Hello, girls and boys and neutrals, it’s your regularly scheduled Wheel of Time Re-read thingy!
Part 4 of The Dragon Reborn, to be exact, which covers Chapters 22-27. Orange you glad you got up and went to work today? No? Well. Can’t blame you, really.
Entries previously written are found right about heah. Spoilers, as ever and always, lurk just out of sight, waiting to reach up and snatch you, grue-like. BEWARE.
Yes. So. The post, I give you.
Chapter 22: The Price of the Ring
Sheriam meets Egwene in the hall and tells her to come along, she’s holding everything up. Egwene asks what’s going on, and Sheriam replies it’s time for her Accepted test. Egwene is staggered, and protests that she’s not ready, but Sheriam says the hour waits on no woman, and the Amyrlin decided that there was no point in putting it off; Elayne has already been through the arches by now. Sheriam hustles her through the Tower to the room with the Accepted test ter’angreal, where Elaida is waiting with the chalices. She snaps that it took them long enough. Egwene sees that Alanna is one of the sisters manning the ter’angreal, but doesn’t know the other two. Sheriam gives Egwene the same speech she gave Nynaeve about her chances to refuse, but Elaida interrupts to opine that Egwene should not be given this chance, and should be put out of the Tower no matter what her potential. Sheriam shoots back that Elaida was not so adamant about Elayne, and she will do her job for Egwene or leave. Elaida sniffs, but backs down. Egwene says she will not refuse; Sheriam finishes her warning speech, and again Egwene accepts. Sheriam tells her to ready herself, and Egwene goes to remove her clothes, but hesitates, remembering the ring ter’angreal and the notes about the Black Ajah Verin gave her. Sheriam asks sharply if she is refusing now, knowing what it will mean, but Egwene says no, and hides the notes and ring under her dress, hoping that will do. Alanna suddenly speaks up, noting that there is a strange resonance, almost an echo, coming from somewhere. Sheriam asks if there is a problem, but Alanna says no, it’s gone now. They begin the ceremony.
“The first time,” Sheriam said, “is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
Egwene took a deep breath and stepped forward, through the arch and into the glow. Light swallowed her whole.
Rand comes in to tell Egwene there is odd news from Baerlon. She looks up from their daughter’s cradle and is momentarily disoriented, but then wonders why she thought anything was odd about Rand being her husband, or that they have a daughter named Joiya. She asks what news, and Rand says it’s something about war with some people called Shawkin or Sanchan or something, but says it nothing they need to worry about. She notices him touching his head, and asks if the headaches are bothering him again; he nods, and Egwene worries about how they seem to be getting worse, and how strange things always seem to happen every time he has one, like lightning and wildfires. She says to let her try to help, but then sees a silver arch filled with light through the open door of the house and hears a voice say The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She steps toward the arch, and hesitates, torn. Rand falls to his knees behind her, groaning in pain, and begs her to help him. She starts to cry, but keeps on to the arch. Rand screams in pain, and sobbing, Egwene steps through.
Elaida empties the first chalice over her, and Egwene sobs to Sheriam that her name was Joiya. She asks if it was real, and Sheriam replies that every woman who’s gone through the arches asks that, and she does not know. Sheriam says that some speculate that some who do not come back from the arches stay because they choose to remain in the lives they found there, and she hopes that if so, those lives are unhappy; she has no sympathy for those who run from their responsibilities.
“The second time is for what is. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
Egwene trembled. Whatever happens, it cannot be worse than the last. It cannot be. She stepped into the glow.
Dressed in a dusty, torn silk dress, Egwene clambers silently through the rubble of what had been the Inner City of Caemlyn, hiding from the Darkfriends and Trollocs swarming through the streets. A Myrddraal strides past, shouting at the rest to “find him”. Egwene hurries on to the ruins of the Palace, barely noticing when she steps over the corpse of an Aes Sedai, and finds Rand in a half-collapsed room, pinned under a fallen beam.
“You came back.” He forced the words out in a hoarse rasp. “I was afraid—No matter. You have to help me.”
She tells him she could move the beam, but the whole room would collapse if she did; Rand laughs bitterly and replies he could move it himself, and keep the room from caving in while he was at it, but he would have to let himself go to do it, and he cannot. Egwene asks what he means, and he says he is holding the madness at bay, just barely, but if he channels he will lose it. She asks how she can help him, then, and he gestures to a dagger lying just out of his reach, and begs her to take it and kill him. Appalled, Egwene says how can he ask that of her.
“They can turn me, Egwene.” His breathing was so tortured, she wished she could weep. “If they take me—the Myrddraal—the Dreadlords—they can turn me to the Shadow. If madness has me, I cannot fight them. I won’t know what they are doing till it is too late. If there is even a spark of life left when they find me, they can still do it. Please, Egwene. For the love of the Light. Kill me.”
Tormented, Egwene cries that she cannot, and sees the silver arch behind her. She steps toward the light, and Rand begs her to help him. She whispers for him to forgive her, and as he screams, steps through.
