Happy Tuesday, people, if that not be a contradiction in terms. To celebrate, have a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 5 and 6 of New Spring, in which I contemplate love, war, and the Book of Mormon.
No, really. Well, sort of.
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 not-controversial-at-all post!
Chapter 5: The Human Heart
More than a hundred women have gathered at Moiraine and Siuan’s station to claim the bounty, and Moiraine notes with distaste that the crowd includes a number of noblewomen in silks, pushing as obnoxiously as anyone. Steler tries to control the crowd, but has no success, and Moiraine worries for a moment that a riot might break out, until Siuan climbs up on her chair and weaves Air and Fire, telling them to be quiet in a thunderous voice that shuts the whole camp up immediately. She warns them all to behave or they’ll regret it, and the women then line up meekly. The first woman in Moiraine’s line is a noblewoman who wants to frame the bounty coins, and she is not pleased when Moiraine is distracted by another woman nursing a baby but pointedly ignoring the line; Moiraine manages to get the information about her from another woman in line, and wonders how Siuan manages to sound so in charge that no one argues with her.
Whatever thoughts Moiraine had of adventure in hunting for the Dragon Reborn faded in short order, along with the thrill of being outside the city walls. Asking the same questions over and over and writing down the answers, carefully setting aside the filled pages to dry and starting anew on a fresh sheet, soon became boring drudgery. […]
The only two infants born that day, after Gitara's Foretelling, were girls and, like every other newborn, birthed within a mile of the camp. Some other Accepted was going to find the boy-child without knowing what she had found. She herself likely would not hear of it for years. Light, but it hardly seemed fair. She knew, and it meant nothing.
Moiraine takes pity on one particularly desperate-looking mother and adds her child to the list even though it is clearly too old, but this backfires when the rumor spreads and more women with obviously-too-old children come dashing up to join the line. Moiraine’s temper flares and she scares them badly enough that these quickly back off; she is embarrassed by this until Siuan murmurs approval, for maintaining the respect due the Tower. She notes that Steler actually gives them a slight nod of respect when they break for lunch, too, and a woman from the camp brings them wine unasked-for, as thanks for helping the desperate mother earlier. As they are eating, an Aes Sedai named Meilyn (White), one of the most respected women in the Tower, approaches on horseback, accompanied by her Warder and another sister who Siuan and Moiraine recognize with great dismay as Elaida a'Roihan. Siuan immediately attempts to preempt any reprimand by blurting that they have permission to be there, but Meilyn cuts her off to say she knows about Tamra’s orders, though she is clearly not very happy about them. Elaida observes that they are surprised to see her, and smiles and assures them that she will “call” on them soon.
Moiraine had been sure her heart could sink no further, but she had been mistaken. It was very hard not to groan in despair.
Meilyn sighed. “You pay these girls too much mind, Elaida. They'll get above themselves if they start thinking they're your pets. They may already.”
Moiraine exchanged shocked glances with Siuan. Pets? Goats staked out for lions, perhaps, but never pets.
Since gaining the shawl, Elaida had never deferred to anyone other than the Amyrlin Seat or a Sitter that Moiraine had seen, yet she bowed her head and murmured, “As you say, Meilyn. But it seems possible they might test before the end of the year. I expect them to, and I expect them to pass easily. I'll accept nothing less from either.”
At Meilyn’s inquiry, Moiraine tells her that they have about fifty more names to collect, then asks impulsively if all the camps have been so… Siuan mutters what she wouldn’t say (“spawning like silverpike”), and Moiraine blushes, to Meilyn’s amusement.
“When a man believes he may die, he wants to leave something of himself behind. When a woman believes her man may die, she wants that part of him desperately. The result is a great many babies born during wars. It's illogical, given the hardship that comes if the man does die, or the woman, but the human heart is seldom logical.”
Moiraine is horribly embarrassed at such frank talk, and distracts herself by contemplating Meilyn’s awareness of her Warder, which she thinks seems almost like mind-reading. Meilyn notices, and comments on it, and Elaida snorts. Meilyn casually observes that logically Reds should need Warders more than any other Ajah but the Green, which is near to an open insult, but to Moiraine’s surprise Elaida doesn’t react. The sisters leave, but their presence has made the remaining women in line more doubtful that Moiraine and Siuan are Aes Sedai themselves, and give more trouble. Steler tries to cut the line off, worrying about getting back to the Tower before dark, which almost causes a riot; Moiraine and Siuan rush to finish their lists before Steler hustles them out, trotting them all the way back to the Tower and barely making it before sunset. Moiraine helps an extremely saddle-sore Siuan back to their quarters, where they find Katerine waiting for them. Katerine tells them Moiraine has been summoned to the Mistress of Novices’ study; Siuan offers to go with her, but Moiraine points out that Siuan can barely walk, and goes alone. Inside, Merean instructs her gently to sit down, to Moiraine’s surprise.
