Welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time. This week has some big changes for Nynaeve and Elayne, not to mention the Aes Sedai, the Kin, and one Lan Mandragoran. It’s Chapters 30 and 31 of A Crown of Swords!
Having reported Mat’s (technically still pending) discovery of the Bowl of the Winds to the other Salidar Aes Sedai, Elayne is shocked to find herself standing before Merilille and the others, apparently on trial. They are furious with her for endangering some secret about the Circle—the Kin as the Aes Sedai term them—despite the fact that Elayne was never told this secret, whatever it is. She tries to defend herself, but despite her anger at being treated like a novice or Accepted, she is also cowed by the weight of the age and experience before her, reminded that she is only eighteen and was a novice only a year ago. The Aes Sedai are about to pass a sentence upon her which would have her confined to the Palace and given hard work to do, along with regular beatings, when they are interrupted by a knock at the door.
Pol, Merilille’s servant, comes in, apologizing profusely for interrupting. She has a letter for Elayne, and Tylin herself had insisted it be given to Elayne immediately. Like the sisters, Pol refers to Elayne as “the child,” which angers Elayne. When she reads the letter her fury mounts—Jaichim Carridin has written to her that her mother is actually alive, a guest of Pedron Niall, and offers to escort her safely across Altara to Amador to reunite him. Furious at his lies, Elayne throws the paper aside and channels to burn it.
Merilille tells Elayne she was not given permission to channel and orders her to release the Source, but Elayne orders Pol to leave, using the voice of command her mother taught her, and Pol obeys. In a voice “like winter stone,” Elayne tells Merilille that she is Aes Sedai.
“I was raised to the shawl by Egwene al’Vere, the Amyrlin you claim to serve. If you deny that Nynaeve and I are Aes Sedai, then you deny the Amyrlin Seat who sent me to find the Bowl of the Winds, which we have done. I will not have it! I call you to account, Merilille Ceandevin. Submit to the will of the Amyrlin Seat, or I will call judgment on you as a rebellious traitor!”
Elayne takes a chair and instructs Merilille to do the same, and tells the Aes Sedai that their instructions come from the Hall, while Elayne and Nynaeve’s come directly from the Amyrlin, and thus supersede theirs. She tells them that from now on they will take their instructions from her, or from Nynaeve, though of course the two will listen to their advice.
Next she asks about the Kin, and is informed that the group has existed as far back as the Trolloc Wars. The Aes Sedai believe that the group harbors and teaches wilders and women put out of the Tower, but only for a few years, until the women accept that they will not be Aes Sedai and go off to become healers or wise women, forgetting the One Power. The Aes Sedai have allowed the Kin to exist because they keep a low profile and because they always lead the Tower to recover runaways.
Elayne listens with interest, although she notices some discrepancies between the Aes Sedai’s assessments of the Kin and her own observations of them. Vandene seems to notice Elayne’s surprise at the easy way the Aes Sedai are falling into line for her, and explains that, for all that the Aes Sedai can be contentious, they tend follow “fairly meekly” when someone is placed above them. Elayne hadn’t really expected any of them to actually take orders from her—she’d asked much in the hope of getting some—but even Merilille politely agrees, stating that Elayne stands above them, and has been placed above them as well. Elayne has them sit again, so that they can discuss what to do next, and so that she can tell them a thing or two about the Kin.
Riding in a sedan chair through the Ebou Dar crowds, Moghedien spots a familiar woman being handed down from a coach and onto a red-roofed boat. She knows what will happen to her if she disobeys Moridin’s orders, but tells herself that a slight delay won’t hurt, as long as he doesn’t find out about it. She uses Compulsion on the innkeeper of a nearby inn, and from the roof of that building she can see the red-topped boat. A touch on her mind—Moridin likes to check in with her, lest she forget him—makes her anxious, and just as she raises her hands to send balefire into the cabin of that boat, a flock of birds panics her, making her think Moridin is arriving. The balefire misses the cabin, taking out the middle of the boat instead, where the oarsmen and bodyguards had been standing.
Because that slice from the boat’s center had gone at the same time the boatmen really died, the river had had minutes to rush in. The two parts of the boat sank out of sight in a great froth of bubbles even as her eyes shifted to them, carrying their passenger to the depths.
