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 11: Tar Valon
As Egwene and her party ride through Darein, a village just outside of Tar Valon, she notices enough soldiers that it seems to her the village is preparing for war. The soldiers give way to Verin and their party at a wave of an officer’s gauntleted hand. All of the soldiers are wearing the White Flame of Tar Valon, shaped like a snowy tear drop, on their chests. Verin leads their party through the bustling village to the Great Bridge, arching over half a mile of water like lace woven from stone.
More soldiers stand guard at the foot of the bridge checking everyone who wants to cross. The leader of these soldiers opens his mouth angrily when Verin leads her party to the front of the line but hurriedly removes his helmet when he gets a good look at Verin’s face. No one who really knows Aes Sedai needs to see a Great Serpent ring to identify them. They are identifiable by their ageless faces. The soldier tells Verin and her group that they can go right across.
Vern reigns in beside the soldier. She asks if there has been trouble from the Whitecloaks. Egwene worries about the impact a wait might have on Mat and tries to interrupt her conversation but Verin cuts her short and tells Egwene that she has not forgotten Mat. Verin returns to her conversation with the officer and learns that Whitecloaks moved into a village but were pushed back by the Amyrlin’s soldiers. Verin asks about the outlying villages and the soldier becomes uncomfortable.
Soldier: We can’t keep the Whitecloaks out Aes Sedai but they move out when our patrols ride in. They seem to be trying to goad us.
Verin is ready to ride on but the soldier speaks again saying that it is obvious they have come from a distance. He asks Verin if she has any news and tells her that there are rumors of a new False Dragon out west somewhere. He tells her further that the rumors say he has Artur Hawkwing’s armies back from the dead following him. He says also that the rumor is they killed a lot of Whitecloaks and destroyed Falme. Another man who has been listening adds that the rumor is that Aes Sedai helped the False Dragon. Verin replies to the soldier that rumors are seldom true and that Falme still stands. She advises him to listen less to rumor and more to the Amyrlin Seat.
The bridge strike Egwene with wonder. It seems impossible that it could be made with stone or that it could stand its own weight. Egwene is surprised to feel like the bridge is taking her home. She tells herself that Emond’s Field is her home but she knows that Tar Valon is where she will learn what she must learn to keep herself alive and free. She also hopes to learn in Tar Valon why her dreams trouble her and seem to have meanings that she cannot puzzle out. She knows that if she ever returns to Emond’s Field, it will only be to visit her parents.
There are no guards on the gates at the other side of the bridge. The air smells of flowers, perfumes, and spices. The city itself is so beautiful that it takes Egwene’s breath. Even the most insignificant building in the city were made for beauty. Ogier stonemasons built the city in the years after the Breaking of the World and they maintained that it was their finest work. Men and women of every nation throng the streets.
Once in the crowd, Verin pulls her cowl back up to hide her face. No one seems to be paying them any mind. Egwene rides up beside Verin and leans close to ask her if she expects trouble now that they are in the city. The White Tower now stands in plain sight. Verin replies to her that she always expects trouble. She tells Egwene that she should also, especially in the Tower. She telsl them that their tricks frightened away the Whitecloaks but that that inside the Tower the same could bring them death or stilling. Egwene protests that none of them would do that in the Tower itself. Verin tells them sharply that she hopes that they have learned their lesson and also the lesson to hold their tongues. She warns all of them then to hold their tongues once inside the Tower grounds and to accept whatever comes.
The street opens into a vast square and in the middle of the square stands the White Tower, shining in the sun. There are surprisingly few people in the square. Hurin leads the horse litter forward as they enter the square. He tells Verin that he must leave her now. She replies to him that he has been a great help on their journey. She tells him that there will be a place in the Tower for him to rest but he declines emphatically saying that he must leave within the hour to return to Shienar. He says he must tell King Easar and Lord Agelmar the truth of what happened at Falme. He lowers his voice and looks around before saying that he must tell them about Rand. He says that there must be trading ships heading up river and that he means to be on the next to sail. She bids him to go in the Light.
Before he leaves, he tells them that if ever they need him to send word to him in Shienar and that he will come. After he is gone, Nynaeve gives an exasperated shake of her head.
Nynaeve: Men, they always say to send for them if you need them, but when you do need them you need them right then.
Verin: No man can help where we are going now. Remember – be silent.
Egwene feels a sense of loss at Hurin’s going. She knows that Verin is right but she cannot help but feel that a man with a sword is useful to have around. She also misses him because he had been a link to Rand and Perrin. She tells herself that Rand and Perrin will have to make do with Moiraine to look after them. She thinks with a flash of jealousy that Min will most certainly look after Rand. She tries to suppress the feeling and almost succeeds.
Mat’s breathing in the horse litter is a dry rasp. She thinks to herself that soon Mat will be healed. She also wishes that Verin would stop trying to frighten them. She wishes that Verin did not have reason to frighten them. The Brown Sister takes them around the grounds to a small side gate attended to by two guards. She pushes back her cowl and leans to speak softly to one of the two men. He gives a start before taking off at a run. Verin rides through the gates as he goes and Egwene thinks that she is riding as if there is no hurry. Egwene follows with the litter exchanging glances with Nynaeve and Elayne, wondering what she told the man.
