Thursday, September 16, 2010

Analysis of Minor Characters #2: Tarna

By Linda

The Wheel of Time turns, and now it is three years since Robert Jordan died. This post is dedicated to him as an illustration of the care he took with minor characters.

Talmanes, discussed on Monday, is a wholly positive character. Today’s character, Tarna, is rather more ambivalent.

We first see her in Salidar, where she has been sent by Elaida to intimidate, as well as gauge the strength of, the rebellion. She was very well informed about what was going on there: that Sheriam’s six were running the show at that stage and that Siuan, Leane and Logain were present. Judging by her reaction to Beonin’s arrival at the Tower in Knife of Dreams, she did not know that Beonin was Elaida’s mole. Elaida probably didn’t tell Tarna about Beonin, since she thinks of Beonin as “her secret” (A Crown of Swords, Prologue), but Beonin may have passed information to Tarna without revealing her role as a saboteur of the rebellion by ‘letting slip’ things. There were also non-Aes Sedai Tower supporters in the camp as we saw in Lord of Chaos, Questions and Answers who could report directly or indirectly to Tarna.

From what Elayne says:

“I heard when Tarna was told she'd be received by the Hall of the Tower, she laughed. And not as if she was amused.”

- Lord of Chaos, The Storm Gathers

Tarna did not know beforehand that the rebels had elected a Hall. It had probably occurred too recently for word to have been sent out. Siuan got the rebel Hall established just in time to stabilise the rebellion.

Tarna recounted

“I anticipated no great difficulty in Salidar. No great success, either, but what I found...”

- Crossroads of Twilight, One Answer

so she found more than she expected.

Nynaeve and Elayne well and truly played their part in giving the rebels heart with their discoveries and information. Strategically, Tarna tried to undermine the rebellion by convincing one or both of them to accompany her to the Tower. She only had a short time to do so – just the one visit – which is why Tarna was so heavy-handed and used one tactic after another: intimidation, sympathy:

Her face thawed, and she even smiled. "You look uneasy. Do not be. I will not bite you."

- Lord of Chaos, Under the Dust


“You can never be made Aes Sedai here. The Oath Rod is in the Tower. The testing can only be done in the Tower."

- Lord of Chaos, Under the Dust

and reason:

A touch of intensity entered Tarna's voice. "Think, child. This lot will return to the fold once it dawns on them fully what they do, but every day could be vital...The best thing for him is for you to return with me and give your knowledge of him to the Amyrlin now, instead of in weeks or months.”

- Lord of Chaos, Under the Dust

She is no actress though and her extremely cold eyes showed her true feelings for the situation, but more of this anon. Curiously, she let slip to Nynaeve the identity of the Red Ajah head, highly secret information:

"Galina Casban beat my block out of me herself. She knew my Ajah long before I did, and took a personal interest in me. She always does in those she thinks will choose Red." She shook her head, laughing, eyes like frozen knives.

- Lord of Chaos, Under the Dust

Not that Nynaeve noticed; she was too busy being afraid, and was never one to take regard Tower politics or procedure anyway. Nynaeve didn’t even follow up on her thought that Elaida might have followers in Salidar.

In return, Nynaeve lied to Tarna about how to handle Rand to sabotage Elaida’s contact with Rand and get rid of Tarna. It did stop Tarna, but was she fooled by Nynaeve?

For a long moment Tarna merely looked at her. A very long moment, under that frigid stare.

- Lord of Chaos, Under the Dust

It is when we read Tarna’s reports on Salidar that Tarna’s ambivalence comes to the fore: she appears to have lied. Elaida quotes to Alviarin the report Tarna sent:

"At least a hundred [representing a third of the rebels] are on the point of breaking already." She trusted Tarna to some extent, a Red with no room in her head for nonsense, and she said the rebels were ready to jump at shadows. Quietly desperate sheep looking for a shepherd, she said.

