WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT
In The Path of Daggers prologue, Verin considered writing Rand a note that Katerine had escaped:
Aeron did not go, however, not immediately. "You will not speak of Katerine Alruddin to the Car'a'carn," she said. "He has enough to occupy his thoughts without giving him trifles to worry over."Instead, she wrote him a warning letter which only touched on the Black Ajah (and so did not betray her oaths to the Dark One) in Knife of Dreams:
"I will say nothing to him about her," Verin agreed quickly. Trifles? A Red with Katerine's strength was no trifle. Perhaps a note. It needed thought.
"My Lord Dragon," the old man said with a bow that spilled more water down his back, "Verin Sedai instructed me to give this to you straightaway." From beneath his coat, he produced a paper, folded and sealed.Verin could hardly tell Rand what she would be about next: delivering missives to people who would hand them to the intended recipients and then giving Egwene her report on the Shadow, and the Black Ajah in particular. Some of her letters could not be read until after she was either dead or freed from her oaths to never betray the Dark One to the very hour of her death.
Rand hastily stuffed it into a pocket of his own coat against the rain. Ink ran easily. "Thank you, but it could have waited till I returned to the house. Best you get back inside before you're soaked through completely."
"She did say straightaway, my Lord Dragon."
What did Verin have to say that she needed to put in a letter? Thumbing the seal, Rand walked on...
Rand took out Verin's letter and broke the blob of yellow sealing wax impressed with the head of a Great Serpent ring. The Brown sister's spidery hand covered most of the page, a few letters blotted where raindrops had soaked the paper...
As I said, I have done what I can do here. I believe that I can fulfill my oath to you better elsewhere, so I have taken Tomas and gone to be about it. There are many ways to serve you, after all, and many needs. I am convinced that you can trust Cadsuane, and you certainly should heed her advice, but be wary of other sisters, including those who have sworn fealty to you. Such an oath means nothing to a Black sister, and even those who walk in the Light may interpret it in ways you would disapprove of. You already know that few see that oath as invoking absolute obedience in all things. Some may find other holes. So whether or not you follow Cadsuane's advice and I repeat that you should, follow mine. Be very wary.
It was signed simply, "Verin."
He grunted sourly. Few thought the oath meant absolute obedience? It was more like none. They obeyed, usually, yet the letter was not always the spirit. Take Verin herself. She warned him against the others doing things he might disapprove of, but she had not said where she was going or what she intended to do there. Was she afraid he might not approve? Maybe it was just Aes Sedai concealment. Sisters kept secrets as naturally as they breathed.
When he held out the letter to Cadsuane, her left eyebrow twitched slightly. She must have been truly startled to show so much, but she took the letter and held it where the lantern's light illuminated it.
"A woman of many masks," she said finally, handing the page back. "But she gives good advice here."
- Knife of Dreams, The Golden Crane
Rand trusted Cadsuane enough to show her the letter but that trust was eroded away by harsh events and his increasing psychological and spiritual breakdown.
This letter was sealed in yellow wax. The symbolism of yellow is ambivalent. It is associated with the sun and therefore with royalty, youth, happiness and the health of the Land. In this sense it marks the letter as Rand’s, Rand being Lord of the Morning, Prince of the Dawn and Sol Invictus (see Rand essay). However yellow is also associated with renunciation, disease and betrayal. In Chinese theatre yellow make-up labelled a character as treacherous (Jack Tressider, Symbols and their Meanings). Verin is linked with the Shadow, which blights the Land, even though her aim is to betray it.
Verin’s letter writing began in earnest in The Gathering Storm and these letters were all sealed with “blood red” wax. That wax represents the ‘blood price’ Verin paid to betray information on the Shadow’s plots and the blood that will be spilt following her advice (or failing to).
It also mirrors events in Lord of Chaos, Red Wax, and the red seal on the agreement Morgase made with the Whitecloaks to give them major concessions in return for their military aid in regaining her throne. Instead, Niall’s blood was soon spilled for not publicising this political triumph to the Children.
