Welcome back to Reading the Wheel of Time! This week covers Chapters 11 and 12, to which I have a mixed reaction. But I love Siuan and I’m desperately curious about what’s become of the Aes Sedai that fled the White Tower, so any step towards finding them is a win in my book. As it is in Siuan’s. But before we get into that, let us commence the recapping.
Chapter 11 finds Siuan and company entering Lugard. Siuan has been allowing Logain to think that he is the leader and in charge of the company, letting him carry the money and decide their travel schedule, even going so far as to cook and serve his meals to him. Privately, however, she has plans to use him, and actually feels a little sorry for him over it.
Lugard, the capital of Murandy, is a haphazardly built city, and rather dirty and dusty. It is a city held up by commerce, and it is full of traders’ wagons and inns with rowdy common rooms. Logain takes them to one, the Nine Horse Hitch, and after she dismounts, Siuan furtively instructs Leane to practice her wiles on “Dalyn” for the next hour, then instructs Min to keep up the subterfuge that Siuan has gone inside the inn. Then she hurries away down the street before anyone can see her go.
Siuan is surprised to realize some of the wagon drivers cat-calling women in the street are also shouting at her; she’s still not used to the new way people see her, and when she observes her reflection in a window she can see that she looks quite young, not much older than Min. She tells herself that this is another advantage of being stilled, since she knows that older women often try to turn back their appearance twenty or thirty years. Siuan often finds herself listing ‘advantages’ as if trying to convince herself of something.
She finds the inn she was looking for, eyes glancing past the naked woman and lewd name painted on the side as she passes into a noisy common room full of men drinking and trying to pinch serving maids. There is a singer on one of the tables, singing a bawdy song and showing her legs, which Siuan does her best to ignore as she approaches the innkeeper, whose dyed-red curls match the description of the woman she seeks.
Siuan tells the innkeeper, Mistress Tharne, that she wants a job singing, giving the passcodes as the songs she can sing “The Song of the Three Fishes” and “Blue Sky Dawning.” She is certain she has the right woman, but the innkeeper only laughs at her, and demands to see her legs. Siuan resists, then relents, raising her skirts to her knees, and then, as Mistress Tharne demands more, she closes her eyes and raises them higher still.
“A modest one,” Mistress Tharne chortled. “Well, if those songs are the extent of your knowledge, you’d better have legs to make a man fall on his face. Can’t tell till we get those woolen stockings off her, eh, Pel? Well, come on with me. Maybe you have a voice, anyway, but I can’t hear it in here. Come on, girl! Hustle your rump!”
Siuan is furious, but she follows Mistress Tharne, her stony face concealing her anger as they leave the common room and down the corridor. She reminds herself why she is here, how much information passes through Lugard, and that Mistress Tharne has been serving in the Blue eyes-and-ears network since before Siuan had taken over the network. Her information was always timely, and Siuan desperately needs that information.
Once in Mistress Tharne’s office, the innkeeper drops the pretension of not recognizing Siuan’s passwords. Siuan tries to tell her off for the way she acted in the common room, but Mistress Tharne is having none of it. She tells Siuan that if she’d come at opening or closing she might not have needed to do it, but she couldn’t just escort a strange woman to the back under the eyes of all her customers without some explanation. She also tells Siuan to watch her manner with a woman who has daughters older than Siuan, and threatens to hit her. Siuan is trembling with rage by the end of the tirade, but she reminds herself that she’s not the Amyrlin anymore, that she is supposed to be just another agent. And she’s a little worried that the woman will carry out her physical threat, and this is another thing that is still new for her—the need to be cautious around someone just because they are bigger and stronger.
She explains that she has a message to deliver to a group “of those we serve” but that they are not where she was told to find them. She hopes that someone can give her more accurate information. Mistress Tharne is mollified, but also demands to know what has happened in the Tower. Siuan keeps her tone steady as she explains that Siuan Sanche has been stilled, and that Elaida a’Roihan is the new Amyrlin.
Mistress Tharne’s face showed no reaction. “Well, that explains some of the orders I’ve gotten. Some of them, maybe. Stilled her, did they? I thought she’d be Amyrlin forever. I saw her once, a few years ago in Caemlyn. At a distance. She looked like she could chew harness straps for breakfast.” Those impossible scarlet curls swung as she shook her head. “Well, done’s done. The Ajahs have split, haven’t they? Only thing that fits; my orders, and the old buzzard stilled. The Tower’s broken, and the Blues are running.”
