Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Searching for the Black Ajah in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 6)

Welcome back to Reading the Wheel of Time! This week, Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve finally get to find out their punishment for sneaking out of Tar Valon, we find out what has changed in the White Tower in their absence, and we get a new kind of Darkfriend! Or do the Gray Men qualify more as Shadowspawn than as human followers, now?

In the meantime, we still don’t know if Mat is alive or dead, or what the Amyrlin plans to do with him. I have to admit, at first I thought it was a little silly that the girls were so worried about making sure he was healed. “Of course the Aes Sedai are going to help him!” I thought. “Why would Verin bring him all this way just to let him die?” But then she and the Amyrlin had that conversation last week about how Mat dying would free up the Horn to be wielded by another, and the Amyrlin still hasn’t made an apparent decision about it, and I have to admit… I’m starting to worry about him, too. We don’t learn Mat’s fate this week, but there is still enough to keep us busy.

Egwene is lying on her bed in her small room in the tower, thoughts roiling in her head. She’s been able to change back into her novice’s robes, but there’s little comfort in exchanging gray for white, because her small, austere room feels much like a prison now, too. She wonders if they mean to keep her in that room, like a cell, and her thoughts turn to the collar again.

Cutting them off, she rolls over and finds the small hole just above the mattress, drilled there by some novices long ago, and whispers Elayne’s name through it.

“Elayne?” There was no answer. “Elayne? Are you asleep?”

“How could I sleep?” came Elayne’s reply, a reedy whisper through the hole. “I thought we might be in some trouble, but I did not expect this. Egwene, what are they going to do to us?”

Egwene had no answer, and her guesses were not of the sort she wanted to voice aloud. She did not even want to think of them. “I actually thought we might be heroes, Elayne. We brought back the Horn of Valere safely. We discovered Liandrin is Black Ajah.” Her voice skipped on that. Aes Sedai had always denied the existence of a Black Ajah, an Ajah that served the Dark One, and were known to become angry with anyone who even suggested it was real. But we know it’s real. “We should be heroes, Elayne.”

Elyane reminds her that Verin has told them not to mention the Horn, or Liandrin, to anyone but her and the Amyrlin seat. Things are not working out as they expected, and it doesn’t feel fair after everything they’ve been through. Egwene complains that she can almost feel the strings on her arms, with Verin and Moiraine telling them what to do and the knowledge that, whatever happens, the Aes Sedai will do what is good for the White Tower, and not for them.

Elayne asks if Egwene still wants to be Aes Sedai, and Egwene answers that she does. She will not, however, allow herself to be stilled, and the new thought surprises her with its vehemence. The two discuss how that would even be possible; Egwene may be as strong as any Aes Sedai now, but neither of them has enough education to fight back effectively, and running away would just result in being tracked down, or worse, accidentally dying from improper use of the One Power. Egwene insists that she is not a simple village girl anymore and could keep out of Aes Sedai hands if she wanted to, but she is secretly less confident than she claims to be.

Elayne muses that her mother would protect them, if she really is on the outs with the White Tower. But if what Bornhald told them wasn’t true, Morgase is just as likely to send them back to the White Tower in chains.

Egwene blinked at the wall. “You will come with me? If it comes to that, I mean?”

There was another long silence, then a faint whisper. “I do not want to be stilled, Egwene. I will not be. I will not be!”

The door bangs open and Egwene, sitting up with a start, hears the door in the next room open similarly. Coming into the room, Faolain glances at the hole and asks if Egwene had a nice chat with her friend, and Egwene only just remembers that she isn’t supposed to speak at all except to answer an Aes Sedai—and Faolain is only a novice. Annoyed not to have caught her, Faolain orders Egwene to her feet, and Egwene moves deliberately slowly, giving Faolain a curtsy and even a bit of a smile. She’s rewarded by Faolain’s expression of growing irritation, but reminds herself not to push it too far.

Egwene and Elayne do their best to look collected and unafraid as the two Accepted escort them to the Amyrlin’s rooms. They’re joined by Nynaeve and Theodrin, Nynaeve back in her white Accepted dress with the bands on the hem in the colors of the Ajahs. She gives them each a hug to comfort them, but Egwene notices that she’s tugging on her braid from time to time, belying some of that outward calm.

