This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, Moiraine and Siuan get to leave Tar Valon for the first time since they arrived to become novices. This is a very big deal for them, even though it doesn’t go exactly as they hoped it would. Join me as I ponder over the structure of the White Tower and where Catholic religion influences the world building and the concept of penance amongst the Aes Sedai. It’s Chapter 4 and 5 this week, here we go!
Special thanks go to Leah Schnelbach for helping to fill in my scant knowledge of Catholicism and the concepts of sin, penance, and forgiveness. Special thanks also to those years my mom made me take horseback riding lessons. I was never a very apt pupil, but at least I was better than Siuan. And it’s nice to have a little more personal context for what that twelve mile ride out to the camps and back looked like for our intrepid duo. But first, the recap.
Moiraine rushes back to her room, excited and in a hurry to pack. She grimaces at the ugly, stout pair of shoes she takes out of the wardrobe, but she needs something to protect her feet from the snow. She pulls a pair of woolen stockings over the ones she’s already wearing and considers putting on a second shift as well, but decides that she doesn’t want to lose the time in undressing and redressing. She tells herself that surely the recording of names will take place under some kind of shelter, with a fire nearby for warmth. Then she dons a leather belt and scabbard containing a slim knife.
She had not worn that since arriving in the Tower, and it felt awkward at first, hanging at her waist. Perhaps she was forbidden to use the Power to defend herself, but the dagger would do nicely, if need be. Transferring her belt pouch from the white leather belt she had laid on the bed, she thought for a moment. It was all very well for Tamra to say that everything they needed would be waiting, but depending on someone else, even the Amyrlin Seat, to provide everything was unwise.
She packs her hairbrush, thinking that the Accepted will still be expected to keep their appearance tidy, then adds other potentially useful things like her good riding gloves, sewing kit, and extra stockings. She even packs a small knife for trimming quill pens, just in case. Heading out into the hall, she finds Siuan waiting impatiently for her as other Accepted rush about, calling to each other to lend things or to return something that was previously borrowed. Moiraine thinks that they’d all get in trouble if any sisters heard the din.
Siuan sets off at once, saying that they’ll be left behind if they don’t hurry. There’s no chance of that, of course, but Moiraine moves just as quickly. They rush down to the giant, sprawling stables, and Moiraine is irked to see eight or so Accepted heading off ahead of them. But then she remembers that those girls don’t know what they’re really looking for, and her spirits lift again.
Moiraine pushes through the crowd until she reaches her mare, Arrow, and notes the disapproving look on the groom’s face; most Accepted can’t afford to keep a horse, and have few opportunities to ride, in any case. When Moiraine bought Arrow to celebrate becoming Accepted, she suspects that the “ostentation” of the act nearly earned her a punishment, but she doesn’t regret the purchase, even though putting the mare through her paces and trying out how well she could jump had earned her a visit to the Mistress of Novices.
The groom made a derisory bow as she finally took the reins, and bent to offer cupped hands for a mounting step, another mocking gesture, but Moiraine disdained the help. Donning her snug riding gloves, she swung easily up into the saddle. Let the woman snicker at that!
Moiraine has been riding since she could walk—but she’s discomfited by the way her skirt rides up, and her attempts to push it back down to cover her legs spoils a little of the dignity she is trying to achieve. She tries to ignore the Guardsmen she sees looking at her.
Siuan manages to mount, with no grace and a lot of difficulty, and to hang on. A “slim young under-lieutenant” tells of eight Guardsmen to be their escort, and Moiraine notes how handsome he is. The leader of their escort, a grizzled man named Steler, is not handsome at all, and is curt with them as they start towards the Sunset Gate. Siuan tries to get the man’s attention and tell him that they are meant to go to the west bank, and Steler agrees that he was told to take them there before admonishing Siuan to stay inside the ring of guards or they’ll stop right there.
It doesn’t look like they’re heading towards a bridge that will get them closer to Dragonmount, but Moiraine is certain Steler won’t allow himself to be turned, and reminds herself to accept what can’t be changed. She thinks Siuan might still be trying to figure out how to sway him, but in the meantime she gives herself over to the pleasure of riding, watching the people in the busy streets, who seem to represent every country in one place. She sees one Shienaran who must be a messenger headed for the Tower, and desperately wishes she could stop him and find out his message.
