Alviarin and Elaida
In the Prologue, there is an amusing scene of Alviarin mentally wrestling with Elaida – the cold and bloodless White versus the vengeful and engorged Red - in a lady-like fashion, of course. Definitely not The Triumph of Logic; that chapter comes later… Alviarin exposes Elaida’s blindness and in return, Elaida uncovers Alviarin’s possession of secret knowledge and fear of exposure:
The lack of curiosity on Alviarin's face made Elaida wonder again how much the woman knew what she was not supposed to…So much so that Alviarin wants Elaida dead and suggests it to Mesaana.
But Alviarin.... Her eyes were wide as they could open, lips parted as if she had forgotten the words she meant to speak. A paper slid from the sheaf in her hands and almost fell before she could catch it.
- A Crown of Swords, Prologue
Nearly all of what Elaida knows is wrong. Only her Foretellings, arising from her subconscious, are true. On the other hand, what Alviarin knows is right.
Here is an impressively long list of Elaida’s erroneous deductions and beliefs that she expresses in this chapter:
- Nobody cared what happened in Ebou Dar, Elaida least of all; the capital of Altara could fall into the sea, and except for the merchants, not even the rest of Altara would notice.
- Vague rumors linking Morgase to the Whitecloaks were so much nonsense, for she would never have gone to the Children of the Light for help. She was dead, leaving not even a corpse behind.
- "Why under the Light would they [Elayne and Nynaeve] be in Ebou Dar?" Elaida said dismissively.
- Long ago she had Foretold that the Royal House of Andor held the key to winning the Last Battle. Twenty-five years gone and more, as soon as it became clear that Morgase Trakand would gain the throne in the Succession, Elaida had fastened herself to the girl, as she was then. How Elayne was crucial, Elaida did not know [The Foretelling is correct, but her interpretation wrong, apart from the one honest admission at the end!]
- The shepherd was on his way to her. [Rand escaped that day]
- The rebels would be crushed and the Hall cowed, Alviarin forced to her knees and every fractious ruler brought to heel.
- Elayne would be placed on the throne in Caemlyn [not exactly placed, and certainly not by Aes Sedai]
- "Do you believe the tales of thousands flocking to Caemlyn in answer to that obscene amnesty?" Not the least of what al'Thor had done, but hardly cause for worry.
- There could not be more than two or three men at this Black Tower actually able to channel, Elaida was certain. Fifty sisters could overwhelm them easily.
- "He [Taim] is dead, Alviarin, else we would have heard from him long since. And not serving al'Thor. Can you think he went from claiming to be the Dragon Reborn to serving the Dragon Reborn? Can you think he could be in Caemlyn without Davram Bashere at least trying to kill him?"
- Ogier were a triviality. They had no part in the world beyond the cities they had built so long ago.
- Only sisters could be truly, trusted. Red sisters, anyway. Some of them. [The Red Ajah has a higher proportion of Blacks than in other Ajahs (see The Black Ajah article)].
- "Who is going to impose a penance on me, and on what charge?" [She finds out soon enough]
- "Their army," Elaida sneered. Alviarin was such a fool; for all her cool exterior, she was a rabbit. Next she would be spouting the Sanche woman's nonsense about the Forsaken being loose… "Farmers carrying pikes, butchers with bows and tailors on horseback!... Every step of the way, they will lose a man, if not ten. I would not be surprised if our rebels appear with nothing more than their Warders." [All that time in Andor and she grossly underestimates Gareth Bryne. Alviarin wouldn't tell anyone the Forsaken are loose, but she goes to meet one straight after leaving Elaida.]
- "I mean to break them [the rebels], daughter. They will split open like a rotten melon." [What she nearly broke was the White Tower].
- Her secret [her mole, Beonin working to undermine the rebels] will ensure the rebels break.
- Let her chew on the certain surety of Elaida's victory.
- Elaida do Ayriny a'Roihan, youngest daughter of a minor House in the north of Murandy, would go down in history as the greatest and most powerful Amyrlin Seat of all time. The most powerful woman in the history of the world. The woman who saved humankind. [Now a collared animal.]
Elaida’s attempts at logic (in front of a White!) are ludicrous. By not listening to what people say, even refusing to let them mention certain words, she pretty much becomes error personified. You just know she’s doomed.
Mind you, Elaida did get a few things right:
- Some would be stilled, of course—Sheriam [because she was Black Ajah]
- Cemaile's grand plans came to naught, however, as did Cemaile, and for three centuries the clock sat in a dusty storage room, an embarrassment no one dared display. Until Elaida.
Elaida’s prized information box is full of erroneous material. The outside of the box, depicting golden hawks among clouds, is far more informative. As has been noted by a few people, including Dominic, the hawks symbolise the Seanchan and are a warning of their aerial attack - yet another thing that Elaida will refuse to believe. She will depart with them.
