Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: The Tower Must Be Whole, and Other Mysteries in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 7)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, Nynaeve and Elayne encounter a secret signal meant for the Yellow Ajah, almost get kidnapped, and learn a valuable lesson from the experience. We the readers learn a lot too, including that there is a tea that can inhibit one’s ability to channel and that the eyes-and-ears networks of the Aes Sedai aren’t always as competent and cautious as one might wish. Also, Elayne is apparently trying to get with her mother’s former lover?

Nynaeve is pleased with the campsite Thom and Juilin find, hidden from the road by trees and with a stream nearby for fresh water. Thom has gone into town, after winning the duty in a coin toss with Juilin, to buy their supplies, with coins Nynaeve fished out from the secret compartment under the wagon seat where she hid the jewelry and coins that the Panarch had given to them. Also hidden in that compartment are the two dream-related ter’angreal they recovered from the Black Ajah, as well as one of the seals to the Dark One’s prison—the seal they discovered in the Panarch’s Palace. Carrying this is the reason Nynaeve’s in such a hurry to get back to Tar Valon.

She thinks about how she left the Two Rivers to protect the young people who left with Moiraine, how she continued on to the Tower in the hope that she could shelter them and also perhaps get revenge on Moiraine. But the world has changed since then, or perhaps she now sees the world differently. She tells herself firmly that it is the world that has changed, not her.

Now it was all she could do to protect herself. Rand was what he was, and no turning back, and Egwene eagerly went her own way, not letting anyone or anything hold her back even if her way led over a cliff, and Mat had learned to think of nothing but women, carousing and gambling. She even found herself sympathizing with Moiraine sometimes, to her disgust. At least Perrin had gone back home, or so she had heard through Egwene, secondhand from Rand; perhaps Perrin was safe.

Nynaeve believes in the importance of the Black Ajah, but the real reason she stays, keeps trying to use the Power even through her block, is because of the prospect of learning to Heal. In the same way that gaining power and recognition as Wisdom of Emond’s Field had been gratifying but less important than the ability to use her knowledge and herbs to cure illness, so too is the prospect of getting to Heal with the Power even more alluring to Nynaeve.

Nynaeve approaches Elayne, trying to talk to her as she washes her face in a bucket of water from the stream. She tries to discuss the rumors of overthrow of the king and Panarch in Tarabon, although Elayne is frosty towards her, and more interested in talking about the possibility of the Black Ajah following them. Elayne relaxes a little as they discuss the possibility of Moghedien, obliquely so that Juilin, resting nearby, won’t know what they’re actually discussing. Nynaeve has her turn to wash, and Thom comes back with the supplies, and with news. He tells them that the town is suffering without the trade from Tarabon, and that there are Whitecloaks everywhere. He can’t figure out why Pedron Niall is pulling so many of the Children into Amador, and it clearly bothers him. He also mentions that it is the King’s Tax that is paying for the food being sent into Tarabon, and that the people aren’t happy about it. Nynaeve, however, is more interested in how few vegetables Thom bought, and asks Elayne if she wants to go into town to see if they have better luck finding some.

She tells the men they will be fine without an escort, and as soon as they are away from the camp Elayne asks what it is that Nynaeve needs to talk about away from the men. But Nynaeve isn’t trying to talk about Moghedien anymore—she wants to talk about Elayne’s behavior towards Thom. Elayne denies it at first, and when Nynaeve points out that Thom is old enough to be Elayne’s father, she snaps that he is not her father, that her father is Taringail Damodred, a Prince of Cairhien and First Prince of the Sword of Andor. Nynaeve reminds herself to keep her temper as she presses the subject, and Elayne admits that she is worried about Rand being so far away. She wishes she had made sure he knew how she felt, and observes that Min must have had a viewing about it, because she always used to joke about having to share Rand. Nynaeve is vaguely horrified, though she has heard from Aviendha about the Aiel custom, and although she recognizes that, in a way, she shares Lan with Moiraine.

Rather than tell Elayne that Thom is too old for her (Lan is quite a bit older than Nynaeve, after all) Nynaeve points out that Moiraine sent Thom, and that he is a man with secrets, more than just some country gleeman.

“He was a great man,” Elayne said softly. “He could have been greater, except for love.”

