This week in Reading The Wheel of Time we are once again chopping up New Spring into thematic sections rather than Jordan’s chapters. I have been known to do this on occasion throughout the read, but for whatever reason a lot of the chapters in New Spring seem to end in the middle of things, and then tie up those loose ends halfway though the following chapters. So I ask you to bear with me as we finish the rest of Chapter 10, picking up right after Moiraine has established that Elaida was responsible for putting her mom and dad in the testing. We’ll then cover Chapter 11 and part of Chapter 12, up through Moiraine and Siuan’s visit to Eadyth’s chambers but before they are intercepted by Cetalia.
I begin this week thinking about the losses that come with being raised to Aes Sedai. You can’t keep friendships with Accepted once you are raised to Aes Sedai, and there is a whole new level of rule and social structure to follow that non-sisters don’t know anything about.
I was really struck last week by the way Merean left so quickly after pronouncing that the test was complete. The Mistress of Novices regards all novices and Accepted as being hers on some level, and is accustomed to protecting and guiding them. She leaves immediately because from that moment on, Moiraine doesn’t belong to her anymore. And that felt a little sad.
Anaiya and Verin escort Moiraine back upstairs by a different route from the one she’d been led down, and when she goes looking for Siuan she finds two clerks doing the work with the names. Struck with sudden hope, she goes to Siuan’s room and finds it empty, then hunts down Sheriam and Myrelle (some of the name-taking excursions are ending earlier now). Myrelle tells her that Merean came for Siuan a little while ago, but Sheriam is more interested in finding out whether Moiraine passed. She tells them that she has, and it makes her sad to see the way their expressions suddenly grow more reserved.
A gulf had opened between them. She was still Accepted, until tomorrow, but friendship was at an end, until they also gained the shawl. They did not ask her to leave, yet neither did they ask her to stay, and they seemed relieved when she said she wanted to go to her room to wait alone for Siuan’s return.
In her room, Moiraine checks the booklet of names, which appears untouched, though that is no guarantee. She’s grateful that at least none of the searchers were among the sisters testing her—no one else would know what the names meant. She finds a fire laid in the hearth and an enormous tray of food, still warm. She eats everything, but although she’s exhausted she doesn’t want to go to sleep, because if Siuan failed the test she’d only have a short time to gather her possessions and say her goodbyes. Moiraine prays fervently that Siuan will at least survive, and curls up with Hearts of Flame instead, though she can’t actually make any progress in reading it. Hours pass, and she hears more Accepted returning from name-taking, their laughter and conversation falling to a hush as they learn that Moiraine has passed her test and is still in her room. Then, some time after supper, Siuan comes in. Moiraine can’t even finish the question when she tries to ask if Siuan passed.
“It was as easy as falling off a boat,” Siuan answered. “Into a school of silverpike. I almost swallowed my heart when I remembered this…” she slapped her belt pouch, where she also carried her book of names, but after that, it went well.” Her whole face suddenly turned bright red. She managed a smile through it. “We’ll be raised together, Moiraine.”
Moiraine leaps to her feet, and the two dance around, delighted. But some part of her is aware that she wants to ask about the blush and can’t, because no one is supposed to talk about their experience in the test. It’s been a long time since she and Siuan haven’t told each other everything, and even though they’ll be raised together, the shawl is already bringing separation.
She suggests that they go to Siuan’s room, knowing she must have her own much-needed meal waiting for her, but Siuan answers that she has something much better than food in her room—she has six mice she got from one of the grooms. Moiraine points out that they are almost sisters and it’s not proper for a sister to put mice in someone’s bed. Siuan answers that being almost sisters is not the same as actually being sisters, and that they owe Elaida for those beatings.
Moiraine considers that without Elaida’s efforts during their practice, she might actually have failed. But then she thinks about her father appearing in the test, and certain other moments that she suspects Elaida was also behind. Elaida had tried to make her fail. So she agrees, but only after Siuan has eaten.
