Monday, October 12, 2009

The Storm is Coming! #12: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

By Linda

A few days ago I republished the first of two essays on the (copious!) laws and customs of the Aes Sedai Administration. And now it is the turn of the second essay, on the laws and customs pertaining to the whole Aes Sedai society; those regarding novices, Accepted, rank and file Aes Sedai, crime, punishment, war, warders, non-Aes Sedai channellers and information.

This post will focus on one particular aspect of the essay: the breaking of Tower law. Crime and punishment, in other words.

Those who have been accused of committing crimes against Tower law are supposed to be taken to the Tower for trial. All accused criminals. Even the Black sisters captured in Tear were destined for the Tower. Summary justice is not allowed.

Excuses are not accepted in Tower law:

"If anyone could break any rule they chose, do whatever they chose, and escape punishment merely by doing some good to balance it, the world would be chaos."

- Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again

Mitigating circumstances will reduce the penalty by a small amount only (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue). An Aes Sedai who knows of a law or custom being broken by another sister and aids her, also shares in her punishment (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory).

However, there is also the attitude that for custom at least:

“You must know the rules to the letter and live with them before you can know which rules you may break and when.”
That said right out that sometimes you can break the rules.

- New Spring, Practice

although some seem to interpret this too loosely. It is a sad fact that because the Aes Sedai are forced to follow the Oaths, most of them follow the Oaths to the letter and not the spirit, and have the same self-serving attitude to the law as well, as we shall see.


For both initiates and non-initiates, it is against Tower law to shed blood or break bones in questioning, or to allow others to do so in the Tower’s name (The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place). Healing must be given before a session starts, and if the questioning started after sunrise, it must end before sundown; if after sunset, then before sunrise. It is illegal to use saidar in questioning an initiate of the Tower but not a non-initiate (The Path of Daggers, A Quiet Place).

Those non-initiates who break Tower law must be handed over to the Tower (New Spring, Business in the City). After their trial, they are subject to similar penalties as Aes Sedai – for example they are executed for treason, as Gareth Bryne is well aware (The Path of Daggers, Stronger Than Written Law).

The Chair of Remorse is regularly used on non-initiates guilty of non-capital crimes in Tar Valon. It is a ter’angreal which shows the criminal carefully selected consequences of their criminal acts until they are broken by their guilt (Winter’s Heart, Prologue).

It is against the law to use the One Power or the Chair of Remorse on initiates of the Tower.


There must be clear charges before an initiate of the Tower can be tried and punished. For a novice or a non-initiate to accuse a sister, these charges must be strong; unsubstantiated or unprovable charges would result in the novice being beaten by the Mistress of Novices and given a long term of Labour, while a non-initiate would also probably be beaten and forbidden access to the Tower (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike).

Not even the Amyrlin Seat can order the arrest of a Sitter without good reason (Knife of Dreams, Call to a Sitting).


Once charged, the accused is taken to a cell to await trial. The Tower has six grill-walled (‘open’) cells in the first basement for:

men who could channel, as well as initiates of the Tower under close arrest, wilders who claimed to be Aes Sedai, and anyone else who must be both confined and blocked off from the Source.

- The Path of Daggers, Prologue

By custom a woman or man in the open cells is always shielded. These cells have reasonable living conditions (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea). Those to be ‘closely confined’ are placed in small dark substandard cells.

Leane was put in the open cells because she was not recognised, and therefore assumed to be a wilder, or a false Aes Sedai. The Tower Aes Sedai have not gone out of their way to prove Egwene’s assertion that Leane is, in fact, Leane.


The summons to be tried cannot be ignored (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters). The summoned person is not told of the charges, but is commanded to obey the summons promptly and without questioning why they are summoned (Lord of Chaos, Summoned in Haste).

In the trial, three Aes Sedai judges sit opposite the accused with the Seat of Rebuke (prosecuting Aes Sedai) on the judges’ right and the Seat of Pardon (defending Aes Sedai) to their left (A Crown of Swords, The First Cup). For some charges the Chair of Pardon faces the same penalty as the accused she defends (Knife of Dreams, Prologue). (This may be the case for the charge of falsely claiming to be Amyrlin).


