Friday, February 26, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #5: Egwene and Halima

By Linda

It took two to three hours of precise and intricate weaving with a very powerful circle to restore the seasons with the Bowl of Winds. Bearing this in mind, the criticism Romanda made that the Aes Sedai could have done better is ludicrous:

"Easier to instruct Merilille than to see she obeys, Lelaine. I expect she knows she faces sharp questions. This Bowl of the Winds should have been brought to us for study first. None of the sisters in Ebou Dar had much ability in Cloud Dancing, I believe, and you can see the result, all this hurly-burly and suddenness. I have a thought to call a question before the Hall concerning everyone involved." Abruptly the gray-haired woman's voice became smooth as butter. "As I recall, you supported the choice of Merilille."
With a jerk, Lelaine drew herself up. Her eyes flashed. "I supported who the Gray put forward, Romanda, and no more," she said indignantly. "How could I have imagined she would decide to use the Bowl there? And to include Sea Folk wilders in the circle! How could she believe they know as much of working weather as Aes Sedai?"

- The Path of Daggers, Unexpected Absences

Moridin is prepared to admit that the Windfinders know more about working the weather than Aes Sedai did in the Age of Legends when they actually used these ter’angreal regularly.

The rebel Aes Sedai think Merilille should have brought the Bowl to them to use. If they had, Halima would have ensured it was not used. (Not that the rebels would have had a clue how to use it anyway.)

Halima’s ploy of inducing headaches which only she could ease to get close to Egwene always struck me as clumsy but no character saw through it. She needed to sleep in the same tent as Egwene to find Egwene’s dreams. As a result of Halima’s manipulations, Egwene was not remembering all her dreams clearly:

In the dim, cold dark of deep night, Egwene woke groggily from restless sleep and troubling dreams, the more troubling because she could not remember them. Her dreams were always open to her, as clear as printed words on a page, yet these had been murky and fearful. She had had too many of those, lately.
They left her wanting to run, to escape, never able to recall what from, but always queasy and uncertain, even trembling.

- The Path of Daggers, Stronger than Written Law

Egwene’s restless troubled dreams leaving her wanting to run are similar to Morgase’s restless dreams of running from someone when under Rahvin’s Compulsion:

Her [Morgase’s] eyes closed, and she fell immediately into sleep, a sleep troubled by restless dreams of running from something she could not see.

- The Fires of Heaven, Fanning the Sparks

Egwene’s talent and will is strong enough that she can recall a portion of her dreams even under these circumstances.

At least part of Egwene erroneously positive and unsuspicious attitude to Halima comes from associating Halima with the removal of pain.

Halima was clumsy in the way she publicly instructed Delana and made her try to join every faction and submit extremist suggestions to the Hall. This ensured Delana wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Balthamel/Aran’gar, Halima’s alter ago, is skilled in violence but is pathetic at politics. She killed two of Egwene’s three maids – leaving alive the one Sheriam (Black) supplied and that Egwene trusts the most. Chesa seems entirely trustworthy, but…

Or would all three disappearing have been a bit overdone?

In the Age of Legends Balthamel ran concentration camps where people were kept as fodder for Trollocs and also an intelligence network. Until her cover was blown, the transmigrated Halima was a spy and agent provocateur. Parallels for both figures are described in the Balthamel parallels essay. My favourite is the twice-born Greek god, Dionysus and his hangers-on.

Egwene thought Halima a wide-eyed innocent country girl, whereas it is Egwene who was the naive one. It was not innocence that made Halima oblivious to the Aes Sedai pecking order, it was arrogance. Her handwriting is unformed because transcribers were used in the Age of Legends (The Path of Daggers, New Alliances).

Egwene completely misinterpreted what she saw of Halima and Delana:

Only Delana never joined one of those brief conversations. She stayed close beside Halima, who at last admitted that she was cold. Face tight, the country woman held her cloak close around her, but she still tried to comfort Delana, whispering to her almost constantly. Delana seemed to need comforting; her brows were drawn down, putting a crease in her forehead that actually made her seem aged.

- The Path of Daggers, The Law

On the way back from the meeting with the Andorans and Murandians Halima was worried about what Egwene was plotting. From Egwene’s instructions to her sworn Aes Sedai to remind all rebel Sitters of Elaida’s misdeeds, she knew Egwene was up to something and had beaten Sheriam in an effort to find out what, to no avail. Sheriam had not been told. Halima wasn’t comforting Delana, she was giving her instructions for various possible outcomes, some of which made Delana miserable or fear exposure. Yet Halima didn’t destroy Egwene’s role or plans as she easily could have by making Delana reveal the Egwene-Siuan alliance, therefore she still hoped to manipulate or use Egwene. Perhaps the Shadow saw Egwene as promoting division.

Both Egwene and Siuan were prepared to look foolish in the rebel Sitters’ eyes to manipulate them into declaring martial law.

A figure of some amusement and occasional pity, Siuan Sanche, reduced to attaching herself to the woman who held the title once hers, and that woman no more than a puppet once the Hall finished fighting over who would pull her cords. Siuan was human enough to harbor sparks of resentment, but so far they had managed to keep secret that her advice was far from grudging. So she endured pity and snickers as best she could, and everyone believed her as changed by her experiences as her face. That belief had to be maintained, or Romanda and Lelaine and very likely the rest of the Hall, too, would find ways to separate her - and her advice - from Egwene.

- The Path of Daggers, Stronger than Written Law

This probably lulled Halima too.

Egwene had been wondering how to ensure that the Sitters hurried back to the camp in time for Egwene to call the Hall to sit. Her impulse to publicly announce at the parley with the Andorans and Murandians that the novice book was open to all had the Sitters eager to leave and discuss how to counter this, and too blind with annoyance at Egwene to see her ambush coming.

Since Sheriam tried to pump Egwene for her plans regarding this sitting of the Hall, Halima didn’t penetrate Egwene’s ward protecting her discussions with Siuan against eavesdropping. Sheriam was bitter because she knew she would be in trouble with Halima for not finding out what Egwene and Siuan were planning.

Delana was nervous and late to the sitting due to probably getting last minute instructions – a measure of Halima’s uncertainty. The Grey Sitter did not want to divide the Tower further and was one of the last to stand for the war vote after looking outside rhe pavilion – to Halima probably, even though the Hall session was warded against eavesdropping. To obtain the lesser consensus, Moria (Black) harangued the seated Sitters until two other Sitters of her Ajah rose, so she had orders – possibly from a different Forsaken since Moria never worked with Delana politically (see Politics of the Halls article) – to sow disunity between the Aes Sedai and prolong the rebellion.

Egwene’s green-blue-white attire that she wore to the parley and the momentous sitting refers to the Green (Battle) Ajah and its allies. She wore pearls, too, which are lunar symbols of wisdom and feminine power, but also tears; as did Siuan, the former Amyrlin and her teacher. They had worked out a plan for Egwene to gain control of the rebels and truly become Amyrlin, but feared it could all end in tears. I loved the moment when Romanda supplied Egwene with an ermine cloak (a symbol of royalty and since it is white, saidar). Romanda had probably been saving it for the glorious day when she would be raised Amyrlin at last. Instead, she ‘ennobled’ Egwene with it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #4: Appraising the Treasure

By Linda

The Elayne and Nynaeve subthread starts with Aviendha worrying about the lost child Olver. Much to her surprise, her love for Rand is inspiring her to develop maternal feelings. Some things haven’t changed however, such as her attitude to the ‘Oathbreakers’. Even though only one Cairhienin – Laman – broke faith with the Aiel and was executed for his offence, all Cairhienin are condemned. Indefinitely.

