Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Morgase Breaks Free in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 13)

Last week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we covered Chapter 18 and just the end of Chapter 19, so that I could talk about all our Black Ajah and Darkfriend problems at once. I always enjoy Liandrin chapters, and when the character of Fain is at his best and most political and scheme-y he’s fascinating too. I have so many questions about what influence he may have had on Elaida—I had assumed he’d be sticking around the White Tower causing problems for a lot longer. But he has Rand to worry about anyway, and Elaida has more than enough problems that she doesn’t know she has with Alviarin at her side.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Today we’re going back to the beginning of Chapter 19, in which Morgase’s resistance to Rahvin’s compulsions finally comes to a head. Also this is the thirteenth post for The Fires of Heaven, so hurray for lucky number 13! Let’s hope it brings some lucky to Morgase, because she really needs it.

Morgase is in her sitting room with a book when a young guard interrupts her. She can’t quite figure out why she’s been wasting the whole day reading, which is very unlike her, and then realizes she hasn’t even turned a page in the last hour anyway. After a moment she remembers the man’s name, Guardsman Lieutenant Martyn Tallanvor. Tallanvor tells her that he is surprised to see her in her rooms given the news, and Morgase asks what he’s talking about before getting distracted thinking about how nice it would be to hear something other than the gossip she’s been sharing with Alteima while Gaebril sits and watches them. Then she recalls herself when she realizes that Tallanvor had been speaking but stopped when he realized that she wasn’t listening. She asks him to tell her again, and to get up from his kneeling position.

He rose, face angry, eyes burning on her before they dropped again. She looked where he had been staring and blushed; her dress was cut extremely low. But Gaebril liked her to wear them so. With that thought she ceased fretting about being nearly naked in front of one of her officers.

Morgase thinks that she should have him flogged for being angry with his Queen, and for thinking his news so important that he could barge into her rooms. But all her anger is forgotten when he tells her that news is of rebellion, and that someone has raised the banner of Manetheren in the Two Rivers.

Something about the Two Rivers sparks Morgase’s memory, but she can’t quite put her finger on what. And even though the Two Rivers has been barely a part of Andor for generations, she knows that any rebellion can spread, especially with the way the name of Manetheren still holds some people’s imagination. And the Two Rivers is hers, even if it has been allowed to go its own way for too long.

She asks if Lord Gaebril has been informed, though of course if he had he would have come straight to her with the news. She is shocked when Tallanvor tells her that he has, and that Gaebril only laughed and, after remarking that the Two Rivers seemed to throw up trouble, called it a minor annoyance that would have to wait its turn. Morgase is on her feet at once, and Tallanvor gives a grim smile as she sweeps past him out of the room. She finds Gaebril in a courtyard surrounded by courtiers, only half of whom Morgase even recognizes. And those that she does know are all political enemies of hers, nobles who opposed her during the Succession, and who she hardly allows into Caemlyn at all, except for state occasions.

And none of them seem to pay Morgase any more attention than they would to a servant. She interrupts to tell Gaebril that she would like to speak to him alone about the Two Rivers, and he brushes her off, calling her my dear and telling her to go back to her room. Morgase responds that she thinks not, that he will come with her now and that the others will leave the Palace before she returns or she will exile them from Caemlyn.

Suddenly he was on his feet, a big man, towering over her. She seemed unable to look at anything but his dark eyes; her skin tingled as if an icy wind were blowing through the courtyard. “You will go and wait for me, Morgase.” His voice was a distant roar filling her ears. “I have dealt with all that needs dealing with. I will come to you this evening. You will go now. You will go.”

Morgase is about to enter her sitting room before she realizes where she is and what just happened, and is horrified when she thinks of the smirks and laughter on the courtiers’ faces. She wonders desperately what has happened to her, how she could have become so besotted, even as she still feels the urge to go in and wait for him. But she doesn’t go in, and forces herself to walk away.