Siuan just barely manages to keep a hold on her temper, and repeats that her message is important, and asks for help. Mistress Tharne says that she can give her something, but she herself doesn’t understand it. “Sallie Daera” is the name she has been told to give to any Blue “who came around looking lost,” but Mistress Tharne doesn’t know who she is. Siuan pretends not to understand either, but inside she is elated. She says she’ll go on looking, and Mistress Tharne asks her to tell Aeldene Sedai, if she finds them, that she is still loyal to the Blue.
Mistress Tharne advises her to climb down a rung or two before some Aes Sedai takes her down the whole ladder, and sends her off. Siuan thanks her politely, inwardly thinking that she would like to have her doing penance till her eyes popped, and leaves.
As she’s passing through the common room, she hears Mistress Tharne’s voice behind her, shouting about how she’s such a shy maiden, describing the appearance of her legs and hips to the customers and how she cried when Mistress Tharne said she had to show them to the crowd. Siuan manages only a couple of steps under the laughter of the men in the room before breaking into a run.
Once out in the street she pauses to collect herself, pushing aside thoughts of revenge and reminding herself that she has the information she was looking for. Not Sallie Daera, but Salidar, the birthplace of Deane Aryman, the Blue Amyrlin who replaced Bonwhin. Only a Blue would catch the reference, and it’s one of the last places anyone would look for Aes Sedai.
Two Whitecloaks on horseback ride past, and Siuan pulls away, tipping her head down and pressing up against a storefront. They glance at her as they pass, and she’s frustrated by her reaction. She probably called their attention by shrinking back, and of course her face would mean nothing to them even if they did see it. She remembers a time when something as inconsequential as the encounter with Mistress Tharne wouldn’t have shaken her so much as to make that kind of mistake, a time when that woman wouldn’t have dared say such things anyway. But she puts her focus back on the task at hand, and glares so hard at the wagon drivers as she returns to the Nine Horse Hitch that some of them even bite back the comments they were going to make.
Meanwhile, Min is sitting at a table watching Leane and Logain at the far side of the room. Leane is plying her Domani ways again, entrancing not only Logain but plenty of other men as well, earning her looks from a singer on the table. Leane had nearly started a brawl with her attentions, but had quelled it just as well. Min actually finds herself a little jealous, thinking that perhaps she could learn a thing or two from Leane to use on Rand. She upbraids herself for thinking about changing for a man, that it’s bad enough she still has to wear dresses, but can’t stop herself from also thinking that Rand would look at her if she wore a dress with a low-cut neckline.
Siuan appears unexpectedly at her elbow, and Min can tell from the woman’s attitude that she has learned something new. She tells Min that they must go south, and that they can’t stay the night because there may be Whitecloaks asking questions about her. Min knows Logain won’t like that, but Siuan informs her that they don’t need to tell him—just tell Leane that it’s time to go and Logain will follow.
Min asks what a Nine Horse Hitch is, and is told that in this town it’s better not to know. She tells Min to hurry up, and not to let anyone overhear her. But Min doesn’t think anyone will even see her as long as Leane is there, and she wishes again she knew how to make Rand look at her that way. Since they are going to be riding all night, perhaps she will ask Leane for some tips after all.
Gareth Bryne arrives in Lugard with his party, immediately losing his velvet hat to the wind and a wagon wheel. He thinks that it was travel-stained anyway, as is his silk coat, and that he should find something plainer to wear. He passes into an inn called the Wagon Seat, where he finds the crowds and a singer on a table and also Joni and Barim. They collect their horses in the back and head out, no one speaking until they are past the city gates. Then Barim tells him that the women were in Lugard yesterday.
Bryne has heard the same, but he listens as Barim describes them and the broad-shouldered man with them who is probably the Dalyn who’d been responsible for the barn and the theft of the coins. Barim wasn’t able to find out which way they went, however. He did learn that there have been plenty of Whitecloaks passing through, all heading west, and he wonders if Pedron Niall is up to something. Bryne reminds him that this isn’t their business anymore.
Joni interjects that he was able to learn which way they went—he was in an inn called the Good Night’s Ride and had a drink with some men who saw “Mara” come in and try to get a job singing, then left because she didn’t want to show her legs the way girls in this town do. They set off west on the Jehannah Road right after. Despite the fact of his being hit on the head, Joni seems to have a lot of sympathy and concern for the woman, remarking that he doesn’t blame Mara for not wanting to show her legs. She doesn’t seem like the type to want to work in a place like that, and he believes that she must be trying to get away from Dalyn. Bryne rather suspects Joni would like to rescue all three girls and take them back to be looked after by his own daughters.
