Hello hello, and welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time. This week we’re covering Chapters 8 and 9 of New Spring, and tacking on just a little bit of the beginning of Chapter 10, basically up through Moiraine finishing her test and conversing with the Aes Sedai afterwards. I’m doing this so I can talk about the test in its entirety, rather than analyzing the first part this week and the second part next week. There’s just too much juicy Elaida gossip, plus I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about how the test is different from (and arguably less useful than) the test novices take to become Accepted.
Meanwhile, Moiraine is chafing under the delays in the search for the baby Dragon, and struggling with questions about her identity and her future. It’s fascinating to watch her development as a character, and I’m really excited for this week’s analysis.
But first, as always, the recap.
Despite most of the Accepted riding out every day and Siuan and Moiraine continuing with their transcription work, Accepted begin to take lessons again with the sisters in the evenings. Some Aes Sedai refuse to give lessons, irked about having to give the novices lessons while the Accepted are outside the Tower taking names.
Moiraine notes that she attracts particular ire from the Aes Sedai, no doubt because she could have kept teaching and taking her lessons during the day if she chose to. Some sisters who teach at night still turn her away when she asks for lessons.
Moiraine hoped these small enmities would fade soon. Paltry irritations sometimes had a way of festering into lifelong antagonisms. What could she do, though? Apologize humbly to those who seemed most angry, begging their indulgence, and hope. She would not give up the lists.
Moiraine does have some lessons, however, with the sisters that she knows are part of Tamra’s searchers, and she wishes she could ask why they aren’t out hunting the names on the list yet. She is aware that taking a newborn from his mother would be cruel, but wonders why they don’t seem to have any sense of urgency, or if they’ve even seen the lists and understand how monumental the task of finding the child will be. Moiraine finds herself seething with frustration and worry that the right woman will slip away and never be found.
An Accepted named Ellid, a very beautiful woman who is the envy of all the novices and plenty of Accepted, tells Moiraine that she overhead some Aes Sedai talking about how Gitara had a Foretelling that Tarmon Gai’don will come during the lifetimes of current sisters.
I can’t wait. I intend to choose Green, you know.” Every Accepted knew that. “I mean to have six Warders when I ride to the Last Battle.” Every Accepted knew that, too. Ellid was always telling you what she intended to do. She almost always did it, too. That hardly seemed fair.
Later, Moiraine and Siuan discuss the fact that Gitara did, in fact, have other Foretellings. Siuan doesn’t know why this one matters, given that the Foretelling of the Dragon’s birth already lets them know that Tarmon Gai’don will come.
“Siuan, did you never wonder how Tamra could be certain this is the time, that the boy will be born now? I would say it is very likely that at least one of those other Foretellings spoke of him. Something that, put with what we heard her say, told Tamra that now is the time.” It was Moiraine’s turn to frown, in thought. “Do you know how the Foretelling was with Gitara?” It took different women in different ways, including how they gave voice to a Foretelling. “The way she spoke, he could have been being born at that instant. Maybe the shock of that was what killed her.”
They are continuing to practice for their testing at night, sometimes joined by Myrelle. But since the first night they resumed their practice, they have also been joined by Elaida, who, wearing her red dress and fringed shawl as though on official duties, instructed Moiraine to continue to practice while she observed. Moiraine makes it through sixty-one weaves, with Siuan and Myrelle putting their very best into distracting noises and painful blows.
“Pitiful,” Elaida said, cold as ice. “You’ll never pass like that. And I want you to pass, child. You will pass, or I’ll make you take off your skin and dance in your bones before you’re sent away. You two are pitiful friends, if that’s how you help her. We knew how to practice when I was Accepted.”
Elaida tells Siuan and Myrelle to move aside, and has Moiraine begin again. Her onslaught of flashing lights, bangs and whistles is continuous, and accompanied by hard, strap-like blows. There’s a moment’s reprieve after each completed weave, but that’s it. Moiraine only manages twelve weaves, and Siuan tries to intervene, thanking Elaida for the instruction and assuring her that she and Myrelle know what to do now. But Elaida continues, and Moiraine only manages a few weaves on each try. On her fifth attempt she breaks down, falling to her knees and weeping. The beatings stop at once, but Moiraine has never been in pain like this before.
