Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Winter's Heart Read-through Post #5: Dark Red Aes Sedai

By Linda

One of the impressive things about Jordan’s writing is that even quite minor characters are rounded and have character development. Teslyn is a case in point. When we first see Teslyn she is a typical hard, unfeeling, man-hating Red:

She looked a woman who wanted to skin something, and whoever was handy would do.

- A Crown of Swords, A Touch on the Cheek

The woman saw every man as a potentially rabid wolf, and there was no gainsaying her when she truly wanted something. As inexorable as Elaida, she ground down whatever lay in her path.

- A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic

She cannot bear men touching her – not Domon when he tried to help her to her feet after she Healed Egeanin, nor Mat when he needed to attract her attention in the dark at the start of a battle (Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box).

In Winter’s Heart, Teslyn wrote a note telling Mat to warn Elayne and Nynaeve they could be taken back to Elaida. Yet she suggested to Joline that perhaps the two of them should take Elayne, Nynaeve, Aviendha and Mat to the Tower – not a lie, just a possibility. While Joline believed she was manipulating Teslyn into waiting before doing anything that might please or help Elaida, Teslyn was manipulating Joline into holding this view more firmly. Which is why she, who is usually so discreet about Aes Sedai, and particularly Red Ajah, secrets, passed on to Joline Elaida's insult that Joline was immature and would remain that way. Teslyn seemed convinced that Joline wanted the girls despite what Joline said and drugged her with forkroot to keep her from the girls until they were safely away. And 'girls' is how Teslyn thought of them when she arrogantly spurned Nynaeve’s warning of approaching danger - and ended up collared for it. (Joline did want to take the girls to the Tower, she just wanted to wait until Elaida was deposed before she did so. Faced with the girls getting away though…)

The Seanchan efforts to tame Teslyn to the a’dam, aimed at breaking her if necessary, left her traumatised. Mat showed insight into her feelings:

Teslyn herself looked increasingly grim every time he saw her, staring fixedly straight ahead. Every time, there seemed to be more determination on her face. And something that might have been panic, too. He began to worry about her, and her impatience.

- Winter’s Heart, News In A Cloth Sack

There was a nervousness in her eyes, put there by her weeks as a damane.

- Crossroads of Twilight, A Fan Of Colours

Teslyn was horrified that the Seanchan’s efforts were effective:

"When I do something that does please them, the sul'dam do give me sweets. I do find myself looking forward to those rewards." Breathy horror crept into her voice. "Not for liking of sweets, but because I have pleased the sul'dam." A single tear trickled from her eye.

- Winter’s Heart, Three Women

and was grateful and almost unbelieving that a man could show kindness or offer aid.

"You do be serious," she whispered, so low he nearly did not hear. "I did think you only did come to taunt me."

- Winter’s Heart, Three Women

She started to give a promise that if freed she would do anything that did not endanger the Tower in return, but stopped:

"If you do help me escape, I will do anything you ask of me that does not encompass treason to the White—" Her teeth snapped shut, and she sat up straight, staring right through him. Abruptly, she nodded to herself. "Help me escape, and I will do anything you ask of me," she said.

- Winter’s Heart, Three Women

We have seen Aes Sedai being physically prevented from saying things before: when the Oath against lying cuts in. Either their mouth clamps shut, as with Teslyn, or they nearly choke. I think this happened here (which means that Teslyn, despite her almost black clothing often indicative of a Black sister, is probably not a Darkfriend) and was a major realisation for her as she bitterly accepted that she would do anything to get away, even betray the Tower. It was the first time that the Tower didn’t come first for her, I think, and from here on she was portrayed much more sympathetically.

There are still flashes of hardness though; against the sul’dam, for instance, which is understandable given what she suffered at their hands:

"Let her [Bethamin] die," Teslyn said harshly. "We can keep her shielded until we can be rid of her, then she can die."

Turnabout, since it was Bethamin who decided that Teslyn should be treated harshly due to Bethamin’s fear of Aes Sedai and because she quite rightly thought from Teslyn’s cheerful demeanour that she was plotting escape (Winter’s Heart, Questions of Treason.) Bethamin intended to break Teslyn’s spirit with harsher punishments and sporadic rewards and came pretty close.

Elaida’s treatment of Teslyn, unchairing her and sending her to ‘unimportant’ (ironic!) Ebou Dar because she lost Elaida’s favour, may also have played a part in keeping her harsh. However thoughts of Elaida don’t make Teslyn lose emotional control as thoughts of being re-collared do.

After Mat freed Teslyn a second time from the a’dam Teslyn, who was weeping and trembling, kissed Mat’s hands and thanked him repeatedly (Knife of Dreams, A Short Path); Teslyn, who can’t bear men normally. (It is interesting that Mat is the only man in the whole series Teslyn has touched, and that twice.)

In turn Teslyn made Joline stop hitting Mat with indirect weaves of the Power (Knife of Dreams, A Short Path), and unlike the other two Aes Sedai she never asked even to see his ter’angreal, let alone demand he hand it over.

Mat now thinks of Teslyn as someone worth gaining the respect of, which is certainly not how he sees Joline. After he was rude to Joline:

Teslyn gave him a shocked glance, seeming disappointed…Teslyn trailed after [Joline and Edesina], regarding Mat with a curious expression. She still looked disappointed in him too. He glanced away, then felt annoyed at himself. What did he care what she thought?

- The Gathering storm, On A Broken Road

Hopefully she will not change her positive attitude to Mat.

Quite a senior and tough Aes Sedai was brought very low by the Seanchan. Formerly dominating even her equals, she now lets them have their way most of the time, as we saw in The Gathering Storm. This adds weight to Egwene’s fears and revulsion from her time as damane and prepares us for what Elaida is going to go through.

The Empress usually treats damane well, far better than do other sul’dam, but will she Elaida? Or should I say Suffa? Elaida’s new name hints not.


Goldenking said...

''Or should I say Suffa? Elaida’s new name hints not. ''

Indeed Suffa sounds like suffering, which she deserves :P

Frank said...

It's interesting that for a long while Pevara and Teslyn are the only "good" Reds we really see, and Teslyn certainly didn't start out that way. It's only rather recently we've started to see the Silvianas and Pevara's Black Tower companions and Tsutama (well, the jury's still out on her, "hard" as she is) who can get their heads out of their asses.

Not to psychoanalyze too much, but Teslyn's aversion to men touching her indicates abuse at the hands of men, perhaps an abusive father or an early rape. Mat may be the first man she can touch because he's the first man in her life that's ever treated her well.

Linda said...

That could well be so, Frank. There's no data on her history unfortunately.

Teslyn's forbidding persona and unattractive exterior discourages anyone from getting close to her and I don't think she has any loving or sexual relationships with males or females. However she is a pretty good assessor of people's actions and motivations.

I agree that Mat has been the first man to treat Teslyn well.

Molly said...

i find it interesting how the red have been slowly redeeming themselves and have been becoming close to main characters; Mat and Teslyn, Egwene nad Silviana. They both had less extreme vies of Reds than Rand' maybe Perring and Rand will both acquire respect for a Red sister.