Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Moiraine Makes a Run for It in Robert Jordan’s New Spring (Part 8)

Welcome back friends to our read of New Spring, here on Reading The Wheel of Time. Last week I suggested that we would cover Chapters 14 and 15, but I had so much to say about Moiraine and the White Tower that we’re only going to get through Chapter 14, which is called “Changes,” which means I’ve had the David Bowie song stuck in my head for the last few days.

Oh, and I normally try not to use the words “read” and “time” too frequently, since they seem to come up a lot. Today I thought I’d lean in and see what the opposite intention looks like, which unfortunately didn’t come out as amusingly as I had hoped. But I’m feeling a bit punchy today, so that is the energy I’m going to be bringing to my recap and analysis. Let’s do this!

Moiraine and Siuan apply themselves to learning all the intricacies of Tower custom and politics. Moiraine is struck by just how complex the traditions are, not to mention the interwoven alliances and rivalries between the Ajahs, some of which have gone on for centuries, others of which the origins aren’t even really remembered. They are also instructed in certain weaves that aren’t taught until women are raised to Aes Sedai. One is the Warder bond, but Moiraine is surprised to learn that there are some secret weaves known only to the Blues. She theorizes that the other Ajahs must also have secret weaves, and perhaps individual sisters as well.

After all, she had had one, her first learned, before coming to Tar Valon, and had carefully concealed it from the sisters. They had been aware the spark was already ignited in her, but she told them only about lighting candles and making a ball of light to find her way in the dark. No one lived in the Sun Palace without learning to keep secrets. Did Siuan have any secret weaves? It was not the sort of question you could ask your closest friend.

They are also taught the trick to ignoring heat or cold, which turns out to be about mental concentration; it involves focusing on a spot behind one’s navel and breathing in a specific rhythmic pattern. Moiraine finds the technique difficult to pick up, and is embarrassed when her concentration slips and people notice her flinch or gasp as she suddenly feels the cold. Siuan picks up the technique very quickly, of course, just as she mostly remembers the rules and customs as soon as she’s heard them.

At the turning of the year is the Feast of Lights, with much merrymaking in the streets and every room in the Tower being opened so that lamps can be lit in every window. It’s a joyous celebration but Moiraine only feels sadness as, once again, she is reminded of how empty the Tower is, and how it will ultimately fail if nothing changes. She also receives a number of invitations to balls from various Cairhienin nobles.

Only the Hall’s plans for her could have placed so many powerful Cairhienin in the city at one time. She tossed the stiff white cards into the fireplace unanswered. A dangerous move in Daes Dae’mar, with no way to tell how it might be interpreted, but she was not playing the Game of Houses. She was hiding.

Not everything is easy for Siuan, however, and she becomes increasingly frustrated with Cetalia and the work Siuan is doing for her. She even snaps at Moiraine for asking about it. One day they meet for tea and Siuan throws herself into a chair and rants on about being told to run and jump and having Cetalia snap her fingers at her all the time.

“Fish guts! She expects me to jump like a spawning redtail! I never jumped so fast when I was a—!” She gave a strangled grunt and her eyes popped as the First Oath clamped down. Coughing, her face turning pale, she pounded a fist on her chest. Moiraine hastily poured a cup of tea, but it was minutes before Siuan could drink.

Moiraine reminds Siuan that this will not last forever, but she has her own trials and tribulations in the long tedium of looking over paperwork and lists in a windowless room while she oversees distributing the bounty. Other than finding the lists of women who had left before receiving the bounty distressing, the work is terribly boring and the clerks resist Moiraine’s attempts to speed the process. Only her plan keeps her a little bit calm, and she realizes that she has made a decision: If worse comes to worst, she will run, and risk later punishment from the Tower rather than be put on the Sun Throne.

The day after the Feast of Lights, Ellid fails to come out of the ter’angreal during her testing. There’s no announcement as “the White Tower never flaunted its failures,” and Ellid’s things are quietly taken away. There is, however, a day of mourning, and Moiraine puts white ribbons in her hair to honor Ellid.

