What up, yo: Welcome back to this here Wheel of Time Re-read, yeah? Yeah.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 25 and 26 of The Path of Daggers, in which I poke gingerly at the ratio of Awesomeness to Skeevery withal, and come to very little conclusion on’t. You Have Been Warned.
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 information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related 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.
And… yeah. The post!
Chapter 25: An Unwelcome Return
In her study, Elaida plays with her ivory carvings as she listens to the six Sitters before her argue and snipe at each other, and feels exultation that she is so firmly in charge of them. Velina (White) is opining that even if a ter’angreal exists that can control a woman’s channeling, there is no way there can be many of them, since hardly any two ter’angreal do the same thing; therefore, logically these stories of women on leashes are a story made up by Rand al’Thor. Shevan (Brown) drily replies that everyone was sure that only a shield could prevent a woman from channeling too, and then they found out about forkroot. The mention of the drug makes everyone uneasy, and Elaida wonders what they would do if they knew the Asha’man had rediscovered Traveling. Andaya (Gray) asks cuttingly if anyone has anything useful to talk about, and Rubinde (Green) snaps back that most everything that can be done, already has. Elaida cuts into the squabbling (which she finds amusing) to make a threat about punishing “sloth” in attending to the decrees she has given them; the Sitters murmur obedience nervously, and Elaida thinks with satisfaction that none of them want to be sent to Silviana for “Mortification of the Flesh”. The Sitters head for the door, but before they get there it opens to reveal Alviarin.
Elaida felt her smile go crooked and begin sliding from her face. Alviarin had a single sheet of parchment in one slim hand. Odd, what one noticed at a time like this. The woman had been gone almost two weeks, vanished from the Tower without word or note, without anyone so much as seeing her go, and Elaida had begun to think fond thoughts of Alviarin lying in a snowbank, or swept away in a river, sliding beneath the ice.
Alviarin doesn’t move out of the Sitters’ way, but instead tells Sedore (Yellow) to leave the folder of Elaida’s decrees with her, and Sedore barely hesitates before giving it to her; Elaida grinds her teeth. The Sitters leave, and Alviarin thumbs through the papers, all decrees Elaida had made in the hope that Alviarin was dead. Alviarin murmurs that some of these could go through, but not others, and casually crumples up the rejects and throws them on the floor before coming over to Elaida and slapping her face, hard. She says she’d thought they’d settled their positions, and that Elaida knows Alviarin can have her deposed, stilled, and birched before the whole Tower. Elaida tells herself she has to be careful, as Alviarin can tattle not only on the botched kidnapping of al’Thor, but regarding Toveine’s soon-to-be-disastrous assault on the Black Tower. Elaida still has hope for Toveine, though, because of her Foretelling.
The Black Tower would be rent in fire and blood, she had Foretold, and sisters would walk its grounds. Surely that meant that somehow, Toveine would triumph. More, the rest of the Foretelling had told her that the Tower would regain all its old glories under her, that al’Thor himself would quail at her anger. Alviarin had heard the words coming out of Elaida’s mouth when the Foretelling took her. And she had not remembered later, when she began her blackmail, had not understood her own doom. Elaida waited in patience. She would repay the woman threefold! But she could be patient. For now.
Alviarin shoves her single piece of paper in front of Elaida and commands her to sign it. Elaida doesn’t think anything can be worse than the last thing Alviarin had forced her to sign, which gave sisters in their own Ajah quarters authority over any sisters in their quarters not of that Ajah, but then reads the proclamation with growing horror. It declares that Rand al’Thor, being the Dragon Reborn and also a man who can channel, lies within the authority of the White Tower alone, and any attempt to approach him except through the Tower is “treason against the Light”.
“The Light have mercy,” she breathed fervently. “If this is proclaimed, it will be impossible to convince al’Thor that his abduction was unsanctioned.” It would be hard enough without, but she had seen people convinced before that what had happened, had not, and them in the middle of it happening. “And he will be ten times on his guard against another attempt. Alviarin, at best, this will frighten away a few of his followers. At best!” Many likely had waded so deep with him they did not dare try to wade back. Certainly not if they thought anathema already hung over their heads!
