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Reading The Wheel of Time: Bonds, Power, and the Allegory of Assault in Winter’s Heart (Part 17)


Reading The Wheel of Time: Bonds, Power, and the Allegory of Assault in <em>Winter’s Heart</em> (Part 17)

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Reading The Wheel of Time: Bonds, Power, and the Allegory of Assault in Winter’s Heart (Part 17)

Sylas Barrett discusses "Bonds," chapter 25 of Winter's Heart.


Published on May 7, 2024

Reading The Wheel of Time on Winter's Heart

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we are covering chapter 25 of Winter’s Heart. In this chapter, simply titled Bonds, Rand and Alanna confront each other over the difficulties of their shared tether, the Warder bond Alanna thrust onto Rand without his consent. At the same time, Min struggles with possessiveness over Rand and fear over a vision about Alivia. And Verin ascertains Cadsuane’s true intentions, leaving the reader to continue to puzzle over Verin’s.

Rand and Min have moved to a room in a different inn, where Rand sits playing the flute. They’re waiting for Alanna, who Rand can feel coming closer. The bond with Alanna feels wrong compared to the comfortable, natural presence in Rand’s head of the bond with Elayne, Min, and Aviendha.

Min is also upset because she had a viewing that Alivia is going to help Rand die. Rand points out that helping him die is not the same as killing him, but Min doesn’t see a difference.

“Sooner or later, I have to die, Min,” he said patiently. He had been told by those he had to believe. To live, you must die. That still made no sense to him, but it left one cold hard fact. Just as the Prophecies of the Dragon seemed to say, he had to die. “Not soon, I “hope. I plan not soon. I’m sorry, Min. I never should have let you bond me.” But he had not been strong enough to refuse, any more than he had been strong enough to push her away. He was too weak for what had to be done. He needed to drink in winter, till he made winter’s heart seem Sunday noon.

Min tells Rand firmly that she will not let him die, and if he manages it anyway she will follow him and bring him back. They are interrupted by a knock at the door, and Min takes some time to arrange herself, draped over Rand on the bed. But when Cadsuane enters before Alanna, Min jumps up again in embarrassed alarm.

Rand greets Cadsuane insolently, prompting her to observe that his manners haven’t improved. She tells him that his presence in Far Madding has saddled her with many inconvenient companions—not just Alanna but Nesune, Sarene, Erian, Beldeine and Elza, as well as Harine, her swordmaster, and Shalon. When she mentions sending the Sea Folk to Rand, he forces himself to ask her, politely, to keep his presence a secret from them.

But when Cadsuane reveals that Narishma, Damer, and Hopwil have been bonded, Rand curses, prompting Cadsuane to slap him. Cadsuane orders Min to leave the room with her, so that Alanna can have a moment alone with Rand.

Rand asks Alanna why Cadsuane didn’t ask what he was doing in Far Madding, and Alanna says that she doesn’t think Cadsuane cares about Rand at all. She demands to know what he did to cause her to be unconscious for three days, and Rand explains simply that he let himself be bonded by someone he actually gave permission to. Alanna is outraged, demanding to know who it is and insisting that she’ll drag the woman before a court and see her birched. She insists that Rand is hers.

“Because you took me, Alanna,” he said coldly. “If more sisters knew, you would be the one birched.” Min had told him once that he could trust Alanna, that she had seen the Green and four other sisters “in his hand.” He did trust her, in an odd fashion, yet he was in Alanna’s hand, too, and he did not want to be. “Release me, and I’ll deny it ever happened.” He had not even known that was possible until Lan told him about himself and Myrelle. “Release me, and I’ll set you free of your oath.”

Alanna admits that she has dreamed of being free of him, and even asked Cadsuane to accept Rand’s bond from her. But Alanna declares that, however Rand was bonded, he is her responsibility now. 

“That is as strong in me as the oath I swore to obey you. Every bit as strong. So I will not release you to anyone unless I know she can handle you properly. Who bonded you? If she is capable, I will let her have you.”

Rather than tell her, Rand asks how she is so certain Cadsuane has no interest in him—after all, she had Alanna bring her to him. But Alanna counters that she didn’t know Rand was in Far Madding, only that he was far to the south. She had to beg Cadsuane to bring her, expecting to have to Travel halfway to Tear to find him. She adds, warningly, that now that Cadsuane has taught Alanna to Travel, Rand won’t be able to elude her so easily.

