The Great Hunt (Chapter 40): Damane

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 40: Damane

Egwene dismounts as the Waygate opens. Liandrin motions them through. A screen of dense shrubs have surrounded and hidden the Waygate on the other side and there are only a few trees close by. Egwene watches her friends emerge before she becomes aware that others are already there. When she does notice them, though, she stares uncertainly. They are as odd a group as she has ever seen. At least fifty armored men in armor with overlapping plates and helmets shaped like insects’ heads are present, staring at the Waygate, and muttering among themselves. There are women with the soldiers, too. Two wear plain dark gray dresses and wide silver collars, each with another woman close behind her as if ready to speak into her ear. Two other women standing well apart are wearing wide divided skirts that fall well short of their ankles, and panels embroidered with forked lightning bolts on their bosoms and skirts. The oddest person at this gathering is a woman reclining on a palanquin born by eight bare chested muscular men. The sides of her scalp are shaved so that only a wide crest of black hair remains to fall down her back. The first two fingernails on each hand are a good inch long, and lacquered.

Egwene calls out to Liandrin Sedai for an explanation. Her friends grab hold of their reigns as if preparing to run, but Liandrin replaces the Avendesora leaf and confidently steps forward. She says “the High Lady Suroth” with a hint of a question in her voice. The woman on the palanquin nods fractionally. The woman says “you are Liandrin.” Her speech is slurred and it takes Egwene a moment to understand. The High Lady says “Aes Sedai” and causes a murmur among her soldiers.

Suroth: We must be done quickly. There are patrols here and it would not do to be found.

Suroth says she means to be back in Falme before Turak notices that she is gone. Nynaeve demands to know what Suroth is talking about to Liandrin but Liandrin merely lays a hand on her shoulder, and Egwene’s shoulder, and says that these are the two of whom she has been told. She nods toward Elayne and says that there is another. Liandrin tells the gathered group that Elayne is the Daughter-Heir of Andor.

The two women with the lightning on their dresses approach them. They carry coils of a silvery metal in their hands. The bare-headed soldier approaches with them. Liandrin gives no sign of agitation otherwise Egwene would have jumped onto Bela right then. The soldier suddenly siezes Min and Elayne by the scruffs of their necks In the next instant, everything seems to happen at once. The man yells a curse and a woman screams – perhaps more than one woman. Abruptly the breeze is a gale that whips away Liandrin’s angry shouts and makes the trees bend and groan. One of the women reaches out and fastens something around Egwene’s neck. She tugs at what feels like a collar of smooth metal but it will not budge. A silvery cord of metal trails from Egwene’s collar and connects to a bracelet worn by a woman with forked lightning on her dress. Egwene balls her fist tightly and hits the woman as hard as she can. Egwene staggers and falls to her knees herself. It feels to her as if a large man has struck her in the face. When Egwene can see straight once more, the wind has died. A number of horses wander loose – Bela and Elayne’s mare among them. Liandrin is calmly brushing leaves and dust from her dress. Min kneels, supporting herself on her hands, groggily trying to rise further. The soldier who had grabbed her stands over her, his hand dripping blood, with Min’s knife just out of her reach.

Nynaeve and Elayne are nowhere to be seen. The Wisdom’s mare is gone, too. Some of the soldiers are also gone, as are a pair of women. The other pair of women are still there. Egwene can see that they are linked by a silvery cord from collar to adjoining wrist, just as Egwene is linked to a woman in a bracelet. The woman to whom Egwene is linked is squatting and rubbing her cheek. Her left eye is bruised.

The woman tells Egwene that this is her first lesson, with no animosity in her voice. She tells Egwene that she will not punish her this time. She tells Egwene that she should have been on guard with a newly caught damane.

Woman: Know this. You are a damane, a leashed one. And I am a sul’dam, a holder of the leash. When damane and sul’dam are joined, whatever hurt the sul’dam feels, the damane feels twice over, even to death.

She tells Egwene that she must remember to never strike her sul’dam in any way and that she must protect her sul;dam even more than she protects herself. The sul’dam introduces herself as Renna. She asks Egwene how she is called. Egwene says that she is not what Renna is calling her. She internally rejects the idea of attacking Renna again knowing that it would be fruitless and instead asks Liandrin Sedai why she is letting them do this. Renna interrupts her to say that Egwene must learn to do exactly as she is told and without delay.

Egwene gasps. Suddenly her skin burns as if she has rolled in stinging nettles from the soles of her feet to her scalp. Renna continues in a too friendly voice. She tells Egwene that many sul’dam do not believe damane should be allowed names, or at least not names they are given. Renna tells Egwene that since she is the one that took Egwene, she will be in charge of her training. She goes on to say that she will allow Egwene to keep her own name if she does not displease her too far.

