Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Ladies Seek Answers and So Does a Seeker in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 32)

This week’s Reading the Wheel of Time features Elayne and Nynaeve in a chapter I like to title “What The Heck Do Those Girls Think They Are Doing?” Or “Veils” I guess.

In Chapter 46 we return to Nynaeve and Elayne’s search for the Black Ajah and watch Nynaeve make some really weird choices about how she wants to handle things in Tanchico. We also reconnect with Egeanin. To my complete surprise, I might actually be starting to like her. Oh, and also a new Forsaken shows up—and she is terrifying.

On towards the recap, my friends, and make sure you’ve picked the appropriate clothing for the trip.

Chapter 46 opens with Egeanin making her way though the streets of the Calpene near the Great Circle, tracking Gelb and some men he has hired through the throngs of refugees filling the streets. She knows she should be pleased, knowing that the state of Tanchico will make it easy for the Seanchan to conquer it, but she hates looking at the disorder, homelessness, and hunger in the streets.

Her main focus, however, is on Gelb and his men, as she suspects that he is going to capture another woman he thinks is one of those Egeanin is looking for. Egeanin wants to protect whoever she is, to avoid having to either kill her or send her back to Seanchan to be a slave in order to protect her own cover.

Meanwhile, Elayne and Nynaeve are making their own way up the street, dressed in silk dresses, braids, and veils of Tanchican fashion. They argue about whether or not they blend in well enough, Elayne struggling with her veil as Nynaeve insists that she would rather trust her own wits than men she doesn’t know. Elayne thinks privately that Bayle Domon could have provided trusty men, and also that Nynaeve should have had them in plain dresses, not silk, if she wanted to blend in. They also discuss a Tel’aran’rhiod visit Elayne had with Egwene, in which Amys arrived and did most of the talking. Amys mostly lectured Elayne about the dangers of the World of Dreams and the importance of controlling your thoughts, though she did allow Egwene to mention that Rand was well and that Aviendha was looking after him.

The real surprise was that both groups had learned that Perrin was not with the other. Nynaeve and Elayne debate whether or not he’s run off with Faile, but ultimately all they know is that he is not with them and cannot help.

Just then they are attacked by a group of men. They manage to knock down two, and when Elayne hears one of them say “Don’t let her get away. She’s gold, I tell you. Gold!” she assumes that they have somehow discovered that she is the Daughter-Heir of Andor. The men seem most interested in Nynaeve, Elayne assuming that they mean to get her out of the way first so that they can carry Elayne off. Outnumbered, and with the rest of the crowd hastily retreating, the two embrace saidar, but they know that if they channel they will give themselves away to the Black Ajah. Even just by opening themselves to the True Source they have made themselves visible to any who might be nearby.

Just then another woman attacks the men, and with her help they are able to drive the attackers off. One of them (Gelb, though Elayne doesn’t know that of course) comes at their rescuer’s back with a knife and Elayne instinctively channels, knocking him backwards. Nynaeve thanks the woman for her help and they all introduce themselves before inviting Egeanin back to their inn for tea. The hesitant way she accepts lets Elayne know that she saw what Elayne did.

As they walk, Elayne assures Egeanin that they won’t harm her, and Egeanin answers that she had not thought that she would. Nynaeve warns Elayne that this is not the place for such a conversation, and to wait until they are back in the inn.

Back in the inn they meet up with Juilin, who reports that he has “found them.” He is hesitant to speak in front of Egeanin, but Nynaeve insists, so he reports that he found the house where they were staying, which has since been abandoned the day or night before. Nynaeve is furious at him for going inside—Juilin insists that he knew the place was empty and that he took no chances, but Nynaeve reminds him of the danger of traps before sending him off.

They sit down to tea in a private room, where Elayne and Nynaeve proceed to trip over each other’s answers to Egeanin’s questions about Juilin. Rendra and the servant who got Elayne drunk serve tea, Rendra chattering along the whole time and Elayne sending glares the young man’s way.

