Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #36: Chapter 33 - A Conversation with the Dragon

By Linda


Rand is dressed in a dark red and black dragon robe; Moridin’s colours. He is annoyed that Nynaeve channelled in front of him. This is the sort of thing that the Dark One objects to. Rand is well on the way to being a control freak, but Nynaeve doesn’t back down. If anyone but Nynaeve had sent a message to awaken Rand they would have been flogged. Once, Rand was not so autocratic or arrogant. He no longer even shows affection when he looks at Min.

Rand sees Nyaneve as Aes Sedai:

"You Aes Sedai," he finally said, "share much with rats, I have come to realize. You are always in places where you are not wanted."

The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon

He is angry that Nynaeve is doing things off own bat; yet she did them more competently than anyone else. People are too afraid to do anything but follow Rand’s instructions to the letter, or even to make suggestions, therefore things are not done that might have been.

Rand forces his will onto Kerb in an evil way, which makes darkness appear around Rand and food and drink in his presence to rot.

Knowledge from Lews Therin is used absently by Rand. Nynaeve rightly thinks this knowledge from Lews Therin is unnatural and also traumatising. Rand tells Nynaeve to do something very difficult – remove Compulsion – in an offhanded way and Nynaeve feels challenged to do it. She also realises that no one else is capable of removing Compulsion.

Rand is very gentle with Kerb after he divulges the information and looks exhausted after the apprentice dies. Nynaeve is upset that all her efforts did not Heal Kerb, but hastened his end (although truly he was at the end when Graendal got hold of him.) She is disgusted and sullied by the experience and would like to have been warned of the consequences of removing Compulsion. This spurs her to challenge Rand over whether he feels guilt for his actions. He does, but there has been so much that it seems futile. Nynaeve warns Rand that being Winter’s Heart will destroy him He knows, but expects to be used up completely in the battle against the Dark One, so it is not necessary to think of how he will be beyond that. Rand is consciously using himself up.

"Sometimes, you can't turn back. You have to keep pressing on. And sometimes, you know this climb is your last…You all claim that I have grown too hard, that I will inevitably shatter and break if I continue on. But you assume that there needs to be something left of me to continue on. That I need to climb back down the mountain once I've reached the top…That's the key, Nynaeve. I see it now. I will not live through this, and so I don't need to worry about what might happen to me after the Last Battle. I don't need to hold back, don't need to salvage anything of this beaten up soul of mine. I know that I must die. Those who wish for me to be softer, willing to bend, are those who cannot accept what will happen to me."

The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon

Rand never intended to come down the mountain; but after Dragonmount he did just that.

Nynaeve wants them to find a way for Rand to win and live on. Rand can’t think of that, because it’s too painful.

"I can't indulge myself. I'll climb this bloody mountain and face the sun. You all will deal with what comes next. That is how it must be."

The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon

Rand climbed Dragonmount and considered destroying the world before the sun rose. As the Champion of the Light of the World, the Creator, he is the sun: Lord of the Morning, the unconquered sun, Sol Invictus.

He praises Nyaneve - the first time he has done that to anyone in days. Impulsively, Nynaeve says she did it because she wants Rand to trust her. She immediately regrets saying that, but he responds positively, so it was right to say it. Rand’s ta’veren effect aided him and her:

"I do trust you, Nynaeve. As much as I trust anyone; more than I trust most. You think you know what is best for me, even against my wishes, but that is something I can accept. The difference between you and Cadsuane is that you actually care about me. She only cares about my place in her plans. She wants me to be part of the Last Battle. You want me to live. For that, you have my thanks.

The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon

Rand is much more self-aware than Nynaeve thought. He is wrong though, but she can’t express why.

Why couldn't she make herself yell at him that he was wrong? There was always hope. By surrendering that most important emotion, he might make himself strong—but risked losing all reason he might have to care about the outcome of his battles.
For some reason, she couldn't find words for the argument.

The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon

Without hope Rand has despaired and become bleak and harsh. Moridin despaired too in the Age of Legends and developed a nihilistic philosophy. This is now stronger than ever as we saw in Chapter 15 of The Gathering Storm. The link to him has damaged Rand.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #35: Chapter 32 - Rivers of Shadow

By Linda


Last chapter, Nynaeve showed us how far she has come; this chapter she shows us how much she is aware of her own development, not only in channelling, doing consciously what she previously hid from herself, but in how she embraces her power - and her responsibility. She also shows us that she is ambitious and not above making the most of her status within and without the Tower

And with the authority of the White Tower behind her, she was one of the most powerful individuals in the world, matched only by other sisters and the occasional monarch.

The Gathering Storm, Rivers of Shadow

Nynaeve approves of Aes Sedai being bowed to, just like any other Aes Sedai. “Servants” outranking monarchs and having no qualms about bullying them: the world order was overturned at the end of the Second Age, an example of Wrongness.

Nynaeve is starting her career as an Aes Sedai at the top of the tree. Unlike Egwene, most of Nynaeve’s striving was done earlier, when she became Wisdom. Added to her eventual high ranking by Aes Sedai system is the fact that, as she says, she is married to a monarch. Interestingly, this was mentioned in Towers of Midnight as a factor to be considered in whether she should pass her test for Aes Sedai.

Nynaeve thinks Cadsuane partly blames her for her exile. Is this because Nynaeve thinks she could have persuaded Rand not to impose it? Cadsuane has had no thought of blaming Nynaeve in any way.

Merise is either the first to see the ghosts, or the most eager to do so. The apparition is a funeral procession of the dead, doubly a “dance of death”. The dance of death, or danse macabre, originated in medieval Europe perhaps in response to plagues such as the Black Death, and was popular in the 15th century. Songs and pictures were created of Death depicted as a skeleton and often playing a musical instrument while it leads people of all classes and ages in a processional dance. Certainly Bandar Eban, riddle with disease and famine as it is, is not far off being a plague city. A feature of the dance of death was that the great and the small were part of it. There were no exemptions due to importance or wealth.

It appeared when Rand arrived in the city and this backs up what Cadsuane’s agent told her in the previous chapter of only bad events happening in Bandar Eban after Rand arrives there. The procession circles the city where Rand is and where so many people are diseased and starving. There is no Forsaken in the city; Graendal is quite some distance away.

