Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: An Embassy and a Youngling Arrive in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 16)

This week on Reading The Wheel of Time, we have Aiel stubbornness, Dream-born romance, and Aes Sedai trickery, although I have no idea what the Tower embassy is actually up to right now. But I’m pleased for Egwene, who has finally made a full recovery from Lanfear’s attack, and I really enjoyed the detailed setting Jordan described for us in these chapters. Also, I loved the mental image of Rhuarc acting sort of like a Warder for Berelain as she faces the Aes Sedai.

It’s Chapters 24 and 25 today. Let’s get started.

Chapter 24 opens on a light-hearted Egwene, who has been granted permission from the Wise Ones to walk in the city instead of just outside the walls. She smiles despite the heat, and notes that people look at her the way they look at Aiel—despite her height and different coloring, people only see an Aiel woman when they see her clothes. Egwene’s also startled and amused to realize that she’s missed the bustle of a city, remembering how stunned she’d been the first time she’d visited one. She notes some Hunters for the Horn in the crowd, as well as gai’shain and other Aiel.

Egwene listens to gossip as she passes merchants and shopkeepers chatting with customers. She’s troubled by talk of war between the Aes Sedai—even though she is opposed to Elaida, having the Aes Sedai in conflict feels like having her family set against each other. It occurs to her that the Tower will have eyes-and-ears in Cairhien, and possibly the Salidar Aes Sedai as well. Suddenly every glance her way feels threatening, every passerby a spy who might drag her back to Elaida or catch wind of the fact that she’s been passing herself off as a full sister. She’s briefly anxious about that, then remembers that everyone just sees her as an Aiel woman. Feeling better, she continues on, thinking about how difficult it is having to wait for information and rely on rumor, rather than being able to communicate and learn things quickly by visiting Tel’aran’rhiod. She interrupts a group of men about to set on one who is claiming that Rand is one of the Forsaken, asking if they have any honor at all.

“If you must face a man for what he says, face him one at a time, in honor. This is not battle; you shame yourselves to go four at one.”

They stared at her as if she were mad, and slowly her face reddened. She hoped they thought it anger. Not how dare you pick on someone weaker, but how dare you not let him fight you one by one? She had just lectured them as if they followed ji’e’toh.

The attacked man escapes during her interruption, and Egwene realizes she’s judging him for running, wondering how he could bear such shame. The other men slip away when she is distracted by a mounted party of Aes Sedai and guards making their way down the street towards the Royal Palace. She identifies at least one as a Red sister and knows that this is the embassy from Elaida and the White Tower. Egwene takes off running, through the streets and out a city gate, running all the way back to the Wise Ones’ tents. She finds Berelain sitting with Amys and Bair and Sorilea in Amys’ tents and announces that Elaida’s embassy to Rand is in the city.

Berelain stands at once, announcing that she must go back to the Palace to greet them and asking Amys to send Rhuarc to her if possible. Sorilea lectures her on relying on Rhuarc too much.

Pulling slim riding gloves from behind her belt, Berelain began tugging them on. “He reminds me of my father. Too much so, sometimes.” For an instant she grimaced ruefully. “But he gives very good advice. And he knows when to loom, and how much. I think even Aes Sedai must be impressed by Rhuarc staring at them.”

As Berelain goes to leave, Egwene warns her to handle the Aes Sedai carefully, and tells her that Elaida means no good to Rand.

“If they learn of an Aes Sedai on Rand’s side, here where they can reach her, she might just disappear one day soon after.” Looking into Berelain’s unreadable face, she could not make herself say more.

Berelain agrees, and after she leaves the Wise Ones comment to each other about her spirit and how they should find her a good husband, a man who can match her.

They question Egwene about the embassy’s intentions, towards Rand and towards Egwene herself. Keeping the secret that she’s only Accepted, not a full Aes Sedai, Egwene says only that Elaida won’t want Rand listening to any other Aes Sedai but herself. They make Egwene eat, and then the subject of her health comes up, and Egwene is put through her paces, jumping up and down and running around the tents until she’s exhausted, but declared as sound as a Maiden.

Egwene was swaying and gulping for air. A Maiden would not have been, she was sure. Still, she felt pride. She had never thought of herself as soft, but she knew very well that before she began living with the Aiel she would have fallen on her face halfway through the test. Another year, she thought, and I will run as well as any Far Dareis Mai.

She spends some time with them in the sweat tent until some men arrive, at which point she retreats back to her own, and to dreams about Gawyn. The next morning she’s corralled into breakfast with Sorilea, who wants to go over Rhuarc’s report about the Aes Sedai.

