Monday, March 15, 2010

Winter's Heart Read-through: Post #1: Hunting Black Sisters

By Linda

The hunt in the White Tower for the Black Ajah is one of my favourite sub-threads. I like the Sitters' blend of personalities and skills, the by-play and cooperation. They aren't stereotypes of their Ajahs either: for instance, Pevara is far warmer and more open to others and ideas than the average Red and Saerin is a fierce, bold Brown who has fought duels.

The hunters knowingly commit crimes and break Tower laws to find Black sisters:

She [Seaine] had laid hands on another sister, on a Sitter, had helped bundle Talene along deserted basement hallways wrapped in flows of Air, had broken a dozen Tower laws, committed serious crimes, all to hear an answer she had been nearly certain of before the question was asked.

- Winter’s Heart Prologue

Some of their crimes would be abduction, using the Chair of Remorse on an initiate, coercion of sisters with the Power and appropriating ter’angreal, although we don’t know all the laws they broke.

So far they have not been charged with any crimes or received the punishment they feared – unchairing, birching and exile. They were not hoping or expecting to get away with it; they are prepared to pray the price to rid the Tower of Darkfriends.

Egwene is aware of the methods they used but knows the necessity, or at least the temptation, of breaking the law to catch Darkfriends. After all, she did worse herself keeping Moghedien.

Finally in Winter’s Heart the hunters have some success though they found it rather alarming. Talene’s agony on being freed of the Oaths in particular stunned them. No non-Darkfriend has had anything like as much pain unswearing three Oaths simultaneously. For instance, in The Gathering Storm:

Romanda took the Oath Rod, and did as instructed, releasing herself from the oaths. The process was obviously painful, but she held herself to a controlled, hissing intake of breath.

- The Gathering Storm, Sealed To The Flame

Perhaps it is the nature of the three Black Oaths that they are more agonising to remove.

Having achieved something in their hunt, Seaine suddenly wonders whether they are doing what Elaida ordered or if she got it wrong:

Had Elaida really set her to dig out the Black Ajah? She had never once actually mentioned the name. Could she have meant something else? Elaida had always jumped down the throat of anyone who even mentioned the Black. Nearly any sister would do the same yet….

- Winter’s Heart Prologue

This is what Elaida actually said:

"I charge you to follow the stench of treason, no matter where it leads or how high, even to the Keeper herself. Yes, even to her. What you find, whoever it leads to, you will bring before the Amyrlin Seat alone, Seaine. No one else must know. Do you understand me?"

- A Crown of Swords, Sealed To The Flame

What Elaida was aiming for was for Alviarin to be charged with treason:

She had not spoken to Seaine, in case someone might see and tell Alviarin when she returned, but Seaine was certainly working away as instructed, following the path of treason that surely would lead to Alviarin Freidhen.

- The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return

As Seaine noted, Elaida has never considered the possibility of the Black Ajah existing, not even after she was blackmailed by Alviarin. So Seaine’s interpretation of Elaida’s orders was indeed wrong:

"She [Elaida] was very circumspect, but after a little thought, it was clear to me what she wanted. I am to hunt out..." At the last, courage failed her tongue. "... Darkfriends in the Tower."

- The Path of Daggers, An Unwelcome Return

Seaine was so frightened at the thought of hunting Darkfriends that she broke the law on keeping information Sealed to the Flame secret. This is actually treasonous under Tower law (A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory and A Crown of Swords, Sealed to the Flame) so the person Elaida charged with exposing treason in the Tower immediately committed it herself!

Seaine surely needed Pevara’s courage and focus for her search. Pevara was the least put out by Talene’s confession and was not as appalled as Seaine was:

The Black Ajah really did exist. She [Seaine] was staring at a Black sister, a Darkfriend who wore the shawl. And believing turned out to be a pale shadow of confronting. Only her jaw clenched near to cramping kept her teeth from chattering. She struggled to compose herself, to think rationally. But nightmares were awake and walking the Tower.

Someone exhaled heavily, and Seaine realized she was not the only one who found her world turned upside down.

- Winter’s Heart Prologue

But then Pevara had faced up to the existence of the Black Ajah years earlier, the Reds being heavily involved in the ‘vileness’ right after the Aiel War and its aftermath. Which goes to show that if you refuse to think about something it can assume too great a power in your mind.

The world turned upside down motif will become stronger as we get closer to Tarmon Gai’don. It is part of the Shadow’s plan to weaken the world with anarchy and chaos. Poor Herid Fel’s insight that belief and order give strength was by itself enough to sign his death warrant, never mind his other useful deductions.

Talene made a faulty deduction about Elaida’s relation to the Black Ajah:

“Elaida is Black Ajah!...she must be. They know every report she receives, even the secret ones, every word spoken to her. They know every decision she makes before it’s announced. Days before; sometimes weeks. How else, unless she tells them?”

- Winter’s Heart Prologue

It is the reverse that has been happening: the Black Ajah are telling Elaida what to say. This is something that few Aes Sedai, even Black sisters, would ever imagine.

The five hunters could not get far in their quest without the Hall’s knowledge or cooperation. They were only exposing and binding one Black sister at a time, and as it turned out, there were too many Black sisters – well over 60 in the White Tower at the time - for that method to work. They couldn’t know that of course. Verin was the crucial factor. Egwene had the advantage of Verin’s list of names and from this was encouraged to trust her Hall. She was thus able to strike quickly and extensively – and still many got away.

While ultimately and disappointingly the Black Ajah hunters got nowhere, they did achieve some good – they were five Sitters of different Ajahs working together and they showed Egwene how to use the Oath Rod to expose Darkfriends.


The Wheel Weaves said...

"The five hunters could not get far in their question without the Hall’s knowledge or cooperation."

I believe what you meant was '[...] get far in their questionING without [...]'

Linda said...

Thanks! Actually not quite. :) I've been hit by spellchecker it seems. I'll go fix it.

Mattrickster said...


"As Seaine noted, Elaida has never considered the possibility of the Black Ajah existing"

It might be just a mistake, but in TDR 'The Red Sister' Elaida tells Nyneave, Elayne and Egwene that " the Black Ajah is among us" and that they "are sure Liandrin and those who went with her are Darkfriends. Black Ajah".

For the rest of the series she denies that the BA exists. It has alway seemed a bit of a disconnect.

What are your thoughts?

Linda said...

Mattrickster: It sounds like she is quoting someone - whispers among her allies in the Hall or in the Red?

As a plot device it does not serve a great deal. That scene could have been written more consistently with Elaida's attitudes and had much the same effect.

I think it's a remnant of Jordan's previous version of the first two books. TEOTW and TGH do contain remnants of attitudes and ideas later changed.