I have so many questions about this week’s chapters (22 and 23) and Egwene’s trips through the arched ter’angreal. Most prominent is the same question that Nynaeve and Egwene asked Sheriam, the question everyone apparently asks: Is what happens when you’re inside real, and in what way? I don’t believe that it is literally real, like a visit to an alternate reality or anything like that, but Egwene’s experiences, especially the third time through, have a much more prophetic nature than Nynaeve’s. But perhaps that is just coincidence, since Nynaeve saw a version of the future that could not possibly be real, given that we know Malkier is gone, but the threat of Rand being caught and gentled is a serious one that both Egwene and the reader are deeply concerned with.
As soon as Egwene has left Verin’s office she’s confronted by Sheriam, who has been looking for her. She asks Egwene about the papers, but doesn’t seem overly interested and accepts Egwene’s deflecting answer that it’s things Verin wants her to study. But Egwene’s relief is short lived as Sheriam informs her that it is time for her Accepted Trials. Egwene is surprised that it’s so soon and protests that she is half asleep and dirty, that she hoped she had more time to prepare, but Sheriam answers, as she hustles Egwene down flights of stairs, that Egwene already knows everything she needs to know, and more than Nynaeve did, and that the hour waits on no woman.
“I listened to the lectures,” Egwene protested, “and I remember them, but… can’t I have a night’s sleep first?” The winding ramp seemed to have no end.
“The Amyrlin Seat decided there was no point in waiting.” Sheriam gave Egwene a sidelong smile. “Her exact words were, ‘Once you decide to gut a fish, there’s no use waiting till it rots.’ Elayne has already been through the arches by this time, and the Amyrlin means you to go through tonight as well. Not that I can see the point of such a hurry,” she added, half to herself, “but when the Amyrlin commands, we obey.”
Egwene let herself be pulled down the ramp in silence, a knot forming in her belly. Nynaeve had been far from forthcoming about what had happened when she was raised to the Accepted. She would not speak of it at all, except for a grimaced ‘I hate Aes Sedai!’ Egwene was trembling by the time the ramp finally ended at a broad hallway, far below the Tower in the rock of the island.”
Sheriam takes Egwene through a huge set of doors into a great domed chamber, where a group of Aes Sedai are waiting around the three silver arches, the glow in the arches echoing the glow of saidar that Egwene can see around them. Elaida is there as well, grousing about how long they’ve been waiting. She complains that Egwene should not be given the opportunity to take the trial at all, but Sheriam reminds her that Elaida didn’t say the same about Elayne, and demanded to be part of this because of Elayne. She therefore must do her part for Egwene as well. Elaida grouses that if it must be done, then they should just give Egwene her chance to refuse and be done with it.
“I won’t refuse.” Egwene’s voice quavered, but she steadied it and held her head high. “I want to go on.”
Sheriam explains the rest of the rules to Egwene, how once she begins she must go through all three arches, and that while she has three opportunities to refuse before starting, any mid-way refusal to finish will result in her being put out of the Tower. She also explains the danger of the test, how some women have never come out again. This is Egwene’s last chance to refuse and still be granted another two chances to take the test, but if she falters or fails during the test… Sheriam leaves the rest unspoken.
Egwene is frightened by the realization that she might not come out again, but she reminds herself how much she wants to be an Aes Sedai, and accepts. When she’s undressing, however, she realizes that leaving the papers and the ring means that anyone could pick them up and go through them while she is inside the arches. But she has already accepted and so has lost her chance to refuse and put the things away safely in her room. Sheriam sees her hesitation and asks if she is going to refuse now, knowing what it will mean, and Egwene quickly reassures her, leaving the papers and pouch beneath her clothes and hoping for the best.
Beside the ter’angreal, Alanna suddenly spoke. “There is some sort of—resonance.” She never took her eyes from the arches. “An echo, almost. I do not know from where.”
“Is there a problem?” Sheriam asked sharply. She sounded surprised, too. “I will not send a woman in there if there is any problem.”
Egwene looked yearningly at her piled clothes. Please, yes, Light, a problem. Something that will let me hide those papers without refusing to enter.
“No,” Alanna said. “It is like having a biteme buzz ’round your head when you’re trying to think, but it does not interfere. I would not have mentioned it, only it has never happened before that I ever heard.” She shook her head. “It is gone now.”
“Perhaps,” Elaida said dryly, “others thought such a small thing was not worth mentioning.”
“Let us go on.” Sheriam’s tone would not put up with any more distractions. “Come.”
She and Egwene step up to the arches, Elaida intoning the ritualistic words. Before Egwene enters the first arch, Sheriam tells her “The first time is for what was. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
And then Egwene steps into the arch and the light swallows her.
She finds herself sitting rocking a baby as Rand tells her about odd news that has come down to the Two Rivers from Baerlon. She recognizes the child as her daughter, and Rand as her husband, and is struck momentarily with wonder, the words “The way back will come but once. Be steadfast,” echoing in her mind.
The moment of wonder passed, and the only thing to wonder about was why she had thought anything seemed out of round. Of course Rand was her husband—her handsome, loving husband—and Joiya was her daughter—the most beautiful, sweetest little girl in the Two Rivers. Tam, Rand’s father, was out with the sheep, supposedly so Rand could work on the barn but really so he could have more time to play with Joiya. This afternoon Egwene’s mother and father would come out from the village. And probably Nynaeve, to see if motherhood was interfering with Egwene’s studies to replace Nynaeve as Wisdom one day.
