This week we are covering Chapter 26 of The Path of Daggers, the first section of which was an absolute joy to read, and the second part of which was exactly the opposite. In many ways, this one chapter shows an example of what I love best about Jordan’s work and also some of the things I… don’t. I’m feeling the whiplash of that, I must say, but it’s also going to make for a very interesting installment of Reading The Wheel of Time.
Content warning: This post contains discussion of rape and rape analogy.
Seaine has been searching the Tower for hours, chilled by the cold and the frosty attitudes of the other sisters, looking for Zerah Dacan. She reflects on the changes that have come over the Ajahs. There have been incidents of sisters being “bundled unceremoniously from the hallways around another Ajah’s quarters” and even beaten. Seaine thinks it’s a pity that the Hall could not obstruct Elaida’s decree, and now the Ajahs are behaving like armed camps.
Seaine finally finds Zarah, and instructs the younger sister to come with her. Zerah shows some apprehension as she is led down into the depths of the tower, to a level even lower than that where the Accepted are tested. Seaine brings her into a small room where Pevara is waiting at a table she and Seaine had managed to sneak down. Zerah shows clear alarm at the situation, but when Pevara tells her that they want to know if she is Black Ajah, her nervousness changes to outrage.
She accuses the Reds of setting up false dragons and suggests that it is among their ranks that one should be looking for Darkfriends. Pevara is furious, but Seaine intervenes. Pevara produces the Oath Rod, telling Zarah she will swear on it. Zarah is willing to swear the Three Oaths again, and promises to demand an apology afterwards, but she snatches her hand away when Pevara tells her that she will be swearing to obey Pevara and Seaine.
“That way, we can tell you to answer truthfully and know you will, and if you give the wrong answer, we can know you’ll be obedient and helpful in helping us hunt down your Black sisters. The Rod can be used to free you of the oath, if you give the right answer.”
“To free—?” Zerah exclaimed. “I’ve never heard of anyone being loosed from an oath on the Oath Rod.”
Seaine explains that, since the Black Ajah must be able to lie, there must be a way to free someone from their oath. She and Pevara have tested it. She doesn’t mention that they have no intention of freeing Seaine afterwards, even if she does not turn out to be a Black sister, because their operation must remain a secret.
To prove that they re-took their Oaths after freeing themselves, Pevara takes up the Rod and takes the Oaths in front of Zerah, then states aloud that she is not a Darkfriend. Seaine follows suit. It is uncomfortable. Zerah continues to hesitate, then finally speaks the promise of obedience, ecstatic to be able to state that she is not Black Ajah.
They confront Zerah over her tale of coming back to the Tower from the North. She insists that it’s true, but a red cockleburr found on her saddle proves she was in the south. When Pevara asks where her journey started and why, Zerah blurts that she came from Salidar, and that she came to make sure all the Sisters in the Tower knew about Logain and the Red Ajah, so they will depose Elaida and the Tower can be made whole again.
Pevara is furious at Zerah for starting that rumor, and demands that she admit that it is a lie. But when Zerah starts choking and writhing, Seaine realizes that Pevara believes that the story is true. Pevara has just given her two conflicting orders, to tell the truth and to lie. Pevara resists for a moment, and then tells Zarah that she doesn’t have to lie.
Seaine is struck by the concept of conflicting orders, and wonder if the Black Ajah replaces the Three Oaths with their own oaths. That would make all their questioning more complicated. Pevara is ready to reveal Zarah, but Seaine hesitates, pointing out that since Zarah is a rebel they don’t have to feel bad about using her in their search.
She asks for the number and names of any sisters who were sent with Zarah, and give her careful orders to bring one of them down to this room to be questioned. Pevara also orders Zarah to stop mentioning the Red Ajah and false dragons together, and Zarah, sullen, has no choice but to obey.
Pevara and Seaine argue while they wait about how best to act towards the rebels they have discovered, and when and how much punishment they deserve. But when the door opens again it is not Zarah returning but a group of Sitters—Saerin, Yukiri, Doesine, and Talene. Seaine hides the Oath Rod in her skirts.