The first of Verin’s “sealed in blood’ letters to be seen onscreen was for Mat:
She slipped a small folded piece of paper out from under the picture. It was sealed with a drop of blood-red wax.Her “small stack” was probably more than the three other letters we know of so far. She may even have written more letters after she returned to the Tower and saw conditions there.
Mat took it hesitantly. "It is?"
"Instructions," Verin said. "Which you will follow on the tenth day after I leave you in Caemlyn."
He scratched his neck, frowning, then moved to break the seal.
"You aren't to open them until that day," Verin said.
"What?" Mat demanded. "But—"
"That is my cost," Verin said simply.
"Bloody woman," he said, looking back at the paper. "I'm not going to swear to something unless I know what it is."
"I doubt you will find my instructions harsh, Matrim," she noted.
Mat scowled at the seal for a moment, then stood up. "I pass on it."
She pursed her lips. "Matrim, you—"
"Call me Mat," he said, grabbing his hat off the top of a cushion. "And I said there's no deal. I'll be in Caemlyn in twenty days of marching, anyway." He pushed open the tent flaps, gesturing out. "I'm not going to have you tying strings around me, woman."
She didn't move, though she did frown. "I had forgotten how difficult you can be."
"And proud of it," Mat said.
"And if we have a compromise?" Verin asked.
"You'll tell me what is in that bloody paper?"
"No," Verin said. "Because I might not need you to go through with the contents. I hope to be able to return to you and relieve you of the letter and send you on your way. But if I cannot..."
"The compromise, then?" Mat said.
"You may choose not to open the letter," Verin said. "Burn it. But if you do so, you wait fifty days in Caemlyn, just in case it takes me longer to return than I had expected."
That gave him pause. Fifty days was a long time to wait. But if he could do it in Caemlyn, rather than traveling on his own. . . .
Was Elayne in the city? He'd worried about her, since her escape from Ebou Dar. If she was there, he might at least be able to get production started quickly on Aludra's dragons.
But fifty days? Waiting? Either that, or open the bloody letter and do what it said? He didn't like either option. "Twenty days," he said.
"Thirty days," she said, rising, then raised a finger to cut off his objection. "A compromise, Mat. Among Aes Sedai, I think you shall find me to be far more amenable to those than most." She held out her hand.
Thirty days. He could wait thirty days. He looked at the letter in his hands. He could resist opening it, and thirty days of waiting didn't really lose him any time. It was only a little longer than he'd take to reach Caemlyn on his own. In fact, this was a bloody bargain! He needed a few weeks to get the dragons going, and he wanted time to find out more about the Tower of Ghenjei and the snakes and foxes. Thom couldn't complain—when it would take them two weeks to reach Caemlyn anyway.
Verin eyed him, a hint of worry on her face. He couldn't let her know how pleased he was. Let a woman know that, and she'd find some way to make you pay her back.
"Thirty days," Mat said reluctantly, taking her hand, "but at the end of them, I can go."
"Or you can open the letter after ten days," Verin said, "and do what it says. One of the two, Matrim. I have your word?"
"You do," he said. "But I'm not going to open the bloody letter. I'm going to wait thirty days, then be off on my business."
"We shall see," she said, smiling to herself and releasing his hand. She folded up the picture of him, then took a small leather-bound satchel from her pocket. She opened it, sliding the picture inside, and as she did, he noticed that she had a small stack of folded, sealed pieces of paper inside just like the one he was holding. What was the purpose of those?
- The Gathering Storm, The Death of Tuon
Thanks to Olver, we learn what was in the letter:
“Talmanes,” Olver said insistently. “I think it’s important.”Well, Mat did warn Verin that he wouldn’t open it. Verin expected Mat to open the letter before the ten days were up. Her backup plan was to hold him in Caemlyn for thirty days because she thought the Shadowspawn would likely come in that time and Mat would be able to defend the city against them and win. The Pattern would see to it. But you can’t hold a trickster and the attack on Caemlyn came a little later than Verin expected.
