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 14: The Bite of the Thorns
The Amyrlin does not speak at once. She walks across the room and looks out the arched window at the garden below. Minutes go by before she speaks, still with her back to the two of them.
Amyrlin: I have kept the worst of it from getting out but how long will that last? The servants do not know of the stolen ter’angreal and they do not connect the deaths with Liandrin and the others leaving.
She tells Egwene and Nynaeve that this was not easy to manage. She explains that the servants believe the deaths were the work of Darkfriends – and they were – but none outside the Tower and few inside know that Aes Sedai were killed. Siuan says she has spent her life denying that the Black Ajah exists and she says she will find them and gut them. Nynaeve gives Egwene an uncertain look.
Nynaeve: Mother, are we to be punished more, beyond what you have already sentenced us to?
Siuan looks at them and says that some will say that. She adds that some will say she has given them a gift by raising them.
Siuan: Now feel the real bit of that rose’s thorns.
She returns to her desk and sits. Egwene thinks she looks uncertain – and that thought makes her stomach clench. Seeing the Amyrlin waver chills Egwene to her core. Softly, Siuan tells them that it is a question of who she can trust. She tells them that she should be able to trust Leane and Sheriam, at least, but asks the two women if she dares to do it. She asks if she can trust Verin before adding that she already trusts her with more than her life. She asks if she can trust Moiraine before telling them that she has always believed that she could trust Moiraine.
Egwene wonders how much the Amyrlin knows about Rand and about the fact that Moiraine and Verin are helping him. Egwene thinks about her dream last night of Rand running from Moiraine. Nynaeve asks her what she is talking about. She asks again if they are to be punished more and says she does not understand this talk of trust. Nynaeve adds though that she does not think Moiraine should be trusted.
The Amyrlin asks if she, barely a year out of her village, really thinks she can know which Aes Sedai can be trusted and which not before. She concedes though that she cannot say for sure.
Siuan: The point is that you two are what I have to work with, thin reeds though you may be.
Siuan tells them that given what happened with Liandrin she has to believe that they are not Black Ajah. Siuan says that she would rather eat scales and entrails than say that name before adding that she supposes she will have to get used to it. Egwene gapes in shock. Nynaeve protests angrily at even the notion that either of them might be Black Ajah. The Amyrlin fires back that they are not Aes Sedai, not by miles, and tells her to speak if she has more to say. Nynaeve manages to control her temper before saying more calmly that they would never join the Shadow. Siuan smiles and is happy that Nynaeve can control her temper when she wants to. She tells her that she needed to know whether she could.
Siuan tells Nynaeve that she wishes she could find a way to raise her to the shawl. She adds that Verin has told her she is more powerful than any sister in the entire Tower already. Nynaeve gasps in surprise. Siuan tells her, and herself, that there is no point in wishing over what cannot be. She says she cannot have Nynaeve scrubbing pots and raised to full Sisterhood at the same time. She also lets Nynaeve know that Verin has told her she cannot channel consciously unless she is furious.
Siuan: The final tests for the shawl require you to channel while maintaining utter calm under pressure. Extreme pressure. Even I cannot and would not set that requirement aside.
Nynaeve seems stunned. Egwene finally speaks and says she does not understand.
Siuan: You are the only two in the Tower I can be absolutely sure are not Black Ajah.
She tells them that Liandrin and her twelve left but asks if that means all of the Black Ajah left or if it is possible that they left some of their number behind. She tells them that in either case she will not let Liandrin and her number get away unscathed. She says she means to find them and still them. Nynaeve says that she does not see what this has to do with them.
Siuan: Just this, Child. You two are to be my hounds hunting the Black Ajah. No one will believe it of you – not a pair of half-trained Accepted I humiliated publicly.
Nynaeve says that this is crazy and she points out that Egwene has not even been raised to Accepted yet. She adds that the Amyrlin knows she herself cannot channel enough to light a candle unless she is angry. She asks Siuan what chance they would have and Egwene nods in agreement.
Siuan tells them that what they are saying is true. She adds though that each of them is more than a match for Liandrin in sheer power – and she is the strongest of them. She tells them that when you do not have an oar, any plank will do to paddle you to shore. Egwene blurts that she would be useless. Her voice comes out as a squeak as she realizes that the Amyrlin means that they do what she is telling them.
Egwene tells her that between her studies, cleaning in the kitchens, and Anaiya Sedai’s continued studies of her Dreams, she will not have enough time to eat and sleep, let alone hunt the Black Ajah. The Amyrlin tells her that she will have to find the time. She tells Egwene that as an Accepted, she will chose her own studies and the times for them. Egwene looks to Nynaeve.
Nynaeve: Why is Elayne not part of this? It can’t be because you think she is Black Ajah. Is it because she is Daughter-Heir of Andor?
