Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #19: Chapter 16 - In the White Tower

By Linda


Egwene in novice white is serving White Ajah Servants of All, although she doesn’t realise one of them, Ferane, is Ajah Head as well as Sitter. Ferane was subtle enough that Egwene doubted her original judgement that her serving was a pretence and they wanted her there to question her. So... she was not serving the Whites in truth until she did them an unexpected service with the quality of her answers.

Aes Sedai now ignore Egwene’s disregard for the rules – which shows that the only discipline that would be effective would be execution or exile. Later in the chapter she is ‘exiled’ through hard labour.

What with the siege and the administrations’ mis-management and neglect of the city, Tar Valon is stinking now, which it never used to be; and no one remarks on the change, they just accept it.

Egwene says Elaida’s leadership and the Hall’s compliance have created the White Tower’s problems. Even if she renounced all claims in favour of Elaida they would still exist. She is trying to get all sisters to see that they are all responsible for the divisions. Egwene herself won’t sit by and do nothing about the division. She lets the Whites know how she has been working to reunite the Tower by making the most of the fact that novices can go anywhere – fateful words considering what Elaida and Katerine are planning.

Ferane, as Ajah Head, takes up Egwene’s points. Egwene will arrange for Sitters to meet together amicably in public. Ferane dismisses Egwene but the two women bow to each other as equals. She offers Egwene a place in the White Ajah despite Egwene making it plain she would have been Green. Bennae offered her a place in the Brown, and Suana wants her to join the Yellow. Yet her favoured Greens are uninterested in Egwene joining them. It is a sign that she would be of all Ajahs and none. If Egwene were weak in the Power I wonder if the Ajahs would be so interested in wooing her or accept that the rebels made her their Amyrlin. Of course, the rebels would never raised Egwene Amyrlin if she were weak. It really drives home how little rank is earned among Aes Sedai.

The presence of the Black Ajah makes a subtle appearance in this chapter. Miyasi’s preference for, and insistence on, consuming whole walnut halves, with their brain-like appearance, is made to seem sinister. She is later shown to be a Black sister (who also possibly has OCD.)

The red and charcoal tiles in Reds’ quarters are a sign that the infiltration of the Black is strong there. A higher percentage of the Red Ajah is Black compared to the other Ajahs (see The Black Ajah article).

For once the Black sister Katerine is not wearing the black slashed or dark clothing she usually wears and which is such a typical marker of Darkfriend Aes Sedai. Instead, her red dress is described as “a flash of red cloth, like the blood of a dead rabbit in the snow”, associating it and her with violence and death.

Most of the Aes Sedai, including Egwene, still assume the White Tower must control the Dragon in order for the Last Battle to ‘proceed’. They don’t seem to realise that the Tower has been largely irrelevant (though independent individual sisters have made important contributions) so far, yet the Last Battle is ‘proceeding’ apace - without their control or guidance.

Egwene thinks it is illogical to have a Red Amyrlin when the Dragon is around. However in over two thousand years the only time Red Amyrlins have been elected is when Dragons, false or real, are active; and they failed miserably each time. Talk about not learning from history. Ferane tells Egwene why they are raised: to deal with the Dragons. Egwene says the Aes Sedai should work with, not ‘deal with’, the Dragon.

One Aes Sedai attitude Egwene does agree with is that Rand should not have been left to run free, but she means he should not be left to make his own decisions. Elaida’s embassy should not have abused or kidnapped Rand. Aes Sedai should be subtle and manipulative.

Egwene recites the “Rand needs guidance” mantra. Rand already gets some – from those he trusts or have been shown to be trustworthy. Rand should have ‘relied’ on the advice of Aes Sedai according to Egwene. She thinks he shouldn’t be allowed to realise the Aes Sedai think he is behaving like an unruly child when/if he does. Cadsuane is more direct and leaves Rand in no doubt of her opinion of his childish behaviour, when he disregards courtesies, flies into a rage, breaks bargains, etc.

For Aes Sedai, the major bugbear of Rand’s actions is the bonding of Aes Sedai by Asha’man. (Though some Whites, eg Tesan, still didn’t know of it. Miyasi knew because the Black Ajah were ordered to spread the news to undermine Elaida and fracture the Tower further.) If Aes Sedai had not been captured by Asha’man Egwene would have much less justification for ‘managing’ Rand. Nevertheless Egwene insists dealing with or managing Rand has to wait until the Tower is reunited.

Ferane’s first question is a challenge to Egwene to put her money where her mouth is and show how she would have done better than Elaida in handling Rand. After all, it’s easy to criticise, but harder to propose a viable alternative. Egwene would study him, then send three Aes Sedai (Grey, Green and Blue) to honour him. This is the standard embassy to kings, nothing more. As Egwene says it is modest and not lavish considering who Rand is. Nor is it threatening.