The next morning, “Just Before Dawn” Moiraine finds herself struggling to stifle yawns after her night of contemplation, anticipation, and regretting Siuan’s prank.
If only Siuan were with her now. Contemplating the burdens and duties of an Aes Sedai turned inevitably to the task Moiraine meant to take up, and the scale of that search had loomed larger and larger as the night went on, until it reared before her like unscalable Dragonmount itself. Company would have helped. But the ritual was explicit. Each must be alone when they came for her.
Moiraine is fairly certain that making a mistake with the protocols won’t bring any penalties other than embarrassment and maybe a reputation for being flighty dunces—she considers that they might already have that reputation—but it still seems better to be beyond reproach as much as possible. She lays her few possessions out on the bed, leaving her old clothes in the wardrobe to be washed and stored away for the next Accepted for whom they are the right size.
When she hears the knock at the door, Moiraine makes herself check her appearance one more time and go slowly to the door, despite her nervousness. Outside she finds a representative of each Ajah (Elaida is the representative of the red, and Moiraine is careful to meet her gaze with a strong, smooth expression) wearing their shawls. They knock next on Siuan’s door, and Moiraine’s friend practically bounds out of the room, although she at least manages to keep a straight face when she sees Elaida. As custom dictates, they walk in silence down the empty halls, surrounded by the circle of Aes Sedai. The doors of the testing room are standing open, but everyone still pauses outside, forming a line behind Moiraine and Siuan.
Inside, Tamra formally asks who comes, and Moiraine and Siuan both give their name at the same time.
Their teachers had never brought up the matter of precedence—perhaps they had never expected the two of them to march this far in complete lockstep—but Moiraine heard someone’s breath catch behind her, and when Tamra spoke again, it was after a pause so slight that she might have imagined it.
The ritualistic questions and answers continue until they are told to enter, which they do together and hand in hand, neither hurrying nor lagging, their expressions smooth. They see Tamra in her Amyrlin’s shawl standing behind the oval ter’angreal, and Aeldra next to her, holding the oath rod on a black velvet cushion. The sitters for each Ajah are arranged around the room, along with two other representatives from each Ajah.
There isn’t room for both of them to pass together through the ter’angreal to reach Tamra, but Siuan and Moiraine have already discussed how they will handle the order. Siuan agreed to go first, but then told Moiraine she had to take the Three Oaths first. Siuan steps through the arch, followed by Moiraine, and they kneel side by side in front of the Amyrlin. Tamra takes the Oath Rod and seems to hesitate for a moment, not sure who to bind first, but Moiraine puts her hands out, palms up, to receive it.
This was the price Siuan had exacted, a favor to be granted, for Moiraine’s yielding precedence through the oval. Needless to say, she had not revealed her “favor” until Moiraine accepted. She would become Aes Sedai first by minutes. It was so unfair!
The Oath Rod feels like glass except smoother, and Moiraine solemnly recites the first Oath.
“Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I vow that I will speak no word that is not true.” The Oath settled on her, and suddenly the air seemed to press harder against her skin. Red is white, she thought. Up is down. She could still think a lie, but her tongue would not work to utter it now.
She continues with the other two Oaths, and the sensation is like wearing a too-tight garment that draws closer about her every time she swears. She even finds herself sweating, and struggling not to breathe too loudly. The binding of the Oaths feels “invisible and utterly flexible,” but so tight. She knows it will take a year for the feeling of compression to completely fade from her skin.
“It is half done,” the Amyrlin intoned, “and the White Tower is graven on your bones.” But she did not complete the ceremony. Instead, she took the Rod and placed it in Siuan’s hands. Moiraine fought down a smile. She could have kissed Tamra.
Moiraine watches with pride as Siuan also swears the oaths, thinking of how her friend is never fazed by physical hardship. Still, when Tamra bids them to go choose their Ajah, Siuan gets up just as stiffly as Moiraine does.
