Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Everyone Wants to Help and They Can’t Be Trusted in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 7)

Welcome back, gentle readers! It’s already Week 7 here in Reading the Wheel of Time. In this round we’ll see Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne starting into the very beginnings of thinking and politicking like proper Aes Sedai, Galad and Gawyn making an (not entirely) unwelcome appearance, Elaida coming back into our story, and Mat finally getting Healed.

Although everything that happens in Chapters 16-18 is very interesting, I found it a bit of a slog to recap and analyze. There’s a lot of talking, and although we get some more pieces for our puzzle, I think we will have to wait a while yet to see where they fit. Especially the part that Elaida will play in events; I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be substantial.

Upon entering Nynaeve’s room, she and Egwene find Elayne there waiting for them, along with Gawyn and Galad. Egwene is flustered when Galad takes her hand and tells her that he was worried about her, full of thoughts of how beautiful he is, and wishing she was in a prettier dress. It almost feels to her like his smile is a knowing one, and she thinks she would just about die if he knew where her thoughts were going.

From a chair, Gawyn asks where they have been, a question he has been asking Elayne this whole time, though to no avail. She repeats to him that it is none of his business, and explains to Nynaeve that she came to the room because she didn’t want to be alone, and the boys followed her, despite her protests, and refuse to leave.

“But it is our affair, sister,” Galad said. “Your safety is very much our affair.” He looked at Egwene, and she felt her heart jump. “The safety of all of you is very important to me. To us.”

“I am not your sister,” Elayne snapped.

“If you want company,” Gawyn told Elayne with a smile, “we can do as well as any. And after what we went through just to be here, we deserve some explanation of where you’ve been. I would rather let Galad thump me all over the practice yard all day than face Mother again for a single minute. I’d rather have Coulin mad at me.” Coulin was Master of Arms, and kept a tight discipline among the young men who came to train at the White Tower whether they aspired to become Warders or just to learn from them. “Deny the connection if you will,” Galad told Elayne gravely, “but it is still there. And Mother put your safety in our hands.”

Gawyn adds that they had to talk fast to avoid being dragged home themselves, and although Elayne is quick to point out that they were no doubt determined to continue their training with the Warders, Galad insists that her safety was their first concern and explains that they managed to convince Morgase that they needed to stay to protect Elayne when she returned. There is a great deal of danger in the White Tower now, and although Galad has only heard rumors of the Black Ajah, he knows that some Aes Sedai have even been killed.

Elayne turns away, and Gawyn, frustrated, pleads with Nynaeve that they are not villains, that they only want to help. He reminds them that Morgase will want to know that Elayne is back, and why she ran off, and talks of the turmoil in the Tower and Morgase’s fear at discovering that her daughter had vanished without a trace. And now Elayne has been gone for months, and all they know is that she must have gotten in trouble with Sheriam, since she’s clearly been crying and won’t sit down.

Nynaeve cuts him off, telling the boys sharply that Elayne doesn’t owe them anything, and that since she clearly doesn’t want to tell them anything, Nynaeve is asking them to leave.

“But, Elayne—” Gawyn began at the same time that Galad said, “We only want—”

Nynaeve spoke loudly enough to drown them out. “I doubt you asked permission to enter the Accepted’s quarters.” They stared at her, looking surprised. “I thought not. You will be out of my room, out of my sight, before I count three, or I will write a note to the Master of Arms about this. Coulin Gaidin has a much stronger arm than Sheriam Sedai, and you may be assured that I will be there to see he makes a proper job of it.”

Gawyn tries to protest, but Galad gets up, looming over her with a smile that even Nynaeve can’t help but be affected by. He apologizes smoothly, promising Nynaeve that they meant no offense, that they are here if the girls need them, and that they can help with whatever caused them to run away in the first place.

Nynaeve returned his smile. “One,” she said.

Galad blinked, his smile fading. Calmly, he turned to Egwene. Gawyn got up and started for the door. “Egwene,” Galad said, “you know that you, especially, can call on me at any time, for anything. I hope you know that.”