Not every sister lords power over them, much to Moiraine’s relief. Elaida, who is almost as strong as Siuan and Moiraine will one day be, avoids them until she eventually returns to Andor. Lelaine, a Sitter, has them to tea several times, though Siuan seems more comfortable around her than Moiraine is, while Moiraine deepens her friendship with Anaiya. They both resume the friendship they’d had with Leane when they were all Accepted, and make new friends as well. Still, Moiraine feels like the days are passing terribly slowly. She watches Tamra’s searchers finally leave the Tower but feels endlessly frustrated at not being able to go with them, and Siuan starts to take real interest in her work with Cetalia. Moiraine’s nightmares continue, both of the Dragon and of the Sun Throne.

A week after Ellid, Sheriam is raised, and it is Moiraine who gets to lay the shawl of the Blue Ajah around her shoulders. They are very happy to have their friend back, and even consider bringing her in on their secret, but Moiraine knows that Sheriam is a terrible gossip, and though she would never intentionally reveal the secret, she would probably let too much slip to be safe.

A few days later, Moiraine is eating her breakfast when Ryma Galfrey, a Yellow, comes into the Hall to announce that Tamra has died in her sleep.

A buzz of talk started up immediately at the other tables, but Moiraine sat stunned. Aes Sedai died before their time as often as anyone else, and sisters did not grow feeble with the years—death came in apparent full good health—yet this was so unexpected that she felt hit on the head by a hammer.

Moiraine considers what will happen with the search for the child and how the searchers will have to inform the new Amyrlin about their task; she wonders if she can get released from her task, if the Sitters don’t get to the Amyrlin first. She’s so upset with herself for thinking calculatedly instead of properly mourning that she sets herself a secret penance, to wear her lightest colored new dress, with all its blatant embroidery, to Tamra’s funeral.

According to Tamra’s wishes, her body was consumed by flows of Fire, and her ashes scattered across the grounds of the White Tower by the sisters of the Ajah she had been raised from, the Ajah to which she had returned in death. Moiraine was not alone in weeping. Aes Sedai serenity could not armor against all things.

The new Amyrlin, Sierin, is raised from the Gray, and rather than granting indulgences and reliefs as is custom, she cracks down, and within half a week all the male clerks have been dismissed from the Tower under vague accusations of flirting or giving inappropriate looks to novices and Accepted. Three sisters are exiled for a year, two are publicly beaten in front of their sisters. Sierin chooses a new Keeper and Mistress of Novices, both from the Red.

Eventually Moiraine goes to see Sierin about being relieved from her duties regarding the bounty, though it’s difficult even to be in Sierin’s hard, cold presence. Sierin admits that she’d put a stop to the whole thing if it wouldn’t make the Tower look bad, and agrees that someone else, a clerk or maybe a Brown, can take over the task. Moiraine’s joy is erased at once when Sierin adds that, of course, Moiraine will stay in Tar Valon. She knows they will need her soon.

Moiraine answers “As you say, Mother,” and kisses Sierin’s ring. Later she fills Siuan in, and her friend asks her what she will do.

“I am going for a ride. You know where I will be, in what order.”

Siuan’s breath caught. “The Light protect you,” she said after a moment.

She changes into a riding dress and packs up a few things into the pockets of her cloak, leaving her shawl in the wardrobe, and gives Siuan a quick hug before departing. No one seems to think much of Moiraine going out to ride until she runs into Eadyth, who remarks that the ruined towns and villages won’t make for a very scenic ride. Moiraine answers that Sierin has ordered her to stay in Tar Valon and might view crossing a bridge for a few hours as disobedience. Eadyth is clearly annoyed that Sierin has let that much of their plans slip, and reminds Moiraine that Sierin can be very harsh with anyone who goes against her wishes in even the smallest way.

Moiraine almost smiled. Light, the woman had given her a chance to say it straight out. Well, nearly straight. A suitable Aes Sedai answer. “As well I do not intend to cross a bridge, then. I have no wish to be birched.”