Elaida pours the second chalice, and as Sheriam leads her to the final arch, Egwene mumbles that he said the Myrddraal and Dreadlords could force him to turn to the Shadow. Sheriam misses a step, and checks to see no one else heard. Egwene asks if they can do that, and Sheriam reluctantly confirms it, though few even in the Tower know. She says there is a weakness in being able to channel; an ordinary person cannot be forced to turn to the Shadow except through their own choices and actions, but a channeler can be coerced by a circle of thirteen Dreadlords weaving the flows through thirteen Myrddraal. Egwene observes faintly that thirteen is the number of Liandrin’s coterie, and Sheriam tells her sharply to forget about that, and to tell no one of what she has learned.
“The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
Egwene stared at the glowing arch, stared at some far distance beyond it. Liandrin and twelve others. Thirteen Darkfriends who can channel. Light help us all. She stepped into the light. It filled her. It shone through her. It burned her to the bone, seared her to the soul. She flashed incandescent in the light. Light help me! There was nothing but the light. And the pain.
Egwene stares at her ageless face in the mirror, and the stole of the Amyrlin Seat around her neck. An Aes Sedai wearing the stole of the Keeper asks if Egwene is ill, calling her “Mother”, and Egwene remembers that her name is Beldeine, and notes that her stole indicates that Beldeine was raised from the Green Ajah, and therefore Egwene must have been Green as well. Then she wonders at having to reason that out, and thinks something is wrong. The voice saying The way back will come but once. Be steadfast trails off in mid-sentence. Beldeine says “they” will be growing impatient, and Egwene tells her to lead on, then. Egwene follows her through the Tower, trying to figure out why everything seems so strange, and why she’s halfway convinced she’s still a novice.
The way back will come but on—This time it ended abruptly.
Thirteen of the Black Ajah.
She stumbled at that. It was a frightening thought, but it chilled her to the marrow beyond fear. It felt—personal. She wanted to scream, to run and hide. She felt as if they were after her. Nonsense. The Black Ajah has been destroyed. That seemed an odd thought, too. Part of her remembered something called the Great Purge. Part of her was sure no such thing had happened.
Egwene notices that Beldeine is scared stiff, and then they arrive at the Hall of the Tower. Beldeine announces her ritually, and Egwene sits, and not knowing what else to do, says to begin. Elaida stands up, and Egwene remembers that she is the foremost of the Sitters for the Red, and her bitterest enemy in the Tower. Elaida says to bring him in, and a dozen Aes Sedai and two guards escort in Rand, dazed and stumbling along in chains. Elaida declaims that this man has declared himself the Dragon Reborn, and channeled the One Power, and there is only one possible penalty; she calls on the Amyrlin Seat to sentence him to be gentled. Egwene shakily says No, she cannot, and Elaida immediately shouts that she has condemned herself by her own words, take her! Beside her, Beldeine hits Egwene in the head, and Egwene is knocked out. She comes to in a storeroom, naked, and overhears a woman and a Fade outside discussing whether it will get her “for sport” after they are done with her. Then she sees a cluster of women on one side of the room, and knows there are thirteen of them; they are joined by men in black cloaks, and Egwene realizes they are Myrddraal, thirteen of them, too. She screams, and reaches for saidar; they try to restrain her, but she is too fast for them, and burns the Fades to ash. One Black Ajah is still on her feet, whom Egwene recognizes as Glydan, Elaida’s closest confidant, and Egwene punches her in the face, knocking her out. She leaves the storeroom and blocks the door with rubble, and runs to her study. She finds Beldeine there, crying, and Beldeine tells her she had no choice; three nights ago they had taken her and stilled her, and her only hope of getting the One Power back was to do what they said. Elaida had promised her that. Egwene replies grimly, so Elaida is Black Ajah, and dresses herself quickly. She demands of Beldeine where Rand is, and Beldeine tells her they have taken him to the Traitor’s Court to gentle him.
Shivers assaulted Egwene. Shivers of fear. Shivers of rage. Elaida had not waited, not even an hour. The Traitor’s Court was used for only three purposes: executions, the stilling of an Aes Sedai, or the gentling of a man who could channel. But all of the three took an order from the Amyrlin Seat. So who wears the stole out there? Elaida, she was sure. But how could she make them accept her so quickly, with me not tried, not sentenced? There cannot be another Amyrlin until I’ve been stripped of stole and staff. And they’ll not find that easy to do. Light! Rand! She started for the door.
Beldeine asks what she can hope to do, and Egwene replies, more than they think; she never held the Oath Rod. Beldeine gasps, and Egwene hurries out, thinking that she’s sure of that, though she can’t remember how she managed to achieve the shawl and the stole without swearing the Oaths. She runs to the Traitor’s Court, trying to think of how to rescue Rand without breaking the Tower in the process; she concludes it probably can’t be done without starting a war within the Tower, but determines to do it anyway. Suddenly she hears the disembodied voice again, and sees the arch behind her. Frantically she thinks she can still help Rand first, she just needs a few minutes.
