This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we get to find out a little bit more about the mysterious Circle of channeling women in Ebou Dar, and Nynaeve gets a refresher course in Aes Sedai aging. My sympathy for Nynaeve is high again this week, as is my curiosity about this new group of channelers.
Mistress Anan marches them out of the inn via the kitchen, where a cook makes an observation about their youth and Lord Mat’s tastes. Mistress Anan asks the woman to make sure Caira learns to hold her tongue, before degrading Elayne and Nynaeve in front of her.
The gaze she turned on Nynaeve and Elayne was so disparaging that Nynaeve nearly gasped. “Would anyone with half their wits believe these two were Aes Sedai? Spent all their coin on dresses to impress the man, and now they’d starve unless they smile for him. Aes Sedai!”
She grabs them each by an ear and hauls them away, ignoring the girl’s obvious fury. Warning them again about what real Aes Sedai will do to them if they are caught pretending to be sisters, Mistress Anan leads them out through the town. Elayne is clearly upset with Nynaeve for insisting that they play along with Mistress Anan’s belief that they are failed novices, and points out to Nynaeve all the more productive ways they could be handling their morning.
Nynaeve insists that this Circle that Mistress Anan alluded to seems to be some kind of organization or society of women who can channel. Elayne doesn’t think that the Aes Sedai would allow such a group to be formed, but Nynaeve is convinced. She is also convinced that such a group must know where to find the storeroom, and is willing to play obedient and grateful if it allows them to find the Bowl. She points out that, if this works, they won’t have to use Mat, and Elayne responds that it was going to apologize to Mat that brought them to Mistress Anan’s attention, and therefore Mat’s ta’veren powers get the credit if they do find the Bowl this way.
The walk takes a while, and Mistress Anan seems not to be taking the shortest path to their destination, instead stopping at seemingly every inn to chat with the proprietors and tell them about the ridiculous girls who spent all their money trying to impress a man and now would be destitute without Mistress Anan’s help. Nynaeve realizes that Mistress Anan is deliberately letting other innkeepers know about them to prevent them from being able go anywhere else. She’s furious at being spoken of in such a way, and Elayne’s attitude keeps getting more and more frosty, but Nynaeve does her best to keep up the charade.
Eventually they reach a run down two-story building, where a maid greets Mistress Anan with respectful surprise. Nynaeve and Elayne are shown into a sitting room and spoken to sternly, but Nynaeve can feel someone in the house channeling. She also notes that the inside of the place is much nicer and more expensively decorated than the outside, which suggests to her that the building has been deliberately camouflaged. Sitting in the waiting room, she tries to eavesdrop on the voices in the hall. One, someone named Reanne, upbraids Setalle Anan for bringing girls to them, but when Mistress Anan apologizes and agrees with the chastisement, Reanne backs down, apologizing in turn. The two go back and forth this way for a few moments, and then come into the room.
Nynaeve is surprised that Reanne appears to be older than Setalle, and even more surprised at the level of strength in the One Power that she can feel in Reanne. Nynaeve’s attempts to speak are brushed off, and she is told to wait quietly.
Other women come into the room, all of whom can channel and one of whom is even stronger in the One Power than Reanne. Setalle Anan seems to recognize one of them, Garenia, saying that she looks like a woman who went to the White Tower named Zarya Alkaese. Setalle is hustled away almost immediately, and the group devolves into a conversation that further strengthens Nynaeve’s belief that they are an organized society. Caught up in her thoughts, she is taken by surprise when she and Elayne are suddenly grabbed by the One Power and pulled over to stand in front of Reanne, Garenia, and the third woman, Berowin.
They are also shielded, and as Nynaeve angrily pushes against the shield she is astounded to find it give and stretch, rather than either holding solid or breaking. She has never seen a shield do that, and she is completely unable to break it, despite the fact that Berowin, who holds her shield, is so much weaker than Nynaeve.
“You could burst a blood vessel if you keep at that,” Berowin said, almost companionably. “We do not try to reach above our station, but skills are honed with time, and this was always nearly a Talent with me. I could hold one of the Forsaken.”
The women proceed to quiz them on details about novice life in the Tower, clearly wanting to establish that they were there, and aren’t merely wilders. Nynaeve, who was never a novice and who didn’t pay much attention as an Accepted, is grateful that Elayne is prompt in answering questions Nynaeve cannot.
