Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Secrets Smell Like Fishes in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 5)

Welcome back to Reading the Wheel of Time with me, Sylas! The guy who finally reached the point where Nynaeve’s braid pulling gets out of control. You all did warn me this was coming.

This week we’re covering Chapters 10, 11, and 12, which is full of Secrets, brings us home to Tar Valon, and reintroduces us the the Amyrlin Seat, aka Badass Lady of the Fish Metaphors.

Chapter 10 opens with Egwene trying to catch a glimpse of Tar Valon in the distance as she rides with Verin, Nynaeve, and Elayne, accompanied by Huron and Mat in a horse litter. She’s eager to return to her training, desperate to advance her skills enough to feel sure she will never be collared, never lose her freedom, again. In Tar Valon she will also continue to be tested as a Dreamer; in addition to having nightmares about the time she spent with the Seanchan, Egwene has been dreaming increasingly of Rand—she sees him running towards something, but also running from something.

She looks again towards Tar Valon, thinking of Anaiya, and also wondering if she will see Galad. Trying to dismiss the thought, she fusses with her skits, and the gray fabric of the damane dress brings her mind back again to the Seanchan. She leans forward and pats Bela’s neck, telling the mare that she will never wear gray again. Nynaeve, riding up beside her, suggests she’d be better off keeping watch than talking to herself, annoying Egwene with the way she acts as though she is still the village Wisdom and Egwene still a child. Egwene snipes back to wonder how Moiraine is treating Lan, but regrets the jibe immediately.

Thinking of how far they have come, and how many secrets they are carrying, Egwene asks Nynaeve if she thinks Rand and Perrin are alright. Perrin is a hasty addition to the question, though—Egwene knows now that she’ll never marry Rand, but she’s still struggling a little with accepting it. Nynaeve is concerned Egwene is asking because she is having dreams again, but Egwene tells her it’s only because they’ve heard such strange rumors in their travels, all of which have been very different from the truth that Egwene and her companions know.

But Nynaeve suggests that they need to focus on themselves now; she can feel something coming, like a storm, and Egwene doesn’t think that Nynaeve means the weather. They slow their horses to allow the litter, as well as Egwene and Hurin, to catch up to them.

“Do you sense something, Hurin?” Nynaeve asked. Elayne lifted her eyes, suddenly intent, from Mat’s litter.

With the three of them looking at him, the lean man shifted in his saddle and rubbed the side of his long nose. “Trouble,” he said, curt and reluctant at the same time. “I think maybe… trouble.”

Twice on their journey so far, Hurin has warned Egwene and the others to leave a village as soon as they arrived in it. The first time they all dismissed his advice, too tired to give up a night’s sleep at an inn, only to have thieves try to murder them in their beds. Worse, the entire village seemed to be fine with such treatment of strangers, and the companions had to flee a mob. The next time Hurin gave them a warning, Verin made sure they listened immediately.

Egwene puts Hurin’s instincts down to his long experience as a thief-taker, and has noticed that, despite his helpfulness, Hurin is uncomfortable around them. He respects Aes Sedai but has mostly restricted his conversation to Mat—back when Mat was still able to talk.

Elayne, who has been riding by Mat’s litter the whole time, asks what kind of trouble Hurin expects, and he starts to answer “I smell—” before cutting himself off and explaining that it’s just a feeling, or hunch. He’s seen the tracks of twenty or thirty horses coming and going, and it “feels” like trouble to him.

Hurin wants them to be wary, and worries about the women’s safety, deciding to ride up and check in with Verin. The others discuss whether or not they should send Hurin scouting, and how they know how to defend themselves better than a hundred soldiers could.

“He doesn’t know that,” Nynaeve said flatly, “and I am not about to tell him. Or anyone else.”

“I can imagine what Verin would have to say about it.” Elayne sounded anxious. “I wish I had some idea how much she does know. Egwene, I don’t know if my mother could help me if the Amyrlin found out, much less help the pair of you. Or even whether she would try.” Elayne’s mother was Queen of Andor. “She was only able to learn a little of the Power before she left the White Tower, for all she has lived as if she had been raised to full sister.”

