Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Truth You Hear in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 21)

Despite having been given glimpses of Moiraine and the Amyrlin Seat’s secret plans back in Chapter Four of The Great Hunt, I think this week’s chapters have given me the best example of Aes Sedai double-talk thus far in the read. What I enjoyed most about this week’s read was also the thing that had me grinding my teeth the whole time; because we got the section in which Liandrin used channeling to exert influence over Lady Amalisa, the reader knows more about Liandrin and her evil ways than Egwene and her friends do, and therefore has a much greater reason to be suspicious of her motives. In knowing that she is a Darkfriend (I feel quite safe in calling this one) I had the opportunity to examine the ways in which she avoided answering questions, or responded in such a way that convinced Nynaeve and Egwene of her sincerity without Liandrin actually speaking any falsehoods. Of course all Aes Sedai seem to be fairly adept at speaking guarded and concealed truth, but any member of the Black Ajah would have to be especially skilled at such duplicities.

Still, I feel like if the Aes Sedai took the prospect of the Black Ajah seriously, they could ostensibly ask a question that could not be gotten around; “Have you sworn allegiance to the Dark One, answer yes or no,” would probably do it. I bet Moiraine wishes she could walk the halls of the White Tower asking the other Aes Sedai that… and everyone would probably be super offended.

More on this later, but let’s get to the recap first.

Chapter 38, aptly titled “Practice,” opens with Egwene in her room in the White Tower, practicing channeling by juggling small orbs of light. She isn’t supposed to channel without at least an Accepted to keep an eye on her, but she has found that she can’t help but do it anyway. Her need to channel—even though she still can’t always touch saidar when she wants to—frightens her, but not so much that it can stop her from giving into the desire, just like the fear of being caught channeling without guidance can’t stop her.

She isn’t too worried about being caught, safe in her own room with Min sitting nearby and Nynaeve (technically an Accepted, but not yet allowed to teach) pacing the small space, lost in her own agitated thoughts. The only reason they all have time to be there is because it’s a freeday.

Min brings up the fact that she’s seen Else mooning after Galad while he was practicing in the training yards with the Warders, flustering Egwene. Although Egwene initially protests that the fact is of no interest to her, when Min apologizes for teasing her, and points out that even full Aes Sedai (mostly Greens) and the kitchen staff take an interest in watching Galad, Egwene softens. The two giggle over his good looks for a moment, then Min admits that Galad was not interested in Else’s presence and asked after Egwene instead.

Just then the door bangs open, startling Egwene, but it is only Elayne, who tells them that she just heard that Galldrian is dead, and there is a war of succession in Cairhien.

Min snorted. “Civil war. War of succession. A lot of silly names for the same thing. Do you mind if we don’t talk about it? That’s all we hear. War in Cairhien. War on Toman Head. They may have caught the false Dragon in Saldaea, but there’s still war in Tear. Most of it is rumors, anyway. Yesterday, I heard one of the cooks saying she’d heard Artur Hawkwing was marching on Tanchico. Artur Hawkwing!”

Min continues to tell how she ran into Logain sitting on a bench, and that he was crying, and ran away when he saw her. She feels sorry for him, and although Egwene points out that it’s better Logain be crying than everyone else, Min says that she knows what he was and isn’t anymore, and that she can still feel sorry for him.

Talking about Logain makes Egwene think of Rand, and how she is no longer having the kind of intense dreams that she had about him on the River Queen, although Anaiya keeps having her write down her dreams and has them checked for signs. She feels guilty for noticing Galad, but reminds herself that if Rand had been caught and gentled, she would have heard something about it.

Elayne asks why Nynaeve is in such a state, and Min explains how Nynaeve struck another Accepted who insulted her, and was sent to Sheriam’s study. Min’s trying to keep her voice down but as she remarks that Nynaeve has been impossible to live with since, a gust of wind bangs the door open and knocks Min off her stool, though it doesn’t touch anyone else in the room. Nynaeve looks immediately chagrined as Egwene checks to make sure there was no one around to see.

