Hello dear friends, and welcome back at last to Reading the Wheel of Time! This week we are covering Chapters 7 and 8 of Winter’s Heart, in which Elayne chafes under the restrictions of returning to life as the Daughter-Heir, and (hopefully) soon-to-be-Queen of Andor, and Nynaeve tackles the question of what to do about the captured sul’dam and damane Rand has been sending to Caemlyn. Also Birgitte complains a lot.
Elayne rides through the streets of Caemlyn with a small entourage, including the Aes Sedai Sareitha and her Warder. Elayne thinks about the ancient saying that who holds Caemlyn holds Andor—she hasn’t yet won the heart of Caemlyn, even though her banners are flying on the outer walls.
Sareitha warns Elayne about the dangers of coming out into the streets so lightly protected—there are many Aes Sedai in the city, some of whom may be Elaida’s, and there is always the danger of being kidnapped by a rival claimant to the throne. Elayne studies how many people fill the streets, including many from countries outside of Andor, including mercenaries and swords for hire, and refugees scattered from their homes by the revelation of the Dragon Reborn. Many are so lost that they don’t even make it to the kitchens where the Palace provides free food, but others have begun to settle down in the city, and Caemlyn has seen an explosion of new businesses and crafts being practiced.
Elayne senses Birgitte suddenly. The Warder is on her way to Elayne, and full of anger. Elayne orders a return to the Palace and meets Birgitte on the way. Naean and Elenia, formerly imprisoned by Deylin, have been rescued while being escorted to Aringill, and their escorts were killed. This means that there is a spy in Caemlyn who knew that the two women were being moved. They return to the Palace, and Elayne dislikes the way she now considers all the guards, servants, and passersby with suspicion. She refuses to have bodyguards inside the Palace, however.
Elayne and Birgitte quarrel, after which Birgitte leaves to go work on reports and Elayne meets up with Mistress Harfor on her way to her apartments. The First Maid reports on her search for spies, and that despite the cold weather there has been a lot of spoilage in the winter food stores. Mistress Corly has also asked for a meeting with Elayne.
On her way to see the Kin, Elayne runs into Vandene, Kirstian and Zarya. The former Kinswomen are trying to behave as novices should after being found out as runaways, but Vandene informs Elayne that the two have been puzzling over the question of who murdered Ispan and Adeleas, and have decided it could only have been Merilille, Sareitha or Careane. Vandene reluctantly admits that it was good thinking, but as novices the two shouldn’t have been thinking about such matters at all, never mind discussing them or bringing their conclusions to Vandene.
Nynaeve arrives, and listens to the revelation with interest. She points out that they can hardly expected these women to behave like ordinary novices, and adds that the Kin have much experience in going undetected by Aes Sedai—they are perfectly poised to work as spies under Vandene’s direction. Vandene reluctantly accepts Nynaeve’s authority on the matter.
Nynaeve accompanies Elayne to see Reanne, along with Lan. Nynaeve and Alise have sent eighteen of the Kinswomen into Altara and Amadicia and Tarabon to search for any other members of the Kin who have not been captured by the Seanchan and help them escape to Caemlyn. Elayne wishes she had been informed ahead of time, and remarks that the women were are brave to take such a risk. Nynaeve admits that they weren’t chosen for their bravery, but because they were the most likely to run if they weren’t given something to do.
They find Reanne and Alise sitting with one of the captured sul’dam sent to Elayne by Rand. Alise feels like the sul’dam are poised right at the brink of being able to channel, similar to but not quite like the feeling of a woman born with the spark. Reanne adds that the sul’dam also deny being able to see the flows, claiming that the Aes Sedai are tricking them somehow. She is confident, however, that they will eventually run out of lies to tell themselves and be forced to acknowledge the truth.
The news Reanne has is actually about the damane. Three of the five sent to Caemlyn seem to be ready to be let out of their collars: Lemore, a young noblewoman who was captured in Tanchico; Kara, a Wise Woman from Toman Head; and Alivia, a Seanchan woman who has been a damane for four hundred years.
