Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: How to Control Saidar in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 10)

Good morning, and welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time. I’m hoping this Tuesday morning is finding you all feeling a little bit calmer and more secure than you were last Tuesday. Given the week we’ve had, I also hope you can all forgive me for this week’s submission to the read: We’ll be covering just one chapter instead of the promised two. Chapter 15 is a fascinating one, however, so we should have a lot of good things to explore.

Chapter 15 opens with Nynaeve attempting to Dream herself into Siuan’s study. She pictures it in her mind the way she remembers it, but she doesn’t appear in the White Tower. Confused, she tries a room she has visited more often—Sheriam’s study—and appears there easily. Realizing she might be recognized by someone who accidentally dreamed themselves into Tel’aran’rhiod or by any Black Sister who might be spying with one of the other stolen ter’angreal, Nynaeve changes her appearance to look like Melaine, but in an Accepted dress. She heads out into the hallway, occasionally encountering a few frightened-looking novices, apparently dreaming about being sent to Sheriam’s study and vanishing as quickly as they appear. Nynaeve ignores them, but then someone else appears before her. It is Elaida, looking sweaty in a red dress and a version of the Amyrlin’s stole without a blue stripe.

Those stern dark eyes focused on Nynaeve. “I am the Amyrlin Seat, girl! Do you not know how to show respect? I will have yo—” In midword, she was gone.

Nynaeve exhaled raggedly. Elaida as Amyrlin; that was a nightmare for certain. Probably her fondest dream, she thought wryly. It will snow in Tear before she ever rises that high.

She continues to the Amyrlin’s study, and when she sees the room she realizes why she couldn’t get to it. Instead of the sparse, practical furnishing Nynaeve remembers, there is a throne-like chair with a heavily carved table and stools arranged around it, a vase full of red roses arranged on a pedestal like a monument, a strange triptych that she doesn’t recognize, and the portrait of Rand fighting Ba’alzamon over Falme.

Just then the door opens and a red-haired Accepted comes into the room. She doesn’t wink away again, and Nynaeve is about to leap back to Sheriam’s study when the woman addresses her by name and tells her that if Melaine knew Nynaeve was using her face, she would do more than dress her like a child. Then she changes to reveal Egwene in her Aiel garb.

“You nearly frightened ten years out of me,” Nynaeve muttered. “So the Wise Ones have finally decided to let you come and go as you please? Or is Melaine behind—”

“You should be frightened,” Egwene snapped, color rising in her cheeks. “You are a fool, Nynaeve. A child playing in the barn with a candle.”

Nynaeve is shocked and outraged and starts to counter that she won’t take that kind of talk from Melaine or Egwene, but the other woman continues to berate her, telling Nynaeve that she is playing with fire even after the Wise Ones explained how very dangerous Tel’aran’rhiod is. When Nynaeve continues to argue, Egwene ups the ante, telling her that there are nightmares in the World of Dreams that could trap her until she died, then creating two huge ragged corpse men that catch Nynaeve up, tearing her dress and trying to bite, or possibly kiss, her. Nynaeve can’t touch saidar—she’s horrified, not angry—and finds herself pleading to Egwene. Then the creatures vanish, and Nynaeve can only shudder and weep for a moment before repairing the damage to her dress. She can’t fix the scratches to her chest and neck, though.

Egwene tells Nynaeve that she was able to unmake the things easily because she made them, but that she still has trouble with the nightmares she stumbles across in the Dream. Nynaeve insists that she could have Dreamed herself away, but Egwene points out that she was too terrified to think of it. Nynaeve glares, but it doesn’t spark the usual argument so she changes the subject. They discuss the alterations that have been made to the room, and Nynaeve points out that the woman who decorated it does not see the world in the same way as the woman who chose what was in it before. She also points out the paintings on the wall: Egwene recognizes that the triptych is probably of Bonwhin, but Nynaeve’s focus is on the one of Rand and how it indicates to her that the person who hung it wants to be reminded of how dangerous Rand is. She points out that Siuan turning against Rand could be even worse for them than her wanting Elayne back in the Tower.

Egwene is hesitant to commit an opinion, however, and suggests that the papers in the desk might tell them something. She instructs Nynaeve to search in the Amyrlin’s room and goes to check Leane’s desk. Nynaeve is indignant all over again at being told what to do, and thinks she ought to march out there and give Egwene a piece of her mind, but finds herself doing as she’s told all the same.

