Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Leaning on the Knife in Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos (Part 28)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we travel to Ebou Dar by way of Elayne being kind of insufferable to Mat, and then we get there and Elayne and Nynaeve get a chance to practice being real Aes Sedai, despite Vandene and Adeleas’s opinions on the matter. I think I’m really going to enjoy the visit to Ebou Dar… but I’m not sure our heroes are. Let’s start with our recap of Chapters 47 and 48.

Traveling to Ebou Dar is pretty quiet, but Mat finds it challenging contending with Elayne and the other Aes Sedai. Because he assumed they would be traveling all the way to Ebou Dar by Gateway, he hadn’t told the men to pack any provisions, so he ends up sharing out all the delicacies Nerim—the manservant Talmanes sent with Mat—had packed for Mat’s dinners. Nerim is upset by this, and the men would clearly prefer to be eating the lamb and soup the Aes Sedai are having for dinner, but there seems to be an invisible line between the two camps, and Mat has the sense of some kind of argument brewing between the Aes Sedai, Aviendha, and the Hunter for the Horn.

However, Elayne comes over to Mat after dinner and asks him to walk with her. She tells him that he has a ter’angreal, which some people hold are the rightful property of the Aes Sedai. She says she will not demand that he give up his ter’angreal, but that he will surrender it to her each evening, for study, and that she will return it in the morning. Mat responds by asking what right she has to make demands of him, and that she can ask Rand about ter’angreal after Mat delivers her to him. Elayne responds by walking along the line of horses and inspecting Mat’s side of the camp, then loudly announcing that he has done well, and that she is pleased. She returns to her side of the camp, but a moment later Mat feels the foxhead medallion go cold, and turns to see Elayne, Nynaeve, and Vandene and Adeleas all watching him, and Adeleas making notes in a small book.

They join a road the next day, on which they see a variety of travelers, and soon after they are able to stay at inns rather than camping outside. Elayne continues to inspect Mat’s men, and begins telling him to do things as well. They are all things that make sense, things that Mat already intended to do, so he can’t tell her no, and after a while his men seem to take a liking to Elayne and enjoy her praise.

Nynaeve is still avoiding Mat, the other Aes Sedai peer at him like he is something to be studied, and even the Hunter, Birgitte, steers clear of him. Fortunately, Thom and Juilin are willing to ride with Mat or go out drinking at an inn. They mostly talk of Ebou Dar, and Mat also learns that he isn’t imaging the tension that Elayne and Nynaeve have with the older Aes Sedai, although even Thom doesn’t know what it is about. Thom also reveals that Elayne has bonded Birgitte as her Warder, which the Aes Sedai were not pleased about, both because Birgitte is a woman and because Aes Sedai don’t usually bond anyone so quickly after being raised. Nalesean can’t believe that there could be a woman Warder, even in this day and age.

Mat shrugged. “I suppose she’ll do well enough as long as she really can shoot that bow. Down the wrong hole?” he asked Juilin, who had begun choking on his ale. “Give me a good bow over a sword any day. Better a quarterstaff, but a bow is just fine. I only hope she doesn’t try to get in my way when it’s time to take Elayne to Rand.”

“I think she can shoot it.” Thom leaned across the table to slap Juilin on the back. “I think she can, Mat.”

The medallion continues growing cold at different moments, sometimes several times a day, during the trip. Mat can never quite figure out which woman is channeling at him at which time—except once when Adeleas uses the One Power to fling horse manure at him. Mat had never considered that an Aes Sedai could still use the One Power to throw something at him. He tells himself that being protected from direct channeling is still better than nothing, but also goes inside to get drunk on some very strong brandy.

He is hung over when they enter Ebou Dar, riding through the city until they reach a large palace that Mat deduces must be the Tarasin Palace, where Tylin rules from. As Adeleas and Vandene confer together, Mat is surprised to realize that he can feel the dice rolling in his head. He considers whether or not he should come with the Aes Sedai into the Palace—he likes anywhere with gold and servants, but he doesn’t like having a lot of nobles around, and he’s not sure how he’d feel if Elayne started referring to him and his men as hers in front of any of those nobles. Deciding that Nynaeve and Elayne are as safe in the Palace as they would be anywhere, he loudly declares that he will go find an inn for himself and his men, and invites Juilin and Thom to join him for some punch. The men demur, saying they should stay close to Elayne and Nynaeve.

As he turns his horse, Elayne advises him not to let his men drink so much, especially in front of Olver, and Mat once again regrets that he does need to do as she suggests. The inn—called the Wandering Woman—has just the sort of common room Mat was hoping for, and as he is greeted by the innkeeper, he remarks that he feels like he has come home. Oddly, the dice have stopped rolling in his head.

