Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A Crown of Swords - Chapters 9-11

In this section, Egwene slowly builds herself up from nothing
It is always rewarding to watch a character overcome obstacles, to go from having nothing to the top of the heap. In the previous section, Egwene was presented as not even having a reliable chair. We saw her loyal maid, who fetched her two other loyal helpers, a pair of disgraced Aes Sedai who stand very low in the hierarchy. A fourth helper, the prisoner Moghedien, had escaped. Things look grim.
Sheriam is supposed to be Egwene’s helper, but tries to keep Egwene occupied with meaningless tasks while keeping control of the rebels by hoarding information. When Egwene finally learns of a secret that Sheriam and her council kept from the Hall, Egwene begins to blackmail her. Fear of the secret being told before the Hall prompts Sheriam to reveal it to Egwene and Siuan.
Sheriam and her group sent ferrets to the White Tower to spy on Elaida. They supposedly told no one because they were not only afraid of Elaida’s own spies among the rebels, but that the Sitters may be Black Ajah. Ridiculously, they never consider whether any of the ferrets or the 6 members of their council might be either of those (true on both counts).
Rushing to investigate Moghedien’s disappearance, Egwene loses the opportunity to truly corner Sheriam, but it will work out for the best soon. Egwene even risks exposing Siuan and Leane in her haste to find who freed Moghedien. Chesa behaves loyally in fetching them, and they in turn suggest grabbing Theodrin and Faolain to do the real legwork so they can go back to the pretense of being angry at each other.
Areina and Nicola attempt to blackmail Egwene, which she takes great offense to, and pushes back at them with veiled threats that she cannot follow through on. This is meant to show the reader that Egwene’s path to power is riddled with moral peril. She berates them for doing exactly what she is doing. Egwene believes she has better cause, and acknowledges she is willing to pay the price for her actions, since it is avoiding the price that is the immoral act, not the blackmail itself. The fact that they cave in to her shows they do not have the same moral fiber or righteousness, though whether Egwene has the right of it is undetermined.
Egwene regains the moral high ground in discussion with the Wise Ones (see below) and gets the germ of an idea when they suggest getting Aes Sedai to swear fealty to Rand.
Theodrin and Faolain then do something unexpected which gives Egwene power and an idea. They swear fealty to her because they feel Egwene is the person who deserves their pledge of allegiance under the law and in principle. They received offers from Romanda and Lelaine so when they swear to Egwene it is as much by choice as by duty. Egwene confirms they made the right choice when she tells them they are Aes Sedai, but never would be if they kept repeating the denials of other sisters who hold it over them.
Romanda and Lelaine demonstrate how professional Aes Sedai of the highest standing act.
We’re given several pairs of followers to compare over these chapters (Siuan and Leane, Faolain and Theodrin, Areina and Nicola, Romanda and Lelaine), with one more pair yet to come (Myrelle and Nisao), each of whom represents a relationship between the leader and the follower. Some are willing followers, some reluctant, some need bullying, and some see themselves as the leader and Egwene as the follower. This is similar to how the author introduced many of the concepts and cultures in early books, placing them near each other in the story as logical comparisons.

