Reading The Wheel of Time: Champion of the Light, Nae’blis of the Dark

When a reader first picks up The Wheel of Time, they are initially introduced to the concept of the Dragon Reborn through the superstitions and scattered bits of information that the people in the Two Rivers have about him. Later, as Rand, Perrin, and Mat learn from Moiraine about who and what the Dragon Reborn is really supposed to be, the reader does as well. The continually reincarnated soul known in Lews Therin’s time as the Dragon, and in the current Age as the Dragon Reborn, is in many ways a typical fantasy savior-hero, a quasi-magical champion who is fated—though birth, prophecy, or both—to save humanity from the threat of Evil-with-a-capital-E. But what I found especially interesting about the character of the Dragon Reborn was that he was prophesied, specifically, to fight the Dark One himself. As far as I understood from what was revealed in The Eye of the World, there was no human counterpart to the Dragon, no champion of the Dark One to mirror the champion of the Creator.

Because the character of Ba’alzamon was believed to be the Dark One, not only by Rand and his friends but by the forces of the Dark as well, it did indeed seem as though Rand was facing the Dark One himself throughout the events of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt. Even Moiraine believed that it was the Dark One who was visiting Rand, Mat, and Perrin’s dreams; she told Rand that he hadn’t killed the Dark One in the confrontation in the sky because she knew the Dark One couldn’t have been slain in such a way, not because she guessed that the being Rand had faced was someone else. Ba’alzamon wasn’t killed, in any case, and it was eventually revealed that he was not the Dark One at all, but Ishamael. Ishamael, Betrayer of Hope, the enemy who showed up to revel in Lews Therin’s taint-induced murder of his family, and to make sure the man knew the truth about what he had done in his madness and whose hand had cursed him to that madness.

During that encounter, Ishamael also made the claim that he and Lews Therin had been fighting the same war since the beginning of Time, saying that they have fought a thousand battles and will continue to fight until the Shadow triumphs. Of course, one can’t exactly trust Ishamael’s words—he’s evil and also clearly kind of  insane. As far as we know, there aren’t any prophecies about the Dragon having a human counterpart in the Dark, and the Forsaken themselves don’t seem to have the full picture of how souls are reincarnated, or when, or which ones. However, whether or not Ishamael was correct in believing that he and the Dragon have been fighting across Time, whether or not he was the truest enemy of Lews Therin (there’s a few of the male Forsaken who think they’re Lews Therin’s most important and dangerous enemy), he certainly made himself the most significant enemy of Rand, right up until Rand killed him.

From a narrative standpoint, I was surprised when Rand killed Ishamael so early in the series, but that was because I forgot about the fact that the Dark One can bring back the souls of those sworn to him. When Ishamael returned as Moridin, we finally had a true counterpart to Rand. The Nae’blis, the one to whom all other Darkfriends must submit, who will lead the forces of the Dark into Tarmon Gai’don, becoming the regent of the world that the Dark One will remake in his own image. And the Dragon Reborn, who is born to unite the world under him so that he can lead the forces of the Light to victory in the Last Battle.

One of those most interesting things about the Forsaken is that they are people from another Age. They were Lews Therin’s antagonists, and they’re only here now because they were trapped in the Bore outside of Time (or in Aginor and Balthamel’s case, right up against the edge of Time). And even when they die, they are not reincarnated by the Wheel into new lives and new threads of the Pattern. Instead, their souls go to the Dark One, from whence they can be placed into the living bodies of other people.

These reborn Forsaken are still not truly of this Age, much in the way that Birgitte isn’t of this Age. However, just as Birgitte is changing as a result of being alive in this Age, the reincarnated Forsaken are also being affected. The story marks this change most obviously in Aran’gar, because of the narrative importance of the difference between men and women. When the person formerly known as Balthamel protests against the change in sex, Shaidar Haran says;

“You will adapt. The body bends to the soul, but the mind bends to the body. You are adapting already. Soon it will be as if you had never had any other.”

And that does seem to be true of Aran’gar, and so must be true of Osan’gar and Moridin. Moridin is changed from the Ishamael he was, and in that way he belongs to this Age, and to Rand, in the way that Ishamael never did. Ishamael was Lews Therin’s enemy, haunting Rand in the same way that Lews Therin’s legacy and Lews Therin’s mistakes haunted him as he struggled to accept the truth of his identity.

Moridin is something new.

Their first encounter established this clearly. Ba’alzamon was a raging monster, with eyes and mouth of flame, pursuing Rand in his dreams and taunting him with words about the inevitability of the Dark One’s victory and offering bribes to tempt Rand over to his side. But when Moridin saves Rand’s life in Shadar Logoth, he is sardonic and vaguely helpful. In a way, he’s almost friendly—so much so that Rand doesn’t see him as a threat, even with his obvious knowledge about Sammael. One can imagine Lews Therin and Ishamael meeting in a similar way, with Ishamael deriding Lews Therin’s intelligence and abilities, but in such a casual way that it might only be read as a gentle jibe between friends. But Rand is not Lews Therin and Moridin is not quite Ishamael anymore—this is old and yet new, another part of the cycle as the Wheel turns.

Moridin also mirrors Rand physically. When Moghedien first meets him, her impression is of a tall and broad-shouldered young man who can’t be much older than twenty.