Nynaeve agrees that they cannot count on Morgase or anyone else, and that they must do their best stay low, act humbly, and try not to bring any more attention on themselves. Nynaeve also tells them that, if they are attacked, she will do what must be done, and that the others should run. They may have potential, but that doesn’t mean the White Tower wouldn’t still them if necessary. Elayne counters that if they would be stilled for such an act, so would Nynaeve.

They’re all chilled by the thought of being cut off from the True Source. To distract herself, Egwene leans down to adjust Mat’s blankets. She is careful not to touch the dagger in its gold sheath as she drags the blankets up to hide it, then tugs them down over the leather sack by his feet to cover that, too. Nynaeve checks Mat’s fever, concerned and frustrated that she doesn’t have any healing herbs. Neither Verin’s Healing nor Nynaeve’s attempts can do more for Mat now; they must get him to the Tower and to the Amyrlin.

Egwene wonders, not for the first time, why Nynaeve chose to come to the White Tower for training. She already has enough control not to be killed by her abilities, and while she says she wants to learn more more, she still seems terribly reluctant about it most of the time.

Just then Nynaeve notices riders, and they all recognize the Children of the Light.

Verin instructs them to let her do all the talking, and to not allow the Children to make them angry. Egwene thinks she can see Verin measuring the distance between them and Tar Valon, but the city and the other Aes Sedai are too far away to do them any good.

The Whitecloaks ride right up to them, coming to a halt at the last minute so that the dust of their ride billows over them. Everyone is stiff and angry, except Verin, who merely waves the dust from her face with her hand. Their commander is a young man but wears “two knots of rank” on his cloak.

“Two Tar Valon witches, unless I miss my guess, yes?” he said with a tight smile that pinched his narrow face. Arrogance brightened his eyes, as if he knew some truth others were too stupid to see. “And two nits, and a pair of lapdogs, one sick and one old.” Hurin bristled, but Verin’s hand restrained him. “Where do you come from?” the Whitecloak demanded.

“We come from the west,” Verin said placidly. “Move out of our way, and let us continue. The Children of the Light have no authority here.”

“The Children have authority wherever the Light is, witch, and where the Light is not, we bring it. Answer my questions! Or must I take you to our camp and let the Questioners ask?”

Verin repeats that they have answered the question, and asks if the Whitecloaks really think they can stop them, here in a land where the Children have no authority, within sight of Tar Valon itself. This gives the man pause, but he glances back at his men and then continues to insist that they answer his questions.

Elayne pipes up next, stating her name and insisting that the Whitecloaks will have Morgase to answer to if they do not let them pass, but this has no effect besides vexing Verin and causing the officer to answer that Elayne might discover that Morgase no longer loves the Aes Sedai and would probably reward him for returning her to her mother’s side. He declares that “Lord Captain Eamon Valda” would like to speak to her and raises a hand, perhaps to signal to his men.

But that is enough for Egwene, who has been chafing anxiously in fear for Mat and worrying that the Whitecloaks might discover what is in the sack at his feet. But as she sees his hand raise, her thoughts are for herself, and how she will not allow herself to be chained again. She opens herself to saidar and turns the skill she learned as a damane against the Whitecloak leader, causing the ground before him to explode into a fountain of dirt and rocks. His horse rears and throws him.

Before he hit the ground, Egwene shifted her focus closer to the other Whitecloaks, and the ground threw up another small explosion. Bela danced sideways, but she controlled the mare with reins and knees without even thinking of it. Wrapped inside emptiness, she was still surprised at a third eruption, not of her making, and a fourth. Distantly, she was aware of Nynaeve and Elayne, both enveloped in the glow that said they, too, had embraced saidar, had been embraced by it. That aura would not be visible to any but another woman who could channel, but the results were visible to all. Explosions harried the Whitecloaks on every side, showering them with dirt, shaking them with noise, sending their horses plunging wildly.

Hurin stares around in terror, Verin in shock and anger, and then the Whitecloaks begin to retreat, galloping away and apparently forgetting their officer as he picks himself up off the ground. He stares at Verin with wide eyes, but boldly instructs her to go ahead and kill him, as she killed his father.

