Welcome back, dear readers, to week 12 of Reading The Dragon Reborn! This week sets ups up to finally have our heroes getting out of the Tower and back into the wide world, and I am quite ready for it. We also get to see Tel’aran’rhiod and Egwene has some interesting adventures that leave her, and me, with more questions than answers. Also, Lanfear’s plots turn out to be a bit more twisty than I had guessed.
Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne assemble in Egwene’s room after two more shifts in the kitchens. In between work they tried to puzzle out the meaning of the things they found in the storeroom, whether it was a trap, whether the Amyrlin knew about the belongings, and if so, why she didn’t say anything about it. In their shifts in the kitchens they were visited by Verin, who used the cover of her usual absent-minded confusion to ask if they’d found anything; Alanna, who asked if Egwene wanted to know more about the Green Ajah and when they were going to choose their studies; and Elaida, Sheriam, and Anaiya, who just stood and watched them.
Egwene feels like these visits might not have any special meanings, maybe not even Verin’s, but she can’t be sure. As she gets ready for bed, Nynaeve stands nearby holding Egwene’s pouch while Elayne makes nervous conversation about possibly becoming Green Ajah as well, taking Warders, and even possibly marrying one. She adds that there couldn’t be a better candidate for Prince Consort of Andor, then starts to suggest another but trails off. Still, Egwene knows she is thinking of Rand. Egwene still feels jealousy over the thought, even though she feels hypocritical about it, given the way that Galad always makes her feel. But she is also starting to accept that Rand can’t be hers, and suspects that he can’t be Elayne’s either, given his status as the Dragon Reborn.
She tells Nynaeve that she is ready, and although Nyaneve is hesitant and suggests that perhaps they might both be able to use the ring at once. Egwene brushes the idea off, pointing out that it would leave Elayne alone to guard both of them, and that if it doesn’t work they will have wasted the night. She also admits that she’d feel safer with both of them watching over her.
She did not want to say it. In case someone came while she was asleep. The Gray Men. The Black Ajah. Any one of the things that had turned the White Tower from a place of safety to a dark woods full of pits and snares. Something coming in while she lay there helpless. Their faces showed they understood.
As she stretched herself out on the bed and plumped a feather pillow behind her head, Elayne moved the chairs, one to either side of the bed. Nynaeve snuffed the candles one by one, then, in the dark, sat in one of the chairs. Elayne took the other.
Egwene can’t even begin to get sleepy as she lies there in the dark, the weight of what she’s trying to do bearing down on her as she tries to think sleepy thoughts. But then Nynaeve begins to hum, the same wordless tune Egwene’s mother used to hum to her when she was little, and the memories of being warm and safe in her bed begin to lull her to sleep, as the errant thoughts Rand, are you all right? Perrin? Who was she? drift through her mind.
She finds herself standing amid wildflowers and rolling hills, butterflies fluttering past her and larks singing in nearby trees. She’s wearing a dress that’s exactly her favorite color, and in accents that change when she wants them to, and the ter’angreal ring hanging from her neck is as light as a feather when she holds it in her hand. She doesn’t think that this place, this Tel’aran’rhiod, or World of Dreams, feels very dangerous, but she remembers Verin’s warnings. Even if Verin turned out to be Black Ajah, she couldn’t have lied outright to Egwene, and while it is possible for her to be mistaken, Egwene doesn’t really believe she is.
As a test, she opens herself to saidar, and finds channeling works just as well and as easily in Tel’aran’rhiod as it would in the outside world. She channels a bit of a swirl into the breeze, briefly disturbing some butterflies, then stops, remembering that Myrddraal and some other kinds of Shadowspawn can sense someone channeling. It is a relief to know she can channel, but just because she can’t imagine any Shadowspawn in this beautiful place doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Uncertain of what to do next, she supposes she must try to look around. Just by taking a step, she finds herself in another place, the hallway of an inn, dark and silent. All the doors are closed, but as she wonders what is behind the one in front of her, it swings open. Inside, she finds a cold room and two figures she doesn’t recognize at first, a large, shaggy-haired man drowsing while holding himself chained to a pillar, and what she takes at first to be a large dog. Then she realizes that it’s Perrin, and when she steps into the room, the dog gets up and reveals itself to be a black and gray wolf.
Egwene stepped back hastily into the hall in spite of herself. “Perrin! Wake up! There’s a wolf!” Verin had said what happened here was real, and showed the scar to prove it. The wolf’s teeth looked as big as knives. “Perrin, wake up! Tell it I’m a friend!” She embraced saidar. The wolf stalked nearer.
Perrin’s head came up; his eyes opened drowsily. Two sets of yellow eyes regarded her. The wolf gathered himself. “Hopper,” Perrin shouted, “no! Egwene!”
The door swung shut before her face, and total darkness enveloped her.
Egwene is uncomfortable in the next place, wishing she could wake up, before she can suss out that she is in a dark forest, the sounds of crickets and frogs alerting her to it as her eyes adjust enough to make out the dim shapes of trees around her. To her right she can see the flickering glow of a campfire.
Hesitating, she considers how wanting to wake up was not enough for her to actually leave Tel’aran’rhiod, that she hasn’t found anything useful but she also hasn’t been hurt—yet, anyway. She worries there might be Myrddraal around that campfire, but when she finds herself considering her fine dress as an excuse not to investigate, she realizes that she is making excuses because she is afraid, and starts off towards the light.