Talmanes hesitated. He seemed torn for a moment, then held the letter so that the light shone better on it. He read it quickly, with the air of a boy stealing food from a street vendor’s cart and stuffing into his mouth before he could be discovered.
Talmanes whispered a curse under his breath. He read the letter again, then cursed more loudly. He grabbed his sword from the side of the room and dashed out of the tent. He left the letter on the floor.
Olver looked it over again, sounding out the words he had not understood the first time.
If you are opening this, then I am dead. I had planned to return and release you of your oath in a single day. There are many potential complications to my next task, however, and a large chance that I will not survive. I needed to know that I’d left someone behind who could see this work done.
Fortunately, if there’s one thing I believe I can rely upon, it is your curiosity. I suspect you lasted a few days in opening this letter, which is long enough for me to have returned if I were going to. Therefore, this task falls upon you.
There is a Waygate in Caemlyn. It is guarded, barricaded, and thought secure. It is not.
An enormous force of Shadowspawn moves through the Ways toward Caemlyn. I do not know when they left exactly, but there should be time to stop them. You must reach the Queen and persuade her to destroy the Waygate. It can be done; walling it up will not suffice. If you cannot destroy it, the Queen must bring all of her forces to bear upon guarding the location.
If you fail in this, I fear Caemlyn will be lost before the month is out.
- Towers of Midnight, Epilogue
What if Verin had written this letter to Elayne? Verin had no bargaining power with her, to get her to agree to wait before opening such a letter as she did Mat, and she probably did not know anyone who could be trusted to deliver it to Elayne at the right time.
I think this situation fulfils Egwene’s dream of:
Mat, weighing two Aes Sedai on a huge set of balance scales, and on his decision depended....She could not say what; something vast; the world, perhaps.Mat weighed his word to Verin versus his quest to rescue Moiraine. Moiraine has a vital part to play yet, unfortunately so vital that part of Caemlyn is sacrificed.
- The Path Of Daggers, Stronger than Written Law
The second letter we see delivered was to Rand:
She [Siuan] opened her mouth, but was cut off as an Aes Sedai pushed through the group. Tiana?and because Tiana is bound by the Oaths, she had to deliver on her promise. Tiana only agreed because she thought that Rand would never come to the Tower and she would never have to keep her promise. Therefore Verin's instructions were that Tiana had to give the letter to Rand in the Tower. Verin must have visited the rebels to have given it to Tiana, since the Tower united after she died. Judging by her compliments to Egwene, Verin thought that Elaida was finished and Egwene would soon be Amyrlin. (How much she knew of the imminent Seanchan attack and whether she believed Egwene would repel it is another matter.) It’s quite possible that Elaida’s foretelling that the Dragon Reborn would face the Amyrlin Seat which Alviarin told Mesaana was passed among the Black Ajah. Alternatively, Verin may have believed that Rand would meet Egwene fairly soon whether Egwene was Amyrlin or not. For instance, it might be prophesied in the Karaethon Cycle.
The woman pulled something out of her sleeve and proffered it to Rand. A small letter with a red seal. “This is for you,” she said. Her voice sounded tense, and her fingers trembled, though the tremble was so faint that most would have missed it. Siuan had learned to look for signs of emotion in Aes Sedai, however.
Al’Thor raised an eyebrow, then reached over and took it. “What is it?”
“I promised to deliver it,” Tiana said. “I would have said no, but I never thought you’d actually come to...I mean...” She cut herself off, closing her mouth. Then she withdrew into the crowd.
Al’Thor slipped the note into his pocket without reading it.
- Towers of Midnight, The Amyrlin’s Anger
Rand seems to have opened it and learned that the Tower was holding Mattin Stepaneos:
“The King of Arad Doman. Where did she find him?” Min said. “How did you know?”and realised that the Aes Sedai may have made the same offer to King Alsalam but had not been able to reach to the Tower with him due to the chaos in Arad Doman.
“A friend left me a secret,” Rand said. “The White Tower collected Mattin Stepaneos to ‘protect’ him. Well, it wasn’t too much of a leap to wonder if they might have done that with other monarchs.”