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

immediately after leaving Salidar, when she still had a pigeon handler. The last sentence in particular is hard even for Elaida to misinterpret. (Ironically a shepherd - Egwene – soon arrives to guide the sheep.) Yet Tarna told Pevara that she paid off the pigeon handler so she could rush back to the Tower to warn that the rebellion is a great threat. So it wasn’t a matter of her opinion changing during her journey; the two opinions were concurrent and contradictory - unless Tarna’s report was a fake substituted by the Black Ajah. Alviarin immediately runs Tarna down by saying:

“Tarna has always been sure she could make people do what it was clear they would not."

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

because she wants Elaida to believe the opposite – that the rebellion is strong. (Tarna’s actions in the Tower belie Alviarin’s comment.) The readers is left with the impression that the Black Ajah are not responsible for Tarna’s letter, but this may be more sowing of chaos.

Which leads to the question: is Tarna Black?

On the plus side, she appears to dislike Katerine (fellow Red and a Black) intensely as we saw in Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue, when Reds usually show solidarity, if not warmth to each other. She also suggested that notice be taken of Egwene’s warnings of the Seanchan threat:

"If Egwene can do this, Mother, perhaps she really is a Dreamer," Tarna said. "The warning she gave Silviana—
"Is useless, Tarna. The Seanchan are still deep in Altara and barely touching Illian."

- Knife of Dreams, The Dark One’s Touch

showing concern for Tower, when Blacks have usually underplayed the danger the Seanchan pose. Moreover she personally checked the Tower’s wards against rats (Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida) and reported that the ones on the walls against ravens and crows needed re-doing. In contrast, Alviarin smirked at the evidence of failing wards when she returned to the Tower in Crossroads of Twilight, A Mark.

On the minus side is Tarna’s coldness – enough to make Nynaeve’s skin crawl – which could be an indication of a malign character. And there is the possibility that Tarna lied in her report on Salidar. Also against her is the fact that Elaida trusted her:

But Elaida had a great deal of trust in the woman, and of late that was a rare commodity.

- Knife of Dreams, The Dark One’s Touch

and Elaida is a notoriously bad judge of trustworthiness as Pevara points out (Crossroads of Twilight, One Answer). But it is possible to be untrustworthy without having joined the Shadow.

Tarna was forced to become Keeper and indicated this by keeping her rooms in the Red Ajah quarters (Crossroads of Twilight, One Answer). She suggested Elaida flaunt her Ajah less (Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida), yet she was doing the same. Elaida attracts Keepers who would rather have another job, in contrast with Egwene whose Keeper accepted whole-heartedly.

While Keeper, Tarna went behind Elaida’s back, especially on the issue of Asha’man, and she revealed to Beonin the state of Tower disunity:

"Some of the Ajahs oppose the Mother almost as strongly as those sisters beyond the river," Tarna said.
Elaida shot a dark look at her Keeper, but that cool visage absorbed it without changing a hair.

- Knife of Dreams, The Dark One’s Touch

Tarna found being Elaida’s Keeper a thankless task since she had to work hard to make Elaida see reason even on obvious and essential tasks, such as dismantling the harbour chain towers to remove the cuendillar chain (Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida). For less pressing or more emotive matters she gave up and just didn’t bother raising the subject:

Tarna had been shouted at more than enough. She had learned to avoid subjects that only resulted in shouting. Advice and suggestions unoffered were no more useless than advice and suggestions untaken, and Elaida almost never took either.

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

She does appear to have tried to work for the Tower’s benefit as Keeper even to the extent of disobeying Elaida.

Tarna’s suggestion that Reds should Bond Asha’man startled even Pevara, but as Pevara said, it doesn’t prove anything either way about whether Tarna is a Darkfriend. Of all Reds, Tarna was the one most likely to make it since she is strongly attracted to men (without having to choose ones she can control as Toveine does). She treats them with consideration, acknowledging the arrival of Gawyn and Rajah with a nod and allaying Gawyn’s fears for his sister by informing him of her whereabouts and the likely extent of her punishment (Crossroads of Twilight, Prologue) even though Gawyn was abrupt with her.