Although she doesn’t have Nynaeve’s skill at woodcraft, Egwene thinks she can move quietly enough, but when she reaches the fire and discovers Rand there, sitting around a fire that burns without wood and doesn’t even seem to touch the ground or singe the soil, he immediately raises his head and demands to know who is there, saying she’s “rustled enough leaves to wake the dead.”
Annoyed, Egwene steps into the light, telling Rand not to be afraid, that this is a dream, but he’s on his feet at once, stopping her cold. Somehow he seems larger than she remembers, and much more dangerous.
“Do you think I don’t know it is a dream?” he sneered. “I know that makes it no less real.” He stared angrily out into the darkness as if looking for someone. “How long will you try?” he shouted at the night. “How many faces will you send? My mother, my father, now her! Pretty girls won’t tempt me with a kiss, not even one I know! I deny you, Father of Lies! I deny you!”
“Rand,” she said uncertainly. “It’s Egwene. I am Egwene.”
Suddenly there is a sword in his hands, worked out of a silver flame, slightly curved, and engraved with a heron. He tells her that his mother offered honeycake with the smell of poison on it, that “she” offered kisses and more. He asks what Egwene brings, and Egwene angrily tells him that he will listen to her, even she has to sit on him, and then tries to use saidar to make a net of Air to hold him.
The sword spun in his hands, roaring like an open furnace.
She grunted and staggered; it felt as if a rope stretched too tight had broken and snapped back into her.
Rand laughed. “I learn, you see. When it works…” He grimaced and started toward her. “I could stand any face but that one. Not her face, burn you!” The sword flashed out.
Somehow she finds herself back in the place with the rolling hills and sunny sky, surrounded by butterflies and larks. She tries to think of what she has learned—she already knew that the Dark One was after Rand, but maybe this means that the Dark One wants to kill him, which is new. On the other hand, perhaps he has gone mad already, and didn’t know what he was saying. She tells herself that the only way to help him is to gentle him, and that she will never do that.
A redbird on a tree lifts its head to listen to her, and she tells it that she isn’t getting anywhere standing and talking to herself, or to it. It flies off as she steps toward it, but the steps don’t take her anywhere, as they had before.
She stopped and fished the stone ring on its cord out of the front of her dress. Why was it not changing? Everything had changed so fast up till now that she could hardly catch her breath. Why not now? Unless there was some answer right here? She looked around uncertainty. The wildflowers taunted her, and the larksong mocked her. This place seemed too much of her own making.
Determined, she tightened her hand around the ter’angreal. “Take me where I need to be.” She shut her eyes and concentrated on the ring. It was stone, after all; Earth should give her some feeling for it. “Do it. Take me where I need to be.” Once again she embraced saidar, fed a trickle of the One Power into the ring. She knew it did not need any flow of Power directed at it to work, and she did not try to do anything to it. Only to give it more of the Power to use. “Take me to where I can find an answer. I need to know what the Black Ajah wants. Take me to the answer.”
“Well, you’ve found your way at last, child. All sorts of answers here.”
Egwene opens her eyes to find herself in a great hall surrounded by massive redstone columns. In the center a sword made of crystal hangs suspended in the air, slowly revolving, and Egwene thinks she recognizes it as the one Rand was reaching for in her other dream. An old, ugly woman with a bony chin and a face covers in warts steps out from behind one of the pillars, and when Egwene asks who she is, she answers that she is just “poor old Silvie,” and calls her my Lady, and claims to have served her family for years. She asks if her face still frightens Egwene, and says that it serves her when she needs it, as well as a prettier one would.
Egwene agrees, telling her that it is a good, strong face, and hopes the woman believes it. She seems to think she knows Egwene, and Egwene remarks that Silvie said something about answers.
“Oh, you’ve come to the right place for answers, my Lady. The Heart of the Stone is full of answers. And secrets. The High Lords would not be pleased to see us here, my Lady. Oh, no. None but the High Lords enter here. And servants, of course.” She gave a sly, screeching laugh. “The High Lords don’t sweep and mop. But who sees a servant?”
“What kind of secrets?”
But Silvie was hobbling toward the crystal sword. “Plots,” she said as if to herself. “All of them pretending to serve the Great Lord, and all the while plotting and planning to regain what they lost. Each one thinking he or she is the only one plotting. Ishamael is a fool!”
Egwene sharply demands what Silvie just said, but the old woman tells her that it is just a thing poor people say, because it turns the Forsaken’s power to call them fools, and makes you feel good and safe. She urges Egwene to try it, to say “Ba’alzamon is a fool” and Egwene does, finding that what Silvie says is true. It feels good to laugh at the Dark One.
She asks about the sword, and Silvie tells her that it is Callandor, the Sword that cannot be touched (here she swings her stick at the sword and it stops with a loud sound and bounces back, about a foot away from the sword), the Sword That Is Not A Sword, although “there’s precious few knows what it is.” Those who put it there made sure that only one person could touch it, and that the Dragon Reborn will hold Callandor one day and prove his identity. “The first proof, anyway. Lews Therin come back for all the world to see, and grovel before.”
She adds that the High Lords, who don’t like anything to do with the Power, don’t like having the sword there, and would get rid of it if they could, just as some others would happily take it. What would one of the Forsaken give, for example, to hold Callandor.
Egwene knows that if Moiraine is right and Rand is the Dragon, that the prophecies say he will one day hold Callandor, even if the rest of the prophecies make it unclear how such a thing could be possible. Still, she worries that the Black Ajah found a way to take the sword, and if they can do it, then so can she.
