Salaam and good day to you, worthy WOTlings! I bring you a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 24 of Knife of Dreams, which is STUPID LONG, and in which we discuss conservation of royal asses, the aesthetics of villainy, and how I epically fail to correctly categorize certain brands of Awesome.
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 24: Honey in the Tea
The first morning in Silviana’s study, Egwene tries to embrace the pain of her beating as the Aiel did, but though she accepts it, she can’t seem to welcome it like she is supposed to. Silviana is satisfied at her howling, and mentions that she’d confirmed that the other prisoner is indeed Leane Sharif, and that Egwene is free to visit her if she has time. Egwene leaves without curtsying, which earns her another visit to the study that night. She sees Alviarin outside and realizes the White sister is there for a penance herself, and wishes she knew why. At breakfast, the cafeteria full of novices falls silent when they see her, and one novice trips her. Egwene picks herself up calmly and asks for her name.
“Alvistere,” the young woman replied, her accent confirming her face. “Why do you want to know? So you can carry tales to Silviana? It will do you no good. Everyone will say they saw nothing.”
“A pity, that, Alvistere. You want to become Aes Sedai and give up the ability to lie, yet you want others to lie for you. Do you see any inconsistency in that?”
Alvistere’s face reddened. “Who are you to lecture me?”
“I am the Amyrlin Seat. A prisoner, but still the Amyrlin Seat.” Alvistere’s big eyes widened, and whispers buzzed through the room as Egwene walked on to the kitchen.
She eats without showing any signs of her pain, and accepts her hourly dose of weak forkroot tea without complaining before going to her first class. The teacher, an Accepted named Idrelle, attempts to humiliate Egwene by commanding her to form a ball of fire, thinking she would be too weak to channel, but Egwene divides the flows fourteen ways to create a complex kaleidoscope of balls and circles of flame. This earns her another trip to Silviana’s study; Katerine attempts to beat her when she refuses to run, but her other Red guard, Jezrail, chastises her for it. After two more classes that go much the same, Egwene is switched to having classes alone with various Aes Sedai.
Egwene knows the names of the Rebels’ “ferrets,” but not their faces, and dares not ask after them. She visits Leane as often as she can. Leane is being kept in relative comfort, and asks Egwene when they are escaping; Egwene explains that they aren’t, and tells her what “tidbits” to introduce into conversation with the sisters who come to see Leane, hoping to get the secret of Traveling out of her. Meanwhile Egwene is doing the same during her lessons, though her success varies sharply from sister to sister. Bennae Nalsad (Brown) concludes Egwene has little left to learn in terms of channeling, and instead quizzes her on history, asking her what mistakes Shein Chunla made that caused the Third War of Garen’s Wall. Egwene answers that Shein made no mistakes, as she was not allowed to make any decisions at all; it was the Hall, who had taken over in the face of Shein’s intractableness, who bungled things so thoroughly that eventually the rest of the Tower mutinied and pulled them all down, and later Shein was smothered in her bed. Astounded, Bennae declares she’s never heard of any of this, and Egwene tells her it’s all in the secret histories, in the Thirteenth Depository.
“Secret histories? A thirteenth Depository? If such a thing existed, and I think I would know, why should you not have told me?”
“Because by law the existence of the secret histories as well as their contents can be known only to the Amyrlin, the Keeper, and the Sitters. Them and the librarians who keep the records, anyway. Even the law itself is part of the Thirteenth Depository, so I guess I shouldn’t have told that either. But if you can gain access somehow, or ask someone who knows and will tell you, you’ll find out I’m right. Six times in the history of the Tower, when the Amyrlin was dangerously divisive or dangerously incompetent and the Hall failed to act, sisters have risen up to remove her.” There. She could not have planted the seed deeper with a shovel. Or driven it home more bluntly with a hammer.
Bennae is thoughtful afterwards, but not all her attempts go as well. Pritalle Nerbaijan (Yellow) sends her to Silviana for pointing out that letting Elaida reduce Shermerin from Aes Sedai to Accepted is tantamount to granting her absolute power, and Serancha and Adelorna are worse. Silviana decides that Egwene will need Healing twice a day now.
She was fighting a war, not a single battle, and every time she was beaten, every time she was sent to Silviana, it was a sign that she had fought another battle and refused to yield. The pain was a badge of honor. She howled and kicked as hard as ever during that slippering, but while she was drying her cheeks afterward, she hummed quietly to herself. It was easy to welcome a badge of honor.
Nicola and Areina have been spreading tales of Egwene’s exploits among the novices, and at first many of them try to emulate her, but that soon stops, and instead the novices begin to come to her for advice and help with their lessons, and also for comfort from their fears. The Tower is changing, and the dead are often seen walking about, and Egwene is angered that no one else seems to have thought to reassure the novices’ fears about this. She also does many chores, and notes that Laras is indirectly protecting her when she works in the kitchens. When she works in the Accepted gallery she manages to indirectly assuage their nervousness as well. She also manages to overhear enough conversation among the sisters to know about the disastrous expedition against the Black Tower, and the aftermath of Dumai’s Wells, and although she is less than happy about Rand’s actions there, she makes comments when she can laying both catastrophes at Elaida’s feet.