Reanne has some concerns about Kara and Lemore and the way they still behave towards the sul’dam—she worries that neither one would put up much resistance if a sul’dam asked for their help escaping. Alivia, on the other hand, seems to hate the sul’dam, and claims to have always wanted to be free, but given that she has been collared almost all of her long life, Reanne isn’t sure about trusting her, and asks if they dare release her from the a’dam.
Alise tells Lan off for talking out of turn and instructs Nynaeve to give him a good talking to. But as highest-ranking Aes Sedai, the decision falls to Nynaeve, who agrees that they must take precautions, but that the a’dam comes off. Reanne and Alise react to the decision with pride and pleasure, making Nynaeve blush.
Nynaeve’s mouth fell open, then curled into a tremulous smile. Sudden tears glistened in her eyes as she spun to face him, her face joyous. He smiled back at her, and there was nothing cold in his eyes.
Elyane notices that the sul’dam, imprisoned by binding weaves and a ward against hearing, is staring at those weaves and weeping silently. When she observes that the woman can’t deny being able to see them now, Reanne answers that they all weep when forced to look at weaves for very long, but they deny the truth once the weaves are gone.
Elayne wonders how much bad news can stack up before the pile collapses, and hopes that she will get some good news soon.
It’s difficult news, and news that means more work for Elayne, but Alivia wanting to be free is good news. The information about the sul’dam is more neutral than anything else, but it does seem that the Kin are making a little bit of progress towards the goal of making them recognize the truth about their channeling abilities. The plan to send them back to the Seanchan is brutal, but it does seem like it would be effective, so from Elayne’s point of view I do think that also should be good, if difficult, news.
It’s interesting to note, in the beginning of Chapter 7, that Rand’s “breaking of all bonds” hasn’t only had a negative effect on the world. Yes, some people seem to have become completely unmoored from life, like the young mother Elayne saw in the crowd, and are left as hollow, desperate refugees. But we also see how many have settled down again, bringing their culture and skills from whatever place they left to the new place in which they have found themselves. We saw this first in the Two Rivers, with all the refugees who were ending up there, and now we see that Caemlyn, too, is changing, with new trades and goods to export.
And I can’t help thinking that the Dragon Reborn is prophesied to Break the World again, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same way it was Broken last time. One of the results of the physical upheaval and changes made to the land by the male channelers who had gone mad was that the people of the current nations were flung all over the world, and after the dust settled, the survivors ended up making new cultures and nations wherever they found themselves. Which is what is happening now, because of Rand’s influence, because of the coming of the Seanchan, and because of the turmoil in other nations, most of which is at least indirectly related to the fact that the Dragon Reborn has been declared and the Last Battle is near. Just as I hypothesized that the Aiel prophecy that Rand will destroy them might be more figurative than literal—perhaps he will just change them so much that they end up unrecognizable as the culture they have been since the Breaking—the prophecy that the Dragon will break the World might be more about the influence of his coming than a reference to another literal upheaval of the land itself.
Obviously all this change is coming with a heavy price in death and suffering, and much of it is due to war and other disasters. But we can see that there is good to be had as well, and perhaps the nations will become less stagnant as a result. Rand’s school is another example of good change that he is bringing, and suggests that, should the world survive the Last Battle, they might find themselves at the beginning of an industrial age.
I’m not sure I understand the reasoning that led everyone to believe that the only possible candidates for Adeleas’s murder are Merilille, Sareitha or Careane. I can understand the thinking around the fact that the Windfinders probably wouldn’t know about crimsonthorn because the plant doesn’t grow near enough to the shore, but neither the Aes Sedai nor the Kin actually know very much about the Sea Folk themselves, and it’s likely a pretty dangerous assumption to make, given the consequences of being wrong.
For that matter, even if the Sea Folk as a whole don’t know about crimsonthorn, who’s to say that the Dark doesn’t? Especially now that the Aes Sedai know about it, and therefore the Black Ajah almost certainly does too. And even before Elayne and Nynaeve were dosed that first time, some random darkfriend might have known about the plant for ages. It could be common knowledge among the ranks of the Dark, for all Vandene, Elayne, and Nynaeve know.