Egeanin watched quietly until Rendra left, too. “You are not what I expected,” she said then, balancing her cup on her fingertips in an odd way. “The innkeeper babbles of frivolities as if you were her sisters and as foolish as she, and you allow it. The dark man—he is a servant of sorts, I think—mocks you. That serving boy stares with open hunger in his eyes, and you allow it. You are… Aes Sedai, are you not?” Without waiting for an answer, she shifted her sharp blue eyes to Elayne. “And you are of the… You are nobly born. Nynaeve spoke of your mother’s palace.”

Elayne explains that social status doesn’t mean very much inside the White Tower, and that even a queen, should she decide to attend, would be required to clean floors and scrub pots. Egeanin sees this as “how [they] rule” although Elayne explains that no Queens have actually gone to the tower, though there is the tradition of the Daughter-Heir to go, and that many noble women go though they don’t admit it. They discuss that Nynaeve is not nobly born, and Egeanin offers to help them find whomever they are searching for.

The two demur, saying that she has helped too much already (and of course not wanting to put her in such danger), but Elayne tells Egeanin that she might be able to learn to channel, since she is so curious about Aes Sedai. Egeanin is aghast, declaring that she did not know it could be learned and insisting that she does not want to be trained, which saddens Elayne. Still, they agree to answer what questions they can, out of gratitude for her help.

Just then Thom arrives, to inform them that the Children of the Light have taken over the Panarch’s Palace, and that the Lady Amathera is to be invested as Panarch. Nynaeve declares that unless Amathera is really Liandrin she does not care at all.

“The interesting thing,” Thom said, limping to the table, “is that rumor says the Assembly refused to choose Amathera. Refused. So why is she being invested? Things this odd are worth noting, Nynaeve.”

As he started to lower himself into a chair, she said quietly, “We are having a private conversation, Thom. I am sure you will find the common room more congenial.” She took a sip of tea, eyeing him over the cup in clear expectation of his departure.

He stands again, flushing, but doesn’t leave at once. Instead he points out that there will likely be trouble in the streets, even riots, and that Bayle Domon has agreed to provide fifty picked men for their protection. Elayne cuts of any protest Nynaeve might have made, saying that they are grateful for the protection and that she wouldn’t “want to be kidnapped on the streets in broad daylight.” Thom agrees, and Elayne gets the feeling that he is being fatherly towards her and might even want to stroke her hair.

He informs them that he has already had Domon’s men stationed outside and that he is in the process of finding a carriage for them, then departs. Egeanin also rises hastily, insisting that she has to leave and asking permission to come again another time. Once she has gone, Nynaeve and Elayne argue about who was the actual target of the attack and how they still don’t have their hands on the Black Ajah or whatever it is that is such a danger to Rand. Nynaeve also points out Egeanin’s reaction to hearing Bayle Domon’s name, prompting Elayne to wonder if she knows him.

“I do not know,” Nynaeve said vexedly. “Her face did not change, but her eyes… She was startled. She knows him. I wonder what—” Someone tapped softly on the door. “Is everyone in Tanchico going to march in on us?” she growled, jerking it open.

Rendra is there to inform them that they have a visitor, who did not give names but described them perfectly, and indeed Rendra forgot to ask the woman’s name. Elayne embraces saidar and begins to weave Air and Spirit to bind and Shield the woman, if she even so much as resembles one of the women on their list. But when she arrives she is like no one Elayne has ever seen before, and although she does not have the look of Aes Sedai agelessness, the glow of saidar surrounds her as she shuts the door.

And then Elayne finds herself releasing the True Source, captivated by the radiance and commanding nature of the woman. She curtsies, and hurries to obey the woman’s commands when she tells them both to come closer and let her get a good look at them. Nynaeve does the same, and Elayne notes that she has a “foolishly rapt” expression.

