Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Spying and Secrets of Tel’aran’rhiod in Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven (Part 16)

This week in Reading the Wheel of Time, we’ll be covering Chapters 24 and 25. Egwene discovers Nynaeve and Elayne’s secret, we learn a little more about how Tel’aran’rhiod works, and find out that Moghedien, unsurprisingly, is as close as we feared.

But first, let’s recap!

The land grows less hilly and more verdant as Rand and his followers pass further into Cairhien, the sun dropping lower as the Aiel marvel over the landscape, but Egwene notes that they adapt quickly, and that their tents blend as well into the new landscape as they had into that of the Waste. She’s very happy to crawl into her own tent, though she feels like she must be getting soft if a few hours on her feet make her feet sore. She wants nothing more than a bath and sleep, but since she and the Wise Ones are supposed to meet Nynaeve in Tel’aran’rhiod, she pulls out a book she has borrowed from Aviendha.

The Flame, the Blade and the Heart, it was called, a collection of tales about Birgitte and Gaidal Cain, Anselan and Barashelle, Rogosh Eagle-eye and Dunsinin, and a dozen more. Aviendha claimed that she liked it for the adventures and battles, and maybe she did, but every last story told of the love of a man and a woman, too.

Aviendha claimed that she liked the book for the battles and adventure, but Egwene is pretty sure that she likes it for the romance, not that Egwene would admit to liking the romance either. Her thoughts drift to Elayne’s description of the traveling menagerie and to Nynaeve; Egwene is anxious that Nynaeve might not remember to hold her tongue in front of Amys and she thinks about how she will handle Nynaeve if she is taciturn. But even with her worries and the book, Egwene struggles to keep her eyes open.

She finds herself suddenly in the Heart of the Stone, and realizes that she must have fallen asleep. She knows that Amys will be angry with her, but Egwene fears if she steps back into her own dreams she’ll get lost, and Amys will meet Nynaeve without her. Since she’s worried about what Nynaeve might say, Egwene decides to wait and tell Amys when she arrives that Egwene has only been there for a few moments.

She’s also wearing the Aiel cadin’sor, and when she tries to change the outfit it flickers between the Wise One garb she’s trying for and a dress of blue silk before settling. Egwene is a little surprised—it’s been a while since she’s struggled with indecision in Tel’aran’rhiod.

She’s just contemplating how long the wait will be when she hears voices and looks around a pillar to see Elayne talking to a woman carrying a silver bow and arrows.

Egwene squeezed her eyes shut. First the difficulty with her dress, and now this. Just because she had been reading about Birgitte—a silver bow told the name for certain—was no reason to imagine that she saw her. Birgitte waited—somewhere—for the Horn of Valere to call her and the other heroes to the Last Battle.

But when Egwene opens her eyes she finds Elayne and Birgitte still there. She’s about to interrupt them when she hears a voice demanding if she decided to come early and alone, and whirls to see a seriously displeased Amys and Bair. She apologizes, admitting that she fell asleep and feeling a bit relieved that she isn’t lying to them. She’s still worried that Amys and Bair will consider this breaking her promise, but fortunately Amys is satisfied. She tells Egwene that next time she should go back and dream her own dreams, and that she and Bair can handle the meeting. Bair is clearly still angry, however, and is about to put Egwene to some hard training when Egwene cuts them off, explaining that it isn’t Nynaeve in Tel’aran’rhiod but Elayne. She’s about to mention Birgitte as well, but when she looks again Elayne is alone.

They step out to meet Elayne, and Bair immediately starts into a stern lecture about what she would do to Elayne if she was Bair’s pupil and how she and Nynaeve are both fools to keep coming into the World of Dreams alone. Elayne starts at their unexpected appearance, but then straightens up, her chin tilted and her dress changing to one that reflects her royal heritage, heavily embellished and embroidered with rearing lions and golden lilies.

“I do thank you for your concern,” she said regally. “Yet it is true that I am not your pupil, Bair of the Haido Shaarad. I am grateful for your instruction, but I must go my own way on the tasks given me by the Amyrlin Seat.”