Both Merise and Corele have a low opinion of Rand and want to leave Bandar Eban. Unlike them, Nynaeve thinks it is worth protecting the kingdom against a Seanchan invasion. To Nynaeve’s surprise, Cadsuane gives Nynaeve grudging approval of her judgement, but Nynaeve discounts it because she takes a negative view of Cadsuane. Cadsuane walks off in the middle of Merise’s denigration of Rand so she does not agree with it.

According to Nynaeve the room darkened when Rand threatened Cadsuane like a cloud over the sun. Rand is Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun (see Rand essay), and he is shadowed over due to being too linked to the Shadow:

Rand certainly was effective at subduing countries, but his kingdoms needed more than just handouts of grain. They needed stability, and they needed something—someone—they could believe in. Rand was getting increasingly bad at offering either one.

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If Rand is unstable, the Land is because they are one.

Deep in thought over her worries about Rand, disease, famine and infertility, Nynaeve still notices and searches out someone ill with a bad cough.

She knows bullying Rand – her usual style - won’t work but she doesn’t know what will. Moiraine managed to get Rand to listen to her without bullying or trickery but Nynaeve refuses to “fawn over” Rand as Moiraine did:

In order to get him to take her as his advisor, she'd agreed to obey his commands and offer advice only when it was wanted. What good was advice when it was given only when it was wanted? People needed most to hear the advice they didn't want!

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At least this way Rand listened to Moiraine. People do have a right not to take advice if they don’t want to, even good or vital advice, and they have the right not to have it forced on them. Nynaeve is convinced she is the one Rand actually needs to listen to. Not that she doesn’t give excellent advice, but most of Rand’s would-be advisors think that of themselves. Unlike the majority of them, she has the best intentions:

She didn't want tell him what to do; she just wanted him to stop acting like a fool. And, beyond that, she just wanted him to be safe. She'd also like him to be a leader that people respected, not one that people feared. He seemed incapable of seeing that the path he was on was that of a tyrant.

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She is a very protective woman. Nynaeve thinks punishment and hard measures are for the Women’s Circle to deliver, not the Mayor. She prefers a bicameral leadership where one leader is stern, the other warm and kind. Her bias is to think that each of these roles should be limited to a particular gender.

The king’s “messenger” did not follow Domani fashion and was very beautiful - one of Graendal’s pets. Although Milisair sent him to be tortured, he was alive until Rand searched for him.

He would speak on anything other than the things we wanted!" Jorgin leaned forward. "I don't know how he did it, Lady. Burn me, but I don't! It's like some . . . force had ahold of his tongue. It was like he couldn't talk. Even if he'd wanted to!"

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The messenger couldn’t divulge any information to the torturer because he was under Graendal’s Compulsion. The apprentice Kerb was not part of the chandler’s shop, but was found later among refugees. He was a plant, since he knew Graendal’s location due to having been there.

Nynaeve is annoyed that Rand has stooped to Milisair’s level and permitted inhumane confinement (and potentially torture). This is an indication of how corrupted he has become since previously he refused to abuse Semirhage. Nynaeve decides to demand better conditions for Milisair and discovers she (and the king’s messenger) had been poisoned with tarchrot leaf. Nynaeve doesn’t say how it kills, or what symptoms it produces apart from drowsiness, weakness and pallor. If tarchrot caused diarrhoea (and the cell stank of excrement) and/or vomiting in its victims, as many ingested poisons do, this may have been attributed to an illness such as jail fever caused by the poor conditions. The fact that Nynaeve used tarchrot for euthanasing a dog suggests a real world equivalent might be Fool’s Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) also known as Dog Poison. Fool’s parsley is a fairly strong poison and inflames the gastro-intestinal tract. (Wheel of Time herbs, including tarchrot, are described in the Herbs and Other Medicines article).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #34: Chapter 31 - A Promise to Lews Therin

By Linda


Cadsuane POV

Cadsuane is careful to keep her face hidden even when Rand is not around, in case she encounters him unexpectedly. Being from the inland – Far Madding and Tar Valon – she does not like humid air and longs for some refreshing breeze on her face. How appropriate that she goes to The Wind’s Favour inn. Her agent there “tests the wind” for her. Quillin Tasil, with his ultra-clean and tidy inn, is a cameo of Bob Q. Kluttz, editor of Encyclopedia WOT.

Cadsuane tries to get the innkeeper to react defensively but he never does. She met his Aes Sedai daughter at the Tower, noticed she knew a great deal about current events, checked out her parents and asked the father to be her agent. Other high-ranked Aes Sedai would be dismissive of young or low-ranked sisters and so miss this.

Fake orders from the King have been issued although the King has been missing for months. Cadsuane realises Rand could be right that he has been kidnapped by a Forsaken. The orders appear to be coming from different sources, since some signatures are a lot more convincing than others. Presumably Graendal’s forgeries are the more convincing ones.

Only bad unlikely events are occurring. The Pattern is out of balance because Rand is. Food is rotting because Rand has been corrupted by the Shadow, by his link to Moridin and use of the True Power. Rand is one with the Land and the Land with him. Literally.

Cadsuane wants to know where the merchant councillors are, the state of Domani cities, what the rebel factions are doing, and what Tarabon attacks are occurring.

She thinks that the male a’dam was taken from her to make Rand distrust her. Rand already distrusted her, but certainly this “justified” his distrust. She thinks the attacker could have raided the Seanchan instead. I disagree. The a’dam was to hand here, whereas the Seanchan are better policed for rogue channellers than Cadsuane thinks. To go to the Seanchan the thief (a channeller; we know that Shaidar Haran could not take the a’dam himself, see Chapter 23 - A Warp In The Air) would have had to disguise their channelling ability. Cadsuane is making excuses. We don’t know who had the male a’dam made, and whether Tuon knew about it. Cadsuane would be better served trying to work out how the a’dam was stolen.

One thing Cadsuane does understand is that Rand is even more traumatised now. She has to improve his psychological state:

The poor, foolish boy. He should never have had to suffer collaring at the hands of one of the Forsaken; that would only remind him of the times he had been beaten and caged by Aes Sedai. It would make her job more difficult. If not impossible.
That was the question she had to face now. Was he beyond saving? Was it too late to change him? And if it was, what—if anything—could she do? The Dragon Reborn had to meet the Dark One at Shayol Ghul.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

He should never have been caged and beaten by Aes Sedai. She is grudging in her praise of Rand:

Al'Thor hadn't reacted like most peasants suddenly granted power; he hadn't grown selfish or petty. He hadn't hoarded wealth, nor had he struck with childish vengeance against any who had slighted him in his youth. Indeed, there had actually been a wisdom to many of his decisions — the ones that didn't involve gallivanting into danger.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

and still looks down on him. She wants to show her face so people step aside for her. Used to high status she might be, but now she’s just one of the crowd. Rand didn’t demote her as far as Elaida has been demoting Aes Sedai.

