Reading The Wheel of Time: Elayne Encounters Men Who Are Not Who They Seem in Winter’s Heart (Part 8)

Once again we are back with the next installment of Reading the Wheel of Time! This week we are covering Chapters 9 and part of 10, up through the end of Elayne’s section. In these pages, Elayne survives an assassination attempt… or does she? Plus, she and Nynaeve meet with Egwene in Tel’aran’rhiod, and a few mystery guests end up crashing the party.

Elayne finds Halwin Norry, the First Clerk, waiting for her in her sitting room. He reports that alum deposits have been discovered on her estates. Elayne is elated, especially when Norry confirms that obtaining loans from the banks will be possible now, and that even with the expense of mining and transportation, Elayne will have plenty of funds for her Guards and for taking over and running the Academy Rand founded in Caemlyn.

Norry also reports that the White Tower has issued a proclamation acknowledging Rand’s identity as the Dragon Reborn, offering him protection and guidance, and forbidding anyone to approach him except through the White Tower. He tells Elayne of the attack on the Sun Palace and Rand’s subsequent disappearance. Many believe he has gone to Tar Valon, though some people think he is dead.

Elayne worries briefly over the possible identity of Rand’s attackers, then reminds herself that there is nothing she can do to protect him and turns her attention back to Norry. Elyane impresses Norry with her knowledge and handling of political situations, and she wonders if she can count him as being in her camp.

Her lunch arrives. Mistress Harfor has sent up options, but Elayne opts for the same thing she always has for lunch: clear broth, bread, and tea. Dyelin comes in to report that there is a large army in Braem Wood, composed of tens of thousands of Arafellin, Kandori, and Shienarans. Elayne supposes that it must be Rand. Feeling suddenly drowsy, she realizes that the minty taste in her tea is from forkroot.

She manages to warn Dyelin that she has been poisoned, but a few men armed with daggers come into the room. Dyelin shouts for help and throws a chair at the men, knocking one of them down. She attacks another with her knife but he stabs her instead, advancing on Elayne. Suddenly there’s a sword sticking out of his chest. As Elayne falls she sees that another of the attackers has been taken down, and there is a new man fighting with the remaining attacker.

The would-be killer was trying to pry the other’s fist from his throat with his free hand. The other. A man with a face like an axe. In the white-collared coat of a Guardsman.

Elayne wakes in a panic, but is instantly aware of the presence of both Aviendha and Birgitte, and she finds she is able to embrace saidar again. Nynaeve reports that the guardsman was uninjured and that she was able to Heal Dyelin. Birgitte and Aviendha inform Elayne that the men had four almost identical daggers between them but that this one was laced with poison.

“Well,” Elayne said quietly after a moment. Well, indeed. “Forkroot so I couldn’t channel, or stand up, for that matter, and two men to hold me on my feet while the third put a poisoned dagger in me. A complicated plan.”

Aviendha remarks that Wetlanders like complicated plans, while Birgitte suggests that it was simple in its way. Elayne reluctantly agrees to a small bodyguard, and suggests promoting Doilin Mellar, the Guardsman who rescued her, to Captain of the bodyguard.

Birgitte remarks that Mellar is a “coldhearted fellow” who chases women too much. An Andoran, he claims to have fought for Morgase in the Succession, and his answers to Birgitte’s questions seemed to check out.

A man with enough of a soldier’s skills that Birgitte had made him an officer. [Elayne] was trying to make sure that as many as possible of the officers, at least, were Andoran. A rescue just in time, one man against three, and a sword hurled across the room like a spear; very much like a gleeman’s tale.

Nynaeve suggests that she go alone to the scheduled meeting with Egwene in Tel’aran’rhiod, but Elayne insists that she will come along, and drinks the wine Nynaeve brought, which is laced with something to make her sleep. She wakes in the Tel’aran’rhiod reflection of the Great Hall. She briefly addresses the former Queens depicted in the colored windows on the ceiling, promising that she will be a good queen.

Nynaeve arrives, struggling with the concentration needed to maintain control over her appearance. She tells Elayne to let Nynaeve do all the talking, warning that Egwene will “be all over the both of [them] if she finds out” about what happened to Elayne. Egwene arrives just in time to overhear Nynaeve, and Elayne resignedly tells the entire story of the attempted murder.

