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 17: The Red Sister
Elaida is a handsome woman with a stern face. She does not look old and yet Egwene cannot imagine her as having ever been young. Elaida is wearing a long fringed red shawl announcing her Ajah. She moves into the room and watches the women inside as a bird watches worms.
Elaida: So all of you are together. Somehow that does not surprise me.
Nynaeve formally asks Elaida Sedai for her forgiveness and tells her that she was about to go out – as she has much to catch up on in her studies. Elaida tells her that her studies can wait. Elaida takes a cloth bag from Nynaeve’s hands and unties its strings. After one glance inside, she tosses the bag onto the floor.
Elaida: Herbs. You are not a village Wisdom any longer, Child. Trying to hold onto the past will only hold you back.
Elayne also addresses Elaida Sedai formally.
Elaida: Be silent, Novice. You may have broken a bond between Tar Valon and Caemlyn that has lasted three thousand years. You will speak when spoken to.
Elayne’s eyes examine the floor as spots of color burn in her cheeks. Egwene is not sure whether the spots represent guilt or anger. Elaida ignores all three of them and sits in one of the room’s chairs, carefully arranging her skirts as she does. She does not give the other three women permission to sit. After sitting for a while in silence, Elaida speaks.
Elaida: Did you know that we have the Black Ajah among us?
The three younger women exchange startled glanced. Nynaeve eventually speaks and tells her cautiously that they were told. She then says the two Emond’s Field women disappeared with the Daughter-Heir of Andor, without a trace. Elayne tells the Red Sister that they did not take her, that she left of her own free will. She and Elaida stare angrily at each other as Egwene hopes inwardly that Elayne reigns in her temper. Eventually Elayne apologizes and tells Elaida that she forgot herself. Elaida goes on, telling Elayne that she will be the first openly Aes Sedai Queen of any nation in one thousand years and one of the strongest Aes Sedai since the Breaking of the World on top of that.
Elaida: Do not risk all of that, Child, because you can still lose it all.
Elaida tells all three of them that they may be in grave danger. She says that in the interval of their absence, Liandrin and her companions left the Tower. She warns all three of them that there will be comparison between the two sets of disappearances and she adds that they are sure Liandrin and all of her companions are Darkfriends.
Elaida: I would not see the same charge leveled at Elayne and to protect her it seems I must protect all of you.
Elaida commands the three of them to tell her why they ran away and what they have been doing all these months. She says that if they do she will do what she can to protect them. Elaida’s eyes fasten on Egwene like grappling hooks. Egwene flounders for an answer that the Aes Sedai will accept, knowing that it is said that Elaida can hear a lie.
Egwene tells Elaida that they left because of Mat – who is very sick. She tries to choose her words carefully to say nothing that is not true. She says that they went to get him, and bring him back, so that he could be healed. She says that if they had not done so he would die. Egwene adds that the Amyrlin is going to heal him.
Nynaeve cuts in to tell Egwene that she has shared enough. Elaida shifts her gaze to Nynaeve. She tells the Red Sister that the Amyrlin told them that they are not even to speak of their transgressions. Nothing in Elaida’s voice or on her face tells whether she believes or not.
Elaida: She said that, did she? Interesting. You can hardly forget entirely when your punishment has been announced to the entire Tower – unprecedented, that, unheard of for less than stilling. I can see why you are eager to put it all behind you.
Elaida changes the subject to say that she understands both Elayne and Egwene are to be raised to the Accepted. She points out that this is hardly punishment. Elayne looks at Elaida as if for permission to speak and then tells her that the Amyrlin says they are ready. She adds that she has learned and grown. With a touch of defiance in her voice, she adds that the Mother would not have named her to be raised if she had not.
Elaida muses aloud over the words learned and grown. She acknowledges that perhaps Elayne has. She then shifts her gaze back to Egwene and Nynaeve. She tells them if they returned with Mat, a youth from their village. She adds that there is another young man from their village, Rand al’Thor. Egwene feels as if any icy hand has suddenly gripped her stomach.
Nynaeve tells the Aes Sedai levelly that she hopes Rand is well. She adds that they have not seen him in some time. Elaida studies them as she speaks.
Elaida: An interesting young man. I met him only once but I found him most interesting. I believe he must be ta’veren. The answers to many questions may rest in him. This Emond’s Field must be an unusual place to produce the two of you and Rand al’Thor.
Nynaeve tells her that it is just a village like any other. Elaida smiles at her. She tells Nynaeve and Egwene to tell her about Rand and suggests that the Amyrlin has not commanded them to be silent about him. Just as Nynaeve opens her mouth to say something, the door slams open. Sheriam regards the room with a measure of surprise. She tells Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene that she wants all three of them to come with her befoer adding that she had not expected to see Elaida here.