After a bath, Nynaeve joins Elayne, Birgitte, and Aviendha in their shared sitting room. Elayne has put a ward against eavesdropping around the room, and they discuss the dismissive way they’ve been treated by Vandene and Adeleas over the course of the journey, and how their meeting with Merilille had been little more than a presentation and a dismissal. It is clear that the three women still see them as Accepted, despite their being raised by Egwene.

Nynaeve is convinced they are hiding something—she has overheard Adeleas say something about looking for runaways when they get to Ebou Dar, though there have been no runaways from Salidar. Elayne thinks Nynaeve is making something out of nothing, and that it’s better that Adeleas and Vandene want to look for runaways than it would be if they took over looking for the bowl.

Talk turns briefly to Mat, and Elayne reflects that she must puzzle out what to do about the ter’angreal. Elayne claims that by only telling him to do what he had to do anyway in the beginning, she could bring Mat into the habit of following orders, but Nynaeve is skeptical of the plan. However, they both agree that the most important part of this trip is to find the bowl.

They discuss how to look for it, and decide that they should all obtain Ebou Dari dresses, though Birgitte, Elayne, and Aviendha’s light hair will still stand out. Just then a servant comes in and announces that “Queen Tylin wishes to see the three Aes Sedai.” After a little confusion over the number, Aviendha and Birgitte decide to go have a look around the city while Elayne and Nynaeve go to meet the Queen. In the corridors Nynaeve catches sight of Jaichim Carridin. She asks the servant what the man is doing here, but the woman only answers that the Children of the Light sent an embassy months ago before hurrying them along.

Queen Tylin does not offer them the courtesy expected, immediately demanding to know how old they are and deriding their age. Nynaeve boldly tells her that she is 26 and an Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah, and that Elayne may only be 18, but that Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, is no older than that.

“Is she?” Tylin said in a flat voice. “I was not told that. When the Aes Sedai who counseled me from the day I took the throne, and my father before me, abruptly leaves for the Tower without explanation, and I then learn that rumors of a Tower divided are true; when Dragonsworn seem to spring out of the ground; when an Amyrlin is chosen to oppose Elaida and an army gathered under one of the great captains, inside Altara, before I hear of it—when all of that has happened, you cannot expect me to be enamored of surprises.”

Elayne interjects to “add [her] apologies to those of Merilille and the others” for building an army within her borders, saying that it was unconscionable and that they meant no disrespect or threat to the throne of the winds. She promises that Gareth Bryne is currently leading the army north out of Altara. Tylin responds that she has heard no apologies until Elayne’s, but that any ruler of Altara has to learn to swallow the insults of greater powers. Finally, she invites them to sit.

“Lean back on your knife and let your tongue go free.” Her sudden smile was very close to a grin. “I don’t know how you say it in Andor. Be at ease, and speak your mind as you wish.”

Both Elayne and Nynaeve sit, and Nynaeve finds herself wondering if Tylin has some hidden angle or if this some kind of test. Elayne lets her take the lead, however, when Tylin asks why four more Aes Sedai come to Ebou Dar from Salidar. She mentions two Aes Sedai who have come from Elaida, and also the Whitecloaks. When Nynaeve learns that Tylin doesn’t like the Whitecloaks, she asks why Tylin has to entertain Carridin at all.

After a long pause, Tylin tells them that she wants her one surviving son, Beslan, to succeed her on the throne. Few houses have had more than two rulers in succession, and she tells them about the difficulty of any ruler holding power even in the city, and how her father fought to expand his control to the amount Tylin holds now. She expanded her territory to twice that, until news of Callandor and the Dragon Reborn came.

“Now I thank Pedron Niall when he arranges for Illian to take a hundred-mile swathe of Altara instead of invading. I listen to Jaichim Carridin, and I do not spit in his eye, however many Altarans died in the Whitecloak War. I listen to Carridin, and to Teslyn, and to Merilille, and I pray that I can pass something to my son instead of being found drowned in my bath on the day Beslan meets with an accident hunting.”

She tells them that she has bared herself to them, and asks that they answer her question in turn. To Nynaeve’s surprise, Elayne tells her everything about the ter’angreal they are seeking. Tylin warns them of the danger in the area of the city Elayne describes, and remarks that the Aes Sedai never tell her a word more than necessary, until now, and invites the two to share punch and to tell her how she can help them, and they are introduced to Beslan before they retire back to their quarters.

Nynaeve muses on the fact that Vandene and Adeleas apparently intend to take over the search for the bowl, and wonders if it was wise of Elayne to tell Tylin everything.

