The Waste of Aes Sedai: Murder, Schism and... Mutiny?
As part of the recap for The Gathering Storm, it seems very timely to republish my essay on the Aes Sedai History in the New Era on the Thirteenth Depository.
While the essay has interesting information on the early years of the New Era, it is of course the last twenty that have direct bearing on what is currently happening among the Aes Sedai. The following are the points of greatest relevance to the Aes Sedai world view for The Gathering Storm. If you think I’ve skipped bits here and there, it’s for reasons of space; rest assured that they are there in the essay, which goes into all this in far greater depth and with real world comparisons besides.
979 NE could be seen as a pivotal year in Tower history: Rand and two other ta’veren had been born, the Aiel War threatened Tar Valon, the Red/Blue animosity intensified (including that between Elaida and Moiraine and Siuan), an Amyrlin, Tamra Ospenya, was interrogated about the advent of the Dragon Reborn and murdered, many sisters were killed, men were killed on suspicion of being possible channellers (and therefore the Dragon Reborn) or were gentled illegally (for the same reason), and the Black Ajah began to be noticed - all groundwork for the schism to come. This is what Cadsuane is referring to when she speaks of the ‘vileness’ after the Aiel War in The Path of Daggers, Diamonds and Stars.
Sisters of the Black Ajah arranged for lucky men to be killed on the chance that one of these was the Dragon Reborn. The illegal gentling was for the same reason: if the Dragon were gentled he would not be able to defeat the Dark One. This gentling could not take place in Tar Valon, lest the Dragon be recognised during the course of his trial, so such suspects were gentled on the spot. Aes Sedai who objected or tried to bring these crimes to the attention of the Tower administration were killed: the ‘great many sisters’ who died soon after the Aiel War.
These crimes were covered up apparently for the good of the Tower: the Chronicles only record sixteen male channellers found in the last twenty years, when actually twenty-four were, as recorded in the Thirteenth Depository (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). Eight, including Owyn, were never taken to the Tower to be tried and gentled as required by law. Elaida was personally involved in the illegal gentling of men and the three Red Sitters were aware of the illegal gentling.
Chesmal Emry, a Black sister, believed Amyrlin Sierin Vayu was about to order her arrest (and perhaps that of other Black sisters), most likely for questioning about the deaths of Tamra and her Searchers, and induced Red sisters to kill Sierin (Winter’s Heart, A Plan Succeeds) in 984. The Reds believed they were doing the right thing: that Sierin was about to expose their illegal gentling of men, perhaps even blame them for sisters’ deaths or declare them Darkfriends, and they were trying to save their Ajah. They may also have believed their illegal gentling was right.
The Reds’ crimes were at least partially exposed and dealt with by the Amyrlin following Sierin, Marith Jaen. No culprits were found because the Red Ajah closed ranks, either to save their Ajah from disgrace or because they felt their actions justified or both. Marith punished the Red Sitters instead with unchairing, birching and exile to hard labour on an isolated farm (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit and Robert Jordan on his blog), and commanded the subject Sealed to the Flame. Those Aes Sedai who know this restricted knowledge include Marith’s Keeper (unknown), the Sitters of the Hall, Galina, the exiled Red Sitters, senior Reds including Elaida and Pevara (who was not a Sitter then) and the Brown sisters who keep the Thirteenth Depository. The Black Ajah’s role has not yet been exposed.
The vileness is thus still unfinished business and a big part of the political scene since Tamra. It was part of the reason why the Hall believed or suspected that the Reds murdered Sierin even though no culprits were exposed, and exiled the Red Sitters; why there was a political swing from the Reds to the Blues which increased the Red/Blue animosity; why senior Aes Sedai were prepared to believe Siuan's and Leane's lies about the Reds setting up Logain as a false Dragon; why some Sitters would not support Elaida whether they knew/suspected she was involved or not; and why Cadsuane in retirement formed her own faction of trusted Aes Sedai. Finally, the deaths of so many Aes Sedai resulted in a lack of strong senior candidates for Amyrlin.