Siuan drops to her knees beside Moiraine, and helps her to her feet. Elaida coldly remarks that a little pain will help drive the lesson home, and then tells Siuan that it’s her turn. Moiraine has to force herself to watch Siuan practice—she’s often able to finish the entire one hundred when Moiraine is the one distracting her, but with Elaida she only manages twenty the first time, and less each subsequent try. She keeps trying though, starting over without prompting each time, until Elaida decides that they’ve practiced enough. She tells Siuan that there isn’t a shred of serenity in her, and that she would fail even if she finished all the weaves. They must be serene no matter what is done to them, and they must be fast.
Siuan collapses in tears the moment Elaida is gone, and Myrelle and Moiraine join her on the floor, holding each other. Eventually Myrelle leaves and comes back with Sheriam and Ellid and some jars of ointment to soothe their injuries. Ellid is outraged and suggests that they all go to Merean, but Moiraine disagrees. She insists that Elaida is trying to help, that she said she wants them to pass. Siuan believes she’s trying to make them fail, but when Moiraine points out that Accepted never get to complain without paying for it, they all agree.
Novices who complained received a gentle if firm explanation of why matters were how they were. Accepted were expected to know better. They were required to learn endurance every bit as much as history or the One Power.
The others leave, and Siuan and Moiraine huddle together in bed, able to sleep only with the potion that Verin gave Moiraine earlier to address her nightmares. Elaida returns in the morning to Heal them, but the next night she supplies new bruises to replace the old, and the night after as well. Moiraine lasts a little bit longer each time before collapsing, while Siuan refuses to cry until Elaida is gone.
Each night Sheriam, Myrelle and Ellid show up after Elaida has left to help them and offer commiseration. Then on the morning after Elaida’s fourth visit, they’re awoken by Merean, who offers them Healing and informs them that they won’t be troubled by Elaida anymore. Moiraine suspects that Sheriam, Myrelle, or Ellid, if not all three, went and told Merean, but the Mistress of Novices refuses to tell where her information came from. She does tell them that Elaida nearly earned herself an imposed penance. Siuan asks why she didn’t get penance after what she did to them, and Merean, suddenly seeming amused, tells Siuan that what Elaida did broke no Tower law, and if she had been punished it would have been for helping them cheat. She tells them that she hopes they will accept Elaida’s gift in the spirit in which it was given, since she paid a price in humiliation for giving it.
Siuan, clearly not believing for a second that Elaida gave them a gift, promises that she will remember, but Moiraine is too busy being horrified at the idea that what Elaida was doing was meant to be helpful. She can’t imagine how she’ll get through the testing if it means being beaten the whole way. But she knows that every single woman who wears the shawl has passed the testing, and tells herself vehemently that she will as well. She even pushes Siuan and Myrelle to go harder on her in practice, though they refuse to do what Elaida had done.
Two days later she passes Elaida in the hall, and notes as she drops into a curtsey that Elaida’s eyes are furious, although her face remains the usual Aes Sedai mask.
Moiraine’s heart sank. Clearly, Elaida thought they had gone to the Mistress of Novices themselves. And she had “paid a price in humiliation,” according to Merean. Moiraine could think of several ways that the threat of a penance could be used to make Elaida give way, and every one of them would have wrung the sister with humiliation. The only question was, how hard had Merean wrung? Very hard, likely; she did speak of the novices and Accepted as being hers. Oh, this was no small enmity that might fester over time. What was in Elaida’s eyes was full-blown animosity. They had acquired an enemy for life.
She tells Siuan as much, but Siuan only mutters that she never wanted to be Elaida’s friend, and that once she has the shawl, if Elaida ever tries to harm her again, Siuan will make her pay. Moiraine laughs at the idea that Aes Sedai go about harming each other.
Exactly one week after Gitara’s Foretelling, spring starts to arrive, and the snow quickly melts. That sets their window for when the child could be born, and soon they aren’t adding any more names to their books. Nine days later, Merean appears just as Siuan and Moiraine are on their way to breakfast, wearing her shawl and formally announcing that Moiraine is summoned for the testing.
