It’s here! It’s actually here! Winter’s Heart has finally arrived to Reading The Wheel of Time!
I’m kind of amused at the way our heroes, along with everything else they have to deal with, are in this constant, swinging-pendulum battle against the weather. Of course, it wouldn’t be funny to me if I had to live through it (which I kind of do, thanks climate change) but it’s still sort of ironically amusing to watch winter drag on too long in The Eye of the World, then to have the temporary reprieve segue into a horrible, endless summer… and then have everyone be completely blindsided by the Bowl of the Winds-induced winter.
I do wonder if the intensity is due to the winter being held back by the Dark One, or possibly if the use/misuse of the Bowl is a factor as well. We still don’t know if Caire used it correctly or as it was intended, after all. But as always, I really enjoy Jordan’s descriptions; he did such an incredible job describing how it feels to be in the heat of the long summer, and I’m obsessed with his description of the thunder snow storm in Caemlyn. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s get into the recap. We’re covering about half of the Prologue of Winter’s Heart today—Seaine and Elayne’s sections. We’ll cover Toveine and Rand’s next week.
Deep in the White Tower, Seaine keeps watch at a door and tries not to think about the torture that is happening behind her. She and Pevara, along with their new allies Yikiri, Doesine, and Seaine, have taken Talene to a ter’angreal called The Chair of Remorse. By channeling into it, Doesine is making Talene hallucinate that she is being tortured by Trollocs. This is their third time torturing Talene in an attempt to convince her to forswear all oaths and then re-swear the Three Oaths on the Oath Rod.
Using the chair on initiates is forbidden by Tower Law, and some of the others worry over whether they have made the right choice and what will happen to them if they are discovered. Privately, Seaine finds herself missing when it was only her and Pevara; it is helpful to have allies, but they are no longer in charge here. Tower hierarchies have taken over, and Saerin is now leading the group.
Saerin orders Doesine to bring Talene out of her torture-trance, and Talene is reluctantly convinced to forswear and reswear. She admits to being Black Ajah, and even though Seaine knew that this had to be the answer, she still finds the confirmation jarring.
Talene tells them that the Dark knows every report Elaida receives and every order she gives long before she gives it, which means the Amyrlin Seat must be Black Ajah herself. She promises to tell them everything, as long as they all agree to run and hide somewhere together. Seaine wonders if she misunderstood Elaida’s order—Elaida only said to look for traitors, and never actually mentioned the Black Ajah by name.
Saerin doesn’t believe Elaida is Black, but decides it’s best not to tell her about their discoveries until they are prepared to take the Black Ajah out all at once. Pevara and Seaine tell the others about their discovery of Salidar rebels in the White Tower and the scheme to have them all swear obedience and used to hunt the Black Ajah. They all fall to discussing their options, waiting for Saerin to make up her mind about what she wants to do.
In Caemlyn, a huge thunderstorm blizzard rattles the windows in Elayne’s palace. Elayne is irked that Nynaeve and Vandene are busy; for Elayne, securing her claim to the throne is the most important consideration on her plate, and all others must wait, but she knows that Nynaeve and Vandene have Aes Sedai responsibilities. Elayne hopes to one day make Nynaeve her Aes Sedai advisor.
She also wants to rebuild the ranks of the Queen’s Guards by recruiting mercenaries and Hunters for the Horn. Dyelin thinks it’s a bad idea, citing how untrustworthy these groups can be, and is even more upset when she learns that Elayne wants the guards to be a large army. The Guards have never made up the entirety of Andor’s army before, and Dyelin thinks that such an army could alienate all of Elayne’s supporters.
Birgitte and Dyelin rarely agree on anything, but Birgitte, who Elayne has made Captain of her Guard, shares Dyelin’s concerns about mercenaries and hunters being unreliable. She’s also distressed at the idea of recruiting and managing such an army, so much so that she almost references her past in front of Dyelin.
