Reading The Wheel of Time: Egwene’s Army and Nynaeve’s Warder in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 8) (2023)

It’s time for more A Crown of Swords! Today we’re finishing off the second half of Chapter 11 and heading into Chapter 12. Egwene is going to find out some secrets today, and secure a few more possible points of strength for herself.

And then, there’s Lan.

Neither Sheriam nor Siuan has come in by the time Egwene has finished her breakfast. She is just about to go looking when Siuan finally arrives, looking furious. Aeldene Stonebridge has been pumping her for information about the Amyrlin’s eyes-and-ears network again. Aeldene is the current head of the Blue eyes-and-ears network, and her arrival in Salidar had upset things for Siuan.

Egwene and Siuan talk a little about the Aes Sedai strength hierarchy, though Siuan is resistant and continues to sulk. Egwene is just about ready to shake her when she spots Myrelle riding past. She chases after her, but before Egwene can do more than command Myrelle to wait, Gareth Bryne arrives. Normally the commander sends messages to the Hall rather than coming himself, but this time he makes a leg to Egwene and asks to speak to her alone. Lelaine arrives a moment later and orders Bryne to wait, then Romanda shows up as well. She informs Egwene that Delana is “making trouble” again—the sister intends to bring a proposal to the Hall condemning Elaida as Black Ajah. They both ask Egwene to stop her, Lelaine citing the panic that could spread, and Romanda worrying that the Black Ajah will be driven deeper into hiding. The two begin to argue until they look ready to start a physical altercation. When Siuan arrives up with a groom leading horses, Egwene takes the opportunity, telling the two they should agree on what they want her to say to Delana before she decides what to do.

Reading The Wheel of Time: Egwene’s Army and Nynaeve’s Warder in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 8) (1)

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Egwene, Siuan, and a resigned Myrelle ride out of the camp with Bryne. Egwene begins questioning Bryne about the journey to Tar Valon—he worries about facing opposition when they cross Andor. He also outlines his plan to take the city which involves more recruiting, swelling the numbers of his army to two or three times what he has now. Then they will sink ships in strategic places to block the entrances to the harbors, block the bridges, and wait.

And if you don’t have that many soldiers?” She had never thought of all those people going hungry, women and children. She had never really thought of anyone being involved except the Aes Sedai, and the soldiers. How could she have been so foolish?

Bryne assures her that, either with more soldiers or only with those he has now, he will be the first to successfully lay siege to Tar Valon—as long as he can successfully block the harbors. Egwene feels ill, thinking of the people who will die, the citizens who will suffer, and changes the subject by asking what Bryne wanted her to see. He repeats that it is best for her to see for herself.

They travel southward, and at one point they note a line of riders on a nearby ridge—a patrol from the Band of the Red Hand. Myrelle mutters about “Dragonsworn animals” but Bryne only remarks that when he spoke to Lord Talmanes, he seemed concerned about the Amyrlin. Myrelle suggests that talking to the man is close to treason, but Bryne only replies, placidly, that when he’s being followed by over ten thousand men, he wants to know their intentions.

Egwene ignores the lecture Myrelle begins giving about the Band’s intentions, thinking over everything Bryne has said. He is still letting Myrelle’s tirade roll off him when Egwene tunes back into the conversation and orders Myrelle to be quiet. She gently suggests that Bryne avoid speaking to Talmanes again, and Bryne placidly agrees with a “yes, Mother.”

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Eventually they come to a merchant’s train that has been stopped by Bryne’s men. In the distance a line of hanged men dangle from some trees. Bryne informs Egwene, a bit reluctantly, that the merchants have brought a rumor that Rand has gone to Tar Valon to swear fealty to Elaida. Myrelle and Siuan both look about ready to pass out, but they are reassured when Egwene laughs and promises that she knows for a fact that the rumor isn’t true. Bryne points out that the rumor will still spread, and that it could have disastrous effects among the ranks. Egwene offers to send six sisters who know the truth themselves to announce it to the men, and Bryne studies her for a long, silent moment.

“So long as they say the words straight,” he said at last. “If they hedge even a hair…” His stare was not an attempt to intimidate, just to drive the point home. He seemed satisfied by what he saw in her face. “You do very well, it appears, Mother. I wish you continued success. Set your time for this afternoon, and I will come. We should confer regularly. I will come whenever you send for me. We should begin making firm plans how to put you on the Amyrlin Seat once we reach Tar Valon.”