The unspoken aim of Bonding Asha’man is to Compel them to obedience (and reduce their channelling and recruiting as well as roaming about). What Tarna and Pevara don’t know is that the Bond can’t be used that way on male channellers who are stronger than their Aes Sedai (as on the whole, they will be) or perhaps any male channellers at all. Toveine’s news sent from Cairhien makes Tarna think the need for Bonding Asha’man is more urgent, but Pevara is not so sure:

“This came from one of our agents in Cairhien, but it was sent by Toveine Gazal.”...
Her stony face did not change even after she finished and let the paper roll back into a tube in her hand.
“This changes nothing,” she said flatly. Coldly. “It only makes what I suggest more urgent.”
“On the contrary,” Pevara sighed. “That changes everything. It changes the whole world.”

- Crossroads of Twilight, One Answer

While men Healing stilling might be seen as momentous, it is probably Aes Sedai being Bonded by Asha’man – turnabout, as Cadsuane said - that makes the difference. Or perhaps both. The men are disturbingly their equals now.

Tarna suggested that Red sisters Bond Asha’man without having considered which Reds should do so:

Besides, not having to watch over her shoulder allowed her to think on Pevara's troubling question, one she had not considered before suggesting the bonding of Asha'man. Who in the Red actually could be trusted with the task?

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

and even more curiously could only think of one woman and she was ineligible:

After almost two weeks, her list of those she could be certain of still contained only a single name, and that one was impossible for the task.

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

Presumably Tarna means someone other than herself and Pevara, but who? And why are they impossible for this?

Has Tarna deliberately betrayed those Reds she took with her to the Black Tower? The expedition to the Black Tower is likely to go down as one of WOT history’s Bad Ideas, yet I don't think she is a Black sister.

I think that Tarna’s coldness and her actions are motivated by one thing: her devotion to, and fear for, the Tower. Even a seemingly unlikely prophecy like Egwene’s warning dream should be heeded in her view.

Her icy demeanour in Salidar was due to her dislike of the situation there, her disgust at a rebellion, and her alarm at how organised they were. What she saw there made her “fear for the Tower,” not Elaida, or the Reds, or herself, and she found that things were little better in the Tower when she returned. An Aes Sedai who reveres the Tower to the extent of not being distracted by politics wouldn’t approve of Elaida’s divisive decrees or want to be her Keeper. This also explains why she told Beonin that Elaida’s support in the Tower has waned.

Tarna tried to avoid possible confrontation from hostile sisters not because she feared for her physical safety but to prevent a Keeper being attacked:

Her Keeper's stole allowed her to enter any Ajah's quarters, yet she avoided all except the Red save when duty called...She thought matters had not gone so far that anyone would actually attack the Keeper, yet she took no chances. Retrieving the situation was going to be a long, hard struggle, whatever Elaida thought, and an assault on the Keeper might make it irretrievable.

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

Her jumpiness when she was a novice could be a reflection of her insight into the dangerous and unsettled conditions in the Tower right after the end of the Aiel war.

Finally, Tarna’s suggestion that Reds Bond Asha’man was born of desperation and perhaps a recognition that the Tower is fiddling while the world burns.

Note: comments are temporarily locked for a couple of weeks


Shadar said...

Hi Linda,

I think you misread Tarna's comments: "she could rush back to the Tower to warn that the rebellion is a great threat. "
I'm pretty sure it was the asha'man recruiting party (in some fly-speck village) that scared her -- not the rebellion.
I need to check -- but I'm pretty sure she told it as she saw it to Elaida. The rebels were in desperate need of a shepard while she was there.

Oh -- and you had a typo in the paragraph about bonding. "the Bond can’t be used that may" instead of "way".
On the compelling -- the Asha'man have changed the bond they use for sisters so it is much closer to compulsion. Do you think the reds/AS will do likewise?

Linda said...

