Top of the Friday to yeh, boyseth and girlseth! Welcome to Yet Another Wheel of Time Re-read post!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 8-9 of A Crown of Swords, in which a cipher cops a ’tude, and it’s about damn time, really.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of yummy tidbits regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm – not to mention for WOT stuff in general.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
Ergo, a posteth doth follow. Check it!
Chapter 8: The Figurehead
Egwene sits in her tent with Sheriam, Siuan, and Chesa, thinking of how anyone would far more readily believe that Sheriam was Amyrlin than her, and says to Sheriam that the army must rest where they are tomorrow. Sheriam thinks they should stop for longer than a day, but Egwene doesn’t need Siuan’s surreptitious headshake to know not to allow that.
“One day.” She might be just eighteen and well short of a true Amyrlin’s grandeur, but she was no fool. Too many of the sisters seized on any excuse for a halt—too many of the Sitters, as well—and if they stopped too long, it might be impossible to start them moving again.
Sheriam is about to protest, but Egwene points out that they will strip the countryside bare and turn the locals against them, and Siuan backs her up diffidently. Sheriam gives Siuan a hard look, and Egwene thinks that the Aes Sedai seem divided between those who welcomed Siuan back warmly as proof that their worst fear was no longer true, and those who condescended to her and blamed her for the whole situation. Sheriam acquiesces grudgingly, and Egwene is glad for Siuan’s advice to her to not let Sheriam take over all the small details of running the camp, as otherwise she might never have known about any problems until they were already dealt with. Chesa murmurs a comment about low light being bad for the eyes, making it seem she’s talking about herself; Egwene appreciates her for the comfortable relationship they have, but even more because Chesa’s presence puts Sheriam off balance, letting Egwene maneuver around her more easily. Egwene thinks she may be right about the light, though, as she has a headache. Egwene moves on to the matter of the army’s pay; Lelaine and Romanda, in a rare show of unity, are suggesting that the soldiers’ wages be cut, and Egwene tells Sheriam that that won’t happen.
“As you command, Mother.” Sheriam’s eyes sparkled with pleasure. The difficulties must be clear to her—anyone who thought her less than very intelligent was in deep trouble—but she did have a blind spot. If Romanda or Lelaine said the sun was coming up, Sheriam most likely would claim it was going down; she had had almost as much sway with the Hall as they did now, perhaps more, until they put a halt to it between them. The opposite was true, as well; those two would speak against anything Sheriam wanted before they stopped to think. Which had its uses, all in all.
Chesa murmurs again about Egwene’s new maid, and thinking of the absurdity that Sheriam, Lelaine and Romanda had each given her a maid makes Egwene recall “Marigan”, and that she should wear the bracelet that holds the Forsaken prisoner more often. She pulls it out and puts it on, and reflects that Moghedien feels fear even while asleep, which is why she hates wearing the a’dam so much. She thinks about the rarity of Siuan’s election to Amyrlin so young, after three Amyrlins before her had died after only a few years in the position.
And Egwene al’Vere, who in many eyes should still have been a novice? A figurehead, easily directed, a child who had grown up in the same village with Rand al’Thor. That last definitely had its part in the decision.
Sheriam notices the bracelet and comments that she thinks she saw Elayne and Nynaeve wearing one just like it, and Egwene hastily improvises that they gave it to her as a parting gift. To distract her from thinking about it, Egwene decides to play one of her trumps, and asks Sheriam about the ten sisters who left Salidar a few days after Siuan and Leane arrived. Surprised, Sheriam tries to weasel out of answering the question, but Egwene confronts her directly, thinking that Sheriam may not subconsciously grant her the true authority of the Amyrlin Seat, but she would still not dare defy a direct demand. Finally, Sheriam explains that after learning about Logain’s “sponsorship” as a false Dragon by the Red Ajah, the Salidar Six decided to send ten sisters back to the Tower to spread the information around there and try to sow dissension against Elaida. Egwene thinks it wasn’t actually that bad a plan, except that it would take forever. She asks Sheriam why the plan to send back these sisters (whom Egwene mentally dubs as “ferrets”) wasn’t shared with the Hall, and Siuan interrupts Sheriam’s evasive half-answer.