Aviendha also stresses about her difficulty with Travelling. It is due to Aviendha having already used a different weave for Travelling when she fled from Rand in Cairhien, but one she can’t remember. Cadsuane explains the problems:

The first way you learned the weave for a particular thing imprinted itself on you; learning a second was all but impossible, and even when you could learn, the second learned weave almost never worked nearly as well… As for handwaving… Few [Aiel] had channeled where she could see, but she had noticed that they created some weaves without the gestures that sisters used. The hand movements were not truly part of the weave, but in a way they were, because they had been part of learning the weave. Perhaps, once, there had been Aes Sedai who could, say, hurl a ball of fire without some sort of throwing motion, but if so, they were long dead, and their teachings with them. Today, some things just could not be done without the appropriate gestures. There were sisters who claimed they could tell who had taught another sister by which motions she used for which weaves.

- The Path of Daggers, New Alliances

Aviendha Travelled instinctively, but in her panic never took note of how she did it. She has had to learn Elayne’s way, but it is a poor second. Aviendha does remember the gesture she used for her original weave, but that wouldn’t help from what Cadsuane said, since whatever gesture Elayne used when she demonstrated it to Aviendha is ‘part’ of the weave. So Aviendha is performing neither weave exactly in the way she learned them. It will be interesting to see if Aviendha’s difficulties with Travelling are important for Towers of Midnight.

This subplot has some interesting symbolism in these early POVs:

The thin Sea Folk porcelain that Aviendha eyes was actually made by Amayar and reflects the brittleness and fragility of that people’s philosophy, the Water Way, and ultimately their mass murder and suicide (more on this in the Knife of Dreams, read-through). The gilded and lit lamps lining their way out of the Palace symbolise royalty, vigilance, truth and life, and refers to their quest to restore the seasons and establish Elayne on the Lion Throne.

Nynaeve’s attire of blue with yellow slashes hearkens back to Lan’s former Aes Sedai, Moiraine, as well as Nynaeve’s own Ajah and Healing Talent. She is trying to be everything to Lan. As he told her in Tear, Lan’s favourite colours on women are blue, green and white. The last is an odd choice, since white is the mourning colour. However, the colours are those of Moiraine’s Ajah and her Ajah’s allies. Elayne is also wearing her Ajah colour of green embroidered with gold to reflect her royal status. The girls have dressed formally for this very important occasion. Green is also the colour of fertility and Elayne will be pregnant soon.

Aviendha is modestly dressed in grey, reflecting her current lower station compared to the other two and also her growing role as mediator between Aiel and Westlanders. Aviendha’s comment that no Wise One ever told anyone to stand up to Wise Ones looks forward to her own problems with self-assertion which delayed her graduation as a Wise One.

Elayne was able to efficiently sort through the items they found in Ebou Dar by holding the Power and sensing whether an item resonated to saidar. (Hopefully items that are made to be used by saidin only also resonate to saidar.) The many items they obtained are detailed in the Ebou Dar cache article now reposted here on the Thirteenth Depository.

Three angreal were found in their share of the cache and their shapes are instructive, when one considers who uses them.

The turtle angreal was used by Talaan and later given to Aviendha. Turtles symbolise longevity. Being creatures of two domains, sea and shore, they are also often regarded as keepers of the doorways to other worlds, such as Faerie. Both Talaan and Aviendha chafed at the delays to their graduation and turtles are regarded as slow. The two girls have also, if not gone missing, at least taken longer to re-appear than they should. Elayne also considered using the turtle at a time when her path to the throne was delayed and the Borderlanders seemed a complication.

The figurine of a woman in a meditative pose clothed only in her luxuriant hair angreal is Elayne’s favourite despite being the weakest of the three. Elayne gave this angreal to Aviendha to use even though she wanted to use it herself. Unbound hair is often a sexual invitation, especially coupled with nudity as on this figurine. At this stage Elayne was rather jealous that Aviendha and Rand had made love - often telling herself to stay calm - and looked forward to doing the same with him herself.

The maze-engraved rings and bracelet with chains, padlock and key is the strongest of the three angreal. It adapts itself to fit whatever hand it is on and has been used by Nynaeve and Alivia. Rings are a symbol of commitment and, along with the chains and bracelet, a strong bond of service or duty and an eternal connection with someone.

The lock with its special key could be regarded as a symbol of marital fidelity. A lock and key also stands for both liberation and imprisonment. Another possibility is that the key could symbolise the unlocking of knowledge or weaves that are essential to protect. In a way the strenth of the angreal provides the ability to protect or save. Since the lock and its key are removable, it would be interesting to see if removing them affects the function of the angreal, for example by making it weaker or stronger.

On one level the angreal refers to Nynaeve’s marriage to Lan, especially considering Nyaneve wears Lan’s ring on a chain. Just before she was given the angreal to use she confessed that she had been silly about forgetting her duty while fussing over Lan.

Perhaps more importantly still, the angreal symbolism refers to both Nynaeve’s and Alivia’s fierce protection of Rand and also his trust of them in return. One will ‘help him die’ and the other is determined to help him live. Alivia feels a great obligation because Rand liberated her from the a’dam and she appreciates Rand encouraging her to learn all she can.

The angreal is engraved with a maze pattern. Mazes were thought to confuse evil spirits, and it is therefore apt that the angreal has been frequently worn and used in conjunction with the protective jewellery ter’angreal from the cache. The fact that mazes have many paths and dead ends implies that whatever weaves or aid Nynaeve and Alivia bring Rand will not come easily.

The Bowl of Winds is a hallows object, a life-giving cauldron of plenty in fact. The cauldron of the Dagda, an Irish god was called Undry and the Blow was used to bring much-needed rain and snow to the world.

The Bargain that Elayne and Nynaeve made with the Sea Folk was worthwhile. Without Caire’s rare and very advanced technical knowledge and skill they could not have restored the Seasons. The Windfinders’ knowledge was not valued by Egwene and the rebel Aes Sedai since they never saw the expertise necessary to use the Bowl.

Caire channelled into the Bowl with a star motif. The star symbolises hope, expectation and advent. For the alchemist it was a symbol of the imagination and of the material substances the alchemist hoped to transform. The mental powers of thirteen channellers were used by Caire to transform the weather pattern of the world. She began with a four-pointed star representing the four directions of the compass, or the four corners of the world, and then increased the number of points. The nine-pointed star triggered the Bowl to draw saidar itself and then saidin. Nine is a powerful number symbolising order within order, and the triple synthesis of mind, body and spirit, or heaven, earth and underworld.

Sammael also obtained a share of the Ebou Dar cache. After Sammael’s death, Rand and the Asha’man stripped Sammael’s rooms bare of whatever Graendal left (The Path of Daggers, New Alliances). She complained that she didn’t have much time before they arrived. This implies that Graendal got her hands upon more than just a weak angreal, but we don’t know what.