She decides that the only explanation for what she saw is that Gaebril is plotting against her. He knows that every one of those nobles he was sitting with are ones who only swore allegiance to her under duress, and since he already has her behaving like his lapdog, she supposes that he doesn’t intend to put one of the other women on the throne, but to take it for himself and become the first King of Andor. And yet even as she thinks these things, she feels the desire to go back to her room and wait for him.

She finds herself in the Pensioner’s Quarters, heading for her old nurse’s room. Going in without knocking, she finds that Lini is not there, although there’s a steaming kettle over the small fire in the fireplace.

Six painted ivory miniatures in small wooden stands made a line on the mantelpiece. How Lini could have afforded them on a nurse’s stipend was more than Morgase had ever been able to imagine; she could not ask such a question, of course. In pairs, they showed three young women and the same three as babes. Elayne was there, and herself. Taking down the portrait of herself at fourteen, a slender filly of a girl, she could not believe that she had ever looked so innocent. She had worn that ivory silk dress the day she had gone to the White Tower, never dreaming at the time that she would be Queen, only harboring the vain hope that she might become Aes Sedai.

Lini comes in, speaking irreverently to Morgase and treating her just like the girl she had once been. She supposes Morgase must have something she needs to work out, since she hasn’t come to see Lini in some time. Morgase is confused, she comes to see Lini every week, but Lini assures her that she hasn’t seen Morgase since the spring. Her head is still muddled, and she admits that she doesn’t know why she has come, since Lini can’t help her with her problem.

But Lini, to Morgase’s amazement, tells her that Gaebril is her problem. Everyone knows, but no one had the courage to tell her; it wouldn’t have done any good because it’s not something a woman will believe until she sees it for herself. Morgase is furious, insisting that it was everyone’s duty to tell her, and that now it may be too late to change it. Lini responds that all she needs to do is bundle Gaebril, Alteima, and the others out of Andor and be done with them. For a moment Morgase can’t speak, then she asks. “Alteima and… the others?”

Lini calls herself a fool for bringing it up, but since “the honey’s out of the comb,” she tells Morgase that Gaebril keeps Alteima and five others in the Palace, plus one which he bundles in and out wrapped in a cloak. Morgase, horrified, remembers all the time Gaebril sat watching her and Alteima gossip together and finds it more difficult to keep her cool and be level-headed about this revelation than she does about his plot to take her throne. She wants him killed, flayed alive, and yet at the same time she wants his touch and thinks that she must be going mad.

She names those she trusts, asking where they are, and Lini, giving her a perplexed look, explaining that Morgase had all of them exiled, and one of them, Ellorien, she had flogged for demanding to know why. Morgase is shocked, especially as Ellorien had been one of her first supporters as well as a close friend, though now she can dimly remember the flogging, and her manner is so distraught that Lini checks to see if she has a fever and asks if she is well.

“I do not care what you say,” Lini said firmly. “You have no fever, but there’s something wrong. You need an Aes Sedai Healer is what you need.”

Morgase rejects that suggestion, knowing that some people might see her growing animosity towards the Tower as unreasonable, but unable to trust anyone who seemed to be trying to hide Elayne from her. She can’t stand the idea of having an Aes Sedai near her, although she does feel a great swell of pride thinking that Elayne might be the first Queen of Andor to be an actual Aes Sedai. Elayne can’t become Queen, however; Morgase first has to secure the throne for her.

She asks if Lini would recognize a Guardsman named Tallanvor, and when Lini nods, sends her to bring him, warning Lini to make sure everyone in the Pensioner’s Quarters knows not to reveal where she is. Lini is beginning to realize that there’s more to this Gaebril thing than she’s yet realized, and hurries off to do as she’s bid, while Morgase sits and waits and fights the urge to follow Gaebril’s orders. The urge is so strong that she’s afraid even to stand, lest her feet carry her back there, and she knows somehow that once he came to her she would forgive him everything, maybe even forget it entirely, based on what she has learned of her memory now. She almost feels as if he must be using the One Power on her in some way, except that no man who could channel ever survived to Gaebril’s age.

