In this section, Aes Sedai, both good and bad, find reason to hope.
We left off the last section with the Black Ajah Hunters worried about being found by their prey. Alviarin has already been cast down to a status well below where she ranks with her strength in the Power, so her mood has nowhere to go but up. Since she is the very prey the Black Ajah Hunters are seeking, it is natural for the story to move from their unfortunate discovery and Talene’s failure to appear before the Black Ajah, to Alviarin’s thin hopes to restore her standing. The reader knows, but Alviarin doesn’t, that the two women she is having followed will not only lead her to Talene, but to the very plot she needs to fulfill the mission assigned to her by the Dark One.
Alviarin’s rank raised a thought. The Black Ajah meet hooded, and only know a handful of members’ names, but any Aes Sedai can feel not only another woman’s ability to channel, but their strength in the Power. Some of them must have been able to deduce the identities of other Black Ajah with this method. Any particularly strong or weak Aes Sedai would be easier to identify in another setting if there are few candidates to match with what they sensed. I suppose the entire Black Ajah never meets at once, but meetings of up to fifty seem possible. Even with that many there is risk of drawing attention with so many conspicuously absent.
Galina is believed dead by the White Tower and is trapped under Therava’s thumb. She has waited patiently for Faile to deliver the Oath Rod to her, but learning of Perrin’s plans makes her need more desperate. She plans to motivate Faile, then kill her, and then escape her captivity at last. Unwilling to take a chance that she is discovered lying and exposed as Black Ajah, she sees killing Faile as the only solution. Ironically, it is being able to lie that binds her in this predicament. Had she freely helped Perrin, she likely could have been freed when he attacks, and escaped soon after. Perhaps the Oath to the Dark One compelled her down this path of reasoning, since she must not betray her secret.
With a message to Faile passed along, Perrin now appears ready to attack, holding off for a few days only to see whether the Seanchan can be of help. Presenting his readiness through an outsider’s point of view lets the author present only the most essential information, avoiding getting bogged down in the actions and reactions of every person in his camp.
Egwene is an outsider to the White Tower, and in short order she understands that the Ajahs are divided, sniping and challenging each other. She realizes this presents an opportunity to topple Elaida, and once she learns she will not be stilled or executed, she resolves to take advantage of her captivity in the Tower.
Siuan was in a sorry state when Egwene’s boat was found, but the message delivered in her sleep assuages her, summons the Hall to meet in Tel’aran’rhiod, and gives her leverage over a number of Egwene’s ‘loyal’ Aes Sedai. Importantly, Beonin has found the loophole she needs to escape, so off-page she avoids learning anything that may close it.
A variety of information has to be presented in Egwene’s section to set the stage for later chapters with Siuan, Beonin and Elaida. I’ll take a closer look at her section, in order to understand the structure of what is presented and when it is presented.
Her first realization is that her clothes are dry, which implies she is being physically cared for, not something that is done to those who will be executed, even though the women who captured her do not know that yet. This is the author’s trick, rationalized by the need to preserve the dignity of all Aes Sedai, for if grinding Egwene down had been the intent, they could have left her sopping wet, cold, and miserable when she gets dragged before Silviana.
Next, the state of Tar Valon’s streets shocks her. Refuse lies out in the open, a metaphor for the ugly divisions between the Aes Sedai in her carriage.
Third, upon being woken with a slap, Egwene learns she was drugged with Forkroot. Noting small divisions in the women who captured her, Egwene realizes she is not afraid.
These three concepts, punishment, division, Egwene’s reaction, will be revisited several times over, each time with more detail. One, two, three. There is near certainty Egwene will be executed. The Aes Sedai openly argue. A shield is woven before the Forkroot dose runs its course, provoking a mild sigh from Egwene.
There are taunts Egwene will lose her head this very night, the Gray sister is taunted as well by the Reds, and Egwene states the harbors will remain closed, but chooses to remain silent rather than be slapped yet again.
Egwene makes plans for what she can do before her execution, the Aes Sedai mistrustfully all hold the Power in each other’s presence, yet Egwene feels she has come home.
Now there is a slight unexpected change in the first concept. Egwene is to be handed over to the Mistress of Novices, the Red Sisters intimidate the other Aes Sedai, and Egwene is incredulous that they can give in to fear so easily.
There is a switch to the parallel situation with Leane. Leane is being flogged, the rancor between Ajahs almost cost them their chance to capture Leane, but Leane won’t budge from her story.
The Mistress of Novices takes charge of Egwene and sends the Reds away, not before they almost refuse to hand her over. Silviana notes that Egwene is not hysterical.
Egwene is told she is to be a Novice again, Silviana notes the difference between herself and her kindly predecessor Sheriam, Egwene means to resist as long as she can, doing as she must.
With the situation regarding punishment and division in the Tower now fully known, Egwene remains in control of her situation and her emotions. Other topics, such as her dreams about Seanchan attacking the Tower, Nicola’s defection, the state of the cuendillar chains in the harbours were brought up at the earliest available opportunity where a conversation could be carried out about them. Communicating with Siuan is only brought up at the last, when Egwene has a chance to muse over all she has seen and heard, and she has a chance to sleep.
An outsider’s point of view can help the author focus on the most important details, and speed the story along.