Bair points out that Elayne is claiming obedience to a dead woman, and Egwene attempts to divert them from a fight by asking why Elayne has come instead of Nynaeve, though what she really wants to know is why Elayne was talking to someone who appeared to be Birgitte. Egwene tells them that Nynaeve is nursing bruises and a sore head after being attacked by Latelle, who was jealous over the attention all the men have been paying to Nynaeve. Nynaeve won the fight, and without channeling, much to Elayne’s relief.

Amys and Bair exchange glances, and Egwene is mostly confused trying to keep track of all these people whose names she has only heard once or twice, but she also thinks that if Nynaeve had channeled, it would have made its way to the eyes and ears of the Tower quickly enough.

“You tell Nynaeve from me that she had best hold her temper, or I’ll have some words to say to her that she will not like.” Elayne looked startled—Nynaeve had certainly not told her what had passed between them—and Egwene added, “If she channels, you can be sure Elaida will hear of it as soon as a pigeon can fly to Tar Valon.”

She can’t say more in front of Amys and Bair, so she tells Elayne that she would have things to say to both of them if they were back in their rooms in the White Tower. Elayne replies haughtily that Egwene may say them to her whenever she likes, and Egwene can only hope Elayne understands the message and that the Wise Ones aren’t picking over Egwene’s words. Egwene suggests it might be time for Elayne and Nynaeve to part from Luca’s company, but Elayne admits that they don’t really know where to go yet, exactly. She also adds that they are learning a lot about the Seanchan from Cerandin. Egwene is horrified to learn about the a’dam she had, but Elayne promises that Cerandin was not a sul’dam and that she put the a’dam on Cerandin herself, just to make sure.

Amys tells them that she doesn’t understand their interest in the Seanchan, since Rand chased them off. But Egwene answers her that doesn’t mean they won’t come back. She has to turn away from the others so they won’t see her face and the terror in her eyes.

Elayne put a hand on her arm. “We will be ready for them if they do come back,” she said gently. “They will not find us in surprise and ignorance again.” Egwene patted her hand, though she wanted to clutch it; Elayne understood more than Egwene wished, yet it was comforting that she did.

The Wise Ones urge that they finish their business, saying that Egwene needs to be properly asleep. Egwene is surprised at their concern for her, as Amys explains that they had the gai’shain undress her and put her to bed, so that she can sleep until morning once she returns to her body. She also notes that she is in some ways more concerned about the fact that some of those gai’shain might have been male than she is with thoughts of the Seanchan, and wonders how to speak with the Aiel about this issue, since she knows they won’t understand.

Egwene fills Elayne in on their progress: They are now in Cairhien, while the Shaido are still days ahead of them and moving west. There apparently were a few skirmishes, after Egwene went to sleep, with mounted men whom Moiraine and Lan supposed to be either bandits or supporters of one of the Houses that are currently trying to claim the throne of Cairhien. But whoever they are, the word will now be spreading that there are more Aiel in Cairhien. Elayne merely observes that they had to learn sooner or later.

Instead of returning to her own dreams, Egwene floats in darkness, surrounded by little firefly lights of other people’s dreams. She has learned to recognize some of them, Rand’s and Moiraine’s are muted by the wards they’ve set, and she can see Amys’ and Bair’s pulsing regularly—apparently they followed their own advice to Egwene and went straight to sleep. If Egwene hadn’t seen those dreams she would have gone immediately to her own body.

She visualizes the room she had lived in as a novice, and is instantly back in Tel’aran’rhiod, in a simple room in the White Tower. Ready to embrace saidar if she needs to, she pokes her head out into the hall and is relieved to see Elayne’s coming equally cautiously out of the doorway next to her. Elayne scurries over to Egwene’s room and they shut themselves inside.

“I thought this was what you meant,” Elayne said as she shut the door. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to remember what I can say in front of whom? Sometimes I wish we could just tell the Wise Ones everything. Let them know we are only Accepted, and be done with it.”

“You would be done with it,” Egwene said firmly. “I happen to be sleeping not twenty paces from them.”