Egwene realizes with a shock that he has just said that the army is hers. Not the Hall’s, or Sheriam’s, but hers. She thanks him, choosing her words just as carefully, then suggests he return to his men while they ride on a little more. After he departs, Egwene instructs Siuan to lead them on. Riding in silence makes Myrelle more and more nervous. At one point, as Siuan turns her horse westward, she even tries to suggest a change in course, and is visibly alarmed when Egwene demurs. Myrelle observes that Egwene must know everything, and suddenly deduces that Siuan has been spying for her all along.

Myrelle begins to sputter that Egwene has to understand, that they made a bargain with Moiraine and that Myrelle hates “letting them die.” Egwene is annoyed when Siuan interrupts and tells Myrelle to lead the rest of the way, and that “cooperation might mean mitigation.” Myrelle eagerly does as she suggests.

They come to a small huddle of tents where they find Nisao Dachen, her Warder, and Myrelle’s three Warders. Egwene also spots Nicola and Areina ducking out of sight behind the tents as Siuan instructs Myrelle to bring someone out. A few moments later Myrelle emerges from the tent with Lan. Egwene realizes a few pieces of the puzzle, but still doesn’t understand what is going on as Myrelle sends Lan to the side, where he begins to perform sword exercises. Myrelle and Nisao approach Egwene, trying to act normally but betraying their anxiety.

Egwene demands an explanation, and they reluctantly tell her—with some prompting and accusations from Siuan—how Moiraine arranged for her bond with Lan to pass to Myrelle in the event of her death. Arranged it without Lan’s permission, giving him no choice in the matter. Nisao, who studies disease of the mind, became involved later.

Egwene thinks that she should feel the same disgust that Siuan does, but she can’t help thinking of the way Lan resisted—foolishly, in Egwene’s eyes—his love for Nynaeve, and whether Egwene herself would let Gawyn refuse to be bonded to her.

Myrelle mentions that she intends to pass Lan’s bond to Nynaeve the way Moiraine instructed, which catches Egwene’s attention. After learning that Lan has been with them for two weeks and has not yet shown any sign of healing—Myrelle suggests it could take months, and even then there is no guarantee—Egwene decides it is time for a different approach. She goes over to Lan, who continues working the sword forms in a blur of motion, stopping his sword just a hair’s breadth from her.

Egwene tells Lan that Nynaeve is Aes Sedai now, and explains the danger she is facing in Ebou Dar before telling Lan that she is sending him to Nynaeve to act as her Warder. Lan immediately orders Areina to saddle Mandarb, then apologizes for ever helping Egwene and Nynaeve leave the Two Rivers. He strides away, and Egwene shuts down Myrelle’s protests that Nynaeve isn’t ready to handle Lan like this.

“There’s one thing you haven’t been able to do. Give him a task so important that he has to stay alive to carry it out.” That was the final element. Supposedly it worked better than the rest. “To him, Nynaeve’s safety is that important. He loves her, Myrelle, and she loves him.”

Nisao is incredulous that Lan could love someone like Nynaeve, pointing out that no woman has ever been able to collar and leash Lan Mandragoran that way. It’s clear from her comment that Myrelle has tried sleeping with Lan—putting a grieving Warder into the bed of a woman is supposed to be one of the ways to make him want to live—and Egwene thinks that it would be best if Nynaeve never found out about that.

Egwene also deduces that Nicola and Areina have been blackmailing the two sisters. The two are shocked that Egwene has figured that out, though Nisao remarks that, whatever happens to her and Myrelle, she’ll be pleased to at least have Nicola face the punishment she deserves. Egwene answers that there will be justice… but only if Myrelle and Nisao face justice themselves.

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She leaves them to stew on that and goes over to Lan, who has reemerged from the tent with his belongings. She makes a gateway and a platform for them both to stand on, and the only question Lan asks as he leads his horse onto the platform is how quickly it will take him to Ebou Dar. Egwene explains she can only get him within five or six days riding and gives him other instructions about how to find Nynaeve and protect her, and that he should tell Nynaeve that Myrelle will pass his bond to her. He listens and repeats the instructions back to her, but she finds his eyes terrifying, sees in them a stark and primal denial of life.

When they reach their destination Egwene follows him out into the light. He promises to make it to Ebou Dar faster than five or six days, and that Nynaeve will be safe.

“You’ve come a very long way since Emond’s Field.” Looking down at her, he smiled. Any warmth in it was swallowed by his eyes. “You have a hold on Myrelle and Nisao, now. Don’t let them argue with you again. By your command, Mother. The watch is not done.”

