Seeing Red: A Tale of Three Amyrlins
Despite the Red Ajah having been the largest for most, if not all, of the White Tower’s history, it has been grossly underrepresented among the Amyrlins: only 3 in over two thousand years (we don’t know about prior to the Trolloc Wars). All three Amyrlins, Tetsuan, Bonwhin and Elaida, were deeply flawed, driven by resentment and envy and the desire to hold absolute power, and consequently their reigns were disastrous for the Tower as well as for themselves.
Tetsuan was elected in the middle of the Trolloc Wars, which lasted from about 1000 to 1350 AB and involved huge armies of Shadowspawn and Darkfriends commanded by both male and female channellers, Dreadlords, although the females outnumbered the males. To counter the Dreadlords, each army from the Compact of Ten Nation fighting the Trollocs had ‘a small complement of Aes Sedai’ (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time) under the command of the Tower, not the general commanding the army. Until recently, this was the last war in which Aes Sedai fought.
After nearly two centuries of fighting (i.e. about 1200 AB), during which the troops of Manetheren had been in the forefront, Trollocs were sent to destroy Manetheren in retribution and to prevent any more Manetheren troops being raised. The army of Manetheren, led by King Aemon, Warder to the Aes Sedai Queen Eldrene, force-marched from the Field of Bekkar to the Tarendrelle and prevented the Shadow’s army from crossing into Manetheren. Aid was promised to Aemon if the Manetheren troops could hold back the Trollocs for three days. Manetheren was betrayed, however; no help came and after 10 days against impossible odds Aemon retreated across the Taren and Eldrene organised the evacuation of Manetheren city.
Tetsuan was the Amyrlin at this time. Of the Red Ajah, she was probably raised as a reaction to the number of male Dreadlords in the Shadow’s armies. It was Tetsuan who betrayed Manetheren for jealousy of Eldrene’s powers (The Great Hunt, The Shadow in Shienar), perhaps by ordering those who promised aid not to march to the Tarendrelle. Manetheren’s forces made a last stand at Emond’s Field and were completely destroyed. When Eldrene felt her Warder die, she is said to have destroyed the Dreadlords of the Army with the One Power and herself and the city of Manetheren with her (The Eye of the World, Tellings of the Wheel).
Tetsuan was deposed and stilled for her betrayal, which surely lost the Tower a great deal of trust and moral authority, the first of only three Amyrlins to be stripped of her position, and made a servant in the Tower. An Amyrlin of the Blue Ajah replaced her, according to Siuan in The Great Hunt, Summoned and The Shadow in Shienar (although Siuan also claimed to be the fifth Blue Amyrlin in a row in this scene, which is wrong).
About a thousand years later, Bonwhin Meraighdin was also elected at a time when channelling was used in warfare. She was the first Red since Tetsuan and was raised to the Amyrlin Seat shortly after Guaire Amalasan declared himself. It is likely the advent of a false Dragon played no small part in her election, and it is quite a coincidence the previous Amyrlin just died when the world was plagued by a False Dragon, paving the way for a Red.
Amalasan was a strong channeller; when six Aes Sedai tried to take Amalasan he killed one and stilled two more (Lord of Chaos, The Sending). He rapidly conquered lands stretching from current Arad Doman to Tear and besieged the Stone of Tear but it successfully resisted thanks to the thirty Aes Sedai who had taken refuge in the Stone, despite Tear’s proscription of Aes Sedai. Perhaps the Aes Sedai were there to protect Callandor, or to witness a possible fulfilment of a prophecy of the Karaethon Cycle.
Artur Hawkwing was the only general who never lost a battle to Guaire Amalasan. The false Dragon was captured by Aes Sedai with Hawkwing during the Battle of Endersole/Jolvaine Pass. Hawkwing’s army accompanied the Aes Sedai hurriedly taking Amalasan to Tar Valon and, against Tower law, the army entered Tar Valon lands and camped near the Erinin, perhaps as an honour guard or to forestall any attempts by Amalasan’s supporters to free him. Bonwhin ordered Hawkwing to take his army out of Tar Valon lands after a five day rest.
