I said, what do I know, Wheel of Time Re-read? But you’re feeling so bad, ‘cause you know, don’t you.
Today’s entry covers Part 2 of The Prologue of Crossroads of Twilight, in which the spies hang out in every corner, but you can’t touch them, no. (eek)
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Prologue: Glimmers of the Pattern [Part 2]
Worrying about the news (and lack of it) from outside Tar Valon, a very jumpy Yukiri walks through the halls of the Tower with Meidani (also Gray) and Leonin, Meidani’s Warder. Meidani is one of the Rebel “ferrets” Yukiri et al have made swear an oath of obedience, an act which still makes Yukiri uneasy, though she thinks under the circumstances it was a necessary evil. Meidani is giving Yukiri a report on the activities of Atuan Larisett (Yellow), one of only three Black sisters Talene knows by name; they are interested in her especially because she is Talene’s “one more,” outside of her own “heart,” so Atuan presumably knows two more Black sisters Talene does not. Meidani keeps getting interrupted, though, by other sisters in the halls, never alone and always grouped with their own Ajah, and all radiating wariness and suspicion.
Hostility was all too usual, nowadays. The invisible walls between the Ajahs, once barely thick enough to hide each Ajah’s own mysteries, had become hard stone ramparts with moats. No, not moats; chasms, deep and wide. Sisters never left their own Ajah’s quarters alone, often took their Warders even to the library and the dining rooms, and always wore their shawls, as though someone might mistake their Ajah, otherwise. Yukiri herself was wearing her best, embroidered in silver and thread-of-gold, with the long silk fringe that hung to her ankles. So she supposed she was flaunting her Ajah a bit, too. And lately, she had been considering that a dozen years was long enough to go without a Warder. A horrible thought, once she sifted out the source. No sister should have need of a Warder inside the White Tower.
She thinks that something has to be done about the situation, which Yukiri considers largely due to the rumors about the Reds the “ferrets” had spread, but can’t see how to do it without revealing Meidani et al, which would effectively remove ten of the fourteen women they could be sure were not Black in the Tower, and possibly ensure all of their deaths if their hunt for the Black Ajah became known before they were ready to move. Yukiri and Meidani are both unnerved when they pass Atuan herself in the halls. Yukiri thinks of how Pevara went into a rage once she was finally convinced Galina Casban was Black, and how Yukiri had felt about learning about Temaile Kinderode, but having Atuan walking around free in front of them was worse.
It was like living with a red adder, never knowing when you would find yourself eye to eye with it, never knowing when it might bite. Like living in a den of red adders, and only being able to see one.
Yukiri interrupts Meidani’s resumed report on Atuan to tell her that she’d remembered that Meidani and Elaida had been friends as novices, and she wants Meidani to renew that friendship; Meidani tries to demur, but Yukiri makes it an order. Meidani then tells her that she’d tried already, but that the Keeper prevented it, saying Elaida is too busy. Yukiri counters, though, that Alviarin has left the Tower and packed for a few days, so she will be out of the way. Meidani wonders where Alviarin could be going; Yukiri wonders the same thing, but tells Meidani she need only be concerned with getting close to Elaida, and seeing who if anyone is reading Elaida’s papers.
Talene said the Black Ajah knew everything that came out of the Amyrlin’s study before it was announced, and they needed someone close to Elaida if they were to find out how it was done. Of course, Alviarin saw everything before Elaida signed, and the woman had taken on more authority than any Keeper in memory, but that was no reason to accuse her of being a Darkfriend. No reason not to, either.
Seaine then appears, calling to Yukiri and startling her and Meidani both. She is accompanied by Bernaile Gelbarn, another ferret. Yukiri is irate at Seaine’s lack of discretion, and tells her so; Seaine is abashed, but insists on talking anyway, telling Yukiri she needs to discuss “the second mystery.” After a moment, Yukiri realizes she is talking about the secret meetings of the Ajah Heads, which Yukiri finds much less important now that they know about the Black Ajah, but agrees to talk about it. To her surprise, Seaine weaves an eavesdropping ward about the two of them. She first makes a plea for them to stop treating her like a novice, insisting that she would already be dead by now if anyone knew about her conversation with Elaida, but Yukiri tells her she’ll have to talk to Saerin about that. Moving on to the Ajah Heads, Seaine asks if the Head of the Grays (Serancha, though Seaine doesn’t know that) had had a hand in choosing Andaya for the Hall; Yukiri reluctantly confirms this, even though she thinks Andaya was young for it yet.