Taking in the bustle of travelers and merchants and street performers, she considers how normal it all feels, how no one seems to take note of the sour smell of smoke or the fact that battle has been raging just outside the city’s walls. She notes the Ogier stonework all around as well.
A three-story banking house suggested a flight of golden marble birds taking wing, while the Kandori merchants’ guild hall seemed to represent horses running in surf, or perhaps surf turning into horses, and a very large inn called The Blue Cat strongly resembled exactly that, a blue cat curled up to sleep. The Great Fish Market, the largest in the city, seemed to be a school of huge fish, green and red and blue and striped. Other cities boasted of Ogier-built buildings, but nothing like what Tar Valon possessed.
They pass one building that is covered with scaffolding; Ogiers are hard at work on repairs. When they pass close to one, Moiraine gives him a formal bow from her saddle and he returns it, but she thinks she also sees him grinning in amusement. She’s embarrassed—of course an Ogier knows an Accepted when he sees one.
After nearly an hour they reach the Alindar Gate, which stands open but is carefully watched by Guardsmen at the top of the towers as well as on the road. Siuan and Moiraine’s attire draws stares, but no one says anything about Accepted leaving Tar Valon, which Moiraine suspects means that another party has already passed this way. Moiraine’s breath catches as her horse steps onto the bridge, less for the majesty of the Power-wrought architecture and more for the fact that she is out of the city, and nearly as free as if she already wore the shawl.
Steler reins up abruptly at the middle of the bridge, and Moiraine notes Dragonmount in the distance, the cold wind coming down the river, and the fact that the trumpets have stopped calling before she sees the cluster of horsemen at the foot of the bridge, with shining breastplates and long white cloaks. Moiraine embraces the Source, which sharpens her sight enough to make out the golden sunbursts on their left breasts.
She can’t believe Whitecloaks would block traffic on one of Tar Valon’s bridges, and firmly tells Bannerman Steler that Whitecloaks cannot be allowed to intimidate initiates of the Tower or Tower Guards, and to ride forward. He ignores her, and Moiraine is just considering flicking him with Air when Siuan hisses a warning. Moiraine can’t imagine how Siuan read her thoughts, but she knows her friend is right. She releases saidar.
Eventually the Whitecloaks turn back into the village, and Steler waits until he can see them on one of the streets heading north before getting his party moving again. He keeps a vigilant watch, looking all around with his hand on his sword hilt, and Moiraine finds herself suddenly glad for the protection of their escort. She thinks about how useless her dagger would be against one of the Children, and reflects that none of her preparations are turning out to be very useful.
When they reach the outskirts of town, Siuan rides up to Steler and begins to speak to him.
Her tone combined firmness with civility, and a strong element of certainty. It was very much a voice of command. Steler turned his head to her, blinking in surprise.
She goes on to point out that the women most likely to leave before hearing about the bounty the Tower is offering are those in the camps farthest from the city. Since the Amyrlin has reports that the Aiel are retreating, and since she has “expressed her unwillingness to let any of these women slip away without receiving the bounty” Siuan suggests that they “follow the Amyrlin’s urging and begin with the more distant camps.”
Steler agrees that there are no Aiel on their side of the Erinin, giving Moiraine a moment of hope. But then he says that he was told to take them to the camps closest to the river. He was also told that if anybody made a fuss, he was to take her right back to the Tower. He asks Siuan if she is making a fuss.
Siuan falls back beside Moiraine again, and Moiraine warns her off when she sees the glow of saidar suddenly surround Siuan. Siuan tries to play it off that she’s just trying to see ahead, then blushes and lets go of the Source, grumbling a little about being sore from all the riding. Moiraine promises that she has an ointment in her bag that will help, and is glad that at least one of the things she brought will be useful.
The village of Alindaer is empty and boarded up, and although its people plan to return when it’s safe, the village feels dead. Moiraine is glad to leave it behind, even if it does mean riding away from Dragonmount. But Siuan is clearly not relieved, and keeps looking back over her shoulder and grinding her teeth. Moiraine has long since decided that she will choose the Blue Ajah, but sometimes she thinks Siuan might go for the Green.
