Greetings, WOT constituents! Thanks for meeting me for this town hall, er, meeting. Remember, a vote for the Wheel of Time Re-read is a vote for progress.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 18 and 19 of Crossroads of Twilight, where in a shocking (shocking!) turn of events,
Congress decides to discuss letting saidin channelers serve openly for the Light. As long as they don’t say they’re saidin channelers, of course. Or something like that.
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 totally non-political post!
Chapter 18: A Chat With Siuan
Novices scurry fearfully out of Egwene’s way as she heads through camp, and she is chagrined to think that being forced to punish some of the Two Rivers novices for impropriety has earned her a reputation for having as bad or worse a temper than Sereille Bagand herself. She enters her study tent to find both Siuan and Halima there. Siuan had tried to send Halima away, and tells Egwene so, making a snide remark about Halima’s less-than-stellar reputation that only seems to amuse Halima. Halima says she thought Egwene might want to talk out her worries, suggesting she wouldn’t get so many headaches if she did; Egwene is tempted, but gently dismisses Halima until later. Halima is clearly annoyed, and with “remarkable timing,” Egwene feels the start of a headache as she leaves. Siuan remarks that Halima’s been heard actually screaming at Delana, and doesn’t understand why a Sitter would put up with that; plus Siuan is convinced Halima somehow managed to break a man’s arm. Egwene tells her wearily to leave off Halima, and tells her about what happened at the river bank earlier, which results in a lot of cursing from Siuan.
“I suppose you’re right letting it go forward,” she muttered once her invective ran down. “The talk will spread, now it’s begun, and this way, you gain a jump on it. Beonin shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. Beonin’s ambitious, but I always thought she’d have gone scurrying back to Elaida if Sheriam and the others hadn’t stiffened her backbone.”
Siuan tells Egwene she’d found a partial list of new Tower Sitters in Tel’aran’rhiod which proves that Elaida’s Hall is experiencing the same odd pattern as the Rebel Hall. Egwene sighs, and tries to think through her headache what it could mean, but can’t come up with anything. She tells Siuan to keep working on it, and moves on to the reports. Leane reports that Tar Valon is experiencing skyrocketing crime ever since the Tower Guard stopped patrolling the streets and the Tower closed itself off from the city. Egwene is alarmed by a rumor that Gareth Bryne is going to appear from nowhere inside the city with an army, but Siuan hastens to defend Bryne by pointing out that there is no actual mention of gateways or using the Power. Amused, Egwene reflects that Siuan clearly has no more idea how to deal with being in love than “a duck had about shearing sheep,” but then darkly muses that she has no room to talk.
She was in love, too, but she did not even know where in the world Gawyn was, or what to do if she learned. He had his duty to Andor, and she hers to the Tower. And the one way to bridge that chasm, bonding him, might lead to his death. Better to let him go, forget him entirely. As easy as forgetting her own name. And she would bond him. She knew that. Of course, she could not bond the man without knowing where he was, without having her hands on him, so it all came full circle. Men were… a bother!
Moving on, Egwene is dismayed by the reports that the people under Seanchan rule are largely accepting it, and that Arad Doman is in a state of near-anarchy. The Greens are concerned with the Borderlander army in Andor, but no one is willing to interfere because of the report that “fifty to a hundred” Aes Sedai are already accompanying them, and Andor in general is being left alone for fear of stirring up the Asha’man. Siuan opines that won’t last, though, and eventually the truth of the Kin and Elayne’s bargain with the Sea Folk will come out.
“My eyes-and-ears haven’t picked up a glimmer, yet, but somebody’s will, as sure as certain. You can’t delay much longer, or we’ll find ourselves wading through a school of silverpike.”
“One of these days,” Egwene muttered, “I’ll have to see these silverpike you’re always talking about.”
This segues into an argument over Egwene’s plan re: the Kin, which is to have Aes Sedai nearing the age of three hundred unswear the Oaths and retire into the Kin. Siuan is highly skeptical of the notion (as well as the veracity of how long Kin live), and Egwene is aware that it will cause an uproar in the Hall, but she reassures Siuan that she will go slowly with it. Egwene’s interest is arrested by a report from the Grays that Merana Ambrey had been seen coming out of the currently-besieged Stone of Tear and going to a meeting with High Lord Tedosian and High Lady Estanda, chief among the besiegers. Siuan thinks Merana might do some good as long as Tedosian and Estanda don’t find out who she’s really working for, and Egwene wants to know how she can be so blasé at this first real proof that there really are sisters sworn to Rand when no one can imagine why they would do such a thing.