They both approach the Blue Ajah; they both knew what they would choose long before now. The rest of the Aes Sedai begin curtsying to the Amyrlin and departing. Moiraine wonders what sets the order by which the Ajahs depart, but soon they’re all gone and then Tamra follows, leaving the Blues alone to conduct their private affairs, including Aeldra. The three Sitters for the Blue gather around them, and Leane places a shawl over Moiraine’s shoulder while Rafela does the same for Siuan. Neither of them has been Aes Sedai long enough to have the ageless face, but they are both still incredibly dignified. The three other Blue sisters each kiss their cheeks and greet them with the words “Welcome home, sister. We have waited long for you.”
Aeldra kisses them also, and astounds Moiraine by informing them that they each now owe her a pie made with their own hands—it is apparently the custom for the sixth sister to give the kiss. Eadyth tells her off for forgetting her dignity, and tasks Leane and Rafela to escort Moiraine and Siuan, respectively, so “that the White Tower may see that a Blue sister has come home.”
Rafela brings up the custom that the women walk the halls clad only in their shawls and the Light, and Moiraine is faintly horrified until Leane tells Rafela off, and explains that it was the custom a thousand years ago for all women participating in the ceremony to be “clad only in the light,” but the only part of that custom that remains is keeping the hallways clear until the newly raised sisters reach the Ajah’s quarters.
“I doubt anyone but a few Browns even remembers the custom. Rafela is half mad with trying to bring back dead customs. Don’t deny it, Rafela. Remember the apple blossoms? Even the Greens don’t remember what battle that was supposed to commemorate.”
Strangely, though Rafela had reached the shawl a year before Leane, she only sighed. “Customs should not be forgotten,” she said, but without any force.
Leane continues to light-heartedly tease Rafela, and Moiraine realizes that of course the sisters present a different face to each other than to everyone else. They walk, the empty halls seeming cavernous to Moiraine and reminding her that one day, unless something changes, the Tower really will be empty. She asks Leane if she’s able to ask questions, and Leane tells her that she may ask whatever she likes, although some questions can’t be answered until after she’s met the head of the Blue Ajah, the First Selector. Rafela reminds Moiraine and Siuan that they cannot reveal that title to anyone. They know this, of course; all Accepted are taught that the Ajahs have many secrets, and that they will have almost as much to learn when they gain the shawl as they did before. Moiraine intends to be very careful until she learns more.
Siuan asks about other customs like the pie, and Rafela talks about many customs, both sensible and silly, until they reach the Blue Ajah’s quarters. Rafela admonishes them to learn quickly, as some customs are enforced as strictly as Tower Law. Leane chides her again, and then pushes open the doors. She and Siuan are surprised to see that every Blue Sister currently in the Tower is standing on the other side, lining the main corridor and wrapped in their shawls.
Anaiya is the first to greet them, kissing their cheeks and complaining about Aeldra stealing her pies. The next to greet them, Kairen, hopes that they are terrible bakers—apparently Aeldra likes pranks almost as much as Siuan and Moiraine, and she would like to see the tables turned for once. It makes Moiraine laugh despite herself, and she is filled with the realization that they really have come home.
They move down the line receiving kisses until they finally reach the three Sitters at the far end. Eadyth tells them that rooms have been prepared for them, as well as clothing and food, but that they must eat quickly, as there are things they must know “before it is really safe for [them] to set foot outside our quarters. Or even to walk within it, in truth, though most are tolerant of a new sister.”
Eadyth tells a sister named Cabriana to show them the way, and Moiraine feels an odd discrepancy between the woman’s fierce gaze and meek acquiescence that she can’t quite explain. As soon as they are out of earshot, Moiraine asks if Eadyth is the First Selector, and Anaiya answers in the affirmative. She remarks that it is unusual for the First Selector to also be a Sitter, but that, unlike some, the Blue Ajah likes to make full use of ability. Kairen, also walking with them, remarks that Whites and Browns let their most capable sisters “potter off” wherever they want, and Cabriana agrees that some of the Brown Sitters have been disgraceful. But Siuan and Moiraine can rest assured that a use will be found for their talents. Moiraine doesn’t much like the sound of that.
