Welcome to two thousand eleventy, Wheel of Timers! Shall we a tad belatedly ring in the new year with a Wheel of Time Re-read? Why, I think we shall!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 16 and 17 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which we are in a maze of twisty political passages, all alike.
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 post!
Chapter 16: The Subject of Negotiations
Egwene sits her horse with Gareth Bryne on the bank of the River Erinin and gazes at Tar Valon, realizing for the first time that she thinks of the Tower as home. She contemplates the massive iron chain blocking the mouth of Northharbor, and the small fleet of riverships scurrying toward that harbor as fast as they can go. Egwene knows she could destroy the ships with ease using the Power, but cannot as long as there is even the possibility that the men aboard could die as a result.
Even one death would make what she did using the Power as a weapon. She was trying to live as though already bound by the Three Oaths, and the Oaths protected those vessels from her or any other sister. A sister who had sworn on the Oath Rod would not be able to make herself set those weaves, perhaps not even to form them, unless she could convince herself she was in immediate danger from the ships. But neither captains nor crews believed that, apparently.
Gareth points out how many Guard recruits are arriving on these ships, and comments that Jimar Chubain, the Captain of the Tower Guard, is too smart not to find out if Bryne inserts spies among them. He argues again that she only makes it worse by delaying, and urges her to allow him to make an assault on the city via gateways. Egwene refuses, saying that once it comes to sister killing sister, the Tower will die, and hope along with it.
Gareth shook his head with a quick grimace. But then, he never gave up, did he? “You have to keep the White Tower alive, Mother, but my job is to give it to you. Unless things have changed that I don’t know about. I can see sisters whispering and looking over their shoulders even if I don’t know what it means. If you still want the Tower, it will come to an assault, better soon than late.”
Egwene and Bryne ride back to where Sheriam, Nisao, Morvrin, Beonin, Myrelle, Anaiya, and Carlinya are waiting with their Warders; Egwene had had them arrange to be chosen as the “council of advisors” (i.e. spies) the Hall had wanted her to have. Then she sees that Delana has joined them; she says she has something important to tell Egwene, in private. Egwene reflects that Delana’s support of her in the Hall has been as often deleterious as beneficial to her goals, but she agrees, telling the others to ride back out of earshot. Delana then comments, to Egwene’s astonishment, that some people think Egwene has bonded Bryne as her Warder, and speculates on whether that would upset Siuan. Egwene answers curtly that she has bonded no one. Delana goes on to warn her that her “council” were set on her to spy and/or manipulate her either by the Hall or the Ajah Heads; she also insinuates that Sheriam was the one behind the War Vote plan, and Egwene marvels that people still won’t believe she isn’t someone’s puppet. She thanks Delana for the warning. Delana then suggests that she might want to inquire what the Hall thinks of negotiations with Elaida. Egwene asks why.
“Because the subject has come up in the Hall in the last few days. Not as a proposal, but it has been mentioned, very quietly, by Varilin, and by Takima, and also by Magla. And Faiselle and Saroiya have appeared interested in what they have had to say.”
Egwene is extremely concerned by this, because these five were under Romanda and Lelaine’s thumbs, and the one thing Romanda and Lelaine fervently agreed on was the necessity of unseating Elaida—even to the point of being relatively unconcerned with the impossible “eruption” of Power that had occurred five days earlier. Egwene calls over her council; except for Beonin, they are all incredulous at the notion of negotiations with Elaida, and opine that Takima et al are off their heads for even suggesting it. Egwene notes that Delana is pleased by their reactions, and suggests to Egwene that she move to crush the notion in the Hall, promising her support. Beonin interrupts to ask Delana angrily why negotiations are so out of the question.
“We are Gray, you and I. We negotiate, mediate. Elaida, she has stated the conditions most onerous, but that is often the case in the beginning of negotiations. We can reunite the White Tower and assure the safety of everyone, if we only talk.”
“We also judge,” Delana snapped, “and Elaida has been judged.” That was not precisely true, but she seemed more startled than anyone else by Beonin’s outburst. Her voice dripped acid. “Perhaps you are willing to negotiate yourself into being birched. I am not, and I think you will find few others who are, either.”
Beonin continues to argue for it, and Egwene grants her permission to open talks with the Tower. Everyone else dissents loudly, and Delana looks terrified; Egwene cuts them all off to clarify that the only terms she will accept is of Elaida resigning and going into exile, although to herself she thinks that she would have surrendered to Elaida herself if she’d thought it would work. Beonin swoons, and the rest stare at her in shock; Egwene calmly tells them it’s time to go back to camp.
What had to be done had to be done. Perhaps surrender would have healed the Tower, but she could not believe it. And now it might come down to Aes Sedai facing one another in the streets of Tar Valon, unless she could find a way to make her plan succeed. “We have work to do,” she said, gathering her reins, “and there isn’t much time left.” She prayed there was enough.