They are brought to the Keeper, Leane Sedai, and Faolain earns some time spent working in the gardens when she complains that Egwene “had to be pulled by the scruff of her neck” as though “she has forgotten what the discipline of the White Tower is.” Leane sends the Accepted away and stands looking at the three girls with the air of measuring them before she brings them into the Amyrlin’s chambers to stand before Suian.

The Amyrlin Seat sat behind the table, examining papers. She did not look up. Once Nynaeve opened her mouth, but closed it again, at a sharp look from the Keeper. The three of them stood “in a line in front of the Amyrlin’s table and waited. Egwene tried not to fidget. Long minutes went by—it seemed like hours—before the Amyrlin raised her head, but when those blue eyes fixed them each in turn, Egwene decided she could have waited longer. The Amyrlin’s gaze was like two icicles boring into her heart. The room was cool, but a trickle of sweat began to run down her back.

“So!” the Amyrlin said finally. “Our runaways return.”

Nynaeve, clearly striving to control her anger and be as respectful and calm as possible, begins to explain that they did not run away but were asked by Liandrin to go with her. The Amyrlin cuts her off, ordering her not to speak that name, and assures them that they already know that Liandrin is Black Ajah. She explains how Liandrin, and twelve other women, left the tower some months ago after trying to break into the storerooms to steal angreal and sa’angreal, and actually managing to steal some of the smaller ter’angreal, including some the Aes Sedai do not yet know how to use.

Nynaeve stared at the Amyrlin in horror, and Elayne suddenly rubbed her arms as if she were cold. Egwene knew she was shivering, too. Many times she had imagined returning to confront Liandrin and accuse her, to see her condemned to some punishment—except that she had never managed to imagine any punishment strong enough to suit that doll-faced Aes Sedai’s crimes. She had even pictured returning to find Liandrin already fled—in terror of her return, it was usually. But she had never imagined anything like this. If Liandrin and the others—she had not really wanted to believe there were others—had stolen those remnants of the Age of Legends, there was no telling what they could do with them. Thank the Light they did not get any sa’angreal, she thought. The other was bad enough.

Egwene has to wonder why they would take items they didn’t know how to use, or if perhaps the Black Ajah knew something about the ter’angreal that the Aes Sedai do not, but the Amyrlin goes on to explain that Liandrin and her followers did worse things than steal; three sisters, two Warders, seven guards and nine servants were all murdered, presumably to keep the traitors from being caught.

Nynaeve asks why, if the Amyrlin knows that they were tricked by a member of the Black Ajah, they are being treated like criminals, but the Amyrlin tells them that they’re lucky that no one in the Tower except Verin, Leane, and Siuan herself knows that they were mixed up with Liandrin; if that were known, if what they did to the Whitecloaks were known, they’d probably find themselves stilled immediately.

Nynaeve starts to protest angrily, cutting herself off when the Amyrlin stands up, but Egwene feels like she can detect the Amyrlin offering them a way out, although she can’t quite decide what that is. As respectfully as he can, she inquires what the Amyrlin intends to do to them, and the Amyrlin responds that she has already had it announced that they will be punished—Egwene and Elayne for leaving the Tower without permission and Nynaeve for leaving the city without permission—beginning with a good switching from the Mistress of Novices for each of them. The public announcement is part of the punishment, of course, as is the fact that all three of them will be assigned to the kitchens until further notice, possibly forever.

The Amyrlin asks if any of them have any objections, and when they do not, informs them if any of them had objected, that she had something even worse to add to their punishment. She upbraids them for allowing themselves to be tricked like thoughtless children. All in all, Egwene finds herself offering silent thanks for the way things are unfolding. But then the Amyrlin continues:

“Now, as to what else I intend to do with you. It seems you have all increased your ability to channel remarkably since you left the Tower. You have learned much. Including some things,” she added sharply, “that I intend to see you unlearn!”

“Nynaeve surprised Egwene by saying, “I know we have done… things… we should not have, Mother. I assure you, we will do our best to live as if we had taken the Three Oaths.”

The Amyrlin grunted. “See that you do,” she said dryly. “If I could, I’d put the Oath Rod in your hands tonight, but as that is reserved for being raised to Aes Sedai, I must trust to your good sense—if you have any—to keep you whole. As it is, you, Egwene, and you, Elayne, are to be raised to the Accepted.”