Egwene learns that Nesune Bihara, one of only two Aes Sedai whose name she recognizes, was interested in the Royal Library, and was overheard muttering something to herself about seals. She assumes that Elaida learned about the first three broken seals from torturing Siuan, and deduces that Elaida is searching for the rest. Sorilea sends three Wise Ones to the Library to search too.

She learns that the Aes Sedai refused rooms in the Palace and are instead staying with a noblewoman named Arilyn. She also learns that there are about a hundred guards staying in that house with them, and that there are another four hundred or so encamped about a half day away from the city. Coiren Saeldain, the Gray sister in charge of the embassy, claimed they were there to be a guard of honor for Rand, and Egwene knows that could be true.  Still, she suggests that they must ascertain if there really are only six Aes Sedai, just in case they lied by omission.

Once breakfast is over, Egwene sets off into the city, eventually finding Lady Arilyn’s palace. There are soldiers on guard, and Egwene can feel large amounts of saidar being channeled inside. Positioning herself so she can just peek around the corner of a building, she takes a stone out of her pocket.

The smooth stone was just that, a stone polished in a stream, but Egwene had learned this trick from Moiraine, and Moiraine had used a stone for a focus—a gem as it happened, but the kind did not matter—so Egwene did too. It was mostly Air she wove, with a touch of Fire, done just so. It allowed you to eavesdrop. Spy, the Wise Ones would say. Egwene did not care what it was called, so long as she learned something of what the Tower Aes Sedai intended.

She immediately hears some of the conversation between two servants and has to lower the strength of her weave when some of the passersby hear it as well. Working her way from one window to another, she overhears a snippet of conversation between Coiren and another, but they soon move into another room. Despite trying all morning, she is unable to come across anything else useful. When Nesune emerges from the front door with her Warder, clearly looking around for something, Egwene releases the weave and pockets her stone, slipping out of sight and breaking into a run as soon as he is around the corner. She only makes it three strides, however, before she runs smack into Gawyn and falls down onto the street.

He looks as stunned as she is, and Egwene quickly scrambles to her feet and drags him away. She realizes that he is wearing the same green coat as the guards with the Tower Aes Sedai, and tells him that she must ask him for a favor. He answers that he will not do anything to harm Elayne or Andor, and that he won’t become Dragonsworn, but anything else in his power is hers. Realizing that they’re attracting attention, Egwene asks to speak to him privately, and he takes her to a nearby inn and gets them the use of a private room.

They talk about the Younglings’ loyalty to the Tower, and Egwene asks why Gawyn hates Rand so much. She’s shocked when Gawyn declares that Rand killed his mother, and tells him that Rand most certainly did not.

“Can you swear it? Were you there when she died? It’s on every tongue. The Dragon Reborn took Caemlyn, and killed Morgase. He probably killed Elayne, too. I can find no word of her.” All the anger drained out of him. He slumped where he stood, head falling forward, fists clenched and eyes closed. “I can find out nothing,” he whispered.

Egwene assures him that Elayne is well, but she can’t tell him where she is. Gawyn remarks that Egwene is more Aes Sedai every time he sees her, and admits that he once dreamed of being her Warder. Egwene assures him that he will be, brushing aside his protests about Galad and about being Elayne’s First Prince of the Sword. Eventually he relents, accepting that he can actually have what he’s only dreamed of.

Egwene asks him not to tell Coiren and the others that she’s in Cairhien, and he agrees without hesitation. He tries to discuss how she can return to the Tower “without penalties.” He’s clearly worried for her, and Egwene doesn’t know how to tell him that she has no intention of returning. She does promise to be careful, and extracts a promise from him not to move against Rand until she can prove his innocence. He tells her he will betray everything for her, and asks her to run away with him.

“I have a small estate south of Whitebridge, with a vineyard and a village, so far into the country that the sun rises two days late. The world will hardly touch us there. We can be married on the way. I don’t know how much time we will have—al’Thor; Tarmon Gai’don—I do not know, but we will have it together.”

Egwene realizes that he expects her to ask him to spy for her and is also looking for a way out. She makes a promise to herself not to ask him for that information—she will use anything he lets slip, but she won’t dig. Knowing the advantage she has over him, she tells him that she sleeps in the Aiel tents, trusting him to carry that information in turn. He tells her not to be surprised if he meets her just inside the gates on most days.

Elsewhere, Katerine Sedai gently implies to the Lady Colavaere that there will be a power vacuum for her to fill once Rand leaves for the Tower. Nesune Sedai suggests something similar to High Lord Meilan, insinuating while promising nothing.