She asks what kind of news, and has to repeat the question as Rand has once again become too distracted by his baby daughter to pay attention to what people are saying to him. Once he hears her, he answers that there is some big war taking up most of the world, according to Jaim Dawtry, fighting some group called the Shawkin, or the Sanchan, or something like that. He has never heard of them before.
For a moment, Egwene thinks she has, and Rand catches the look on her face, reassuring her that war never reaches as far as the Two Rivers. But Jaim claimed that these people use Aes Sedai in battle, and yet kill any that they find, even offering rewards to have them turned over. It makes no sense to Rand, but he supposes it has nothing to do with them.
She notices that Rand is holding his head, and she is worried about Rand’s increasingly frequent and increasingly painful headaches. Not only are they getting worse, but Egwene has noticed strange happenings that coincide with Rand’s headaches, things like lightning from a clear sky, surprise storms that Nynaeve never heard coming when she listened to the wind, and wildfires. Egwene is afraid to consider what that might mean, but she’s also aware of her own secret, how sometimes she has been able to cure someone when even Nynaeve could not, without ever knowing how she had done it. If she can figure out what it is she managed to do for those people, perhaps she can do the same to help Rand.
She stands, intending to try, when suddenly, through the open door of their home, she can see a silver arch filled with white light. She hears the words again, and finds herself stepping towards the door.
She halted, looked back at Joiya gurgling in her cradle, at Rand still pressing hand to his head and looking at her as if wondering where she was going. “No,” she said. “No, this is what I want. This is what I want! Why can’t I have this, too?” She did not understand her own words. Of course, this was what she wanted, and she had it.
“What is it you want, Egwene?” Rand asked. “If it’s anything I can get, you know I will. If I can’t get it, I’ll make it.”
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
She took another step, into the doorway. The silver arch beckoned her. Something waited on the other side. Something she wanted more than anything else in the world. Something she had to do.
Rand starts to speak again, but then suddenly crumples to the floor, holding his head. He cries out to the Light, that it hurts worse than ever, and then calls out to her. Egwene hesitates, but the thing she knows she must do pulls her towards the arch, despite the sound of her Joiya laughing, despite Rand’s groans turning to screams. She sees Tam running from out in the fields, coming to help Rand, but she know he can’t do anything. But she could.
She steps into the light.
Memory returns to Egwene as she steps out of the archway, sobbing. Elaida pours the chalice of water over her head, pronouncing that she is washed clean of her sins, and those committed against her, of what crime she may have committed and those that were committed against her. But Egwene wonders, as the water drips down and mingles with her tears, if mere water could wash away what she just did.
She tells Sheriam that her name was Joiya, and that nothing could be worth what Egwene just gave up. She asks if it was real, wondering if she left her baby, left Rand to die. Sheriam answers that there is a price to becoming Aes Sedai, and that no one knows for sure if the experiences inside the ter’angreal are real or not, although every one Sheriam has seen come out of the arches has asked the same question.
“It has been speculated that perhaps some of those who do not come back chose to stay because they found a happier place, and lived out their lives there.” Her voice hardened. “If it is real, and they stayed from choice, then I hope the lives they live are far from happy. I have no sympathy for any who run from their responsibilities.” The edge on her tone softened slightly. “Myself, I believe it is not real. But the danger is. Remember that.” She stopped in front of the next glow-filled arch. “Are you ready?”
Egwene nods, and Sheriam tells her that the second is for what is, reminding her again that the way back will come but once, and to be steadfast. As Egwene steps into the second arch, she thinks that nothing could possibly be worse than what she has already experienced.
She stared down at her dress, blue silk sewn with pearls, all dusty and torn. Her head came up, and she took in the ruins of a great palace around her. The Royal Palace of Andor, in Caemlyn. She knew that, and wanted to scream.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
The world was not the way she wanted it, no way that she could think of without wanting to cry, but all her tears had been cried away long ago, and the world was as it was. Ruin was what she expected to see.
Careless of her dress but extremely careful not to make a sound, she climbs up a pile of rubble to peer into the streets, spotting men and Trollocs patrolling, and a Myrddraal overseeing them, shouting orders to “Hunt” and “Find him!”
Careful not to be seen, Egwene climbs back down, that whisper about the way back coming again as she does. She hurries into the ruined palace, climbing over fallen timbers and walls, ignoring the bodies, even when she steps on an arm whose finger wears a great serpent ring. Eventually she comes to a room where she finds Rand, a heavy beam across his waist, pinned down by it as well as the stone blocks that have come down from the ceiling. He opens his eyes as she draws near.
“You came back.” He forced the words out in a hoarse rasp. “I was afraid—No matter. You have to help me.”
She sank wearily to the floor. “I could lift that beam easily with Air, but as soon as it moves, everything else will come down on top of you. On top of both of us. I cannot manage all of it, Rand.”
His laugh was bitter and painful, and cut off almost as soon as it began. Fresh sweat glistened on his face, and he spoke with an effort. “I could shift the beam myself. You know that. I could shift that and the stones above, all of them. But I have to let go of myself to do it, and I can’t trust that. I cannot trust—” He stopped, wheezing for breath.
“I do not understand,” she said slowly. “Let go of yourself? What can’t you trust?” The way back will come but once. Be steadfast. She rubbed her hands roughly over her ears.