Cadsuane senses Rand nearby via a prickling sensation. One of her ter’angreal should have alerted her: the eight-pointed star which vibrates when a man who can channel is nearby, even if he is not actively channelling. The more men who could channel, the harder the star quivers (Crossroads of Twilight, Ornaments).

Min won’t let Cadsuane manipulate her or get her to manipulate Rand. I wonder if Cadsuane realises that this is what makes Rand trust Min.

The reason why Cadsuane has never heard of darkness surrounding someone is that the Seals have only recently been weakened enough for the True Power to be accessed by favoured henchmen and to release these favoured henchmen from their prison in the Bore. Cadsuane has no idea the darkness comes from the Dark One’s power or that there is a True Power. Perhaps she should study symbolism more closely. She does pick up on some symbolism. The banners near the docks point to Shayol Ghul where Rand must go and give Cadsuane an idea.

Of the Aes Sedai, only Cadsuane is treated like a Wise One by the Aiel. Cadsuane has no idea the Three Oaths have a physical effect on Aes Sedai – including halving their lifespan. She manages to admit to the Wise Ones that she has failed in handling Rand. Not easy, because she is totally unused to failure, let alone admitting it to others. They agree; what they don’t say is that they also have failed, and they have not tried as hard.

Rand POV

Rand misinterprets Cadsuane’s actions and attire. He thinks she follows him around. Perhaps he regrets his decision to exile her

It had probably been a poor move to exile her in the first place, but there was no going back now.

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though it’s hard to say if this is a positive or a negative regret. Would he rather have executed her, or would he rather keep her nearby and not provide a motive and opportunity for her scheming?

The Seanchan refuse the neutral ground of Katar for a parley, therefore Rand chooses Falme. Damer and Naeff warn Rand that they could be collared or executed. Rand trusts Damer but makes him submissive.

But still Rand made him wilt and bow his head. Dissension could not be tolerated. Dissension and lies had brought him to the collar.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

Darkfriends brought Rand to the collar. The others were actually following Rand’s strictures.

Damer actually changes tune and tells Rand his choices is a fine one. Rand’s attitude sounds like that of Moridin.

Lews Therin is appalled and traumatised that they channelled the True Power, whereas Rand is not particularly at all. Perhaps Rand is more affected by the link to Moridin than Lews Therin is. Rand seems to miss Lews Therin being around as though he is less complete without him. He is.

Nynaeve is one of the few who won’t back down when Rand challenges her. Yet she is intimidated by Rand when he presses her about Lan. He is her weak spot. Rand realises Lan is riding to Malkier and Tarwin’s Gap. He gives the courtesy to Lan and Nynaeve of making conventional reactions, but doesn’t really feel them. Rand compares himself to Lan, but thinks he is worse off:

Is that what I do? Rand thought. Ride to my death in the name of honor? But no, it's different. Lan has a choice. There were no prophecies saying that Lan would die, whatever the man's assumptions about his own fate.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

It is more honourable to choose to do your duty rather than be forced to do it. Rand does have a choice as he discovers at the end of The Gathering Storm, and the Pattern had to force him to realise it and make it.

Nynaeve is prepared to lower herself and ask for help for Lan. Rand says if Lan has gone on ahead to the Blight alone, too bad. Coldly he says Lan could be a useful feint, showing how far he has gone into darkness. Nynaeve controls her temper better than Rand, who is impressed, and yet almost beyond shame or regret for his attitude:

A very quiet place, deep inside of him, was struck with worry over his friend. He had to ignore that worry, silence it. But that voice whispered to him.
He named you friend. Do not abandon him. . . .

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

Nynaeve entirely shows him up here. So does Lan. In Far Madding Lan was prepared to sacrifice himself for Rand but Rand refused to allow it.

In contrast, Rand is trying to do the right thing by the Domani and not be a tyrant. He also still treats Rhuarc with respect. Rand gave the merchant councillor Milisair the same sentence she gave the King’s messenger. It seems to be easier for him to be rough on Lan because Lan is not there.

Lews Therin thinks he cannot break Graendal’s Compulsion. He also hasn’t the skill to Heal it.

Rand is trying to achieve through force of will – or threats:

But he would settle for peace with the Seanchan and food for these people. He could not solve everyone's problems. He could just force them into abeyance long enough for him to die at Shayol Ghul.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

and has feelings of futility:

And thereby leave the world to break again once he was gone. He gritted his teeth. He had already wasted too much time worrying about things he could not fix.
Is that why I resist naming a Domani king? he thought. Once I die, that man would lose his authority, and Arad Doman would be back where it began. If I don't leave a king who has the support of the merchants, then I'm essentially offering the kingdom up to the Seanchan the moment I die.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

The three ta’veren are pulling on each other – or the pull is stronger now and they are conscious of it.

He could feel a pull from Perrin and Mat, both distant. It was their ta'veren natures, trying to draw them together. They both needed to be with him for the Last Battle.

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

I think they probably need to be together at Shayol Ghul at the Last Moment.

Nynaeve reproaches Rand for his lack of regard for them. He says:

"They're threads in the Pattern, Nynaeve," he said, rising. "I barely know them anymore, and I suspect they would say the same thing of me."
"Don't you care about them?"
"Care?" Rand walked down the steps of the raised platform that held his throne. "What I care about is the Last Battle. What I care about is making peace with the Light-cursed Seanchan so that I can stop bothering with their squabble and get to the real battle. Beside those cares, a pair of boys from my little village are meaningless."

The Gathering Storm, A Promise to Lews Therin

He belittles their roles to justify himself.

Nynaeve is right, this attitude will break Rand. Rand just sees her as complaining about his choices, and patronising him, when actually she cares about him more than he does and sees correctly that this is the wrong way. Rand threatens to kill her and feels bad enough after that he wants to die. He and Lews Therin both desire death now.

He/they can’t cope with the stress and responsibility now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #33: Chapter 30 - Old Advice

By Linda


Gawyn remembers Taringail warning Galad never to trust pretty women or Aes Sedai. (Most men already don’t trust beautiful women.) Galad has fallen for a beautiful woman, but whether he trusts her or not is another matter.