Some serious crimes are:

  • Allegiance to the Shadow: This is a capital offence. Aes Sedai who abandon the ideals of the Tower and the Light to become servants of Shaitan - Satanists - could be considered apostate since they no longer follow the dogma of the Light, and also treasonous since they betray the Tower and the sisterhood to the Shadow. (Plus they usually commit other crimes such as murder.)

    Members of both the rebel and the Tower Aes Sedai have let known Darkfriends run loose. While the Black Ajah hunters have good reason to delay public charges of the Black sisters they have exposed (namely not to alert the Black Ajah), and have bound them with the Oath Rod, Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne did not report Moghedien for a much lesser reason, thinking the a’dam would be sufficient to hold her, and she was set free.

    On the other hand, refusing to inform the Hall of an action due to suspicion that one or more Sitters might be Black Ajah would result in severe punishment.

  • Assaulting the Amyrlin: The penalty for assaulting the Amyrlin is execution. Cadsuane is rumoured to have done this and Alviarin certainly has.

  • Blackmail: A serious crime that at the least results in a non-initiate being refused access to the Tower and a novice being put out of the Tower once she has learned enough to control her channelling (A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike). Corporal punishment is also likely. We have seen quite a lot of blackmail among Aes Sedai: Nicola and Ariena coercing Myrelle and Nisao for special treatment, and attempting to blackmail Egwene, Egwene blackmailing Sheriam’s group to swear fealty to her, Alviarin blackmailing Elaida to swear obedience, and someone (possibly Lelaine) blackmailing Sheriam to pass on information about Egwene’s plans. Both Romanda and Lelaine threatened Egwene to have the Hall remove even more of her authority unless she named them to speak with the Andoran and Murandian nobles in her place. Lelaine is coercing Siuan and the other Aes Sedai sworn to Egwene to help Lelaine become Amyrlin or she will inform the Hall what they have been up to.

  • Collusion: This occurs when Sitters have a secret arrangement among themselves to vote a certain way, or conspire to in order to obtain a particular decision in the Hall. Open political alliances in the Hall are not collusion, merely everyday politics. The Ajah Heads conspiracy – a secret arrangement among themselves to influence selection of Sitters for the Hall – is probably collusion, as is Lelaine’s attempts to get herself elected Amyrlin. Romanda threatened to tell the Hall that Lelaine did a deal with the Grey Sitters wanting to send Merilille to Ebou Dar. The secret sitting of the Hall to depose Siuan and raise Elaida about which only 11 Sitters were informed and the other 10 kept in the dark (rather than just the 3 Sitters of the Amyrlin's former Ajah) is arguably collusion.

    Collusion is almost as serious as a charge of treason, and is tried in the Hall, where it requires only the lesser consensus to be passed (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences).

  • Compulsion: The use of the Power to force someone to do your bidding has been forbidden since the Tower’s founding (The Path of Daggers, Prologue). Verin did this to the captured members of Elaida’s embassy. The forcible swearing of an oath of obedience on the Oath Rod, as the Black Ajah hunters made the Black sisters and ferrets do, would probably be considered Compulsion (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue) or close enough to it. However, compelling one’s Warder to a mild degree is not a crime. Lelaine and Maigan suggested that the Asha’man be bonded with a variant of the Warder bond that included control by, and obedience to, the Aes Sedai, which Egwene said smacked of Compulsion. Bonding a man against his will, or passing his Bond to another without his knowledge, is also close to Compulsion (or might be regarded as rape, which is also presumably a serious crime).

  • Disobeying the Amyrlin: This is probably not a very serious crime although that might depend on what the Amyrlin ordered. Moiraine expected sisters would be sent to bring anyone guilty of disobeying the Amyrlin for a second time to the Tower for punishment (New Spring, An Arrival). It is not only the rebels who disobeyed Elaida’s command to return to the Tower, as Bera pointed out in A Crown of Swords, Diamonds and Stars, so has Cadsuane and her faction.