Elaida gasps that she might as well set the Tower on fire as sign this, but Alviarin forces her to repeat her litany that she will do as she is told and is obedient to Alviarin’s will, and Elaida reluctantly signs the paper. Alviarin snatches it and leaves, commanding Elaida to stay where she is until she comes back. Elaida is furious at being confined to her quarters, and again contemplates killing Alviarin, but is sure Alviarin will have made arrangements to bring Elaida down in the event of her demise. Silviana enters and tells Elaida grumpily that Alviarin had said Elaida had sent for her for a private penance, to “remind her of something”. Elaida agrees dully, and after Silviana leaves lies weeping, praying that Seaine finds the proof of treason soon that will bring Alviarin down.
In her “crystal and chimes” Illusion disguise, Mesaana remarks to Alviarin that she didn’t tell her to have Elaida beaten, and wonders if Alviarin is getting above herself. Remembering what had happened last time she thought that, Alviarin grovels before her, and seizes the hem of Mesaana’s dress to kiss it, incidentally disturbing the Illusion enough that the real dress, “bronze silk with a thin border of intricately embroidered black scrollwork”, flickers through. Mesaana asks if the decree has gone out, and Alviarin assures her it has, then dares to ask if perhaps Elaida has now outlived her usefulness. Mesaana is amused at her “small ambition” to be Amyrlin, but has a more important task for Alviarin. She says that despite the growing divisions between the Ajahs, the Ajah Heads still manage to encounter each other with “surprising frequency”, and Mesaana wants to know why. She remarks that it’s a shame Galina got herself killed, and Alviarin mentally agrees, since Galina had been the only Ajah Head who was also Black. She says she will obey.
But she did file away a tidbit for herself. Trivial matter or not, Mesaana did not know everything that happened in the White Tower. And Alviarin would keep her eyes open for a sister in bronze skirts bordered on the hem in black scrollwork. Mesaana was hiding herself in the Tower, and knowledge was power.
Man, she is just a walking disaster. Hurricane Elaida, destroying everything she touches—even if only by proxy, via being Alviarin’s whipping-girl. Or whatever, I’m not sure I used that term correctly. Anyway.
It’s kind of a weird no-win for me here, because even as you get caught up momentarily in sort-of-rooting for Elaida’s attempt to undo the damage Alviarin’s control has wrought, it’s still completely obvious that even if she weren’t under the Black Ajah’s thumb, Elaida would be making an unholy mess of things anyway. Anyone who can sit there and think that an ongoing cold war between your underlings is (a) indicative of how awesome a leader you are, and (b) funny, is someone who shouldn’t be allowed to be in charge of a bingo game, much less the most powerful autonomous organization in All The Land. Good grief.
I’m actually surprised she grasped how disastrous Alviarin’s newest decree would be, but then again I’m amazed she actually thinks there was a chance in any case that she could absolve herself in Rand’s eyes of culpability re: his kidnapping, because really. One thing you gotta give Elaida, she certainly has a rich fantasy life!
Alviarin, meanwhile, continues to be fearsomely efficient and horribly awesome. I’ve said it before but I’m really interested to see what becomes of her now that she’s fled the Tower, post-TGS. Girl at least deserves to be promoted to Dreadlord; c’mon, Shadow, recognize tha skillz!
Also, it would be kind of awesome (if in a rather overly-twee-symmetry way) if Leane got to be the one to kill her. Or hey, maybe she’ll be on the Seanchan front, and there’ll be a damane named Suffa in the ranks… Hah.
Mesaana: Is a very sparkly villain, ain’t she? This, of course, is also the appearance of the Great Dress Debate, which you can read all about here if you’re so inclined. I totally love that we still don’t know who she is.