No one had mentioned Compulsion aloud that Egwene knew of, but they had to be thinking it.
Siuan is not so calm about the possibility as she tries to appear, but points out that it at least puts paid to the notion that Rand has submitted to Elaida, which might calm that fear among the rebels. Egwene asks about Cadsuane, and Siuan can only confirm that she had still been in Cairhien a week after Rand left; Siuan still doesn’t know if Cadsuane is Black or not.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Egwene pressed the heels of her palms against her lids. That hardly seemed to affect the pulsing needle in her head. Maybe Rand was in company with a Black sister, or had been. Maybe he had used Compulsion on Aes Sedai. Bad enough on anyone, but somehow worse used on Aes Sedai, more ominous. What was dared against Aes Sedai was ten times, a hundred times, as likely to be used against those who could not defend themselves. Eventually they would have to deal with him, somehow. She had grown up with Rand, yet she could not allow that to influence her. He was the Dragon Reborn, now, the hope of the world and at the same time maybe the single greatest threat the world faced. Maybe? The Seanchan could not do as much damage as the Dragon Reborn. And she was going to use the possibility that he had Compelled sisters. The Amyrlin Seat really was a different woman from that innkeeper’s daughter.
They are interrupted by Anaiya and then Morvrin (with Myrelle), who report that Akarrin’s party, and Escaralde (Sitter, Brown) and Malind (Sitter, Green), respectively, have returned, and Moria (Sitter, Blue) has called for the Hall to be convened to hear their reports. Morvrin doesn’t know what Akarrin found, but thinks Escaralde et al plan to use it to goad the Hall into doing something. Egwene sighs.
The novices being terrified of Egwene is kind of amusing and mildly disappointing at the same time. Machiavelli said “it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both,” and I certainly think being feared is better than being held in contempt, but it still must not be the nicest sensation to feel that people are scared of you.
Unless you’re the type of person who gets off on that kind of thing, of course, in which case you suck. Fortunately Egwene does not suck. Not about that, anyway.
She does kind of suck in her character judging abilities, of course—at least when it comes to Halima. I mostly skipped over Egwene’s fond thoughts of Halima’s earthy downhome straightforwardness or whatever in this chapter because it made me want to hit things, but there’s a fair amount of it, trust me. While it’s a moot point by KOD (and really moot now that Aran’gar’s gone to that big skanky bordello in the sky as of ToM), her total blindness on the subject of Halima was always one of the more frustrating aspects of Egwene’s storyline to me.
Of course, this was because I was frantically convinced that Halima was eventually going to do something horrible to Egwene. And then, she… didn’t. At all. Yes, yes, Dream interference (and, probably, plain old-fashioned espionage too), but… yeah. I still cannot decide whether Halima’s total failure to Do Something while ensconced in the Rebel camp is a relief from a rooting-for-the-Good-Guys perspective, or a severe irritation from a critiquing-the-narrative viewpoint. Both, I suppose.
I’ve also never been able to decide whether I believe the theory that Egwene’s cluelessness re: Halima was the result of mild, just-a-nudge Compulsion. Simply because it just begs the question again of why she didn’t do more than that. Ergh. Well, whatever. Moot point, moving on.
As for Gawyn, I don’t agree with Egwene that all men are a bother, but I certainly agree that Gawyn is one. Gah. How this ties in with my observations re: Egwene’s people-judging skillz I leave as an exercise for the reader.
My brain’s a bit muddled at the moment, but I think this is the first time we hear about Egwene’s plan re: the Kin and having the Aes Sedai retire into them. And I have to say, while it’s a very clever solution in theory, I tend to agree with Siuan about its chances of working in practice, politically. Plus, I note that there’s no guarantee it would actually work physiologically either—for someone really nearing the upper age limit, I mean. Sure, I can buy erasing twenty years’ worth of aging, but three hundred? It just seems too much like cheating, hitting the reset button that close to the finish line, if that makes any sense.
Rand: I would say that Egwene’s thoughts on Rand are another proof of her inability to judge character, except that until his Jesusing in TGS Rand got reeeeally close to slipping over the line where he would totally do such things. He never actually does Compel anyone (at least not that I can recall), but… yeah. That said, it still made me sad to see Egwene even partially believe that he would go there.
On a random note, it’s a shame Siuan’s fish icon hadn’t been invented yet by COT, because this would have been a perfect chapter to use it. (Also, Egwene’s mutter about silverpike highly amused me. I wonder if that’s the fish in Siuan’s icon, or is it just a random stylized fish?)
