The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Crossroads of Twilight, Part 15

Greetings on this absolutely gorgeous Tuesday, Wheel of Timers! I love freezing rain, don’t you? It is just my FAVORITE. Especially when I get to walk six blocks in it! Nevertheless, the Wheel of Time Re-read soldiers on.

Today’s entry covers Chapters 21 and 22 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which math is hard! Let’s go shopping! And also shift some fundamental power dynamics in the local political structure!

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 21: A Mark

What Happens
Alviarin reenters the Tower via gateway into a disused storage room, and channels to remove the reddish mud from her clothes that marks her as having come from Tremalking, the Sea Folk’s island. She makes her way cautiously to the inhabited parts of the Tower, thinking irritably about Mesaana and her refusal to teach Alviarin hardly anything worth while, and her insistence on making Alviarin deal with inferior non-channelers just because they were also Darkfriends, and to be nice to them too, just in case they were working for another Chosen. Alviarin is slightly worried about Elaida, seeing as Alviarin’s been gone for almost a month this time, but reassures herself that she cowed Elaida sufficiently last time to not have to worry.

Nothing moved except for a rat that went scuttling away with a faint click of claws on the floorstones. That almost made her smile. Almost. The Great Lord’s eyes riddled the Tower, now, though no one seemed to have noticed that the wardings had failed. She did not think it was anything Mesaana had done; the wards simply no longer worked as they were supposed to. There were… gaps.

She debates whether she can ask Mesaana about that “impossible flare” in the Power without revealing that she had gone to visit the site afterwards on her own. She steps into the Ninth Depository of the library, which no one ever seems to use (it concerns arithmetic), but then is suddenly met by Zemaille (Brown), who asks if she can help her. Alviarin lies that she was just taking a stroll through the library.

Tall and very lean, Zemaille always held that outer mask of reserve and distance, but Alviarin suspected she was less shy than she pretended, and less pleasant. “That’s quite understandable. The Library is restful, and it’s a sad time for us all. And sadder still for you, of course.”

“Of course,” Alviarin repeated as if by rote. A sad time? For her in particular? She considered drawing the woman to some secluded corner where she could be questioned and disposed of, but then she noticed another Brown, a round woman even darker than Zemaille, watching them from farther down the hall. Aiden and Zemaille were weak in the Power, yet overcoming both at once would be difficult if it was possible at all. Why were they both down here on the ground floor? The pair was seldom seen, shuttling between the rooms on the upper levels they shared with Nyein, the third Sea Folk sister, and the so-called Thirteenth Depository, where the secret records were kept. All three worked there, willingly immersed to their necks in their labors. She walked on and tried to tell herself she was being skittish without reason, but that did nothing to soothe the prickling between her shoulder blades.

She becomes worried, then, of the total lack of people about, and hurries up to Elaida’s apartments. When she enters, though, she finds Elaida with more than half of the Sitters. Elaida almost smiles when she sees Alviarin, and orders her to stand in the corner until she has “time to deal with [her].” Alviarin is astounded, considering what she has on Elaida, but is suddenly terrified that Elaida has found out somehow that she is Black Ajah, and obeys. Suana (who Alviarin knows is also the Head of the Yellow Ajah as well as a sitter) returns to their earlier discussion, which is the subject of opening talks with the Rebel army. Ferane (White, and also the Head of the Ajah) speaks for it, as does Andaya (Gray), who points out that the Rebels must have rediscovered Traveling, and thinks they should open negotiations before they use it to invade the city itself. This is all very distressing news to Alviarin; Elaida scowls and asks if the Brown and Green also support talks. Shevan (Brown) points out that the histories prove that whenever the Tower is divided, disaster follows. Alviarin is surprised that Talene does not speak for the Green, but Rubinde instead, who states that Tarmon Gai’don is coming, and the Tower can no longer afford to be divided. Strangely, Elaida is not outraged, and agrees to the talks, but warns them that her edicts must stand: the Blue Ajah is dissolved, and every sister who follows “that child” Egwene al’Vere must serve penance before she can be readmitted to any Ajah. It’s clear they want to protest, but Elaida kicks them out, and they go. Alviarin begins talking immediately, reminding Elaida of the blackmail material she has on her, but Elaida only smiles and remarks that she is surprised Alviarin came back at all. She opines that Coiren and Toveine will take any blame from the disasters of al’Thor’s kidnapping and the assault on the Black Tower, respectively, and shields Alviarin before giving her a full-armed slap.