She searches two boxes before finding papers in a third, though some disappear from her hands before she can finish reading them. There is a request from Joline to serve a set of penances that make Nynaeve wince and that is signed “approved,” a note that the Marshal General of Saldaea and his army can’t be found, and that Queen Tenobia is refusing to cooperate, another note that the eyes-and-ears networks in Tanchico have been silent for three weeks, and information that Pedron Niall is claiming credit for some trouble between Illian and Murandy. It’s nothing she can use, or even finish reading before it vanishes, though Nynaeve is just starting on something mentioning a “suspected gathering of Blue sisters” when she hears Egwene cry out in the other room.

Nynaeve dashes out, wielding a spiked club, but she finds Egwene alone and safe, although with a horrified look on her face. She tells Nynaeve that she saw a document with Elaida’s name attached to the title of Amyrlin Seat.

Nynaeve isn’t sure that can be right—she knows Amyrlins aren’t deposed for anything but the most serious of offenses.

“Maybe Rand was serious enough.” Egwene’s voice was steady, though her eyes were still too wide. “Maybe she became ill with something the Yellows couldn’t Heal, or fell down the stairs and broke her neck. What matters is that Elaida is Amyrlin. I don’t think she will support Rand as Siuan did.”

Nynaeve can’t imagine Siuan dead; she’d hated her and been a little afraid of her, but she had respected her too. And Moiraine had been so sure that Siuan would put the Tower behind Rand. She can’t think what Elaida might do, but Egwene was able to read the rest of the document, which gave orders for “loyal sisters” who sighted Moiraine to detain her by any means necessary and return her to the Tower “for trial on charge of treason.” The same sort of language was also used about Elayne. Nynaeve notes that the wording of “loyal sisters” fits with Mistresses Macura’s message, and that this means that the Tower must have split over whatever happened with Elaida becoming Amyrlin.

Egwene praises the realization, pleasing Nynaeve in turn, who tells her of the report about the gathering of the Blues. She imagines that the Blues didn’t support Elaida, but when they go back into the study they can’t find the paper again. Egwene urges Nynaeve to try to remember what she read and Nynaeve insists that she is trying.

What she was doing hit Nynaeve like a sudden hammer between the eyes. Excusing herself. To Egwene, a girl whose bottom she had switched for throwing a tantrum not more than two years ago. And a moment earlier she had been proud as a hen with a new egg because Egwene was pleased with her. She remembered quite clearly the day when the balance between them had shifted, when they ceased being the Wisdom and the girl who fetched when the Wisdom said fetch, becoming instead just two women far from home. It seemed that balance had shifted further, and she did not like it. She was going to have to do something to move it back where it belonged.

Nynaeve decides that it must be the lie that she told Egwene that has thrown their relationship out of whack, that she is floundering because she has lost her moral authority. She confesses at once that she hadn’t tasted the forkroot in the tea at all, and that Thom and Juilin had had to rescue them. She tells Egwene that she’ll box her ears if she reports as much to the Wise Ones, expecting to start a fight, but Egwene only gives her an amused, condescending smile, and tells Nynaeve that she already expected as much. She has never heard Nynaeve mention forkroot before, and knows that Nynaeve always tries to put the best face on her mistakes. She tries to continue the conversation, but Nynaeve stubbornly insists that she doesn’t behave that way at all until Egwene, staring at her, decides that Nynaeve is not going to let it go. So she conjures a cup of something in her hands, reminding Nynaeve about the one time Egwene lied to her, and the awful taste of what Nynaeve made her drink as a discouragement.

Nynaeve backpedals, insisting that she didn’t really lie, and making excuses, but Egwene keeps coming until at last Nynaeve gives in, admitting that she sometimes tries “[…] to make things look better for myself than they were. Sometimes. But never anything important. I’ve never—lied—about anything important. Never, I swear. Only small things.” Egwene lets the cup vanish and Nynaeve sighs in relief, even as she’s berating herself for giving in to Egwene’s threats

Egwene goes back to talking about Elaida and how they have to decide who to tell. Moiraine obviously, and Rand too, but she doesn’t think that the Aiel should know yet. She warns Nynaeve not to blurt it out to the Wise Ones, or even to mention this meeting at the Tower at all. Nynaeve replies that she isn’t a fool, which Egwene readily agrees with—as long as Nynaeve doesn’t let her temper get the best of her. She warns Nynaeve that she needs to keep her temper and keep her wits about her if she’s indeed right about the Forsaken and Moghedien, and urges her to keep trying to remember anything she can about that gathering of Blue sisters. Then she disappears, leaving Nynaeve to wonder why confessing everything had fixed nothing and only made her look like a fool, before waking herself up.

Egwene opens her eyes in her tent in the Waste, and is relieved when she sees that there are no Wise Ones watching her. She isn’t afraid of their punishments, but she is afraid that they will refuse to keep teaching her if they learn that she has been traveling Tel’aran’rhiod without them. But even though she worries about that, she can’t stop; she wants to know everything right now.