It’s remarkable how often Mat is present when treasure hoards are accessed onstage for the first time – Shadar Logoth, the Great Holding in Tear, Rhuidean and finally the Ebou Dar cache. He really is the God of Wealth. Perhaps he will be shown over the Eelfinn’s treasure stores too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #3: Games of Deception

By Linda

The Prologue title emphasises deceiving others, or being deceived by them.

Moridin sits meditatively re-playing a past board game. Despite his reputation and the odd spot of acting, he is not as mad as he appears. He has been too effective to be mad, but it makes the other Forsaken wary of him if they think he is. The game is not an academic or idle exercise either. He is using it to work out his strategy in the war against the Light.

Moridin tells us he is playing both sides of the board in the real game. He has seemingly been helping Rand as well as openly opposing him. Since he thinks Rand is moving to his wishes, he approves of Rand ousting Sammael from Illian and killing him – thinning out his more independent rivals - and of sending Perrin and Mat away on long-running errands. Later he will advise Rand on how to permanently remove the Forsaken and aim him at the more dispensable or troublesome ones…

Verin in this chapter is playing both sides in the name of the Light. Her compulsion weave is safe of itself; it is her manipulations that she suggests to her victims that are potentially dangerous. In her rooms at the White Tower she has cupboards and chests filled with ciphered notebooks but in The Gathering Storm she only gives one to Egwene along with her cipher key. With her compulsion, she also tries to find out the identities of Rand’s ‘secret Aes Sedai supporters’. If only Rand had told Verin that the letter offering him support had come from Alviarin…

The Sha’rah game, played on a 13 x 13 board surrounded by a goal row with 33 pieces per player (see the symbolism of 13 and 33) plus an independent bone of contention, the Fisher, is a metaphor for the struggle between the Shadow and the Light, with Rand as the Fisher. One player takes the red side, and the other player the green. It’s a fairly safe bet that Moridin likes to choose red (blood, one of his colours), not green (fertility and life), when he plays.

The Fisher has a real world equivalent, the Fisher King of Arthurian legend who guarded the Holy Grail, San Greal, as Rand did the great sa’angreal. His unhealing wound represents original sin. Rand’s wound is made from the taint that was on saidin, tainted by the Dark One for men’s pride. It is overlain by the Shadar Logoth evil, the hatred of evil that becomes evil itself; hypocrisy is a very ancient and underestimated sin. Weakened by his wound, the Fisher King could not hunt, only fish; hence his name. Since the Fisher was at one with the Land, it could not be healthy while he was wounded and because no one asked about the Fisher’s wounds, the Land wasn’t healed. Nobody really asks about Rand’s wounds either, just Delves them when he is incapacitated, and he isn’t volunteering anything. Four holy objects, the Sword (Callandor or Justice), the Spear (Seanchan sceptre or Mat’s spear), the Cauldron (Bowl of Winds) and the Crown (of Swords) are necessary to restore the Fisher’s Land and Rand.

In Sha’rah the Fisher is always hunted. The real world games that Sha’rah was based on, the Tafl family of games (see Sha’rah and Fisher King article), are considered to be hunting games rather than war games like chess. Sha’rah is more complex, being both a hunting and a war game.

Depending on his square colour, the Fisher has differing moves:

Several pieces had varying moves, but only the Fisher's attributes altered according to where it stood; on a white square, weak in attack yet agile and far-ranging in escape; on black, strong in attack but slow and vulnerable.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

On the road to Caemlyn, Rand was weak yet elusive, since he could not channel consciously, but he did elude Shadowspawn and Darkfriends. In contrast, during the cleansing of saidin, Rand attacked strongly but was slow and vulnerable. He needed all the extensive defences that Cadsuane organised, and was helpless afterwards until he recovered consciousness. The varying moves weaken the Fisher’s powers since it makes him unstable and also makes playing him or manipulating him more complicated. This symbolises Rand’s vulnerability and tendency to cause chaos, but also his strokes of luck and genius.

The Fisher changes sides repeatedly during the game and is coloured black and white to reflect this. Likewise there have been attempts to tempt Rand to the Shadow and to force him to do evil along with any good. He was been captured a couple of times and manipulated many more. Neither Rand nor the Fisher is ever safe.

We don’t know how the Fisher is forced to change sides. Perhaps it occurs when he is blocked and taken in custody by one player. In the Tafl games any piece is won by custodial capture - blocked on both sides in either a column or a row by enemy pieces - and the King is won by double custodial capture, when all four squares around him are occupied by enemy pieces, or if he is surrounded on three sides by enemy pieces and on the fourth by the throne square or the side of the board. If at this point the Fisher then becomes a piece of the player who trapped and surrounded him, his previous owner would have to separate him from these now protective pieces and try to take him back into custody.

Moridin does explain most of the ways to win the game:

When the Fisher was yours, you tried to move him to a square of your color behind your opponent's end of the board. That was victory, the easiest way, but not the only one. When your opponent held the Fisher, you attempted to leave him no choice for the Fisher but to move onto your color. Anywhere at all along the goalrow would do; holding the Fisher could be more dangerous than not. Of course, there was a third path to victory in sha'rah, if you took it before letting yourself be trapped. The game always degenerated in a bloody melee, then, victory coming only with complete annihilation of your enemy. He had tried that, once, in desperation, but the attempt had failed. Painfully.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances.

A major part of the tactics is manipulating the other player to play the Fisher where you want, not where they want. This reflects the amount of manipulation going on in the war against the Shadow. In fact, it is not possible to win in Sha’rah unless one manipulates the other player, and through them, the Fisher. Ishamael is always manipulating Rand, even when he is in the hands of other ‘players’.

Most ways to win in Sha’rah involve getting the Fisher to move onto your colour whether you hold him or not. If you hold him, you move him to the other end of board. If your opponent holds him, you leave them only legal moves which force them to score an ‘own goal’ anywhere on the goal row resulting in your victory.

There is another path to victory, not described fully, which involves being the last man standing. Since you can be trapped using this strategy, it seems to be a last resort. If a player decides to win by eliminating all their opponent’s pieces, the other player would have to do likewise for their own protection. The game would indeed “degenerate into a bloody melee” as Moridin described it, since there are so many pieces to remove. Prior to this scene, Ishamael apparently attempted this once with very painful results. Ishamael was killed in Tear, but this wasn’t a bloody melee. Nor was Falme or the Eye. Lews Therin said Dumai’s Wells was nothing compared to the battles in the War of Power, so Moridin must have been referring to the Age of Legends when he was indeed trapped on the verge of victory.

Moridin is trying to win by manipulating and constraining Rand, surrounding him on all fronts, including inside his head, or disguising his pieces as Rand’s pieces (eg Taim), or subverting Rand’s pieces. The placement of the internal link to Rand was unintentional and hasn’t been successful for manipulatory purposes either, since there is a leakage of influence from Rand to Moridin. Order burns to clear Rand’s path, and Moridin is obstructing Rand as much as possible with conflicting orders, misinformation, subverted aides, distractions (eg rebellion) and multiple enemies (eg Seanchan). Until recently he left Perrin and Mat largely alone, since they appeared to have been distracted from their original instructions, and thus were seemingly not contributing. But now he has commanded they be killed, to free up some space so he can get his own pieces in for the final blocking moves, the double custodianship, on the Fisher King.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #2: Borderland Deception

By Linda

The four Borderland rulers are annoyed with Rand because he has ignored them and the potential peril their lands are in. So what do they do? All four rulers, not just one of them or their emissaries, leave their lands with their counsellors or household heads and a large part of their forces for months to wander around in the south in the very way they found objectionable in Rand. Brilliant.

