Reading The Wheel of Time: Elayne Goes on the Attack in Winter’s Heart (Part 18)

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, Elayne and Egwene confront their changing circumstances, Elayne is expecting, and there are a lot of political realities to manage. It’s chapters 26 and 27 of Winter’s Heart!

Walking in the tel’aran’rhiod version of Emond’s Field, Elayne and Egwene marvel over the change that has come over the village in the two years since. Egwene wonders if her father is still mayor, and if her family is well, but shoots down Elayne’s suggestion that Egwene could Travel for a visit once she is settled in Tar Valon. She’s had enough trouble with the new novices from the Two Rivers not taking Egwene’s authority seriously.

Egwene expresses concern over rumors of Aes Sedai being forced to swear fealty to Rand, and states that she isn’t going to Heal the White Tower just to let him chain Aes Sedai like damane.

When Elayne opens her eyes in the real world, the sun is already shining. Min shared her vision about Elayne’s pregnancy with Aviendha and Birgitte while they were all drinking together, and now the whole Palace knows that Elayne is pregnant. Most gossip says that Captain Mellar is the father, but the Guardswomen don’t like him, and neither does Aviendha. Elayne doesn’t like him either, but she lets herself be seen smiling at him and touching his arm whenever servants are around. She will do anything to protect her child, which means making sure no one suspects the unborn baby’s true paternity.

Elayne meets with Master Norry, and then with Mistress Harfor, who reports that she has discovered two more spies among the palace employees, bringing the total to nine so far. Elayne is keeping all discovered spies in her service, so that they can be fed only the information she wants them to have. There are other meetings after that, and Elayne is left feeling like there is too much to do and not enough time in a day.

Aviendha takes Elayne to get some fresh air on the colonnade, from which vantage point they observe Merilille returning from her visit to the camp of the Borderlander army. Knowing that Merilille returning so soon either means very good or very bad news, they hurry down to meet her.

Birgitte and Captain Mellar join them as Merilille reports that all four rulers are there, in four separate camps, and that each holds an army. She numbers them around two hundred thousand, and reports that there are at least ten sisters with them, although they tried to hide this fact from Merilille. Merilille isn’t sure what they want in the long run, but in the short term they want to meet with Elayne. Merilille didn’t tell them about Traveling, but assured them she could have a reply brought quickly.

Elayne declares that she will leave at once to meet them, despite Birgitte and Aviendha’s protests. She insists that she needs to catch the rulers by surprise, and intends to meet them as Elayne Sedai, with only her Warder and Aviendha, not as Elayne Trakand.

Aviendha and Birgitte are both concerned about the plan, and concerned for Elayne’s safety because of her pregnancy. But Elayne is confident that this is what must be done, and by noon she has woven the gateway and is riding through Braem Wood, having sent Merilille ahead with a letter to announce Elayne’s coming.

For Elayne, dressing had been as serious as choosing armor. Her cloak was lined with marten for added warmth, but the material was dark green wool, soft yet thick, and her riding dress was green silk, and unadorned. Even her snug riding gloves were plain dark green leather. Unless the swords had been drawn, that was the armor in which an Aes Sedai faced rulers. Her only visible jewelry was a small amber brooch in the shape of a turtle, and if anyone thought that odd, let them. An army of Borderlanders was beyond any trap one of her rivals could lay, or even Elaida, but those ten sisters—ten or more—might be Elaida’s. She was not about to let herself be bundled off back to the White Tower.

Eventually they encounter a group of Shienaran soldiers. One introduces himself as Kayen Yokata, Lord of Fal Eisen, and promises them safety for as long as they are in the camp. He leads them on, into the camp. Elayne studies everything she sees, but finds no sign of the Aes Sedai sisters. Wondering why they are hiding, Elayne steels herself, remembering Gareth Bryne’s advice that when she finds herself outnumbered and with no ability to escape, she must always do what her enemy least expects—attack.

They are taken into a large tent where they find Merilille waiting with the four Borderland rulers. Elayne is relieved to find herself being received as an Aes Sedai, not as the Daughter-Heir of Andor. The three older rulers greet Elayne respectfully, while Tenobia expressed disbelief over Elayne’s age and status as an Aes Sedai and the presence of “a black-eyed Aiel.”

Elayne introduces her sister, Aviendha, of the Nine Valleys Sept of the Taardad Aiel, and her Warder Lady Birgitte Trahelion,” and while everyone is stunned, she begins her attack, pointing out that they have clearly come all this way because of the Dragon Reborn.

Ethenielle remarks that at another time she would admire Elayne’s ferocity, and admits that they have heard that Elayne was one of the Dragon’s companions at Falme, so they came to see if she could tell them where he can be found. Elayne counters by asking why they want to find him.

Easar had taken no wine, and he stood with his fists on his hips. “The war against the Shadow is fought along the Blight,” he said grimly. “The Last Battle will be fought in the Blight, if not at Shayol Ghul itself. And he ignores the Borderlands and concerns himself with lands that have not seen a Myrddraal since the Trolloc Wars.”