  • Falsely Claiming to be Aes Sedai: Women who claim to be Aes Sedai but have not been initiated fully, if at all, cannot follow Aes Sedai laws and customs, or dogma. They are thus an heresy, which is why their treatment is so harsh. Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve did this to be taken seriously. When Siuan gave them their task, she was aware they would have to do so.

  • Fomenting Discord: The undermining of Tower unity is a serious charge under Tower law (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory), since it could incite rebellion. Egwene’s comments on the poor leadership in the Tower and mention of past mutinies would probably be regarded as fomenting discord. Siuan’s and Leane’s lies about the Red Ajah setting up Logain as a false Dragon would certainly be regarded as fomenting discord, and so probably would the ferrets’ actions in spreading these lies (even though they believe them to be true) in the White Tower. Sheriam’s six are also guilty of fomenting discord by sending the ferrets to the Tower. Delana’s attempts to drive a wedge between the rebel Ajahs, and between the rebel Sitters and their Ajah Heads, is also fomenting discord. Many of Elaida’s decrees under Alviarin’s coercion are also arguably fomenting discord. After all Alviarin designed them to be.

  • Kidnapping: The capture and confinement of Black Sisters without proper charges is still kidnapping, a serious crime (Knife of Dreams, Prologue) as the Black Ajah hunters are aware. Lelaine confined Faolain to interrogate her (Knife of Dreams, When Last Sounds).

  • Male Channelling: Channelling is a crime for men due to the danger they pose to others and they are cut off from the One Power – gentled – in the Traitor’s Court. They are effectively regarded as heretical or even apostate and often treated harshly. The Amyrlin must give the order for a man to be gentled. This law may be (eventually) repealed now that saidin is clean.

    Gentling a man without bringing him to the Tower for a trial is a serious crime. While it is known that Red Sisters committed such crimes during the reigns of Sierin Vayu and Marith Jaen, none were able to be charged, so the Red Sitters were unchaired and punished as representatives of the guilty Ajah.

  • Murder: Murder is among the most serious crimes. Black sisters have committed murders, but some other, supposedly better behaved Aes Sedai, have wished for, or considered, the deaths of people who are inconvenient. Siuan thought Nicola and Ariena should be killed, for instance. Red Sisters murdered Sierin Vayu (according to Chesmal Emry), although none were charged, and the Red Sitters may have been unchaired and punished as representatives of the guilty Ajah for this crime as well as that of illegally gentling men.

  • Reading the Amyrlin’s secret correspondence: For anyone other than the Amyrlin, breaking a seal on something labelled ‘Sealed to the Flame’ is as serious as assaulting the Amyrlin's person or committing treason (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory and Sealed to the Flame).

  • Rebellion: Rebellion is a split among the Aes Sedai in which Aes Sedai customs and laws, or dogma, are still accepted and followed – just not the leadership. It is thus not an heresy, but a schism. As has been discussed earlier, schisms have occurred in the Catholic Church, and those who sever themselves from the communion of the Church and yet believe the Church’s dogma are sometimes thought of as rebellious (Catholic Encyclopaedia). The penalty for schism in the Catholic Church is excommunication. By Tower law, a schism – rebelling against the Amyrlin - is considered treasonous. Freeing a deposed Amyrlin from the cells – and thus rejecting the leadership of the newly elected Amyrlin - is considered rebellion (Lord of Chaos, Prologue). Laras, Min and Gawyn all helped free Siuan and Leane. Denying an Amyrlin’s authority or command is rebellious, as Elayne pointed out to Merilille in Ebou Dar A Crown of Swords, The First Cup.

    Rebellion has occurred more than once in the history of the Tower or it would not be a crime. Many (most?) of the Tower’s rebellions were in the distant past, since Elaida thinks of ‘ancient rebellions’.