Rand asks if the other sisters took the Asha’man the way Alanna took him, but she insists there was no pressuring that she knows of. She also tells him about Damer discovering a way to Heal stilling, and that all the sisters being held by the Aiel, even the Reds, have now sworn fealty to him. She urges Rand to accept the fact that he needs the Aes Sedai, that they can help end the rebellions against him and unite the lands for him. She reminds him that the treaty Rafela and Merana negotiated with Harine got him everything he asked for, and almost begs him to let them help him.

Rand realizes that his fear of being manipulated by the Aes Sedai has blinded him to any of these possibilities, and that he has been a fool. In his head, Lews Therin remarks that both a man who trusts everyone and a man who trusts no one is a fool.

Rand tells Alanna to go back to Cairhien, and to send Rafela and Merana, along with Bera and Faeldrin, to Haddon Mirk to negotiate with the rebels. These are the four who, along with Alanna, Min told him he could trust. Alanna is disappointed to be sent away from him so soon, but Rand tells her that if he is still in Far Madding by the time she finishes in Cairhien, she may return to him.

Alanna realizes that Rand isn’t going to tell her who bonded him, and asks Rand why he’s here. She promises to keep the secret, and he knows she would, but also knows that as a Green she would feel compelled to stay and help him, so he refuses. 

She leaves, and Rand sits and ponders how to make Cadsuane interested in him, so that he can learn whatever it is she is supposed to teach him, according to Min’s vision.

Verin arrives at Aleis’s Palace after having been out. She is using the name Eadwin because she still has a warrant out for her exile, and although the people of Far Madding are respectful to Aes Sedai, they also have little reason to fear them, and the Tower usually keeps quiet if Aes Sedai are arrested and punished for some offense.

She finds Cadsuane in a sitting room, working on her embroidery while Elza upbraids her for letting Alanna go to Rand without them.

Elza was always very conscious of where she stood with respect to other sisters, perhaps too much so. For her to ignore Verin, much less confront Cadsuane, she must have been in a fine swivet. “How could you let her go?” she demanded of Cadsuane. “How are we to find him without her?” Ah, so that was it.

Cadsuane replies calmly that Elza can wait for Alanna to return, and cuts off more arguments with a raised finger. Elza leaves, and Cadsuane asks Verin to make her a cup of tea. Verin asks, carefully, if it was wise to let Alanna go, and Cadsuane replies that she couldn’t stop Alanna from going without “letting the boy know more than he should.” When Verin suggests confusion and worry over whatever Rand might be doing in Far Madding, Cadsuane replies that he can do whatever he likes, as long as he lives to see Tarmon Gai’don, and as long as Cadsuane can stay by his side long enough to teach him laughter and tears again.

“He is turning into a stone, Verin, and if he doesn’t relearn that he’s human, winning the Last Battle may not be much better than losing. Young Min told him he needs me; I got that much out of her without rousing her suspicions. But I must wait for him to come to me. You see the way he runs roughshod over Alanna and the others. It will be hard enough teaching him, if he does ask. He fights guidance, he thinks he must do everything, learn everything, on his own, and if I do not make him work for it, he won’t learn at all.”

She adds that she seems to be in a confiding mood tonight, and might confide more if Verin even finishes making the tea. She slips a vial back into her sleeve. 

Was Verin going to poison Cadsuane? My first thought was that she was going to use forkroot on her, but would that even matter since they’re in Far Madding? I guess it would still put her to sleep, just as it would any non-channeler, but I can’t see how that would actually serve any ends for Verin; she doesn’t know how long Rand intends to be in Far Madding or what he’s doing there, and there are other sisters to worry about besides Cadsuane.

Not that I know what Verin’s ends are, of course, but she does seem to be trying to protect Rand in some fashion. She’s relieved and puts the poison away once she learns that Cadsuane’s intention is to make sure Rand makes it to the Last Battle and to teach him to be human again, which seems to support the idea that Verin’s goal is also to protect Rand. In the same way that she used her cobbled-together compulsion to make all the captive Aes Sedai decide to swear fealty to him, Verin seems determined to serve Rand in secret and through morally dubious means.

