Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: A Question of Authority in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 26)

Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time. Last week I incorrectly read the title of Chapter 43 as “The Color of Roses” but it is, in fact, “The Crown of Roses.” My brain definitely grabbed the word “color” from Chapter 44, “The Color of Trust,” and while I wish I could say it was a fluke, it is actually a thing my brain does rather a lot.

However, be they “Crown” or “Color,” we are forging on ahead to the recaps of Chapter 43 and 44. Let’s go!

Merana Sedai sits in a coach with sisters Seonid and Masuri, as well as Min, on their way back to The Crown of Roses after their interview with Rand. Merana feels like she’s been rolled downhill in a barrel full of splinters, and she’s suspicious that Min may have betrayed her promises and told al’Thor everything, as ““all it had taken was one glimpse of Min staring at al’Thor to see a woman who had tossed sense out the window and was riding her heart at a gallop.” She doesn’t have proof that Min said anything she shouldn’t have, but al’Thor does know about Salidar and that Elayne is there.

They arrive at the inn, and Min asks permission to go explore the city. Merana gives it, wondering how long it will take Min to return to the Palace. She orders tea from the innkeeper and heads to a private sitting room, bringing Alanna and Verin with her.

Alanna and Verin are a vexing problem to Merana, as they are not part of her delegation so she has been given no direct authority over them. All three are very close in strength, but while Merana has age and seniority over Alanna, Verin has age over Merana, prompting a deference from Merana. She has to keep reminding herself that Verin is not in charge, but fortunately Verin seems to feel that she is partly responsible for Alanna’s non-consensual bonding of Rand al’Thor, and so is not trying to take control over the proceedings.

Seating herself so she, Seonid and Masuri surrounded the pair, Merana adjusted her skirts and shawl carefully. There was some moral ascendancy in being seated while the others remained standing. To her, what Alanna had done was little short of rape.

She tells Alanna that her actions don’t appear to have ruined all their chances, although Rand has placed another restriction upon the Aes Sedai in Caemlyn, charging them to stay away from his Asha’man and the Black Tower. Alanna mentions Rand’s half-healed wound, wondering how he can live with it. Merana tells them that she considered trying to take Moiraine’s place with Rand, but that she rejected the idea because of what Alanna did. The man is far too suspicious of Aes Sedai now. Seonid and Masuri remark upon al’Thor’s arrogance, the way he claimed to know if a woman embraces saidar and the way his Aiel looked at them. They discuss the fact that had more foreknowledge of Rand than Elaida’s embassy, and how that will work in their favor, especially if he intends to try to play the two groups against each other. Alanna is relieved that she hasn’t ruined everything, and suggests that she still might be able to make al’Thor trust her. She also suggests that they make plans towards addressing the threat of his students, even if they must hold those plans in abeyance for a while.

For a moment Merana regretted her relenting. The woman had done that to a man and all that truly worried her was whether it damaged their chances of success. Reluctantly, though, she admitted that had it made al’Thor biddable, she would have held her nose, and her tongue. “First we must bring al’Thor to heel, so to speak. The abeyance will last as long as it must, Alanna.” Alanna’s mouth tightened, but after a moment she nodded in acquiescence. Or at least assent.

Verin asks how he will be brought to heel, and Merana hesitates, not sure she wants to share all the details with this pair. She is the one with experience, the one who knows how to handle difficult negotiations, and she has only ever had one failure. She admits after a moment that they are approaching certain nobles, who fortunately are all already in Caemlyn.

Elsewhere, Kairen Stang insinuates to Lady Dyelin that Rand’s word about Elayne can’t be trusted, Rafela talks to Lord Luan about how much better off Andor will be if Rand al’Thor leaves it in peace and unity, and Lady Ellorien asks an Aes Sedai—who has shown up unannounced in her bathing room—who will get the Lion Throne.