    Captured rebels are confined and placed on a diet of bread and water until they are returned to the Tower for trial (A Crown of Swords, A Touch on the Cheek). The leaders of rebellions are likely to be stilled and possibly executed and any woman claiming to be Amyrlin Seat on the losing side (falsely claiming to be Amyrlin) must be stilled. The minimum penalty in law for rebellion is to be birched in the Grand Hall before the assembled sisters, followed by at least a year and a day in public penance (A Crown of Swords, Prologue). Novices and Accepted caught up in the losing side of a rebellion are likely to be set to unpleasant labour such as mucking out stalls (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic).

  • Running Away: This is a serious crime for a novice (or Accepted) and the penalty is a birching and to be strictly disciplined for at least a year (Winter’s Heart, Sea Folk and Kin). If an exiled Aes Sedai runs away she is hunted as a renegade (Winter’s Heart, Prologue). Shemerin, a demoted Aes Sedai ran away. There are runaways among the Kin.

  • Theft: The appropriation of someone’s property by stealth or force – even property the Tower regards as belonging to the Tower such as ter‘angreal in private hands - attracts a fairly harsh penance for the guilty Aes Sedai (Knife of Dreams, A Short Path). However, hypocritically, the ter’angreal might not be returned to its original owner. Joline seemed tempted to swipe Mat’s medallion. Ter’angreal that Aes Sedai obtain and don’t turn in to the Hall are also stolen property, since all ter’angreal, no matter where they are, are regarded as property of the Hall. Cadsuane and Verin are guilty of this.

  • Treason: Those judged guilty of treason – betraying the Tower or its leadership – are executed, whether initiates or non-initiates of the Tower. Countermanding an order from the Amyrlin, aiding a deposed and jailed Amyrlin’s escape, allying with the Dragon Reborn, commanding the Hall’s army and concealing the existence of, or making arrangements with, a rival army without the Hall’s knowledge or permission (The Path of Daggers, Stronger Than Written Law), or being the oathsworn general of an army for the losing side in a Tower rebellion are all considered treason. Even remaining silent too long when instructed by the Amyrlin to report could be seen as treason (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic). Alviarin has countermanded Elaida’s orders, Gawyn, Laras and Min helped Siuan and Leane escape and two groups of Aes Sedai have sworn fealty to the Dragon Reborn. The rebel leadership has warned Gareth Bryne that some of his arrangements, such as with Talmanes, have been of questionable legality. Teslyn refused to report to Elaida due to resentment over her demotion. Really, the laws against treason are more honoured in the breach than the observance.

    It is also treason to reveal the existence of the Thirteenth Depository, any of its contents or the law regarding it. Siuan only told Egwene about the Thirteenth Depository when Egwene was Amyrlin, therefore Siuan did not commit treason because Egwene was entitled to know of it. However, Egwene’s revelation of the existence of the depository, its law and some of its contents to the rank-and-file Aes Sedai is treason. It doesn't matter if Egwene is considered a novice or an Amyrlin or anything in between; she has committed treason.

It’s a wonder the reader hasn’t been deafened by the noise of the amount of laws being broken.


A Sitter guilty of a crime is unchaired prior to her punishment.

  • Labour, Deprivation, Mortification of the Flesh (beating), and Mortification of the Spirit: These punishments are penances to atone for misdemeanours and breaking rules. An Aes Sedai can be set such a penance for violating customs of courtesy and the Tower hierarchy, allowing a woman to falsely claim to be Aes Sedai (A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic) or helping an Accepted cheat in the test for the shawl (New Spring, Shreds of Serenity).

    Offered a choice of penances, an Aes Sedai is under a dilemma: labouring to rake garden paths for a month is time-consuming and humiliating, but a strapping from the Mistress of Novice, while over quickly, is very painful (The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return).

    No Aes Sedai, even one in the cells, can be set a penance or ordered punished by another sister purely because she annoyed her – she must have violated a custom in her behaviour to the sister or the sister must be in an official position of authority (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea) to set her a penance. By custom, the penance for not deferring as required is set by the offended sister and is usually stiff – at least a month or two of Labour or Deprivation, possibly Mortification of the Spirit or Mortification of the Flesh.

