Friday, January 23, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #56: Chapter 49 - Court of the Sun

By Linda

Aviendha POV

Aviendha's visions in the previous chapter had references to the "Vale of Tears"; the ones in this chapter don't; they're more about how and why the Aiel were "punished" for their sins in the Fourth Age. "We have to go to war because it's all we are good at and the other side are nasty" is not really a justification. To reverse a saying, the Aiel are definitely more "sinning" than "sinned against".

In Ladalin's POV the Seanchan have the upper hand, and the Aiel are greatly reduced. There are now only five clans, led by three clan chiefs and two Wise Ones. Rhuidean, so long under siege, has been captured. However the Aiel haven't developed an alternative method for choosing leaders.

The Aiel are still Aiel here, unlike in the previous chapter, but their customs have changed. They no longer take gai'shain because they don't fight the other clans, after making peace with each other in front of Rand, and being focussed only on war with the Seanchan. Each person has little choice of whether to be a warrior or not. Gai'shain now means "without honour", which is what dat'sang used to mean, and show the low status of those who don't fight (except for blacksmiths who provide fighting tools). Their social structure is narrowing to an economically unsustainable degree, I suspect. Hence the repeated "requests for aid" from the Wetlander rulers and the envy of others' beautiful possessions.

The Aiel are living on the edge. They have no time or resources for anything but the essentials. They are fighting for survival but don't acknowledge this until towards the end of Ladalin's POV when the leaders are forced to accept that they have lost the war.

Mora thinks the clans should retreat to the Waste and seek penance for not following the Dragon's Peace.

"The Dragon left us!" Takai said.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

But he left everybody - all the nations, not just the Aiel. Not being under the umbrella of the peace treaty, the Aiel broke the Dragon's wishes.

Ladalin advises retreating to the Waste to build up resources, rather than as a penance. However resources are more limited in the Waste, and the Aiel can be boxed in there.

War has decimated the Aiel. Collaring their channelling Wise Ones is worse than killing them because it increases the strength of the Seanchan enemy at the expense of the Aiel. Ladalin wishes she could channel, yet if she could she would likely already be collared and using the Power against her people.

Once the other nations joined the war - deceived by the Aiel - the Seanchan were justified in attacking them. Male channellers can't be leashed, and also weren't included in the treaty; therefore the Seanchan kill them. So the Asha'man have to continue fighting the Seanchan.

According to Ladalin, the Seanchan gained cannon, presumably by conquering Andor, or by buying the technology or knowledge of its manufacture, after Oncala's POV. They have all the nations under their control, now. Except the Aiel.

Ladalin thinks that fighting in secret would be dishonourable, although

Of course, what did honor matter now?

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

The Aiel no longer consider honour much--or responsibility, either. But unfortunately they stopped thinking about responsibility far sooner.

"This is his fault," Takai said, still looking sullen. "The Car'a'carn could have led us to glory, but he abandoned us."
"His fault?" Ladalin said, understanding perhaps for the first time why that statement was wrong. "No. Aiel take responsibility for themselves. This is our fault, and not that of my distant greatfather. We have forgotten who we are. We are without honor."

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Taking responsibility is honour and that's something they haven't done for decades. They even blame their lack of honour, too, on the Dragon.

"Our honor was taken from us," Takai said, sighing as he stood. "People of the Dragon indeed. What is the good of being his people? We were crafted to be a spear, the legends say, forged in the Three-fold Land. He used us, then cast us away. What is a discarded spear to do, but go to war?"

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Yet we see in the next POV that they were responsible for tossing honour away. The Aiel are the ones who see themselves only as spears. These people need to transform themselves: widen their function and sense of purpose, not whine that Rand didn't lead them to glory, or left them without a role. Rand's peace wasn't intended to make the Aiel happy; it was for the good of the world. The Aiel felt they were a special people and therefore entitled accordingly.

For a different reason, the Seanchan also remained outsiders.

Her hatred of the invaders ran deep. Perhaps that hatred had destroyed the Aiel.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Indeed, hatred of the Seanchan did destroy the Aiel.

Honour doesn't equal war. Aiel are obsessed with ji, and claim that they have been robbed of it, but don't consider toh, obligation, the other side of the equation. Aviendha thinks war with the Seanchan is pointless. The Aiel went to war because it was apparently all they knew. War and hate. They never bothered to learn anything from the other nations. Aviendha - the bridge between the Aiel and Rand/Wetlanders, as the Wise Ones put it - needs to teach them this. But first she has to be less parochial.