The girls are shocked, and Egwene barely manages a “Thank you, Mother,” but the Amyrlin assures her that the thanks are premature. Their skills have advanced too far for them to remain Novices, but she reminds them that the first few weeks as an Accepted are much worse than those as Novice, and there is also all the hard work they’ll be doing, scrubbing pots to keep them from feeling like they’re being rewarded. She also suspects that their teachers will be extra hard on them, but the girls won’t complain, will they?

“I can learn, Egwene thought. Choose my own studies. I can learn about the dreams, learn now to…

The Amyrlin’s smile cut off her train of thought. That smile said nothing the sisters could do to them would be worse than it needed to be, if it left them alive. Nynaeve’s face was a mixture of deep sympathy and horrified remembrance of her own first weeks as one of the Accepted. The combination was enough to make Egwene swallow hard.

“No, Mother,” she said faintly. Elayne’s reply was a hoarse whisper.

Moving on, the Amyrlin explains to a shocked Elayne that her mother was not at all pleased about her disappearance. Morgase arrived in Tar Valon less than a month after the girls’ disappearance, and was so angry that she broke the customs of Andor, customs possibly older than Andor itself, and refused to take Elaida back with her. The throne of Andor, for the first time ever, no longer has an Aes Sedai advisor. She was ready to take both of Elayne’s brothers home with her, and demanded Elayne be returned to Caemlyn the moment she was found, although the Amyrlin was able to convince her that it was safer for Elayne to receive more training, and that somehow the boys managed to convince her to let them stay, too.

Elayne seemed to be looking inward, perhaps seeing Morgase in all her anger. She shivered. “Gawyn is my brother,” she said absently. “Galad is not.”

“Do not be childish,” the Amyrlin told her. “Sharing the same father makes Galad your brother, too, whether or not you like him. I will not allow childishness out of you, girl. A measure of stupidity can be tolerated in a novice; it is not allowed in one of the Accepted.”

Elayne repeats her desire not to return to Caemlyn and to be an Aes Sedai, and the Amyrlin agrees that she has no intention of letting her go. Elayne has the potential to be stronger than any Aes Sedai in a thousand years, and the Amyrlin is fierce in her declaration that she will not let her go. She asks if that is clear, and Elayne answers faintly that it is, causing Egwene to feel a great deal of sympathy for her friend, “caught between the Queen of Andor and the Amyrlin Seat.”

The Amyrlin dismisses Elayne after that, sending her down to Sheriam’s study while she retains Egwene and Nynaeve a little longer. But she doesn’t explain why immediately, instead turning to look out her window.

“I have kept the worst of it from getting out, but how long will that last? The servants do not know of the stolen ter’angreal, and they do not connect the deaths with Liandrin and the others leaving. It was not easy to manage that, gossip being what it is. They believe the deaths were the work of Darkfriends. And so they were. Rumors are reaching the city, too. That Darkfriends got into the Tower, that they did murder. There was no way to stop that. It does our reputation no good, but at least it is better than the truth. At least none outside the Tower, and few inside, know Aes Sedai were killed. Darkfriends in the White Tower. Faugh! I’ve spent my life denying that. I will not let them be here. I will hook them, and gut them, and hang them out in the sun to dry.”

Hesitantly, Nynaeve asks if they are to be punished more than what they have already been sentenced to, and the Amyrlin’s answer is uncertain. But they might call it punishment, yes. She moves to the box on her desk, and her uncertainty makes Egwene extremely uncomfortable. It chills Egwene to the bone to see the Amyrlin, who normally is strength personified, wavering.

The Amyrlin opens the box, explaining how the whole thing is a question of trust. She should be able to trust Leane and Sheriam, but does she dare to? She already trusts Verin with more than her life. And she always believed she could trust Moiraine.

Egwene shifted uneasily. How much did the Amyrlin know? It was not the kind of thing she could ask, not of the Amyrlin Seat. Do you know that a young man from my village, a man I used to think I’d marry one day, is the Dragon Reborn? Do you know two of your Aes Sedai are helping him? At least she was sure the Amyrlin did not know she had dreamed of him last night, running from Moiraine. She thought she was sure. She kept silent.

“What are you talking about?” Nynaeve demanded. The Amyrlin looked up at her, and she moderated her tone as she added, “Forgive me, Mother, but are we to be punished more? I do not understand this talk of trust. If you want my opinion, Moiraine is not to be trusted.”

