Welcome once and again to Reading The Wheel of Time! This week is number 13 of our read of New Spring—lucky number 13 if you’re me and were born on a Friday the 14th. It feels appropriate, since we’re just a few days from Halloween. Also appropriate is that the theme of disguise is strong this week as well, with Moiraine using her true identity as a sort of shield, and Siuan going undercover as Moiraine’s servant.
But before we get to all that, Moiraine has to find Siuan and put together her plan. We’re in the lead up to the true action unfolding, so this week’s recap will cover Chapters 23 and 24, as well as the beginning of Chapter 25, through Moiraine’s encounter with Merean. This way, and step lively now.
Moiraine finds herself very satisfied with how eager Lan seems to be to get away from her, since it proves that she has made an impression on him. She also thinks that, after seeing how she handled those bandits, he should have known better than to warn her off the rougher parts of Chachin.
Putting him out of her mind, she went in search of exactly those rougher quarters. When she and Siuan had been allowed a trip into Tar Valon as Accepted, the common rooms Siuan liked to visit were always in that sort of area. Their food and wine were cheap, and they were unlikely to be frequented by Aes Sedai who would surely have disapproved of Accepted having a cup of wine in such a place. Besides, Siuan said she felt more comfortable in those inns than at the better establishments where Moiraine would have preferred to eat. Besides, tightfisted as Siuan was, she certainly would have sought out a room at the cheapest inn to be found.
She eventually finds her way to a much seedier, poorer looking area. Children play in the dirt, while shop keepers guard their front doors with cudgels. There isn’t a sedan chair or street musician in sight, and Arrow is the only horse. Moiraine’s clothes draw looks, but she ignores them as she stops in front of a dusty-looking inn. She notes a woman watching her while pretending not to and weaves hobbles of Air around Arrow’s legs, as well as a ward, before entering the inn. The innkeeper seems distressed at seeing her, and assures her that there are no Tairen women staying in his inn and urging her to let him give her directions to a more fitting place for her to stay. A tug on the ward sends Moiraine back outside again, where she finds the woman trying to lead Arrow away.
Moiraine points out that the penalty for horse-theft is flogging or worse, and the woman puts her hand on her belt knife, asking if Moiraine thinks she can stop her, and Moiraine answers that she will if she must. She doesn’t want to use the One Power and give away who she is, but when the woman drops the reins and remarks that the horse isn’t worth stealing anyway, Moiraine lashes out with Air, striking her a hard blow across the bottom. The woman shrieks and pulls her knife, but can’t tell who hit her.
Thinking that next time, the would-be thief won’t be so quick to insult another woman’s horse, Moiraine continues on to the next inn, where the inn-keeper just laughs at her and warns Moiraine about her customers. The third innkeeper is a beautiful, tall woman, and both she and her common room are much cleaner and more put together than the others. She agrees that there is a woman fitting the description Moiraine gives staying at her inn, but that she has just gone out. Moiraine is excited to have found Siuan so quickly, and thanks the woman for her offer of spiced wine while Moiraine waits for her friend to return.
She raises the mug to her lips, but stops short of drinking anything, realizing that there is a hint of anticipation in the innkeeper’s expression. She also realizes that the innkeeper, Mistress Satarov, had already been carrying the mug when she first approached Moiraine.
Moiraine had not seen a sign of wine in the first two inns. No one in this part of the city could afford wine. Spices could cover many other tastes.
She touches the woman with one of the Blue’s secret weaves, and watches anticipation turn to definite unease. She asks if the Mistress Satarov is certain about the description, and the innkeeper backpedals. When Moiraine asks how many other unwary visitors have been offered wine, and what happens to the women who drink it, Mistress Satarov tries to get away.
“Drink,” Moiraine commanded, tightening the weave to just short of panic. Trembling, Mistress Satarov was unable to break free from her gaze. “Drink it all.”
The woman does as she’s told, then suddenly realizes what she is doing and throws the mug away, but it’s too late. She staggers as she tries to run from the room, collapsing and unable to crawl. Moiraine notes the woman’s silk stockings as some of her male patrons eye the innkeeper consideringly.
