This week in our read of The Path of Daggers, we’re picking up where we left off in Chapter 5. Elayne has had her heart to heart with Aviendha. Nynaeve has confessed that her worry over Lan has her “behaving like a fool.” And now, it is time to use the Bowl of the Winds—and quickly, if what’s happening over in Ebou Dar is anything to judge by.
The Bowl of the Winds sat atop its unfolded white wrappings in the center of the hilltop, a shallow, heavy disc of clear crystal two feet across, worked inside with thick swirling clouds. An ornate piece, yet simple when you thought of what it could do. What they hoped it could do.
Nynaeve takes her place by the bowl, along with Reanne, Kirstian and Garenia. Elayne and Aviendha join them, and then Renaile starts assigning windfinders to their “stations.” The first two are the apprentices whose strength Elayne noted when they were coming through the gateway. She names Caire din Gelyn Running Wave as in command. Elayne notices tension between Caire and the woman named just before her, Tebreille, who is clearly her sister.
With thirteen women arrayed around the bowl, Elayne takes a moment to pass the turtle angreal to Talaan, one of the apprentices and Caire’s daughter, but when she speaks Caire shouts for silence, declaring that no woman may speak or leave her station without instruction. Caire then gives a speech, announcing that today they will do something that has not been done since the Breaking of the World, when their ancestors used the Bowl to survive “wind and wave gone mad.” She announces that she has studied all the ancient texts and knows more than anyone alive about the Bowl.
“What the Aes Sedai cannot do, I will do today, if it pleases the Light. I expect every woman to stand her station to the last. I will not accept failure.”
Elayne and Nynaeve demonstrate how to link, with Elayne opening herself to the source but not embracing it, so that Nynaeve can embrace it through her. Nynaeve manages to explain embracing the source through an angreal at the same time, by comparing the two processes. Renaile breaks in, accusing the Aes Sedai of being able to seize and control another woman. The Brown sister Sareitha explains that this process has been extensively studied, and it has been proven that one woman cannot link another against her will—willing surrender is necessary.
For the next part of the demonstration, Nynaeve and Elayne show the group how to pass control of the circle. Elayne is grateful when it goes smoothly; Nynaeve often has trouble entering a circle or giving up control, because of the surrender it requires. Elayne links next with Aviendha, so Talaan can see how it is done when an angreal is involved, and then Elayne begins bringing the other women in, one by one. It takes four tries to bring Caire into the circle, and when Elayne passes control Caire seizes it roughly.
At that moment, Caire drew deeply. Saidar flooded through Elayne, almost as much as she could hold; an unbroken ring of light blazed into being, joining the women in the circle, brighter wherever one used an angreal, but nowhere faint. She watched closely as Caire channeled, forming a complex weave of all Five Powers, a four-pointed star that she laid atop the Bowl with what Elayne somehow was sure was exquisite precision.
The Bowl changes, sky blue with white clouds billowing across its surface. As Caire adds new points to the star the bowl changes again, dark blue with heavy clouds, a gray-green stormy sea. When there are nine points to the star Elayne feels the Bowl draw a great quantity of saidar, and a column of it rushes up out of the bowl—and they know by a sense of absence that the Bowl is drawing saidin as well. As Elayne looks around, she can see the fearful and queasy looks on many of the women’s faces, but Caire continues to weave, and the column spreads out in a lacy umbrella over the land.
When Caire is finished she stops abruptly, basically collapsing as she releases saidar. That is not a good way to release a circle, dropping every woman in it out of saidar suddenly, and Elayne is instantly aware of how tired she is. Several of the other woman look close to collapse, and Nynaeve sits down heavily. Still, she observes the sky, and the now-quiet Bowl, and observes that nothing seems to have happened.