Chapter 26: The Extra Bit
Seaine walks the corridors of the Tower, lamenting the way Talene, a Green Sitter and once Seaine’s friend, snubs her, and the shocking lack of deference sisters from other Ajahs pay her even though she is a Sitter too. She thinks of how the Ajahs had all gradually jumped upon Elaida’s “mad decree” regarding authority within Ajah quarters, and remembers the rumor that a Sitter had had “more than her dignity ruffled” by the Reds in their quarters. She thinks the Tower now resembles a group of “armed camps”. She sees the object of her search, a White sister named Zerah Dacan, and tells Zerah to come with her; Zerah obeys without question a Sitter of her own Ajah. Seaine leads Zerah down into an unused and forgotten area of the Tower, trying to calm her own nervousness, until they reach the abandoned storeroom where Pevara is waiting for them. Impatiently, Pevara shields Zerah and tells her they want to know if she is a Darkfriend.
Amazement and outrage shattered Zerah’s calm. Most would have taken that for sufficient denial without her snapped “I don’t have to take that from you! You Reds have been setting up false Dragons for years! If you ask me, there’s no need to look further than the Red quarters to find Black sisters!”
Pevara stiffens in fury, but Seaine steps in and entreats Zerah to sit, which she reluctantly does, and Pevara pulls out the Oath Rod, which Seaine had filched from the treasury (with considerable unease). Pevara tells Zerah that they want to make sure she is not lying, so she will swear an oath on this. Zerah contemptuously replies that she will reswear all three Oaths and tell them, and then demand an apology, but Pevara counters to Zerah’s horror that the oath she will swear is to obey her and Seaine absolutely.
“That way, we can tell you to answer truthfully and know you will, and if you give the wrong answer, we can know you’ll be obedient and helpful in helping us hunt down your Black sisters. The Rod can be used to free you of the oath, if you give the right answer.”
Zerah exclaims that she’s never heard of anyone being released from an Oath, but Seaine answers that logically the Black Ajah must be able to lie, so they must have removed at least the first Oath from their members. She adds that she and Pevara tested it, and it works; she does not mention how painful the process had been, nor that she and Pevara have no intention of freeing Zerah from her Oath to obey no matter what she answers. Zerah is appalled that they freed themselves from the First Oath; Pevara irritably answers that they retook it, and proves it by retaking all three Oaths again on the Rod, and declaring she is not a Darkfriend. She hands the Rod to Seaine, who does the same.
Claiming that Pevara had a beard or that the streets of Tar Valon were paved with cheese had been strangely exhilarating for a time—even Pevara had giggled—but hardly worth the discomfort now.
She gives the Rod to Zerah, who looks sick, but swears to obey them absolutely. She immediately demands to be asked about the Black Ajah, and when Pevara asks, shouts that she is not Black Ajah and demands they free her from the oath. Seaine is upset, as she had been sure she had caught Zerah in a lie; she and Pevara ask why, then, Zerah had claimed to come from the north when she’d had plant detritus on her saddle that could only have come from the south. Zerah bursts out against her will that she came from Salidar, to make sure all the sisters in the Tower knew about Logain and the Reds. Incensed, Pevara demands that she admit the lie.
If Zerah’s eyes had been wide before, they bulged now. The Rod dropped from her hands to roll across the tabletop, and she clutched her throat. A choking sound came from her suddenly gaping mouth. Pevara stared at her in shock, but suddenly Seaine understood.
“Light’s mercy,” she breathed. “You do not have to lie, Zerah.” Zerah’s legs thrashed beneath the table as if she were trying to rise and could not get her feet under her. “Tell her, Pevara. She believes it’s true! You’ve commanded her to speak the truth and to lie. Don’t look at me that way! She believes!” A bluish tinge appeared on Zerah’s lips. Her eyelids fluttered. Seaine gathered calm with both hands. “Pevara, you gave the order so apparently you must release her, or she will suffocate right in front of us.”
“She’s a rebel.” Pevara’s mutter invested that word with all the scorn it could hold. But then she sighed. “She hasn’t been tried, yet. You don’t have to… lie… girl.” Zerah toppled forward and lay with her cheek pressed against the tabletop, gulping air between whimpers.