The Red Sister stands and says that they are all curious about the girls and why they ran away and what adventures they had while gone. Elaida tells her that the Amyrlin has commanded the three of them not to speak on these things and Sheriam says that it is well that they do not, as they are to be punished, and an end put to it. For a long moment the two Aes Sedai stand looking at each other.
Elaida suggests that she will speak to the girls again at another time, about other matters. She gives the three of them a look that seems to carry with it a warning. Then she slips past Sheriam out the door.
When Elaida is well down the corridor, all three women let out a breath. Elayne says under her breath that Elaida threatened to have her stilled for being willful. Sheriam replies to say that she mistook Elaida and adds that if willfulness were a stilling offense, the list of the stilled would contain more names than could be learned.
Sheriam: Few meek women ever achieve the ring and the shawl. That is not to say that you must not learn to act meekly when it is required.
She tells all three of them that they will have plenty of opportunities to practice meekness before they earn their way back into the Amyrlin’s good graces and her own. She tells them that her own good graces will be harder to achieve.
Nynaeve asks Sheriam about the body of the soulless and whether she has discovered who killed him and how he entered the Tower. Sheriam’s mouth tightens.
Sheriam: You take one step forward Nynaeve then a step back. Since from Elayne’s lack of surprise you have obviously told her of it, after I told you not to speak of the matter, then there are exactly seven people in the Tower who know a man was killed today in the Novice’s Quarters and two of them are men who know no more than that except that they are to keep their mouths shut.
Sheriam tells them that if an order from the Mistress of Novices carries no weight with her, and she says she will correct her if that is the case, that the Amyrlin also commands that they are to speak of this to no one. She asks if she makes herself clear. The three of them say yes in a chorus. Nynaeve goes on, though, and says that in addition to the seven, the person who killed the Gray Man also knows and that there may also be those who helped them into the Tower. Sheriam tells her firmly that this is no concern of hers.
She tells all three of them that she will ask whatever questions must be asked about this man and that they are to forget that they know anything at all about him. She warns them that there are worse things than scrubbing pots if she discovers that they are attempting to learn more.
Egwene is concerned that Sheriam’s watchful eye will make it more difficult to carry out a search for the Black Ajah. She feels an urge to laugh at the idea of Sheriam catching them if the Blacks do not but then considers that Sheriam herself might be Black. She wishes she can make that thought go away.
Sheriam tells all of them that they are to come with her. Nynaeve asks them where they are going and she asks if they have forgotten that in the Tower healing is always done in the presence of those who bring the sick to them. Egwene thinks that Sheriam’s patience with them is almost used up. However, before she can stop herself she bursts out.
Egwene: Then she is going to heal him!
Sheriam tells her that the Amyrlin herself, among others, will see to him. She asks Egwene if she had reason to doubt it. Egwene shakes her head and Sheriam says that they waste her friend’s life standing here. Despite her words, though, Egwene has the feeling that Sheriam is in no hurry at all.
I think in some sense we are supposed to distrust Elaida. That’s mostly born out of the fact that she is Red and the girls are all afraid of her. However, Elaida does nothing openly untrustworthy in this chapter. Quite the opposite, actually. She shares with all three of them that the Black Ajah is real, she tells them who some of the Blacks are (Liandrin and her associates), she tells them that they are in danger, and she offers to keep an eye on them. Further, despite the harsh words for Elayne, she goes on to say that Elayne will someday be Queen of Andor and she implies that the recent rift between Tar Valon and Andor will be mended.
This is pretty similar to their meeting with Siuan – who are are definitely intended to trust.
The really shady character is Sheriam. And yet the girls seem to like her and we seem as though we are meant to trust her.
I wonder how much it helps the Supergirls that they are so strong. I suspect that a fully trained but considerably less powerful Aes Sedai might be nervous attacking one of them openly. Hence the Black Ajah in the Tower might feel compelled to kill them by other means.
Re: Sheriam… I am not sure it makes a lot of sense for Nynaeve to reveal to her that she noticed the Mistress of Novices failed to mention the Gray Man’s killer. After her last conversation, she points out the omission to Egwene (i.e. “you notice that she didn’t say anything about who killed the Gray Man or even seemed all that concerned about it.”) Here she points out the omission to Sheriam’s face.
Maybe this was all an effort by Nynaeve to gauge the other woman’s reaction?
It looks like Mat will live. Everyone in the Tower has dragged her feet to heal him but he stubbornly (a famous Two Rivers trait) refuses to die. If Siuan is in no hurry to heal him, it’s so that his connection to the Horn is severed. Why is Sheriam – who does not know about the Horn – also in no hurry? She’s sus, that’s why.