Caire points out how it must take time for such an enormous shift, but assures Nynaeve that when it comes, even the Father of Storms won’t be able to stop it. And now, as per their bargain, the Bowl belongs to the Sea Folk. Renaile agrees, and starts wrapping the Bowl up to return to the Mistress of Ships, but Nynaeve tells her firmly that they won’t know for sure if they have fulfilled their part of the bargain until the weather changes. Then she stops, remarking that she still feels a sort of echo of saidar. Elayne does as well, and they all turn to look south, where lightning is flashing over Ebou Dar. Nynaeve and Elayne are instantly worried about the Forsaken, and Nynaeve immediately declares her intention to go back to the city to find Mat.
Elayne also feels a responsibility and care for Mat, as well as Thom, and Olver, and others, but she forces herself to be logical, and to do what is necessary, not what she wants to do.
“No,” she said, then more firmly, “No. Look at you, Nynaeve; you can hardly stand. Even if we all went, what could we do? How many of the Forsaken are there? We’d die, or worse, for no gain. The Forsaken have no reason to look for Mat or the others. It’s us they will be after.”
Nynaeve appeals to Aviendha’s honor, but the former Maiden agrees with Elayne; this is not a time to fight without hope, and they cannot risk the Shadow obtaining the Bowl.
Suddenly they see a flying beast overhead and several women shoot fire at the creature, knocking it from the sky. A second one manages to escape behind a hilltop. But Elayne and Nynaeve are able to recognize the creature, and inform the others that it is not the Forsaken in Ebou Dar, but the Seanchan. Elayne warns everyone that they must leave immediately and evacuate the farm, or every one of them will be collared.
Renaile tries to form a gateway back to her ship, but she hasn’t been on the hilltop long enough to be successful. Elayne tells her that their bargain isn’t complete until the weather is right and that Renaile made a bargain with Mat Cauthon, Elayne’s subject, to go where Elayne wants her to go. She commands Renaile to get down the hill at once, and is surprised when her barked order to run is obeyed by everyone.
Elayne runs too, and despite the urgency she finds herself laughing, delighted with the joy of running and the fact that she was successful in commanding like a queen. But she loses some of that joy and queenly dignity right at the bottom of the hill when she trips and goes sprawling. Birgitte helps her up, and Elayne notices that her warder is taut as a drawn bow. She has told Alise about the Seanchan, and Alise has already set everyone in the farm to work packing up in preparation to flee the area.
Nynaeve is flustered and unhappy that there are no orders left to give, and chafes under Alise’s motherly calm. Even Elayne’s ter’angreal have been packed up already, and those panniers that she and Aviendha emptied are already filled with food stores. Elayne is a little distressed that someone else handled her ter’angreal, partly because it can be dangerous to do so, even for non-channelers, but also because she feels possessive over the objects.
Before long the bustle in the farm starts to resolve itself into order. Some women who refuse to come with the group to Andor are literally chased off, and Alise has to be firm with some of the noblewomen who don’t want to leave their possessions behind. She also intervenes when Renaile and Nynaeve quarrel over possession of the Bowl and the turtle angreal. Elayne is surprised to see how quickly Alise has the Bowl in Sareitha’s care and the turtle in Merilille’s, and even more surprised to see Alise scolding Renaile and lecturing her about theft.
Once they are all ready, Elayne prepares herself to form a gateway. She has been standing in one spot holding saidar long enough to know the area, but the gateway wavers a little as she forms the weaves, because she is so tired. The gateway opens into a meadow not far from one of her mother’s estates.
Elayne had chosen that destination because they could reach Caemlyn in two weeks from there. And because the estate was so isolated, she might be entering Caemlyn before anyone knew she was in Andor. That could be a very necessary precaution; at various times in Andor’s history, rivals for the Rose Crown had been kept as “guests” until they relinquished their claims. Her mother had kept two, until she took the throne. With luck, she could have a solid base established by the time Egwene and the others arrived.
Elayne knows that everyone will argue with her if she explains what she is about to do, so instead of letting go of the gateway weave once everyone is through, she plucks loose one of the threads, then tells Nynaeve to take everyone to the manor house and that she will wait to unravel the weave any further until they are all out of sight.