Chapter 19: Surprises
Egwene sends Siuan to find Sheriam so she can be properly announced in the Hall, and Anaiya, Myrelle, and Morvrin pass the time by speculating on what Moria’s response will be to Akarrin’s report from the site of the huge channeling event (whatever that report turns out to be). Anaiya, assuming the event signals the Forsaken finally moving openly, thinks Moria will advocate an immediate assault on the Tower; Anaiya thinks Moria’s reasoning would be “better a wounded Tower that’s whole than a Tower divided” in the face of such a threat. Myrelle thinks they should be more concerned about Malind’s constant worry about the likelihood of Tar Valon being a target, and opines that Malind will push instead that they abandon the siege and flee. Morvrin points out that they don’t know for sure the Forsaken were behind the event at all, but offers no opinion as to the rest. Either possibility thrills Egwene not at all, and she shuts them up by leaving the tent and heading to the Hall, the others on her heels. Outside the Hall, she waits impatiently for Sheriam, watching Akarrin’s team and noting how uneasy they all appear. Finally Sheriam dashes up, breathless and flustered, and announces her formally; Egwene enters the Hall, which is only a third full, and immediately notices that Malind and Escaralde have chosen to sit in the back even though they were obviously among the first to arrive. (Because Lelaine and Romanda’s status as the oldest Sitters dictates they sit in the front, Moria perforce is sitting with Lelaine.) She also notes that the session has not been closed to the Hall, as other sisters are gathering at the edges of the tent to watch. She reflects on matters as the other Sitters trickle in:
Inside the Hall, the Amyrlin Seat was still the Amyrlin Seat, but a little less so than outside it. Inside the Hall, Sitters felt their power. In a way, the Amyrlin could be said to be only the first among equals, inside the Hall. Well, perhaps a little more than that, but not by much. Siuan said as many Amyrlins had failed by believing the Sitters were fully her equals as by believing the difference was wider than really existed. It was like running along the top of a narrow wall with fierce mastiffs on either side. You maintained a careful balance and tried to watch your feet more than the dogs. But you were always aware of the dogs.
Romanda doesn’t wait for all the Sitters to arrive before standing and proposing they get started, and Lelaine cuts in to comment coolly that apparently talks with Elaida have been sanctioned, without the Hall’s approval, and she thinks they should talk about that. Egwene notes from various surprised reactions (including Sheriam’s, who looks like she’s going to throw up) that the rumor had not spread as quickly as she’d hoped, but is more interested in the odd reactions of those who Delana had said first spoke of it (Varilin, Takima, Magla, Faiselle and Saroiya).
It was very strange. Surely by now Beonin had informed all of them what Egwene had said, yet except for Varilin, they seemed upset. They could not possibly have thought they might really negotiate an end. Every woman sitting in this Hall risked stilling and execution just by being there. If there ever had been any path back except to remove Elaida, it had washed away months ago, when this Hall was chosen. There was no going back from that.
Moria jumps up and derails this line of discussion by insisting they do what the Hall was convened for, which is to hear Akarrin’s report. All the Sitters have arrived (an out-of-breath Delana was last) by the time Akarrin and her party are escorted in, and Moria asks for their report. Akarrin tells them they found a roughly circular crater in the ground, approximately three miles across and a mile and a half deep, which she thinks may have been more perfectly round (“shaped like half of a ball”) before some of the sides collapsed and the bottom filled up with water.
“In any event, we were able to ascertain our exact location without too much difficulty, and we are prepared to say that the hole is located where the city called Shadar Logoth once stood.” She fell silent, and for a long moment the only sound was the rustle of skirts as Aes Sedai shifted uneasily.
Egwene wanted to shift, too. Light, a hole that size would cover half of Tar Valon!
Egwene asks if they discovered how the crater was created, and Akarrin yields the floor to another of her team, Nisain, who is the most skilled at reading residues. Nisain reports that the residue of saidar at the site showed traces of weaves so “alien” to her that she (nervously) opines they may not have been woven by a woman. She says they also tested for saidin resonance, which showed that for all the huge amounts of saidar used at the site, it was dwarfed by the amount of saidin used. Her report causes everyone to fall silent a moment. Akarrin’s party steps down, and Romanda asks Moria if she thinks the news really changes anything for them. In answer, Moria asks Malind if the contingency defenses the Rebel camp has in place against an attack from the Forsaken (forming as many circles of thirteen as possible) would be sufficient to withstand what Akarrin’s party described; Malind answers firmly that they cannot, to the consternation of all listening. Lelaine asks Moria angrily what she expects them to do about it, and Moria smiles and answers that obviously, then, they must find a way to make their circles stronger. She yields the floor to Escaralde, who tells them that the ancient literature makes it clear that the only way to increase the size (and strength) of a circle is to include men who can channel. Amid a rising tide of murmurs, Magla suddenly calls for the Hall to go into a closed sitting, but Moria declares it is already too late for that.
