Home / Blog / Reading The Wheel of Time: Elayne Deals with Cliques and Politics in Robert Jordan’s The Path of Daggers (Part 3)

Reading The Wheel of Time: Elayne Deals with Cliques and Politics in Robert Jordan’s The Path of Daggers (Part 3)

Mar 24, 2023Mar 24, 2023

And we’re back with another week of Reading The Wheel of Time. This week we are covering Chapters 3 and 4 of The Path of Daggers. Since they are lighter chapters, while 5 and 6 are meatier, we’re also going to cover the first few pages of Chapter 5, through Elayne's conversations with Aviendha and Nynaeve. This will finish up the thematic arcs of the earlier chapters, and then next week we’ll move along to the use of the Bowl and the arrival of the Seanchan.

But before that, we recap.

The ride to the farm is unpleasant for Elayne, as she finds herself barraged by the needs and anxieties of the various groups traveling with her. First, she finds out that Aviendha tried to send her a message about the watcher while they were on opposite sides of the gateway, but the windfinder Aviendha sent it by never delivered it. Elayne is just talking Aviendha down from violence when Adeleas interrupts to suggest that letting Aviendha loose on the Atha’an Miere might be a good idea—it might edge the balance of power a little more in the Aes Sedai's favor.

Somewhat reluctantly, Elayne allows Aviendha to go speak with the windfinders. Shortly after, Renaile sends the most junior windfinder, Rainyn, to demand that Elayne "snub in" the Aiel. Elayne plays up the difficulty of making Aiel do anything, much to Aviendha's amusement. Still, when Rainyn brings the report back to Renaile, the Sea Folk women seem more angry than frightened.

Elayne also has to deal with the Kin anxiously trying to convince her to take Ispan off of them, and with the Aes Sedai trying to be put in charge of Ispan. Neither group leads directly into the conversation but tries to approach it obliquely or manipulate Elayne, which Elayne resents very much, especially when Merilille tries to suggest that the Kin could be Darkfriends. Furious, Elayne tells Merilille that if she makes such an accusation again without proof Elayne will set her a penance "that will make [her] eyes pop," even though she knows she doesn't have that authority. She offers worse threats, voice rising to a shout, until she finally collects herself. Merilille looks shocked, her face white, but that doesn't stop other women from continuing their efforts to change who is in control of Ispan. They are just more careful in their approach.

Elayne believes that Nynaeve would be able to take care of the situation much more successfully, but except for checking in once or twice, Nynaeve keeps following Lan as he ranges ahead. Aviendha starts telling Elyane intimate details about how Rand kisses. She seems to expect Elayne to teach her about courting and romance, which Elayne finds challenging since they are both in love with the same man.

Finally, Nynaeve returns to report that the Kin's farm lies just ahead. She positions Reanne at the head of ​the column, and has all the Aes Sedai put up their hoods so as not to startle anyone before explanations can be made.

Publicly, the Kin's farm is a known as a retreat for women; secretly, it is also a waypoint for Kinswomen passing through Ebou Dar to elsewhere, so there are never too many in the city at a time. Elayne notes the serenity in the air as they approach. They are greeted by a very practical seeming woman named Alise. Suddenly, she catches sight of one of the Aes Sedai, Careane, who has not pulled her hood up far enough to fully hide her face. Other women see as well, and the farm erupts in panic, women screaming and running wildly. Nynaeve quickly sends Lan after some of the women who have run off into the nearby olive groves, and Elayne reluctantly sends Birgitte to help, although being chased by Warders is unlikely to help calm anyone.

Alise asks Reanne how she could betray them and whether the Aes Sedai offered her bribes or immunity. Reanne explains that the Tower has always known about them, telling Alise the good news that they will be allowed to go back and try again. Alise says that might be fine for Reanne, but not for all of them.

"What would we go back for? To be told again we aren't strong enough and be sent on our way? Or will they just keep us as novices the rest of our lives? Some might accept that, but I won't. What for, Reanne? What for?"

Nynaeve tells Alise that they can all be part of the Tower, and remarks that she never understood why someone has to be of a certain strength. Then she reminds Reanne that they have a job to do.

The windfinders are all sore from riding, and Nynaeve instructs Merilille to Heal them if they ask politely. She and Alise go off together, and as Elayne turns she sees that Vandene and Adeleas, who are linked, have taken control of Ispan. She and Aviendha follow as Ispan is taken to a small room and seated in a chair.

Ispan insists that she was sent by Elaida, and is disdainful of the "fable" of the Black Ajah. She calls them all rebels against the Amyrlin Seat. Aviendha threatens her, fingering her knife, and Ispan seems frightened. But Adeleas intervenes, explaining that the Aes Sedai are forbidden to shed blood during questioning. Elayne notices how Ispan seems more confident and comfortable around Vandene and Adeleas than she does with Elayne and Aviendha, and decides that Tower Law will hold Adeleas and Vandene back too much.