“About what I have come to expect,” the woman said. “Little more than girls, and obviously not close to half-trained. Strong, though; strong enough to be more than troublesome. Especially you.” She fixed Nynaeve with her eyes. “You might become something one day. But you’ve blocked yourself, haven’t you? We would have had that out of you though you howled for it.”

Nynaeve becomes distraught at once, apologizing for blocking herself and explaining that she is afraid of all that power. The woman cuts her off, telling her to be silent unless asked a question, and that she should not start crying. Rather, she tells Nynaeve that she is joyful, ecstatic at seeing her, and that all she wants is to please her and answer her questions truthfully.

They basically fight to be the first to answer the woman’s questions, telling her everything about the Black Ajah and their hunt to find them, including revealing Rand’s name and what happened to the two Forsaken he killed. She has them turn out their purses and pouches, and asks if they have any ter’angreal in their rooms, to which they truthfully answer no. Elayne thinks about telling her that they do have ter’angreal hidden about their person, but that was not the question so she stays silent.

The woman remarks that she always thought Ishamael half believed that he was the Great Lord of the Dark, and that being smart and cautious and keeping to the shadows was a much better way than being upfront and getting killed off by an untrained boy.

Finally, she decides that she will have to leave them for now—they are too strong to waste, and compulsion is too limited to put them off their hunt. She believes they are too far behind to catch up now, and that she will be able to come back later to collect them and see to their “retraining.”

She stood, and suddenly Elayne’s entire body tingled. Her brain seemed to shiver; she was conscious of nothing but the woman’s voice, roaring in her ears from a great distance. “You will pick up your things from the table, and when you have replaced them where they belong, you will remember nothing of what happened here except that I came thinking you were friends I knew from the country. I was mistaken, I had a cup of tea, and I left.”

Elayne and Nynaeve are momentarily confused to find themselves putting their pouches back on their belts, and fumble to find the threat of their earlier conversation.

Outside, Egeanin regards Domon’s men carefully, but decides that it is unlikely any of them will connect some woman in a riding dress to the captain of the Seanchan ship. She finds her palms are damp, and she can’t stop thinking about how different the Aes Sedai are from what she had been taught. She decides she must come back to learn more, and do her best not to be recognized.

As she departs she does not see one man, dressed in filthy Tanchican clothes and wearing a fake mustache under his veil, watching her. He wonders if he can learn more in the inn, once they realize he has more money than his looks suggest.

 

Alright, I am going to start at the end and work my way back because what just happened?

I did not think that the mysterious visitor was going to be a Black Sister who had found them out. Honestly, I don’t believe Liandrin and co. are clever enough to catch Elayne and Nynaeve on such a small slip-up. Though I don’t know how close they would have had to be to sense Elayne’s channeling, we do know from Thom’s report that they are probably already in the Panarch’s Palace by now, their attention focused firmly elsewhere. I actually suspected at first that the stranger might be Min, or perhaps some Aes Sedai sent by the Amyrlin to aid them. I was not suspecting one of the Forsaken—though maybe I should have been.

This mysterious visitor appears not to be Lanfear. For one, she learned Rand’s name from the girls, and Lanfear would have had no reason to pretend she didn’t already know it, given that Nynaeve and Elayne were under compulsion and would forget the entire encounter anyway. So that means that I’ve finally gotten what I’ve been waiting for—a new lady Forsaken! Maybe this is Moghedien, the one Lanfear namedropped a while back.

I have also learned a new channeling word this chapter, which is always fun. Compulsion seems to be the same kind of channeling as Liandrin’s “trick,” the one she used way back in The Great Hunt when she intimidated Amalisa into helping her hunt for Rand. Liandrin had to break down Amalisa’s emotional defenses first, and even then she had to persuade rather than command. But the Forsaken are so much more powerful than the current Aes Sedai, so it makes sense that this compulsion would be the same thing—it just looks very different coming from someone who was born in the Age of Legends. It’s possible that Lanfear also uses compulsion, or something similar, as a sort of glamour to enhance people’s reaction to her beauty.