Egwene watches him go, shocked that even in his current state he had noticed and understood the dynamic between her and the other sisters. She skims back to find Myrelle and Nisao browbeating Siuan while the Warders, Nicola, and Areina pack up the camp. Siuan has been explaining possible penalties to the two other sisters, and Egwene can see agitation in their Warders. It is just how Egwene wants things, and she sends Siuan to put the fear of the Light into Nicola and Areina while Egwene stays to talk to Myrelle and Nisao.

Egwene tells them that without her protection they will at the very least lose their Warders and alludes to the other punishments the Hall, and possibly also their Ajahs, might have for them—it may be years before they can hold their heads up again. But if Egwene is to protect them, they must have an obligation to her in turn. They must swear fealty.

Nisao observes that Egwene is very dangerous, and may break the Tower fully before she is done. Still, she kneels and swears, and a reluctant Myrelle follows suit. Egwene orders them not to tell anyone about Siuan, and to obey all Siuan’s orders as if they come from Egwene.

On their ride back, Egwene tells Siuan about Nicola and Areina’s attempt to blackmail her. Siuan suggests arranging for the two to meet some “accidents,” but Egwene sharply forbids it, pointing out that such a decision will only lead to more killing.

Despite how well the day has been going, Egwene returns to her tent with a terrible headache. Finding letters from Romanda and Lelaine with more demands about Delana doesn’t help, and Egwene feels like her head is about to burst when Halima arrives with a paper from Delana outlining the declaration of Elaida as a Darkfriend that she intends to put before the Hall.

Halima offers to give Egwene a massage, something she has done for Egwene’s headaches before. As much as Halima can be a nuisance, especially because of the messages she brought from Cabriana about Elaida and Darkfriends, Egwene feels that the woman is often judged unfairly because of the way she looks. Worries pile up in Egwene’s mind, worries about rooting out darkfriends without frightening the rest of the Aes Sedai too much, worries about the crossing of Andor, worries about what it will cost to wage war against Tar Valon. Halima urges her to stop worrying, stop tensing up again, suggesting Egwene might benefit from a hot bath. As she works, Egwene finds herself teetering on the brink of sleep—real sleep, not a Dreamer’s sleep.

But there was one thing yet today to look forward to, a reason to remain awake. “That will be nice,” she murmured, meaning more than the promised massage. Long ago she had pledged that one day she would bring Sheriam to heel, and today was the day. At last she was beginning to be the Amyrlin, in control. “Very nice.”

Oh dear. I wonder if Egwene’s headaches are just from stress and too much time in the Dream, or if Aran’gar is doing something to her. That’s a frightening thought—though it’s pretty frightening even if all Aran’gar has done so far is get close to Egwene and become a confidant. Watching Egwene relax and get sleepy under the touch of one of the Forsaken was really, really discomfiting.

There’s a lot in this section that’s discomfiting. But I really enjoyed watching Egwene start to realize just what going to war actually means. It’s a journey Mat, Rand, and Perrin have already had, or at least begun, as all three have become military leaders. Now Egwene is the next of them to have to learn those hard lessons. It was especially moving when she watched the soldiers taking the supplies from the farmer and wondered how much of a difference he and his family would really see between Egwene’s forces and the brigands who murder those they steal from. Egwene was once from a farming community herself, after all, and she’s well aware that the money the farmers are paid may not make up for supplies and animals they need for themselves. After all, if it was as easy as going somewhere else to buy food then the army would just do that.

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It’s not any clearer to me than it is to Egwene how the Wise Ones determine precedence, but it is clear that their way is better. Strength in the Power is very important in certain things, but it doesn’t make someone intelligent, or wise, or a good leader, or a good person. Sometimes it does exactly the opposite, given how often power corrupts.

Like so many of the Aes Sedai’s issues, it is adherence to custom and tradition without understanding where that tradition comes from that gets them into trouble. As Egwene observed last week, the Aes Sedai are resistant to change, but once they accept it they act as though it has always been. This pragmatism serves them well in a lot of ways, but it also shows how unwilling the Aes Sedai are to interrogate themselves and the way they do things. This has resulted in an inflexibility and a stagnation within the ranks of the Aes Sedai that is really hurting them, especially now, given how much change comes with the Dragon Reborn, and how quickly.

I can imagine that choice to base the White Tower hierarchy on strength in the Power came from a good place. As female channelers struggled after the Breaking to rebuild some version of the Aes Sedai, they were no doubt accustomed to relying on that strength to defend themselves during that warlike time. With little security other than what the One Power gave them, the strongest individuals would have been one of their greatest assets. The eldest would have been another, given how much knowledge was lost, and we do see some deference to age and experience in the White Tower to this day.