Elayne shivers, remarking that Bair reminds her of Lini, and Egwene remarks that she should meet Sorilea before asking what Elayne was doing talking to Birgitte. Elayne physically staggers, and seems almost to panic as she tries to explain Egwene that she can’t tell her, that it would violate confidences that she has sworn to hold. She’s visibly relieved when Egwene agrees to trust her, and accepts that Elayne isn’t holding back because she doesn’t trust Egwene. The two hug.

Elayne asks after Rand, although she says she promised herself that for once she wouldn’t, and Egwene mentions that she thought he was hard in Tear but today she was shocked at his threat to hang men who didn’t follow his commands—men who followed him out of the Waste and he threatened them “as cold as steel.” Elayne corrects her, saying that it wasn’t a threat, and that a king or queen must dispense justice without regards to friendship. This requires being hard. Elayne also suggests that Egwene is mistaking Rand’s right to expect obedience with arrogance.

“He’s as overweening as a pig in a pea field.” Egwene shifted herself on the bed; she remembered it as hard, but the thin mattress felt softer than what she slept on in the tent. She did not want to talk about Rand. “Are you certain this fight will not cause more trouble?” A feud with this Latelle could not make their traveling easier.

Elayne doesn’t think it will—Latelle’s main grievance was the attention Nynaeve was getting, which Nynaeve has made clear she does not want. And she even apologized when Master Luca asked her to. Egwene is shocked to hear of Nynaeve apologizing, and Elayne is canny enough to ask if Egwene said something to Nynaeve at their last meeting. She mentions that Nynaeve has been different lately, and that she mutters to herself and sometimes says Egwene’s name. Egwene answers that she “said nothing that did not have to be said” and tells Elayne to pass on a message to Nynaeve not to get in any more fights or Egwene will have worse to say to her. She knows that either Nynaeve will be as meek as a lamb or Egwene will have to make good on the threat, but the new dynamic between them seems to be holding, and either way Egwene is done with Nynaeve’s tantrums.

Elayne observes that Egwene has changed too, and that there is something of Rand’s attitude about her.

It took Egwene a moment to realize what she meant, helped by that amused little smile. “Don’t be silly.”

Elayne laughed aloud and gave her another hug. “Oh, Egwene, you will be Amyrlin Seat one day, when I am Queen of Andor.”

They sober, however, when Egwene mentions that there might not be a Tower then. Elayne is certain that Elaida cannot destroy the White Tower, and is sure that they will find a Tower in exile with every Ajah but the Red, just as soon as Nynaeve can remember the name. Egwene is saddened thinking about the Tower being broken, even if it means that the Aes Sedai are supporting Rand and opposing Elaida.

Elayne tells her that Nynaeve also suspects that Moghedien is looking for them, and Egwene knows it must be something Birgitte told them. She warns Elayne that the Forsaken are not to be taken lightly, and Elayne remarks that she doesn’t suppose Egwene will follow her own advice.

She gave Elayne a startled look. “I am always careful. You know that.”

“Of course.” The last thing Egwene saw as the other woman faded away was a very amused smile.

Egwene does not leave, instead disguises herself in Enaila’s visage and an Accepted dress and goes to Elaida’s study to look for information on where the Blue are gathered. She finds various reports that quickly vanish from her fingers, learning that no one has any idea where Rand is, except for some suspicions that he might be the person who has taken over in Tanchico. Egwene is pleased at this information, deeming it worth the trip even if she learns nothing else.

A confused report said that a Red sister in Caemlyn claimed to have seen Morgase at a public audience, but various Ajahs’ agents in Caemlyn said the Queen had been in seclusion for days. Fighting in the Borderlands, possibly minor rebellions in Shienar and Arafel; the parchment was gone before she reached the reason. Pedron Niall calling in Whitecloaks to Amadicia, possibly to move against Altara. A good thing that Elayne and Nynaeve had only another three days there.

She also finds a report about Elayne and Nynaeve’s escape in Mardecin; the sister writing it recommended that the agent responsible for losing them not be punished, but Elaida has crossed this out and written “Make an example!” in the margins.