Barim, on the other hand, doesn’t think that all this trouble and chasing is worth it, not for the price of a barn and some cows. Bryne knows it’s foolish to come even into Murandy, not a welcoming place to Andormen, and even more foolish to chase them halfway across the world.
Joni tells Bryne that he also learned that even more of the guards who served under Bryne when he was Captain-General of the Queen’s Guard are being sent away, replaced by men calling themselves the White Lions who are more loyal to Lord Gaebril than to the Queen. Bryne repeats again that this is none of their business, but he notes that Barim still has more to say and prods him to reveal it.
Barim tells him that he heard some folks say that the Whitecloaks were looking for a girl who matched Mara’s description, asking about who she was and which way she went. Barim imagines that, if the Whitecloaks find her first, they might not worry too much about proving she’s a Darkfriend before hanging her.
Bryne can’t imagine Mara is a Darkfriend. He knows they can look like anyone, but somehow he is quite certain that Mara isn’t one of them. So certain he’d stake his life on it, and he knows well enough that Whitecloaks can be suspicious of anyone and everyone. Still, he knows what they might do if they thought she fled Lugard to get away from them.
They arrive back at the camp shortly. Looking at his men, old campaigners all, he thinks that he should be taking them, and himself, home, not on a chase that might well continue all the way to the Aryth Ocean. And yet he doesn’t make that call.
“We will be heading west,” he announced, and immediately there was a scramble of dousing fires with the tea and fastening pots to saddles. “We will have to press hard. I mean to catch them in Altara, if I can, but if not, there’s no telling where they’ll lead us. You could see Jehannah or Amador or Ebou Dar before we’re done.” He affected a laugh. “You’ll find out how tough you are if we reach Ebou Dar. They’ve taverns there where the barmaids skin Illianers for dinner and spit Whitecloaks for sport.”
The men laugh, and one offers that they won’t worry with Bryne along, mentioning that he’s heard Bryne once had a run-in with the Amyrlin herself. One of the others kicks him into silence for bringing it up.
Bryne forced his face to relax from stoniness. It was time he put the past in the past. Just because a woman whose bed he had shared—and more, he had thought—just because that woman looked at him as though she had never known him was no reason to stop speaking her name. Just because she had exiled him from Caemlyn, on pain of death, for giving her the advice he had sworn to give… If she came a cropper with this Lord Gaebril who had suddenly appeared in Caemlyn, it was no longer any concern of his. She had told him, in a voice as flat and cold as smooth ice, that his name would never be spoken in the palace again, that only his long service kept her from sending him to the headsman for treason. Treason! He needed to keep spirits up, especially if this turned into a long chase.
Bryne lights his pipe and begins to tell them the story, how the Amyrlin passed through Camelyn on her way back to Tar Valon, and she took an interest in the soldiers he had posted on the Murandian border. The Amyrlin and Elaida closeted themselves up with Morgase, and when she came out even the Queen herself had been cowed into submission, ordering Bryne to remove all troops from the border with Murandy.
“I asked her to discuss it with me in private, and Siuan Sanche jumped all over me. In front of half the court, she chewed me up one side and down the other like a raw recruit. Said if I couldn’t do as I was told, she’d use me for fishbait.” He had had to beg her pardon before it was done—in front of everyone, for trying to do as he had been sworn to do—but there was no need to add that. Even at the end he had not been sure that she would not make Morgase behead him, or have it done herself.”
The upshot, he tells the men through their laughter, is that he got his hide singed and the Amyrlin got her way. He adds, jokingly, that the bar maidens in Ebou Dar would hang the Amyrlin out to dry, so they can’t expect him to protect them.
They mounted up with an alacrity that belied their ages. Some of them are no older than me, he thought wryly. Too old to go chasing after a pretty pair of eyes young enough to be his daughter’s if not his granddaughter’s. I only want to know why she broke oath, he told himself firmly. Only that.
Raising his hand, he signaled forward, and they headed west, leaving a trail of dust. It would take hard riding to catch up. But he meant to. In Ebou Dar or the Pit of Doom, he would find them.
So apparently Murandy, or at least Lugard, is the American Wild West of Randland, and Jordan has spared no paragraph in letting us know just how much so. I’m not sure how I feel about these chapters, to be honest. On the one hand, I love Siuan’s journey and I’m very intrigued by Gareth Bryne and the way he’s being drawn back into events by his connection to the former Amyrlin. But on the other, I feel like Jordan makes some weird choices amidst all the intriguing ones that are throwing me for a bit of a loop.