Moiraine barely has time to hug Siuan before she is led away, barely concealing her panic. She does not feel ready, and is certain she is going to fail, the words repeating over and over in her head. But as they head down the staircase that leads under the Tower she has a thought. Despite how strict the Tower is about non–Aes Sedai using the power, and despite sisters’ claims that those sent away usually gave up touching saidar almost entirely for fear of overstepping the Tower’s rules, Moiraine knows she will never give up the Power. On the heels of that thought comes another: Whatever happens, she will still be Moiraine Damodred, and her estates will be able to provide her with an income.
A third thought, and it all came together, so obvious that clearly she had been thinking of it all along on some deeper level. She still had her book with its hundreds of names in her belt pouch. Even if she failed, she could take up the search for the boy.
She knows this will be dangerous—even rulers suffer for meddling in the Tower’s affair—but she will do it anyway. She’s surprised that, though she still wants to be Aes Sedai more than anything, the knowledge that she will continue the search no matter what happens here quiets her panic. Either way she will begin her search, but she prays it will be as an Aes Sedai.
Merean leads her down a long stone passage lit with torches, past securely locked doors hiding many secrets from prying eyes, just as Moiraine’s testing will be hidden. On the lowest level Merean stops and channels Air to open two huge doors, guiding Moiraine into a domed room. In the center is an oval ring of shifting rainbow colors, glittering in the light and standing unsupported. A ter’angreal, within which she will be tested.
Merean begins the ritualized words and Moiraine answers accordingly, all the while feeling her unease mount as she notes that Elaida is the representative of the Red Ajah. All of the six Aes Sedai will try to make her fail, but she knows that Elaida will try the hardest. As she is undressing, she realizes that she still has her little book in her belt pouch, and has a moment of panic about it being discovered. But there’s nothing she can do—she can’t falter now.
Merean shows her a sign, a six pointed star, and tells her that when she sees the sign she must go to it immediately, but at a steady, even pace, and that she can only embrace the Power once on the sign. Then she must begin the weave immediately, and cannot leave the sign until the weave is completed.
Moiraine felt one of the sisters behind her embrace saidar, and a weave touched the back of her head. “Remember what must be remembered,” the sister murmured. It was Anaiya, the Blue. But this was not part of what she had been taught. What did it mean? She made her fingers march steadily along the buttons down her back. It had begun, and she must proceed in utter calm.
Anaiya repeats “Remember what must be remembered” four times as Merean explains, and on the fourth time Moiraine feels a weave settle into her, much like Healing does. Then the sisters move away, all six Aes Sedai kneeling on the floor around the ter’angreal. They all begin to channel a complicated weave as the shifting colors in the ring increase, and Moiraine stands naked keeping her perfect composure under the scrutiny of Merean. Inside she feels a chill like ice running through her, thinks over and over that she refuses to fail just because of Elaida, but outwardly she remains perfectly calm.
When the ter’angreal turns white and begins to slowly spin, Moiraine knows that it is time to go. She steps towards it at a steady pace, telling herself firmly that she will pass, and into the oval ring.
She finds herself in a stone corridor with one exit, opening out into sunlight, and wonders where she is and how she got there. She also wonders why she is naked, and although she’s alone it is only the knowledge that she must remain perfectly calm that keeps her from trying to cover herself with her hands. Suddenly a small bench seems to appear, along with a dress in her House colors.
How could a dress with her own House colors be here? She could not recall the last time she had worn a dress in that style, which was very odd, for surely it had passed out of fashion no more than a year or two ago. Her memory seemed full of holes. Chasms. Still, once she was clothed again, looking over her shoulder to do up the tiny mother-of-pearl buttons by her reflection in the stand-mirror… Where had that come from? No, best not to worry over what seemed beyond explanation.
Once she is dressed she goes out the door into a large, circular courtyard. It feels like a warm spring day, and the arches around her suggest some kind of palace, though she doesn’t know where it could be. In the center of the courtyard she sees a six-pointed star, and starts towards it. After two steps, though, her dress vanishes. Two more steps and her shift seems to melt away, followed by her stockings and shoes, as she carefully forces herself to keep walking, serene and confident.