Oncala is announced by a banner. Aviendha's Dragon-lineage children are given honour that no Aiel has been granted before, and it has done little good. Oncala is very arrogant, and tends to insult people.

She knew she was not good with people. When she spoke, insults were too common.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

The Aiel were a meritocracy, not an aristocracy. A guard of two thousand seems an excessive amount of honour even for the Dragon's granddaughter. Oncala and Hehyal displayed this honour while abandoning honour with their deception. Oncala sneers at the Seanchan for having no honour, then deliberately lies by omission to the Andoran monarch to bring the Andorans into the war. This is a betrayal of trust - by the embassy, and of a cousin at that.

Aviendha's granddaughter intends to marry the guy who killed the most Seanchan in his society. Hehyal has not actually gone to Rhuidean to be tested because the Seanchan are besieging it, preventing the Aiel from promoting leaders. The Aiel never develop an alternative way of proving leadership qualities. Potential leaders won't be tested in future--this future. (Instead Aviendha changes the future here by viewing this and resolving to do something about it.)

Oncala thinks she should fight in her youth, because that's the time to do so. At this time the Aiel are not fighting out of necessity, whereas later they must keep fighting to maintain their stalemate with the Seanchan and later still just fight to survive.

Oncala envies the Andoran queen's property, and thinks it is only still there because Aiel are defending it. Yet the Seanchan are not at war with the Andorans at this stage, only the Aiel, so why do the Andorans need defending? Further questions arise when Oncala thinks the Aiel will destroy the Seanchan and then intends for the Wetlanders to "pay" for their lack of tribute to the Aiel. Apparently the Aiel are getting payment for protection, or is it protection money, or even charity? The Wetlanders are not at war with the Seanchan, so do they actually need protection from them? Are they actually paying the Aiel to stay away?

By Aiel custom, someone important should have come out to meet Oncala and Hehyal to show them respect; they are being treated as supplicants. This is justified because they have asked for aid on previous visits. The aid may be monetary since Oncala thinks of making the nations "wish they had been more generous" (Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun). If the nations gave military aid, this would be a violation of the peace treaty with the Seanchan.

The battle lines have not changed since the Last Battle, so victory is by no means assured. Yet if the Aiel are better fighters now than they were at the Last Battle, as Oncala claims, then they are only just holding their own. Oncala is kidding herself. Hatred, ambition and envy have corrupted her. She refuses to acknowledge that the Andoran nobility are her equals. In her, Aiel parochialism has become overweening arrogance. There is nothing good to be said about this woman.

Apparently the Andoran palace gates are kept closed, but were left open for Oncala and Hehyal. Oncala resents to the point of hatred that the the Aiel can't beat the Seanchan without help from the Andorans (despite her earlier posturing). She corrupts the Andorans by leading them to violate a treaty. Of course, they could have refused to do so, but they trusted the Aiel, and not the Seanchan. The Andoran Queen picked the wrong side.

The Queen's Guard checks the proffered papers for physical danger, but ironically the danger is from both what is written in the text and what is omitted. The Andorans are distrustful; the Aiel's hostile feelings for them are obviously evident. Oncala hypocritically complains that they are treated like assassins. Yet their lies will result in continent-wide subjugation of states and people and the enslavement or deaths of hundreds of thousands. They assassinated world peace.

Hehyal repeats the misleading passage in the Seanchan prophecies that Rand's bowing to the Empress was an act of obeisance when in fact it was a courtesy designed to shame her (see Essanik Prophecy article); this will occur in A Memory of Light, Older, More Weathered. The Empress acknowledged the Dragon as her equal but Hehyal (and Talana) believe the Seanchan think the Empress was above him. They may well do so now - the passage of time changing remembered history is an important theme in the Wheel of Time. The Empress is an absolute monarch and acts like she can't be constrained by anything. In A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens, Tuon didn't consider her oath to Rand binding until Mat pressed her. On the other hand, she also believes in law and order.