Nynaeve apologizes to Min, admitting that her temper gets the better of her and that she shouldn’t have done that, even going so far as to tell Min that she will understand if Min wants to report her to Sheriam. Egwene, knowing that Nynaeve doesn’t like having observers for her emotional moments, returns to her channeling and is quickly joined by Elayne, the two girls passing the glowing spheres around like jugglers. Using the One Power fills her with life and heightens her senses, her distraction making it easier to hear the quiet apologies Min and Nynaeve make to each other. Then Nynaeve snaps at Elayne and Egwene for channeling when they aren’t allowed and threatens to report them.

When the younger girls protest they need to practice, Nynaeve tells them that she wishes they were more afraid, the way she is. She reminds them that she knows what they are experiencing, that she too feels the urge to draw on more and more of the One Power, even though she knows that it would burn her out. Egwene counters that she is afraid, and Elayne agrees after a little pushing. She points out that “a man who drove his oxen as hard as they drive us would be shunned,” and admits she is exhausted all the time, and afraid that she will slip and channel too much of the One Power. Egwene knows, because there is a secret small hole in the walls between their rooms, that Elayne has cried herself to sleep more than one night. Egwene has, too.

Elayne asks Min what she sees around them, whether they will be Aes Sedai one day, or novices washing dishes forever, or something else. Min admits that she doesn’t like to do readings for friends, because it colors what she wants to say or believe about what she sees, but as she squints at the three of them, she realizes that something has changed, that there is a suggestion that they are in danger, or will be very soon.

Attempting to switch to a less fraught subject, Elayne teases Min about her choice to always wear men’s clothing. Just then, the door opens, and Liandrin enters, shocking all of them—if an Aes Sedai needed to speak with a novice or Accepted, she would be sent for, not visited. Liandrin questions Nynaeve’s presence in the room of a novice, but as she needs to speak with Nynaeve as well as Egwene,she doesn’t make a deal out of it, dismissing Min and Elayne perfunctorily.

Liandrin confirms that they are from the same village as “the boys who traveled with Moiraine,” and then tells them that their friends are in danger. Despite Nynaeve’s questions, Liandrin does not give much of an explanation besides stating that Moiraine worries about the girls’ well-being, and that of the boys. She repeats that they are in danger and asks if Nynaeve and Egwene are willing to help them. Egwene is quick to answer yes, while Nynaeve is more skeptical.

When Nynaeve continues to press, Liandrin explains that the danger comes from Shayol Ghul, and that the boys are being hunted. She insists that, though she cannot tell them how, some of the dangers the boys face might be eliminated by Nynaeve and Egwene coming with her now, to Toman Head.

“We will come,” Egwene said. Nynaeve opened her mouth again, but Egwene went right on. “We will go, Nynaeve. If Rand needs our help— and Mat, and Perrin—we have to give it.”

“I know that,” Nynaeve said, “but what I want to know is, why us? What can we do that Moiraine—or you, Liandrin—cannot?”

The white grew in Liandrin’s cheeks—Egwene realized Nynaeve had forgotten the honorific in addressing her—but what she said was, “You two come from their village. In some way I do not entirely understand, you are connected to them. Beyond that, I cannot say. And no more of your foolish questions will I answer. Will you come with me for their sake?” She paused for their assent; a visible tension left her when they nodded. “Good. You will meet me at the northernmost edge of the Ogier grove one hour before sunset with your horses and whatever you will need for the journey. Tell no one of this.”

She reiterates again that they must not tell anyone, saying that there are Black Ajah walking the halls of the White Tower. Despite the fact that most Aes Sedai deny the existence of the Black Ajah, Liandrin says that the time for such denials is past. She insists that the Black Ajah, if they knew of this plan, would never let them go to the aid of their friends, reminds them of where to meet, and commands that they do not fail her. Then she leaves.

Nynaeve and Egwene discuss what they think of Liandrin’s motivations, how she’s Red Ajah and that could be dangerous for Rand, how she forestalled them asking anyone for advice by warning of the Black Ajah, how (as with all Aes Sedai) the truth in her words might not be the truth they thought they heard.