No Shadar, she said that because she was rushing back to the Tower to tell them of the threat the rebels were, even paying off the pigeon handler because she couldn't keep up. Here is the quote as proof:

“I left a pigeon-handler a day
outside the village, yet it took me less than half a day to get back to her, and after I loosed the birds with copies of my report, I pressed on so hard I had to pay the woman off because she could not keep up. I can hardly say how many horses I went through. Sometimes, the animal was spent to the point I had to show my ring to make a stable take it in trade, even with silver added. And because I pressed so hard, I happened to reach a village in Murandy while a . . . recruiting party . . . was there. If I had not been frightened out of my wits for the Tower by what I saw in Salidar, I would have ridden to Ebou Dar and taken ship for Illian and then upriver, but the thought of going south instead of north, the thought of waiting for a vessel, sent me like an arrow toward Tar Valon. So I was in that village to see them.”

It was because she rushed, irrationally not taking a boat upriver that she happened upon the 6 Asha'man.

The Reds don't know that the Bond can't be used to Compel these men. Nor have we seen them Bond anybody yet. Just because Taim gave them permission doesn't mean that any men will agree to it.

Relik said...

Superb writing, as always!

Though I disagree on how the bond can or cannot be used to compel channelers: my impression was that Alanna could not compel Rand because at first she did not think of it (the bonding itself was rather an impulsive act, thus she only did the basic weave); when she realised that she should also compel him, he was already touching saidin; I believe that this was what prevented her from forcing her will on Rand via the bond.

Asha'man bonded the sisters with the explicit intent of compelling them and I don't think this is in any way different from the way an Aes Sedai would do it (taking into account the inherent male-female/saidin-saidar differences). These bonds also happened while the women were shielded and unable to even touch the source.

Relative power might be a factor of course, i.e. if I am stronger I can compel even someone who is touching the source, but I doubt power plays any role if the other party is not in contact or even blocked from saidin/saidar.

Shadar said...

As always Linda -- you put my knowledge to shame once more. :)

BobH said...

Hi Linda,

Nice article on Tarna (and Talmanes too - both were excellent reads!). I agree with you that, although suspicous at times, Tarna is not BA.

Regarding the one person on her list of Reds she could trust to bond Asha'man, but was impossible for the task ... my best guess is Teslyn. Of all the Reds we know of, she's the only one I can think of that has an obvious reason for being impossible - her demotion. Plus, she's nowhere to be found at the moment (from Tarna's PoV), which would be another obvious reason, actually.

Teslyn had been a Sitter for most of Tarna's AS-hood, so presumably Tarna would have known her reasonably well, although we have no idea why Tarna would trust her any more than other Reds.

Presumably anyone Tarna would consider and trust for the job would have to be a known non-man-hater (ruling out much of the Red population, it would seem). And, Teslyn seems to fit - she treats Mat reasonable well, despite her often harsh demeanor.

Anyway, just a thought ...

Frank said...

Teslyn is a possiblity, Bob, though I think for the exact opposite reason you provide: Teslyn DOESN'T like men. She has a hard letting men even touch her, even Mat; it was only from own desperation that she was able to trust him enough to help her escape. She comes to respect Mat for what he did for her, but her impression of men, at least until then, isn't positive (possibly, I think, due to some trauma or abuse she had before coming to the Tower, though that's pure speculation on my part). But we've seen that, hard as she is, she is also one of the few Reds who has some sense and is loyal to the Tower. She'd be perfect for Tarna's needs, except for her hostility to men, not to mention the fact that she's nowhere near the Tower, and, as far as Tarna knows, either dead or captured.

BobH said...


You could be right. I couldn't recall whether Teslyn showed any open hostility toward men early on, only that she treated Mat reasonably well later on.

My thought process, though, was that Tarna would only consider non-man-haters (along with other criteria, as you mentioned) as candidates for her list to begin with. So, whoever the one person is who was on her list met that baseline criteria, and was "impossible" for some other, more unique reason. For Teslyn, that unique reason would be her demotion, although her absence from the Tower would also be problematic.