She thinks about her prior relationships, about her political marriage to Taringail, who was cold and distant and a relief to be rid of when he died in a hunting accident. About Thom, who had been her house bard and then her court bard, who she might have married.

…but he vanished without a word, and her temper got the better of her. She never had learned why he had gone, but it did not matter. When he finally returned she would surely have rescinded the arrest order, but for once instead of softly turning her anger aside he had met her harsh word for harsh word, saying things she could never forgive. Her ears still burned to remember being called a spoiled child and a puppet of Tar Valon. He had actually shaken her, his queen!

There was Gareth Bryne, strong and capable and as stubborn as Morgase, who had turned out to be a treasonous fool and who she thinks she is well rid of. And finally Gaebril, the worst of all.

Lini finally returns with Tallanvor, who kneels respectfully and observes that her meeting with Gaebril did not go well. She calls him a sharp lad, upsetting him, but she reminds him that he is still her Queen and he apologizes. His eyes are still defiant though, and Morgase thinks that he is as stubborn as Bryne was. From Tallanvor she learns that he is the only Guardsman left who is loyal to her; all the others have been replaced by Gaebril’s men, who swore their oaths to “throne and law” rather than to the Queen. Morgase must look to the outer Houses to establish her rule. She has a vague memory of Gaebril stopping her from leaving on other occasions, and realizes that she must sneak out. She suggests meeting behind the south stables, but Tallanvor thinks that is too risky, as she might be recognized by some of Gaebril’s men even in disguise. He suggests the inn called the Queen’s Blessing, and Morgase agrees to meet him there.

“Basel Gill is as loyal to you as I am myself.” He hesitated, anguish crossing his face then being replaced by anger once more. “Why have you waited so long? You must have known, you must have seen, yet you have waited while Gaebril tightened his hands around Andor’s neck. Why have you waited?”

Morgase thinks that his anger is honestly come by and deserves an honest answer, but since she has none to give him she only tells Tallanvor that it is not his place to question his Queen and sends him on his way. Lini asks why Morgase kept calling him “young” Tallanvor, and Morgase answers that he is young enough to be her son.

Lini snorted, and this time there was nothing delicate about it. “He has a few years on Galad, and Galad is too old to be yours. You were playing with dolls when Tallanvor was born, and thinking babes came the same way as dolls.”

She also tells Morgase that Tallanvor is still in the Palace because he swore the new oath along with the rest of the men, but Lini saw him later behind the stables, kneeling with tears on his face and and apologizing aloud to Morgase. She saw him swear an oath in the ancient way, cutting his arm with his sword, and he swore not just to the “Queen of Andor” but to “Queen Morgase of Andor.” This is how Lini knew who Morgase meant, and she is confident that this one will follow her no matter what.

Morgase has snuck out of the Palace before, disguising herself so that she could walk among the people and take the mood of the city; she knows how to darken her hair with soot, and in an ill-fitting wool dress with sweat rolling own her face she is hardly recognizable. Lini insists on coming too, and they sneak out of the Palace. Morgase asks directions carefully, and no one recognizes her although one man tells her she looks a little like the Queen. At the Queen’s Blessing the reunite with Tallanvor, Basel Gill, the Innkeeper, Lamgwin the bouncer, and a woman named Breane, who Morgase pegs as a refugee from Cairhien, probably of the nobility, and who claims that she is coming not for love or Morgase, but for love of Lamgwin. They kneel before her, and Morgase thanks them for their loyalty.

A fine seed for the army to retake her throne: One young soldier who scowled at her as often as not, a balding innkeeper who looked as if he had not been on a horse in twenty years, a street tough who appeared more than half-asleep, and a refugee Cairhienin noblewoman who had made it clear that her loyalties went only as far as the tough. And Lini, of course. Lini, who treated her as though she were still in the nursery. Oh, yes, a very fine seed.

