Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: What’s in a Name? Egwene the Damane in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 23)

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we cover Chapters 42 and 43 of The Great Hunt, in which Nynaeve is calculating and Elayne and Min do their best to keep up. Poor Egwene is either practical or despairing, depending on your point of view, and Bayle Domon and his pirate speech make another appearance.

I have to admit, I really love Captain Domon (although I’d like to know where his accent comes from in-universe) and I’m amused at how the Pattern keeps shoving him around so that he’s always in position to ferry one or another group of Emond’s Fielders away from certain doom. I would get such a kick out of that remaining true throughout the series. We also have Nynaeve being badass, and Egwene and Min making compromises in order to survive. Oh, and Elayne’s here too. Doing something.

Chapter 42 finds Elayne and Nynaeve in Falme, carefully avoiding a passing sul’dam and damane. They’re disguised in local country clothes, but they still have to steer clear of any of the pairs of women, lest they be identified as channelers. As Nynaeve watches them pass from the shelter of an alleyway, she briefly glimpses a man in Seanchan dress who looks like Padan Fain, although she dismisses the thought as he disappears back into the crowd.

Her thoughts are interrupted by Elayne asking if they can move on; she’s snitched some apples from a vendor in the alley and wants to get out of there before he notices. As they step back out into the street, Nynaeve tells Elayne that they they aren’t yet at the point where they need to steal, though Elayne is aware that Nynaeve has been skipping meals. When questioned, Elayne admits that she used the One Power to make a stack of melons fall as a distraction so that she could take the apples; she was certain she wouldn’t be caught, remarking that if she were an enslaved damane she certainly wouldn’t help her masters catch others, and is openly contemptuous of the people of Falme for being so obsequious towards their conquerors.

They have to stop along with the rest of the crowd to bow before a procession of Seanchan, which includes some of the beasts the Seanchan ride. When they’re past, Elayne and Nynaeve argue about which of them is being more reckless in the use of the One Power; Elayne points out that Nynaeve once channeled with one of the leashed women in clear view. They had to spend three days hiding after Nynaeve tried to test the collar to see if she could figure out how to unfasten it; she believes she can, but needs to test at least one more to be sure.

Elayne grouses about the Falmen’s apparent lack of desire to resist, and privately, Nynaeve agrees somewhat. She had been surprised that it was the damane that alerted everyone of the probe to the collar, and she had also expected to find some kind of underground resistance in the city, but there appears to be none.

They find an alleyway which allows them to watch the doors of a set of buildings where they have discovered the damane are housed. They eat Elayne’s apples and Nynaeve tries to plan, hoping to gain some glimpse of Egwene or Min in the houses across the street.

And Egwene is indeed in one of them, standing by a window in her small room and watching Renna down in the gardens chatting with another sul’dam. Although others have taken a turn to wear the bracelet attached to Egwene’s collar, Renna is still in charge of her training, and as long as Egwene can see her, Renna can’t come into her room and surprise her. There is no lock on Egwene’s door, no privacy or creature comforts to be had, and although she is using a small amount of saidar to probe her collar, she cannot even tell where it fastens, never mind how. And in the meantime, even the smallest amount of it is making her feel incredibly sick; another property of the a’dam, designed to make it impossible for a damane to channel when no sul’dam is wearing the bracelet. A similar, even more painful effect can happen if a damane should try to move the bracelet on her own—Renna once made Egwene try just to show her the pain that it would cause.

A knock on the door scares her, but she realizes instantly that it must be Min—no sul’dam would ever bother to knock before entering her room. Min comes in, keeping a forced cheeriness that she has been putting on for Egwene’s sake, announcing that it is time for her weekly visit. She shows off the dress she is wearing, explaining that Mulaen, the woman in charge of the damane housing, had demanded that she wear it, and had even gone so far as to burn Min’s coat and breeches. Egwene remembers how her own clothes, all that she brought with her on the journey, were burned too. A damane has no possessions of her own: Everything from the dress she wears to the food she eats and the place she sleeps is a gift from her sul’dam.