- Towers of Midnight, A Storm of Light
The letter also probably told him that Weiramon, and perhaps Anaiyella too, are Darkfriends. Just after telling Cadsuane he had been informed the Tower was holding Mattin Stepaneos and how he thinks someone else - Alsalam - might be located in the Caralain Grass, Rand then examined the Tairen nobles one by one to see if they could stand his gaze (Towers of Midnight, For What Has Been Wrought). He was not surprised Weiramon couldn't do so, and maybe not Anaiyella either: he said "so it is you...both of you." Although Rand might have been less sure about Anaiyella until she confirmed it by her revulsion.
Rand's letter may hold other information unrevealed as yet.
Perhaps the most dramatic response to one of Verin’s letters was made by Alanna:
“Alanna is gone,” Sarene continued, unruffled. “Vanished right from her chambers. The Defenders, they didn’t see her go, and there was no sign of a gateway.”The empty ink bottle suggests that Alanna wrote a note to someone before she left in a hurry. She probably wove a disguise, as a servant, for instance, with the Power and may have hidden her ability to channel too, if she had been shown this weave. Once away from her chamber or outside the Stone she could Travel.
“Oh. Well, let’s go then.” Nynaeve bustled out of the chamber.------
“And I’m telling you that I felt nothing,” Corele said. She smiled, tapping the side of her nose. “I don’t know how she got out. Unless you think she somehow invented flying--which I daresay wouldn’t be outside reason, considering some of what has occurred lately.”...
Bera said she’d felt Alanna channeling, but nothing demanding. Certainly not enough to create a gateway.
Burn that woman! Cadsuane had thought Alanna well in hand, despite recent stubbornness. She’d obviously slipped out intentionally. The clothing from the trunk was gone and the writing desk was mostly bare. Only an empty ink bottle remained...
She reached over to the desk, holding up a sheet of paper that they’d found in the room. It had been folded envelope-style, with a blood red seal of wax one side. “Do you recognize this?”...
Nynaeve hadn’t given Alanna the note, which eliminated her last good theory on its origin...
“I’m not sure,” Cadsuane said. “The letter was opened in haste--the paper was torn. It was dropped on the floor, and the note inside taken, along with clothing and emergency items.”
- Towers of Midnight, An Empty Ink Bottle
Cadsuane fears that the Shadow will use Alanna to find Rand:
Alanna could point the way to the Dragon Reborn. If agents of the Dark One had taken her, there would be no need to coax and lure him to them.but she worries unnecessarily:
- Towers of Midnight, An Empty Ink Bottle
“Rand, Alanna is gone. She vanished earlier today.”Knowledge of the grave situation in her homeland would indeed make Alanna rush off.
“Yes. I felt her go. Northward somewhere. The Borderlands, perhaps Arafel.”
“She could be used against you, to find where you are.”
He smiled. Light, but it felt good to see that expression on his face again! “The Shadow does not need her to find me, Min, nor will it ever again. All its eyes are fixed directly upon me, and will be until I blind them.”
“What? But Rand--”
“It’s all right, Min. The time when it could silence me quietly--and therefore win--has passed. The confrontation is assured and the scream that begins the avalanche has been sounded.”
- Towers of Midnight, For What Has Been Wrought
Cadsuane is worried about the wrong problem. Since Rand can find Alanna, unless she masks the Bond, she can be used to lure him to a trap by, say, torturing her. Alternatively, if Alanna were killed, Rand would be affected by Warder death rage, even though his other three Warder bonds might stabilise him to a degree. Bang goes his post-epiphany equilibrium.
Has Verin made a risky calculation by sending Alanna away? Of course, any of the women Bonded to Rand can be used in this way.
Perrin’s sharp eyes saw Galad with a letter which matches the description of Verin’s letters:
Galad was tucking something into his pocket. A small letter, it appeared, with a red seal. Where had he gotten that? He looked troubled, though his expression lightened as he arrived.Since the seal was still on it, Galad had probably not opened it at that time. Galad might be troubled by a verbal message that was given with it, or by who gave it to him.