You know how when you’re in a bar, you can often look at the bartenders and servers and tell what kind of woman the manager or owner is interested in? Or how certain Hollywood studios or television networks (looking at you, The CW) have a very obvious type when it comes to casting actresses? Well, I’m starting to notice that same phenomenon in Robert Jordan’s writing. Most of his main female characters are short, slim, and have big dark eyes, with the occasional shake-up of gold hair and blue-green eyes or Aviendha’s very Wonder Woman-esque build. I don’t really understand the old-school distinction between handsome and pretty, myself (I think it has something to do with delicacy of features?) but I appreciated the way Siuan is described as being handsome, strong jawed, and sturdy looking. Now she has been robbed not only of her Aes Sedai appearance but also of that handsomeness, and I’m not sure why.
I understand the idea that channeling slows aging, so it makes sense that Siuan and Leane would look younger than their actual age now that the strange effects of being a channeler are no longer distorting that. But Siuan’s current appearance is described as having “the changes that maturity had made… softened into youth,” which makes no sense. It’s possible that Jordan made that choice for plot-driven reasons, in order to make it more believable that Siuan and Leane are no longer recognizable as themselves, but I honestly think it makes it less believable. The more striking and interesting idea, in my opinion, is that the ageless effect of channeling makes someone look different for reasons that aren’t so clearly explained on paper. When Min sees Siuan and Leane in the dungeon for the first time, she is able to recognize them with only a little effort, and I always imagined that the “Aes Sedai look” was more a perception of the human eye or even a sixth sense than a huge physical change.
Also, it just feels weird to suggest that these ladies look like young girls now. Granted, “girl” and “young” are somewhat subjective—Min is in her early twenties and judges that Siuan and Leane look six or seven years older than her, so around thirty. Siuan considers this “not much older” than Min, but six or seven years might seem like a lot less to her than it does to Min. But thirty is hardly a child, especially in a vaguely medieval England-based world.
And even considering that Siuan’s perception of her own youth might be somewhat skewed (i.e. thirty is a child to her standards even if it’s still an adult age) it remains hard to escape the way the narration’s harping on that youth infantilizes her character in a manner that doesn’t serve her journey in any significant way, other than bringing her appearance more in line with the traditional look of WoT ladies. And, awkwardly, it’s just in time for her to become a possible love interest to an older-appearing man, if Bryne’s inner dialogue is anything to go by. I just don’t come away from this chapter with any greater or changed understanding of what Siuan is going through, and the whole thing rather feels like it’s just there for titillation.
This is in contrast with the other hardships Siuan has experienced since her stilling and the poignant, well-crafted way Jordan has presented them. I’m still annoyed by how often ladies are forced to get naked in the White Tower, but it felt like the right choice when we found her that way in the dungeons, in that moment before Min came to the rescue. In that small section from Siuan’s POV, she grappled with her stilling, the physical torture, and the knowledge of her utter defeat at Elaida’s hands: The usurpers had stripped Siuan of everything, even her own face, and watching her gather her strength and try to stand tall while both literally and metaphorically bared to the world was incredibly moving.
Her encounter as Gareth Bryne’s prisoner and her power struggle with Logain are other interesting examples of Siuan navigating a new life with new rules. Logain is a man who she, as the powerful Amyrlin, helped bring down. Now he has physical strength and ability far superior to hers, and has threatened her with it more than once. But on the other hand, her will may yet prove stronger than his. She also has connections, and a plan, where he has neither. I’m fully prepared to believe that she may get the best of him yet, even if she is cooking his meals in the interim.
Leane offers still another contrast to Siuan’s position. Putting aside the whole Domani seductress thing, I respect her need to have something more than duty in her life, and I hope she can find happiness in the face of her loss. At the same time, I think it is quite significant that her loyalty to the Aes Sedai cause mostly ends with her ability to be an Aes Sedai, whereas Siuan’s loyalty to that cause transcends everything. She has given her life to the single goal of preparing the world for the coming Last Battle, and nothing can shake her commitment to that. There is something very moving about seeing that dedication from someone who is no longer deemed as “special” by the conventional rules of this world; it reminded of Moraine’s words to Rand from a few chapters ago about how so many people are fighting in the same battle as he is, even though he can’t see it. He is the Dragon Reborn, but he is not the only linchpin on which the fate of Tarmon Gai’don turns.