“The Black Ajah,” Siuan cut in quietly. “That’s what chills your blood like a silverpike up your skirts. Who can say for sure who is Black, and who can say what a Black sister might do?”
Sheriam darted another hard look at Siuan, but after a moment the force went out of her. Or rather, one sort of tension replaced another. She glanced at Egwene, then nodded, reluctantly.
Siuan innocently wonders aloud what the Hall will do when they find out the secrets Sheriam and the others were keeping from them, and Sheriam pales. Egwene is about to drive home her advantage when she feels pain and then hope coming from the a’dam, and then nothing. Egwene realizes the necklace is off, and that the pain had come from a man who could channel touching the link. She excuses herself lamely, tells Siuan to get Sheriam to tell her everything about the ferrets sisters, and grabs a lantern and runs to Marigan’s tent, to find it empty. Only then does it occur to Egwene that the Forsaken was loose, and Egwene had just stormed right up to her tent.
Shivering, she withdrew slowly. Moghedien had good reason to dislike her, very personally, and the only sister who could match one of the Forsaken alone, when she could channel at all, was in Ebou Dar. Moghedien could have killed Egwene without anyone noticing; even had a sister felt her channel, there would be nothing remarkable in that.
Egwene is startled to realize Chesa had followed her, and tells Chesa that she thinks Marigan ran away. As she heads back to her own tent, she first considers the idea that Logain might have freed Moghedien, but concludes that makes no sense, and that it must have been one of the male Forsaken still alive (Asmodean, Demandred or Sammael, she believes). She sends Chesa to fetch Siuan and Leane.
Wow, but this scene plays COMPLETELY differently now that we know for sure Sheriam is Black Ajah.
This is one of the reasons I decided I couldn’t avoid TGS spoilers in the Re-read, too, because there’s simply no way I can read a scene like this and comment on it without bringing in that essential bit of knowledge.
Knowledge which tells us, for instance, that Sheriam is not, in fact, blinded by a self-serving rivalry with Lelaine and Romanda – or at least not entirely – and her continued three-way struggle with them is actually all about sowing yet more dissension and chaos among the rebel Aes Sedai, and ensuring that as little as possible gets done in any constructive manner. Sneaky!
It also seems reasonable to assume that the “ferrets” plan was more of the same; even though I believe that of the Salidar Six, only Sheriam turned out to be Black (Beonin is a traitor, and an idiot, but not Black as far as I recall), Sheriam was clearly the ringleader of the group, and no doubt the one who suggested the idea in the first place. You can clearly see, if you think about it, how clever it is (from an evil point of view) to spread the same dissension and lies in two places at once.
In short, it means Sheriam is a hell of a lot more competent and cunning as a Black sister than she would have been as a plain old Lightside Aes Sedai. Which is kind of ironic when you think about it.
I know that a lot of people believed from the start that Sheriam was Black, but personally I was rather bemused at the revelation in TGS that she was; it all just seemed too obvious to me, what with the business about the Gray Man in Sheriam’s bed and the beatings and all. But, I guess sometimes a red herring is actually a… uh, whatever the opposite of a red herring is. A smoking gun? A grey herring? Or a Black herring, heh.
I did like the notion that she had been 13x13’d (or, forcibly turned to the Shadow), since there would be a certain amount of poetic symmetry there considering she was the one who introduced us to the concept, but I don’t think I ever really believed it was true. And, apparently, it wasn’t. Shame.
It’s kind of funny to me now that the thing many people chose to focus on in this chapter was Chesa, and whether or not her following Egwene to Moghedien’s tent meant she was a Darkfriend. I’m happy to say that at least I was right to disbelieve that theory, at least. Sometimes a distaff Alfred is just an awesome lady’s maid. Neener neener!
Anyway. The chapter title pretty accurately sums up what conflict Egwene’s character arc is going to be dealing with for… well, a while, and Siuan continues to earn awesome points for being Egwene’s unassailable ally in her fight to win real authority. It must be quite the comfort in such a frustrating situation to know that there are at least a couple of people who have your back no matter what. We should all be so lucky.
