All rise for the Honorable Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 12 and 13 of The Gathering Storm, in which I spend a truly unacceptable amount of time searching for an apropos quote from The West Wing for the cut text, even though half of the people reading this are probably not even going to see it. Because I care.
Or am insane, one of the two.
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 12: Unexpected Encounters
Egwene walks through the Tower and muses on the news Siuan had given her a month ago in Tel’aran’rhiod. She wonders how Rand could have allowed sisters to be bonded that way, and thinks there is “little left” of the boy she’d grown up with; she also shivers to think that one of the Forsaken had been touching her all that time in camp. She hurts, but her physical pain is increasingly unimportant to her.
Sometimes she laughed when beaten, sometimes not. The strap was unimportant. The greater pain—what had been done to Tar Valon—was far more demanding.
Meidani has finally summoned Egwene for training that day, but so has Bennae Nalsad, which Egwene finds puzzling, as no sister who has already “taught” Egwene has asked for her again; she wonders if the seed of discord with Elaida she planted with Bennae that first time has taken root. At first the “lesson” with Bennae progresses as usual, but then Bennae says she wants to test Egwene’s “sharpness of mind” with a hypothetical situation: say Egwene had come upon information she was not supposed to know, and her Ajah was upset over it and assigning her the worst duties as a result. What would she do?
Egwene almost choked on her tea. The Brown wasn’t very subtle. She had begun asking about the Thirteenth Depository, had she? And that had landed her in trouble? Few were supposed to know about the secret histories that Egwene had mentioned so casually during her previous visit here.
Egwene calmly considers the problem, and answers that the Ajah leaders are most likely upset because this knowledge must have been leaked from within their ranks. She suggests that this hypothetical sister could firstly explain where the knowledge came from so as to allay their fears, and secondly offer them a solution to the sister knowing what she shouldn’t by proving herself worthy to become a caretaker of this secret. Bennae asks if it will work, and Egwene replies that even if it doesn’t, it is better than simply lying down and taking unjust treatment.
“Yes,” Bennae said, nodding. “Yes, I do suppose that you are correct.”
“I am always willing to help, Bennae,” Egwene said in a softer voice, turning back to her tea. “In, of course, hypothetical situations.”
For a moment, Egwene worried that she’d gone too far in calling the Brown by her name. However, Bennae met her eyes, then actually went so far as to bow her head just slightly in thanks.
After Bennae, Egwene is further bemused to be summoned to attend a White sister named Nagora, who has Egwene doing “logic puzzles” over how to handle a Warder frustrated with getting too old to fight. Then she is summoned by Suana, who is a Sitter for the Yellow, which is even more surprising, as she has never been summoned by a Sitter before. Suana tells her she would like to see Egwene in the Yellow; confused, Egwene points out that she has no particular gift for Healing, and adds that in any case, the Amyrlin has no Ajah. Suana merely tells her to consider it, and Egwene is amazed that a Sitter is granting her even that much legitimacy. Testing her limits, she asks Suana what the Sitters think of the tensions between the Ajahs. Suana answers that she doesn’t see what can be done, and Egwene replies that someone must make the first move. She suggests that perhaps if the Sitters of different Ajahs began sharing meals, it would serve as an example to the sisters.
“Perhaps…” Suana said.
“They aren’t your enemies, Suana,” Egwene said, letting her voice grow more firm.
The woman frowned at Egwene, as if realizing suddenly who she was taking advice from. “Well, then, I think it’s best that you ran along. I’m certain there is a great deal for you to do today.”
Egwene leaves, and only then realizes not one of the three sisters she’d seen that day had assigned her a punishment. She goes to her appointment with Meidani, and chastises her for taking so long to send for her. Meidani replies that she is not yet certain how she regards Egwene, and opines that the rebel Hall will have chosen a new Amyrlin by now. Egwene tells her they have not, and Meidani counters that even so, Egwene was chosen to be a figurehead, and has no real authority. Egwene merely stares her down, and then orders her to explain why she has not fled the Tower now that Elaida knows her true allegiances. Meidani refuses to explain, and Egwene concludes that she has betrayed them, then. Meidani denies this passionately, but still says she cannot explain why she hasn’t left. She does explain that she and Elaida used to be pillow-friends, and the dinners are to try to rekindle the relationship. Egwene points out that even if pillow-talk could have gotten information out of Elaida before, it certainly wouldn’t now; Meidani agrees, but says it was decided to continue so as not to alert Elaida that Meidani knows she knows. Egwene find the whole thing hinky, and demands to know what Meidani isn’t telling her.