Cautiously, she reached out with the Power, probing at whatever held and shielded the sword. Her probe touched—something—and stopped. She could sense which of the Five Powers had been used here. Air, and Fire, and Spirit. She could trace the intricate weave made by saidar, set with a strength that amazed her. There were gaps in that weave, spaces where her probe should slide through. When she tried, it was like fighting the strongest part of the weave head on. It hit her then, what she was trying to force a way through, and she let her probe vanish. Half that wall had been woven using saidar; the other half, the part she could not sense or touch, had been made with saidin. That was not it, exactly—the wall was all of one piece—but it was close enough. A stone wall stops a blind woman as surely as one who can see it.
Footsteps echoed in the distance. Boots.
Egwene can’t tell how many or in what direction they’re coming from, but Silvie seems to, and begins muttering about how “he’s coming to stare at it again” and “awake or asleep, he wants…” Remembering Egwene, she puts on a worried smile and urges her to leave, saying that he mustn’t know that she’s been there. It doesn’t take Silvie’s words or her waving her stick about, and Egwene assures the woman that she is going, as soon as she can remember the way. But when she instructs the ring to take her back to the hills, nothing happens.
“You don’t know the way out,” Sylvie said flatly, then went on in a near whisper, ingratiating and mocking at once, an old retainer who felt she could take liberties. “Oh, my Lady, this is a dangerous place to come into, if you don’t know the way out. Come, let poor old Silvie take you out. Poor old Silvie will tuck you safe in your bed, my Lady.” She wrapped both arms around Egwene, urging her further from the sword. Not that Egwene needed much urging. The boots had stopped; he—whoever he was—was probably gazing at Callandor.
“Just show me the way,” Egwene whispered back. “Or tell me. There’s no need to push.” The old woman’s fingers had somehow gotten tangled around the stone ring. “Don’t touch that, Silvie.”
“Safe in your bed.”
Pain annihilated the world.
With a cry, Egwene sits up sharply in bed, moaning about how much it hurt as she searches her body for some kind of burns or weals, but finding nothing. In the dark she hears Nynaeve’s voice assuring her that they are there with her. She throws herself towards the sound and wraps her arms around Nynaeve.
“Elayne,” Nynaeve said.
In a few moments one of the candles was giving a small light. Elayne paused with the candle in hand and the spill she had lit with flint and steel in the other. Then she smiled, and every candle in the room burst into flame. She stopped at the washstand and came back to the bed with a cool, damp cloth to wash Egwene’s face.
“Was it bad?” she asked worriedly. “You never stirred. You never mumbled. We did not know whether to wake you or not.”
In answer, Egwene pulls the ring and its cord off and hurls it across the room. She tells them that next time they must agree on a designated time to wake her, but is surprised to hear herself declaring that there will be a next time. But as afraid as she is, she’s equally certain that the answer to why the Black Ajah took all those ter’angreal lies somewhere in Tel’aran’rhiod, and she can find those answers, and maybe others too, in that place. But not tonight.
Nynaeve asks what happened, and Egwene tells them everything except for Perrin’s wolf, since that is not her secret to tell. The rest she describes word for word. Elayne is immediately concerned about Rand, asking how he seemed, besides tired, and saying that she can’t believe he would ever hurt Egwene. But Nynaeve is more concerned about Callandor, and how that pretty much proves that they know now where the Black Ajah is.
Egwene points out that knowing the clues about Tear just shows that it is definitely a trap, and Nynaeve answers that the best way to catch the person who sets a trap is to spring it, and then wait for him, or her in this case, to come.
“You mean go to Tear?” Egwene said, and Nynaeve nodded.
“The Amyrlin has cut us loose, it seems. We make our own decisions, remember? At least we know the Black Ajah is in Tear, and we know who to look for there. Here, all we can do is sit and stew in our own suspicions of everybody, wonder if there is another Gray Man out there. I would rather be the hound than the rabbit.”
Elayne says that she will have to write to her mother, that she has already vanished once without telling her and if she does it again there’s no telling what Morgase might do. She refuses to stay behind, however, to scrub pots alone and worry about Black Ajah and the Gray Men. She just has to tell her mother that she is out of the Tower on the Amyrlin’s orders, not where they are going or why.
Nynaeve reminds her that she can’t know who else might see the letter before it reaches Morgase, and Elayne adds that her involvement in the hunt for the Black Ajah is still unknown to the Amyrlin, and wonders how she can send the letter without alerting the Amyrlin to her plans. Nynaeve decides to ponder the problem, and that they will wait one more day before leaving, giving the Amyrlin a last chance to come talk to them and learn their plans. If the Amyrlin doesn’t come to them by mid-day, they will leave anyway.
Both girls agree, and Egwene admits that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of the night sleeping alone. She’s embarrassed about it, but Elayne echoes the sentiment and how she can’t stop thinking about the Gray Men, and even Nynaeve admits that she isn’t thrilled at the prospect herself.
They’ve managed to all three fit into Egwene’s bed, although it’s snug, when Nynaeve suddenly laughs aloud.
“I just thought of someone who’d be happy to carry Elayne’s letter for her. Happy to leave Tar Valon, too. In fact, I’d bet on it.”
Mat is sitting shirtless in his room having a post-breakfast snack when Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne come in, smiling brightly. He curtails his impulse to get up and put on a shirt, since they apparently couldn’t even be bothered to knock.
“Well, you do look better,” Egwene said.
“As if you had had a month of good food and rest,” Elayne said.