Renna: I am mildly upset with you now. Do you really wish to keep on until I am angry?

Egwene manages through the pain to say her name. Instantly the burning itch is gone and Egwene lets out a long steady breath. Renna tells her that Egwene is a good name and to her horror, then pats her on the head as if she is a dog. She realizes that the friendliness she has been detecting in the woman’s voice is a certain good will for a dog in training – not the friendliness one might have toward another human being. Renna chuckles and notes that now Egwene is even angrier. She warns Egwene not to strike at her again and not to attempt to channel. She warns Egwene that she will not be permitted to channel without permission. Egwene sees Min and calls out to her asking if she is alright. The other woman nods but appears to be in pain, not wanting to move her head.

Jagged lightning crackles across a clear sky and then strikes among the trees some distance away. Egwene jumps and them smiles knowing that this means Nynaeve is still free and likely Elayne. If anyone can free her and Min, she thinks that Nynaeve can. Her smile then turns into a glare for Liandrin. The glare does no good as Liandrin does not look away from the palanquin. The bare chested men lower it and High Lady Suroth steps down. She then picks her way to Liandrin. She tells Liandrin that she was to bring her two and instead she has only one while two run loose, one of them more powerful by far than she had been led to believe. Suroth says that the powerful one will attract every patrol within two leagues.

Liandrin calmly replies that she brought her three.

Liandrin: If you cannot manage to hold them, perhaps our Master should find another among you to serve him. You take fright at trifles. If the patrols come, kill them.

Suroth replies that she can still return to Falme with two new damane. She tells Liandrin that it grieves her to allow an Aes Sedai to walk free. Liandrin’s face did not change but Egwene sees a nimbus surround her. Renna calls to Suroth to beware and that Liandrin stands ready. Suroth only steeples her hands. Liandrin and Suroth speculate about who fears their Master more. Suroth finally declares that their Master’s needs will change with time and she speculates about personally placing a collar around Liandrin’s throat. Liandrin in turn agrees that their Master’s needs will change and she says she will remind her of that on the day that Suroth kneels to her.

The High Lady suddenly says that this grows tiresome and she tells Elbar to recall them. He produces a horn and blows it. Liandrin tells her sharply that she must find the woman, Nynaeve, and that she and Egwene must be on their ships with them when they sail. Suroth replies to her that she knows well what has been commanded though she admits she would give much to know why. Liandrin, in turn, sneers, calls Suroth child, and says that however much she has been told is how much she is allowed to know. They bicker some more about finding Nynaeve before Liandrin strides toward the Waygate and then through it.

The soldiers, as well as the two women linked by a silvery bracelet, soon return from their search for Nynaeve and Elayne. Three horses also return with bodies lying across the saddles. Egwene feels a surge of hope when she realizes that all three bodies are wearing armor. Nynaeve and Elayne remain free. Min starts to rise to her feet but a soldier plants a boot between her shoulder blades, driving her back to the ground. Min gasps for breath as the soldier begs permission to speak to Suroth. The High Lady makes a motion with her hands granting him permission. He says that this peasant cut him, and he makes an open ended statement that if the High Lady has no more use for her, implying that if she does not, he can do as he will.

The High Lady makes another motion with her hand and he begins to draw his blade. Egwene shouts no as Renna softly curses under her breath. The burning itch covers her skin again, worse than before, but she does not stop begging the High Lady for Min’s life. Pain such as Egwene has never known racks her through the burning. She pitches on her face in the dirt, mewling, but she can still see Elbar’s blade come free. Egwene continues to beg please.

Abruptly the pain is gone as if it has never been. Only the memory of the pain remains. Suroth’s dirt stained slippers appear in front of Egwene’s face. Elbar stops, sword in the air, not moving.

Suroth: This peasant is your friend?

Egwene starts to rise but stops at a surprised arch from Suroth’s eyebrow. Instead, lifting only her head, she tells Suroth yes that Min is her friend. Suroth asks Egwene if she will work hard and learn as she is taught if she lets Min live and visit her occasionally. Egwene says that she will. Suroth tells Elbar to put Min on her horse, but says that if the damane proves a disappointment that perhaps then she will let him have Min’s head. Renna pulls Egwene roughly to her feet and pushes her toward Bela but Egwene has eyes only for Min. She sees Min manage getting onto her horse. Then their odd party sets off to the west.