I loved the dramatic irony of knowing that Nynaeve and Elayne had ter’angreal about their person but that the answers they gave were only as specific as the Forsaken lady’s questions. It’s ironic that the woman speaks of the wisdom of hiding in the shadows, of being careful and cautious, and yet she doesn’t even have the good sense to ask outright if they have any ter’angreal, angreal, or sa’angreal in their possession. It seems a silly and careless oversight. She could have learned a lot more, including that they are not full Aes Sedai (it was unclear to me if her comment that they are “not close to half trained” meant that she knew they were only Accepted or just that this is how she views all Aes Sedai) but she was a bit cocky in her handling of them, I think. She said they were too far behind to catch up now, but I don’t know if that is really true. I think Nynaeve and Elayne are going to surprise some people, before they’re through.

Of course, as bad as it would’ve been to lose their dreaming ter’angreal, having those items mysteriously disappear would have let Nynaeve and Elayne know that something was afoot. The Forsaken visitor does seem to know what object the Black Sisters are hunting though, something Liandrin and co. themselves haven’t figured out yet. I wonder if she will get involved in some way, stealing the item out from under the Black Sisters’ noses, perhaps, to be used for her own purposes. It’ll either be that, or Jordan will make me wait another two books to have her appear again.

I think that this mysterious Forsaken’s impression of the girls’ strength is significant. We have heard many Aes Sedai remark upon the level of power in Elayne, Egwene, and especially Nynaeve, but the Forsaken have an entirely different idea of what strength is, so we now know that they are powerful not just by the standards of modern Aes Sedai, but by the standards of the Age of Legends, too. I was also struck by her comment on Nynaeve’s block—because Nynaeve was under the compulsion she actually admitted out loud that she is afraid of the One Power. I wish the visitor had let her keep speaking, as I would really like a more nuanced understanding of exactly what Nynaeve’s fear is. She is specifically afraid, it seems, of the amount of power she has, which is a bit different than if her block came solely from the world’s general prejudice against channeling and the Aes Sedai.

And this is Nynaeve, we’re talking about, a control freak who hates when anyone else has more authority than her. Her struggle with power and authority is the most significant theme of her character to date. Her early war with Moiraine was as much about that as it was about Nynaeve blaming Moiraine for Egwene and the boys leaving the Two Rivers, and it seems to me that Nynaeve is caught in a place where she both desperately wants more authority in the world and is horrified by the idea of it. Power and authority being one and the same, of course, especially when it comes to channeling.

Take the way she handles the search for the Black Ajah. She has a rightful need to establish some authority over Thom and Juilin—this is her and Elayne’s mission, not theirs, and because they are young and not full Aes Sedai (Juilin doesn’t know this, but the knowledge that they are pretending still weighs on the girls) establishing authority is more difficult for them. Nynaeve has taken her usual tack by being as harsh and abrasive as possible, Elayne has taken her usual tack in following her mother’s teaching, looking to lead gently, and with honey rather than vinegar.

And as Bayle Domon points out, they make a good team. Nynaeve’s handling of him made sense to me, despite the others’ reservations. He already knew that she and Elayne were Aes Sedai, and pledged to help them both then and now. Bringing him into the loop made him a better asset, I think, and I believed at the time that Nynaeve was making a calculated risk because she felt they could not succeed at Falme without his help, given his knowledge and resources in the place.

But as we see, she hasn’t taken any advantage of his resources, and in fact has been actively rejecting them. I believe she is sincere when she argues that they won’t be able to see anything or ask questions if they are being carried in chairs surrounded by guards, but it’s also clear that she is letting her emotions rule her head. Elayne asserts in this chapter that the choice to wear silk dresses (instead of something plain that would make them stand out less) was made because Nynaeve has come to enjoy wearing nice things. We see Nynaeve willfully ignore Thom’s knowledge and advice. (It is perhaps unfair, but it doesn’t help my judgement of her that I know for a fact that the activity at the Panarch’s Palace is quite relevant to their search.) And apparently she’s willing to tell Egeanin—a complete stranger she just met under suspicious circumstances, who keeps asking pointed questions about who they are and about the Aes Sedai—almost everything.

