In this section, Mat and Egwene are the last characters to commit to their chosen path at a symbolic crossroads.
Mat promised never to kill a woman again. In the first chapter, and again in the last chapter, Mat reflected on having killed a woman. “He had killed one woman in his life, and left another to be butchered. He was not going to add a third to his soul.” Melindhra attacked him and was killed before he even realized he had thrown the dagger. Tylin was murdered by the gholam. Now Renna has fled the circus, and is riding hell-bent for the Seanchan army in the last town they passed. Mat means to stop her and bring her back, if he can.
This standing promise not to kill women is tested after Mat makes good on another promise to let Tuon do some shopping in the town of Jurador. Mat’s progress wooing Tuon is based on keeping promises. She believed his promise to release her unharmed enough to promise not to escape. She rode up front of the wagons in front of Seanchan soldiers that she could have called out to, but didn’t, upholding her promise. He trusts her enough to take her into town, and when she evades him while he is distracted, he manages to find her and not be angry at her, beyond the price he pays for the silk she bought. The premise that Mat keeps his promises is well proven by these examples.
Faced with a split-second decision, Mat orders his men to shoot Renna in the back. Even with the sun blazing in their eyes, there was no question of either of them missing. Something flickered and died in Mat as he gave the order. He swears, “never again, if I have to die for it, never again.” That is a strong promise, but this was never a question of Mat’s life being on the line, but those of the circus folk, and his followers, and Tuon.
Upon his return to the circus Mat finds Tuon has written a warrant placing the circus under Tuon’s personal protection. Tuon had anticipated that Mat might fail, and seeing how Mat did his utmost to preserve their safety, Tuon took actions to ensure they would not pay for their role in Tuon’s abduction and captivity. She shared Mat’s goal, and absolves him of guilt for his actions, proclaiming them just. As a symbol of her growing respect for Mat, she is wearing the gift he gave her pinned to her shoulder. Mat is never what he seems, which is what a Seanchan noble should be.
Egwene’s decision is whether to send a novice from her home village to perform a dangerous task. Bode’s participation is necessary now that a second Aes Sedai has been murdered using saidin. The camp grows more and more afraid about the unknown assailant in their midst but the planned talks with the Black Tower still haven’t been derailed.
Egwene and Siuan run through a number of comparisons with former Amyrlins. Their names or roles aren’t as important as the fact that they are remembered for something. Egwene isn’t yet concerned about what history will say about her, but she already has rumours about her severity being told. Sheriam offers her a chance to spare her best childhood friend from a severe punishment, and she easily chooses not to save Larine from her own mistakes. She further convinces herself that even novices serve the White Tower, rationalizing Bode’s upcoming role in the siege. Then, she realizes that what applies to novices, applies to Amyrlins as well. She decides to take Bode’s place.
The direct explanation for Egwene’s decision is not well explained. The reasoning starts with “Bode must do what needed doing… Aes Sedai, and those who would become Aes Sedai, served the Tower.” And becomes “The White Tower was good at teaching both things, but the first always came first. Bode’s future would be brilliant. Her potential almost equaled Egwene’s. But Aes Sedai, Accepted or novice, the Tower required you to do what was needed for the Tower. Aes Sedai, Accepted, novice or Amyrlin.” It’s logical for Egwene to do the task given her talent for making cuendillar, and the proclamation of war provides the loophole that allows Egwene to put herself in danger, but the magnitude of the decision is lacking. It seems a rather small decision compared to some of the others she has made, but it is as fateful as the other turning points each of the main characters has come to.
Egwene’s explanation to Bode is also weak, lacking a firm foundation for the reader to grasp the idea: ““Some things I shouldn’t ask a novice to do when I can do them better.” Perhaps that was not a great deal milder, but she could not explain about Larine and Nicola, or the price the White Tower demanded of all its daughters. The Amyrlin could not explain the one to a novice, and a novice was not ready to learn about the other.” If not to Bode, it could have been explained to the reader, at least. All that is understood is that Egwene decided to do it herself because she is better at it, and the rationale she provides is gobbledygook which probably requires flipping back a few pages to see what she had said about Larine and Nicola, and getting a similarly unclear paragraph as explanation.
The book ends with a cliffhanger: Egwene has been captured by the Tower Aes Sedai. It is most surprising because every other plotline ended like a television show, with everyone finishing in almost exactly the same situation they were in at the beginning of the story. Only Egwene achieved a change in the status quo. It’s a big difference from all of the preceding books.
When your characters do something odd, or decisive, a clear rationale helps the reader accept it.