People who were to be questioned by the Tower usually began talking before a finger was laid on them—everyone knew that no one held out against the Tower; no one!—but they were very seldom initiates. She could hear another voice, not Lini's this time, but her mother's. What you order done, you must be willing to do with your own hand. As a queen, what you order done, you have done.

Elayne tells Vandene and Adeleas to leave Ispan with her and Aviendha. There is a long pause, and Ispan seems alarmed, but then Vandene asks to speak to them outside, ushering them along before Elayne can refuse. Carefully, she explains to Elayne and Aviendha that it is better for women with experience to handle this sort of thing. The young are too hot blooded; sometimes they do too much, or realize they can't bring themselves to do enough. She suggests Elayne leave it to her and her sister, and disappears back inside. A moment later a ward against eavesdropping—and against sounds escaping—fills the room.

Elayne feels a little queasy at the thought of what might happen behind that ward, and she and Aviendha hurry away to work on sorting the rest of the cache. They find an array of fascinating and mysterious ter’angreal as well as two angreal. One is a bracelet attached to four finger rings which is more powerful than the turtle angreal Elayne discovered on her first look through the storehouse goods. The other is an ivory figure of a seated woman wrapped in her own hair. Though it is not as strong as the turtle angreal, Elayne finds it appealing.

One hand rested on a knee, palm up and fingers arranged so the thumb touched the tips of the middle two fingers, while the other hand was lifted, the first two fingers raised and the others folded. The whole figure carried an air of supreme dignity, yet the delicately worked face showed amusement and delight.

She finds herself wondering if this angreal was made for a specific woman.

Nynaeve arrives before they have finished to tell them that the rest of the angreal hunt can wait—it is time for the Bowl. They climb to the top of a huge hill—Elayne has learned from the Windfinders that changing anything beyond your immediate vicinity requires working over long distances, so they need to be able to see a long way.

Elayne is struck by the view, but Nynaeve is more interested in complaining about the Kinswomen. Nynaeve is also furious at the small delay in finding strong Kinswomen to join the circle that will use the bowl, which meant an extra hour dealing with the Sea Folk windfinders. Elayne considers that even a seasoned negotiator like Merilille might not be able to hold her own against the Sea Folk.

Elayne's attention is then drawn to Aviendha, who is standing right at the edge of the cliff and appears distressed. When Elayne approaches and cautiously asks, Aviendha replies that she has failed Elayne. She cannot form a gateway properly, she mistook a servant for a shadow runner, and the Windfinders act like she is an Aes Sedai dog barking at their heels.

"I pretended I could make the Shadowrunner talk for you, but no Far Dareis Mai is allowed to question prisoners until she has been wed to the spear for twenty years, or even to watch until she has carried it ten. I am weak and soft, Elayne. I cannot bear to shame you further. If I fail you again, I will die."

Elayne feels her mouth go dry, and carefully pulls Aviendha away from the edge. She assures Aviendha that she has never done anything to shame Elayne and could never do so. She calls Aviendha "as soft as a stone" and bets that the Atha’an Miere are scared silly of her. She also admits that she, too, thought she could do what was necessary with Ispan, but now believes that she’d throw up if she even tried.

Aviendha replies that she did not mean she couldn't do it, only that she did not know how. Still, she seems comforted by Elayne's words, agreeing that they both have weaknesses and that it brings no shame as long as only the two of them know. Elayne decides to give Aviendha the woman angreal. Aviendha is struck by the magnitude of the gift.

Nynaeve stalks up to Elayne next, and Elayne is shocked when Nynaeve admits that she has been acting foolishly and losing her wits over Lan. Not only that, she asks Elayne to tell her when she is acting a fool. Pushing away thoughts of Rand, Elayne tells Nynaeve that her behavior is not Lan's fault and sternly orders her to stop acting like a giddy girl and get ahold of herself. Nynaeve promises to try, and, even more surprisingly, apologizes for her behavior.

It did not last, of course. Abruptly frowning at the angreal, Nynaeve cleared her throat. "You gave one to Aviendha, did you?" she said briskly. "Well, I suppose she's all right. A pity we have to let the Sea Folk use one. I’ll wager they try to hang on to it! Well, just let them try! Which one is mine?"

Elayne sighs and gives her the bracelet and rings, then watches Nynaeve go over to the assembled women and start giving orders. Sometimes, she thinks, it's difficult to tell the difference between Nynaeve leading and Nynaeve bullying.