Egwene admits that she’d have both women join her in Murandy immediately if she wasn’t worried about the Sitters’ reaction to the Kin. She compares her control over the Hall to having a ferret under her thumb, and explains that the increased number of novices has frustrated her Aes Sedai. She also mentions one of the new novices, a grandmother, named Sharina Melloy, and Nynaeve is so startled that her clothes change to a style Elayne doesn’t recognize.

Nynaeve refuses to explain her reaction, mentioning only that it has something to do with her Accepted Trials, and conversation moves to Egwene’s determination that they all must take the Three Oaths. Elayne and Nynaeve are shocked, reminding Egwene of the way the Oath Rod shortens a woman’s lifespan.

“The Light knows three hundred years is a long time,” Elayne put in, “but I can’t say I’m happy myself at the prospect of perhaps cutting my life in half, Egwene. And what of the Oath Rod and your promise to the Kin? Reanne wants to be Aes Sedai, but what happens when she swears? What about Aloisia? Will she fall over dead? You can’t ask them to swear, not knowing.”

Egwene reminds them that she isn’t asking; she is the Amyrlin, and any woman who wants to be Aes Sedai will swear. She adds that she intends for every Aes Sedai to eventually retire and be released from the Oaths, becoming part of the Kin instead. This will tie the Kin to the White Tower, though it will also require former sisters to take orders where before they would have led, since hierarchy in the Kin is based on age.

Nynaeve is asking about Egwene’s headaches when suddenly they see something in the doorway of the Hall.

A man was standing there watching, a man as tall as an Aielman, with dark red hair faintly streaked with white, but his high-collared blue coat would never be worn by an Aiel. He appeared muscular, and his hard face seemed somehow familiar. When he saw them looking, he turned and ran down the corridor out of sight.

Egwene remarks that the man could have been Rand’s uncle, which Elayne thinks might be true, if Rand had a mean uncle. They hear a door close on the opposite side of the Great Hall, and realize that there is someone else besides the man also eavesdropping on them.

Egwene points out that the man was wearing a Shienaran coat, which reminds Elayne of Dyelin’s news about an army in Braem Wood, as well as some of the rumors Halwin Norry reported. She tells the others, surmising that the army belongs to the borderland rulers.

I guess I’m becoming as paranoid as Rand is, these days, because all my alarm bells were ringing as the information around the attack was being relayed to Elayne. At the point where there was only one poison dagger among four, at the point where they all acknowledge that it was a complicated plan, I expected at least for Birgitte and Nynaeve to be skeptical about how perfectly fortuitously everything worked out. Even before I got to the end of Chapter 10, it had already struck me that if the Dark wanted to get some random (or not so random) guardsman promoted to Elayne’s inner circle of bodyguards, this plan is exactly how they would do it.

Even Birgitte suggests that Elayne is “lucky enough for a ta’veren” that the one man with the poisoned dagger wasn’t the one to reach her first, and that Mellar “happened to be walking by and heard a man cursing” in Elayne’s rooms. But Elayne isn’t a ta’veren, and I expected Birgitte to be a bit more suspicious of this sort of luck, or coincidence, or whatever you want to call it.

Of note: There were three men attacking Elayne, but four daggers. But only one was poisoned. Why not poison all the daggers, to make sure whoever reached her had the blade in question. And for that matter, why not just put the poison in her tea? They had enough access to put the forkroot in, so they could just as easily have put some kind of deadly poison in it. Fennel and peach pit both have good food tastes, after all. Also, I find it odd that nobody in this section brings up the question of who had access to the preparation and delivery of Elayne’s meal!

Of course, they don’t have the outside perspective that I do; when you consider how much they all have on their plates, my complaints seem a little less fair. Elayne and her friends have the Kin, the Windfinders, the hunt for the Black Ajah murderer, Elayne’s bid for the throne, the danger of kidnapping and murder because of that bid for the throne, Birgitte’s new job, Nynaeve’s new marriage, and, oh yes, the fact that they’re about to free some of the damane… well, I can see how the threat of regular old Darkfriends isn’t really at the front of their minds. If this plot seemed more like something a channeler would do, it might get them thinking of Adeleas’s murderer or even of Moghedien, but ordinary-seeming men with knives are just too, well, ordinary, for them to consider the possibility of Darkfriend involvement.