Rand explains that he is holding the madness at bay, that letting down his guard even slightly will allow the madness to take him. And then he won’t care what he does. She has to help him. Egwene asks how she could, and he indicates a dagger, lying just out of his reach, and asks her to kill him.
Egwene refuses, horrified, and Rand strains to reach the dagger himself until she kicks it away, demanding to know why he would ask such a thing of her. Rand tells her that if the Myrddraal capture him they can turn him to the Shadow, that if the madness takes him he can’t fight them, that he won’t know what they are doing until it is too late. Again he begs Egwene to kill him, but she can’t.
The arch appears, and Egwene turns towards it as Rand continues to beg for her to help him. She whispers an apology, that she’s sorry but she just can’t, and steps through.
On the other side of the arch Elaida pours more water over her head and tells her that she is washed clean of false pride and false ambition, and that she comes to them washed clean in body and soul. Sheriam takes her hands to lead her to the final arch, promising that there is only one more, and then she can rest.
“He said they could turn him to the Shadow,” Egwene mumbled. “He said the Myrddraal and the Dreadlords could force him.”
Sheriam missed a step, and looked around quickly. Elaida was almost back to the table. The Aes Sedai surrounding the ter’angreal stared at it, seeming lost to anything else. “An unpleasant thing to talk of, child,” Sheriam said finally, and softly. “Come. One more.”
“Can they?” Egwene insisted.
“Custom,” Sheriam said, “is not to speak of what happens within the ter’angreal. A woman’s fears are her own.”
Sheriam drops her voice, and hastily explains that few people know this truth, even in the Tower, and that Egwene herself should not learn it either. But there is a weakness inherent in being able to channel, a weakness that comes from opening themselves to the True Source. They can also be opened to other things. But this has not been done, as far as Sheriam knows, since the Trolloc wars, and it took Darkfriends who could channel weaving the flows through thirteen Myrddraal even to do it. She impresses upon Egwene the need to keep this secret, since if it were commonly known that a channeler could be turned, no one would ever trust them. And no one but a channeler can be affected this way.
“Thirteen,” Egwene said in a tiny voice. “The same number who left the Tower. Liandrin, and twelve more.”
Sheriam’s face hardened. “That is nothing for you to dwell on. You will forget it.” Her voice climbed to a normal volume. “The third time is for what will be. The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.”
Egwene stared at the glowing arch, stared at some far distance beyond it. Liandrin and twelve others. Thirteen Darkfriends who can channel. Light help us all. She stepped into the light. It filled her. It shone through her. It burned her to the bone, seared her to the soul. She flashed incandescent in the light. Light help me! There was nothing but the light. And the pain.
Egwene finds herself looking into a mirror and is surprised both by the Aes Sedai agelessness in her face and the stole of the Amyrlin Seat around her neck. She hears the words about the way back, and also the number thirteen sounding in her head, and is aware that something is very wrong.
Another Aes Sedai appears at Egwene’s elbow, and Egwene has to think for a moment before finding a name to fit the face. Her name is Beldeine, and Egwene is certain both that she has never seen the woman before and also that she knows her terribly well. Beldeine is wearing a green stole, and because Egwene knows that the Keeper and the Amyrlin are always raised from the same Ajah, she knows that she herself must be of the Green as well. But she is shaken by the fact that she needs to reason out her own past.
The way back will come bu… The voice in her head trailed away to finish in a buzz.
“I am well, Beldeine,” Egwene said. The name felt strange on her tongue; it felt as if she had been saying it for years. “We mustn’t keep them waiting.” Keep who waiting? She did not know, except that she felt infinitely sad about ending that wait, endlessly reluctant.
Beldeine agrees that “they” will be growing impatient, and Egwene allows her Keeper to lead her down the corridors, inwardly trying to puzzle out what is wrong with her memory, why she’s half-convinced that she’s still a novice.
The way back will come but on—This time it ended abruptly.
Thirteen of the Black Ajah.
She stumbled at that. It was a frightening thought, but it chilled her to the marrow beyond fear. It felt—personal. She wanted to scream, to run and hide. She felt as if they were after her. Nonsense. The Black Ajah has been destroyed. That seemed an odd thought, too. Part of her remembered something called the Great Purge. Part of her was sure no such thing had happened.
Eyes fixed ahead, Beldeine had not noticed her stumble. Egwene had to lengthen her stride to catch up. This woman is scared to her toenails. What in the Light is she taking me to?
They arrive in a large, circular domed room, the floor decorated with the Flame of Tar Valon and spirals in the colors of the seven Ajahs. It’s the Hall of the Tower, and all the sitters for the Ajahs—twenty one of them, seated in groups of threes according to their Ajahs—rise when Beldeine announces Egwene’s arrival. She feels both that she has been in that room thousands of times, but also afraid that the women will see something about her, about how she does not belong.
The way back will come but—
The way back will—
The Black Ajah waits. That, at least, was whole. It came from everywhere. Why did no one else seem to hear it?
Egwene sits in her seat, but has no idea what she is supposed to do next. Everyone appears to be waiting on her, so at least she says “Begin,” and that seems to be enough. One of the red sitters stands, and Egwene recognizes Elaida. Elaida commands someone to be brought in, and a group of Aes Sedai enter, surrounding two burly guards and a man in chains. Egwene recognizes him. Rand.