Seaine is worried, now, thinking that they had not considered the possibility of conflicting oaths; if the Black sisters replaced the old Oaths with new ones, they would have to be very careful not to do something that would cause any Black sister they caught to drop dead. She considers perhaps first forcing a renunciation of all oaths, despite how painful that would be. Pevara is still furious at Zerah, but Seaine points out how useful it would be to have the assistance of one they know is not a Darkfriend, and since she is a rebel, they need not be “overly concerned” about using her, uneasily dismissing thoughts of Compulsion. She asks Zerah how many sisters the rebels sent to the Tower, and Zerah is forced to answer “ten”. Pevara makes her name them, and Seaine notes that her own sense of disgust at the rebels is clearly much less than Pevara’s. Seaine tells Zerah to bring one of the named sisters, Bernaile, to Seaine’s rooms this afternoon, wording it carefully so that Zerah cannot warn Bernaile in any way beforehand; Pevara kicks her out with added instructions to clean herself up first; Zerah has to tear her hands away from her hair to open the door. She leaves, and Seaine and Pevara have a brief argument about whether to leave some of the rebel moles “active” or not, when suddenly four Sitters barge in, one each from the remaining Ajahs: Saerin (Brown), Talene (Green), Yukiri (Gray), and Doesine (Yellow); Seaine barely hides the Oath Rod in time. Saerin remarks on the strangeness of the two of them together, and Pevara returns that she could say the same of them, while Seaine searches her mind for some connection between the four to explain it. Talene steps forward:
“Yukiri noticed you two sneaking about together, and we want to know why.” Her surprisingly deep voice held heat despite the ice that seemed to coat her face. “Did the heads of your Ajahs set you a secret task? In public, the Ajahs’ heads snarl at one another worse than anyone else, but they’ve been sneaking off into corners to talk, it seems. Whatever they’re scheming, the Hall has a right to know.”
Yukiri adds that she saw them “sniffing about”, but they could have been pillow friends for all she knew, so she held her tongue until Talene started “yelping” about secrets. Pevara retorts that she has no obligation to tell the Hall anything about what the head of her Ajah does, but in any case what they are doing has nothing to do with their Ajahs. Doesine curses sourly that she knew this was a waste of time, but Saerin suddenly darts forward to yank the Oath Rod out from where Seaine was hiding it. Yukiri finds this amusing, Doesine wants to know if they’re raising “new bloody sisters”, and Talene is still on the Ajah Heads, but then Saerin shuts them all up thoughtfully, then suddenly channels Spirit into the Rod.
“Under the Light, I will speak no word that is not true. I am not a Darkfriend.”
In the silence that followed, a mouse sneezing would have sounded loud.
“Am I right?” Saerin said, releasing the Power.
Seaine and Pevara each again take the Oath against lying, and repeat that they are not Black Ajah. Talene says this is ridiculous, there is no Black Ajah, but Yukiri takes it and does the same, and so does Doesine, who offers the Rod to Talene.
The golden-haired woman started back as from a poisonous snake. “Even to ask this is a slander. Worse than slander!” Something feral moved in her eyes. An irrational thought, perhaps, but that was what Seaine saw. “Now move out of my way,” Talene demanded with all the authority of a Sitter in her voice. “I am leaving!”
“I think not,” Pevara said quietly, and Yukiri nodded slowly in agreement. Saerin did not stroke her knife hilt; she gripped it till her knuckles went white.
Toveine Gazal’s horse flounders through the snow in Andor, four other Reds and twenty of the Guard behind her; she curses, but promises herself that she will go down in history as the woman who destroyed this “Black Tower”. She thinks that what had been done twenty years ago had been “necessary and right”, but she had been the one birched and exiled for twenty years, while Elaida had slipped through the cracks and “danced” her way to the Amyrlin Seat, and she is not going to waste her chance now. Suddenly a tall man in a black coat rides out of the trees and announces that if they surrender peacefully no one will be hurt. Toveine realizes she is shielded, but does not panic, telling the sisters with her to take him.
Abruptly she realized that nothing was happening and took her eyes from the fellow to frown at Jenare. The woman’s pale, square face seemed absolutely bloodless. “Toveine,” she said unsteadily, “I also am shielded.”
“I am shielded, too,” Lemai breathed in disbelief, and the others chimed in, increasingly frantic. All shielded.