Katerine and Elaida are going to limit Egwene’s access to sisters by making her do only chores 15 hours per day. Egwene cuts short Katerine’s gloating by walking off to kitchens. Inside she starts to panic though. She considers pretending to be humbled, but realises such and act will be taken as victory anyway. Thereafter Elaida would use the same method to force Egwene to adopt any behaviour. It would be the thin edge of the wedge so she decides not to bend at all.

Laras sneaks up to Egwene and takes her to a secret hiding place to wait for garbage collection. She has arranged for Egwene to be taken across the river and has friends among the guard. It appears Laras has gotten misfit novices and Accepted out before; she is confident she can bluff Egwene’s captors and that they won’t find her hidey hole. Her motivation this time is disgust at the attempts to break Egwene:

I've served loyally these years, I have, but now they've told me that you're to be worked as hard as I can push you, indefinitely. Well, I can see when a girl has moved away from being instructed and into being beaten down. I won't have it, not in my kitchens. Light burn Elaida for thinking she could do such a thing! Execute you or make you a novice, I don't care. But this breaking is unacceptable!"

The Gathering Storm, In the White Tower

Egwene is exasperated that she is stuck doing menial labour when the Dragon Reborn ‘runs free’ and the Last Battle is approaching. She refuses to take Laras’ offer of flight and stays to fight Elaida by refusing to bend.

After one session of work Elaida changes her mind and summons Egwene to serve in her rooms because she wants to exhibit Egwene as a trophy to Sitters. Katerine disagrees with Elaida’s decision. She is a better tactician or judge of character.

Egwene plays Cinderella in the kitchens and Elaida’s quarters and there’s no doubt who the ugly stepmother is... She questions Elaida on her tactics for Rand and proves with quotes from the prophecies to Elaida’s guests, but not, unfortunately, Elaida herself, that Elaida’s plan would be a failure. However all Aes Sedai have wanted to follow this plan (or a variation of it) including Siuan and Moiraine. Elaida says in reply:

"Bah," Elaida said, "you ask meaningless questions. The prophecies would have to have been fulfilled. There was no other way."

- The Gathering Storm, In The White Tower

Elaida sees no other tactics as viable and believes that somehow the prophecies would have been fulfilled anyway. This sounds like what Taim said to Rand (and note that Taim has a similar attitude to massaging history as Elaida does):

All I had to do was fulfill just one of the Prophecies."
"Like managing to be born on the slopes of Dragonmount?" Rand said coldly. "That was the first Prophecy to be met."…
"Victors write history. Had I taken the Stone of Tear, history would have shown I was born on Dragonmount, of a woman never touched by a man, and the heavens opened up in radiance to herald my coming.”

Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival

That is why Rand never came to the Tower and why Siuan and Elaida were deposed and the Tower broken. To fulfil the prophecies.

Elaida’s idea was to show Egwene as a servant in front of the Sitters. So little regard do the Servants of All have for service, that, for some at least, to be a servant to the Servants is to be demeaned. In fact Elaida dismisses Egwene’s quote of an Amyrlin saying the Amyrlin serves all as nonsense. Her tactic shows Elaida knew who Egwene was influencing.

Elaida was not under Alviarin’s or the Black Ajah’s influence here. No Blacks were even present. Her arrogance leads Elaida to promote the divisive attitude and decrees the Blacks began.

Egwene has to speak up to Elaida to prove her courage and determination. She then provokes Elaida by saying she is too cowardly to answer her question of what is Elaida doing to heal the rift in the Tower. Elaida is going to condemn Egwene without trial or charges.

Elaida is quite a violent woman. Here she uses the One Power to force others to do what she wants. Strength in the One Power is the only power or authority Elaida recognises; she has taken the Aes Sedai ranking to its logical extreme. This is an excellent example of why this ranking is not a good idea. Elaida can beat Egwene senseless with the One Power (despite her Oath not to use the Power as a weapon and the law against using the Power to abuse an initiate of the Tower) because she believes she is Tower Law ie as Amyrlin she can do what she wants. She warns the Sitters to take her abuse of Egwene as an example of what she will do to them if they don’t show true deference and obedience to her. Not good tactics; it is now very much in the Sitters’ interests to unite against Elaida. Even Tower staff think Elaida’s behaviour is unacceptable.

Egwene says she follows the spirit of the Three Oaths, whereas Aes Sedai are forced by the Oaths to follow the letter of them. It is what the Wise Ones like about Egwene and find objectionable about the Aes Sedai.


The White Sitter (and Ajah Head)’s room is on the third level of the White Tower. The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time says the lower half of the White Tower is for communal rooms, the upper half for Ajah accommodation:

Slightly wider at the base than at the top, the Tower was designed to house the Ajahs in the top half; each within its own pie-shaped section, while leaving the wider bottom to general purposes.

Also in The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Balladare is listed as the first Brown Amyrlin of the New Era, not the first Brown of all Amyrlins as Egwene stated.

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