This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, I am covering Chapter 47, which contains a civil war in the White Tower, a battle of wills between Siuan, Min, and Gawyn, and some unexpected allies for the newly-deposed former Amyrlin. I have a lot of thoughts this week, so buckle up my dear readers. We are off into The Truth of a Viewing.
The chapter opens in the Amyrlin’s study, where Siuan is going through a list of kitchen purchases and a mason’s report on the addition the Tower is putting on their library. It is her custom to check a few accounts at random each day, but she is finding it difficult to concentrate on the mundane, even when she finds errors. Frustrated, she opens her little warded box, leafing through reports that she thinks probably don’t need to be in there, and yet she replaces them anyway. Reports about the disappearance of both Sahra and the farmer who had been watching over her, reports about a Shienaran, Masema, preaching in Ghealdan about the return of the the Dragon, Rand al’Thor. Reports that Mazrim Taim still hasn’t been recaptured.
She is thinking about how the Tower had reacted to her news about the Dragon having Callandor exactly as she had expected and hoped, and worrying over the fact that Moiraine still hasn’t sent any new word about Rand’s movements, when the door to her study bursts open and Elaida, accompanied by some red sisters as well as a few women from other Ajahs, including Alviarin, strides into the room. Siuan tells them off for entering without permission, but although a few seem anxious, none of them respond to her authority.
Elaida pulls the striped stole of the Amyrlin from Siuan’s shoulders. She is shocked to realize that she has been blocked from the True Source. Elaida wraps her in wards of Air, and Alviarin begins to look through Siuan’s desk and papers. The box bursts into flame when Alviarin opens it, reducing it and its contents to ash, but Elaida promises that Siuan will tell her every word that burned.
Elaida’s tiny smile did not touch her eyes. “The Hall convened not an hour ago—enough Sitters to meet our laws—and by unanimous vote, as required, you are no longer Amyrlin. It is done, and we are here to see it enforced.”
Siuan is shocked, but manages not to let on how worried she is that they know all her secrets. She keeps up a brave face, even managing to throw some of the other women off their guard, but Elaida is unfazed, and slaps Siuan across the face hard enough for her to see stars. They take her into the outer room, where she is shocked to see her Warder, Alric, has been killed by a knife in his back. Leane is also there, bound and gagged with Air. Siuan promises revenge upon Elaida, but Elaida’s cold promises of torture and extraction of the truth are much more frightening.
Meanwhile, Min, in her guise of Elmindreda, is returning to the Tower after buying some bolts of blue silk that Laras sent her to fetch—and gave her the money for. She is perplexed by the fact that the guards at the gates seem to be missing, but doesn’t initially register the sounds of weapons on weapons as anything more than the Warders training until she runs into a group of young men—those who were in Tar Valon studying with the Warders—and Gawyn at their head. He stops and warns her to get out of the grounds, explaining after she insists that the Amyrlin has been deposed. She tries to find out why but the other men urge Gawyn to hurry.
“I have no time,” he told her urgently. “There’s fighting everywhere. They say Hammar is trying to break Siuan Sanche free. I have to go to the Tower, Min. Leave! Please!”
He turned and set out at a run toward the Tower. The others followed, bristling with upraised weapons, some still shouting, “Gawyn! The White Boar! Gawyn! Forward the Younglings!”
Min watches him go, thinking of how Gawyn didn’t say which side he is on. She knows that the smartest thing, the safest thing, to do would be to get out of Tar Valon while she has the chance, but she also knows that if she leaves she might never be able to get back in. And she could do no good outside. Asking herself what good she can do inside, she hurries off into the trees, looking for a place to hide. She doesn’t think that anyone would try to kill “Elmindreda,” but there’s no point in taking chances.
Siuan wakes in a pitch black cell, naked and covered in the welts and bruises she received under Elaida’s torture. She remembers telling them almost everything, eventually, holding back only a few scraps in order to feel the triumph of denying them. She wraps her arms around herself and reminds herself that she isn’t dead, that she must remain calm and remember that she is not dead.
She hears Leane calling out to her, and apologizes for getting Leane caught up in all of this. But she also reminds Leane that she is not the Amyrlin anymore, should not be called “Mother” but simply “Siuan.”
They hear a key grating in the rusty lock, and Siuan urges Leane to stand up, although Leane doesn’t think it makes any difference.