But Verin ignores him, her attention focused on the three girls. Egwene lets go of saidar as the last of the other Whitecloaks disappear in the direction they came from. She tells them that what they have done is an abomination, that Aes Sedai never use the One Power as a weapon, except against Shadowspawn or in a very last extreme to defend their own lives. Nynaeve interjects that the Whitecloaks were going to kill them, while Elayne points out that no one was harmed so it wasn’t really using the One Power as a weapon, but Verin isn’t having it, and reminds them that even novices are expected to behave as if they are already bound by the Three Oaths they will eventually take if they make it to full Aes Sedai.

Nynaeve is still concerned about the Whitecloak officer, as well as about Mat and the contents of the sack, although she avoids mentioning that last one aloud. Verin explains that the officer was only trying to bully them, and that he could not do anything to them without buying himself more trouble than he would want to bring on. She could have talked them past the Children if Egwene and the others had been patient. As it is, the stories the men will go on to tell could have a serious effect.

Egwene apologizes to the officer, but when she begins to explain that she only made the mistake because she is so tired from their long journey from Toman Head, Verin cuts her off again.

“Be quiet, girl!” Verin shouted at the same time the Whitecloak snarled, “Toman Head? Falme! You were at Falme!” He stumbled back another step and half drew his sword. From the look on his face, Egwene did not know whether he meant to attack, or to defend himself. Hurin moved his horse closer to the Whitecloak, a hand on his sword-breaker, but the narrow-faced man went on in a rant, spittle flying with his fury.

“My father died at Falme! Byar told me! You witches killed him for your false Dragon! I’ll see you dead for it! I will see you burn!”

“Impetuous children,” Verin sighed. “Almost as bad as boys for letting your mouths run away with you. Go with the Light, my son,” she told the Whitecloak.

Without another word, she guided them around the man, but his shouts followed after. “My name is Dain Bornhald! Remember it, Darkfriends! I will make you fear my name! Remember my name!”

Verin tells Egwene off again, explaining that she must learn that there is a time to speak truth and a time to hold your tongue, and that, just because no one they have yet encountered had heard about what happened in Falme, that doesn’t mean no one has heard anything from any source, perhaps one that used a different road than they have. Elayne asks what the Whitecloak meant about her mother, and Verin answers cryptically that the Queens of Andor have always been friends to the White Tower, but that the world is strange and all things change. As they come over a ridge and the bridge to Tar Valon comes into sight, she also warns them that they must now really be on their guard, because now the true danger begins.

They pass through the village of Darein, which lies at the foot of one of the bridges to Tar Valon. Egwene is struck by the number of soldiers in the village, from pikemen and archers to armored men on horseback, all wearing the white teardrop badge of Tar Valon. But the people of the village seem largely unconcerned by the soldier’s presence, and Verin ignores them as well as they fall back to let her and her company pass.

There are soldiers standing guard at the bridge as well, checking people who want to cross. The line of people grows as quickly as he can send people through. Verin rides up past the line, but as the head soldier recognizes her as an Aes Sedai he bows respectfully and greets her, giving her permission to cross. Still, Verin stops to speak with him, asking if there has been trouble with the Whitecloaks. He replies that there has been no fighting, but that the Whitecloaks appear to be trying to goad them, moving into the outlying villages then riding away when the Tar Valon forces arrive.

Verin nodded, and would have ridden on, but the officer spoke again. “Pardon, Aes Sedai, but you’ve obviously come from a distance. Have you any news? Fresh rumors come upriver with every trading vessel. They say there’s a new false Dragon out west somewhere. Why, they even say he has Artur Hawkwing’s armies, back from the dead, following him, and that he killed a lot of Whitecloaks and destroyed a city—Falme, they call it—in Tarabon, some say.”

“They say Aes Sedai helped him!” a man’s voice shouted from the waiting line. Hurin breathed deeply, and shifted himself as if he expected violence.