Voices bored into her head, not the disembodied, unknowable voice that warned her to be steadfast, but women’s voices she almost believed she knew.
—can’t hold much longer. If she does not come out now—
Hold! Hold, burn you, or I’ll gut you all like sturgeons!
—going wild, Mother! We can’t—
The voices faded to a drone, the drone to silence, but the unknowable spoke again.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
There is a price to be Aes Sedai.
The Black Ajah waits.
With a scream of rage, of loss, Egwene threw herself at the arch as it shimmered like a heat haze. She almost wished she would miss and plunge to her death.
Light plucked her apart fiber by fiber, sliced the fibers to hairs, split the hairs to wisps of nothing. All drifted apart on the light. Forever.
If I had a genie and three wishes, I really seriously think that one of them might be for the ability to decide to read or see something for the first time again. Sure, you can remember how it felt the first time you read something wonderful, but reading it the second or third (or, uh, 10th or 15th) time is just never quite the same.
Certainly it’s impossible for me to read, say, this chapter now with the same uncritical excitement and fascination I did the initial time through. Now I keep analyzing it. Which, yeah, that’s kind of why I’m here, but while analysis has its own pleasures and frustrations, my point is, I am not the same person I was the first time I read WOT, and therefore neither is what I’m reading. And that’s a tiny bit sucky. Not a lot, but a little.
Anyway. All of the above notwithstanding, this is still one of the high points of the series in my opinion, and it raised the bar considerably on what my expectations were for the rest of the story. This was where Jordan really shone as a storyteller—clever, complex, and compelling foreshadowing and intimation of things to come, driven forward by genuinely exciting action. This is what we all signed up for.
As to the particulars of Egwene’s vision quests and where they are/are not accurate, all I ask if that you read this first, and then feel free to go to town in the comments.
Chapter 23: Sealed
Egwene steps out of the arch, trembling with anger, and demands to know if that is all there is for her, to abandon and fail him time and time again? Then she realizes that there are far too many sisters in the room, and they are all staring at her anxiously. Sheriam quickly checks Egwene and announces in relieved tones that she is all right; the others relax a little, even Elaida, who goes to get the last chalice. Egwene asks what happened, but Sheriam says, later; they must finish the ceremony first. Egwene kneels, and Elaida pours the chalice of water over her, and Siuan says she is washed clean of Egwene al’Vere from Emond’s Field; she is Egwene al’Vere, Accepted of the White Tower. Siuan gives Egwene her ring and welcomes her, then tells Sheriam she means to know what went wrong here tonight before striding over to examine the ter’angreal. Sheriam helps Egwene dress, and Elaida comes over with her old dress, and the bundle with the ring ter’angreal and Verin’s notes. Egwene makes herself not snatch them, and thanks Elaida. Elaida answers coldly that she does not approve of Egwene’s raising to Accepted, because she considers her a wilder, in spirit if not technically so. She says she believes Egwene will never truly be part of the Tower, and should have gone back to her village. She stalks out, and Egwene thinks sourly to herself that even if Elaida isn’t Black Ajah, she’s the next thing to it, and asks Sheriam again what happened. Sheriam replies that she does not know, but thinks that Egwene very nearly died. Alanna joins them, and apologizes to Egwene; she should have stopped the ceremony when she first noticed the reverberation, but she didn’t, and it came back a thousand fold. She thought the ter’angreal was going to melt itself through the floor. She offers to join Egwene for her time in the kitchens, and her trip to Sheriam’s study too, as penance. Sheriam is scandalized; Egwene wonders suspiciously why Alanna is doing this, and tells her it was not her fault. Alanna remarks that the only time she’s seen anything like what happned is when there were two ter’angreal with similar functions in a room together; Egwene grips the dream ring ter’angreal tightly and reiterates that it was not Alanna’s fault. Sheriam wonders a little at Egwene’s vehemence, but agrees. Then Egwene asks Alanna what it means to be Green Ajah. Sheriam is amused, and Alanna grins and answers that first, one must love men; not merely like them as a Blue does, as long as they do not get in her way, and certainly not like a Red, who despises men as if all of them were responsible for the Breaking, not just those who could channel, and not a White, who has no room in her heart for passions at all. Egwene says that’s not what she meant; she wants to know what it means to be Green, and Alanna nods slowly.
“Browns seek knowledge, Blues meddle in causes, and Whites consider the questions of truth with implacable logic. We all do some of it all, of course. But to be a Green means to stand ready.” A note of pride entered Alanna’s voice. “In the Trolloc Wars, we were often called the Battle Ajah. All Aes Sedai helped where and when they could, but the Green Ajah alone was always with the armies, in almost every battle. We were the counter to the Dreadlords. The Battle Ajah. And now we stand ready, for the Trollocs to come south again, for Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. We will be there. That is what it means to be a Green.”