“There is no way to make this easy, child. King Laman was killed yesterday, along with both of his brothers. Remember that we are all threads in the Pattern, and the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.”
“The Light illumine their souls,” Moiraine said solemnly, “and may they shelter in the Creator's hand until they are born again.”
Merean is startled at Moiraine’s calmness at the news, but Moiraine thinks that Merean didn’t know her uncles, all three of whom were cruel, overly-ambitious men who scorned Moiraine’s father for becoming a scholar. Merean decides Moiraine is in shock, and tells her she doesn’t have to go out tomorrow, but Moiraine demurs and says she would rather keep her mind occupied. Merean agrees reluctantly, and Moiraine returns to her room and prays on her knees for her uncles for an hour.
A penance. She did not mean to be one of those sisters who took on penances at every turn – maintaining a balance in their lives, they called it; she thought it ostentatious foolishness – yet she should feel something for the deaths of her own blood kin, however horrible they had been. It was wrong not to.
She goes to bed, and has nightmares of a faceless young man calling lightning and razing cities to the ground, waking up weeping. She decides she can’t deal with being alone that night, and sneaks into Siuan’s room; Siuan has also been having bad dreams, and Moiraine climbs in bed with her. Siuan asks what the Aes Sedai can do even if they find him; Moiraine answers that they can bring him to the Tower to protect him, and educate and guide him. Siuan counters that they can’t teach him to channel, though; Moiraine acknowledges the point, and thinks she has to believe he can survive learning on his own.
Neither of them could close her eyes through the rest of the night. Moiraine did not know what Siuan saw, lying there staring up at the ceiling – she could not make herself ask – but she saw a babe crying in the snow on Dragonmount, and a faceless man calling down lightning. Being awake was no protection against these nightmares.
There is nothing like war—or no, scratch that. There is nothing like the aftermath of war that so sharply illuminates both how utterly shitty and how completely wonderful people are. I think it’s how both of these extremes manage to exist simultaneously in such situations that makes it so surreal.
Well, okay, the wreck and ruin and death and all probably contribute to the surrealness, too, fine, but leave me alone, I’m trying to make a point here.
My point is, this is one truth that Jordan totally gets, and it very much comes through here, in the greed of the women in the line and yet their support for one another at the same time, and even more in Moiraine’s reactions to them, her simultaneous contempt towards but also compassion for them. Her impulsive gesture of help, and the way it backfires but also doesn’t. Selflessness and selfishness, despair and hope, pushing back and forth, in an uneasy see-saw that cannot be reconciled, only ignored in better times.
I don’t know, I’m not in a space where I can describe it accurately. But hopefully you get an idea of what I’m talking about.
So, there’s that. And now, on a less philosophical and more, er, Ed McMahon note, heeeeeere’s Elaida! Dun!
I guess that answers my question about whether we ever see her and Moiraine and Siuan on screen together, eh? Hey, I told you guys I wasn’t reading ahead.
And since I’m still not—reading ahead that is—allow me to wonder now whether we ever find out what her angle is re: her interest in Moiraine and Siuan. Obviously it has something to do with their potential, but Elaida must be spectacularly unobservant if she really thinks there was a snowball’s chance in hell of either of them choosing Red when they’re raised. I mean, come ON.
There was a lot of really nice insight into the younger Moiraine’s character here, particularly concerning matters in which, by the time we meet in her in TEOTW, she’s pretty much gotten past (or at least has learned to camouflage). Her thinly-veiled disdain for the noble class, for one, which could be interpreted as a kind of self-loathing were it not for the information we get on her family later on in the chapter (and in the next), and the ambivalence she feels for feeling that way. And also her Cairhienin-bred discomfort with Certain Topics, of course, which was pretty amusing, though mostly because Siuan managed to use it to mention fish, again. Jeez.
So, I don’t remember a lot about NS, but I did distinctly remember that Merean turns out to be Black Ajah in it. However, I did not remember that she was also Mistress of Novices, which, yeek. Maybe we should be less surprised at how many in Moiraine’s “class” turned out to be evil?
Also, once you add in that Sheriam was also Black and was also Mistress of Novices later on, double yeek. Even given that I’m sure there was an interim MoN between them (or maybe even two, who knows), man that’s a crap track record for the position.
Also, this is totally random but I have to love that I’m pretty sure Laman Damodred’s name is a reference to, of all things, the Book of Mormon. As the FAQ observes, “The Book of Mormon makes mention of a character named Laman, brother of the prophet Nephi, who was stubborn and rebellious and refused to eat from the Tree of Life.” And maybe chop it down instead, eh?