Lelaine is very dangerous: not beautiful enough to make men wary, but attractive. And crafty. In vain, Gawyn is trying to persuade Lelaine that Egwene should be rescued and that Egwene is sacrificing herself rather than endanger the rebels. Lelaine says she doesn’t think Egwene feels in danger. Gawyn suggests to Lelaine that Egwene is wrong about her safety. Lelaine says

"But must I not uphold the Amyrlin, even if she is misguided?"
Gawyn gave no response. Of course she could disobey the will of the Amyrlin. He knew enough of Aes Sedai politics to understand it was done all the time. But saying that would accomplish nothing.

The Gathering Storm, Old Advice

Lelaine doesn’t make a firm commitment to convince Egwene because it suits Lelaine for Egwene to remain where she is until Lelaine can supplant her. Gawyn realises this:

He was convinced that neither Lelaine nor Romanda had any real interest in rescuing Egwene—they were too pleased with their increased power in her absence. No, they met with Gawyn because of the new queen on the Lion Throne.

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although he underestimates Lelaine’s ambition. His main tactic is to play Romanda and Lelaine against each other. This is one Egwene used when she was powerless.

Lelaine’s tactic is to make Gawyn pay for her time with information. She asks him what Elayne’s attitude is to the taxes on Traemane’s orchards. Gawyn can’t see that Lelaine is telling him she knows the circumstances of Elayne’s accession to power and how Traemane is against her. She could also be “reminding” Gawyn of his duty to Elayne and Andor (in the hope he’ll leave), but this is futile since Gawyn is solely focussed on his beloved. Gawyn feels like Lelaine is buying information on Andor from him in exchange for considering aiding his rescue of Egwene:

Lelaine wouldn't be looking for monetary gain; that wasn't the Aes Sedai way. But she would want leverage, a means of securing a favorable connection with the Andoran noble houses.

The Gathering Storm, Old Advice

This line of questioning is also a subtle threat that she could make life difficult for Elayne by throwing Blue Ajah support behind Traemane, something that is also lost on Gawyn. He does not appear to know the extent of Traemane’s antipathy to Trakand, but his answer was so bland that Lelaine may not have been able to determine if he is ignorant or subtle.(One can hope.) Lelaine takes notice even of details such as the productivity of the northern cherry orchards. The Blues’ intelligence gathering is formidable, as is how they use it. She spent nearly an hour interrogating Gawyn on Andoran taxation rates. Goodness knows what he divulged without knowing.

Gawyn sees that the rebels respect Egwene but he is still convinced Egwene is in over her head, even after he likens her situation to that of his mother, who was High Seat at age 16. He won’t accept Egwene’s judgment until he talks with her personally and doesn’t truly respect her.

Not surprisingly, Gawyn is not very good at stones; he is not a tactician or a politician.

Then we move scene, and Bryne tries to get info out of Gawyn - on the Younglings. Gawyn says he abandoned them, but won’t betray them. He buys time for them by saying that without him the Younglings won’t be as effective.

Gawyn is convinced that Bryne is mistaken about Rand and that Rand also fooled Elayne. He is determined to kill Rand himself. Gawyn is the one mistaken and will be for some time to come. Sigh.

Gawyn doesn’t want Bryne to attack the White Tower. Bryne says he will if ordered because he gave his word. Then he talks to Gawyn in a roundabout way about Gawyn’s own oath and path:

"I know who you were supposed to be," Bryne said. "First Prince of the Sword, trained by Warders but bonded to no woman."
"And that's not what I am?" Gawyn asked testily.
"Peace, son," Bryne said. "This wasn't meant to be an insult. Just an observation. I know you were never as single-minded as your brother. I suppose I should have seen this in you."

The Gathering Storm, Old Advice

It takes Gawyn a while to understand what Bryne asking him about – choosing a side, or someone to guide where to use his soldiering skill.

Gawyn says he will use it for Elayne, but Bryne points out he isn’t, although he certainly should be. Gawyn says he must save Egwene first:

"And if Egwene won't go?" Bryne asked. "I know that look in your eyes, lad. I also know some small bit about Egwene al'Vere. She won't leave this battlefield until a victor has been chosen."
"I'll take her away," Gawyn said. "Back to Andor."
"And will you force her to go?" Bryne asked. "As you forced your way into my camp? Will you become a bully and a footpad, remarkable only because of your ability to kill or punish those who disagree with you?"
Gawyn didn't answer.

The Gathering Storm, Old Advice

It really is a good point, although it fell on unreceptive ears. It’s a good thing Egwene stands up to Gawyn. Gawyn won’t use his skill for Elayne, but she will guide him admirably in Towers of Midnight. She sorts him out even better than Bryne does.

Fighting skill must be used in service in Bryne’s opinion:

"Whom to serve?" Bryne said, thoughtful. "Our own skill frightens us, sometimes. What is the ability to kill if one has no outlet for it? A wasted talent? The pathway to becoming a murderer? The power to protect and preserve is daunting. So you look for someone to give the skill to, someone who will use it wisely.

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Potentially dangerous abilities need to be channelled (pun intended) where they can benefit all. Once upon a time the Aes Sedai and Da’shain Aiel both served.

Gawyn doesn’t understand what the Aiel War was about because he takes the conventionally negative view of the Aiel. Unlike Galad, he has never thought things through for himself and doesn’t it make him annoying! I know Elayne judges Galad as tiresome and adores her brother, but Galad is far less irritating a character.

Gawyn is unimpressed when Bryne says he doesn’t know the answer of whom to serve or why. Or that the answer isn’t simple:

“At least, each person's answer is their own. When I was young, I fought for honor. Eventually, I realized that there was little honor to be found in killing, and I found that I had changed. Then I fought because I served your mother. I trusted her. When she failed me, I began to wonder again. What of all those years of service? What of the men I'd killed in her name? What did any of that mean?"

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The Aiel say there isn’t much honour in killing – it’s easy and even a child can do it.

Bryne needed to transfer his loyalties after he was exiled from his high position in Andor. He chose the rebels because he loved Siuan, but says he stayed because their cause was right.

”That which has been broken must be made whole, and I've seen what a terrible leader can do to a kingdom. Elaida can't be allowed to pull this world down with her."

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This surprised me because he had given his word to the rebels, and doesn’t break it; plus when and how would he have left them?

It’s Siuan that Bryne calls a bloody woman, not Egwene. Gawyn thinks only of Egwene and he really is tiresome.

Bryne advises Gawyn to choose a side and know why. Gawyn, alas, is still a mass of confusion:

Gawyn felt as if he didn't know what the different sides were. Let alone which one to pick for himself.