Mat manages to secure a yard for the horses and a spot sleeping in a stable loft for him and his men. He gives all his men money, instructing them to pay for everything and not accept any gifts. Whenever he tries to visit the Little Tower he is told that the Amyrlin is too busy to see him, and everyone else seems to be avoiding him, even Thom and Juilin. In order to show Egwene that he isn’t stewing the way she clearly wants him to be, he goes to some of the dances celebrating the raising of a new Amyrlin.

He dances with a beautiful woman named Halima, which is exciting at first until Mat realizes that every time she brushes up against him or flashes her cleavage she seems to be assessing his reaction. After he excuses himself he suddenly feels the fox head medallion grow cold, and turns to see Halima looking at him with a shocked expression, although she turns away to dance almost immediately.

Mat notices that he recognizes the song being played, but the words his memories provide are different.

Give me your trust, said the Aes Sedai.
On my shoulders I support the sky.
Trust me to know and to do what is best,
And I will take care of the rest.
But trust is the color of a dark seed growing.
Trust is the color of a heart’s blood flowing.
Trust is the color of a soul’s last breath.
Trust is the color of death.

Mat asks about Halima, and is told that she is not Aes Sedai, but merely Delana’s secretary, and that she would always be in trouble if Delana wasn’t protecting her. Mat decides that the shock must have been simply for the fact that he walked off, but he has no idea who else in that crowd would have tried to channel at him. He leaves, though his mind keeps supplying more lyrics to the song. He stops at the next street corner to listen to different music and watch different dancers, and Myrelle—whom he vaguely remembers—comes up and starts talking to him. Eventually he realizes that she is trying to ask him to be her Warder, and she doesn’t seem to want to take no for an answer. Trying to escape her, he goes over to speak to another pretty girl only to be shocked out of his mind to recognize Siuan Sanche’s voice. A moment later he’s swept up to dance with Leane, and when she releases him, he decides he’s had all he can take for one night and heads off to sleep.

Vanin returns the next day, along with Olver, who insists on keeping to Mat’s side to protect him. He learns about Nynaeve healing Siuan and Leane, about Logain and the Red Ajah, and that Gareth Bryne is leading the Aes Sedai army. He sees signs of people preparing for travel as well, and Mat wonders how exactly he’s supposed to take Thom’s advice to “help them make it work.” He endures more Aes Sedai asking him to become their Warder, and avoids dancing entirely that night. In the morning, an Accepted comes to summon him before the Amyrlin. Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne and Aviendha are all there waiting for him, stony faced. Egwene lays out his choices for him. Of course there isn’t really any choice at all, and when Mat admits to that Egwene says that she is glad it is done and then dismisses him again.

The next morning, Mat charges Talmanes that if the Aes Sedai go on the move, the Band is to follow them, being careful to keep enough distance so as not to frighten them. Mat has assembled a dozen cavalrymen as well as Nalesean and Vanin to take with him on the trip to Ebou Dar—he is reluctantly bringing Olver and Talmanes’s manservant, Nerim, as well. Elayne, Nynaeve, and Aviendha arrive, along with the golden-haired Hunter for the Horn, two Aes Sedai, and a aged Warder. Thom and Juilin are with them as well, and they apologize to Mat for being ordered to stay away from him. Mat tells Thom he is the one who needs to apologize, for what he said about the letter.

Mat is surprised to discover than neither of the two older Aes Sedai are capable of making a gateway, and that it is Elayne who will be performing the necessary channeling. He’s irked by how far away from Ebou Dar Elayne intends to open the gateway, but she reminds him of how dangerous the gateway can be, and that she doesn’t intend to harm anyone accidentally.

Egwene comes out of the village next, wearing her striped stole and followed by a group of Aes Sedai:

…they were all talking among themselves, ignoring the woman they had named Amyrlin. Egwene might as well have been alone; she looked alone. Knowing her, she was trying very hard to be what they had named her, and they let her walk alone, with everybody watching.

To the Pit of Doom with them if they think they can treat a Two Rivers woman that way, he thought grimly.