More black coated men emerge from the trees, at least fifteen, but Toveine thinks that surely not all of them could channel, and it is a bluff. She whispers to the sisters to scatter until the men lose the shield, then turn back to help the Guard, then shouts to the Guard to attack. They do, and she and the others gallop off in random directions; she hears the tall man roar to take them alive, by order of the Dragon Reborn. At the name Toveine finally feels fear, and realizes that though she is out of sight, the shield has not faded. Then something invisible snatches her out of her saddle, leaving her hanging in midair; she knows it must be saidin and tries not to scream, imagining she can feel the taint touching her. The tall man pulls up before her and settles her sitting sideways in front of his saddle, shouting for others to join him. She thinks that he is a very big man, not at all like the “pretty boys” Toveine liked, and it comes home to her that she is a prisoner of a man who can channel. She begins shrieking and struggling; the man fights to control his horse, and pleads with her to calm down.
“Light! My apologies, sister, but this is how we learn to do it.” And then he kissed her.
She had only a heartbeat to realize his lips were touching hers, then sight vanished, and warmth flooded through her. More than warmth. She was melted honey inside, bubbling honey, rushing toward the boil. She was a harpstring, vibrating faster and faster, vibrating to invisibility and faster still. She was a thin crystal vase, quivering on the brink of shattering. The harpstring broke; the vase shattered.
She stares at him, dazed, and he sighs that he could have done without the “extra bit”, but supposes it’s necessary, as she is “hardly a wife”. He tells her to be calm, and to not try to escape or touch the Source without permission. He asks her name, and Toveine answers immediately, and wonders why. Another black-coated man (much more to Toveine’s taste) gallops up.
“Light, Logain!” the pretty boy exclaimed. “Did you take a second one? The M’Hael won’t like that! I don’t think he likes us taking any! Maybe it won’t matter, though, you two being so close and all.”
“Close, Vinchova?” Logain said wryly. “If the M’Hael had his way, I’d be hoeing turnips with the new boys. Or buried under the field,” he added in a mutter she did not think he meant to be heard.
Hearing his name, Toveine tries to figure out why she’s not freaking out or trying to kill him, and demands to know what he did to her. He explains, and she weeps on his chest, vowing to make Elaida pay for this—if Logain ever lets her.
Oh, man, this thing.
Hokay. My initial reaction to this chapter, as I recall, was that both major events in it were Made of Awesome, even while giving me an uneasy twinge of… twinginess. Something.
Today, my reaction is the same, except now my twinginess has blossomed into this terrible pain in all the ethics diodes down my left side. Ow. Ow ow ow.
Yes, it is really great that the Black Ajah Hunters have found their first prey, and yes it is really great that Toveine’s attack was defused with no loss of life, but—Ow. Ow ow ow.
The chapter title, by the way, is referring just as much to what was done to Zerah as what was done to Toveine, because functionally it was the exact same thing, and was even done for the same kinds of reasons. And both acts are extremely ethically questionable, to say the least. If ever there were a case of the ends justifying the means…
I debated for a while on which one I thought was skeevier, and I have to say that the win goes to Seaine and Pevara, at least initially. At least Logain was under no illusions that Toveine was anything but his enemy, whereas Seaine and Pevara planned to do this to Zerah no matter what she was, and only in retrospect used the excuse that she was a rebel to justify it. Um, yuck?
It was a close call, though, what with the description of Toveine’s bonding being basically a description of a frickin’ orgasm. I mean, really? And the scale of skeeviness will definitely tilt back to Logain if “Wife” bonds can’t be released. I have no reason to suppose they can’t, since Warder bonds can, but there is the question of whether any of the Asha’man have worked out how to actually do it yet.
And on further reflection, I’m just… I’m just very divided in my mind about how I feel about the whole bonding thing here. I am obviously not nearly as outraged as I was about Alanna bonding Rand, but that was a different set of circumstances. Basically Alanna had no justification whatsoever for what she did to Rand (in my opinion), whereas Toveine was, in modern parlance, an enemy combatant, and from that point of view what Logain did was certainly a lot more humane than some of the things he could have done. Like killing her, for one. I suppose there is also the slightly unflattering-to-me observation that I like Rand a hell of a lot more than I like Toveine, as well, and am therefore more inclined to be jealous of his well-being than hers.