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Unlike Galad, he is not used to thinking and normally just follows the party line. All lives are changing now that the world is in such flux, yet good and evil are still as defined as they were, despite the Shadow’s efforts to get people to confuse them. It seems to have worked with Gawyn.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #32: Chapter 29 - Into Bandar Eban

By Linda


Moiraine is the woman whose loss Rand feels most guilty about. He thinks he allowed her to sacrifice herself for him, yet he didn’t know she intended to do it until afterwards. However his weakness in not being able to attack Lanfear enabled this to happen. Rand/Lews Therin has always had a weakness for her. (She had a strong angreal, however, so he would not have been able to do as much against her as he thought anyway.)

Rand recognises that if Ishamael lives again, so too could Lanfear and therefore Moiraine’s sacrifice was all for nothing. This is not altogether true, since Moiraine found something vital in the Finn’s world for the Light’s victory. He thinks he will never again be too weak to do what must be done. Certainly he wasn’t for Semirhage, but when he meets Cyndane (while in a better psychological state) this resolution seems to be forgotten. According to Rand, Semirhage gave him the strength to bury guilt and hurt.

Rand is not sure he still has a conscience. He thinks if he can “find” Graendal that might justify his invasion of Arad Doman. He is wrong in thinking that finding Alsalam would lead him to Graendal. Rand plans to kill Graendal with balefire, but fails.

Lews Therin chants the list of fallen women with Rand. He is just as affected by their deaths as Rand and is probably a split off personality of Rand’s. Rand has repeated the list so many times that he will never forget any name. Lews Therin adds Min’s name, yet a) Min is alive and b) Semirhage forced Rand to hurt her. Rand blames himself anyway because he should have sent Min away, although he thinks there is nowhere safe for her to go.

Rand is icing over his feelings:

His rage, his anger, his passion—it was all still there, buried within. But he had surrounded it with ice, cold and immobilizing. It was the ice of the place Semirhage had taught him to go, the place that was like the void, but far more dangerous.

The Gathering Storm, into Bandar Eban

Thinking of the True Power (but not daring to name it or its origins) brings him close to the Dark One, the Shadow. Too close:

These little annoyances were not worth his passion, his fury. If one bothered him too much, all he needed do was snuff it out, like a candle.
A dangerous thought. Had that been his? Had it been Lews Therin's? Or ... had the thought come from . . .elsewhere?

The Gathering Storm, into Bandar Eban

This is a reference to his link to Moridin and indicates probable seepage of negative thoughts and feelings along the link. Another example in this chapter is Rand not wanting to be reborn over again, just like Moridin wants to be free of the Pattern.

Cadsuane’s error could have led to:

"The end of all things, Merise," he whispered. "The Dark One with control of the Dragon Reborn. The two of us, fighting on the same side."

The Gathering Storm, into Bandar Eban

Rand is very close to being on that side anyway.

Merise points out that Rand has made mistakes that could have ended the same way. (In fact in The Gathering Storm Rand is currently making just such a mistake. He has more in common with Moridin than he recognises – a tendency to suppress his feelings, for instance). Rand says he is paying for his mistakes every moment and assumes that others aren’t.

As Rand forces his will darkly on Merise, two balconies collapse. This event is caused by Rand’s extreme ta’veren influence:

He had rarely seen an occurrence quite so ... violent, however. Could he be sure it wasn't due to some interaction with the new force? That unseen yet tempting well of power Rand had tapped, used and enjoyed?

The Gathering Storm, into Bandar Eban

Currently only bad things happen because Rand is so dark, so unbalanced and used the True Power. While he was ambivalent and human, the good events balance the bad. Presumably, if Rand is “good” or positive enough events would reflect that, perhaps to a striking degree...

Rand carries the access key because the maximum he can draw though it balances in pleasure what he can channel unaided of the True Power through his link to Moridin.

The access key had allowed him to tap an unimaginable river, a tempest as vast as the ocean. It had been the greatest thing he had ever experienced.
Until the moment when he had used the unnamed power.
That other force called to him, sang to him, tempted him. So much power, so much divine wonder. But it terrified him. He didn't dare touch it, not again.
And so he carried the key. He was not certain which of the two sources of energy was more dangerous, but as long as both called to him, he was able to resist both. Like two people, both yelling for his attention, they drowned one another out. For the moment.

The Gathering Storm, into Bandar Eban

Once Rand rightly feared the temptation of the male Choedan Kal. He doesn’t dare to now.

Rand describes the True Power as “the unnamed power” but the “unnameable power” would be more accurate for him. Just as people don’t dare name the Dark One, so he doesn’t dare name the Dark One’s power. He knows what it is: Lews Therin has spoken of “their so-called True Power”.

Rand is dismissive of what Dobraine has achieved in Bandar Eban. Even the Aiel thought Dobraine did well, despite Dobraine being a Treekiller, and that Rand would be pleased (The Gathering Storm, The Plan for Arad Doman). Later in the chapter Rand is grudging in his praise of Dobraine, then immediately sends him to Tear because he is too paranoid to trust Dobraine. Lews Therin says the one they can’t trust at all is themselves. That’s very true – look at how Rand nearly destroyed the world.

Alivia watches all this aloof. She mostly stays apart through The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. Is this for a particular reason? Or a plot device?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #31: Chapter 28 - Night in Hinderstap

By Linda


Darkness comes unnaturally quickly to Hinderstap as the sun sets. Lack of sun and Light brings on the Hinderstap horrors:

"It's as if the darkness itself intoxicates them," Thom said while Mat helped Delarn into his saddle. "As if Light itself has forsaken them, leaving them only to the Shadow."

The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

When the sun returns, the Pattern tries to reset itself, as Thom observes:

Something's wrong in the world. There's a snag in the Pattern here. The town unravels at night, and then the world tries to reset it each morning to make things right again."

The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

The Creator is the Light of the World (see opening passage to The Eye of the World,) and Rand his Champion is Lord of the Morning, and a parallel of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun (see Rand essay). The Dark One is the Shepherd of the Night. As so often happens in The Wheel of Time philosophy and symbolism are literally made manifest.

For most of this chapter Mat is in his King of the Dead role, and not his trickster mode of the previous chapter, which is why he was not trapped in Hinderstap’s living death. He is only a trickster at the end when he makes jokes at the villagers’ expense and laughs at their situation:

"The more tragic things get, the more I feel like laughing."