Elayne explains to them both why the army is necessary, not only to face potential enemies from other Houses, but also because of the threat of the Seanchan. They are interrupted by Renaile and Zaida, who barge in unannounced, with Merilille trailing behind. Elayne tries to put them off, but Renaile insists that it is time to talk about Elayne fulfilling the Bargain made with Nesta din Reas—so far they have only received one of the twenty Aes Sedai teachers they were promised. Elayne points out that they have already been given the Bowl of the Winds and that assembling that many free Aes Sedai takes time. Eventually they agree that perhaps some of the Aes Sedai currently in the Palace might find time to do some interim teaching, when they can. Elayne is disconcerted when the Atha’an Miere behave as though they have made a formal bargain.
Mistress Harfor comes in to announce the arrival of Mazrim Taim, who has belatedly arrived after being summoned by Elayne two days earlier. Elayne asks Mistress Harfor to take Taim somewhere to wait when the man comes into the room anyway, followed by two other Asha’man.
He was tall, nearly as tall as Rand, with a hooked nose and dark eyes like augers, a physically powerful man who moved with something of a Warder’s deadly grace, but shadows seemed to follow him, as if half the lamps in the room had gone out; not real shadows, but an air of imminent violence that seemed palpable enough to soak up light.
Elayne instinctively embraces saidar and links with Merilille and Renaile. She can see that the Asha’man are aware that someone embraced saidin, but Taim derisively asks his men if they’re afraid of two Aes Sedai. Elayne realizes that he hasn’t recognized Renaile as a channeler. She takes her seat and interviews Taim. He asks what Rand will think of her taking down his banners and sending the Saldaeans and Aiel out of Caemlyn. Elayne tells him that Andor will ally with Rand when the time comes, but that they are not a conquered territory. Taim has walled off four miles of Andor and is not allowing the Queen’s Guard to enter.
“The law in Andor runs over all of Andor, Master Taim. Justice will be the same for lord or farmer—or Asha’man. I won’t claim I can force my way in.” He began to smile again, or nearly so. “I wouldn’t demean myself. But unless the Queen’s Guard is allowed in, I promise you not so much as a potato will go through your gates, either. I know you can Travel. Let your Asha’man spend their days Traveling to buy food.” The almost-smile vanished in a faint grimace; his boots shifted slightly.
Taim’s composure returns in a moment, and he comments that he has no objections to allowing visits—controlled visits with escorts, to prevent “accidents.” Elayne is furious at the disrespect, but realizes that her anger is being fanned by the fact that Birgitte is also angry. The warder bond is bouncing their anger back and forth between them, compounding it. Elayne controls herself with an effort.
And then she is interrupted yet again, this time by Nadere. Dyelin expresses her astonishment at the constant barging in, but Elayne has been expecting this summons, not knowing when it would come, but knowing that when it did, she needed to obey instantly. She tells Nadere that she will send everyone away and come at once, causing Nadere to suggest that Elayne’s modesty is more important to her than becoming Aviendha’s sister.
Elayne begins to undress, asking Dyelin to help her with the buttons. Taim orders the Asha’man to turn around. Birgitte asks Elayne what is happening, but Elayne has been forbidden to tell the little she does know. Nadere gives Elayne a blanket to shield her from the cold, and Elayne issues a few orders before following Nadere out into the hall.
Rats! There are rats in Tar Valon!
It’s been a bit since the “rats are spies for the Dark One” has been brought up. It was such a big part of The Eye of the World, and it’s been mentioned a few times since then—I believe it was in The Fires of Heaven that Rand was giving his soldiers money for catching rats—but not much. And now we have not only the confirmation that these potential spies for the Dark One are in the White Tower itself but also the metaphor between the rats and the Black Ajah both being recently discovered by Seaine.