Egwene looked ’round, but there was no sign of whoever had shouted. Everyone appeared to be concerned only with waiting, patiently or impatiently, for his turn to cross. Things had changed, and not for the better. When she had left Tar Valon, any man who spoke against Aes Sedai would have been lucky to escape with a punch in the nose from whoever overheard. Red in the face, the officer was glaring down the line.

“Rumors are seldom true,” Verin told him. “I can tell you that Falme still stands. It isn’t even in Tarabon, guardsman. Listen less to rumor, and more to the Amyrlin Seat. The Light shine on you.” She lifted her reins, and he bowed as she led the others past him.

Egwene is always in awe of the incredible bridges of Tar Valon, but even more astounding to her is the realization that she feels like she is going home. She tells herself that the Two Rivers is her home, but she knows that if she ever returns there, it will only be to visit. Tar Valon is where she can learn what she needs to keep herself safe, and where she can discover the meaning behinds her dreams.

In the city, Verin pulls her hood up again, hiding her face and therefore her identity as an Aes Sedai. Nynaeve asks if Verin truly expects trouble now, so close to the White Tower.

“I always expect trouble,” Verin replied placidly, “and so should you. In the Tower most of all. You must all of you be more careful than ever, now. Your… tricks”—her mouth tightened for an instant before serenity returned—“frightened away the Whitecloaks, but inside the Tower they may well bring you death or stilling.”

“I would not do that in the Tower,” Egwene protested. “None of us would.” Nynaeve and Elayne had joined them, leaving Hurin to mind the litter horses. They nodded, Elayne fervently, and Nynaeve, it seemed to Egwene, as if she had reservations.

Verin retorts that they should not do it ever, and that she hopes that they have learned the folly of speaking when they should keep quiet. She demands that, when they reach the Tower, they stay silent and accept whatever happens. According to her things have changed in their absence, and if they did understood what those things were, they wouldn’t know how to handle it properly. Again the three girls agree not to speak, and again, Nynaeve’s agreement is reluctant.

They pass into the square in the middle of the city, where the White Tower stands waiting for them. Hurin leads Mat’s litter up and then respectfully informs Verin that he must leave them now. She thanks him and offers him a room in the Tower to rest after such a long journey, but he declines, saying that he cannot waste any time returning to Shienar to inform the King and Lord Agelmar about everything that has happened, and how Rand has been revealed as the Dragon Reborn.

“Go in the Light, then, Hurin of Shienar,” Verin said.

“The Light illumine all of you,” he replied, gathering his reins. Yet he hesitated a moment, then added, “If you need me—ever—send word to Fal Dara, and I’ll find a way to come.” Clearing his throat as if embarrassed, he turned his horse and trotted away, heading beyond the Tower. All too soon he was lost to sight.

Nynaeve gave an exasperated shake of her head. “Men! They always say to send for them if you need them, but when you do need one, you need him right then.”

“No man can help where we are going now,” Verin said dryly. “Remember. Be silent.”

Egwene feels a sense of loss at Hurin’s departure, as he had been something of a link to Rand and Perrin, but she reminds herself that she has her own troubles to worry about and that Min will look after Rand… even if the thought still makes Egwene jealous. Verin leads them around to a side entrance, whispering something in a guard’s ear that has him scurrying off to do her bidding.

Following her through the gate, they pass a guardhouse and into a gardened, park-like area. Men come to take their horses, and Verin tucks the brown sack under her arm as their mounts are led away. Nynaeve starts to ask about Mat but both Verin’s raised hand and the arrival of Sheriam, three Accepted following behind, cut her off. Sheriam greets Verin by remarking that she has brought back their three runaways; Egwene starts to protest that she did not run away, but Verin cuts her off with a shout, quelling all three girls with an anger that Egwene has never seen in her before.

Verin has Mat taken away someplace safe, and Egwene doesn’t dare interrupt to say that he needs help without delay. Learning that all of the Tower either knows of their arrival or will know soon, she says that she must speak to the Amyrlin immediately, and suggest that Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve be sent to their room and held there until the Amyrlin is ready to see them.

