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Reading The Wheel of Time: Bethamin and Egeanin Ponder Treason in Winter’s Heart (Part 15)


Reading The Wheel of Time: Bethamin and Egeanin Ponder Treason in <i>Winter’s Heart</i> (Part 15)

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Reading The Wheel of Time: Bethamin and Egeanin Ponder Treason in Winter’s Heart (Part 15)

How will the revelation of the sul’dam’s ability to learn to channel affect the cultural and social order of the Seanchan?


Published on April 16, 2024

Reading The Wheel of Time on Winter's Heart

Bethamin and Renna have been tasked with the day’s inspection duty of the damane kennels in the Tarasin Palace. Bethamin reflects on how neither Renna nor Seta has been allowed to link with a damane since Falme. No one knows why except for Suroth… and Bethamin.

She and Renna visit each of the damane, and Bethamin makes notes on which damane aren’t keeping their spaces neat and gives candies to those who are doing particularly well in their training. She isn’t bothered about the anger she sees in the new Atha’an Miere damane; they think they are resisting, but Bethamin knows that they are already changing. The details of how women adjust to being damane are different on this side of the ocean, but the results are always the same.

Bethamin takes special notice of the damane she calls “Tessi,” a former Aes Sedai who appears to be putting on a show of smiling acceptance to lull the sul’dam. Bethamin expects that this means “Tessi” is plotting escape, and makes certain recommendations for breaking her. 

Walking back to the inn where she is staying, Bethamin thinks about her time in Falme. Most Seanchan have bad memories of fighting ghosts or seeing horrors in the sky, but Bethamin remembers going to the kennels to check on the damane called Tuli, only to discover Seta and Renna collared by two a’dam, desperately and unsuccessfully trying to free each other. Bethamin left without being seen by the other two. Terrified that the discovery of two marath’damane among the ranks of the sul’dam would result in renewed testing of all the sul’dam, Bethamin knew in her heart that she would fail such a test, and be collared.

The shame curdled in her still. She had placed personal fears ahead of the needs of the Empire, ahead of everything she knew to be right and true and good. Battle came to Falme, and nightmare, but she had not rushed to complete herself with a damane and join the battle line. Instead, she had used the confusion to secure a horse and flee, to run as hard and as far as she could.

Bethamin has deduced that Alwhin found the pair of collared sul’dam and reported it to Suroth, and that Suroth has hidden the truth about Renna and Seta to protect the Empire. Her flight was for nothing, and if she hadn’t run, she wouldn’t have ended up in Tanchico.

Bethamin finds a man in her room, reading through her diary. She is about to attack the thief when he holds up a small plaque identifying himself as a Seeker of Truth. She is horrified that her secret might have been discovered, but when the Seeker begins to talk to her, she learns that he has only come because he found out she was asking around for the whereabouts of Egeanin. She lies and tells the man that Egeanin is an old friend, and Bethamin was trying to find out if she survived the battle at Falme. In truth, Bethamin has been worrying that Egeanin will come to regret setting Bethamin free from the a’dam, but now she is worried that the Seeker will arrest Egeanin for some other reason and that the truth about Bethamin will come out that way.

The Seeker orders Bethamin to re-establish her friendship with Egeanin, and begins to tell Bethamin about a series of incidents which, the Seeker believes, indicate that Egeanin, perhaps under Suroth’s orders, conspired to have Bayle Domon murder the High Lord Turak. He also believes that Egeanin has been conspiring with Aes Sedai, and that Suroth may have Aes Sedai working for her.

Shocked and horrified, Bethamin suggests that surely the Seeker has enough evidence to arrest and question Egeanin, and that he shouldn’t need Bethamin’s help. But the Seeker is more concerned about the Aes Sedai trying to return the Empire to the days when they still had power, and that Suroth might not even be the head of the conspiracy. He will follow Bethamin to Egeanin and Egeanin to Suroth and Suroth to the heart of worm, and Bethamin will do as he commands.

“I understand, and I will obey.” Her voice shook, but what else could she say? The Light save her, what else could she say?”

Meanwhile, Egeanin lies on the bed in her room in the Wandering Woman, listening to Bayle’s usual rant about how they could have escaped the Seanchan at Falme. She is busy thinking about her promotion to Captain of the Green, and whether or not Suroth is suspicious of her. A Seeker has been asking questions; Egeanin knows that she would already be in custody if he had any proof of wrongdoing, but suspicion is still dangerous.