They are incensed that Rand has supposedly ignored them, but they owe him a great debt. He used the Eye of the World to save them from Trollocs which Agelmar believed would overrun Shienar at the least when the Eye should have been used for Tarmon Gai’don. The monarchs should be even more angry with the White Tower, which has done nothing, but they are quite happy to have thirteen sisters potter along with them in the south for months.

If ever there was evidence that the rulers have been manipulated by the Shadow, this is it...

It will be interesting to see if Rand's chiding of them at the end of The Gathering Storm, will bring them to their senses and make them see their hypocrisy.

The chapter title Deceptive Appearances warns us to look for those whose appearances are deceptive. Verin of course is one, playing both sides of the board, and Moridin and his game of sha’rah is another (more on him in the next post). Normally perceptive, Verin misinterprets her sighting of Irgain, interpreting it as a warning to behave herself, when actually the Wise Ones were reassuring her that the stilled Aes Sedai were being treated honourably and the Aiel were making efforts to keep them alive. Such is the effect of a guilty conscience.

Which brings us back to the Borderlanders. The rulers and their closest counsellors were the ones who decided to go south. Who among them might be a Darkfriend under orders to move them away from their lands? Or even merely a ‘sleeper’? Paitar’s councillor, Kyril Shianri, is a candidate; he has the mandatory dissatisfied look, vanity and arrogance. To make sure all are committed to what amounts to weakening Borderlands, he was very quick to pounce on any doubt and scorn it. He actually butted in on exchange between a King and Queen:

She [Ethenielle] made her own greetings just as short, ending with a direct "I hope you've come this far without detection."
Easar snorted and leaned on his cantle, eyeing her grimly. A hard man, but eleven years widowed and still mourning. He had written poetry for his wife. There was always more than the surface. "If we've been seen, Ethenielle," he grumbled, "then we might as well turn back now."
"You speak of turning back already?" Between his tone and a flip of his tasseled reins, Shianri managed to combine disdain with barely enough civility to forestall a challenge.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances
So eager is Shianri that he seems to be over-reacting. Neither Easar nor Ethenielle were thinking of turning back.

(Also watch out for Lomas, the Kandori scout described as sly by Ethenielle).

It’s worth thinking about the Aes Sedai with the Borderlanders even though as far as we know none of them had any part in the rulers’ decision to make a pact and move south to meet Rand. For instance, why didn’t Coladara, Paitar’s Aes Sedai advisor, argue against the move once she was told that it was on? Ethenielle believes Coladara wasn’t involved in their original negotiations and this may or may not be correct. Paitar holds the White Tower in high esteem and would be influenced by what Coladara said. In fact, she and her seven Aes Sedai visitors were keen to join them.

The other three rulers weren’t influenced by Aes Sedai because their advisors had left (Easar and Ethenielle) or because they had none (Tenobia). Aisling left Easar for the White Tower after the coup (probably in answer to Elaida’s summons for all loyal Aes Sedai to return to the Tower) and went on the ill-fated expedition to the Black Tower. She is now bonded to an Asha’man, Arel Malevin.

Nianh, Ethenielle’s advisor, hasn’t resurfaced. She might be one of those Aes Sedai who stood apart from the Aes Sedai split; perhaps she answered Cadsuane’s summons:

She [Cadsuane] had begun gathering sisters she trusted, those here with her and others, the day she first heard of strange events in Shienar

- Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News

and is one of the Aes Sedai gathering information for her.

One would think Memara, the Red suggested by Alviarin to pull Tenobia into line is a likely Darkfriend, but that is academic here since she had no influence with Tenobia. (Who knows what Memara has gotten up to, left behind in Saldaea.) We know nothing about the allegiances of Illeisien and the four sisters who met Tenobia ‘by chance’ just before she left Saldaea, or why they were more keen on secrecy than Tenobia was. It might be because they had different allegiances to Memara and wanted to keep their presence from her.

All four rulers agreed on moving south, but they probably have different reasons, despite appearances. Tenobia apparently mostly wants Bashere’s and Taim’s heads and wants to vent her anger at Rand for using her forces without her permission. Ethenielle wants Rand to stop breaking nations – as though it is all his fault – whether he is the Dragon Reborn or not. The motives of Easar and Paitar are unknown.

Ethenielle didn’t want Aes Sedai with them, or even to know of what they were doing. She thought the Tower might even execute them for what they do. Perhaps Ethenielle thought the White Tower was in control of Rand? Presumably the Borderlanders had enough information to know Rand has many thousand Aiel warriors with him. How were 200 thousand Borderlanders supposed to bring Rand, a strong channeller commanding huge Aiel forces to heel without Aes Sedai?

What did Illeisien say to Tenobia that made her accept them when she was so against Memara (and probably the White Tower) at that point? What do Illeisien’s group plan regarding Rand? The group of five Aes Sedai would be too few to take such as strong channeller as even a non-Aes Sedai such as Loial knew:

"Perrin, both Elora and Ledar say that when Aes Sedai find a man of great power, they always gather thirteen to take him. Oh, they recount stories of four or five, and both mention Caraighan—she brought a man nearly two thousand miles to the Tower by herself after he killed both of her Warders— but. . . . Perrin, they wrote of Yurian Stonebow and Guaire Amalasan. Of Raolin Darksbane and Davian, as well, but the others are who worry me." Those were four of the most powerful among the men who had called themselves the Dragon Reborn, all long ago, before Artur Hawkwing. "Six Aes Sedai tried to capture Stonebow, and he killed three and captured the others himself. Six tried to take Amalasan; he killed one and stilled two more. Surely Rand is as strong as Stonebow or Amalasan."

- Lord of Chaos, The Sending.

A strong channeller can over come six Aes Sedai and they are only five. Were Illeisien’s group actually in cahoots with Coladara and co all along? Together they make exactly thirteen. How...exactly fortuitous.

Deceptive appearances indeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Path of Daggers Read-through #1: The Slowing

By Linda

With The Path of Daggers, the pacing of the books slows both in the amount of elapsed time within each book, and the pace of plot resolution. This is deliberate to show how the Shadow is stymieing the Light by miring them in chaos and obstructions and keeping them from communicating or coming together.

The slowing reached its nadir or zenith, depending on your point of view, in Crossroads of Twilight. As it was planned to do:

“And it shall come to pass, in the days when the Dark Hunt rides, when the right hand falters and the left hand strays, that mankind shall come to the Crossroads of Twilight, and all that is, all that was, and all that will be shall balance on the point of a sword, while the winds of the Shadow grow.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, Opening Prophecy

Jordan’s aim was to make this stagnation palpable.