This is finally too much for Nynaeve’s temper, and she forcibly points out that Thom doesn’t know what to do with Elayne, and that if Elayne’s mother heard her talking this way, she’d have her back in the nursery with Lini. But Elayne counters that she is not a child anymore, and that she is as much a woman as her mother is. After a little frosty silence from Nynaeve, Elayne turns the subject to the lack of vegetables in Thom’s haul from town, and the two talk about the foibles of men as they walk. Nynaeve is reminded of how much she likes Elayne, how much she seems like she could be Egwene’s sister, and thinks that Thom could just put a stop to Elayne’s behavior if he chose to.

The town is as depressed as Thom described, and there are plenty of Whitecloaks about. Nynaeve is nervous, but there is nothing to draw the Children’s attention, so she and Elayne try to focus on hunting for vegetables. They aren’t finding much, causing Nynaeve to wonder how the people of the village will survive the winter.

And then Nynaeve sees a particularly tied bundle of small yellow flowers hanging in the doorway of a seamstress’s shop, and she pulls Elayne aside. Pretending to adjust her shawl, she tells Elayne that it is an emergency signal for the eyes-and-ears network of the Yellow Ajah—not the sort of thing Nynaeve should know, but she spent a great deal of her time in the Tower talking with Yellows.

“One of them told me. She did not think it too great a transgression, since she was sure I’ll choose Yellow. Besides, it has not been used in nearly three hundred years. Elayne, only a few women in each Ajah actually know who the Ajah’s eyes-and-ears are, but a bunch of yellow flowers tied and hung like that tells any Yellow sister that here one is, and with a message urgent enough to risk uncovering herself.”

Elayne asks how they are going to find out what the message is, and Nynaeve is pleased with Elayne’s backbone. She leads Elayne into the shop, hoping desperately that Shemerin has told her everything. They find two women inside, a younger girl and a middle-aged woman who is clearly the seamstress. They seem shocked that anyone would be coming into the shop, but the seamstress, who gives her name as Ronde Macura, greets them cordially. Nynaeve asks for a dress with yellow roses, but no thorns, as she doesn’t heal very fast. The words “yellow” and “heal” are the signal of who she is, and Mistress Macura quickly sends the girl, Luci, into the back to make some of the best tea for the two ladies. She also makes a sign with her forefinger and thumb to indicate the great serpent ring, and Nynaeve and Elayne return the signal.

But Mistress Macura seems very nervous, and even with Luci out of the room is extremely reluctant to tell her Aes Sedai visitors what the message is. Despite Nynaeve’s attempts at reassurance and Elayne’s commanding tone, she babbles on about how they can talk over tea, and how good the tea is, how they used to get Taraboner tea and also news through the town. Nynaeve has to be firm to get her to escort them back into the kitchen where Luci has the tea ready.

“The message?” Nynaeve said as the woman sat down across from them. Mistress Macura was too nervous to touch her own teacup, so Nynaeve stirred a little honey into hers and took a sip; it was hot, but had a cool, minty aftertaste. Hot tea might settle the woman’s nerves, if she could be made to drink.

Elayne compliments the tea, though Mistress Macura won’t tell them what kind it is. Finally they get her to tell them the message; “All sisters are welcome to return to the White Tower. The Tower must be whole and strong.”

Nynaeve is surprised that the dire message should be so simple, and presses to know if there was anything else. But she also notices that she’s feeling very sleepy, and Mistress Macura is watching them both carefully as Elayne’s head begins to nod. Nynaeve’s follows, and she demands to know what Mistress Macura gave them. But the seamstress only watches with satisfaction as Nynaeve loses control over her body and then falls into blackness.

Elayne wakes up to find that she’s being carried upstairs by the two women, but although she’s aware she has no control over her limbs, and even her brain feels heavy and fogged. Luci, supporting Elayne’s legs, is alarmed and frightened to see that Elayne is awake.

“I told you not to worry.” Mistress Macura’s voice came from above her head. “She cannot channel, or twitch a muscle, not with forkroot tea in her. I discovered that by accident, but it has certainly come in handy.”

Elayne finds that this is true; she can sense the True Source but her attempts to touch it are clumsy and useless. She panics, wondering if these women mean to turn her over to the Whitecloaks, or, more likely, the Black Ajah, and she realizes that she is trying to scream. She tells herself off for useless panicking and tries to focus on embracing saidar, even though the usually simple act feels impossible.

They dump Elayne on a bed and return later with Nynaeve, whose eyes are glittering with tears of rage. They also bring up the teapot and a funnel, as well as an hourglass, and Mistress Macura gives Luci specific instructions about how often and how much tea to give the prisoners. She intends to give them just enough to keep them incapacitated, but awake enough to walk when they need to be moved. Luci is terrified, and keeps complaining about the Aes Sedai looking at her, but Mistress Macura assures her that they cannot channel and are “as helpless as kittens in sacks” before heading off to arrange for messages to make some arrangements. Luci goes downstairs to make more tea.