“Two,” Nynaeve said.

Galad gave her an irritated look. “We will talk again,” he told Egwene, bowing over her hand. With a last smile, he took an unhurried step toward the door.

“Thrrrrrrrrr”—Gawyn darted through the door, and even Galad’s graceful stride quickened markedly—“ree,” Nynaeve finished as the door banged shut behind them.

Elayne is delighted with how Nynaeve handled the situation, even more when she realizes that there is no rule prohibiting men from being in the Accepted’s quarters. Nynaeve remarks that she would have just let them leave, but Galad was making such a show of taking his time about it.

Elayne observes that Egwene didn’t say very much, and points out that while Galad is quite good-looking, he’s also horrible, as he will always do right as he sees it, never disobeying their mother, never telling a white lie or breaking a rule, and always prepared to turn someone else in for breaking a rule. “…there isn’t the slightest spite in it—he seems sad you could not live up to his standards, if anything—but that doesn’t change the fact that he will turn you in.”

Egwene can’t quite see it, so Elayne presses the issue, suggesting that Gawyn is a better candidate for her affections; he hasn’t shown his interest, given the way that Egwene looks at Galad, but Elayne knows better.

“That is nice to know,” Egwene said, then laughed at Elayne’s grin. “Perhaps I can get him to say some of those things to me instead of you.”

“You could choose Green Ajah, you know. Green sisters sometimes marry. Gawyn truly is besotted, and you would be good for him. Besides, I would like to have you for a sister.”

“If you two are finished with girlish chatter,” Nynaeve cut in, “there are important matters to talk about.”

Elayne agrees, asking to know what the Amyrlin said to them, and Nynaeve starts to explain. At Egwene’s protests, she points out that it was only Egwene and Nynaeve who Liandrin saw as a threat, who someone sought to kill, perhaps because they are still a threat or perhaps because they were closeted alone with the Amyrlin. They need someone else, and if the Amyrlin doesn’t know they’ve enlisted Elayne’s help either, so much the better, as far as Nynaeve is concerned. The Black Ajah may be the biggest danger, but the Amyrlin will certainly use them for her own ends.

Egwene impresses upon Elayne that this will be as dangerous as anything they faced in Falme, and that Elayne doesn’t have to be involved this time. Elayne says that she understands, but that this is the kind of courage that is expected of the Queen of Andor. If she hasn’t yet learned to control her fear, she needs to before she takes the throne. And in any case, how could she pass up a chance to have an adventure instead of scrubbing pots?

Nynaeve points out that she’s going to have to do both, and explains everything that transpired with the Amyrlin. She also tells them that she is concerned that the Amyrlin might let Mat die. Neither Elayne nor Egwene can believe that, but Nynaeve insists that Verin never said that Mat would be healed, only that the Amyrlin would “see him” and that the Amyrlin avoided answering yes or no when Nynaeve asked about it. She reminds both of them that Mat, too, is only a tool in the eyes of the White Tower. This makes them useful, but “if you break a tool so it cannot be fixed, you don’t weep over it. You just get another one.”

She tells them that she might be able to heal Mat herself, with her medicines and a bit of luck—Elayne points out that Moiraine and Verin couldn’t do it together, even with an angreal, and that Nynaeve could burn herself out or even kill herself trying to channel that much power. Nynaeve answers that they keep telling her she has the potential to be the most powerful Aes Sedai in a thousand years, and perhaps it’s time to test that; but Egwene, recognizing Nynaeve’s fear and equal determination, suggests working together. Elayne agrees that it is a good idea and urges that they get moving before they can change their minds, but as they head towards the door it opens and and Elaida enters the room.

Even though most Aes Sedai only wear their shawls for formal occasions, Eliada is wearing hers, with the red fringe that announces her as Red Ajah. She regards them sharply, observing that she shouldn’t be surprised to find them all together.

Nynaeve curtsies and asks permission to leave, claiming to need to catch up on her studies, but Elaida snatches up her bag and inspects it, dropping the herbs on the floor when she sees what they are, and telling Nynaeve that she is not a village Wisdom any longer, and that trying to hold onto the past will only hold her back.