“I knew it.” Seaine nodded excitedly, not at all her normal manner. “Saerin says that Juilaine was handpicked for the Brown, too, apparently not their usual way, and Doesine says the same about Suana, though she was hesitant about saying anything. I think Suana may be head of the Yellow herself. In any case, she was a Sitter for forty years the first time, and you know it isn’t common to take a chair after you were a Sitter that long. And Ferane stepped down for the White less than ten years ago; no one has ever entered the Hall again so soon. To cap it off, Talene says the Greens nominate choices and their Captain-General chooses one, but Adelorna chose Rina without any nominations.”
Yukiri is irritated at the rudeness of bandying about Ajah secrets so casually (and additionally thinks that “Captain-General” is a ridiculous title). Yukiri spells out what Seaine is driving at, that of the five Ajahs who had to replace Sitters when the rebels fled, four have chosen sisters who are in some way “unusual” choices. She scoffs, however, at the notion that the Heads are conspiring over this in some manner, pointing out the Browns picked a “normal” choice in Shevan. Seaine counters, though, that unlike the others the Browns had had to replace two Sitters instead of one, and while Shevan was a “normal” choice, the 2nd new Sitter (Juiliane) was not.
“But there is a pattern, Yukiri—a puzzle—and whether it’s rational or not, something tells me we had better solve it before the rebels get here. It makes me feel as though somebody’s hand is on my shoulder, but when I look, there isn’t anyone there.”
Yukiri still isn’t entirely convinced, but reassures Seaine that they have time, since the rebels can’t possibly get to Tar Valon before next summer anyway, though she rather wishes it were not so, thinking their arrival might be what is needed to bring the Ajahs together again. She tells Seaine to go back to her room, and continues on.
In a barn in the village of Dorian, outside Tar Valon, Gawyn wakes from troubled dreams of Egwene. His first Lieutenant (Rajar) tells him that a sister has arrived from Tar Valon. Gawyn thinks to himself that he should have gone back to Caemlyn to wait for Elayne the moment he found out the Younglings had been banned from Tar Valon, but he hadn’t been sure whether Elayne would come back to Tar Valon first, and now he was trapped, both by winter and by the army of at least twenty-five thousand or so that had seemed to appear out of nowhere at the river Erinin.
Any army would take notice of upward of three hundred men on the move, and the rebels would have no goodwill toward the Younglings. Even if he went alone, travel in winter was very slow, and he could reach Caemlyn as quickly if he waited until spring. There was no hope of finding passage on a ship, either. The siege would mire river traffic in a hopeless snarl. He was mired in a hopeless snarl.
He and Rajar go to the Mayor’s house see what the sister from the city has to say to the Aes Sedai here in the village. Inside, Katerine Alruddin and Tarna Feir are with a third sister named Narenwin, who interrupts herself when she sees Gawyn to inform him that she has orders for him from the Amyrlin Seat. Gawyn asks bluntly why he should obey orders from the Amyrlin after she has disowned the Younglings, but Katerine impatiently cuts this off to go back to their discussion of Narenwin’s contacts among the fishermen, who might possibly be able to get them back into Tar Valon past the besieging army. Gawyn thinks to himself he would not be sorry to see either Katerine or Tarna leave; Tarna had arrived and taken over the eleven sisters there barely a day after the rebel army arrived, and Katerine had arrived only the day before and taken over from Tarna, refusing to explain how she had escaped Dumai’s Wells or where she had been since then, but both had shown far too much interest in the Younglings for Gawyn’s comfort. Narenwin tells them she is supposed to take over Covarla’s group here, but Katerine tells her she was never part of Covarla’s group, so that does not apply to her, and Tarna is insistent that Elaida not know she is even here (which makes Katerine frown). Katerine insists on going to Narenwin’s fishermen to get back to Tar Valon, and reluctantly tells Tarna she may come along as well. Tarna accepts this, and she and Katerine go to leave the house. Gawyn demands of Narenwin whether she has any news of his sister, but can tell she is going to give him a non-answer. Suddenly, Tarna turns and tells him calmly that Elayne is with the rebels, astonishing both Katerine and Narenwin. Tarna assures Gawyn, though, that his sister is safe from “retribution,” since as an Accepted she cannot choose which Aes Sedai to obey. Gawyn says roughly that she might have told him before, to which she answers that he never asked, and leaves. Narenwin tells him that like Elayne, he is also sealed to the Tower, for all his talk of “disowning.”
