From Tar Valon Library
Author: Kyria d'Oreyn
Unless stated otherwise, all information herein is taken from TSR, Ch. 15.
Aelfinn are a race of beings who combine human appearance with snake-like characteristics. They will answer three questions to anyone who visits them, as long as they do not touch the Shadow. Those who do will face dire consequences, either death, madness or worse. Frivolous questions will also be punished (TSR, Ch. 6).
They speak a rather harsh dialect of the Old Tongue, which might be the reason why answers are not always easily understood as the language is known to have several meanings when translated. When someone comes seeking true answers, yet cannot speak the language, they bring a woman to interpret. The answers are always true, but given in the form of a riddle in most cases.
They rummage through the emotions, sensations and experiences of the ones who seek them out; you can feel them doing it. Moiraine suggests that they feed on them in some way.
They are linked with the Eelfinn in some way. Cyndane states that she was being held by both the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn (WH, Ch. 35). Looking at the pattern of the game Snakes and Foxes, which is "a web of lines" (LoC, Ch. 33), it can be suggested that each of their worlds are separate, yet interwoven, like a spiderweb. The two have a strange relationship (ToM, Ch. 22).
Male and female alike, they are tall, barefoot, far too thin for their height, and too graceful to be human. They have narrow, elongated faces, pupils that are just black, vertical slits and straight black hair as well as skin that glitters like snake scales. They have breathy voices that pronounce words harshly. Most likely, everything about them is elongated, but their bodies, arms and legs are hidden by layers of yellow cloth. They seem to slither when they move (ToM, Ch. 54).
The Aelfinn seem to use different colors of cloth to distinguish rank, as the Guide and Mat's assailants were covered by yellow cloth, while the three who give the answers wear layers of red.
They carry bronze swords (ToM, Ch. 54)
The realm of the Aelfinn is made up entirely of curvy lines, except for the floor, and there is a heavy scent in the air, unpleasant and dry. Its true location is unknown, though there are two ways to enter the world of the Aelfinn: one being the redstone doorframe ter'angreal in Tear, the other the Tower of Ghenjei.
When entering the world through the ter'angreal, you will find yourself in a round hall with the doorframe standing in the middle. The arched ceiling, decorated at intervals with what seems to be bronze scrollwork, is so high that it is lost in the shadows, the walls bowed out and surrounded by "strange spiraled yellow columns snaking up into the gloom, like huge vines twining 'round poles that had been taken away." Glowing spheres atop coiled stands made of some white metal with a shine too dull for silver illuminate the surroundings with soft light.
The doorways are rounded. The windows line only one side of the corridors at three-pace intervals, perfect circles, and the halls are continuously curved, with tilework made of spirals and sinuous lines. "There were no pictures of anything, no wall hangings or paintings. Only patterns and always curves." Looking out of the windows, there are a variety of strange-looking plants, among other things, to be seen: "Tall wispy trees with only only a drooping umbrella of banches at the top, and others like huge fans of lacy leaves, a tangle of growth equal to the heart of any briar-choked thicket, all under dim, overcast light, though there did not seem to be a cloud in the sky."
Even after taking twists and turns, the windows will always give out into forests of that kind. Mat also notes seeing "three tall silvery spires, curving in toward each other so their points all aimed at the same spot. They were not visible from the next window, three paces away, but a few minutes later, after he and his guide had rounded enough curves that he had to be looking in another direction, he saw them again."
A doorway twice as large as any of the others leads into the chamber that contains those who will give true answers. It is yet another round room, with spiraling floor tiles in red and white under a domed ceiling. Instead of columns, there are "three thick, coiled pedestrals around the heart of the floor's spiral's."
Moiraine says that the world is twisted in some way that may allow the Aelfinn to "read the thread of a human life, read the various ways it may yet be woven into the Pattern. Or perhaps it a talent of the people." Additionally, Rand, Mat and Moiraine have been inside the ter'angreal at the same time, but none of them ever saw one of the others.
When using the ter'angreal, one steps through "a wall of blinding white light" and a "roar that [annihilates] sound." Upon entering the new surroundings, one is greeted by a Guide, who will ask: "You have brought no lamps, no torches, as the agreement was, and is, and will ever be. You have no iron? No instruments of music?" It is not known what will happen if you do carry any of these items with you.
You will then proceed to a chamber where the wisest of the Aelfinn will answer your questions. "According to the agreement. Come. Follow."
Each of the three is sitting cross-legged atop a thick, coiled pedestral; there is a man in the middle and a woman on either side. If they have not received human visitors in some time, they will greet you in the following way:
- Woman on the right: "It has been very long."
- Woman on the left: "Very long."
- Man: "Yet they come again."
- All: "Enter and ask, according to the agreement of old."
When a question is asked, they will seem to be studying the air above your head; they are most likely reading the Pattern. The woman on the left will asnwer your first question. As soon as she speaks, their eyes will drop on you again and they lean forward, breathing deeply, as if impatient to know your next questions. The second question will be answered by the woman on the right and the third by the man, following the same procedure as before.
You must ask three question and listen to all the answers before you can leave again (TSR, Ch. 6). Because the Aelfinn panic and their world is about to crumble when Rand and Mat, two ta'veren, enter their world at the same time, we do not know what the "farewell" usually looks like.
Questions and Answers
- Mat's Questions
- "Should I go home to help my people?"