By twos and threes women began hurrying out into the street, many shrinking back from Moiraine as they passed her. Some of the men went, too. She joined the exodus without looking back. Sometimes justice came from other than laws or swords.
Moiraine spends the rest of her day increasingly frustrated as she searches the shabby areas of Chachin, thinking about how difficult it is even for good rulers to help the impoverished and downtrodden, fending off thieves who want to steal Arrow, and refusing suspicious wine. She doesn’t repeat what she did to Mistress Satarov, and keeps her use of saidar to what can be dismissed as rumor, using the fear-inducing weave and switches of Air when necessary.
It was not that Chachin was any more lawless than other cities, but she was in places where silk clothing and a fur-lined cloak and a fine horse were simply signs that she was ripe for plucking. Had she lost Arrow there, a magistrate might well have said it was her own fault. There was nothing for it but to grit her teeth and move on.
It’s getting dark, and Moiraine is ready to give up when Siuan suddenly shows up behind her, saying that she thought Moiraine would come looking for her down here, and that she herself has been haunting the sketchy areas looking for her. Moiraine is more than relieved to see Siuan, though she still gets in a barb, asking if Siuan is staying somewhere that serves fish and has beds full of fleas and lice. But the inn she takes Moiraine to turns out to be quite respectable, even if the innkeeper doesn’t have much deference to offer Moiraine’s silks. As they settle into the small room Siuan is renting, Moiraine asks what Siuan has learned.
It turns out that Ines Demain does have a son, and that she named the child Rahien “because she saw the dawn come up over Dragonmount.” The woman is a new widow as well, but she’s staying in the Aesdaishar Palace, a place Siuan could never reach unless she revealed herself as an Aes Sedai. When Moiraine asks about the Black Ajah, Siuan tells her a strange story about a blacksmith, a nobody who suddenly turned into an impressive speaker, convincing his guild to take up money for the poor. He collected a lot of silver all by himself, but was killed carrying six or eight bags of it back to the guild house. What is odd, however, is that not a single coin was taken, and although the blacksmith’s back was broken, there wasn’t a mark anywhere on him.
Moiraine can’t see how they can tie the strange event to Meilyn or Tamra, and points out that they could go mad thinking that they see the Black Ajah everywhere. Siuan counters that they could die from thinking they aren’t there. Then talks turns to how to reach Lady Ines, and although Siuan doesn’t like Moiraine’s plan, Moiraine eventually convinces her. Truthfully she also wishes there was another way.
The next morning as they are getting dressed, Siuan resumes the argument. She doesn’t like that Moiraine is taking all the risks, but Moiraine counters that Siuan will be taking just as many risks. Siuan disagrees, and insists that they’re going to sit back down and come up with a better plan, making Moiraine think that a bear with a sore tooth would be better company… or even Lan.
They don’t do that, however, going down instead to ask the innkeeper for some men to escort them for a few hours. The innkeeper is suspicious, but once Moiraine informs her that they intend to visit a banker—and asks for a recommendation—she rouses two men to go with them. As they are carried in sedan chairs to the bank, Siuan again tries to discuss the plan, and Moiraine does her best to ignore her. The only way to keep Siuan from getting her own way is to sweep her along. They visit the banker, bringing the strongbox of gold back to be stored at the inn, then get directions to the best seamstress in Chachin, Silene Dorelmin. This time, Moiraine violates all the customs of interacting with a seamstress, choosing fabric quickly and mentioning price right off the bat, then insisting that she wants everything ready by tomorrow.
Silene’s eyes did not narrow at that. They widened, flashing with anger. Her voice became icy. “Impossible. At the end of the month, perhaps. Perhaps later. If I can find time at all. A great many ladies have ordered new gowns. The King of Malkier is visiting the Aesdaishar Palace.”