Their new apartments are side by side a little off the main corridor, decorated with mismatched furniture and the few belongings they had laid aside back in their Accepted rooms. Anaiya observes that they assumed that Siuan and Moiraine would want to be close together, and Kairen adds that they are welcome to choose other rooms if they like. Cabriana offers to see to having them cleaned, and Moiraine can’t understand how anxious the woman seems, and how she’s treating Siuan and Moiraine with the same intense deference that she’s showing to the others.
Thinking of the effort that has been put into preparing the room, Moiraine tries to say that the rooms are very nice, but she can’t make herself speak the lie so she settles for saying that they are “more than adequate,” while considering how quickly she can get rid of all the lace and ruffles on the cushions, pillowcases, and bed.
As soon as the others have gone, Siuan and Moiraine decide that they will go see Eadyth even before they eat. They’re anxious about what she has to tell them, and both notice how much the cryptic warning feels like Daes Dae’mar. Moiraine dresses quickly in one of the perfectly fitting blue wool dresses she finds in her wardrobe, moving her little booklet of names out of its white belt pouch and into a blue one.
From her carved jewelry box, she took her favorite piece, a kesiera. She had regretted not being able to wear that here, but even after six years her hands remembered how to weave the thin gold chain into her hair so the small sapphire hung in the middle of her forehead. Studying herself in a wall mirror with a scroll-worked wooden frame, she smiled. She might lack the ageless face yet, but now she looked the Lady Moiraine Damodred, and Lady Moiraine Damodred had navigated the Sun Palace where hidden currents could pull you under even at fifteen or sixteen. Now she was ready to navigate the currents here.
They get directions to Eadyth’s rooms, where they sit quietly while Eadyth warms her hands by the fire and seems reluctant to speak. Siuan fidgets while waiting, but Moiraine keeps herself still, telling herself to be quiet, listen, and observe. Eventually, Eadyth tells them that, for the duration of their training at the Tower, they have been taught that “the second greatest rudeness is to speak directly of someone’s strength in the One Power” and that they have been strongly discouraged from considering anyone else’s strength in the Power, or their own. Now, however, they are expected to compare their strength to every sister they meet. Eventually this will become instinctual and they won’t have to think about it, but until then, Eadyth says, they must be very careful.
“If another sister stands higher than you in the Power, whatever her Ajah, you must defer to her. The higher she stands above you, the greater your deference. Failure in that is the third greatest rudeness, and third only by a hair. The most common reason for new sisters to be given penance is a misstep of that sort, and since the penance is set by the offended sister, it is seldom light. A month or two of Labor or Deprivation is the least you can expect. Mortification of the Spirit and Mortification of the Flesh are not unheard of.”
For Moiraine, this makes sense of the deference Elaida showed to Meilyn, as well as how Rafela yielded to Leane, and Cabriana’s deference to everyone, since she is not very strong at all. It is difficult to even have the thought in her own head, but she is at least relieved that she and Siuan are the same strength—it would have felt so unnatural to have Siuan defer to her. Siuan asks if they have to obey those who are more powerful than them.
“I thought I was quite clear, Siuan. The higher she stands above you, the greater your deference. I truly dislike talking about this, so please don’t make me repeat myself. It works the other way around as well, of course, but remember that it doesn’t apply if your Ajah or the Tower has set someone above you. If you’re attached to an embassy, for example, you obey the Tower’s emissary as you would me, if she was barely allowed to test for Accepted. Now. Do you have that clear in your heads? Good. Because I myself feel an urgent need to clean my teeth.”
They’re bustled from the room, and Siuan observes to Moiraine that it isn’t as bad as she feared. They don’t have to start at the bottom, and in another five years or so they’ll be near the top. Moiraine argues that Siuan is being overly simplistic, and they will have to step very carefully and observe the other sisters until they understand exactly what is required of them better. Siuan points out that stepping carefully is what they have been doing for six years, and that it still could be worse.