He closed his eyes, and it was all he could do not to scrub at them with the heels of his hands. The Younglings were sealed to the White Tower. No one would ever forget that they had fought, on the very grounds of the Tower, to stop the rescue of a deposed Amyrlin. For good or ill, the tale would follow them to their graves. He was marked by that, as well, and by his own secrets. After all that bloodshed, he was the man who had let Siuan Sanche walk free. More importantly, though, Elayne bound him to the White Tower, and so did Egwene al’Vere, and he did not know which tied the tighter knot, the love of his sister or the love of his heart. To abandon one was to abandon all three, and while he breathed, he could not abandon Elayne or Egwene.
Wearily, he asks Narenwin what Elaida wants.
And the Prologue continues to continue. Someone figured out back in the day that COT’s Prologue constitutes something like 15% of the entire book, which is just the beginning of how structurally wonky this novel is.
This, of course, is all due to chronology: everything that happens in COT’s Prologue takes place before the Cleansing at the end of WH, in some cases well beforehand. It’s pretty safe to assume that the length of it is due to the fact that Jordan was attempting to even up the timelines between the many many plot threads, some of which are by this point seriously out of alignment with each other time-wise. All of the Prologues of the later books, actually, have served this “chronological clearinghouse” purpose for any story arcs which were not going to be central to that particular novel in the series, but the sheer length of COT’s cleanup attempt could be interpreted as a sign that the series was spinning a wee bit out of control in this regard.
On first reading, this was…not frustrating for me, precisely, so much as just confusing, at least initially. I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to ignore chronological wonkiness unless they are made really obvious, and this was definitely one of those times, since I dug into COT being extremely eager to find out what the fallout would be from the Cleansing, and instead was confronted with almost a hundred pages of narrative where no one even seemed to be aware of it. It took me a bit, actually, to realize that this was because the Cleansing hadn’t actually happened yet; like I said, I’m kind of slow on the uptake on larger—I guess “technical issues” is the best way to describe it—the first time I read something.
So I was a bit miffed once I did finally figure it out. I consoled myself, though, that we would definitely get to fun post-Cleansing stuff once the actual chapters got going.
Anyway. On with the show, eh?
Yukiri: Though she of course is completely (well, mostly) wrong about why the Tower is doing a fair imitation of the Cold War these days (except split six ways instead of two-ish, which is even worse), I still sympathize. That’s got to be…stressful, to say the least. Imagine suddenly realizing some unknown but significant percentage of the people in your extended family—people you thought you’ve known your whole life, or nearly—are in reality all members of some extremist cult or something, who hate you and everything you stand for, and would like nothing better than to see you suffer, and yet you can’t say or do anything about it. I’d say that rates a Crispin Glover or two on the Freakout scale, don’t you?
That said, I’m still rather annoyed with the Black Ajah Hunters’ not having made more progress by this point, however, even though less than a month has gone by (for the characters, anyway) since they discovered Talene was Black Ajah. I giggle now to think that I originally assumed the entire Black Ajah Thing would be taken care of in this book. And as usual, it’s difficult for me to judge if their cluelessness re: Alviarin’s (to me) OBVIOUS EVILITUDE is clunky authorial blindspotting, or it just seems so to me because I as the reader know far more than the characters do.
(And where did she go, again? I swear, COT and KOD are like a complete blur to me. Oh well.)
I’ll freely confess, the “Ajah/Sitter Mystery” aspect of the Tower split storyline always rather made my eyes glaze over, and I was never able to make heads or tails of it back in the day. Admittedly, this is probably because I didn’t have to try that hard; Rich Boyè’s willingness to take that particular FAQ article off my hands during the updates for WH and COT was a godsend as far as I was concerned. *sends Rich a shipment of Internets*
Mind, this isn’t to say I disliked this storyline; I thought it felt very cool and complicated and politicky and (therefore) realistic-sounding, actually. I just didn’t feel like putting in the effort to actually keep all the names and affiliations and titles and blahbihdah straight in my head.