Even more ridiculous is the assumption that there can’t be any Darkfriends among the Kin just because Ispan didn’t seem to know anything about the Kin. It sounds like Vandene and Adeleas were very thorough in their questioning, but Ispan managed to not give them any useful information on the Black Ajah, so they know she was capable of holding something back. More significantly, why should the Black Ajah necessarily know anything about what other groups of Darkfriends are up to? Our heroes seem to be making some pretty big assumptions about how much knowledge the Black Ajah has about other ranks of Darkfriends.
I suppose that Vandene, Elayne, and Nynaeve are accustomed to thinking of the Aes Sedai as the most powerful and influential institution in the land, and they have recently learned that the Black Ajah was able to exist in secret right under the noses of those oh-so-impressive Aes Sedai. They may have a bit of an inflated idea about the reach and influence of the Black Ajah as a result and might be assuming that the Black Ajah are running most things or at least involved. But again, even if there are reasons behind these assumptions, they’re still just guessing. The Kin were secret from the Aes Sedai—why not from the Black Ajah? It doesn’t make a lot of sense for all darkfriends to know each other, or for secrets to be passed easily from group to group. Also, the Dark as a rule is sort of anti-Creation, so the Aes Sedai members in its ranks might not be viewed with as much favor as they are (sometimes) viewed by the part of the world that walks in the Light.
One argument that isn’t mentioned here but which I think is actually the one that suggests that the killer is an Aes Sedai/Black Ajah is the fact that Ispan was murdered at all. The most likely reason for her to be killed is that someone in Elayne’s party could possibly be exposed by something Ispan knew, which suggests a fellow member of the Black Ajah. Then again, the prejudice with which Ispan was murdered could suggest some other, possibly more personal, reason as well. I just think there isn’t enough information to know for sure, but perhaps I am missing something.
Speaking of missing something, why didn’t Elayne just have Naean and Elenia transported to Caemlyn via Gateway? When she learns that the two have been taken and the escorts killed, she laments not going herself and Birgitte reminds her that queens don’t go running off to do everything themselves. Which is true, but Elayne has a bunch of channelers at her disposal, including members of the Kin and Aes Sedai who are supposed to defer to her and Nynaeve. Many of whom are sitting around in the palace with nothing to do, as Nynaeve mentions when talking about the scouts they sent into Seanchan territory. Elayne sent the messenger through a gateway, but she could easily have had another woman weave it. That Aes Sedai or Kin member could have sat for a few hours to get to know the place where Naean and Elenia were staying, then just woven a gateway back to a room in Caemlyn designated for that purpose, just like Rand does. Seems like a no-brainer to me?
I kind of love how nosy Elayne is about Nynaeve’s love life. I mean, it makes sense that Elayne would have Lan on her mind anyway—he kind of demands everyone’s notice with his cold, imposing, seeking-death presence. And also Nynaeve likes to talk about it, so of course Elayne would have some opinions about what she says. But more than that, Elayne’s just a bit of a gossip, and I think she’s particularly so whenever she encounters something that she doesn’t know a lot about. She’s a very curious person, and she wants to learn more whenever she’s confronted with something foreign or something she doesn’t understand. The way in which she was preoccupied by the Sea Folk’s piercings, for example, or her desire to learn to swear.
Birgitte and Elayne’s little fight in the hallway was a nice bit of comedy to lighten the mood of, well, all the chapters so far. I’ve always thought that Elayne’s interest in swearing was really cute, and I definitely laughed out loud when Birgitte called her out for not always understanding what the words meant, or how to use them in a sentence. And Elayne’s response (in her head) about how she does know. Most of the time. Often, anyway.
There haven’t been a lot of light moments in Winter’s Heart, and I suspect there won’t be, going forward. The name itself brings a chilliness to mind, not just in temperature but in attitude. And given how things have been progressing in the story, I have a feeling that events are going to get darker before they get lighter, with the possible exception of Rand managing to get rid of the taint on saidin. Which would be a pretty big deal! But I digress.
I feel bad for Birgitte. Since she’s been made Captain-General she hasn’t seemed herself. She’s been off-balance, cranky, and even bordering on whiny. But all this is because she’s been asked to do a job she doesn’t want to do, and more importantly, doesn’t feel capable of doing. She tells Elayne that she has been a general before, but only in battle—none of her past lives have prepared her for this and she’s losing access to them, in any case.