Verin hurries off, leaving them in Sheriam’s charge, and Egwene’s momentary relief quickly changes back to worry and fear when Sheriam speaks. She tells them that Verin said they should speak no word to anyone, and so it shall be. If any of them says anything at all except to answer a direct question from an Aes Sedai, she will make them wish they “had nothing but a switching and a few hours scrubbing floors to worry about.”

Sheriam reiterates how few women come to the Tower these days, how fewer still have enough power to be raised to full sisters. And meanwhile, these three who have more ability than she had ever hoped to see ran away from the Tower like irresponsible children, stayed away for months, and then think they can come back and resume their training as if nothing ever happened.

Sheriam commands one of the Accepted women, Faolain, to take them to their rooms and see that they remain there until the Amyrlin Seat says otherwise. They are to have bread and cold broth and water only, and if any of them speaks a single word, the Accepted looking after her may take her down to the kitchen to scrub pots. Then Sheriam leaves them.

Faolain eyed Egwene and the others with almost a hopeful air, especially Nynaeve, who wore a glower like a mask. Faolain’s round face held no love for those who broke the rules so extravagantly, and less for one like Nynaeve, a wilder who had earned her ring without ever being a novice, who had channeled power before she ever entered Tar Valon. When it became obvious that Nynaeve meant to keep her anger to herself, Faolain shrugged. “When the Amyrlin sends for you, you’ll probably be stilled.”

“Give over, Faolain,” another of the Accepted said. The oldest of the three, she had a willowy neck and coppery skin, and a graceful way of moving. “I will take you,” she told Nynaeve. “I am called Theodrin, and I, too, am a wilder. I will hold you to Sheriam Sedai’s order, but I will not bait you. Come.”

Muttering about wilders, Faolain turns her attentions to Egwene, leaving the third Accepted to station herself beside Elayne. Egwene has the distinct impression that Faolain will choose the Red Ajah when she is raised to full sister. Gripping Elayne’s hand, she follows Faolain, hoping silently that, somewhere, they are Healing Mat.

Meanwhile, in her study, Siuan Sanche, aka the Amyrlin Seat, is pacing continually, occasionally stopping to glance at the ornate box on her desk. Inside are documents she hopes she’ll never need to use. The box is warded so that if any hand except her own touches it, the documents in the box will ignite and be instantly destroyed.

Siuan’s room, which has belonged to the Amyrlin Seat for generations, is ornate, filled with expensive and exotic decorations gathered from all parts of the world and in times gone by, but her own furniture is simple to the point of austerity; even her small rug and single piece of art could have belonged in a farmer’s house.

Siuan Sanche had been born poor in Tear, and had worked on her father’s fishing boat, one just like the boats in the drawing, in the delta called the Fingers of the Dragon, before ever she dreamed of coming to Tar Valon. Even the nearly ten years since she had been raised to the Seat had not made her comfortable with too much luxury. Her bedchamber was more simple still.

Ten years with the stole, she thought. Nearly twenty since I decided to sail these dangerous waters. And if I slip now, I’ll wish I were back hauling nets.

Just then the Keeper of the Chronicles comes in. Leane bows deeply, and Siuan reflects on how frustrated she sometimes feels by Leane’s insistence upon always upholding the dignity of the Amyrlin Seat, even despite the fact that the two women knew each other since they were novices.

“Verin is here, Mother, asking leave to speak with you. I have told her you are busy, but she asks—”

“Not too busy to speak to her,” Siuan said. Too quickly, she knew, but she did not care. “Send her in. There’s no need for you to remain, Leane. I will speak to her alone.”

A twitch of her eyebrows was the Keeper’s only sign of surprise. The Amyrlin seldom saw anyone, even a queen, without the Keeper present. But the Amyrlin was the Amyrlin. Leane bowed her way out, and in moments Verin took her place, kneeling to kiss the Great Serpent ring on Siuan’s finger. The Brown sister had a good-sized leather sack under her arm.

Siuan encourages Verin to tell her everything, adding that the rooms are warded in case anyone tries to listen in. Verin is surprised by this, but the Amyrlin wants to know Verin’s news before she tells the other Aes Sedai what has changed in the White Tower since she left.