Egwene has ordered Elayne and Nynaeve to behave as if they have already taken the oaths, so Elayne is careful with her words. She explains that she can’t tell them exactly where he is but that she will tell them what she can if they agree to march south within the week.

Ethenielle observes that Elayne is being very clever at the Game of Houses. Easar adds that they will look to the other Andorans as invaders, which will give Elayne the ability to rally the Andoran Houses to her.

“And when we reach Caemlyn, Elayne Sedai,” Ethenielle said, “you will… negotiate… us into leaving Andor without a battle being fought.” That came out as not quite a question, but almost. “Very clever indeed.”

“If all works as she plans,” Easar said, his smile fading. He put out a hand without looking, and the old soldier placed a winecup in it. “Battles seldom do; even this bloodless sort, I think.”

The rulers agree to Elayne’s proposal, and she tells them that “a search in Murandy will be profitable.” The truth, however, is that the search will be profitable to Elayne, not the rulers: Elayne’s army has just moved out, and Elayne is hoping that the Borderlander army moving in will force Arathelle, Luan and Pelivar to decide to support Elayne.

On their ride away from the camp, Merilille remarks that the negotiations were much hastier than she is used to and that Elayne was lucky she was dealing with straightforward Borderlanders. Elayne doesn’t think the rulers were all that straightforward, as they concealed the reason they want to find Rand and the presence of the sisters in their camp. They will be moving away from him when they start towards Murandy, but Elayne hopes to find a way to warn Rand, as well.

Elayne is so exhausted by the time they reach the Palace that Birgitte lifts her down from her saddle and carries her. They are interrupted on their way to Elayne’s rooms, however, by an insistent Halwin Norry, who reports in a panic that there are four small armies moving towards Caemlyn from the east, numbering at about thirty thousand men, that will reach the city within the week. No one knows yet who they are.

Elayne begins issuing orders for Master Norry to buy all the food he can find outside the walls and bring it into the city, and that all mercenaries in the city have four days to either sign with the Guards or leave Caemlyn. Announcements are also to be made to the people, so that anyone who wants to leave before the siege can go. As she heads towards her rooms, she knows there’s no time now to sleep.

I’m really enjoying seeing Elayne in her element, being so politically canny and suave, even in the face of desperate odds. She tells the other rulers that Elayne Sedai and Elayne the Daughter-Heir are one and the same person, which of course they are, but Elayne has had so little training in actually being an Aes Sedai, not only in channeling but also in the strategies, the politics, and the way Aes Sedai are trained to present themselves to the rest of the world. In this entire interaction, she is relying on the lessons she was taught as the Daughter-Heir; the decision to present herself as Elayne the Aes Sedai is entirely a disguise for her identity as a claimant to the Lion Throne, as the Borderlanders seemed to realize as the conversation progressed.

She really did play them deftly, all the way from setting up expectations to leading them to believe that she was helping them find Rand when, in fact, she was doing nothing of the sort. I wonder if they’ll figure out that she isn’t just using them to bolster her support in Andor but also is attempting to protect Rand from them. I can see why she is suspicious, certainly, but I am not sure Elayne is right in thinking that they concealed the real reason they are looking for Rand. Everything they told her does seem to be true, and makes sense from the position they are in.

I’m not sure who the new army/armies are, though. Will this attack also help Elayne unify her country, or is it going to do the exact opposite? I wonder. 

I did think that everyone’s over-concern for Elayne’s health was pretty amusing, though, and the unsolicited advice from everyone all the time certainly felt realistic—it fits with what I’ve seen pregnant people in my own life deal with. Hopefully Elayne’s status will keep people from touching her belly once she starts showing, at least? And as annoying as Aviendha and Birgitte’s worrying must be for Elayne, it’s also very sweet.

Less sweet is the whole Mellar thing. I get why Elayne wants to use him as a red herring so that nobody guesses the baby’s true parentage, but I don’t see how anyone could. And Mellar is gross. Really gross, and I don’t think it makes sense, character-wise, that Elayne would allow him to continue in his position if he’s abusing his own subordinates. Even if I didn’t know his true identity it would be gross, but knowing that he’s actually Daved Hanlon and is there to harm or maybe kidnap Elayne of course makes it worse. Hanlon is probably the only person in the Place (besides those actually in the know) who might guess the identity of the baby’s father, depending on how good the Dark’s information is, and he’s the one she’s chosen to use as a shield for it. Dramatic irony, you strike again.

In the beginning of chapter 26, it’s mentioned that it has been two years since Egwene left the Two Rivers. Two years, give or take a month or two, since Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve became novices in the White Tower. Now they are some of the most influential Aes Sedai in the world, more through fortune and unusual circumstances than through strict merit. Which isn’t to say they haven’t earned their places, exactly, but it is striking to take a step back and remember how all this looks to the rest of the world. Like Rand, these young women appeared as if from nowhere and are now making decisions that challenge powerful rulers of long standing. Elayne not quite so much as the Daughter-Heir (although of course it would have been hoped that Morgase would reign much longer) but certainly as an Aes Sedai who is already near the top of the hierarchy—and at the top, in Egwene’s case.