Moiraine tells her that the King of Malkier died twenty-five years ago, then upends her purse of gold onto the table, and tells the seamstress that she will provide just as much again, but less each day the order takes to be finished. They leave, with Moiraine musing that the seamstress must have thought her a complete fool, with that story about the King of Malkier.
At midmorning two days after Moiraine arrived in Chachin, a yellow-lacquered carriage behind a team of four matched grays, driven by a fellow with shoulders like a bull, arrived at the Aesdaishar Palace, with two mares tied behind, a fine-necked bay and a lanky gray. The Lady Moiraine Damodred, colored slashes marching from the high neck of her dark blue gown to below her knees, was received with all due honor, by an upper servant with silvery keys embroidered behind the Red Horse on his shoulder.
Siuan accompanies Moiraine, disguised as a maid named Suki, and once they are shown to Moiraine’s guest apartments, Siuan has to admit that the servant’s dress makes her look just as invisible as Moiraine claimed it would. She’s alarmed at how much Moiraine stands out, and that Moiraine asked if there were any Aes Sedai currently in the Palace. Moiraine explains that this is the only way to do things, that the question is normal, and that Siuan will just have to accept that Moiraine knows how to conduct things in such a place.
Still, Moiraine hopes that Siuan will be able to find out what they need to know and get them out of the palace again quickly; the arrival of an outlander noblewoman will have all eyes on her, and any Aes Sedai traveling through Chachin might well come to the palace. Not to mention that Gorthanes might still be trying to find her. She is indeed standing on a pedestal like a target.
Siuan goes out to investigate but returns with bad news: Ines very much loved her husband, and intends to stay in mourning for a month, seeing no one; even her servants only come out when absolutely necessary. Moiraine points out that even a woman in mourning would not refuse to see an Aes Sedai.
Siuan bolted to her feet. “Are you mad? The Lady Moiraine Damodred attracts enough attention. Moiraine Damodred Aes Sedai might as well send out riders! I thought the idea was to be gone before anyone outside the Palace knows we were here!”
Just then a serving woman comes in to let Moiraine know that the shatayan has arrived to escort Moiraine to Prince Brys. Moiraine responds that she will come out to the shatayan, and when the servant has left, she points out to Siuan that remaining until Ines comes out will be just as bad, and that Siuan can’t befriend the servants if they don’t come out. Siuan counters that she believes that she can get inside, then checks Moiraine over and pushes her out the door.
“Go. The shatayan is waiting for you. And with any luck, a young footman named Cal is waiting for Suki.”
The shatayan is chilly towards Moiraine for being made to wait, and Moiraine does her best to make herself pleasant to the woman, though she’s preoccupied with the idea that Siuan might make herself available to a footman in order to access Ines’s apartments. But when passing by a window she catches sight of men sparring in the courtyard.
Ryne and Bukama. It was fighting, if in practice; blows landed on flesh hard enough for her to hear the thuds. All landed by Ryne. She would have to avoid them, and Lan, if he was there, too. He had not bothered to hide his doubts, and he might raise questions she did not dare have asked.
Meeting Prince Brys and the other nobility is a trial for Moiraine, preoccupied as she is by thoughts of Lan, of Siuan and the Lady Ines, and by the nobles’ conversation regarding the number of Aes Sedai out traveling these days. She has a feeling that the members of Brys’s court find her quite dull, and she’s relieved when he brings in his children to meet her, as that means both that she’s been accepted into the household and that the interview is at an end. The eldest son, and heir to the throne, is away with the Queen, so Moiraine is introduced to twelve-year old Jarene, her sister, and their four brothers. Striving to be less dull with the children than she was with the adults, Moiraine asks about Diryk’s bruises and hears about his fall. She is shocked when the boy tells her that his father thinks it’s “Lan’s luck” that he wasn’t killed, and that Lan is the King of Malkier, telling Moiraine all about Lan’s exploits in the Blight and the Malkieri who have come to Aesdaishar to follow him.
“Lan is a king if he wishes it, my Lady,” Brys said. A very odd thing to say, and his doubtful tone made it odder. “He keeps much to his rooms,” Brys sounded troubled about that, too, “but you will meet him before you—My Lady, are you well?”