Mat bows low to Egwene, calling her Mother, and then kneels, kissing her ring. A glare towards his party has all of them, including Thom and Juilin, kneeling as well and calling out variations of “The Light illumine you, Mother.” Egwene looks startled for a moment, then thanks Mat softly.

He has the men mount up, but when Elayne opens the gateway he realizes that it isn’t tall enough to ride through and has them dismount again. Adeleas and Vandene, the two older Aes Sedai, remark that they don’t want to strain the horses as they ride through the gateway, and Nynaeve and Elayne exchange irritated looks before hurrying to follow. Mat hopes, as he leads his men through the gateway, that they will have a quick and uneventful journey.

Once the gateway has closed, Egwene turns to the Aes Sedai, the sitters for the Hall, and  Sheriam and her circle, and tells them it is time to be about their business. Romanda notices Talmanes watching them, and she and Lelaine observe that it would be a good idea to put some miles between themselves and the man, who looks like he means trouble.

Egwene did not let herself smile. Mat’s Band had served its first purpose, but a great deal depended on exactly what orders Mat had left with this Talmanes. She thought she could depend on Mat in this. Siuan said that man Vanin had rooted out things before she had a chance to put them under his nose. And if she was to “come to her senses” and run to the Band for protection, then the Band would have to be close to her. “Shall we go to our horses?” she said. “If we leave now, we should catch up to Lord Bryne well before sunset.”

 

I think I like Merana. Her narration was very interesting, and I’ve been really curious to see more of the Gray sisters in action. It’s also quite adorable that everyone was instantly able to peg that Min is in love with Rand. Of course Min did tell Rand everything, though all the evidence Merana has to suspect that Min might have done just that revolves on information Rand technically already had—Elayne and Salidar. It will be interesting to see how that progresses.

Merana’s memories of losing her Warder and choosing never to bond another after experiencing his loss also helps add further context to everything that’s going on with Alanna and her rather aberrant behavior.

It was helpful seeing the Aes Sedai authority weighing in action here—Siuan told Elayne and Nynaeve that it is not only strength and channeling ability that matters, but also age, origins, the speed at which one learned, and how long one spent as a novice and as Accepted. Here with Merana we see that weighing in action—she, Alanna, and Verin are all very close in strength in the Power, so she must rely on details to decide who has authority in a given exchange. However, since she, Alanna, and Verin also progressed through their training at the same rate, Merana is forced to make the distinction based on age—she is older than Alanna and so outranks her, but Verin is older than Merana, and so technically has a certain authority.

I believe it was Moiraine and Suian in New Spring who were told that the weighing would eventually become automatic. This section shows that the habit, not only of weighing but deferring, is so ingrained in Merana that she has trouble resisting the urge to defer to Verin, even though Merana has been charged with a duty here in Caemlyn of which Verin has been given no part. I wonder if it would be different if Merana had been given the task by an Amyrlin, instead of by the Hall of the Little Tower. The narrative implies that the Hall could have given Merana authority over Verin if Verin had been included in her delegation, but that since Verin is not, her precedence could allow her to take over. While I can understand Merana’s impulse to take a respectful attitude towards Verin, even to struggle to remember who is in charge, it seems odd that any Aes Sedai could show up and take over Merana’s very important job that she was assigned to complete. Surely the Aes Sedai hierarchy doesn’t leave room for someone not charged by the Hall to negotiate with Rand to show up and tell Merana how to do her job, or to stop doing it and do something else?

Which is why I wonder if not having an Amyrlin in Salidar (at the time Merana and her embassy were dispatched) makes Merana’s authority feel more tenuous. I imagine that, until now, the Amyrlin would issue the final orders in such matters, even if the Hall had been responsible for the planning. Merana does note that Verin and Alanna agree that Elaida must be removed as Amyrlin, but this doesn’t really make them a part of Salidar and the plans that have been ongoing there. This, also, probably helps destabilize her place in a way that wouldn’t be possible if the White Tower was whole, and Merana came with all the authority of Tar Valon, its Hall and its Amyrlin. Merana doesn’t even know that there were plans to install an Amyrlin in Salidar, nevermind that it has already happened.