On the second day of her captivity, Alviarin approaches her to suggest obliquely that if Egwene is looking for an avenue of escape, Alviarin might be able to help her. Egwene refuses, saying she is “content with [her] situation”. Alviarin is disbelieving of this, and continues to make the offer periodically in the days that follow. On the fourth day, she encounters Mattin Stepaneos, who insists on speaking to her in spite of his escort’s (a Red named Cariandre) attempts to dissuade him from speaking to a mere novice; he’s heard who she is, and that she grew up with Rand al’Thor. Egwene tells him he looks well for a kidnapping victim, and Mattin tells her Elaida saved him from al’Thor. Egwene asks why he would need protecting from Rand, and Mattin answers that he’s already killed Morgase and Colavaere, and supposedly poisoned numerous High Lords in Tear to boot.
“Colavaere hanged herself,” Egwene said, making sure she sounded patient. “The Sun Palace was damaged later by someone trying to kill the Dragon Reborn, maybe the Forsaken, and according to Elayne Trakand, her mother was murdered by Rahvin. Rand has announced his support for her claims to both the Lion Throne and the Sun Throne. He hasn’t killed any of the Cairhienin nobles rebelling against him, or the High Lords in rebellion. In fact, he named one of them his Steward in Tear.”
“I think that is quite —” Cariandre began, pulling her shawl up onto her shoulders, but Egwene went on right over her.
“Any sister could have told you all that. If she wanted to. If they were speaking to one another. Think why you see only Red sisters. Have you seen sisters of any two Ajahs speaking? You’ve been kidnapped and brought aboard a sinking ship.”
Egwene gets sent to Silviana again for that, but it is more than worth it for the thoughtful look on Mattin’s face. On the seventh day, she runs into Beonin, to her shock, and exclaims in outrage, so it was she who had betrayed her, and accuses her of being Black Ajah. Beonin insists that she betrayed nothing; once Egwene was captured, she ceased being Amyrlin, and so Beonin’s oath no longer held, and the rebellion is finished anyway. Egwene dryly observes that she protests too much, and points out that the rebellion is still going strong. She divines that Beonin betrayed the ferrets, and strongarms her into warning them that Elaida is having them watched. Beonin protests that sisters have been assaulted just for going too near another Ajah’s quarters, which appalls Egwene, but she insists, and also gives her instructions to help in her anti-Elaida campaign. Beonin agrees reluctantly, but also adds that she would enjoy seeing Elaida brought down. Egwene goes to visit Leane that night even though she is aching all over.
Strangely, she had not had one of those wretched headaches since being taken prisoner, nor any of those dark dreams that left her disturbed even though she could never remember them, but she thought she might be heading for a fine headache tonight. That would make telling true dreams difficult, and she had had some fine ones lately, about Rand, Mat, Perrin, even Gawyn, though most dreams of him were just that.
Egwene tells Leane about Beonin, and that she believes Beonin didn’t actually betray them. Leane agrees, but thinks Beonin had been a spy for Elaida all along, and probably didn’t get the reception she had hoped for when she returned, which would explain her last comment to Egwene. They don’t think Beonin taught Elaida Traveling, though, and agree that she can probably be trusted to a small extent. On the ninth day, Doesine (Sitter, Yellow) comes for her Healing, and comments that Egwene isn’t going to give up, is she.
“Should the Amyrlin Seat ever surrender?” Egwene asked as her head popped out at the top of her dress. She doubled her arms behind her to do up the buttons of white-dyed horn.
Doesine snorted again, though not in contempt. Egwene thought. “A brave course, child. Still, my wager is that Silviana will bloody well have you sitting straight and walking right before much longer.” But she left without calling Egwene down for naming herself the Amyrlin Seat.
After her morning punishment, she asks Silviana how Shemerin could be reduced to Accepted. Silviana tells her there’s a loophole in the law which technically allows it, but it wouldn’t have worked if Shemerin hadn’t accepted it; then she notices they are having an actual conversation, and ruefully sends Egwene out. When she enters the dining hall, all the novices suddenly stand, and one runs to fetch her meal. They do not sit until she does.
There was honey in the tea! Novices got honey only on special occasions. She tried not to smile as she cleaned her plate, and clean it she did, even picking up crumbs of bread and cheese with a dampened finger. Not smiling was difficult, though. First Doesine a Sitter! then Silviana’s resignation, now this. The two sisters were far more important than the novices or the honey, but they all indicated the same thing. She was winning her war.
And here we have the best chapter in this book; probably one of the better ones in the series, in my arrogant opinion. So perhaps it is ironic that I’m having so much trouble coming up with what I want to say about it.