How ironic then that Elaida behaves like some Seanchan High Lady, complaining about Alviarin looking her straight in the eyes, and toying with her ivory figurines (or netsukes!, reminding us of the strong Japanese influence in Seanchan culture). They are kept in a box covered in roses (a link with the Daughter of the Nine Moons, who wears the raven and roses) and golden scrolls. Elaida touches the cat first; it is a witch’s familiar and also symbolises clairvoyance, watchfulness and female malice (!) All very apt for this chapter. She moves her hand to a woman with an ape (or perhaps monkey) on her shoulder, which Dominic regards as a symbol of insanity, referring to Elaida’s megalomania and her coerced insane decrees. Another interpretation could be derived from the ape being a symbol of vice, lust, original sin and heresy. We soon see Elaida’s lust for power and grandeur, her judgement swayed by anger and pride. The Red Ajah hunts down male channellers, who are regarded as heretics/unbelievers or bearers of original sin, due to saidin being ‘tainted for men’s pride’. Elaida believes that fifty Aes Sedai will be ample to deal with those at the Black Tower.
The figurine Elaida actually picks up is a fish, symbolising knowledge and wisdom. At the climax of her erroneous statements, pronouncing that she is Tower law and questioning who would impose penance or charges on her, she breaks the fish. She Foretells in this same scene a little while after; a granting of true knowledge which she misinterprets. Elaida looks sourly at her broken fish then thinks of her palace and Rand’s capture and cheers up. Neither of these things comes off, though. Knowledge and wisdom is in ruins.
I found Elaida’s mockery of Alviarin’s abilities as a Sitter hypocritical. When Elaida was in the Hall she made major mistakes during her deposition of Siuan due to her lack of knowledge. For instance she thought that the Tower always bowed to the will of the Hall and ended up splitting the Aes Sedai. Alviarin doesn’t need to be Sitter since she controlled at least five Black Sitters in Elaida’s Hall and four in Siuan’s skilfully enough that no suspicions were ever raised about them (see The Composition and Politics of the Halls 998-1000 NE).
Elaida’s thoughts on how she will punish the rebels:
The leaders might themselves escape that [stilling], most of them, if they submitted properly. The minimum penalty in law was to be birched in the Grand Hall before the assembled sisters, followed by at least a year and a day in public penance. Yet nothing said the penance must be served all at once; a month here, a month there, and they would still be atoning their crimes ten years from now, constant reminders of what came of resisting her. Some would be stilled, of course—Sheriam, a few of the more prominent so-called Sitters—but only sufficient to make the rest fear putting a foot wrong again; not enough to weaken the Tower.concentrating on revenge and power, contrast markedly with what Egwene actually did when the Tower was reunited.
If knowledge is power as Alviarin says in this chapter, then false knowledge results in false, illusory power. Neither Elaida nor Alviarin holds true power (pun intended!) in Tar Valon as Alviarin freely acknowledges. Elaida is ignorant of this, the most important fact of all.
Which brings us to who is actually pulling the strings here: Mesaana.
Her strategy in the White Tower is to white-ant it; allow it to collapse itself with minimum obvious interference on her part. It’s a safe and not too demanding method. There are games that work this way, such as Pick Up Sticks where you have to remove the stick from the random pile without any of the others moving. Mesaana prides herself on her knowledge of stresses and leverage (Lord of Chaos, Prologue) and applies it to collapsing the White Tower just as she did to building a Tower out of ivory dominoes for amusement. Alviarin and Mesaana meet regularly, but it is not until this chapter that Alviarin deduces – correctly – that Mesaana is in the White Tower.
It is interesting that Alviarin’s question about the Black Tower triggers Mesaana to demonstrate the Travelling weave after a pause. Obviously Mesaana deliberated about her response to the question, so she knew at least something about what was happening there and what the Shadow’s plans for the Black Tower were at that stage.
Measures Mesaana might have considered would have included killing Alviarin – but time would be lost determining and establishing her successor. Alviarin is too valuable to kill without very good reason. If she punished Alviarin harshly, Alviarin would wonder what is going on at the Black Tower that has to be hidden. So Mesaana distracted her with knowledge, and therefore power, and the unspoken promise of more. As it was, Alviarin wasn’t entirely diverted and resolved not to send any Black sisters on the expedition to the Black Tower.
Moreover Alviarin learned something else from their conversation that surprised her greatly: that the Forsaken are not as unified as the Black Ajah are. Selfishness is allowed in the Black Ajah, but kept under tighter control than among the Forsaken, who had no official leadership at this time and openly undercut one another.
To complement this post, the essay on the real-world parallels I think were used to develop Mesaana is now re-published here in the Reference Library. Mesaana is not that powerful or awe-inspiring as some of the other Forsaken and this is reflected in her fewer mythological parallels.