Gill asks her where they are going, and Morgase is surprised to realize that she hasn’t thought that far ahead. She wonders if Gaebril is still fogging her mind, aware that even now she has to concentrate not to return to her sitting room. Before she can answer the question, Tallanvor tells her that they must go to Gareth Bryne. If they can get him on their side the other houses will follow, if only because they know that he will win.

She clamped her teeth shut to hold back instant refusal. Bryne was a traitor. But he was also one of the finest generals alive. His presence would be a convincing argument when she had to make Pelivar and the rest forget that she had exiled them. Very well. No doubt he would leap at the chance to be Captain-General of the Queen’s Guards once more. And if not, she would manage well enough without him.

When the sun touched the horizon, they were five miles out of Caemlyn and riding hard for Kore Springs.

 

I find it fascinating seeing how the effects of Rahvin’s ongoing Compulsion differ from the one Moghedien used on Nynaeve. When Nynaeve broke the Compulsion that Moghedien put on her, the one that forced Nynaeve to forget their previous encounter, it seemed to go all at once, with the entire memory coming back clearly, to the point that Nynaeve could actually recognize the effects of that same weave, that moment of love and devotion that almost touches her at the start of their duel. But what Rahvin is doing to Morgase is much more complex for a number of different reasons—it is ongoing, it’s not a single directive but many different Compulsions at different times, and he is still hiding his identity while manipulating her, never letting her see what he is doing. While Moghedien wasn’t worried about what she might reveal to Nynaeve and Egwene because she was just going to Compel them to forget it, Rahvin has to navigate a much more complex situation. After all, even he can’t Compel a whole palace full of people. He had to work up to his coup gradually, and he has to be able to keep up his Compulsion of Morgase even though she’ll be regularly able to witness that the facts don’t always line up with what the Compulsion is telling her.

Strong minds resist Compulsion, fighting back against it—Nynaeve’s mind almost immediately rejected Moghedien’s Compulsion as soon as she saw the Forsaken’s face again. So we can imagine that the fewer discrepancies Morgase can see between her own observations and what the Compulsion tells her, the easier it will be for Rahvin to hold her mind. That’s why it was so necessary to get her allies out of the Palace. It’s not just that they would resist Rahvin’s takeover, it’s that their presence would remind Morgase of how things should be. Morgase doesn’t even notice that her friends are gone, but if she was simply Compelled to regard them as enemies, that control would be tested every time she saw their faces again.

I am curious if Rahvin also used Compulsion to make Morgase forget what had happened after she exiled her friends and allies, or if that’s merely a side effect of what’s being done to her mind. It might be that the two truths—the one of what happened, and the one of what should be—are so in opposition to each other that they can’t hold space in her mind at the same time. Or it might be that there are side effects to being subjected to strong and ongoing Compulsion, to the point that Morgase’s memory might be damaged, or even her mind as a whole. It’s a chilling thought, but it does seem likely, given the way that the One Power works. And it would explain why she isn’t actually reading at the beginning of the Chapter: She’s losing time for more reasons than just being Compelled to forget.

It’s also possible, I suppose, that she’s losing that time, not actually reading when she’s clearly been sent by Rahvin to do so, because she’s fighting his control. Generally, it seems like there is a clear correlation between how much her mind resists and how antithetical the command is to her nature. Now that she can see how bad things are, now that such irrefutable evidence has been presented to her as Gaebril consorting with her enemies and the fact that when they matched wills she was immediately bent to his, her mind can no longer accept the Compulsion, even though its effects are still strong. She’s been seeking a way out all this time, and we see that physically when her apparent wanderings take her to Lini’s apartments.

