In this section, Egwene digs at the foundations of Elaida’s White Tower.
Egwene has resolved to undermine Elaida from within the White Tower, even though she has been demoted to a Novice, and is given Forkroot regularly to prevent her channeling too powerfully. Elaida knows Egwene is purportedly a Dreamer, but either cannot or doesn’t care to do anything to prevent her from using that ability.
Egwene’s lengthy section is one of my favorites in the series. It is told slightly out of chronological order, focusing on her success at forging and maintaining her identity instead of her success at undermining Elaida. The character achieving victory through personality conflicts instead of plot-driven progress has been demonstrated several times throughout the series. Egwene ends her first beating by the Mistress of Novices surprisingly calm despite having howled while it was being administered. She got the beating for claiming to Amyrlin, and she earns two more visits for the same before leaving the room. While Egwene earns punishments, she also is able to avoid bending her neck, and never does curtsy or call an Aes Sedai by their honorific title.
Every time Egwene is punished, she has another chance to prove to herself, and the world that her will is stronger than those who would seek to craft her identity. Every beating reinforces her self-confidence, and makes her wholeheartedly embrace her identity as Amyrlin. Egwene was already willful, and now she is being tempered into a being of self-knowledge and force of will that will eclipse all others in Tel’aran’rhiod. While Elaida believes she is breaking down Egwene’s resistance, she is in fact making her more resilient, and more powerful. Throughout the series we’ve seen several occasions when force of will and identity are the keys to victory, and Egwene is ahead of the other characters in developing an unassailable identity; several of the others still have some uncertainty or hesitation in embracing who they must become.
By repeatedly demonstrating that she will not become a Novice in fact as well as name, Egwene earns respect in ever-increasing amounts. Novices begin by bullying her, while the Red Ajah crows over her situation. She earns a spanking in every class, and the Mistress of Novices Silviana must adjust Egwene’s lessons and provide extra Healing to avoid drawing blood from the repeated beatings. Other Aes Sedai ignore Egwene in the Halls or the cells where Leane is imprisoned. Egwene drops hints to the Aes Sedai giving her lessons, all aimed at undermining Elaida, usually earning a penance. Small illustrative parallels are squeezed into Egwene’s lessons, such as former Amyrlin Shein Chunla, a woman whose identity as Amyrlin was subsumed by the Hall, which resulted in many egregious errors being made by the White Tower.
Despite lack of progress, Egwene begins to see each visit to the Mistress of Novices as a badge of honor, proof that she had refused to yield. The Novices try to emulate her, and quickly stop when they earn their own punishments, yet Egwene carries on. She gives advice to Accepted, consoles fearful young women when ghosts appear or corridors change location. She endures hard labor, yet the taskmistress in the kitchens is surprisingly kind with her. Eventually, Alviarin, the fallen Aes Sedai seeks her out, as does the kidnapped King of Illian. The first Aes Sedai she brings to her cause is Beonin, the betrayer. Beonin believed herself free of her Oath of fealty to Egwene, but a combination of logic and dislike for Elaida brings her to follow Egwene’s instructions. Doesine, a Sitter and Black Ajah Hunter, decides not to send Egwene to be punished for failing to curtsy or address her properly. Silviana finally begins to treat Egwene as more than a Novice to be spanked. Symbolizing her success, the Novices slip honey in Egwene’s tea, and offer her a cushion to ease her soreness. Embracing her identity, Egwene puts the cushion aside before sitting her tender parts on the hard bench, and the Novices are fully hers. She hasn’t reached anywhere near the influence she needs yet, but she is winning her war.
That chapter is in contrast to Tarna’s visit to Elaida’s apartments. Elaida is leading one of the rebel infiltrators by the nose, waiting for a chance to snap the jaws of her trap shut, seeming to relish the future opportunity to crush the woman’s spirit and betray their apparent complicity. Part of her sadistic joy comes from worry that the infiltrators are in collusion with the Ajah Heads, who are continuing to meet with the rebels in pointless negotiations. Where Novices and Accepted come to Egwene for advice, Elaida’s most trusted associate won’t discuss certain topics for fear of unleashing Elaida’s fury on herself. Elaida hopes to gloat over Egwene’s situation in person by having her serve Elaida’s private meal with one of the infiltrators.
Oddly, the chapter ends with Mat’s point of view, and the next chapter continues immediately from where it leaves off with Tuon’s. The division of chapters for the next while is peculiar, but discussion of it is best suited for the next post.
Tuon asks Mat to kiss her, but with Mat having such an unreliable point of view, it’s hard to tell who is more flustered by their first kiss. Their unique relationship is devoid of any traditional romance.
A Seanchan army and a landslide obstruct Mat’s escape from Altara. His band of soldiers is not far off though. Will he overcome this obstacle with his personality or his army? If the past is any indication, some element of character and personality will be the focus.
The end result of a plotline is more powerful when developed slowly and incrementally, and relates more to character than plot elements.