Saerin remarks how strange it is to see Pevara and Seaine skulking around together, while Seaine tries to think what would bring these four Sitters for four different Ajahs—Green, Yellow, Brown, and Gray—all the way down here. She has several alarming deductions in mind, but it is revealed that Yukiri saw them sneaking around. Yukiri insists that she didn’t think it was any of her business until Talene started bothering her about sisters huddling in corners. Talene demands to know if the heads of the White and Red Ajah set Pevara and Seaine to a secret task. Pevara tells them what the head of her Ajah says to her is none of their business, and Doesine grumbles that this whole thing is a waste of time. But Saerin is keener than all of them, and discovers the Oath Rod hidden on Seaine’s lap.
She snatches it up, and the three other newcomers babble questions and accusations, Talene still asking about the Ajah Heads, until Saerin quiets them.
“This is the key to the puzzle, I think,” she said, stroking the Rod with her thumb. “Why this, after all?” Abruptly the glow of saidar surrounded her, too, and she channeled Spirit to the Rod. “Under the Light, I will speak no word that is not true. I am not a Dark-friend.”
She hands the Rod back, and Seaine and Pevara take the oath against lying and swear. Yukiri and Doesine do the same, but Talene resists, calling the whole event foolish and insisting that there is no Black Ajah.
“Even to ask this is a slander. Worse than slander!” Something feral moved in her eyes. An irrational thought, perhaps, but that was what Seaine saw. “Now move out of my way,” Talene demanded with all the authority of a Sitter in her voice. “I am leaving!”
“I think not,” Pevara said quietly, and Yukiri nodded slowly in agreement. Saerin did not stroke her knife hilt; she gripped it till her knuckles went white.
Toveine Gazal, leading four other Red sisters and a party of twenty Tower guards, believes that she is only a day or two from reaching the Black Tower, where she will rendezvous with nine other similar groups. She imagines that Elaida thinks that Toveine must be grateful to be taken out of exile and given this assignment, but she is not.
What had been done twenty years ago was necessary, and the Light burn all those who muttered that the Black Ajah must have been involved. It had been necessary and right, but Toveine Gazal had been driven from her chair in the Hall, and forced to howl for mercy under the birch, with the assembled sisters watching, and even novices and Accepted witnessing that Sitters, too, lay beneath the law, though they were not told what law.
After her punishment, Toveine was sent to work on a farm in the Black Hills where she was treated like any other servant or farmhand by the mistress there.
And Elaida had slipped through the cracks uncaught, danced her way to the Amyrlin Seat that Toveine had once dreamed of for herself. No, she was not grateful. But she had learned to wait her chance.
A tall man in a black coat appears suddenly from the trees, shielding Toveine with the One Power and promising not to hurt her if she surrenders. She warns the sisters, telling them to link, and is startled when they report also being shielded. More men, fifteen in all, emerge from the trees. Toveine decides that the Black Tower must have sent every man who could channel against her. Knowing that men believe that they can only channel as far as they could see, she gives a low order for all the sisters to break on her command, ride away until they are no longer shielded, and then return to help the guards.
She gives the order and the guardsmen engage the Asha’man as the sisters break for the trees. She hears the tall man shouting not to harm any Aes Sedai, by order of the Dragon Reborn. The shield doesn’t falter, and suddenly she is knocked from her saddle by an invisible blow and held in the air. Realizing that it must be saidin holding her, she fights panic. When the man lowers her down to sit in front of him on his horse she sees the pins on his coat, a silver sword on one side and a strange red and gold creature on the other. She is the prisoner of a man who can channel, and at the realization she begins to scream and fight, calling for deliverance from the Shadow.
Dimly she was aware of his horse plunging and dancing as her heels drummed its shoulder. Dimly she heard the man talking. “Easy, you lump-eared sack of coal! Calm down, sister. I’m not going to—Easy, you spavined mule! Light! My apologies, sister, but this is how we learn to do it.” And then he kissed her.
Toveine feels herself melt, filled with warmth, and then with calm. The man remarks that he “could have done without the extra bit” but that he supposes it was necessary. Toveine doesn’t understand why she feels calm, why she doesn’t object to his command not to use the Power without permission, or why she readily offers her name when he asks.
Another Asha’man emerges from the trees, addressing the man as Logain and pointing out that the M’Hael won’t like him taking a second one.