Elaida announces that the man before them has named himself the Dragon Reborn, that he has channeled the One Power. There is only one punishment for that, recognized everywhere in the world but pronounced in only one place, here in the White Tower. She calls on the Amyrlin Seat to pronounce the sentence of gentling. She watches Egwene, who frantically tries to think of what to do, and then asks why Egwene is hesitating to do what has been set down for three thousand years.
A green sister gets to her feet, demanding that Elaida show respect for the Amyrlin, but Elaida responds that respect can be lost as well as won. She asks if Egwene will finally show her weakness, her unfitness for her office, if she will fail to pronounce the sentence. Egwene watches Rand try and fail to lift his head, her mind spinning as she tries to remember that she is the Amyrlin Seat, that she has the power to command everyone in that room. But she is also sure she is a novice, that she doesn’t belong in this place, that something is terribly wrong.
She cries out that she cannot, that she will not, and Elaida shouts to the others that Egwene has condemned herself, calling for them to take her. Beldeine moves up beside Egwene and strikes her in the head with the Keeper’s staff, and Egwene falls into unconsciousness.
When she wakes up she’s first aware of pain in her head, then aware of voices, assuring each other that she will be dealt with before she knows what is happening to her. The voices move away and she realizes that she is naked and lying on a rough table in some storeroom somewhere. There is a group of Aes Sedai in the room as well; thirteen of them.
When Egwene realizes there is also a group of Myrddraal in the room, she knows instantly what is happening, and she screams in terror even as she reaches for saidar. She catches them all by surprise, and the other Aes Sedai are unable to stop her from reaching saidar as the Myrddraal grab at her arms and legs. The Power fills her and the Myrddraal burst into flame as chunks of the wall whip free and tear through the room, colliding with bodies. The air whips into a whirlwind.
As Egwene gets up and staggers towards the door, one Aes Sedai looms up in front of her. Egwene recognizes her as Gyldan, a close confidant of Elaida’s. The other woman is surrounded by the glow of channeling, but Egwene doesn’t use air or stone to fight Gyldan. Instead she punches her right in the face, and Gyldan crumples to the ground.
Rubbing her knuckles, Egwene staggered out into the hall. Thank you, Perrin, she thought, for showing me how to do that. But you didn’t tell me how much it hurts when you do.
Shoving the door shut against the wind, she channeled. Stones around the doorway shivered, cracked, settled against the wood. It would not hold them for long, but anything that slowed pursuit for even a minute was worth doing. Minutes might mean life. Gathering her strength, she forced herself to break into a run. It wobbled, but at least it was a run.
Knowing that her captors would think to search for her first in her rooms, Egwene heads instead to the Amyrlin’s study, where she knows she has spare clothes. She doesn’t see anyone in the hallways or at all until she reaches the inner chamber of her study, where she finds Beldeine, sitting with her head in her hands and crying.
Egwene stopped warily, as Beldeine raised reddened eyes to meet hers. No glow of saidar surrounded the Keeper, but Egwene was still cautious. And confident. She could not see her own glow, of course, but the power—the Power—surging through her was enough. Especially when added to her secret.
Beldeine scrubbed a hand across tearstained cheeks. “I had to. You must understand. I had to. They… They… ” She took a deep, shuddering breath; it all came out in a rush. “Three nights ago they took me while I slept and stilled me.” Her voice rose to a near shriek. “They stilled me! I cannot channel any longer!”
“Light,” Egwene breathed. The rush of saidar cushioned her against the shock. “The Light help and comfort you, my daughter. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have…” She let it trail away, knowing there was nothing she could do.
Beldeine says the same thing, that there was nothing Egwene could do. But her captors told her they could give her ability to channel back again, through the power of the Dark One, and hurt her. She mentions Elaida, confirming Egwene’s suspicions that Elaida is Black Ajah. Finding her spare dress she pulls it on as Beldeine admits that Rand has been taken to the Traitor’s Court.
Shivers assaulted Egwene. Shivers of fear. Shivers of rage. Elaida had not waited, not even an hour. The Traitor’s Court was used for only three purposes: executions, the stilling of an Aes Sedai, or the gentling of a man who could channel. But all of the three took an order from the Amyrlin Seat. So who wears the stole out there? Elaida, she was sure. But how could she make them accept her so quickly, with me not tried, not sentenced? There cannot be another Amyrlin until I’ve been stripped of stole and staff. And they’ll not find that easy to do. Light! Rand! She started for the door.
“What can you do, Mother?” Beldeine cried. “What can you do?” It was not clear whether she meant for Rand or for herself.
“More than anyone suspects,” Egwene said. “I never held the Oath Rod, Beldeine.” Beldeine’s gasp followed her from the room.
Although Egwene’s memory is still giving her trouble, although she can’t remember how she got out of swearing the Three Oaths, she knows that she somehow got out of something that is required of every single woman who becomes a full Aes Sedai. As she runs down the empty hallway, she tries to think through her options, knowing that every Aes Sedai, Accepted, novice and even the servants would be gathered in the Traitor’s Court, while a ring of Warders stood guard preventing anyone from mounting a rescue for the condemned man. If Elaida was wearing the Amyrlin’s stole, there was a good chance the Warders would not admit Egwene to the Court, and while she thinks she might be able to fight through them, it would take too long. Rand could easily be gentled in the time it took her to subdue the Warders. She could attack them with balefire and tear the ground beneath their feet, but Egwene knows that there is no point in breaking Tar Valon’s Power to save Rand. She need to protect them both.