“I do put before the Hall the proposal that we do enter into an agreement with the Black Tower, that we may bring men into our circles at need.” If she sounded a trifle strangled at the end, it was no wonder. Few Aes Sedai could say that name without emotion, disgust if not outright hatred. It struck against the buzz of voices—and produced absolute silence for the space of three heartbeats.
“That is madness!” Sheriam’s shriek shattered the stillness in more ways than one.
Varilin, Takima, Faiselle and Saroiya all leap up, shouting vehement refutations of the notion; Magla adds that “only a Darkfriend” would suggest such a thing. Livid, Moria heads for Magla as though to physically confront her, and the rest of the Hall dissolves into a screaming match, except for Romanda and Lelaine, who stare at each other silently. Sheriam begins to cry. Egwene isn’t sure where she stands on the idea, but shocks everyone into silence by weaving her voice into a thunderous boom, calling them back to protocol. Moria presents her case, pointing out that while they should have stopped and gentled the Asha’man long ago, all their information suggests that it is now too late to do so, and so they may as well use the Asha’man to expand their circles against this new threat, and perhaps gain some control over the Asha’man at the same time.
[…] Romanda sighed heavily. “Perhaps we can expand the circles enough to counter the Forsaken,” she said in a quiet voice. In a way, that gave her words more weight than if she had shouted. “Perhaps we can control the Asha’man. A thin word, perhaps, in either context.”
“When you do be drowning,” Moria replied, equally quiet, “you do grab at whatever branch floats by, even when you can no be sure it will support your weight until you have hold. The water has no closed over our heads yet, Romanda, but we be drowning. We do be drowning.”
There is silence a moment, then Egwene asks who stands against the proposal. Varilin, Takima, Magla, Faiselle and Saroiya all make speeches amounting to the same thing, reminding them all of the dangers the Asha’man present, men doomed to go mad channeling tainted saidin, and how men like them had broken the world. Egwene then asks who stands for it, and Takima is shocked when Janya stands immediately, followed quickly by eight more Sitters; after a tense moment, Romanda stands too.
“Sometimes,” she said, looking straight at Lelaine, “we must do things we would rather not.”
Lelaine met the gray-haired Yellow’s eyes without blinking.
Her face might have been cast in porcelain. Her chin rose by slow increments. And suddenly, she stood, glancing down impatiently at Lyrelle, who gaped at her a moment before coming to her feet.
Everyone stared. No one made a sound. It was done.
Egwene finally gets Sheriam’s attention, and Sheriam stops weeping long enough to make the ritual announcement that having gained the lesser consensus, she asks for the greater consensus to stand. Delana stands uncertainly, but no one else joins her, and Egwene shocks everyone again by asking if anyone wants to resign her chair over this. No one takes her up on the offer, and Egwene announces carefully that then they will go forward.
I really didn’t see where this was going, first time around. When Moria made her proposal I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open a bit in amazement, mostly because I would never have thought that any of the Rebel Hall would have had that much sense.
Of course, this is highly ironic in light of what we learn later on about the players involved. The knowledge we now have—that both Moria and Sheriam are (or were) Black Ajah—puts a totally different spin on this entire scene. And it’s not like it didn’t have enough spin to be going on with in the first place! I believe the operative phrase is “like whoa, y’all.”
First of all, it makes absolutely crystal clear that none of the Black sisters in this scene (Sheriam, Moria, and Delana) were working together at all, or indeed had any idea who the others even were. This doesn’t exactly shock me, given what we know about the extreme need-to-know-only nature of the hierarchy of the Black Ajah, but it does put a glaring spotlight on how thoroughly their policy of utter secrecy within their own ranks has hamstrung them. “Working at cross-purposes” isn’t even in it. Not that I’m complaining about this, but damn. (Why exactly Halima never bothered to tell Sheriam and Delana about each other is… well, it’s something. “Stupid,” probably. But whatever.)
Secondly (and relatedly), the scene points up how very wide the gaps can be between what any given Darkfriend considers an effective Evil Plan and what isn’t. I have to suppose that Moria either knew somehow about Taim’s true allegiances and hoped to use a détente between the Rebels and the Black Tower to get more Shadowside channelers on board, or she simply believed that trying to get the Aes Sedai and Asha’man working together would blow up in everyone’s faces (literally) regardless of whose side everyone was on, and either way chaos would be served. Whereas Sheriam clearly really really didn’t agree. (And of course wishy-washy Delana is all, um, I guess I agree? Heh.)
