Monday, July 30, 2001

Berelain and the Seanchan

By Linda

Berelain sur Paendrag Paeron is the ruler of a tiny nation, yet she has been kept prominent throughout the series. Her skills as a ruler have been demonstrated to us. She is a descendent of the most noted ruler of the Westlands in the Third Age, Artur Hawkwing, who is revered by mainlanders and Seanchan alike.

Berelain was presented to Tylee, a Seanchan army officer now of the Low Blood, and Tylee’s reaction was to regard Berelain as a distant cousin of Tuon:

And you, my Lady. Sur Paendrag. That would mean from Paendrag?"
"My family is descended from Artur Paendrag Tanreall," Berelain replied, holding her head high. An eddy in the breeze brought a whiff of pride among the patience and perfume. They had agreed that Perrin was to do all of the talking—she was there to dazzle the Seanchan with a beautiful young ruler, or at least to lend weight to Perrin with it— but he supposed she had to answer a direct question.
Tylee nodded as though that were exactly the answer she expected. "That makes you a distant cousin of the Imperial family, my Lady. No doubt the Empress, may she live forever, will honor you. So long as you make no claims to Hawkwing's empire yourself, anyway."
"The only claim I make is to Mayene," Berelain said proudly. "And that I will defend to my last breath."

- Knife of Dreams, A Deal

Berelain responded with a disclaimer, but her existence as the sole person in the world besides Tuon with Hawkwing’s blood in her veins is now known to the Seanchan. All the rest of the Imperial family were murdered by Semirhage. And the above passage is foreshadowing that Berelain may well end up claiming more than Mayene…

Tuon has two things working against her as Empress. The first is that she is a strong and capable ruler and a unifying figure who brings order – exactly what the Shadow doesn’t want. They will aim to get rid of her if the Seanchan start focussing on the Last Battle instead of dividing and distracting the westlands and enslaving women channellers.

Secondly she is an experienced sul’dam – which means she is on the verge of being able to channel. The ability of sul’dam to learn to channel is a ticking bomb in Seanchan society. Tuon’s situation is mirrored by the experienced sul’dam Bethamin who became aware she had the potential to channel. This was confirmed to Bethamin when the a’dam held her. Forced to spend time with three Aes Sedai, monstrous and potentially murderous marath’damane in her eyes, she was spooked by them into channelling (Knife of Dreams, A Cold Medallion). Bethamin’s fear for her life drove her to channel and her experience as a sul’dam helped her do so. (It’s ironic because Aes Sedai are bound not to kill with the Power, so Bethamin was in no more danger from them than she would be from any other person).

Bethamin is not a sparker who was missed by testing: she said she had been tested for the collar annually until age 25 as is every woman including sul’dam:

Even sul'dam had to undergo the yearly testing, until their twenty-fifth naming day, and she had passed by failing every time.

- Winter’s Heart, Questions of Treason

Alise and Reanne remarked that the sul’dam felt like they were on the verge of channelling:

"They [the sul’dam] still deny they can channel," Alise muttered, folding her arms beneath her breasts, and frowned at the woman facing Reanne. "They can't, really, I suppose, but I can feel . . . something. Not quite the spark of a woman born to it, but almost. It's as if she were right at the brink of being able to channel, one foot poised to step over. I have never sensed anything like it before.”

- Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin

Only a conscious and determined attempt to channel – such as with teaching, or for fear for their lives - will make a sul’dam take that step and channel.

I believe that Tuon, like Bethamin, will be forced by events to channel in order to save her life or the Empire, or the life of someone important to her. Tuon has tempted fate by denying she is like a marath’damane:

"I am nothing like these women, Toy. Nothing like them. Perhaps I could learn, but I choose not to, just as I choose not to steal or commit murder. That makes all the difference."

- Knife of Dreams, A Short Path

and she will find out that an inborn ability is not like a matter of morality. She plays the role of Nemesis to the mainland ( see Tuon essay) and I think that she will also be her own Nemesis by channelling. She will channel in front of the Seanchan, not during a parley with Rand, so that it cannot be passed off as Aes Sedai trickery or Rand's trickery.

The Empress channelling would be the ultimate expression of disorder or the world overturned in Seanchan eyes. Just the sort of thing the Shadow would find useful, as useful, in some ways, as Tuon’s death. It would create division and chaos, with some staying loyal to their goddess-like Empress, and others looking for an alternate, non-channelling ruler. This is where Berelain comes in, especially if Faile has her way.

Faile has twice expressed a desire to punish Berelain for her attempts at seducing Perrin by shaving her bald:

“Farm girls in Saldaea have a way of dealing with women who poach others’ men. If you do not swear to forget Perrin Aybara, I will shave your head as bald as an egg. Perhaps the boys who tend the chickens will pant after you, then!”

- The Shadow Rising, Customs of Mayene

Briefly, to extinguish that hateful thought, she pictured herself shaving Berelain bald. She was a jade and a trull!

- The Path of Daggers, Changes

If Faile does this, Berelain will look like one of the Seanchan Imperial family, who shave their heads. Moreover Berelain is descended from Artur Hawkwing and flies Hawkwing’s hawk standard. She may become an alternative ruler for the disaffected – one who doesn’t respond to either the collar or the bracelet of an a’dam. A certified non-channeller.