- Towers of Midnight, A Backhanded Request
Who would Verin have asked to deliver it? It’s unlikely she gave the letter to someone among the Whitecloaks, and Perrin’s forces have not been easy to find. I suspect that Verin encountered one of Perrin’s scouts in Cairhien or Caemlyn (the ones sent in Towers of Midnight,Questioning Intentions) – Seonid, say, or an Aiel, and learned that they’d met up with Galad’s Whitecloaks and got them to deliver it.
Why didn't Verin also tell Egwene about the more alarming plots – such as that to destroy Caemlyn? Or write them down in the book she gave Egwene?
In the case of the Caemlyn threat, Verin believed that she had told the right person - that Mat definitely would open her letter and would be successful in defending Caemlyn or in getting Elayne to seal the Waygate. This is the same reason why she didn’t tell about the other letters. Egwene had plenty to do as it was. I think Verin wanted each person to do the one task she’d set them and the duties the Pattern had assigned them. Moreover she had to concentrate on the essentials in her last hour:
" We have much to discuss and little time in which to do it."As for why she couldn't tell Mat straight out... she can't betray the Shadow until the hour of her death. Revealing the plot to him at that point would be betraying the Shadow.
- The Gathering Storm, News in Tel’aran’rhiod
So Verin only touched obliquely upon her letters in her conversation with Egwene, having assumed she had made the right choices:
"I am not eager for death; there are still things I need to do. Fortunately, I have set several of them in motion to be ... seen to, in case I do not return. Regardless, my first plan was to find the Oath Rod, then see if I could use it to remove the Great Lord's oaths.Time will show if these were for the best.
- The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai
Verin’s strange coded manuscripts purporting to be botanical studies, but actually records of information she gathered on the Shadow, has a minor parallel in the Voynich manuscript, a medieval text which no one can decipher (see photo right).
While Verin’s name has associations with faith, truth and protection (see Names of the Shadow article), her closest real world parallel is probably Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement.
Baden-Powell developed his scouting skills in South Africa in the 1880s first among Zulu tribesmen (a parallel of the Aiel, and Verin worked with the Aiel to great effect in Cairhien) and then from the American-born British Chief Scout Frederick Russell Burnham. Baden-Powell was transferred to the British secret service and wrote books about spies, spying and spy-catching.
In his 1915 book My Adventures as a Spy, Baden-Powell extolled the virtues of using stereotypes as a cover for surveillance and espionage activities. (Disregard Baden-Powell’s own national and class prejudices so prevalent in those times):
THE VALUE OF BEING STUPIDThese are exactly the techniques Verin used as cover while compiling her dossier on the Shadow – appearing stupid or vague or engrossed in irrelevant academia:
Fortunately for us, we are as a nation considered by the others to be abnormally stupid, therefore easily to be spied upon. But it is not always safe to judge entirely by appearances.
Our Ambassador at Constantinople some years ago had the appearance of a cheery, bluff, British farmer, with nothing below the surface in his character, and he was therefore looked upon as fair game by all his intriguing rivals in Eastern politics. It was only after repeated failures of their different missions they found that in every case they were out-intrigued by this innocent-looking gentleman, who below the surface was as cunning as a fox and as clever a diplomat as could be found in all the service.
And so it has been with us British. Foreign spies stationed in our country saw no difficulty in completely hoodwinking so stupid a people; they never supposed that the majority of them have all been known to our Secret Service Department, and carefully watched, unknown to themselves.
Few of them ever landed in this country without undergoing the scrutiny of an unobtrusive little old gentleman with tall hat and umbrella, but the wag of whose finger sent a detective on the heels of the visitor until his actual business and location were assured and found to be satisfactory.
But other batteries have since been built upon these mountain tops [in Dalmatia], and it was my business to investigate their positions, strength, and armaments.
I went armed with most effective weapons for the purpose, which have served me well in many a similar campaign. I took a sketchbook, in which were numerous pictures - some finished, others only partly done — of butterflies of every degree and rank, from a "Red Admiral" to a "Painted Lady."