After a time, Renna tells Egwene that she was honored by having High Lady Suroth speak with her. Renna tells her that another time she would allow Egwene to wear a ribbon to mark the honor, however, since Egwene brought her attention on herself she will not. Egwene then cries out as a switch seems to lash across her back, her leg, her arm, and from every direction. Renna’s firm grip on Egwene’s leash keeps Bela from carrying her away as she cries out. The soldiers do not look back. Min cries out to Renna asking what she is doing to her. Renna tells Min that she lives on sufferance. She advises Min that for so long as she attempts to interfere, the blows will not stop. Min raises a fist and then lets it fall. She says that she will not interfere. The unseen blows continue for a while, as if to display to Min that her intervention had done nothing, then they cease. Egwene cannot stop shuddering and the pain does not go away this time.

Egwene tells Min that it was not her fault. She pats Bela’s neck and tells her that it was not her fault, either. Renna patiently tells Egwene that it was her fault.

Renna: When a damane is punished, it is always her fault even if she does not know why. A damane must anticipate what her sul’dam wants.

She tells Egwene that this time she does know why she was punished. She goes on to explain that damane are like furniture, or tools, always ready to be used, but never pushing themselves forward for attention – especially not for the attention of one of the Blood. Egwene bites her own lip until she tastes blood thinking that she is now in a nightmare.

Egwene asks Renna if she may ask a question. Renna tells her that while many sul’dam will not allow their damane to even look away from the floor, let alone speak, she will allow Egwene to ask questions. Egwene says aloud to Renna that both Liandrin and the High Lady spoke of a Master that they both serve. As she says this, she thinks of a man with eyes and a mouth of flame, with almost healed burn wounds on his face. She asks Renna who this Master is and what he wants with her and Min.

Renna tells her sharply that the affairs of the Blood are not for her to take notice of and she advises Egwene not to take notice of them either .

Renna: The High Lady will tell me what she wishes me to know and I will tell you what I wish you to know. Anything else that you hear or see must be to you as if it never was said.

She warns Egwene that damane are too valuable to kill offhandedly but she says that damane can do what they must without a tongue to speak or without hands to write. Egwene shivers. Egwene’s hand brushes against her leash and she says that it is a horrible thing. She asks Renna how they can do this to anyone. She asks what diseased mind ever thought of it. The blue eyed sul’dam, holding an empty leash intended for Nynaeve, tells Renna that this one could do without her tongue already. Renna only smiles patiently. She asks how it is horrible and she asks how they could allow anyone to run loose who can do what a damane can do. She notes that sometimes men are born who can do this, and they must be killed of course, but the women do not go mad. She says it is better for those women to become damane than to make trouble contending for power.

Renna then tells Egwene that the person who first created the a’dam is a woman who called herself Aes Sedai. Egwene knows that her face must be displaying incredulity because Renna laughs at her reaction openly. Renna explains that when Luthair Paendrag Mondwin, son of the Hawkwing, first faced the Armies of the Night, he found many among them who called themselves Aes Sedai. These women contended for power among themselves and used the One Power on the field of battle. One of these Aes Sedai, she says, was a woman called Deain. Renna says that Deain thought she could do better for herself serving Luthair Paendrag. She came to him with a device she made, the first a’dam, fastened to the neck of one of her sisters. Renna says that though that woman did not want to serve Luthair, the a’dam required her to serve. Deain made more a’dam. The first sul’dam were then found. Aes Sedai were captured and they discovered that they are in fact only marath’damane, those who must be leashed.

Renna: It is said that when she herself was first leashed, Deain’s screams shook the Towers of Midnight. But of course, she too was a marath’damane and marath’damane cannot be allowed to run free.

Renna suggests that perhaps Egwene will be one of those who has the ability to make a’dams. She tells Egwene that if she can, she will be pampered. Egwene bitterly asks Renna if she is supposed to look forward to being pampered like a pet dog. She asks if she can look forward to men and women wearing her leash. Renna laughs again and says that only women are sul’dam. She says that most of the time, when men put on the bracelet, nothing happens. The other sul’dam notes that on some rare occasions, though, the man and the damane die screaming. The other sul’dam, Alwhin, says that sometimes the Empress plays with Lords by making them try on a sul’dam’s bracelet. She says that this entertains the Court of the Nine Moons.

Renna snaps at Alwhin that only the Empress can afford to waste damane and says further that she does not intend to train this one only to see her waisted. Alwhin says that she has not seen any training thus far, only chatter. Renna says that perhaps it is time to see what Egwene can do. She points at a tree half a mile away and asks Egwene if she can channel at that distance. Egwene replies honestly that she does not know, but Renna tells her to try anyway. She tells Egwene to turn every bit of sap in that tree to steam and Egwene is shocked to discover an urge to do as Renna commands. Egwene tells Renna that she cannot, that it is too far, and that she has never done anything like that before.

