In this section, Elayne’s rivals conspire and Egwene keeps the war effort alive
Elayne’s rivals Arymilla, Naean, and Elenia travel from camp to camp every night as they lay siege to Caemlyn. Despite having been knocked out of the contest, Elenia still sees a way in which she can emerge from this impasse as the Queen of Andor. While her drive and perseverance are admirable, her selfish reasons for seeking to become Queen are a stark contrast to Elayne’s rightful claim and interest in the well-being of the people of Andor. Despite the fact that Elayne hasn’t taken a very active hand in events so far, it is obvious that no hand at all is better than a hand like Elenia’s or Arymilla’s. Arymilla sees the Queen’s coffers as a means to upgrade her lifestyle even further while Elenia seeks the love and approval of the unwashed masses all the while thinking of them as foolish peasants. Her ego and intolerance instantly make her unlikeable, and make Elayne a more attractive choice despite whatever faults of her own she may have.
One of Elenia’s men, perhaps even her husband Jarid, has been meeting with the ringleader of the Caemlyn Darkfriends, the Lady Shiaine. Shiaine has two Black Ajah under her thumb, as per Moridin’s express wishes. She has her agent Mellar in a position of influence in the Royal Palace. She has a secret plan which Moridin has assigned her, and it remains unclear whether Elayne is meant to live or die, and if she is to die then to learn when that is to take place. It takes considerable effort to establish Hanlon’s position, keep a low profile for weeks, and wait until all Moridin’s conditions have been met. Does Moridin know something about Caemlyn’s role in the Last Battle? Does he suspect Elayne is pregnant with Rand’s children? Or does he know it for fact? How is what he is planning for Elayne any more effective than what Semirhage will later do to Rand? The only plausible answer is that the Last Battle is the battle for Rand’s soul and identity, and Moridin thinks Elayne offers a means of prodding Rand in some way. It’s incredibly vague and convoluted, and only rationalized by the fact that Rand has twice showed up where his girlfriends were in danger, in Falme and Tear.
Darkfriends inherent mistrust and self-preservation instincts always seem on the verge of undermining their plans. Only fear of the Forsaken keeps everyone in line, knowing that their punishment will be severe, even if served years after their betrayal or failure. Hanlon wonders whether his would-be assassin had been sent by Shiaine. Falion arranges to be bruised so Shiaine won’t learn she and Hanlon are trading secrets. The level of suspicion is so high it’s a wonder they can get anything accomplished. When one of the heroes starts veering down a path of mistrust, it’s easy to see the negative context and its implications.
In the rebels’ camp, Egwene pines for her home, the White Tower. As with several other characters, she thinks of her goal in absolute terms: Whatever was required to keep the rebellion alive and pull Elaida down, she would do. Whatever was required. The author frequently uses repetition of a key phrase to emphasize the character’s level of commitment. Egwene’s goal requires she pretend at negotiations with Elaida, so that the rebels will see they haven’t come all this way for nothing. In some instances, when a character is aiming at one goal while secretly targeting some other goal, that detail is kept secret from the reader to allow for a surprise revelation later on. In this case it’s important that the reader understand exactly what Egwene is hoping to achieve, because the politics among the Hall of the Rebel Tower are convoluted enough. If the reader didn’t know Delana was Black Ajah, that Halima was a Forsaken, that Sheriam was most likely Black Ajah, and that Siuan and Leane were in her pocket, and a handful of other details, then none of the conspiratorial meetings between Sitters or other Aes Sedai would make as much sense. These waters are muddy enough that there is good reason to provide clarity to the relationships between the major and even minor players.
Egwene does keep one new surprise, which is her plan to blockade Tar Valon from receiving supplies. The reader can guess it involves cuendillar given the context in which it is stated that this secret exists.
The other secret which is not plainly revealed involves the Young Sitters. Having our attention brought back to this again implies the author has something worthwhile tucked up his sleeve. We’ll see soon enough.
A new peril facing the heroes is the revelation that foodstuffs are rotting, obviously an effect of the Dark One’s touch. Interesting that he first targeted the weather which caused a drought and affected crops, and is now attacking food. He went straight for the supply lines while his minions floundered after Rand. No one amongst the Heroes has even considered how to locate or affect the Shadow’s supply lines.
Complex plans are unbelievable and fallible. Find the simplest way for a character to attain their goal and overcome obstacles.