Egwene tells Min about how Renna has been instructing her in identifying iron and copper ore; they have discovered that Egwene has a gift for it, and has even praised Egwene for her ability. Min asks if Egwene could have lied about her ability to sense them.

“You still do not know what this is like.” Egwene tugged at the collar; pulling did no more good than channeling had. “When Renna is wearing that bracelet, she knows what I am doing with the Power, and what I am not. Sometimes she even seems to know when she isn’t wearing it; she says sul’dam develop—an affinity, she calls it—after a while.” She sighed. “No one even thought to test me on this earlier. Earth is one of the Five Powers that was strongest in men. When I picked out those rocks, she took me outside the town, and I was able to point right to an abandoned iron mine. It was all overgrown, and there wasn’t any opening to be seen at all, but once I knew how, I could feel the iron ore still in the ground. There hasn’t been enough to make it worth working in a hundred years, but I knew it was there. I couldn’t lie to her, Min. She knew I had sensed the mine as soon as I did. She was so excited, she promised me a pudding with my supper.” She felt her cheeks growing hot, in anger and embarrassment. “Apparently,” she said bitterly, “I am now too valuable to be wasted making things explode. Any damane can do that; only a handful can find ores in the ground. Light, I hate making things explode, but I wish that was all I could do.”

Egwene also thinks about how, as much as she hates making things explode and using the Power in ways designed for battle, she knows that she has many more skills now than when she left the White Tower, and she doesn’t think that any Aes Sedai there have come up with the Seanchan’s creative ideas for using saidar to kill men.

Min tries to lift Egwene’s spirits by telling her that she’s found a ship that might give them passage away from Falme, but Egwene only replies tiredly that Min should go if she can. She is too valuable to be allowed to escape; they are even sending a ship back to Seanchan just to take her there. Min insists that there must be a way to free Egwene, but Egwene only points out that every woman channeler the Seanchan have encountered, not just in Falme but in every outlying village and on every ship they’ve captured, has been collared—even two Aes Sedai. Egwene met one of them, a woman named Ryma who the sul’dam call Pura, who begged Egwene to remember her real name and who wept openly because she was beginning to stop fighting against her captivity, unable to to take the pain anymore, unable even to end her own life without permission.

Egwene says she knows how Ryma feels, shocking Min, who insists that Egwene mustn’t think that way. Egwene dryly points out that she couldn’t take her own life in any case, and demonstrates with Min’s knife. As she tries to force the blade towards her own stomach, first her hand, then her entire arm and shoulder start cramping until she is forced to give up. She explains to Min that not only does the collar stop any damane from touching a weapon, it stops them from touching anything they might even think of as a weapon, and that it is not enough to stop the action; the damane must stop the thoughts associated with the action. She tells Min of how she once thought of using her water pitcher to hit Renna in the head—she was instantly not able to touch the pitcher at all, even to wash. Renna knew what had happened and made sure that Egwene was never permitted to use anything else to wash, and that her training got her especially filthy. Not only did she have to stop thinking of hitting Renna, she had to convince herself that she would never want to hit her with the pitcher before she could touch it again.

“I am trying to fight them, but they are training me as surely as they’re training Pura.” She clapped a hand to her mouth, moaning through her teeth. “Her name is Ryma. I have to remember her name, not the name they’ve put on her. She is Ryma, and she’s Yellow Ajah, and she has fought them as long and as hard as she could. It is no fault of hers that she hasn’t the strength left to fight any longer. I wish I knew who the other sister is that Ryma mentioned. I wish I knew her name. Remember both of us, Min. Ryma, of the Yellow Ajah, and Egwene al’Vere. Not Egwene the damane; Egwene al’Vere of Emond’s Field. Will you do that?”

Min snaps at Egwene to stop it and tells her that, if she is shipped off to Seanchan, Min will be there beside her. But she doesn’t believe that it will come to that. She reminds Egwene of her readings, how she has seen Egwene’s fate linked to Rand’s and Mat’s and even Galad’s, but Egwene points out that if the Seanchan conquer the whole world, Rand and Galad could easily end up in Seanchan too. She is not going to stop fighting, but she believes she is being practical in seeing the inevitability of her own continued imprisonment and in the ultimate success of the Seanchan’s conquest. She insists again that Min should escape if she can.