Egwene thanks her, and the Amrylin joins them. To Egwene’s surprise, Alanna makes Siuan the same offer of sharing Egwene’s penance; Siuan snaps that she never heard of such a thing. She tells Alanna that she may visit Sheriam, but the kitchen thing is out of the question; she will not have whispers of the scullion Aes Sedai floating about. Alanna accepts this readily, and Egwene thinks that she didn’t want to be punished any more than any normal person would be; she just wanted an excuse to be close to Egwene. Sheriam sends Egwene to bed, and Egwene goes, wondering if there’s anyone she can trust; Siuan sent them after thirteen Black Ajah, yet neglected to mention that thirteen is just the number needed to turn a channeler to the Shadow. She reaches Nynaeve’s room, and finds Nynaeve with Elayne, who is sobbing into Nynaeve’s lap. Elayne looks up at Egwene, and cries that she could not be that awful, could she? Elayne’s words bring everything that happened during the test crashing back to Egwene, and she begins to sob as well. Nynaeve hugs them both close, and reassures them that one day “we will make them pay our price”.
We never do find out what Elayne’s Accepted test involved, do we? I’ve always been kind of curious about that. It’s not keeping me up nights or anything, but it would be cool to know.
Alanna is destined to piss me off extremely later on, but she does get her moment of coolness here when she describes what the Green Ajah does. Her speech is one of the few times where I thought, “okay, that’s actually really cool” in reference to the Aes Sedai as an organization.
As individuals, Aes Sedai run the gamut between the extremes of “kicks all the ass regionally available” and “needs to be flung into the vortex where the socks and Bic pens go”, but the Aes Sedai as an institution has historically pretty much sucked across the board. One of the strange things about this suckiness is that I really can’t decide if Jordan meant for it to be that way, or if he really considered the gender politics ramifications of it if he did. I will be revisiting this topic later.
Coming back to the Ajah thing, I also have to say that I’ve always found the divvying up of purposes for the Ajahs to be a little weird and uneven—like, who would pick being a Gray, for instance?—but maybe that just reflects my own personal preferences. That being said, in my opinion it’s pretty clear that the Blue and Green Ajahs are by far Jordan’s favorites. Certainly they’re the only ones who collectively seem to be able to get shit done.
Chapter 24: Scouting and Discoveries
Mat wakes up ravenous, but notes that he already looks less starved. He eats everything on the tray brought to him, gets dressed even though he knows the Aes Sedai expect him to stay in bed, and leaves to explore. He wanders around the Tower until he finds his way outside and locates some Guardsmen lounging about in a courtyard, and strikes up casual conversation, eventually working his way around to asking about conditions across the river. The guardsman he asks answers easily enough, but adds that he will not be going there; he is Matrim Cauthon, and the sisters have described him to every guard on gate duty, with strict orders he is not to be let off the island. Dismayed, Mat quickly makes excuses and leaves, berating himself for alerting the guards to his intentions. He wanders into a garden, and catches sight of Else Grinwell, whom he remembers vaguely from his and Rand’s trip to Caemlyn. He greets her with enthusiasm, but she stares at him coldly and asks what he’s doing up and about; Mat tries to reassure her that he’s Healed, but she only replies that she has work to do, and to let her by. She makes sure he is a good distance from her before she passes, and Mat reflects sourly that his luck is not in today, apparently. Then he hears a clatter from up ahead, and curiously moves to find its source. He comes to an open area with pairs of men practicing with wooden swords; watching their grace, Mat is sure that these must be Warders with their students. He sits down to watch them for a bit. He notes a group of Aes Sedai and Accepted watching one pair of fighters in particular, one of whom Mat thinks wryly to himself is almost as pretty as a girl, but also sees is extraordinarily skilled with a sword. The Warder instructor watching them orders the pair to take a break, and once they stop moving Mat realizes that the one with red-gold hair must be Elayne’s brother Gawyn, which makes the other Galad. Gawyn sees Mat, and heads over with Galad in tow to talk to him. Gawyn says he must be Mat Cauthon, and asks if he is better now; Mat says he’s fine. Galad asks if he came to the yard to learn the sword, and Mat replies he’d rather put his trust in a good bow, or a quarterstaff.
“If you spend much time around Nynaeve,” Galad said, “you’ll need bow, quarterstaff, and sword to protect yourself. And I don’t know whether that would be enough.”
Gawyn looked at him wonderingly. “Galad, you just very nearly made a joke.”