The chair of remorse is, ah, really something. I suppose I can kind of understand the need to torture Talene. It’s not so much of a “the ends justify the means” situation as it is “the consequences of the Black Ajah justify the means.” But the fact that this ter’angreal is used on ordinary criminals kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The text says that the criminals “experience carefully selected consequences of their crimes,” so it doesn’t sound like they’re all being metaphysically tortured by Trollocs. But even if the punishment is relatively equal to the crime, it still is relevant, I think, to note that ordinary people are being treated this way by the White Tower.
It actually reminds me a little of Artur Hawkwing. At the height of Hawkwing’s empire there was very little crime, but this peace came, in part, because of the harshness of his laws and punishments. (We see the echos of this in modern Seanchan society, though of course there are many other influences at play there.) In the same way, the reader has long known that there is hardly any crime in Tar Valon, and no repeat offenders, but we are now learning more about how such a peace was achieved—through torture enacted using the One Power. Again, probably not the same level of torture that is used on Talene, but it is impossible for the reader to ignore the fact that in this instance at least, the Aes Sedai interrogators are willing to enact a simulated version of the same horrors that the Dark inflicts on its victims. Putting aside the question of whether such an action is or can be justified, and where that line is, it is still an important moment to note. Especially knowing that use of the Chair of Remorse on Tower initiates is forbidden.
I am very glad that Winter’s Heart opened this way, because I was worried that it might be a while until we found out what happened with the revelation that Talene—a Sitter and a former friend of Seaine’s—is Black Ajah. I thought perhaps we’d be living in suspense until Egwene was Amyrlin, or at least poised to be Amyrlin, and then Seaine and the others would need to bring the discovery to her attention.
It’s a very good thing for Egwene that Tower Aes Sedai with authority have independently discovered the existence of the Black Ajah within the White Tower. She’s going to have her work cut out for her when it comes to gaining the trust of the Tower Aes Sedai, especially if it actually comes down to actual fighting. She needs the Tower Aes Sedai to have some reasons to trust her. Pretty much everybody distrusts Elaida at this point, of course, which doesn’t hurt, but also everyone distrusts each other, and I don’t think anger at Elaida necessarily translates to believing in Egwene. If one of her first moves was to start hunting Black Ajah there might be considerable resistance, but if several Sitters are already secretly doing the same, that would probably be very helpful. They would be more inclined to trust Egwene if she came ready for the fight against the Black Ajah, and could provide her in turn with a plan of action, since they would already have been working on that search.
I feel really bad for the Salidar spies who are going to be roped into the hunt for the Black Ajah now. Especially having to swear to obey this group in all things. These women, most of whom I’m guessing are younger or lower ranking sisters, were ordered to this job by Sheriam and co., and really believe the story about the Red Ajah recruiting Logain—and now, suddenly, they are going to be magically enslaved and put in horrible danger instead. It’s amusing, however, to think about the similarities between these Black Ajah hunters and the last group. Siuan chose Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene because they were the only tower initiates she could be completely certain were not Darkfriends. Now, Seaine and Pevara have hatched their scheme based on the fact that interrogating, and then using, the Salidar women feels justified, based on their status as rebels.
On the other hand, I am fully enjoying the dramatic irony of Talene believing Elaida is Black Ajah. Her deductions make sense, of course—for a moment I thought it was strange that no one considered Alviarin in this equation, but then I remembered that even the Keeper wouldn’t be privy to every decision and report an Amyrlin received. None of Talene’s questioners are prepared to believe her claims about Elaida, even though they can confirm that she believes she is speaking the truth, without other evidence, so it would be too soon to leap to someone else who hadn’t even been named yet, even if it eventually occurred that someone close to Elaida might be stealing information for the Black Ajah.
I suppose I have to hand it to Elaida. She has made so many bad decisions, and caused so many problems, because of her own selfishness and destructive ambition. But in her attempts to bring down Alviarin, she has actually started something very important. And although Elaida never suspected that Alviarin might be Black Ajah, the hunt she sent Seaine on is ultimately going to be very dangerous for Alviarin, even if she herself isn’t discovered. And perhaps this points to Alviarin making a mistake—she feels so secure in her power to blackmail Elaida that she never considered that Elaida might find a way to sneak around her, or that such a chance, even if remote, could jeopardize the Black Ajah.