But despite learning that this man is Logain, a False Dragon who was gentled and shouldn’t be able to channel at all, despite realizing that she is free and has access to the knife at her belt, Toveine has no desire to do anything of the sort. As Logain turns his horse, she asks what he did to her, and when he explains, she puts her head against his chest and weeps.
She was going to make Elaida pay for this, she vowed. If Logain ever let her, she would. That last was an especially bitter thought.
When I finished this chapter, I found myself sitting and staring for a while, trying to figure out what I just read, and how I felt about it. At first I wasn’t sure, but after looking over the section again, I’m certain that what happened here is that Logain bonded Toveine.
Now, we know from Rand’s experience, and the various Aes Sedai’s reactions to learning about it, that the White Tower views non-consensual bonding as a terrible personal violation, akin to rape. And while some (such as Verin and Cadsuane) have considered that they would perform this evil and many others if they thought it necessary, they still regard it as an evil. Verin believes that Alanna only made this impulsive decision because of her emotional turmoil after the death of her Warder, something I never really got into in my analysis because, well, I think it’s dumb. If the narrative had been concerned with exploring the idea that she really regretted her actions and felt that they were a mistake, or if it was insinuated that the bonding was made in some kind of metaphysical instinctual reaction, that might have been worth exploring, although I’m not sure I would have thought it a good choice. As it is, however, the line from Verin is a one off, and without further context the analogy basically becomes “Alanna was so emotional she couldn’t help but rape someone.” Which… just no.
I do think it is relevant that no Aes Sedai has insisted, or even suggested, that Alanna dissolve the bond between herself and Rand. They might be disgusted, might wish it hadn’t happened, but now that they have this potential hook in Rand, no one is planning to let it go, even though it hasn’t proved at all useful thus far. This plays into the larger theme that Jordan has constructed around what Aes Sedai are willing to do to Rand if they believe it necessary for the good of the world, and the fact that they believe that they, not he, need to be the ones directing his actions up to, and possible during, the Last Battle.
But more importantly, the narrative does spend a great deal of time on Rand’s experience of this bonding, showing from his point of view how it feels to have Alanna’s presence trespassing and invading his mind. It’s nuanced, and considers the ways in which other characters do or don’t understand what he is going through. This violation is also compared and contrasted with his ongoing struggle with the PTSD that resulted from his kidnapping (another point on the “things the Aes Sedai are willing to do because they think they’re right” list). Finally, it is held up as another (very understandable) reason Rand refuses to trust any Aes Sedai who is not unbreakably sworn to him, and not really even then.
The narrative has so much empathy for Rand around this subject, and he’s so closed off that while few people can guess at his internal world, we see moments of tenderness from those who care for him. Mostly from Min and the Maidens, but even Cadsuane regrets having to be harsh with him, if only to herself. And for all the hubris he is showing and mistakes he is making in The Path of Daggers, it’s impossible to forget what he has been through, and the reader is deeply connected to the fact that he is suffering, that he is faced with impossible odds, that he is incredibly afraid to trust almost everyone in his life.
Min being an exception, of course, but even that fact makes coming into the section with Toveine even more jarring. Seeing Rand’s struggle through the eyes of a woman who loves him only increases our sense of connection to and empathy for him; the scene when the Maidens beat him was extremely emotionally harrowing because Min didn’t understand why it was happening, but the reader did. And then there is the encounter with Cadsuane, which I will talk about later, but which made me absolutely ache with second-hand rage and embarrassment for Rand.
And then, in the next section, we see a non-consensual bonding, the only one we have encountered besides Rand’s, and I immediately felt completely jarred from the story because it reminded me of how differently the torture and pain experienced by men is presented to the reader than is the torture of women, especially Aes Sedai and female Forsaken.
Jordan has populated his story with some many complex and interesting women, and through his narrative device of the White Tower he has given many of those women a great deal of authority, prestige, and political and social power. He has also put them into a position of experiencing a great deal of graphic torture and humiliation, which often has a sexual component. Women in torture scenes are always stripped naked, which doesn’t happen to men. There is a continued focus on the switching of bottoms, after which the narrative always goes to some length to remind us again and again of how uncomfortable said woman’s backside feels when she sits in a chair or rides a horse. Even when we’re dealing with good guys, like the Aiel or some of the better Aes Sedai, there is a focus on the baring of bodies. And even outside of torture there are always other reasons for women to have to be naked for no reason: The Hall must bare their chests during the raising of an Amyrlin; novices must proceed completely naked through the arches; women going to Rhuidean must get naked before they even start down towards the mists. etc. etc.