Carrying this book and a colour-box, and a butterfly net in my hand, I was above all suspicion to anyone who met me on the lonely mountain side, even in the neighbourhood of the forts.
I was hunting butterflies, and it was always a good introduction with which to go to anyone who was watching me with suspicion. Quite frankly, with my sketch-book in hand, I would ask innocently whether he had seen such-and-such a butterfly in the neighbourhood, as I was anxious to catch one. Ninety-nine out of a hundred did not know one butterfly from another - any more than I do – so one was on fairly safe ground in that way and they thoroughly sympathised with the mad Englishman who was hunting these insects.
They did not look sufficiently closely into the sketches of butterflies to notice that the delicately drawn veins of the wings were exact representations, in plan, of their own fort, and that the spots on the wings denoted the number and position of guns and their different calibres.
At the bottom of her dip, she let go of her skirts to reach for her book, but Aeron's fingers reached it first. Verin straightened, calmly watching the taller woman thumb through the pages.”A woman of many masks” indeed, as Cadsuane said.
Sky blue eyes met hers. A winter sky. "Some pretty drawings and a great deal about plants and flowers,"Aeron said coldly. "I see nothing concerning the questions you were sent to ask." She thrust the book at Verin more than handed it to her.
"Thank you, Wise One," Verin said meekly, tucking the book back safely behind her belt. She even added another curtsy for good measure, just as deep as the first. "I have the habit of noting down what I see."
One day she would have to write out the cipher she used in her notebooks - a lifetime's worth of them filled cupboards and chests in her rooms above the White Tower library - one day, but she hoped not soon...
Verin prattled on; she had developed prattling to something of a Talent.
- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances
Verin was not nearly so vague as she pretended. Some Browns really were capable of tripping over their own feet from not noticing them, but Verin was one of those who wore an assumed cloak of unworldliness.Mat thought Verin traded on stereoptypes to hoodwink:
- Crossroads of Twilight, Ornaments
This time, studying her, her mannerisms seemed too exaggerated to him. As if she were leaning on the preconceptions about Browns, using them. Fooling people, like a street performer taking in country boys with a clever game of three-card shuffle.To record her information and hide it in plain sight, Verin developed a cipher that includes drawings and seemingly innocent natural history descriptions in a similar way to Baden-Powell.
She eyed him. That smile on the corner of her lips? That was the smile of a jackleg who didn't care that you were on to her con. Now that you understood, you could both enjoy the game, and perhaps together you could dupe someone else.
- The Gathering Storm, The Death of Tuon
The Scouts were regarded as a dangerous spy organization by the Nazis (a parallel of the Shadow). Baden-Powell was named Chief Scout of the World.
In his final letter to the Scouts, Baden-Powell wrote:
I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one. But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. 'Be Prepared' in this way, to live happy and to die happy — stick to your Scout Promise always — even after you have ceased to be a boy — and God help you to do it.Verin’s study of the Shadow, written in a code based on nature study, was aimed at making the world a better place:
"Every woman in the Brown," Verin said, "seeks to produce something lasting. Research or study that will be meaningful. Others often accuse us of ignoring the world around us. They think we only look backward. Well, that is inaccurate. If we are distracted, it is because we look forward, toward those who will come. And the information, the knowledge we gather . . . we leave it for them. The other Ajahs worry about making today better; we yearn to make tomorrow better."...Verin tried to “be prepared”:
"They have many agents among us, like worms eating the fruit out from the core. Well, I thought it time that we had at least one of us among them. This is worth one woman's life. Few people have had a chance to create something as useful, and as wonderful, as that book you hold. We all seek to change the future, Egwene. I think I might just have a chance at doing so."
- The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai
“Always plan for the worst, child; that way, all your surprises will be pleasant ones.”Was she prepared enough in her letters?
- The Dragon Reborn, Secrets
“I always expect trouble,” Verin replied placidly, “and so should you. In the Tower most of all."
- The Dragon Reborn, Tar Valon