A few miles out they come to a busy camp. Moiraine hears Murandian accents and worries about working with such quarrelsome people, but when she sees the braziers that are brought out and placed near the table set up for them, she thinks that this affair might not be so bad after all. She quickly realizes that she was wrong. Despite her extra stockings Moiraine’s feet grow frigid very quickly, and her fingers are cold even with her gloves on. The crowds of women holding infants crowd around the table, fighting to have their names taken first. Moiraine is appalled to see some noblewomen among the group, pushing and arguing just like the commoners. Steler’s admonitions to form a quiet line go unheeded, and there’s even a moment when Moiraine worries that the Guardsmen might forcibly push the people back, a good way to start a riot. She stands, but before she can figure out what to do, Siuan takes control, standing up on her stool and using a weave of Fire and Air to make her voice as loud as thunder.
“Be quiet!” It was simply a command, if impressively delivered, without anger, yet startled women shrank back, suddenly as hushed as stones. Even the ring of hammers “on anvils ceased. The entire camp grew still, so that Moiraine could hear picketed horses stamping hooves.
Steler gives Siuan an approving look, but some of the babies start to cry, and Siuan continues without the Power enhancing her voice. Everyone falls in line, though there is some pushing and jostling, and all the more finely-dressed women end up in the front. To one side, a cluster of young girls watch Moiraine and Siuan excitedly.
The first woman in line gives her name Lady Meri do Ahlan a’Conlin. Moiraine has no experience with babies and couldn’t say how old the child is, so she decides she’ll have to just assume the woman is telling the truth. She notes that Siuan is writing, and that the baby in front of her is larger than Lady Meri’s. Just then, a woman with a baby passes by without getting into the line, and Moiraine asks about her. Lady Meri grows belligerent, but her serving woman explains that Careme’s child is the same age as Sedrin, but the father ran off to become a Warder instead of marrying her, so she wants nothing from the White Tower. Moiraine declares that Careme will receive the bounty anyway, and gets all the details from the serving woman. Beside her, Siuan seems to be handling her line with more authority.
It is miserable work, repetitive and cold, and Moiraine tries not to take out her discomfort on the women in line, even when they take an attitude with her or don’t want to provide all the information required, such as the name of the father. Moiraine notes some heavily pregnant women in the camp as well, and considers that any one of them could be the future mother of the Dragon Reborn, if they somehow end up at Dragonmount by the time they give birth. She’s incredibly frustrated that she and Siuan aren’t going to be the ones who find the child.
One woman in line, who gives her name as Susa Wynn, has a child that is obviously too old, even to Moiraine’s inexperienced eye. She’s about to turn the woman away when Siuan lays a hand on her arm. Moiraine takes a second look and sees how thin the woman is, gaunt and weary-looking. The baby has a cough as well, and when she asks about the father, Moiraine learns that he died slipping and hitting his head before the fighting even started.
Moiraine considers that the Tower can spare a hundred gold crowns for a mother and child who will clearly die without help. She takes the information, and then gives Susa a silver coin as well, to take the baby to a Wise Woman. Siuan makes disapproving noises at that, pointing out that the Wise Woman would have treated the baby on credit, knowing that the mother was going to receive the Tower’s bounty.
The news of Moiraine accepting Susa Wynn’s child spreads quickly, with more mothers joining the line who clearly have children that are too old. The very next woman after Susa tries to tell Moiraine that her child is sick, although the baby is visibly healthy and happy.
Moiraine’s temper flared, and for once, she made no effort to force it down. “I could Heal him,” she replied coolly. “Of course, he is very young. He might not survive. Very likely not.” At that age, he certainly would not survive the rigors of Healing, and besides, that was one of the few weaves that Accepted were forbidden to make without a sister watching. A mistake with Healing could harm more than the weaver.
She reaches her hand towards the baby, and the mother jerks him away, assuring Moiraine that she can scrape together the coin on her own. Moiraine feels embarrassed of her temper, but it’s good to make sure no one sees the women from the Tower as fools, and she sees some of the women hurriedly pulling their too-old children out of the line. Siuan whispers “very well done” and keeps working.