The previous three short reigns and rapid changes in administrations limited the long term planning for the White Tower’s internal and external affairs. This led the Hall to seek a long period of stability by breaking with the established tradition of twenty to thirty year reigns and look at younger candidates for Amyrlin. The agreement to consider a much younger Amyrlin implies that the deaths of at least two of the three short-reigned Amyrlins were believed to be natural old age. Even if some Sitters knew or suspected otherwise, that was publicly how they explained the deaths to each other.
The first four potential candidates the Hall considered as Marith’s replacement had all been Aes Sedai for less than fifty years, but the Hall could not decide between them. This is not surprising, because such a young Amyrlin would have a two hundred year reign (if not deposed or killed) and no Ajah wanted to let another Ajah, even an ally, rule that long, not to mention it would destroy the hopes of the Sitters themselves of being Amyrlin one day.
Despite knowing that Siuan could have a two hundred and fifty year reign, the Hall raised her. Siuan thought the Hall exhausted; perhaps it had grown tired of the restrictions placed on it to prevent it deliberating too long over selecting a new Amyrlin (A Crown of Swords, The Figurehead). Some Sitters, like Seaine, wanted a long period of stability in the Tower; others, including the Black Ajah, calculated that while strong in the Power Siuan could be easily manipulated for many years because she was relatively inexperienced. After all, if Siuan turned out to be stronger than expected, the Blacks could always ruin her reign, cause chaos and do in the Blues at one stroke (which of course they did).
Some time during 998-9 NE Mesaana was freed from the Bore and established herself in the White Tower with the aim of tying up the Aes Sedai in a useless internal conflict so that they couldn't gain control of Rand or form a coalition against the Shadow. The Aes Sedai were to be 'wasted' or 'neutralised' - that was the strategy and it has largely been successful. (No wonder Cadsuane is hopping mad with both sides.) Siuan had to go because she had a string on Rand in Moiraine, which was the last thing the Shadow wanted. The Shadow wanted Rand vulnerable to attack, and open to their influence with no Aes Sedai advising him.
The Tower coup occurred in 999 NE and was instigated by Elaida, who was encouraged by Alviarin. Driven by personal dislike of Siuan and ambition for herself and her Ajah, Elaida used the pretext that Siuan had hidden knowledge of the Dragon Reborn from the Hall to depose her. In her mind, it made no difference whether Siuan and Moiraine were setting up a false Dragon (strange that this should occur to her) or whether he really was the Dragon Reborn; Siuan should be deposed. It seems the Red Ajah may take advantage of false (or real) Dragons to rise to power.
From Alviarin’s point of view, Elaida represented a golden opportunity for the Black Ajah to replace Siuan with an Amyrlin who owed her high position to the Head of the Black Ajah. Close to Elaida, Alviarin would know, and influence if possible, every decision the Amyrlin made. Being an inexperienced Sitter, Elaida assumed that the Tower had always bowed to the will of the Hall and Amyrlin and was completely unprepared for the violence her actions created (see TOR Questions of the Week article).
Elaida began from a position of political weakness; she owed Alviarin the Keeper’s stole for delivering the support of the White Ajah (and also the Black, but Elaida doesn’t know that). While Sierin Vayu also had an administration from a different Ajah to her own, the big difference between Sierin and Elaida is that Reds are normally allied to the Greys while Elaida had to gain the support of an Ajah from the Red’s rival axis.
Partly due to Alviarin’s machinations and partly to Elaida’s own poor decisions, Elaida has presided over a series of misadventures:
- Her embassy to Rand failed and only thirteen out of the thirty-nine delegates eventually returned to the Tower, the worst disaster in the history of Tower even including the Trolloc Wars (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame). Of those ‘lost’, 3 died, 3 were stilled and then Healed and 20 were captured (see Elaida's Embassy To Rand article). Most of the Embassy swore fealty to Rand.
- Her delegation of fifty one sisters to the Black Tower was captured and bonded to Asha’man (a disaster even worse than the failed embassy to Rand).
- She made decrees which disunited the Tower and divided the Ajahs into armed camps (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit)
- She made a public decree which alienated the Dragon Reborn by suggesting he lay under Aes Sedai authority, was granted their protection and could only be approached through the White Tower (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return).