She channels to create Fire in the empty firepit and waits for the room to warm up a little, thinking about what happened with Nynaeve. She had been so afraid that Nynaeve would find out she was there without the Wise Ones’ permission and possibly tell on her that the only thing she could think of to do was to focus on what Nynaeve was doing wrong instead. She’d kept them both focused on that, kept herself calm, and somehow she’d gained the upper hand.

Come to think of it, Moiraine seldom raised her voice, and when she did she was least effective in having what she wanted done. It had been so even before she began behaving so strangely with Rand. The Wise Ones never yelled at anyone, either—except each other, sometimes—and for all their grumping about the chiefs no longer listening, they still seemed to get their way much more often than not. There was an old saying that she had never really understood before: “He strains to hear a whisper who refuses to hear a shout.” She would not shout at Rand again. A quiet, firm, womanly voice, that was the thing. For that matter, she ought not to shout at Nynaeve, either; she was a woman, not a girl throwing tantrums.

When the tent is warm enough she dresses quickly, puts out the Fire, and heads out into the freezing night air. She approaches Rand’s tent, addressing the first Maiden who reveals herself in the night to ask if he is awake. Enaila says that he is, and that he does not sleep enough, sounding to Egwene like a worried mother. Then Aviendha detaches herself from the shadows by Rand’s tent, complaining that she has heard of infants keeping women awake all night, but that “a grown man should know that others would like to have their blankets.”

She and Enaila share a chuckle as Egwene peers into the tent to see that Rand is with Natael, and is sprawled out reading some book.

Abruptly he flipped back through the pages, read, then laughed. She tried to tell herself there was nothing of madness in that laugh, only bitterness. “A fine joke,” he told Natael, snapping the book shut and tossing it to him. “Read page two hundred eighty-seven and page four hundred, and tell me if you don’t agree.”

Egwene can’t speak to him while he’s with the gleeman, and she thinks for a moment that it’s a shame that Rand has to rely on a man he barely knows for company, before reminding herself that Rand has Aviendha, and often the chiefs and Lan, and sometimes Mat too. Aviendha says that Rand won’t talk to Natael in front of her, Enaila teases Aviendha about sons in a jest that Egwene doesn’t understand and Aviendha doesn’t seem to appreciate.

She continues on to Moiraine’s tent, startled when Lan, sleeping near the entrance, opens his eyes briefly to look at her and then closes them again. She kneels and peers inside the tent, catching Moiraine with her blue stone, surrounded by the glow of saidar. She gives Egwene permission to come in.

As she settles, Egwene asks if Moiraine was spying on Rand, and observes that Moiraine said that she wouldn’t do it again.

“I said that since the Wise Ones could watch his dreams, we should allow him some privacy. They have not asked again since he shut them out, and I have not offered. Remember that they have their own goals, which may not be those of the Tower.”

As quickly as that, they had come to it. Egwene was still not sure how to tell what she knew without betraying herself to the Wise Ones, but perhaps the only method was to just tell it and then feel her way. “Elaida is Amyrlin, Moiraine. I do not know what has happened to Siuan.”

Moiraine asks her how she knows, if she learned something in her dreamwalking or if it was her talent as a Dreamer. The question gives Egwene an out—she still has significant dreams though she doesn’t yet know how to interpret them. She tells Moiraine that she saw an arrest warrant for her, signed by Elaida as Amyrlin, and that it was no ordinary dream. It’s the truth, but not the whole truth, and she’s glad that Nynaeve is not there.

Moiraine remarks that perhaps it won’t matter now if Rand takes the Aiel across the Dragonwall, since Elaida certainly won’t be approaching the nations on his behalf. Egwene is a bit appalled at how little care she seems to show for Siuan, but Moiraine points out that she has no time for tears, and that she and Siuan have been on this path for almost twenty-one years. They knew the risks, and the price they would have to pay.

Egwene is still anxious about Elaida opposing Rand, though she takes some solace from the fact that the Blues and at least some Yellows apparently opposed Elaida. But Moiraine is not happy to see the Tower divided, and speaks of how the Tower “has been a bulwark against the Shadow for three thousand years,” that it has guided rulers and stopped or prevented wars, and that the only reason humankind even remembers that the Last Battle will come is because of the Tower. She could almost wish that no one had opposed Elaida, whatever happened to Siuan.

