Friday, March 11, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #5: Chapter 3 - The Ways of Honour

By Linda


Aviendha is a major character who has had very few POVs. The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight finally change that. The first paragraphs of The Ways of Honour reveal Aviendha’s wariness about eyes watching her:

How could you not care about eyes watching you, eyes that might belong to a man or Maiden holding a spear?

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

and link back to her POV in The Path of Daggers when she sensed eyes watching her in Ebou Dar:

Skin prickled between Aviendha's shoulder blades as she strode ahead of her companions through palace hallways tiled in dozens of pleasing bright hues. A sense of being watched that she had last felt while still wed to the spear. Imagination, she told herself. Imagination and knowing there are enemies about I cannot face! Not so long ago that crawling sensation had meant someone might be intending to kill her…

And abruptly, the prickling returned.
Aviendha's eyes rose to the windows overlooking the stable-yard. Anyone might be hidden behind the white screens of intricate wrought iron and piercework carving. Tylin had ordered the servants to stay away from those windows, but who would stop Teslyn, or Joline, or. ... Something made her look higher, to the domes and towers. Narrow walks ringed some of those slim spires, and on one, very high, was a black shape haloed by a sharp nimbus from the sun behind. A man. Her breath caught. Nothing in his stance, hands on the stone railing, spoke of danger, yet she knew he was the one who put that crawling between her shoulder blades.
One of the Shadowsouled would not stand there simply watching, but that creature, that gholam. . . . Ice formed in her belly. He could be just a palace servant. He could be, but she did not believe it. No shame in knowing fear.

The Path of Daggers, To Keep the Bargain

It’s a nice turn of the Wheel; a link with recent events while highlighting the fact that the Aiel are always at war, unlike most (all?) other peoples, a way of life diametrically opposite to their previous role as Da’shain. Every day Aiel violate their former covenant. And now they know it. Yet most Aiel still don’t dealt with this except by repression. Ironically Aviendha will be the one who sees where devotion to war will lead the Aiel…

Aviendha currently has an identity crisis, not just over her “in-between” status, but because at the moment she is lower than Rand and she wants their status to be much more equal. She shows considerable insight about Rand:

"He is a man of many burdens," Aviendha said more carefully. "I fear that he makes many of those burdens heavier than they need be. I once thought that there was only one way to be strong, but I have learned from my first-sister that I was wrong. Rand al'Thor ... I do not think he has learned this yet. I worry that he mistakes hardness for strength."

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

which assures us that she is worthy to be his wife and also a Wise One. And she is right to worry about Rand’s mental state as the rest of The Gathering Storm amply proves.

Aviendha wants to love Rand because she chooses to, not because of fate (see Fate, Free Will and Divining the Pattern). She realises it is not certain they will marry, just that she will have his children. Nor is she sure if she will become first sisters with Min, but is determined that only says she and Min “will reach an accommodation”. Two wives are uncommon among Aiel, and three are unheard of judging by Amys’ amusement (when she is a sister-wife herself).

Aviendha is not the only one uncertain about her role and her relationship to Rand. So are the Aiel:

The clans are uncertain what Rand al'Thor wishes of them."
"He was very clear," Bair noted. "He will be pleased that you and Dobraine Taborwin secured Bandar Eban, as he asked."
Rhuarc nodded. "But still, his intentions are not clear. He asked for us to restore order. Are we then to be like wetlander city guardsmen? That is no place for the Aiel. We are not to conquer, so we do not get the fifth. And yet it feels very much like conquest, what we do. The Car'a'carns orders can be clear yet confusing at the same time. He has a gift in that area, I think."

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

Aiel society is a very ordered one, with honour and obligation strictly adhered to. They – and perhaps the Mainland Seanchan – are the only society which has held together thus far. True, the Brotherless and Shaido split from them; and other Aiel stay gai’shain or join the Tinkers, but the Aiel are hardly broken as yet (and their breaking must be bad if Aiel Prophecy remarks on it), or destroyed with the leaf as the Karaethon Cycle says. Therefore they are going to break further. It’s likely this very group of Rhuarc, Aviendha, Amys, Melaine and Bair, who muse on what Rand wishes of them, will be involved in it.