“Yes,” Egwene said. “You can’t tell me what is wrong. I suspect that the Three Oaths are involved, though Light knows how. We can work around the problem. You can’t tell me why you’ve remained in the Tower. But can you show me?”
Meidani isn’t sure, but agrees to try. After some internal debate, Egwene makes Meidani swear to keep this to herself, and shows her how to Travel. Meidani makes a gateway to some lower deserted hallway of the Tower, and then is surprised at herself at how quickly she leaps to obey Egwene’s orders to hurry. Meidani leads Egwene to an abandoned storage room, in which Egwene finds a meeting in progress between four Sitters, each of a different Ajah: Seaine (White), Doesine (Yellow), Yukiri (Gray), and Saerin (Brown). They are appalled to see her, and Saerin asks what possessed Meidani to bring her, adding that her oath should have prevented it.
“Oath?” Egwene asked. “And which oath would this be?”
“Quiet, girl,” Yukiri snapped, slapping Egwene across the back with a switch of Air. It was such a faint punishment that Egwene almost laughed.
Egwene considers the possibility that they are Black, but decides to push forward regardless. The Sitters continue to berate Meidani, and Egwene puts two and two together and concludes aloud that they have given Meidani a fourth Oath, of obedience. Egwene ignores their orders to be silent, and exclaims that they have betrayed all that Aes Sedai are, doing such a thing. Saerin protests that it was necessary given Meidani’s allegiances, and Egwene counters that what they have done is at least as bad as rebelling against the Tower. Seaine tells her that they have each proved to Meidani that they are not Black Ajah, and thus there is “no harm” in her giving the oath to them. Egwene divines from this that they are using the Oath Rod to search for Black sisters, and concedes the plan is a decent one. She avers that the fourth oath is unnecessary and inappropriate, but sets it aside to ask if they have determined whether Elaida is Black, and whether they have found any other Black sisters. Yukiri wants to know why they are even talking to Egwene, and threatens to give her penance “until you run out of tears to weep.” Egwene points out that it will look very odd if Yukiri punishes her, and Seaine says they’ll have Meidani do it. Egwene replies that Meidani won’t, and Meidani agrees.
[Yukiri:] “That’s meaningless. We’ll just order her to send you to penance.”
“Will you?” Egwene said. “I thought that you told me that the fourth oath was meant to restore unity, to keep her from fleeing to Elaida with your secrets. Now you would use that oath like a cudgel, forcing her to become your tool?”
That brought silence to the room.
“This is why an oath of obedience is a terrible idea,” Egwene said. “No woman should have this much power over another. What you have done to these others is only one step shy of Compulsion. I’m still trying to decide if this abomination is in any way justified; the way you treat Meidani and the others will likely sway that decision.”
Saerin assumes charge at this point, and tells Egwene that they must have her obedience, and that she must give up her “charade” of being the Amyrlin. Egwene invites her to state her case why Egwene cannot be the Amyrlin, and calmly shoots down each argument raised. Her coup de grace is when she asks if they have discovered any Darkfriends among the Sitters, and whether any of those Black Sitters stood to depose Siuan and raise Elaida. Doesine finally admits that this is the case.
“Siuan was deposed by the bare minimum number of Sitters required,” Egwene said. “One of them was Black, making her vote invalid. You stilled and deposed your Amyrlin, murdering her Warder, and you did it unlawfully.”
“By the Light,” Seaine whispered. “She’s right.”
[ ] “You call us false, Yukiri? Which Amyrlin would you rather follow? The one who has been making novices and Accepted out of Aes Sedai, banishing an entire Ajah, and causing divisions in the Tower more dangerous than any army that ever assaulted it? A woman who was raised partially through the help of the Black Ajah? Or would you rather serve the Amyrlin who is trying to undo all of that?”
Egwene continues that they are all serving the interests of the Shadow so long as they remain divided, and that she would not be surprised to find out the Black Ajah helped engineer the coup in the first place. She tells them that as admirable as their work here is, she thinks the far more important task is to heal the divisions in the Tower. She stands, and charges Meidani to continue her work with Saerin et al; she regrets that Meidani must continue “performing” for Elaida, but commends her for her courage in doing so. She orders the others to get the Oath Rod and release Meidani from her fourth oath as soon as possible.