“I look forward to seeing your neck stretched on the headsman’s block for treason, Alviarin, but until I have the proof I need, there are still a few things I can do. Do you remember how many times you had Silviana come to give me private penance? I hope you do, because you are going to take ten for every day I suffered. And, oh, yes.” With a jerk, she pulled the Keeper’s stole roughly from Alviarin’s neck. “Since no one could find you when the rebels arrived, I asked the Hall to remove you as Keeper. Not the full Hall, of course. You may still have a little influence there. But it was surprisingly easy to gain the consensus from those who were sitting that day. A Keeper is supposed to be with her Amyrlin, not wandering off on her own.”

She dismisses Alviarin contemptuously, and Alviarin flees back to her own apartments in terror, convinced that Elaida knows she is Black Ajah and is only waiting for proof before arresting her. She pulls out a ter’angreal Mesaana had given her and warned her to use only in the direst emergency, and activates it to summon Mesaana to her. When an Illusion-disguised Mesaana arrives, very displeased, she tells Alviarin that she hopes Alviarin doesn’t think she can get the Keeper’s stole back for her, as in her opinion it was Alviarin’s fault for pushing Elaida too hard. Alviarin tells Mesaana that Elaida knows she is Black Ajah, and therefore the entire organization is at risk, but Mesaana thinks that is ridiculous, and is about to begin punishing Alviarin for her presumption when:

Abruptly, the shadows in the room lurched. Everything seemed to shift sideways as the darkness thickened in midnight lumps. And then the darkness was gone. Startled, Alviarin found herself with her begging hands stretched up toward a blue-eyed woman of flesh and blood, garbed in bronze-embroidered green. A tantalizingly familiar woman who looked just short of her middle years. She had known Mesaana walked the Tower disguised as one of the sisters, though no Chosen she had met showed any sign of agelessness, but she could not match that face to any name. And she realized something else, as well. That face was afraid. Hiding it, but afraid.

Alviarin sees a black-armored Myrddraal like no other she’s ever seen in the room with them, and almost screams when she realizes the One Power seems to be gone from the room. The Fade smiles and remarks that he would not like to see the Black Ajah destroyed. Mesaana demands to know how he dares to challenge one of the Chosen.

“Do you think Hand of the Shadow is just a name?” The Myrddraal’s voice no longer grated. Hollow, it seemed to boom down caverns from some unimaginable distance. The creature grew as it spoke, swelling in size till its head brushed the ceiling, over two spans up. “You were summoned, and you did not come. My hand reaches far, Mesaana.”

Mesaana screams as her clothes are torn off and she is bound in “black flame.” The Fade asks Alviarin if she wants to watch a Chosen be punished, and Alviarin answers no, frozen in terror. She is suddenly convinced that it is not a Fade before her, but the Great Lord himself. It comes to her and presses a thumb to her forehead, and the touch burns.

“You are marked as mine,” the Great Lord rasped. “Mesaana will not harm you, now. Unless I give her permission. You will find who threatens my creatures here and deliver them to me.” He turned away from her, and the dark armor fell from his body. She was startled when it hit the carpeted floor tiles with a crash of steel rather than simply vanishing. He was clothed in black, and she could not have said whether it was silk or leather or something else. The darkness of it seemed to drink the light from the room. Mesaana began to thrash in her bonds, keening shrilly past the gag in her mouth. “Go now,” he said, “if you wish to live another hour.” The sound coming from Mesaana rose to a despairing scream.

Alviarin runs from the room and dashes through the halls, stopping herself before she tumbles down a staircase in a fall that would have killed her. Trying to distract herself from feeling her forehead, she decides the only way to save herself from Elaida is to implicate Elaida herself in any hunt that may be going on, and that Talene may be a place to start. But she keeps thinking of how the Great Lord had marked her.

So, today’s lesson is: don’t miss your appointments with Dr. Shaidar Haran, kids. Or you will not like the lollipop you get AT ALL. Check.

I have to say, I didn’t remember the armor bit before, and I’m slightly befuddled by it. Why is Shaidar Haran wearing armor, and why does it fall off him? I’m… just not clear on what the point was of all that. Dramatic effect? Because that’s kind of hilarious, if so.