“Elaida Sedai,” Elayne said, “I—”

“Be silent, novice.” Elaida’s voice was cold and soft, as silk wrapped around steel is soft. “You may have broken a bond between Tar Valon and Caemlyn that has lasted a thousand years. You will speak when spoken to.” Elayne’s eyes examined the floor in front of her toes. Spots of color burned in her cheeks. Guilt, or anger? Egwene was not sure.

Elaida sits, making herself comfortable and leaving them to stand and wait. Egwene can see Nynaeve tugging on her braid and hopes that she will be able to keep her temper.

After studying them in silence for a while, Elaida asks if they know that the Black Ajah is in the White Tower. Nynaeve answers carefully that they were told about it.

Elaida arched an eyebrow. “Yes. I thought that you might know of it.” Egwene gave a start at her tone, implying so much more than it said, and Nynaeve opened her mouth angrily, but the Aes Sedai’s flat stare stilled tongues. “The two of you,” Elaida went on in a casual tone, “vanish, taking with you the Daughter-Heir of Andor—the girl who may become Queen of Andor one day, if I do not strip off her hide and sell it to a glove maker—vanish without permission, without a word, without a trace.”

“I was not carried off,” Elayne said to the floor. “I went of my own will.”

“Will you obey me, child?” A glow surrounded Elaida. The Aes Sedai’s glare was fixed on Elayne. “Must I teach you, here and now?”

Elayne raised her head, and there was no mistaking what was in her face. Anger. For a long moment she met Elaida’s stare.

Egwene’s fingernails dug into her palms. It was maddening. She, or Elayne, or Nynaeve, could destroy Elaida where she sat. If they caught Elaida by surprise, at least; she was fully trained, after all. And if we do anything but take whatever she wants to feed us, we throw away everything. Don’t throw it away now, Elayne.

Elayne’s head dropped. “Forgive me, Elaida Sedai,” she mumbled. “I—forgot myself.”

Elaida lets go of saidar, remarking that Elayne has learned bad habits while she was away, habits she cannot afford. Elayne will be the first Queen of Andor to be Aes Sedai, the first Aes Sedai queen anywhere in a thousand years, and one of the strongest Aes Sedai since the breaking of the world, perhaps even strong enough to rule openly as an Aes Sedai. But she commands Elayne not to risk all that—Elaida has invested too much time to let her lose it all.

Elaida is concerned that the three are in danger, since their mysterious departure and sudden return bracketed the departure of Liandrin and the other Black Ajah. She does not want to see Elayne accused of being one as well, and so to protect her (and by necessary extension, the others) she must know why they ran away and what they have been doing. She looks to Egwene at that.

Although she has not taken the oath that would make it impossible for her to lie, Egwene has heard that Elaida can hear a lie sometimes, and she fumbles for something that will be close enough to satisfy the Aes Sedai.

She explains that it was about Mat, that he was sick and they went so they could bring him to be Healed. She struggles to hold up under Elaida’s penetrating gaze.

“That is enough, Egwene,” Nynaeve said. Elaida’s penetrating look shifted to her, but she gave no sign of being affected by it.

She met the Aes Sedai’s eyes without blinking. “Forgive me for interrupting, Elaida Sedai,” she said smoothly, “but the Amyrlin Seat said our transgressions were to be put behind us and forgotten. As part of making a new beginning, we are not even to speak of them. The Amyrlin said it should be as if they never happened.”

Elaida’s tone remains neutral, remarking that it’s interesting that the Amyrlin would announce their punishment publicly if she meant their actions to be forgotten. The announcement was unprecedented for anything less than a stilling, and meanwhile, Elayne and Egwene are to be raised to Accepted.

After glancing at Elaida for permission to speak, Elayne explains that the Amyrlin thought she was ready, and that she has learned and grown. Elaida repeats the words blandly, then turns her attention back to Nynaeve and Egwene to inquire about another young man besides Mat who also comes from their village—Rand.