“I know how my mother felt about Aes Sedai traveling about Andor, never letting her know what they were doing. I know how I would feel. Besides, I finally remembered being taught about that phrase—lean back on your knife and the rest. The only way to insult somebody who says that to you is to lie.”

Elayne adds that as dangerous as the city might be, it can’t be worse than Tanchico. Plus they have no Black Ajah to worry about here. She wagers that in ten days they will have the bowl, she will have figured out how Mat’s ter’angreal works (with Mat knuckling his forehead to her), and the other Aes Sedai will be left wondering what happened as Elayne and Nynaeve head back to Salidar.

Nynaeve could not help it; she laughed out loud. A lanky serving man shifting a large vase of golden porcelain stared at her, and she stuck out her tongue at him. He nearly dropped the vase. “I won’t take that wager, except about Mat. Ten days it is.”

 

I don’t want to say that Nynaeve and Elayne are getting cocky, but they are definitely getting cocky. Elayne saying that the Rahad couldn’t be worse than Tanchico and that they don’t have to worry about Black Ajah pretty much guarantees that things are going to go badly, and some Black Ajah or Forsaken are going to show up. Elayne might as well have said “What could possibly go wrong” or “At least things can’t get any worse.”

To be fair, that is a metatextual observation that Elayne isn’t in the position to make, but outside of jinxing things, she has been warned by the ruler of the city herself that the area she saw in the Dream, Rahad, is incredibly dangerous, and they’ve also been warned by a variety of other people, including Thom, who Elayne purportedly trusts and relies on more, now. Right? Saidar is great, but kind of hard to reach for if you’ve already been stabbed. And just because they captured Moghedien doesn’t mean the rest of the Forsaken aren’t out there, plus Carridin and his Whitecloaks are in the city, and at least two representatives for Elaida—who is to say there aren’t others in the city, unbeknownst to Queen Tylin?

Of course, it’s possible that Elayne is speaking optimistically and isn’t actually discounting the dangers she’ll be facing.

I love that I just asked how old the kids were at this point in the story and almost immediately got an answer. So now we know that Egwene and Elayne are both 18, and since it’s been about two years they were 16-ish in The Eye of the World. Rand, I think, is a year or two older than Egwene, so he’s like 20 now. Thanks Tylin, for asking!

I absolutely loved the scene between Elayne, Nynaeve, and Queen Tylin—it’s everything I’ve been wanting from the series lately. The only thing that would have been better is a heart-to-heart where Rand and Egwene tell each other everything. I’ve just been so hungry for someone, at some point, to realize that telling the truth and trusting the person you’re talking to can be the right move sometimes, even in this world. And I think that the whole exchange really illustrates a change that is coming with the new generation of Aes Sedai, led by Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve.

The Aes Sedai cultivate a mystique of omnipotency and infallibility in order to maintain control over other world powers—and everyone really. And there have been an increasing number of examples in the series showing how that mystique often backfires on them. As someone who was raised to rule a kingdom, Elayne has a unique perspective as an Aes Sedai—she has empathy for what it’s like to be a ruler faced with Aes Sedai secrecy and manipulation, as well as a higher respect for the sovereignty those rulers should possess. She says as much to Nynaeve at the end of Chapter 48—that she remembers how her mother felt, and knows how she would feel.

Nynaeve, meanwhile, brings her customary bluntness to bear in this section, and the way everything plays out proves that Nynaeve’s brusque nature isn’t always a bad thing. She lets her temper make decisions for her, which isn’t great, and she needs to learn more self control, but the impulse to cut through to the heart of the matter serves her well, and I think the new generation of Aes Sedai could do with some of that. Also, someone in an early chapter mused that Nynaeve would be right at home in Ebou Dar, and at least in this way, they were right.

Egwene has a fair amount of directness—and Two Rivers stubbornness—as well, though she’s got a lot more self control than Nynaeve. She’s already shown an ability to play ​​Daes Dae’mar (or whatever the Aes Sedai call their version of it) quite well, but she clearly doesn’t care for it, and I don’t think she’ll have any compunction around choosing a more open and honest way whenever possible. Combined, the three are bringing a very different perspective to the ranks of the Aes Sedai… even if none of them are really accepted yet.

It was interesting to see the divide between Elayne and Nynaeve and the older Aes Sedai through Mat’s eyes first, before getting into what Elayne and Nynaeve thought about it. When he and Thom and Juilin were talking Juilin mentioned Vandene saying “Well, if you really want to, child, of course we will,” to Nynaeve and Elayne, and that the two older Aes Sedai were quite tolerant, not seeming to notice when Elayne gave orders. From the men’s perspective, the senior Aes Sedai are treating Elayne and Nynaeve quite well, given that they have only just been raised to Aes Sedai.