On the opposite side, I have to say it really doesn’t take much for me to lose respect for a character, and I distinctly remember that making Lelaine and Romanda favor cutting the soldiers’ pay (!!!) gave them both a virtually instantaneous downward swoop on my Clueful Character Graphical Measurement Thingy. I mean, seriously. I’ve never in my life commanded anything bigger than a student film crew, so how is it I know perfectly well that that’s about the stupidest idea in the history of ever, and they don’t?
Sheesh. Do not fuck with the pay of the people you want to die for you, kids. If you only learn one military lesson ever, anywhere, learn that one.
Oh, and also, Moghedien escapes, which tells us that Egwene’s storyline is still catching up to all the others by a little bit. And also that Egwene’s sense of self-preservation rivals Rand’s in its nonexistence. Yikes.
This is also (I think) the first mention of Egwene’s headaches. I’m not sure, though, whether they can be attributed to Halima/Aran’gar at this point, since I was under the impression that Halima needed to be physically kneading Egwene (yeek) to give them to her. God knows dealing with Aes Sedai is enough to give anyone completely non-magically-sourced headaches. But, I could be wrong, I suppose.
Chapter 9: A Pair of Silverpike
Neither Siuan nor Leane are happy to be summoned to Egwene – Leane because she doesn’t want herself and Siuan seen together, and Siuan because Sheriam was right where they wanted her, but after Egwene left she brushed Siuan right off. Egwene cuts them both off with the news that Moghedien has escaped, with the aid of a man who can channel. The other two sit down abruptly, appalled, and Egwene notes irrelevantly that Siuan has taken to embroidering her dresses. Siuan growls that they should have had “Marigan” watched, and Egwene wants to know by whom, and why it would have done any good, since it was almost certainly a Forsaken who freed her. Siuan grunts, and Egwene orders them both to find out if anyone saw a man around Moghedien’s tent.
Siuan snorted, louder than the first time. “Why bother?” she growled. “Do you mean to go chasing after like some fool hero in a gleeman’s fool story and bring her back? Maybe tie up all the Forsaken at one go? Win the Last Battle while you’re at it? Even if we get a description head to toe, nobody knows one Forsaken from another. Nobody here, anyway. It’s the most bloody useless barrel of fish guts I ever—!”
“Siuan!” Egwene said sharply, sitting up straighter. Latitude was one thing, but there were limits. She did not put up with this even from Romanda.
Color bloomed slowly in Siuan’s cheeks. Struggling to master herself, she kneaded her skirts and avoided Egwene’s eyes. “Forgive me, Mother,” she said finally. She almost sounded as if she meant it.
Leane tries to take the heat off Siuan with a joke about how she’d be in a better temper if she could keep from throwing things at Gareth Bryne, but Egwene cuts her off acidly, and both Leane and Siuan grow genuinely penitent; Siuan, reddening, offers a sincere apology. Egwene lets the moment set itself before accepting, and Siuan observes (respectfully) that she has taught Egwene well. She suggests one of them bring the order to Faolain or Theodrin, pretending to be very sulky about it, as that will occasion much less comment than Siuan or Leane doing it. Egwene approves, thinking she’s not thinking straight with this headache. Leane leaves, and Siuan assures Egwene that she was in the right to dress her down, which Egwene acknowledges. She asks again whether Siuan would let her do something about Siuan’s situation with Bryne.
“I thank you, Mother, but no. I won’t have him saying I break my word, and I swore to work the debt off.” Abruptly, Siuan’s stiffness dissolved in laughter, rare when she spoke about Lord Bryne. Scowls were much more common. “If you need to worry about somebody, worry about him, not me. I need no help handling Gareth Bryne.”
Egwene thinks the whole situation is very strange, but lets it go and sends Siuan off. She decides to go for a walk to try to clear her head. Various servants and workers who see her make courtesies or ask for her blessing, and Egwene is comforted that at least some people do not seem to see her as a cipher. Her mood is soured somewhat when a group of sisters Traveling back from a message-gathering trip to Salidar do not acknowledge her at all, though their Warders do. Egwene reflects on the usefulness of the Skimming weave she had wrenched out of Moghedien: a way to journey from a place you did not know well to one you did, where Traveling is the opposite, which allowed them to easily retrieve messages from the dovecotes in Salidar even though the army was in a new place almost every day. This leads her to recall the letter Sheriam had (finally) shown her from Merana, which said in cryptic manner that they were settled in Caemlyn and had met “the wool merchant” (Rand) and that he had treated them with courtesy and a little fear, and that they were avoiding the men with “the fellow from Saldaea” (Taim).