Egwene felt as if an icy hand had suddenly gripped her stomach.

“I hope he is well,” Nynaeve said levelly, but her hand was a fist gripping her braid. “We have not seen him in some time.”

“An interesting young man.” Elaida studied them as she spoke. “I met him only once, but I found him—most interesting. I believe he must be ta’veren. Yes. The answers to many questions may rest in him. This Emond’s Field of yours must be an unusual place to produce the two of you. And Rand al’Thor.”

Nynaeve insists that it’s just an ordinary village, but Elaida asks them to tell her about Rand al’Thor, who surely the Amyrlin has not also commanded them to be silent about. Egwene racks her brain for an answer while Elayne stares at the floor, and Nynaeve is just about to say something when the door opens again.

At that instant the door opened again. Sheriam regarded the room with a measure of surprise. “It is well I find you here, Elayne. I want all three of you. I had not expected you, Elaida.”

“Elaida stood, arranging her shawl. “We are all curious about these girls. Why they ran away. What adventures they had while gone. They say the Mother has commanded them not to speak of it.”

“As well not to,” Sheriam said. “They are to be punished, and that should be an end to it. I have always felt that when punishment is done, the fault that caused it should be erased.”

The two women regard each other for a moment, and then Elaida agrees, remarking that perhaps she will speak to the girls later about other matters. She gives them each a rather warning look and then leaves.

Elayne exclaims in surprise that Elaida actually threatened her with stilling if she doesn’t stop being willful, but Sheriam assures her that she misunderstood, that if being willful was a stillable offence the list of the stilled would be too long to memorize. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to act meek when it is required of them.

They answer “Yes Aes Sedai” in unison, but Nynaeve quickly gets on Sheriam’s nerves again by asking about the Gray Man and if Sheriam has discovered who killed him. This prompts the Mistress of Novices to realize that Nynaeve has already told Elayne about it after Sheriam expressly forbade her from doing so. She explains that the only other people who know besides herself and the Amyrlin, and now Egwene, are two men who don’t know anything else about the situation except that a man was killed. And if Nynaeve and the others won’t follow Sheriam’s orders, perhaps they will follow the Amyrlin’s command not to say anything.

But Nynaeve still presses, reminding Sheriam that it’s the seven people they know of plus whoever murdered the man, and perhaps others who helped him get into the Tower. Sheriam tells her off quickly, that she will do whatever investigation is necessary and they must forget they ever saw the man, or they will learn that there are worse punishments that scrubbing pots.

Egwene is relieved that Nynaeve responds as obediently as the rest of them to that command, but more than that she feels like laughing hysterically at the knowledge that if the Black Ajah doesn’t catch them, Sheriam probably will.

Then Sheriam tells them to follow her, and when Nynaeve asks where to, she reminds them that Healing in the Tower is done in the presence of those who brought the sick person.

Egwene thought that the Mistress of Novices’ stock of patience with them was about used up, but before she could stop herself, she burst out, “Then she is going to Heal him!”

“The Amyrlin Seat herself, among others, will see to him.” Sheriam’s face held no more expression than her voice. “Did you have reason to doubt it?” Egwene could only shake her head. “Then you waste your friend’s life standing here. The Amyrlin Seat is not to be kept waiting.” Yet despite her words, Egwene had the feeling the Aes Sedai was in no hurry at all.

Sheriam takes them down deep beneath the Tower, down to the same area where the novices take their last test before being raised to Accepted, and where the Accepted swear the Three Oaths. It’s also the location of the storerooms that Liandrin and her followers broke into.

When Sheriam stops suddenly, Egwene squeaks in alarm, and has to explain that she was thinking about the Black Ajah.

“Do not think of it,” Sheriam said, and for once she sounded like the Sheriam of old, kindly if firm. “The Black Ajah will not be your worry for years to come. You have what the rest of us do not: time before you must deal with it. Much time, yet. When we enter, stay against the wall and keep silent. You are allowed here as a benevolence, to attend, not to distract or interfere.” She opened a door covered in gray metal worked to look like stone.