Eventually she tries to ask about the Bowl and the storeroom, but though she tries to be polite and penitent she is met with sternness. The woman assure her they have no guild, that they have nothing to do with angreal, and are not Aes Sedai. When they mention having more tests before the girls are offered a new life, Elayne reaches the end of her patience, and tells the women who she really is. Nynaeve reluctantly gives her real name and identity as well, and explains that Egwene al’Vere, the true Amyrlin, raised them to the shawl and sent them to look for the Bowl, and that the women must have heard that Egwene is no older than Elayne is. The only response they receive is Reanne telling them that she regrets that they won’t accept the help they are being offered. She gives them each a little money and tells them that they have until tomorrow to leave Ebou Dar.
“At that time we will begin circulating your descriptions, and we will make certain they reach the sisters in the Tarasin Palace. If you are seen after sunrise, we will see that the sisters know where you are, and the Whitecloaks as well. Your choice then will be to run, surrender to the sisters, or die. Go, do not return, and you should live long if you give over this repulsive and dangerous ruse. We are done with you. Berowin, see to them, please.”
They are hustled out the door, even as Nynaeve continues to plead for them to listen. Garenia tells Nynaeve that, if it were up to her, the girls would be bustled off to the farm and put under the supervision of someone name Alise, who would make sure they learned to appreciate the help they’re spitting on now. Nynaeve is surprised when Berowin makes the woman apologize, and is still gaping as the door is closed in her face.
Reanne watches from the window as the two girls leave, trying to control the bubble of panic in her gut, the same panic that she’d lost control over during her test for Accepted. Berowin worriedly points out that Nynaeve and Elayne didn’t seem to perspire at all, but Reanne responds firmly that the two were not Aes Sedai, and is disgusted and dismissive of the concept of rebelling against the White Tower.
Garenia brings up the rumors of Logain being a tool of the Red Ajah, but although Reanne can’t imagine Aes Sedai doing such a thing, she also points out that it is not for them to question anything Aes Sedai do. As they debate, worrying over what Setalle Anan might know about them and if she might betray them to the White Tower, they receive the news that one of their number, Callie, is dead, and that it was apparently done with the One Power.
No Aes Sedai could have done this, obviously, and no Kinswoman would have, but… Those girls, so insistent, knowing what they should not. The Circle had lasted too long, offered succor to too many women, to be destroyed now.
“This is what must be done,” [Reanne] told them. That flutter of fear began again, but for once she hardly noticed.
Nynaeve stalks angrily through the streets, aware that she will have to apologize to Elayne but wanting to wait until they reach the privacy of their rooms. When Elayne finally speaks to her, though, it’s to muse about the age of the women they just encountered. Nynaeve never paid enough attention at the White Tower to have learned about slowing, but Elayne explains it to her, pointing out that even though they aren’t supposed to talk about it, everyone knows that any sister who has gray hair must be very old.
Nynaeve is horrified to learn that it will be a long, long time before she herself has any gray hairs—without which she suspects she will never be taken seriously. Suddenly, she feels something strike her head, and Elayne collapses in a heap. Dropping down to help Elayne, Nynaeve is accosted by people seemingly trying to help her, even offering them the use of a carriage. She uses the One Power to strike at a man obviously trying to take her pouch, and then at the others. As everyone runs, she shouts after them, politely, that they don’t need any help.
She Heals Elayne, and as she’s helping Elayne to her feet, a seamstress who has been watching offers Elayne a drink. Nynaeve turns it down rudely, then more politely, confusing Elayne.
That ocean of lace heaved as the seamstress shrugged again. “I make dresses for anyone. I can do better for your coloring than that.” She vanished back into her shop. Nynaeve frowned after her.
She picks up an arrow with a blunt stone head, and Elayne immediately realizes that they were attacked. They wonder if it was Teslyn and Joline trying to capture them, or possibly Reanne or Garenia making sure they left Ebou Dar. Elayne declares that they will “settle for” whoever did it, and then points out that, whether or not the Circle knows where the Bowl is, there is really only one way to make sure.
Nynaeve nodded slowly, though she would rather have eaten a handful of dirt. Today had seemed so bright for a time, but then it had spiraled into darkness, from Reanne to… Oh, Light, how long before she had her gray hair?
