Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Pranks and Practice in Robert Jordan’s New Spring (Part Two)

As Reading The Wheel of Time rolls into the second week of New Spring coverage, I once again have done that thing that I do—been certain I could get through two chapters (two measly chapters!) and yet found that I had too much to say and could only get through one.

And as before, I feel like I can blame Jordan for this! Poor planning on my part aside, he really does pack a lot into his chapters, especially the ones that don’t have much action in them. There’s just so much juicy detail in Chapter Three it that I couldn’t stop dissecting it. Even the recap was a struggle—I wanted to include everything! I tried to cut down on how much I recounted sections that were reiterating things that we already know—like who the Sea Folk are and what it’s like being an Accepted—so hopefully we’re not rehashing too much old ground.

Moiraine and Siuan leave the Amyrlin’s study, the hallways empty except for the two of them, since the novices and Accepted are at breakfast. Moiraine is too stunned to speak as they walk the halls. She reflects on how each Ajah’s colors would dominate in their own quarters, but in the common spaces they are all represented in equal measure.

Irrelevant thoughts drifted through her head. Why equal, when some Ajahs were larger than others? Had they once been the same size? How could that have been achieved? A newly raised Aes Sedai chose her Ajah freely. Yet each Ajah had quarters of the same size. Irrelevant thoughts were better than…”

Siuan asks if Moiraine wants breakfast. Moiraine answers that she couldn’t possibly eat and was going to go get some sleep before the novice class she has to teach later, but Siuan tells her that sleeping would be a waste of time, and that they will practice for the testing instead. Merean has told them that she thinks that they are both “close,” which definitely means they will be tested within the month. Moiraine agrees, although she’s worried about her ability to concentrate during the practice.

She thinks about how natural it feels to follow Siuan, despite the fact that Moiraine was born a noblewoman and Siuan the daughter of a fisherman. Of course rank means nothing in the Tower—there have been more Amyrlins of humble birth than noble—but Moiraine was also raised to judge people’s capabilities, and she knows that Siuan is meant to lead. She even tells her friend that she’d bet that Siuan will be in the Hall of the Tower within a hundred years, and Amyrlin within fifty more. Siuan responds by telling Moiraine not to wish her ill—Siuan intends to gain the shawl and immediately go and see the world. She talks at some length about this dream, and Moiraine thinks about how Siuan will no doubt follow through with this plan, and feels sad that they won’t see much of each other.

Eventually, Siuan accuses Moiraine of trying to change the subject, and insists on asking what Moiraine thinks about it, despite Moiraine playing dumb. Moiraine can’t stop herself from shivering as she thinks about how people have waited for the Prophecies to be fulfilled for over three thousand years, and that “now a boychild was about to be born—very soon, perhaps, by the way Gitara had spoken—to bring those Prophecies to a conclusion.” She thinks about how that infant’s birth means that the Dark One will try to break free again, and that the only chance for the world is that boy being there during Tarmon Gai’don. But the Prophecies don’t say that he will win.

She also considers that the fact that he will wield saidin is almost worse, remembering the horror stories about men who went mad with the Dark One’s taint. For a moment she wonders if the Prophesied second Breaking will be any better than the Dark One getting free, then thinks that of course it will. There will be the ability to rebuild even after another Breaking of the World, but the Dark One would leave “only a charnel house.”

She tells Siuan that the Amyrlin told them not to talk about it, and Siuan corrects her that they’re not supposed to tell anyone, and can talk about it amongst themselves as long as they are careful. Still, she waits until they get to her room to say anything else. On the way, Moiraine thinks about how empty the Tower is, housing so few women compared to what it was designed to hold.

No Aes Sedai would say it aloud, and she would never dare say it where a sister might hear, but the White Tower was failing. The Tower was failing, and the Last Battle was coming.

Siuan seems to sense her worrying, and reminds her that you have to learn to live with things you can’t change. Moiraine nods, but still thinks that some things are important enough to try to change, even when you are sure to fail.