    Novices and Accepted are usually given extra chores (Labour) or corporal punishment (Mortification of the Flesh) by the Mistress of Novices for their minor misdemeanours. Novices and Accepted who refuse every order are likely to be confined to a cell (deprivation) (Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea). The second last penalty for intractable novices and Accepted is exile to hard labour on an isolated farm and the final punishment is being put out of the Tower (New Spring, The Itch).

  • Birching: Birching involves the person being stripped, stretched tight on a triangle – in the New Spring graphic novel #5 this is shown to be a pyramid - and then flogged while the initiates of the Tower watch. As a deterrent to others, a ward may be woven over the area to hold in the punished person’s howls (New Spring, Changes). The Traitor’s Court and the Grand Hall are two places birching takes place. Crimes for which birching may be the punishment include rebellion, running away (for novices and Accepted), gentling and/or killing a male channeller without taking him to Tar Valon for trial, Compulsion and punishing or coercing another with the Power. It often precedes exile.

  • Exile: Initiates of the Tower may be exiled to hard labour on an isolated farm for short to long periods. Those who do not accept their exile and run away are hunted as renegades (Winter’s Heart, Prologue). Crimes for which exile is the likely punishment include manipulating and lying to groups of Aes Sedai or the Tower executive (Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again), making decisions without informing the Hall because some might be Darkfriends (The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences), using the Chair of Remorse on initiates, gentling and/or killing a male channeller without taking him to Tar Valon for trial, intractability in novices and Accepted, and being a Sitter of an Ajah whose members murdered an Amyrlin they believed was endangering their Ajah or the Tower (The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit).

    Women who might be a source of division in the Tower, such as one who was almost elected Amyrlin Seat and her sponsors, are usually exiled (Lord of Chaos, In the Hall of the Sitters).

  • Stilling: Stilling is the judicial cutting of a woman’s ability to channel the One Power; for men it is called gentling. It is effectively a demotion for Aes Sedai and usually takes place in the Traitor’s Court. The Amyrlin must order the stilling/gentling and thirteen Aes Sedai perform it. Comparatively few women have been stilled since:

    this punishment is rarely executed except for the most extreme crimes against the Tower. As a warning, all novices are required to learn the name and crimes of all women who have suffered stilling within the White Tower’s history. Until recently, no women had been judicially stilled in over one hundred years.

    - The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time,

    Crimes for which stilling is the likely penalty include using, perhaps even knowing how to weave, balefire (The Dragon Reborn, Hunters), large scale use of Compulsion (The Path of Daggers, Prologue), channelling if a man, leaving a male channeller to go free, falsely claiming to be the Amyrlin Seat, or leading a rebellion.

    Aes Sedai to be executed are usually stilled first for three reasons: the great pain of stilling is an additional punishment, it is a security measure more appealing to Aes Sedai than holding a shield until the axe falls, and most importantly, the condemned does not go to the block as an Aes Sedai.

  • Execution: Execution in the form of beheading takes place in the Traitor’s Court under an order from the Amyrlin. Crimes for which execution is the likely penalty include assaulting an Amyrlin, treason, revealing information Sealed to the Flame, being a Darkfriend, falsely claiming to be Amyrlin and probably murder.


bookrazy said...

I think this is the best place to discuss some questions I had about the lagality of deposing Siuan and Elaida's taking of the Amyrlin Seat.

Like you said, the eleven who raised Elaida could be accused of collusion, but I doubt any actual evidence of collusion can be found.

That said, the vote to depose Siuan was clearly legal, but I'm unsure if the absence of a trial was a violation of custom alone or of law as well.

Given the general trends we have been able to see in Tower law, I'm skeptical that the Law does not make it mandatory that a woman be tried before she is stilled and stripped of her position. Siuan did not even have a closed trial before she was removed, tortured and stilled.

Needless to state, whatever doubt may exist about Siuan's removal, Leanne's stilling was entirely without basis. She got to know of Rand only a little before the Hall did, and was in no way complicit in Siuan's plans.