“We’ll consider it,” Saerin said.
Egwene raised an eyebrow. “As you wish. But know that once the White Tower is whole again, the Hall will learn of this action you have taken. I would like to be able to inform them that you were being careful, rather than seeking unwarranted power.”
She tells them to send for her if they need her, but to be careful in doing it, and takes her leave; none of the Sitters stop her. Meidani follows, and comments that she can’t believe Egwene got away with that. Egwene replies that they know better than to stop her, and comments that they are the only ones in this Tower besides Silviana with brains. Surprised, Meidani points out that Silviana beats Egwene daily.
“Several times a day,” Egwene said absently. “She’s very dutiful, not to mention thoughtful. If we had more like her, the Tower wouldn’t have gotten to this state in the first place.”
Meidani regarded Egwene, an odd expression on her face. “You really are the Amyrlin,” she finally said. It was an odd comment. Hadn’t she just sworn that she accepted Egwene’s authority?
“Come on,” Egwene said, hastening her pace. “I need to get back before those Reds grow suspicious.”
So, I loved the hell out of reading this chapter, but recapping it was a bitch and a half. ‘Tis ever so with the talky ones. Talk, talk, talk, jeez.
But as usual, I have trouble scrimping on stuff I really like, so I kept far too much in. And even then, there were bits in here I left out that I really enjoyed, like the descriptions of the various sisters’ private rooms. Especially Meidani’s; a room decorated with a theme of “gifts received on travels around the world” is totally kickass.
But mostly what is kickass here is Egwene, more or less literally. There’s just something so satisfying about seeing the character you’re rooting for finally start to win. Not that Egwene hasn’t won things before this, but I mean in this specific situation—her captivity in the Tower. We’ve dealt with the set-up and the build-up of it, and now we the readers sense we’ve come off the far turn and are entering the homestretch, if I may be allowed to switch metaphors mid-stream there.
What I mean to say is, the payoff of this arc is clearly approaching, and that’s an awful nice thing to look forward to, and enjoy as it’s happening.
Not to mention, I do love me a good verbal whupping, and Egwene delivers a doozy on the Black Ajah Hunters. I was strongly tempted to quote that whole scene, which is practically Sorkinesque in its gleeful smackdown of logical kickassery.
And now that I’ve just wasted two hours watching West Wing clips on YouTube, on with the commentary!
Psychological warfare ain’t always pretty, but it is unquestionably fascinating, at least to me. What’s interesting about this particular campaign of Egwene’s is that its success is due almost as much to her opponent as it is due to her own efforts.
I think one of the great universal needs or wishes that practically all people have is the wish for great leadership, which (I believe) is more than just competence alone. We want to believe that the person in charge is not only good at the job, but is strong enough to withstand the pressure of doing it—pressure that many of us are sure we ourselves would buckle under. And most of all, we want to believe that our competent, strong leader also genuinely has his or her followers’ well-being at heart; we want leaders who make us feel happy and safe (or, at least, happier and safer) because we believe they care.
Elaida fails or is failing at all three of these requirements, but she most egregiously fails at the last one. Hell, she doesn’t even bother to pretend she gives a shit about the little people at this point, if she ever did. You can argue how much of this is genuinely her and how much is Fain’s brain-scum influencing her, but at the end of the day the why of her crap leadership skills is pretty irrelevant; the results are the same.
People who feel that their leader has abandoned or failed them inevitably seek to fill that void. It’s pretty much a law of human society; nature may abhor a vacuum, but we hate them more. Which is another reason why I think it’s so viscerally satisfying to see the sisters in the first half of this chapter seek guidance worthy of the name from Egwene, and receive it, after having been denied that comfort for so long.
Elaida, therefore, is doing a great deal of Egwene’s work for her on that front. Which is not to disparage Egwene’s contribution in the slightest—more to just appreciate the perfect storm-like coming together of events to make this whole thing happen. Because being in the right place at the right time makes no difference at all if you don’t have the capability to take advantage of it.
Egwene truly, obviously cares about the Tower and the people in it, and that more than anything else is why it’s inevitable that she will win. And that, my friends, is awesome.