“Not very,” she told him. She had hoped for another meeting with Lan Mandragoran, planned for it, but not here! Her stomach was trying to twist into knots. “I myself may keep to my rooms for a few days, if you will forgive me.”
A servant escorts Moiraine back through the halls towards her rooms, as Moiraine hopes desperately that Siuan will be waiting with good news—preferably that Siuan will be waiting with the Dragon Reborn in her arms and his mother already packed for travel. Worrying about running into Lan in the halls, she instead almost walks right into Merean, wearing her blue-fringed shawl, walking with the shatayan and an army of servants carrying Merean’s belongings.
Merean is clearly surprised to see Moiraine, and remarks that she is still not wearing her ring. Moiraine is so startled that she blurts out “are you alone?” and Merean, eyes narrowed, answers that Larelle decided to go her own way. Moiraine tells her that she was actually thinking about Cadsuane.
The more she had thought about Cadsuane, the more she had become convinced the woman must be Black Ajah. What surprised her was Larelle. Larelle had seemed bent on reaching Chachin, and without delay. Of course, plans could change, but suddenly Moiraine realized something that should have been obvious. Black sisters could lie. It was impossible—the Oaths could not be broken!—yet it had to be.
Merean tells Moiraine that she shouldn’t be so eager to see Cadsuane, who is quite prepared to “spank” Moiraine until she can’t sit for a week. She tells Moiraine that Cadsuane was right when she said that a young woman who thinks she does more than she does can get herself into very deep trouble, and tells Moiraine to keep very still until they can talk. Then she sweeps away, along with the shatayan and servants. Moiraine is left gaping, feeling as though everything Merean just said could have come from one of Tamra’s chosen, but also could be a Black sister’s lies. Had Larelle changed her mind, or was she dead, like Tamra and the others? She realizes that she’s trembling.
The servant leading Moiraine has figured out that she is an Aes Sedai in disguise, and promises not to tell anyone. But every person walking with Merean heard the discussion as well, and Moiraine knows they won’t hold their tongues.
“Take me to Lan Mandragoran’s apartments,” Moiraine told her. What was true at sunrise could change by noon, and so could what was necessary. She took the Great Serpent ring from her pouch and put it on her right hand. Sometimes, you had to gamble.
Okay, I’m calling it. Larelle is absolutely, 100% super dead. Merean is Black Ajah, and Cadsuane is off being awesome somewhere else and has no idea about any of it.
I was a little surprised by Moiraine’s sudden realization that the Black Ajah can lie. I thought that I remembered her and Siuan figuring that out already. But I looked back through the text and I can’t find that, so I assume I was projecting all my foreknowledge onto them when I was reading Chapter 18. And to be fair, I think the conclusion is much easier for the reader to make than for women raised in the Tower, because we aren’t used to the conventions around what sisters can and cannot say to each other. Remember when Moiraine and Siuan were learning how many new rules of etiquette there were for new sisters to memorize? Remember how difficult it was for Eadyth to so much as mention the concept of judging another sister’s strength, even in the abstract and even though it is a constant practice of any Aes Sedai in the Tower? And she was only bringing it up as part of performing her duty, which she ostensibly has to do every time a new sister chooses the Blue. The first screen the Black Ajah have against detection is that no one thinks they could possibly exist. But the second are these intensely rigid rules of propriety. Even asking someone a direct question is considered a violation of custom, as we saw when Cadsuane was interviewing Moiraine.
Imagine asking a sister outright if she was Black Ajah. She wouldn’t have to be anywhere close to being a darkfriend, or even an Elaida-type, to take more than offense at that. Sisters are expected to obey others who are stronger in the One Power than them, as well as the Amyrlin and any other that the Tower “has set over them” as Eadyth puts it. But they are also granted a great deal of freedom, privilege, and autonomy. Moiraine and Siuan have not yet experienced that as newly-raised sisters, but it appears to be nearly unfathomable to question the doings, and certainly the motives, of established sisters. I think a member of the Black Ajah would have to go pretty far out of her way to do anything suspicious enough to warrant being questioned, even given the fact that punishments for actual indiscretions can be quite harsh.