I’m not sure what the point of Lugard is, anyway. We’ve already seen plenty of sexism, tavern singers, and objectification of women in other places, and I don’t really find this as interesting as, say, the culture clash Elayne experiences wearing the Taraboner dresses or the fact that Egwene can’t understand that Aviendha sleeping in the same bedroom as Rand isn’t considered scandalous by the Aiel, or the whole Aiel sister-wife thing. Again, Lugard just seems like it’s worse to be worse, not for any interesting cultural reason. I’d much rather see the dynamic between male roles and female roles shaken up again, like the relative equality we see in the Sea Folk. I really love that both genders go shirtless amongst the Atha’an Miere, and that the relative gender parity doesn’t (as far as we know) seem to come with a lot of “if, then” rules like the Maidens’ experience. Shirtless Atha’an Miere women are merely shirtless sailors, just like their male counterparts.
The more I read of Gareth Bryne, the more I like him. And the more curious I am about him, for that matter. I enjoyed seeing his camaraderie with his men, and the significance of the fact that he’s letting down his guard about Morgase now that he’s out riding with them instead of sitting in his manor or doing Lord Bryne stuff, which he clearly hates. He says that it’s time passing, as well as the necessity of keeping the men’s spirits up, but I rather suspect that this chase is bringing a bit of his old self back to him, as it seems to be doing for his men. There was a lot of symbolism in the destruction of that velvet hat (and it was a lovely cinematic moment I could see opening an episode of the new show as beautifully as it opens this chapter) and his thoughts that he really needs to buy some more practical, simple clothing. I think this marks the fact that he’s on a path that won’t lead him back to his own lands anytime soon. It may very well be that the former Captain-General of Andor will find a new position, and a new cause, quite soon.
And if so, how incredible is that? Siuan has set out to bring the remnants of the Aes Sedai back together, and in the process she has begun to bring others, similarly lost and set adrift, back to the cause of the Light, even without even knowing that she’s doing it. You’d almost think she was ta’veren, too.
I’m so upset about Morgase. Even as I talk about Siuan overcoming what has happened to her, I am reminded of how Morgase is currently being trapped, controlled, and abused by Rahvin, and no one who is in a position to do anything about it even knows that it’s happening. Of course, she is far from the only person, the only ruler, being manipulated or usurped by one of the Forsaken, but she is the one we know most about, and I think that this particular Compulsion takes on an extra cultural significance, within the fictional world as well as within our own, because of her gender. We’ve seen the Queen of Andor be judged for her gender before—back in The Eye of the World plenty of people were ready to declare for the Whitecloaks instead of their Queen, and of course the Children view her as just another Aes Sedai. And the very fact that the throne of Andor is matrilineal, passed from mother to daughter, is an abnormality in Randland in any case.
Watching Morgase’s abuse at Rahvin’s hands made my skin crawl, and although he is using supernatural means, I was reminded of the way that abusers in the real world use gaslighting and isolation tactics to undermine the will and self-control of their victims. Rahvin has changed Morgase into a different person, from the way she dresses to her involvement in ruling her kingdom; he has isolated her from her supporters either by replacing them quietly or by filling her ear with lies until she believed him. Compulsion helped that tactic, but it’s the same result as abusers who do so without the aid of magical power. And unless his position as her lover is a fiction (unlikely) he’s also raping her, since her affection and desire for him is entirely created by the Compulsion.
The only other ruler or equivalent we’ve seen in a similar position is Amathera, whose torture at the hands of Temaile included being forced to learn and perform lewd songs and dances. Sexual subjugation and torture seem to be pretty rote standards for the Forsaken, which makes sense but also starts to feel a bit like my complaint about Lugard. Sexual just to be worse, and perhaps not as nuanced and thoughtful as I would prefer.
But I digress. Bryne’s memory of his dismissal is a reminder of everything that’s going on with Morgase, and I feel so much for both of them. This is also a more complete (and painful) picture of how much Morgase meant to him personally, not just as a Queen or an employer, but as a person. My focus on Bryne’s character thus far has been more about what the dismissal meant to his identity as a Captain and a soldier, to his sense of purpose in life. This is a reminder of his love for Morgase, and that he has lost that as well. I wonder if they will ever find their way back to each other, or if Morgase, tragically, is destined to lose yet another lover.
On that sad note, we shall bring this week to a close. Next week we’ll be catching up with Nynaeve—who is back to letting her temper get the better of her—and Elayne in Amadicia, as well as with Birgitte in Tel’aran’rhiod. I’m always ready for a trip to the World of Dreams, so I can’t wait for Chapters 13 and 14. See you all soon!
Sylas K Barrett also hopes that Min doesn’t abandon her own style for something she thinks will please a man better. Rand can love her in pants or not at all.