Again, that combination of ambition and overconfidence in their own prowess gets one of the baddies in trouble. Evil sows the seeds of its own destruction.
The description of Talene’s pain at undoing her previous oaths was harrowing. It’s interesting that it would be so challenging to use the Oath Rod to remove an oath previously sworn upon it. It’s possible that the Black oaths are sworn on a different ter’angreal, or some other way, of course. But we do know that Seaine experienced pain when removing even one of the Three Oaths and speculated that removing more than one would be agonizing, so the point stands either way. It makes me wonder what the Oath Rod was originally made for, and how that compares with how it’s being used by the modern Aes Sedai. For that matter, I wonder what the Chair of Remorse was originally used for. With the Oath Rod we know that there’s the lifespan-shortening effect, which suggests that it wasn’t used casually or on many people. But for all we know, the Chair might have been made to give people good visions. Maybe as some kind of therapy tool? After all, though I’m sure the world wasn’t perfect, war seems to have not existed in Lews Therin’s day, before the hole was drilled into the Dark One’s prison. There was still crime and bad people, of course, but it’s interesting to speculate about, especially knowing that the modern Aes Sedai understand so little about the artifacts they have inherited.
And then we have the metaphor of the Dark One’s rats, implicit in Seaine’s section, becoming explicit in Elayne’s section, with Mistress Harfor’s comment about the Asha’man. Which feels particularly apt in the case of Taim, as I have fully committed to my belief that he is definitely a Darkfriend. The way he is described in this section continues the vibe of evil around the man, with the shadows growing around him and everything. And then he goes all sleezing on Elayne, which you know is at least partly because he knows about Rand’s feelings for her.
It is, perhaps, naive of Rand to assume that keeping his distance from Elayne will keep her safe. Partially because plenty of people already know about the connection between them, and won’t be as quick as Rand is to assume that Elayne tearing down a few banners means anything. (You definitely get the vibe from Taim that he’d love to mess with Elayne because he knows how Rand feels.) But even outside of that, Elayne is a powerful and influential person in her own right, an Aes Sedai and the (potential) future Queen of Andor. Morgase was destroyed by Rahvin without needing to be connected to Rand, so it follows that Elayne might be in equal danger. Rand is letting his emotions, both his guilt over potentially endangering those he cares about and his feelings of rejection because of Elayne’s actions in Caemlyn, cloud his judgment. What Elayne really needs is an ally, someone who can support her as an equal. She doesn’t need a protector to gift her a throne, or a lover with a god complex and a painful fragile ego.
I appreciated the reminder from the narration that Rand’s attempts to “gift” the throne to Elayne aren’t just insulting to her, personally, but also undermine the people’s faith in her. Rand may be from Andor, but the Two Rivers was so isolated that they have no cultural relationship to the Lion Throne. He doesn’t understand how most Andorans think of their Queen, and how they would see Elayne as a conqueror or a usurper if they believed she ruled at Rand’s bequest.
This is also part of what Dyelin is pointing out when she objects to Elayne’s intention to build the Queen’s Guards into an army. There is clearly an important social contract in Andor between the ruler and her people. It is litigated primarily through the noble houses, but we saw how Elayne was taking the temperature of ordinary people as she traveled to Caemlyn. However, as Elayne points out, she has worries that past claimants to the throne never had, like the Seanchan. And she doesn’t even get into the fact that she, like every ruler, will need to ready her country for the Last Battle, which means an army to join to Rand’s forces, and possibly to support him in other ways leading up to Tarmon Gai’don.