In Siuan’s sparse bedroom she quickly puts some logs in the hearth, and uses saidar to light the fire. It’s against the rules, but Siuan only references a recent lecture in which they were told that they must know the rules to the letter and live with them, in order to know which ones can be broken, and when.

Moiraine thinks about Siuan’s penchant for small rule breaking, particularly when it comes to pranks. Moiraine likes pranks as well, but she hopes Siuan isn’t planning to suggest one right now. She’s too tired. But Siuan only tells Moiraine that she needs to practice.

The test for the shawl consisted of creating one hundred different weaves perfectly and in a precise order while under great stress. And it was necessary to display complete calm the entire time. Exactly what that stress would be, they did not know, except that attempts would be made to distract them, and to break their composure.

To help each other practice, Accepted take turns using the One Power to distract each other while they practice the weaving. Siuan is very good at throwing Moiraine off or provoking her temper, while Siuan can seldom be unsettled. Moiraine embraces the True Source, feeling the familiar joy and urge to draw more, noting the way it sharpens all her senses. Siuan does as well, creating a weave to stop eavesdroppers and tying it off. She motions for Moiraine to turn her back.

Moiraine wonders what the ward against eavesdropping is for, deciding that it’s just Siuan trying to unsettle her. She starts on the first weave, considering how none of the hundred require hand gestures and wondering if that means that you might not have the use of your hands for part of the test. She also considers that, though intricate, none of these weaves do anything dangerous if they’re done incorrectly, as many weaves do. She knows women have died during the testing, but not from making a mistake with a weave.

She loses her concentration almost immediately, when Siuan asks if the Reds will be able to leave “him” alone. That explains the eavesdropping weave and talk of breaking rules—Siuan still wants to talk about Gitara’s foretelling. She presses Moiraine to continue as they talk.

Moiraine answers that the Reds will have twenty years, at least, to learn how to stop themselves from gentling him.

Girls sometimes, if rarely, began channeling as young as twelve or thirteen, if they were born with the spark, but even with the spark boys never did before eighteen or nineteen, unless they tried to learn how, and in some men the spark did not come out until they were as old as thirty.

Siuan remarks on the rumors that the Red Ajah doesn’t always try very hard not to kill the men they come to capture and gentle, and Moiraine reflects on how this would be a violation of Tower Law, but she can almost see why it would not be considered murder, given what such men would go on to do otherwise.

The door bangs open and Myrelle Berengari comes in. She is a good friend of theirs so they don’t snap at her for barging in. She asks how long they think it will be until the last battle, then smirks when she sees the weave Moiraine is working on and offers to help Siuan make Moiraine squeal. For a moment Siuan and Moiraine both wonder what she has heard before realizing that Myrelle is commenting on the Aiel; some sisters claim that various Prophecies of the Dragon refer to the Aiel, although just as many disagree. Moiraine reflects that she’ll have to be more vigilant about keeping their secret, even as Myrelle picks up on the fact that the two are hiding something

Siuan tells Myrelle that the secret isn’t theirs to tell but that she can help with Moiraine, and has Moiraine start over at the beginning.

Moiraine struggles to keep her concentration, and her temper, as her friends tickle and pinch at her with the power, striking blows against her body and even lifting her and turning her upside down at one point. She’s beyond frustrated that she can’t even keep her concentration under their ministrations, and wonders how she can possibly manage during the actual test.

The next time the door opens Moiraine releases the power—it will be time for her to go teach soon anyway—as Tarna Feir, a cold and arrogant Accepted, asks Myrelle if she’s “joining Siuan’s coterie.” Then she tells them that the novices have been given a free day and that the Accepted have been summoned to the Oval Lecture Hall to be addressed by the Amyrlin. She also tells them that Gitara has died, and Myrelle realizes that this must be the secret that Siuan and Moiraine were keeping. When pressed, Moiraine tells them both that she was handing Gitara a cup of tea when she gasped and fell dead in Moiraine’s arms, and she’s pleased with herself for her perfect Aes Sedai-like answer.

