In this section, more deceit is underway.
Mat knows that his role is to be the decoy, the feint that keeps Sammael focussed on the massive force of Aiel, Cairhienin and Tairens marching towards Illian. Sammael sees the direct threat, and in both Rand’s hopes and in Graendal’s estimation, he will not see the subtle trap they are laying for him. Rand has a sneak attack in mind while Sammael is distracted; Graendal wants Sammael to engage Rand directly, and assumes that Sammael will have the edge in that contest, despite Rand’s victories against other Forsaken.
Graendal has been to the Pit of Doom, and been all but promised to be made Nae’blis. Her part is to sow chaos. Secretly she hopes her manipulation of Sammael will remove Rand. Whatever she thinks, she is undoubtedly part of the Dark One’s master plan if he gave her orders, as is Semirhage. Semirhage has been secretly torturing an Aes Sedai at Shaidar Haran’s orders. Shaidar Haran is to be obeyed as if he were the Dark One.
Information about the current plots of Demandred, Mesaana and Semirhage is scarce. Graendal learned about Mesaana’s presence in the White Tower because she was angry at Semirhage and in her rage commented on the threat of binding with the Oath Rod that first drove Semirhage to the Dark. Whatever dribbles of insight are given to the reader are revealed slowly, to maintain the sense of being kept in the dark, not knowing what plots are secretly unfolding. The reader is privy to some details, and is effectively walled off from others.
Semirhage was told to send Trollocs to the Stone of Tear to counter those sent by Sammael. Rand knows the Forsaken are using the Ways to move Shadowspawn, but that type of movement requires days of advance planning. So Sammael mobilized enough Trollocs to try taking the Stone by sending them through the Ways, which should have taken days, and right behind them, Semirhage is moving her own force of Trollocs and Myrddraal? The Dark One knew enough to give Semirhage her task that far ahead? The only reason we know they move through the Ways is because at some later point we will learn that Shadowspawn cannot use Gateways. Convenient, yet Sammael’s ability to throw not only this attack at Rand, but two more in remote parts of the Aiel Waste would be better explained if he had some other means of transporting them. Skimming? That would limit the number of Trollocs in a given attack force yet still allow some ability to plan an attack on short notice without the need for days of orchestrating movements through the Ways.
Elayne has been crafting dream ter’angreal that sometimes turn out as intended. That is the only thing she and Nynaeve have come up with that is their own, all the rest is extracted grudgingly from Moghedien. Moghedien’s captivity must be kept from the Salidar Aes Sedai. Siuan and Leane aren’t really fighting, another secret to be kept from the Aes Sedai. The Aes Sedai aren’t telling anyone what their plan is. Salidar is a nest of secrets upon secrets, keeping in line with the theme.
The nightmare in Tel’aran’rhiod provides an exciting example of how battles in Tel’aran’rhiod can be conducted. Force of will and belief can change the reality around the dreamer. I note strong similarities between nightmares in Tel’aran’rhiod and bubbles of evil in the waking world, in terms of the randomness of their occurrence and the strange ways in which the unimaginable suddenly becomes real. Some readers point out the impossible things which our heroes somehow achieve in the story. An impossible thing defined here yet again is that the waking world cannot be affected by what is done in Tel’aran’rhiod.
The Elayne section could have been started in Tel’aran’rhiod, in the Amyrlin’s study. Why have so many uneventful things take place before we get to that scene? It is to establish certain behaviours and facts directly instead of through flashbacks or other less interesting ways. (Yes, there are less interesting ways) Let’s analyze!
To establish that the Aes Sedai have more than just the original dream ter’angreal and the two recovered from the Black Ajah, it must be established how they acquired more. So, right away, the text describes Elayne’s attempts to make more. This is also a good starting point because it brings something new and interesting to the reader’s attention. One hundred strokes of the hairbrush and attempts to heal songbirds establish Elayne’s character: methodical, and experimenting. These are characteristics of a researcher. The danger of stilling herself if she makes an error reinforces the finality of stilling, setting up Nynaeve’s storyline. A brief discussion of Egwene touches on Lan, Nynaeve’s other major ongoing plotline. The descriptive paragraphs serve to establish Elayne’s relationship to the Aes Sedai: she is Accepted, given certain freedoms, but not indulged. Knowing this before the Aes Sedai walk into the dream helps readers understand the context while keeping the pace when they meet.
Entering Tel’aran’rhiod allows for some descriptive text about its look, feel and properties. Having the small council finish the tail end of a conversation allows the reader to learn something about their plans which could not easily be done in a scene taking place in the waking world short of having a point of view from one of the six, or having Elayne or Nynaeve eavesdrop. Camouflaged in with all the Aes Sedai comments, Myrelle drops enough clues in her treatment of Nynaeve to remind us that she is carrying Lan’s bond. Finally, there is an opportunity to make an info-dump as Nynaeve reminds the Aes Sedai of certain dangers which they will unfortunately run afoul of anyway.
It took eight pages, but all that info would have been clunky if forced into the Amyrlin’s study passages.
Even if you are trying to jump to the action, choose a starting point for your scenes that allows logical and natural exposition.