Had Elaida been prepared to accept shame, Alviarin would have been unable to blackmail her. Red sisters murdered an Amyrlin to avoid shame though. They are unable to accept the consequences of their actions and then commit worse actions to hide the previous ones.
Elaida believes the Amyrlin is an absolute monarch, not first among equals; she claims that she is Tower Law, and has limitless power, a parallel with Louis XIV of France who said “I am the State” in a judicial context. And like Louis XIV, she is constructing a personal palace. She is ensuring her downfall and probably that of the Hall which complied with her. Her treatment of Shemerin is a good example of both her absolutism and the Hall’s lack of objection (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea).
In 999 NE, open division occurred in the Tower for the first time since its founding. Previously, all Aes Sedai have presented a united front even before their servants (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike) and have never let the world know of any rebellion (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences). Rebellion is a split among the Aes Sedai in which Aes Sedai customs and laws, or dogma, are still accepted and followed – just not the leadership. It is thus not an heresy, but a schism and is considered treasonous. Schisms have occurred in the Catholic Church, and those who sever themselves from the communion of the Church and yet believe the Church’s dogma are sometimes thought of as rebellious (Catholic Encyclopaedia). This very public schism is a parallel of the Great Western Schism of the Catholic Church, which lasted 40 years until 1417.
Rebellion occurred in the 15th to 16th century convents when rival candidates for abbess each commanded considerable support and the losing candidate and her clique refused to obey the victor. The rebels were forced (by threat of imprisonment in various other convents) to show outward obedience and humility to the new abbess (Mary Laven, Virgins of Venice).
The rebels left the Tower and gradually gathered at Salidar, birthplace of Deane Aryman. As well as Blues, this gathering had many Greens, but also representatives of all Ajahs (including eight of the original Tower Sitters, see The Composition and Politics of the Halls 998-1000 NE article) except the Red. Just over one third of the total Aes Sedai were represented there. A council of six (Sheriam, Myrelle, Anaiya, Morvrin, Beonin and Carlinya) was in charge of the rebels at first. The original idea was for dialogue between the rebels and the Tower (encouraged by Elaida’s mole, Beonin, and perhaps the Sitters present, since every Sitter who was previously in the Tower Hall is now negotiating with the Tower delegation (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark) to resolve the schism). It was not until Siuan tuned up with Logain and lied about the Reds setting him up as a false Dragon that they decided to formalise their rebellion into an alternative administration with its own Hall, Amyrlin, etc.
The schism was part of the Shadow’s plot to tie up the Aes Sedai and prevent them from making a positive contribution to the war against the Shadow. The Ajah Heads were doing what they could to end the split.
Ajah Head Conspiracy
Contrary to the custom of not knowing the Heads of other Ajahs, the Tower Ajah Heads have identified each other and talked privately (although hostile in public). This may be unique to this time of turmoil, or the Ajah Heads may always have had a way of identifying each other and a protocol on when to collaborate to step in and restore order when the Amyrlin and Hall become out of control. Or, more mundanely, one Ajah Head may have given one of her Sitters sealed notes for Sitters of other Ajahs to hand to their Ajah Head arranging a secret meeting. These Sitters were obviously not the Black Ajah hunters or Black Sitters.
The Black Ajah hunters realised that the Ajah Heads conspired over who would go into the Tower Hall (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). However, their conspiracy may have started sooner and be more extensive than the Black Ajah hunters supposed. The Tower Ajah Heads may have sent those Sitters not involved in raising Elaida out of the Tower after the Blues, or at least away from Elaida. Since Elaida’s faction was perhaps believed to be at least partially responsible for the murder of a Blue Sitter, other Sitters who did not stand for Elaida may also have been considered at risk. The Sitters sent out may have been instructed to influence the Blues and stabilise the rebels until the Tower could be united. Hence the election of the too young Sitters that could be easily influenced or were dispensable. As further evidence, the White and Yellow Ajah Heads (both Sitters) and all three Green Ajah Sitters (heavily pressured by the Green Ajah Head) met with Elaida to strongly emphasise that talks between the Tower and the rebels would continue (Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark). Naturally, the Red Ajah Head was not included in this conspiracy and the Blue Ajah Head could not be either, even if the others wanted her to, since she had fled.