As I said, though, you could be right. Either way, I think she's a reasonable candidate.

Linda said...

Hi Bob. You really threw me with the suggestion of Teslyn! I never thought of her because in her first scene onscreen Joline described her so rabidly anti-men that she refused to allow Joline's Warders to have one of the rooms attached to their rooms in the Ebou Dari palace. And this even though she and Joline rank equally by strength and having been Sitters.

It's part of her brilliantly developed character that she actually comes to trust Mat enough to allow him to touch her because he helped her escape.

Linda said...

Hi Relik: Firstly. Rand didn't seize the Source until he felt Verin and Alanna try to shield him linked:

Alanna nodded in satisfaction. And suddenly the warmth was heat, one great flash of it, as if he stood for a heartbeat in the middle of a roaring furnace. Even after it passed, he felt odd, aware of himself as he never had been before, aware of Alanna. He swayed, head light, muscles watery. An echo of confusion and unease rang from Lews Therin.
"What did you do?" he demanded. In a fury, he seized saidin. The strength of it helped hold him upright.
"What did you do?"
Something beat at the flow between him and the True Source. They were trying to shield him! Weaving his own shields, he slammed them into place.

He was weak and confused after being Healed, which is why Alanna took advantage.

Later Alanna said that she tried to Compel him immediately:

"I tried to compel him moments after I bonded him," Alanna continued as if noticing none of it.
"Have you ever attempted to uproot an oak tree with your bare hands, Kiruna? It was much the same."

and that had to be before she linked with Verin. And Verin said they couldn't link any sooner than they did or else they both would have Bonded Rand.

Linda said...

@All: Thanks for the complements. :) I'm glad that you are enjoying this new string of posts.

I don't know if no Asha'man can be Compelled through the standard Bond, or just ones which are stronger than their Aes Sedai. Aes Sedai may not talk about this aspect much among themselves, so I doubt any Aes Sedai is going to use a different version. Most are innately conservative about weaves anyway.

Linda said...

And we might never know if the report that Elaida quoted is the one Tarna actually sent or not. Unless Tarna turns out to be Black.

josh said...

are you going to do balwer?
he should make a fascainating entry!

LordJuss said...


Regarding the letter from Toveine. In KoD: Prologue it's clear that Toveine has reported that she and the others were bonded and also that Logain’s Gentling has been Healed. I reckon it is this last point that Tarna and Pevara react to in CoT. I’ve never understood how news of the sister’s being bonded would ‘change the world’ but if Gentling can be undone that undermines the entire point of the Red Ajah and so makes Tarna’s plan
more important.



Linda said...

Josh: Yes, Balwer should be quite interesting.

LordJuss: No Aes Sedai has ever been Bonded before. That not only changes things, it also would urge Aes Sedai to Bond the men first before they can Bond women. It explains both Tarna's and Pevara's comments.

Men Healing Stilled women is world-changing, but wouldn't make Tarna want to Bond men to control the men and prevent them channelling. After all, their channelling led to something great.

To Aes Sedai minds, Bonding Aes Sedai cancels out Healing stilling. After all few women are stilled. Three stilled women versus 47 Bonded Aes Sedai.

LordJuss said...


Sorry if I wasn't clear. It's not about men Healing stilled women. It's about Gentling not being permanent. It makes the current methods for dealing with male channellers utterly obsolete.

Although I can see your argument regarding the bonding, this interpretation also explains both Tarna's and Pevara's comments.



Linda said...

LordJuss: I did misunderstand. Your idea is a good one. I think both factors have played a part in this. Previous Aes Sedai have concentrated on the Healing Stilling part of the situation - the saving of women - and some on the Bonding. The Reds are the ones that think of the men being restored.

Anonymous said...

I'm so tempted to post ToM spoilers but I'll wait for people to read the book first. Might I suggest locking this thread for a short time?