One of the sul’dam laughs as Alwhin says Egwene never even tried. Renna shakes her head sadly. She tells Egwene that when one has been a sul’dam long enough, one learns to tell many things about damane even without the bracelet. She says though that with the bracelet one can always tell when a damane has tried to channel. Renna tells Egwene that she must never lie to her, or to any sul’dam, not even by a hair. Suddenly the invisible switches are back striking at her everywhere. Egwene tries to hit Renna but the sul’dam knocks her fist away easily. She tries to ride away but the sul’dam’s grip on her collar nearly unsaddles her. Finally Egwene tries to channel saidar, enough to hurt Renna as the suldam is hurting her, but instead of hurting Renna her own skin feels as though it is scalded.

The burn does not begin to fade until she flees from saidar completely. The entire time, the unseen blows never cease or slow. She tries to shout that she will try but all she can manage is to shout. Dimly she is aware of Min shouting angrily and trying to ride to her side. She is aware of Alwhin ripping Min’s reigns from her hands. Egwene is aware of another sul’dam speaking sharply with her own damane just before Min begins writhing in pain also, her own arms flapping to ward of unseen blows.

To Egwene, this seems to go on forever but at last it comes to an end. She lays sprawled weakly across the cantle of her saddle, sobbing. Renna calmly tells her that it is good that she has spirit. Egwene frantically thinks to herself that she has to get away and she pleads internally for Nynaeve, o someone, to help her. Renna tells Egwene that she will be one of the best damane. Her hand strokes Egwene’s hair, a mistress soothing her dog.

““““““““““““““““`

Nynaeve peers out of her saddle. She can see nothing moving except a thinning column of smoke. The smoke had been her own work, once the lightning called from a clear sky, and a few other things she had not thought to try until those two women tried them on her. Nynaeve thinks that the women must work together in some way though she cannot understand how. Nynaeve is sure that one or both of the women is Aes Sedai. She thinks to herself that she will take pleasure in telling Sheriam about these women. They contradict what she has been taught. These Aes Sedai do use the One Power as a weapon – and Nynaeve had done so also. She knows that she knocked the two women from their saddles with a lightning strike. She saw one of the soldiers, or his body at least, burn from the ball of fire she hurled at him. She has not seen any of the strangers at all in some time now.

Sweat beads on her forehead. Her contact with saidar is gone and she cannot bring it back. In the first fury of knowing that Liandrin betrayed them, saidar had been there almost before she knew it. For as long as the strangers were chasing her, she remained furious at being hunted like an animal. Now that the chase has vanished, her anger and her ability to channel has also. She now worries about someone unseen sneaking up on her, as well as about what is happening to Egwene, Elayne, and Min. She is forced to admit now that she feels more fear than anger. She needs anger.

She hears something stir behind a tree. Elayne steps out in a wary crouch. Nynaeve sags with relief. She rides into the open, causing Elayne to convulse and jump. Then the Daughter-Heir sags in relief of her own. Nynaeve dismounts and the two women hug. Elayne says that two men were following her but that they ceased doing so when a horn sounded. She says that they could see her but just left. Nynaeve says she heard the horn sound also but has not seen any of the strangers, since. Neither of them have seen Egwene or Min. Elayne says that she saw a woman trying to put something around Egwene’s neck just before she ran. She tells Nynaeve that Min cut the hand holding her and that she just ran.

Elayne: I realized I was free and I ran.

Elayne says that her mother better marry Gareth Bryne and have another daughter because she is herself not fit to the throne. Nynaeve tells her not to be a goose.

Nynaeve: Listen to me girl, did you see me stay to fight twenty or thirty armed men, not to mention the Aes Sedai. If you had waited the most likely thing by far is that you would be a prisoner, too, if they didn’t just kill you. They seemed to be interested in Egwene and me for some reason.

Nynaeve begins asking herself why as to all of this. Elayne offers that if she had died trying to help them, but Nynaeve cuts her off and says that she would be dead and little good then to herself or to anyone else. She tells Elayne to get on her feet, to brush off her dress, and to comb her hair. Elayne laughs and says that Nynaeve sounds like Lini her old nurse. She asks Nynaeve how they will help their friends. She points out that Nynaeve might be as strong as a full Sister when angry but she points out that the other side has women who can channel, too. Elayne doubts that they are Aes Sedai but she says that they might as well be. Elayne says that they do not know in which direction their friends were taken.