Instead of going all the way to the Traitor’s Court, she turns aside and climbs a tower up to its roof, climbing out onto the almost-white tiles and peering across other rooftops to the wide expanse of the Traitor’s Court. Even at this distance she can see the twelve woman surrounding the lone, chained figure of Rand, a thirteenth standing before him. Egwene can’t see the striped stole from this distance, but she knows it’s Elaida standing as the Amyrlin.
The words she must be saying crept into Egwene’s head.
This man, abandoned of the Light, has touched saidin, the male half of the True Source. Thus do we hold him. Most abominably has this man channeled the One Power, knowing that saidin is tainted by the Dark One, tainted for men’s pride, tainted for men’s sin. Thus do we chain him.
Forcefully, Egwene pushed the rest of it out of her thoughts. Thirteen Aes Sedai. Twelve sisters and the Amyrlin, the traditional number for gentling. The same number as for… She rid herself of that, too. She had no time for anything but what she was there to do. If she could only manage to reason out how.
Egwene thinks that she might be able to lift Rand with Air, even from this distance, taking him right out of the circle of Aes Sedai and carrying him to her over the rooftops. But even if she proved strong enough, Rand would be a helpless target for archers or Aes Sedai and anyone else. Like Myrddraal.
But Egwene can’t think of another way, so she prepares to do it, gathering the Power to her. Suddenly she hears the words: The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
Startled, she nearly falls of the roof, but manages to catch herself. Then she looks over her shoulder.
There on the tower top, tilted to sit flat against the sloping tiles, was a silver arch filled with a glowing light. The arch flickered and wavered; streaks of angry red and yellow darted through the white light.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
The archway thinned to transparency, grew solid again.
Frantic, Egwene gazed toward the Traitor’s Court. There had to be time. There had to be. All she needed was a few minutes, perhaps ten, and luck.
Voices bored into her head, not the disembodied, unknowable voice that warned her to be steadfast, but women’s voices she almost believed she knew.
—can’t hold much longer. If she does not come out now—
Hold! Hold, burn you, or I’ll gut you all like sturgeons!
—going wild, Mother! We can’t—
The voices faded to a drone, the drone to silence, but the unknowable spoke again.
The way back will come but once. Be steadfast.
There is a price to be Aes Sedai.
The Black Ajah waits.
With a scream of rage, of loss, Egwene threw herself at the arch as it shimmered like a heat haze. She almost wished she would miss and plunge to her death.
Light plucked her apart fiber by fiber, sliced the fibers to hairs, split the hairs to wisps of nothing. All drifted apart on the light. Forever.
When Egwene emerges from the arch she is full of anger, and she clings to her cold rage to shield her from the memory of what she experienced. She demands aloud if this is all there is for her, to abandon him again and again, when suddenly she realizes that something is off. The Amyrlin is there, as Egwene had been told she would be, as well as one shawled sister for each Ajah. But they are all staring at her, and there are two Aes Sedai rather than one sitting before each arch, their faces showing sweat and exertion as the ter’angreal hums and its white light is streaked through again and again by angry shots of color.
Sheriam places a hand on Egwene’s head, sending a chill through her, and then announces that Egwene is unharmed. She sounds surprised. Elaida scurries to grab the last chalice as the ter’angreal slowly begins to grow quiet, but the Aes Sedai sitting around it look like they are fighting it every step of the way.
Egwene tries to ask what happened but Sheriam hushes her as Elaida comes back, practically running, to hand the last chalice to the Amyrlin. Egwene kneels as the Amyrlin pours the water over her.
… “You are washed clean of Egwene al’Vere from Emond’s Field. You are washed clean of all ties that bind you to the world. You come to us washed clean, in heart and soul. You are Egwene al’Vere, Accepted of the White Tower.” The last drop splashed onto Egwene’s hair. “You are sealed to us, now.”
The last words seemed to have a special meaning, just between Egwene and the Amyrlin. The Amyrlin thrust the chalice at one of the other Aes Sedai and produced a gold ring in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail. Despite herself, Egwene trembled as she raised her left hand, trembled again as the Amyrlin slipped the Great Serpent ring onto the third finger. When she became Aes Sedai, she could wear the ring on the finger she chose, or not at all if it was necessary to hide who she was, but the Accepted wore it there.
She pulls Egwene to her feet and bids her welcome, and Egwene is struck by being called “daughter” rather than “child,” as she always was before. Then the Amyrlin instructs Sheriam to get Egwene dry and dressed and to make sure that she is fine before striding away to join the other Aes Sedai clustered around the now quiescent ter’angreal. Sheriam remarks that the Mother is worried about Egwene, but doesn’t answer when Egwene asks how much reason the Amyrlin has for concern.
Egwene is given a new Accepted dress, with the bands of the Ajahs around its hem, and she is disappointed that, despite the significance of dress and ring, she doesn’t feel any different. Then Elaida brings over the rest of her things, her old dress and the papers and her pouch, and Egwene has to be careful not to react or snatch the things away. She thanks Elaida and tries to surreptitiously examine her things, but there is no way to tell if anyone read the papers or looked in the pouch. At least the ring is still there. She thinks for a moment she would have been glad if Elaida had taken it, but knows that isn’t really true.