It suddenly dawns on Moghedien how visible her act was—any woman in the city who can channel would have felt such a big use of saidar, nevermind how many people must have seen the burst of light. Sudden terror sends her running back down and out of the inn to where the sedan chair and its bearers, still under her Compulsion, are waiting. She screams at them to run, and as the chair lurches around her she decides that the only way Moridin will forgive this is if she carries out his instructions swiftly and efficiently.
A few moments earlier, Nynaeve sulks in the cabin of the boat, annoyed at being the one who has to go speak again to the Sea Folk, while Aviendha watches Carridin and Elayne speaks to the rest of the Aes Sedai. She doesn’t think the encounter with the Sea Folk will go any better than the last exchange. As her seasickness acts up she tries to focus on other things, and her thoughts drift to the odd behavior of Aviendha and Elayne, which she would almost put down to there being a man involved. Suddenly she feels a huge amount of saidar, and then she is in salt water over her head.
She kicks to the surface and discovers that she is in a pocket of air with the cabin wall above her, trapping her. A moment later she feels and hears the thud of it hitting the bottom. Keeping her head, she decides to dive down to try to reach the door, and fills her lungs. After some searching she finds it but is only able to push it about two inches before it sticks. She goes back up for another breath and then dives down again, but discovers that the entire door from top to bottom is under mud, impossible to move. She swims up again, hammering against the wall in an attempt to break free. She is determined not to die like this, but as the air seems to grow thinner and her hand bruises against the wall, she weakens.
No anger, she realized dimly. She kept trying to reach for saidar, but without any belief that she would touch it, now. She was going to die here after all. No hope. No Lan. And with hope gone, flickering on the edge of consciousness like a guttering candle flame, she did something she had never done before in her life. She surrendered completely.
Saidar flowed into her, filled her.
She breaks through the wall, barely conscious enough to kick upwards, though she does lash out when she feels something grab her. Reaching the surface she gasps for air and realizes that she is being supported and pulled by arms around her waist, and soon she is pulled roughly up onto the deck of a ship. She vomits, then is horrified to hear a voice she recognizes, Lan’s voice, speaking to someone.
She channels, wiping away the mess and drying herself, then turns and sees Lan, wet from the river and bruised where she punched him. She throws herself at him, Healing him and Delving him, drying him as she dried herself and fussing over him. Only when she hears someone refer to her as a “duckling who means to stuff herself in that wolf’s jaws,” does she remember their audience.
They retreat to the privacy of the boat’s cabin, where Lan tells her that Myrelle holds his bond, and that she is lending him to her. Furious, Nynaeve hits him several times, berating him for doing such a thing to her when he knew she was waiting for him, then attempts to compose herself. He explains what happens to a Warder when his Aes Sedai dies and the bond breaks, and Nynaeve is horrified, struggling to keep herself from weeping as he describes it.
Still, when he has finished, she tells him stiffly that she is going to make Myrelle give her his bond, and that they are going to be married. She even lies and tells him that, in the Two Rivers, giving someone a ring is considered a betrothal. He warns her about becoming man and wife when Myrelle still holds his bond, since she can feel everything he can feel.
She thought her face might burst into flame. She had never thought of that! Bloody Myrelle! “Is there any way to make sure she knows it is me?” she said finally, and her cheeks nearly did flash to fire. Especially when he fell back against the cabin wall laughing in astonishment.
His coldness returns quickly, but Nynaeve holds her ground about everything. He tells her about witnessing the balefire and she instantly deduces that it was Moghedien—and it is only then that she realizes that she has channeled many times without being angry. She is very sorry to learn that her bodyguards all died, but is determined to continue on the Windrunner, sending him out to give orders to the boatmen. He obeys, calling her Aes Sedai.
Elayne arrives at the Kin’s house again, this time with Merilille and all the other Aes Sedai with her. The servant recognizes the ageless look and panics, but Birgitte stops her from crying out. They follow her up to the room where Reanne is sitting with a dozen other women, all of whom can channel. When they see that Elayne has brought Aes Sedai, they all look ready to faint, and one actually does. Reanne studies them for a moment, then goes to her knees before Merilille and babbles a respectful, panicked apology, insisting that they are only a gathering of friends and apologizing for not reporting Elayne to them. Merillille directs her to Elayne, as the leader, and although Elayne is gratified at the recognition, she doesn’t much like having Reanne grovel to her.