Suddenly three rough-looking men stroll in from one of the archways, and Moiraine has to work even harder to maintain her calm as they leer at her. She’s not afraid of them but burning with embarrassment at being seen completely naked. She can’t channel until she reaches the star, though, so she holds down her anger even as they saunter towards her.
When she reaches the star she turns to face them, beginning the required weave but also, because she knows it is allowed, she channels a wall of Air around the men and ties it off.
She notices a six pointed star at the top of the arch the men had come through and starts towards it, still holding the Power but also keeping her calm pace even as she passes the trapped men. She steps through the arch and turns to make sure they aren’t following her, only to find herself confused as to where she is, why she isn’t wearing clothes, and why she is holding saidar. All she knows is that she has completed the first weave, though she doesn’t remember doing it, and that she needs to keep going. She finds a rough woolen dress and leather shoes on the floor of the corridor she is now in, and puts them on before heading down the hall out the single doorway.
She finds herself in a deserted village, dry and hot beneath a noon sun. She sees a star by a dried-up well and goes to it, beginning to channel at once. Suddenly she’s trapped, surrounded by blackthorn bushes, the sharp needles digging into her skin and restricting her movements. She tries to think how to channel the thorns away even as she continues the weave, but then she sees movement on the branches and recognizes the death’s-head spider, a poisonous creature only found in the Aiel Waste. Without stopping her weaving, she divides one of the flows of Fire and uses a tiny bit of it to singe the spider into nothing, careful not set the dry branches alight. But as she keeps weaving she sees more and more spiders, and has to struggle to keep her calm when she wonders how many might be in places where she can’t see them. She weaves faster and faster, burning spiders as she goes and watching how some branches begin to smoke. But when she finishes the weave and stops channeling, the thorns vanish at once as if they’d never been.
Moiraine resists the urge to undress and shake out her clothes, searching instead for the next six pointed star, and finds one over a doorway. She starts towards it, and when she steps through she finds herself in near darkness, not knowing where she is or why she’s dressed in farmer’s woolens and bleeding everywhere. All she knows, as she heads towards a faint patch of light across the room, is that she has completed two of the one hundred weaves.
It seems to take far too long to cross the room, and Moiraine thinks that she would have believed that this place was a dream, if she didn’t know better. She finds herself in a stone-paved square surrounded by a tall, solid stone wall that Moiraine can’t see anything behind. There are no openings or doorways, and when she glances behind her the one she just came out of is gone. She starts towards the star in the center of the square when a huge Trolloc with a wolf’s snout and ears clambers over the wall and drops down into the square. She hears the sound of more behind her as well. Moiraine has only seen pictures of Trollocs before, and wonders if she is in the Blight.
The second she hits the star she starts her weave, knowing that it’s the most important thing, but as soon as she has the weave started she divides the flows so that she can hurl fireballs at the oncoming Trollocs. There are so many that she has to pause the main weave for a moment to give all her attention to the defense, and only just catches the weave again before it unravels. But no matter how fast she weaves there are too many Trollocs for her to fight while also maintaining the main weave. She is desperate to find a way not to fail—she’s not even worried about being killed and eaten by Trollocs, it’s just that she must not fail.
Abruptly, the way came to her, and she smiled and began to hum the quickest court dance that she knew. Perhaps the way; a chance, in any case. The rapid steps took her around the rim of the star without ever requiring her to lose sight of the weave she had to complete above all else. After all, however quickly her feet moved, what could be more serene than a court dance, with her face properly smooth, as though she were dancing in the Sun Palace?
Moiraine finds herself weaving faster than she ever has in her life, and the dancing even seems to help her rhythm. When she finishes the weave there are still Trollocs to fight, so she keeps dancing, calling fire and lightning until nothing moves in the square but her. Then she stops, and sees an archway in the wall. Outside is where the Trollocs came from, where the Blight is. But the six pointed star is carved above the archway, so she gathers her skirts and passes through it.
Ninety-nine weaves later, Moiraine has been in every harsh environment imaginable, has found herself in manacles or hanging suspended by her wrists and ankles, has faced every kind of deadly creature, even been chased by mobs and nearly hanged by Whitecloaks. And each time she has channeled the weave and moved on to the next star, abruptly forgetting most of what happened and wondering why she is dressed the way she is or not at all, wondering where her injuries came from.
