In the Winter’s Heart read-through I looked at the character development of Teslyn and one astute reader pointed out that her reactions indicate possible sexual abuse. In this post I shall look at another character who has the same: Sylvase Caeren.
Sylvase’s grandfather Lord Nasin was High Seat and forced himself on any woman he could; even other High Seats had trouble refusing him. He got away with it because he was head of a powerful House and because he was demented.
Throughout Crossroads of Twilight and most of Knife of Dream Sylvase had an expressionless face. Such emotional withdrawal can be a sign of abuse. According to Norry:
“her grandfather chased away every man who showed interest in her until men stopped showing interest, and she has been virtually a prisoner since reaching her majority. That would tend to give anyone a dark view of the world. She may not . . . um ... be as trustworthy as you could wish, my Lady."The imprisonment itself is a form of abuse. Nasin claimed he was keeping her safe from fortune-hunters (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness), but it was an excellent excuse which may well cover something far more sinister. Considering Nasin’s current behaviour, he is likely to have sexually abused Sylvase as well. Note that unlike everyone else, Sylvase made a point of watching the maid coerced into accepting Nasin’s sexual favours go to his tent with him (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness).
- Knife of Dreams, The Importance of Dyelin
The effect of his actions in driving all men away was to keep her all to himself and totally under his control. At the least, by claiming that men only want her for her money, he was making her feel worthless as a person.
More recently, Nasin left Sylvase under the ‘protection’ of Arymilla, ostensibly to keep her safe, but actually so she, his heir, could not replace him as High Seat (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness). He was partly aware that he had lost his mental faculties, but was determined to retain his position until his death (Knife of Dreams, A Bronze Bear).
Sylvase is less stupid than she appears: she questioned the value of attacking Caemlyn without the support of Luan and the other High Seats and asked why they did not accept Luan’s truce until they forced the Borderlanders away (Knife of Dreams, A Bronze Bear). She also understood what Elayne’s acceptance of her support would entail.
Nasin almost pleaded with Sylvase, his granddaughter and heir, not to replace him before he died:
His smile faded, and an odd note entered his voice. It might almost have been...pleading. "Remember, you will be High Seat of Caeren after I'm gone. After I'm gone. You will be High Seat."or perhaps he held out the promise of High Seat as a reward for putting up with him. All it did was encourage thoughts of what her life could be like if he were gone and suggest a way out of her troubles.
- Knife of Dreams, A Bronze Bear
Sylvase claimed that Nasin died of a seizure during the assault on the Far Madding Gate (Knife of Dreams, Nine Out of Ten). While this is possible, it is remarkably convenient. However, Nasin had made such a pest of himself that no one was going to quibble. Sylvase’s cousins for instance promptly confirmed her as High Seat.
Nasin had kept Sylvase powerless and confined, so this was the first opportunity to rid herself of him and get away with it. In the confusion of battle it wouldn’t be difficult to kill him in a way that passed as natural causes. For instance she could stun him and suffocate him. An old man would die of suffocation rapidly. Any slight wound on his head could be passed off as him hitting his head when he fell. If anyone saw her bending over him she could say that he had taken ill and she was trying to help him. Her prompt employment of the interrogator Jac Lounalt once Arymilla was captured suggests she is bent on revenge enough to have killed her grandfather, or gotten someone such as Lounalt to do it. (Though the latter option leaves her more vulnerable and she has probably had enough of that).
Now that Nasin is dead, Sylvase’s eyes are alert (Knife of Dreams, Nine Out of Ten) and she is openly expressive. She has dropped her protective mask of withdrawal because Nasin’s death has set her free. The abuse has stopped.