I’m kind of possibly disappointed by all this “mark” business, though. When I first read this chapter I was all excited because I thought the marking meant Alviarin was getting a promotion of sorts, perhaps even to “new Forsaken” status, but instead it really seems to have been nothing more than a cattle-brand type deal, like “this is mine, keep your mitts off or I will fuck you up.” Granted, in light of the fact that Alviarin had just majorly screwed up the Keeper thing, supposing she’d gotten a promotion doesn’t make much sense in retrospect, but hey, it’s not like they don’t have a few vacant spots to fill at the executive level, here. And I’ve said before that Alviarin has consistently shown more evil moxie than some of the actual Forsaken ever did.

That said, this is kind of where Alviarin’s character arc started to go on a kind of weird trajectory, in my opinion. My memory for KOD and onward isn’t the best, but I don’t recall Alviarin doing much of anything from here on out except get beaten a lot, and then escape once Egwene puts her Black Ajah Purge into effect. Which is rather a disappointing change from the effective villainy she’d shown in books of yore.

Enh, well. Hopefully she’ll have something cool to do in AMoL. I’m still hopeful for my slightly loopy wish that Leane gets to be the one to off Alviarin.

I found Elaida’s sudden growth of a backbone here to be rather startling, but I’m choosing not to question it too closely in favor of Plot Movement actually happening in the Tower. However, I’m now kind of wondering why Elaida couldn’t have concluded that Alviarin’s blackmail material was this useless earlier. Am I missing something, here?

I was initially all puzzled and intrigued as to why Alviarin is coming from Tremalking at the beginning of this chapter, but on reflection I don’t think there’s any big mystery, really. She was obviously investigating The Big Channeling Event, and thus had probably tracked down information about the two big ass statues that were not-so-coincidentally glowing at the time in Cairhien and Tremalking, and then went to see for herself. Voilà.

I don’t think there’s any real reason to attach significance to this information, but I was nevertheless rather bemused to find out that apparently not only had all three “token” Sea Folk sisters chosen Brown Ajah, but that all three also were involved with the Thirteenth Depository, where the secret histories are kept. Perhaps this is overly stereotyping of me, but I wouldn’t have thought being librarians was particularly… Sea-Folky. I dunno, it’s just not very outdoorsy an occupation, is it? But then again, maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s also why I feel really rather sorry for them.

And speaking of stereotypes: all Aes Sedai hate math, huh? Reeeeally. Yes, this could be merely a commentary on Jordan’s own personal academic prejudices, but just because unfortunate implications may be unintentional doesn’t make them any less unfortunate. I bestow upon this tidbit a small-but-clearly-audible “Sheesh.”


Chapter 22: One Answer

What Happens
Pevara takes wine in her rooms with her “surprising” guest, Tarna Feir. Pevara thinks she can never remember Tarna being nervous since being raised to the shawl until now, and wonders why Tarna is breaking custom to visit a Red Sitter after having been raised to Keeper. She is wary, not only because Elaida trusts Tarna, but because Galina had taken a special interest in Tarna when she was a novice. She congratulates Tarna on her promotion, but Tarna answers that she is not sure that is the appropriate sentiment, and Pevara is surprised at the implication that she would have refused the post if she could have. Tarna remarks that Pevara has been noted as being “unconventional,” and has heard that Pevara even once said she would like to take a Warder.

“The Dragon Reborn is ta’veren, so I have heard,” Tarna said finally […] “Do you think he alters chance everywhere? Or do we change the future by ourselves, one step following another until we find ourselves somewhere we never expected?”

Pevara asks what she means, and Tarna tells her of how after she left Salidar she’d accidentally come across one of the Black Tower’s “recruiting parties” in a village. Pevara remarks that Tarna was wise not to reveal herself to them, and that no one seems to have any idea of how to stop them, if it isn’t too late to do so. Then she curses herself for saying too much, but to her shock Tarna agrees with her. Pevara points out that Elaida thinks they must all be gentled.

“When they can send six to one small village, and Travel? There is only one answer I can see. We…” Tarna took a deep breath, fingering the bright red stole again, but now it seemed more in regret than to play for time. “Red sisters must take them as Warders, Pevara.”

That was so startling that Pevara blinked. A hair less self-control, and she would have gaped. “Are you serious?”