They eventually take a break to eat and no one in line complains about it. A woman with a Tairen accent brings them hot tea, telling them that Susa Wynn is too proud to take food from anyone, except for her child, and that what Moiraine did was well and kindly done. Siuan and Moiraine can tell that the woman—who must have gone to the Tower when she was young—knows that they are only Accepted, but trust her not to tell anyone.
Moiraine is surprised to realize that she’s eaten almost everything, and is wondering if being in the cold increased her appetite when Siuan mutters “Oh no.” Two sisters are riding into camp, followed by a single Warder in his color-shifting cloak. One is Meilyn Arganya, one of the most respected women in the Tower, but the other is Elaida a’Roihan. Moiraine can’t imagine what the woman is doing there, since she only returns from being the advisor to the Queen of Andor to occasionally confer with the Amyrlin.
They curtsy to the two Aes Sedai, and Siuan hastily begins telling them that they have permission to be there before being cut off by Meilyn, who tells them that most everyone has heard the news by now.
Her startling blue eyes held serenity as a cup held water. With a dark-gloved hand she carefully adjusted one of her divided skirts, so slashed with white that it seemed white trimmed with blue. She was one of the relatively few Whites to have a Warder; wrapped up in questions of rationality and philosophy, the greater number saw no need.
Elaida asks if they are surprised to see her, and tells them that she arrived in Tar Valon just before the Aiel. She has been busy, she says, but promises to come see them soon. Meilyn tells her that she pays the girls too much attention and that they will “get above themselves if they start thinking they’re [her] pets.” Moiraine and Siuan are astonished at the suggestion of favor from Elaida, rather than the opposite, and even more astonished when Elaida defers to Meilyn’s opinion.
Meilyn asks after their progress and advises them to work quickly, since they must be back in the Tower before dark. Despite Moiraine’s embarrassment about the subject she manages to ask why the camps are so full of women and children, wondering that the soldiers shouldn’t have other things in mind. Meilyn seems almost amused at Moiraine’s bashfulness, but explains that a man who thinks he’s going to die wants to leave something behind, and the woman who believes that she might lose him wants that something just as much. It’s a helpful explanation, but Moiraine still struggles with the impropriety of discussing such things in public.
Then Meilyn, without looking back at her Warder, assures him that they will go in a moment. Moiraine finds herself gaping, thinking of the old rumors that Aes Sedai and their Warders can read each other’s minds, but Meilyn assures her that it is simply a matter of knowing someone well enough over time. Elaida sniffs, no doubt thinking of the Reds’ disdain for men. Meilyn remarks that, logically, Reds have a greater need for Warders than any other Ajah but the Greens, but then the Ajahs each make their own choices. Then she reminds Elaida that they have many other Accepted to check on and they turn away.
Moiraine is shocked that Elaida would allow anyone to say something like that about the Reds, and confused (though grateful) that Elaida didn’t decide to stay and supervise them. Still, there’s no time to figure out the puzzle of Elaida’s deference to Meilyn—they have work to do.
Things don’t go quite as smoothly, however, since now everyone in line has realized that Moiraine and Siuan are probably not Aes Sedai, and get much pushier with both girls. Eventually Steler comes to tell them that it is time to go, with over a dozen women still waiting to have their names taken. He insists that he’s waited as long as he could, while Siuan insists that there’s plenty more time, but Moiraine knows that it’s a six mile ride back to the Tower and through those same crowded streets, and there will be no excuses allowed if they are not back by nightfall.
Frowning, Steler opened his mouth, but abruptly the leathery-faced woman who had given them wine was right in front of him with six or seven others, all gray-haired or graying, crowding him and forcing him back. “You leave those girls be,” the lean woman shouted at him. “You hear me?”
More women come running, some silent and holding knives, others shouting. The men and boys in the camp start to take notice, and Moiraine thinks that they really will have a riot after all. Siuan snaps at her to write, and the rest of the women in line are more than cooperative as they hurriedly take down their information. By the time Steler and the Guardsmen manage to extract themselves, Moiraine and Siuan have just finished. Steler looks grim, but all he says is that now, they will need a bit of luck.
Steler starts them off at a trot, stationing men on either side of Siuan to make sure she doesn’t fall off, and they only walk the horses for a short time to rest them before breaking back into a trot, until they are back in the streets of Tar Valon, and the press of people forces them to slow. The top of the sun is barely visible by the time they reach the stables, and an under-lieutenant scowls at Steler and tells him that they are the last to return.