Nynaeve pressed a hand to his forehead. He flinched before he recalled that she had done much the same for at least five years, back home. She was just the Wisdom then, he thought. She wasn’t wearing that ring.
She had noticed his flinch. She gave him a tight smile. “You look ready to be up and about, to me. Are you tired of being cooped up, yet? You never could stand two days in a row indoors.
With an effort Mat avoids licking his fingers, and takes in the smiles they’re all giving him. He tells them that they look like cats staring at a finch caught in a thorn bush, and that he suspects that he is the finch.
Their smiles slip, and Egwene remarks that she did say they should ask him straight out, given how stubborn and tricky he can be. Nynaeve tells him that just because they want a favor doesn’t mean they don’t also care about how he feels, and asks if he’s well. She really does think that he looks like he’s been recovering a month, rather than two days.
Mat assures her that he’s well enough to “run ten miles and dance a jig at the end of it,” but he’s still suspicious; when Nynaeve wants something she doesn’t ask a favor, she just tells people what she wants and expects it to be done. Before Nynaeve can explain, Elayne tells him that she wants him to carry a for her letter to Caemlyn, and gives him a pretty smile, adding how very much she would appreciate it. Mat is charmed by the smile and the way the sun hits her hair, but not enough to stop being suspicious. When he asks what’s in it for him, her demeanor changes.
She drew herself up, slim and proud. He could almost see a throne behind her. “Are you a loyal subject of Andor? Do you not wish to serve the Lion Throne, and your Daughter-Heir?”
“I told you that would not work either,” Egwene said. “Not with him.”
Elayne had a wry twist to her mouth. “I thought it worth a try. It always works on the Guards, in Caemlyn. You said if I smiled—” She cut off short, very obviously not looking at him.
What did you say, Egwene, he thought, furious. That I’m a fool for any girl who smiles at me? He kept his outward calm, though, and managed to maintain his grin.
Egwene remarks that Mat never does favors, asking if he’s ever done anything without being persuaded or bullied into it. Mat counters that he would dance with either of them, but not run errands.
Nynaeve interrupts then, telling Mat that she had almost forgotten how rude he was, given how he’s been so sick for so long, with the three girls taking care of him like a baby. Still, she thought he’d be grateful to them, and want to show that gratitude while getting to see Caemlyn, as he’s professed a desire to see the world and great cities before.
She sets the letter, sealed with a lily in yellow wax, down on the table, and Mat, who can barely remember when he passed through Caemlyn with Rand, gives it a regretful glance. But he knows it’s better if he tells the truth now, rather than let this go on. He tells Nynaeve that he can’t, and when she gets indignant about that, clarifies by telling her that the Amyrlin has made it impossible for him to leave the island. If they can fix that, he’ll gladly take the letter.
The three women share a look, and then Nynaeve asks why the Amyrlin would want to keep him in Tar Valon. Mat insists that it is because it was so long, and that the Amyrlin just wants to make sure he won’t go off somewhere and die.
Nynaeve frowned, and jerked her braid, and suddenly took his head between her hands; a chill ran through him. Light, the Power! Before the thought was done, she had released him.
“What…? What did you do to me, Nynaeve?”
“Not a tenth part of what you deserve, in all likelihood,” she said. “You are as healthy as a bull. Weaker than you look, but healthy.”
Mat points out that he told her as much, trying to grin and rambling unhelpfully as he tries to come up with an explanation that they’ll expect while keeping them away from the truth about the Horn—although he wonders if they know. He tells Nynaeve it’s probably because of the dagger, because they want to figure out what it did. He tries to laugh that off with a “you know how Aes Sedai are” but doesn’t get the reaction he wants and, worried that he’s going on too long, tries to get to the point, stating simply that the Amyrlin made it so that he can’t board a ship or cross a bridge without an order from her. It’s not that he doesn’t want to help, it’s that he can’t.
Nynaeve clarifies that he would, then, if they can get him out of Tar Valon.
“You get me out of Tar Valon, and I’ll carry Elayne to her mother on my back.”
Elayne’s eyebrows went up, this time, and Egwene shook her head, mouthing his name with a sharp look in her eyes. Women had no sense of humor, sometimes.
Nynaeve motioned the two of them to follow her to the windows, where they turned their backs to him and talked so softly he could catch only a murmur. He thought he heard Egwene say something about only needing one if they stayed together. Watching, he wondered if they really thought they could get around the Amyrlin’s order. If they can do that, I will carry their bloody letter. I really will carry it in my teeth.
Without thinking, he picked up an apple core and bit off the end. One chew, and he hastily spit the mouthful of bitter seeds back onto the plate.
Egwene comes back to the table and hands him the folded paper the Amyrlin gave her. Mat reads it, astonished, and realizes he is humming a song called ‘A Pocket Full of Gold’ as he does. After being assured that it isn’t a forgery and that it doesn’t matter how they got it, Nynaeve advises him not to show it around lest the Amyrlin get wind of it and take the paper back, and assures Mat that it will get him past the guards and onto a ship.
Mat folds the paper and lays it down with the letter, asking if they have any money to go with it. They don’t, and when Nynaeve asks about Mat’s gambling with Hurin, he points out that they played for coppers, not quite enough for his passage downriver, and certainly not enough once he gets there, now that things are getting so expensive. When Nynaeve expresses confusion about this, he also explains that there’s civil war in Cairhien, and that it’s bad in Tear too.
“We have been busy,” [Nynaeve] said sharply, and exchanged worried looks with Egwene and Elayne that set him wondering again.
