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 15: The Gray Man
Outside of the Amyrlin Seat’s study, Egwene and Nynaeve find the hallways mostly empty. The halls suddenly seem like caverns – dangerous caverns. Nynaeve strides along purposefully.
Egwene tells Nynaeve that she hopes she did not mean what she said about acting as though they are bound by the three oaths. Egwene tells her that she means to live – even if that means using the One Power as a weapon. Nynaeve tells Egwene that if any of the Black Ajah remain in the Tower, they will know what the two of them are up to as soon as they see them. She adds as an alternative that the Blacks will see them as a threat, at least, which amounts to the same thing regarding what they will do.
Egwene asks her how they could be seen as a threat. She adds that nobody perceives anyone as a threat if they can order them about. She also points out that this is why the Amyrlin set them to scrubbing dishes – to diminish the perception that they are a threat. Nynaeve disagrees and says that Liandrin would not have done what she did if the two of them were not perceived to be a threat in some way. Nynaeve says she cannot imagine how, or to what, they might be a threat. She adds though that she cannot see how that threat could have changed for any Black Ajah who might remain in the Tower, since their return, whether the Black Sisters suspect what they are doing or not.
Egwene says that she had not thought of that. She tells the other woman also that she will risk being stilled before she lets Darkfriends kill her. She tells Nynaeve that she does not believe that she would hold to the three oaths if under attack from Darkfriends Nynaeve tells her that she did mean every word she said. She adds that there are other ways to defend yourself – otherwise Aes Sedai would be killed every time they leave the White Tower. She tells Egwene that they just have to reason those ways out and use them. Egwene tells her that she knows several ways already and that Nynaeve knows them, too.
Nynaeve tells her that resorting to the One Power is dangerous. She says that when she let out her anger on the Whitecloaks that morning, it felt too good. Egwene tells her that she sounds like Sheriam and that she never has before. Nynaeve asks Egwene to be quiet so that she can think.
Nynaeve walks with Egwene all the way back to the Novice’s quarters. The galleries are still empty and they meet no one as they climb the spiraling ramps. As they come to Elayne’s room, Nynaeve stops, knocks once, and opens the door to put her head inside. Then she lets the door swing shut and strides toward the next door – Egwene’s room. Nynaeve tells her that Elayne is not here yet and that she needs to talk with both of them. Egwene catches Nynaeve’s shoulders and pulls Nynaeve to an abrupt halt.
Something black streaks past, scrapes her ear and tugs at her hair. After they hear it clang against the wall. In the next breath, Nynaeve bears Egwene to the gallery floor behind the railing. Wide-eyed and sprawling, Egwene stares at what is lying on the front of her door – a bolt from a crossbow. A few dark strands of her hair are tangled in the four heavy prongs meant for punching through armor. Egwene raises her hand to touch the tiny scrape on her ear. It is damp with a bead of blood.
She thinks that if she had not stopped just then, the bolt would have gone through her head and likely killed Nynaeve, too. She sees a glow around Nynaeve indicating that she has embraced saidar. Egwene tries hastily to do the same and at first her haste prevents that from happening. She takes a deep breath, tries again, and the power fills her.
On their bellies, Egwene asks Nynaeve if she sees the man who did it. They both peer through the railings but see no one. Nynaeve says that she thinks she sees someone. Then she is certain. She rises to her feet as if she has nothin to worry about. Egwene stares at her and asks what she did.
Nynaeve in a lecturing tone tells her that of the five powers, air is sometimes thought by many to be of the least use. She adds that this is far from true. She laughs and tells Egwene that she used air to hold the crossbowman with air. She adds that this was a trick the Amyrlin showed her how to do once though she suspects the Amyrlin thought she would learn how to do it. She asks Egwene if she intends to lie there all day.
The walk down to the gallery and a man comes into view. He is in britches and a brown coat. He is balanced on one foot with the other hanging in mid air as if he has been caught in the middle of running. Egwene also remembers the Amyrlin’s trick but does not think she could do it herself. Nynaeve only needs to see a thing done once to know how to do it – when she can manage to channel at all.
When they reach the man, they are shocked to find a dagger in his chest. Death has already filmed over his eyes. He crumples to the gallery floor when Nynaeve releases him. He is an average man, of average build, and average height, with features so ordinary that Egwene doubts she would notice him in a group of three. She studies him for a moment before realizing that something is missing – a crossbow. She gives a start and looks about wildly.
Egwene: Somebody took the crossbow and somebody stabbed him. He could be out there ready to shoot at us again.
Nynaeve tells Egwene to calm herself as she looks both directions. Her words cut off at the sound of steps on the ramp. Egwene’s heart pounds as she sees Sheriam Sedai arriving to the top of the ramp. The Aes Sedai asks what in the name of the Light has happened here. Nynaeve tells her that they found him. Sheriam puts a hand on the dead man’s chest and jerks it back twice as fast, hissing. She visibly steels herself and touches him again, maintaining the touch longer this time.
Sheriam: Dead. As dead as it is possible to be and maybe more.