She informs the Kin that the Aes Sedai have always known about them, and that the Amyrlin Seat desires every woman who can channel to be connected to the Tower, including the Kin. The women are overwhelmed at the idea that they might be able to become Aes Sedai after all, and Elayne promises that those who still are unable to achieve the shawl will also have a place. The Aes Sedai hide their shock at learning that there almost two thousands members of the Kin.
Elayne is just returning to the matter of the Bowl when they all feel someone channeling on a floor below, and hear a scream. Mat comes in a moment later, saying that he figured he’d find them all here, since there are so many Warders drinking across the street. He reports having followed a woman to the Rahad and found the building with the storeroom. Elayne tells him they know all about it now, but thanks him for his efforts and declares they will find the bowl in the morning.
Reanne asks if Mat is Elayne’s Warder, and is shocked to learn that Birgitte is. But the bigger shock comes when Elayne asks Reanne, as respectfully as she can, how old she is.
“My next naming day,” Reanne said as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world, “will be my four hundred and twelfth.”
Merilille fainted dead away.
Lots of fainting this week. These ladies need to loosen their corsets, I think.
It rather looks like the Aes Sedai might be about to start realizing what the Oath Rod is doing to them, now that they’re having more and more contact with non-Aes Sedai channelers. It will be really interesting to see what that changes for the Salidar Aes Sedai. We’ve seen how ready Egwene, Elyane, and Nynaeve are to embrace and bring change to the Tower, and it’s likely that their peers might be similarly flexible, but those rebel Aes Sedai who were sisters in the White Tower for some time have clung very hard to the old rules and old ways, afraid to admit that it might not be possible to return to pre-coup life. Now, however, faced with the shocking revelation that being tied to the Oath Rod seems to halve their lifespan, they may find that their faith in, and desire for, the old ways might be quite shaken.
What would it mean for the Aes Sedai not to be bound by the Three Oaths? What would it mean if none of them were marked out from the general population by the blurred ageless look that, until recently, they believed was a result of the persistent use of the One Power?
Accustomed to being thought of as the most powerful women in the world, the Aes Sedai are fast learning that they are not as unique or as knowledgeable as they always believed they were. There are other women who can channel, often quite strongly. There are other women who have knowledge of the secret things Aes Sedai used to study in the old days, such as Tel’aran’rhiod—knowledge that far surpasses that of any Aes Sedai now living. It is coming as quite a shock to them, and the lesson has been more than a little humbling. So much of being an Aes Sedai in Rand’s lifetime seems to be about being reduced, humbled, and punished. It’s interesting to think instead about what they might be able to gain. The discovery of new weaves, such as Traveling, which many of the current Aes Sedai will probably be strong enough to learn, the discovery that the Oath Rod is hampering the Aes Sedai in more ways than they realize, the discovery of how many women could be Aes Sedai if the rules were just changed a little—all these things could strengthen the White Tower in the years to come, balancing out some of the destabilization and losses they have experienced.
It’s funny, until recently I hadn’t really considered the fact that Egwene may well be able to build a new, better, stronger Aes Sedai. I’d thought of the fact that their current assets needed to be put to better use, and that there needed to be peace between the White Tower and Rand, but I hadn’t really considered how much untapped potential might exist among the Aes Sedai. If Egwene is actually able to defeat Elaida—or Alviarin, or whoever is in charge of the White Tower by the time Egwene and her army reach them—and her allies, she may well be able to create a new White Tower that far surpasses the old one.