They have to run to be on time, but they make it to the lecture hall before the Amyrlin, and Moiraine again observes how little of the space they take up. The rows of Accepted are abuzz with curiosity and rumor, everyone wondering what the Amyrlin’s summons will be about. Siuan addresses Zemaille, asking if anyone actually knows anything, and Moiraine considers the dark-haired Accepted, who is one of the Atha’an Miere.

Sea Folk girls never come to the Tower unless they are born with the spark, and there are only a few Atha’an Miere Aes Sedai, all of whom chose the Brown Ajah. Zemaille seems to want to forget where she came from, and is reluctant to talk about the Sea Folk unless asked by an Aes Sedai. She is diligent in her work and Moiraine notes that she’s neither quick nor slow to learn.

She had been Accepted for eight years, now, and ten years a novice before that, and Moiraine had seen her fumble a weave time after time before suddenly setting it so perfectly that you wondered why she had failed before.

Another Accepted, Aisling Noon, believes that Gitara may have had a Foretelling before she died. Aisling is also a rarity in the Tower, since she was born a Tuatha’an. The Tinkers want nothing to do with the Aes Sedai or the One Power, and Verin Sedai told Moiraine that Tinker girls never try to channel on their own and don’t want to become Aes Sedai. Still, Aisling is a dedicated and talented pupil, and is progressing in her studies only slightly behind Moiraine and Siuan.

Everyone falls silent and gets to their feet when the Amyrlin steps out on the Dais. Moiraine notes that she’s still wearing the same blue dress, and that she looks stately but tired. Tamra announces that, in thanksgiving for the continued safety of Tar Valon, she has decided that the Tower will give one hundred crowns in gold to any woman in the city or among the camp followers who has given birth to a child between the day the first soldiers arrived and the day that the threat ends. Given that reports have come in that the Aiel may be retreating, Tamra intends for the work of giving out that reward to start today, especially since some soldiers and camp followers may leave soon.

No sisters have returned to the Tower yet, so I am sending all of you to begin taking names. Since, inevitably, some women will slip away before you find them, you also will ask after those who gave birth and can’t be found. Write down everything that might help locate them. Who the father is, from what town or village, what country, everything. You will each be accompanied by four Tower Guards to make sure no one troubles you.”

There are gasps of astonishment—it’s unheard of for Accepted to be allowed to leave the city without a sister. Tamra waits for silence to return, then adds that there will be strict punishment for anyone who uses the power to defend herself, addressing the comment specifically to Alanna, a shy Accepted who works hard at being fierce, and who is always talking about how she will be a Green and have a dozen Warders.

Tamra finishes her speech by warning them to be careful and obey their guardians. There’s more than Aiel to worry about, such as ruffians who will see only a pretty woman, and Whitecloaks who will know them for Accepted and be quite happy for the opportunity to put an arrow through their backs. She does give permission for them to allow people to assume that they are Aes Sedai, however.

She dismisses them, then, as if having an afterthought, brings everyone’s attention back to her. She tells them to record not only the woman’s name, but the infant’s name and sex, where they were born, and where, so that the Tower records will be complete.

Moiraine could not help exchanging excited glances with Siuan. Siuan absolutely hated anything that smacked of clerical work, but she wore a wide grin. They were going to help find the Dragon Reborn. Just his name, of course, and his mother’s name, but it was as near to an adventure as Accepted could dare to hope for.

 

I wonder if Jordan had as much fun writing his prequel as I am having reading it. New Spring was published in 2004, right around the time where love of the fantasy genre was becoming mainstream, largely thanks to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films. And things like fanfiction and dedication to canon continuity—always there but less on the cultural radar—were exploding as a result of the Star Wars Prequels, which are also responsible for bringing the very concept of the prequel into the cultural zeitgeist. We hadn’t yet become a culture ruled by easter eggs and fan trivia references, but we were certainly setting out on the path.