Let’s take a look at a typical Robert Jordan conversation, when Egwene meets the three Wise Ones in Tel’aran’rhiod:
Bair startles Egwene by speaking. 5 lines of discussion about her reaction and how it made her feel and an exaggeration about what will come next. Egwene recovers her poise. Descriptions of the Three Wise Ones.
Melaine mentions Egwene’s reaction, comparing her to a rabbit, again framing both her mood and situation. There is an implication Egwene needs to stop being a rabbit.
Egwene explains about Moghedien. Current relationship between Egwene and Melaine is revealed.
Egwene explains further. She changes her appearance to something more self-possessed.
Bair understands. Her strong character is revealed through her voice, like iron.
They ask for details. Aiel character traits revealed.
Stop, change topic. They get down to business. Sit near Callandor. Describe Callandor’s powers. Describe how weaves are reflected in Tel’aran’rhiod (I guess that means Rand’s dreams of Be’lal holding Callandor were just dreams, not in Tel’aran’rhiod, unless he dreamed himself another copy of it).
Egwene introduces topic of why she was summoned away. She stands, even if she is seen as a supplicant or on trial.
No big deal, says Amys. How old is she anyway (relating to question of aging which will be relevant with the Kin later).
I am the Amyrlin. They seem skeptical.
A comparable situation is described. And shown. The Wise Ones see to the heart of her problem. They do not consider that Egwene’s past lies count any more, since they have been atoned for.
Egwene agrees that she is seen as a figurehead, but she means to change that.
Forget them, come back to us. The Wise Ones extend an invitation.
Egwene already made her choice. But she wants to keep close ties with the Wise Ones.
Good luck. Invitation to join them sitting implies they accept her decision.
Stop, Change topic. Will your Aes Sedai swear fealty to Rand?
They will not. She gives a comparable situation. And shows it. The Wise Ones scoff at the very idea.
They are not like us. Grrrr. Angry Wise Ones. A short history of why that might be.
Egwene will do as she must, Amys says. The other Wise Ones follow her lead. They have tea, symbolizing acceptance of the situation. Egwene compares the Wise Ones to the Aes Sedai in her head, realizing they ARE trying to do the same thing. Only Egwene herself thinks of Rand’s needs first.
Stop, Change topic. What else troubles Egwene?
Rand troubles Egwene. She tries to lighten the mood.
That’s what men do. Melaine’s joke falls flat, implying this is now serious discussion.
Merana must be failing. Egwene reveals her concerns.
A second plea to rejoin the Wise Ones. Egwene rejects it.
I can help him more from here. Egwene is trapped by her own laws and customs.
We’ll take care of any problems between Rand and the Aes Sedai. The Wise Ones are holding back. In doing so, after Egwene has been so open, Egwene’s honour will rise, while their own falls. It is a lie unspoken.
Egwene is doubtful. She detects their evasion.
Bair jokes about how well they will get along.
Merana should have said something. Egwene digs for the truth.
Amys misdirects Egwene.
Amys, promise you won’t stop them from talking. The Wise Ones are uncertain how to keep their secret.
We promise. But they don’t like what it’s doing to their honour.
Egwene thanks them for being truthful. The Wise Ones are now locked in, they have toh. Their appearance changes. Egwene pretends not to notice to save them from more shame.
The Wise ones are silent.
Egwene asks a favour. Don’t tell Rand she is Amyrlin. She doesn’t want Rand interfering or raising tension.
Agreement. They will keep the secret. Egwene is surprised at how quickly they agreed.
Stop, change topic. They talk more, but the Wise Ones are still evasive, revealing tidbits only by accident. Their advice about the Aes Sedai problem is unsound.
Be careful of Moghedien. Egwene goes back to the first topic of discussion.
We can take them down. But they will also be careful.
Friends forever?
Friends forever!

Summary of the discussion: 
Introduction to mood and bad situation.
Topic 1 - Moghedien, Egwene gains honor.
Topic 2 - Egwene is Amyrlin, reminder of mood and bad situation, Egwene gains honour.
Topic 3 – Aes Sedai will not swear fealty to Rand, Egwene gains honour.
Topic 4 – Rand and the Aes Sedai may butt heads, Egwene surpasses the honour of the Wise Ones.
Return to topic 2, then topic 1 – Wise Ones leave, downcast. Egwene is pleased.
This conversation represented a journey for Egwene, pulling herself out of a bad mood to a good one, racking up standing with the Wise Ones, solving problems, and comporting herself in a manner befitting or better than a top tier Wise One. Jordan follows a very structured layout, progressing from small things to big, following the rule of three examples yet again, then moves back down from that pinnacle to the same small things, bringing the discussion full circle. He also uses available cues to plant clues to later plot lines, reveals character, advances plot, shares information among characters, and plants gentle reminders of the broader plot.
Writing Lessons:
Use conversations to advance character development, not just plot.

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