She has her horse saddled without saddlebags, in case Eadyth sends someone to check, then heads out. She stops at Mistress Dormaile’s where the banker already has some letters-of-rights and purses of coin ready for her. She accepts Mistress Dormaile’s offer of an escort of footmen, since any use of the Power to ward off thieves would attract attention. At Tamore’s shop she sends two of the men to hire a travel chest and a pair of porters, and then changes into one of the dresses embroidered with the Cairhienin House colors. She tucks her Great Serpent ring away in a pouch, though her finger feels naked without it.

On the way to the harbor she makes stops to fill the travel chest with all the things she couldn’t prepare earlier without attracting attention; she finds a ship, the Bluewing, that is about to sail. She and her horse and her possessions are on board in short order, and Moiraine is standing on the deck as the ship moves away from the deck, scratching Arrow’s nose when she spots the dockmistress talking to a man and gesturing towards the departing ship. She embraces saidar and is able to make out the man’s face; he matches Mistress’s Dormaile’s description of the man who had come asking about Moiraine’s finances.

Moiraine doesn’t know how he tracked her down or what he wants with her, but she can guess that the easiest way for someone to stop the Hall’s plans for her would be to kill her. Now she has another reason for caution: The man knows the vessel she’s on and will be able to track its stops along the river.

But the Bluewing is clearly a fast ship, and as it leaves the harbor mouth and Moiraine passes into direct disobedience of the Amyrlin Seat, Moiraine feels less concern at the thought of how terrible her penance will be than she feels joy and excitement at the adventure she is embarking upon. The Hall will never be able to put her on the Sun Throne, and she is off to hunt for the Dragon Reborn.

 

There is such an evocative, almost claustrophobic feeling about Chapter 14. Time isn’t passing as slowly for the reader as it is for Moiraine because we’re getting a highlight reel of notable events rather than sitting in that windowless room with an endless line of clerks day after day, but I can still feel how it’s dragging for her. I can also feel the loneliness and isolation of being Aes Sedai. The narrative makes a point of addressing that Moiraine and Siuan are able to reconnect with old friends like Sheriam now that they are all Aes Sedai and on the same level again, but the focus of the chapter really is more on the connections you can’t have, the secrets you must keep even within your own Ajah. Even with your own friends.

There were two moments where Moiraine thought about how she can’t ask Siuan something, and I was curious as to why. The first was when she was wondering about secret weaves, and who else had them. The line reads: “Did Siuan have any secret weaves? It was not the sort of question you could ask your closest friend.”

And I have to ask, why not? If you can’t ask your closest friend, you can’t ask anybody, right? Moiraine has long known that she has a secret weave, and the narration suggests that she kept it a secret because of her training in Daes Dae’mar. But she is quite surprised to learn that she’s not alone in this, that the Blue Ajah has secret weaves known only to them, and that it is likely the other Ajahs do as well. It isn’t like there’s a rule or even a culture that she has been taught which forbids talking about these things. So why does it seem like such an obvious foregone conclusion that she could never ask Siuan if she has a secret weave? The only answer I can come up with is that Moiraine wouldn’t like to be asked herself. And I suppose the Three Oaths demands a bit more circumspection, since if Moiraine asked and Siuan wished she hadn’t, she wouldn’t be able to lie about it.

The other moment was when Siuan asked about Moiraine’s choice of dress for Tamra’s funeral. Of course it makes sense that she would be polite and kind to her friend and not press about something that Moiraine clearly didn’t want to talk about. But it seems to be more than that: “ There were questions one asked, and questions one did not. That was strong custom.”

Really, both of these moments are pretty understandable and not a big deal on their own. But they seem to be part of a larger pattern, and I can’t help thinking back to when Moiraine realizes that the rules forbid her and Siuan to talk about their experiences in the test for the shawl. Again, the line for emphasis: “How long since they two had failed to share everything? Even here, the shawl brought separations.”