Nynaeve tells Elayne that they went west to Falme. She remembers hearing Suroth mention the city. Nynaeve says they will go there and that she hopes Liandrin is there. She says she will make the Red Sister curse the day her mother laid eyes on her father Nynaeve says that they had better first find local clothing so that they do not stand out so much as strangers. She says that she has seen Taraboners and Domanin in the Tower and that they do not dress and she and Elayne are dressed now. Elayne says that Lini and her mother would never let her hear the end of it if they knew she was wearing a Domani dress. She asks if they can afford new dresses in the event they find a village. She says she only has ten gold marks and twice as much silver. Elayne believes that will only last them two to three weeks at most. Nynaeve laughs and notes that a couple of months as a novice has not caused Elayne to stop thinking like a monarch. Nynaeve tells Elayne that the money that she has will last them two to three months and in comfort if they are careful with their money. Nynaeve says she has no intention of buying dresses in any case, She believes she will be able to trade a village woman one of her well made dresses in exchange for two or three sturdy local ones.

Nynae swings up into her saddle and reaches out to pull Elayne up behind her. Elayne asks what they will do when they reach Falme. Nynaeve replies that she will not know that until they are there. She then asks Elayne if she is sure that she wants to do this. She points out that it will be dangerous. Elayne asks if it will be more dangerous than it is for Egwene and Min. She says that those two would try to rescue them if the situations were reversed.

Nynaeve tells Elayne that they will need to be cautious. She reminds her that the Aes Sedai they know can recognize a woman who can channel just be being at arm’s length. She says that they should assume the women with the strangers might be able to pick them out of a crowd if they are looking for them – and that they should assume they are looking for them.

Elayne is silent for a moment before asking if all of what Liandrin told them about Rand was lies. She reminds Nynaeve that Aes Sedai do not lie. Nynaeve is now silent thinking about what she has learned of Aes Sedai and the Three Oaths they take upon reaching full Sisterhood. One of those Oaths prevents an Aes Sedai from lying outright. Nynaeve replies to Elayne that she suspects Rand is warming his feet in front of Lord Agelmar’s fire in Fal Dara this very minute. Elayne supposes aloud that he is.

Elayne tells Nynaeve that her seat behind the saddle is not comfortable and that she expects to be in the saddle for at least half of their ride to Falme. She adds that they will never reach the city at all if they let the horse set its own pace. In response, Nynaeve boots the horse to a quicker pace. For the most part, Nynaeve ignores the gasps of the woman behind her. She hopes that by the timie they reach Falme she can stop being afraid and start being angry.

REACTION:

Well, that settles it. I hate the Seanchan. I hope their Empire burns to dust. I hope the earth is salted in its wake. I hope the records of their existence are destroyed and that even the memory of them is gone forever. THEY TORTURED EGWENE!!

I am furious.

Let’s take a breath, though. Is the Seanchan response to channeling realistic? Of course it is. If people suddenly began having the ability to channel in real life, do you think the government would just let them walk around? Absolutely not. We might have a more public relations friendly way of dealing with them but they’d be captives for sure. The general population would be terrified of channelers. People – as a rule – seek to control the thing of which they are afraid. We’ve seen plenty of versions of this type of story in superhero comics, too.

That doesn’t make me any less furious, though.

Did we learn anything about the Seanchan in this chapter? Quite a bit, actually. They have essentially the opposite power structure in their lands when compared to “Randland” or whatever you want to call the main continent. Instead of power-wielding women controlling events, in Seanchan, power-wielding women are viewed as dogs – prized if tame and feared if untamed. We learned that when Artur Hawkwing’s son arrived on the other side of the ocean, women there called themselves Aes Sedai. (That is surely a by-product of women on both sides tracing their lineage back to the Age of Legends and the term’s use there.) We learn that a woman on the other side of the ocean invented the collar – the a’dam. We learned that women who can channel but are not leashed are called marath’damane. Women who hold the leash are sul’dam. Women who are leashed are just damane. We also learn through inference that if a man who can channel is linked to a damane by the bracelet, both he and the damane die. The Seanchan do not appear to be aware of the reason for why the men die, though.

We also learn that there are Darkfriends on both sides of the ocean. Ba’alzamon is controlling events far more widely than we know. I suppose his plan with Egwene and Nynaeve is either to draw Rand to Falme, or to send two of the most powerful – by potential at least – female channelers in the world too far away to help Rand. Maybe he wants to do both. Ba’alzamon has made a classic blunder, though.

If you strike at the Wisdom, you must kill her.

The Seanchan did not kill Nynaeve. They taught her how to throw fireballs and call down lightning. Methinks that will come back to haunt them later. I also think she will find a reason to be angry again when she needs to be.

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