Inside they find Mat, laid out on a long, fabric-draped stone table, the Shadar Logoth dagger at his side. The Amyrlin is standing at his head, and Leane at his feet, with four Aes Sedai, including Verin and Sheriam, on each side. Despite their calm demeanours, Egwene can detect some anxiety in them, in the tilt of their mouths or the way one of them brushes her hands down her dress.

The Amyrlin takes out a white fluted wand that Egwene recognizes from her lectures as one of the most powerful sa’angreal the White Tower possesses. She realizes that the Aes Sedai aren’t sure that can heal Mat, even with the sa’angreal.

The Amyrlin announces that she will “meld the flows” and warns the other Aes Sedai that the amount of Power needed to heal Mat is very close to an amount that will kill him. They begin their work, and Egwene can see the glow around the women as they channel, and a brilliant white light around the sa’angreal. It’s difficult for Egwene to resist the urge to open herself to saidar as well, and Nynaeve actually takes a step towards the table before she can stop herself, and Elayne’s hand trembles in Egwene’s. They watch as Mat’s body arches off the table, his hand clutched tightly around the dagger. Then his grip springs open and his hand slowly creeps away from the hilt, fighting every inch as his lips pull away from his teeth and grunts and grimaces in pain.

“They are killing him,” Egwene whispered. “The Amyrlin is killing him! We have to do something.”

Just as softly, Nynaeve said, “If we stop them—if we could stop them—he’ll die. I do not think I could handle half that much of the Power.” She paused as if she had just heard her own words—that she could channel half of what ten full Aes Sedai did with a sa’angreal—and her voice grew even fainter. “Light help me, I want to.”

She fell silent abruptly. Did she mean that she wanted to help Mat, or that she wanted to channel that flow of Power? Egwene could feel that urge in herself, like a song that compelled her to dance.

“We must trust them,” Nynaeve said in an intense whisper, finally. “He has no other chance.”

Suddenly Mat shouted, loud and strong. “Muad’drin tia dar allende caba’drin rhadiem!” Arched and struggling, eyes squeezed shut, he bellowed the words clearly. “Los Valdar Cuebiyari! Los! Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar!”

Egwene recognizes some of what he’s saying as battle cries of Manetheren, and for a moment she even thinks she might understand the rest. Then the dagger rips away from his belt and rises into the air above his body as Mat continues to shout, including the words “Aes Sedai,” and then trails off into a scream of rage. One of the Aes Sedai, Anaiya, uses a set of tongs to take hold of the dagger and place it into a box with sides at least two inches thick. Mat continues to scream until she has it safely inside and shuts the lid.

At the same time, Mat’s body collapses back onto the table and all glow around the Aes Sedai disappears, some of them visibly sagging in weariness as the Amyrlin announces “Done,” in a hoarse voice. Verin is fascinated that the Old Blood could be so strong in Mat and starts whispering with Serafelle. The Amyrlin ignores Nynaeve asking if Mat is Healed to order a White Aes Sedai, Brendas, to have Mat taken back to his room.

Nynaeve repeats her question, more demandingly, earning her raised eyebrows from Sheriam, and the Amyrlin tells her coolly that Mat is as well as he can be, and free from his bond with the dagger, but only time will tell what effects may come from his carrying it for so long. She believes he should live. When Elayne asks what Mat was shouting, the Amyrlin tells them that he was ordering soldiers in a battle from two thousand years ago. But Nynaeve insists that she heard the words “Aes Sedai.”

For a moment the Amyrlin seemed to consider, perhaps what to say, perhaps whether to say anything. “For a time,” she said finally, “I believe the past and the present were one. He was there, and he was here, and he knew who we were. He commanded us to release him.” She paused again. “ ‘I am a free man, Aes Sedai. I am no Aes Sedai meat.’ That is what he said.”

Leane sniffed loudly, and some of the other Aes Sedai muttered angrily under their breath.