Nowadays, ironically, I can actually talk quite intelligently about the whole mess simply through sheer repetitive osmosis, but at the time COT came out I was content to simply nod and smile and relegate the tsunami of names and etc. to the same mental backwash in which I store Star Trek technobabble. In other words, as long as it sounded good enough to pass a minimal bullshit filter, and I understood the results of said babble, I was more or less content to trust that Jordan had a good grip on the Aes Sedai Yellow Pages (especially considering he wrote the Aes Sedai Yellow Pages) and was not actually just making shit up at random, and so felt no need to independently verify his methodology, so to speak.
I should note that, judging by the lengthy…well, we’ll call them “discussions” on the newsgroup on this topic, I was rather alone in this blasé attitude among the fandom. This is probably because “blasé” is by definition kind of completely antithetical to the entire nature of fandom in the first place. What can I say, sometimes I’m a freak. Or just lazy, take your pick.
In any case, the whole thing is more or less cleared up and/or made irrelevant by events in TGS, though I tend to think the criticisms about it being far too convoluted a scheme to have been implemented under the chaotic circumstances of Elaida’s coup still hold some water. But, it is what it is.
I was a bit startled, admittedly, to realize that part of the plan evidently involved the Ajah Heads’ essentially staging a (clandestine) coup of their own, though given Elaida’s spectacular lack of leadership skills (perhaps most adequately demonstrated by her staging such an insane revolution in the first place!) the decision isn’t all that unreasonable, really. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t relieved Egwene was able to squash it but good once she took power. At least I think she has; to actually expect Aes Sedai to stop scheming altogether at any point, even an apocalyptic one, is probably a tad optimistic.
(Evidence I have been doing this too long: I can type any iteration of the word “apocalypse” without the slightest hesitation over the spelling of it.)
Anyway, blasé attitude or not, I did find the revelations here concerning the Ajah Head titles and all to be pretty interesting from a world-building perspective. I may not have been making much of an attempt to keep it all straight, true, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t (or don’t) appreciate how obvious scenes like this one make the depth and complexity of Jordan’s world. At this point in the series the universe of WOT has long since attained a weight and internal cohesiveness equal to or greater than any of the great fictional landscapes out there, up to and including Tolkien’s (barring, perhaps, the languages). Which is, you know, pretty darn cool.
I agree with Yukiri, though, that “Captain-General” is a silly title. Unless the Greens actually have a formal military ranking system, using “Captain-General” for your leader’s title strikes me as…I dunno, rather disrespectful, really.
Though then I distracted myself for a good ten minutes trying to think what would be a good title for the Head of the Greens. I couldn’t come up with anything less silly-sounding; maybe you guys’d like to give it a shot.
And then we have Gawyn, who I feel is going to owe me a new desk (or, possibly, a new skull) by the time we get to his (provisional) redemption from Emo Twatness in ToM. Why, yes, yes you should have gone to Caemlyn, you idiot. You should have gone long since. You should have gone after Dumai’s Wells at the very least, especially considering you knew by then that Elaida was trying to get you killed, you daft knob. No, scratch that, you should have left Tar Valon with Siuan and Min in TSR after the coup—or better yet, not helped Elaida’s stupid-ass coup succeed in the first place, YOU GIANT MORON.
The most amazing thing about Gawyn is how he manages to keep going down the same road of Stupid even as he’s telling himself how stupid it is. I mean, that’s just special, right there. This passage being an utterly typical example, since it consists of Gawyn finally finding out Elayne is alive and (supposedly) with the rebels…which somehow leads to his decision to fall back in line with Elaida.
WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN AGGH *headdesk*
So, yeah. Other than that, this scene is pretty non-interesting, except that I can’t remember why Tarna doesn’t want Elaida to know where she is at this point, since I seem to recall she’s been trying to get back to Tar Valon to report on the Rebels ever since her visit to them back in (wow) LOC. So, maybe something hinky there, though for the life of me I can’t recall if anything comes of it.
Also, I’m all sad in advance on her behalf now, in light of what happens in ToM. Crap. Especially considering that she’s just about the only Aes Sedai here who shows anything like a scrap of consideration here for Gawyn’s feelings, backhanded though it might be. Which is even more impressive considering she’s Red, and thus not very constitutionally inclined to give a crap about A Mere Man. And since I am constitutionally inclined to automatically give extra credit to anyone who manages to rise above their own prejudices, this just makes her forced rotation to the Dark Side that much more tragic in my opinion. Blargh.
So which way do I turn, when I forget everything I learned? Towards next Tuesday, methinks, when we polish off this Prologue puppy. Don’t forget your cloak and dagger!