At the same time, the reader is informed a little more of what the Forsaken have been doing, but not enough to convince that the Shadow is a long way ahead in the war. Too much of their plans has been held back for surprise or mystery, increasing the effect of the slowing. The lack of information on the Forsaken’s plans means the reader doesn’t fully appreciate how well the Shadow is doing. Consequently, some readers were surprised to read:

But look at the situation in the world as it actually stands, from the White Tower divided to crop failures caused by a too-long winter and a too-long summer and people fleeing their farms because the Dragon Reborn has broken all bonds, meaning still less food, and that spoiling at a fearsome rate, from chaos in Arad Doman to a large part of the Borderland armies out of position, from the arrival of the Seanchan focusing too many eyes on them instead of the Shadow to the strongest single nation, Andor, riven by civil war in all but name and Tear split by open warfare, from.... Well, take your pick. There are lots more to chose from. Take a step back and look at what the forces of the Shadow have wrought. The world and the forces of the Light are in bad shape. At this point, boys and girls, the Shadow is winning. There are glimmers of hope, but only glimmers, and they MUST pay off for the Light to win. All the Shadow needs for victory is for matters to keep on as they have been going thus far and one or two of those glimmers to fade or be extinguished. The forces of the Light are on the ropes, and they don't even know everything the Dark One has up his sleeve.

- Robert Jordan on his blog

and commented that they weren’t convinced. For instance, the above post on Jordan’s blog in 2005 was the first news that the Borderlanders’ trek south was at least in part a plot of the Shadow. Perhaps with more and earlier hints in the books the reader would appreciate both the delaying tactics and the threat of the Shadow more.

Jordan took a considerable risk slowing the pace for three and a half books even though it is artistically correct. It is rare to see the good guys flounder or struggle for such a length of time due to the possibility of readers becoming disappointed or impatient, as happened. Another reason is that subplots that almost stall can be difficult to accelerate smoothly again. In my opinion this occurred in a couple of places in Knife of Dreams, one of them being in Perrin’s thread.

What I like about the slowing is the realism that the struggle is great and world-wide and that Shadow truly has obstructed the Light’s progress with war and chaos. Unlike in many earlier series, the bad guys are a force to be reckoned with. Jordan was in the vanguard of writers of Spec Fic series attempting to describe planetary scale destruction and portray truly effective megalomaniac, apocalyptic villains. (Compare the Forsaken’s activities with those of the Nazghul.)

The detail and assurance in Jordan’s world and nation building in the later books adds to the realism and heightens the sense of a population clinging to normalcy while the world collapses around them. During Books 8 to 11 the emphasis was on the personal development of the major and many minor characters and on the building of sustaining or co-operative relationships. As The Gathering Storm showed, these will be as important as any external victory in the war against the Shadow. Maybe more. And they are something the Shadow hasn’t gauged.

The plethora of plot strands and their interweaving is realistic and fascinating, but a real drawback to such complexity is that there are too many strands to progress them all in one book. The Wheel of Time series is not alone in exhibiting this. George R. R. Martin’s series is one example that springs to mind, but there are others.

The slowing of the last four books makes the acceleration into Tarmon Gai’don all the more intense as the world potentially tips in to the abyss. However the reader’s blissful ignorance of the Shadow’s plans – indeed even merely of the location of some of the Forsaken – leads to complacency that the Light will win. With more knowledge of Shadow’s plots there would be more sense of danger. If a villain stays hidden and secret for long enough, eventually s/he is discounted as a threat.

Only with the completion of the series will the crucial role and full import of the slowing be appreciated.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Article Released: Character Names Parallels - H

By Linda

The article on possible sources for character names starting with H has been published in the Reference Library. The main entries are for Elder Haman, Hattori Sedai and Herid Fel.

In two days time, having spent a few days gathering notes, I will commence the Path of Daggers Read-through.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Article Released: Character Names Parallels - G

By Linda

The article on possible sources for character names starting with G has been published in the Reference Library. Three important Andoran men feature, and as is usual with Andoran royalty, their names allude to Arthurian characters. Gaul also has interesting parallels, as does Gabrelle, bonded to Logain.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Crown of Swords Read Through #5: Forced Attentions

By Linda

For a book with quite a few amusing scenes, A Crown of Swords discusses some serious issues, notably sexual harassment and rape.

The forcible transfer of Lan’s bond to Myrelle was regarded by Siuan as rape:

Aes Sedai put bonding a man against his will on a level with rape.

- A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory

An unbidden Warder bond is a form of involuntary intimacy even though Moiraine meant well. (It will be interesting to see if Siuan says anything to Moiraine about it.) Myrelle went further and at the least tried to get Lan into her bed as part of his therapy; the bite mark on Lan’s neck and Nisao’s comment that Lan has his attractions suggest Myrelle succeeded, but Myrelle’s blushes could be taken either way. When Myrelle said “that explains” after Egwene told her that Nynaeve and Lan love each other, she might have been referring to his reluctance.

Myrelle had Lan’s interests at heart, but it is clear from her metaphor of Lan being a wolfhound (Lord of Chaos, Weaves of the Power) and her belief that a dying woman could choose her husband’s next wife, that however well she cares for men, she looks on the man as lesser, not capable of making his own choices. One reason is that most of her Warders had newly broken bonds and so were very mentally ill at the time she acquired them. Lan, for instance, just didn’t care what happened to him:

The eyes of a man who knew he was dead and could not make himself care, a man waiting, almost eager, for that long sleep.

- A Crown of Swords, Mashiara

This is why she made decisions about their wellbeing on their behalf. The relationship of Myrelle and Lan explores the grey area of rape and sexual harassment. Myrelle and Moiraine were trying to save Lan, and they made the change to the bond before Lan even met Nynaeve.

Someone who was undoubtedly raped is Morgase, who gave forced consent to Valda to avoid being tortured again by Asunawa:

Another matter entirely to say yes because she feared facing Asunawa's knotted cords and needles again, feared worse that he would have gotten to eventually. However she had screamed under Asunawa's ministrations, Valda was the one who had showed her the true borders of her courage, so far short of where she had believed. Valda's touch, his bed, could be forgotten, with time, but she would never be able to wash the shame of that "yes" from her lips.

- A Crown of Swords, The Irrevocable Words

She felt utterly soiled – as much from her ‘weakness’ in agreeing to escape more physical agony as from the actual act itself. (The chapter title refers to her ‘yes’ as irrevocable as much as it does to her abdication, since the former was the catalyst for the latter.)

According to Whitecloak law, women who have trained in the White Tower are witches and therefore Darkfriends, deserving only of execution. Even the rumour that a high-up Whitecloak consorted with a witch would lose the Whitecloaks a lot of credibility. Yet Valda was keen to have sex with one and not as part of her official torture either, since he obtained her ‘agreement’ first. Such hypocrisy occurred in the witch-hunts of the 17th century. It is an interesting reflection on his character that he said it was the best sex he had ever had (Knife of Dreams, Prologue).

In reverse, Rand thought he had raped Min and she had to persuade him otherwise.

Another who was coerced into sex is Mat Cauthon, a twenty year old farm boy who caught the eye of the forty-something Queen of Altara. Not a little of her interest in him was due to the exoticness or cachet of bedding a ta’veren.

Such an unequal relationship did not interest Mat but Tylin ignored his refusal:

More intently; he had never chased any woman who let him know she did not want to be chased.

- A Crown of Swords, The Festival of Birds

Tylin made a tacit admission that she forced her attentions on Mat with the small red flowers woven on the handle of his breakfast basket:

"Mistress Corly," she said in the icy voice of a queen pronouncing judgment, "explained to Nynaeve and me the significance of those red flowers on the basket... I will not keep any promise to a man who could force his attentions on a woman, on any woman”

- A Crown of Swords, Six Stories

Tacit, yet embarrassingly public for Mat made worse for being misinterpreted by all and sundry.