And she was weary. Oh, so weary, down to the bone. More than channeling even ninety-nine weaves could explain. Perhaps her wounds did. Ninety-nine weaves.
Moiraine hobbles towards the last star, set beside a fountain in a small garden. She can barely walk, never mind keep her calm expression. But she knows that this is the last star, and afterwards whatever she is doing will be over. She has just begun the weave, when suddenly her father steps out in front of her, wearing clothes that are at least a year out of fashion and standing with uncharacteristically slumped shoulders.
He tells Moiraine that her mother is dying, and there is just enough time to get to her if she comes with him right away. It feels like too much, and Moiraine wants to weep and to rush off with him. Instead she finishes the weave, and before she can ask where her mother is, she sees the star behind him.
“I love you, Father,” she said calmly. Light, how could she stay calm? But she must. “Please tell Mother that I love her with all my heart.”
Brushing past him, she limped toward the second star. She thought he called after her, that he ran after and plucked at her sleeve, but her mind was a haze from the effort of keeping a smooth face and a steady tread. A stumble, really, but she neither hung back nor hurried. She stepped between the fluted columns, beneath the star, and….
And Moiraine finds herself staggering out of the ter’angreal, suddenly able to remember every moment of her time in the testing—every mistake, every injury, every time she strained to hold on to her calm.
“It is done,” Merean intoned, clapping her hands together with a loud crack. “Let no one ever speak of what has passed here. It is for us to share in silence with she who experienced it. It is done.” Again she clapped her hands loudly, the blue fringe of her shawl swinging. “Moiraine Damodred, you will spend tonight in prayer and contemplation of the burdens you will take up on the morrow, when you don the shawl of an Aes Sedai. It is done.” For a third time she clapped her hands together.
Merean starts for the doors, but all the others save Elaida come over to Moiraine. Anaiya asks if Moiraine will accept healing, even though she’s not as badly hurt as some, but Moiraine is too busy being flummoxed that she passed her test. Anaiya laughs that, if blushes counted, nobody would ever attain the shawl, and although Moiraine knows that they would have seen everything, it’s still embarrassing to remember that they would have seen the time during the forty-third weave when a very handsome man had snatched her up and started kissing her. Verin prompts Aniya to get on with the healing, and Aniya does so, giving Moiraine the feeling of being caked in ice for a moment, then of being even more weary than before, and ravenous as well.
She worries about the book in her belt pouch but there is no time to do much more than squeeze it. Moiraine starts to dress.
But there was a question she wanted answered. Her tests had not been simply a matter of chance, completely a product of the ter’angreal. The continual assaults on her modesty left no doubts. “The last test was very cruel,” she said, pausing with her dress ready to lift over her head. Pausing to watch their faces.
Anaiya answers that, no matter how cruel, the events are not to be spoken of even amongst those who witnessed them. But Moiraine notes that the yellow sister glances towards the door disapprovingly; since Merean hadn’t been involved in the testing, Moiraine knows that her hunch is right and that Elaida had tried harder than anyone else to make her fail.
Unlike Moiraine, I have a terrible sense of time, which apparently extends to the world of story, even though Jordan marks out the days pretty clearly. I was surprised at the end of Chapter 8 when we were told that it had only been a week since Gitara’s Foretelling. Maybe it was just that there was so much detail packed into the narration, but I think the thing that really threw me off was how cranky the Aes Sedai were about having to accommodate the fact that the Accepted were riding out every day. Almost every Aes Sedai seems to be in a snit about having to pick up the novice classes and do some teaching with the Accepted in the evening—there were even rumors of a petition to Tamra. I would have thought that would come up after a few weeks, not just a few days’ worth of inconvenience!
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, given the attitudes we’ve seen on some of the Aes Sedai so far in the main series, but I think I expected more professionalism from the sisters. Not Elaida, but most of them. They might disagree with the Amyrlin’s strange actions, but it’s not like the Accepted have a choice when being ordered to ride out into the snow every day and write down the names and details of new-born babies from sunup to sundown.