“That is your opinion, is it?” the Amyrlin said. “A year out of your village, and you think you know enough of the world to choose which Aes Sedai to trust, and which not? A master sailor who’s barely learned to hoist a sail!”

“She did not mean anything, Mother,” Egwene said, but she knew Nynaeve meant exactly what she had said. She shot a warning glance at Nynaeve. Nynaeve gave her braid a sharp tug, but she kept her mouth shut.

The Amyrlin continues to talk circuitously and use fish and water metaphors, but she eventually explains that what Liandrin did proves that the two of them, at least, are not Black Ajah. (Nynaeve loses her temper at even the insinuation that they could be, and gets slapped down hard for it). She also tells Nynaeve that she wishes she could find a way to raise her to a full sister now, and even Nynaeve is shocked by that.

But even the Amyrlin can’t raise Nynaeve to a full sister while also sending her to scrub pots, and she also knows that while Nynaeve may be as powerful as any woman in the Tower by now, Verin says she still cannot channel consciously without being angry, and that the final test to become Aes Sedai requires one to channel while remaining perfectly calm under extreme pressure.

When Egwene offers that she doesn’t understand, the Amyrlin re-explains, more clearly, that they are the only two women in the Tower that she can be absolutely sure are not Black Ajah, and so she is going to make them her “hounds,” setting them to hunt the Black Ajah for her. No one will suspect it from two Accepted she has just publicly humiliated, after all.

Both Nynaeve and Egwene are horrified, Nynaeve quickly pointing out that Egwene isn’t even an Accepted yet and that she herself still can’t do any channeling without being angry first, while Egwene struggles to decide if this is just the Amyrlin trying to scare them, to teach them more of a lesson. And the Amyrlin agrees with Nynaeve—she and Egwene might be as powerful as Liandrin, but they are completely untrained. Still, they are all she has to work with.

Egwene points out that she will have no time, between her Accepted studies and her extra chores in the kitchen, but the Amyrlin curtly replies that she will have to find the time. Nynaeve correctly deduces that Elayne has been left out of this plan because she is the Daughter-Heir of Andor, and the Amyrlin can’t risk more problems with Morgase right now. But she isn’t interested in Nynaeve’s suggestion that Egwene be left out of it too.

“Nynaeve,” Egwene said, “I do not understand you. Do you mean you want to do this?”

“It isn’t that I want to,” Nynaeve said wearily, “but I’d rather hunt them than sit wondering if the Aes Sedai teaching me is really a Darkfriend. And whatever they are up to, I do not want to wait until they’re ready to find out what it is.”

The decision Egwene came to twisted her stomach. “Then I will do it, too. I don’t want to sit wondering and waiting any more than you do.” Nynaeve opened her mouth, and Egwene felt a flash of anger; it was such a relief after fear. “And don’t you dare say I’m too young again. At least I can channel when I want to. Most of the time. I am not a little girl anymore, Nynaeve.”

Nynaeve reluctantly agrees that this is true, and the Amyrlin seems pleased, although Egwene suspects that she already knew what they would decide. She tells them that Verin will give them all the information on Liandrin and the others, as well as a list of the stolen ter’angreal and what they do. The Amyrlin will keep a close eye on them, which won’t looks suspicious, given that they are being punished, and they can report their observations to her when she looks in on them. And she cautions them to be careful, too; the Black Ajah have killed before and could easily do so again.

Nynaeve points out that, as Accepted, any full sister can tell them to go about their business or put them to work, and they would have to obey; worse, a member of the Black Ajah could order them arrested and locked in their rooms, and any guard would obey instantly.

The Amyrlin tells them that, for the most part, they must work within those limitations, and reminds Nynaeve that the idea is for no one to suspect them. However, she does have one tool to offer, in the case of emergencies. She removes two papers from the box on her desk and gives them to the girls.

Egwene unfolded her thick paper. It held writing in a neat, round hand, and was sealed at the bottom with the White Flame of Tar Valon.

What the bearer does is done at my order and by my authority. Obey, and keep silent, at my command.

Siuan Sanche
Watcher of the Seals
Flame of Tar Valon
The Amyrlin Seat

“I could do anything with this,” Nynaeve said in a wondering voice. “Order the guards to march. Command the Warders.” She gave a little laugh. “I could make a Warder dance, with this.”