“At least they won’t find us huddling on the floor and weeping.” [Siuan] tried to make her voice firm. “We can fight, Leane. As long as we are alive, we can fight.” Oh, Light, they stilled me! They stilled me!
Forcing her mind to blankness, she clenched her fists, and tried to dig her toes into the uneven stone floor. She wished the noise in her throat did not sound so much like a whimper.
On the other side of the door, Min is struggling to turn the key in the rusty old lock, as Laras holds a lantern for her and keeps watch. Min ran into Laras while sneaking back into her room for riding clothes and other odds and ends, and found Laras in “a tizzy of worry about Elmindreda.” She had wanted to drag Min off and lock her away someplace safe until everything was over, and had also somehow got Min to tell her what she intended to do. Min was shocked that Laras reluctantly agreed to help, and grateful too, as she can’t imagine she would have been able to ready everything she needed for the escape. And more than that, before running into Laras, Min had felt herself starting to chicken out, and knows that she would never have been able to forgive herself for abandoning Siuan.
The key finally gives, and she discovered two women in the cell that she for a moment doesn’t even recognize. Their bruised bodies are the correct height and coloring for Siuan and Leane, and their faces look almost right. Min should have been certain, and yet…
… But the agelessness that marked Aes Sedai seemed to have melted away; she would have had no hesitation at all in thinking these women were just six or seven years older than herself at most, and not Aes Sedai at all. Her face heated with embarrassment at the thought. She saw no images, no auras, around either; there were always images and auras around Aes Sedai. Stop that, she told herself.
Siuan asks where they got the key, prompting Laras to also recognize her. She tells Min to hurry, and Min puts aside her questions to focus on the task at hand. She shoves two bundles of clothes at the other women, instructing them to dress quickly. She distracted the guard while Laras snuck up behind him and struck him with a rolling pin, but she doesn’t know how long he’ll be unconscious.
Dressed in plain brown, Min expects all three of them may be able to pass as farm women or other petitioners who have been caught—as many were—inside the Tower when the fighting began.
Siuan remarks that it’s odd that there was only one guard, and that it’s nice that at least Laras doesn’t believe the charges against her.
The stout woman frowned and lowered her chins, giving herself a fourth. “I am loyal to the Tower,” she said sternly. “Such matters are not for me. I am only a cook. This foolish girl has had me remembering too much of being a foolish girl myself. I think—Seeing you—It is time for me to remember I am not a willowy girl any longer.” She pushed the lantern into Min’s hands.
Min worries that Laras might change her mind and give them away, but the cook fondly promises that she will not. But she also reminds Min that she must live in the Tower, and gives them a deadline after which she will send someone to bring wine to the guard. If no one discovers him before then, they will have more than an hour to escape. She also threatens Siuan and Leane that, if they get Min caught, she will make them suffer for it.
The smile popped back onto her face, and she pinched Min’s cheek. “You hurry them along, child. Oh, I am going to miss dressing you. Such a pretty child.” With a last vigorous pinch, she waddled out of the cell at a near trot.
Min rubs her cheek, wondering bemusedly about Laras’s youth, and her claims to have lived so wildly and adventurously.
Leane is upset that Laras would speak to Siuan in such a way, but Siuan reminds her that she is no longer Amyrlin. She also informs Min, hesitantly but with strength, that they have both been stilled. Min admits that she knows, keeping any sympathy out of her voice, and that it was announced in every square in the city.
They follow Min out of the dungeons and into the main hallways of the Tower, encountering a few people—Aes Sedai, or Warders, or servants—but none pay them any heed. Things are going smoothly until they encounter some areas of the floor that are stained with blood, and Min is forced to explain that there was fighting in the Tower that began the day before, right after Siuan and Leane were taken, and has only just ended. Not just Warders, but guardsmen and others too—a group of men claiming to be masons attacked and seized the Tower just after Siuan’s arrest.
Siuan realizes that some discrepancies she saw earlier, in the pay for masons working on the library, were not a careless error by an absent-minded Brown sister but a part of the plot too.
Siuan scowled. “Danelle! I should have realized there was more to it than not paying attention.” Her face twisted more, until Min thought she might begin crying. “Artur Hawkwing could not do it, but we did it ourselves.” Edge of tears or not, her voice was fierce. “The Light help us, we have broken the Tower.” Her long sigh seemed to empty her of breath, and anger, too. “I suppose,” she said sadly after a moment, “I should be glad that some of the Tower supported me, but I almost wish they had not.” Min tried to keep her face expressionless, but those sharp blue eyes seemed to interpret every flicker of an eyelash. “Or did they support me, Min?”