“It doesn’t matter. I can make out.” There had to be gaming in the inns near the docks. A night with the dice would put him aboard a ship in the morning with a full purse.
“Just you deliver that letter to Queen Morgase, Mat,” Nynaeve said. “And do not let anyone know you have it.”
“I’ll take it to her. I said I would, didn’t I? You would think I didn’t keep my promises.” The looks he got from Nynaeve and Egwene reminded him of a few he had not kept. “I will do it. Blood and—I will do it!”
After that, they stay and talk with him for a while, of home in the Two Rivers and all the people they miss. It makes Mat feel homesick, and Nynaeve and Egwene talk sadly, as if speaking of things they will never see again, but when he tries to change the subject they keep bringing it back around again. Elayne, meanwhile, talks about Caemlyn, of who to talk to in the palace and what to expect. Mat can almost see a crown on her head while she talks, and when the time comes for them to go, he’s quite sorry about it.
He tells them that they are doing him a huge favor, and while he knows that they are going to be Aes Sedai and that Elayne will be a Queen someday, they can count on him to come if they ever need his help. This prompts stifled amusement from the girls, but Nynaeve just tells him it’s in reference to something she has observed about men.
“Journey well and safely, Mat,” Egwene said. “And remember, if a woman does need a hero, she needs him today, not tomorrow.” The laughter bubbled out of her.
He stared at the door closing behind them. Women, he decided for at least the hundredth time, were odd.
Then his eye fell on Elayne’s letter, and the folded paper lying atop it. The Amyrlin’s blessed, not-to-be-understood, but welcome-as-a-fire-in-winter paper. He danced a little caper in the middle of the flowered carpet. Caemlyn to see, and a queen to meet. Your own words will free me of you, Amyrlin. And get me away from Selene, too.
“You’ll never catch me,” he laughed, and meant it for both of them. “You’ll never catch Mat Cauthon.”
Turning a spit in the kitchen, aching from the effort and sweating in front of the fire, Nynaeve silently curses the spit-dog whose work she is doing, as well as the Aes Sedai, not even noticing the language she’s using. Nearby Egwene and Elayne are hard at work skimming fat and basting meat, while the mid-day bustle of the kitchen goes on around them. Seeing three Accepted hard at work has become normal enough that no one even looks anymore.
Laras, the chief cook, who many call the Mistress of the Kitchen, comes over to inspect their work, carrying the spoon she never uses to stir anything, but rather wields as a tool to direct those under her, and occasionally deliver a smack to anyone not moving fast enough to suit her.
Nynaeve met Laras’ look with a level look of her own and kept turning the spit. The massive woman’s face never altered. Nynaeve had tried smiling, but that did nothing to change Laras’ expression. Stopping work to speak to her, quite civilly, had been a disaster. It was bad enough being bullied and chivied by Aes Sedai. She had to put up with that, however much it rankled and burned, if she was to learn how to use her abilities. Not that she liked what she could do—it was one thing to know Aes Sedai were not Darkfriends for channeling the Power, but quite another to know she herself could channel—yet she had to learn if she was to get back at Moiraine; hating Moiraine for what she had done to Egwene and the other Emond’s Fielders, pulling their lives apart and manipulating them all for Aes Sedai purposes, was nearly all that kept her going. But to be treated as a lazy, none-too-bright child by this Laras, to be forced to curtsy and scurry for this woman she could have put in her place with a few well-chosen words back home—that made her grind her teeth almost as much as did the thought of Moiraine. Maybe if I just do not look at her…. No! I will be burned if I’ll drop my eyes before this… this cow!”
Laras sniffs again and then walks away, prompting Elayne to mutter about what she’ll have done to the woman if she strikes Elayne one more time with that spoon, as Egwene hisses for her to be quiet. It does, in fact, seem like Laras heard Elayne, but before she can react the Amyrlin herself comes into the kitchen, wearing a scowl and bristling from head to toe. She stomps around the kitchen like a whirlwind, her intense, angry stare suggesting displeasure at everything and everyone she sees and sending cooks and novices scurrying. Even Laras is cowed before it, her eager smile slipping immediately.
The Amyrlin stopped in front of the roasting spit, fists on her hips, and looked at Laras. She only looked, expressionless, blue eyes cold and hard.
The large woman gulped, and her chins wobbled as she smoothed her apron. The Amyrlin did not blink. Laras’ eyes dropped, and she shifted heavily from foot to foot. “If the Mother will pardon me,” she said in a faint voice. Making something that might have been meant for a curtsy, she rushed away, so forgetting herself that she joined the women at one of the soup kettles and began stirring with her own spoon.
Nynaeve smiles to herself, amused at the show, and she shares the Amyrlin’s quietly voiced thought as she stands with her back to the three toiling Accepted, that if the women are that easily cowed, perhaps they have been getting away with too much for too long. Nynaeve thinks them pitiful excuses for women, herself, but when the Amyrlin glances over her shoulder at them, Nynaeve finds herself turning the spit faster.
The Amyrlin’s glance falls onto Elayne next, and she suddenly and angrily announces that if Egwene will use such language, the Amyrlin will have those words scrubbed out of her mouth. Nynaeve catches on at once, but Elayne is confused and Egwene, indignant, tries to interject.
The Amyrlin cuts her off with a shout of “Silence!” and orders Laras to finds something to teach two girls to say what and when they should, and the frightened woman drags the two girls off.
Standing close enough to touch Nynaeve but with her back still turned, the Amyrlin admits, very quietly, that she did not intend for Egwene to get caught up in that, but perhaps it will teach her to think before she speaks. Keeping her head down, Nynaeve answers at the same volume, telling the Amyrlin that they thought she was going to come check in on them, so they could report their findings.