Elayne watches the sands of the hourglass fall as she tries over and over again to touch saidar. When the hour passes and there’s no sign of Luci, she begins to get a bit of control back, even managing to raise her hand before Luci bursts back in, panic stricken, and forces both of them to drink more tea through the funnel.

The whole process repeats itself, with the hourglass running out and still no sign of Luci. Elayne is desperate for Nynaeve to stay strong, frustrated that she doesn’t feel as strong as the other woman—she who is supposed to be Queen of Andor one day. But she keeps trying, and when the hourglass is empty she starts having a little bit of success again. She even hears Nynaeve muttering to herself.

The door crashed open once more. Elayne lifted her head to stare at it despairingly—and gaped. Thom Merrilin stood there like the hero of one of his own tales, one hand firmly gripping the neck of a Luci near fainting, the other holding a knife ready to throw. Elayne laughed delightedly, though it came out more like a croak.

Nynaeve manages to tell Thom that it was another woman who drugged them, not Luci, and gets him to help her walk around to work the tea out of her system. Thom asks if the one who got away will tell others, but Elayne is certain she won’t—the Whitecloaks would be as much of a danger to her as to them. Thom explains that Juilin followed them into town, and when he didn’t come back Thom went to find him, discovering him ready to break into the seamstress’s shop. Sure enough, Juilin arrives a few minutes later with Mistress Macura, whom he’d caught coming back in after her errands.

Mistress Macura looks terrified, of Juilin’s knife perhaps, but mostly of Elayne and Nynaeve. As Juilin helps Elayne walk, she insists that she only did what she did because she had orders. She doesn’t want to tell them anything else, but Nynaeve threatens to let Juilin torture her, and Juilin, wickedly, assures them that some rags for a gag, cooking oil and salt, will make her talk. Mistress Macura spits out the name of her contact in the Tower, Narenwin Barda, with whom Nynaeve and Elayne are vaguely familiar. But when they are accused of working for the Black Ajah, both Luci and Mistress Macura are horrified, insisting that they walk in the Light and that Mistress Macura serves the Yellow Ajah. Nynaeve asks why she tried to kidnap them, then.

“It was her,” the seamstress replied, nodding at Elayne. “I was sent her description a month since, right down to that way she holds her chin sometimes so she seems to be looking down at you. Narenwin said she might use the name Elayne, and even claim to be of a noble House.” Word by word, her anger over being called a Darkfriend seemed to bubble higher. “Maybe you are a Yellow sister, but she’s no Aes Sedai, just a runaway Accepted. Narenwin said I was to report her presence, and that of anyone with her. And to delay her, if I could. Or even capture her. And anyone with her. How they expected me to capture an Accepted, I do not know—I don’t think even Narenwin knows about my forkroot tea!—but that is what my orders said! They said I should risk exposure even—here, where it’d be my death!—if I had to! You just wait until the Amyrlin puts her hands on you, young woman! On all of you!”

She admits that she was going to send them to Tar Valon in a cart, repeats her threats about what the Amyrlin will do to them, and tells them that the message she gave was, in fact, the real message. They tie the two up and then the men help Elayne and Nynaeve downstairs. Nynaeve asks Juilin what he was going to do with the salt and the cooking oil, and Juilin tells her that he doesn’t know, that it was just a trick to get the woman’s mind to conjure up its own terrors.

Downstairs Nynaeve is looking through cupboards, though Elayne still needs to sit. Everyone is shocked when Nynaeve thanks Thom and Juilin for coming to their aid, admitting that she is starting to see why Aes Sedai have Warders. She begins to make up a bundle of Mistress Macura’s various herbs as Elayne asks what the message from the Tower could mean. They also wonder at why the Amyrlin could possibly have given such instructions regarding Elayne, although Juilin is confident that Mistress Macura was telling the truth.

Nynaeve comes up with a plan to use a herb called white henpepper to die Elayne’s hair black, and for the two of them to take dresses from the shop so they can pass as two ladies traveling with their servants. She sends the men back to fetch money from the wagon so they can buy a coach.

A man named Noy Torvald, who Mistress Macura was sending to Tar Valon, arrives with his wagon just in time to see two women come out of the seamstress’s shop and leap into a waiting coach. Two Whitecloaks come over to speak to the strangers, but the coachman cracks his whip and shouts for them to make way for a lady, barreling off before anyone can learn her name. The Whitecloaks are upset, but they decide not to report the incident to their captain, not wanting to look foolish or to be sent to fetch the coach back.