Gawyn segues the conversation into asking about Rand, and Mat hurriedly deflects the subject back to weapons, saying he thinks he could do fairly well against either of them with a quarterstaff. Gawyn and Galad try not to be too obviously patronizing in their disbelief; fed up, Mat wagers them two to one odds that he can beat both of them at once. Gawyn and Galad both try to refuse, saying he’s sick and they will not take such advantage, but the Warder instructor, Hammar, overhears this and joins them, asking if Gawyn and Galad think they’re good enough to beat a boy with a stick. They tell him it would not be fair, and Hammar tells them to get over to the yard. They go, and Hammar looks more closely at Mat and asks if he’s sure he’s up to this; he looks sick. Mat laughs and says he needs the money, but then has to hide it when his knees almost buckle as he picks out a quarterstaff. He thinks to himself he’d better get this over with quickly.
I have to win. “Luck,” he muttered. “Time to toss the dice.”
Hammar gave him an odd look. “You speak the Old Tongue, lad?”
Mat stared back at him for a moment, not speaking. He felt cold to the bone. With an effort, he made his feet start out onto the practice yard.
He reminds Gawyn and Galad of the wager, and Hammar backs him up; finally the other two agree, and the bout is on.
The moment’s warning was all Mat needed. As Galad rushed at him, he slid his hands along the quarterstaff and pivoted. The end of the staff thudded into the tall man’s ribs, bringing a grunt and a stumble. Mat let the staff bounce off Galad and spun, carrying it on around just as Gawyn came within range. The staff dipped, darted under Gawyn’s practice sword, and clipped his ankle out from under him. As Gawyn fell, Mat completed the spin in time to catch Galad across his upraised wrist, sending his practice sword flying. As if his wrist did not pain him at all, Galad threw himself into a smooth, rolling dive and came up with his sword in both hands.
Ignoring him for the moment, Mat half turned, twisting his wrists to whip the length of the staff back beside him. Gawyn, just starting to rise, took the blow on the side of his head with a loud thump only partly softened by the padding of hair. He went down in a heap.
Galad is taking him seriously now, and Mat’s legs are threatening to give out on him, so he presses the attack, and Galad cannot do anything but defend.
The quarterstaff flickered past Galad’s sword and in quick succession struck knee, wrist, and ribs and finally thrust into Galad’s stomach like a spear. With a groan, Galad folded over, fighting not to fall. The staff quivered in Mat’s hands, on the point of a final crushing thrust to the throat. Galad sank to the ground.
Mat almost dropped the quarterstaff when he realized what he had been about to do. Win, not kill. Light, what was I thinking? Reflexively he grounded the butt of the staff, and as soon he did, he had to clutch at it to hold himself erect. Hunger hollowed him like a knife reaming marrow from a bone. Suddenly he realized that not only the Aes Sedai and Accepted were watching. All practice, all learning, had stopped. Warders and students alike stood watching him.
Hammar moved to stand beside Galad, still groaning on the ground and trying to push himself up. The Warder raised his voice to shout, “Who was the greatest blademaster of all time?”
From the throats of dozens of students came a massed bellow. “Jearom, Gaidin!”
“Yes!” Hammar shouted, turning to make sure all heard. “During his lifetime, Jearom fought over ten thousand times, in battle and single combat. He was defeated once. By a farmer with a quarterstaff! Remember that. Remember what you just saw.”
Hammar declares the match over, and the Aes Sedai and Accepted watching rush over to tend to Galad. Gawyn comes over, having already been Healed of the blow Mat gave him, and hands him two silver marks, remarking dryly that he will listen next time. Mat worries that he must have hurt Galad badly, watching the cluster of Aes Sedai around him, and Gawyn laughs and assures him that the worst Galad has to worry about is finding himself Warder to one of the Greens over there before his head clears. Mat thinks to himself that he’d never heard anything about the Aes Sedai-Warder bond like what Gawyn seems to be suggesting, and supposes aloud that it probably wouldn’t go over well if he asked Galad for his money right now. Hammar comes over and says, probably not, and hands Mat Galad’s forfeit, saying he’ll collect later; he and Mat agree that Galad isn’t that good-looking, and Gawyn grins at them both. Hammar asks where Mat is from.
“Manetheren.” Mat froze when he heard the name come out of his mouth. “I mean, I’m from the Two Rivers. I have heard too many old stories.” They just looked at him without saying anything.
Mat makes excuses and leaves hastily, thinking that he just keeps digging himself deeper, and that he had to find a way out of here somehow. But he can’t think of how.
I heart this chapter.
You can always tell when I get excited about a scene, because I always quote way too much of it. But come ON, y’all. How can you not adore the precise moment when Mat finally switches over from whiny jerk to Purveyor of Awesome? Excuse me, can we review? Boy gets up from a sickbed (very nearly, a deathbed), and the first thing he does is trounce the shit out of the two best students in Warder School. Thank you, good night.
Of course, this also coincides with Mat starting to get seriously scared of himself, but that’s how it works, boyo. Welcome to the Self-Realization Club!
The first rule is, you do not talk about Self-Realization Club... oh, wait, you (and everyone else in this damn series) have already got that one down, don’t you? Never mind then.