Elaida’s face was as cold as her voice. “I did not want you to be brought forward tonight. Not because I feared what happened; no one could foresee that. But because of what you are. A wilder.” Egwene tried to protest, but Elaida kept on, as implacable as a mountain glacier. “Oh, I know you learned to channel under Aes Sedai teaching, but you are still a wilder. A wilder in spirit, a wilder in ways. You have vast potential, else you would never have survived in there tonight, but potential changes nothing. I do not believe you will ever be part of the White Tower, not in the way the rest of us are, no matter on which finger you wear your ring. It would have been better for you had you settled for learning enough to stay alive, and gone back to your sleepy village. Far better.” Turning on her heel, she stalked away, out of the chamber.
If she isn’t Black Ajah, Egwene thought sourly, she’s the next thing to it. Aloud, she muttered to Sheriam, “You could have said something. You could have helped me.”
“I would have helped a novice, child,” Sheriam replied calmly, and Egwene winced. She was back to “child” again. “I try to protect novices where they need it, since they cannot protect themselves. You are Accepted, now. It is time for you to learn to protect yourself.”
Egwene wonders if she imagined a special emphasis on that last sentence, suspicious now of Sheriam, who could have gone through the papers just as easily as Elaida. Perhaps she saw the list of names as decided that Egwene was mixed up with the Black Ajah. Egwene tells herself she’s being suspicious of everyone, but that it’s better to be suspicious than dead, or captured by thirteen of them.
Egwene asks again what happened while she was in the ter’angreal, and Sheriam admits that she doesn’t know what happened, but that she very much fears that Egwene nearly died. Allana joins them, then, remarking that no one knows what happens to those who do not come out of a ter’angreal. She apologizes to Egwene, then, explaining that the reverberation that she felt before Egwene went into the first arch returned a ten thousandfold, as though the ter’angreal were trying to shut itself off or melt through the floor. She is so contrite, feeling that she did not do her job in stopping the proceedings the first time, that she declares her intention to share Egwene’s punishments, both the kitchen work and the visit to Sheriam’s study.
Sheriam is scandalized, pointing out that an Aes Sedai doing kitchen work, never mind the other thing, is unheard of, and that the Amyrlin would never allow it. Egwene, however, is more concerned with Alanna having some kind of secret agenda, perhaps acting so contrite to cover the fact that she has something to do with the problem, or because she has some reason to want to keep a special eye on Egwene.
“Had I done as I should,” Alanna maintained, “it would never have happened. The only time I have ever seen anything like it was once years ago when we tried to use a ter’angreal in the same room with another that may have been in some way related to it. It is extremely rare to find two such as that. The pair of them melted, and every sister within a hundred paces had such a headache for a week that she couldn’t channel a spark. What’s the matter, child?”
Egwene’s hand had tightened around her pouch till the twisted stone ring impressed itself on her palm through the thick cloth. Was it warm? Light, I did it myself.
“Nothing, Alanna Sedai. Aes Sedai, you did nothing wrong. You have no reason to share my punishments. None at all. None!”
“A bit vehement,” Sheriam observed, “but true.” Alanna only shook her head.
Hesitantly, Egwene asks what it means to be Green Ajah, prompting amusement from Sheriam and Alanna that she’s only just become an Accepted and is already contemplating which Ajah to choose. Alanna gives her a somewhat flippant reply about needing to love, not be in love with them, but truly caring about them more than the other Ajahs do, even the Blue, who like men as long as they share their causes and don’t get in the way. But when Egwene presses, she offers a more serious reply.
“Browns seek knowledge, Blues meddle in causes, and Whites consider the questions of truth with implacable logic. We all do some of it all, of course. But to be a Green means to stand ready.” A note of pride entered Alanna’s voice. “In the Trolloc Wars, we were often called the Battle Ajah. All Aes Sedai helped where and when they could, but the Green Ajah alone was always with the armies, in almost every battle. We were the counter to the Dreadlords. The Battle Ajah. And now we stand ready, for the Trollocs to come south again, for Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. We will be there. That is what it means to be a Green.”
“Thank you, Aes Sedai,” Egwene said. That is what I was? Or what I will be? Light, I wish I knew if it was real, if it had anything at all to do with here and now.
The Amyrlin arrives and asks how Egwene is, stating that she will find out what happened. Alanna surprises Egwene by asking for exactly what she said she would, and the Amyrlin tells her off for being ridiculous. She does share Alanna’s concern, and gives her permission to take a punishment from Sheriam in private, but she will not allow any Aes Sedai to be put up to public scorn, no matter what she has done. Egwene is tempted for a moment to tell them about the ring, but when she sees Alanna’s relative lack of disappointment in not being able work in the kitchens, she decides that Alanna really was looking for an excuse to be in Egwene’s company. What’s more, Egwene now knows that it was the ring that caused the problem with the arches, so Alanna’s intentions are a different mystery.
Wrapped in thought, Egwene heard a throat cleared, then again, more roughly. Her eyes focused. The Amyrlin was staring right into her, and when she spoke, she bit off each word.
“Since you seem to be asleep standing up, child, I suggest you go to bed.” For one instant her glance flashed to the nearly concealed papers in Egwene’s hands. “You have much work to do tomorrow, and for many days thereafter.” Her eyes held Egwene’s a moment longer, and then she was striding away before any of them could curtsy.