Min hedges, explaining that Elaida didn’t wait to see if the Blue Ajah would support Siuan or not, and that there are no Blues left in the Tower, and few Greens. The other Ajahs split, except for the Reds who mostly remain. Hesitantly, she tells them that they have been charged with arranging Mazrim Taim’s escape, and as Logain also got away during the fighting, that has been pinned on them as well. Elaida has not said it outright, but she has heavily implied that they are Darkfriends.
“Darkfriends?” Leane murmured in bewilderment. “They named us… ?”
“Why would they not?” Siuan breathed. “What would they not dare, when they dared so much?”
They hunched their shoulders in their cloaks and let Min lead them as she would. She just wished their faces did not look so hopeless.
They have nearly reached a door that will lead them outside when they encounter Elaida, followed by Alviarin wearing the stole of the Keeper of the Chronicles and some other Aes Sedai, mostly Reds, as well as six Warders. Min drops heavily to her knees and bows her head, and so do the other two.
“Very few women have been stilled,” Siuan said, as if to herself, “and none have survived long, but it is said that one way to survive is to find something you want as much as you wanted to channel.” That lost look was gone from her eyes. “At first I thought I wanted to gut Elaida and hang her in the sun to dry. Now I know I want nothing—nothing!—so much as the day I can tell that leech of a woman that she’ll live a long life showing others what happens to anyone who claims I am a Darkfriend!”
“And Alviarin,” Leane said in a tight voice. “And Alviarin!”
Siuan adds that there are some advantages to being stilled, as Elaida could not sense her now, and tells Leane’s shocked face that they must use every advantage they can find, wherever it comes from.
Once it is safe, they hurry on, out to the woods where they find the three saddled horses that Min and Laras had left there. Siuan, explaining that she has always been a poor rider, selects the short, shaggy mare that seems to have an easy temperament, and Min is just about to explain that Bela belongs to Egwene when another voice cuts her off.
Gawyn emerges from the trees, his face streaked with blood in exactly the way it had been in Min’s viewing on her first day back in Tar Valon. Despite the blood in his hair and glazed look in his eyes, he stalks toward them, cutting off Min’s explanation by placing his sword to Siuan’s throat.
Gawyn studied Siuan’s face, then slowly nodded. “It is you. I was not sure, but it is. This… disguise cannot—” He did not appear to move, but a sudden widening of Siuan’s eyes spoke of a keen edge pressing harder. “Where are my sister and Egwene? What have you done with them?” Most frightening to Min, with that blood-masked face and half-glazed eyes, with his body tensed almost to quivering and his hand upflung as if he had forgotten it, he never raised his voice or put any emotion into it. He only sounded tired, more tired than she had ever heard anyone sound in her life.
Siuan tries to dissemble, but Gawyn insists that she speak, plainly and quickly, so that he knows that she is not lying. Siuan answers at once that the two girls are in Illian, studying with an Aes Sedai named Mara Tomanes. And that they should still be there.
“Not Tear,” he murmured. For a moment he appeared to think that over. Abruptly, he said, “They say you are a Darkfriend. Black Ajah, that would be, would it not?”
“If you really believe that,” Siuan said calmly, “then strike off my head.”
Min interrupts, carefully reminding Gawyn that he knows that Min would never help the Black Ajah, reminding him that Elayne supports Siuan, that Egwene believes in her too. Gawyn asks for a reason not to drag Siuan back by the scruff of her neck, and Siuan offers that being reduced from being the most powerful woman in the world to one whose best hope is to beg for a place on a farm where she might earn her keep in the fields is as fitting a punishment as he could wish. Gawyn is not convinced by that, but decides that he will let her go for fear that Elaida will take her head. And he needs that head to be available to him in the future.
Min asks him to come with them, thinking that his aid would be helpful and offering the bait of having Siuan close to hand, but Gawyn tells her that he cannot do that, and warns her that Elaida is looking for her, and has ordered her arrest, too. After threatening to do to Siuan whatever bad things happen to Elayne and Egwene, he talks off to stand apart from them.
Siuan observes that she has forgotten what it is like not to have the upper hand with the Power, and they discuss the changes to her and Leane’s face from their stilling. Siuan observes the changes in Leane’s face and how they both seem to have lost a good fifteen years from their looks. Their “disguises” as Gawyn called them, are another advantage, as is the fact she is once again able to lie.