It feels a little strange that we are nine books in and only two years have passed since The Eye of the World. It feels a bit like how superhero training montages work in the movies these days, when new superheroes need a few weeks, maybe a few months, to go from just having discovered their powers to becoming experts in the heroing business. We are told early on that channeling without training is very dangerous, that it takes years of careful teaching, and that it’s easy to kill yourself or other people if you aren’t properly taught—but we haven’t really seen that be true.

Yes, all of our young heroes have had some teaching—even Rand had Asmodean, and you could possibly count Lews Therin as well—but most of what they learn is not through education and practice, it’s through seeing a weave once, or through pure instinct. This is much more true for Rand, of course, and I suppose the argument could be made that being able to discover weaves on his own is built into his identity as the Dragon, just as being ta’veren is. But he also became a blademaster in, like, under a year, and learned politics from (seemingly) a handful of conversations with Thom, Lan, Davram, and Elayne. I can’t help wondering what would change in the tale if it took place over a longer period of time, if the acquisition of skills by our Two Rivers friends progressed at a slightly more human pace.

As it is, though, you definitely reach this point feeling like Rand isn’t the only chosen one the Wheel has spun out in preparation for the great conflict between the Dark and Light. You could argue that Min, Perrin and Mat, and Nynaeve and Elayne are, as well… and Egwene, I think, most of all.

When Egwene talks about what she must do as the Amyrlin Seat, Elayne observes how much she sounds like Siuan. But that has less to do with the logistics of being the Amyrlin Seat than it does with personality and force of will. And Siuan has been coaching Egwene, of course, so that’s obviously going to result in a certain similarity. But even with all that, it would be hard for a sister who had experience with other Amyrlins to see Egwene the way that Elayne is seeing her. Elayne only had a brief experience of Siuan as Amyrlin, after all, and most of what she knows about how an Amyrlin looks and sounds is based on observation from a distance.

It makes perfect sense that people who knew Egwene as a girl who left the Two Rivers so recently would struggle to see her as the Amyrlin Seat. Unlike Rand, she doesn’t seem to have a special identity; there are no prophecies around her existence and she doesn’t have dangerous powers that threaten the very survival of the world. And yet, her rise parallels Rands in such distinctive ways. The face that the soul known as the Dragon is always male and doesn’t have a female counterpart has never made sense with the world building of the books, in which there is supposed to be a balance of male and female power, of saidin and saidar, in all things. In some ways, it seems as though Rand’s three loves, Aviendha, Elayne, and Min, are meant to be that counterbalance. But in other ways, and certainly in political ways, that equal opposite might best be found in Egwene.

I hadn’t really thought much about how the fealty oath Rand demanded of his Aes Sedai would look to someone like Egwene, but in last week’s chapter we were reminded of how similar that oath is to a Warder bond, and it’s not much of a stretch to compare it to the damane collars, really. The two are certainly not the same, but the Oath Rod makes demanding an oath of obedience from an Aes Sedai binding in a way that such an oath would never be on an ordinary person.

An ordinary person can choose to break their oath, can choose to face those consequences or attempt to avoid them as best they can; they have the ability to deem that choice necessary, moral even. But with the Aes Sedai, that oath, once sworn, cannot be broken. Rand doesn’t have as much power as a sul’dam has over a damane, but he has a lot, and his ta’veren power helped compel some of those oaths, as well. (Verin’s compulsion did too, but we can’t hold Rand responsible for that.)

It feels strange to consider that Siuan’s attachment to the Three Oaths, her belief that they make the Aes Sedai who they are, isn’t that different from the damane’s belief that they are meant to be collared. Siuan is using her ability to lie to achieve her ends because she will do anything towards the goal of guiding the Aes Sedai, and the world, to Tarmon Gai’don. But as dedicated as she is, she is ready to give up that advantage as soon as possible—that’s how strongly attached she is to the idea that the Three Oaths are part of the Aes Sedai. And when Rand took the collars off the damane, most of them begged to have them back.

Of course there are many differences between the two, especially of degrees, but I think Egwene has a point. I have been wondering when Egwene and Rand will finally have a chance to meet again, and I expect it won’t be until after Egwene and her followers have full control of the White Tower and the Aes Sedai are properly unified under her. Will they be able to trust each other after so long, and so much change? They both have so many reasons to be suspicious of each other, and so much institution exists between them now, but it’s hard to imagine that the Last Battle will go well unless these two have not only cooperation, but also deep trust between them.

Next week we’ll continue on to chapters 28 and 29, which I haven’t read yet, but chapter 28 has the very excellent title of “News in a Cloth Sack” so that’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, I will just observe that it seems silly to me that Elayne and Aviendha are magically bonded, consider themselves to be found family in the most intimate of ways, are sleeping in the same bed, and yet we’re supposed to believe this isn’t gay. Right. icon-paragraph-end

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