Apart from sowing division among the Seanchan, the Shadow may also promote Berelain as an alternative ruler because they have strong links to her. While Berelain’s Aes Sedai advisor, Annoura, could be Black Ajah, she and Berelain appear to have fallen out, and Berelain wouldn’t be able to keep her anyway should she fall in with Seanchan.

However, Berelain herself delivered a letter from Lanfear to Rand in Tear. That, plus her attempts to undermine Perrin, suggests she is under the influence of the Shadow. She could be one of those working for Moridin unknowingly, or she could be a Darkfriend. Either way, the Shadow uses her. They will do so even further: to undermine Tuon, sow chaos and weaken the Seanchan.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Berelain will rule the Seanchan with Logain that might resolve Min's viewing which clearly indicates Seanchan colours.

Terez said...

Nice idea! I dunno if the plot will go toward getting rid of Tuon (even the sentiment), but it's a nice possibility, with the Imperial family head-shaving thing. I hadn't thought of that. My guess is that it would be significant to Tuon, but that Berelain will never really be put forward as competition. It seems to me to fall under the category of 'new plot lines' which Brandon said there will not be any of.

Tim said...

Another possibility for Tuon being forced to deal with her channeling is HER annual testing. I don't believe she's 25 yet, so even she would have to be tested. Unlike all other Sul'dam her age, Tuon has had a ton of experience using the A'dam, possibly putting her to the point where the A'dam will hold her like it did with the older Sul'dam.

Not nearly as dramatic as her actually channeling, but still possible.

Frank said...

My objections to this theory stand from a previous post. I don't see Berelain either being an acceptable or particularly willing participant in a Seanchan succession conflict. And I frankly don't think there's time to get that plotline in. Supposedly, there was an "outrigger" with Tuon and Mat that RJ had in mind, but that took place in Seanchan, and if Berelain is a Darkfriend or Darkfriend adjacent, I don't see her being a factor after The Last Battle.

Bryan said...

Tuon trained damane, but Tuon is dead. I doubt the Empress would ever pick up an a'dam, it's probably below her station. Therefore I don't think it's likely that the Empress could be touched personally by a Seanchan social crisis stemming from the mass realization that sul'dam can channel, if one should occur in the last two volumes.

I also think it's unlikely that the Seanchan leadership will change before the Last Battle. I suspect Mat's marriage to Tuon will play an important role in a last-minute alliance between Rand and the Seanchan; why would RJ devote three volumes to their courtship if there was nothing to gain from it besides a little surprise for Rand and Nynaeve at the first, failed truce meeting?

Linda said...

Berelain is a distraction or figure of division. She won't actually rule the Seanchan. She just provides an alternative for the disaffected to rally to.

Anonymous said...

The only way I see Berelain "rule" Seanchan is to be a figure head, which she would be willingly if she is indeed a DF.

The political intrigue in WOT is rather complex. Thus, for people to simply accept Berelain as the Empress due to her bloodline, would be extremely out of character. In a different series, a different setting, maybe. But not in WOT.

If Berelain is to be presented as "the Empress", it need to be a figurehead, with someone with real Seanchan power behind her. That, I can accept as reasonable.

When Suroth was thinking of crowning herself "Empress", there was never any thought about how many lines she can trace to Hawkwing, or who had a better claim than her due to the number of lines to Hawkwing.

So the bloodline of Berelain would not be that important a factor either. Given how people can be adapted into the Imperial family, and how people's name can be removed from the imperial family, bloodline seemed less important in the Seanchan culture.

Anonymous said...

There is also Min's viewing of Berelain falling in love with someone is white (Galad Damodred) to fit into her storyline. I think this is a little too much to fit into the last 2 volumes.

Kathryn Oaken said...

@ Tim, Tuon is young, but immediate members of the Imperial Family are exempt from any sort-of Sul'Dam testing. (sorry, no reference, Tuon dialogue [internal?]).
But Tuon asked the Empress if she could try-on the wrist-part anyway. And was able to train as a Sul'Dam at her own request.

Anonymous said...

Recently finished ToM and I think that Berelain is being set up as an alliance builder. She is related to Tuon and also one of the only people that could be considered Tuon's social peer (both a blood relative of Hawkwing and a sitting Monarch). I think Tuon's (and the Sul'dam's) ability to channel is going to lead to the Seanchan being joined to the White Tower, maybe they'll join the training exchange just set up with the Seafolk and Aeil. Ties to Berelain, Mat, Rand, and the White Tower could lead to a lasting peace.

Anonymous said...

I laughed this theory off at first, but on latest re-reading, the repeat mentions of Berelain being shaved stood out a lot more.

But this paragraph from "Court of the Sun" in Towers of Midnight cinches it for me:

"If only the Seanchan Empress..." Ronam shook his head, and she knew what he was thinking. The old empress, the one who had ruled during the days of the last battle, had been considered a woman of honor by Ronam's father. [Rhuarc is Ronam's father].

Rhuarc knows Berelain, considers her a woman of honor based on their time in Cairhein. He hasn't met Tuon (as yet). The fact that the empress isn't named is suggestive of holding back a suprise (other current day characters are named and pointed out.)