Then Gawyn interrupts them to ask if they are leaving or not, and as they follow him through the trees he begins to be joined by other young men. Siuan and Leane observe that these men, who call themselves the Younglings, are little more than children, and Min chooses not to tell them that Warders from the Green and Blue Ajahs had tried to mount a rescue, and might have succeeded if Gawyn hadn’t led the Younglings against them.
They reach the guardhouse, and the guards are not about to let anyone through until Gawyn tells them who he is, and declares his intention to either see the women leave, or their officer dead. The officer observes that Gawyn was the one who killed Hammar and Coulin, and after a moment’s hesitation has the writing materials that Gawyn asked for brought to him.
“You killed Coulin?” Siuan said in a cold tone fitting her former office. “And Hammar?”
Min’s heart sank. Be quiet, Siuan! Remember who you are now, and be quiet!
Gawyn spun to face the three women, his eyes like blue fire. “Yes,” he grated. “They were my friends, and I respected them, but they sided with… with Siuan Sanche, and I had to—” Abruptly he shoved the paper he had sealed into Min’s hand. “Go! Go, before I change my mind!” He slapped her mare, then darted to slap the other two as Min’s horse leaped through the open gates. “Go!”
They cross the plaza at a trot. Min observes as they ride that the paper Gawyn gave them merely gives permission to leave, and that they could take a boat instead of the bridges. But Siuan wants to find the other Aes Sedai. She may not be able to lead them anymore, but she can gather them up and help equip them for the future, help them choose someone new who is strong in the Power and sees things “the right way.”
“Then you mean to go on aiding this… this Dragon!” Leane snapped.
“What else would you have me do? Curl up and die?”
Leane falls silent as they ride through the empty streets, until at last she asks what else they can do, and says she feels so empty. Siuan tells her that she must find something to fill the emptiness, and that she means to ensure that Elaida doesn’t get away with what she has done. Siuan knows that Elaida has always been covetous of Siuan’s position, and that her motivation was as much that as it was protecting the Tower, and that Siuan means to pull her down for it. This is what fills her, drives her. This and the need to make sure Rand doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Leane seems doubtful, but she straightens and begins to consider what they can do. Siuan demands that Min tell her exactly what Gawyn’s permission says, and after establishing that it mentions only “bearers” sends her horse forward to corner a man that Min had noticed before, scuttling about the empty streets. He asks them to let him go, saying that he just wants to find someplace quiet to die, but that even though no one recognizes him he can’t get over any of the bridges.
Min tries to urge them on, worrying about getting caught. But Siuan tells him that she is the only woman who can take him out of Tar Valon, the only one who can offer him revenge on those Red Ajah who captured him. He agrees to come with them, that he is her man.
Leane looks flummoxed, and Min cannot possibly imagine what use Siuan has for this “man of doubtful sanity who had once falsely proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn” besides possibly being attacked and robbed by him. But suddenly she sees that viewing again, a flaring gold and blue halo around Logain’s head that speaks of glory.
She glanced over her shoulder toward the Tower, the thick white shaft dominating the city, whole and straight, yet broken as surely as if it lay in ruins. For a moment she let herself think of the images she had glimpsed, just for a moment, flickering around Gawyn’s head. Gawyn kneeling at Egwene’s feet with his head bowed, and Gawyn breaking Egwene’s neck, first one then the other, as if either could be the future.
Rarely were her visions so clear, and never before had she seen two images fluttering back and forth as if the future is yet to be decided. And even more alarming, Min has the feeling that her actions have turned Gawyn towards those two possibilities.
They turn their horses towards the river, Logain striding with them, and Min considers that what is done is done. She just hopes it will be worth it.
I have been thinking a lot about zealotry in The Wheel of Time, especially in the last few weeks. From the single-minded blindness of Byar to Masema’s weird pivot to declaring himself a Prophet of the Dragon, we’ve seen a lot of fanatical devotion from characters lately. And the Children of the Light in general have a dogmatic and bigoted approach to their cause and actions, as does the culture of Shienar. Even characters like Bornhald and Ordeith, who aren’t zealots exactly, exhibit fanatical focus on a single person or concept to the exclusion of everything else.