Although again, everyone seems to know about forkroot at this point, so why Elayne and Vandene and Nynaeve are still assuming most people don’t is beyond me. Nynaeve is derisive of Elayne’s cleverness in how she intends to handle sharing the news of the attempt on her life, which is mostly because Nynaeve is worried and therefore getting acerbic. But she is right to be thinking about the fact that the more clever you think you are being, the more likely you are to overlook something. As we the readers know, the fact that Mellar’s rescue makes a good story is precisely what is being used to manipulate Elayne.

The discovery of the alum on Elayne’s estates reminded me of how Rand’s twisting of chance sometimes results in such finds—I have a vague memory of a town having trouble with their well but also finding a chest of gold buried somewhere. It certainly seems plausible that this discovery may have been made possible by Rand’s ta’veren nature. And that has me wondering more about how, exactly, the ta’veren power works.

I don’t think the abilities of a ta’veren, even one as powerful as Rand, could change the pattern enough to put a deposit of minerals or chemical compounds where there wasn’t one before. Manipulating people, whose lives are the threads of the Pattern, is very different from manipulating the solid world around you, I should think. Though I suppose I don’t know that for a fact. The Pattern does make up all things, lives and objects and everything in between—we know that if the Dark One had unrestricted access to the Pattern he could remake all of Creation, which presumes also changing the land itself to suit his whims.

Perhaps it works the way Tel’aran’rhiod works. Objects in the World of Dreams aren’t very stable unless their counterparts in the waking world remain stationary for long periods of time. Thus, landscapes and buildings are more or less fixed, but smaller objects and items, even things like chairs or carts, tend to change position or flicker in and out. Maybe Rand’s ta’veren powers can work easily on something like the weather, or the path of the water that feeds a village well, or on the microbiome of a field, because these things change easily and frequently for many other reasons. After all, channelers can also influence the Pattern in similar ways—windfinding, manipulating tides, or the behavior of insects, even Healing, in a way.

Egwene can find minerals in the ground and manipulate them, but she can’t cause some to be where none existed before. In the same way, Rand’s ta’veren power didn’t create the chest of old coins that was found in that village, wherever it was. But it did manipulate the finding of the thing, and probably that’s what happened with Elayne’s estates as well—unless it was just ordinary luck, anyway. I doubt anyone was going around the grounds looking for some useful mining spots, at any rate.

Anyway, I’ve always really liked Dyelin as character and I’m glad she’s not dead, both for my own sake and for Elayne’s. Her throwing a chair at the attackers was a perfect moment. And it feels right that Elayne should have someone like Dyelin in her corner, advising and supporting her. Almost like a stand-in for her mother. At least one good thing has come from the fake murder attempt—Elayne will be able to relax a little and actually trust that Dyelin is on her side and telling the truth about supporting her.

I was really intrigued by the passage around Elayne’s investment in taking over Rand’s Academy.

Norry was trying to husband Andor’s gold, but she was looking to Andor’s future. Tarmon Gai’don was coming, yet she had to believe there would be a future afterward, whether or not Rand broke the world again. Otherwise, there was no point in going on with anything, and she could not see just sitting down to wait. Even if she knew for a fact that the Last Battle would end everything, she did not think she could sit on her hands. Rand started schools in case he did end breaking the world, in the hope of saving something, but this school would be Andor’s, not Rand al’Thor’s. The Academy of the Rose, dedicated to the memory of Morgase Trakand.

Elayne assumes that the Academies Rand has started are only to preserve what he can when he breaks the world again, but I think that’s a mistake. Like her, he wants to influence the future, wants to plan for something more than war and death and destruction. Just as Elayne looks to those images of the Queens and hopes to make them proud, Rand hopes that his life might have a legacy, something he could leave behind. He is also trying to believe in a future after the Last Battle, even though he doesn’t have much hope that he himself will see it.