“The Seanchan will be at the farm in hours, for sure. Even if they wait until tomorrow, what if one of the damane has the Talent to read residues? Nynaeve, I won’t give Traveling to the Seanchan. I won’t!”
Aviendha tells Nynaeve that once the unweaving has begun it cannot be stopped. Nynaeve reluctantly leaves after hugging Elayne fiercely and threatening what she will do to Elayne if Elayne gets herself killed. Elayne tries to send Aviendha and Birgitte away too, but they refuse.
Once everyone else is out of sight, Aviendha explains to Elayne how to perform the unweaving. It doesn’t sound difficult, though it requires patience and care, but as Elayne works she finds it very hard to hold the weave as she pulls, and the threads become slick and difficult to grasp as time passes. She is soon trembling and drenched in sweat, and then Seanchan soldiers show up at the farm, along with three sul’dam and damane pairs.
Elayne warns everyone to get down as lightning bursts through the gateway. Soldiers begin leaping through the gateway, to be met by Birgitte’s arrows, but their arrows strike Aviendha’s arm and Birgitte’s thigh. Elayne tries to pull the next thread, but once she has hold of it she realizes that she can’t do anything more. Aided by her angreal, Aviendha begins sending balls of fire through the gateway, stopping any more soldiers from coming through, and Elayne tells both of them to get away, as far as they can. But Birgitte is having none of it, and helps first Aviendha and then Elayne up onto their horses, basically having to carry Elayne despite her own injured leg. Aviendha and Elayne ride backwards as Birgitte guides the horses into a gallop away from the gateway.
Elayne holds onto the weave, while Aviendha does her best to keep sending balls of fire, despite her obvious exhaustion. Eventually she sags in her saddle and loses saidar, unable to continue, and sul’dam and damane begin to come through the gateway as the trio reaches reach the crest of a hill. Elayne sees one of the damane begin to form a weave, and she is too tired to resist the Shield that forms around her, cutting her off from the source. Aviendha throws herself at Elayne, carrying them both to the ground.
The air turned white, blanking her sight. There was sound—she knew there was sound, a great roar—but it lay beyond hearing. Something struck her, as if she had fallen from a rooftop onto hard pavement, from a tower top.
Elayne lies staring up at the sky for a while, then eventually comes back to herself. She and Aviendha crawl to each other, and Birgitte comes over to tell them that both Aviendha and Elayne’s horses are dead, and her own has run off. They go back to the crest of the hill to see the damage, and Elayne is shocked at the devastation, the fire-ringed meadow completely blackened and blown bare even of boulders. There’s no sign of the sul’dam and damane, and Elayne says a prayer for their souls.
Elayne makes a joke about not doing as well as Aviendha did with the unweaving, but that it has all turned out for the best. She mentions that they now also have a new weapon, but Aviendha corrects her.
“You do not understand, Elayne.” Aviendha gestured toward the center of the meadow, where the gateway had been. “That could have been no more than a flash of light, or even less. You cannot tell until it happens. Is a flash of light worth the risk of burning out yourself and every woman closer to you than a hundred paces or more?”
Elayne is shocked and moved to realize that Aviendha would risk not only death, but being burned out, for Elayne’s sake. Tearily she tells Aviendha that she wants to become first sisters as soon as they can, and Aviendha agrees. Birgitte spots Lan and Nynaeve on horseback in the distance, and the exhausted trio sit down to wait.
Back in Altara, a seanchan raken rider named Chulein flies over the farm, ignoring the balls of fire leaping apparently out of thin air as she keeps watch for any trouble approaching from outside the area. She and her fellow rider, Eliya, joke about the money they will make today and the idea of buying their own damane, since there are so many marath’damane in this area. A sudden explosion hits them and the raken nearly falls from the sky, but he is able to right himself at the last minute. Chulein realizes that Eliya’s safety straps broke during the fall and that she is gone, but she refocuses on doing her job.
The farm is gone, nothing but rubble and fire for a hundred paces, and broken trees for another hundred more. She has never seen anything like it, and clearly everyone down there was killed.