Verin begins with the most important news first: Rand al’Thor has proclaimed himself as the Dragon Reborn. Siuan is relieved to hear confirmation of the rumors, but she knows she could name the exact day it happened, because the two false dragons were taken on that same day, after a vision and a great light flashed in the sky. The rumors vary as to what the vision was, but in both cases the false Dragon was thrown from his horse and knocked unconscious, his followers thought he was dead and fled the field of battle, and he was captured. Siuan has also heard that there were visions in the sky over Falme, and suspects that they coincided with the very moment Rand proclaimed himself.

Verin muses on the terrible truth of how they have loosed the Dragon on the world, but Siuan cuts her off irritably, saying that they have done what had to be done. Still, she is very aware of how, if even a novice learned of what they’ve done, she will be stilled or worse, as well as Verin, Moiraine, and probably anyone thought to be associated with them. She wishes she could be sure that they have done the right thing.

Verin presents the Horn to the Amyrlin next, startling her. The Horn was supposed to have been left with Rand, since he needs it for Tarmon Gai’don. Siuan asks if it’s some new change Moiraine has made without consulting her, but Verin explains that Rand was not the first to blow the Horn, but rather Mat was, and that Mat is currently lying hidden in the Tower, dying from his connection to the Shadar Logoth dagger, unless he can be Healed.

“So long as Mat lives,” Verin went on, “the Horn of Valere is no more than a horn to anyone else. If he dies, of course, another can sound it and forge a new link between man and Horn.” Her gaze was steady and untroubled by what she seemed to be suggesting.

The Amyrlin knows that many will die before they are done, but she worries about who she can use to sound it again, since it is now here in the Tower and so far from Rand and Moiraine. Reluctantly, she decides to hide the Horn for now, and muse on what she wants to do next.

Ready to deal with the three runaways, Siuan asks if there’s anything else, but brushes Verin off when she brings out her notebook and begins reciting details about the Seanchan. Suian doesn’t care about the Seanchan since they’ve fled back across the sea.

“Verin, you are worrying about a lionfish out in the Sea of Storms, while here and now the silverpike are chewing our nets to shreds.”

The Brown sister continued turning pages. “An apt metaphor, Mother, the lionfish. Once I saw a large shark that a lionfish had chased into the shallows, where it died.” She tapped one page with a finger. “Yes. This is the worst. Mother, the Seanchan use the One Power in battle. They use it as a weapon.”

Siuan clasped her hands tightly at her waist. The reports the pigeons had brought spoke of that, too. Most had only secondhand knowledge, but a few women wrote of seeing for themselves. The Power used as a weapon. Even dry ink on paper carried an edge of hysteria when they wrote of that. “That is already causing us trouble, Verin, and will cause more as the stories spread, and grow with the spreading. But I can do nothing about that. I am told these people are gone, Daughter. Do you have any evidence otherwise?”

“Well, no, Mother, but—”

“Until you do, let us deal with getting the silverpike out of our nets before they start chewing holes in the boat, too.”

Verin reluctantly puts her notebook away and asks what the Amyrlin intends to do with the girls.

The Amyrlin hesitated, considering. “Before I am done with them, they will wish they could go down to the river and sell themselves for fishbait.” It was the simple truth, but it could be taken in more than one way. “Now. Seat yourself, and tell me everything those three have said and done in the time they were with you. Everything.”

 

We were starting to get moving, plot-wise, in the last few chapters with Perrin, but now we are back again doing a little bit of recap to remember what all the ladies were up to at the end of The Great Hunt. But while most of the secrets are out in Moiriane’s camp—everyone knows that Rand is the Dragon, Moiraine is aware of Perrin’s condition and they’ve discussed it (however unhelpfully), Loial is writing it all down—everyone in Verin’s group is keeping things from everyone else.

I wonder why Hurin volunteered to accompany them to Tar Valon. He is clearly afraid of his skill as a sniffer being found out, and we know that he has gone to fairly substantial lengths to avoid Aes Sedai in the past. Perhaps it is care for Mat that led him to risk it, but his primary bonds in The Great Hunt were more Rand and Loial than Mat, so I’m not sure what to make of it. Or perhaps, friendship with Rand aside, he wanted to maintain his loyalty to Shienar and Lord Agelmar and not abandon his oath in order to follow the Dragon. Going with Verin and the others has now given him the opportunity to return home and carry the message about the Dragon with him.