Egwene knows that she could keep looking forever, as the papers keep changing, and that she shouldn’t linger too long. She goes into the Keeper’s study to look over the documents there, when suddenly the room seems to flicker. She doesn’t have time to wonder about it because suddenly Galad steps in. She’s struck by his beauty as he reaches out and brushes a finger across her cheek and asks if she will walk in the garden with him. Leane tells them to go somewhere besides her office to canoodle, and when Egwene spins in astonishment she sees Siuan through the open door to the Amyrlin’s office, sitting at her desk. She flees, not bothering to think of where she’s going, and ends up on the Green at Emond’s Field.

Fool. After warning Nynaeve so firmly about dreams in Tel’aran’rhiod, she had nearly let herself be caught in one of her own. Though it was odd that it had been Galad. She did dream of him, sometimes. Her face heated; she certainly did not love him, or even like him very much, but he was beautiful, and in those dreams he had been much more what she could have wished him. It was his brother Gawyn that she dreamed of more often, but that was just as silly. Whatever Elayne said, he had never made any feelings known to her.

She decides that it’s the fault of the book, and resolves to return it to Aviendha as soon as possible. Still, she lingers where she is, feeling homesick and noting the two tall poles with banners waving on them—one a red eagle, the other a red wolf’s head. She wonders if Perrin had anything to do with it, given that she’s heard that he went home and she’s sometimes dreamed of him with wolves.

She’s just resolving to get moving when there is another flicker, and her mother comes out of the inn. She teases Egwene, telling her that she should know by now not to let her husband see her waiting for him. But it’s too late, Marin observes, as Gawyn, on horseback, comes galloping across the bridge, Egwene’s heart beating faster than it had for Galad, butterflies fluttering in her stomach. He asks if she missed him.

“A little.” Why did I think of Galad? As if I’d just seen him a moment ago. “Now and then, when there was nothing interesting to occupy my time. Did you miss me?”

For answer, he pulled her off her feet and kissed her. She was not aware of very much else until he set her back down on unsteady legs. The banners were gone. What banners?

Marin brings out a baby, telling Egwene how good her son is and how he never cries. Gawyn takes the child and holds him aloft, going on about how he has Egwene’s eyes. She backs away, horrified, remembering that there had been banners and that she’d seen Galad. She screams “NO!” as she flees right out of Tel’aran’rhiod and into the safety of her own dreams, where Gawyn is riding up to her…

Moghedien steps out from behind a house, wondering idly where the village is. The girl, who she was only interested in because she was speaking with Elayne, was stronger than Moghedien had expected her to be. She’d wanted to trap her in order to get rid of someone else who knew how to navigate Tel’aran’rhiod—it’s bad enough having Lanfear as competition.

But Nynaeve al’Meara. That woman she meant to make beg to be bound in her service. She would take her in the flesh, perhaps ask the Great Lord to grant her immortality, so Nynaeve could have forever to regret opposing Moghedien. She and Elayne were scheming with Birgitte, were they? That was another she had reason to punish. Birgitte had not even known who Moghedien was, so long ago, in the Age of Legends, when she foiled Moghedien’s finely wrought plan to lay Lews Therin by his heels. But Moghedien had known her. Only, Birgitte—Teadra, she had been then—had died before she could deal with her. Death was no punishment, no end, not when it meant living on here.”

Moghedien focuses on that list of three, Elayne, Birgitte, and Nynaeve as she vanishes, leaving the two banners fluttering in the wind.

 

I wonder if the Aes Sedai who first created the Accepted Trial were thinking of the dangers of Tel’aran’rhiod when they established the tradition of sending novices through the three-arched ter’angreal. Probably not—those visions are more about working through one’s psychology, about letting go and preparing for the future—although it’s possible. There were more Dreamers at that time than there are now, after all. Either way, it sure is fortuitous that Egwene has experience remembering truth in the midst of enticing dreams. I wonder what would have happened if she had gotten caught in the web Moghedien spun for her. Kept dreaming until her body died, I guess? Although there’s a possibility that the Wise One Dreamwalkers might have been able to reach her, if they could figure out where in Tel’aran’rhiod she was. No one would know why Egwene got stuck, though, and they’d certainly refuse to teach her anymore since she broke her promise to them.