“But, Mother,” Egwene said, “he could not have meant it as it sounds. Manetheren was allied with Tar Valon.”

“Manetheren was an ally, child,” the Amyrlin told her, “but who can know the heart of a man? Not even he himself, I suspect. A man is the easiest animal to put on a leash, and the hardest to keep leashed. Even when he chooses it himself.”

Sheriam interrupts then, reminding the Amyrlin that it is late and the cooks will be waiting for the girls. Egwene asks if they can stay with Mat, but the Amyrlin tells her firmly that she has chores waiting, and Egwene knows that she doesn’t just mean scrubbing pots. As they leave she takes one last glance back at Mat, who still hasn’t moved.

 

Oof. I apologize for using so many excerpts this time around, but this is definitely one of those sections where paraphrasing ends up about as long as the original text anyway. And there is so much being said between the lines in these conversations that is hard to capture without a lengthy explanation.

What that recap doesn’t really capture is the vivid details in these chapters, especially in the Healing scene. Each Aes Sedai is described, and the tone and description of Mat’s convulsions and the way the dagger almost seems alive as it fights the Aes Sedai is film-like in its detail; I could see every moment perfectly in my mind’s eye. It’s not the first time I’ve said that of Jordan’s descriptions, either, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

There is also so much good character work in these chapters! If you’ve been following the read, you know how much I love character work.

Egwene’s interest in Galad and the reveal of Gawyn’s interest in her creates a cute little love triangle, and I wonder if Egwene isn’t going to find herself caught between Lawful Good and Neutral Good, so to speak. Despite the fact that, back in The Eye of the World, she was the most eager to run away and see the world of any of our protagonists, Egwene has a stronger streak of belief in, and adherence to, establish law and rules. Nynaeve appears to be that way at first, but it’s been shown how much of that is only Nynaeve’s own personal judgments that matter to her, whereas Egwene will often at least try to see why she should follow the commands of others. She was the most eager to trust in Moiraine from the beginning, partly because of her desire to learn to channel, but I think she also recognized and liked the authority Moiraine carried.

I think I could see her in a position of authority herself one day, perhaps Mistress of Novices, or even Amyrlin.

Her defense of Galad is another example of this perspective. She can’t see how always doing the right thing could be bad—I think her choice of the word “uncomfortable” is a nice, neutral way of implying without saying outright that it would be the rule-breaker’s fault after all. However, I also think that she would recognize the difference when actually confronted by a choice. Her recognition of rules and authority has never extended to going against her own sense of right, as we have seen from her willingness to hide Rand from the Amyrlin when they were in Fal Dara, they way she didn’t even have to think before leaving the Tower when she thought he was in danger, and in her determination to do whatever is necessary—channel, run away, etc.—to protect herself from Whitecloaks and Aes Sedai alike.

What both Elayne and Min have told us about Galad doesn’t make a lot of sense the way they phrase it, but when they say “he will always do what is right” I think what they mean is that he follows the letter of a law rather than its spirit. They mean that, unlike Egwene, when faced with a decision in which what is technically correct and what is morally preferable, Galad will always choose the former. And that is a dangerous thing, especially for our young heroines. It reminds me a little bit of Whitecloak thinking, actually, where one may start from a good and just place (fight the Dark One and protect those who walk in the Light) and follows a line of thinking that still has the appearance of being correct and moral but can actually lead to a very dark place. Just like the Children, he may find himself hurting the wrong people, misjudging both enemies and friends, in his attempts to do “right.”

Of course, we only have Elayne and Min’s words on this. Min’s is ostensibly more objective, but I do wonder what opinions I might have once I’ve actually seen Galad in action. He does not seem to hold any kind of moral judgement against Elayne for running away, and a man who “always does what is right” would probably not hide such an opinion just to make Elayne more likely to speak to him. Perhaps he is reserving judgment until he learns the full story behind her disappearance, or perhaps he is more concerned with his own duty to protect her and serve his mother’s wishes than with having opinions on something that Elayne has already been punished for, as Gawyn noticed.