So, it makes sense that Siuan and Moiraine, who have only just learned that there are Darkfriends among the Aes Sedai, might not immediately realize that the Black Ajah can lie. They are also newly initiated in the Oaths, and are very cognizant of how binding and permanent they are. Why should they jump immediately to the idea that a sister must be able to lie in order to be able to keep hidden her identity as an ally of the shadow? Of course, they would have to, but this is all new territory for Moiraine after all.
I feel like we’re seeing Moiraine in a new light this week, as well. I was intrigued by the implication that she is already considering Lan for a warder. I expected that there would be some crystallizing moment between the two of them that changed enmity to friendship and respect, but Moiraine seems to have a fair amount of interest and even respect for Lan, even given how frustrating she finds him. The way she stumbled into his identity by conversing with Diryk was quite funny, as well as the foreshadowing when she observed Bukama and Ryne sparring together and thought that at least she was unlikely to run into three soldiers anywhere in the same area as her.
As an aside, it appears that Ryne might be a better swordsman than either Bukama or Lan, which I found quite surprising. But he won every round of that quick-draw game he played against Lan, and it says in this section that Ryne is landing all the blows during the sparring match. Maybe the bells and his womanizing ways made me a bit prejudiced against him, but I never would have expected the man to be a match for such a renowned swordsman as Lan, even if this is twenty years before we see him in The Eye of the World.
But in any case, I find it funny that Moiraine is now in a position to see discrepancy between how she views Lan and who he really is, just as he doubted her claim to being Aes Sedai. He certainly doesn’t behave like a king, or even the son of a king, according to any rubric she knows. I wonder if she’ll realize the parallel at any point, or if she’s canny enough yet to see that her youthful pride and vindictiveness don’t come off as Aes Sedai-like as she believes. I’m also very curious what she’s going to do when she meets up with him, but I’m guessing (knowing how well they’ll work together one day) that she’s going to ask for his help with Merean, and maybe even getting information from Ines.
But there are other ways Moiraine seems different this week besides her ever-evolving relationship with al’Lan Mandragoran. For all Cadsuane’s points about how little Moiraine knows what she is doing, and for all my agreement with those points, Moiraine does show that she has a pretty good sense of how to handle herself in rough situations. Yes, she has the One Power on her side, but she’s also canny enough to spot a horse thief immediately, to figure out how to use the Power to get rid of would-be muggers in ways that don’t make it obvious that’s what she’s doing, and to spot the subtle clues that Mistress Satarov was trying to poison her.
That whole section was… disturbing. I suppose that Moiraine’s decision to judge Mistress Satarov and carry out her punishment is in keeping with the way Aes Sedai conduct their affairs. And I suppose that there is a sort of eye-for-an-eye justice in the decision to leave the woman prey to the very men she’s apparently been serving others up to. But it’s also terribly cold, and terribly cruel… Lan’s judgment that Moiraine is a very hard woman might hold some real weight here.
I’m very curious about the fear-inducing weave. It does seem to be similar to Compulsion, as far as it affects the subject’s mind and thinking, but it doesn’t actually appear to have forced Mistress Satarov to do anything; it merely made her so frightened and flustered that she forgot what she was doing. I was glad that the narration mentioned Moiraine using the weave on the men who attacked her later, so that it’s very clear to us what the weave does and what it doesn’t do.
We do see some childishness from Moiraine as well, as when she strikes out at the woman who tried to steal Arrow, not for the attempted theft but for insulting the quality of Moiraine’s mount. That is a very silly move, especially when she has just resisted stopping the girl with saidar because she doesn’t want any word of her actions to spread. She does seem somewhat aware of it, however, like when she observes that a magistrate might tell her that it was her own fault if Arrow got stolen. She also clearly thinks she handled the bandits on the road far better than she did. Even with saidar there is no guarantee she would have survived that fight, and the bandits were ready to try it before Lan added his own roll for intimidation to hers.