It’s interesting to see the difference between that first dream and this one. Egwene has grown out of her childhood crush on Rand and has a new object of her affection, which is natural and makes sense. In the ter’angreal vision she had a daughter while here it is a son. I wonder if the difference is random, or if Moghedien chose the gender of the child, or if some part of Egwene in this moment specifically is dreaming of a son. For that matter, I wonder how much Moghedien directly chooses the dream and how much she just encourages Egwene’s psyche to add in its own details.

What does Moghedien know about Galad and Gawyn? She doesn’t know where she is when she follows Egwene to the Two Rivers, so there’s clearly a limit to how much she can see into Egwene’s mind. On my first read I had assumed that Moghedien had chosen Galad specifically because she knew he was the hot one that ladies swooned over, but now I wonder if she had that much control at all. Perhaps Egwene’s mind summoned Galad for a different reason—it makes sense that he would be on her mind since Elayne and Nynaeve just fled from him. And perhaps Gawyn is in the second dream because Egwene is specifically thinking about him right before Moghedien interferes.

Moghedien’s section did answer one of my questions from last week about how Birgitte and the heroes appear in the World of Dreams. I’d been wondering if they would present as the last life they lived, or if their appearance would belong to a different life. Now we know that she was not Birgitte in her last life, but Teadra, which implies that the persona of Birgitte is something her soul returns to each time she dies. I wonder if that was her first life, so to speak, or if there is another reason it has become the one she is most bound to. My best guess is that being bound to the Horn of Valere cemented it—it is as Birgitte that she is brought back to fight, so it makes sense for that personality to dominate in the World of Dreams. And I guess if someone blows the Horn after she’s reborn, though, then it wouldn’t be able to summon her, since her soul would be in another body and not waiting in Tel’aran’rhiod?

So many questions! It’s just like Egwene keeps thinking about the Aiel: Just when you think you understand how the world works, you realize you have no idea.

I wonder if Egwene would have been more suspicious of that flicker if she hadn’t had that problem with her clothes when she first arrived in Tel’aran’rhiod. She thinks that it’s odd, since she doesn’t usually have that struggle anymore, and I assume it just happened because she’s so tired. But maybe she’s more likely to assume that the sudden appearance of what appears to be her dreams is her own indecision or lack of control because she already had that struggle, on a smaller scale? I might be reaching here, but it does seem significant somehow.

Speaking of Egwene being tired, I found it interesting that she thinks that she’s getting soft because her feet hurt, but she also observes that her bed in the novice quarters feels more comfortable than she remembers. I think maybe she’s underestimating how strong she’s grown because she has only the Aiel to compare herself to right now. I think she doesn’t realize how much her traveling, her lessons, and her attempts to wrangle Nynaeve, Rand, and to some extent Moiraine, are really taking out of her. I mean, even Amys and Bair are worried about making sure Egwene gets enough rest, and seem to need it themselves, and we know the Wise Ones don’t fuss excessively over people’s health or comfort—far from it. It was sweet to get that glimpse of caring from them; the Aiel love very deeply, but often they only show it in ways that can be baffling to outsiders. I’m sure that Egwene doesn’t really realize that her teachers care about her, but I’m also sure that they really do. Egwene tends to engender a lot of love from people—remember how both Nynaeve and Rand channeled for the first time out of fear for her? She is a very earnest, dedicated person, and while she isn’t always as interesting a character as, say, Nynaeve or Moiraine, I find I have a lot of fondness for her as well. It makes sense that the narrative is setting her up to be a new Amyrlin—she is a lot like Siuan. She is steady and dedicated, fierce when she needs to be, and her mindset is steadfast without being too inflexible. She is also deeply loving, and inspires loyalty easily. Elayne, her best friend, sees all this in her and is in a good position to judge, since she knows a great deal about what it means to be a leader.

Oh, and she’s good at those “you better shape up” threats, although she learned them more from the Wise Ones than from the Aes Sedai.