My best guess for Verin at this point is that at some time in her life she discovered something about the Dragon Reborn—some ancient text, or interpretation of the Karaethon Cycle, or even an interpretation of her own—that made her believe that the Dragon Reborn needed to be kept free from too much control by the White Tower. If Verin was also able to deduce that the Oath Rod could be used to lift the Three Oaths, perhaps she used it upon herself in secret, in order that she might have as many means as possible to do the work she deemed necessary.

There are some holes in this theory, of course, including the fact that I don’t think you can use the Oath Rod on yourself, but it’s the best one I can come up with, and if true, it wouldn’t make Verin that different from Moiraine and Siuan, who also spent the last 18ish years working in secret towards the goal of finding and guiding the Dragon Reborn, and who also employed dubious method and lied in every sense except the literal one to the sisters around them, so much so that Elaida was able to incite a good number of the Hall against Siuan when her duplicity was at last discovered. And Elaida herself has also been acting alone on secret knowledge around the Dragon Reborn, following what she believes her own Foretelling indicated about his coming.

The question of who should be directing the Dragon Reborn’s actions is a difficult one for everybody in this world. Most people feel frightened and helpless in the face of what the Karatheon Cycle says will come to pass at his hands, and despite the fact that he is very young, his power and the prestige that comes with his identity is not easy for anyone to face, even powerful, intelligent rulers. People seem to believe they must either stand against him because he is a danger to themselves and their nations, or that they must be bowled over by the very power of his identity.

And then there are the Aes Sedai. Many, perhaps even most, believe that Rand should be controlled and directed by the White Tower. And in truth, it’s easy to understand their perspective on the matter. As Alanna points out to Rand in this chapter, the Aes Sedai have thousands of years of experience leading the world, in fighting against the Dark and (at least in theory) in preparing for the coming of Tarmon Gai’don. Until very recently, Rand was a teenage shepherd with little knowledge of the world and no knowledge whatsoever of channeling, warfare, or the Shadow.

Though Rand has learned much in the short time since he discovered the truth of his identity, and has become in his own right a great swordsman and a good general, he owes so much of what he has done and accomplished to the fact that channeling and weaves seem to come naturally to him, without much need for study. Of course there is also the guidance he receives from Lews Therin and the teaching from Asmodean, but no one else knows anything about this, or would trust these teachers if they did. As a result, Rand appears to everyone to be—and in some ways kind of is—a young man with no experience doing any of the things he is trying to do, who accepts little help and only has a finite amount of time to accomplish his goals before the Last Battle arrives. And before he loses himself to taint-induced madness.

As a reader, of course, I’m going to see Rand differently than the outside world does, and it’s easy to get frustrated when people misjudge him or his intentions. But it is also important to remember that everyone else has important stakes in this fight as well, and I think Rand’s encounter with Alanna, and his realization that he has been letting his fear drive his choices, is a very important reminder of this fact.

Because Rand is the Dragon Reborn, the chosen one, he has been feeling and acting as though he is the only person in the world carrying the burden of the future. But that is not, in fact, the case. The Prophecies state that he must do certain things and be certain places in order for the Light to defeat the Dark, but that doesn’t mean that no one else needs to do anything, be anywhere, or make any choices. Rand feels understandably burdened by his identity and the fate that he believes is waiting for him, and as a result he is somewhat blinded by that sense of fate and duty.

The balance, one assumes, lies somewhere in between Rand having all the control and Rand being controlled by the Aes Sedai, and I doubt it will be an easy balance for either side to find. But perhaps Verin believes—either from something she’s read, her interpretation of the Prophecies, or for some other reason—that the Aes Sedai represent a threat to Rand and his success. I doubt she’d go so far as to think that the Aes Sedai have no place in Rand’s future or that he must be allowed to proceed with no checks or restraint from others, but she is certainly acting as though he must be protected from the Aes Sedai, and that it is important that the Aes Sedai serve him. She worked her cobbled-together compulsion on all the prisoners who were being held by the Wise Ones, after all, compelling all of them to pledge their service to him. It’s a fairly intense action for her to take, on women who weren’t even currently a threat to Rand, so I think it speaks to Verin believing that having Aes Sedai serve Rand is important.