The arrival of Renna interrupts their argument; the sul’dam remarks mildly that there is training to be done even on visiting days, and then puts the bracelet on. Through the connection she can tell that Egwene has been channeling, and although she does not raise her voice, her expression chills Egwene. Renna decides that it was a mistake letting Egwene keep her old name, in letting her feel like she is important or valuable, and declares that she will now be called Tuli, after a kitten Renna once had. She dismisses Min, who has no choice but to go, and sits down with Egwene to discuss further how Egwene must be punished.

“We will both be called to the Court of the Nine Moons—you for what you can do; I as your sul’dam and trainer—and I will not allow you to disgrace me in the eyes of the Empress. I will stop when you tell me how much you love being damane and how obedient you will be after this. And, Tuli. Make me believe every word.”

Min hurries away from the room, pained by the sound of Egwene’s cries and the feeling that, no matter what she does, she only makes things worse for her friend. She ends up running out into the street, weeping but unable to return to her own room while knowing what is happening to Egwene in the next building. Then she hears her name being called. She looks around, for a moment seeing no one but some locals and a pair of sul’dam followed by their damane, then recognizes the two women in fleece coats as Nynaeve and Elayne. Nynaeve manages a little tease about Min’s dresses despite how tense all three of them are, then Elayne ask about Min’s tears and if something has happened to Egwene. Min looks about, noting the other sul’dam and damane coming in and out of the houses and hurries them to a safer distance away, horrified at the idea of what could happen to the two women if they are noticed by a damane.

She avoids telling them of Egwene’s torture, certain all common sense and restraint would fly out of Nynaeve’s head the moment she heard it, and instead tells them about the ship captain she has found who might be persuaded to give them passage out of Falme. She hasn’t yet negotiated a price, and doesn’t have any money anyway, but she hopes to be able to put off paying until they are underway, at which point she suspects he would not put into any Seanchan-controlled port for any reason. But the man is afraid to sail, knowing that the patrol ships have damane on board, and Min is worried that there is no more time left to convince him, now that Egwene is to be sent to Seanchan.

Elayne gasped. “But, why?”

“She is able to find ore,” Min said miserably. “A few days, she says, and I don’t know if a few days is enough for this man to convince himself to sail. Even if it is, how do we take that Shadow-spawned collar off her? How do we get her out of the house?”

“I wish Rand were here.” Elayne sighed, and when they both looked at her, she blushed and quickly added, “Well, he does have a sword. I wish we had somebody with a sword. Ten of them. A hundred.”

“It isn’t swords or brawn we need now,” Nynaeve said, “but brains. Men usually think with the hair on their chests.” She touched her chest absently, as if feeling something through her coat. “Most of them do.”

Min explains that she has no idea how to take the collar off, but that she can get at least one of them into the buildings, if that will help; as a “servant” she is allowed guests as long as they keep to the servants’ quarters. But Nynaeve gets a purposeful look on her face, and tells Min that she has a few ideas of her own.  She asks to be taken to the man, confident that she can convince him, and Min and Elayne both feel a surge of confidence in her determination. Min even does a reading on them, seeing a man’s ring above Nynaeve and a hot iron and axe above Elayne’s, and while she senses danger in the vision, it is a distant one, not related to their current plight.

She takes them down to the docks, making their way through the crowds to an inn that has “been hastily renamed The Three Plum Blossoms, [though] part of the word “Watcher” still show[s] through the slapdash paint work on the sign,” where they find Captain Domon sitting at a table in the half-empty table.

They sit, and Domon orders mulled wine for all of them, since “that Seanchan lord” bought his cargo and he has the coin for it. He is as wary as they are, but when Nynaeve tells him they wish to sail, Domon answers that he would go at once if he could. He had hoped that Turak would let him go after hearing a few tales of Domon’s adventures, but now he suspects that, once his presence stops entertaining the High Lord, he’s just as likely to be executed as to be set free.