Min and Elayne, having heard everything through the secret hole between the rooms, return and declare their intentions to go to Toman Head as well. Min insists that she has just been waiting for a reason to leave behind the Amyrlin and Brown sisters’ constant questions and demands for demonstrations of her abilities, while Elayne insists that this is her last chance to have a real adventure, and she won’t stay behind to scrub floors and do dishes and get yelled at by the Accepted while the rest get to go off and see something amazing. She tells Nynaeve that the danger is no more than that of the Black Ajah being in the Tower, and that the only way Nynaeve can stop her from coming is to tell Sheriam about it, and since Nynaeve can’t do that, the matter is closed.

Min adds that she can read the danger around all of them more clearly now, which she suspects has something to do with the fact that they have all made up their minds. Elayne, she thinks, has some connection to the boys as well, as much as the rest of them do, and that seems to make Nynaeve capitulate.

Nynaeve begins to make a plan for how they will get out of the Tower unnoticed and what they will need to bring, and Egwene listens as she silently worries about Rand and promises that, somehow, she will help him.

According to Nynaeve’s plans, the girls dress in normal clothing and try to pass as petitioners to the White Tower, which is easy enough to do, given the volume of women who have come to seek an audience with the Aes Sedai, as long as they don’t run into anyone who knows them. Dressed in their best traveling skirts and nicest cloaks, they don’t look like residents of the Tower, and they manage to dodge those who might know their faces. Only Min hasn’t changed her clothes, and carries all their bags so as to pass as a servant.

They spot a group of Aes Sedai who know them but Nynaeve manages to turn down a hallway in time, and Egwene remembers that adventures don’t seem nearly as fun when you’re in them as when you remember them afterwards, although some part of Elayne still seems to be enjoying the excitement. They make it to the stables, where Nynaeve convinces a reluctant stablehand to saddle their horse by flashing her Serpent ring. The stableman had only been given orders for two (and Egwene feels silly for not considering that Liandrin would have made arrangements for them to get their horses) but Nynaeve’s firm assumption of authority convinces him enough to get all four horses saddled.

When they were mounted, Nynaeve addressed herself to the stableman again. “No doubt you were told to keep this quiet, and that hasn’t changed whether we are two or two hundred. If you think it has, think about what Liandrin will do if you talk what you were told to keep quiet.”

As they were riding out, Elayne tossed him a coin and murmured, “For your trouble, goodman. You have done well.” Outside, she caught Egwene’s eye and smiled. “Mother says a stick and honey always work better than a stick alone.”

They have an easy time leaving the city—the guards are there to keep unwanted guests out, not the other way around—and make their way through a city crowded with every type of person imaginable. They all keep their eyes peeled for Aes Sedai in the crowd until they make it to the Ogier grove. It is a beautiful place, to Egwene’s eye neither like a garden nor a wild wood, but more like “the idea of nature”—a perfect forest of oaks, elms, leather-leafs and firs with Great Trees towering above them. They discover that even being just inside the grove makes it feel like they are miles from civilization.

Liandrin arrives, mounted and leading a packhorse carrying lanterns, enraged that Nynaeve and Egwene apparently told their friends after Liandrin commanded them not to. Elayne cuts in, as respectfully as she can, to explain that they overheard, and that they want to help Rand and the others, too. After a moment, Liandrin admits that she had arranged to have the two of them taken care of; it’s well known that they are friends of Egwene and Nynaeve, and Liandrin suggests that the Black Ajah would have been quick to pounce on them if the two Emond’s Field girls suddenly disappeared.

“… Do you not think there are those who would question you when they are found to be gone? Do you believe the Black Ajah would be gentle with you just because you are heir to a throne? Had you remained in the White Tower, you might not have lived the night.” That silenced them all for a moment, but Liandrin wheeled her horse and called, “Follow me!”

Liandrin leads them deeper and deeper into the trees until they come to a fence with a big lock. She produces a key and leads them through, and just as Nynaeve starts complaining that they need to be heading towards a bridge or a ship, not deeper into the wood, Liandrin points out a tall slab of stone that Nynaeve and Egwene instantly recognize as a Waygate. The two steel themselves by remembering that they made it safely through once, and so can again, but Min and Elyane are awed and hesitant until Liandrin offers to let them wait there for her to return, or for the Black Ajah to find them first. They both protest that they never said that they wouldn’t come, and Liandrin urges them all into the gate, looking back the way they came as though worried that some kind of pursuit might appear at any moment.

