In this section, Nynaeve and Egwene begin their quest.
Despite the efforts made to travel through the winter to bring Mat to Tar Valon for healing as quickly as possible, Mat lies near death with perhaps only hours to live. The urgent need to Heal him, combined with Egwene’s experience as a damane, makes her overreact to the threat posed by the Children of the Light. Showing her inexperience, Egwene’s first instinct is to ram her way through the obstacle. Then, following Verin’s admonishment of Egwene’s reckless actions, Egwene overcompensates by revealing too much in her apology to Dain Bornhald, the leader of this group of the Children. Too trusting, too fearful, too quick to react, Egwene already shows signs of being able to follow the philosophy of doing what she must, then paying the price, but she lacks the temperament to figure out what it is she must do. Nynaeve and the Amyrlin know that Egwene may make some poor choices, but recognize that she is grown enough to make those choices. Nynaeve says it straight out, Siuan’s comes by symbolically raising Egwene to the Accepted.
Egwene may take note of Siuan’s mistrust of even her two closest helpers in the Tower, Leane and Sheriam. In New Spring, Siuan had wanted to bring more friends into the search with her and Moiraine, but in the end she adopted Moiraine’s caution and has wisely kept her secrets as tightly as possible. Verin wormed her way into the circle of trust by deducing Siuan and Moiraine’s secrets on her own, so Siuan will reluctantly rely on her and leave Sheriam out for now.
Siuan’s only other resources that she feels relatively certain are not Black Ajah are Nynaeve and Egwene, so she makes them into her Black Ajah hunters. While her logic for trusting these two women is stronger than it could be for any other woman in the Tower, she is also relying on the unspoken fact that they are from Rand’s village, and must have been provided by Rand’s ta’veren ability, or by the Pattern itself. If the Dark One had infiltrated the Two Rivers before Moiraine got there, the World would be doomed in any case. That Siuan must rely on faith in the Pattern and has found no better hunters in the past few months than these two is a sign of her desperation.
The entire section leads up to Egwene and Nynaeve being assigned this quest. First there is a warning from Verin about possible consequences for leaving the Tower. Verin removes the possibility that they will be allowed to explain themselves, which would have been the obvious solution. The scene with the Children of the Light is necessary to give the women a reason to not speak up. By demonstrating the unforeseen consequences of revealing too much, Egwene and Nynaeve have an opportunity to learn how poorly things may go if they reveal too much about where they were and why they went. Given their headstrong personalities, it would likely have been out of character for them not to blab too much in their righteous self-defense. As it is, it takes the combined threat of stilling, being thrown out of the Tower, Mat’s impending death, a series of sharp rebukes from Verin, and setting antagonistic guards on them who will gladly report any word out of their mouths, to get them to keep silent until the Amyrlin questions them.
Nynaeve is reportedly already as strong as any woman in the Tower, which is to say as strong as Siuan or Elaida. How do the Aes Sedai feel about novices and Accepted of this strength, knowing that from the moment they attain the Shawl, they will stand higher than all but Sitters and the Amyrlin herself? Does their happiness to have found women of great strength outweigh the inconvenience of how much they will later have to defer to Nynaeve, Egwene and Elayne?
A few small plots are tied off: Bornhald has been told of his father’s death by Child Byar, the Horn of Valere is tucked away, and false Dragons are captured. Use of an exceptionally well-informed person’s point of view, such as the Amyrlin’s, is one way of dealing with many disparate sub-plots at once. Other plots are touched on or getting started. A couple of reminders about the romance between Lan and Nynaeve are given. Morgase is angry at the Aes Sedai, but there are no overt indications of Forsaken influence.
There are now two unrelated main sub-plots, Perrin’s and Egwene’s, and only one of them is directly related to the main plot of Rand seeking Callandor. The format of this book is established: lengthy portions from a few character points of view, instead of quick short passages from a number of characters mixed in with the majority from a single character’s point of view. Alternating between them and spending so much time on each will have the effect of slowing down the pace of the book. Even as the Perrin section finished off with a burst of revelations, the Egwene section started up slowly, building around the question of what would be the consequences of leaving the Tower without permission. The method to advance the main plot of Rand seeking Callandor is by keeping tabs on it through dreams. This saves having to spend much time with Rand in repetitious travel and skirmish sequences of little consequence.
Previous testing of Egwene as a Dreamer was inconclusive, but it was all carried out when Rand was lost for four months after using the Portal Stone. Now that he is back, and in danger, Egwene’s dreams have returned. Her ability is yet another failsafe provided by the Pattern, a second way for Rand to get clues as to what he needs to do.
Don’t let your characters behave out of character.