In other news, this is just about the only chapter I can remember actually really liking Gawyn. Most of the time I can take him or leave him (except for the post-coup period where I want to smack him), but he comes off here as a very cool guy, gracious in defeat and with a good sense of humor. Too bad it doesn’t last.
Again, though, I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy reading about Mat so much from this point on: he is one of the few characters that Jordan seems to have felt comfortable with being funny about, and as a result it seems like other characters become more amusing just by being around him. WOT’s never been a laugh riot or anything, but it’s given me a fair share of chuckles, and I guarantee you the lion’s share of those chuckles are Mat-oriented.
Oh yeah, and Lanfear’s in this chapter. Yawn.
Chapter 25: Questions
Egwene watches Nynaeve pace while Elayne studies the notes Verin gave them, and thinks about her dreams, wishing she knew if they meant anything or not: the Seanchan collaring Aes Sedai, Whitecloaks tying her father’s hands, Rand reaching for a crystal sword without noticing the net dropping on him, Rand in a dry dusty chamber where small versions of the creature on the Dragon banner settle into his skin, and Rand walking into a fiery hole in a mountain. She’d also dreamed of Perrin with a falcon and a hawk, with the hawk trying to leash him, and of Perrin leading a huge army of wolves. The dreams about Mat were even nastier: Mat placing his own eye on a balance scale, Mat hanging by his neck from a tree limb. The one about Mat and the Seanchan she dismisses as a nightmare. Nynaeve stops pacing and declares again that the notes are rubbish; the only question is, are they rubbish on purpose? Elayne disagrees; she points out that the thirteen women are too neatly spread across the Ajah and demographic spectrum. There are exactly two from each Ajah except the Red, no two from the same city, no two the same age, etc. Elayne concludes that they could not have arranged such a lack of pattern unless they had a larger number of women to choose from; ergo, there are still Black Ajah in the Tower. Nynaeve is impressed, but Egwene is uncertain about Elayne’s further suggestion that it means that there is a pattern to the Black Ajah as a whole. Elayne disgustedly agrees, asking what good it does them to know that Chesmal Emry is an extraordinarily talented Healer, or that Marillin Gemalphin is fond of cats? Nynaeve points out there is the other list, of the ter’angreal. Egwene thinks uneasily how most of them seem to have something to do with sleep, and were last studied by Corianin Nedeal, except for one, a fluted black rod that the list said produced balefire, and was extremely dangerous and almost impossible to control, according to Verin’s all-caps note in the margin, and another shaped like dice that suspended chance in some way. Nynaeve comments Mat would like that one. Egwene goes to retrieve the dream ring ter’angreal from where she’d hidden it in the chimney flue, and as they stare at it, they discuss Verin and Alanna’s suspicious behavior, and conclude that Verin had left out too much to be trusted. Nynaeve decides she is going to sleep with the dream ring tonight, but Egwene points out that she is the one who is supposed to be a Dreamer, and Nynaeve reluctantly agrees. Then they realize that Else Grinwell is standing in the doorway, and Egwene has a feeling she had been staring at the dream ring. Nynaeve asks if Else had never learned to knock, and Else replies calmly that she has a message from the Amyrlin: The belongings left behind by Liandrin and the others were put in the third storeroom on the right from the main stairs in the second basement under the library. She leaves, and Nynaeve snaps that the fool girl cannot be trusted. Egwene runs after her, and catches a glimpse of white vanishing down a ramp, and follows. At the foot of the ramp she finds a woman in silver and white silk who makes Egwene feel grubby and scrawny by comparison. The woman comments Egwene is bold to go running around alone where murders have been committed, and Egwene asks if she saw a novice go running by. The woman replies that the novice was running very fast, and she doubts Egwene will catch her. Egwene starts to ask another question, assuming she is Aes Sedai, and the woman’s face hardens, and she commands Egwene to leave her.
So strong was the command in her voice that Egwene turned and was three steps up the ramp before she realized what she was doing. Bristling, she spun back. Aes Sedai or no, I—
The gallery was empty.
Egwene searches around, but finds no trace of the woman.
A pretty fair argument can be made that Lanfear used Compulsion on Egwene here, not that it matters much, really, as if so it was only for an extreme short-term goal (making Egwene go away). For the long-term trap she’s obviously using the Girls to set up re: Rand and Tear, she’s sticking to plain old disguise and manipulation.
Although, I suppose it’s a bit disingenuous of me to say “plain old”, when I remember that this is really the first time we get an indication that the Forsaken can make themselves look like someone else entirely. This is all completely obvious in retrospect, but I’m pretty sure I was confused as hell the first time through.
Chapter 26: Behind a Lock
Nynaeve and Elayne join Egwene, and she tells them about the woman, and that she lost Else. Nynaeve dismisses the woman as unimportant, and says they need to check that storeroom immediately. They head to the library storage area, and climb down the stairs; Egwene and Elayne create balls of light, and warn each other to be careful not to give in to how wonderful it feels too much. They walk on, and Egwene nervously thinks of how no one would ever hear them scream down here.