The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

In the dark the villagers turn into frenzied and raving homicidal monsters: they have inhuman strength, and don’t talk, only scream and grunt. Mat tries to deal them only wounds, but has to use killing blows for his own safety.

Mat says the villagers:

screamed and hissed, like legions of the drowned trying to pull him down into a deep, unearthly sea.

The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

This simile is a link to the phantom village in Altara which Mat and his group witnessed draw a peddler into the underworld.

There’s so many references to the Land of the Dead in this scene.

The villagers do not recognise their neighbours as they attack them, yet the Mayor almost recognises Mat, who is King of the Dead. Mat wants his hat, a reference to Odin’s hat (see Mat essay), in any tales Thom makes of Hinderstap. Odin is the Norse god of the dead and his halls in Valhalla are full of the shades of fallen warriors.

Mat is more disturbed by the wrongness of the village than Talmanes and Harnan, because he worries that he caused all the deaths by staying in the village after sunset. He thinks it is the Dark One’s attempt to trap him and takes it all personally.

Badly wounded Delarn chants Jack o’ the Shadows, which is about death, and is Mat’s signature tune, Mat being a Jack as well as King of the Dead. And of course they are in the shadow right now, as living dead try to kill them at night. Mat thinks that having the One Power used on him is almost as bad as dying.

Only Mat and Thom (a parallel of Orpheus), the two members of the foraging party with Underworld associations, return to Hinderstap, a village of the living dead, and will go on to visit the infernal Finns’ world. Mat thinks the restored villagers are ghosts or spirits at first.

Each sunset the villagers go to sleep or drink to avoid knowing what they do in the dark. Because they can’t leave, and can’t die, being effectively dead already in an underworld village, they seek oblivion, something the river Lethe, one of the five rivers of Hades, the Ancient Greek underworld, granted.

Hinderstap could be likened to the Fields of Asphodel, the first region of Hades, where the shades of heroes wander alongside lesser spirits. The Fields of Asphodel are a kind of limbo for souls who are judged neither good nor evil. These souls have little sensation of humanity unless offerings of blood are made in the living world above. Evil or impious souls are sent to Tartarus and good or pious souls to Elysium, the Island of the Blessed.) The villagers of Hinderstap lose all sensation of humanity and shed copious amounts of blood every night. It vanishes when the sun rises. They are in a kind of limbo, unable to leave, unable to die.

Thom says:

"You can't avoid this entirely," Thom said softly. "You can't pretend nothing is different."
"We don't." Barlden took a drink of tea. "We have the rules. Rules that you ignored.”

The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

Tricksters like Mat disregard other people’s rules and social conventions because they get in the way of what tricksters want to get or do. In Mat’s case, obtain food for the Band; in the Aes Sedai’s case, have some creature comforts for a change.

The scene is also a reference to the crazy homicidal mountainfolk gag, but the villagers prove that they are not crazy or homicidal of their own choice:

"We hold to our word, here. Other things are out of our control, particularly for those who don't listen to the rules. But we aren't going to rob a man just because he's an outsider."

The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

Tricksters are outsiders and they are morally ambivalent. Mat insists on taking the wagon of food because "I won it fair." His justification is that the villagers can’t travel so they don’t need the wagon and horses either, but they could be used to fetch timber from the hills, etc. Yet Mat left money to redress the balance.

Hinderstap’s trap started just before the feast of Abram this year. The Feast of Abram is on Jumara 9, equivalent to January 27. Hinderstap is in Murandy and at that time Egwene and the rebel Aes Sedai were not that far away, meeting the delegation of Andoran and Murandian nobles. Halima was with them, so perhaps it was an affect of having a Forsaken in regular contact with the Dark One nearby. Another Forsaken who may have been in Murandy then is Demandred.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #30: Chapter 27 - The Tipsy Gelding

By Linda


Mat is beginning to feel right again – as in ‘back to his old self’ - and is wearing old clothes as a sign of this. He’s going back to his trickster mode hence the scruffiness and the gambling itch (see Tricksters essay). Tricksters are grubby, greedy and disregard the rules. Mat thinks his longing for dicing and barmaids is bucking the ‘rules’ of marriage.

He feels he has to go back and confront the Finns because they have got the better of him twice now. Three times is for keeps.

Just as Mat spent this last scene fretting over Tuon, so Thom is feeling really down about Moiraine and with far more reason. He doesn’t put on his gleeman’s cloak until he cheers up. Mat notices that Thom cares about Moiraine but doesn’t twig why because he can’t stand Aes Sedai himself – or more properly their channelling:

Mat had little love for Moiraine, but he wouldn't leave her to them, no matter that she was Aes Sedai.
Bloody ashes. He'd probably be tempted to ride in and save one of the Forsaken themselves if they were trapped there.
And . . . maybe one was. Lanfear had fallen through that same portal. Burn him, what would he do if he found her there? Would he really rescue her as well?
You're a fool, Matrim Cauthon. Not a hero. Just a fool.

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

He often calls himself a fool. The fool is an important motif in Mat’s character (see Fool and Joker essay and Mat essay). Tricksters are often fools or made to look foolish.

It’s Rand who has trouble resisting Lanfear. Mat is still happy to avoid Rand because he believes Rand will be a Kinslayer again. Mistakenly, Mat thinks that if he doesn’t go near Rand he will be safe from Rand’s channelling. Rand nearly destroyed the entire world at the end of The Gathering Storm.

Thom’s speech shows how and why the Pattern and Cycle of Ages work and why Rand’s and Moridin’s despair is wrong:

"We can't go back, Mat. The Wheel has turned, for better or worse. And it will keep on turning, as lights die and forests dim, storms call and skies break. Turn it will. The Wheel is not hope, and the Wheel does not care, the Wheel simply is. But so long as it turns, folk may hope, folk may care. For with light that fades, another will eventually grow, and each storm that rages must eventually die. As long as the Wheel turns. As long as it turns..."

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

The Wheel brings something from the past back into Mat’s mind: his lust for the Shadar Logoth dagger with its ruby “red like his own blood”:

And the old lust, the old desire, would seep into him again . . .

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

Red is the colour of lust as well as war, and tricksters are greedy and lustful. The linking of the dagger with Mat’s blood refers not only to blood-lust but also to Mat’s close relationship – blood-relationship, if you like - with the dagger. And also to Mat’s relationship with Fain/Mordeth, who is now using the dagger to sprinkle his blood to sinister effect.