Such collusion over the selection of Sitters for the Hall is a serious crime, which is why the Black Ajah hunters were so insistent that the Hall had a right to know (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit).
Shadow and Counter-shadow in the Tower
Alviarin was ordered by Mesaana to force Elaida to break the Tower further and blackmailed her to swear obedience by threatening to expose to the Hall the full extent of Elaida’s failed missions. This had two repercussions that may work against the Shadow:
Firstly the continued efforts to prolong and increase the divisions between the Ajahs may shorten Elaida’s reign by triggering a mutiny. Therefore the Shadow are likely to destabilise Elaida’s reign too much and capsize it altogether, losing their puppet.
Secondly, in her efforts to free herself from Alviarin’s control and imposed physical punishment, Elaida may have inadvertently done something to redeem herself. She asked the White Sitter Seaine to search for treasonous sisters, such as those who have countermanded her orders but was misunderstood. Seaine thought she wanted her to hunt for Darkfriends in the Tower – Black Ajah. She enlisted the help of her former friend Pevara of the Red, and they were voluntarily joined by three more Sitters (Saerin, Yukiri and Doesine) and then forcibly and illegally induced the ten sisters (including Zerah, Bernaile, Meidani, Jennet, Celestin and Annharid) that Sheriam’s group sent to spread the lies about Logain to join them (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit and Winter’s Heart, Prologue).
By Knife of Dreams, they had uncovered and illegally bound with the Oath Rod four Black sisters including a Black Sitter. Alviarin noticed Talene’s atypical behaviour and intends to question her, probably with a circle of Black sisters.
Elaida managed to free herself from Alviarin while Alviarin was out of the Tower and hinted that Alviarin would be executed for treason. Alviarin assumed that Elaida knows she is Black and reported this to Mesaana who disregarded her. However, Shaidar Haran took Alviarin’s information seriously and set her to find those hunting the Black Ajah.
Sheriam’s group of six ran everything in Salidar until they took up Siuan’s and Leane’s suggestion to raise an alternative leadership to the Tower. Once the rebel Hall was established, the group still had considerable influence – they chose Egwene to be Amyrlin for instance, and the Hall voted in favour of their choice – but they themselves were manipulated by Siuan.
Ironically, it was Egwene who gradually reduced the influence of Sheriam’s group and raised that of the Hall when she became Amyrlin; ironic because she was elected to be a puppet, and a puppet with handily close ties to the Dragon Reborn.
The rebel Aes Sedai leadership was as riven by divisions or factions as the White Tower: Sheriam’s six (Sheriam, Myrelle, Beonin, Anaiya, Morvrin and Carlinya), Romanda’s faction ( Romanda, Magla, Varilin, Saroiya), Lelaine’s faction (Lelaine, Lyrelle, Faiselle, Takima) and Elaida’s secret supporters (including Beonin), never mind the independent Sitters (Moria, Samalin, Malind, Janya, Escaralde, Salita, Kwamesa, Aledrin, Berana) or the Black Ajah (including Delana, under the control of a Forsaken, Aran’gar) (see The Composition and Politics of the Halls 998-1000 NE article). The too young Sitters are independent. Janya is the only Sitter who was formerly in the Tower that is now independent; the other former Tower Sitters divided themselves equally between Lelaine and Romanda.
With Siuan as her advisor in Machiavellian style politics, Egwene successfully played Romanda’s, Lelaine’s and Sheriam’s groups against each other. She obtained their agreement to leave Salidar, move north and declare war on Elaida.
Aran’gar gained access to Egwene by inflicting saidin-induced headaches that only she could remove and then proceeded to interfere with Egwene’s Dreams so that she could not remember them (Crossroads of Twilight, In The Night). She murdered two of Egwene’s maids, partly because they were spying on Egwene for Romanda and Lelaine and might expose her, and partly to gain better access to Egwene, since she needed to be physically near Egwene to affect Egwene’s dreams (Knife of Dreams, At the Gardens). She also murdered Anaiya and Kairen lest she make a slip about knowledge gained from Cabriana and be exposed. Aran’gar, Delana and her maid fled the rebel camp just as Romanda solved the murders.