I suppose I could quibble about the realistic…ness of Egwene thinking of the Tower as home when I think all told she’s spent a grand total of like four months actually inside the place, but that’s being overly pedantic, I think. First of all, it does happen that you figure out whether you think of a place as “home” pretty quick, sometimes. Not to mention that, as Egwene also thinks to herself later on, “the Tower” is much more than just a big white building, and in that sense she’s been immersed in it nonstop for the last year and a half (or wherever we are timewise). So, not really that farfetched, I think.
I don’t know jack about shipping or harbors or the policing thereof, but I remember I really blinked at the notion that a chain, no matter how massive, could be an effective gating mechanism for an entire harbor mouth. Certainly I don’t think it would be particularly effective in our own day and age, but then I totally grant that a wooden ship versus a giant iron chain would probably not come out on top, so to speak. So, okay, but it’s still weird-sounding to me.
Oaths: Egh. The problem with the Oaths is the same as with time travel: if you sit down and think about it long enough you can come up with a dozen reasons why they totally wouldn’t work. In this particular case, if you take the possibility of random chance to its logical extreme, virtually any weave at all could potentially lead to someone’s death, and therefore should be impossible for anyone under the Third Oath to perform.
Just for example, take something Aes Sedai do all the time: picking or wrapping someone up with Air and holding them immobile. Sure, normally that wouldn’t kill anyone, but what if the person you’re holding has a tricky heart, and freaks out so badly that they have a heart attack and die? Does the Oath allow for freak accidents? And if it doesn’t, what happens to an Aes Sedai who accidentally kills someone? Does the Oath, like, squish her or something, or does she just get some fabulous shock therapy, or what? Have we ever seen an accidental death happen as a direct result of a sister’s channeling? Inquiring minds are inquiring!
Delana: This little plan of hers might just be the only halfway effective Evil thing Delana ever does, as far as I can tell. (Maybe I’m not giving Delana enough credit, but the FAQ’s description of her as a “wet hen” of a Darkfriend has always stuck with me rather indelibly.) I don’t know whether to be annoyed or relieved, therefore, that Egwene spikes her plan pretty much immediately, but probably the latter. As schemes go, though, this one is quintessentially Aes Sedai; I know because trying to follow the logic of it gives me a headache. More on this in the next chapter.
Chapter 17: Secrets
Delana takes off now that her “noxious seed” has been planted, and Egwene thinks that the Sitter had planned this very carefully. She wonders aloud what Delana had really been after with airing this publically. Carlinya opines that she is aiming for conflict between the Ajah Heads and the Sitters, or possibly between the Ajahs in general, since that is exactly what her proposal will create, but Morvrin is not sure Delana necessarily thought it through that far, suggesting that Delana may simply be pursuing a personal agenda. Myrelle and Anaiya agree with Carlinya, but Nisao wants to know if they can afford to stop talk of parley regardless of Delana’s motives, which makes everyone gape at her.
“At present, talk of negotiations is limited to five Sitters, and very quiet, but will it remain so? Once word spreads that talks were proposed and rejected, how long before despair sets in? No, hear me out! We all set off full of righteous fury for justice, yet here we sit, staring at the walls of Tar Valon, while Elaida sits in the Tower. We’ve been here nearly two weeks, and for all anyone can see, we may be here two years, or twenty. The longer we sit with nothing happening, the more sisters will start making excuses for Elaida’s crimes. The more they’ll start thinking that we have to mend the Tower, never mind the cost. Do you want to wait until sisters start slipping back to Elaida one by one? I myself do not fancy standing on the riverbank defying the woman with just the Blue Ajah and the rest of you for company. Negotiations will at least let everyone see that something is happening.”
Morvrin reluctantly agrees that talks might buy time for Bryne to find ships to block the harbor with, and Egwene fails to mention that Bryne had told her that that wasn’t going to happen, with word of the siege traveling outward from the city. None of them are happy about the idea of talks except Beonin, but she is much less thrilled when Egwene instructs her that she must not reveal either the secret of Traveling or the existence of the “ferrets” in the Tower in the course of the talks. The whole party is gloomy, and Egwene nearly succumbs to the mood herself before sharply rejecting it. The council scatters when they reach camp, to start preemptively spreading the news about the talks and Egwene’s stance on it; Egwene notes workmen carrying ruined meal crawling with weevils, and shivers, thinking of how much of their food supply had to be thrown out daily.
Every barrel of meat, every sack of grain or flour or meal, had been surrounded by a Keeping as soon as bought, and whatever was woven into a Keeping could not change until the weave was removed. But still the meat rotted and the insects multiplied. It was as though saidar itself was failing. You could get a sister to make jokes about the Black Ajah before you could get her to talk about that.