“Don’t cry, Nynaeve. Mat can’t possibly be that bad. He’ll find it for us in a few days, I know.”
Nynaeve only cried harder.
As someone who recently turned 37 years old, I feel like I should take a page from Nynaeve’s book and put a little more value on age. Not that I feel capable, or desirous of, the kind of authority she’d like to have. Still, I can really empathize with her struggle, especially since it’s one she had even before she left the Two Rivers.
There is a reason Nynaeve was made Wisdom of Emond’s Field at such a young age. There is a reason that she was allowed to skip being a novice and test directly into the status of Accepted, despite the fact that this was rarely (or possibly never) done before. Nynaeve is very strong in the One Power, and she is also very intelligent, capable, and practical. What she isn’t, and what Elayne and Egwene are, is adaptable.
In many ways, you could say Nynaeve has a block against all her best abilities, not just her channeling. As I said, she’s actually very practical and down to earth—until her ego, fear, or lack of flexibility get in the way of her reaching for that practicality. In the same way, her fear and lack of flexibility are actually her block against channeling—the block is only overcome by anger because anger is Nynaeve’s mental defense against feelings of vulnerability and lack of control.
Though the encounter with the Circle doesn’t go exactly as Nynaeve hoped, we actually see her employing more flexibility and humility than Elayne does. If I’d been told ahead of time about this scenario and asked to guess who spearheaded it, I would have expected Elayne and Nynaeve’s positions were flipped—that Elayne was the one who recognized an opportunity and was willing to be temporarily humble in order to follow a good lead, and Nynaeve was the one whose pride rebelled against it.
Part of the explanation for why it’s Nynaeve getting excited about the Circle is because she doesn’t want to work with Mat if she doesn’t have to, doesn’t want to be beholden to him more than she already is. But as much as Nynaeve’s pride is a factor here, I think Mat is actually a secondary concern for her. I actually think that she’s very interested in the concept of a guild of channelers outside the Aes Sedai. After all, Nynaeve has only ever barely tolerated being made Aes Sedai, and only then because it was the best way for her to learn Healing. I can imagine that she’s very curious about any group that works with wilders and those who could not fit in at the White Tower. Such a group is one that she very easily could have belonged to. As a result, I think it was probably easier for her to act humbly around these women than it was for her to behave “correctly” when she was an Accepted. She probably has a lot more respect for Ebou Dari Wise Women and their companions than she does for your average Aes Sedai, and you’ll note that she maintains a penitent attitude even after admitting the fact that she is a full sister, an Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah, and not a Tower reject.
Egwene is also going to be very interested in learning more about Reanne and her not-a-guild. It appears that they are all women who were novices, but who couldn’t attain the shawl for various reasons. It’s interesting that both Reanne and Garenia are so strong in the One Power. We know that Reanne was put out of the Tower because she panicked and couldn’t go through with the test to be Accepted, but she is certainly strong enough to have become an Aes Sedai. And Garenia must have a similar story. Given the fact that her own friends seem to often take her to task for her temper and lack of self discipline, perhaps she was unable to adapt to being a novice/Accepted, given the strict discipline that those students live under. Maybe she’s another Nynaeve type.
In addition to their references to the White Tower—Garenia clearly is the same person that Mistress Anan took her for, so they were probably in the Tower together for a time—the group seems to be trying to ape much of the structure of the White Tower. There is a farm that new recruits and those who don’t follow the rules are sent to, just as being sent to a farm is one of those punishments those studying at the White Tower may receive. There is also a rule against marrying, and there is a concept of penance for breaking rules or behaving badly.
The fact that the others address Reanne as “Eldest” suggests that their hierarchy might be based on age, which is interesting. Age is an obvious choice for establishing seniority, so it may be as simple as that, but I wonder too if the structure isn’t either in imitation of, or in opposition to, the way the White Tower hierarchy works. That would of course depend on how much the Circle knows, of course—since none of its members ever attained the shawl, they would only know what they could observe as novices and Accepted.
Since the novices and Accepted were greatly discouraged from comparing their strengths in the Power, the Circle might believe that this extends to the ranks of the Aes Sedai as well, and might consider that seniority comes from age and experience. But it’s also possible that they have deduced that strength or ability matters in Aes Sedai ranking, and that they deliberately chose a different method of establishing leadership in order to differentiate themselves from the White Tower.