Verin and Alanna are here, with a number of young women from the same region as the wool merchant. I will try to send them on to you for training. Alanna has formed an attachment to the wool merchant which may prove useful, though it is troubling too. All will go well, I am sure.
Sheriam thought it was all wonderful news; Egwene thinks it is “a bucket of horse sweat”. She doesn’t buy that Rand was either courteous or fearful, and if he was the latter, it was a very bad sign. She also doesn’t trust Alanna, and wonders what “attachment” Merana could be referring to, but the worst is that there had been no word from Merana since then. Egwene knows from the Wise Ones that Rand has gone to Cairhien, and thinks Merana should at least have written to say they were following him there. She thinks it even stranger that Coiren and the rest of the Tower embassy have apparently given up and left for Tar Valon.
“I have to go to him,” she muttered. One hour, and she could straighten everything out. Underneath, he was still Rand. “That’s all there is to it. I have to go to him.”
“That isn’t possible, and you know it.”
Egwene jumps a mile before recognizing Leane. They walk together, and Leane reports that Theodrin and Faolain are about their task. Egwene brings up her worries about Merana’s silence to Leane, but Leane agrees with Sheriam (and Siuan) that Merana knows what she is doing and Egwene is overreacting.
Egwene sniffed and folded her arms. “Leane, that man could strike sparks from a damp cloth, if it wore the shawl. I don’t know Merana, but I’ve never seen an Aes Sedai who qualified as a damp cloth.”
“I’ve met one or two,” Leane chuckled. This time her sigh was plain. “But not Merana, true.”
Leane asks if Rand really has a letter from Alviarin, deeming it out of character for the White, and Egwene confirms it, remembering Rand “gloating” over the letters from both Alviarin and Elaida in Cairhien. She frets aloud that sooner or later Rand is going to precipitate a confrontation with an Aes Sedai and ruin everything, and she is the only one who can handle him. Leane begins quoting, “ ‘The Amyrlin Seat being valued with the White Tower itself . . . ’ ”, and Egwene angrily recalls the rest of the extremely inconvenient law Leane was referring to, that the Amrylin Seat not be allowed to deliberately place herself in danger without the lesser consensus of the Hall, unless the Tower is in a state of war.
What rash incident by an Amyrlin had inspired that, Egwene did not know, but it had been law for something over two thousand years. To most Aes Sedai, any law that old attained an aura of holiness; changing it was unthinkable.
Romanda had quoted that . . . that bloody law as though lecturing a half-wit. If the Daughter-Heir of Andor could not be allowed within a hundred miles of the Dragon Reborn, how much more they must preserve the Amyrlin Seat. Lelaine sounded almost regretful, most likely because she was agreeing with Romanda. That had nearly curdled both their tongues. Without them, both of them, the lesser consensus lay as far out of reach as the greater. Light, even that declaration of war only required the lesser consensus! So if she could not obtain permission . . .
Perhaps guessing what Egwene is considering, Leane points out that she would lose what little authority she has if she went to Rand in secret and was found out, which she inevitably would be; she opines that Egwene must let al’Thor go his own way for the moment, and “pluck the goose that’s in front of you”. Egwene agrees grumpily, and heads back to her tent while Leane cheerfully heads off to meet with a prospective Warder. On her way back Egwene is waylaid by Nicola and Areina. Nicola (whose Foretelling Talent and great strength potential Egwene considers to be the main reason why the Aes Sedai agreed to test women over eighteen to be novices) asks Egwene to intervene with her teachers and let her progress more quickly, as she heard Egwene did. Egwene explains that what was done to her was called “forcing” and is very dangerous, and Nicola will have to abide by her teachers’ pace. Areina suddenly mentions that she and Nicola came to Salidar on the same riverboat as Elayne and Nynaeve (and Birgitte). Egwene feels uneasy, as Moeghedien had also been on that boat, but then Nicola goes on that they had overheard Thom Merrilin and Juilin Sandar talking about how if the Aes Sedai in the village found out Elayne and Nynaeve had been pretending to be Aes Sedai they would be in big trouble.