Elayne has certainly made some huge strides in this section. I was rather glad that I’ve already read New Spring, because it made it a lot easier to understand the abrupt shift in power and authority. From Elayne’s perspective (and from that of most first-time readers) it might be difficult to understand why this outburst from Elayne was so effective, when other attempts at respect didn’t produce results. But we have been given some earlier examples of how the Aes Sedai hierarchy works, most recently with Merana. As she lost control over the Salidar embassy to Rand we saw various political forces at play—we learned that Aes Sedai follow the woman who is placed over them by the Hall or the Amyrlin, even if she is younger than they, but that the authority granted by the Hall in these matters is much less powerful than that of the Amyrlin. When Bera and Kiruna arrive, they feel free to take over because they stand higher in the One Power than Merana. Merana reflects that, if she had been given authority in this mission by an Amyrlin, it would have superseded Bera and Kiruna normally standing above her.
And now Elayne has reminded her companions that she and Nynaeve were specifically charged with a mission by the Amyrlin, and claimed that it gives them authority over the others, who were only sent by the Hall of the Little Tower. Elayne purposefully shot for the moon, expecting to get a quarter of what she asked for, but she didn’t realize she was asking for exactly the right thing, exactly what the Aes Sedai have been trained and programmed to respond to. And really, I expected them to resist harder. They have been thinking of Elayne and Nynaeve as Accepted because they were not raised in the traditional fashion, but also, I think, because Egwene was not raised to the Amyrlin Seat in the traditional fashion. These women were not part of the group who hoped to make Egwene a puppet Amyrlin of the Hall, a symbol and nothing more, but their awareness of her youth and the fact that she was only Accepted when she became Amyrlin—and therefore Aes Sedai by default—would certainly be coloring how they thought of Egwene and her authority.
But Elayne’s actions have forced them to confront that concept head-on, rather than leaving it as a subconscious impression. I think this will have far-reaching consequences, not just for Elayne and Nynaeve’s authority while in Ebou Dar, but also for Egwene’s going forward. Also, it’s interesting that Merilille noted that Elayne stands above them by virtue of strength in the power as well as having been placed above them, which means that Elayne either has already nearly reached her full potential as a channeler or that she is so powerful that even being partially there already puts her above many of the older sisters.
When Siuan and Moiraine were raised, they hadn’t reached their full potential yet, but were aware that they already weren’t that far from the top and that they would eventually have only a few sisters above them at all, so Elayne’s position now scans fairly well—we know that she, Egwene, and Nynaeve have been pushed much faster than White Tower students ordinarily would be. Still, for some reason the revelation surprised me.
Speaking of gaining a lot in a short span of time, things have certainly changed for Nynaeve. The narrative has been building thematically towards the destruction of her block for some time, and I’ve been excited to finally see it.
Nynaeve’s journey as a channeler has been very much about her fear. Her fear of danger, her fear of the One Power, her fear of being judged and discounted by those around her. Anger and lashing out has been her shield against actually facing that fear, and she has tried to control situations and other people in moments when she had no ability, and often no right, to do so. Nynaeve is afraid to be seen as anything other than perfectly strong, perfectly knowledgeable, perfectly in control of herself and the situation. As a result she is often less in control than she could be and often comes off as a ridiculous and contradictory person.
For me, all this makes Nynaeve the most relatable person in The Wheel of Time. Most human beings respond to fear and uncertainty with a desire for control. We try to plan for every outcome in our lives, to guard against any bad things ever happening to us. But there isn’t any such thing as control. Not really. Even the richest, wisest, most powerful person in the world can’t foresee all futures, can’t guard against every accident, illness, or change in circumstances. Yes, resources help, and plans can be useful, but ultimately, adaptability is far more helpful than trying to control the uncontrollable.
We aren’t the Wheel, we don’t spin the pattern. Even the Dragon Reborn can’t do that.
Our human desire for control as an antidote to the fear and uncertainty of being alive actually has an ironic effect on us—it makes us more afraid. By refusing to acknowledge that we can’t always protect ourselves against ever feeling pain or suffering loss, we make the idea of that suffering into a larger and larger monster in our minds, building walls against something that soon feels as though it is guaranteed to destroy us. The very thing that soothes our fears—the illusion of control—makes the things we fear feel impossible to face. We don’t believe we can survive them.
The problem I have with Chapter 31 and how Nynaeve’s block is eventually overcome is that it forgets about the theme her journey has been building to. In the moment when she realizes she cannot get out of the ship, she gives up trying to fight, which the narrative calls surrender. Technically the word fits, but it’s not the kind of surrender that fits the theme of Nynaeve’s story.