Once the two deceivers scent victory, Hehyal has second thoughts about whether they should have done it. Oncala thinks their honour is intact because they lied by omission; the sort of sophistry everyone despised the Aes Sedai for. Aes Sedai are an example of the "sinners who cannot lie" trope, part of the contradictory aspects of carnival, which was an expression of chaos. (The Dark One is against order and tries to disrupt and weaken the Pattern by unleashing chaos. More practically, if Aes Sedai are untrustworthy, then the lies of the Black Ajah are less obvious.) Deception by omission or false implication is still a betrayal of trust. Oncala thinks it's OK because she is blinded by her ambition to rule a Dragon empire. She justifies this as making a pre-emptive strike against an enemy who would undoubtedly attack in future.

When the Aiel say they are "holding off" Seanchan for the Andorans and other nations, I wonder if this is how the Seanchan see it. Have they prepared contingency plans because they know the Aiel have repeatedly tried to get the Andorans to break the peace pact, and believe the Andorans are likely to be persuaded to do so sooner or later?

A griffin is a lion-eagle cross, so the Pact of the Griffin refers to the Andoran/Two Rivers alliance. The Court of the Sun would include Cairhien. Cairhien and Andor may be held by different rulers now, if they are in different alliances (each probably descendants of Elayne.)

It is forty years since the next POV and some 57 years after the Last Battle, but Talana is Elayne's granddaughter and is forty or so. Elayne should still be alive, but then so should Aviendha. What happened to them? Were they collared? Or are they dead?

At this time the Seanchan already have cannon:

The descriptions of Andor's military forces, suggestions on how to use gateways and dragons to attack Caemlyn, the very plot to assassinate Queen Talana-these had been drawn up only in case Andor entered the war.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

Ladalin's early childhood was soon after Seanchan attacked Aiel's Arad Doman camp and fought at Almoth Plain. Yet Ladalin says the Seanchan gained cannon twenty years earlier. She is an old woman and the Almoth Plain strikes (early stage of war) happened when she was a young child. The inconsistency may be an error, or may show the confusion, and resulting loss or corruption of knowledge, of these times.

All of Aviendha's four children have channelled since childhood. This is the something odd that Min saw about them.

Min wondered whether to tell her [Aviendha] what she had seen while they were all together. Aviendha would have Rand’s babies, too. Four of them at once! Something was odd about that, though. The babies would be healthy, but still something odd.

Winter’s Heart, A Lily in Winter

Padra says she holds the One Power constantly - but another way of looking at it is that she cannot release it, and, forgetting what it is like to be without it, has become arrogant. She takes her power for granted and looks down on those without it. In a way, she has been consumed by it, by her belief in her own strength and invincibility. Yet she will be gone in less than 110 years (40 years of war and the 70-odd years of Ladalin's life). Padra is now less than 17. Neither she nor her sister were present or mentioned in Ladalin's POV, another two disappeared channellers. Her siblings' disparate descriptions hints of genetic links to Moridin's body, since Rand and Aviendha had similar colouring to each other.

Rand's survival appears to be unknown still, yet he and Aviendha must have been together for a while soon enough after the Last Battle that everyone thinks he fathered them before he apparently died. His children don't know him. He may be dead; certainly lost. How/why is Aviendha gone? Her children wouldn't be raised so high so young if she were still around. Did she "follow after" Rand? Abandoning duty would be out of character for her.

Padra believes in a meritocracy and in her own superiority due to inherited abilities. She doesn't believe in aristocracy (although she might believe in royalty due to superior genetic lines). This is not an earlier Aiel belief.

The Aiel show Padra deference, which is not traditional. It is interesting that the Aiel, who are so resistant to social change, make such bad changes and have worse ones forced upon them. In the camp, Padra "dismissed her spear-sisters," yet she's 16-17 years old at most. Traditionally, Maidens are still junior at this age. All four siblings give advice to the clan chiefs, yet in earlier times clan chiefs were resistant to advice from the (much more experienced) Wise Ones. The Aiel revere Rand's children because they are all they have left of him. They followed Rand - and continue to in the form of his children. This meeting of clan chiefs and Rand's/Aviendha's children has no Wise Ones, even non-channelling ones. Marinna is in training (apprentice), being 16-17. The Taardad clan chief is young if he is only 10 years older than Padra. Even if he is a skilled an intelligent man. The Last Battle left its scars on the AIel and killed so many experienced and potential leaders.

