Chapter 19: Shadow’s Waiting
Last time Moiraine and Lan reluctantly led the party into Shadar Logoth, which is Fantasese for “scary bad-place.”
The largest building in Baerlon would have vanished in the shadows of almost anything here. Pale marble palaces topped with huge domes met him wherever he looked. Every building appeared to have at least one dome; some had four or five, and each one shaped differently. Long walks lined by columns ran hundreds of paces to towers that seemed to reach the sky.
It’s also very large.
Everyone takes shelter in an abandoned building, where Nynaeave starts preparing some herbs for Moiraine so she can rest and recharge her magics. While that’s going on Mat and his fellow dudes have a chat about the incident where he started speaking Conlang while fighting the Trollocs.
Aemon’s warcry, she said—right? Maybe you’re Aemon come back again. The way you go on about how dull Emond’s Field is, I’d think you would like that—being a king and hero reborn.”
“Don’t say that!” Thom drew a deep breath; everybody stared at him now. “That is dangerous talk, stupid talk. The dead can be reborn, or take a living body, and it is not something to speak of lightly.”
Man, that sure would be stupid, if a character was like the reincarnation of some dead guy. He’d probably start popping up in his head all the time, it would be super annoying. Thank god Jordan didn’t go that route.
Anyway, what’s actually happening is that Mat is a distant descendant of ancient royalty, so he has magic special blood, as we discussed way back near the start of this series. He worries that he’s the reason the Trollocs are after them (spoiler: he isn’t).
I kind of wonder if this whole business with Mat (and Perrin, when we get to his super special magic whatever) was originally put in to try and preserve some sense of surprise around the plot twist at the end of the book. I did say that I didn’t guess what it was on my first read through, but that’s because I wasn’t familiar with the conventions of the fantasy genre and not because I seriously thought Mat or Perrin might actually be the focal point of the story.
Mat decides that they should all go traipsing off to explore the ruins without asking Moiraine. This is obviously an incredibly stupid decision, but in his defence Moiraine didn’t tell them exactly why the Trollocs are afraid to go into the city (what did I say about characters withholding information for no reason?) so it’s somewhat understandable.
Perrin laughed, too, but Rand shrugged uncomfortably.
Uuuuuuurrgh Rand is such a fucking downer.
Look, I understand that having your characters hesitate about undertaking a possibly life-threatening journey is realistic and gives them a certain amount of depth, but the thing is, as the reader I want to go on the journey. When your protagonist keeps dragging his feet and complaining about how he’d rather be at home, I very quickly wish I could leave him behind and head off by myself.
(Admittedly, a lot of my frustration stems from the fact that, unlike manys a fantasy MC, Rand will continue running away from the plot for more or less the entire series)
After exploring for a while Rand and Perrin want to head back and sleep, but Mat insists on pressing on in case there’s treasure to be found.
“There could be treasure,” Mat maintained stoutly. “Anyway, I want to climb one of the towers. Look at that one over there. It’s whole. I’ll bet you could see for miles from up there. What do you say?”
“The towers are not safe,” said a man’s voice behind them.
Rand leaped to his feet and spun around clutching his sword hilt, and the others were just as quick.
A man stood in the shadows among the columns at the top of the stairs. He took half a step forward, raised his hand to shield his eyes, and stepped back again. “Forgive me,” he said smoothly. “I have been quite a long time in the dark inside. My eyes are not yet used to the light.”
I mentioned before that Jordan has a surprising knack for being creepy when he wants to; the following scene is a good early example of that, as Rand and co follow this dude (Mordeth) into a building after he promises to give them a share of the fabulous treasures inside if they’ll help him carry it out for him. While en route Rand thinks that there’s something strange about him, but can’t put his finger on what.
They arrive at a huge room stuffed with gold and treasure, but before they can start carrying it Mat mentions that they’re going to Tar Valon. This brings on a rather unsettling reaction from Mordeth:
Like a balloon Mordeth swelled, distorted, head pressed against the ceiling, shoulders butting the walls, filling the end of the room, cutting off escape. Hollow-cheeked, teeth bared in a rictus snarl, he reached out with hands big enough to engulf a man’s head.
“You are all dead!” he cried. “All dead!” And he leaped up, diving across the room.
Rand’s jaw dropped, and he almost dropped the sword as well. As Mordeth dove through the air, he stretched out and thinned, like a tendril of smoke. As thin as a finger he struck a crack in the wall tiles and vanished into it. A last cry hung in the room as he vanished, fading slowly away after he was gone.
“You are all dead!”
Rand, Mat and Perrin are all like “let’s get the fuck out of here” and run back to the where Moiraine and the rest are. On the way there the sun begins to set and they catch fleeting glimpses of figures watching them silently from the shadows (also spooky). When they tell Moiraine that they met someone named Mordeth she becomes rattled and asks if they took anything from him or did anything for him; they assure her that they didn’t.
“Late in the Trolloc Wars, an army camped within these ruins—Trollocs, Darkfriends, Myrddraal, Dreadlords, thousands in all. When they did not come out, scouts were sent inside the walls. The scouts found weapons, bits of armor, and blood splattered everywhere. And messages scratched on walls in the Trolloc tongue, calling on the Dark One to aid them in their last hour. Men who came later found no trace of the blood or the messages. They had been scoured away. Halfmen and Trollocs remember still. That is what keeps them outside this place.”
Moiraine explains that during the wars following the breaking of the world Shadar Logoth (then called Aridhol) was visited by a man named Mordeth, who gained an uncanny influence over the king and caused him to begin committing atrocities in the name of the Light.
How Thorin’s son, Caar, came to win Aridhol back to the Second Covenant, and Balwen sat his throne, a withered shell with the light of madness in his eyes, laughing while Mordeth smiled at his side and ordered the deaths of Caar and the embassy as Friends of the Dark.
Eventually soldiers came to avenge something that the forces of Aridhol did, only to find the city abandoned and haunted by an evil force known as Mashadar, which hides underground until nightfall and then emerges to consume the living. Moiraine has set wards around their camp site that will keep it at bay, but if Rand and his friends had been caught outside they’d be dead (again: maybe would have been a good idea to mention this).
Mordeth alone was not consumed by Mashadar, but he was snared by it, and he, too, has waited within these walls through the long centuries. Others have seen him. Some he has influenced through gifts that twist the mind and taint the spirit, the taint waxing and waning until it rules . . . or kills. If ever he convinces someone to accompany him to the walls, to the boundary of Mashadar’s power, he will be able to consume the soul of that person. Mordeth will leave, wearing the body of the one he worse than killed, to wreak his evil on the world again.”
Sure is a good thing they didn’t take anything out of that room, right?
“Lan will be well,” Moiraine said soothingly, and spread her blankets beside the fire while she spoke. “He was pledged to fight the Dark One before he left the cradle, a sword placed in his infant hands.
LET’S DO THE TIME WARP:
“The War . . . ah . . . Master Andra [Lan] has seven ruined towers around his head, and a babe in a cradle holding a sword, and. . . .”
See, it was like a reference to a thing that we didn’t know yet, but now we do. Don’t you feel clever?
In the middle of the night Lan arrives and announces that Trollocs are inside the city and will be on them in less than an hour, so they all better skedaddle.
This is one of the chapters I remember the best from my initial read, and I think it holds up upon revisiting it. I’ve always gotten the feeling that what really excited Jordan (apart from the other things that excited him, which we’ll be reading about in exhaustive detail in the future) was epic mythology and characters adventuring into strange, eerie places, and his writing is frequently exciting and compelling when it covers those topics. It’s only once he got into large-scale fantasy politics warfare that the story slowed to a crawl.