Moiraine has to support Siuan as they stumble back to the Tower, desperate for food and a warm bath, not to mention sleep. But in the gallery of the Accepted’s quarters they find Katerine waiting for them, who tells Moiraine, somewhat snippily, that Merean wants to see her in her study. Siuan asks if Moiraine wants her to come along, and Moiraine desperately does, but tells Siuan to take some ointment to ease her soreness.
“You can barely walk. Go on. Whatever Merean wants, I am sure she will not keep me long.” Light, she hoped Merean had not uncovered some prank she thought safely hidden. But if so, at least Siuan would escape punishment. In her present state, she could not have borne that.
She finds Merean waiting in her small plain office, not seated behind her desk but standing. Moiraine notes how Merean’s motherly look almost overwhelms the agelessness of her face, and reflects how kind and comforting Merean is with novices and Accepted—unless they broke the rules. And she has, in Moiraine’s estimation, “a positive Talent for finding out what you most wanted to keep hidden.” She tells Moiraine to sit.
“There is no way to make this easy, child. King Laman was killed yesterday, along with both of his brothers. Remember that we are all threads in the Pattern, and the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.”
“The Light illumine their souls,” Moiraine said solemnly, “and may they shelter in the Creator’s hand until they are born again.”
Merean seems surprised that Moiraine isn’t showing immediate signs of grief, but Moiraine has no love for Laman, whose sole personality trait had been ambition, or her two other uncles, who had been even worse people, angry and cruel and full of disdain for Moiraine’s father, who chose to become a scholar and to marry another scholar, rather than make an alliance that brought land and wealth to House Damodred. She will pray for their souls, of course, but she feels more sadness for Jac Wynn than any of these men.
Merean decides that Moiraine is in shock, and tells her that she won’t have to ride out again to take more names with the other Accepted. Moiraine quickly asks that she be allowed to go, claiming that having something to do and being with friends will help more than staying in the Tower alone. Merean agrees after a moment, then fusses over Moiraine for a while before dismissing her.
In her room she finds the lamps lit and the fire burning, no doubt thanks to Siuan. She thinks of visiting her friend, but decides that Siuan will be asleep. Instead of going down to dinner, she kneels to pray for her uncles’ souls. It is a penance for the fact that she feels no grief for her kinsmen’s deaths, and she makes herself stay that way until after the time for dinner has passed, then dresses and warms her wash water with a trickle of Fire.
She sets a ward to keep her dreams from affecting anyone else, and falls asleep quickly, but her dreams are nightmares, filled with a baby lying in the snow as lightning crashes through the sky, and of a faceless man who calls that lightning from the sky as the world burns around him.
She awakes crying, and wraps herself in a blanket and goes over to Siuan’s room. Siuan is awake too, and pulls back her blankets so that Moiraine can climb in beside her. They discuss the fact that they both are having nightmares, the fact that the Tower might be able to protect the Dragon but that it can’t teach him to channel. The Prophecies don’t say he will survive learning on his own, after all, or that he will avoid going mad before Tarmon Gai’don.
“Do you think Tamra is having bad dreams tonight, Siuan?”
Siuan snorted. “Aes Sedai don’t have bad dreams.”
I’m not going to lie, these chapters made me hungry! Stop skipping meals Moiraine, keeping your body warm burns calories, and it’s cold out there! Seriously, it’s hot and humid here in NYC, but I felt a little bit chilly reading Jordan’s descriptions here. I remain a sucker for long descriptions of landscapes, locations, and weathers, and Jordan does an excellent job describing what the cold feels like. I wonder if he wrote those passages while cold, just to remember exactly what it feels like when cold seeps through your clothes or an icy draft hits your back. I definitely felt it while reading.
I come from an outdoorsy family, and have done my share of winter hikes and cross-country skiing, so I remember what kind of appetite you build up doing any kind of physical activity in the outdoors and keeping yourself warm to boot! I want to bring Moiraine food very much right now, is what I’m saying.