And New Spring has everything a die-hard fan could want. If you’re an analytical plot person, you get to see the unfolding of events that have been referenced in other novels, catch all the little details and names and places. And if you’re someone whose love of stories is primarily character-driven, like me, then you get to see all the characters you love in a different setting. You know, like in fanfiction. New Spring is a canon novel by the author, of course, but in many ways, reading it kind of feels like getting to peek backstage during the performance that is The Wheel of Time.

It’s really hard not to squeal and point, metaphorically speaking, every time I recognize the name of an Aes Sedai that I’ve met before. And every time I didn’t recognize the name, I immediately wondered if I’m going to meet her later in the main series. Or if I’ve already come across the name and just don’t remember, which happens to me a lot! Jordan must have had the most extensive, well-organized notes to keep track of his continuity. To be honest, as someone who aspires to write my own fantasy series one day, I am a little in awe. Maybe even a little threatened.

It’s really interesting to see inside the Tower and how it actually worked before things got all shaken up by Rand’s arrival and the subsequent, well, everything. We never actually spent much time there when things were normal. There was a bit with Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve, but they quickly left the Tower on other adventures. There was a little time with Siuan, but then she was betrayed and deposed. Now, things are weird and off-balance and Elaida-y.

But what might be even more interesting is the reminder of how little even people like Moiraine and Siuan, and even the Aes Sedai and Amyrlins who came before them, really know about the One Power and about their own history. I included that first quote at the beginning of the recap because I was struck by how many of Moiraine’s questions mirrored my own. I remember when, in The Great Hunt, Rand accidentally brought himself, Loial, and Hurin through the portal stone into another world, where he observed the colored bands of the Ajahs on that stone circle they were in. It was the first time I’d seen all of the colors in a list like that, and when I realized that red was an Ajah color even before the Breaking, I wondered what they used to do before the taint made widespread gentling necessary. And now I’m realizing that it’s pretty likely that none of the modern Ajah’s purposes correspond with those of their Age of Legends predecessors—though it’s possible that the White Tower retains some relevant records that allowed them to at least try to rebuild along some of the old lines.

Though maybe Moiraine’s overthinking this. If Aes Sedai did choose their own Ajah in the Age of Legends, then the size of the ranks would probably fluctuate over time; it doesn’t necessarily make sense to create some quarters smaller than others, because the smaller Ajahs might not always stay small.

In any case, we probably won’t get answers to all of our questions about the Age of Legends. I’m sure we’ll learn more over the course of the series, but there will also be a lot of questions left unanswered, truths about Lews Therin’s time and how things worked that are lost to the current Age. But I can’t help but wonder how many answers Jordan had to these questions, if only in his own mind, and how much of the worldbuilding details about the time before the Breaking were put together as-needed for the story he is currently telling.

When you think about it from a creator’s perspective, it’s smart to include details that don’t ever have answers. It leaves room for the reader’s imagination to run wild, to add their own hypotheses and fill in the gaps with their own worldbuilding. A skillful author needs to know how to balance creating a world that feels complete while still leaving room for growth, and Jordan has definitely proven his ability in that respect.

And, at risk of sounding repetitive, that lovely dramatic irony I’m always praising him for is in full force in this chapter. I loved seeing Zemaille, and all the little details about what the Aes Sedai think they know about the Sea Folk. Moiraine notes that Zemaille’s learning process is neither fast, nor slow, and muses that she tends to “fumble a weave” over and over again and then suddenly get it right, which makes me suspect that Zemaille is downplaying her own abilities a little. We know that the Sea Folk only send their weaker channelers to the White Tower, in order to keep the Aes Sedai from suspecting they have more, so this theory makes sense. It also makes me feel really bad for Zemaille, who probably didn’t have much choice in being sent to the Tower and probably isn’t thrilled with living a life on land, even if it is for the good of her people. I wonder why the Sea Folk Aes Sedai always choose Brown. Is it in order to keep themselves a little separate from the other Ajahs, removed from the main business of Aes Sedai, which they don’t really care about anyway?