The Tower tried Amalasan over several days and Amalasan’s supporters Sawyn Maculhene and Elind Motheneos (described as a renegade Aes Sedai) invaded Tar Valon with over 100,000 soldiers and reached the Tower. They were only defeated with the aid of Artur Hawkwing’s forces, which were permitted back into the city. Maculhene and Motheneos were killed (Motheneos was possibly captured and executed by the White Tower).
Both the invasion of Tar Valon and the presence of Artur Hawkwing’s forces on Tar Valon lands are not recorded in Aes Sedai Chronicles (A Crown of Swords, An Oath and The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel Of Time ) despite being well known by historians.
Bonwhin resented the fact the Tower needed Hawkwing’s aid to repel Amalasan’s supporters and, far more, to capture Amalasan in the first place. The Aes Sedai who captured Amalasan went quickly from a heroes' welcome to a harsh secret penance. It is likely that these Aes Sedai, who were heading with Hawkwing’s army for Khodomar when they encountered Guaire Amalasan by chance, and who wanted to give Hawkwing credit for his part in Amalasan’s capture, were Green Ajah. If so this would be the origin of the thousand year enmity between two Ajahs that should have much in common. It would also explain why, when Artur Hawkwing finally accepted his first Aes Sedai advisor, she was a Green.
The Amyrlin and the High King were in conflict over supreme authority. To show the world the Tower’s supremacy, Bonwhin wanted to keep the Amyrlin's sole authority over all the sisters; she wanted the Aes Sedai advisors and governors, and Aes Sedai in general, to continue coming and going as they wished and answer to her above all others; she wanted to decide who would be Hawkwing’s advisors, and she wanted Hawkwing to recognize that the Amyrlin stood above all "secular" rulers - in exchange for which she might have the grace to officially recognize Artur Hawkwing as High King ("crown" him). Hawkwing wanted to have the same authority over Aes Sedai advisors and provincial governors that he had over his other governors and civil servants: to be able to select them himself and move them around and dismiss them at will. He wanted the Aes Sedai to be subject to all his laws, like the rest of the fledging Empire. Ironically many of Artur Hawkwing’s wars and victories were in response to Bonwhin’s activities. He would never have ended up ruling all nations if Bonwhin hadn’t manipulated nations into attacking Hawkwing so that he had to conquer them for his own political survival.
At some point Hawkwing and Bonwhin apparently came to an agreement and Aes Sedai were included in Hawkwing's government and Hawkwing acquired an Aes Sedai advisor, Chowin Tsao of the Green Ajah. In FY 974, a year after Jalwin Moerad (a likely alias of Ishamael) arrived at Hawkwing’s court, all Aes Sedai were dismissed from Hawkwing’s service, probably because Hawkwing believed the Aes Sedai governors were following Bonwhin’s orders more than his own, and that they were plotting with the nobles and non-Aes Sedai governors, encouraging them to move against him and making veiled promises to gain their support for the Tower and the White Tower supremacy doctrine; in short, undermining Artur Hawkwing's power. This is supported by a triptych in the White Tower, which Elaida describes as showing Bonwhin:
tall and proud, ordering Aes Sedai in their manipulations of Artur HawkwingPerhaps with Moerad’s encouragement, Hawkwing put a price on the head of any Aes Sedai who did not renounce the Tower. Historians speculate that Hawkwing believed Bonwhin also arranged to have his first wife and their three children poisoned in FY 961. He may have been correct, or Ishamael may have misled him. Equally possible is that the Black Ajah committed the murders.