I am curious about Elayne’s attitude towards her relation with Galad. I understand her anger towards him, but her insistence that he is not her brother seems perhaps to be more than that. There may be some family politics here that we haven’t seen yet.

In any case, I imagine the girls are right not to confide in them, although I do rather hope they will bring Gawyn into their confidences eventually. I really like Gawyn, and his conduct with Rand back when he and Elayne first encountered him in the gardens makes me feel pretty good about who he is as a person. Also, his unending cheerfulness would make a nice addition to the group, narratively speaking.

Elayne’s observation about how she is often held to a higher standard because of her title, rather than getting off easier, is an interesting one. In an order where, ostensibly, previous titles should not matter, I am curious as to what effect nobility and class have on people’s lives in the White Tower. Obviously Elayne is a special case, since, even if she is raised to full Aes Sedai she is ultimately being groomed by the Tower to take the Throne of Andor. But what happens when other royal ladies, other high-born daughters, show promise in channeling? Enough, perhaps, to become Aes Sedai but not enough to gain distinction among the ranks? Would they, too, feel the weight of rules and punishments more keenly in their years as novices and Accepted? Or is it only because of Elayne’s unique situation that she finds herself in such a position?

Like Galad, I think Elaida may end up being a character who has relatively the right goals and is on the side of Good and Light, but who will end up in opposition to our heroes anyway. I do believe that she genuinely wants to protect Elayne and serve Andor, but I think she is also the sort of person who believes that the way she sees things is correct and right, and won’t be okay with some of the unconventional paths that these new young Aes Sedai are taking—never mind the schemes Moiraine and the Amyrlin are up to.

Come to think of it, Elaida is accustomed to holding a position of great power as the advisor at the side of the Queen of Andor. I doubt she’s going to stop trying to be the power behind the throne… or in this case the Seat. If she’s looking into Rand, she could be a real danger to Moiraine and the Amyrlin, and a new one, since she was never around before to worry them. Now however, Siuan better watch her back, because if anyone is ready to dispose her and take over, it’s probably Elaida. And like I said last week, all this talk of stilling has definitely got to be leading up to something big.

I was pleased that Nynaeve became suspicious of the Amyrlin’s intentions for Mat, but on the other hand, I imagine that even if the Amyrlin had decided to let him live before Nynaeve asked about it, she might have answered exactly the same. Nynaeve might need to ask a lot more questions of other Aes Sedai in her work hunting the Black Ajah, but the Amyrlin’s not going to let that extend to her. I don’t anticipate this conflict lessening anytime soon, either. Whether it’s the Amyrlin or Sheriam, Verin, or just some random other woman, I can’t really see any of the girls coming to trust the Aes Sedai they are supposed to take orders from, and that is a huge part of how learning in the White Tower works. Even Sheriam acknowledges this when she says that they must learn to “appear” meek—if this were an ordinary group of girls in ordinary circumstances, it would mean biding their time until they became Aes Sedai themselves. But these aren’t ordinary students, and with the Black Ajah on the loose and the Dragon declaring himself, they might not even have time to feign meekness.

The irony of Sheriam telling Egwene that she won’t have to worry about the Black Ajah for years can’t have been lost on anyone. Of course, Sheriam doesn’t know that they’ve been literally and formally tasked with worrying about the Black Ajah, but even without that particular tidbit, she knows that there at least were Black Ajah in the Tower, running around stealing things and killing people, and she can deduce as well as anyone that there could very well be more. Not to mention that Gray Men are sneaking into the Novice quarters and getting mysteriously murdered! Like really, Sheriam, I’m pretty sure everyone has to worry about Black Ajah right now.

I’ve been musing to myself about the possible motivations one might have to become a Darkfriend, particularly for an Aes Sedai. Power-lust seems to be the driving motivation of most of the known Darkfriends we’ve encountered, but we also had Ingtar, whose motivations were actually much purer. Ultimately he wanted to protect his people, and his fear and despair in the face of the encroaching Shadow led him to believe that joining the Darkness was the only way for them to survive. I wonder if such fear and despair exists in members of the Aes Sedai. They have more power to fight the Dark One than most people do, but they are also far more aware of what the true dangers are, and are often the ones putting themselves on the line to protect everyone else, just like the forces of Shienar and the other Borderlands.