Nynaeve asks if Domon’s ship can avoid the Seanchan, and Domon answers that it can, if he can manage not to be destroyed by a damane first. He goes on about the Spray’s draft and the local shoal waters, but Nynaeve is satisfied with the affirmative answer and cuts him off, saying that there will be four of them and that she expects him to be ready to sail the moment they are on board.

When Domon hesitates, reminding them about the damane and the difficulty of getting out of the harbor, Nynaeve tells him that he will have something better than a damane. She pulls a leather cord from beneath her dress—briefly giving Min a glimpse of Lan’s ring, the very one she saw when she read Nynaeve earlier—and shows Domon her Aes Sedai serpent ring. She asks him if he knows what it means, and he hastily assures her that he does while urging her to put it away. He asks who the other passengers might be, if Elayne is like Nynaeve, and Nynaeve assures him that he might be surprised by what they can do even before they earn a ring, and promises that he will have three on board who can fight the damane, if need be.

Domon seems encouraged by this, but also worried, not only for his own safety but theirs, and in carefully veiled words tells them that he saw another Aes Sedai and her Warder taken in a Seanchan trap. He saw six damane circle around her and somehow stop her from being able to channel, and she screamed. Elayne, pale, exclaims that they cut her off from the True Source.

Nynaeve answers calmly that they will not allow the same to happen to them.

“Aye, mayhap it will be as you say. But I will remember it until I die. Ryma, help me. That is what she did scream. And one of the damane did fall down crying, and they did put one of those collars on the neck of the… woman, and I… I did run.” He shrugged, and rubbed his nose, and peered into his wine. “I have seen three women taken, and I have no stomach for it. I would leave my aged grandmother standing on the dock to sail from here, but I did have to tell you.”

Min mentions that Egwene said they had two prisoners—Ryma, a Yellow, and another she didn’t know the name of. Nynaeve shoots her a rebuking look for giving Domon the knowledge that there was a second Aes Sedai prisoner. Yet he seems to find determination anyway, and though he asks if they are there to free the two Aes Sedai, he accepts it when Nynaeve tells him that he knows all that he needs to. She tells him he must be ready to sail, and that she will find someone else if he cannot commit to the plan, and Domon agrees.

When they returned to the street, Min was surprised to see Nynaeve sag against the front of the inn as soon as the door closed. “Are you ill, Nynaeve?” she asked anxiously.

Nynaeve drew a long breath and stood up straight, tugging at her coat. “With some people,” she said, “you have to be certain. If you show them one glimmer of doubt, they’ll sweep you off in some direction you don’t want to go. Light, but I was afraid he was going to say no. Come, we have plans yet to make. There are still one or two small problems to work out.”

Min feels like there are a lot more than one or two “small” problems, and hopes that Nynaeve isn’t putting on a show for her the way she did for Domon.

 

Happy New Year, readers! Technically we’ve already had one post in the New Year, but I wrote that one ahead of the break, so this is the first one I am actually writing in 2019. And I am very pleased that this week is mostly about Nynaeve being a badass.

I always enjoy the discussion you all have in the comments section, but last week’s was particularly notable to me. Often the dissections of my analyses have to be whited out, since you all know the endgame, but part twenty-two offered up some interesting, spoiler-free critiques that sent my thinking in some new directions.

I feel like there is a lot about channeling that has been technically addressed in the text but not explained in a way that I fully understand. For example, the conversation that Elayne and Egwene have when they meet, when they ask each other if they were “born with the spark.” Since they are both novices, I wasn’t sure why they would need to ask such a question; either one is born with the ability to channel or they are not, as I understand it. The whole premise of Aes Sedai being able to tell if a woman can channel or has the potential to channel is because of this spark of ability inside them, isn’t it? It’s not like just any woman can walk up to the White Tower and ask to be trained. My questions about the sul’dam stem from this bit of confusion; is there another way to become a channeler besides being born with the spark? What separates a potential damane from a potential sul’dam? The only thing that I can figure is the strength of their ability, unless I have missed something in the text that explains it.