Chapter 6: Surprises
The next morning as they are getting ready to head out again, an Accepted named Sheriam tells them that no less than three sisters have confirmed that the Aiel really are retreating; then she demands to know why Moiraine and Siuan are grinning like that, but of course they don’t tell her why, which is that maybe now they can go closer to Dragonmount. All activity stops, however, when Merean enters the Accepted gallery wearing her shawl, which usually means either someone is either in big trouble or is being summoned for testing. She comes up to Moiraine and Siuan (Moiraine is having trouble breathing), but then tells them that Tamra agrees with Merean that Moiraine is in shock, and has agreed that she should stay in the Tower and copy out the lists already made, some of which are almost illegible. To Moiraine’s dismay, Siuan agrees that this is a good idea, but this backfires on Siuan when Merean decides Siuan should stay too, to keep Moiraine from “brooding.” Merean shows them where they will be working, and leaves. Moiraine demands to know what that was about, and Siuan points out that this way they will get to see all the names, not just the ones they were taking.
“We could be the first to know who he is. I doubt there could be two boys born on Dragonmount. I just thought it would be 'you,' not 'us.'“ She breathed a gloomy sigh, then suddenly frowned at Moiraine. ”Why would you be brooding? Why are you supposed to be in shock?“
Last night, revealing her woes had seemed out of place, a trifle compared to what they knew the world faced, but Moiraine had no hesitation in telling her now. Before she finished, Siuan enveloped her in a strong, comforting hug. They had wept on each other's shoulders much more often than either had availed herself of Merean's. She had never been as close to anyone as she was to Siuan. Or loved anyone as much.
They eat breakfast in the Accepted dining hall, lingering until Laras’s glares chase them off, and go to work. Aside from the drudgery of the work, Moiraine is appalled by how many names there are, and how vague some of the accounts of the babies’ origins are, and begins to despair of ever finding the Dragon Reborn in this mess. As the day wears on, Elaida appears for a while to stare at them, but they give her nothing to criticize and soon she leaves. They find nothing that seems significant, and return the next day to continue, though they had not been given specific orders to do so. This upsets the clerk who had been assigned to continue the work, who stomps off in a temper, and soon returns with Tamra herself, who studies them intently.
“I had intended you to have a freeday, to read or study as you chose,” Tamra said slowly, still considering them. “Or perhaps to practice for your testing,” she added with a smile that did nothing to lessen her scrutiny. A long pause, and then she nodded slightly to herself. “You are still troubled by your uncles' deaths, child?”
“I had nightmares again last night, Mother.” True, but once more they had been of a baby crying in the snow, and a faceless young man breaking the world anew even while he saved it. The steadiness of her own voice amazed her. She had never thought she would dare give an Aes Sedai answer to the Amyrlin Seat.
Tamra gives them permission to continue, and to Moiraine’s shock also obliquely gives her permission to channel to remove the inkstain on her dress she had gotten when she jumped up. Siuan had missed this nuance, but Moiraine knows the Game of Houses better than she. They go back to work, and Moiraine soon finds a name that might fit the criteria, though the report is vague. She notes that Siuan is surreptitiously keeping a separate list of her own of certain names, and begins to collect names to add to it. They are interrupted mid-morning by Jarna Malari, a Sitter for the Gray, who ushers Moiraine out to walk with her. Jarna asks after her uncles, and then asks who she thinks will succeed to the Sun Throne now that Laman and his brothers are dead. Moiraine is astounded that a Sitter would ask an Accepted’s opinion of politics, but answers that she supposes it will pass to another House.
“Perhaps,” Jarna murmured, half lidding her eyes for the space of the word. “House Damodred has acquired an ill reputation that Laman only made worse.”
Moiraine frowned before she could stop herself, and hurriedly smoothed away the lines hoping that Jarna had not noticed. It was true. Her father had been alone among his generation in lacking a dark character, men and women alike. The preceding generations had been nearly as bad, when not worse. The deeds done by House Damodred had blackened the name. But she did not like hearing anyone say it.
Jarna observes idly that Taringail is ineligible because of Andor’s “ridiculous” laws about the Queen’s consort, and asks, what of Moiraine’s elder sisters? Moiraine answers honestly that Anavaere and Innloine are well-thought of in general, but neither are suited to rule, and would gain no support among the Houses if they made a bid for the throne. Jarna stares at her for a while, then sends her back to her work. Siuan asks what that was about, and Moiraine lies that she doesn’t know. She has a horrible suspicion she does, though, a suspicion which is confirmed when six more Sitters, one from each Ajah, visit over the course of the day to ask the same questions, and Tsutama Rath finally asks flat out:
”Have you never thought,“ Tsutama said casually, toying with the red fringe of her shawl, ”of being Queen of Cairhien yourself?"