Everyone said this was a land full of marath’damane waiting to be collared, but with this new weapon, these women who called themselves Aes Sedai were a true danger. Something had to be done about them, something decisive. Perhaps, if the High Lady Suroth was on her way to Ebou Dar, she would see the need, too.
I am very engrossed in this book so far! A Crown of Swords was good, but it did lag in places, and there were moments in later chapters where I felt like Jordan was withholding details and explanations that I really wanted. In The Path of Daggers he has been offering us much more detail about the weaving of saidar, not only how it works but also how it feels and looks to those doing the weaving, and what it is like to form a link. I really appreciate how very specific Jordan can be in his descriptions, be it of setting and place, someone’s demeanor, the sound of language, or the experience of channeling.
Both chapters in this section have very intensive scenes of channeling, first with the demonstration of forming a circle and the use of the Bowl of the Winds in Chapter 5 and then Elayne’s experience with channeling while fatigued and trying to unweave her gateway in Chapter 6. Jordan really takes his time letting the reader see and feel along with Elayne, and each experience feels very distinct and different as well.
There are so many good moments I hardly know where to start. I really appreciated the detail that Nynaeve isn’t very good at joining a circle or turning over control over a link because she is bad at surrendering. It is a very interesting part of her character, and one that isn’t going to go away just because she got past her block. I don’t always like the way Jordan handles this aspect of Nynaeve and what surrender means in general, but on the whole I think the issue is a really interesting one thematically, both for Nynaeve as a character and for the use of saidar in general. Nynaeve has learned a lot about surrendering to saidar, which comes easily now. Less easy is to surrender to others, but she can do it—sometimes. She can do it with Elayne much more easily because she respects and trusts, not to mention loves, Elayne. It’s harder to do with others who Nynaeve doesn’t feel comfortable and safe with.
Elayne finds herself wondering why Nynaeve doesn’t put Alise in her place, and I think that the answer to that is fairly complicated. Nynaeve has her experience as the Wisdom of Emond’s Field Wise to draw on, and is accustomed to leading women older than herself. But Alise is probably far older, and much more experienced. Nynaeve has recently had several experiences in which she was unable to get her way with an older, more experienced channeler, including with other members of the Kin. She has authority with them now because the Kin have recognized her as an Aes Sedai, but Alise seems less cowed than Reanne, and Nynaeve might be feeling hesitant to have such a potentially humbling confrontation a second time. After all, she is dealing with some very humbling consequences with the Sea Folk, after making the bargain with them. Renaile and the Windfinders clearly don’t respect any Aes Sedai, and certainly not the ones they were so successful at negotiating against.
Alise is also smoothing the way for Nynaeve. She’s capable of handling the windfinders almost as easily as her own people, and as much as Nynaeve needs to boss people around, even she must get tired of it after a while. And although I doubt Nynaeve will ever fully get over her need to bluster and throw her weight around when she feels threatened, she is slowly learning other ways of handling her insecurities, and even of relying on other people (Lan, Elayne, Egwene) from time to time. And after using the angreal in the circle, she might just be too tired to do more than grumble a little about Alise.
And even though Elayne and Nynaeve seem to take Alise’s mothering as condescending, there might be a part of Nynaeve that also likes it a little bit. People who think of themselves as protectors often don’t get taken care of enough in turn, and Nynaeve is a prime example of such a person.
I really felt for Nynaeve’s pain when she realized she had to leave Mat to the mercy of the Seanchan. It reminded me very much of the Nynaeve we first met back in The Eye of the World, who dropped her whole life to go after four young people from her village, and who she felt intimately responsible for though she herself was hardly older than them. A young woman, hardly more than a girl, who Mat, Rand, Egwene, and Perrin’s families trusted to find them and bring them home. And when Nynaeve learned that it wasn’t safe for the four to go back to Emond’s Field, she chose to stay and to protect them as best she could, even before her desire to learn Healing compelled her to choose a different life for herself. And now, seven books later, we see her forced to abandon one of those charges she gave up everything for to a possibly terrible fate. It shows a lot of character growth from Nynaeve, possibly more than her willingness to apologize to Elayne. Elayne can see how much pain Nynaeve is in, and Nynaeve doesn’t even try to cover it with bluster. Instead she recognizes the truth of Aviendha and Elayne’s advice, and even accepts comfort from Elayne.