Chapter 13: An Offer and a Departure
In a barn near Dorlan, Gawyn faces off against two Warders, Sleete and Marlesh. Gawyn thinks of the epic tale that was Sleete’s escape from Dumai Wells and return to his Aes Sedai Hattori, and admires the humility of men like him, who just did what they had to and never sought recognition for it, while “monsters like al’Thor” got all the glory. Gawyn defeats both the Warders, who are just as shocked as the first two times he beat them, especially Sleete, who was said to have bested Lan Mandragoran twice out of seven bouts. Marlesh comments that he feels like “a babe holding a stick” when he faces Gawyn, and says Gawyn needs to get a heronmark blade. Gawyn says he is not a blademaster, but Marlesh counters that he killed Hammar, who was one, and therefore Gawyn is one too. Marlesh’s Aes Sedai (Vasha) comes and collects him, commenting that there is a meeting going on where she thinks decisions are being made; Marlesh hopes the decisions involve moving on, and leaves with Vasha. Sleete stops Gawyn from leaving as well, and tells him his Aes Sedai told him that she would only ever take on another Warder if Sleete judged the candidate worthy.
Sleete turned, meeting Gawyn’s eyes. “It’s been over ten years, but I’ve found someone worthy. She will bond you this hour, if you wish it.”
Gawyn blinked in surprise at Sleete. [ ] “I’m honored, Sleete,” Gawyn said. “But I came to the White Tower to study because of Andoran traditions, not because I was going to be a Warder. My place is beside my sister.” And if anyone is going to bond me, it will be Egwene.
Sleete argues that Hattori would be willing to reassign herself to Andor so that Gawyn could fulfill both obligations. Gawyn tells him he will think on it. Then he hesitates, and asks Sleete what he thinks of the schism in the Tower. Sleete replies that Aes Sedai and Warders fighting each other should never have happened, but he is confident that the wiser elements in the Tower will eventually sort it out. He comments that Hattori got herself on the mission to al’Thor because she didn’t like the feel of things in Tar Valon, but she didn’t know what it was really about. He says that the other sisters don’t listen to her because she is not “influential” enough. Gawyn is intrigued by this, as he still doesn’t understand how the Aes Sedai rank themselves, but then Sleete changes the subject:
“Hammar was a good man.”
“He was,” Gawyn said, feeling a twist in his stomach.
“But he would have killed you,” Sleete said. “Killed you cleanly and quickly. He was the one on the offensive, not you. He understood why you did what you did. Nobody made any good decisions that day. There weren’t any good decisions to be made.”
“I…” Gawyn just nodded. “Thank you.”
Gawyn knows there is no way he would agree to become anyone’s Warder except Egwene, who he would do anything for; he’d even agreed not to kill al’Thor for her, even though he is convinced al’Thor is a monster who needs to be put down for everyone’s good. Gawyn heads to the mayor’s house, where the meeting Vasha had mentioned is taking place, and finds Vasha outside glaring angrily at it; evidently she had been denied entry. Gawyn tries to gain entrance himself, but Covarla calls him an impudent child and threatens to replace him as the Younglings’ commander if he doesn’t get lost. Frustrated, Gawyn reflects on his decision during the coup to support Elaida instead of Siuan because he’d disliked Siuan’s treatment of Elayne and Egwene.
But would Elaida have treated the girls any better? Would any of them have? Gawyn had made his decision in a moment of passion; it hadn’t been the coolheaded act of loyalty that his men assumed.
Where was his loyalty, then?
When the meeting breaks up, Gawyn overhears Covarla saying something about how she can’t believe the rebels set up their own Amyrlin, and then sees to his shock that Katerine Alruddin is with her, even though no one had reported seeing her come in or enter the building. Katerine sees him and makes a point of mentioning that at least the wilder Accepted they set up as a puppet Amyrlin has been captured and “made to howl half the day,” and that she wouldn’t want to be “that al’Vere girl” right now. In shock, Gawyn goes after Katerine and demands confirmation that she was talking about Egwene, which she gives, before dismissing him and beginning to talk to the others about Traveling. Gawyn notes this, but is distracted by his growing, horrified conviction that Egwene was being tortured, and would soon be stilled and executed, just like they were going to do to Siuan.
Egwene was in trouble. He blinked deliberately, standing in the square, cattle calling distantly, water bubbling in the canal beside him.
Egwene would be executed.
Where is your loyalty, Gawyn Trakand?