In Lady Arilyn’s mansion, Sarene, Coiren, and Erian discuss what to do about Berelain, and whether the apple or the whip will work best to bring her in line. They also discuss rumors of a Green Sister at Rand’s side. They know someone channeled at them earlier, and though this is not proof of either Moiraine or a Green Sister, Galina suspects that it is both. She believes that Moiraine faked her death to reemerge in the identity of a Green—she has heard of Moiraine’s eavesdropping trick, and also that the so-called Green sister is a petite woman. Sarene, who used to be friends with Moiraine, can’t quite believe that Moiraine would do such a thing as to claim another Ajah as her own. They discuss the necessity of waiting for al’Thor, and their “preparations.” Sarene goes upstairs to take “her turn.”

 

Once again, Jordan is doing that thing where he lets us hear a conversation and even be in a character’s head, but he keeps that POV so distant that we are left with just as many questions as we had before. I do remember Sarene from New Spring, so it’s fun to see her here, and I was interested in her assessment that claiming another sister’s Ajah is almost akin to sleeping with someone else’s husband. If you think about it, most of what we know at this point of the Aes Sedai’s feelings about their identities—both as sisters and as members of a specific Ajah—is second-hand. It’s either relayed through the interpretations of Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene or learned when sisters directly tell other characters about themselves, but rarely from actual POVs into a sister’s deep internal feelings.

Generally, I tend to interpret an Aes Sedai’s possessiveness of her status as being all about power. It makes sense that they would harshly punish anyone caught pretending to be a sister, given how carefully maintained the outward image of the Tower is. Aes Sedai control is based on being viewed as unemotional, powerful, and all-knowing, so much so that they let the world believe they had secret reasons to abandon Malkier to the Dark rather than admit that they were simply limited by the earthly physics of travel and distance. They’re worried enough about younger sisters messing up—imagine the damage a woman who never attained the shawl could do to that perfectly controlled image. And even within the Tower there are lots of politics and policies around Ajah secrets and control, most of which is passed off as being tradition or politeness but which in reality is about the Ajahs not trusting each other, and striving for more control within the Aes Sedai. Why else keep the Ajah heads a secret, or hoard information on weaves from other members of your own organization?

But because of all the politics and the mistrust, it’s easy to forget that the Aes Sedai really do consider each other family. Earlier in this section, Egwene thinks of the division between the Tower as being like having one part of her family set against the other, and she isn’t even an Aes Sedai yet. Not only that, she has spent very little time actually in the White Tower and around Aes Sedai, so it was actually a bit startling to me to realize how firmly she thinks of them that way. It does paint the Salidar Aes Sedai in a slightly different light, though—I think Nynaeve’s assessment of their fear of the future and their desire for the old security is absolutely accurate, but she doesn’t have a sense of how personally painful it might be for those who fled the Tower to be separated from other women they view as family. They are concerned about their power, and legitimacy, and unsure what to do about Rand… but they also might be grieving as Egwene is grieving—quite probably more so. After all, many of these women have been in the Tower for decades or longer, and have outlived the families they were born into. I wonder if any of them are also grieving Warders lost during the coup—a lot of them must have been killed in the fighting. Alanna’s struggles have shown us what that can do to an Aes Sedai.

I have to say, I’m really starting to like Berelain. You all know that I get irritated with Jordan for some of the ways he handles sexual/sexualized women in his narrative, but Berelain is a really interesting character the way she is situated as the head of her own nation but considered a small player by the leaders of the other, larger countries. She has a wonderful practicalness about her as well as an impressive strength, and I hope that, going forward, the story focuses more on this than it does on reminding us that she’ll sleep with men to get what she wants. Also, it feels thematically significant that Rand chose Berelain as steward for a throne he intends Elayne to have—all the other political reasons for appointing her make sense, but there is also a sense here of women standing guard for other women that I appreciate. And now we see that Berelain is possibly as beloved by the Wise Ones as Egwene is, and there is a thematic resonance to that as well, since Aviendha (her own sense of failure aside) is also watching over that which belongs to Elayne.

Coming from a society that gives a lot of authority to women—especially the roofmistresses of the Holds and the Wise Ones—it makes sense that the Aiel would have a lot of respect for women rulers. We saw how respectful the Aiel were to Mistress al’Vere and her authority when they came to the Two Rivers, after all. Berelain also has the confidence of the Car’a’carn, which is probably one of the better ways for a wetlander to earn the Aiel’s respect right now. As long as they can independently verify that they feel that Rand’s confidence is justified, anyway. The car’a’carn is still just a man, after all. I’m curious to know more about how and why Berelain and Rhuarc’s relationship has strengthened so much. I seem to remember some friction between the two of them back in the Stone of Tear, and Rhuarc putting his foot down about her being all seductress-y.