I don’t particularly care for the trope of Lini’s character, although it’s really too early to say if I dislike her or not. I think one of Jordan’s flaws as a writer is that he tends to repeat a lot of details, like having characters (Siuan and Lini are two examples of this) use catch phrases or sayings more often than seems realistic, or having too many of repetitions of the same gags (Nynaeve’s hair pulling, the fact that bad tasting medicine is constantly used as a punishment) to the point where it starts to get silly. Elayne has referenced Lini a lot, like a lot, and it sort of put me off the character before I even met her.

I did enjoy her banter with Morgase in the beginning of their conversation, however, and it was a nice bit of levity in an otherwise very fraught and sad section. I can imagine few things more terrifying than feeling like your mind and memories aren’t clear, that you’ve done things you can’t understand or even remember. And when you add in the fact that Morgase has nearly lost her kingdom—indeed, she effectively has lost her kingdom in all but name—and the fact that no one, even Morgase herself, knows that it wasn’t carelessness or laziness or lovesickness that lost her throne, but a form of channeling and manipulation used against her by one of the Forsaken, it’s more than anyone could expect to bear.

I did appreciate Lini more when she recognized that there was something more wrong with Morgase than a mere infatuation with a man, that she needed Healing from an Aes Sedai. Morgase has been acting out of character for months, and it’s only because she’s been cut off from those who know and love her that no one has caught it yet. I find myself grinding my teeth whenever Morgase’s change in dress style is mentioned, or when other characters observe her infatuation with Gaebril. Even Alteima notices how different it is from the woman she met before, and she hardly knows Morgase at all. I wonder if Rahvin had to use the Compulsion or other tricks on some of Morgase’s friends and advisors, if only to keep them quiet until they could be dismissed or exiled.

And yet there are some aspects of the Compulsion that still hold, even though Morgase has broken through much of what was clouding her mind. On the one hand, we see her successfully fighting the need to return to her chambers as he ordered her to, and we see that she is flummoxed by her actions towards Ellorien, even though she has a hazy memory of them. And yet when Gareth Bryne’s name comes up, there is no question in her mind that he is a traitor. It doesn’t appear that Rahvin put any story behind that belief, either; Morgase simply knows that he is a traitor. And she’s going with Tallanvor’s suggestion only because of its tactical soundness, not because some part of her suspects that Bryne is other than what she believes him to be. So I’m guessing Rahvin must have really laid into her with this particular Compulsion. Of course it was quite important to separate Morgase from her most trusted advisor, the man who was also her lover, and also a brilliant tactician who could be a formidable enemy to “Gaebril” if he suspected any duplicity. Tallanvor sees his strategic importance now, so no doubt Rahvin recognized one of the greatest threats to his coup.

I do wonder if the Compulsion will be strained, or even break entirely, when she sees Bryne in person, since it is quite at odds with how she saw him before. On the other hand Rahvin seems to have used Compulsion to strengthen her distrust of the Aes Sedai, but it’s not surprising to me that it would stick easily. Since Morgase was already so angry with Siuan and concerned for her daughter, a Compulsion to hate and distrust the White Tower would already be nearly aligned with Morgase’s own mind. But let’s turn aside from Rahvin’s influence for a moment, because I had no idea Morgase became Queen so young.

I knew she was pretty young, and Morgase has always been presented as quite youthful, though she is old enough to have a teenage daughter. It makes me even more impressed with Morgase, her strength, wisdom, and kindheartedness as a ruler are even more notable when you realize she was about eighteen when she took the Lion Throne, and only fifteen when she started vying for the succession. All the decisions that she made to pardon those who had opposed her and to make the political marriage to Taringail, were made by someone who was nearly still a child. And she has managed to keep Andor united all this time, and to be a strong and respected ruler. No wonder Elayne feels so much pressure to live up to the legends of queens past—she’s around the age that her mother was when she became Queen, although Elayne herself has no reason to suspect that she will be crowned anytime soon. (Although I wonder if what’s happening now will have any bearing on if and when Elayne ascends to the Lion Throne.) And it makes Morgase’s insistence on Tallanvor’s youth extra amusing, too. I imagine she’s accustomed to noting and emphasizing it whenever she deals with someone who is even a little bit younger than herself, since she has been a powerful political figure surrounded by other powerful political figures who were older than her for most of her reign.

