Friday, May 21, 2010

Crossroads of Twilight Read-through #3: Agents in Andor

By Linda

In the last few books, the theme of the gaining and use of information is important in the Andoran sub-thread as Elayne’s position is under threat from spies and saboteurs. The ethics of torture for ‘good’ purposes now looms large.

Elayne’s council is trying to get as much information as possible on what is going on, while trying to stop her rivals and other ‘interest groups’ from doing the same. She is controlling access to, as well as obtaining, information. Even the meetings with the First Clerk and First Maid are used as cover for a quick Warded conference between Elayne, Aviendha, Birgitte and Dyelin (Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know). Note that Warding such meetings must happen less frequently once Aviendha leaves, since Elayne usually can’t channel well and there is no one else to trust.)

Mostly the inner council discuss Elayne’s ruse of using the Borderlanders to unite Andor and even ‘helping rumours along’:

She was counting on news of the Borderlanders, if not on the Borderlanders themselves. Word of an army that size entering Andor should be leaping ahead of it like wildfire in dry grass. No one but a fool could believe they had marched all those hundreds of leagues to try conquering Andor, but everyone who heard would be speculating on their intentions and what to do about them, a different opinion on every tongue. Once the news began to spread, anyway. When it did, she had an advantage over everyone else. She had arranged for the Borderlanders to cross into Andor into the first place, and she had already arranged for them to leave. The choice had not been very difficult. Stopping them would have been a bloody affair, if it could have been managed at all, and they wanted no more than the width of a road to march onward into Murandy, where they thought they would find the Dragon Reborn. That was her doing, as well. They hid their reason for seeking Rand, and she was not about to give them a true location, not when they had as many as a dozen Aes Sedai with them and hid that fact, too. But once news of them reached the High Seats.... “It should work,” she said softly. “If necessary, we can plant rumors of the Borderlanders ourselves.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know

The chapter is aptly named considering that it is about the knowledge gained or held by all Elayne's allies, not just the Wise Ones.

Of course the Borderlanders have their own secret intentions as Elayne is well aware – but she doesn’t know what they are. Nor really do we yet.

The meetings also reassure that Elayne was not fooled by Hanlon’s charade.

However, is there someone/thing which is fooling them?

Like Rand, they don’t think about what is happening at the Black Tower, a place where information is even more tightly controlled. Elayne has considered the Asha’man might have spies in Caemlyn (and none have been found as yet), but she hasn’t considered getting agents at the Black Tower herself. Yet her Andoran guards’ carefully supervised visits there would not discover much.

Aviendha thinks all the uncovered spies should be killed immediately – which would result in quite a few deaths:

“Hairdressers, footmen, cooks, the master cabinetmaker, no fewer than five of Master Norry’s clerks, and now one of the librarians.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know

Elayne was taught that since there will always be spies, it is better to know who they are and use them by controlling what they learn and feeding them misinformation at important times:

There was no point in discharging the spies, or killing them as Aviendha had suggested. They would just be replaced by spies she did not know. A spy is your enemy's tool until you know her, her mother had said, but then she is your tool. When you find a spy, Thom had told her, wrap him in swaddling and feed him with a spoon. The men and women who had betrayed their service would be "allowed" to discover what Elayne wanted them to know, not all true, such as the numbers Birgitte had recruited.

- Winter’s Heart, Expectation

Many agents don’t work for Elayne’s enemies:

Not that every spy necessarily worked for an enemy. Most of those the First Maid had uncovered took money from more than one source, and among those she had identified were King Roedran of Murandy, various Tairen High Lords and Ladies, a handful of Cairhienin nobles, and a fair number of merchants. A good many people were interested in what happened in Caemlyn, whether for its effect on trade or other reasons. Sometimes it seemed that everyone spied on everyone else.

- Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know

Some are potentially damaging agents though. Ester Norham, a hairdresser, may be one, since she is named. It is not yet known who she works for.