Rhuarc thinks Aiel should not be keepers of peace or order for other nations, yet this would be a worthy role for them on a continent-wide scale after the Last Battle, rather than breaking the peace pact and trying to conquer the Seanchan as Aviendha saw they would do in her trip through the glass columns (see Aviendha's visions). Aviendha will be the one to work out what will be required of the Aiel in the future after seeing the consequences of the Aiel staying warriors in Towers of Midnight. This Foreshadowing is extremely important.

Aviendha is much beset by the Wise One’s seemingly incomprehensible punishments. I must admit I got impatient with Aviendha by the end of the chapter. Amys’ question to Aviendha “How many Wise Ones went with Rhuarc?” was a hint, as was Bair’s question about whether Aviendha is a Wise One. Because she said no, Aviendha was punished. Cause and effect, which Aviendha can’t see. In her mind she has put them far above her and so she really is not ready to join them. Aviendha secretly feels a failure for accepting wetlander attitudes and habits (this also colours her belief in what the Aiel’s future role should be until she is rudely disabused in the glass columns in Rhuidean.) She would otherwise have spoken up sooner, I think.

The Wise Ones are not just testing Aviendha when they ask her opinions. They aim to show her that she is their equal if she realises it and what her role would be if she joined them.

Amys reassures Aviendha that she was not been weakened by living with wetlanders, and in fact benefited from it. Being with Elayne has widened Aviendha’s attitudes and taught her the responsibilities of a ruler.

Aviendha nearly understands what the Wise Ones are doing:

It was almost as if the punishment was the thing the Wise Ones wanted her to learn, but that could not be.

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

The Wise Ones set Aviendha a da’tsang type of task. Apart from pushing Aviendha to desperation from shame, this also serves a purpose in showing Aviendha what it would be like to be condemned to that status forever, something the Wise Ones point out to her later.

The contrast between the Wise One’s training and leadership style with that of the Aes Sedai in the previous chapter is marked; as is their discipline and integrity:

Honor didn't come from being punished, but accepting a punishment and bearing it restored honor. That was the soul of toh—the willing lowering of oneself in order to recover that which had been lost.

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

Aes Sedai need to learn this. Hopefully Egwene will teach them. Some Aes Sedai take punishments in an arrogant fashion:

Sometimes sisters set themselves penances, in order to maintain the proper balance between pride and humility—that balance was much prized, supposedly, and the only reason given usually—but certainly none sought to have one imposed. Penance set by another could be quite harsh, and the Amyrlin was supposed to be harder in this than the Ajahs. Either way, though, many sisters made a haughty display of submission to the greater will of the Aes Sedai, an arrogant showing of their lack of arrogance. The pride of humility, Siuan called it.

A Crown of Swords, An Oath

but Melaine spoke of Aiel who do the same:

“Some gai’shain now make an arrogance of humbleness,” Melaine said disapprovingly. “They think they earn honor by it, taking obedience and meekness to the point of mockery. This is a new thing and foolish. It has no part in ji’e’toh.”

The Shadow Rising, Beyond the Stone

The chapter begins the theme of the blurring between the living and the dead in this book; the literal rise of the underworld as the Lord of the Grave strongly touches the world, a theme which I shall discuss at the end of my chapter-by-chapter read-through of The Gathering Storm. The Domani refugees the Aiel scout are almost living dead in Aviendha’s eyes:

Were they so eager to wake from the dream? Aviendha did not fear death, but there was a very big difference between embracing death and wishing for it.

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

Rhuarc corroborates this:

"The dead walk," the Taardad clan chief said, "and men fall at random to Sightblinder's evil, their blood corrupted like the water of a bad well. Those might be poor folk fleeing the ravages of war. Or they might be something else. We keep our distance."

The Gathering Storm, The Ways of Honour

Had the folk been part of the Dark One’s warping of the Pattern, his imposition of Wrongness, the Aiel could not have “kept their distance” from them.

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