You know, it’s really not surprising that either one of Tamra’s searchers or a member of the Black Ajah would show up while Moiraine is in the palace. I think she and Siuan got so caught up in their worry that Moiraine’s real name would attract unwanted attention that they forgot that both regular and dark sisters are out looking for the same thing they are, a baby that fits the details of Gitara’s prophecy. Of course Merean, or someone like her, was going to show up to check out Lady Ines, and it’s going to be much easier for her to manage it than it is for the Lady Moiraine. And I have to say, it really shows just how much Siuan and Moiraine were underdogs when they began searching for Rand, and how in some ways they still are. Moiraine has to keep more secrets even than a member of the Black Ajah. She’s hiding from her own allies because she can’t know who she can trust, but also because she’s avoiding being placed on the Sun Throne. She has to avoid Cadsuane’s restrictions and punishments (which I truly believe are only meant to protect Moiraine) as well as those that will be visited on Moiraine by Sierin, or any powerful sister who realizes that Moiraine has disobeyed the Amyrlin’s direct order. That’s a lot for her to carry.
And just as Lan’s true identity and the expectations of others closed in on him last week, we’re now seeing Moiraine in the same boat. Here’s hoping that she can get them both out of the traps they’ve stepped into.
I’m very curious about the blacksmith who was killed. There’s clearly something more important there than random chance, but I have no idea what it is. There must be clues there that we haven’t gotten yet. I can’t think of a reason the Black Ajah would have been interested in the man anymore than Moiraine can. But we have heard several different times that there are rumors of a man who can channel, and that the general populace believe that the increased prevalence of the Aes Sedai in Kandor has something to do with that. At first, I thought that the rumors might stem from the fact that the Dragon has been reborn; perhaps some small part of that information leaked out somewhere. But maybe the rumors are more true than that. Perhaps there is a man who can channel out there, even a false dragon. Could someone have suspected that the blacksmith was a channeler? Such men are supposed to be gentled, not killed, but it is possible.
I’m always happy to have more Siuan in any story, and I love all the little details about how she’s gone back to her own way of speaking and her own casual body language now that she’s Aes Sedai and no longer subject to the expectations of novices and Accepted. Also, I noted Moiraine’s upset when she thought that Siuan might be intending to sleep with the footman. Her jealousy over her friend is sweet, and I have to say, I would ship them if it wasn’t so clear that Jordan intended their relationship to be only a “gay until graduation” type of bonding. Even the term “pillow friends” is dismissive of the idea of anything deeper than two friends sharing intimacies to get through a hard time, and the narration works pretty hard to remind us that both Moiraine and Siuan are often very interested in men.
I really don’t love when narratives do that. Obviously such relationships between friends do exist, and are important and valid. Moiraine having a flirt with Ryne or noticing the look of a certain stablehand doesn’t erase any possible queerness from her—bisexuality exists, after all. But there is a long history of erasing the attraction and love women experience for each other, right down to the (still unfortunately common idea) that women can’t really be gay. In a narrative with (so far) no queer characters, it’s hard to feel any kind of warmth towards the surprise reveal of a physical and possibly romantic relationship between two female characters who have been indicated to be completely straight for at least five novels. I would love it if Moiraine turned out not to be dead and then she and Siuan ended up together, but I also know that’s not going to happen.
That being said, I am not above going to look for some Moiraine/Siuan fanfiction someday, once I am safe from spoilers. And who knows, I could always hold out for some changes to be made for the Amazon series.
Next week we get all the real action as we finish up New Spring. And just in time too! The first three episodes of the TV series drop on November 19th, and I tell you my friends, I. Can. Not. Wait. Be sure to keep an eye out for my reviews of the series!
As always, I hope you all have a fabulous week, and remember to always walk in the Light.
Who are you most excited to see on screen? For Sylas K Barrett, it is definitely Lan and Nynaeve. This surprises no one who has been reading his posts for any length of time.