Poor Birgitte. It makes sense that she keeps accidentally almost outing herself to everyone; the weight of that identity is the reason she wants to keep the secret, but her anxiety over that weight keeps overruling her ability to hide it. I don’t know how anyone would figure out who she is even with the blurted half-clues, though, considering that she was snatched out of the Dream World and somehow made human in the flesh. That’s not exactly how reincarnation is supposed to work. But I can also imagine that Birgitte is becoming more and more standardly human, as it were, the longer she spends existing as this version of herself in the real world. As a spirit in Tel’aran’rhiod or called by the Horn, she was something more than human, aware of all her past lives and of many other things that a human born in the usual way, even if they are a reincarnated hero, never would be. Now Birgitte is human, if not ordinary, and the weight of human concerns, and human fears, and human frailties, will weigh on her as they would weigh on any other living person. For that matter, it must be difficult to have memories of all her lives in her head, since that’s definitely not normal. We see how confusing it is for Mat just having pieces of other lives in his mind, after all. And Birgitte was not a general—I really loved the distinction made between facing an army and leading one.
Is it weird that I kind of want Dyelin and Birgitte to become BFFs? As the two advisors to Elayne (not counting her hopes for Nynaeve), they’ll be working closely together for a while, and they both are such interesting personalities who respect many of the same traits, like straightforwardness and emotional strength. They may not agree on most things, but they both have a no-nonsense approach that I really like, and I feel like they are perfect for a good enemies-to-friends journey.
Also I just love that Elayne is already surrounding herself with other women to be her advisors. I don’t have that much to say about the discussion they had before Taim’s arrival, or the interaction between Elayne and Renaile and Zaida, but it was all very interesting to read, and I particularly appreciated the fact that the Game of Houses was never played in Andor, but that maneuvering and machinations have become a part of Elayne’s life to the point where she is very grateful for her Aes Sedai training and how it prepared her for Daes Dae’mar. It will be particularly interesting to see if she can make this second mini bargain work out slightly better for her than the first one she and Nynaeve negotiated for.
I’m so curious about how the Warder bond is affecting the two of them. It seems to be a little different than what we’ve seen from other Aes Sedai/Warder pairs, although we haven’t spent nearly as much time in the head of any other Aes Sedai with a close Warder bond, even Moiraine. I did catch that their periods have synced up, which I guess makes sense but feels like a weird detail to include.
Next week we’ll cover the Aiel first sister ceremony which is really interesting and also a little off-putting, but also cool? In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few last thoughts.
- What is the present that Taim brought from Rand? Is it a real present actually from Rand? Or is Taim up to something?
- It’s interesting that Seaine learned a sort of eavesdropping weave from a friend when she was a novice. Presumably this friend was a wilder—the ability to listen in on conversations seems to be a common one developed by wilders, including Moiraine. But they mostly kept them to themselves, we know, since the weave was a bit of a revelation in Salidar.
- The way Elayne was both affected and not affected by the cold didn’t make sense to me. “Refusing to let the cold touch her did not mean she was unaware.” What does that mean, exactly? That she is only stopping the body’s reaction to the cold, maybe? It feels unclear.
- I keep forgetting about Gawyn! Given his hatred of Rand and his feelings for Egwene, it will be interesting to see how that shakes out for Gawyn. Egwene wants him for a Warder, I believe, and it would be pretty hard to be Warder to the Amyrlin and the First Prince of the Sword leading Elayne’s army.
- Sometimes the simplest answers are the right ones. I had always assumed that the Dark One had some magical way of breaking the bindings of the Oath Rod, and maybe he does. But it’s pretty unlikely that all the Black Ajah members made individual treks to Shayol Ghul to have that binding broken or removed, and much more likely that they were all just snitching the oath rod and having secret ceremonies in the bowels of the White Tower, not unlike what Seaine and her new allies are doing now.
- And finally, thank you Elayne for asking the same question I’ve been asking about Taim:
Light! Maybe Rand had needed this man once, but why would he keep him now, and in a position of such authority?