Welcome back to my re-read, recap, and reaction to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This post will only have spoilers through the current chapter.
You can find my previous chapter recaps HERE.
Chapter 18: To the White Tower
The River Queen leads the party of Aes Sedai down the river. The sails have been unnaturally filled, day and night, since the last people boarded the ships back in Medo. Egwene has been standing on the deck but now she makes her way below. Nynaeve glares up at her from the narrow bed in a cabin she is sharing with Egwene. Nynaeve says she will be glad to put foot on ground again – even if it is in Tar Valon. As the ship lurches, she swallows, and says she will never step on a boat again.
The movements of the ship do not bother Egwene the way that they do Nynaeve other than the difficulty of keeping her balance. Egwene tells Nynaeve that she is worried about Rand. The Wisdom replies that she is worried about all of them before asking Egwene if she had another dream the previous night. Egwene nods. Egwene says that it was like the other dreams but worse. She says Rand has done something – or he is going to do something – that puts him in grave danger. Softly, Nynaeve says “channeling.” Egwene says that she does not know if that is it but it might be. Egwene says she does not know what to do. Nynaeve asks her if Anaiya has said any more about the dreams – and Egwene notices that Nynaeve continues to make a point of not adding the honorific “Sedai” even when the two of them are alone. Most of the Aes Sedai do not seem to care but the habit has earned Nynaeve some strange looks and some hard looks.
Egwene quotes Anaiya, saying “the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.” The Blue Sister also tells her that the boy is far away and that there is nothing they can do. She also says she will see to having Egwene tested as a Dreamer as soon as they reach the White Tower. Egwene is frustrated because she believes Anaiya knows there is something in the dreams – she can tells that the Aes Sedai does – but Anaiya can do nothing about it. Egwene thinks aloud about telling Anaiya everything and Nynaeve asks Egwene if she saw the man in the mask again. Egwene nods and is sure that it is better if she does not tell Anaiya about him. Three times that man has been in her dreams when she dreamed a dream of Rand in danger. He always wears a mask across his face and sometimes she can see his eyes. Sometimes she can only see caverns of fire where his eyes should be. Egwene tells Nynaeve that the man laughed at her contemptuously.
A knock at door cuts them off. Before either woman can move, the Amyrlin Seat herself enters the room and shuts the door behind her. She is alone. Egwene springs to her feet as the Amyrlin asks if they are feeling well, tilting her head at Nynaeve. She also asks if they are eating well and in good temper. Nynaeve struggles to a sitting position with her back against the wall. Egwene begins to tell her that they are honored before Siuan waves her to silence. The Amyrlin says that it is good to be back on the water but also says that it grows boring after a while with nothing to do. She tells them that she will personally give them their lesson today. She tells them to sit. Nynaeve pushes herself to her feet and says she will go to the deck but Siuan says to her sharply, “I said sit!” Nynaeve continues rising, wavering, anyway. Closing her eyes, before she falls, Nynaeve sits and says she will stay and says it is no doubt windy on the deck. Siuan laughs and tells the Wisdom that the other Sisters have told her about her incredible temper. They say she would do well as a novice regardless of her ability just do learn to deal with that temper.
Siuan: I say if you have the ability I hear of, you deserve to be one of The Accepted.[…] I always believe in giving people what they deserve. Yes, I suspect you will learn a great deal once you reach The White Tower.
Nynaeve: I’d rather one of the Warders taught me how to use a sword.
Nynaeve says that there s someone she would like to use the sword on. Egwene looks alarmed and wonders if she meant that as a threat toward the Amyrlin herself or whether she meant that as a threat for Lan. Siuan replies placidly that she never thought swords were of much use. She says that even if you are a woman with skill, there is always a man with equal skill and a great deal more strength. Siuan then holds up her hand and the two women with her gasp because a sword appears in it with a blade and hilt of an odd blueish white. Egwene thinks to herself that it looks cold.
Siuan explains that the sword is made form the air and she says that it is as good as most steel blades and probably better than most. She notes though that it is still not of much use. Then the sword becomes a paring knife in her hand. There was not shrinking. It just was one thing and then it was another thing. Siuan says that the paring knife, on the other hand, is useful. Just as suddenly, the knife turns to mist and fades away. She says either takes more effort than they are worth. She explains that it is easier to just carry a good knife with her. The Amyrlin explains that in their training they will need to learn when to use their ability and how, and when it is better to do a thing in the same way that any other woman would. She cautions them that using the One Power too often, and too freely, and they will come to like it too much.
Siuan: That way lies danger. You begin to want more of it and sooner or later you run the risk of drawing more than you’ve learned to handle and that can burn you out like a guttered candle, or –
Nynaeve breaks in and says that if she must learn all of this, she would like to learn something useful. She complains about her previous lessons wherein she has been asked to make the air stir or to light a candle. Egwene closes her eyes and begs Nynaeve in her thoughts to keep a check on her temper. She bites a lip to keep herself from speaking out loud.