It’s fascinating to see in this section how much both Nynaeve and Egwene have changed since we met them, and since Elayne met them. She observes how much more like an Aes Sedai Nynaeve seems now, and wonders if Lan is giving her lessons, an idea I find endlessly charming. I’m still annoyed that we haven’t been in Nynaeve’s pov for a while, and I really really want to know how her relationship with Lan is going. Not the sordid details like Elayne is wondering about, but the emotional ones. How is that relationship evolving? What do they say to each other, and how are they helping each other grow? Does Lan resist her care, since part of him still wants or intends to die? How will their relationship change when his Warder bond is passed to her?

Speaking of their relationship, I certainly did not remember Sharina’s name from reading it, all those books ago, but I went back and reread the section of Nynaeve’s Accepted Test when the name is mentioned. When she goes through the arches for the third time she finds herself in a Malkier undamaged by the blight, wife to Lan, King of Malkier. When Nynaeve expresses distress at having to face this future and give it up, Lan worries about her and suggests taking her to Sharina Sedai.

It’s a really interesting detail. No last name is mentioned for Sharina so it could be someone else with the same name, as Nynaeve suggests, but I doubt it. That’s not really how the Arches seem to work—their reality seems to be built out of many reflections, as though you took several portal stone realities and smashed them into one. Both Nynaeve and Egwene’s experiences through the arches showed futures that they had imagined for themselves, or ones they had dreamed of, mixed with things they feared. But they also contained glimpses of the future that seem to have come to pass, like Egwene discovering herself as an Amyrlin who hasn’t sworn the Three Oaths. This name probably came to Nyaneve in the same way—the future in Malkier wasn’t a real one, but there were aspects of it that connected to Nynaeve’s actual future. She is married to Lan, after all.

The way Nynaeve was suddenly dressed in Tel’aran’rhiod the way she was dressed in the arch dream, or vision, or whatever it was, was an interesting touch. The narrative states that Nynaeve doesn’t have the concentration to keep her appearance—and any other modifications she makes to the Dream—stable, but I actually don’t think concentration is quite the right word. I think when it comes to manipulating the dream in external ways, such as making a chair to sit on, Nynaeve can’t quite commit to the idea that the thing is real. In a way, she needs more concentration than someone like Egwene, or even Elayne. As a dreamwalker, I don’t think Egwene is spending every moment holding the chair she is sitting on in her mind to make sure it stays there. I think she forms the idea, it becomes real for her, and then it’s just background noise. Just like the idea of suddenly being somewhere else is real for her.

Elayne isn’t as naturally gifted as Egwene, but she can understand the concept of seeing herself somewhere else when she sees Egwene do it. But for Nynaeve, her specific brand of practicality makes it difficult to grapple with the ephemeral. Her block around channeling had to do with her fear of the one power, but I think her attitude towards life, her desire for things to be straightforward, sensible, and easy to explain made channeling a little less accessible to her at first, when she was still thinking of it as strange and otherworldly. Now she approaches it as a practical science, but you can’t really apply that approach to Tel’aran’rhiod, even when you learn the rules.

An unguarded appearance in the World of Dreams shows what and how the dreamer is thinking of themselves. And Nynaeve has a hard time with sense of self. I think it’s very relevant that her Aes Sedai ring and her ki’sain stayed permanently even when everything else changed. It’s also significant that her wardrobe reverted exactly to the one she was wearing in the dream-vision, or whatever it was. I suppose it hasn’t exactly been very long since Nynaeve had that experience, but you wouldn’t expect the outfit to register so specifically when there was so much else going on.

I also noted the way Nynaeve started to look like an older Aes Sedai when she was trying to act authoritatively towards Egwene. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but there was a point in one of the last few books when Nynaeve was lamenting not having gray hair yet, because she associates age and graying with authority and wisdom, and wants people to regard her with those associations. She may be Aes Sedai now, but her raising is barely considered official by most Aes Sedai, and she still looks very young, especially since she slowed early. And I must say, I appreciate the creation of a female character who wants to look older, rather than focusing on youth as being the more valuable commodity for women.