Egwene was captured when she took the place of Bode and turned the Tar Valon harbour chain to cuendillar so that ships could not dock in the harbour and supply Tar Valon (see Egwene, Leane and the Harbour Chains article). Leane was captured too, before she could complete her task. The Tower Aes Sedai had been informed of the rebels’ plan and were waiting, but they did not prevent the almost complete blocking of the harbours. Only the rebel Hall and those taking part supposedly knew of the plan. Whoever betrayed it to the Tower did so to prolong the Tower split for one of three reasons: to favour the Shadow, to shore up Elaida’s position or to buy time to bring Egwene down. Two likely contenders are Lelaine and Delana. If it was Delana, she would be aiding the Shadow who want to keep the Aes Sedai fragmented. If it was Lelaine, she would be keeping the split going until she could take Egwene’s place. She threatened Egwene with deposition in Crossroads of Twilight, What The Oath Rod Can Do, and a failure of Egwene’s plan would have weakened Egwene’s standing and thus could be used to strengthen Lelaine’s. Interestingly towards the end of the Great Western Schism in the Catholic Church, there were three men claiming to be Pope. The traitor was not Beonin: she could not return to Elaida until she could convince herself that Egwene was no longer Amyrlin. Until then, her oath of fealty held her to obey and support Egwene.
Egwene is determined to behave with dignity in the Tower and as the Amyrlin Seat and not to be broken by Tower discipline. She was demoted to novice and is serving the Tower in truth – as a servant of the Servants - and has also comforted and advised novices and Accepted. During her lessons she has reminded sisters of problems under Elaida and informed a sister of the Thirteenth Depository. Leane and now Beonin and the ten rebel ferrets are aiding her.
Merise Haindehl of the Green Ajah and her Warders, including Jahar Narishma, visited the rebel Hall with an offer from Rand to the rebel Aes Sedai to bond 47 Asha’man (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting). The Asha’man must be soldiers or Dedicated and cannot refuse. The rebel Sitters voted in favour of the offer, having already agreed an alliance with the Asha’man was necessary.
Six times in Tower history, when the Hall and Amyrlin were locked in turmoil or stalemate, so that inconsistent or ill-advised decisions are made, or even none at all, the rank and file sisters mutinied – rose up and forced the Hall and Amyrlin to resign and caused the election of a new Amyrlin and Hall. This is only recorded in the secret histories (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory) and maybe not the full story even then (for example whether Ajah Heads played a role).
The present public schism between the Tower and the rebel Aes Sedai with two Amyrlins and Halls may also only be resolved with a mutiny. Egwene aimed to incite one by reminding the Tower Aes Sedai of Elaida’s failures and the Tower’s problems (fomenting discord, a serious crime) and informing the rank-and-file Aes Sedai of the existence and contents of the Thirteenth Depository (treason, a very serious crime). This may all come to a head soon in the Tower as Egwene encourages Aes Sedai to consider the state of the Tower administration.
The schism has been a lucky break for Rand, as he is well aware:
Rand's laugh was too hoarse to hold any mirth. ''Do you really think Aes Sedai would leave me alone just because I left them alone? Me? The Tower splitting is the best thing that could have happened for me. They're too busy staring at one another to turn full attention on me. Without that, there'd be twenty Aes Sedai everywhere I turned. Fifty. I have Tear and Cairhien behind me, after a fashion, and a toehold here. Without the split, every time I opened my mouth, there'd be somebody saying, 'Yes, but the Aes Sedai say.' …If the Tower was whole, I'd have so many strings tied to me by now, I could not move a finger without asking six Aes Sedai for permission."Rand’s analysis of the advantages of the Tower split was quite valid. Perrin was also right: Rand took a risky course. An example of this is that both the rebel Aes Sedai to whom Rand made the offer and the Red Ajah who made an independent decision think they can bond Asha’man. And in order to sow chaos, Taim is not going to disabuse them. The third side is not Alviarin’s faction as Rand believed, but Cadsuane’s faction. Rand also made his own group that kneel to him.