Siuan muses about something useful and says that if a man came at her with a sword, she would do something useful. Egwene sees what seems like a glow around the Amyrlin and then she realizes she cannot move at all other than her head. Nynaeve growls for the Amyrlin to release her. Her eyes glare while Siuan replies calmly that this is useful. She explains that it is nothing more than air. She says that a big man, with a sword, might be near her, but with this, the sword does him as much good as the hair on his chest. Nynaeve growls again, angrily, about being let go. Siuan conversationally mentions that she could pick up the hypothetical man with a sword. As she talks about this, Nynaeve slowly rises into the air. The Wisdom squawks furiously. Siuan smiles. She says that she has often wished that she could use this to fly. She notes that during the Age of Legends, Aes Sedai could fly. However, since the Breaking, no one has been able to figure out how. One cannot lift herself up the way that one can lift up someone else. She explains that it is similar to how one might lift a chest her own weight but find it impossible to lift herself up with her own hands. Nynaeve’s head jerks furiously and Egwene hopes that the Amyrlin does not also decide to lift her off the ground. Siuan conversationally talks about how a man with a sword is no threat to her. She leans forward and says that if she had a mind to, she could turn a man held by air upside down and paddle his bottom.
Suddenly the Amyrlin flew back so hard that her head rebounds against the wall. She stays there as if something is pressing against her. Egwene stares with her mouth dry. The Amyrlin says that they were right about Nynaeve’s temper. Her voice sounds strained as though she finds it hard to breathe.
Siuan: They said you learned quickly and they said it took your temper burning to get to the heart of what you can do.[…] Shall we release each other together, Child?
Nynaeve commands the Amyrlin to let her go right now when abruptly a look of amazement and of loss crosses her face. Siuan sits up, working her shoulders. She points out that Nynaeve does not know everything yet. She says Nynaeve did not suspect that Siuan could cut her off from the True Source. She points out that Nynaeve can still feel it there but says she cannot touch it anymore than a fish can touch the moon. She concedes that when Nynaeve learns enough to be raised to Aes Sedai, no one woman will ever be able to do this to her again. She says that the stronger she becomes, the more Aes Sedai it will take to shield her against her will. Siuan asks Nynaeve again if she wants to learn. The Wisdom shuts her mouth.
Siuan: If you had a hair less potential than you do, Child, I would send you to the Mistress of Novices and tell her to keep you there for the rest of your life. But you will get what you deserve.
Nynaeve’s eyes widen and she falls to the bed below with a hard thud. The Wisdom’s face stays frozen as Siuan says that they can continue their lesson. Egwene faintly says “Mother” and draws Siuan’s attention to the fact that she is still held by air. Siuan frees her and then asks both of them if they are ready to get on with it. Both of them say “Yes Mother” though Nynaeve does so with a tight voice.
When Siuan leaves, Egwene is sweating. She thinks to herself that she had been mistaken before about previous teachers being difficult. The Amyrlin coaxed out every scrap of effort inside of her but Egwene thinks after that it went well. She can make a small flame dance from one of her finger tips to another and she is pleased with her progress. As Siuan leaves, though, Nynaeve throws a pillow at the door after it closes.
Nynaeve: That… that vile, contemptible, miserable hag! The Light burn her! I’d like to feed HER to the fish. I’d like to dose her with things that turn her green for the rest of her life. I don’t care if she’s old enough to be my mother. If I had her in Emond’s Field she wouldn’t sit down comfortably for…
The lesson did not go well for Nynaeve because she held her temper tightly until after the Amyrlin was gone. She cannot channel well unless she is angry. After failure upon failure, the Amyrlin did everything she could to rouse the Wisdom’s anger again. Egwene wishes that Nynaeve was not aware that she was in the room to witness those efforts. After Nynaeve stares at the wall for a while, she says aloud to Egwene that it was not her fault but she admonishes Egwene not to breathe a word of this to anyone. Egwene replies that she does not remember anything to breathe a word about. The younger woman knows that once angry, Nynaeve will remember how to do all of the things that were done to her during the lesson. For all of Egwene’s own success in making a flame dance, she could never have held the Amyrlin Seat against a wall.
Suddenly something changes in the motion of the ship. They hear feet thumping on the deck and shouting above. Egwene asks her if she thinks they have arrived at Tar Valon and the Wisdom replies that there is only one way to find out. She takes her cloak from its peg and climbs up to the deck. Egwene rushes to the rail and should that they are in Tar Valon to Nynaeve. The other woman joins her. The island is so large that it looks as though the river split in two rather than contains a bit of land in the middle. Bridges that seem made of lace arch from both banks toward the island. The walls of the city – the Shining Walls of Tar Valon – glisten white as the sun rises. On the western bank of the river, Dragonmount rears against the sky in the distance. It is one mountain standing amongst flat lands and hills. Dragonmount is where The Dragon died. Egwene wishes to herself that looking at the mountain did not make her think of Rand.