Egwene gives Bela a kick, forgetting in her determination that time and distance move differently inside the Waygate, but she and Bela manage to keep their footing as they come shooting out the other side of the barrier. She waits in the blackness, watching through the doorway as Nynaeve insists that the lanterns be passed around and lit before she follows after Egwene. She and Egwene joke about Egwene’s mistake, then the rest of the women follow, Liandrin not even waiting for the gates to fully close behind them before leading them away. They follow the bright white line to a Guiding, where Liandrin consults a parchment to decide which way to go. They travel down, Egwene and the others realizing that the next Island they stop at must be directly under the first, although Elayne points out that Elaida, the Aes Sedai who consults for her mother in Caemlyn, explained to her that the normal rules of nature don’t apply in the Ways.

Liandrin pushes them hard, and as they ride Egwene notices that she is not only still aware of saidar, but that she is also aware of the taint of the Ways. Although it is faint, she has the feeling that “that reaching for the True Source here would be like baring her arm to foul, greasy smoke in order to reach a clean cup,” and for once she has no trouble resisting the desire for saidar. Eventually, they stop to eat and sleep, Liandrin waiting for the others to bring her meal to her, and sitting apart from them while they eat.

Egwene asks what they will do if they encounter the Black Wind.

“Moiraine Sedai said it could not be killed, or even hurt very much, and I can feel the taint on this place waiting to twist anything we do with the Power.”

“You will not so much as think of the Source unless I tell you to,” Liandrin said sharply. “Why, if one such as you tried to channel here, in the Ways, you might well go as mad as a man. You have not the training to deal with the taint of those men who made this. If the Black Wind appears, I will deal with it.” She pursed her lips, studying a lump of white cheese. “Moiraine does not know so much as she thinks.” She popped the cheese into her mouth with a smile.

Egwene and Nynaeve discuss their dislike for Liandrin, and Min asks what the Black Wind is. When Elayne has explained what she learned from her mother and from Elaida, Min shudders and remarks that “the Pattern has a great deal to answer for,” and that she isn’t sure any man is worth such danger. Egwene points out that Min didn’t have to come, that she could have left the White Tower anytime she wished, but Min answers sarcastically that it would have been as easy for her to wander off as for Egwene or Elayne. The Pattern doesn’t care what they themselves want, and she asks Egwene what she will do if someone else—perhaps Min or Elayne, or some woman Egwene doesn’t even know—marries Rand instead of her. Egwene deflects, pointing out that Aes Sedai seldom marry, and that Rand himself probably won’t. But if he does, she wishes his future wife the best.

Elayne doesn’t buy it for a moment, though, and adds her own observations about how interesting of a man Rand is, and that she just might go for him if Egwene doesn’t, but that she knows Egwene won’t be so silly. Elayne decides Egwene will become a Green and make Rand her Warder, since sometimes Greens have only one Warder and marry them. Egwene jokes that if she becomes a Green she will have ten Warders, and Min watches them talk while Nynaeve thoughtfully watches Min.

Sleep came slowly to Egwene, fitfully, and it was filled with bad dreams. She did not dream of Rand, but of the man whose eyes were fire. His face was not masked this time, and it was horrible with almost healed burns. He only looked at her and laughed, but that was worse than the dreams that followed, the dreams of being lost in the Ways forever, the ones where the Black Wind was chasing her. She was grateful when the toe of Liandrin’s riding boot dug into her ribs to waken her; she felt as if she had not slept at all.

Liandrin continues to push them hard, and Egwene loses track of the days as they pass through the timeless dark, the twisting ramps and bridges broken up only by the Islands with the Guildings on them. Only Liandrin seems to be unwearied, and she keeps her parchment away from the others. And then at last she turns away from a Guiding and leads them down a white path, and they realize that they’ve reached their journey’s end. Liandrin removes the Avendesora leaf and the Waygate doors swing open.

“We are here,” Liandrin said, smiling. “I have brought you at last to where you must go.”