Deceptively, Hinderstap seems in better order than most towns:

"That's a nice sight," Talmanes noted. "I was beginning to think every town in the world was either falling apart, packed with refugees or under the thumb of invaders. At least this one doesn't seem likely to vanish on us ..."

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

This is a reminder that Mat brings war and is king of the dead, and a foreshadowing that Hinderstap does have deep problems. The village is too perfect, too innocuous; a lure like the witch’s gingerbread house in the lonely forest.

It seems Mat doesn’t just rely on his luck, he can actively manipulate it.

"I can lose when I want to, if it's for the best."

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

In this case he is deliberately on a losing streak but made sure to win a few tosses too, to make it look less suspicious.

Greed nibbled every man, and strict "rules" could be bent if opportunity walked past and winked suggestively enough.

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

Tricksters ignore the rules – that’s how they operate – and they do so to get what they want, satisfy their desires, against the odds. Mat is greedy, as all tricksters are. They are also familiar with outstaying their welcome or their spiel falling flat.

This time Mat is greedy for supplies:

Mat felt a sudden spike of fear. After all of that losing ... if they kicked him out anyway. . .
Desperate, he pulled open the top of the chest again, revealing the gold coins inside.
"I'll give you the ale," the innkeeper said suddenly. "And Mardry, you've got a wagon and team. It's only a street down."
"Yes," said Mardry, a bluff-faced man with short dark hair. "I'll bet that."

The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

The Mayor senses a trick and suspects loaded dice but he still thinks he can win against Mat if he makes the throw personally, and Mat is desperate enough to agree.

Talmanes is uncomfortable because he senses something wrong with the place, after earlier remarking on its unusual normality. Mat is oblivious, being so focussed on his epic dice game. It’s only while waiting for food and drink to be gotten that he finally sees what Talmanes saw earlier.

The dice stop in Mat’s head when he says they are staying; so this was an important decision. Mat wonders if he made a wrong decision. We may have not seen the full effect of this, but one important result was that the Mayor told Mat about Trustair. Thom had obtained a drawing and knew there was a bounty on information about Mat, but didn’t learn the name of the village where the woman wanting the information was staying.

Brandon Sanderson said Mat’s trick of manipulating the villagers with their own greed into filling his empty wagon with food, after they had refused to sell him any, in this scene is a nod to the tricksome traveller in the Stone Soup folk tale, who manipulates villagers into contributing ingredients to his soup pot after they refused to share any food with him. Mat’s parallel General George Patton tricked his own superior officers with what he called the ‘rock soup’ method: forbidden to attack, he would send out reconnaissance missions which would meet (expected) resistance and need more and more reinforcements, turning into full-scale attacks. He used it in the Battle of Sicily and again near Metz where he was ordered to halt during Operation Market Garden.

However at the end of the chapter trickster Mat is tricked by the villagers and the Dark One’s warping of the Pattern. He said there was nothing to worry about and was immediately made a fool of.

Afterword: The name Hinderstap is an interesting one. Hinder could mean ‘hold back’ or ‘rear end’. Or both. Stap is an obsolete word meaning stop. “Stap me vitals!” was an eighteenth century exclamation of surprise meaning ‘stop up my bodily organs’ and goes with both meanings of hinder. Mat came close to being stopped at Hinderstap, and indeed three of his men are missing and may well be stuck there, held along with the unfortunate villagers in a terrible loop of the Pattern.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #29: Chapter 26 - A Crack in the Stone