When all these scenes are viewed together it creates a pattern that is impossible to ignore. And the encounter between Toveine and Logain has brought the matter to my mind in a new way. Although there is no torture or nudity in this scene, the way the character of Toveine is set up by the narrative creates a startling contrast to the only other time we see this same kind of event take place, with Rand.
First off, there is absolutely no reason for the Black Tower men to need to bond a woman by kissing her. That is not how any other type of weave we have seen thus far works. And it is very, very pointed that an action that has been likened to rape is performed by another non-consensual sexual act. Logain’s control over Toveine also seems to be much stronger, or perhaps more wide-ranging, than what we’ve seen in a standard Warder Aes Sedai bond.
Now, there will almost certainly be more information forthcoming about how Asha’man bond people, and some of that might include the fact that Taim is a Darkfriend and has been teaching the Asha’man some really morally bad things. Perhaps that is the reason that Toveine’s experience of being bonded reminds me a little of Compulsion. As always, since I am a first time reader analyzing the books as I go, my analysis might be affected by what I read in subsequent chapters and books.
It’s also possible that the reason the Asha’man learned to create bonds first, or primarily, to stay connected with their wives back on the farm, as we saw with Jur and his wife. This might be why Logain makes the comment “You’re hardly a wife,” to Toveine. However, even if that is part of the explanation, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a poor narrative choice, and one that reflects other similar choices that Jordan has made in the way he handles female characters.
Toveine is an appalling person. We have just met her, but everything we have learned about her is horrible. I’m pretty sure that the law she broke and was punished for was the systematic slaughtering of men suspected of channeling which was started by the Black Ajah when they discovered that the Dragon had been reborn. This action, which I think is what Siuan, Cadsuane, and a few others were referring to when they mentioned “the Vileness,” has been alluded to several times in The Path of Daggers, and although I am operating with a little extra knowledge, since I skipped ahead and read New Spring, it is clear in this section that Toveine was involved in something very bad, for which she and others were punished, but from which Elaida escaped intact. Even if the reader were only speculating, there are enough clues here, with our knowledge of how the average Red behaves and what kinds of trespasses get sisters so severely treated under Tower Law, to get a good idea of what she must have done. But in case that isn’t enough to make us hate her, we also learn that she is probably a pedophile, or at least close to being one (it is a little unclear in the narrative if “boys” literally means a teen or just means a young man), and prefers boys who are “eager and grateful and easily controlled.” It’s a horrific sentiment, and puts her more firmly in the camp of “Bad Guy” than she would have been if she’d just been your average Black Ajah member.
And then she gets metaphorically raped, which does not feel like a coincidence. The most horrific torture scenes also feature female baddies, like Galina being tortured by the Shaido and then bound to Therava and Sevana. She’s the one who so horribly tortured Rand; the reader is hardly set up to feel sympathy for her. Moghedien’s torture after being freed by Aran’gar is more psychological than physical, but it is certainly horrific and Moghedien is still grateful not to have been raped into madness by Shaidar Haran, because for some reason Jordan felt the need to add the world-building detail that the Myrddraal have a sexual appetite. Which, again, there is no reason to do, but does allow bad guys to threaten bad ladies with that fate.
And of course, Moghedien also ends up a mind slave, even more completely than the other two. One comes away from the narrative with the decided impression that the writer wants to dwell on these moments, that the scenes in which evil women are tortured and treated badly are allowed to be more graphic than any other scenes because they are evil, and that it’s less objectionable because these women are evil and they deserve it. And although there are male Forsaken and Darkfriends whose demises don’t exactly call for our pity, nothing they go through compares to what the women are put through by the story.
Not all torture or imprisonment of women is overly sexualized or gratuitous, of course—Egwene’s time as a damane, for example, is dark but thematically interesting, and her experience and resulting trauma is handled by the narrative very similarly to the way Rand’s is, right down to her determination to push herself too hard in her recovery, and the way she hides her reactions to being reminded of her time as a captive. But taken as whole, the pattern is clear enough to be uncomfortable and worth talking about.