 

So Galldrian’s dead, is he? I foresee some trouble ahead for everyone’s favorite mustachioed gleeman; either Thom managed to assassinate him, which I would not put past Thom’s abilities at all, or Thom didn’t kill him but is going to get accused of it by somebody at some point. I have to wonder if the deaths of Galldrian and Barthanes aren’t related in some way; the deaths of the two most powerful men in Cairhein so close together seem like they should be connected, although there is Barthanes’s Darkfriend connection and Thom’s revenge plans to explain them. As was mentioned by a few commenters last week, it seems that Rand’s presence has had quite an effect on Cairhien, whether he intend it to or not. Perils of being ta’veren.

Speaking of intended and unintended consequences, I’m starting to think that Logain may still have a part to play in this story, besides reminding Egwene of the threat to Rand’s safety and freedom. I’m not sure I understand why the Aes Sedai are keeping him in the Tower; ostensibly it’s to keep him from killing himself? But honestly I wouldn’t think the Aes Sedai would care very much what happened to a False Dragon after the threat of his power was removed, unless there is some knowledge they expect to gain from him. Elayne’s sympathy for Logain seems important somehow, and I feel like someone would have asked Min to do a reading on the man. I wonder what she would see.

Logain’s despair and sorrow certainly speaks to my understanding of channeling ability as an essential part of a person, something that, if denied, makes them less than whole in a very meaningful way. It is part of their identity; no doubt any channeler would give up a limb or their hearing or their sight before they would allow themselves to be gentled or stilled. Egwene and Nynaeve’s explanations of how they are drawn to channeling also reminded me of some of the suggestions I’ve gotten in the comments about how the hunger for the One Power can be likened to addiction. I don’t see it so much as relatable to a chemical dependency-type addiction, but what I am starting to notice is the way that it seems like an addiction to, and hunger for, power. For folks like the False Dragons and Liandrin, the One Power is a tool that can be used to bend people to your will, gain support and followers, achieve prestige, and rise above non-channelers and those with lesser abilities. And for people like Egwene and Nynaeve, and Rand too, I think, channeling saidin and saidar is like glimpsing the universe. After all, the One Power is literally the mechanism that turns the Wheel of Time, and no doubt there is an intoxicating aspect to being so close to creation. But these people are only human, they are not the Creator, and there is only so much of Creation that a mortal being can handle. Thus, like villains from Indiana Jones, some channelers can’t contain their lust for power or for knowledge, and they just keep drawing on more and more screaming “I can see!” or “It’s so beautiful!” until their heads catch on fire and explode. I was thinking last week that this factor must make being someone like Verin very difficult; as a Brown, knowledge and learning is very important to her, but she seems very aware of and strict about her limitations. I’m sure she’d love nothing more than to be able to use a Portal Stone herself, but she knows trying would kill her.

The way Elayne and Min tease Egwene is really sweet to me. Like the boys teasing Loial in the stedding, it’s one small bit of normalcy in lives that are otherwise quite difficult and dangerous, and it’s nice to see the girls actually being friends with each other. Sisters-in-arms is great and all, but there’s more to close bonds than fighting the Dark One, and I think it helps to be reminded that this is also what it was like for Moraine and the Amyrlin, as was mentioned back in Chapter Four. Since we get so little from their perspective (so far, at least) seeing how the younger women hold each other up during their time in the Tower helps paint a more complete picture of Moiraine, as well. I anticipate that these four will continue to be a team going forward; we’ve already seen how Elayne and Nynaeve can compliment each other, for example, with the way they handled the horseman in the stable. Nynaeve could certainly use a diplomat around her.

It was a little hard not to get annoyed that Nynaeve and Egwene weren’t more suspicious of Liandrin. I tried to remember that I have more information than the girls do about this particular Red sister, and of course they’re right that they really are stuck between a rock and a hard place; either they risk trusting her or they risk trusting someone else, and they really have nothing to go on. Liandrin has the perfect leverage to drive their decisions. I still can’t help feeling that this is one downfall of the Aes Sedai training method though; because of the way novices are trained, they probably don’t see much difference between Liandrin’s attitude and treatment of them and those of every other Aes Sedai. As I observed in an earlier post, it’s probably very difficult to build cross-generational trust and alliances among the Aes Sedai, because memory of harsh treatment will linger, even if it is understood and forgiven.