That compulsion is no doubt at least partly responsible for the level of upset Elza feels over Cadsuane’s handling of Alanna. And it is interesting to consider how compulsion is a violation not unlike non-consensual bonding. In Rand’s case the bond has less effect on him than on other men, possibly because he is ta’veren, but for ordinary Warders, the bond can be used by their Aes Sedai to compel them to certain actions. Verin’s version of compulsion also makes a person believe that the actions she compels them to are their own desire, which adds in a little extra moral complexity.

Min’s viewing that the other Aes Sedai will serve Rand “each after her own fashion” probably refers to the compulsion as well. Verin’s weave required that the victim supply her own reasons for choosing to swear fealty, which might not align with Rand’s needs or desires at all, as indeed we saw when these sisters swore to Rand and he questioned them about their motives.

Alanna is not one of these, however, and since Min saw her as one of the Aes Sedai that Rand can fully trust, I suppose we must believe it. She certainly seems sincere, and seemed to be speaking plainly, when she reminded Rand that the Aes Sedai can be assets to him, if only he’d use them for more than a display of his power. Given how she phrases it and how adamant she is, not to mention Min’s vision, I’m inclined to believe what she says, as Rand seems to be.

What Alanna did to Rand is heinous, and her continued insistence on holding onto him in the face of that act even more so, but I don’t think she actually wants to hurt Rand, or that she intends to act maliciously. I think she really believes that Rand is her responsibility now; despite mentioning that she wants to be free of him and even asking Cadsuane to take his bond, she also refused to dissolve it, even with the very tantalizing promise that Rand will lift her oath of obedience from her. Unless Alanna turns out to be in the Black Ajah, which at the moment seems unlikely, this refusal to even entertain the prospect shows that she believes in what she says. And the fact that she holds Rand’s bond while Rand holds the binding oath over her does, in a way, make them more equal than otherwise. Perhaps this is even the reason why Rand offered to lift her oath in turn.

All that being said, however, the fact remains that Alanna did violate Rand. Despite the disapproval and disgust shown by her fellow Aes Sedai over her action, and despite his very measured and reasonable request for her to lift the bond, she continues to hold it. I believe it was Verin who thought that Alanna’s seemingly-impulsive decision to bond Rand might have been brought on by the effects of losing Owein. If true, this doesn’t excuse Alanna’s decision but does mitigate it, morally speaking. However, even if Owein’s death was a factor in her decision, Alanna has shown, both right after the bonding and here in this chapter, that she also believes that Rand should and must be bonded and controlled by an Aes Sedai. She does offer to release him to the other woman who bonded him if she deems that woman capable of controlling him, but that is as far as she will go.

Alanna believes, as many Aes Sedai do, that Rand must be controlled. She is willing to violate him if she must, just as nearly everyone is willing to use him if they must, and he is willing to use people in turn. Rand is wrong about the need to turn himself into a stone, and it is too bad that he can’t learn differently from the three women who love him, but you can see why he believes he must become cold and hard. To many he is more of an object than a person, or more of a symbol, or more of a threat. And that shows in how most people interact with him, even those who care about him. It’s not just about steeling himself to be a commander in wartime.

It makes me wonder how Cadsuane will teach him the lesson he so desperately needs to learn. Perhaps she will offer her own long experience, her own trials as someone whose primary task in life is to fight the war the Shadow—Cadsuane is a Green, after all—to show him that he can dedicate his life to this cause without sacrificing his humanity. If Rand can approach Cadsuane in the way she wants, perhaps she will meet him as an equal, allowing him to see her as one in turn, and to learn from her example, rather than from her discipline.

I was interested, too, in Alanna’s assertion the Asha’man were not coerced into accepting the Warder bond. She is careful to say only that she never saw Merise pressure Jahar and then to bring up the point that the men had little choice; they couldn’t go back to the Black Tower because they feared being taken for Rand’s attackers, and they couldn’t leave Cairhien because then they would be taken for deserters, so, Alanna points out, choosing the Aes Sedai was really their only option. She frames this as Rand’s fault, which in a way it is, and then suggests that Flinn’s discovery of how to Heal stilling made the whole thing worth it. But without seeing it that way, Alanna has actually pointed out that there can’t really be any true consent within the Warder bond, no matter if the potential Warder agrees at the time of bonding, and especially not if he has any reason to choose it besides a genuine desire to be a Warder.