Egwene’s plan for the Aes Sedai is a fascinating one. I think in the long term it would be good for the Aes Sedai to move away from using the Oath Rod, but it wouldn’t be easy to just abandon the use of the Three Oaths all of a sudden, especially since there has been so much change to the White Tower already, what with the division and looming civil war, and Egwene’s desire to open the possibility of becoming Aes Sedai, regardless of age or having been formerly put out of the Tower. The use of the Oaths is partly responsible for the way the Aes Sedai have had to become so skilled at working around what they say, which has contributed to their reputation as being devious and untrustworthy. But it is also true that the promise of the Oaths gains them a certain level of trust from certain kinds of people, especially rulers and those in power. And Siuan’s explanation to Egwene that the Three Oaths make the Aes Sedai what they are makes sense.

Yes, Siuan, and all the Aes Sedai, are a bit too entrenched in the mystique the Aes Sedai have built around themselves, especially where history and tradition are concerned. However, Siuan made a point that the power of the Aes Sedai should be checked, that it’s important for them to be reminded that they are not gods, and that they are servants of the people. Her argument that the Three Oaths serve this function is not without merit, I think. Egwene’s compromise that the Aes Sedai will swear the oaths while they serve but that they will eventually be required to retire and be freed of the Oaths seems like a pretty good plan. It also serves as another check on Aes Sedai power: The Kin will be required to obey Aes Sedai, but the Aes Sedai also know that one day they will join the ranks of the Kin and women they once commanded will then outrank them. They will have to keep that in mind during their time as sisters.

And then there’s the mysterious visitor Egwene spotted spying on their conversation. My first thought was that it was Rand himself, that perhaps he had accidentally or purposefully altered his features for some reason. We know he is capable of entering Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh, but I would think the Dragon Reborn can probably Dreamwalk too, if he wants to. Perhaps he came to the space for his own reasons and accidentally encountered them, then lingered instead of retreating because he wanted to see Elayne. Because he missed all three women. Perhaps he appears older and meaner—Elayne thinks the man looks mean—because that is how he sees himself.

On the other hand, we haven’t seen Rand dreamwalk yet, as far as I can remember, and there are plenty of other possibilities for the identity of the strange man. Him looking so much like Rand must be a clue, in this case. Egwene and Elayne consider that he could be Rand’s uncle, and Tigraine did have a brother who went missing in the Blight. So he was presumed dead… but maybe he’s not dead? That would certainly be interesting.

Okay, so I just went and consulted my notes, and Tigraine’s brother was named Luc. Seeing that, I remembered that there was Lord Luc giving Perrin trouble in the Two Rivers, way back in The Shadow Rising. So I looked up those chapters, and Lord Luc is described as “a tall, broad-shouldered man in his middle years, with a hard, angular face and dark reddish hair white-winged at the temples,” which matches the description of the eavesdropper. Since Luc and Slayer appeared in Perrin’s life at the same time, and Luc seemed to recognize Perrin, I had hypothesized that they were the same person, and since Luc has now been seen wandering in Tel’aran’rhiod, that idea seems to have been borne out.

I suppose a lot of things can happen to someone in the Blight. Perhaps Luc was found and corrupted by the Dark in some way, or perhaps he was already a Darkfriend, or thinking of becoming one. I feel bad for Rand, though. He hasn’t had any living biological family so far, and now he’s got an evil uncle. Now that sounds like a gleeman’s tale.

As for the other eavesdroppers, we’ll be touching on that more next week when we finish chapter 10. We’ll also be covering chapter 11, which is a Rand chapter, so we may learn something there as well. Only time, and the turning of the Wheel, will tell.

In the meantime, I’m left thinking about the relationship between Birgitte and Aviendha. They are both linked to Elayne now, albeit in different ways, and that’s clearly formed a bond between them. I think it will be really interesting to see how that develops and changes as time goes on, especially as Aviendha gets used to the idea of Birgitte as a hero of legend. Perhaps it will help Birgitte cope with her new life and the fading of her old ones; the more connections she has to people the more stable she will probably feel, and she and Aviendha seem well suited for each other in terms of personality and sense of duty.

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