Egwene endeavors to match Moiraine’s calm, asking what happens to Rand now, and Moiraine reminds her it only takes thirteen sisters, no matter how weak, to capture him, and fewer to hold him one captured. She intends to keep talking to Rand, who may be easier to handle now that she doesn’t have to try to turn him away from what he wants to do. She supposes she should be happy that he doesn’t make her fetch his wine, and does admit that he usually listens, though he doesn’t let her know what he is thinking.

Egwene decides to let Moiraine tell Rand about Siuan and the Tower, and they briefly discuss Nynaeve’s news about the Forsaken. Egwene is upset when Moiraine has no more of a suggestion about what to do than to keep watch, but the Aes Sedai reminds her that they can’t hold Rand’s hand forever. He has learned to walk, and now is learning to run, hopefully before his enemies can catch him. They can only hope it’s soon enough, and try to advise and guide him when they can.

Egwene starts to go, then stops and asks Moiraine why she is choosing to obey Rand, adding that even Nynaeve doesn’t think that it’s right.

“She does not, does she?” Moiraine murmured. “She will be Aes Sedai yet, whatever she wishes. Why? Because I remembered how to control saidar.”

After a moment, Egwene nodded. To control saidar, first you had to surrender to it.

It is only after Egwene leaves that it occurs to her that Moiraine spent the whole conversation speaking to her as an equal.

 

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like the weird, gender stereotyped way saidin and saidar work, but I have to admit that last quote is incredibly effective.

I also said last week that I thought Nynaeve was soon going to get a taste of her own medicine, but this was not what I expected! Egwene seems to have been trying to replicate Amys’s lesson to her, but she added in some weird rape-y bits that I don’t see the point of. As I’ve noted the past few weeks, there’s been an uptick in this kind of incident and imagery in The Fires of Heaven, much more frequent and blatant than in the previous books, which is why I think it keeps pinging my radar. I don’t get why Egwene needed to teach the lesson in quite this way.

It does remind me of Nynaeve’s trials to become an Accepted, though. When she went through the first ring, Nynaeve was as naked on the other side as she was before stepping through, and she is still naked when she encounters Aginor, who is old and rotting the way he was when the team saw him at the Eye of the World. She runs from him until her anger becomes strong enough for her to turn to fight and then pursue him. It’s an excellent scene, and one that makes sense as fears Nynaeve has from her past. Aginor is obvious as a fear, given that the encounter with him was recent and Nynaeve’s first experience with the Forsaken. But the idea of being naked and exposed to a gross old man also has particular relevance when you consider that Nynaeve, as such a young wisdom, has probably had more than her fair share of being shamed and berated by men in Emond’s Field for the combination of her gender and youth. It makes a certain amount of sense that her remembrance of vulnerability would be tied up in such things, even though the Two Rivers is a far cry from places like Lugard or even the big cities of Andor.

But Egwene’s choice here makes less sense. It’s not what Amys did to her. Are these assault zombies a replication of something she has encountered herself, elsewhere in Tel’aran’rhiod, or did she make them up out of her own imagination? Since I covered this subject in the last two posts I don’t have too much to add now except to point out the implicit narrative judgement of Nynaeve from this scene. Because Nynaeve does need to learn this lesson, and since we know that Egwene is right, there is an implication that such a threat of assault is something that Nynaeve deserves. And that doesn’t sit right with me, even though the lesson as a whole does.

However, the narrative judgment is softened a little by the later revelation that Egwene took this tack with Nynaeve because she was trying to cover up her own misdeeds. And I did find the whole “I’m going to make you drink this stinky liquid as a punishment for lying” quite funny, as was Nynaeve’s inability to understand why she was still bending to Egwene’s will on things.

At the end of the chapter, Moiraine observes from Nynaeve’s attitude that she will be an Aes Sedai after all, but the person who really behaves like an Aes Sedai in Chapter 15 is Egwene. She manages to deflect any suspicion from herself with Nynaeve by behaving like an authority and is accepted as one. She communicates everything she needs to Moiraine and nothing she doesn’t, without actually telling a lie that would have been prohibited under the Three Oaths. I’m not sure she realizes how masterful she’s been, but it’s clear that her growth in experience has been accompanied by a growth in confidence and a talent for authority.

It makes a lot of sense as a journey for Egwene. While Nynaeve may have been more knowledgeable that Egwene at the start of the series, and may be stronger in the Power when she isn’t blocked, Egwene has been learning and growing at a much faster rate. It isn’t the literal block against channeling that is holding Nynaeve back but an emotional one (although one might argue that the two are one and the same). Until she can overcome her resistance to learning, to growing within herself, she can never be the kind of authority that Egwene and Elayne seem destined to be. And even when she does overcome these blocks, Nynaeve’s interests are very narrow compared to the two E’s. It’s almost as hard to imagine a Yellow as Amyrlin as it is to imagine a Brown: No matter how smart and talented they are, their interests are not connected enough to things like politics and the interplay of nations and the world at large. I can imagine Nynaeve becoming head of the Yellow Ajah at some point, but it is Egwene I can see as a future Amyrlin, and not just because of her vision inside the third ring of the arched ter’angreal. I could see Elayne there too, if she didn’t have other positions of authority to assume instead.