As soon as the Amyrlin steps away, Sheriam rounds on Alanna and tells her off for foolishness, distracting Egwene. But when Sheriam notices her listening she tells Egwene off as well, commanding her not to say a word about any of it and to be in her study at the first bell in the morning. Egwene goes, her head spinning, wondering how the Amyrlin could send them off chasing thirteen Black Ajah when she knows that this is the number needed to turn a channeler.
Not wanting to be alone, she goes instead to Nynaeve’s room, where she finds Elayne with her head in Nynaeve’s lap, weeping. She lifts her head at Egwene’s entrance, crying out that she “just couldn’t be that cruel.” Egwene realizes that the incident with the ter’angreal, the distraction over the papers and the ring, and her suspicions of the Aes Sedai had distracted her somewhat from the pain and grief of her experiences. Now, faced with Elayne’s and safely away from the Aes Sedai, Egwene feels it all come rushing in on her.
… Elayne’s words stripped the buffer away, and what was inside hit Egwene as if the ceiling had collapsed. Rand her husband, and Joiya her baby. Rand pinned and begging her to kill him. Rand chained to be gentled.
Before she was aware of moving, she was on her knees beside Elayne, all the tears that should have fallen earlier coming out in a flood. “I couldn’t help him, Nynaeve,” she sobbed. “I just left him there.”
Nynaeve flinched as if struck, but the next moment her arms were around both Egwene and Elayne, hugging them, rocking them. “Hush,” she crooned softly. “It eases with time. It eases, a little. One day we will make them pay our price. Hush. Hush.”
There are a lot of callbacks here to chapter 13 of The Great Hunt, when Nynaeve went through her Accepted Trials. Just as Nynaeve complained about having to wait and then was being rushed, Egwene is caught by surprise when the Trials are suddenly upon her (this is purposeful on the Aes Sedai’s part, I’m sure) and when she asks for more time, she gets the same answer that Nynaeve did: The hour waits on no woman, and the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, when the Wheel wills. But I was also struck by the fact that Egwene has to hide a ring in her pile of clothes, though for a different and more dangerous reason than Nynaeve. Nynaeve’s ring is only important in its significance to her, but it does relate emotionally to her third trip through the arch, while Egwene’s ring has a literal, physical effect on her experience.
As Sheriam points out, Egwene does indeed know much more than Nynaeve did when she took her Accepted trials. Nynaeve had never even heard of ter’angreal before, for one. I remember when Sheriam explained to Nynaeve how there were many ter’angreal in the Tower that were not in use, because no one knew what they did. She told Nynaeve that they do know what this one does, but she also mentioned that the original Aes Sedai who made it might have used it for something different.
At the time I didn’t see too much significance in this. I think the realities of how little the Aes Sedai of Rand’s time know about the relics and spells of the past hadn’t sunk in for me yet—I didn’t understand enough about channeling or the way the Aes Sedai order functioned. Now, however, I realize that Sheriam claiming that they know what the ter’angreal does is not strictly correct. They have figured out how to use it for something, but they don’t know its original purpose, how else it could be used, or even if what happens to a woman while she is inside it is real. That’s kind of a lot, when you think about it.
I don’t believe that what Egwene experiences in the ter’angreal actually happens, but what is really important to me to know is whether or not it is still truth. Is Egwene’s life with Rand and Joiya what would have happened if they hadn’t been found by the Trollocs and Moiraine, and had stayed in the Two Rivers? Or is it merely what Egwene imagines might have happened? Is there some foretold truth in the destruction of Caemlyn and its palace, or is it merely an amalgamation of things that Egwene fears? And what of the future she sees, in which she is the Amyrlin and is forced to decide either to have Rand gentled, or to fight all of the White Tower? Having Rand caught and gentled is something Egwene has feared for some time now, and she is ambitious enough that I could see her imagining becoming the Amyrlin in the heightened dream-state of the ter’angreal.
However, there are a few clues that there is more to these experiences than only Egwene’s imagination and the knowledge she brings with her into the ter’angreal.
Not so much in the first trip. Whether or not what Egwene experiences is exactly what would have happened, it’s all still perfectly plausible. She dreams of a life with Rand, living in that house with Tam and raising a child. This is the life that was, that she could have had, and that she is still letting go of. But she knows who and what Rand is now, and so it makes sense that the headaches and manifestations of his power are also a part of Egwene’s vision. She knows that she would have experienced this, as well as her own blossoming power, even if she had stayed in Emond’s Field. Even the rumors of the Seanchan make their way into this world, and again, it’s not surprising that Egwene is carrying that memory with her.
There is a feeling to this first trip that reminds me very strongly of all the lives Rand experienced while traveling via the Portal Stone. There is that same heavy sense of the burden of the Dragon and of being a channeler that hangs over even the happy life of being married and having a family. Unlike Nynaeve’s first trip through the arch, Egwene doesn’t have to face any fears while in this first world, but she does have to let go of her attachment to Rand, and her attachment to the life she once thought she’d have.
That’s incredibly hard, but it doesn’t technically require facing anything she hasn’t already faced. The second trip, however, presents her with something entirely new, and while it’s possible that her own mind could have come up with the destruction of Caemlyn by Darkfriends and Shadowspawn, the fact that she learns about the ability to turn channelers tells us that there is at least some outside information being brought in by the ter’angreal. Egwene learns more from Rand about how the taint’s madness works and also about the vulnerability particularly to channelers, and this is confirmed by Sheriam. Even if the events of the third trip are just Egwene’s mind reeling from what she has learned, either the ter’angreal is showing her a possible true future or it is deliberately passing her this information for some reason.