They clearly have a lot of reverence for the Aes Sedai, and that reverence would make sense of a desire to emulate the White Tower when possible, and when it’s deemed relatively safe to do so. But they are also fearful of being caught, as well they should be, and aware that the Aes Sedai have very strict rules about how much channeling that non-Aes Sedai women are allowed to do. Technically they are not forbidden from channeling at all, I don’t think, but most acts of channeling would probably cross other boundaries.
And of course, there is also the danger of prejudice against channelers. Plenty of countries hate and fear the Aes Sedai and any other woman who can channel, and the only distinction between full sisters and someone else with the ability is that full sisters are more powerful and have the protection of the White Tower. The Circle isn’t just in danger if Aes Sedai decide they are behaving improperly, they would also be alluring and easy prey to the Children of the Light.
Speaking of, I was a little surprised that Reanne would give Nynaeve and Elayne’s description to the Whitecloaks. The rest makes sense, and of course they would want Elayne and Nynaeve out of Ebou Dar for the Circle’s safety. But the fate they would suffer at the hands of the Children seems too terrible for anyone with a conscience to allow. Perhaps that part was a lie to add weight to the threat, but I would think that the danger of being exposed to the sisters would be enough to motivate Nynaeve and Elayne, if they were really what Reanne thought. Though since they appeared to be behaving so strangely, perhaps extraordinary measures seemed called for.
The encounter between Setalle Anan, Garenia, and Reanne makes me think that my theory about Mistress Anan is correct. She wouldn’t necessarily have to have been a full sister in order to recognize Zarya Alkaese—they could have been novices/Accepted at the same time. But the way both Setalle and Reanne go back and forth trying to show difference to each other makes me think that Setalle was a full sister. Reanne also speaks of the fact that Setalle could, and would, turn them over to the Aes Sedai if she knew more about them, which suggests that the woman has, or had, a strong connection to the Tower.
I could see the Circle extending respect to someone connected to the Tower in such a way, but I don’t think those agents are allowed to let anyone know about their status as informants to one of the Ajahs. Also, because she recognized Zarya/Garenia, she had to have actually been at the White Tower at some point. But she can’t channel now, so she must have been burned out or stilled. As a woman who can no longer channel, she may feel deference for, or even subservience to, women who can. But given the reverence Reanne clearly feels for Aes Sedai, she may extend some of that to a woman who was once Aes Sedai, especially if Setalle was burned out in some accident. She may no longer be a sister, but Setalle was able to achieve the shawl, accomplishing what no one else in the Circle ever did.
It’s possible that the attempted robbery/kidnapping of Elayne and Nynaeve was orchestrated by Falion and Ispan, since we know they are aware of the girls’ presence in Ebou Dar and Falion has suggested capturing them as a way of distracting Moghedien from their failure to find the cache. The idea that Teslyn and Joline would use such methods seems pretty far-fetched to me, though I suppose anything is possible. In fact, it’s likely that it wasn’t Nynaeve and Elayne’s identities that were the problem at all—they are women in silks walking through Ebou Dar when no one with a lot of money does that, so it would make a lot of sense if this was just an ordinary attempt at robbery. Good thing Nynaeve wasn’t completely knocked out though, or they’d have been in serious trouble.
I wonder if the seamstress is anybody, or if that’s just a little narrative red herring, to give the girls, and the reader, more to be suspicious about.
Also, before we finish up, can we just talk for a moment about Berowin’s claim that she, weak as she is, could hold a shield even on a Forsaken? These bold words probably stem from the fact that few people know that the Forsaken are loose, but I found myself wondering… could she? Talents are such an interesting part of being a channeler, and I’m really curious to know more about them. It’s possible that even though Berowin isn’t that strong in the Power, she knows how to do a type of shielding no one else does. That’s a fascinating idea.
Next week is a gross week. We’ll be seeing how Moghedien is faring under the wrath of the Dark One and question whether she wasn’t better off with Egwene, and then we’ll see some dark stuff happening with Morgase. Not my favorite read, although I am excited to see more of the Seanchan.
Until then, I hope everyone is doing well, and I’ll see you on Tuesday!
Frankly, Sylas K Barrett is happy for his hair to be any color it wants, as long as it stays on his head.