I’m so proud of her.
In contrast to Nynaeve’s slow progress in learning to relinquish control, Elayne is quickly coming into her own as a leader. She still knows when to compromise or smooth things over, and how to get people to listen to her without ordering or throwing her weight around, but she is increasingly ready to stand firm and give orders when she deems it necessary. Being accepted as a leader by Merilille and the rest seems to have supercharged that progress, and I shared Elayne’s delight at her success there. As I mentioned last week, I was a little surprised at the revelation that Elayne intends to return to Andor once work with the Bowl is complete. She told Mat that the Bowl was too important for her to abandon everything and return to Andor, but I assumed after that was done there would be something else equally important that comes up. Which indeed there might be.
But Elayne was also upset with Mat’s comment that Rand intended to give her the Lion Throne. She didn’t like the implication that the throne was Rand’s to give. And in this section we see that she doesn’t acknowledge Rand’s involvement in any way—she seems to be acting as though he isn’t in Andor waiting for her. I’m not sure if this is because she doesn’t believe he can hold the throne for her, or only because she thinks of the question of her succession as none of his business. But he is involving himself, and she seems to be thinking of convincing the nobility to follow her and dealing with rival claimants without considering that Rand will be a factor in how the Andoran nobility is feeling and reacting, one way or the other.
The parallels between Elayne and Rand continue this week. Her humor in the face of the explosion reminded me of him a lot, and I could imagine a very similar conversation between Rand and Perrin or Rand and Mat as the one she has with Aviendha about it. Elayne’s thoughts about heroes in the old stories also reminded me of Perrin and Mat.
I also really enjoyed the solidarity and love we see between Aviendha, Elayne, and Birgitte. Jordan’s work is often lauded for his important and complex female characters. This praise is not always fully justified—there is still a lot of sexism in how Jordan writes women, as well as gratuitous objectification. But in many ways the praise is quite merited, and I appreciate particularly his devotion to showing how strong the bonds of friendship between women can be. And although I wish the polyamory in Aiel culture went both ways, the way that Elayne and Min deal with their own feelings of insecurity and jealous around their shared love of Rand is really well written. Jordan neither insists that they be unrealistically perfect, nor does he make them act as rivals to each other.
And the relationship between Birgitte and Elayne is even more beautiful. Birgitte’s bonding was non-consensual, since Birgitte was unconscious at the time, but she and Elayne have developed a very impressive example of the Warder/Aes Sedai relationship. Birgitte is loyal to her Aes Sedai as a servant of sorts, but they are also dear friends, and that loyalty is born out of love and respect and admiration, not just the enforced connection the bond makes. Birgitte and Aviendha’s mutual respect for each other is also profound, and I really loved seeing how beautifully they worked together as a team during the Seanchan attack. It is only because both Birgitte and Aviendha were there that Elayne survived. If only Birgitte or only Aviendha had stayed, the results would have been much different.
It was really interesting learning how forming links and a circle work. I had wondered if linking allowed a communication similar to the warder bond, which has been confirmed in this section. The explanation that being the controlling member of a link was much like using an angreal made a lot of sense. Reading about the demonstration and Elayne’s experience of having Nynaeve grasp saidar through her was also a good reminder that women experience channeling in different ways. Nynaeve, for example, does not have a light touch, which makes perfect sense. Caire seems to be even worse, which probably tells a lot about her personality.