Noy goes upstairs to find both Luci and Mistress Macura sound asleep in bed, then realizes that the money he was given for the journey would now allow him to get away from his nagging wife and mother in law, and decides to take his cart and ride to Altara or Murandy. Much later, Mistress Macura makes her way to Avi Shendar, the man who lets her use his pigeons to send messages. She sends one off to the Tower, then a copy off towards the west. When she’s gone, Avi comes in and holds the other strips of parchment up to the light, reading what she wrote and then sending another pigeon off in yet another direction.

 

I was quite impressed with Nynaeve’s ability to calmly and sincerely thank Thom and Juilin for their help. As Elayne observes, so much of Nynaeve’s abrasiveness and hostility comes from her dislike (Elayne doesn’t call it fear, but I certainly will) of being even slightly vulnerable, either by needing help, not knowing something, or making a mistake. It’s always interesting to see when Nynaeve is able to overcome her instinct to cover that insecurity, especially when we’re not seeing the moment from her point of view. I’d love to know exactly what Nynaeve was thinking when she thanked them, apparently un-begrudgingly. It might be simply that her relief over not being turned over to the Black Ajah was so great that she has no space left for peevishness. Perhaps she’s soothed and emotionally bolstered by her acquisition of all of Mistress Macura’s herbs. Or, maybe it has something to do with the fact that Nynaeve is adjusting to the idea of becoming an Aes Sedai. In Chapter 9, she acknowledges herself the reasons that she went to the White Tower—to protect Egwene, and perhaps to get revenge on Moiraine—are not the primary reason she stays. She wants to become Aes Sedai because of the ability to Heal.

To Heal with the One Power… She had done it, fumbling, curing what her other skills never could. The joy of it was enough to bring tears. One day she meant to Heal Thom and watch him dance. One day she would even Heal that wound in Rand’s side. Surely there was nothing that could not be Healed, not if the woman wielding the Power was determined enough.

It’s a very moving paragraph, and particularly poignant coming on the heels of some of Rand’s thoughts from the previous weeks. We’ve also seen him grapple with the feeling that he could Heal anything, even Death, if only he could channel enough Power. Granted, his baggage is different from Nynaeve’s, and his issues with the allure and addiction to the One Power are different as well—we’ve seen some of the consequences of it in the dead little girl he tried to reanimate. But there is another side to this longing, which we see in Rand and Nynaeve as well as in Egwene and Elayne. This new generation is coming in with more strength and power than has been seen in channelers for a long time. They’re bursting with new ideas, with hope, and with power. They’ve been told again and again how much potential they have, and they’ve also been told of the miraculous things the Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends could accomplish. No wonder they’re dreaming big, and that’s not even taking into account that these big dreams are their only hope of surviving what’s coming. There’s Tarmon Gai’don, for one. And there’s the taint on saidin for another.

Egwene has thought within the narrative about how the taint might be healed, and Nynaeve has as well. I don’t think Nynaeve’s ambitions as a Healer will ever be sated; perhaps she will be the one who finds a way to cure the madness of the taint on saidin, or to figure out a way to shield someone against it. After all, we know that the Dark One provides a protection against the taint for his own male followers. And we know that the saidin in the Eye of the World was somehow filtered by the men and women who created it. Perhaps that skill will be rediscovered by Nynaeve or Egwene or Elayne. Perhaps one or all of the girls will learn how to link with Rand and work in tandem channeling both saidar and saidin at the same time. What might they accomplish then? What old weaves might they rediscover? What new weaves might they create?

Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to all the silly and stupid mistakes young and inexperienced people make. Granted I have a lot more knowledge than Nynaeve and Elayne do about what’s going on with the Aes Sedai, but the way Mistress Macura harped on that tea was an instant red flag. I rather would have thought that Nynaeve especially would be at least a little on guard—or does her suspicion and distrust of the Aes Sedai not extend to the Yellow and their informants? Is it unfair of me to expect them to distrust someone who is supposed to be part of an eyes-and-ears network for the Tower?

I mean, seeing what happened at the end of Chapter 10 gave me a whole different level of mistrust for the eyes-and-ears network anyway. Ronde Macura may serve the Yellow and not the Black, but she’s also careless. Just because she doesn’t know the relevance of information she sends to Narenwin doesn’t mean it isn’t sensitive information. And even though she is certain that her contact in the Aes Sedai  isn’t a Darkfriend, how is she not suspicious of someone else who wants to know what the Aes Sedai know? Whoever is getting that westward-bound pigeon could easily be a Darkfriend, or worse. And then there’s Avi, patiently waiting to find the evidence she carelessly left behind and sending off more information to yet another interested party.