And in some ways I think they’re right. Elayne and Nynaeve are newly-minted Aes Sedai, so of course outsiders would assume that they should be at the bottom of the pecking order, so to speak. Mat and the guys don’t know that a woman’s channeling ability plays a huge part in where she lands on the Aes Sedai hierarchy—and for that matter, they probably have no idea about the relative strength of most of the Aes Sedai.

Of course, age and experience do count in the Aes Sedai hierarchy, and I am sure that Elayne and Nynaeve expect a lot more autonomy and authority than they are necessarily due just because they are strong in the One Power. For that matter, where does Nynaeve’s strength even place her, given that she still has her block? It’s kind of wild, when you think about it, that Egwene made someone who can’t channel at will a full sister. Of course I’m all for it because I love her and she’s a protagonist, but I can see why some of the other Aes Sedai would be miffed.

On the other hand, Vandene’s use of the word “child” shows that she’s not thinking of Elayne and Nynaeve as subordinate Aes Sedai but as Accepted, as does the way Elayne and Nynaeve are excluded from the official meeting with Queen Tylin and from the plan to search for the bowl and the “runaways.” (I assume that Vandene and Adeleas were not referring to runaway novices and Accepted, but rather to other Aes Sedai who may have fled the White Tower and not yet found their way to Salidar. I could be wrong about that, though.)

I’m not particularly inclined to give Adeleas and Vandene the benefit of the doubt either, after learning that they are the ones who have been channeling at Mat the whole trip. I appreciated that Elayne disapproved of Adeleas and Vandene testing the ter’angreal all the time, but I wasn’t sure if that was out of respect to Mat so much as because Elayne feels proprietary over ter’angreal, since she is the only one who is fully capable of understanding how they work and of making them. Either way I suppose it doesn’t make that much difference—Elayne and Nynaeve are unhappy with how they are being treated by the other Aes Sedai and happy to have the chance to go their own way and leave Adeleas and Vandene behind, but they are still committed to the unity of the Aes Sedai, and wouldn’t want to show division to those outside the ranks of the Little Tower.

In any case, Merilille and the others choosing to exclude Nynaeve and Elayne seems to have backfired, since it led to Tylin having a private conversation with them. I am curious as to what they told Tylin about Aviendha—Aes Sedai would never imply that someone was Aes Sedai if she was not, but even if they had suggested that she was a novice or novice candidate that would have been clear enough. Were they trying to obscure who or what Aviendha was for some reason? Or did Tylin merely know how many women had arrived in their party? But if that was the case, she would have assumed that Birgitte was also Aes Sedai.

Anyway, I really like Tylin, and the culture of Ebou Dar is fascinating—the whole aside where Nynaeve observes Tylin’s outfit and the significance of the adornment on her marriage dagger was a really cool detail. Tylin’s strong and straightforward nature was appealing, and it was refreshing to see a ruler talk about the changes that have been wrought by the coming of the Dragon Reborn in such a practical way. And as a reader, I’m always pleased to be reminded of the context in which these characters are operating. Because most of our main heroes are coming into worlds that are outside their element, because most of them are agents of change, it’s easy to forget that for most of the other characters, the established order of their lives—of the world itself—is changing in rapid, unpredictable, and often unpleasant ways. I had a lot of empathy for Tylin, and she reminded me of Berelain in the way that she is a ruler beset on all sides by stronger powers, and the practical humility that has to be part of such a person’s identity, even though they are also nobility and royalty. Tylin’s situation also reminds me of Morgase’s predicament, and how she considered allowing the Whitecloaks to gain some power in Andor rather than let Andor stay in Rand’s hands.

In any case, she is clearly on Elayne and Nynaeve’s side now, over the other Aes Sedai, which will probably be useful in the hunt for the bowl even given Tylin’s relative lack of power in the area where the bowl appears to be hidden. But that doesn’t at all mean that things are going to go smoothly. After all, there’s still the dice rolling in Mat’s head to worry about. I wonder if his going to the Wandering Woman instead of staying with Elayne at the palace is going to turn out to be a helpful thing or a problem. Only time, and pages, will tell.

 

Next week we are back with Rand for chapters 49 and 50. More political machinations, a showdown between Dragon and Aes Sedai, and the return of an old trick from The Eye of the World. I am looking forward to it. See you then!

Sylas K Barrett likes the idea of a custom in which it is expected, and therefore welcome and protected, to speak with complete honesty. He is also a fan of the idea of a marriage dagger, though maybe not the killing that seems to go with it. Ceremonial marriage daggers would be nice, though. Let’s make that a thing.

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