Now, to be fair, Jordan isn’t necessarily always doing a 1:1 ratio on his themes—there’s nothing to say that the experience of overcoming a block has to be thematically pristine. But I do think that the work he has done with Nynaeve’s psychology is too good not to carry it through to his moment. I wanted to see a moment on par with Nynaeve’s capture of Moghedien in Tel’aran’rhiod, a moment in which she made a choice to stand in the face of her fear. As she faced her fear of Moghedien and chose to use cunning rather than her usual brute force, so did I want to see her to face a loss of control and to choose to put her trust in someone she didn’t want to surrender to, perhaps put her life or dignity in Mat’s hands, or to link with one of the Tower Aes Sedai to save their lives or fight of some Shadowspawn. Realizing that she can’t save herself from drowning and giving up the fight doesn’t carry the same punch as a more active choice would have.
I do love the drama of having Lan being right there at the exact needed time. I don’t love that Nynaeve thinks it’s fine to physically abuse him, though. The narrative is pretty casual around the idea of women getting into physical fights with each other or occasionally landing blows on their menfolk, largely with the implication that there is enough of a discrepancy in size and physical power of women vs. men that these assaults don’t count for much, but in addition to the fact that there is more to the damage caused by such abuse than the evident physical results, and the fact that Lan in particular suffers more physical injury and pain than most, there is also the fact that she throws her weight around using the One Power, which entirely negates the question of physical strength in any case.
This battering about by Nynaeve comes at a time when Lan has already suffered immense emotional pain, not to mention rape—a fact Nynaeve selfishly determines not to recognize because of the pain it causes her to know that some other woman got to have Lan—and Nynaeve’s only criticism of her own behavior is that Lan is ill, and harshness doesn’t help the sick. Of course, this all isn’t exactly new for the story—Faile respected and loved Perrin more after he spanked her like a child, and we’ve seen how the Ebou Dari women treat their husbands, as just two examples. But it puts an unpleasant film over an otherwise beautiful moment, and it sullies Nynaeve a little as a character for me.
But I love the moments of joy between her and Lan, the way she makes him laugh, the way he seems more like himself even with the dark shadow that he believes will destroy him. I also noted that when Nynaeve Delved him she noticed “something odd,” so perhaps there is a physical (metaphysical?) wound that she can heal, which might help Lan recover. I also love the idea that she is going to marry him immediately, without waiting to get his Bond transferred or even to tell any of her friends. Just going to show up on the Sea Folk ship to try to negotiate more, then ask the Wavemistess to marry them.
Well. That does seem very Nynaeve.
In a way, Nynaeve and Elayne’s journeys in these chapters parallel each other. Elayne has always restrained herself when it comes to interacting with the Aes Sedai, has always been very respectful of their authority over her despite being raised as a future Queen. She has chosen to react to all situations with reasonableness and diplomacy, restraining herself from displaying too much anger. But in this encounter with Merilille and the others, that anger finally bursts through and she stops acting like a junior Aes Sedai and claims the respect she feels she is due. And it works in her favor.
Nynaeve, on the other hand, has always fought, argued, and refused to yield even in moments when it would have helped her to do so. But in this chapter she has finally done the opposite, allowing surrender for the first time. I wanted a different execution of this moment, but I do approve of the timing, of watching both Elayne and Nynaeve expand in new directions as adults, and as Aes Sedai.
Nynaeve can channel whenever she likes now, which is going to change a lot of things for her. Elayne has taken control of the Ebou Dar embassy, which means that they can now execute all their plans as they intend, barring complications from the Sea Folk and their side of things. I’m really excited to see what happens next.
But what is going to happen immediately next is a chapter with Elaida, who is about to find herself in a much worse position than she expects to. Alviarin is going to get up to some more Black Ajah shenanigans, and Rand deals with both his usual and some new feelings of self-loathing. Fortunately for him, Min is the most practical person in this story, and she will set him to rights. Hopefully.
Sylas K Barrett finds it endlessly charming that Nynaeve, having been unsure if she would ever see Lan again, and having also nearly died a moment ago, is immediately upset that Lan should see her in such a state, even before she lets herself be happy and relieved. It’s really something.