It was interesting to see Moiraine prepare for the trip out to the countryside, and I think her careful preparations—inadequate as most ended up being—shows a lot about who she is as a person. Being able to think ahead and plan will serve her well in the future, as we have seen in the main series. As will her adventurous spirit! I loved the section about her love of riding, and the way she enjoyed jumping Arrow, even though it earned her a visit to the Mistress of Novices. There’s such a strength and a playfulness to Moiraine. It’s often dampened or obscured by the heavy duty that she carries, but comes through from time to time in lovely ways. And it makes you root for her, even more than you did before.
I also liked how Moiraine is not above appreciating a man’s looks now and again. We spend most of the time seeing her through the eyes of the Emond’s Field kids, and they barely see her as human. Nynaeve almost sees her as a monster. But here we are seeing her as just a person, a young woman who appreciates a handsome face even if she has no great desire to do anything other than admire from a distance. That’s lovely.
There’s a moment when they start out onto the bridge and Moiraine feels her breath catch at the idea of being outside the city. We’re reminded in the narration that a novice or Accepted leaving the city is considered running away, one of the worst crimes a novice or Accepted can commit. Siuan and Moiraine are on their way to becoming members of one of the most import and powerful organizations in the world—perhaps the most important. But right now they are essentially prisoners. They are in the White Tower to learn to channel, yes, but their lives there are highly controlled, narrow in scope, and harsh. Novices are required to perform labor and service without compensation, there is corporal punishment, and in some cases testing that can lead to one’s death. And lets not forget, if you are born with the spark, you don’t have a choice whether or not to come to the Tower. It’s unclear if a woman who was strong in the Power could refuse to test for Aes Sedai if she wished, but I’m sure that would be heavily discouraged by all means available.
Both Siuan and Moiraine fantasize about being free. For both of them, becoming Aes Sedai means escaping not only the constricting nature of life as an Accepted, but also their previous lives. Siuan from a life of poverty, Moiraine from a life at court with a family she mostly hates. But they are not there yet. They are not, as Moiraine observes, “as free as if [they] already wore the shawl.”
It’s not all drudgery and confinement studying to be an Aes Sedai, though. We got a little glimpse here of life in the Accepted quarters, where there is plenty of friendship and even mischief. It was fun seeing them all rush about, excited and harried and without clean stockings, just like normal, everyday people. You’d never see an Aes Sedai behave that way, of course, but once again we get to see these women as human beings rather than the almost mythical beings everyone in the world regards the Aes Sedai to be.
I wonder if Siuan and Moiraine think that they’ll suddenly transform overnight into someone who never has trouble with her fears and emotions ever again. Siuan claims that Aes Sedai don’t have nightmares—she’s in for a rude awakening when she finally attains the shawl. And you know, that thought makes me pretty sad. There’s so much suffering for everyone in these stories—that’s the kind of tale it is—but I love so many of them so much, and it’s hard seeing them go through so much.
Speaking of unflappable calm and serenity, I found Meilyn fascinating. The Whites are a little bit like Vulcans, aren’t they—they really favor logic in its purest forms, and seem to hold a bit of disdain for emotions. She must have some opinions on Elaida, who is very much ruled by her emotions and very illogical about her own beliefs and desires. I’m not quite sure why the girls were surprised that Elaida defers to Meilyn—there is a lot of hierarchy in the White Tower so I would just assume Meilyn has more authority than Elaida. It makes me wonder if there isn’t some other reveal coming about Elaida and her relationships with other Aes Sedai. Also, maybe Elaida just likes Whites for some reason. She finds an ally in Alviarin, after all, and look how that turned out.
Well. Maybe that’s not the best example.
In any case, we’ll clearly see more of Elaida in later chapters, for better or worse. I was very interested in one particular line about how Moiraine felt like Elaida was studying her and Siuan “like a sculptor hefting hammer and chisel, deciding which piece of stone to remove next in order to bring out the form she wanted.” Elaida is a horrible person but she’s not Black Ajah or anything, and I wonder if her antagonism towards Siuan and Moiraine began more as her wanting to mold two of the Tower’s most promising initiates into something useful to her. We know she doesn’t like wilders, but maybe she sees enough potential that she’ll overlook that, hoping to recruit them to the Red to strengthen her Ajah. Of course that might also be too generous of a reading, but she is very ambitious, and Moiraine can’t be the only person who has noticed that the Tower is failing.