- The Fires of Heaven, The First Sparks Fall
Hawkwing invaded and conquered Tar Valon lands in FY 975 and laid siege to Tar Valon. The siege lasted for many years because Hawkwing's generals never managed to block Tar Valon’s harbours and food and supplies still got in (A Crown of Swords, An Oath). The Tower had declared war on Artur Hawkwing (the last time the Hall was under martial law, prior to 1000 NE, The Path of Daggers, The Law) and so the Hall was legally bound to approve any of Bonwhin’s decrees regarding the war with the greater consensus and carry them out as promptly as possible (see the Aes Sedai Laws and Customs: Administration essay). This would make deposing Bonwhin more difficult.
In FY 992, after 17 years of siege, Bonwhin was deposed and stilled for trying to use Artur Hawkwing as a puppet to control the world and nearly destroying the Tower (The Great Hunt, The Shadow in Shienar). Publicly she was charged with malfeasance (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time), the doing of a wrongful or illegal act by an official. It is also perhaps an indication of the strong Red influence in the Hall at this time so soon after a false Dragon, and an even stronger influence of the Black Ajah with Ishamael temporarily free, that Bonwhin remained Amyrlin so long. She would have suited Ishamael very well.
Like Tetsuan (and also Siuan and maybe Elaida), Bonwhin ruled and was deposed in a time of chaos and was associated with the end of an epoch. She was the second Amyrlin in Tower history to be legally and officially deposed and was replaced in FY 992 by Deane Aryman of the Blue Ajah, who was young at about 72 year of age. Deane repaired the damage done to the Tower’s prestige by Bonwhin’s machinations against Artur Hawkwing, and is credited with persuading Hawkwing’s general, Souran Maravaile to lift the siege of Tar Valon after Hawkwing died in FY 994. Had she not died in a fall from her horse in FY 1084, she may even have convinced the nobles contending for Hawkwing’s empire to accept the Tower’s adjudication (Lord of Chaos, Glossary). Her death is highly suspicious; she should have had an entourage of Aes Sedai protecting her or available to Heal her, since Artur Hawkwing was long dead and thus the Tower was no longer under martial law (see War section and Travel section of Aes Sedai Laws and Customs essays). Her death was of course highly convenient for the Shadow, and for any noble who thought they could grab the whole empire, and, of course, for any woman impatient to be Amyrlin.
Elaida engineered her own succession to the top job by deposing Siuan in a coup in 999 NE. She used the pretext that Siuan had hidden knowledge of the Dragon Reborn from the Hall to depose Siuan without a public trial or a chance to defend herself of the charges. 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. Male channellers are all the same to her: they are all unbelievers (apostate) (see Aes Sedai Attitudes to Male Channellers essay). This attitude largely explains why it seems the Red Ajah may take advantage of false (or real) Dragons to rise to power and have no regard for them apart from their use as a promotional tool.
Elaida doesn’t believe Rand will sacrifice himself for the world:
Or do any of you believe he will go willingly to his prophesied death to save the world? A man who must be going mad already?and thinks it will be for the best if he doesn’t survive Tarmon Gai’don (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). After all, she would have no further use for him and it would save the embarrassment of then having to gentle him. It might seem a tad ungrateful to gentle the saviour of the world.
- The Fires of Heaven, The First Sparks Fall
Elaida was a new Sitter, and had neither read the secret histories, nor had any understanding of the balance between Amyrlin and Hall. A fervent absolutist, she assumed that the Hall should always accede to the Amyrlin and the rank and file Aes Sedai even more so. Her treatment of Siuan triggered a wave of violence in the Tower and her arrogant and imperious pronouncements - demoting Aes Sedai to Accepted, declaring anathema on anyone dealing with the Dragon Reborn independently (and kidnapping and maltreating him) and disbanding the Blue Ajah - may yet do so, unless events intervene.
Furthermore, by declaring the Blues disbanded Elaida gave the rebels the justification they needed for the schism, and made them seem more inclusive, more true to Tower values. The Schism did Rand a favour, preventing Elaida from playing more of the games Bonwhin did, or worse. After all, Bonwhin never struck directly at Artur Hawkwing as Elaida did to Rand, and while Bonwin was unwilling to accept aid from a friendly army, she never actually arranged for one sworn to aid her to be destroyed, as Elaida did the Younglings.