On the other hand, she’s been keeping her secret weave from Siuan for longer than she’s had the shawl, so she isn’t being honest with herself when she claims that they share everything with each other. And the shawl doesn’t demand she hide the reason for her penance from her friend, either. There are clearly other conventions and preferences that Moiraine observes, has always observed, that even close friendship cannot overcome.

Of course, we the readers know Moiraine’s secret weave. I remember being really surprised about learning it, because before that point I think we’d only seen a secret weave from Liandrin—her little half-compulsion trick. We hadn’t learned about compulsion yet either, so the fact that she could do this thing and had never told anyone else about it was really wild to me. It made her seem more nefarious as well, even outside of the fact that it was a pretty horrible, mean thing to do to someone. Now, however, it seems very likely that there are other wilders who have secret little tricks they figured out how to do before they were brought to the Tower. Nynaeve doesn’t, though, nor does Elayne. I guess in Nynaeve’s case she was blocked so she never had a chance to develop anything, but I would think Elayne would be the first person to figure out sneaky little ways to use the Power, and it’s not like Elaida was always around to catch her channeling, right? And of course Egwene doesn’t learn about her spark until she is already in contact with Moiraine, so there’s no unsupervised experimentation for her.

It’s not just secrets that are separating the Aes Sedai, or Moiraine and Siuan in particular. It starts with the inability to speak about the test, but then their daily lives as Aes Sedai come in to separate them further, not just with rules and customs, but also with duties. And I’m still thinking about how the freedom that the Accepted long for doesn’t come with the shawl the way they think. Siuan and Moiraine were both immediately drafted into service, and we who know where they will end up can see how much of a hold the Tower will have on Siuan for the rest of her time as Aes Sedai. She talked so much about how she wanted to see the world, but the path she is on now will bind her to Tar Valon and lead to her becoming Amyrlin Seat, who does get to travel, but only for professional reasons. Meanwhile Moiraine literally has to run away to escape being imprisoned by her usefulness to the Tower. Though she is a full sister and one who will eventually be one of the strongest in the Power, there is absolutely no legal way for her to refuse the duty they would assign to her, and so in this she has no more freedom than an Accepted.

I was wondering last week what Moiraine would do if she literally received an order that she must accept the position as Queen of Cairhien, but I’m not at all surprised to see her reasoning here. Short of stilling, there isn’t anything the Tower could do to her that she would regard as a worse fate than being put on the Sun Throne, and since the thought of such a punishment has never even occurred to Moiraine I’m going to assume even this is not the kind of thing women get stilled over. Are women who have been raised ever demoted and kicked out of being Aes Sedai without stilling, as novices or Accepted can be? Or does the one have to come with the other?

I suppose Moiraine could escape being assigned penance if she stays away from the Tower until Siuan becomes Amyrlin, at which point Siuan could grant her one of those indulgences the new Amyrlin is supposed to give. I wonder if the Hall would let her get away with such a thing. And when it comes to that, do we actually know if Moiraine has ever returned to the Tower since she ran away? Or has her correspondence with Siuan on the hunt for the Dragon Reborn been only through letters? It hadn’t occurred to me until now, but I don’t think there’s ever been any explicit mention of Moiraine residing in the Tower…

I found it kind of amusing that one of the punishments visited on sisters by Sierin was kicking them out of the Tower, given that this is what people like Moiraine and Siuan desperately want. I mean, if I were a sister who was on Sierin’s bad side, I would probably jump at the chance to be away from the Tower for a year, although I can imagine that exiling someone could be a useful political move—you can’t end up a Sitter for your Ajah if you’re not in the Tower for a year, or be its secret head, or run the eyes-and-ears network, for example. You can’t challenge Sierin’s moves as Amyrlin even if you would normally have enough authority to do so.

After learning how the test for the shawl is run and how the attendants not only can see what is happening but also appear to have much more control over the testee’s experience within the ter’angreal, I was deeply curious as to how things could go so wrong that a woman might not come out again. Failing the test makes sense, but surely if someone failed and was in physical danger, they could stop that part of the test, or at least remove the threat. Right? I mean, we know it’s easier to create things in Tel’aran’rhiod than it is to un-create them, so it’s possible that the Aes Sedai running the test don’t have quite the level of control one would expect. But all of the dangers menacing Moiraine disappeared as soon as she completed the requisite weave, so either the testers have the ability to dissolve what they create or there are some kind of “end program” parameters set around the act of completing a weave.