Still, there are several tip-offs in Liandrin’s explanations that she is hiding something important from the girls. The first is the fact that she has apparently been reading Moiraine’s letters. While there’s no real reason for Nynaeve and Egwene to find this suspicious, the reader well knows that Moiraine hasn’t trusted anyone but the Amyrlin with information about the Emond’s Fielders, and she certainly wouldn’t be communicating to Liandrin about them. Liandrin never answers as to why she is involved in helping the boys, and her explanation that she can’t tell them all the details only comes after Nynaeve repeatedly asks for it. If she was being honest, it’s much more likely that she would have offered that information up front. She clearly hoped that no one would ask for details, and wanted to avoid the question if at all possible. Liandrin deflects every question, and although there are lots of reasons for an Aes Sedai to play things close to the vest, I think the fact that she doesn’t demand that Nynaeve remember the proper honorific shows just how desperate she is for them to agree to come with her. And that desperation is definitely a red flag.

And then to top it all off, she has the perfect weapon to put Nynaeve and Egwene in a position where they really have no choice but to follow her: the threat of the Black Ajah. Nothing quite so dramatically ironic as a Darkfriend using the threat of other Darkfriends to drive her victims right into her clutches, I suppose.

Speaking of Darkfriends and the Shadow, Liandrin’s confidence in the Ways seemed a bit odd. Of course it could easily have been false confidence, and Liandrin was merely trusting to luck the way Moiraine once did and Verin meant to, but she certainly seems to be implying that she knows how to handle the Machin Shin. I don’t think it’s likely that the Dark One or his followers can command the Machin Shin, but it’s a little easier to believe that they perhaps found some way to shield themselves from the Black Wind’s attack. After all, Trollocs have been traveling in the Ways for some time, and although they are pretty expendable, it’d certainly be preferable to have some way of protecting traveling troops. And while Machin Shin itself is not of the Dark One, it was created by the taint on saidin, so it would make sense if it was easier for Darkfriends to learn to defend against it than for followers of the Light.

Min’s comment that “the Pattern has a lot to answer for,” and her explanation that she is no more free from it than Egwene or Elayne, got me wondering about how she feels about the Pattern and the destiny it weaves. Not everyone believes in the Pattern the way the Aes Sedai do; it’s not like you hear farmers or merchants talking about the Wheel weaving as it wills. How much knowledge did Min have about the way the Pattern worked before she got involved with Moiraine and the Aes Sedai, and are her viewings actually connected to the Pattern itself, or is it something else? She seems convinced that she is tied to the fate of Rand al’Thor, which is ostensibly because she saw herself being with him when she did her reading of him. And apparently for her that makes the thing definite.

She still doesn’t have all the information, though, and she can never get quite the answers she wants from Egwene as a result. Because Egwene might be in love with Rand, she might be grieved that she can’t be with him and even jealous of any other girl who would try to be, but at the end of the day, Egwene is most worried about Rand either being caught and gentled, or going mad and probably dying. Her evasive answers about not intending to marry and not thinking that Rand would marry either are about that secret, rather than some other more delicate affair of the heart. Min won’t understand that for a while, unless she read a lot more from Rand than I think she did.

It’s probably a really good thing that Elayne and Min decided to go with Nynaeve and Egwene, though. Those “arrangements” Liandrin made for the two of them were definitely not anything good. Kidnapping by Darkfriends maybe. Or just straight up having them killed. Whatever bad things lie ahead for the four (and boy, are they ever bad) at least they are together. They stand a chance. I just don’t think it’s going to be the kind of adventure Elayne was hoping for. That last line, “I have brought you at last to where you must go,” might be the most ominous line to date, and I thought that even before I started reading for next week and found out what was waiting for the girls on the other side of the Waygate.

No doubt you all know too, but in any case, the most horrible bit of the book is right around the corner. I’m sure I’m not the first reader to have a hard time with the damane and the sul’dam; but we’ll leave all that for when we cover Chapters 40 and 41. I’m taking a break for Christmas day next week, but will be back with a new post on January 1st. Until then, see you down below!

Sylas K Barrett doesn’t mind washing dishes, but really hates laundry. A novice’s life sounds tough.

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