I was also surprised to learn that the Accepted teach most (all?) of the novice classes. It makes sense that Accepted would have a fairly flexible, self-guided learning experience, and it’s clear that the Aes Sedai still keep a sharp eye on them to make sure they aren’t slacking off and to decide when they are ready to be tested. (I think I remember Nynaeve being taken to task for not keeping up with her studies for the brief time she was in the Tower? It might have been Elayne or Egwene, though, and I’m too lazy to go back and hunt for it.) But even that seems less directed, less controlled than I would have expected from the White Tower. They are so strict about the rules for how Aes Sedai and initiates behave and how members are allowed to use the Power, but that doesn’t really seem to apply to learning, only to behavior and obedience to Tower Law.
Then again, I suppose that once a woman has made a commitment to the White Tower by passing from novice to Accepted, perhaps the testing for the shawl is most of the enticement she needs to make sure her studies are well-rounded and her mastery of saidar is as complete as she can make it. After all, being an Accepted is a hard life, and the only escape is either attaining the shawl or eventually being put out of the Tower, with the knowledge that the Aes Sedai will be keeping an eye on how much you dare use your channeling ability outside of their ranks. Not a pleasant thought.
There are a few confirmations in these chapters of things I’ve long thought about the Aes Sedai and about how the White Tower functions. Siuan and Moiraine’s conversation about Gitara possibly having other Foretellings cleared up a lot for me; I came into New Spring assuming that everyone had understood that her Foretelling of Rand’s birth was happening in real time, and was then confused about whether I had misunderstood when Rand was actually born or what. So I was pleased when Moiraine explained that it was likely that Tamra knew that the Dragon was likely to be born in her lifetime. It was also helpful to have Moiraine confirm that Foretellings work very different from person to person. I remember that Elaida’s Foretelling when she saw Rand in person felt very different, and that’s probably not only because she’s not as strong in the Talent as Gitara was.
It was also a good reminder to me as a reader that Moiraine and Siuan are still only Accepted, and that just because they are certain about things doesn’t mean that they are actually right. I can’t take everything they say as empirical truth.
Another moment that I found gratifying is the way that Moiraine is worried about the Aes Sedai holding grudges. She considers the fact that small irritations “sometimes had a way of festering into lifelong antagonisms. ” And then there’s Elaida, whose whole grudge against Siuan and Moiraine is based on a misunderstanding about who tattled on her. Which is very intense, and very Elaida.
I mean, Elaida is the most Shakespearean character in the series so far, and her tragic flaw is that she thinks she knows everything and is deeply unaware of how much her own emotions shape her thoughts. When we first encountered her in New Spring, I was fascinated by her insistence that she would see Siuan and Moiraine pass no matter what. She has a history of hounding the two, but it seemed immediately clear that she was doing it for the same reason that the Tower treats its initiates sternly—to make sure they were strong and knowledgeable enough to make it to being raised. Elaida is very devoted to the strength and power of the Aes Sedai, and she clearly, and rightly, sees Siuan and Moiraine as very valuable assets to the Tower. Yes, she’s also a jerk, but it seems like she actually believed she was helping, until the fallout. And in fact, from what Merean says, it appears that she was helping, or at least that the other Aes Sedai felt that way. And I (almost) can’t even blame Elaida for the way she seems to think that a cold, harsh attitude and a lot of physical punishment is the way to make good Aes Sedai—that does in fact seem to be the Tower motto. If she didn’t let her own ego and jealousy get in the way all the time, she’d be a pretty good Aes Sedai. By their standards, anyway.
I get that Merean says that Elaida “paid a price in humiliation” but it’s not like she actually received a punishment. She just got a talking-to from Merean. Unless that talking-to was somehow public, that’s a pretty low level of humiliation. I get that she’d be miffed, but it seems like an overreaction to be so furious that she considers Siuan and Moiraine irredeemably horrible people who she has to spend the rest of her life trying to bring down. Plus she’s too busy being affronted to consider that there were other people who knew about what was going on.
I wonder which of the girls it was who went to Merean, though. Maybe Sheriam, Ellid, and Myrelle all went together, thinking that they were less likely to see repercussions for reporting something that wasn’t happening directly to them. Or maybe one of them just couldn’t take watching it anymore.