I suppose it’s also possible that it is policy not to interfere with the test in that way, even if a woman fails or is being killed, though this seems harsh even for the Tower. Surely they would prefer to send such a woman away, as they would if she had merely failed to maintain the required level of composure? I suppose we’ll never know unless we get a POV from one of the test administrators at some point. And of course since custom dictates that you cannot speak about a woman’s test, we don’t even know if Ellid died or simply got lost in the other world, as it seemed easy to do in the three-arched ter’angreal.

I was interested in the specific phrasing around Ellid’s loss; “a woman dying in her test was counted a great failure on the Tower’s part.” This seems to imply that the responsibility for this failure is considered to lie on the Aes Sedai, on the teachers and the institution of the Tower, rather than on Ellid for not being successful. If so, it’s an interesting attitude, given the varying attitudes towards Accepted and novices. For example, Moiraine observes that novice training is purposefully hard, because it is better to break as a novice than as a sister. This suggests that by the time a woman tests for Accepted, the Aes Sedai have judged that she has enough power to possibly become Aes Sedai, and that she is unlikely to break. The testing to be raised to Accepted is done without witness or guidance and is very much a personal test against oneself, rather than to the standards of being an Aes Sedai. If they die or get lost in there, that seems to have less to do with their training and more to do with their natural inner strength and determination. I would even go so far as to say that the Aes Sedai probably don’t have a strong idea of why some novices succeed and others fail.

On the other hand, the Accepted are given more freedom than novices and expected to understand how things work and not complain or question it. But there is an implication here that it is their teachers’ job to adequately prepare them for the testing, to make sure they are ready and have a good chance of succeeding. It’s one thing if the woman can’t maintain the required Aes Sedai demeanor under pressure, but it’s another if she can’t complete her weaves or falls victim to the dangers created to test her. I can see why the White Tower would take that as a failure of the institution rather than of Ellid alone.

I mean, this is a lot of speculation but I’m just fascinated by how the Aes Sedai think. So much of what they do just… doesn’t make sense? Jordan does a really good job of showing us how important tradition and custom is to them, even though in many cases the reasons for those traditions are forgotten, or no longer exist. And Moiraine thinks that the complexities of interpersonal and inter-Ajah politics make Daes Dae’mar look like child’s play! No wonder the Black Ajah gained such a good foothold in the Tower. How can you have a united front against the Dark One when you’re too busy holding grudges against different Ajahs for something that happened a hundred years ago? Even for a long-lived channeler, that’s pretty petty.

I mean, how is the White Tower supposed to get anything meaningful done when many Ajahs oppose each other as a matter of course. What if the Blue Sitter makes a really important suggestion, but the Yellow opposes it because they’re mad about whatever happened in Altara? What is this, U.S. politics? I just… you really do come away from this chapter thinking that the Aes Sedai aren’t really one group so much as a collective of Ajahs that sometimes deign to work together. And they live in a time when their numbers are dwindling, meaning that cohesion and a feeling of being on the same team are more important than ever.

Oh, and speaking of the Black Ajah, what’s the likelihood that Tamra was murdered? Pretty high, right? Moiraine doesn’t think it strange because she has no concept that there could be Darkfriends in the Tower, but it seems pretty blatantly coincidental, even if Aes Sedai do sometimes die young. I don’t know how the Black Ajah would have found out about Gitara’s Foretelling, but I suppose all it takes is one of the searchers being a Darkfriend to blow up the whole thing, and again, Tamra has no reason right now to suspect that the Black Ajah exists and play things closer to the vest because of that.