“I know they’re both Aes Sedai now, Mother, but wouldn’t they still be in trouble if anyone found out? The sisters, I mean? Anybody who pretends to be a sister is in trouble if they find out, even years later.” Nicola’s face did not change, but her gaze suddenly seemed to be trying to fix Egwene’s. She leaned a little forward, intent. “Anybody at all. Isn’t that so?”
Egwene is enraged at this attempt to blackmail her on top of everything else, and lights into Nicola and Areina in a cold fury which soon has both of them backpedalling and apologizing frantically. Egwene considers punishing them publically, but realizes it would be too dangerous to herself and Nynaeve and Elayne, and threatens the two with dire and unspecified consequences if they breathe a word of it to anyone. Nicola and Areina agree breathlessly and run off. Egwene wishes she could run too, but she can’t.
I really like Leane. I think she would make an awesome drinking buddy. Unless you were trying to land a date, of course. Then she would be a distinct liability.
Siuan: is still awesome… except:
[Bryne’s] methods of dealing with her temper—once she threw plates and boots, anyway—outraged her and provoked threats of dire consequences, yet though she could have wrapped him up unable to stir a finger, Siuan never touched saidar around him, not to do his chores and not even when it meant being turned over his knee.
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
That is all, good day. I said good day, sir!
This chapter is a little bit of a turning point in Egwene and Siuan’s relationship, in that Siuan was always supportive of Egwene’s bid for Real Amyrlinship (after Egwene faced her down in LOC, anyway), but this is the first time she’s really made to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, at least as far as I can recall.
The whole chapter, really, is about how much Egwene’s changed as a character, and how she’s slowly coming to embrace both being Aes Sedai, and coming to the belief that she really should be the Amyrlin. I left this bit out in the summary, but it is illustrative:
Schemes and deceptions on every side. The camp was like some fetid swamp where strange growths sprouted unseen in mists. Maybe anywhere Aes Sedai gathered was like that. After three thousand years of plotting, however necessary, it was hardly surprising that scheming had become second nature to most sisters and only a breath away for the rest. The truly horrible thing was that she found herself beginning to enjoy all the machinations. Not for their own sake, but as puzzles, though no twisted bits of iron could intrigue her a quarter so much. What that said about her, she did not want to know. Well, she was Aes Sedai, whatever anyone thought, and she had to take the bad of it with the good.
Where this change is most strongly evidenced, though, (in my opinion) is in the way Egwene reacts to the “pair of silverpike” of the chapter title – namely, Nicola and Areina.
I don’t think, two or three books ago, that Egwene would have responded to their blackmail attempt at all the same way. She wouldn’t have capitulated or kowtowed or anything like that before, that’s not what I’m saying, but I don’t think her instant reaction would have been fury, either. And it’s significant that the main source of her outrage is that they would dare try that shit – not on her, Egwene, but on the Amyrlin. If you see the distinction.
Possibly I’m reading too much into it in light of later events, but nevertheless I think it’s a pretty fair step forward in Egwene’s character development.
This chapter is also the set-up for how Egwene will ultimately do an end-run around the Hall and gain more or less complete control of the Rebel Aes Sedai, and I have to say that though the casual mention here of the war vote needing only the lesser consensus jumps out at me like a house on fire now, I totally missed it the first time around. Clever, very clever!
The Merana stuff is catch-up, and not worth getting into, except for how I’m trying to decide if I’m being unfair to think that Egwene’s failure to realize that Alanna’s “attachment” to Rand must mean “bonding” is Plot Induced Stupidity, or if it’s a reasonable clue for her to have missed. What say you?
And that’s all, folks! Have a spectabular weekend. I’ll be spending mine trying not to freeze to death, because WHAT THE HELL, WINTER SEASON, but, you know. See you Monday!