Elayne is just as bad about that, too. I agree that she was right to channel rather than let Egeanin but injured or killed, but that doesn’t mean they have to tell her their real names! They used aliases in Tear, why not now? Elayne believes that the attackers were trying to kidnap her because they somehow found out that she was the daughter heir of Andor, and wonders how they could have learned it. Maybe because you’re going around telling people, Elayne!

If I were in Nynaeve and Elayne’s position, I would definitely be considering the fact that Egeanin could be a spy. Not for the Seanchan of course—though if Egwene were with them, she’d recognize that accent—but perhaps for the Black Ajah. It does seem a bit suspicious, doesn’t it, that in a place where no one lifts a hand to help anyone else, one incredible fighting woman would leap to their aid? I don’t mean to be cynical but given the enemies that Elayne and Nynaeve are facing, I would think they’d at least be a little bit more suspicious of such a timely rescue—would at least wonder why she chose to intervene, when no one else would, and maybe ask a few pointed questions of their own.

I guess they haven’t become that guarded yet—Nynaeve has been so prickly to so many people I expect it to be her default, but I suppose that is just a mark of how easy it is to rub her the wrong way, rather than a rationally developed vigilance. I mean, we’ve seen characters wonder if Rand’s paranoia is a result of the taint on saidin, but the old saying “it’s only paranoia if you’re wrong” really does apply there—as it does to Moiraine and Siuan’s activities (more on that next week). It applies here, too, I think. Nynaeve and Elayne are outgunned and outmaneuvered, playing a game of catch up with much fewer resources at their disposal. So they should be more careful, and use those resources to their fullest extent.

Which is to say they really ought to listen to Thom.

Which is also to say that the dramatic irony of this chapter is really getting to me. We know that Thom’s focus on the political events regarding the Panarch’s Palace is the best lead the girls have. We know the true reason for the attempted kidnapping was not to ransom Elayne, but because Gelb thought Nynaeve was one of the missing sul’dam. We know that Egeanin is a Seanchan spy, and we also know that she has another spy following her. And of course we are the only ones who know of the mysterious Forsaken’s visit, since Nynaeve and Elayne have had their memory of it erased somehow. (I am very curious to know if that was part of compulsion or if it was a different weave altogether.)

But speaking of Egeanin, I am surprised to find myself actually starting to like her. I suppose I’m always a sucker for a ship captain, and Egeanin’s toughness is appealing too. But I think the most interesting thing is that Egeanin is starting to question the propaganda and controlling narratives of the Seanchan people. For example, she is actually beginning to consider what it might mean that the Aes Sedai are different than she has been told, and that channeling works differently than she has been led to believe. The fact that she’s also willing to consider disobedience to her superiors shows that her mind is expanding to new ideas outside of the Seanchan culture. Of course, her treatment of Bethamin is still deplorable, but there is some evidence here to think that she may end up changing her views on channelers, maybe even become an ally to them eventually.

Of course, she now has someone spying on her, too. I assume it’s the Seeker who came to see her earlier—I guess he wasn’t particularly convinced by the information she showed him. I wonder if he suspects her loyalty over something specific—if he was deliberately sent because someone had reason to think she was less than perfectly loyal—or if he’s merely poking about. Anything goes with the Seanchan, really.

Now, as blown away as I was by this chapter, the next one is an even bigger deal. Next week we will cover Chapter 47, and finally find out what Min’s viewings of bloodied Aes Sedai and Warders meant, and the future of the Aes Sedai will become more uncertain than ever.

Until then, I wish you all health and wellness, and may you stand up bravely to Darkfriends wherever you find them.

Sylas K Barrett would very much like to learn more about how Spirit compares to the other four of the Five Powers.

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