It's interesting to see where Elayne feels confident in having and exerting authority, and where she doesn't. Even though the Aes Sedai have accepted Nynaeve and Elayne's authority, both because of their strength in the One Power and by virtue of the authority given to them by Egwene, she and Nynaeve are both still contending with the fact that they are young and inexperienced compared with most other channelers they are interacting with. Even the Kin's fear and almost worshipful attitude towards the Aes Sedai is extended to them only because they are witnessing the way Merilille and the others obey Nynaeve and Elayne. The Windfinders have little respect for any Aes Sedai, and even if they did, their hierarchy seems closer to that of the Aiel than the Aes Sedai—based on age, experience, and ranks achieved through merit, not necessarily strength in the One Power. And even some of the Kin seem less than awed by these two youngsters, if Alise's handling of Nynaeve is anything to go by.

So often in The Wheel of Time we have seen the story focus on the flaws in the current generation of Aes Sedai. These older, more established sisters are often unable to adapt to new situations, too entrenched in tradition and the way things have always been done to meet the changing times, or even to acknowledge those changes. A few, such as Moiraine, Siuan, and Verin, are much more quick and adaptable, but for the most part, the Aes Sedai's rigidity holds them back. And because the reader mostly sees events through the eyes of Elayne, Egwene, Mat, Perrin, Nynaeve, and Rand, we know they are right when they tell their elders about the Black Ajah and about the Seanchan, as well as about the need for a confrontation, rather than reconciliation, between the Salidar Aes Sedai and Elaida, and about the fact that it is necessary for Rand, not the White Tower, to lead the world to the Last Battle. We saw Moghedien try to kill Nynaeve, so of course Teslyn looks like an idiot to us when she accuses Nynaeve of flights of fancy.

It's easy, therefore, to forget that the Aes Sedai also have much knowledge, wisdom, and strength that is not only valuable, but necessary to Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve's success. (And Rand's, for that matter.) But Vandene and Adeleas’ handling of the Ispan problem has shown Elayne, and the reader, that Elayne and Nynaeve (and Aviendha) are not always the best people for all jobs, even if Egwene did put them in charge of finding the Bowl of the Winds.

It is not really surprising Elayne can only consider that the Tower Law is a hindrance to doing what must be done—it often has been! But she makes a lot of assumptions about her observations of Ispan that are not necessarily correct. First, she assumes that she is reading those reactions correctly, and that Ispan isn't purposefully betraying certain attitudes in an attempt to manipulate her captors. They know she can lie, and even if she couldn't, I don't believe the Three Oaths would prohibit her from making certain faces in certain moments. The truth on her face may not be the truth you think you see.

And just because she is nervous or thrown by the wildcard of Elayne and Aviendha's presence doesn't necessarily mean that she is more afraid of being alone with the two of them. Perhaps Ispan is simple more accustomed to deceiving fellow sisters; she knows how they think and how to play on their traditions and habits, but doesn't know which ruses will work on Elayne.

Elayne also assumes that Ispan is correct not to be afraid of Adeleas and Vandene, that her confidence is appropriate to the situation. Darkfriends are usually arrogant and cocky, which Elayne should know by now. Nynaeve was able to bring Moghedien down by exploiting that over-confidence, after all! But I think Elayne has become so accustomed to the ways that the laws and traditions of the Tower can hinder its initiates that she is predisposed to doubt a sister's ability before it has even been tested.

It's a subtler lack of confidence than Rand's fear and trauma-induced hatred, but in its own way it is still dangerous to the allies of the Light—much like the division of the Tower is dangerous, even though it also paved the way for Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne to gain some of the authority and control they so desperately need. They need allies, and they need to be able to trust at least some of the sisters, and take their advice when it is good. Later, in Chapter 6, we’ll see that Vandene and Adeleas have had success in interrogating Ispan, or at least she seems much more meek and obedient than she was, and without the need for Nynaeve's herbs. It is a good reminder to the reader, and hopefully to Elayne as well, that she should not, and cannot, behave as if she is the only one among the Aes Sedai able to accomplish anything. And after all, now that she is recognized as a full sister who stands high in the hierarchy, she can't be ordered around as often. She can only benefit from listening to advice from time to time, and taking other opinions seriously. It isn't as though she has to follow the advice she listens to.

But Aes Sedai politics are also to blame here. Elayne and Nynaeve clearly didn't trust the Aes Sedai with Ispan—they wanted the Kin to hold her because the Kin would never refuse to turn her back over to Elayne and Nyenave. But Elayne might have relented, or at least taken seriously the requests to have Ispan turned over to the sisters if every request hadn't been an attempt to manipulate, to use guile to guide Elayne into thinking as they did. Elayne is most angry at Merilille because of the insinuation that the Kin could possibly be Darkfriends, but the other attempts to convince her use the same technique. Elayne is too smart to fall for it, and it must feel insulting to be treated like she isn't, especially when attempts to trick or guide a leader into a certain decision is also probably something that she saw while watching her mother rule.