It’s really remarkable to see how close Siuan and Moiraine’s friendship really was when they were Accepted. We learn little about it in the main series—when Siuan brings it up it’s mostly about their pact in deciding to hunt for the Dragon Reborn and how she feels like Moiraine left her high and dry. Plus there’s that bit where Elaida’s pissed because no one but her seems to remember that Siuan and Moiraine used to be so close. But it’s not their earlier history, and we haven’t really witnessed that closeness first hand. I had no idea how much the bond of their friendship was tied into their shared experience as students in the Tower. The fact that they have been pretty much exactly even in their advancement, that they passed their novice tests around the same time and underwent their trial for the shawl on the same day is clearly so important to them. They even argued about who would be raised first!
I actually had to read that section a couple of times. The first time I read through, I thought Siuan and Moiraine’s disagreement about the order was because they both wanted to be first, but it actually seems to be the opposite—they were each trying to get the other to be raised first. Siuan tricked Moiraine into having to take the oaths first by reluctantly agreeing to be the first one to step through the oval ter’angreal. And Moiraine finds the fact that she is going to be raised to Aes Sedai before Siuan to be unfair!
We’ve had lots of little narrative moments in which Moiraine has considered her love and admiration for Siuan, including the fact that she sees Siuan as a true born leader and fully expects her friend to be Amyrlin one day. Not only that, Moiraine sees it as natural for her to follow where Siuan leads. But it seems as though Siuan regards Moiraine with equal admiration and respect, even seeing Moiraine as more adept around people than she, the street-wise fisherman’s daughter. They both carry so much respect for each other’s abilities, even as they also see each other’s flaws, that each firmly believes that it’s not right to be raised first, even by a few minutes. I think if I was Siuan, I would have made the argument that Moiraine had to be raised first because she was tested first, so technically she is a few hours ahead of Siuan.
I’m curious as why Tamra decided to change the procedure ever so slightly to allow them both to be raised at the same moment. Was it because it seemed unfair to her to give one woman even momentary precedence over the other, considering that their achievements were made on the same day? Or was it because she, too, recognized the particular importance of their “in lockstep” advancement? Everyone knows Siuan and Moiraine are close, it seems, and it’s hard to miss the significance of their holding hands as they entered the room for the ceremony. I’d just love to see into Tamra’s mind for a moment. What does she think of the two Accepted who heard Gitara’s Foretelling, and who clearly took a keen interest in making themselves a part of the search even though they were not yet full Aes Sedai? What does she think of these two newly-raised sisters who still seem intent on doing everything together? It would be hard to believe that these things are insignificant or coincidences, not in a world ruled by the Wheel and the Pattern. Tamra must think that Moiraine and Siuan are here for a reason. Mustn’t she?
But despite their closeness, despite choosing the same Ajah and being put in apartments next to each other, there are already hints in the narrative that their lives as Aes Sedai are destined to separate them. We see it almost immediately as Moiraine realizes that she can’t ask Siuan about her experience in the trials and that the shawl is already bringing separations. I imagine that they expected a little bit more power and freedom from being Aes Sedai, even newly raised ones. There is such a gulf between Accepted and Aes Sedai that all the sisters probably seem nearly omniscient to the Accepted. Sheriam and Myrelle go from being close friends with Moiraine to ready to curtsy to her even before she has the actually ceremony to be made Aes Sedai. This is a functional aspect of who has control and power within the White Tower, but it’s also clear that the Aes Sedai maintain a very specific, almost mythical image of themselves towards anyone outside of their ranks, even those who are likely to join them. Not every Accepted makes it to Aes Sedai, of course, and the Aes Sedai aren’t going to show any more of their secrets than absolutely necessary to a woman who might end up failing her test and being put out of the Tower.