I was so amused to learn that the eavesdropping weave is basically just a conductor of sound. I has sort of assumed that it was a way of hearing someone’s conversation in your head, but it makes much more sense that it’s a physical thing, not some kind of mindreading or manipulation. It’s interesting to consider that the Aes Sedai all know how to use saidar to make their voices carry, but a weave that does basically the exact opposite has been discovered only by a few. The image of Egwene standing there suddenly surrounded by disembodied voices was a really funny one, I must say. I also appreciated her observation that the Aiel consider spying to be dishonorable, and would even probably frown at her eavesdropping weave, and yet the Wise Ones don’t have any problem looking into people’s dreams, which at least from my cultural vantage point seems a much more amoral invasion of privacy. I’m still a little miffed at Egwene for the fact that she saw so much of Gawyn’s internal thoughts, even though there was nothing she could do to prevent that from happening.

Speaking of Gawyn, I’m actually surprised how quickly he was ready to betray everything (except Elayne and Andor) for Egwene. It’s rather what I expected things to come to, but I thought it would take a little more time to convince him. Gawyn is a very honorable man, after all, and was raised with a very intense sense of duty. I expected him to fight harder to convince Egwene to return to the Tower or to go to the Aes Sedai currently in Cairhien, and I certainly didn’t expect him to offer running away as an alternative to the spying that he knows he’ll do if she asks. It actually makes me a little anxious that all this has gone so smoothly—we still have Egwene’s dreams about conflict with him to consider, after all.

But it does say a lot about Gawyn’s ability to be self-aware and flexible, in contrast to Galad who is actually more ruled by his emotions but believes he is following inexorable moral logic with every step. All in all, I’m impressed with Gawyn in this section, and I hope that he stands by his decision to hold his judgment against Rand until Egwene can prove Rand’s innocence. So many people have been making decisions based on rumors lately, mostly to their detriment, and knowing that Niall is spinning more out every day continues to make me anxious. I hope that at least some of our important characters can learn not to base their judgments on rumor without proof, even if it is a strong rumor heard many places.

These chapters do address the theme of rumors and hearsay, and it made me understand a little better why Egwene has been disobeying the Wise Ones’ injunction against going into Tel’aran’rhiod during her healing. She herself observed that she could learn very little on her own compared to what she could learn from them, so to me it seemed like Egwene was just prolonging her recovery time for no benefit. She was also avoiding any people in the Dream, even Elayne and Nynaeve, so it’s not like she was getting information that way.

But the frustration she experienced, the desperate need to at least try even if it wasn’t likely to be fruitful, makes more sense after this section, in which Egwene considers how accustomed she had become to getting information quickly. In this world where they don’t even have telegraphs yet, Tel’aran’rhiod must have greatly changed Egwene’s perspective on distance and time, and of course it would feel strange to go back to the way things were before. Add to that the frustration of being an invalid and not being able to do any other kind of work, not to mention the fact that she doesn’t feel like she can influence Rand or the Salidar Aes Sedai. I think I was a bit hard on her before. Technically I’m still right that what she was doing probably was an illogical choice, but I have a lot more sympathy for it now.

I also just love the image of her glaring at people in the streets and making everyone nervous about the weird Aiel girl. She’s a bit derisive about how much people only see the clothes and don’t pay attention to her stature and hair, but think once again she is underestimating how Aiel-like she has become, as she did when she lectured those attackers about their honor, then judged the attackee for escaping while he could. Like an Aiel, she’s assuming everyone should understand things the way she does, and never accounts for the fact that most (or all) of these people have never even seen an Aiel until recently, and might not understand that her coloring and stature is not usual of those people.

I don’t know what the embassy Aes Sedai are up to, but I think it’s safe to say that they’re doing more than just trying to detect Rand’s return to Cairhien. It’s possible that their main concern is defense, protecting themselves from the possibility that this powerful male channeler might attack without warning. But I think it’s more likely that they are concocting some kind of trap, and that Egwene was right that the Wise Ones who can channel should look out for such a thing. The Aes Sedai don’t leave anything to chance, and if Rand were to refuse to go to the Tower under an escort of honor, I imagine they would want to bring him in another way.

But Rand is up to something else right now, as we will see in the next chapter. I’m taking a week of for a much-needed vacation next week, so please join me the on the 26th for Chapters 26 and 27. Until then, I wish you all the best and hope that the end of April brings good things for everyone. Toodles!

Sylas K Barrett is still a little miffed that the Gawyn/Egwene romance came out of nowhere. But it’s also really cute.

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