She felt a lightning bolt form, or the potential for one, and nearly stumbled. She had never before channeled two flows at once; it did not seem difficult at all.
They come to the correct door, and see it is chained and locked. Nynaeve tries to make herself angry so she can channel, and Egwene examines the lock, remembering her affinity for Earth, which includes metals; she probes at it with the Power, but then Nynaeve creates a prybar with Air and tells Egwene to move out of the way. Nynaeve heaves at the chain with the prybar, and the chain snaps like thread; Nynaeve stumbles halfway across the hall in surprise, and Egwene says she thinks she did something to the chain. Nynaeve mutters that she could have said something, and leads them into the storeroom. They examine the thirteen bags in the room, and amid the junk they find that every bag has something pointing them to Tear, including a sketch of a building with one room marked “Heart of the Stone”. They agree that it is all way too obvious, and wonder how Siuan could have missed it. Nynaeve further points out that this is very clearly bait:
Nynaeve nodded. “Bait. A trap. Or maybe a diversion. But trap or diversion, it’s so obvious no one could be taken in by it.”
“Unless they do not care whether whoever found this saw the trap or not.” Uncertainty tinged Elayne’s voice. “Or perhaps they meant it to be so obvious that whoever found it would dismiss Tear immediately.”
Egwene wished she could not believe that the Black Ajah could be as sure of themselves as that. She realized she was gripping her pouch in her fingers, running her thumb along the twisted curve of the stone ring inside. “Perhaps they meant to taunt whoever found it,” she said softly. “Perhaps they thought whoever found this would rush headlong after them, in anger and pride.” Did they know we would find it? Do they see us that way?
Elayne asks what do they do now; Egwene grips the dream ring and replies, maybe they will know after tonight.
This chapter is just as much about the Girls learning about the One Power as it is about furthering the Black Ajah storyline, and I have to remind myself that while it seems boring and small potatoes now, on first reading the magic discovery bits were very cool.
Also, subtlety: Lanfear does not have it. Of course, she is under the impression that the Girls are idiots and need a big giant Clue-By-Four to figure out where she wants them to go, and, well, okay, there’s a little bit of evidence to back her up on that, but sheesh.
Chapter 27: Tel’aran’rhiod
The girls worked the kitchens before coming back to Egwene’s room, but the Amyrlin never showed, although Verin, Alanna, Elaida, Sheriam, and Anaiya all found reasons to wander down to the kitchens while they were there. Egwene thinks about the possible ulterior motives any of them could have had, but also thinks that they could all have had legitimate reasons for being down there as well. She prepares for bed while Nynaeve tugs her braid and Elayne babbles nervously about maybe choosing Green and having three or four Warders and one of them could be the Prince Consort. Egwene knows who she is talking about, and feels a mix of jealousy and sympathy, for she does not believe anyone can marry the Dragon Reborn. Egwene tells them she is ready; they discuss briefly the possibility of more than one of them trying to use the ring at once, but Egwene says they don’t know if that would even work, and anyway she would feel better knowing both of them are there watching over her. They understand, and Egwene lies down with the ring on a cord around her neck, while Elayne and Nynaeve sit on either side of the bed. Egwene doesn’t think at first that she will be able to sleep, but Nynaeve begins humming a lullaby from her childhood, and she drifts off.
Egwene finds herself in a beautiful meadow, wearing a silk dress in her favorite color, though she changes the slashes to green instead of white, and notices that the ring on its cord, so heavy before, was now light as a feather. She experimentally tries to embrace saidar, and has no trouble with it, but lets it go quickly, worried that Shadowspawn or the Black Ajah might be able to track her by it. She thinks this Dreamworld doesn’t seem so bad thus far, and decides to take a look around. She takes a step, and finds herself inside a dank hallway of an inn. The door in front of her swings open, and she sees a large dog lying between the door and a large stone pillar in the middle of the room. Perrin lies against the pillar, pulling tight a heavy chain that binds him to the stone even in sleep. Egwene calls his name worriedly and steps inside; the dog gets up and faces her, and she realizes it is a wolf. It bares its fangs at her, and she steps back and embraces saidar, calling to Perrin to wake up and tell the wolf she is a friend.
Perrin’s head came up; his eyes opened drowsily. Two sets of yellow eyes regarded her. The wolf gathered himself. “Hopper,” Perrin shouted, “no! Egwene!”
The door swung shut before her face, and total darkness enveloped her.
She squints into the darkness, and realizes she is in the woods. She sees a campfire, and creeps through the trees to get closer. Rand is by the fire, alone, smoking a pipe, and she notices that the fire burns with no fuel, and doesn’t even seem to be touching the ground. Rand looks up and demands that whoever it out there show themselves; Egwene steps out and says it’s her, and not to be afraid, she is in his dream. Rand sneers and answers that he knows it’s a dream, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
He stared angrily out into the darkness as if looking for someone. “How long will you try?” he shouted at the night. “How many faces will you send? My mother, my father, now her! Pretty girls won’t tempt me with a kiss, not even one I know! I deny you, Father of Lies! I deny you!”