The River Queen sails toward a warf. The Amyrlin Seat and Leanna Sedai appear on deck and a gangplank is lad out for her exit from the ship to the shore. The other Aes Sedai follow. None of them glance at Egwene or Nynaeve. On the shore, a delegation greens the Amyrlin Seat and trumpet flourishes ring from the walls. Egwene and Nynaeve return below to get their things. Returning to the deck, the Aes Sedai are all gone. Nynaeve asks a dock worker about their horses and he growls at her that he is busy. He tells her that the horses will be taken to the White Tower. The two women from Emond’s Field exit the ship to make their own way to the White Tower. They stare in amazement at the city. Every building looks to them like a palace. Above everything rises the White Tower. They make their way toward it. A woman’s voice suddenly speaks up behind them. She says that it takes the breath at first sight, and at tenth sight, and at the one hundredth.
Egwene turns and sees that the woman is Aes Sedai. Though the woman wears no shawl, she has the ageless face of Aes Sedai and she wears a ring with a golden serpent biting its own tail. She is a little plump with a warm smile. Despite the plumpness, she has high cheekbones. Her pale green eyes have a tilt to them and her hair is almost the color of fire. The woman goes on to explain that the city was built by Ogier and she tells them that some say the city was their best work. Nynaeve says that the city is lovely and she tells the woman that they came here to train at the White Tower. She also says that no one seems to care whether they go or stay. The woman tells her that they care.
Aes Sedai: I came here to meet you but I was delayed speaking with the Amyrlin. I am Sheriam, the Mistress of Novices.
Nynaeve tells her in a firm voice that she is not to be a novice. Sheriam replies in an amused voice that she has been told. She says she has never heard of it being done this way before but Sheriam also says that she has been told Nynaeve is exceptional. She then tells Nynaeve that even one of the Accepted can be called to her study. She says that it requires more breaking of the rules than for a novice but it has been known to happen. Sheriam turns to Egwene as though she did not see Nynaeve frown and tells her that it is good to see a new novice as too few come these days. She tells Egwene that she will make forty in total, inside the Tower, and she says that only eight of nine of those forty will be raised to the Accepted. She says further that novice training is difficult because they need to see who will break under the strain. She explains that the life of an Aes Sedai is difficult and it is better to find out now who can handle the strain, than to have a full Sister break when others are depending on her. Egwene swallows at the mention of trainees “breaking.”
Nynaeve forces the honorific out of her mouth and asks Sheriam Sedai if it has to be so hard on Egwene. Sheriam asks if she means is training like what the Amyrlin did to her today. Nynaeve’s back stiffens. The Sister replies that novice training is hard, but not that hard. She says that training that hard is for the first few weeks of being one of the Accepted. Nynaeve’s mouth falls open. Egwene thinks that the Wisdom’s eyes are going to fall out of her head. Sheriam explains that the first few weeks of Accepted training are tough to catch those who slipped through Novice training when they should not have. She says the Tower cannot risk having one of their number who will break under the stress of the world outside.
Sheriam gathers both women up, each by the shoulder, and them that she will see them settled in her room.
Sheriam: The White Tower awaits.
We learn that Egwene is still having bad dreams about Rand. She also continues seeing the man with the mask (Ba’alzamon) – so we know that her dreams are more than just normal dreams. She is not telling the Aes Sedai about seeing him, which I find interesting. Her gut tells her not to tell them.
I suppose if one of the Aes Sedai is a Darkfriend, and they learn that Egwene can see their master in a dream, that Sister might take it on herself to kill Egwene. There is no reason that Egwene should suspect this, though, but the fact she says nothing tells us that she has good a good intuition for danger.
It gets lost in the lesson because of what happens with Nynaeve but Egwene is beginning to be pretty good with the One Power.
I really enjoyed this chapter with Siuan teaching Nynaeve. Nynaeve is slightly humbled. She also demonstrates that humbling her is probably not going to be possible for much longer. Through that little interaction (pinning the Amyrlin Seat to a wall) we learn that the Wisdom is incredibly powerful. Keep in mind, Moiraine told Egwene that Egwene would be one of the most powerful Aes Sedai in a thousand years. Nynaeve is MUCH more powerful than Egwene. I am not sure how I feel about Nynaeve’s total obliviousness regarding how she interacts with powerful people around her. When she thinks of Lan, she thinks of herself as just some village woman who loves a King. She still loves him, though, and is mad that he puts her off in returning that love. When it comes to the Aes Sedai though… I dunno. She sees herself as pretty much the equal of every woman on earth, barely finding it within herself to be deferential to the Amyrlin Seat – a woman more powerful than any monarch on earth. We are left with a juxtaposition between who Nynaeve thinks of herself as being outwardly, and who she believes herself to be inwardly. I will be fascinated to see what that looks like on screen. I cannot imagine even the most obnoxious person I know acting like Nynaeve does with a world leader. Then again, I do not know anyone (obnoxious or not) who will themselves someday be more than an equal to any world leader.
I’m just here for the journey.
This chapter sets up that Nynaeve needs to be angry to really be powerful, though. It’s a good thing our Wisdom has a secret (well, it’s not a secret at all.)
There is no doubt that she will find plenty of reasons to be angry inside The White Tower very soon.