Mat found Tylin's harassment so upsetting that

Of the two [Moghedien and Tylin], he would rather confront Moghedien. He touched the foxhead hanging in the open neck of his shirt. At least he had some protection against Moghedien. Against Tylin, he had no more than he did against the Daughter of the bloody Nine Moons, whoever she was.

- A Crown of Swords, A Note from the Palace

At least twice he felt like weeping from the humiliation and powerlessness of his position, once even in public. He definitely refused her attentions:

That woman won't take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She's starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag!

- A Crown of Swords, Six Stories

Rape is sex with forced consent or without consent; whether the wronged party has an orgasm during the act, or eventually develops an acceptance of the situation, or even fondness for the rapist, is immaterial.

So why did Mat stay and not run?

Mat felt a responsibility to keep Nynaeve and Elayne safe since he had promised to do so. He knew what a dangerous situation they were in. If he left the palace, they might think he broke his promises:

He would not put it past Nynaeve and Elayne to claim he had broken some agreement and put an end to their promises.

- A Crown of Swords, The Festival of Birds

The girls’ promises were conditions that enabled Mat to watch over them. In fact, when Elayne mistakenly thought that Mat had forced himself upon Tylin she immediately said all her promises to him were abolished.

Mat was trapped. He needed to stay in the palace to keep Nynaeve and Elayne safe, yet Tylin being Queen and much older than he, and the Ebou Dari law that a woman killing a man was considered justified unless it was proven differently all intimidated him into complying.

Mat was panicking when he made this decision to stay and comply. Not surprisingly, since Tylin pulled a knife on him.

When the situation was made plain to Elayne, she didn’t take the crime and Mat’s feelings seriously. Mat being sexually experienced (though not of this type of situation) she thought he ‘asked for it’ or deserved it. Unfortunately this happens often in the real world too.

The theme of rape and sexual harassment continues in later books – a parallel of the Land and nations being raped by the Shadow – with Toveine searching out sexually inexperienced youths, Red Ajah Head Galina’s favouritism toward Accepted who will probably choose Red and sexual advances to them once they are new Aes Sedai, and Therava’s sado-sexual relationship with Galina (excellently analysed by MJJ in her Pillowfriends article).

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Crown of Swords Read Through #4: Enter Death

By Linda

Ishamael, the man who knows “the paths to greater power” (The Great Hunt, Kinslayer) - True Power – returns in a new body as Moridin. When, exactly, we don’t know. By January 5th 1000 NE, when Moghedien was sent to him, Moridin already possessed two mindtraps - hers and Cyndane’s - and had developed the saa from frequent use of the True Power. These things take time to acquire. (Note also that he might have lied to Moghedien about her being delivered to him in a vacuole to frighten Moghedien and make her more malleable). Which brings us to the question of how long had Moridin been around before we saw him? Was he reincarnated before Aran’gar and Osan’gar were at the beginning of Lord of Chaos? Surely the Dark One would bend his energies to restore Ishamael before those two if at all possible? Why get a pawn to the end of the chessboard and ask for a knight or even two instead of a queen, when a queen offers far more possibilities?

Moridin is named ‘death’ to emphasise that he appears to be the only one of the Forsaken whose philosophy coincides with the aims of the Dark One; the only one of them who hasn’t blinded himself to the Dark One’s aim to kill Time. Soon he will be anointed Naeblis, the Lord of the Grave’s regent on earth. Being a follower out of personal conviction, he hasn’t needed bribes of power or riches, and has shown far less interest in them than any other dark character and most not-so-dark characters, just as Death, who spares no one says:

“For God’s commandment is
That all to me must be obedient…
I heed neither gold, silver nor riches,
Nor pope, Emperor, King, Duke, nor Princes,
For if I were to receive great gifts,
I might gain the world…”

- Everyman

With his anointing and gift of access to the True Power by the Dark One, the dark deity opposing the Creator, Moridin demands obedience from all other Forsaken. And as for gaining the world, Ishamael told Rand that:

The death of time will bring me power such as you could not dream of, worm."

- The Eye of the World, The Stag and Lion

So Ishamael thinks his payoff comes at the end, as though he would attain godhood through being freed of the Wheel and the eternal cycle of reincarnation and become a dark Ubermensch eternally existing free of the Pattern. (Unlike Rand, who might now be an Ubermensch within the Pattern.) Reincarnation and liberation from the reincarnation cycle, moksha, are concepts of eastern philosophy/religion. Buddhists, Jains and Hindus believe that people can liberate themselves from the endless cycle of reincarnation by meditation, virtue and distancing themselves from the material world, but certainly not in the ruthless and violent manner Ishamael prefers or expects. Ishamael’s monstrous ‘liberation’ will come about when the Dark One breaks the Pattern, and at a cost of the destruction of Creation.

This nihilism first appeared in his writings in the Age of Legends. In The Gathering Storm, Moridin’s nihilism increased, as though he was perhaps infected with the same despair that so plagued Rand in that book, the despair Moridin instituted by inflicting great emotional pain and suffering on Rand, and which ironically leaked into Moridin as well through their link, to the extent that Moridin was looking forward to annihilation – nothingness.

The greatest irony of the series would be if Moridin discovers at the last that the Dark One doesn’t intend to end the world the way Moridin expects, freeing him from the cycle of reincarnation he loathes and allowing Moridin to gain god-like freedom from rebirth, or the nothingness that he currently craves:

The others are fools. They look for grand rewards in the eternities, but there will be no eternities.

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

Having spent most of Time completely locked away, one would think the Dark One would find nothingness a tad boring and crave a little tyranny…instituting a dark world, an evil paradise ruled eternally by his Chosen. Would Moridin feel betrayed by the Dark One he has served so faithfully for thousands of years if he discovered that the Dark One intends a steady state Hell of indefinite duration in which Moridin is to participate? If so, what would he do?

Moridin’s current desire for nothingness upon the Dark One breaking the Wheel is symbolically right: Death can’t exist outside of Time.

Naturally Death is a major figure in real world myth and legend, just as he is important in the Wheel of Time world. In the Middle Ages, the precariousness of life, as the horrors of natural disasters and pandemics such as the Black Death made all too plain, inspired the motif of the Dance of Death, Danse Macabre.

Death was depicted as a skeleton in art and literature playing the tune while:

members of all social classes – from pope and emperor down to beggar, fool and hermit – engaged in a stately dance with skeletons and corpses, the dead escorting the living to the tomb.

- Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot

Of all the Forsaken, Moridin/Ishamael has made the most use of corpse-like beings: Grey Men and zomaran. In the Last Days characters have witnessed both the living being dragged alive underground by the dead and the tribulations of the living dead. (Dance of death photo by Toffel.) Moridin has people of all classes, high and low, dancing to his tune and is convinced that all will serve him in one way or another before the end.

Death’s traditional colour is the blackness of extinction. Black Death. Moridin’s colours are red as well as black. In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, Death mingles in disguise with the noble guests who have sheltered from a plague in a nobleman’s mansion and are whiling away the time with a masked ball. When the host, Prince Prospero confronts the unknown stranger, disguised Death, the prince falls down dead.

Is Moridin disguised as one of the other players/dancers in the Wheel of Time series?

No respecter of persons, Death is inevitable and inescapable as this painting entitled The Gaming Table; Whene’er Death plays, He’s sure to win; He’ll take each knowing Gamester in shows.