There’s a bit in here that confused me, when Morgase was remembering being given the Great Serpent ring after she ascended to the Lion Throne. Her inner narrative remarks that she “had not earned that, precisely; women who could not channel were not awarded the ring.” I assume this is just a simplification; we know that plenty of women who can channel might train in the Tower as a novice but not be strong enough to attain the status of Accepted. But I was also under the impression that Morgase could channel a little, that she went to the Tower out of tradition but she actually also had some small skill. I think it was brought up by Siuan or someone in regards to Elayne, but now I can’t remember where I read it.

I like the parallel of Morgase and Elayne both having to be in disguise at the same time, though for different reasons and in different parts of the world. And both of them, of course, have to cover the distinctive color of their hair. I also like the mental picture of Morgase pulling a Princess Jasmine and sneaking out into the city to get a taste of the life of a commoner. She’s pretty cool, this Queen of Andor, and I really really want her to get the support and help she needs. But nothing ever goes that smoothly in Randland, and as Tarmon Gai’don is still many books away, I have a feeling things are going to get worse—for Morgase and everyone else—before they get better.

There’s just something so painful about the fact that no one knows the truth about what’s happening to Morgase, how none of this is her fault the way even her supporters, like Tallanvor and Lini, see it to be. Tallanvor’s anger towards Morgase is completely reasonable without the detail that Gaebril is one of the Forsaken and that he is using Compulsion on Morgase. She herself is aware of it, and acknowledges that he deserves to know the reason, if only she had one. And I think it speaks to an incredible strength of character in Tallanvor that he never allowed his anger and disappointment in Morgase to shake his loyalty to her. It would have been easy for him to lose faith in his queen when she didn’t act competently and with an eye towards her kingdom before her own apparent interest, but although he is upset with her, his loyalty never wavers.

I could have cried with relief when Lini realized that there was something else at play, and I desperately hope that someone will soon figure out that Morgase’s mind was being manipulated. By Morgase’s own admission she can sometimes be hot-headed and manipulated by her emotions when it comes to men (at least that seems to be what happened with Thom) but that has always been on a personal front, and she has never before (as far as I can tell) let it affect her rule. Morgase is right to say that it was someone’s duty to tell her about what was going on… although I’m guessing that at least some of those other exiled Lords and Ladies did, or at least tried. But Rahvin still got to Morgase in time to forestall everything. I often praise Jordan’s skill with dramatic irony, and I suppose I must do so here as well because it’s objectively well done but also… aauughh!

Speaking of Thom, it’s interesting to get that story from the other side. I can understand why he was hurt by Morgase’s arrest order, but it sounds like he also let his newfound—or at least newly heightened—hatred of the Aes Sedai color his reaction to her when he returned. What we’ve heard from his point of view suggested it was she who acted unreasonably, but Morgase’s account shows that they were both a little bit at fault. And I suppose this just shows how relationships with age gaps can run into problems—you never want your lover/future spouse to think of you as a child. Also, the reminder that Thom was already a lot older than Morgase makes the whole Thom/Elayne thing even more disturbing and I hope that stops soon.

Next week we’re taking a break from regular Chapter recaps so I can go back and talk about Siuan and a particular scene from a few weeks ago that won’t leave my mind. It feels worthy of its own essay, so I am going to give it that. Please stay safe and stay well, friends. And I’ll see you on Tuesday!

Sylas K Barrett is rooting for Morgase, and would like to slap anyone of her friends who decided she was just too blinded by love for a terrible guy to see sense. That kind of sexist nonsense might have turned Andor over to one of the Forsaken, and is unacceptable. There. I said it.

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