I do appreciate Thom and Juilin getting their due. In general the weird gender divides of The Wheel of Time make the interactions between the four of them awkward and weird, whether it be from Juilin’s womanizing ways making Elayne uncomfortable or from random additions to judgments about the opposite sex, like the assertation that men don’t eat vegetables unless forced, which sort of comes out of nowhere here. It’s not surprising exactly, but it kind of piles up with all the other classic “men are from Shienar, women are from Arad Doman” stereotypes that we often see in these books. I feel like Nynaeve and Elayne have enough complicated, character-driven strife with Juilin and Thom that the rest isn’t needed.

Speaking of strife with Thom, though, I can’t really figure out what is going on with Elayne. At first I assumed her attentions to Thom were more because she saw him as a pseudo father-figure, as a connection to her mother and to her own past, and that Nynaeve was misreading that connection. I thought the whole thing was pretty funny, actually. But Chapter 10 seems to contradict that reading and suggest that Elayne is actually taking some kind of romantic interest in Thom, which is a bit squicky, really. A daughter going after her mother’s lover is certainly a thing that happens, especially if she is young and the relationship between mother and daughter is strained, but this really does seem to come out of nowhere. One moment she’s appalled at the idea of her mother being a sexual person at all and angry with Thom for leaving when Elayne was a child, the next minute she’s… whatever this is.

Then again, perhaps there is a safety in flirting with Thom—he’s obviously not thinking of Elayne that way at all, as Nynaeve points out, so maybe she just wants the ability to relax and act a little silly without consequences, like the ones she experienced with that server at the Three Plum Court or the ones she fears from Juilin. She has an awful lot of responsibility on her shoulders; we see her frequently upbraid herself for not being tough, determined, or wise enough for the future Queen of Andor, even though she is one of the most self-possessed characters in the series and is always acting with bravery, integrity, and determination.

It’s agony to see Nynaeve and Elayne get this tiny little clue to what’s happened in the Tower in their absence. It’s not enough pieces for them to put anything together, though the meaning is so clear to us, the readers. Even the possibility of the Amyrlin being overthrown would never occur to them, because that kind of event is so rare and also because of their impressions of Siuan. Even people who know much more about the Tower would be shocked at the thought, as we’ll see from Gareth Bryne next week. But the clue of the Amyrlin wanting Elayne back by any means necessary is so simple to understand if only someone could fathom the idea of a different Aes Sedai being on the Amyrlin Seat. After all, Elayne’s absence from the Tower—and Nynaeve and Egwene’s, for that matter— is a mystery to everyone, and the girls are both aware that there could still be Black Ajah in Tar Valon.

I have one more thought for this week before I wrap things up, which is that the last few mentions of the seals on the Dark One’s prison have finally prompted me to stop and make a list of how many have been found so far and which ones are still intact. The fact that Moiraine found one in Rhuidean and Nynaeve found one in Tarabon basically at the same time feels significant—it’s kind of like they’re being found at a faster and faster rate. So for those who are reading along and trying to keep account, here is a list.

– The first one was found inside the Eye of the World along with the Dragon Banner and the Horn of Valere. It was broken when they found it.

– The second was owned by Bayle Domon, and then taken and given to Turak. Turak also had one in his possession (though neither man knew what they were). Both of these were found by Moiraine, broken, after the battle at Falme.

– Moiraine found one in the Stone of Tear, and one in Rhuidean. They are both still intact, packed away on Kadere’s wagons, but the one from Rhuidean is extremely fragile, and might break at any moment, it seems.

– Finally, there’s the one Nynaeve found in the Panarch’s Palace, which is also still intact.

So that’s a total of three broken seals, three seals that are still whole, and only one left unaccounted for. I kind of missed that we were so close to having them all already. A full three are broken, which I assume accounts for how many Forsaken are now free. They were all sealed in there with the Dark One by Lews Therin and the Companions, and I’m guessing that there are cracks or spaces that open up with the failing of each seal.

Next week we catch up with Siuan, Min, and Leane, and have another chapter from Gareth Bryne as well. I am rapidly becoming quite invested in Morgase’s former advisor, and can’t wait to find out what part he’ll have to play in Siuan’s journey towards reuniting the Aes Sedai.

Sylas K Barrett has spent a lot of this past week hiking with dogs. He hopes you’re having a good week, too.

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