By Linda
Aviendha POV This chapter compares Aes Sedai and Wise Ones on leadership, ranking, graduation, duty, ambition, and self-confidence. Aviendha grudgingly grants that Bashere’s troops are well-trained and efficient. Saldaeans campaign a lot and are modelled on semi-nomadic Central Asian horse people. Aiel are similar to Berber, American First Nations, and Zulu tribes people. Aiel take only soldiers (an error: should be warriors or spears) and Wise Ones (presumably for Healing and negotiating) when they go to war. Aviendha is disgusted at camp followers and also those who shirk work or don’t look after themselves efficiently. It is why she and other Aiel despise servants. Sand-staring sounds like depression or a similar mental illness and is regarded as useless. Aiel society is ruthless in its demands of a person’s best on all occasions, with no whining, because their environment is so harsh and life is precarious. All must contribute to the max. Aviendha herself is not working so she has no honour and is earning toh because she is not helping the Aiel pack. Purposeful vigorous work is honourable. She is now desperate to graduate as a Wise One. Aviendha is ambitious and sees the honour of being a Wise One and wants to help guide the Aiel in the Last Days. The Wise Ones are trying to shame her into fury so she stands up against them. In a way this “punishment” test has similarities to the final Aes Sedai testing of a candidate’s commitment to the Tower and desire to be Aes Sedai. It tests resolve, ambition and self-confidence, but at the end new Wise Ones are accepted as the equal of any other Wise One and expected to stand up for their own opinions, whereas Aes Sedai are ranked according to innate criteria and are expected to obey or defer to those higher-ranked than they. Curiously, Sorilea doesn’t treat any Wise One as her equal, until Amys stands up to her in Lord of Chaos. Cadsuane is more considerate of Aes Sedai below her than any other high-ranked Aes Sedai. Aviendha is so involved in her thoughts that she does not hear Min approach. Another factor is that she doesn’t want people to approach her. Min has not been Healed, even though Nynaeve was in the camp. She says she doesn’t trust any Aes Sedai and nor does Rand; they probably wonder who betrayed them and freed Semirhage. (A Wise One probably set this in motion, see here and here). Aviendha thinks Rand a skilled and lucky warrior who has earned much honour through defeating so many of the Forsaken. Where was she when Semirhage attacked? With the Wise Ones? She felt Rand’s agony when Semirhage collared him but thought it was a nightmare at first. Presumably Rand has had these for her to be fooled in this way. Aviendha is leaving Rand to deal with his problems and face his trials. She won’t join with him unless she is his equal. On the other hand Min supports him regardless and doesn’t worry about her rank, or how others see he,r or whether she has honour or not. Min doesn’t feel that close to Aviendha – not surprisingly since they are from such different backgrounds. She expected Aviendha to want to talk about their relationship with Rand (as Aviendha and Elayne did), or even fight about it. Aviendha finds Min insulting when she mentions Aviendha’s mundane activities, but refuses to consider that she is insulting Min when she patronises her on her relative defencelessness, even though she observed Min’s body language accurately. Aviendha is not averse to sharing Rand with a woman she knows well. Mins’ comments on Aviendha’s odd activity finally make Aviendha lose her temper and storm off to confront the Wise Ones. Yet Aviendha still has no idea of why she is being punished. She knows she can channel better than any Wise One, since Melaine intimated as much in The Gathering Storm, The Death of Adrin, and refuses more punishments from them. However Aviendha nearly backed down when the Wise Ones asked her if she thought she was their equal. They tried to intimidate her one last time and nearly succeeded but Aviendha continued on. She was surprised that their warm welcome showed this was the right thing to do.
"No woman is ready to join us until she has declared herself ready," Amys continued. "She must present herself as our equal." The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone
A Wise One has to believe in her own mind that she has graduated. Becoming a Wise One is not a matter of putting in the time and completing assignments. Sevanna announced she was a Wise One and so they had to accept her as one. They nearly did not. Wise Ones supposedly don’t have rank; but earn honour though through their actions and judgement. Sorilea is high-ranked though. Aviendha could have been a Wise One weeks ago. The Aiel stuck to their ways despite the chaotic end-times, while the Tower hasn’t; they promoted women too fast in the Trolloc Wars and again now. The Aiel are one of the most conservative and insular Wheel of Time societies. Rhuidean has been opened but Bair doesn’t think this is sufficient reason to abandon the old ways. She is described by Sanderson as a small woman, but by Jordan as the usual Aiel size, which is tall. She is thin though. The Wise Ones still insist on a time of contemplation before Rhuidean despite the need for haste. They tell Aviendha they planned for it because they think it is really needed. Amys wants to discuss the changes to Rand with Aviendha when she returns. Time is pressing, but Aviendha did not return before Rand changed again about 19 days later. The Wise Ones’ test also teaches an apprentice much about punishment.
"A punishment is not a true punishment unless you accept it, Aviendha," Bair said, still smiling. “Remember this time you spent and the shame you felt, for it is the shame any da'tsang will know, should you consign them to their fate. And they cannot escape it simply by demanding release." The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone
Which brings us to another woman who has been punished unjustly but accepted it: Shemerin. Romanda POV For all that Romanda thinks of Shemerin as still full Aes Sedai, she refers to her as a “runaway”. She responds to Shemerin’s subservient attitude. This underlines why the Wise Ones won’t graduate subservient candidates.
"A Wise One cannot allow others to step upon her," Amys said. "If she comes into the shade of our sisterhood thinking like an apprentice, then she will never see herself as one of us." "But it is important—vital, even—that each Wise One be willing to defend her own well. If she believes that she is right, she cannot let herself be shoved aside, even by other Wise Ones, no matter how aged or wise." Romanda had rarely seen a woman as determined to punish herself as this poor child. Not a child, Romanda thought. A full Aes Sedai, whatever she says. Burn you, Elaida, for turning one of us into this! Shemerin had been Yellow. Burn it, she was Yellow. The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone
Shemerin is punishing herself for the shame of demotion and for running away. She has no resentment or anger to Elaida, and fully accepts her authority. Romanda agrees Shemerin is too weak a character to be Aes Sedai, but thinks there are other ways of dealing with weak Aes Sedai. Shemerin is traumatised though and embarrassed at having to admit in front of Siuan that she backstabbed Siuan. Siuan wants a map of this little known way into and out of Tar Valon. She gives an order in front of Lelaine and Romanda against the Aes Sedai ranking system and backs down – a little. Romanda didn’t want Siuan as full Aes Sedai again because she is a schemer and Romanda doesn’t like schemers. No wonder, since she came off the worst when the Blues schemed for their second Blue Amyrlin in a row: Tamra. What a contrast between the rebels and the Tower: Elaida demoted Shemerin from Aes Sedai ranks by decree for no reason except to get the Tower used to the idea of judicial demotion without stilling (stilling no longer being permanent, and anyway it is prescribed for specific crimes) and to intimidate others into obeying her. The rebels promoted Aes Sedai by decree, and when stilled Aes Sedai have their channelling abilities restored, their rights and rank are fully restored too. The senior Aes Sedai didn’t believe Egwene about Elaida’s decrees before this. Magla and Lelaine are sceptical that Shemerin was demoted for lack of poise and not disloyalty. Romanda is more savvy:
"I suspect she used poor Shemerin as an example, acclimating the White Tower to the concept of demotion. That will let her use it on those who are actually her enemies." The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone
She really is wise and intelligent. Demotion is a dangerous precedent, if only because the Amyrlin shouldn’t be given that much power according to Romanda. Romanda knows Lelaine is ahead of her in the power game and prays for Egwene’s return. Egwene told them the night before of her imprisonment and forbade rescue. Lelaine is taking advantage of Sheriam being Blue. Sheriam (Keeper, a position normally above Sitters) and Siuan are Lelaine’s attendants. Magla (Sitter) is Romanda’s. This is such a contrast with the Wise Ones’ conferences. Sheriam is withdrawn and agitated; no doubt due to Mesaana’s impending deadline. Because Sheriam is there, the Blacks in theory learn of a secret way into/out of Tar Valon. Just after Romanda said the lump under the floor of her tent is not important, it splits the canvas and huge cockroaches pour through. Siuan physically swatted the first ones. The heroic Black Ajah leader Sheriam jumps on her chair. Siuan is the first to channel to kill them, even though she is the weakest there. Romanda hates to kill things with the Power, fellow Yellow Magla probably does also. The roaches were ones from Shara, so they are ‘out of place’, Wrong. Siuan dismisses the cockroaches believing, rightly, that there will be worse stuff. All that Romanda owns is burned. This really drives home to her that Egwene is right and the Last Battle is coming fast. Along with Shemerin’s demotion it makes her think about the threat of losing even more:
The Tower needed to be whole. Whatever it took. Would she be willing to bow before Elaida to make that happen? Would she put on an Accepted dress again if it would bring unity for the Last Battle? She couldn't decide. And that disturbed her nearly as much as those scuttling roaches had. The Gathering Storm, A Crack in the Stone
Romanda has said previously that the Tower is her life. She knows it is vital the Tower be whole, yet can’t decide if she would acknowledge Elaida as Amyrlin or accept demotion to Accepted if these were required for that unity (and they would be by Elaida). Yet Shemerin did. Romanda is really worried about that – what it means, what other Aes Sedai would do. Whether to put self first or not; that is the main problem of the war against the Shadow. Many people are not committed. Some are prepared to commit any deed, yes, but not to accept any sacrifice.