Now, we know that Elaida was raised Amyrlin in the very same sitting of the Hall in which Siuan was deposed. The Blues were thus never given a chance to participate in the selection of the Amyrlin for the stringent rules about delaying the selection of an Amyrlin to apply.

And the glossary clearly states that at least one Sitter from each Ajah must be present when raising an Amyrlin.

Since no one from the Blue was present, or even allowed to be present, Elaida is clearly not the legal Amyrlin Seat, the same as Egwene.

In your article on AS laws, you stated that Elaida has the high ground because the Blues ran away. But the Blues can legitimately claim that by not including them in her election, Elaida had no right to be Amyrlin and command them.

If anything, Egwene and the Rebels can claim that the Reds had ample time to be present in the Rebel Hall, and by their absence signified their lack of interest in raising an Amyrlin.

Linda said...

Not giving Siuan a trial was said in The Path of Daggers Unexpected Absences and The Fires of Heaven The Practise of Diffidence by the rebels to be a violation of custom, and to be following the law narrowly. Siuan trial was a secret one, with no opportunity to defend herself.

Leane's sentence was indeed unjust.

Neither Amyrlin is legal as things stand.

Anonymous said...


Given Shemerin's demotion by Elaida to Accepted, do you see that as "in play" as a punishment for crimes for an Aes Sedai (although in that particular case, it doesn't seem to be punishment for any particular crime) in the future?

Keialpha said...

Given all the crimes listed here, it would be inconceivible to me, that punishments according to the WT law would actually be handed out to all, or even most of the guilty parties.

There has to be a "Truth and Reconciliation" chapter somewhere in the last three books. Starting with Egwene confessing all her crimes, going down the line.

It could be done hush hush and everyone's crimes get buried back in the 13th depository, and no punishment ever get handed out. But I doubt that is what will happen.

Linda said...

Anonymous: Shemerin's demotion was a show of Elaida's belief in her own absolute power.

The fact she demoted someone for no crime at all, just to show she could and to scare the others, is one of her most terrible acts. And it was all her own idea. The Hall did nothing, since they believed Shemerin should have just ignored Elaida's decree. Shemerin accepted Elaida's decree because Shemerin was following the law. That's the irony of it.

What it may Foreshadow is that Elaida may undergo punishment for a crime she didn't commit (although it would be justice for all the ones she has committed), but because she represents a group that has behaved badly in times of crisis since at least Artur Hawkwing. Yes, I'm talking about the Seanchan, and Tuon wanting justice from the Tower for what Bonwhin did. I hope to have the last piece on Aes Sedai history up before TGS, so we can compare all the Red Amyrlins.

Linda said...


I think that the Seanchan and the Last Battle, and the very low standing Aes Sedai will have by the end of this, will be their punishment. Many will die. Those that live will be part of a reformed group. There will be a Reformation for Aes Sedai.

The whole secrecy thing will be disbanded. The Ajah system which contributes so much to the secrecy will also go.

The whole point about secrecy and secret punishment was summarised by Elaida's thoughts on Silviana's opinion when Elaida herself was being punished in private under Alviarin's orders. Unless the crimes are publicly acknowledged as well as publicly atoned, there is no penance, no genuine regret and paying for those deeds. The secrecy has to go.

Anonymous said...

Great article.I've read it on wotmania and enjoyed rereading it. One question: after articles on Aes Sedai administration and society do you plan writing one about White Tower's foreing politics and Randland's sistem of states-I find Tower's position of single superpower in it's world for 3000 years and it's lost of that position during series timeframe quite interesting.

Linda said...

Anonymous: Thanks!

I've got two more Aes Sedai articles 'in the bank'. One is on the early Third Age history which is interesting because it sets out why their attitudes are as they are, plus there's Bonwhin and Tetsuan, who can be compared and contrasted with Elaida.

The other is on Aes Sedai attitudes to male channellers and why Elaida referred to Logain as the Unbeliever.

I'd like to post them here soon, but if I put up too many too soon on Aes Sedai peoples' eyes glaze over!

I did wrote a post looking at some of the nations' political structures for The Shadow Rising Read-through: Measure of Rulership.

I may expand on this topic.