One of the most challenging aspects of reviewing and analyzing literature, for me anyway, is striking the right balance when addressing the concept of authorial intent. What the creator intended is an important part of any work of art, not because it should overrule the audience experience, but because it lends useful and often very interesting context to the experience of consuming the art. But it is not as important, in my mind, as the audience’s takeaway from the work. And in a work that asks many questions about the dynamics between genders, it feels especially important to note this.
However, I did mention at the beginning of this rather lengthy post that there was much I loved about Chapter 26, and that absolutely remains true. Ever since Elaida sent her on this secret mission, I’ve been waiting to catch up with Seaine, and I’m absolutely delighted with what we got. I even predicted a little of what happened in my post last week, and how delicious it was to watch Elaida’s attempt at personal vengeance result in the accidental discovery of the Black Ajah within the Tower.
The narrative does an excellent job of showing us what the hunt for the Black Ajah feels like for Seaine, who is a White who actually thinks and behaves the way I imagine a White should behave. The way she was aware of her own emotions, neither stifling them nor becoming overwhelmed by them, seemed like true logic to me, and also like a good way to maintain the kind of serenity Aes Sedai are expected to have.
I think her impression that Saerin, Yukiri, Doesine, and Talene regret backing Elaida and might be considering their options is probably right. Minus Talene, anyway. And I think that Seaine might be on her way to joining them, given her relatively mild reaction to learning the truth about Zhara and her focus on the damage Elaida is doing to the Tower. She is still attached to the idea that the Tower must stay together at all costs, but I could easily see her switching her allegiance from Elaida to Egwene if she thought that it would serve the Tower best. And that is not a difficult argument to make.
Elaida was already getting herself into hot water, but I have to wonder if Alviarin’s attempts to further weaken the Tower might backfire even harder than her attempts to find out what the Ajah heads are up to just did. The worse Elaida seems, the easier it will be for the reasonable, good sisters still in the Tower to see their way to backing Egwene. And if Egwene is coming to the White Tower and bringing all the rebels with her, then that presents a new opportunity for reunification that’s currently available to any sister who followed Elaida.
Poor Zhara, though. I really felt for her, and not just because I am obviously on the rebels’ side in the White Tower schism. I can just imagine the rollercoaster of emotions she went through, first concerned at the strangeness of being taken so deep into the Tower, then justly horrified at being accused of being Black Ajah, then probably slightly relieved since her true secret didn’t seem to be under investigation, and then doubly horrified as her secret is discovered and she learns that she will not be freed from her oath of obedience.
Fortunately, Seaine is a good and reasonable person, as is Pevara, really, despite her more hot-headed nature and her personal anger over the accusations being made about her Ajah. Zhara may be forced into revealing her co-conspirators and the dangerous work of Black Ajah hunting, but Seaine and Pevara aren’t going to bring any harm to her, and if the hunt lasts long enough and Egwene is able to succeed in her plans, Zhara might escape being revealed and punished altogether. Still, she has been enslaved against her will using the One Power and is now being forced into certain actions that are against her moral desires. In that respect, she and Toveine are the same, and I imagine all the other Salidar spies will also soon be joining the ranks of mentally enslaved women… as will Talene.
I do hope that this trend will be treated with more care by the narrative going forward. There is certainly room in The Wheel of Time’s exploration of the horrors of war, the difference between being hard and being strong, and the meaning of free will and choice to do something thoughtful with this idea of mental bondage through the One Power. And of course the issue of the damane remains to be tackled as the Seanchan take greater hold of the Westlands, and the narrative has poked at that a little.
Still I worry, based on what has been touched on so far, that this collaring of female channelers will be mostly left on the sidelines as the story continues, and that the unbalanced and gratuitous nature of the horrors visited on women will continue.
Next week we will catch up with Rand and I will deal with another kind of whiplash as I try to decide if I love or hate the character of Cadsuane. And then it’s off to Andor for a very interesting conversation between Elayne and Dyelin… and some dark friends getting up to no good. It’s Chapter 27 and 28 of The Path of Daggers. See you then!
Sylas K Barrett is thinking a lot this week about what makes a baddie interesting or uninteresting, and just can’t stop thinking about how Liandrin has been re-imagined and revamped for The Wheel of Time television show. Seriously, she’s like my favorite character now.