In the case of Flinn, Narishma, and Hopwil, even if they weren’t verbally pressured by the Aes Sedai—and I imagine they were, at least a little—Alanna’s point here shows that they had little choice. Left behind by Rand in Cairhien, they had nowhere else to go but to the Aes Sedai. They may get protection from the exchange, but they were also trapped, and now that they have agreed, they cannot change their minds even if they want to.

Even if a potential Warder agrees to be bonded solely because he desires the life of a Warder, even if he goes to the White Tower specifically to seek out that calling, there can’t be any true consent unless both parties have the ability to withdraw that consent at any time. Once a man is bonded he cannot be released except if his Aes Sedai chooses to do so. He can be compelled to obey her through the bond, he can even be given to another sister. Such an act is frowned upon, of course, even taboo, and would result in punishment for the offender, but it is still possible.

Look at what happened Lan, after all. One of the conditions of his bonding by Moiraine was that she would never use the bond to compel him, and she did exactly that, going so far as to transfer his bond without his permission to force him to live and continue to serve in the fight against the Dark One. Her reasoning was that he was too valuable to waste in an empty death, and while I’m sure she also hoped to make him happy by ensuring that he ended up with Nynaeve, but I am just as sure that her primary desire was to make sure he survived to fight on once she was dead.

And then Lan was raped literally as well as metaphorically by Myrelle, once the bond transferred to her and he was compelled by it to go find her. There is deeply rooted sexism in the idea that men in Lan’s position can be given the will to live through sex—any sex, apparently—and it clearly did Lan no good. But one thing that is good about his time with Myrelle is that Lan and Nynaeve were able to get married and establish their relationship before Nynaeve held Lan’s bond. This puts them on a much more even playing field as they figure out the parameters of their marriage, and makes the issue of consent much more palatable than it would be if Lan was already Nynaeve’s Warder before he was her husband.

I find that the more time goes on, the less I believe that Rand is actually fated to die in the Last Battle. The fact that he has been so sure of it has always felt like a narrative clue, but it also feels very significant that it is never actually said that Rand will die at Shayol Ghul. The prophecies only said that his blood would be on the rocks, which could mean anything, really: a non-fatal wound; the non-healing wounds opening up anew, the way they tend to whenever he’s in a difficult fight; and even some kind of blood ritual (not really a thing with channelers, but the cour’souvra is made using blood and spit, so anything is possible, especially if Rand is facing off with the Dark One himself). And as Rand points out, Min’s vision was not that ​​Alivia would kill Rand but that he would “help him die” which could be literal but also might come from a more poetic reading. Maybe Rand will fake his death at some point, to fool the Forsaken or to get away from his allies; he’s practically done that already. Alivia seems to be very devoted to him, and you definitely need an insider or two if you’re going to fake your own death.

It would be nice if Rand survived the Last Battle, not least because it would show him that he was wrong to want to push away the people who love him, and that they were right to take a risk with him. Not that it would be wrong to choose the bond even if he did die—some joys are worth the pain—but it would be even better if he survived and they could all tell him they told him so.

And finally, I found it very clever of Cadsuane to act in a way that convinced Alanna that she wasn’t really interested in Rand, so that Alanna could in turn convince Rand of it. She’s a clever one, that Cadsuane, and I really like her even if she is mean. Honestly, I want her and Verin to be friends—I half expected Verin to figure out Cadsuane’s little mirror trick—and maybe now that Verin is certain of Cadsuane, they will be.

I also really want to know what it is that Verin did the last time she was in Far Madding that had her exiled! She’s such a tantalizing mystery, and I respect Jordan so much that he has kept it going all this time. It’s frustrating and it’s great.

Next week we’re catching up with Egwene and Elayne, who has some very interesting news of her own, in chapters 26 and 27. In the meantime, I am pleased to report that I have learned a new word today—swivet. Swivet sounds like it means a bird, or maybe a kind of chair, but it actually means “a state of nervous excitement, haste, or anxiety.” Love a good vocabulary lesson. Thanks Jordan!

Oh, and also, shout out to the book’s title in the quote from Rand about his need to become even harder. Love that. icon-paragraph-end

About the Author

Sylas K Barrett


Sylas K Barrett is a queer writer and creative based in Brooklyn. A fan of nature, character work, and long flowery descriptions, Sylas has been heading up Reading the Wheel of Time since 2018. You can (occasionally) find him on social media on Bluesky ( and Instagram (@thatsyguy)
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