And in some ways, the strength-based hierarchy can be viewed as egalitarian. Every novice who comes to the White Tower is put on the same level as every other, regardless if she is of noble or humble birth. They are all given the same chores, the same rules, the same responsibilities. And when they are sisters, the bluest of bloods may well find herself subservient to a fisherman’s daughter.

You know, I bet that is one of the reasons Siuan is struggling so much with the reduction in her power and status. Of course there are a lot of practical reasons—she’s smarter, more adaptable, and more aware than most of the other sisters, and she’s been working towards the same ends almost since the day she was raised to the shawl—but there are personal ones too. Siuan is stubborn and practical, and it’s difficult for her to watch other people be less pragmatic or less intelligent than she is. She’s also a bit of a hothead (much like Nynaeve) and doesn’t have any outlet for that anger now that she is in such a subservient positon. But I wonder, too, if growing up in poverty and then being raised out of it to a high position wasn’t something of a revelation for Siuan. She saw her merit as a person being recognized in a way it never would have been without the One Power. And now all that merit is still there, but she’s lost the leverage she had to make it count.

All this really makes me wonder how hierarchy worked in the Age of Legends. In some ways it seems like that culture was still very hierarchical. We don’t know if they measured worth and status primarily by channeling strength or not, but we do know that power and personal glory was much sought after, since that was what seems to have driven so many of the Forsaken to turn to the Dark One. Immortality itself is a form of hierarchy as well, when you think about it—by escaping death, such a person could maintain power and prestige, unrivaled, for literally ever.

I’m just about as frustrated with Romanda and Lelaine as Egwene is. I can understand how difficult their position must be; they’ve spent most of their lives defined by the structure and rules of the White Tower, and now they’re floundering either to rebuild that structure or to create something new—no small feat for anyone. But the way they’re fighting each other is just so childish, and so pointless, it’s hard to have any respect for them at all. I think I have more for Romanda because she came out of retirement—that suggests a certain kind of dedication to the Aes Sedai. Although, depending on her reasons for going into retirement, it might still have been more of a power grab than anything.

I can’t really blame them for their desire to use Egwene—from their perspective it doesn’t make a lot of sense to let someone of Egwene’s youth and inexperience lead as a true Amyrlin. Their motivations for voting for her are pretty iffy though, as is their behavior towards each other. I honestly respect Sheriam a lot more than the two of them, at the moment, although I’m still a little worried she’s Black Ajah. Delana can’t be the only one, and since we know about Aran’gar already, I feel like there must be a surprise waiting for us in the form of some character we know well who turns out not to be who we think. Right now, Sheriam is the only character who fits that mold, narratively speaking. Unless Chesa is one of the Forsaken in disguise, or something.

The point is, I still haven’t forgotten the dead gray man in Sheriam’s bed. I would like some answers about that, thank you.

Speaking of Delana, I had actually forgotten that she was the Black Ajah member that Halima/Aran’gar is controlling. Then Romanda and Lelaine reported Delana’s obsession with the Black Ajah and intention to denounce Elaida as one. When they started fighting, with Lelaine seeing the whole thing as stupid and Romanda wanting to question sisters while simultaneously fearing that they might drive the Black Ajah into hiding, all I could think about was how Delana’s actions would make a lot of sense as a Black Ajah move—then I remembered that she is, in fact, Black Ajah, and acting on Aran’gar’s instructions.

I really have so much empathy for Siuan. I can’t help but think about how alike she is to the Wise Ones—she does what she must and accepts the consequences. Thus she is keeping to the oath she swore to Bryne, even though Egwene could probably convince Bryne to accept payment for the debt. Even when Siuan was escaping, she told Min that she fully intended to come back and fulfill her oath to him when she could. Egwene is already thinking along the same lines—she’s prepared to behave unethically in Tel’aran’rhiod if she needs to, for example.

Moiraine was also this way. Dedicated, as Siuan was as well, to finding and guiding the Dragon Reborn in whatever way she could, she did whatever she felt she had to in order to achieve that goal. She used balefire, even though it was forbidden. She swore to obey Rand because she knew that it was the only way he would accept her help. And I think this was the same way of thinking that led her to treat Lan the way she did.