Personality isn’t the only thing that affects how a woman channels. Aviendha and Elayne are both almost as strong in the One Power as Nynaeve, but neither has the Talent for Healing. Elayne has a Talent for understanding and making angreal that no living Aes Sedai (as far as we know) has. Strength in the One Power is only one aspect of what a channeler can do, and it’s another reminder of the limitations of the Aes Sedai hierarchy, though they do acknowledge Talents in some ways. We also learn in Chapter 5 that the Windfinders and the Wise Ones don’t use the physical motions the Aes Sedai use for channeling, which is less about Strength and Talent than about technique, but is still a very interesting distinction.
Obviously everyone who joins the Yellow Ajah has a strong affinity for Healing, but I find myself wondering if there are ever members whose Talent is so strong that it makes them stronger or more successful at Healing weaves than someone who might be stronger than them in the Power but not be quite as gifted in the Talent. If so, I think the Ajah might prioritize or reward that in some way, though they would still need to keep to the strength hierarchy for the most part.
When Sareitha is explaining how links cannot be formed against someone’s will, she tells Renaile that the White Tower studied linking extensively in hopes of finding a way that male channelers might be controlled, since they, too, can be brought into a circle, and circles don’t break even if you go to sleep. She insists that the whole experiment was a failure, and states plainly that it is impossible to force a woman into a circle. But Elayne notes that Sareitha mentioned that not all Tower records on the subject survived, and wonders what information on linking might have been lost. For my part, it feels very significant that the idea of involuntary links would come up in a section that also features the Seanchan and their damane. The a’dams are clearly angreal or ter’angreal, and the description of the experience of sul’dam and damane is very similar to the one we have of linking. So a woman can be forced into a link against her will, and if it can be done with a specific kind of angreal, then it is at least theoretically possible that there is a way to do it without one.
We also know that there was an a’dam-like device for women to use on men: the collar and bracelets that the Shadow wanted to obtain to use on Rand. That device was given to Egeanin to throw into the ocean, but others might exist, or have existed at one time. It seems pretty unlikely that a saidar user could forcibly link with a saidin user against his will because of the differences between the two halves of the One Power, but again, if it is possible with an angreal then it could be possible without one. The Warder bond can be made non-consensually, after all, and is apparently a type of weave that didn’t even exist in the Age of Legends.
You know, I’d bet that the Aes Sedai/Warder Bond was discovered exactly because the post-Breaking Aes Sedai were looking into this forcible bonding of male channelers. They weren’t able to come up with anything there, but the ability to bond non-channeler men was probably discovered through that research.
I do wish the section from Chulein’s POV had been as well described as the various sections with channeling were. As far as her mood and experiences go we learned a lot, enough that I was even a little moved when Eliya died. There was some great foreshadowing in that section when Chulein and double-checked her safety harness. But I still don’t really know what a raken looks like, or a to’raken, and I would have liked a bit more visual description from the point of view of someone who isn’t seeing the thing from a distance for the first time. I did, however, enjoy the mentions of Suroth, and Chulein’s observations that the High Lady was wasting the to’raken moving her entourage instead of the much-needed soldiers. I don’t know if some extra Fists of Heaven (What a name! The Whitecloaks will be jealous.) would have been able to do anything these soldiers and sul’dam and damane could not, given how small the gateway was, but you never know. This could well be another case of the bad guys causing their own defeat.
I also noticed that there are some similarities between phrases that Birgitte uses and those used by the Seanchan. In the same chapter we have Birgitte say “truth for true” and Chulein use the phrase “truth for sure,” which makes sense since the Seanchan have been separated from the rest of the continent since Hawkwing’s time, and would have perhaps retained some linguistic quirks and phrases that have evolved out of the speech of the other lands. It’s a neat little detail—again, Jordan is really impressive in this area. I also noticed that the Seanchan have a tradition of sharing the spoils of their conquests with everyone who participates, just as the Aiel do. The Aiel have “the fifth,” while the Seanchan have the “taking gold.”
Next week we will rejoin Perrin and his party in Chapters 7 and 8! In the meantime, I may do some cautious googling to see if I can find any pictures or fanart of raken, just to help my imagination along a little. Have a great week, dear readers!