The Aiel want to fight - be warriors. It's the main way to earn honour. The clans are angry that the Seanchan won't give the Wise One damane back, so they resolve to take them by force. Many years passed since Tuon was Empress - therefore she was gone within a few years of the Last Battle. As with Aviendha, her fate is unknown; she may be dead, but she may have been collared. A damane is dead to human society. Yet the Seanchan speak of Rand bowing to the Empress. It is hard to reconcile this with an Empress being enslaved and un-personed for channelling. Perhaps Tuon chose to suicide for the good of the Empire once she channelled. Tuon is a Nemesis figure and it was always likely that she would be her own Nemesis and channel.

As for the Seanchan, they too are morally grey. The Aiel were wronged by the Seanchan's harsh customs/laws. The possibility that Aviendha was one of those collared a few years after the Last Battle really brings this home to us, because we know and like Aviendha. It was curious that Aviendha doesn't wonder at the way she and all her channelling friends vanished so young in her visions of the future; I guess she was too stunned and overwhelmed at the magnitude of the disaster shown here, or assumed they all died in the Last Battle.

The Aiel don't want to raid each other after being at peace all these years (17 of them). They see this as pointless, but other fighting as not pointless. Like Oncala will do, they justify their plan to attack the Seanchan by saying that the peace won't hold between the nations. (Yet it did for a further 40 years until it was broken by a misplaced trust in the Aiel). However it is under considerable pressure due to no enforcement or mediation provisions. This is what the Aiel should be. Rand was not Aiel, and did not feel close to them. He did not plan for them, out of respect.

Ronam is right that returning to the Waste will destroy the Aiel.

"Some say we should have returned to the Three-fold Land," she said. "No," Ronam said. "No, that would have destroyed us. Our fathers knew nothing of steamhorses or dragon tubes. Were the Aiel to return to the Waste, we would have become irrelevant. The world would pass us by, and we would vanish as a people."

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

He does not know if the Aiel should go to war, but believes it is what Aiel do. And it is an opportunity to earn honour.

Again there is much talk about honour, but none about obligation in this more traditional society. Yet both were equally important in Aiel society. Aviendha's children were the first to abandon obligation, due to being shown great honour without earning it.

When it is all over, Aviendha sits in middle of the glass columns as they power down. The vision feels destined to her, unchangeable, but she has to try to change it. Her line is responsible for the decay of the Aiel, the ultimate dishonour. She is desperate to know how it happened but the columns are switched off, unresponsive. It's all up to her.

She had come to Rhuidean seeking knowledge. Well, she had received it. In more abundance than she had wanted.
She opened her eyes and gritted her teeth. Aiel took responsibility. Aiel fought. Aiel stood for honor.

Towers of Midnight, Court of the Sun

It is one thing to gain knowledge, and another to use it honourably or to fight as a result of knowledge. Aviendha is determined to do her duty and save her people. Knowledge is useless if it is not used for decisions and actions.

Here are some pointers for Aviendha to consider. Not that it's her fault, but her children know nothing of their father, and not enough of their mother, either. Her children should not be revered or allowed to become arrogant. The peace treaty needs people to act as mediators and also enforce it.

This chapter fulfils the "he will take you back and (italics mine) he will destroy you" Aiel prophecy--in a bad way. Not that Rand directly destroyed them, except by not making them a part of the treaty. As it turned out, the prophecy was fulfilled in a positive manner as at the end of A Memory of Light. He did tie the Aiel together - to each other, and to the Wetlander nations. The Aiel have to keep following Rand's wishes, or else...

The chapter also follows the Wheel of Time theme of the effect a few people can have on history - if other people take note of them.


Murun said...

An excellent analysis, thank you very much! (And thanks for the whole series, of which the commentary on Nynaeve's testing used to be my favorite.) However, some detail I'd like to point out: Aviendha recognizes her own face from Oncala's memory, so she must have been around in her granddaughter's young years. But that's just more reason to ask what she did or didn't do ...

Linda said...

Thanks, Murun, for your comment. Good point; I was unsure about the memory. Was it an actual memory or did she see a likeness of Aviendha, such as a painting made of Aviendha (and Elayne) that Oncala saw in Caemlyn. We know that portraits were painted of the Andoran queens.

It's also odd that Aviendha is distant in the memories of both Oncala and Padra.