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Morally, of course, it’s an absolutely abhorrent action. Robbing someone of their free will is just about the worst offense one can commit with the power—we’ve seen other examples, such as compulsion or the use of the a’dam. Traditionally tools of the bad guys, we’ve now seen some of our heroes using the a’dam as well, though only as a means of controlling dangerously evil and powerful people like Moghedien. Siuan has even suggested the murder of Nicola and Areina as a cover up—Egwene was right in pointing out that such justification for killing could spiral into more, but it’s not an impossible stretch to imagine a situation in which such a killing might be deemed necessary, if regretable. Just as the deaths of innocent civilians may end up a regrettable but necessary cost of taking the White Tower from Elaida and reuniting the Aes Sedai.

But to bring it back to Lan, whether or not one agrees with Moiraine’s decision, it’s not hard to understand why she did what she did. Knowing she was going to die, Moiraine was, as always, thinking about the fate of the world. In her estimation, Lan was too essential to the fight to have his life be lost with hers, and so she made a decision that was morally incorrect for him, but that she believed was necessary for the world. I was going to say that she wasn’t thinking about Lan at all, but of course that isn’t actually true—she clearly put a lot of thought into how, if he survived losing her, his life might eventually look. She made sure that Myrelle would pass his bond on to Nynaeve, specifically, and must have been as aware as Egwene is that any chance Lan has of recovering from what has been done to him lies in his ending up with the woman he loves.

It’s interesting to note that the Aes Sedai compare bonding a man—or transferring his bond—against his will to rape, given that Myrelle then went on to actually rape him. I have a lot of thoughts about Lan’s situation here, so much so that I’m going to do a separate essay about it. For now, though, I will simply point out the fact that it is impossible for a man in Lan’s position to consent to sex, and that being compelled to such an act is hardly conducive to improving his mental health. And Myrelle’s comparison of the act of passing a bond as alike to a woman deciding who her husband will marry after her death is just ridiculous—even if there is cultural pressure on the husband in question, his position is a far cry from a Warder being compelled and controlled by the bond.

And of course, this isn’t the first time in the story that something like this has happened.

Alanna bonded Rand without his permission or knowledge. And both Elayne and Egwene have had some questionable thoughts about bonding. Elayne certainly hasn’t said anywhere in her narration that she would bond Rand without his consent, but neither has she seemed to consider that he might refuse, or what she would do in that case. She is simply determined. As for Egwene, well, she literally considers that she should be as horrified by Lan’s situation as Siuan is, but she isn’t.

Would Nynaeve have let [Lan] walk away unbonded, had she had the chance, whatever he said? Would she herself let Gawyn? He had said he would accept, yet if he changed his mind…?

Egwene also considers the fact that some sisters argue that a man can’t really consent to bond because it’s impossible for him to understand what it truly entails before he has experienced that. It’s also suggested in plenty of places that not all Aes Sedai bother explaining everything fully before they bond their Warders.

And so we’re left with the same question Egwene is now asking herself. What justifies amoral actions? When is it appropriate to put the greater good ahead of the rights of the individual? Who is worth sacrificing along the way to the salvation of the world?

I remember Siuan saying something similar when she delegated Nynaeve and Egwene (and Elayne by proxy) to be her hounds in the hunt for the Black Ajah. She said that it was wrong to put Accepted, young and inexperienced women, into such danger. But she had to, because they were the only people in the White Tower she knew for certain that she could trust. Compared to the questions Egwene is facing now, compared to the ones all the leaders of the world face, and Rand most of all, that was a relatively small sacrifice to make. But it was the same logic, the same mathematics if you will, that led Moiraine to violate Lan’s trust and autonomy by passing on his bond. The same logic that led Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene to keep Moghedien enslaved via the a’dam. The same thinking that has the soldiers taking supplies from every farm they pass, trying their best to do as little harm as possible but ultimately putting their need above the farmers they take from.

This is hardly the last time our heroes will be faced with such questions—it’s bound to get more difficult and more painful as we go on. But hopefully Egwene’s actions will help Lan at least a little—she’s taken him away from Myrelle’s ministrations, which is definitely a good thing. Nyneave loves him, and he loves her too. That is something to live for.

I’ll be taking the next two weeks off for a bit of a holiday break, so I will see you all back here on January 3rd for an essay about Lan and how The Wheel of Time tackles the subject of male rape. (Yes, I know, it’s such a very festive start to the New Year.) I hope that everyone who is celebrating has a wonderful holiday, and I wish every single one of you an excellent New Year. As always, thanks for being such an amazing group of readers—I’m honored to have been able to run this column for all this time, and that we’re still going strong.

Happy Holidays!

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Sylas K Barrett was endlessly amused by Nisao’s constant refrain of “I should never have listened to you!” in Egwene’s presence. She was like a little kid trying to make sure that the parents put the blame for everything on her sibling for being the instigator.



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