Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #42: Chapter 39 - A Visit From Verin Sedai

By Linda


Egwene thinks Verin only recently returned to the Tower from somewhere. Verin says she dropped Tomas off to his family and implies it was a short while before. It has been about 27 days since Verin left Mat. Sanderson said that Verin’s letters had some redundancies in case any of her instructions were ignored or went astray.

This interview with Verin makes Egwene fully realise the risk she has run in taking forkroot. Any Black sister could have killed her had she been alone (but they want her alive and fuelling the division.) To justify her complacency and over confidence she says who could anticipate running into a Black sister. Yet back in The Dragon Reborn she was a lot more careful.

Verin twice suggests to Egwene in this final and desperate conversation that Egwene thank Laras for her. This is something like a last request, and Verin makes it before she even explains her activities and hands Egwene the coded book; the latter should be more important, yet the former takes precedence in Verin’s mind. She tells Egwene that Laras is not a Darkfriend, and is trustworthy and extraordinary. I hypothesise Verin is nudging Egwene to see Laras because Laras will tell Egwene something or give her something vital (eg the Horn of Valere). My theory is detailed here.

Verin, like Egwene, thinks the Tower division and factions foolishness. She was surprised at what Egwene has achieved in breaking Elaida’s regime - and perhaps the Black Ajah’s influence on the Tower division, considering how annoyed they are.

The chapter delivers a lot of information on the Shadow in a revelatory fashion. Verin is convinced the Dark One’s motives and strategy are unpredictable and that Rand’s assumptions are wrong.

The Forsaken’s selfishness makes them predictable to Dark One:

”A tool you can depend upon to act as expected is far more valuable than one you cannot understand.”

The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai

Plus the contention means that only the strongest and craftiest survive. (Note that the Seanchan select their monarch in a similar way).

Verin was believed to be a Darkfriend by the Black Ajah and had to either join up or die. This was probably the serious error she made 70 years ago. She did not want to die, so she chose to join, and to redeem herself by gathering intelligence with the aim of betraying the Shadow:

"I joined them to keep my skin intact," Verin said, smiling. "I'm rather fond of it, though Tomas did go on about these white hairs. Anyway, after joining them, the chance to study them was my making the best of the situation."

The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai

She quotes the wording of one of the Black Ajah Oaths. Speculation on the other Oaths is here.

Verin wonders if there is a purpose to the loophole that allows betrayal of the Shadow in what you believe to be the final hour of your life. Egwene thinks it must be just accident. The wording is dramatically threatening and typical of the trope of the flawed Dark Lord.

Verin took asping rot to execute herself. ‘Asping’ alludes to asp, the venomous snake said to be used in Ancient Egypt for executing criminals who were thought to deserve a kinder death than that from regular executions. Cleopatra was said by Plutarch to have tested various poisons (on others, naturally – rank has its privileges!) and thought that the asp’s venom, which made the victim sleepy and weak, yet without pain, was the least terrible way to die. This is the death she chose herself when she suicided. From Egwene’s description, asping rot has a very similar physical effect although it is a plant, not snake venom.

‘Rot’ refers to fungi, many of which are very poisonous, although they kill in unpleasant ways.

The Calabar bean (Physostigma venenosum) or Ordeal bean also has interesting parallels with asping rot. It is very poisonous and the ground beans infused in water were used in West Africa as an ordeal to prove innocence or guilt:

If the prisoner vomits within half an hour he is accounted innocent, but if he succumbs he is found guilty.

- Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal

It generally kills within an hour.

The explanation for the survival of the innocent is that they trustingly drank the poison straight down and their body reacted to the rapid dose with intense vomiting and diarrhoea, thus purging the poison from their system before it was absorbed. The guilt sipped their poison and this slower dose was absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract without being violently ejected as a large dose would be and they died of cardiac arrest (Malcolm Stuart, Colour Dictionary of Herbs and Herbalism).

Verin’s actions in sipping her poison not only allowed her to hand on her report and explanations, but reflect that she accepted her guilt in swearing to the Dark One and for her actions (however reluctant) as part of the Black Ajah and was prepared to pay the price.

And Verin did evil acts as a Darkfriend:

“Light knows I've done enough to require a very special kind of redemption. But it was worth the cost. Worth it indeed. Or perhaps that is simply what I must tell myself."

The Gathering Storm, A Visit From Verin Sedai

Certainly Sheriam was convinced that Verin was a committed Darkfriend.

Verin gives Egwene one book plus the cipher key, yet in The Path of Daggers she thinks of the many books of enciphered notes she has:

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.

The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

There is no mention of these books in either The Gathering Storm or Towers of Midnight.

Browns gather knowledge so it can be used in the future. Verin excelled herself there, with details on Darkfriend leaders, and the Black Ajah, including their prophecies, factions and their goals and motivations. Only the list of Black sisters has been tapped into so far.