The Amyrlin points out, dryly, the consequences of such a choice, and Nynaeve is quick to assure her that she would never do anything like that, that it was only an observation on the amount of authority the document bestows. She reminds them that a member of the Black Ajah won’t care at all about that document; indeed, it may be a shield in some ways, but it makes them a target in others.

Egwene tries to ask about Mat then, but she’s only told that the Amyrlin will send them word. Then, they’re curtly dismissed, with a reminder about their appointments with Sheriam, and with the pots.

Outside the Amyrlin’s rooms, Egwene finds that the halls of the Tower have taken on a dangerous feeling, and she makes sure to keep up with Nynaeve. She tells Nynaeve that she hopes the other woman didn’t truly mean that they would act as though already bound by the Three Oaths, as Egwene has no intention to allow the Black Ajah to kill her when she could stop them by channeling. Nynaeve, seeming distracted, points out that the Black Ajah will know what they are doing immediately, or at least suspect it, regardless of how many pots they scrub.

“Perhaps the Amyrlin did not think it through,” Nynaeve said absently. “Or perhaps she did, and means something different for us than what she claims. Think, Egwene. Liandrin would not have tried to put us out of the way unless she thought we were a threat to her. I can’t imagine how, or to what, but I cannot see how it could have changed, either. If there are any Black Ajah still here, they will surely see us the same way, whether they suspect what we’re doing or not.”

Egwene swallowed. “I hadn’t thought of that. Light, I wish I were invisible. Nynaeve, if they are still after us, I will risk being stilled before I let Darkfriends kill me, or maybe worse. And I won’t believe you will let them take you, either, no matter what you told the Amyrlin.”

“I meant it.” For a moment Nynaeve seemed to rouse from her thoughts. Her steps slowed. A pale-haired novice carrying a tray rushed past. “I meant every word, Egwene.” Nynaeve went on when the novice was out of hearing. “There are other ways to defend ourselves. If there were not, Aes Sedai would be killed every time they left the Tower. We just have to reason those ways out, and use them.”

Egwene tries to interject that they both know several ways already, but Nynaeve doesn’t allow it. She tells Egwene that those ways are dangerous, that they can come to rely on them too much, that it felt too good to let her power out against the Whitecloaks like that. Egwene is shocked, telling Nynaeve that she sounds like Sheriam, and pointing out that she has always pushed every limit the Aes Sedai have placed on her, until now, when they might have to ignore those limits in order to stay alive.

But Nynaeve says that she can learn if she has to, that she must learn, because there’s no point to this if she can’t stay in the Tower long enough to learn what she needs to learn. She then asks Egwene to be quiet and let her think.

Egwene held her tongue, but inside she bubbled with unasked questions. What special reason did Nynaeve have for wanting to learn more of what the White Tower could teach? What was it she wanted to do? Why was Nynaeve keeping it secret from her? Secrets. We’ve learned to keep too many secrets since coming to the Tower. The Amyrlin is keeping secrets from us, too. Light, what is she going to do about Mat?

Nynaeve follows Egwene all the way to the Novice’s quarters and checks Elayne’s room to see if she’s there. Elayne isn’t back yet, and Nynaeve tells Egwene that she needs to talk to both of them.

Egwene caught her shoulders and pulled her to an abrupt halt. “What—?” Something tugged at her hair, stung her ear. A black blur streaked in front of her face to clang against the wall, and in “the next breath Nynaeve was bearing her to the gallery floor, behind the railing.

Wide-eyed and sprawling, Egwene stared at what lay on the stone in front of her door, where it had fallen. A bolt from a crossbow. A few dark strands from her hair were tangled in the four heavy prongs, meant for punching through armor. She raised a trembling hand to touch her ear, to touch the tiniest nick, damp with a bead of blood. If I had not stopped just then… If I hadn’t… The quarrel would have gone right through her head, and would probably have killed Nynaeve, too. “Blood and ashes!” she gasped. “Blood and bloody ashes!”

Nynaeve tells her to watch her language, but she’s busy trying to see where the bolt came from, and she notices that Nynaeve has embraced saidar. At first it slips away from her, her attention too caught up in the thought of what could have happened to her if that bolt hit home, but then she manages it and rolls over to join Nynaeve, declaring herself ready to put a lightning bolt through their assailant. But Nynaeve has other plans, and when she catches movement on the far side of the galleries, Egwene feels the Power pulse through Nynaeve.