Not that it makes much sense to believe that either of these girls would choose the Red. I did think it was interesting that Moiraine thought Siuan might choose the Green Ajah. I wonder if Siuan has had other moments where she has shown herself to be particularly dedicated to the fight against the Dark One, or if Moiraine is taking Siuan’s personality in consideration when she thinks that Siuan might want to join the Battle Ajah. The Blues must travel as much, or more, than any other Ajah, which is what Siuan has claimed to want more than anything else. So I wonder what exactly it is that Moiraine is seeing.
Of course at this point Siuan has no designs on being Amyrlin or taking any kind of leadership role in the Tower. But this passage made me wonder if it’s uncommon for there to be Amyrlins from the Green Ajah. Would being the Amyrlin Seat make it difficult to ride out to battle with her two-to-six Warders? Wouldn’t she be expected to stay back and handle logistics? Perhaps a Green might be a great tactician in battle and therefore an excellent Amyrlin for the end times.
Or is all this kind of a moot point, since Tarmon Gai’don is going to upset the order of everything anyway?
We get to watch Siuan and Moiraine struggle with the same things that Nynaeve and Elayne have been struggling with: the fact that they are not yet Aes Sedai and desperately want to be treated as having that authority already. I don’t blame them at all for hoping they could redirect Steler towards Dragonmount, but it’s not exactly shocking that it didn’t work. He has his orders from the Amyrlin, after all! Thom and Juilin don’t have any such thing—they don’t even really like Aes Sedai.
But they also get to tacitly let the women in the camps believe that they are Aes Sedai, which is very like how Nynaeve and Elayne and Egwene have been passing themselves off as full sisters most of the time they’ve been away from the Tower. And both Siuan and Moiraine have a chance in that section to demonstrate what skills and natural authority they do have—another little glimpse of the women they will become.
There wasn’t much point in recapping the trip through Tar Valon in detail, but I really enjoyed the descriptions of the people and things that she saw. It was very vivid and interestingly described, and fun to see from a character who is a little more worldly than the Two Rivers crew. She’s able to identify where most people are from, so the reader gets to match the descriptions to actual countries and cultures. And the descriptions of the Ogier-built buildings were incredible. We’ve seen their work mentioned in passing before but not really focused on. It made me really excited to see if the Amazon series comes up with some great renderings of Jordan’s beautiful descriptions.
I was surprised to see Moiraine kneeling in prayer. I can’t remember if we’ve seen the concept of prayer mentioned yet, but if we have it’s been pretty casual. There’s very little concept of worship in The Wheel of Time so far, perhaps because the existence of the Creator and the Dark One is known rather than a matter of faith and belief. Even the concept of walking in the Light seems to just be about being a good person, unless you’re a zealot like the Whitecloaks. This world has catechisms, but no holy books or teachings that we’ve seen so far.
There is a concept of penance, though, which we’ve seen from Aes Sedai before as well as amongst the Aiel. Though there is no formalized concept of confession amongst the Aes Sedai, the way physical punishment—whether it be corporal or hard labor—is doled out and the way there is often an aspect of humiliation attached to it is somewhat reminiscent of the way things worked back in the day in European monasteries and nunneries. The Aes Sedai really do feel like secular Catholic nuns. It’s in a lot of the titles and terms, such as “novice” and the way the Amyrlin is referred to as “mother” or The Mother. And the Aes Sedai are called “sisters” and “daughters.” The way Aes Sedai are expected not to marry or have children is another example. This isn’t a moral standing against those things, but a practical concern: Aes Sedai are supposed to be dedicated to the Tower and their duties, not to a family, just as nuns (and monks) are supposed to be dedicated to God and their parishioners.
And then there’s the concept of penance. I remember back when Alanna asked to be sent to Sheriam’s study and to share Egwene’s kitchen duties because she felt that she had failed to take the reverberation she felt seriously enough, and Egwene was put in danger as a result. The others scoffed at the idea, but Siuan did give Alanna permission to go to Sheriam’s study about it, after referring to Alanna’s desire for penance as “needing to rid [her]self of some feeling of guilt [that she] cannot handle it as a grown woman would.” Siuan’s feelings about penance seem to match up with Moiraine’s, as the latter considers taking on regular penance as “ostentatious foolishness” and clearly prefers to make what penances she chooses a private, personal affair, just as Siuan orders Alanna to keep things between only her and Sheriam.