Moridin is an expert player of complex games, a gamemaster, and has boasted that

On the board, the Fisher stood waiting, but in the greater game, al'Thor moved already to his wishes. And soon, now. ... It was very hard to lose a game when you played both sides of the board.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

Some characters serve Moridin unknowingly:

In all three places he had eyes, some that did not know they served him.

- The Path of Daggers, Unwittingly)

having been ‘taken in’ by Death’s strategies and manipulations.

Moridin as Death has made his entrance late in the series and has not truly unmasked himself or his plans because Death, along with War, Pestilence and Famine, is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of Revelation. The last of the four to appear, Death rides a pale, corpse-coloured horse:

Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth

- Revelation 6:7-8

The role of the Four Horsemen is to wreak havoc upon the world when the first four of the seven Seals are broken at the end of days. In the Wheel of Time world, famine and pestilence and war are rife and Trollocs, wild beasts, are being massed for the Last Battle. Moridin’s advent soon before the Last Days presages the imminent freeing of the Dark One, Hades. It would be symbolically appropriate if Moridin had been transmigrated into his new body about the time, or better still slightly before, the order was given at the beginning of Lord of Chaos to ‘let the Lord of Chaos rule’ and wreak havoc upon the Pattern. Four of the seven Seals were broken by September 999 NE, late in The Fires of Heaven, which may indicate that Moridin was transmigrated about this time, since Death, the fourth Horseman, appears when the fourth Seal is broken. As far as we know, three Seals of the Dark One's prison are still whole.

Death features in the Tarot cards; in fact the Dance of Death morality play is postulated as one of their main inspirations. The high-ranking Tarot trumps Death, the Devil, Judgement and the World [heaven] are

a depiction of those four most important events in a believing Roman Catholic’s spiritual life, known as the Four Last Things – important because nobody can escape death or judgement, and the choice of heaven or hell is one each soul must make.

- Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot

In The Gathering Storm, Rand arguably made such a choice.

His relationship with Moridin has become increasingly intimate and more equal than with other Forsaken. While Moridin did not want to fight Rand when they encountered each other and had a Fireside Chat in The Gathering Storm, they will soon face off in a final battle.

By confronting and then trumping Death, the hero learns what part of himself is truly immortal.

- Robert Place, Annotated Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery

As will Rand.

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.

A Crown of Swords Read-through#2: Inns To Watch

By Linda

Several inns are mentioned in A Crown of Swords. and all bar one are located in Ebou Dar.

Setalle Anan took Nynaeve and Elayne on a humiliating reverse inn crawl ensuring that the girls could not hire lodgings anywhere decent in the city. Either the Kin would take them in, in which case she was making sure the girls did not run and hide from them, or if not, the girls would have to leave the city altogether lest they expose the Kin. Her explanation to the innkeepers of why she was leading two very well dressed women through the streets was that they had beggared themselves to buy finery to impress Mat. All the while, the girls were in vain trying to work out how they could avoid owing Mat anything. The one inn mentioned by name on this little jaunt, The Stranded Goose, refers to the situation of the hapless girls.

Mat, that connoisseur of down-market inns, hits the jackpot in Ebou Dar. He feels that The Rose of the Elbar is a particular penance set by Nynaeve and Elayne. It is the only suitable surveillance post for the Kin’s house and he was stuck there three days before his luck turned. Ah well, roses have thorns don’t they?

In Ebou Dar, the seedier the inn, the more grand and flattering its name, just as Ebou Daris offer flowery complements while being prepared to injure or kill even close acquaintances in duels.

The Silver Swan in Caemlyn is perhaps the most interesting of all the inns mentioned in A Crown of Swords because Cadsuane seems to have a surveillance team of up to ten Aes Sedai there since Lord of Chaos, before her entrance in the books. Well, presumably Cadsuane, since the sisters always have Warders, and one was heard mentioning Cadsuane’s name later, in Crossroads of Twilight at a time when most sisters believe Cadsuane is dead. Elayne realises they are sisters who have stood aside while the Tower was divided. The sisters are constantly changing and, while at this stage none of Cadsuane’s group knew how to Travel, they seem to have had no trouble keeping in touch with her (by pigeon probably). Cadsuane also has a surveillance team in Cairhien as well, but it is based at Lady Arilyn’s palace. Apparently none of her faction has an agent with a suitable house to commandeer in Caemlyn. Obviously Cadsuane set these groups up to watch Rand and Rand’s aides when he is not there; but surely the brief of those in Caemlyn has been extended to watching the Black Tower and the political situation in Andor. In Winter’s Heart when things started to become really tense in Caemlyn, there were ten sisters at the inn, the largest number mentioned. Probably not coincidence. It is well to remember that Cadsuane may know more about Elayne’s doings, and maybe the Black Tower’s, than we are aware. She is a keen gatherer of intelligence, and is aware that seeing Rand safely to the Last Battle will probably be her swan song - which is what the inn's name of The Silver Swan refers to.

In complement to this post the A Crown of Swords entry of the Dew Drop Inn: Wheel of Time Accommodation article is published on the blog.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Crown of Swords Read Through#1: Not The Triumph of Logic

Alviarin and Elaida

by Linda

In the Prologue, there is an amusing scene of Alviarin mentally wrestling with Elaida – the cold and bloodless White versus the vengeful and engorged Red - in a lady-like fashion, of course. Definitely not The Triumph of Logic; that chapter comes later… Alviarin exposes Elaida’s blindness and in return, Elaida uncovers Alviarin’s possession of secret knowledge and fear of exposure:

The lack of curiosity on Alviarin's face made Elaida wonder again how much the woman knew what she was not supposed to…

But Alviarin.... Her eyes were wide as they could open, lips parted as if she had forgotten the words she meant to speak. A paper slid from the sheaf in her hands and almost fell before she could catch it.

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

So much so that Alviarin wants Elaida dead and suggests it to Mesaana.

Nearly all of what Elaida knows is wrong. Only her Foretellings, arising from her subconscious, are true. On the other hand, what Alviarin knows is right.

Here is an impressively long list of Elaida’s erroneous deductions and beliefs that she expresses in this chapter:

  • Nobody cared what happened in Ebou Dar, Elaida least of all; the capital of Altara could fall into the sea, and except for the merchants, not even the rest of Altara would notice.

  • Vague rumors linking Morgase to the Whitecloaks were so much nonsense, for she would never have gone to the Children of the Light for help. She was dead, leaving not even a corpse behind.

  • "Why under the Light would they [Elayne and Nynaeve] be in Ebou Dar?" Elaida said dismissively.

  • Long ago she had Foretold that the Royal House of Andor held the key to winning the Last Battle. Twenty-five years gone and more, as soon as it became clear that Morgase Trakand would gain the throne in the Succession, Elaida had fastened herself to the girl, as she was then. How Elayne was crucial, Elaida did not know [The Foretelling is correct, but her interpretation wrong, apart from the one honest admission at the end!]

  • The shepherd was on his way to her. [Rand escaped that day]

  • The rebels would be crushed and the Hall cowed, Alviarin forced to her knees and every fractious ruler brought to heel.

  • Elayne would be placed on the throne in Caemlyn [not exactly placed, and certainly not by Aes Sedai]

  • "Do you believe the tales of thousands flocking to Caemlyn in answer to that obscene amnesty?" Not the least of what al'Thor had done, but hardly cause for worry.