I really love seeing Egwene and Elayne together, because their friendship is so easy and natural. It’s something that is missing from the rest of the relationships in The Wheel of Time so far. I know it’s asking too much for the boys to ever hug each other like that, but I sure would like to see it. There is so little trust or true confidence between the characters in these books, even when they are close, and I sometimes find myself wanting to scream at them like they’re characters in a sitcom. “This problem would be over in five minutes if you would just talk to each other!”

Egwene’s blindness when it comes to Rand is super annoying, too. I can’t tell if it’s her being too Aes Sedai about things, or if it’s just an awkward resentment of how much he’s changed. Elayne basically spells out to her what’s going on, and Egwene still denies it, insisting that Rand is just a puffed up peacock now even though everything Elayne says makes much more sense. I’m sure Egwene isn’t consciously aware of it, but I imagine she resents Rand, not just for changing but for keeping her at arm’s length. He feels he can’t trust her because she is Aes Sedai now, and you can’t blame him for that. She behaves a lot more like Moiraine than Elayne and Nynaeve do, and it must be hard for Rand to see that. I imagine both are looking at the other and grieving over how much they’ve changed, without realizing that the other is doing the same thing.

And of course, there is the prejudice and fear of a man who can channel, and the Dragon specifically, which will always be there even if Egwene isn’t one of those who thinks Rand should be gentled or locked up until Tarmon Gai’don.

(Also, why isn’t Tarmon Gai’don italicized when all other words in the Old Tongue are? That’s been bugging me for an Age.)

I really loved the description of Egwene looking at everyone’s dreams, although I’m super curious as to how, exactly, that all works. Where is she when she’s not in her own dreams, or in someone else’s, or in Tel’aran’rhiod? I had assumed that people were connected directly to the World of Dreams, and that you could only enter someone else’s directly from Tel’aran’rhiod, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe the darkness is a different part of Tel’aran’rhiod, but the narration seems to suggest otherwise.

Carefully she formed a well-remembered image in her mind, and she was back in Tel’aran’rhiod

I’m also very pleased that Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve are taking the Seanchan threat seriously. I mean, they saw more of the Seanchan than anyone so it makes sense, but it’s really silly how most of the leaders of nations, including the Aes Sedai, are just shrugging that invasion off. Like, a mysterious invading force was rebuffed one time, and few people are even sure how or by whom, and you’re all just going to assume it’s fine? No wonder the Forsaken are having such an easy time taking over as leaders of all the nations!

Okay that was harsh, and unfair to Morgase, who was paying attention, but still.

I’m very worried about Birgitte now, since Moghedien is on the warpath not only for Nynaeve and Elayne but for Birgitte as well. I don’t think there’s much she can do to defend herself when she’s in Tel’aran’rhiod waiting either to be reborn or for the Horn to call her to battle. And if she dies in Tel’aran’rhiod as an unbodied soul, I think she’s like… gone gone, for good. Just like the wolves Slayer killed. It’s a chilling thought. Kind of funny, in a scary way, thinking that Moghedien might have been standing behind one of those pillars listening to Elayne tell Egwene that they suspect Moghedien is looking for them. I wonder how long she was spying on them; she might have shown up when Elayne and Egwene were in the White Tower, or maybe she was around the whole time? She knows about Birgitte but it kind of sounds like she learned that from Egwene and Elayne’s conversation, not because she saw Birgitte and Elayne talking.

I haven’t yet finished my reading for next week, but let’s assume it will be two more chapters (26 and 27) next week. I’m always pleased to have a Min chapter, and I think there are going to be some big reveals, going by the titles and the assumption that Siuan and crew are going to finally make it to the exiled Aes Sedai. I’m desperately curious about what the Blues are up to, and I can’t wait to find out!

Also I haven’t complained about this in a while but why did Jordan have to make Elayne and Egwene’s names similar? I must have typed the wrong one at least a dozen times while writing this post. Just… why?

Sylas K Barrett just finished the first two episodes of WandaVision, so people being trapped in their dream are particularly on his mind this week.

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