Rand and Verin’s use of the Portal Stone left me with a similar confusion, although I feel better about that since it seems there are different ways readers have interpreted what happened there. Between their first journey to the mirror world and their second attempt, at least Loial and Hurin must have a good sense that Rand has an ability to channel by now, and that’s not even counting what everyone saw in the many lives they lived during their travel to Toman Head. I’m inferring that everyone had the same experience that Rand did during their Portal Stone travels, living many possible lives and seeing many possible outcomes of their own fate. But since Rand is the Dragon Reborn and also ta’veren, no matter what alternate reality you’re in, it’s probable that at least some of them would have encountered him in those other lives, especially as we know that Rand was a king in at least one reality, and that he declared himself the Dragon Reborn in at least one. Thus, some of them could have more knowledge of him than they’re letting on, although if that’s true I imagine it won’t be revealed to the reader for some time.

Last week I also asserted that Deain was a Darkfriend, which seemed to confuse many commenters. I had understood the title “Armies of Night” to be a reference to the forces of the Dark One: Back in Chapter Seven, Verin, while analyzing the “Blood Calls Blood” poem, discussed the possibility of a return of Hawkwing’s armies from beyond the sea with Moiraine and the Amyrlin, and mentioned that they know nothing about those lands except for one reference to “lands under the Shadow, beyond the setting sun, beyond the Aryth Ocean, where the Armies of Night reign.” I took this to mean that those lands were possessed by the Dark One, much like those of the Blight, and I assumed that the destruction of those armies was the reason the Seanchan are (however foolishly) so confident that they have killed off all Darkfriends in their lands. If the Armies of the Night are something else and the lands were under” the Shadow” figuratively rather than literally, that changes the kind of baddie that Deain was, but not really anything else about my read on her goals or mistakes. Evil-with-a-capital-E might normally be reserved for allies of the Dark One, but I think it can apply just as well to someone who invents a whole new kind of slavery. And her ambition was her downfall, just as I think it often is for actual Darkfriends.

Unsurprisingly, I’m tremendously worried about Egwene. The Seanchan certainly have a way of making people give up quickly; as Captain Domon points out, ordinary people just want to go on with their lives however they can, but there is more to it than that. The Seanchan have a brutality that is perfectly illustrated by the a’dam but certainly not limited to it. Whatever they did to people in the villages that made Hurin throw up just being near it, whatever it was that either drove people away towards the fighting on Almoth Plain or towards Falme, ready to follow customs and swear loyalty oaths they don’t even understand, must be nearly as brutal as what is done to the damane, or the resistance Nynaeve expected to see would be there somewhere. And then there is their perfectly regimented society, which keeps things from changing, locking people in their “rightful” place almost as surely as the a’dam locks Egwene in the place that has been designated for her.

I’m reminded of the way Elyas talked about Artur Hawkwing back in Chapter 29 of The Eye of the World: “A child could ride alone with a bag of gold from the Aryth Ocean to the Spine of the World and never have a moment’s fear, but the High King’s justice was as hard as that rock there for anyone who challenged his power, even if it was just by being who they were, or by people thinking they were a challenge.” This fits with the way Seanchan society works, with Turak’s fear that even using the Horn in the Empress’s service would make him look like a rival for the throne and the way damane are said to be leashed for their own good and for society’s. And just as Hawkwing’s children were more brutal and less wise than he, probably those later descendants have fallen even further. They kept his hatred for Aes Sedai though.

Not that I’m saying that Egwene is giving up. Even if she was never rescued, I think she would keep fighting for a very long time, and she has the sort of flexible temperament that makes me imagine that she would find little ways of resisting, of keeping her mental defenses up even as she was forced into more and more capitulation, rather than just snapping the way someone with more pride or need for power might. Still, the fact that she already sees her lifetime of captivity and the Seanchan’s conquest as inevitable is alarming; even with everything she’s going through it seems to have happened very quickly, just as it has for the people of Falme. Does Egwene truly believe that no one, not the Shienar, who hold back the Shadowspawn and the Blight, or the combined might of Tar Valon itself, can oppose the Seanchan? I can certainly imagine that it’s hard for her to think of the world outside the tiny box of her imprisonment, but, again, it speaks to the effectiveness of the Seanchan and the a’dam itself.