Nynaeve gets to her feet unhurriedly, urging Egwene to follow suit, explaining that she used Air to hold him, the way the Amyrlin did to her once, although Nynaeve doubts that she expected Nyenave to see how it was done.

They find the man, dressed in plain brown breeches and coat, caught still in the position of having been running. Egwene is impressed that Nynaeve only needs to see something done once to know how to do it herself—if she can channel at all, anyway. But when they get around in front of the man they’re both dismayed to find a dagger in his chest. He crumples to the ground, dead, as Nynaeve releases her trap.

Egwene realizes that there’s no crossbow anywhere, and panics, telling Nynaeve that there must have been another man, one who stabbed this one and who took the crossbow, and one who could be preparing to shoot at them again. But when they hear footsteps it isn’t a mysterious assassin approaching, but Sheriam Sedai.

“We found him,” Nynaeve said as the Mistress of Novices knelt beside the corpse.

Sheriam put a hand to the man’s chest, and jerked it back twice as fast, hissing. Steeling herself visibly, she touched him again, and maintained the Touch longer. “Dead,” she muttered. “As dead as it is possible to be, and more.” When she straightened, she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her fingers. “You found him? Here? Like this?”

Egwene nodded, sure that if she spoke, Sheriam would hear the lie in her voice.

“We did,” Nynaeve said firmly.

Nynaeve asks what Sheriam meant by “more than dead,” and Sheriam explains that he is one of the Soulless. A Gray Man, she explains, is a man—or occasionally a woman—who has given up his soul in order to serve the Dark One as an assassin. They are not quite dead, but are not really alive anymore, and can pass unnoticed anywhere, even if you look right at them. No Gray Man has dared to enter Tar Valon since the Trolloc Wars.

She tells them that the Amyrlin will no doubt want to keep this quiet after everything that has already happened in the Tower, and that they should not speak of this to anyone except her, and the Amyrlin if she brings it up first. She uses channeling to create an opaque dome over the body to prevent anyone else from touching it and learning what kind of man he was. Then she orders them to go,  particularly focused on sending Nynaeve to her room.

Egwene curtsied, and tugged at Nynaeve’s sleeve, but Nynaeve said, “Why did you come up here, Sheriam Sedai?”

For a moment Sheriam looked startled, but on the instant she frowned. Fists on her hips, she regarded Nynaeve with all the firmness of her office. “Does the Mistress of Novices now need an excuse for coming to the novices’ quarters, Accepted?” she said softly. “Do Accepted now question Aes Sedai? The Amyrlin means to make something of you two, but whether she does or not, I will teach you manners, at least. Now, the pair of you, go, before I haul you both down to my study, and not for the appointment the Amyrlin Seat has already set for you.”

Suddenly, Egwene remembers the crossbow bolt, and quickly excuses herself, saying that she must fetch her cloak, because she suddenly feels cold. She goes to her door, but is startled to find that the bolt is gone, and she is chilled by the idea of someone sneaking around so close to them. She embraces saidar as she cautiously enters her room, but nothing strange happens and she puts her cloak on before hurrying back to Nynaeve and Sheriam. She apologizes, claiming the shock made her feel cold, and asks if they can go. She practically has to drag Nynaeve, who is trying and failing to look meek, away.

Egwene tells Nynaeve off, asking what she did while Egwene was gone to make Sheriam even more angry, and asking if she must make even more trouble for them. Nynaeve answers that they must ask questions and take chances if they are going to learn anything, but Sheriam wouldn’t say anything.

She tells Nynaeve that the crossbow bolt was gone, and asks how Sheriam made the dome over the Gray Man’s body.

“Air,” Nynaeve replied. “She used Air. A neat trick, and I think I see how to make something useful with it.”

The use of the One Power was divided into the Five Powers: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. Different Talents required different combinations of the Five Powers. “I don’t understand some of the ways the Five Powers are combined. Take Healing. I can see why it requires Spirit, and maybe Air, but why Water?”

Nynaeve rounded on her. “What are you babbling about? Have you forgotten what we’re doing?” She looked around. They had “reached the Accepted’s quarters, a stack of galleries lower than the novices’ quarters, surrounding a garden rather than a court. There was no one in sight except for another Accepted, hurrying along on another level, but she lowered her voice. “Have you forgotten the Black Ajah?”

