This article contains spoilers for the entire series.
“This is an old thing, boy. Older than Aes Sedai. Older than anybody using the One Power. Old as humankind. Old as wolves. They don’t like that either, Aes Sedai. Old things coming again. I’m not the only one. There are other things, other folk. Makes Aes Sedai nervous, makes them mutter about ancient barriers weakening. Things are breaking apart, they say.”
—Elyas to Perrin and Egwene, The Eye of the World, Chapter 23
Perrin and Egwene listen, wary and uncertain, as Elyas speaks in the darkness of night. The imagined timbre of his voice as he tells of things ancient and unknown holds us spellbound: there is power in his words and in the air around him, as tangible on the page as the fierce glow of golden eyes in the deepening gloom. Both change and renewal ride on the wind, and this man is one of their harbingers—for Perrin, certainly, but also for us as readers of this world as it slowly begins to unravel.
Although he makes a brief cameo in New Spring, virtually nothing is known of Elyas Machera’s life before he learned he was a Wolfbrother. Aside from a few sparse details and the fact that Lan speaks well of him, all else is shrouded in mystery. Estranged Warder of the Green sister Rina Hafden, Elyas fled Tar Valon when the Red Ajah sought to determine the nature of his connection to wolves; in the process of escape, he killed two other Warders. By the time he meets Perrin, he has lived in the wilderness for years, having found, over time, “a way to live with what he was, a man somehow linked with wolves” (TDR, Ch. 36). Perrin later thinks to himself that Elyas is “a strange mix of wolf and human”; his manner of communication is “very wolflike, but the way he thought of himself was too individual, too human” (AMoL, Ch. 30).
If Elyas’s reference to “Old things coming again” situates the re-emergence of Wolfbrothers as part of the great cycle of Ages, a pattern that repeats but is ever-changing, his character arc in The Wheel of Time signals a similar cycle of departure and return on an individual level as well. His introduction in The Eye of the World quickly establishes his initial role as a mentor and guide to Perrin; in strictly archetypal terms, his abrupt removal from the narrative in the heat of battle is thus not entirely unexpected, following a time-honoured tradition in which mentors must disappear in order to allow the hero to find their own way.
Elyas’s return in The Path of Daggers, almost two years after his first meeting with Perrin, is as something more of a foil. Although he still refers to Perrin as a “boy” and lends guidance as needed, there is a stark difference drawn between the peace that Elyas has found with what he is and that which Perrin is slowly learning to construct. While Elyas generally forsakes human society in favour of wolf companionship and solitude, it is the love of the humans around him which grounds Perrin in reality. It is perhaps fitting, then, that Elyas’s second departure from Perrin comes just as Perrin has finally found his own “balance” and chosen his own path (ToM, Ch. 40); Elyas’s role as foil has been fulfilled. It is a much more deliberate parting than the first, intentional and subdued although still full of sentiment.
This second parting, however, is also one that holds the promise of another return, one in which Elyas will play yet another role. Expressing his need to go north with the wolves in preparation for Tarmon Gai’don, Elyas tells Perrin that if they do not meet in the Last Hunt, “perhaps we’ll meet in the dream.” Perrin, in response, insists that “we will meet again. I’ll find you, if you are with the wolves” (ToM, Ch. 40). They do, in fact, reunite briefly in the Wolf Dream during the Last Hunt, and here, Elyas serves as an integral ally and even a proxy for Perrin. While Perrin is preoccupied with the Forsaken in Tel’aran’rhiod, Elyas delivers news on his behalf regarding Graendal’s interference with the minds of the Great Captains. Elyas even goes so far as to “kidnap” Rodel Ituralde—ironically known as “the Wolf” or “the Little Wolf”—in Perrin’s name in order to keep him from unknowingly sabotaging the Last Battle (AMoL, Ch. 33).
Give the many roles and iterations that Elyas’s character cycles through, it is apt that we get to see him in both the first and the final books—and thus at the beginning and the ending of our story. But just as the first and final chapters of the series remind us that there are truly “neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time” (TEoTW, Ch. 1), so do Elyas’s repeated departures and returns in the narrative. From a mentor whom Perrin sometimes resents and wishes “he had never met” (TGH, Ch. 14), to a counterpart and a foil, to a proxy and an ally, Elyas’s character is always (re)turning—and yet always what and where he needs to be.