Possibly this is because I know, deep in my brain somewhere, what this chapter is, structurally, but I can’t put my finger on it concretely enough to put a name to it. Seriously, I trawled through TV Tropes for like four hours (not that that’s hard) trying to find the right thing to call this, but none of the tropes I found were exactly right.
It’s not an Infiltration, because there’s no real subterfuge involved. It’s not I Surrender Suckers, because the whole point is that Egwene is refusing to surrender. It might be the Batman Gambit, but I’m not sure where the one fatal flaw might be (though Egwene’s later unwilling rescue by Siuan et al might count, now that I think about it). It’s a little bit of the Play-Along Prisoner or the Trojan Prisoner, but those are problematic in that they assume Egwene’s captors are her enemies, which they aren’t, really. The closest is probably an inverted version of Poisonous Captive, but argh.
And now that you’re back from the hours-long detour I no doubt just sent you on, I’ll continue!
Well, whatever this is, I really like it. Winning minds and hearts, building a cult of personality, cheering for the underdog, conducting a war of the mind, pick your clichéd phrase, it’s all here and I heart it. Or maybe it’s just that I like a character being totally awesome.
(No, you will, in fact, get NO work done today. Mwhahahaha!)
Basically this is where, after an often shaky previous track record, Egwene suddenly became one of the most awesome characters in WOT, and has not stopped or slowed in her pursuit of the title of Most Awesome Character in WOT since. Aw, yeah.
This chapter loomed so large in my memory of KOD, in fact, that I later assumed Egwene had had a huge role in the book, when in fact this is the only chapter in which she appears. Granted, I’m pretty sure this is also the longest chapter in the book (though I’m sure as hell not going to check), so there’s that, but still.
So, in conclusion, Egwene rocks. Yay!
Thirteenth Depository: in the ongoing parallelism of the Tower with the Roman Catholic Church, this is a reference to the Vatican Secret Archives, which up until recently (1881, which totally counts as “recently” when you’re as old as the RCC) was forbidden to outsiders, and, of course, contains records of the Church’s less than exemplary behavior over the centuries as well as all the nicer stuff. I have no point to make here, I just think it’s neat.
Beonin: This re-read is actually only the third-ish time I’ve ever read KOD (“-ish,” because the second time was a hasty pre-TGS skim that probably shouldn’t count), and it’s only now that I’m finally getting what Beonin’s deal is. Which is, not Black Ajah, not Egwene’s betrayer (not re: the kidnapping, anyway), but WAS a mole for Elaida. I’m really not sure why I found that so difficult to parse the first two times, but maybe I was just reading too fast. Or, I didn’t care. Which is, uh, a distinct possibility.
I did, however, catch that Egwene and Leane were mistaken about Beonin not giving up Traveling. Their mistake there was to assume Elaida wouldn’t hog that one for herself. Because Elaida is a dumbass. And we all know what the eventual result of that is. Beonin deserves to be kicked from here to Shara for that alone, if you ask me.
Alviarin: How the mighty have fallen, you guys. I once had so much respect for Alviarin as a villain, and now she’s reduced to hovering around Egwene and just hoping Egwene’ll take her up on the escape offer. The Alviarin of yore would have found a way to make Egwene take it, by gum.
Not that I’m complaining that she can’t, exactly, but, uh. You know. It’s just kind of sad from a purely aesthetic standpoint. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I hope she has a more appropriate (bad) end in store for her than to just fade out, like she has as of ToM. (I know she was involved in the attack on the Tower in TGS, but she can’t have done anything terribly effective and/or interesting, because I couldn’t tell you what she did if my life depended on it. Which totally clinches the matter, of course!)
Stepaneos: While I really liked his interaction with Egwene here (mainly because it gave Egwene yet another chance to be Awesome), I still don’t know why we need him here. Or, indeed, anywhere. I mean, not that I wish him dead or anything, he seems like a perfectly nice person, as puffed-up royal twats go, but eh.
Well, on further thought, maybe he does need to be here, since I honestly don’t see Rand settling down to rule Illian after Tarmon Gai’don even if he does survive it in a non-Avalon kind of way (which is looking problematic, Prophecies-wise). I definitely see Rand pulling a J.D. Salinger if he makes it past the apocalypse (I mean, hell, wouldn’t you?), so maybe it’s nice that we have a convenient previous seat-warmer for that particular throne stashed away, n’est-ce pas?
Dreams: Egwene mentions here that now that she is mysteriously migraine-free again (*rolls eyes*), she’s been having more true dreams about the Superboys (and Gawyn, blah whatev). And now inquiring (and forgetful) minds would like to know if we’ve heard about any of these new Dreams in any kind of detail since then. Because if we have, hell if I can remember. But I is very curious!
Also, I really use a lot of parenthetical asides, don’t I? (I would say I’ll work on that, but who am I kidding, really.)
So, bye for now, Egwene! See you for a metric fuckton more of Awesomeness in TGS! We out!