Meeting Ryma probably didn’t help either; of all the characters in our story, Egwene probably idolizes the Aes Sedai the most, and seeing a fully-fledged Aes Sedai as helpless and despairing as herself, a basically new novice, no doubt sapped a lot of her hope.

Hopefully she can hang in there, though, because Nynaeve is coming for her. I think Nynaeve has a unique advantage here; she may not have the control of, or be as experienced as, a full-fledged Aes Sedai, but we know she has this amazing, basically untapped wellspring of power that could rival any of them, and she has no sense of rules or limitations about its use. I think this will lead her to think in a lot of inventive new ways throughout her career as an Aes Sedai, starting right now. And as unbreakable as the a’dam seem to be, I suspect that there haven’t been many opportunities for someone not on one side of the leash to get a crack at one. The biggest danger here might truly be getting caught before they can get it off.

And come to think of it, even if they can’t free Egwene from the a’dam right away, it might be possible for either Nynaeve or Elayne to wear the bracelet and function as a sul’dam, giving Egwene the permission to move about and at least get down to Domon’s ship. Again, I’m not quite sure what makes a sul’dam, but I still suspect it must have something to do with a connection the a’dam forges between two women using saidar. This would also explain why the sul’dam call being connected to a damane “being complete”: They crave a connection to a damane because they craves a connection to saidar, as all channelers do.

Doesn’t make the phrase less creepy, though. Brr.

I wonder how having worn the a’dam will change Egwene’s understanding of channeling. She has already pointed out that no one (I assume she means her Aes Sedai teachers, here) thought to test her on finding ore, since that is traditionally a skill that favors the male side of channeling. The a’dam seems to also give Renna a more powerful ability to instruct Egwene’s channeling: She can actually feel what she is doing in a way that a teacher in the White Tower could not, and may even be able to push Egwene’s limits either through suggestion or through torture. Sheriam’s willow switch might be an intimidating form of punishment, but I doubt much can beat the a’dam‘s invisible torture for on-the-spot motivation.

Nynaeve would probably be really mad if she realized how Aes Sedai-like, how Moiraine-like, she is behaving in these chapters. The way she talks to Captain Domon is classic Aes Sedai: never lying but revealing only partial truths; using the ring to imply that she is a full Aes Sedai but never claiming it; making unspecific promises about what she, Elayne, and the other passenger can do. It reminds me so much of the way Moiraine handled different people throughout the first half of The Eye of the World, and that bit that Nynaeve says to Min and Elayne at the end, about how you “have to be certain” with some people, could just as easily have been said by Moiraine to any one of them at any time in the previous story. The way she lectures Elayne about channeling while choosing moments to channel herself is classic Aes Sedai too; in Nynaeve’s mind, she knows when the risk is necessary and when it isn’t. She sees herself as a better judge of these things than Elayne, and she’s probably right. But, again, it is the same attitude that Moiraine took with her in The Eye of the World and it drove Nynaeve up the wall, so seeing her do it now is just really amusing for me, especially to a young woman who will one day be a queen.

Two more chapters next week, as is customary, and things are really going to pick up. We’re getting towards the end of The Great Hunt and I gotta tell you, it’s getting difficult to put down the book every two chapters so that I can  have time to write these. I’m off to keep reading now, so I’ll just leave you with my two last thoughts.

1. The Seanchan have flying monsters too? I think this is the first we’ve heard about them. Honestly, I can’t stop picturing a smaller version of the Nazgûl’s fellbeasts as envisaged by Peter Jackson.

2. Min saw Lan’s ring when she did her reading on Nynaeve! Does this mean my ship is coming in? I love how Nynaeve begrudgingly gives Lan a pass on being like most men—it’s like they’re Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. Classic.

Sylas K Barrett has a lot of opinions about names and what they mean to us. But he often forgets his own bylines!

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