Those icy blue eyes met her gaze steadily. The worst was past—the unthinkable spoken aloud—and Tarna was a woman of stone once more. “This is hardly a matter for joking. The only other choice is to let them run loose. Who else can do it? Red sisters are used to facing men like this, and ready to take the necessary risks. Anyone else will flinch. Each sister will have to take more than one, but Greens appear to manage well enough with that. I think the Greens will faint if this is suggested to them, though. We… Red sisters… must do what needs to be done.”

Pevara asks if Tarna’s brought this up to Elaida, but Tarna says Elaida has forbidden Tarna to mention the Asha’man at all. Pevara asks if she means that they could be gentled after bonding, pointing out that no one has any idea what that would do to the sister holding the bond; Tarna isn’t sure, but is convinced that either way, the Asha’man must be bonded, as it is the only way to “handle” them. Pevara hesitates a long moment, then brings out a message which she tells Tarna was sent by Toveine Gazal via a Red agent in Cairhien.

Tarna’s eyes jerked to Pevara’s face at the mention of Toveine’s name, then fell to reading again. Her stony face did not change even after she finished and let the paper roll back into a tube in her hand. “This changes nothing,” she said flatly. Coldly. “It only makes what I suggest more urgent.”

“On the contrary,” Pevara sighed. “That changes everything. It changes the whole world.”

Holy crap, a short chapter! I even remember the last time we’ve had one of those.

This chapter was a lot more uneasy-making pre-ToM, when a lot of people still thought there was a good chance Tarna was Mesaana’s alter-ego in the Tower. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, of course, but personally I never really leaned toward the Tarna-as-Mesaana theory, especially after this chapter. Not so much for what she suggests here (though in light of what we found out about Moria in the Rebel Hall, perhaps it should have made me more suspicious), but because I highly doubted Mesaana would be okay with making her secret identity so high-profile as to become Keeper herself.

Plus, there were too many people who knew Tarna personally from before, as Pevara herself remarks here. I dunno, you could have made arguments in favor of it (and people did), but I never liked it. And, it turns out, I was right. So there, nyah!

As for what she actually suggested… wow. The idea that the Reds should bond channeling men instead of gentling them is even more shocking than the idea of Aes Sedai in general allying with them. As Tarna points out, of course, the notion does have a certain perverse logic to it, but talk about turning a faction’s philosophy inside out! No wonder Tarna was nervous about broaching the topic.

In practice, though, the idea seems far more prone to disaster than mere alliance, as well. I mean, we already know what a disaster it turned into for Tarna personally, though of course now-evil-Tarna probably doesn’t agree (and man that STILL SUCKS), but even if Taim hadn’t been operating his little 13×13 Dreadlord factory out of the Black Tower, making a group of women whose core identifying factor is that they hate men, especially channeling men, get up close and personal with the very group they’ve been indoctrinated to loathe—well, I should hope the issues here are fairly apparent. Especially with this talk of “handling” them as a result.

Although… well, we’ve seen already the effects (and we’re about to see more) of how bonding can change things for the people involved. And really, I suppose there’s no faster way to make someone perceive someone else as a human being, instead of as an object of fear and/or hatred, than to forge a permanent(ish) empathic link with them—Atticus Finch’s mandate of walking about in another person’s shoes given literal form, in a way. So I guess from a certain point of view, it’s like cutting the Gordian Knot of prejudice, there. So… okay, then.

Toveine’s note: I remember there was quite a lot of argument post-COT over whether her note told Pevara that the taint on saidin had been cleansed, or whether it told that Asha’man had forcibly bonded Aes Sedai. The timeline for the note to have held the former information is tight—Logain and Co. arrive in Cairhien four days before the Cleansing happens, and this scene with Pevara and Tarna is approximately seven days after the Cleansing—but I suppose possible, with what little I know about how long it would take a pigeon to get from Cairhien to Tar Valon.

However, I’m pretty sure we find out later that the note only mentions the failed attack on the Black Tower and the bonding thing, which indicates Toveine sent it before the Cleansing began. I mean, I’m presuming Logain made some kind of comment on saidin being clean afterwards to Toveine and Gabrelle, after all, and that would be the kind of information Toveine would probably think the Reds would need to know, n’est-ce pas?

And… I find I have nothing more of substance to say, which is usually a good time to, you know, shut up. So here endeth the post, kids. Have a nice week, and I’ll see you Friday!


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