What I hadn’t anticipated is how many secrets the Ajahs keep from each other. Obviously I’ve been aware for some time that all Aes Sedai keep a lot of secrets from pretty much everyone else, and I’ve remarked before how many of the problems in the Tower stem from the fact that nobody can trust anybody else. Many of these divisions are formed before the women are on equal footing, as happens with Elaida’s enmity with Moiraine and Siuan, and I think in general the separation between novice, Accepted, and Aes Sedai breeds a sort of distance that can’t just be closed, even after all parties are raised to the shawl. I can’t imagine that a woman who spent her novice and Accepted years being called “child” and disciplined by an Aes Sedai would suddenly just forget all those feelings once raised, even if she believed fully in the Tower’s methods. And I imagine it would be very difficult for an Aes Sedai to have authority over an Accepted for years, only to find herself forced to show deference to that same woman if her ability in the One Power was eventually outstripped.
Speaking of which, I’m sure I’m not the first to say this but everything about the Aes Sedai power structure baffles me. Obviously talent in saidar is incredibly important to being Aes Sedai, but the idea that a much younger, less experienced woman should automatically command an elder just because she’s a stronger natural channeler doesn’t make a lot of sense. Moiraine and Siuan have been Aes Sedai for less than a day; it makes no sense that they should be able to give Cabriana orders, even if she is lesser in the power.
I remember being puzzled by Moiraine and Siuan’s reaction to seeing Elaida show deference to Meilyn. At that point neither they nor I had much knowledge of how authority in the White Tower works, but one would assume that there are more levels of authority than just Sitter, Keeper, and Amyrlin (and I guess the Mistress of Novices). Meilyn is said to be one of the most respected women in the Tower, and is apparently older, given her gray hair. I thought that the narrative might be showing us that Elaida always does what she believes is right (a more outwardly emotional Galad, as it were) and that she’s a stickler for the rules. Her treatment of Siuan and Moiraine during their practice is another example of this. There is obviously a lot wrong about what she does, but she clearly does believe that she is helping, to the point where she is nearly accused of helping them cheat. But now it seems to have just been a clue about the reveal of the Aes Sedai strength-based structure.
So maybe Elaida wasn’t acting out of a genuine respect for Meilyn after all. I suppose it’s impossible to know. I wonder about Cabriana, though. Everything in the description of her deference and the apparently contradictory fierceness of her personality reminded me of the way the Aiel adopt perfect submission while they are gai’shain. But Aiel are only gai’shain for a period of time, and are then released back to their old lives without any lasting stigma. An Aes Sedai who is weaker in the power than most of her sisters is set in that position for life. Granted, this only applies to when there are other Aes Sedai around, so she could escape an eternity of docility and obedience by taking assignments outside of the White Tower, where her status as an Aes Sedai would make her fairly powerful and respected regardless of her relative strength in the One Power. And ostensibly there is some room for advancement if one is truly gifted in certain useful ways, as Eadyth points out when she tells them that the obedience rule does not apply “if your Ajah or the Tower has set someone above you.” I bet it’s pretty hard to become Amyrlin if you’re lower in strength, though. If for no other reason than the constant comparisons are probably going to mess with everybody’s flow.
I was pretty surprised that female channelers posses the ability to judge another woman’s strength so accurately, although we have seen that they have a very strong awareness and perception in this regard. I was also surprised to learn that every woman has a sense of how strong she will eventually become. Why should that be?
In any case, I can see plenty of reasons that novices and Accepted should be discouraged from comparing their strength in the power to others. For one, you probably don’t want a lot of strength-based cliques forming in the students—there is enough of that happening already, I’m sure. And although it clearly becomes evident at a certain point if someone isn’t going to ever make it past being a novice, you wouldn’t generally want to discourage a prospective Aes Sedai from putting her all into her training. There aren’t enough Aes Sedai as it is, and even those who make it to the testing sometimes fail or are lost.
You know, given the fact that the White Tower is failing, you’d think that they’d want to be a little more careful with channelers. Surely an Accepted who passed in every other degree except keeping a smooth Aes Sedai face under pressure would still have a myriad of uses to the Aes Sedai. What use is there in throwing them out and telling them not to use their power anymore. Isn’t that power exactly what you need?