Aes Sedai often use the act of being seated while others stand to exert or signify who is in control—we’ve seen this several times throughout the series, and from Moiraine in New Spring as well. I believe Morgase has also used the tactic. Of course it makes sense, and the idea that those in charge can sit at their ease while their lessers are forced to stand at attention is hardly specific to the Aes Sedai. But it is so clearly used as a tactic here that it seems worth noting. It also reminds me of the fact that the Aiel don’t really do chairs except for certain formal acts from chieftains. The Aiel are generally more egalitarian as a society, so the correlation is significant, even if the main reason is that they don’t have the wood for a lot of furniture.

It’s also interesting to note that having made a mistake or done something wrong can play a part in the hierarchy. Merana notes Verin’s deference in not sitting with the others, and infers that Verin must feels she carries some guilt from not preventing Alanna from bonding Rand without his consent. I wonder if this is a little bit like the Aiel toh—an Aes Sedai can be formally punished of course, but perhaps even if she is not, she might feel obligated to cede some authority or behave in a deferential way as an acknowledgment of having made a misstep or mistake.

Speaking of that guilt, we’re now getting a new person’s perspective on Alanna’s bonding of Rand. Obviously we know that Rand is going to view that as a violation (though actually he’s handled it a lot more calmly than I would have expected) and Verin is more concerned with practical results than the moral effects of anyone’s choices. Personally, I doubt that she feels any guilt about what Alanna has done. She probably chose to exhibit a slight deference to Merana and position herself alongside Alanna because she believes it will give her the best advantage to observe and manipulate. Verin prefers to go underestimated, pretending to be scattered and distractible, preferring to make suggestions and try to subtly guide others rather than letting herself be seen making the decisions. It may also be that she hasn’t quite decided where she stands yet, and how she wants to involve herself with this new regime of Aes Sedai.

There’s a lot of observing and manipulation going on in these chapters, of course. I’m more than a little concerned that the Salidar embassy is going to make some real trouble for Rand, and I haven’t forgotten that the nobility is skeptical of his claim that Elayne is on her way to Caemlyn. The Andorans are a proud and strong people, and have made it very clear that they will not accept Rand’s rule the way Cairhien and Tear have (albeit reluctantly) done. Ellorien seems like she would happily pay homage to the Dragon if he were to put her on the throne, while Dyelin resists pressure from the other nobility as the most legitimate heir, so it’s hard to say what she would feel about Rand if she were made queen. It may very well be that Merana’s delegation can make a huge mess for Rand here, and Elayne seemingly has no intention of returning to put a stop to it.

And then there’s Egwene and her machinations. There are so many moving parts for our new Amyrlin—she’s trying to trick the Aes Sedai into moving closer to Elaida, and she’s also trying to trick the Band into serving as a second army when they eventually do move on Tar Valon. It’s amusing to see Mat giving the Band orders to shadow the Aes Sedai if they move and not to let Egwene find out because of course she would try to stop them. Meanwhile, Egwene is pretending to agree with the Hall that they need to get away from the Band while secretly hoping that Mat left exactly the orders he did. I was especially struck by that last paragraph—apparently Egwene’s plan is to get herself committed and then pretend to realize that she needs the Band’s help. It’s an interesting strategy, damseling herself this way. And I am quite confident that it will work. Mat is wondering how exactly he is supposed to help Egwene make her goals possible—apparently all he needs to do is wait for her to come ask him to save her.

He might like that, actually. He still has a bit of a chip on his shoulder from feeling like he’s always rescuing the girls and never getting acknowledgment from them. If I’ve interpreted Egwene’s plan correctly, she’ll have to be both pleading and effusively grateful in order to play things the way she wants—although it may well be that all this is going to go down when Mat is in Ebou Dar. In which case it’s Talmanes she’ll be going to. Mat probably won’t like that at all, and will probably guess that she got him out of the way on purpose in order to co-opt his soldiers for her own. He’s going to be furious about that. I wonder what Rand will think when or if he finds out.