Gawyn goes back to his tent and packs lightly, and tells Rajar that he is going to inspect one of the outposts alone. Rajar is uncertain, but accepts this. Gawyn goes to saddle his horse and finds Sleete there, who comments that Gawyn has the look of “a man who has made up his mind.” Gawyn realizes he knows, and agonizes over the possibility of having to kill another man he respects, but Sleete just asks when he should tell Gawyn’s men that he isn’t returning. Gawyn asks why Sleete isn’t going to stop him, and Sleete chuckles that he doesn’t have a death wish. Gawyn points out that even losing the fight would attract enough attention to stop him, and asks why Sleete is letting him go.
“Perhaps I just like to see men care,” Sleete said. “Perhaps I hope you’ll find a way to help end this. Perhaps I am feeling lazy and sore with a bruised spirit from so many defeats. May you find what you seek, young Trakand.”
He leaves, and Gawyn takes off for the one place he could think of to go for help in rescuing Egwene.
One of the nicest things about reading a series this long and developed and rich in its worldbuilding is how traditions or institutions that are particular to that universe have time to be so thoroughly ingrained in the readers’ consciousness that their import or significance no longer needs to be explicated by the author.
(One of my favorite examples—and I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before but whatever, it’s my favorite—is how Richard Adams spent the entirety of Watership Down teaching the reader the rabbits’ language, just so he could have one of the characters deliver the best line of the book in untranslated Lapine—which is why it was the best line of the book. Beautiful.)
For example, no explanation or qualification was needed for me to understand exactly how much of an honor it was that Sleete invited Gawyn to bond with his Aes Sedai, because by now we totally get how cool that is, which is very. I remember my eyebrows shot up a little when I first read Sleete’s offer, in a “well, hey” kind of way.
Also, I left it out of the summary but the actual dueling part of Gawyn’s duel with Sleete and Marlesh was also pretty cool. Even if I tend to get rather cross-eyed trying to work out what the moves the sword forms “describe” actually look like.
(Mostly irrelevantly, one of the sillier pastimes the denizens of the rec.arts newsgroup used to indulge in was coming up with lists of “alternate” sword form names. As you can imagine, this generally degenerated into the inevitable phallic jokes very quickly, but one of my absolute favorites was this:
Boar Rushes Down The Mountain
Boar Rushes Back Up The Mountain, Having Left The Gas On
I don’t know why, but that made me giggle for days. Heh.)
I was, incidentally, pretty amused that Sleete’s story of how he got back to Dorlan really was practically a textbook cliché of a heroic knightly tale, deliberately. Right down to being nursed back to health by a simple yet lovely village girl! Heh.
In other news, this is probably the first time since before the Tower coup in TSR that a Gawyn-centric scene has not completely annoyed me in one way or another. Which is probably damning with faint praise, but I think we should all be grateful for small steps here.
This is said with full knowledge of the irony that Gawyn is still doing here exactly what even he knows is that stupid thing he does—namely, going off half-cocked based on unreliable or incomplete information. Thus letting Katerine Alruddin become the latest in a depressingly long line of characters who have played Gawyn like a violin, and sent him flying off to be an obstacle for other people to trip over. That it happens to have sent him barreling off in a good direction for once is mere coincidence, it seems. Or semantics, or something. But whatever, I’ll take it.
It’s almost to the point where I’ve given up being irritated at him, and just have to sigh at his apparent total inability to allow reason to trump emotion, ever. I used to try to aver that he had a brain and was just refusing to use it, but the evidence against is starting to pile up on me. I may just have to chuck in the towel, pat him on the head, and tell him to go play with his pointy stick while the grownups get things done.
On Sheesh: Sheesh.
Gawyn even kind of agrees with me in this chapter, when he wishes wistfully (in another bit I left out of the summary) that everything in his life was as simple as a sword fight. I guess there’s something to be said for knowing your strengths and weaknesses, but unfortunately Gawyn’s birth status alone prevents him from removing himself from situations where he has to think, let alone who he chose to fall in love with, so, well, he (and everyone around him) are kind of screwed on that score. Sigh, again.
Well, at least it ends well. Sort of. Eventually. After Gawyn screws it up a few more times. Er. Yay?
Well, let’s go with yay for now, eh? Way! And with that, I say good day. I SAID GOOD DAY! (I really have to stop dicking around on YouTube.)