel blood in his veins, although his mother was a Maiden of the Spear only in that she ran away from her old life to come to the Waste to learn the way of the spear. Is this just another instance of the white savior trope we see in stories, where the main character takes control of a people considered to be “savages,” thinking they know no better? Rand thinks highly of the Aiel, but he still grew up outside of the Waste and does not know their ways and customs.
Granted, he learned more of Aiel history than any besides Aiel clan chiefs know, but that history only brings up more complications, if internally. Up through this point, the reader gets to know a little bit about Aiel culture just from what they see and explain to us. They are wary of Aes Sedai and believe they’ve failed the Aes Sedai in some fashion. I think Rand saw what task the Aiel failed to do when he had the visions in Rhuidean. A long time ago, the Aiel were tasked with keeping certain s’angreal and ter’angreal safe, and one key figure also promised a grieving Aes Sedai that he would ensure the Aiel remained true to what they were. Back then, they were not killers. In fact, violence was alien to them.
I found the request troubling. The world was breaking around them, perhaps even literally, and things were changing quickly because of what Lews Therin had done. Of course people wanted as much to stay the same as possible. But to ask the Aiel to remain true to what they were without acknowledging how difficult that would be was a bit of an unfair request. It was as if the Aes Sedai saw them as children and wanted them to keep their innocence. When the world is breaking around you, and people are killing you and carrying your family off, there’s no way to hold onto innocence.
The Aiel don’t, of course. That’s why they are who they are now. But, generations later, the demands of that Aes Sedai still have a hold on their culture. They only wield a spear as a weapon because the spear can put food into their bellies as well as protect them from those who would do harm. In battle, they consider a win without any kills to be more honorable than a win with many. I would hazard to guess that the veiling of the face has something to do with it too, but I have not thus far come across any explanation on why the Aiel veil their face before they kill.
The Wise Ones mention that clan chiefs see through their own ancestors. Not everyone sees the same thing. It’s possible that Rand’s viewings had nothing to do with the Aiel disappointing the Aes Sedai, but considering who he is, and the power his own ancestors seemed to have over the Aiel, I don’t think that’s the case. In any event, I did some searching around on the internet to see if it would jog my memory from the last time I read through the series, and I couldn’t find anything definitive on the subject, so perhaps Jordan never came outright and said it. Until I find something that says otherwise, I’m going with my theory.
I know Rand becomes the leader of the Aiel, according to their own troubling prophecy. The Wise Ones say that they must let him lead them, because although he will destroy the Aiel, apparently it is the only way for some of them to survive. I don’t recall the destruction of the Aiel, at least not through book twelve, so they must play a pretty big role in Rand’s wars to come. I’ll be interested to see in what way he destroys them, and in what capacity the remaining Aiel survive. Something tells me it will not be the way the Wise Ones expect.