Milam Harnder, the Second Librarian in the Royal Palace, works for the Brown Ajah. In Lord of Chaos, Beyond the Gate Demira Eriff claimed he had been her agent for nearly thirty years and sent him a message to meet her. He did not turn up; therefore her message was intercepted by her attackers. In Crossroads of Twilight, the innkeeper of the Hoop and Arrow sent pigeons north after each of his frequent visits, and three Brown Aes Sedai visited the inn and spoke at length with the innkeeper ( Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know). So Hardner is known among others of the Brown Ajah, not just Demira. These three Browns are probably of Cadsuane’s faction, since they were staying at the Silver Swan. Elayne briefly considers the possibility that the third of Aes Sedai standing aside from the Tower split might be in contact with each other, exchanging information and forming plans, but does not follow up on this thought or voice it to anyone else. Yet she is right.

Soon another Brown and sometime Cadsuane ally will be in Caemlyn briefly: Verin. Brown sisters would be most interested in Elayne’s ter’angreal cache and the developments at the Rose Academy.

The Red Ajah also has several agents in Caemlyn, a legacy of Elaida’s time as Morgase’s advisor. It is amusing that the supposedly unworldly Browns were able to keep tabs on Elaida.

Elayne is probably correct to assume that the Red and the Brown Ajahs now know a fair amount about the Kin. When Red Sitter Duhara arrived in Caemlyn under Elaida's orders to rein in Elayne she appeared well-informed.

More immediately serious are the spies of Elayne’s Andoran rivals.

The barber Jon Skellit is an agent for Naean Arawn and is now also working for Elayne, thanks to Reene Harfor. The First Maid even appears to have engineered an excuse for Skellit to visit Arymilla’s camp personally to spy it out:

“The time seemed ripe, and so did Skellit. One of the men he hands his reports to left the city and hasn’t returned yet, while it appears the other broke his leg. The streets are always icy where a fire has been put out.” She said that so blandly, it seemed more than likely she had engineered the man’s fall somehow. Hard times uncovered hard talents in the most surprising people.

- Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know

In Knife of Dream, The New Follower, Skellit gave some timely warning that Arymilla’s attack on Caemlyn was imminent.

Norry was able to get very confidential financial information on Elayne’s rivals:

“Have you anything more, Master Norry?”
Knuckling his long nose, he avoided her gaze. “It has...uh...come to my attention,” he said hesitantly, “that Marne, Arawn and Sarand have all recently taken very large loans against the revenues of their estates.” Mistress Harfor’s eyebrows climbed before she got them under control…Bankers never told anyone how much they had loaned to whom, or against what, but she [Elayne] did not ask how he knew. It would be...embarrassing. For both of them…
“It seems they may have borrowed against the same revenues twice or even three times. The bankers, of course, are...unaware...of this, as yet.”…
“Is there any chance the bankers will learn what you have, Master Norry? Before the loans come due?” If they did, some might decide they preferred Arymilla on the throne. She could strip the country’s coffers to repay those loans, then. She might even do it. Merchants rode the political winds, whichever way they blew. Bankers had been known to attempt to influence events. “In my opinion, it is unlikely, my Lady. They would have the right questions of the right people, but bankers are one another. Yes, I think it unlikely. For the time being.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, What Wise Ones Know

The unscrupulous Houses that have mortgaged themselves repeatedly to buy soldiers and allies to promote their bid for the throne would have to milk Andor to recover financially and therefore could not be good monarchs. It is a warning of what is at stake for Andor. Elayne fears that the bankers might decide to put Arymilla on the throne to ensure their loans are repaid.

Out in Arymilla’s camp, we see information, or lack of it, used as a weapon, but one that might damage the wielder:

as yet, she [Elenia] had no idea where she would sleep.
Doubtless in some lesser noble’s tent, with the lord or lady shuffled off to find haven elsewhere and trying to put the best face on being evicted, but Arymilla liked leaving her on tenterhooks until the very last, about beds and everything else. One suspense was no sooner dispelled than another replaced it. Plainly the woman thought the constant uncertainty would make her squirm, perhaps even strive to please. That was far from the only miscalculation Arymilla had made…

- Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness

On the other hand, whatever was goading Naean to recklessness might be valuable to know, and dangerous not to. It might, but finding out presented its own dangers.

- Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness

Besides which, she feared Naean’s threat as much as Naean feared hers. Perhaps more. So long as Naean did not know that, however, her blade had no point.

- Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness

Elenia observes that spies are likely everywhere in the camp and that she and Naean aren’t the only ones prevented from communicating with their supporters: likely so is Sylvase, the heir of demented Lord Nasin Caeren (Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness).

As well as the danger of Arymilla outside Caemlyn, there is that of the Shadow undermining Elayne from within.

Wary of being kept ignorant and expendable, Hanlon and Falion secretly trade information. Hanlon wants to know what Shiaine’s activities and plans are and what Marillin Gemalphin is up to. He wonders if the plan to crown Elayne (and then have her broken) is off and she is to be killed instead. (The Black Ajah’s kidnap attempt was their own idea.) Hanlon thinks either Shiaine or Birgitte are the ones sending men to follow him – he thinks he has Elayne fooled.

Falion wants to know about relationships between the female channellers in the Palace:

Who was friendly with whom, and who unfriendly. Who exchanged private words and who avoided one another. What he had heard them say.

- Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness

Falion is trying to work out the political currents – the Game of Houses – and the important issues among the channellers. She might also be able to determine who are Darkfriends from who Careane spends time with.

In contrast, Shiaine is very well informed: she knows Hanlon’s history better than he does and uses it to intimidate him. Hanlon tried to get Shiaine to divulge information but we don’t know if Shiaine did explain anything to Hanlon and whether she was truthful or not.

Shiaine wants sul’dam and damane freed. Her minions make several arson attacks each night and tried to fire the food warehouses. Careane was instructed to kill several of the Kin, in the end obviously with the Power. The Shadow’s aim is to undermine Elayne’s reign by sowing distrust of female channellers (and reducing Elayne’s pool of channelling talent to draw on) and bringing on famine and civil disorder in the city.

It was disregarding information that was the undoing of this group and resulted in their capture and the rescue of Elayne:

"A woman Warder?" Chesmal said disdainfully.
Marillin shook in her bonds with silent laughter for a moment. "I'd heard that," she said when the shaking ceased, "but it seemed too incredible to be true."
"You heard this, and you never mentioned it?" Temaile said, twisting around to transfer her scowl to Marillin. "You great fool!"

- Knife of Dreams, Nine Out of Ten

Had they known Elayne had a female Warder they might have planned differently.

Once Mellar/Hanlon appeared to be criminal, Birgitte thought torture or summary justice justified:

"I could arrest Mellar," she said quietly, "and have him put to the question. You'd have no need of Hark then."
"A poor joke, my Lady, if I may say so," Mistress Harfor said stiffly. at the same time that Master Norry said, "That would ...against the law, my Lady."
Birgitte bounded to her feet, outrage flooding the bond. "Blood and bloody ashes! We know the man's as rotten as last month's fish."
"No." Elayne sighed, fighting not to feel outraged as well. "We have suspicions, not proof. Those five men might have fallen afoul of footpads. The law is quite clear on when someone may be put to the question, and suspicions are not reason enough. Solid evidence is needed. My mother often said, "The Queen must obey the law she makes, or there is no law." I will not begin by breaking the law."
The bond carried something...stubborn. She fixed Birgitte with a steady look. "Neither will you. Do you understand me. Birgitte Trahelion? Neither will you."

- Knife of Dreams, The New Follower

Once they are proven Darkfriends, Elayne decides to use the Taraboner torturer, Jac Lounalt, to interrogate them (Knife of Dreams, The Importance of Dyelin). Elayne also suggests Norry find spies among Sylvase’s servants for information, the first time Elayne establishes agents herself.

Quite a change…but is it a good one? Too often in the series any slide in ethics whether well-intentioned or not, results in unfortunate consequences.

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