Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Crown of Swords Read Through#3: Shadowy Shaido

By Linda

It is no coincidence that the name Shaido sounds like Shadow. They were directly manipulated by two Forsaken: Asmodean and then Sammael (with Graendal aiding him).

Sevanna tossed aside custom and tradition, but the Shaido’s honour went with it. She had thirteen Wise Ones, her own coven, execute a fellow Wise One to provide cause for the clan to attack the Aes Sedai holding Rand and capture him for themselves. It is likely that some of these Wise Ones are Darkfriends, and helped Sevanna persuade the others to do something so dishonourable, indeed criminal, as killing a Wise One, just as Black sisters helped depose Siuan and raise Egwene and Elaida.

Sevanna believes that getting her Wise Ones to take part in battle was the biggest change in custom that she made. And it was a very big change. Dumai’s Wells may be the only time that Wise Ones fought in battle in the entire Third Age – until the Last Days and perhaps the Last Battle. (Although I have a theory that at least some Aiel will adopt the Way of the Leaf before the Last Battle). Apart from rescuing Rand, Perrin’s group of Wise Ones battling Elaida’s embassy could be seen as participating in a police action to punish the Aes Sedai for violating the rules of embassies and kidnapping their chief, Rand, under a parley, just as the Aiel regarded the Aiel War as a punitive action against Laman Damodred. This would have been validated in Aiel minds when Rand assigned the Aes Sedai to the Wise Ones. Rand probably doesn’t realise how important that action was for quelling the Aiel’s mutterings against Wise Ones in battle.

Wise Ones fighting Wise Ones was a different matter, and it may be that neither side did much of that with good reason. We know some on Sevanna’s side were reluctant, even those she corrupted most:

"They are Wise Ones," the other woman said in a flat tone, and Sevanna understood bitterly. Joining the dance of spears was bad enough, but Wise One attacking Wise One was more than even Rhiale would countenance.

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

Since Wise Ones take no part in battle, and are not touched by blood feud, they have some similarities with gai’shain and hence to the Da’shain in the Age of Legends. However, Wise Ones do punish violently, so they fall quite short of the Way of the Leaf.

But was Aiel fighting Aes Sedai actually an even bigger change still? Interestingly, Therava had no qualms about killing the Shaido Wise One Desaine but was worried about the prophecy warning against failing the Aes Sedai:

As though Desaine's doubts had infected Therava, she began muttering, only half to herself. "What is ill done is going against Aes Sedai. We served them before the Breaking, and failed them; that is why we were sent to the Three-fold Land. If we fail them again, we will be destroyed."

- Lord of Chaos, Prologue

This fear soon wore off as the Shaido easily looted where and as they willed. After the battle of Malden Therava realised what a high price the Shaido paid for their actions in following Sevanna. Some Shaido early on wondered if Sevanna was ill-fated because she was the widow of two chiefs:

And let those who muttered that she carried bad luck choke on it.

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

They were right. And some might well have choked on it too. The ‘bad luck’ Sevanna brought the clan includes:

  • no clan chief,

  • septs dispersed,

  • social order destroyed,

  • warriors of some septs wiped out and most non-combatants made gai’shain, and

  • many of the channelling Wise Ones made damane.

Even if the Shaido make it back to the Waste what will they find there? Will the place be as it was? Rhuidean certainly isn’t. What of the Shaido’s own lands? The Shaido are regarded as having dishonoured themselves:

"Are we Shaido, expected to make gai'shain from wetlanders?" Her [Amys’] tone left little doubt as to what she thought of both Shaido and the idea of making wetlanders gai'shain.

- The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

and violated custom to the extent they are barely Aiel. How will this affect their trek through the lands of other clans to their own? No sept except the Jumai has a channelling Wise One until they meet up with Therava’s group.

For all the Aiel pride themselves on how carefully their leaders are chosen, with testing of vetted candidates at Rhuidean after long years of experience for men and apprenticeship for women, Sevanna managed to circumvent the system easily in a very ‘conventional’ manner. At sixteen she married power in the form of a much older man:

Suladric, clan chief of the Shaido, fell to her at sixteen, and when he died, she chose out those most likely to succeed…

As wife of a clan chief she had been wielding power at an age when a Maiden was barely trusted to carry a spear or a Wise One's apprentice to fetch water. And now she had it all, Wise One and clan chief, though it would take some doing yet to have that last title in truth.

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

She is now in her mid to late twenties; still “well short of her middle years” (The Shadow Rising, A Breaking in the Three-fold Land); a classic example of too much power unearned. Once the Car’a’carn was declared, it was her ambition to marry him and found the first Aiel dynasty.

Women as well as men were manipulated by Sevanna. Even before convincing thirteen Wise Ones to dishonour themselves by killing a fellow Wise One, she was able to get them to declare her a Wise One. It might have seemed to the Wise Ones merely a convenient step at the time, but without that declaration, giving her the roles of clan chief and Wise One, and therefore more power and influence than either role alone has, Sevanna could not have forced such changes and decisions on the clan. Therava’s group later realised their error, and tried to claw back power by no longer referring to Sevanna as a Wise One and treating her as proxy chief only so they could have meetings without her, but it was too little too late.

Sevanna wanted to remain apart and watch the battle at Dumai’s Wells like a clan chief but the other Shaido leaders insisted she participate in the battle herself and risk her life alongside them. She was nearly killed. Once the Shaido were routed, Sevanna worried about herself and her Wise Ones being chained outside Sorilea’s tent. By all accounts in The Gathering Storm, A Place To Begin, Shaido Wise Ones were ‘chained’ outside Seanchan tents – at least that is how it appeared to the Aiel. How ironic that about two hundred Shaido Wise Ones were collared, when Sevanna planned to put a collar on Rand al’Thor (Lord of Chaos, The Feast of Lights).

One can see why careful limits have been set on Aiel raids and fighting:

  • No one who is vital to the future of a clan, such as mothers of the young, blacksmiths or Wise Ones, can be captured (made gai’shain);

  • warriors usually don’t fight those of the same society,

  • there is a firm time limit for captivity, and

  • a conventional limit to the number of captives if only for practicality, since too many gai’shain leads to idleness and too great a population density.

This ensures the Aiel didn’t destroy any of the clans or the Aiel as a whole, and inadvertently prevent the fulfilment of the Prophecy of Rhuidean and the advent of the Car’a’carn, as well.

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