That said, however, it does not change the fact that this scene with Toveine and Logain makes me deeply uncomfortable. There’s a whole bucketload of vaguely sexual submission/dominance subtext swirling around it that I can’t seem to get a grip on enough to talk coherently about at the moment, but is definitely there. Which is not necessarily a problem on the face of it—except when you add in the non-consensual nature of what happened. Let’s just say, adding sexual overtones to an act that takes away the free will of the opposite party is…
Well, you know what that is. I trust I need not explicate my feelings on that score.
And yet, there is a question of Logain’s intent as well, and for some reason I have throughout the series always been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, and that is still true here. But just because he has the character not to take advantage of the situation doesn’t mean anyone else… agh.
And the dilemma only gets worse later, when we meet up with Toveine again. So I think I will wait till that later to get into it. Hopefully I’ll have better organized my thoughts then, because I’m not having a whole lot of luck doing it right now.
So, in conclusion, Ow. But hey, at least nobody died!
Logain’s ever-so-brief exchange with Vinchova here once again makes me extremely irritated that we are so shut out from an interior view of the goings-on at the Black Tower for all this time. I suspect that’s going to change in ToM, though. At least I hope so.
I think I’ve pointed it out before, but if you are as utterly confuzled by the whole “vileness of twenty years ago” thing that Toveine thinks about here as I was, the FAQ article is a very good explanation of it all. This is one of these very deep scattered-clue background things in WOT I never even tried to fathom in my initial reading, and have therefore always been grateful to find there were fans far more observant (and obsessive) than I to clear them up for me. Sloth FTW!
Pillow friends: I’m pretty sure I sailed right by this statement of Yukiri’s the first time around without even noticing it, but it sure as hell jumps out at me now. I also recall being uncertain for a while whether the term really meant what I thought it did, later on when it starts coming up more (at least until it was made screamingly obvious what it meant). This is partly because back then I had a much stronger heteronormative bias in my reading perspective than I do now, but it’s also because I was just plain startled to have an acknowledgement of homosexuality (if that’s even what it was) suddenly crop up out of nowhere after nine(ish) books of pretending gay people didn’t exist. (I had also missed the Galina thing too, first time. Not that that helps, except in an empirical sense. Ugh.)
Also, if I recall correctly waaaay back somewhere in TDR or TSR or thereabouts someone referred to Elayne and Egwene as “pillow friends” (or they called themselves that, I can’t remember), and this further baffled me, since I was pretty sure even Jordan would have managed to convey the notion that their relationship had been sexual if that had ever been the case. Which, by the way, I’m positive it was not.
I would simply suppose that the term could be used to mean either a platonic or sexual relationship, as certainly there is no lack of similarly confusing phrases surrounding relationships in general (consider the ambiguous parallel etymology of the word “girlfriend”, for instance—when used by a woman, anyway), but this is undermined somewhat by the later books pretty clearly confining the term to mean two women in a sexual relationship. So, I guess Jordan changed his mind about what it meant? Or, I hallucinated that it was used earlier than this chapter, one of the two.
Either way, it’s completely obvious (now) that what Yukiri is suggesting here is a sexual relationship, and also that the “skulking around” part of it was in reference to the fact that Pevara and Seaine are from two different Ajahs (inter-Ajah relations being so strained at this point), as opposed to being clandestine about having sex with another woman per se. Clearly, then, there was no stigma attached to the notion; this was also evidenced by the lack of reaction from anyone in the room at the suggestion, including Seaine and Pevara.
I’ve sort of said my piece on this before, and I’ll address it in more detail later on, but for now I’ll just restate my general reaction, which is that my only problem with the entire notion is that to my knowledge we never see any corresponding phenomenon (a) among the general non-segregated population, or (b) in any situation involving men at all, segregated or otherwise. Both of which, as I’ve said before, have several unpleasant subtextual implications, however progressive the “pillow friends” concept may seem on the surface. Not to mention being bloody unlikely from a purely statistical standpoint, but anyway.
So basically this was one big splodge of sexual subtext up in here, eh? Ye gods and little fishes. Well, there you go. Be nice in commentage, peoples, and have a lovely weekend!