Another reason to discourage novices and Accepted from comparing their strength to anyone else is to keep the Aes Sedai authority over them. A weak Aes Sedai is still lightyears above the strongest Accepted in authority, so you don’t want that Accepted spending a lot of time thinking about how much stronger she is. That makes sense. But what doesn’t make sense is the fact that this continues to be an extremely taboo topic even when it becomes an intrinsic part of a woman’s life. Aes Sedai are expected to always know who is stronger or weaker than them and behave accordingly no matter what, and yet Eadyth, whose very job it is to explain these things to new sisters, can barely stomach a conversation she has to have somewhat regularly.
Like, she claims to need to brush her teeth after a brief explanation. Why should she be bothered by it now? It’s almost like the Aes Sedai are ashamed of the system by which they operate. This is important enough that an offended sister could sentence you to months of labor or an actual beating, and yet mentioning it aloud it is considered the second rudest thing a woman can do. It’s a poor sort of comfort to those who are always expected to give way and obey that it’s rude to mention out loud that she has to. I would argue that sentencing her to a penance is pointing it out, but that’s just me.
It kind of reminds me of how many societies treat the subject of wealth as taboo, or at least in poor taste. One is not supposed to talk about being rich, or flaunt it too obviously, or openly discuss salary with coworkers. This is suggested as being polite and classy, but it is really just a thin veil over the problem of social inequality. These invented social mores allow society to focus on “politeness” and ignore a much greater moral injustice.
The way Eadyth reacts to having to talk about the power hierarchy and the way Natasia reacts when she merely has to give them directions and realizes what talk they’re about to have reminds me of the way purity culture can mess with someone’s head even long after they’re expected to stay a virgin. It isn’t always the case, but many people who are taught to remain celibate until marriage are raised with the narrative that virginity is sacred, that sex is dirty and dangerous and, in the case of women, lessens their value as a person. Then these people find themselves married and told to forget all the evils of sex, like they can just flip a switch and suddenly feel completely different about the act and the morality that comes with it.
In the same way, the Aes Sedai are living a contradiction, an oxymoron of sorts, in which the very tenet of their social structure is something so shameful and embarrassing that even the Head of the Ajah can barely bring herself to explain it to newcomers.
This brings me to Rafela. I enjoyed the moments of levity brought on by her banter with Leane (also, how exciting to see Leane!) but I feel like she might also have an important narrative purpose. Rafela believes in custom for custom’s sake, and wants to bring back all sorts of weird things. A lot of what she says sounds patently ridiculous to the others, but why have the customs that are still followed remain while others have been discarded? And what present customs are the Aes Sedai merely following because they are old, but could stand to be questioned, altered, or discarded? In the case of the power structure, it’s hard to imagine anyone with authority changing it. Even if a low-powered sister managed to attain a position of high authority, she’d be an exception to the general rule, and I doubt she’d have enough support to change such a fundamental system. It’s kind of like how the U.S. can’t get corporate interests out of our federal government—those currently in power got there by the current system, and it does not behoove them to change it.
However, this information does answer my earlier question about how Siuan could become Amyrlin in such a short period of time. She is the total package, supremely talented, good at Aes Sedai manipulation and puzzles, and one of the most powerful channelers in the Tower. It’s still an impressive feat, given Moiraine’s estimate that it might take a hundred years, but it does feel a bit more doable now. Similarly, it makes me think that the power-based hierarchy will greatly favor Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne, giving them the ability to rise through the ranks quickly enough to be relevant for all the important plot moments.
Truly, these chapters are actually pretty sad. Of course there’s the awareness that Siuan and Moiraine are taking their first steps into lives that will eventually separate them. Moiraine spends her time waiting for Siuan to finish the test worrying that Siuan will fail and that they will be separated, but we know that they won’t see very much of each other for the next twenty years. And probably longer. And maybe forever, depending on whether Moiraine is actually dead or just in the other world.