I enjoyed meeting Aisling as well, if only for the reminder of the Tuatha’an, the Way of the Leaf, and their connection to the Aiel. I wonder if Tuatha’an women who become Aes Sedai ever keep to the Way of the Leaf; Aes Sedai only use their channeling to fight when it’s against Shadowspawn, and unless one chose Green or traveled a lot, that might never come up. The Aes Sedai can also use saidar to defend themselves, but a sister could always choose not to employ the One Power that way even if the Three Oaths allow it. I feel like the Gray Ajah would be perfect for such an Aes Sedai, since they focus on diplomacy and mediation. That’s very reminiscent of the da’shain Aiel.

I underestimated how excited I would be to see Siuan as an Accepted, but I’m enjoying spending time with her character just as much as I am enjoying seeing Moiraine and Lan as younger people. We’ve seen little glimmers of Siuan and Moiraine’s personalities throughout the main series, but they’ve had to be very Serious Business for the most part. Still, I remember Min listening with astonishment as Siuan and Leane recounted the pranks of their youth to Sheriam and the rest, as proof that they really were who they claimed to be. And there have been little moments of fun and humor from Moiraine as well, especially in the first three books. That time she danced with Mat, for example. Or when she asked Perrin to teach her how to catch fish with her hands and he got all flustered when she was immediately good at it. Moiraine’s not above teasing the boys either, or Lan for that matter, and she has a lovely, dry sense of humor.

And now we know it wasn’t just Siuan and Leane pulling pranks, but Moiraine too. The bit about putting trout in the fountain certainly had me laughing, and it didn’t surprise me to learn that Elaida was there making their lives a misery even when they were novices. When Elaida started spying on Siuan there was a bit where she mused that no one but her seemed to remember how close Moiraine and Siuan had been before they were raised to full Aes Sedai. Apparently that has been a thing with her this whole time.

And Moiraine and Siuan were incredibly close. Jordan even includes the detail that Moiraine still feels a tingle when Siuan channels, and believes that it is a sign of how strong their friendship is. It does remind me a little bit of how Egwene and Elayne’s friendship blossomed in the Tower, but Siuan and Moiraine have been together for longer and are much closer.

I loved the description of Siuan needing to be taught to speak better when she came to the Tower, and how Moiraine sees that rough edges are an important part of her. This fits completely with the older Siuan we know and love, right down to the absurd amount of fishing metaphors. Also I find it oddly hilarious that Siuan judges sleep as a waste of time, but not breakfast.

And then there is Moiraine, with her thoughts about some things being so important that you should try, even if you know you’ll fail. That is the Moiraine who chose the Blue Ajah, the Moiraine who went looking for the Eye of the World, counting on her great need and belief in the Pattern, even though it was known that no one could visit the Eye more than once. That is the Moiraine whose possible futures we saw in Rhuidean, who chose to throw herself and Lanfear through the redstone doorway in the hopes of assuring the future of World.

Ugh, I just love her so much. The whole reason I’m covering New Spring now versus continuing the series by publishing order is to prepare for the Amazon series, and it just makes me even more excited for it.

I’ll tell you what else. It’s not like I didn’t know what the timeline for Moiraine and Siuan—between hearing Gitara’s Foretelling as Accepted and Moiraine finding Rand at the beginning of The Eye of the World—looked like. But somehow it never struck me how little time twenty years actually is, especially to channelers whose lives are extended by the One Power. They just seem so young here, with Moiraine thinking about the pranks they’ve pulled, and how tired Tamra looks, and how far she is from being ready to test for the shawl. And yet in twenty years time, give or take a few months, she’ll be where she is at the start of the series. Poised, unflappable, and one of the most dedicated people you’ll ever meet.