I kind of forgot how much information Alanna would be able to glean from Rand by the bond alone. It hasn’t come up yet because we’ve only experienced it from Rand’s point of view, and Rand doesn’t actually have a good sense of how the bond works. Still, he knows what he can be aware of in her—her mood, her physical state, what direction she is in from him and roughly how far. I wonder if it has occurred to him to suspect she knows at least as much about him. She knows when he travels from Caemlyn to Cairhien, and from the city to the Black Tower. And she feels his wound from Ishamael as well. It’s been a while since we’ve had a reminder of that injury—perhaps because Rand himself is becoming used to it, as much as he can be anyway. But of course none of the Aes Sedai know how he received it, so they don’t really understand what it is Alanna is telling them.

I doubt she could have learned about the numbers that Taim has assembled, however, so this suggests that at least one of the women who are encamped at the former farm is an informant, and not just to the Green Ajah but to Alanna specifically. I don’t think we’ve been told who the head of the Green eyes-and-ears network is, though, so it could theoretically be her. On the other hand, perhaps it is Verin who obtained this information, but she had Alanna pass it on. I could definitely see Verin wanting to stay less noticed, and it would probably be easy to convince Alanna that Verin is helping her look better in Merana’s eyes the more useful information she can provide about Rand’s doings.  Alanna is clearly very concerned that what she did won’t ruin their chances with the Dragon Reborn, after all.

I was alternately amused and annoyed at the section with Halima. This is another instance of Jordan’s writing being enjoyable as long as I ignore an unfortunate premise—but did laugh at Halima trying to lead in the dancing. I also enjoyed the wonderful dramatic irony of the fact that Mat has no idea that one of the Forsaken just tried to channel at him. I wonder what Aran’gar was trying to do. Use compulsion, maybe?

The song, with the forgotten lyrics that only Mat’s gifted memories now have access to, was interesting as well. I’ve written often during the read about how the theme of mistrust is such an important part of Jordan’s work, and in these chapters alone you can see how every single important character is working their own web, scheming and attempting to manipulate those around them while playing all their cards close to the vest. Right now, it looks like things are going to go badly between Rand’s plans and those of the Salidar Aes Sedai, while Mat and Egwene’s might compliment each other fairly well. This may change, but I like the idea that, even though Mat and Egwene do not trust each other, their friendship and sympathetic spirits will allow things to work out better than they otherwise might. And you know, I hope Mat earns a little respect from Nynaeve and Elayne while they are in Ebou Dar. He has changed so much since they last saw him, and faced a lot of his fears. He deserves respect for the man, and the general, that he has become.

I had so much respect for him for the way he treated Egwene when he saw that she wasn’t being given her proper deference as Amyrlin. It’s a classic sibling move, really—he doesn’t respect Egwene as Amyrlin and thinks the whole thing is ridiculous, but he would fight anyone else who doesn’t give Egwene that same respect. I can’t imagine Mat ever allowing anyone to bond him as a Warder, but I do think he’d make a pretty excellent one, if he wanted to. Even aside from being ta’veren.

Come to think of it, I’m surprised Rand’s strong ta’veren power doesn’t have more of an effect over the bond. Or maybe it does—I had assumed that keeping his distance from Alanna was relatively easy because he never spent any time by her side, but it’s possible that some other power is at work that is lessening his need to be close to her. Also, it’s possible that he might be able to resist being compelled by her through the bond. She hasn’t tried to do anything yet, so we haven’t had a chance to test what would happen. It’s an interesting thought.

All that being said… who cares because next week Perrin is back! Finally! I am so excited my friends. Almost as excited as Rand is going to be. It’s Chapters 45 and 46 next week, and I am very much looking forward to it. Until then, let’s enjoy the mental picture of Brigitte acting as Warder to Nynaeve and Elayne just as aged Warder is to Adeleas and Vandene. I liked that picture a lot. Have a great week!

Sylas K Barrett is thrilled that Perrin is back.

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