In any case, all this really does speak to what I’ve been saying since the outset: The way things are run in the White Tower is not designed to build lasting trust between sisters, and it’s very easy for Aes Sedai to abuse their authority or for personal grudges to become lasting enmity. I personally believe that corporal punishment is damaging, not strengthening, but even putting that aside, I feel like what the White Tower really needs is a new Ajah made up of therapists. Sure the Aes Sedai are outwardly tough and serene, but a lot of them seem to be crumbling messes on the inside.
I mean, I understand why you don’t talk about the trial for the shawl to just anyone, but the rule that you can never speak of your experience to anyone, even the people who were there with you, seems like a recipe for psychological scarring. Processing one’s experience of life, especially a traumatic experience, is an integral part of human cognition, after all. How is Moiraine supposed to make sense of her time in the ter’angreal if she can’t talk about it with anyone? I think the answer is that she’s not supposed to make sense of it. It’s supposed to be endured and then put aside.
It just kind of makes you feel like the Aes Sedai know that there are some real problems with how they run things. By forbidding someone to ever speak of what happened, it suggests that there is shame around the experience, that it is a thing that is to be hidden away and suppressed. For all the nice talk about how this is something to “share in silence with she who experienced it,” you can’t actually share something if you’re forbidden from ever addressing it. Moiraine should have a right to talk about it if she wants to, though it would make sense to have a rule that only she can initiate such a conversation.
I wonder if any of the testers ever feel guilty about the trials they inflict upon initiates. Even if you believe wholeheartedly in the testing and the Aes Sedai philosophy, it’d be pretty hard not to feel pain and guilt if you created a dangerous situation and then watched someone die in it. Or maybe the real reason for forbidding any conversation about one’s test is so that you don’t know which of the Aes Sedai did which horrible things to you; maybe they’re just trying to prevent more grudges in people who are now going to be peers.
After all the build up, something about the trial for the shawl felt anti-climactic to me. Not so much for the woman going through it—it’s longer and even more physically taxing than the trial to be raised to Accepted, and of course there is the expertise in the Power that it demands with the one hundred quickly-executed and perfect weaves. I mean that’s a lot of channeling. But the trial we saw Nynaeve and Egwene go through was all about facing their inner fears and committing to the life they have chosen over others that they might also desire. It was deeply resonant with the themes and character work that was being done with the girls and also foreshadowed their futures in some interesting ways; I’m still confident that Egwene’s vision of herself as Amyrlin will come to pass, although it will surely be very different than what she saw in the ter’angreal.
The trial for the shawl, on the other hand, appears to be directed by the Aes Sedai involved in the testing. Which is interesting because they know a fair bit about Moiraine but it’s not like there is a lot of intimacy between Accepted and Aes Sedai. Quite the contrary. So while the women administering the test might know that Moiraine is a very modest person or that she misses her parents, there’s not a lot they can do to make the test truly personal. Anyone would be terrified of Trollocs or deadly poisonous spiders, after all.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t great thematic moments and character moments for Moiraine within the test. My favorite bit by far was when she started dancing so that she could weave and fight the Trollocs and keep her serene composure all at the same time. Nothing feels so quintessentially Moiraine as using a dance to slay Trollocs, and if I’d read this description after having only completed The Eye of the World, I would still have thought so.
I hadn’t conceived of weaving as existing quite so much on our own physical plane—that section describes her as having to turn back towards the weave to catch it. I also have tons of questions about how this ter’angreal works and how much control the Aes Sedai activating it have over what happens inside. After all, women die or disappear inside that thing. When it happens during the novice trials it makes sense—nobody sees what goes on in there, and the whole test is basically just having the testee choose to come back even with only part of her memory. But the Aes Sedai seem to control what happens within the oval ter’angreal, at least somewhat. So I have to wonder, if Moiraine hadn’t been able to fight off all the Trollocs, or if she’d failed in making that weave, what would have happened? Would they have allowed the Trollocs to kill her? Would the danger have vanished as soon as she failed the test? I can see how in some cases a woman might die in the middle of trying to complete a weave and before anyone could intervene, but I assume that they would at least try to save her life, even though she had failed the test.