Since we don’t know what the device was originally for, it’s possible that the ter’angreal might be designed to convey information in such a way. I speculated, back when Rand and the others lived those alternate lives with the Portal Stone, that perhaps things they experienced in those moments would inform their decisions in their actual lives; perhaps the ancient Aes Sedai built some kind of device that would let them try out scenarios, or live little bits of possible future events in order to prepare themselves for what’s to come. It’s already easy to see that what Egwene has learned about turning channelers and the significance of the number thirteen is going to be important and useful to her one day, even if she never ends up in the exact same scenarios that the ter’angreal showed her. Perhaps she’ll also be forewarned about Beldeine, if she turns out to be someone who really enters Egwene’s life. Perhaps, also, she’ll be prepared for Elaida to turn on her.
Granted, it’s not like Elaida hasn’t made her dislike for Egwene very obvious, so Egwene doesn’t really need the warning. But she did learn about Gyldan’s affiliation with the Black Ajah, so if she encounters that Aes Sedai in the real world she’ll be a step ahead. The question is whether or not Elaida is also Black Ajah. I’m still inclined to believe not, and it would certainly set us up for some real drama if Egwene knew that a close confident of Elaida’s was Black Ajah. It’s not like Elaida would believe Egwene’s word over a friend’s. Or perhaps anyone’s.
I did love that Perrin taught Egwene to throw a punch. I wonder if it’s something she learned from him back in the Two Rivers, or if it’s something he will show her in the future.
Alanna is an interesting question as well. I remember that Egwene was discomfited by Alanna’s interest in Perrin and especially in Rand, so it’s always possible she wanted to get closer to Egwene because of that interest. She might have heard what Egwene said about “leaving him” or something else, even the bit about turning, although Egwene had been speaking quietly and Sheriam had checked to see if anyone seemed to be listening. We do know that some Aes Sedai have tricks to listen in, after all.
As I’m going through all this, I feel like I’m still missing big important parts of what Egwene’s experiences mean, both for her and for the story going forward. It’s a bit like when a character reads or receives a prophecy—it’s peppered with things we recognize and references to clues we may have seen before, but we still can’t put everything together. Also, I realized that, while the ring was clearly affecting the words about “the way back” from coming through to Egwene and was also clearly affecting the doorway itself, I wasn’t sure if her disorientation was entirely due to the ring’s influence or not. Nynaeve also struggled with her third trip through the portal; she remembered on some level that what she was experiencing wasn’t real, and the details of her life with Lan were hazy. He even had to explain to her who their children were. Perhaps the mind adjusts in time to the affects of the ter’angreal, allowing one to retain your own memories? Would you, if you were to go through three more times, eventually be able to navigate it easily without actually being lost in the other version of yourself?
Still, the ring is basically a device that helps one do a very fancy version of lucid dreaming, so perhaps it really was affecting Egwene’s immersion into the third arch’s reality. Still, I would guess that events unfolded more or less the way they would have if she had remembered things more fully. It’s not as though, even if she had been fully immersed, she would have chosen to let Rand be gentled.
But besides the larger mystery of Egwene’s possible futures and whether or not the ancient Aes Sedai would be horrified to see how the modern Aes Sedai are using the ter’angreal, there are a lot of interesting tidbits in this chapter. We now know the categories of all the Ajahs except Grey and Yellow. We’ve learned more about how gentling works—and therefore also how stilling works—which is something I’ve wondered about for a while. It seems likely that Egwene will in fact become the Amyrlin Seat one day, or at least have the opportunity to be. (Will she turn it down, knowing what might one day be asked of her?) We’ve also seen a little bit more of how channeling works; when Egwene is preparing to try to rescue Rand from the Traitor’s Court, she gathered the Power and then “separated skeins” and “directed flows.” This is the first time channeling has been described quite this way, as though saidar (and one assumes its the same with saidin) itself is made up of different threads that weave in different directions. Perhaps the five different aspects of channeling—Air, Water, Earth, Fire, and Spirit—are these different threads within the two halves? In any case, it’s interesting to have channeling described more complexly; I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
I’m also really curious to learn more about Sheriam. She is a fascinating character for me because I kind of hate most things about her office—the corporeal punishment aspect especially—and she is particularly dedicated to intense Aes Sedai hierarchy. But she also seems to have a great capacity for empathy and kindness, like how she is willing to admit both to Nynaeve and Egwene (and, one presumes, all other prospective Accepted) that she could not bring herself to take the trial on her first attempt. She truly does seem to care about those in her charge, and to want them to succeed.
I don’t know. Maybe she just seems extra kind and sympathetic in these chapters because of how nasty Elaida is being. I have a feeling she’s going to cause some real trouble for our heroines, and sooner rather than later.
Three more chapters next week, and one is a really fun chapter with Mat! I’m enjoyed that one more than his first two, and I think the recapping will a good time.
Sylas K Barrett always imagines the “smooth, ageless Aes Sedai look” to be something like how film actors look when they’re given that CGI de-aging treatment, and he wonders if a trick like that might be used on the character when the The Wheel of Time TV show comes out.