Thus she gained another nightmare to join the babe in the snow and the faceless man. She sat on the Sun Throne wearing the shawl of an Aes Sedai, and in the streets outside, the mobs were destroying the city. No Aes Sedai had been a queen in over a thousand years, and even before that, the few who admitted it openly had fared badly. But if that was the goal of the Hall of the Tower, how could she forestall it? Only by fleeing the Tower as soon as she did gain the shawl and staying away until matters resolved themselves in Cairhien. She spent most of that sleepless night praying to be tested soon. Even tomorrow would not be too soon. Light, she was not ready, but she had to escape. Somehow.
Okay, so here’s the thing that really bugs me about the lesbian relationships that show up in WOT: it’s not that they’re not there, it’s that they don’t matter. And that’s a load of crap.
In this chapter, Moiraine makes what is (in my opinion) an incredibly strong statement about her feelings toward Siuan. Here, I’ll quote it again:
She had never been as close to anyone as she was to Siuan. Or loved anyone as much.
One thing I definitely remember about NS is how clear it makes that Moiraine and Siuan had a sexual relationship while together in the Tower, but I really blinked when I read the above quote, because I found it startlingly inconsistent with the casualness of the way that aspect of their relationship is expressed practically everywhere else (that I recall).
And in retrospect? That kind of makes me mad.
Because, you know, from most people, saying something like this—specifically, saying this about someone you’re also involved with sexually—would indicate a very serious romantic relationship indeed. I mean, wow. And yet, somehow, this is not what it means at all, nor does it seem to have any real effect on Moiraine’s (or Siuan’s) later decisions in the slightest as far as I can recall.
Granted, I know perfectly well there’s an awful lot about NS that I don’t remember and if I turn out to be wrong about this I will cheerfully eat crow over it, but when Moiraine and Siuan go their different ways later on I really don’t recall any of the kind of grief and heartbreak I would expect to see when a couple that feels this strongly about each other are forced to separate, more or less permanently.
Which is, of course, because in the eyes of the author (and therefore, the characters, whether it be incongruous or not), they aren’t a couple. Despite having every earmark of being one, from a deep mutually supportive friendship to an (apparently) healthy sexual relationship to what sounds to me at least like a bloody declaration of love from at least one half of the pair, the possibility that this could be something more permanent than a “friends with benefits” arrangement is clearly never even considered.
And that bugs the crap out of me.
And before you jump all over this, please note that I am not saying that there cannot possibly exist a scenario where two people share a mutually deep platonic relationship right alongside a mutually shallow sexual one. Obviously, such a claim would be nonsense, because this clearly happens a lot—often enough that it has its own term. And even though I have a feeling that the percentage of how often the “benefits” part ends up destroying the “friends” part, one way or the other, is rather high, nevertheless, sure, it happens. Successfully, even. I totally give you that.
I’m not even saying it’s impossible that Siuan and Moiraine could have had such a “friends with benefits” relationship. Sure, fine: it’s totally possible that Moiraine didn’t mean love love in that quote, only really really good friendship love. I’ll raise my eyebrow a bit, but okay. So yes, it could have been only that between them and nothing more.
That’s not what annoys me. It annoys me, not that Siuan and Moiraine weren’t deeply in love, but that it’s clear to me that there is no way in a million years that they could have ever been. Not as long as it’s clear that same-sex couples can never be more in WOT than, at best, a momentary pastime. And only if you’re a girl, of course.
(And because I just know someone’s going to bring it up: no, one sentence, out of literally hundreds of thousands of sentences in WOT, about servants in the Tower that maybe could kinda sorta if you squint real hard be talking about gay men doesn’t count, because even if that is what it’s referring to, that is just an epic cop-out and, no. Not good enough, sorry.)
The only possible exception I can recall that implies a same-sex relationship could ever be more than that is Ailil and Shalon, and the fact that that relationship is, baldly, an adulterous affair puts it on rather shaky ground as a positive example of anything.
It bugs me—no, more. It saddens me, because it implies that as far as WOT is concerned, there is no way a homosexual relationship could ever be as important and lasting as a heterosexual one. And that is, as I mentioned, a load of crap.
…And holy verbosity, Batman, it’s three thirty in the morning! There was more in this chapter that I intended to get to, obviously, but I’m going to have to wrap this up here. Everyone play nice in the comments, pretty please, and I’ll see you again on Friday. G’night!