Like Elayne, I wonder how much Verin knows about their adventures, and about what happened to Egwene, but it’s clear that the girls have not been very forthcoming. Even Verin’s notes on the Seanchan are based on what other people have been able to tell her, when Egwene has had a much closer look at them than anyone else Verin could have encountered. I don’t blame the girls for not trusting an Aes Sedai again, after what happened with Liandrin, but it’s certainly striking that they are very careful to watch what they say about the Seanchan and really not careful around anyone else.

But that just makes me worry about Egwene. I was almost critical of her carelessness in speaking to Captain Bornhald’s son (I’ve been waiting for him to show up, and it’s gone about exactly how I expected; perhaps Egwene has found a nemesis now, too) and mentioning Toman Head, but while Verin doesn’t know all the details, we the reader are very aware at this point that Egwene’s reactions are based in the post-traumatic stress of her experiences as a damane. Nynaeve’s temper is always quick, but I don’t think pre-damane Egwene would have reacted so quickly and passionately even if she had known how to do that trick of exploding the ground. As Verin and Bornhald Jr. are conversing, she is thinking about the danger to Mat’s life, and the even greater danger of having the Whitecloaks lay their hands on the Horn of Valere, but when she reacts with saidar it is because Junior has said that he is going to take Elayne. Her immediate thought is “There is no more time to wait. I will not be chained again.” And of course, Egwene has been a prisoner of the Whitecloaks before, another situation Verin is not aware of.

It is all well and good to expect novices and Accepted to behave as though they are full Aes Sedai, but I think Verin should try to be a bit more prepared for her charges to struggle with that. Like Moiraine with Perrin, her demands may have reason, but they are still pretty unrealistic expectations. And I suspect that Egwene’s trauma will continue to affect her ability to keep calm and to judge situations dispassionately in the future. Something tells me they don’t have therapists in the White Tower.

Before the end of the series, though, I imagine Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne will all be glad for what they learned from the Seanchan, will probably have learned more ways to use the One Power as a weapon, and although they may be bound to an oath, they will probably not have any moral qualms about using their abilities against human enemies as well as Shadowspawn. I will even go so far as to predict that there may be others who follow their example.

I have so many questions about what has happened in Tar Valon to change how even the people of Darein think of the Aes Sedai. Clearly some events will be revealed next week, but some news from Falme has reached this area, including rumors of the Aes Sedai connection with the Dragon and the use of the One Power in battle. The Whitecloak attentions may very well be specially directed by baby Bornhald in his anger and need for vengeance, but it’s also possible that there is a greater ploy yet to be revealed. And what of Junior’s claim that Morgase’s alliance with Tar Valon has soured? Has she heard of Elayne’s disappearance? Or has the unrest in Caemlyn caused friction between her and Elaida? Only time will tell, I suppose, but it’s probably not going to be good.

The issue of the conflict between wilders and those who never touched the One Power before coming to Tar Valon is an interesting one. My understanding is that wilders tend to be the most powerful channelers, but I can’t actually point to a place where that conclusion is stated in the text. We do know that Nynaeve has more potential than anyone has seen in some time, and we also know that all the male channelers the Red Ajah hunts down must be wilders, since no one is going around trying to teach men to channel. The idea that it is those with the most power who have it burst forth without help seems like a logical one, but there are other ways it could happen: Perhaps some of the five powers are more likely to be touched without help than others, and the wilders are stronger specifically in those. Or perhaps, since touching the True Source often happens instinctively in moments of great trauma or need, wilders are those who have suffered most in life and had more pressing reasons to reach for that ability inside of them.