  • There could not be more than two or three men at this Black Tower actually able to channel, Elaida was certain. Fifty sisters could overwhelm them easily.

  • "He [Taim] is dead, Alviarin, else we would have heard from him long since. And not serving al'Thor. Can you think he went from claiming to be the Dragon Reborn to serving the Dragon Reborn? Can you think he could be in Caemlyn without Davram Bashere at least trying to kill him?"

  • Ogier were a triviality. They had no part in the world beyond the cities they had built so long ago.

  • Only sisters could be truly, trusted. Red sisters, anyway. Some of them. [The Red Ajah has a higher proportion of Blacks than in other Ajahs (see The Black Ajah article)].

  • "Who is going to impose a penance on me, and on what charge?" [She finds out soon enough]

  • "Their army," Elaida sneered. Alviarin was such a fool; for all her cool exterior, she was a rabbit. Next she would be spouting the Sanche woman's nonsense about the Forsaken being loose… "Farmers carrying pikes, butchers with bows and tailors on horseback!... Every step of the way, they will lose a man, if not ten. I would not be surprised if our rebels appear with nothing more than their Warders." [All that time in Andor and she grossly underestimates Gareth Bryne. Alviarin wouldn't tell anyone the Forsaken are loose, but she goes to meet one straight after leaving Elaida.]

  • "I mean to break them [the rebels], daughter. They will split open like a rotten melon." [What she nearly broke was the White Tower].

  • Her secret [her mole, Beonin working to undermine the rebels] will ensure the rebels break.

  • Let her chew on the certain surety of Elaida's victory.

  • Elaida do Ayriny a'Roihan, youngest daughter of a minor House in the north of Murandy, would go down in history as the greatest and most powerful Amyrlin Seat of all time. The most powerful woman in the history of the world. The woman who saved humankind. [Now a collared animal.]

Elaida’s attempts at logic (in front of a White!) are ludicrous. By not listening to what people say, even refusing to let them mention certain words, she pretty much becomes error personified. You just know she’s doomed.

Mind you, Elaida did get a few things right:

  • Some would be stilled, of course—Sheriam [because she was Black Ajah]
  • Cemaile's grand plans came to naught, however, as did Cemaile, and for three centuries the clock sat in a dusty storage room, an embarrassment no one dared display. Until Elaida.

Elaida’s prized information box is full of erroneous material. The outside of the box, depicting golden hawks among clouds, is far more informative. As has been noted by a few people, including Dominic, the hawks symbolise the Seanchan and are a warning of their aerial attack - yet another thing that Elaida will refuse to believe. She will depart with them.

How ironic then that Elaida behaves like some Seanchan High Lady, complaining about Alviarin looking her straight in the eyes, and toying with her ivory figurines (or netsukes!, reminding us of the strong Japanese influence in Seanchan culture). They are kept in a box covered in roses (a link with the Daughter of the Nine Moons, who wears the raven and roses) and golden scrolls. Elaida touches the cat first; it is a witch’s familiar and also symbolises clairvoyance, watchfulness and female malice (!) All very apt for this chapter. She moves her hand to a woman with an ape (or perhaps monkey) on her shoulder, which Dominic regards as a symbol of insanity, referring to Elaida’s megalomania and her coerced insane decrees. Another interpretation could be derived from the ape being a symbol of vice, lust, original sin and heresy. We soon see Elaida’s lust for power and grandeur, her judgement swayed by anger and pride. The Red Ajah hunts down male channellers, who are regarded as heretics/unbelievers or bearers of original sin, due to saidin being ‘tainted for men’s pride’. Elaida believes that fifty Aes Sedai will be ample to deal with those at the Black Tower.

The figurine Elaida actually picks up is a fish, symbolising knowledge and wisdom. At the climax of her erroneous statements, pronouncing that she is Tower law and questioning who would impose penance or charges on her, she breaks the fish. She Foretells in this same scene a little while after; a granting of true knowledge which she misinterprets. Elaida looks sourly at her broken fish then thinks of her palace and Rand’s capture and cheers up. Neither of these things comes off, though. Knowledge and wisdom is in ruins.

I found Elaida’s mockery of Alviarin’s abilities as a Sitter hypocritical. When Elaida was in the Hall she made major mistakes during her deposition of Siuan due to her lack of knowledge. For instance she thought that the Tower always bowed to the will of the Hall and ended up splitting the Aes Sedai. Alviarin doesn’t need to be Sitter since she controlled at least five Black Sitters in Elaida’s Hall and four in Siuan’s skilfully enough that no suspicions were ever raised about them (see The Composition and Politics of the Halls 998-1000 NE).

Elaida’s thoughts on how she will punish the rebels:

The leaders might themselves escape that [stilling], most of them, if they submitted properly. The minimum penalty in law was to be birched in the Grand Hall before the assembled sisters, followed by at least a year and a day in public penance. Yet nothing said the penance must be served all at once; a month here, a month there, and they would still be atoning their crimes ten years from now, constant reminders of what came of resisting her. Some would be stilled, of course—Sheriam, a few of the more prominent so-called Sitters—but only sufficient to make the rest fear putting a foot wrong again; not enough to weaken the Tower.

concentrating on revenge and power, contrast markedly with what Egwene actually did when the Tower was reunited.

If knowledge is power as Alviarin says in this chapter, then false knowledge results in false, illusory power. Neither Elaida nor Alviarin holds true power (pun intended!) in Tar Valon as Alviarin freely acknowledges. Elaida is ignorant of this, the most important fact of all.

Which brings us to who is actually pulling the strings here: Mesaana.

Her strategy in the White Tower is to white-ant it; allow it to collapse itself with minimum obvious interference on her part. It’s a safe and not too demanding method. There are games that work this way, such as Pick Up Sticks where you have to remove the stick from the random pile without any of the others moving. Mesaana prides herself on her knowledge of stresses and leverage (Lord of Chaos, Prologue) and applies it to collapsing the White Tower just as she did to building a Tower out of ivory dominoes for amusement. Alviarin and Mesaana meet regularly, but it is not until this chapter that Alviarin deduces – correctly – that Mesaana is in the White Tower.

It is interesting that Alviarin’s question about the Black Tower triggers Mesaana to demonstrate the Travelling weave after a pause. Obviously Mesaana deliberated about her response to the question, so she knew at least something about what was happening there and what the Shadow’s plans for the Black Tower were at that stage.

Measures Mesaana might have considered would have included killing Alviarin – but time would be lost determining and establishing her successor. Alviarin is too valuable to kill without very good reason. If she punished Alviarin harshly, Alviarin would wonder what is going on at the Black Tower that has to be hidden. So Mesaana distracted her with knowledge, and therefore power, and the unspoken promise of more. As it was, Alviarin wasn’t entirely diverted and resolved not to send any Black sisters on the expedition to the Black Tower.

Moreover Alviarin learned something else from their conversation that surprised her greatly: that the Forsaken are not as unified as the Black Ajah are. Selfishness is allowed in the Black Ajah, but kept under tighter control than among the Forsaken, who had no official leadership at this time and openly undercut one another.

To complement this post, the essay on the real-world parallels I think were used to develop Mesaana is now re-published here in the Reference Library. Mesaana is not that powerful or awe-inspiring as some of the other Forsaken and this is reflected in her fewer mythological parallels.