“If I come stare at you every day, Daughter, some would grow suspicious.” The Amyrlin kept up her study of the kitchen. Most of the women seemed to be avoiding even looking in her direction for fear of incurring her wrath. “I planned to have you brought to my study after the midday meal. To scold you for not choosing your studies, so I implied to Leane. But there is news that could not wait. Sheriam found another Gray Man. A woman. Dead as last week’s fish, and not a mark on her. She was laid out as if resting, right in the middle of Sheriam’s bed. Not very pleasant for Sheriam.”
Nynaeve stiffened, and the spit halted for a moment before she put it back to revolving. “Sheriam had a chance to see the lists Verin gave to Egwene. So did Elaida. I make no accusations, but they had the chance. And Egwene said Alanna… behaved oddly, too.”
The Amyrlin remarks that Alanna is from Arafel, where they have strange notions about honor and debt, but she supposes she can keep an eye on her. Nynaeve wonders if the Amyrlin intends to keep an eye on Sheriam too, and Elaida for that matter.
She observes that she doesn’t know why the Amyrlin trusts Else Grinwell, but that the message was helpful, and explains everything they found in the storeroom and their conclusions about them, as succinctly and quietly as she can. She leaves out the ring from Verin and Egwene’s trip to Tel’aran’rhiod, however.
When she finishes, the Amyrlin is silent for so long that Nynaeve isn’t sure if she heard, then finally tells Nynaeve that she didn’t send any message, that the things left behind by Liandrin and her followers were carefully examined and then burned, and that Else Grinwell had proved more interested in watching the Warders train than in studying, and was sent home to her mother ten days ago.
Nynaeve is filled with rage and fear to realize how contemptuously the Black Ajah are of any who might be hunting for them, comparing them to the way bullies taunt smaller children, thinking the little ones are too stupid to understand what the bullies are doing. And if Else was sent away that long ago, that means anyone could be Liandrin, or any of the others.
The Amyrlin asks what they intend to do about the trap Nynaeve has spotted, and Nynaeve repeats her words to Egwene and Elayne.
“Perhaps so, child. Perhaps it is the way to find them. If they do not come and find you held tightly in their net.” She gave a vexed sigh. “I will put gold in your room for the journey. And I will let it be whispered about that I have sent you out to a farm to hoe cabbages. Will Elayne be going with you?”
Nynaeve forgot herself enough to stare at the Amyrlin, then hurriedly put her eyes back on her hands. Her knuckles were white on the spit handle. “You scheming old… Why all the pretense, if you knew? Your sly plots have had us squirming nearly as much as the Black Ajah has. Why?” The Amyrlin’s face had tightened, enough to make her force a more respectful tone. “If I may ask, Mother.”
The Amyrlin answers wryly that fixing things with Morgase will be hard enough without the Queen thinking that the Amyrlin has “sent her daughter to sea in a leaky skiff.” This way, if Morgase asks, the Amyrlin can answer that she had nothing to do with it, and though it may be hard on Elayne when she finally has to face her mother, now the Amyrlin has three hounds, instead of two.
Not wanting to draw attention for standing too long, she asks if there is anything else. She’s shocked into almost turning towards Nynaeve when the latter asks what Callandor is.
… “They cannot be allowed to have that.” Her whisper was barely audible, as if meant for her own ears alone. “They cannot possibly take it, but…” She took a deep breath, and her soft words firmed enough to be clear to Nynaeve, if to no one two paces further away. “No more than a dozen women in the Tower know what Callandor is, and perhaps as many outside. The High Lords of Tear know, but they never speak of it except when a Lord of the Land is told on being raised. The Sword That Cannot Be Touched is a sa’angreal, girl. Only two more powerful were ever made, and thank the Light, neither of those was ever used. With Callandor in your hands, child, you could level a city at one blow. If you die keeping that out of the Black Ajah’s hands—you, and Egwene, and Elayne, all three—you’ll have done a service to the whole world, and cheap at the price.”
Nynaeve answers that she thought only the Dragon Reborn could take Callandor, and the Amyrlin supposes that they could be after something else, since the Stone of Tear holds as many ter’angreal as there are in the Tower. The High Lords hate anything to do with the One Power, but they also hold one of the most powerful forces of it that the world has ever seen. The Amyrlin believes that this is why they have collected so many ter’angreal: to diminish the significance of Callandor, a symbol they can never get rid of, and which reminds them of the prophesied doom of the Stone itself. Their pride must be so rankled, she says, knowing that this incredible fortress will fall as one of the signs of the Dragon’s rebirth, and not even the most important one. But the Stone is where they raise Lords of the Land and where they recite, four times a year, the Rite of the Guarding, in which they claim to be guarding the world against the Dragon by holding Callandor.
Nyaneve, stunned, thinks about how it always comes back to Rand, and tells the Amyrlin that there is nothing else.
The Amyrlin shifted her stole again, frowning at the frenzied scurry in the kitchen. “I’ll have to set this aright. I needed to speak to you without delay, but Laras is a good woman, and she manages the kitchen and the larders well.”
Nynaeve sniffed, and addressed her hands on the spit handle. “Laras is a sour lump of lard, and too handy with that spoon by half.” She thought she had muttered it under her breath, but she heard the Amyrlin chuckle wryly.