How destabilizing must that be? Birgitte doesn’t even have a past to go with the life she is living now, and the memories she has of the others have served her in a variety of capacities, even though this also meant occasionally getting confused or referencing the wrong things. How much will she lose, and how quickly? What would it feel like to have only scraps of those memories left, and then feel as though her current life began abruptly only… months ago? A year? Sorry I can’t keep track of the passage of time in these stories, but it certainly hasn’t been very long.
So Birgitte is being asked to do a very high-pressure and demanding job she has never done before, in a world she did not grow up in, while also being Elayne’s Warder. A job she also didn’t ask for, by the way. I don’t disagree with Elayne’s choice to save Birgitte by bonding her, especially given that Birgitte dying outside of Tel’aran’rhiod might have resulted in her not being reborn again, but technically this is still a bonding that was done without permission, the sort of thing that under ordinary circumstances the Aes Sedai would view as an intense violation. Birgitte doesn’t see it that way, of course, and was grateful her life was saved. But I don’t think Elayne gives the woman enough credit, or enough space, given everything that she’s had to adapt to. She’s always frustrated with Birgitte for not acting as a Warder should, for example.
Part of this is because Elayne actually doesn’t know that much about how Warders and their Aes Sedai interact, especially when they are alone. Birgitte is more outspoken and willing to argue with Elayne in front of other people, certainly, and it’s understandable that Elayne wants to look like a proper Aes Sedai in front of others, especially since she is also trying to present as a future queen. But Elayne may also be underestimating how much a Warder might argue with their Aes Sedai in private, especially when it comes to protecting her. A Warder’s main concern is their Aes Sedai’s safety, after all, and if an Aes Sedai won’t listen to her Warder’s advice in this regard, said Warder is likely to push back.
And again, Birgitte never asked to be a Warder. I don’t know if Elayne is aware that the Warder bond can be dissolved—perhaps she doesn’t know about that yet—and Birgitte seems genuinely dedicated to Elayne. But it’s still true that, for all intents and purposes, Birgitte is trapped. Unless Elayne offers to dissolve the bond, she cannot choose not to be a Warder. And it doesn’t seem like Elayne has any empathy for the fact that Birgitte might not want to behave as a typical Warder. Even if Elayne decides such behavior is necessary, and wants to work with Birgitte on improving their image as Warder and Aes Sedai, Birgitte still deserves a level of empathy and care around the subject that Elayne hasn’t really shown her.
It’s the same with the Captain-General position. Birgitte didn’t want it, she’s not confident in her skills, and she has expressed both to Elayne. It does make sense that Elayne feels that this is the best place for Birgitte now that they’re in Caemlyn and trying to get the whole who-will-be-the-next-queen thing sorted out. Elayne has a lot of roles to fill and few trusted friends to fill them with, after all, and Birgitte does love Elayne and does want to support her. However, Elayne behaves as though Birgitte’s feelings are nonsensical, as though giving Birgitte titles and responsibilities that she doesn’t want were a reward.
Back in the Prologue we learned that Elayne granted Birgitte her title and estate as soon as they reached Caemlyn, and that Birgitte didn’t like that change to her life any more than she liked being made Captain-General. Elayne’s narration adds that Birgitte was welcome to grumble as much as she liked, as long as she did it in private. Perhaps part of the problem is that said grumbling isn’t being kept private, but it really does seem like Elayne has decided that Birgitte’s dislike for her situation is unreasonable and frustrating. More than once since the prologue she has been annoyed that Birgitte doesn’t act like she has been given a well-deserved reward. And I wonder if Elayne is unable to see things from Birgitte’s perspective, or if on some level she does, and is actually frustrated because she doesn’t know how to handle the problem any other way.
I’m so interested to see what happens with Alivia. I wasn’t sure how much time the narrative was going to spend on the issue of enslavement of the damane, and I’m really pleased that we’re getting to it so quickly. Alivia has been a damane for four hundred years, too, so it’s pretty impressive that she apparently never fully succumbed to the torture-brainwashing that all the damane are subject to. It’s hard to imagine surviving for so long under those conditions and still holding on to a part of yourself—Alivia must be a very impressive and special person.