For a while I was thinking that Sheriam was Black Ajah, what with the Gray Men found in her bed and little bits of weirdness around her actions back when Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve were still in the Tower. There hasn’t been much to add to that suspicion lately, but it feels significant that Jordan would bother letting us know that Siuan wanted to bring Sheriam in on the secret but that Moiraine ultimately nixed the idea. Maybe it’s just to build suspense around the fact that one day soon, only Moiraine and Siuan will be part of the search for Rand. And of course, Jordan had already made the decision that Sheriam didn’t know about the Dragon’s birth long before he wrote New Spring, so it’s not like he could have it go differently in this book even if he wanted to, or felt it made more sense. But I think I want to mentally bookmark this moment, because if Sheriam did turn out to be a Darkfriend or somehow connected to them, telling her about the baby Dragon might have had a profound effect on the story.

There were also a lot of little worldbuilding details in this chapters that I really loved. The detail that white is a mourning color for many (all?) of the nations is really interesting. For a while I thought it was only in Cairhien, given Moiraine’s particular discomfort with having to wear it all the time as a novice and Accepted—we never got that from Egwene or Nynaeve or Elayne—but we see in this chapter that all the Aes Sedai wear white ribbons and scarves in mourning for both Ellid and for Tamra, so it must be a fairly universal choice. I wonder if the tradition of Tower initiates wearing white predates it being a traditional mourning color. Perhaps it is in reference to the color of the Tower, or (more likely) to the fact that the women in question have not yet earned the right to choose a color for themselves, as they will when they are Aes Sedai. Still, black could have also been chosen as an “absence of color” choice for novices and Accepted, especially since there is also a White Ajah. The Whites don’t consider white a mourning color (I loved the detail that their color was black, familiar to us western readers but so weird to Moiraine’s eyes) but neither, apparently, do they take issue with sharing a color with those who are not yet full sisters. It’s quite interesting to ponder.

We also learn more about the trick to not feeling hot or cold, which apparently is a concentration exercise rather than a function of channeling. I’m confused as to why Siuan wasn’t able to do it while she was being quizzed by Sheriam and Co in Salidar… unless she was capable of doing it but wanted to look more flustered in front of the others, to maintain her illusion of being beaten down and respectful? In any case, it seems to be a sort of mediation technique not unlike the flame-and-the-void, although it’s more narrow and specific in its scope.

Since neither the Aes Sedai trick nor the flame-and-the-void technique require channeling, that means anyone can do them, if only they are taught—Rand uses the technique Tam taught him to learn to channel, but that’s not its only purpose. And that also means that a woman could learn the flame-and-the-void and a man could learn the breathing behind your navel technique. The only thing is, like the Ajahs, they have their own secrets and they don’t share them much with others. As always, the separation of genders, of forces, of those who are meant to be allies in the Light, comes back to the forefront of the story.

Last week I wondered whether Moiraine felt empathy for Rand, since she also experienced feeling trapped and manipulated by the Tower. So it pleased me to see another little moment of similarity as she burned her invitations from the Cairhienin, knowing that’s a dangerous move but refusing to play Daes Dae’mar, like Rand once did. Or rather, will do, since New Spring takes place almost twenty years before Rand ever travels to Cairhien.

Final Thoughts:

  • When describing all the new things Moiraine and Siuan are learning, the narration mentions the Warder bond. I enjoyed this reminder that she’ll be ready to bond Lan soon, and also the reminder of how very, very sneaky Elayne was in managing to learn it early by spying on sisters.
  •  Every time Moiraine tries on the Aes Sedai way of lying without lying is a joy, but she actually used it against another Aes Sedai! And a powerful one at that. I’m so impressed with her right now. She’s the best.

Great news everyone, next week we’ll be with Lan as we cover Chapters 15 and 16. It’s just as well that this worked out to be a solo week, so we can cover Lan and Bukama’s whole experience arriving in Kandor. We get a real jump forward in time, as well! It’s all very exciting.

Wishing you all a very lovely week, and I’ll see you next time.

Sylas K Barrett will now be sitting here pondering whether Moiraine really has been out of the Tower since she ran away. It really does seem possible.

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