“You are a fine judge of character, child. You must have done well as the Wisdom of your village. It was Laras who went to Sheriam and demanded to know how long you three are to be kept to the dirtiest and hardest work, without a turn at lighter. She said she would not be a party to breaking any woman’s health or spirit, no matter what I said. A fine judge of character, child.”
Laras returns then, and this time the Amyrlin is all smiles as she tells the woman how perfectly in order everything is, commending her and saying that she might make Mistress of the Kitchens an official title. Laras’s expression is one of shocked pleasure until the Amyrlin leaves the room, and then it returns to its commanding scowl. Nyaneve puts her back into her work, and tells herself she will smile at Laras if it kills her.
Egwene and Elayne get back to work as well, complaining of the taste of soap. Egwene adds that if the Amyrlin said they couldn’t go, that she might run away for real. But Nyaneve just tells them that they are leaving after the washing up is done, and wishes she could feel as eager about it as they clearly do.
The biggest revelation for me this week, I think, is that those bags of possessions didn’t belong to the women who left with Liandrin. I already suspected that Lanfear was disguising herself as Else, of course, and assumed that she was giving them information that the Amyrlin didn’t want them to have. I supposed the Amyrlin kept the possessions a secret because she thought them dangerous in some way, or because she worried someone would fall into the trap. And having them destroyed seems a bit premature—how can they be certain they didn’t miss anything, when they don’t even really know what they’re looking for?
Knowing what I know now, I am really curious as to what Lanfear did. Did she collect those things and plant the bags herself? Were they already there somehow, belonging to some other group of people, of Black Ajah, and Lanfear just changed the name tags? But if she planted everything, that means the trap that Nynaeve spotted wasn’t set by the Black Ajah at all, but by Lanfear herself. When she finds out that the message wasn’t sent by the Amyrlin, Nynaeve feels like she is being bullied and tricked, and treated like a stupid child, which pretty much tracks with how Lanfear sees basically everyone around her.
How this all relates to Rand is unclear. It’s possible Lanfear has some allies we haven’t met yet, but as far as we know she belongs to no group but her own. So either she is planning to catch him in that net that Egwene saw in her dream, and somehow is going to use Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne to do it, or she hopes to disrupt any attempts by others to capture Rand, and is using Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne in that plan. I can’t say which I think is more likely (although I imagine she does want Rand to have Callandor, so perhaps that’s a point in the favor of option B) or if there’s some other answer I haven’t sussed out yet.
I think it’s safe to assume that Silvie is Lanfear as well—she’s the obvious culprit, especially after the way she talks about Ba’alzamon. I liked the clues left for us in that scene, such as the quote about her face—It serves me, when I need it, as good as a prettier—and the fact that she originally says Ishamael before switching to Ba’alzamon. I am curious as to why she had Egwene call Ba’alzamon a fool out loud; is there any truth to this folksy claim, or is Lanfear just hazing her at this point, as she seems to be doing with the obsequious old servant routine? I did notice that she claims it turns the Forsaken’s power to call them fools, not necessarily the Dark One, however Egwene doesn’t seem to have noticed that. I don’t think I would have either, without all my extra knowledge.
Egwene’s encounters with Perrin and Rand broke my heart. At least we understand what is going on with Perrin, though, and I love the idea that Hopper lives on in the Dream World. I wonder if that’s true of all wolves, or if this manifestation is because of Perrin’s specific connection to this specific wolf. Also I wonder what Perrin will make of this encounter, if he understands that Egwene was actually there with him.
And as for Rand, we’re left with the question of whether or not his torments are actually coming from the Dark One or if it’s just in his own mind. Of all Egwene’s encounters in Tel’aran’rhiod, this was the one I kept forgetting was a dream—Rand isn’t necessarily warming himself by a saidin-powered fire in the real world. But he could be, I suppose. Since we haven’t seen much of him lately, we don’t know how much his powers have grown. Still, just because he can do all this fancy stuff in the Dream World doesn’t mean he can do it all outside of Tel’aran’rhiod.
I’m curious about how one can channel in Tel’aran’rhiod, and what it was that Rand did to stop Egwene from channeling. Did he cut her off from the True Source somehow? The Amyrlin did that once to Nynaeve, so it can be done by a single person, and we know Rand is powerful enough. What we don’t know is if the taint on saidin is affecting his mind, yet, and if his understanding of the things that are happening to him are correct. I did wonder about those hounds that Rand thought were chasing him, the last time we saw him.
I liked the concept that the flowered hills were a place of Egwene’s own making; it reminds me of meditation techniques where you imagine a peaceful place or picture one that had meaning for you at some time in your life. I suppose a traveler in Tel’aran’rhiod would need a home base, especially for a quick retreat. And Egwene making herself a fancy dress was really cute.
We don’t learn that much new about the Stone from Egwene’s dream; the man who comes to look at Callandor is probably Ishamael, although it could be someone we haven’t met yet who will end up being a third-book-specific villain. Another member of the Forsaken who’s been recently freed, maybe, or one of the High Lords. Egwene’s ring is supposed to work even for those who can’t channel, so there’s a possibility that some non-channeler could use a similar ter’angreal to reach the Dream World; the Amyrlin did say that the High Lords have a lot of ter’angreal, despite their hatred of the One Power.
But why did Silvie/Lanfear using the ring hurt Egwene so badly? She experienced pain going though the last arch as it was being interfered with by the ring; perhaps being affected by someone who is not the current user has a similar effect.