My analysis of Black Ajah numbers is given in the Black Ajah article here. Note that unaligned sisters including, we have to assume, Cadsuane’s faction, must have about one third of the Black sisters.

For an analysis of the Black Sitters and their effects on voting in the Hall see
here. For a listing of the known Black sisters and their deeds see here. Perhaps not sending any Black Ajah among the ferrets returning to the Tower was an oversight on Sheriam’s part.

Through Egwene, we are reminded that evil can appear likeable and that unlikeable doesn’t mean someone is evil.

When I read this chapter, I kicked myself because I had written in the Black Ajah article years before that if there was any agent of the Light infiltrating the Shadow it would be Verin. I never wrote it up as formal theory though. Ah well.

Like Cadsuane, Verin had quite a collection of objects of the Power: her book invisibility ter’angreal, the dream ter’angreal she gave to Egwene (this works under even extreme secrecy since it doesn’t require channelling), and an angreal.

Saerin judges that the Reds warned Elaida not to protest her censure, or else she would lose what support they are prepared to give her. Elaida was not deposed because Egwene said she did not want the Red Ajah to fall. Egwene suspects Elaida did a deal with Tsutama to submit to the will of the Hall in exchange for Silviana being punished but to a lesser degree. Therefore Elaida still had influence in her Ajah. Via the Black, perhaps, since the Black probably didn’t want Elaida deposed.

Egwene is determined every suspected Darkfriend will be given the chance to prove herself. She realises the gathering of rebel sisters in Salidar and then their procrastination was probably a part of the Shadow’s plan. She believes the same of her own raising, but actually the latter was used by the Shadow.

Egwene’s orders to Siuan to watch Sheriam and Moria were given quite baldly, with no explanation about how she knows who is in the Black Ajah. Therefore Siuan thought rescuing Egwene more important.


Anonymous said...

I always assumed that the hour grace period was in the DOs plans. The planned purge allows him to gather all of his followers in the blight for a re-incarnation. Thus the Dreadlords.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great read, Linda. I have one question, though. How do you know it has been 27 days between Verin leaving Mat and meeting Egwene? Verin told Mat that she intended to return to him in one day. This suggests to me that she went more or less straight to the White Tower, after distributing her letters.

Brad Murgen said...

I'm re-reading for the first time in 6 years and knowing what happens to Verin, I was surprised how much she was involved with Rand and all that from the beginning. I had forgotten so much that had happened in the early books.

There are plenty of hints that make sense now... I'm on Lord of Chaos right now, and it's there in Chapter 11, when Verin thinks about seventy years of delicate work. And later, when she thinks about "breaking a few customs in my time." Some nice little tidbits that don't really make sense at the time, but do now.

Anonymous said...

Some say that it's been ONE day since Verin left Mat (she travelled there as soon as she could). Surely it is impossible tell, because of the completely messed up and confusing timeline. Certainly not 27 days, however.

Linda said...

I have seen two timelines: Steven Cooper's Tellings of the Wheel which has the gap between Verin leaving Mat and arriving at the Tower as 27 days, and one sketched out by Bob Kluttz of Encyclopedia WOT for the gap between the events as 14 days. Steven Coopers timeline is pre TOM, Bob Kluttz' takes events in TOM into account. I take these as the max and min time gap. Verin might have told Mat she intended to be back the next day, but she certainly didn't go straight to the Tower.

Csarmasz, Máté said...

She might have, for all we know. The timelines are definitely messed up badly.

Manetheren said...

Pertaining to the the loophole about only being able to betray the Dark One in the last hour of one's life.

It is a theory of mine (and my friends) that the loophole is a requirement in the sense that for all his desire to break the Pattern, The Dark One is also bound to it. For all the Dark One's power and chaotic tendencies, this is a restriction that even he is forced to abide by, which would certainly be an added incentive to be free of it himself. The loophole is meant for those who have turned to the Shadow, in their last hour of life, the chance to turn back to the light and be saved.

Even today, people in their death beds are known to accept Jesus Christ as his/her savior and based on Christian beliefs they are saved despite it being at the end.

What is the most powerful oath given in WOT? "I swear under the light of my life and hope of rebirth."

The Dark Oaths are based on selfishness, and as we have seen through all the books, all of the darkfriends have been just that. They believe they will be among the exulted when the Great Lord is victorious. They do dark deeds, scheme and murder without regret if it gets them ahead. Additionally, every one of them have experienced pretty nasty and unexpected deaths. People don't often choose their time of death and thus would require a self sacrifice. The Darkfriends wouldn't dream of turning away from the Dark One, or if they did probably wouldn't bring death on themselves at a time of their choosing just to turn away.

Verin did just that. Chose her time of death, knowing, especially at so crucial of a time, it was her only way to fight for the Light and receive redemption for her soul and hope of rebirth.

Manetheren said...

Missed a line in the last post.

A selfish person wouldn't orchestrate his/her own death for the greater good. Only an unselfish act would allow for betrayal.