“Rand,” she said uncertainly. “It’s Egwene. I am Egwene.”
A sword of fire appears in his hands suddenly, and he tells her his mother offered him honeycake with poison in it, and his father had a knife, and “she” offered kisses, and more; what does Egwene bring him? She tells him she will make him listen to her if she has to sit on him again, and tries to wrap him in Air; he spins the sword through the air, and she staggers back, feeling her flows severed. He says he has learned some things, when it works, and then moves to attack her. Egwene flees; she doesn’t know how she does it, but somehow ends up back in the sunny meadow, where she berates herself for once again being unable to help him. She takes up the ring ter’angreal and tells it to take her where she needs to go, and tries channeling into it.
“Take me to where I can find an answer. I need to know what the Black Ajah wants. Take me to the answer.”
“Well, you’ve found your way at last, child. All sorts of answers here.”
Egwene opens her eyes and finds herself in a vast domed chamber filled with redstone columns, with a crystal sword hanging in midair in the center; she thinks it might be the same sword she saw Rand reaching for in her other dream. An incredibly ugly old woman steps out of the shadows; Egwene asks who she is, and she replies just old Silvie, Egwene’s old retainer. Egwene thinks the old woman must be confused, and pretends to know her. She reminds Silvie that she said something about answers, and Silvie says there are all kinds of answers here in the Heart of the Stone, and secrets too.
“What kind of secrets?”
But Silvie was hobbling toward the crystal sword. “Plots,” she said as if to herself. “All of them pretending to serve the Great Lord, and all the while plotting and planning to regain what they lost. Each one thinking he or she is the only one plotting. Ishamael is a fool!”
Egwene asks sharply about that last, and Silvie smiles and says it’s just a thing poor folks say to make them feel good and safe. She invites Egwene to try it, and Egwene does so, and laughs, agreeing that it does make her feel better. She asks Silvie about the sword, and Silvie explains about Callandor and its significance, and shows how it is protected with an invisible barrier. Egwene tries probing at the barrier, and realizes that half of it is woven of saidar, but the other half, the part she can’t sense, must be woven with saidin. The sound of approaching bootsteps echo through the chamber, and Silvie mutters that “he” is coming to look at it again, and tells Egwene she must leave. Egwene tries to do so, telling the ring to take her back to the meadow, but nothing happens. Silvie observes flatly that she doesn’t know the way out, and then croons that it’s dangerous to come here if you don’t know how to leave, but not to worry, Silvie will put her safe in her bed. She tangles her fingers in the cord holding the dream ring, and Egwene tells her not to touch that, but then is enveloped in pain.
Egwene sits up with a shriek and checks herself frantically, but can find no injury to account for the pain. Nynaeve tells her they are there, and she throws her arms around Nynaeve as Elayne channels all the candles alight. She observes worriedly that Egwene never moved or mumbled, and they didn’t know whether to wake her. Egwene replies that next time, they will set a time limit and wake her no matter what. She tells them everything that happened, except for the part with Perrin, as she doesn’t feel that’s her secret to tell. Elayne says she cannot believe Rand would have hurt Egwene, and asks if he looked hurt; Nynaeve gives her a dry look and changes the subject to Callandor, and says well, now they know where the Black Ajah is. Elayne says this doesn’t make it any less a trap, and Nynaeve replies the best way to catch someone who lays a trap is to spring it and sees who comes. They will go to Tear. Elayne is adamant that she will come along, but thinks that this time she will write a letter to her mother first, so Morgase will not go completely ballistic when she hears Elayne is gone again. She is not certain how to make sure it gets to Caemlyn, though. Nynaeve says they will give the Amrylin one more chance to seek them out, and then leave for Tear by tomorrow evening. They agree that none of them wants to be alone tonight, and as they are bunking down in Egwene’s bed, Nynaeve suddenly laughs, and says she has just thought of the perfect person to carry Elayne’s letter to Caemlyn.
Sigh. I can’t seem to make myself terribly interested in this storyline. Again, I think it’s a question of familiarity breeding boredom; I already know all this stuff about Tel’aran’rhiod (henceforth rendered “TAR”, because God I am sick of the apostrophe key), so however fascinating I found this all the first time, yeah, I’m just kind of over it, now.
Same with the Lanfear plot, as I’ve already said. In fact, I’m starting to get confused about why Lanfear’s even going to all this trouble re: getting the Supergirls to Tear, because isn’t Rand already headed that way? Why would she need the Girls to be bait, then? I guess there’s some other aspect to this convolutedness I’m just not remembering?
Eh, whatever. Ooh, look, more Mat chapters next!
But not till next time, Mwhahahaha! Come back Wednesday for more Mat yayness, and other stuff too, I suppose, in Chapters 28-34. Laters!