“I am trying to forget it,” Egwene said fiercely. “For a little while, anyway. I am trying to forget that we just left a dead man. I’m trying to forget that he almost killed me, and that he has a companion who might try it again.” She touched her ear; the drop of blood had dried, but the nick still hurt. “We are lucky we aren’t both dead right now.”

Nynaeve takes a little pity on Egwene, but she still urges her to remember the body, that someone nearly killed her, that the Black Ajah are out there. Because if she forgets, even once, she could end up dead. Egwene answers that she knows, but that she doesn’t have to like it.

And then Nynaeve points out something that Egwene missed—that Sheriam never seemed to wonder who stabbed the Gray Man.

 

There are a lot of interesting things going on this week, but what has me the most preoccupied is the question of who else in the Tower is Black Ajah.

Obviously there will be new characters to suspect and investigate, but I think it is very likely that one of the big three—Verin, Sheriam, or Siuan—is going to turn out to be Black Ajah. From a tactical perspective, the Darkfriends need a member of the Black Ajah in a position of greater power than someone like Liandrin, and from a storytelling perspective, the book needs someone who doesn’t appear as obviously horrible as Liandrin is. Even before we saw her use her power on Amalisa, we knew she was selfish and haughty and cruel, all attributes one would expect a Darkfriend to have. But like the man who called himself Bors, there are many Darkfriends who know how to disguise who they are and their true feelings about those around them, and these people are going to be much more dangerous than Liandrin or those who left the Tower with her.

And those Black Ajah who are more crafty, more subtle, and more powerful are going to be as unknown to Darkfriends like Liandrin as they are to the good guys themselves.

You all know my suspicions about Verin, of course. In addition to her apparent lie that Moiraine sent her to assist Ingtar and the others, Verin strikes me as the most useful choice for Black Ajah because she has a huge amount of power and influence without appearing to have that much. We have seen her use her identity as a Brown sister to hide her interest in real-world affairs, and she has managed to wrangle her way into Moiraine and Suian’s confidences through a combination of cleverness, insight, and feigned mildness. Indeed, a great deal (if not all) of her wandering tangents appear to be deflection, and I find myself especially wary since that trick seems to have worked so well on Moiraine and Siuan, who are usually quite suspicious and keen people. But perhaps the memory of the treats Verin left for them when they were young are clouding their judgement a little.

Siuan also points out that Verin is so deep in her confidences at this point that she might as well trust Verin with more, and now Verin will be working with Nynaeve and Egwene on the hunt for the rest of the Black Ajah. If she is Black Ajah herself, that puts Verin in the perfect position to control the flow of information both to the girls and to the Amyrlin herself, and to steer the hunt in directions that serve her own purposes while simultaneously appearing helpful and useful.

Siuan seems less likely to be Black Ajah. One suspects that things would be progressing a little faster if they had someone as powerful as the Amyrlin herself on their side; there would have been an easier way to get rid of Egwene and Nynaeve than smuggling them out of the Tower, for example, and Liandrin and the others could have avoided having to flee. Or if they did decide it made tactical sense to leave, they could have gained access to more powerful relics than just the ter’angreal. That isn’t to say that there couldn’t be more complex plans at work that the narrative has yet to reveal, and of course the need for secrecy remains even for powerful Black Ajah, but we have also had chapters from Siuan’s perspective. This has shown us her dedication to the pact with Moiraine, and how fearful and desperate she is for them to succeed in protecting and guiding Rand. Unless the narration is also concealing a huge amount of her thoughts from us, I don’t think she could be a Darkfriend.

On the other hand, this week’s chapters cast some real doubt on our Mistress of Novices. Sheriam, too, has a high position in the Tower which would be very useful to the Black Ajah’s agenda, and the way she acted when she found Nynaeve and Egwene with the body of the Gray Man does seem suspicious to me. Nynaeve is suspicious too, wondering why Sheriam was in that area, and it would certainly be very convenient if Sheriam was Black Ajah—she could help smuggle in the Gray Man and then, when things didn’t quite go to plan, “find” his body afterwards and control the narrative around what happened. I suppose it’s easy for me to want Sheriam to be a bad guy, given all that corporal punishment she’s responsible for doling out. But I’m not dismissing the possibility either, especially because Nynaeve is suspicious of her too. And Nynaeve is my queen.