They eventually arrive at a stableyard. At Verin’s direction, some grooms unfasten the litter that Mat is lying in and they set it gently to one side. As the horses are led away, Verin takes the leather sack from Mat’s feet and tucks it carelessly under one arm. Nynaeve frowns at her and begins to speak but Verin holds up a hand and the former Wisdom stops. A crunch of feet on gravel approach them. In a moment, Sheriam Sedai appears followed by three of the Accepted. She also has with her two husky men in rough laborers clothes.
Sheriam Sedai, the Mistress of Novices, has flame red hair and high cheek bones which are common in her native Saldaea. Her tilted green eyes make her smooth Aes Sedai features striking. She eyes Egwene and the others calmly.
Sheriam: So you have brought back our three runaways Verin. With everything that had happened I could almost wish you had not.
Egwene begins to protest but Verin cuts her off with a sharp “be silent!” The Brown Sister stares at all three of them as if the intensity of her look could hold all of their mouths shut. Egwene is sure that for her part it could. She has never seen Verin look so angry. Nynaeve crosses her arms and says nothing. When Verin is certain that Egwene and the others will remain still, she turns back to Sheriam.
Verin: The boy must be taken somewhere away from everyone. He is ill, dangerously so, dangerous to others as well as to himself.
Sheriam motions the two men to the litter and Mat is whisked away. Egwene opens her mouth to say that he needs help now but at Verin’s quick and furious stare she closes her mouth again. Nynaeve is pulling on her braid nearly hard enough to pull it out of her head. Verin supposes aloud to Sheriam that the entire Tower knows by now that they have returned. Sheriam replies that those who do not know will know within the hour. Sheriam tells her that comings and goings have become the first topic of conversation even before Falme and the War in Cairhein. She asks Verin if she hoped to keep their return secret. Verin replies by telling Sheriam that she must see the Amyrlin immediately.
Sheriam: And what of these three?
Verin considers Egwene and her friends, frowning, and replies that they must be closely held until the Amyrlin wishes to see them. She tells Sheriam that they need not use the cells, that their own rooms will work well enough, but that nothing must be said to anyone until they have been dealt with by the Amyrlin. Egwene is not sure whether she feels anger, fear, or worry, and decides it is likely some of all three.
With one last glance at her three traveling companions, Verin hurries off clutching the leather sack to her chest. Sheriam puts her fists on her hips and studies the three of them. The Mistress of Novices’ voice is grim when she speaks. She tells the three of them not to speak a word until they have seen the Amyrlin Seat.
Sheriam growls in disgust before speaking. She says that fewer girls come to the Tower than once did. She says a few of them leave after learning how not to harm themselves or others. She adds that only a bare handful can aspire to be raised to the Accepted and fewer still to wear an Aes Sedai’s shawl. She says that it is a hard life and a hard discipline yet every Novice fights for the right to obtain the shawl.
Sheriam: And you three who have more ability born in you than I ever hoped to see in my lifetime left the Tower without permission, ran away not even half trained, like irresponsible children, stayed away for months, and now you ride back in as if nothing has happened, as if you can take up your training again on the morrow.
She lets out a long breath and calls to Faolain, one of the Accepted with her. She orders the Accepted to take them to their rooms and to keep them there. She tells the Accepted that they may have bread, cold broth, and water until the Amyrlin Seat says otherwise. She tells the Accepted that if one of the three of them utters even one word that she can take her to the kitchens and set her to scrubbing pots. Sheriam whirls and stalks away expressing anger even with her back.
Faolain eyes the three of them with almost a hopeful air. She tells them that when they are sent for they will probably be stilled. Another Accepted, Theodrin, tells her to give over. Theodrin is the oldest of the Accepted present and tells Nynaeve that she will escort her to her room without attempting to bait her into anger. Nynaeve lets Theodrin lead her away. Faolain turns her stare to Egwene and Elayne. A third Accepted, a pretty apple cheeked young woman, stations herself beside Elayne. Egwene returns Faolain’s stare with as much calm as she can manage.
Egwene wonders what the Aes Sedai are planning to do to them. Faolain bids her to come along. Egwene takes Elayne’s hand and follows while hoping that they are healing Mat.
I wonder if I am the only one who is bothered by the fact that the apple cheeked Accepted does not get a name. She deserves a name.
Let’s see… so Hurin is gone. I think Nynaeve is probably being a little bit unfair with the “if you need me” exasperation. Hurin’s skillset is such that it might be worth sending for him and waiting for him. He is regularly sent for and waited on in Shienar.
I wonder how much of Sheriam’s anger is “for show” for the three Accepted. It’s one thing if the Aes Sedai know that the girls were kidnapped but I absolutely do not believe that this information is known among the students in the White Tower. Sheriam is probably making sure that the “they ran away” story is the one the Accepted believe.
I’m curious about Verin’s information fishing at the bridge. But I don’t really have any great guesses about what she was up to there. She was ready to ride away before the soldier started volunteering information about rumors that reached the city. Her questions seemed more directly confined to the city’s defenses. Perhaps she was trying to find out how strained things might be between Andor and Tar Valon since she heard that from Dain Bornhald?
That’s about it for this chapter. I suppose since we know that Min is on her way to Tar Valon that her entrance into the city might be tricky AND that things will be frosty between her and Egwene when that happens. We’ll probably have to wait for future chapters to see if the Black Ajah is still trying to kill the Supergirls.