Amyrlin: A full net on the first cast, Child.
Siuan tells her that she would make Elayne one of them if she could be at the moment Morgase gives her enough problems as it is. She says that perhaps once that issue is back on the proper path, Elayne may join them then. Nynaeve asks the Amyrlin then to leave Egwene out of it and volunteers to do the hunting herself. She tells Siuan that Egwene is barely old enough to be a woman. Siuan replies before Egwene can protest that if she had one hundred of them, it would not be enough. As has two, she will use two.
Egwene: Nynaeve, I do not understand you. Do you mean you want to do this?
Nynaeve: It isn’t that I want to. But I’d rather hunt them than sit wondering if the Aes Sedai teaching me is really a Darkfriend. And whatever they are up to I do not want to wait until they are ready to find out what it is.
Egwene says she does not want to sit and wait wondering, either. She also tells Nynaeve never to say she is not old enough again and adds that she is not a little girl anymore. The stiffness in Nynaeve drains out and she acknowledges that Egwene is not.
Nynaeve: I have said myself you are a woman but I suppose I did not really believe it inside. Girl, I, no, woman – woman I hope you realize you’ve climbed into a pickeling cauldron with me and the fire may be lit.
Egwene: I know it.
The Amyrlin smiles as if pleased but there is also something in her eyes that make Egwene suspicious that she had known what their decisions would be all along. For an instant she feels puppeteers strings on her arms and legs. Siuan tells them that Verin will tell them all that is known of Liandrin and the others as well as a list of the ter’angreal that were taken and what they might do – those that they know at least. She tells them regarding the Black Ajah who might be in the Tower to listen, watch, and to be like mice. She advises them to report to her if they have even a suspicion of anyone. Siuan tells them that she will keep an eye on them herself and points out that no one will think that her doing so is strange given what they are being punished for.
She reminds them that they have killed before and could easily kill again. Nynaeve points out that as Accepted, they will have to obey any Sister who gives them an order and she reminds Siuan that there are places in the Tower that Accepted are not permitted to go. Siuan tells her that they will have to work within those restrictions. She reminds Nynaeve that the idea is for no one to suspect them of what they are doing.
With hesitation, Siuan opens a black box on her desk and sorts through papers before pulling two out. She tells the two of them to keep the papers well hidden in case of an emergency. Egwene unfolds her thick paper.
What the bearer does is done by my order and by my authority. Obey and keep silent at my command.
– Siuan Sanche, Watcher of the Seals, Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat
In a wondering voice, Nynaeve says she could do anything with this. The Amyrlin agrees dryly, adding that Nynaeve could at least until she found out about it. Nynaeve says she would not use it carelessly and that she is surprised at the amount of authority being given to her. Siuan reminds her that a Darkfriend will not heed the paper any more than a Whitecloak would. She adds that both would likely kill her just for having it.
Siuan: If that paper is a shield, well, paper shields are flimsy and this one may have a target painted on it.
Egwene folds her paper up and puts it in her belt pouch, resolving not to take it out again unless she absolutely has to. She then wonders how she will know when that is.
Abruptly, Nynaeve asks the Amyrlin about Mat. She tells the Amyrlin that he is very sick and may not have much time left. Curtly, Siuan tells her that she will send word to her.
Siuan: Now off with you Children. The hope of the Tower rests in your hands.
She reminds them that they both have appointments with Sheriam and with the pots in the kitchens.
This chapter gives us a pretty grim picture of what Nyaneve and Egwene walked into inside the Tower. The Amyrlin herself trusts absolutely no one – so neither should they. Not only should they trust no one, they are also now tasked with hunting down the baddies in secret. On the one hand, we are given the impression that both of them are much stronger than anyone they will be hunting. On the other, they know significantly less.
Take away the awe that these two hold Siuan in and this is objectively a terrible and dangerous plan. Does Siuan have any other options? I am not sure. I think her primary weakness in the moment is that she does not know *how* the Black Ajah get around The Three Oaths. It’s hard to take steps to counter them without knowing that much. She also cannot take significant political gambles because she *must* keep her position as Amyrlin (at all costs) until Rand is… in hand. All things being equal, she probably views the risk of the Black Ajah as less than the risk of not securing The Dragon Reborn, acceptance of him from the world, and an Aes Sedai advisor at his side.
So… she pretty much has to send out Nynaeve and Egwene, on a hope and a prayer, to deal with the Black Ajah problem while she tries to deal with the Rand problem. She can’t have her fingerprints on the BA hunt. I guess sending those two out as her hounds is better than doing nothin at all – though she should not view it as better by much.
I understand why the two Emond’s Field women want to do the job – especially after what they went through in Falme. It beats doing nothing and waiting for the next attempt on their lives. That said… if it were me… I’d be planning my Tower exit / trip home to Emond’s Field.