Elaida combines Tetsuan’s envy and resentment of other talented Aes Sedai with Bonwhin’s antagonism to kingly and military male ta’veren.
Elaida resented Siuan becoming Amyrlin while Elaida devoted years to the Andoran royal family because she had secretly Foretold they would be the key to winning the Last Battle and she wanted to be the one who went down in history as the manipulator of that key.
Also too, one has to wonder how much of Elaida’s dislike of Egwene, evident from the first, is due to Egwene’s greater strength in the Power, considerable Talents and shorter training time, and how much Elaida’s demotion of Egwene to the lowest rank is to triumph over Egwene as much as to ‘save’ Egwene so Egwene’s new discoveries can make Elaida’s reign the more glorious. Elaida is only secure around Egwene when Egwene is as low as possible in rank compared to her. After all, if Elaida charged Egwene with being a false Amyrlin then she would be recognising Egwene as potentially of a comparable rank to her.
As for the Dragon Reborn, the most ta’veren male of all, Elaida’s plan is to use him as ‘merely another symbol of her power’ (A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame), and barely allow him to speak. Rand has done well in battle, but it is Mat who is at least as invincible as Artur Hawkwing was in war, and dislikes Aes Sedai too. Unlike Hawkwing, who aided the Tower to capture a (false) Dragon, Mat is on the Dragon’s side…
The Seanchan also represent Artur Hawkwing in his darker, more vengeful guise after Bonwhin’s malevolent manipulations. They plan to bring history full circle and besiege the Tower as Artur Hawkwing did to exact justice for their ancestor. And will a Red Amyrlin be there to take the fall?
Tetsuan, Bonwhin and Elaida were elected during times of desperate conflict. Large scale wars surface when the Shadow’s influence is strong (and Ishamael is loose in the world) and likewise the Shadow has sufficient strength at these times to influence the Hall to elect the worst possible candidates for dealing with that threat. This is yet another example of how Ishamael plays both sides of the board. The Shadow also disposed, or aided in the disposal of the previous Amyrlin in Elaida’s case and quite likely in Bonwhin’s case as well, to make way for the election of a divisive and controversial Red Amyrlin. It has to be said, though, that the Hall is also to blame for being so compliant, so easily manipulated into electing flawed candidates.
Why are Reds not elected at other times? Basically, the few that have been elected were so disastrous for the Tower that Reds aren’t elected in normal times. (It could be argued that some women, Sierin for instance, don’t choose the Red Ajah if they want to be Amyrlin.) Not until a dire emergency involving male channeller/s and when Ishamael is around to order the Black Ajah to destabilise the Hall, are Red Amyrlins elected. The most flawed Reds.
Yet not all Reds are evil; they are not even all extremists. Pevara, Tarna and Tsutama, for instance, have good leadership potential and are willing to reassess the most ingrained customs if necessary for the common good. As I showed in Aes Sedai Attitudes to Male Channellers, Reds don’t even have a monopoly on extremism about male channellers. What the Red Ajah has done that is wrong is to permit, nay foster or even promote, women who are too flawed to be decent leaders.
The fact that the ‘worst’ examples of Reds have been elected, coupled with the fortuitous ‘timing’ of opportunities for these Amyrlins to be elected, might suggest that the Red have always been infiltrated by the Shadow more than any other Ajah. Yet so far the Red Ajah has fewer known Black sisters than other Ajahs, despite being the largest Ajah (see The Black Ajah essay). Are we deliberately being misled?
In conjunction with this post, my final two essays in our Aes Sedai series are republished here on the Thirteenth Depository: Aes Sedai Attitudes to Male Channellers: The Unbeliever and the Aes Sedai History from the Breaking to the Hundred Years War, which details the founding of the Tower, the ethical issues facing Aes Sedai and all the known early Amyrlins including Bonwhin and Tetsuan together with real world parallels of all these.