Egwene thinks about the nature of Aes Sedai and the likelihood that her efforts to change it will last (she thinks not), and notes the hordes of novices scurrying about, organized into “families”—a new concept that Egwene knows has greatly lessened the confusion of having so many novices to teach as well as reducing the number of runaways among them now that they have “cousins” to support them. She sees two Browns, Phaedrine and Shemari, emerging from a gate and wonders where they’d been, recalling Nisao’s remark about sisters defecting to Elaida uneasily.
Just one sister returning to the Tower with the knowledge of [the Traveling] weave would give away their largest advantage. And there was no way to stop it. Except to keep heart in the opposition to Elaida. Except to make the sisters believe there could be a quick end to this. If only there was a way to a quick end.
Egwene stops at one tent in particular and is met by Leane emerging from it, who collars a novice to hold Egwene’s horse for her but otherwise makes no acknowledgment that she and Egwene are more than sister and Amyrlin to each other, a very useful fiction. Leane heads off and Egwene enters the tent; she is surprised to see Sharina Melloy there, who is a grandmother despite being a novice, and the one who came up with the idea of the “families” for the novices (which many sisters do not care to be reminded of). She and Tiana, the Mistress of Novices, are watching six other novices channeling, while Janya Frende (Sitter, Brown) and Salita Toranes (Sitter, Yellow) are watching two sisters, Kairen and Ashmanaille doing the same weave:
In front of each woman, a close net woven of Earth, Fire and Air surrounded a small bowl or cup or the like, all made by the camp’s blacksmiths, who were very puzzled at why the sisters wanted such things made of iron, not to mention having them made as finely as if they were silver. A second weave, Earth and Fire woven just so, penetrated each net to touch the object, which was slowly turning white. Very, very slowly, in every case.
Ability with the weave improved with practice, but of the Five Powers, strength in Earth was the key, and beside Egwene herself, only nine sisters in the camp—along with two of the Accepted and nearly two dozen novices—had sufficient of that to make the weaves work at all.
Egwene thinks to herself that at least this—the weave that makes cuendillar—is one invention she can claim true credit for, though Moghedien had supplied some of the base knowledge for it. Janya is very excited about the monetary possibilities, but Salita thinks they are lowering themselves by making “trinkets” to sell; Tiana doesn’t care about that, but opines that novices should not be allowed to perform such complex weaves. Sharina interrupts their argument to send Nicola and Bodewhin off to classes; Bodewhin doesn’t look at Egwene as she leaves, and Egwene wishes she would understand why Egwene can’t be her friend anymore. Nicola argues to be allowed to stay and practice more, but before Tiana can do anything Sharina cows Nicola instantly; Nicola scurries out, followed by Areina (who Egwene is startled to see had been in the tent). Sharina asks Tiana with perfect courtesy for permission to leave, which Tiana gives sharply. After she is gone, Janya mocks Tiana for letting a novice intimidate her, and moves on to Nicola:
“Ever since we found out she has the Foretelling, she’s been Foretelling two or three times a day, to hear her tell it. […] Some are the sort of thing anyone in the camp with half a brain and a credulous nature might think of—battles with the Seanchan or the Asha’man, an Amyrlin imprisoned, the Dragon Reborn doing nine impossible things, visions that might be Tarmon Gai’don or a bilious stomach—and the rest all just happen to indicate that Nicola ought to be allowed to go faster with her lessons. She’s always too greedy for that.”
Salita adds that Nicola is always snooping, and got caught trying to learn the Traveling weave; she thinks Nicola ought to be sent away. Tiana resents this encroachment on her authority, and snaps back that she has no intention of losing a novice of Nicola’s potential, nor Sharina’s either.
Sharina’s potential was nothing short of remarkable, far beyond anyone in living memory except for Nynaeve, and ahead of Nynaeve as well. Some thought she might become as strong as it was possible to be, though that was only speculation.
Egwene is shocked to catch herself thinking it was a pity she hadn’t arranged for Nicola and Areina to have convenient accidents, and redirects the conversation by praising Kairen’s improvement at the cuendillar weave. Kairen is rather snide in her response; Janya subtly mocks her for being worse at it than Bodewhin, a novice. Egwene watches the white creep slowly up Kairen’s cup, and thinks of how Leane’s transformations are much swifter, while Egwene’s take no more than a second to complete.
It would have to be Kairen and Leane, but even Leane was barely fast enough. Kairen needed time to improve. Days? Weeks? […] Suddenly Egwene was glad she had approved Beonin’s suggestion. Telling Kairen why she needed to try harder might have spurred her efforts, but this was another secret that had to be kept until the time came to unveil it to the world.