I’m vaguely fascinated by how things are panning out with Mat now, though. Having been through these three chapters, watching the Amyrlin bring about the very thing she doesn’t want through the (very necessary) need for scheming was both entertaining and a little alarming—it shows some of the flaws in the ways the Aes Sedai conduct their affairs.
It breaks down like this. The Amyrlin wanted Elayne on Team-Hunting-the-Black-Ajah all along, since she needs as many hounds as she can get and the three of them are the only ones she can be completely certain of. But because of Morgase, the Amyrlin couldn’t involve Elayne herself—if Morgase asked whether the Amyrlin was responsible for Elayne’s situation, the first of the Three Oaths would force the Amyrlin to answer truthfully. But she clearly suspected that Egwene and Nynaeve would involve their friend, so she allowed it to happen out of her sight. It’s a win-win, except for the fact that, because the girls felt that they needed to keep Elayne’s involvement a secret from the Amyrlin, they had to find the workaround to send the letter to Morgase without the Amyrlin knowing. By involving Mat, the only person they could really trust, the girls have accidentally circumvented the Amyrlin’s own orders with the tool she gave them to act secretly in her name. You have to appreciate how neatly, and ironically, it all worked out.
I am worried about Mat, though. Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne might not know that the Amyrlin needs to keep him close because of his connection to the Horn, but they also don’t know about his need to keep eating so much more than is usual, and Mat himself doesn’t seem to take the question of food as seriously as I think he maybe should. If the girls knew the truth they might have thought twice about getting him to do it, which is no doubt why he kept it from them. Mat’s probably too canny to starve to death somewhere between Tar Valon and Caemlyn, but it’s still a risk he might not be aware he’s taking, since he’s too worked up about being an Aes Sedai prisoner. I did love his little caper and “can’t catch me now” boast though. It’s very trickster of him.
I have an interesting new theory about Nynaeve’s braid tugging. She jerks on it right before she Delves Mat, and while that could easily be just a regular expression of her frustration, I suddenly wondered if maybe it was the other way around. Nynaeve still can’t use her (otherwise very impressive) channeling abilities without being angry; maybe she’s not tugging on her hair as an expression of her feelings but rather as a physical cue to help get herself to that place where she’s worked up enough to channel. Rather than being a random tic, perhaps it is actually an incredibly specific one.
Also of interest to me this week is how I’m beginning to understand the weight of various curses in this world. When I started out in this new fictional culture with no context for insults like “burn you” or “Light burn you,” the full impact of such a curse didn’t really mean anything to me. But now, with the understanding that the people the Light traditionally burns are Darkfriends, there’s a lot more heft to that curse. It’s pretty serious. And given how first Uno, and now Mat, are attempting not to curse so much in front of ladies, or at least Aes Sedai, it seems like “bloody” is also more serious than it is for the folks of England or Australia, where it is a pretty mild curse and not actually an expletive at all, respectively.
I kind of wanted to wash Nynaeve ‘s mouth out with soap myself after she called Laras a cow, though, and I’m really glad that the Amyrlin took her down a peg. Nynaeve’s anger towards the Aes Sedai is somewhat understandable, even if it is overblown and much more likely to hurt her than any of the Aes Sedai around her, at least for the time being. But she is only going to gain in power, and how she thinks of those beneath her is incredibly important. Her pride can serve her well at times, but if it becomes haughty arrogance that’s another thing. Don’t turn into Liandrin, Nynaeve. And there’s no reason to be fat-shaming, in any case. Child, indeed. Nynaeve may be accustomed to being advanced for her age, but the younger Two Rivers folk aren’t the only ones who need to grow up a little.
It’s interesting that Sheriam has now been the first, or close to the first, on scene for both of the Gray Man deaths. It can’t be a coincidence. If she is Black Ajah, she could be working with them in some capacity, including perhaps being the one who kills them to prevent their discovery. Putting the new corpse in her own bed might have been to divert suspicion. On the other hand, it feels like a very classic threat, and I can’t stop thinking about how Beldeine betrayed Egwene in her third trip through the arched ter’angreal. I don’t think you can say Beldeine counts as a Darkfriend just because she was coerced into doing their bidding; she’s more what you might call an agent of Darkfriends than a Darkfriend herself. Sheriam can still channel, but there could be other ways she might be coerced into aiding and abetting the enemy; and perhaps the Gray Man was left in her bed to remind her of the consequences of not doing as she’s told. That would be really sad, and an interesting new addition to the things our protagonists have to worry about.
Nynaeve’s worry about not being able to know if anyone she’s talking to is Liandrin or some other Black Ajah member is understandable, but I’m guessing that it takes a bit of real power to hoodwink someone with a disguise like that, and I don’t imagine just any Aes Sedai could do it. Seems more like some Age of Legends trick to me, although I certainly can’t know that for sure.
That’s all my thoughts for now. Except to thank the commenter who pointed out how I misread Egwene’s dream about Perrin and the hawk and falcon. The mods let me know what’s up, so I’ll keep that in mind going forward. Thanks for having my back, y’all!
Next week we’re tackling three more chapters, in which Mat gets out of the Tower and goes on some very strange adventures of his own (Thom’s back!) and gets out on the river in a ship that maaaaybe wasn’t the best choice of vessels. In the meantime, I’m left contemplating what else is going to change in the Tower while Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne are off chasing Liandrin, the Sword that Isn’t a Sword, and possibly Rand, too. Last time things went very sideways in their absence, and as worried as everyone is about Morgase, I’m still keeping my eye on Elaida.
Sylas K Barrett is very much not here for either classism, or fat-shaming. Get your act together, Nynaeve.