Meanwhile here I was thinking this is the best idea the Rebel Hall’s come up with in, like, ever. Granted, I had the advantage of knowing that the main point of opposition used by the Obstructionist Five (Varilin, Takima, Magla, Faiselle and Saroiya, and man am I tired of typing those names), the existence of tainted saidin, is no longer an issue, which they didn’t. But then again, I also knew (or, well, strongly suspected at this point, but c’mon) that the guy actually running the Black Tower was a big ol’ honkin’ Darkfriend, which should have given me more pause than it did. Certainly it gives me a hell of a lot more pause now, post-ToM. (Eeek)
So this puts me in the ironic position of acknowledging that the Obstructionist Five (who I’ve always as a matter of principle wanted to smack into next week even before I knew for sure what their agenda was) were possibly quite right to oppose this idea, even if they were doing so for the completely wrong reasons. Maybe. Sort of. I mean, good did come of it all, if nothing else than the ousting of Halima, but I think the final outcome of it all for good or ill kind of hangs on what happens in AMoL—specifically, whether Androl and Pevara get their shit together and figure out what’s going on at the Black Tower in time to stop it.
But I still don’t know how to feel about the fact that the best idea, in my opinion, to ever come out of either Hall in the entire series thus far was masterminded by a Darkfriend. That’s… uh. Hmm.
So, there’s all that. An interesting thing to consider is how differently this commentary would have gone if I’d gotten to this chapter before TGS or ToM came out. But what we learn, we can never unlearn, grasshopper. That’s glory for you!
In other notes, I largely elided it from the summary but there is a LOT of name-checking of the Rebel Hall in this chapter, which I had to smile at, because it definitely said to me that Jordan had decided to quell the long-standing complaints among the fandom that we still didn’t know who all the Sitters were in the two Halls, and finally give us all their damn names already—in the Rebel Hall, at least. There were still two unidentified Sitters in the Tower Hall even after COT, and in fact even as of ToM I’m pretty sure we’ve never found out who the third pre-schism Blue Sitter was (the one Moria replaced in Salidar), though a lot of fans have speculated she may have been Cabriana Mecandes (the sister Semirhage tortured for info in LOC so Halima could infiltrate the Rebels).
(The other unnamed Tower Sitter was finally identified in KOD as Evanellein (Gray), and yes, I had to look that up. I love me some Encyclopedia WOT.)
Also, nice little moment with Lelaine and Romanda here, in which they prove that, as ass-chafingly obnoxious as they can be sometimes, they can pull their heads out and do the right thing when necessary, even if it means (oh horrors!) actually agreeing with each other. Certain governmental bodies could take a few lessons from them, if you nome sane.
Speaking of which, something else I’ve said before (in the last post, actually) but really need to mention again in light of this chapter is how wonderfully real all this politicking and intrigue feels to me as a reader. Part of the joy of getting into thick, plotty, complicated written series such as this is the space it allows the author to build and expand and explicate the fictional world within it, and therefore the amount of understanding of and investment in that world the readers can enjoy as a result.
A friend and I discussed this general topic over the holidays, and we agreed that this is a large part of what makes it so difficult to make really good science fiction movies, because unlike in a novel (or series of novels), you generally just don’t have time in the film medium to build up the world to the point where it feels real despite whatever fantastical elements have been introduced. And it takes more skill (or understanding of this fundamental point) than most screenwriters or directors seem to have to successfully imply that complexity (the next best thing, and sometimes even a better thing, especially in visual media) without making the viewer feel like an info-dumptruck has just been upended on their heads.
There are examples of it being done right, but they tend to be few and far between. Regardless of the utter crapitude of the prequels, I will say that this, at least, is one thing the Star Wars trilogy got deeply, deeply right, and I firmly believe that is a large part of why they caught hold of the public imagination (and adoration) as strongly as they did.
(That, and lightsabers. Lightsabers are cool. Unless you hold the business end, of course. Then it’s less “cool” and more OHGODOHGODMYHANDISGONEAAAAAAHHHH)
And, yeah. No tangents here! But my point is, sometimes it is yay for thick plotty novel serieseses, because only here would you ever get (or be able to appreciate) a chapter like this, where the politics are chewy and nutritious, and the background and implications and the nuances and twists are fully appreciated. Awesome.
And on that high note, here’s where the hanging chad stops! Have a lovely rest of the week, kids, and provided I have not frozen to death in the MOARSNOWOMG predicted for this inexplicably-unprepared-for-winter-weather city o’ mine, I’ll see you Friday!