There is an sort of classism to the bias against wilders, whose abilities begin less predictably, who may come to the White Tower already able to perform certain tricks with saidar, or who may have accessed their power early because of where they come from. I wonder, too, if there is secretly jealousy driving that prejudice. It certainly seems to be for Faolain—her anger towards Nynaeve may present itself as approbation against someone who would disregard rules and treat their life at the White Tower carelessly, but that level of hostility usually hides some kind of insecurity. Perhaps Faolain knows that Nynaeve is stronger than her in the One Power. Perhaps she even suspects what I am sure will turn out to be true—that Nynaeve will continue to bend and even break rules, that she will be dismissive of Aes Sedai teachings and maybe Aes Sedai themselves, and yet through her incredible abilities and connection to the three ta’veren, she will be raised to full sister and continue on to do truly great things.

On this journey into the Wheel of Time, I have been warned, numerous times, about Nynaeve’s braid tugging. I never doubted the truth of what you all were telling me, but it is only now, as I follow Nynaeve and the others back to Tar Valon, that it’s really starting to become noteworthy. There is a bit of a shift in the tone of the narration of The Dragon Reborn compared the first two books. The text is a little tighter, the world choices feel a little more deliberate and clear, but I’m also seeing Jordan rely on a single personality trait or tic to consistently signal a character’s mood. Of course, we saw the heavy repetition of Uno’s cursing habit in The Great Hunt, which I did find a little irritating and over the top—although the comedic payoff as he struggled not to curse in front of Moiraine was great. Now we have the braid-tug becoming something that is mentioned over and over within a single chapter, just like Siuan insists in making everything a simile about fish.

Perhaps Siuan is making a very deliberate choice in continually invoking sayings and metaphors from her childhood upbringing, to remind her fellow Aes Sedai that she is still human, despite her office. I wonder if she also feels homesick sometimes: Prospective Aes Sedai give up everything to come to the White Tower, and it’s likely that many of them wouldn’t be welcomed back even if they did decide to go home again. And there are very strong similarities between the description of the Amyrlin’s chambers and those of the Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light. It isn’t explicitly stated that Siuan’s choice of rough furniture and a simple bed is to keep herself from getting softened by luxury, as Pedron Niall does, but I imagine that’s at least part of it for her as well.

The plain furniture and the repetition of the fishermen’s sayings might also be tools Suian uses to ground herself in identity and humanity, given the distance created by her status as the head of the Aes Sedai, with all the authority and responsibility resting on her shoulders, plus the secret knowledge of the prophecy of Rand’s rebirth that only she and Moiraine share. There’s not much time left in her day for the Amyrlin to also be a person, and I get the feeling that Siuan would like to have that. We know she struggles with Leane’s constant formality, and clearly would like to have more of a personal connection with this woman who she knew as a girl and who is probably one of the few people who could occasionally see the Amyrlin let her hair down for a moment. (Metaphorically speaking, since Aes Sedai can wear their hair however they please.)

It’s interesting to consider what connections, if any, people like Moiraine and Siuan still have to their childhood roots, given how we are starting to see the Emond’s Fielders letting go of their own bonds to where they came from. We have Rand finally accepting that Tam is not his biological father at the end of The Great Hunt; Nynaeve’s continuing difficulties in not treating everyone (even Aes Sedai) as though she is the Wisdom in charge of them; Perrin’s struggle to hold on to his own humanity; and Egwene’s realization that, just as she will never allow the bonds of the a’dam to hold her again, her old bonds to Emond’s Field and her life as an innkeeper’s daughter will never hold her either, because she has outgrown them. It’s easy to forget, even for us as readers, that Moiraine, and Siuan, and even Verin were once just children too, and as scared, vulnerable, and foolishly determined as our young protagonists are now.

Next week we will cover Chapters 13 through 15. We’ll find out what has been going on in the White Tower in our heroines’ absence, Siuan’s plans for the three runaways, and what the heck a Gray Man actually is. And nobody, predictably, tells any of their own secrets.

Sylas K Barrett was tickled by the The Lord of the Rings call-out names this week, particularly the very Rohirrim-sounding Theodrin, and, of course, Dain. As Dain Ironfoot inherited the title of King Under the Mountain after the death of problematic fave Thorin Oakenshield, so Dain Bornhald is inheriting his problematic father’s place in our narrative. Somehow, I suspect Dain the human is going to be more of a shit than Dain the dwarven king ever was.

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