Perrin very nearly laughed himself, and no more in mirth than Rand. "So you think it's better to—what?—play the rebel Aes Sedai off against the Tower? 'Cheer the bull, or cheer the bear; cheer both, and you will be trampled and eaten.’"
"Not that simple, Perrin, though they don't know it," Rand said smugly, shaking his head. "There's a third side, ready to kneel to me. If they make contact again.”
- Lord of Chaos, A Bitter Thought
The issue of whether the Tower has any authority over the Dragon is unresolved. Elaida obviously thinks she does, and displayed two objects – Bonwhin’s triptych and Cemaile’s clock – as a reminder of how not to exert authority. Rand is yet to “face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger” (A Crown of Swords, Prologue) as Elaida Foretold will happen.
Egwene has dreamt of the Seanchan attacking the Tower and nearly destroying it (see Egwene's Dreams article). This will change everything. While the attack will be disastrous for the Tower, Egwene will be saved from execution (probably for treason) by a Seanchan.
Robert Jordan has said in the TOR Question of the Week that the previously unconquered Tower has a flat roof; thus it would be a parallel of Eben Emael in Belgium which the Nazis captured in World War II. It:
was reputed to be the most powerful fortress in the world, capable of withstanding the heaviest pounding of bombs and shells and of holding out indefinitely against any attack…The fort had a vast flat roof, on which gliders filled with shock troops and engineers were to land and capture the fort from there. In the event, nine gliders landed successfully, carrying seventy-eight men who attacked the gunports at close quarters with grenades and flamethrowers, shattered the armoured gun turrets with new hollow charge explosives that spread flames and gas in the chambers below, and blew up the ventilating system. Within an hour; at a cost of six killed and nineteen wounded, those seventy-eight men had neutralised 700 defenders, trapping them inside their own impenetrable fortress; after Stuka attacks and hand-to-hand fighting in the underground tunnels, they surrendered the next day, when conventional German troops arrived.This could be an indication of how the Seanchan take the Tower. Hitler also intended to capture the Vatican (a parallel of Tar Valon) as he informed SS General Karl Wolff:
- Anthony Read, The Devil’s Disciples
“I want you to use your troops to occupy the Vatican and Vatican City, immediately if possible, to secure the Vatican’s fabulous archives and art treasures as well as the pope’s Curia [the official body that governs the Catholic Church]. Bring [the Pope] north so he does not fall into the hands of the Allies or under their political influence. I want the Pope brought to Germany, if possible, or, depending on political and military developments, to neutral Liechtenstein.”The Tower has treasures of the One Power and extensive archives. The Seanchan would want to capture the Hall (= the Curia) and the Amyrlin (= the Pope). The Seanchan have some resemblance to the Nazis with their thousand year Empire and use of forced labour (slavery).
- John H. Waller, The Unseen War in Europe
Another impending attack is that of famine and disease – with garbage in the streets, civic infrastructure collapsing and rats and other vermin rife. The Great Famine and the Black Death in fourteenth century Europe were exacerbated by poor leadership, just as the Tower has largely ignored the current perilous state of the world.
Weighed Down By Law and Custom
The White Tower is in need of reform and just like the Catholic church in the 16th century, may undergo its own Reformation if it survives the Seanchan attack. The Tower schism has highlighted deep divisions and problems that were there before. The Ajah system, with its secrecy and rivalry and even support of lawbreakers, was a major factor in the schism. The other major contributor was personal antagonism and unresolved misunderstandings, but again rival Ajahs were involved.
The Tower’s custom of exclusivity and elitism has kept the Aes Sedai remote from the populace and too arrogant to truly help them or serve them. With a hierarchy based on strength in the Power and not excellence in skill, ability, character or judgement, it is perhaps not surprising they have become corrupt.
And again, the Tower is learning that they are not exclusive - there are four large separate groups of female channellers and a Black Tower of male channellers. With the public schism, Aes Sedai have risked their prestige and identity only to discover they cannot be restored as before. The Seanchan and Tarmon Gai’don will ensure that. There must be Reformation.