He swung one leg over an arm of the chair, lounging insolently under her scrutiny. Graendal might have snatched him, if he had any position or power; only too strong a chin kept him from being pretty enough. She did not think she had ever seen eyes so blue.

Moridin is physically close to Rand’s age now, as tall as he is, broad-shouldered and very physically striking. You can easily picture how they would look standing beside each other in Shadar Logoth—their matching heights and statures, Rand’s unusual red hair and gray eyes complimenting Moridin’s dark hair and striking blue gaze. Even Moridin’s body language in the above paragraph is reminiscent of the posture and attitude Rand often adopts when he’s receiving guests as steward of Cairhien or Caemlyn, or as king of Illian. Moridin even dresses in a coat as black as an Asha’man’s, though arguably has more claim to the color than any of Rand’s human weapons.

And now Moridin has been named Nae’blis. I think it’s very interesting that he has been granted this honor despite his failure in Tear and death at the hands of a Callandor-wielding Rand. Of course it’s quite possible that Moridin was punished by the Dark One before being named, either when he was a soul in the Dark One’s grasp or after being given a new body but before the meeting with Moghedien. Still, one wonders if the title and position of Nae’blis was always going to be Ishamael’s, and the Dark One only made it seem like a position others could contend for as a means of controlling and manipulating his followers. Though we don’t know what is in the Dark One’s mind, Ishamael has always narratively stood out in comparison to the other Forsaken. He is the one we met in the Prologue of The Eye of the World. He was revealed as the true identity of Ba’alzamon, the practically non-human entity that terrorized Rand for the first several books. And he appears to have been the architect of many of the movements and schemes made by Darkfriends and the Black Ajah throughout the Age, almost as though he has been free from imprisonment longer than the other Forsaken.

Or perhaps he was never imprisoned at all. Ishamael did visit Lews Therin after the confrontation in Shayol Ghul, in which the Dragon and his Companions sealed the hole in the Dark One’s prison and the Dark One laid the taint on saidin. All the Forsaken were supposed to be locked away by that point, so one wonders if Ishamael has been free all this time, preparing for the eventual eroding of the seals and the escape of his fellow Chosen, reading the forces of the Dark for the birth of the Dragon Reborn and the coming of Tarmon Gai’don.

In any case, Nae’blis is to the Dark as the Dragon is to the Light, near enough. Moridin is now roughly the same age and roughly in the same position as Rand. He has more experience, true, but if Rand had a little more access to Lews Therin’s memories and a little less trouble with the concept of them being two different people, but in one body, and also being the same soul, you could argue that it’s not that different for Rand to remember his time as Lews Therin than it is for Moridin to remember his time as Ishamael.

The real question is how much of Rand’s part in the Last Battle will be facing Moridin and how much will be facing the Dark One himself. But for the moment, the Dark One is only affecting things from a distance, and is still relying on his human and Shadowspawn servants, just as the Creator is working through Rand and others who walk in the Light, and whose lives make up the Pattern of Creation.

And there is one other, very interesting, parallel between Moridin and Rand that is beginning to become apparent as we learn more about the True Power. Perhaps the best part about being a Darkfriend for a channeler of saidin is that the Dark One can protect them from the taint. Graendal brings this up during the Forsaken’s discussion of Rand’s plan to cleanse saidin, suggesting that the Dark One might not trust his male channelers once they are no longer reliant on him for this special protection. It’s ironic, in a way, that the Dark One’s touch upon saidin corrupts the minds of all men who channel it, except those who serve him. But in serving him they have, of course, dedicated their souls to the Dark. A corruption of the soul instead of the mind is still a corruption, and in the long run, arguably a even worse fate.

But Moridin channels the so-called True Power, not saidin. And this power, stemming directly from the Dark One himself, is described as being “a drug more addictive than saidin, more deadly than poison.” Even Demandred, another Forsaken and one who also aspires to be made Nae’blis, thinks that Moridin is insane to use the True Power so often; Demandred himself has only ever used it in emergencies, back when there was no Nae’blis and other Forsaken had permission to channel the True Power.

But Moridin is being corrupted by the True Power while Rand is being corrupted by the taint. Standing on opposite sides of the eternal conflict between Light and Dark, for a moment, these two are not so much opposite sides of a coin as they are, just… the same.

When Moridin and Rand encountered each other in Shadar Logoth and Moridin saved Rand from falling through the floor and probably dying, they both shot balefire at Mashadar at the same time, and the bolts collided. Rand was unable to sense the man channeling saidin, and we know that Moridin is using the True Power pretty much all the time, if not exclusively. Which means that balefire-channeled One Power interacted with balefire-channeled True Power. We saw the immediate effects on Rand as he experienced intense double vision and his head ringing like a gong. And it seems likely that some of the new symptoms he has when channeling—the dizziness and increased nausea—are also related to this entanglement. It’s almost as if he has been tainted anew, this time by the same thing tainting and destroying Moridin. The two men have become even more entangled, narratively and metaphysically.

At the writing of this essay, I am a bit less than halfway through reading Winter’s Heart. No doubt as my reading continues, I’ll learn more about Ishamael and Lews Therin’s backstory, and more about how the Dark One and his powers works, which may shift some aspects of my current reading of the character of Ishamael. But it is clear that the narrative is building a story around Rand and Moridin, a study in similarities and contrasts, and it promises to be very interesting indeed. icon-paragraph-end

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