But Egwene is more ambitious than Elayne, I think, and I’ve noticed how much she has come to resemble Siuan and Moiraine in her thinking. She’s managed to pair logic to desperation, and to understand when risks are worth it and to take them as intelligently as she can. Her observation that one can accomplish more with calm and without shouting is very Moiraine (Siuan has a bit more of a temper) and it’s a very important lesson for Egwene to learn. What Nynaeve doesn’t understand is that once you are shouting, it means you have already lost control of a situation, and are allowing your temper to get the better of you. Shouting can occasionally cow people into submission I suppose, but that is much less likely to work than skill or logic, and usually will require being backed up by a show of force. Since Nynaeve is still blocked, she might do particularly well to learn this lesson.

But really, I’m just relieved the two finally figured out that Elaida is the new Amyrlin Seat. When Nynaeve saw Elaida in Tel’aran’rhiod and recognized that being the Amyrlin was her fondest dream but didn’t realize that it was currently true, I almost screamed in frustration. The Bonwhin thing isn’t really a tip-off unless you understand how Elaida thinks, but even still it and the furniture felt like context clues to me.

Sounds like Elaida isn’t doing too well, though. She dreamed the stole had no blue stripe on it, which is indicative, I think, of how much the absence of the Blues is weighing on her mind. Add to that her sweaty appearance and the way she reacts to seeing Nynaeve not showing the proper deference to the Amyrlin indicates that she’s not having a good dream, either, and we know she’s been stressed about how the sisters see her authority.

I also thought it was funny that Nynaeve didn’t seem to have any respect for Siuan’s desire to keep her furnishing simple, and I think this, too, shows how much Nynaeve’s own aspirations and ways of thinking have changed.

I had completely forgotten about Moiraine’s eavesdropping trick. The blue stone was in Egwene’s predictive Dream too, and I wonder how literally we should take it. Perhaps Thom will find the blue stone after Moiraine is killed by whatever fate she now knows awaits her, but it’s just as likely, maybe more likely, that the meaning of what Egwene saw is more obscure. I wonder how Moiraine and Thom will end up connected, and what that will mean for Moiraine’s ultimate fate.

Egwene also saw Aram with Perrin, and every time the former Tinker moved closer to Perrin she felt a thrill of doom. Not subtle at all, and I assume the moving closer means becoming more like a warrior. I wonder what dark fate awaits this Tinker turned swordsman; I don’t disagree with Perrin’s decision to let Aram fight, but that doesn’t mean the fall from the Way of the Leaf is going to go well for him. Though I suppose it’s also possible that the movement of getting closer to Perrin is more literal; perhaps Aram is going to want more from Perrin than Perrin is able to give. We did see how much he hovered back in The Shadow Rising, although Perrin’s companions did much the same.

But let’s get back to the eavesdropping trick. Knowing that Moiraine’s been listening to Rand’s conversations with Asmodean changes so much. It means she must know Natael’s true identity, and that she has at least some idea of the things Rand is learning from him. I wonder what she thinks of the gambit; Rand was under the suspicion that if Moiraine knew the truth about Asmodean she would believe that Rand had gone to the Shadow and try to kill him, but while I can see why he didn’t want to take the risk, he doesn’t even seem to have considered the idea that she might see his logic, even agree with it, if he explained the whole situation. And now we know she’s been listening in on him, which makes me wonder if she does agree, or at least understand. Then again, she might disagree but not know what to do about it, especially since he’d wonder how she found out.

Schemes within schemes, as Melaine said. Moiraine told the Wise Ones that Rand should be given privacy, but she spies on him herself. Rand fears Moiraine’s reactions to his secrets even as she guards them for him. Egwene upbraids Nynaeve for something she feels guilty about herself, and tells Moiraine lies by omission that any Aes Sedai would be proud of. And everyone risks as much as they dare, hoping that it will be enough to stave off utter destruction.

Next week we’ll cover Chapters 16 and 17, and be on the lookout for a bonus essay coming soon. I wish you all a good and safe week, and remember to behave in a way where no one will try to force you to drink terrible tasting tea as a punishment.

Sylas K Barrett is also quite curious to know what Rand thought was so funny in that book. He wonders if we’ll ever find out.

citation

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