And now we have Elaida’s covetous obsession over the Amyrlin Seat coming to a head, with disastrous consequences for our protagonists. I was pleased to have Siuan so specifically name Elaida’s jealousy over Siuan being raised—it feels important that she is aware of what we, the reader, also know to be true. Back in Chapter 1 we encountered the fact that Elaida is obsessed with Elayne because of a Foretelling she had about the ruling family of Andor being the key to defeating the Dark One in the Last Battle. She resents Siuan for pulling Elayne out from under her, so to speak, and ruining all her years of hard work and sacrifice, but she also resents Siuan because if she hadn’t been busy with Morgase, Elaida feels she might have been raised to Amyrlin herself.
Elaida even slips up when she’s talking to Siuan in her study, letting a bit of her personal grudge show.
“You are finished,” Elaida said. “Did you think I—we—would allow you to destroy the Tower? Bring her!”
This jealousy, this ambition that seems largely untempered by concern for others or for the greater good, is the aspect of Elaida’s person that soured me most on her, as it seems to have for Siuan. (And I love the way that she repeated again and again that she could have almost forgiven Elaida. Almost, almost.) Elaida’s treatment of the Blue sisters and the fact that she wasn’t merely prepared to face violent opposition but actively chose to instigate violence says a lot about her as a character.
So far we have only gotten to know two Red sisters, Elaida and Liandrin, but they both seem to share this trait of ambitious jealousy. It led Liandrin to become a Darkfriend, and while I do not believe Elaida is one as well, her actions have weakened the Tower in a moment in which it really needed strength, and have deprived the Aes Sedai of some of its best weapons against the Dark. Some of these weapons Elaida doesn’t know about, but there are some she can see and know, including the possibly needless death or exile of so many Aes Sedai at a time when there have never been fewer full sisters. She seems to have very little regard for any of it.
I do wonder what things it was that Siuan kept back during her torture. Did she tell Elaida about Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve’s mission? Certainly Elayne’s whereabouts would have been one of the most pressing questions for Elaida, so it’s hard to imagine that she didn’t get that information out of Siuan, or that she would have stopped the torture before gaining it. It’s unclear to me whether or not Siuan and Leane were stilled before or after their torture, but one would assume it happened before, since that would weaken them both physically and mentally. If that’s the case then technically Siuan would have had the ability to tell a lie, even if it was just to obfuscate or change one detail about what she sent the three off to do. Would Elaida and the others have known that stilling would remove the control of the Oath Rod? Would Siuan have even thought to try, in the midst of torture and the despair of being stilled? I feel like there are a lot of questions not yet answered, and since even the Aes Sedai themselves don’t know much about what happens to someone who has been stilled, a lot of them may remain unanswered for a while.
There was a comment from Siuan that I also found confusing. When Min explains that Siuan and Leane have been all but named Darkfriends, Siuan comments; “They won’t even admit the truth… that they mean to do exactly what they pulled me down for.” We never heard the exact charges that were brought to Siuan by the Hall of the Tower, so perhaps that is a reveal that is coming later. Or perhaps I am missing something.
With all this talk of zealotry and being narrow-minded, I really expected Galad to be the person who decided to stand with Elaida and her followers, given that the Hall of the Tower has (at least by official appearances) sided with and supports her. Galad is the character that has been presented as always doing the “right” thing, i.e. the lawful thing, whereas Gawyn has always appeared to be much more flexible. Of course his reasons make perfect sense: His dislike of Siuan has been bordering on hatred the entire book, and it isn’t much of a leap for him to believe Elaida and her followers. He was already convinced that Siuan was hiding Egwene and Elayne and lying about their whereabouts, probably for nefarious purposes. When confronted with the claim that Siuan had also snuck Mazrim Taim out of the Tower, when confronted with the evidence that other Aes Sedai see her as a dangerous threat, it would have completely agreed with his own view on the matter. It makes sense, then, that he would choose sides against her.
But learning that he killed both Hammar and Coulin was still a shock. We know that Hammar was a Blademaster and carried a heron-marked sword, and Coulin, as weaponsmaster, was probably nearly equal to Hammar, if not a Blademaster in his own right. This shows that Gawyn has intense skill, but it also shows that he believes so strongly in his choice to uphold Elaida’s takeover that he was willing to kill his teachers, people he himself names as friends. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, either, since it was his choice to rally the Younglings and lead them against Hammar and his rescue attempt.