And while Ingtar was frustrated that his people’s efforts to keep back the Blight and the Shadowspawn weren’t even known by the rest of the world, the Aes Sedai are in a position where they are not only unappreciated but actually vilified. It would not surprise me at all if some of the members of the Black Ajah looked at the extreme danger the world is in, and then looked at how most people hate and fear Aes Sedai, maybe had one too many unpleasant encounters with a company of Whitecloaks, and decided to do what she felt would best serve her, and forget the rest of the selfish, ungrateful world.

But is it possible for people to become Darkfriends in less dramatic ways? Like, can one just… saunter vaguely downward? (Sorry, the Good Omens TV show is coming soon and I just can’t help myself.)

I’m also still unclear as to how the benefits of Darkfriend associations work. What do you get for signing up? The Man Who Called Himself Bors was more or less entirely interested in what he’d get after the Dark One was victorious, but that can’t be everyone’s primary driving force. And the Dark One can’t touch the Pattern, so it’s not like he can get you a better job or wealth or fame just for the promise of your loyalty. It must be more concrete than that.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, really. I just have this picture in my head of Myrddraal showing up at the homes of well-to-do Darkfriends and being like, “We got another random person to sign up. He wants to be rich. Give him some money.” Can’t imagine the Darkfriends in the nobility would be too happy with that arrangement, but when a Myrddraal tells you what to do, you don’t argue. We’ve seen that for sure, more than once.

Mat’s healing was fascinating, and a nice chapter change-up to have a little action in the midst of all the conversations and plotting. I think this is the first time we’ve encountered the White Ajah, too, though I guess we knew there was one because we got all the colors listed out on the steps in the mirror dimension. I am curious as to what the White Ajah are about—the way the narrative kept describing the White Aes Sedai as “cool-eyed” seemed significant, somehow, more than just a random character feature. I still don’t know what most of the Ajah groups mean, as a matter of fact. Brown is knowledge. Blue is… justice? I think? Greens are some kind of warriors, which confused me a little because of the Three Oaths, but I suppose they are specifically devoted to fighting Shadowspawn and the Dark One’s armies. (They also get married sometimes, and can have more than one Warder.) I don’t know what Yellow, White, and Gray do. And then of course, there’s the Red Ajah, who are responsible for hunting down and gentling men who can channel, but as the Red existed before the Breaking, they must either have more purpose than that or have had a different purpose originally.

Another big question for me is this recurring theme of how the Old Blood is strong in the Two Rivers. When Mat accesses the Manetheren chants and other bits of the old tongue, it’s unclear to me if that is supposed to be through a sort of genetic memory or if Mat is accessing a former life he himself had. How reincarnation works for everyone who’s not the Dragon hasn’t really been explained, so at this point it could be either, or even both somehow. However, the Amyrlin says that the past and present became one, so perhaps what happened is that Mat didn’t know which of his lives he was living, in that moment. I wonder if this concept will come again, perhaps allowing other characters, maybe even Rand, to access former lives and gain useful knowledge.

I’m finally a week ahead again in my reading, so I can tell you that we are covering three more chapters next week, Chapters 19-21. We’ll get a brief foray into whatever weird things are going in in Mat’s head. (Seriously, what is going on with the boy? Is this how his thought process always worked, or have a few screws been knocked loose while he was busy being possessed by Mordeth Paranoia™? “Welp, I’m in a strange town, having nearly died, and I’m surrounded by powerful Aes Sedai. Guess it’s time to go gamble!”) And then we get into some more development around the World of Dreams which I am quite excited about, as I’ve been enjoying speculating about Perrin and the Wolves dreaming so much these past few weeks.

See you next week, and down in the comments below!

Sylas K Barrett does not want to be that guy, but he has to admit that “meld the flows” sounds very naughty.

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