Jordan’s often been accused (by me, occasionally) of over-, er, complexifying things merely for complexity’s sake, and there’s more than a little bit of truth to that, but at the same time you do kind of have to appreciate that he lets politics be as messy and idiotic as politics generally are, insofar as is possible without actually turning the Aes Sedai into Congress, which, eek. I mean, holy crap: if this is the simplified fictional fantastical version of politics, it’s a miracle Washington (or any other major government) accomplishes getting everybody’s shoes tied in the morning, much less, like, passing laws and shit.
This is a plunge that more than one author (SF or otherwise) has been more than happy to either skim over or dodge completely, and one thing I’ve found reading Jordan and those other authors who do get into how unbelievably chaotic and non-productive political intrigue can be, is that I’m often irritated now when complications that should have arisen because of X thing just… don’t, because the author just didn’t want to deal with it and/or decided it would get in the way of the story.
And yeah, these things do get in the way of the story, but in my opinion it’s ultimately more harmful to my suspension of disbelief to handwave away people’s infallible ability to fuck up any given situation by turning it into a big power-jockeying pissing match, than to cut through it and pretend it isn’t there for the sake of expediency. What this says about me (or fiction, or people) I leave as an exercise for the reader.
Speaking of which, let’s think on Egwene’s thinkings about Aes Sedai in this chapter for a moment:
The world saw Aes Sedai as a monolith, towering and solid, or it had before the current division in the Tower became common knowledge, yet the pure fact was that the Ajahs stood apart in all but name, the Hall their only true meeting point, and the sisters themselves were little more than a convocation of hermits, speaking three words beyond what was absolutely required only with a few friends. Or with another sister they had joined in some design. Whatever else changed about the Tower, Egwene was sure that never would. There was no point pretending that Aes Sedai had ever been anything but Aes Sedai or ever would be, a great river rolling onward, all its powerful currents hidden deep, altering its course with imperceptible slowness. She had built a few hasty dams in that river, diverting a stream here and a stream there for her own purposes, yet she knew they were temporary structures. Sooner or later those deep currents would undercut her dams.
Depressing, ain’t it? And, given what Egwene later accomplishes, actually somewhat inaccurate, but the other great truth of politics and governments (of which the Tower can certainly be considered an example) is that pretty much the only time you can make great sweeping changes that actually stick is in times of acute crisis. And since I’m pretty sure Armageddon counts as an “acute crisis,” well, there you go.
Lucky Egwene, eh? For pretty grim values of “lucky,” of course.
(In totally, utterly unrelated news, I have been watching/reading a lot of WWII-related stuff lately, and now I’m picturing Egwene as Winston Churchill, and that is just all kinds of wrong.)
Proto-Benedict Arnold Beonin: I SLAP YOU. I SLAP YOU TWO TIMES. That is all.
Saidar failing: It isn’t; it’s just that the Dark One’s icky mojo is finally getting to where it’s stronger than anything’s ability to stop it. Unless I’m wrong, of course. Which I NEVER AM. *cough*
I was really surprised about the cuendillar thing on first reading. I also never figured out where Egwene was going with it until it happened, either. But we’ll get to that.
Sharina: Rather to my surprise, I liked her quite a lot, despite her superficial resemblance to Cadsuane. I think the difference is that, unlike Cads, Sharina is exerting her formidable willpower from a position of (supposed) powerlessness, which shifts it from having flavors of bullying to, well, just being awesome. This is also part of why I loved Egwene’s upcoming imprisonment in the Tower so much as well, so I’ll talk more about it later.
However, once again I am vaguely irritated that yet another random channeler has popped up who turns out to be stronger than Nynaeve, grumblesymmetrysomethinggrumble.
I am intrigued by the comment that Sharina “might become as strong as it was possible to be,” however, because that’s kind of a weird statement, all things considered. It’s weird because it implies that there is a clearly defined upper limit on channeling strength that everyone is aware of (for women at least). And that just seems kind of an odd thing for modern-day Aes Sedai to know, considering how the median Power-level has fallen off over the last few thousand years. Plus, how could you tell such a thing before she actually gets there? And how do you know that’s as strong as someone can possibly get? I dunno, it’s bizarre.
Nicola: I can’t decide if I feel bad or just indifferent that she bites it in ToM. I guess it’s sort of sad that she never really has a chance to grow out of her personality flaws (of which she has many), but then again I guess she also had a noble death in battle or whatever. I’m not sure whether that would mollify her much, though.
(Did we find out what happened to Areina?)
On Nicola’s viewings, I find it ominous that one of her Foretellings may have included a battle with the Asha’man, since that definitely hasn’t happened as of ToM. However, given what that assmunch Taim is up to in the Black Tower, well, someone’s going to have to put the kibosh on that shit, and the Aes Sedai are pretty much the only game in town equipped to do it. Doesn’t make the notion any less extremely unpleasant to contemplate, though. Well, we’ll see.
…But not until later! Try not to get lost in any caves in the meantime, and I’ll see you again Tuesday!