Seriously, the way she just has to see a woman channel once and then she knows how to do the same… channeling? I still don’t know what you would call the “spell” that results from channeling, and it’s starting to confuse me. But anyway, my point is that Nynaeve is a total badass, and I am very impressed with her this week. She is actually making real growth in these chapters, realizing that her stubbornness is not always a virtue and that she’s going to have to learn how to put her intelligence ahead of her temper. Hopefully now that she’s learning to think more like an Aes Sedai, she’ll start overcoming her inability to channel without anger. I also thought it was funny when the Amyrlin sarcastically drawled that Nynaeve has only been out of her village for a year and now she thinks she knows better than everyone—oh Siuan, Nynaeve has never not thought that, even when she’d only been out of her village for a day, and that’s not likely to change much. But if she can learn a little bit of restraint it will take her a long way, and I think we’re starting to see her realize that she can learn a lot more if she’s not quite so certain that she knows more than everyone around her.

I don’t think there’s much chance of Nynaeve letting go of her dislike of Moiraine, though. Not much chance at all.

The relationship between Egwene and Elayne, grown because they met on Egwene’s first day, are both wilders, share a wall and that tiny hole for whispering together, and yes, perhaps because of their connections to Rand, makes me wonder what it was like for Siuan and Moiraine growing up in the White Tower. We know that they were friends, that they both relied on the kindness of Verin when they were young, and that they were both Accepted and attending the then-Amyrlin when Gitara Moroso foretold the birth of the Dragon, an event which would lead to their pact and entwine their lives going forward. But they also must have shared countless trials in the White Tower during their training, perhaps even sharing a wall and whispering together the way Egwene and Elayne do. Siuan may be the Amyrlin and “Mother” to all the Aes Sedai now, and Moiraine may be far afield and caught up with an entire other world of events, but I imagine the bonds of those friendships hold even now. How lonely Siuan must be, stuck with Leane’s insistence on formality when her other childhood friend, who would no doubt be more relaxed when in private with Siuan, is so very far away and doing things that the Amyrlin Seat will never have the freedom to do.

And she is so very worried about being caught. There has been a lot of emphasis on stilling in the narration this week and last week, and it’s making me anxious. Although I never really worried that Elayne, Egwene, or Nynaeve would face such a consequence, I imagine it is only a matter of time before we encounter a stilling for real. Will the other Aes Sedai discover Siuan’s plan? Will some member of the Black Ajah be discovered and have her ability to channel taken away, for everyone’s safety? Or will it be some other event I can’t yet foresee? I imagine it will be a difficult scene, especially if we actually witness the stilling. We’ve seen what being gentled did to Logain, what the terror of the idea does to Aes Sedai and Novice alike, and I can only imagine how traumatic it will be for whoever it eventually happens to.

And then there is the business with Morgase’s anger over Elayne’s disappearance and her rejection of her Aes Sedai advisor. I never liked Elaida much, and she is Red Ajah, but I imagine that Morgase will see some pretty hefty consequences from not having the protection of her connection to Tar Valon. In addition, I can’t imagine Elaida just sitting still and taking the rejection calmly, so I imagine some trouble will come from that direction, too. Perhaps she’ll go looking for Rand, or perhaps get in Siuan’s way somehow. I can’t imagine she’d be pleased if she found out all the secrets the Amyrlin has been keeping.

I have to wonder whether Siuan knows what Liandrin wanted to do with the girls when she took them. Everyone knows how much potential Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne all have, which seems like it could be enough motivation enough for the Black Ajah to want to kidnap them. But does she suspect that their connection to Rand might also be important? Does she have any sense of the danger that still exists to the girls’ lives? Even if she did, it might not change much, or anything, about her decisions, but I still wonder. Either way, it seems to me like Nynaeve should have deduced at least some of these details. Perhaps that is what she wants to talk to Egwene and Elayne about.

Next week is a big week, and we’ll finally get to see Mat. There will also be some Galad and Gawyn, and some Elaida too. A lot of my questions are about to be answered. But I’m not worried, because I know there will always be more!

Sylas K Barrett is the oldest sibling, and he really relates to Nynaeve’s attempts to guide and shepherd Elayne and Egwene. He also relates to her irritation at being left out of the loop, even if it’s by the Amyrlin herself. But Sylas does not have her brazenness, either, so there’s that to live vicariously through. :)

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