It did occur to me to wonder if a sul’dam might have ordered her to put on a pretense in order to be free from the Aes Sedai and Kin’s control so that she can help the captured sul’dam escape, but I don’t think that’s going to turn out to be the case. Spying and subterfuge isn’t exactly something damane are trained on. They aren’t even trained on how to use their abilities without wearing the a’dam. So it’s actually much more likely that Alivia is telling the truth than that this is some kind of trick. And Alivia could end up being quite an asset to the Aes Sedai in the fight against the Seanchan, given how little anyone understands of Seanchan culture or history. Even a damane who, one presumes, isn’t given much education, would know a lot more about how the Seanchan think than anyone on this continent does, and that could be really useful. She is also trained purely for fighting and war, which will make her quite an asset against the Dark, and in the Last Battle. She probably could show even full Green sisters a few things, if they could stand to have yet another non-Aes Sedai teaching them.
I can understand Nynaeve and Elayne’s frustration at having yet another problem to deal with in the form of the captured sul’dam and damane, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to them that Rand sent his prisoners to Elayne. What other options did he have, really? As Men, he and the Asha’man would be very limited in what they could do for the damane, or even for the sul’dam. They can’t interact very much with the a’dam, and of course as male channelers they would be very terrifying to the captured women. Egwene is about to go to war, and the Wise Ones are already keeping a bunch of prisoners and technically-not-prisoner Aes Sedai apprentices for him. Elayne is already too busy, but so is everyone else, and Rand only has a few women channelers he can really trust.
Lan’s contribution to the question of whether or not to free Alivia was really moving. It reminded me that he, too, has been, technically, linked with against his will. Not in the beginning, but Moiraine arranged for his bond to transfer to Myrelle without his permission, after having promised never to do such a thing. Yes, she did it to save his life, but the damane are also bonded by the a’dam “for their own good” and for the good of the world, just as Lan was sent to Myrelle so that he wouldn’t die trying to avenge Moiraine, and she said this was because he was too important in the fight against the Dark to waste his life. Not that I’m by any means putting Moiraine’s actions on par with the way the damane are treated, but thematically the two situations are similar.
I can imagine that Lan would feel very personally connected to anyone who was linked with against their will and controlled by someone wielding saidar. He’s also a very noble man, and one who is unafraid to face hard choices, so even without that personal connection I think he would still have given the counsel he gave, and felt it necessary to speak up even though the Aes Sedai didn’t consider it his place. And I found the fact that Lan was willing to speak up and advise the Aes Sedai without invitation interesting, especially in a chapter in which Elayne was also grousing about Birgitte’s un-Warder-like behavior.
Personally, I think there’s room for the Aes Sedai to listen to the Warders a little more. It’s suggested, and certainly true in Moiraine and Lan’s case, that Aes Sedai do rely on their Warders for council, but the Aes Sedai are very, very attached to their image of power and near-infallibility, and I think a lot of them project this image even towards their Warders. But we’ve seen how this mystique has backfired against them, over the years, and how people have less confidence and faith in them because of the way they hide the truth of their humanity. Perhaps in the future, being just a little more open and connected to the people around them will serve the future Aes Sedai, the ones Egwene is trying to build, much better than their current image. And where better to start with that new attitude than with those they trust most after (and sometimes more than) the sisters of their own Ajah?
Given the powerful mystique around the Warders, most regular people could probably absorb the idea that these men are privileged to speak to and advise their Aes Sedai in a way that no one else would be, so it wouldn’t even warp the current image of the Aes Sedai that much. But of course, the Aes Sedai themselves would need to acknowledge the need for such counsel in a way they don’t really like to—it’s not just about image, it’s also about actual power, and the strict hierarchy of channeling power that the White Tower clings too. Hopefully Egwene’s going to be changing, or at least adjusting, that hierarchy eventually, but it is so deeply ingrained in the Aes Sedai that it’s a much more long-term project. Possibly one that will need to wait until after the Last Battle, even.