I believe that it has been mentioned that one way to become a Blademaster is to defeat another, which may mean that Gawyn is now a Blademaster himself. Thus, Min’s viewing of a heron-marked blade over Gawyn’s head probably refers to this confrontation—Min couldn’t tell whether the sword belonged to Gawyn or threatened him, but it could also have referenced both at once. That same viewing also told Min that he would be hurt worse than just the blood indicated, which could be about the mental anguish he’s suffered in turning against friends, or even in his struggle to decide what to do about Siuan.
But getting back to Galad for a moment, where was he in all this? Which side did he choose? Or was he outside the Tower or away when it happened? I’m so curious to learn his view on what has happened; he scarcely has more love for Siuan than Gawyn does, but perhaps his takeaway will be different. He doesn’t have to support Elaida just because he disagrees with Siuan, and given that he was already talking with Whitecloaks and reading their literature, perhaps the disorder in the Tower will be the final push that has him joining the Children of the Light. I’ve been pretty sure for a while that this is where he is headed, and now seems the time.
Single-mindedness is not always a bad trait, however, as we see from Siuan’s determination to keep on living and fighting in the face of her removal from office and her stilling. That fight in her, the ability to hone in on her purpose and tune out all other things, is clearly something that has served her well all her life. In point of fact, in the same way that Elaida would have tried to become Amyrlin if she hadn’t been led in another direction by her Foretelling, it’s possible that Siuan might have chosen a different path if not for Gitara’s Foretelling.
Granted, Siuan clearly has an ambitious nature, but every choice she and Moiraine have made since they were raised to full Aes Sedai has been in service of finding the Dragon and securing the world’s future. And so, even though Siuan has lost a great deal of her identity over the course of a single day, this part remains. She is filling the hole where channeling used to be with desire for revenge on Elaida, but she has never lost this primary motivation. She just needs to find a new way to serve it.
Siuan’s conviction in this is so strong that she’s even been able to inspire a little something in Leane, and in Logain. Until this chapter, Logain is the only person we have seen who has had their ability to channel forcibly removed. Since we didn’t meet him until he was in the Tower, we don’t have a pre-gentling personality to compare his current state to. However, we do know he was an ambitious person who declared himself the Dragon Reborn and who now wants nothing more than to be allowed to die in peace; while he was in the Tower he always had an Accepted with him to ensure that he didn’t try to harm himself. Now, Siuan has offered him revenge, and that seems to have sparked something in him, and Min’s viewing of future glory gives us a bit of a sense as to how much that spark may grow.
An aside: The one other example we have of stilling is Amico, who lost her ability to channel though whatever Nynaeve did to break her shield over Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne. She appeared very deferential, frightened, and eager to please, though it is possible that this was somewhat her personality already.
But if I’m honest, the motivation I find most intriguing of all is not Siuan’s or Elaida’s or even Gawyn’s—it’s Laras’s. I’m going to be talking more about Laras in a separate essay later this week, but I would like to touch for a moment on how beautifully this character was established throughout The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising. Although I have some issues with how the narration talks about her physically, Jordan lays the groundwork for her character from the moment we meet her. She is shrewd, fair-minded, and strong in both body and spirit. What’s more, the story is consistent in the way that characters underestimate her.
First it was Nynaeve, who voiced out her ire against Laras and called her a lump of lard, only to learn that Laras objected to how harsh the Amyrlin’s punishments were and to find out when they would be lifted. Next we have Min, who has had to endure unwanted affection and doting from Laras over “Elmindreda,” and who resented the attentions because she has no actual interest in clothes, sewing, or her appearance, and now that devotion Laras showed has saved Siuan, Leane, and Min herself. It seems likely to me that Elaida will overlook Laras’s possible involvement with Siuan’s escape, too—for all she knew Min’s true identity, I doubt she would deign to notice Laras’s fondness for the girl, except perhaps with a sense of Elaida’s own superiority over knowing the truth. Elaida seems to see most people who are not Aes Sedai, indeed most people who are not Red Ajah, as beneath her, after all.
And finally, I just want to touch on the dialogue Min has with herself when she is returning to the Tower, before she notices that something is amiss. She is considering how annoying it is to play Elmindreda—to be fawned over by Laras with beauty hints and talk of boys, to play a “brainless chit” girl while Gawyn teases her and Galad is all handsome and gallant around her—and her thoughts quickly run to Rand and to the question of whether that is how he would like her, wearing dresses and “simpering” at him. In the space of three thoughts she goes from thinking that she won’t wear a dress for any man to thinking that she could look better in a plunging neckline like the women in Tear that she imagines him staring at.