There’s also the fact that being Aes Sedai is such a lonely, isolating life. As a channeler you outlive your birth family, but in many ways the Tower is not a great replacement. It is an organization of service to the world, which is great but seems to lack any meaningful emotional support for the women in its ranks. The culture is severely hierarchical, and sisters seem to be very isolated by their duties. It’s been made very clear how the rest of the world sees the Aes Sedai: They are often respected for their power and judgments, but they are still viewed as suspicious, controlling, and cruel. Everyone talks about how even a king can be reduced to a puppet in the hands of the White Tower, but now we see that it is not just outsiders who are treated this way. Aes Sedai themselves are sometimes no more than tools to the Tower, and women with the ability to channel have very little choice in whether or not they want to follow this life.
It made me really sad to read about Moiraine swearing on the oath rod. The way that the Three Oaths are bound onto women really is a kind of imprisonment, and we’re already seeing the way in which Siuan and Moiraine are not going to find the freedom they imagined would come with the shawl. Accepted may be forbidden to leave the city altogether, but how many Aes Sedai get to come and go as they please? They may be granted more liberties, but I bet the Tower likes to tell them where to go and what their job is. This may vary from Ajah to Ajah, however, as we’ve been told that the Blues are particularly dedicated to finding a role for all of their members, where the Browns do seem to be more freewheeling about letting their sisters explore as they please. Then again, Browns apparently don’t much care for leaving the Tower.
I wonder how the Greens feel about this sort of thing.
There are still some lovely moments for Moiraine in these chapters, however. The realization that she and Siuan may be able to pick up their earlier friendship with Sheriam, for example, or the way that the ritual of greeting a new sister refers to her as having come home, as though she’s always belonged to that home, and has simply found her way back after being lost. It’s a fitting perspective for a world that has reincarnation, and it shows, despite my earlier comments about the isolation of being Aes Sedai, that there is a familial sense to belonging to an Ajah, at least in the case of the Blues.
I mean, this description right here says it all:
The Blue sought to right wrongs, which was not always the same as seeking justice, like Greens and Grays. “Seekers after Causes,” Verin had called Blues, and the capitals were there to be heard in her voice. Moiraine could not imagine belonging elsewhere.
I can’t imagine you belonging anywhere else, either, Moiraine.
I have a weird feeling of pride towards Moiraine, seeing her in these formative moments and knowing the incredible person she will be later in life. Again, in this moment and this description, I see the woman who gave everything to find Rand and protect him, who stood unafraid against Lanfear and sacrificed herself for the cause she has dedicated her life to. A Green could not have been stronger or braver, a White could not have been more selfless in her calculations. And the concept of Moiraine as a seeker, given the years upon years she will spend looking for Rand and finally finding him, seems exactly, perfectly right.
Another moment of freedom for Moiraine is when she gets to wear her kesiera, the little blue jewel that hangs on her forehead, again. We know this jewel from the times she’s used it for her little wilder trick of listening in, but we can see that it has another significance for her. It is part of who she is, not just as a member of the White Tower but as a person who remains connected to her heritage and birth. Moiraine might despise most of her relatives, but she clearly has pride in who she is, and this might be the best piece of freedom the shawl has to offer her, at least right now. She is not just Moiraine, Accepted of the White Tower anymore. She is both the Lady Moiraine Damodred and Moiraine Sedai. And that’s pretty cool.
We’ll finish Chapter 12 next week as well as Chapter 13. In the meantime, I’m left pondering how fortunate it is that Moiraine’s kesiera had a blue stone. It doesn’t seem like Aes Sedai have to stick to their Ajah colors in jewelry or dress, as Elaida’s preference for red on red is viewed as a little odd. But once again, it’s almost like fate knew where Moiraine was destined before she ever knew what the Blue Ajah stood for.
Sylas K Barrett thinks that if he were an Aes Sedai (you know, and a girl) he’d probably pick the Blue Ajah too.