Heck, she estimates that Siuan will be a Sitter within a hundred years, and Amyrlin within another fifty, but it ends up taking Siuan less than twenty years to become Amyrlin. That’s bananas! I know that power counts for a lot more than age when it comes to Aes Sedai rank and authority, but I’m surprised there weren’t more people grumbling about Siuan’s relative youth and inexperience. Elaida, at least, should have had some opinions about that. Though I guess Elaida isn’t that much older than Siuan and Moiraine herself, and she believed she should have become Amyrlin in about the same amount of time, if her Foretelling hadn’t led her to the Royal Palace of Andor instead.

But of all these things, the part that hurt the most was Siuan’s declaration that she intends to see the world and have adventures. She speaks so passionately about it, and even goes so far as to say that Moiraine’s “ill-wishing” her by suggesting that she’ll become a leader in the Tower. But we know that’s where she’s going to end up. Sometime during or at the end of New Spring, she and Moiraine are going to make the decision to part ways, and Siuan is going to start on the goal of becoming Amyrlin while Moiraine is going to be the one leaving the Tower and seeing the world as she hunts for the Dragon Reborn.

And speaking of that, there seems to be some confusion about whether Gitara’s Foretelling, although delivered in the present tense, was actually occurring at the moment Rand had been born. From what I understand of the timeline we’ve been given, Rand was born right around the time Laman was killed—on the same day, certainly—and that Gitara’s Foretelling corresponded with the moment of his birth and also with the battle being over (or rather with the Aiel deciding that the battle is over; it seems like the defenders aren’t quite sure what’s going on). But Tamra doesn’t seem to think that, or at least isn’t sure that the Foretelling was delivered in real time. She appears to be going by the detail that the boy was lying in the snow, and this deception about giving away money to celebrate Tar Valon’s safety is a way of finding every baby born since the snowfall. Which is… a lot of babies.

To be fair, Tamra knows about how Foretelling works better than I do. Maybe the present tense just means that Gitara is describing what she sees as she sees it. It is called a Foretelling, after all, and not a Current-telling. Then again, Elaida’s Foretelling when she saw Rand seemed to be sort of about his current state as well as what might happen in the future, and seemed fairly vague. Prophecy in The Wheel of Time and in most other works of fiction does seem to involve a lot of interpretation and guess work, as well. And with something that is this important, it wouldn’t do to take chances.

Also Gitara died so you can’t ask her to interpret it herself, if she had any sense if it was occurring in real time or anything like that.

My last thought for the day, before Siuan and Moiraine head out of the Tower on an adventure that is going to go much differently than they anticipate, is that we learned something new this week about how channeling is different for men and women. When Siuan and Moiraine are talking about how the Reds will handle the Dragon, Moiraine thinks about how girls with the spark as young as age twelve or thirteen might touch the True Source on their own, but boys never do before eighteen or so and might not until they’re as old as thirty. It’s likely that some of this difference comes from wanting to be channelers, of course, and being more likely to try to touch the Source, even if just instinctively. But it also seems to suggest that boys develop a little more slowly, just as it’s generally understood that girls hit puberty a little sooner than boys do. Or something like that. This would explain why Rand was nineteen before he ever channeled, at least, while Nynaeve was much younger when she touched the True Source for the first time.

Also, I once again am confused about the rules for saidar. Moiraine observes during her practice that too much temper makes it impossible to hold onto saidar at all. That may be an individual, rather than universal, condition, but once again it seems to be that the way Nynaeve’s block works, and the anger she uses to overcome it, doesn’t make a lot of sense with the rules of saidar.

In any case, let’s try for Chapters Four and Five next week. We’ll learn more about Moiraine’s family, more about the search for the baby Dragon, and we’ll get to see Moiraine and Siuan try to act like Aes Sedai, just as we’ve been watching Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve do. See you then!

Sylas K Barrett never liked Elaida, and isn’t about to start now. So thanks for confirming that, New Spring.

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