He has no right to expect it, she thought furiously. It was all his fault. She would not be there now, wearing a fool dress and smiling like an idiot, if not for him. I wear coat and breeches, and that is that! Maybe I’ll wear a dress once in a while—maybe!—but not to make some man look at me! I wager he’s staring at some Tairen woman with half her bosom exposed right this minute. I can wear a dress like that. Let’s see what he thinks when he sees me in this blue silk. I’ll have a neckline down to—What was she thinking? The man had robbed her of her wits! The Amyrlin Seat was keeping her here, useless, and Rand al’Thor was addling her brain! Burn him! Burn him for doing this to me!
Love can make us all foolish, and Min, like Aviendha, is dealing with feelings that are developing after she’s been told by some outside force that she is going to fall in love with him. It’s enough to “addle” any brain, as she puts it. But although I noted the similarities between Min’s resentments and Aviendha’s, and appreciated her frustration at being trapped and away from him, I’m also put in mind of Nynaeve’s choice to wear impractical silk dresses while wandering the dangerous streets of Tanchico.
It makes perfect sense to me that Nynaeve has come to like pretty dresses and nice things, and of course she would want to look beautiful for Lan in the same way that she was trying to learn to cook for him in Tear. But it struck me as out of character for her to not choose practicality in her dangerous situation, especially because it isn’t like Lan’s around for her to impress him. And in the same way, this monologue strikes me as out of character for Min.
It’s not out of character she would be jealous of the other women who held Rand’s attention, but it does feel out of character that her jealousy creates a desire to look like them and be ogled in the same way. Min has never before suggested that she might wear a dress occasionally when she felt like it, or that she sometimes does enjoy being more traditionally feminine and pretty on her own terms. By having this moment of jealousy and desire for Rand be the first time such a thought comes up, it suggests that it changes fundamentally how she feels, rather than just bringing out a different side of her that was already there.
Why should she not, instead, spend her time thinking about how she wants Rand to see her as attractive and desirable as she is, and as she prefers to be? Dressing in a coat and breeches is not about Min needing to be taken for a smart and serious woman—there are plenty of smart and serious women in The Wheel of Time who wear dresses, even nice dresses. Min wears the clothes she does because they feel right for her and make her happy. I would have much preferred if this thought process had focused on that, on wanting to be appreciated by Rand for her looks in clothes she likes, rather than in taking on a look that we have been given no indication she would ever have considered for her own sake.
And now I’m thinking of Aviendha again, and the symbolism of being forced to give up the cadin’sor for the Wise One’s bulky blouses and skirts. The change of outfit is a mark of her change in status, and although a Wise One is above a Maiden or Aiel warrior in status, there is a burden that comes with the new job as well, and it is clearly embodied for Aviendha in being forced to dress in “women’s clothes.”
Women’s clothes—heavy dresses that have to be altered to do something as simply as riding, which have to be done away with all together if one wishes to be a warrior with anything except the One Power—are a burden that the female characters have to deal with in this story. Each moment when we are presented with alternative options, and their limitations, is worth noting. For example, Sea Folk women dress in trousers and go shirtless like their men, but are constrained by the customs of other cultures to wear blouses while at port. Aiel Maidens wear the cadin’sor, the same clothing worn by all Aiel men, but there are strict rules surrounding their ability to remain Far Dareis Mai, including rules about their identities as women: Men are allowed to have families at home, but Maidens who bear children must either give them up, or give up the spear—which also involves giving up the cadin’sor.
With Min, we now have a suggestion that being attracted to a man changes the way she chooses to dress and to express her identity, changes the way that she feels about it. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with that; all people grow and change, especially young people. But when Min is the only person grappling with such a choice, the only representative of a woman who prefers to wear pants instead of skirts, it accidentally becomes a statement about all women. And the statement that all women decide they want silk dresses and plunging necklines the second they fall for a man, and that this is the only way they feel sexy, is a problematic one.
Oh, but that’s right, the Maidens also prefer to wear pants. And Aviendha has just had the right to that choice forcibly stripped from her.
I am sure I will have more musings on this, and the latest round of female nudity, in the future, but for now I think I am going to call it a day and release you all out into the world. Stay safe out there, my friends, and as long as you’re wearing a mask whenever you’re within six feet of another human, please wear whatever you feel most comfortable in. I support you, and anyone who loves you should do the same.
Sylas K Barrett is rooting for Siuan Sanche, and always has been. Even if she uses way to many fishing metaphors.