She straightens, pulls a handkerchief from her sleeve, and wipes her hand off. She asks if they found the man here, like this. Egwene nods. Nynaeve tells her that they did. Sheriam tells them that a dead man in the Novice’s Quarters would be scandal enough. She tells them that this man was one of the Soulless, a Gray Man. Egwene asks her what the Soulless are. Sheriam glances at them and comments on how they are behind on their studies. She explains that the Soulless give up their souls to serve the Dark One. She tells them that they are assassins and that they are not really alive once they surrender their souls. She tells them that despite name, even some women become Gray Men.
Sheriam: You can look right at them and hardly notice them until it is too late.
She gives them another long look and tells them that no Gray Man has entered Tar Valon since the Trolloc Wars. Egwene asks what she will do. Sheriam replies that the Amyrlin will not want word of this to spread and she instructs them to keep this quiet to all except herself and the Amyrlin – should the Amyrlin bring it up first.
Sheriam’s attention appears to be entirely on the dead man. She tells them that there will be no hiding the fact that a man was killed here. Sheriam channels an opaque dome over the body. She tells them that she will have the body removed before the Novices return. She tells the two of them to go and warns them about the potential repercussions in the Tower if it is known that they are involved in this – even on the edge of this. She tells them both to go again.
Egwene curtsies and tugs at Nynaeve’s sleeve. Instead of leaving right away, Nynaeve asks Sheriam why she came up to the Novice Quarters in the first place. For just a moment, she seems startled. Then she places her hands on her hips and asks her if the Mistress of Novices needs an excuse to visit the Novice Quarters. She tells them to go before she hauls both of them to her study and not for the appointment that the Amyrlin has already set for them.
A sudden thought comes to Egwene. She excuses herself to retrieve her cloak, stating that she feels cold. She thinks that if Sheriam finds the crossbow bolt, they will have even more questions to answer and no pretending that they had only found this man. When she reaches the door to her room, the heavy bolt is gone. Egwene’s skin crawls. She wonders how someone could have retrieved the bolt without them seeing him and decides that there must be another Gray Man in the Tower. She opens the door and goes into her room. There is no one there. She snatches the cloak from its peg and does not release saidar until she is halfway back to where Sheriam and Nynaeve are standing.
Something more must have passed between the women while she was gone because Nynaeve is trying to give the appearance of meekness and not succeeding. Sheriam still has her fists on her hips and is tapping her foot irritably.
Egwene: Forgive me, Sheriam Sedai. This finding a dead man, a Gray Man, it made me cold. If we may go now?
Sheriam nods in dismissal. Nynaeve gives a slight curtsy. Egwene yanks her away and asks the older woman if she is trying to make more trouble for them. Egwene asks what else she said to make Sheriam glare that way and adds that she hopes Nynaeve learned something as a result. Nynaeve mutters that Sheriam would not say anything. Nynaeve tells Egwene that they must ask questions if they are to do any good.
Nynaeve: We’ll have to take a few chances or we’ll never learn anything.
Egwene sighs and suggests that Nynaeve can be a little more circumspect. From the set of Nynaeve’s jaw, it is clear she has no intention of doing that. Egwene sighs again and blurts out that the crossbow bolt was gone. She tells her that she thinks another Gray Man must have taken it.
Nynaeve: So that is why you… Light!
After a while, Egwene asks her what Sheriam did to cover the body. Nynaeve tells her that Sheriam used air. She tells Egwene that it is a neat trick and that she thinks she sees how to do something useful with it.
They reach the Accepted Quarters. There is no one around except for another Accepted. Quietly, Nynaeve tells Egwene to remember the body, to remember that he tried to kill them, and to remember the Black Ajah.
Nynaeve: Because if you forget, just once, the next time it may be you lying dead.
Nynaeve asks her if she noticed what Sheriam did not mention. When Egwene says no, Nynaeve points out that Sheriam never wondered who stabbed the man. She tells Egwene to come on into her room where they can talk.
I believe we are supposed to distrust Sheriam after this chapter. Jordan lays it on pretty thick. It’s one thing for her to be in the wrong place – such that we might suspect her in a red herring kind of way. But Nynaeve makes a great point about how she does not ask about the identity of the stabber or seem concerned about it at all. It’s almost like she knows the answer and is hiding it / distracting away from it. Was she coming to the Novice Quarters to “find” their bodies? That seems likely to me.
It’s also a perfect place for the Black to infiltrate. You want to subvert the good guys? Infiltrate their education ranks. The Mistress of Novices would be ideally placed to recruit future Black Sisters… and since Aes Sedai live so long she could keep that job for a LONG time.
All of that said, Sheriam did not do the stabbing and did not take the crossbow. Danger lurks about the halls of the White Tower.
I’m glad that Nynaeve did not lose sight of the fact that The Black wanted them dead *before* they were sent on this mission by Siuan. It makes agreeing easy, I think, inasmuch as her best hope of living is to figure out who might be hunting her.
Smart thinking by Egwene to go grab the crossbow bolt. She managed to confirm that other baddies are out there.
What do we think about the crossbow bolt missing them? That feels really ta’veren-ish to me. Will Mat need them to live, in order to survive himself? He is the most nearby ta’veren. Are they being protected by Rand with that particular bit of plot armor?
It appears Nynaeve plans to bring Elayne in on their plans (she wanted to talk to both Elayne and Egwene.) That is probably for the best inasmuch as they can use all the help they can find.