Elayne also thinks about her training for the Lion Throne when she is contemplating the torture of Ispan. Of course much of that advice about ruling a nation would be useful in other leadership contexts; we’ve seen Elayne use that skill set many times before. But it's also worth noting that it is the only leadership advice that she has to draw on. She has not been trained in the way Aes Sedai lead, or the ways they learn to work together. Even her authority as a stronger channeler came as a surprise to her, and she still isn't good at using that authority effectively.

Elayne even recognizes this herself during the ride, wishing she were back in Caemlyn already and thinking that it all sounds much easier to manage than what she is dealing with between the Aes Sedai, the Kin, and the Windfinders.

That was where they were heading once this was done. She had duties long overdue in Caemlyn. All she had to deal with there was convincing the stronger Houses that the Lion Throne was hers despite her long absence, that and handling a rival claimant or two.

I was interested in the revelation that Elayne does intend to return to Caemlyn and assume the throne as soon as they have finished with the Bowl of the Winds. She has said that the Bowl was more important, but I wasn't sure what other Aes Sedai duties she might also view as similarly critical. Rand is desperate for Elayne's return, so it seems important and relevant that he and she are not so very far from being in agreement… even though I suspect events will keep Elayne from reaching Caemlyn for a while, yet.

Speaking of Rand, there is a parallel here between him, Elayne, and Aviendha. Rand is constantly pushing himself to become hard, even though he despises himself for it at the same time, because he believes he must. To be a leader is to make sacrifices, sometimes of other people, and Rand has learned that lesson perhaps too well. He denies himself any self-compassion, and often treats his instincts towards mercy or care as dangerous weaknesses—again, even though he sees himself as a monster for not having the very mercy he is eschewing. And then with Ispan, Elayne and Aviendha face a moment where they believe they must push themselves to be capable of torture. It is for a good and important cause, yes, but Elayne is literally considering doing something that the White Tower itself forbids. And then when she realizes she would not have been able to go through with it, she says that she is weak.

Aviendha, on the other hand, sees herself as soft because she doesn't know enough, and can't execute things to a certain level of perfection—also a thing Rand does. It's fascinating to see how hard these young people are on themselves. Not harder, perhaps, than others are on them, but often about different things. When Elayne learns that Adeleas and Vandene were successful with Ispan, perhaps she will stop believing she must do everything herself and must be good at every aspect of being an Aes Sedai and a leader, not the mention the fact she has more people she can rely on besides Nynaeve, Aviendha, and Egwene. Maybe she will even reevaluate what being "soft" really means, and whether or not she should want to be someone who could easily order torture and break the Laws of the Tower without care.

Maybe Rand will learn that sort of lesson too, one day. Maybe that's the one that Min saw in her vision, the one that Cadsuane is going to teach him and the Asha’man.

There's a moment in Chapter 4 where Elayne is wishing she already had the ageless face, so that the women at the farm would know to respect her. The following line reads: "That tweaked a thread in the back of her thoughts, but it vanished as soon as she tried to examine it."

I bet that Elayne is starting to suspect that it is the oath rod that gives the ageless look, not extended use of the One Power. Now that she has encountered several different groups of female channelers, none of whom have the look even among the strongest channelers, and has learned how long some of the Kin have lived, I think she's probably going to put two and two together before too long. I am desperate to know the reaction of the Aes Sedai, and what might be done about those who are currently constrained by the oath. I assume the oath rod can unbind the oaths as well as bind people to them, but I don't actually know.

I can't imagine being an Aes Sedai who was bound by the oath rod and learning what it was doing to me, especially if the younger generations were not required to be bound in the same way.

And then there's Nynaeve. I really can't blame her for being distracted by Lan. She doesn't have the Warder bond to keep track of him, and she knows how easy it would be for him, in his current state, to lose his life. He even told her that serving her is all he's willing to hang on for, so it makes sense that she would want to keep herself in his sight, reminding him of what he has to live for. Marriage does seem to be changing her, as Mat observed, and I wonder if it isn't, at least in part, from a sense of responsibility. She is responsible for Lan now, and she can't let her temper or her insecurities get in the way. That responsibility might be throwing other responsibilities into high relief as well—or perhaps it is the fact that Nynaeve has always had an affinity for weather.

She has an affinity for leadership as well, or she never would have made it as far as she has. I suppose time will tell if she can add a little of Elayne's self-restraint and thoughtfulness to her repertoire, even as Elayne can benefit from a little of Nynaeve's stubbornness. And shouting.

Things will be heating up next week as we finish Chapter 5 and move into Chapter 6. Using the Bowl of the Winds, the arrival of the Seanchan, and Elayne's daring attempt to recreate Aviendha's unweaving technique—it's going to be exciting!

Sylas K Barrett always enjoys the way Jordan iterates names from our world/Age to be used in Rand's, but Rainyn feels more like he predicted the trends we’re seeing in modern American names and spellings.