- "You must go to Rhuidean."
- "Why should I [go to Rhuidean]?"
- "If you do not go to Rhuidean, you will die."
- "Why will I die if I do not go to Rhuidean?"
- "You will have sidestepped the thread of fate, left your fate to drift on the winds of time, and you will be killed by those who do not want that fate fulfilled."
- "Should I go home to help my people?"
- Both Rand and Mat, two ta'veren, entered the world of the Aelfinn at the same time, thus putting "strain" on the inhabitants and the realm. The Aelfinn became anxious the longer Mat stayed and the rooms began to tremble. They wanted Mat out as fast as possible, but he kept asking about his fate and did not budge. So they answered his question to finally get rid of him.
- "What fate are you talking about? (...) What fate?"
- "To marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons!"
- "To die and live again, and live once more a part of what was!"
- "To give up half the light of the world to save the world!"
- "Go to Rhuidean, son of battles! Go to Rhuidean, trickster! Go, gambler! Go!"
- The Daughter of the Nine Moons is Tuon, the heiress to the Imperial Throne of Seanchan (WH, Ch. 14). Mat does indeed marry her (WH, Ch. 31; KoD, Ch. 36).
- Mat died during the battle against Rahvin's forces in Andor (TFoH, Ch. 54). Rand balefired Rahvin, reversing his doings of the past couple of minutes, thus bringing Mat, Aviendha and Asmodean back to life (TFoH, Ch. 55). However, due to the fact that Rand balefired Rhavin out of existance, Mat never died in the first place, so this scene might not be what the Aelfinn meant. There is also the episode where Mat returns from the realm of the Eelfinn, where he requested to have the holes in his memory filled, but instead of regaining his own memories, he receives memories from officers and tacticians long dead. Because he did not specify the bargain with the Eelfinn, they let him hang from a tree in the real world. His breathing and heartbeat had stopped when Rand came to revive him, which means he was clinically dead (TSR, Ch. 24).
- Although the third answer has not yet proven true in the series, it is generally accepted that Mat will lose an eye to save the world.
- Rand's Questions
- Question unknown and answer unknown.
- "How do I cleanse the taint from saidin?"
- Answer not directly given (TPoD, Ch. 14)
- "How can I win the Last Battle and survive?"
- "The north and the east must be as one. The west and the south must be as one. The two must be as one. To live, you must die." (KoD, Ch. 18)
- Rand gave the answer he received from the Aelfinn to Herid Fel to analyze. Fel says the riddle states “sound principles, in both high philosophy and natural philosophy,” but he cannot help him solve the puzzle (TPoD, Ch. 14). Later, however, we see how Rand intends to cleanse the male half of the Source (WH, Ch. 35).
- At first, Rand thought he had to conquer all of the Westlands, but the Aelfinn's quote implies that both parts must be under a different leadership (Rand and the Seanchan), while both parties must work together in order to win the Last Battle. The meaning is unsure for the last part; maybe Rand must die in order to live again, because he is bound to the Wheel of Time. Other speculations include some channeler finding a way to Heal death, or Lews Therin dying for Rand to live, in accordance with Min's viewing (ACoS, Ch. 33). It can also mean that only a part of Rand will die – since both Cadsuane and Sorilea want to make him able to laugh and cry again (TPoD, Ch. 12; WH, Ch. 13).
- Moiraine also sought out the Aelfinn, but her questions are unknown.
- You can enter each realm through a ter'angreal only once (TSR, Ch. 6).
- They speak in breathy voices.
- Mat sometimes catches a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eyes in their world, but whenever he turns, there is nothing there.
- They were afraid of Rand from the beginning and shied away from his fiery sword.
- Moiraine says Mat and Rand, being two ta'veren together in the realm, could have torn the connection and been trapped there.
- Rand says the books Treasures of the Stone and Dealings with the Territory of Mayene told him of the ter'angreal and the world beyond.
- Birgitte tells Perrin that the game Snakes and Foxes is a "remembrance of dealings" with the snakes and the foxes. If you know how to win the game, you know how to win against the Aelfinn and Eelfinn (TSR, Ch. 28).
- According to Mat, the snakes and the foxes surely deserve to be connected to the Dark One, although that is nothing he wants to thinks about (KoD, Ch. 10).
- Mat thinks that the Aelfinn might know he is going to rescue Moiraine and might also know about the letter addressed to Thom, because he read it (KoD, Ch. 10).
"Mat’s assailants snatched him into the air by his arms and legs and ran, holding him over their heads. 'Unhand me, you white-livered sons of goats!' he shouted, struggling. 'Burn your eyes! The Shadow take your souls, loose me! I will have your guts for a saddle girth!' But writhe and curse as he would, those long fingers gripped like iron." (Mat to the Aelfinn who want him to get out; The Shadow Rising, Chapter 15)
"Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, music to daze, iron to bind." (A line from the game Snakes and Foxes, stating how to win against the Aelinn and Eelfinn; The Shadow Rising, Chapter 28)
"How many children's tales do you believe? Do you believe that if you sleep on Old Hob's Hill under a full moon, the snakes will give you true answers to three questions, or that foxes steal people's skins and take the nourishment from food so you can starve to death while eating your fill?" (Tuon asking Mat how superstitious he is; Knife of Dreams, Chapter 10)