Maybe the Aes Sedai only have a small amount of control over what they create within the ter’angreal. After all, in Tel’aran’rhiod, it is much easier to create something (on purpose or accidentally) than it is to get rid of it. And both the three-arched ter’angreal and the oval one do seem to work similarly to the World of Dreams. I’d almost wonder if they weren’t portals into Tel’aran’rhiod. We know that it’s very dangerous to go there in the flesh, but the ancient Aes Sedai did it, if the Forsaken are anything to go by. And we know that the three-arched ter’angreal had a strange reaction to the stone ring being in the same place with it, which further suggests that their uses are somewhat similar.
Maybe the ancient Aes Sedai built these ter’angreal as a training ground for going to Tel’aran’rhiod. They might be a closed system somehow, walled off from the rest of the Dream World, or maybe it’s a small world of their own creation, modeled after Tel’aran’rhiod. It’s also possibly some other kind of pocket universe that just works similarly. In any case, I’m curious if Moiraine could actually affect the world around her at all while within the ter’angreal. Obviously she doesn’t know she can, or know how, but I did wonder if that first dress, the one in her House colors, appeared because one of the Aes Sedai made it or because Moiraine willed it into existence, along with the bench and mirror. Perhaps it was out of fashion because her mind was reaching for what was more familiar—she hasn’t worn the latest fashions because she’s been in the Tower for the last six years. Then again, it could have been out of fashion because the tester who created it wasn’t quite up-to-date on such details… I can’t think of why they’d bother having her get dressed only to undress her again, but maybe having to maintain composure while your clothes disintegrate around you seemed more challenging than just having to go forth naked from the start.
Once again I will register the usual complaint about how women are always doing these things naked, and then I will move on from talking about it.
I’m also very curious about the need to display absolute calm. As Moiraine and Siuan were practicing, I assumed the calm was somehow physically necessary to the experience of the test. I kept thinking of Koh the Face Stealer in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and how if Aang showed any emotion at all then Koh would be able to steal his face. But the admonition to maintain perfect calm seems not to have anything to do with the experience of the ter’angreal itself but just with what the testers would like to see. And that makes sense; Aes Sedai are expected to maintain this illusion of serenity and stateliness, even around each other. The testers want to know that Moiraine will represent that image once she is one of them, and how she will present herself to her sisters and to the outside world as a proper Aes Sedai.
It feels like the Aes Sedai are just recreating their own version of the Accepted trial, taking the test of commitment a step further by setting the specific parameters for success around keeping perfect Aes Sedai calm and being able to execute all the required weaves. They even go so far as to replicate the amnesia experienced in the three-arched ter’angreal. I’m making some assumptions here and might be wrong, but it seems like the weave used on the novices is to help them remember enough to come back when the doorway shows itself, while the one used on the Accepted seems to be to induce the amnesia that reoccurs every time she completes one of the hundred weaves. It’s interesting to ponder how the experience of being tested would be different if you remembered where you were and what you were doing—would the danger seem less real if you remembered that you were inside a ter’angreal? Would the temptation of love or family be easier to turn away? I imagine they might be.
And now Moiraine has passed her testing—it was so cute when she was surprised about it—and will soon be raised to Aes Sedai. If I feel like I learned a lot about the White Tower so far, that’s nothing compared to what I’ll probably learn in the next few chapters. I’m definitely looking forward to it. Next week we’ll cover the rest of Chapter 10, and probably both Chapter 11 and Chapter 12.
A final note: It’s entirely possible that if I’d continued the series in chronological order, rather than “skipping ahead” to New Spring, I might know more about some of the things that I’m finding surprising. Maybe we’ve seen someone test for the shawl before this. Maybe we’ve met some of the Aes Sedai in New Spring that I don’t recognize. And I’m sure there’s been more drama with Elaida. It’s an interesting aspect of reading a series for the first that’s already been completed. But hopefully still interesting for all of you to follow along with.
I hope those of you in Henri’s path are safe and dry. And as always, have a good week, and may you always walk in the Light.
Sylas K Barrett isn’t sure why Moiraine’s love of dancing gives him so much joy, but it really does.