But I was interested in the fact that sisters who take regular penance called it “maintaining balance in their lives.” It reminds me of how the Maidens went to the Wise Ones after they felt they had behaved childishly in running off to a fight rather than keeping their post at Rand’s tent. The Aiel have a very strict code of honor, and the concept of owing toh can be both practical—to have an obligation to someone you have wronged or become indebted to in some way—or more abstract and spiritual, in the case of having failed to live up to one’s own personal standards. The Maidens are given the dolls to carry as a sort of penance, not to Rand (who dismisses the notion that they owe him anything and refuses to participate) but to themselves and the honor of their status as Maidens and warriors.
Most of what Jordan does with corporal punishment has a more militaristic vibe to it, but it’s interesting to see where the two line up. Alanna going to Sheriam’s study is not her superiors teaching her to follow rules, or trying to toughen her up. It’s a purification of sorts, a way of Alanna outsourcing whatever guilt, or shame, or fear she feels around what happened to Egwene. Just as Moiraine’s forsaking of her dinner and praying for the souls of people she hated is about bringing herself peace over her conflicted feelings around people she feels she should have some sort of family obligation to care about. I’m not there to tell Moiraine that family is not about blood but about how you treat each other, so this is her next best thing, I guess.
But seriously Moiraine, those men don’t deserve more from you just because you share some ancestors, and thoughts are just thoughts, anyway. You don’t owe anyone private thoughts, only decent and fair behavior. (If that. Laman and his brothers sound like monsters.)
So far in the main series we have spent only a little time with the Cairhienin, so it’s interesting to get more of a picture of their nation from Moiraine’s thoughts and behaviors. I’m getting the sense that they are a very uptight, prudish culture who have very strict rules about decency and behavior. And I think this is why they are the most invested of all the nations in Daes Dae’mar—the more restrictive a culture, the more manipulation and maneuvering behind the scenes becomes necessary. This is also why Moiraine is so much better at this kind of strategy and manipulation than Siuan, even though Siuan is the one who is great at puzzles. It would seem at first glance that these two skills are very similar, and indeed they are, but Siuan was raised with those rough edges and a brash tongue, and is more accustomed to getting her way with firmness and strength of personality. Moiraine is no less bold, I think, but she is quieter, and better suited to the kind of strategy that necessitates the kind of scheming and manipulation that the Game of Houses requires. Plus there are a lot of things she’s embarrassed to talk about, so she has to come at life sideways at times.
The way she handled the greedy mother pretending her child was sick was brilliant though. Very Aes Sedai, and it also reminded me a little of Rand hinting at his power and the madness to get Cairhienin women to leave him alone. And I love seeing how Moiraine is still learning that self control that she has so much of by the time we meet her in The Eye of the World. I was very curious about the mental exercises she uses in the section with Elaida and Meilyn. Both seem to be directly related to channeling saidar, although not explicitly stated as such. Saidar is often described as a river, so the metaphor there makes sense. And the flower bud opening to the sun is exactly the trick Egwene and Nynaeve were taught as they tried to learn to embrace the True Source. We know that touching saidar takes a level of calm and receptivity, so I guess it makes sense that one would use a meditative exercise to achieve that state.
Rand uses the flame and void trick the same way, to banish emotion and find the stillness that allows him become one with everything (much like Moiraine imagines being both the bank containing the river, and the river contained by the bank) and to focus enough to grasp saidin.
Next week we move on to Chapters 6 and 7, and so I leave you with this final thought.
The groom holding Arrow is a woman! You only catch it at the very end, as the character is simply referred to as “the groom,” but after Moiraine mounts Arrow she thinks “let the woman snigger at that!” and it made me so, so pleased. I didn’t know Jordan let women be grooms in his world, and I am quite happy to find that he does. I will now imagine every groom as a lady until the narration explicitly states otherwise. Horse girls, this one is for you.
Sylas K Barrett thinks that “We’ll need a bit of luck, now.” just might need to be the slogan of every single thing any character does in The Wheel of Time. Forget “The Wheel turns as the Wheel wills.” This is it.