When Bayle asks for her opinion, she reminds him—not for the first time—that when they were hailed by ships outside of the harbor at Falme, they would have been destroyed if they had tried to run.

“By bringing you into the wind and announcing we were on our way to Cantorin with a gift for the Empress, may she live forever, I allayed their suspicions. Anything else—anything!—and we would all have been chained in the hold and sold as soon as we reached Cantorin. I doubt we’d have been lucky enough to face the headsman instead.”

She adds that if Bayle had behaved as Egeanin instructed, he would not have been sold, and reminds him that he cost her a lot of money. Anyway, there is no harm in Suroth having the collar and bracelets, since she can’t get close enough to the Dragon Reborn to use them anyway.

Privately, Egeanin considers that it might be necessary for the Dragon Reborn to be fitted with the male a’dam, but she doesn’t bring that up with Bayle, and is aware that on this side of the ocean, none of the Prophecies mention the Dragon serving the Crystal Throne.

Egeanin had actually decided before leaving Tanchico that she wanted to marry Bayle, but hadn’t know how to ask according to his cultural customs. And now he is so’jhin, and although she’s happy to have him share her bed and even secretly rely on him for comfort, she isn’t sure she can bring herself to marry a freed slave. As Bayle holds her close and promises her that everything will be okay, Egeanin is frustrated by his inability to understand his new position and behave properly, but also finds that she just wants to stay wrapped in his arms forever, and never have to make any more decisions.

There is a knock at the door, and Bayle opens the door to Bethamin. Egeanin hasn’t seen the sul’dam since Tanchico, when she decided to remove the a’dam and set her free. Bethamin hesitates, clearly nervous, and then blurts out that a Seeker has ordered her to report on Egeanin to him. As she explains, Egeanin is shocked that the Seeker seems to have woven together a series of events into the idea of some kind of conspiracy—and a little relieved when Bayle is as shocked as she is. In her panic, Bethamin also mentions Seta and Renna.

Egeanin rubbed at her eyes wearily. Perhaps there was a conspiracy, after all. Or Suroth might be hiding what the pair were to protect the Empire. The Empire depended on sul’dam; its strength was built on them. The news that sul’dam were women who could learn to channel might shatter the Empire to its core. It had surely shaken her. Maybe shattered her. She herself had not freed Bethamin out of duty. So many things had changed in Tanchico. She no longer believed that any woman who could channel deserved to be collared. Criminals, certainly, and maybe those who refused oaths to the Crystal Throne, and… She did not know. Once, her life had been made up of rock-solid certainties, like guiding stars that never failed. She wanted her old life back. She wanted a few certainties.

She tells Bethamin to visit her every day, make the reports to the Seeker, and wait for Egeanin to tell her what to do. Bethamin is visibly relieved to have someone else taking the burden of the decision making.

When Bethamin is gone, Bayle offers to kill the Seeker, but Egeanin knows that the big man will never be able to track the Seeker down. She begins to write out a manumission for Bayle and to give him instructions on how to get out of the city, but he stops her, taking the paper and throwing it into the fire. He reminds her that she can’t give him orders if he is free, and she can’t free him without providing for his future. He tells her that she needs a crew, and explains that he recognized Mat Cauthon in the kitchens. After telling ​​Egeanin how he first met Mat, he suggests that a man who could survive Trollocs and Myrddraal would no doubt be useful. Mat has clearly come up in the world since then, and he also has friends, including Thom Merrilin, who Egeanin has already met. Suddenly suspicious, Egeanin asks if there is indeed a plot, and Bayle reassures her that there isn’t. And if there was, he adds, he will not let that Seeker, or anyone else, harm her.

It was the sort of thing any loyal so’jhin might say. Well, no so’jhin she had ever heard of would have been so straightforward, but the sentiments were the same. ” Only, she knew he did not mean it that way, could never mean it that way.

Egeanin tells Bayle to find Mat and Thom. When he leaves, she sits and thinks. She has already decided that she will do whatever she must to avoid letting the Seeker take her. Even though it makes her no better than Bethamin.

Bethamin’s examination of the damane was a difficult read, but these chapters really get into the question that the narrative has been poking at for a while, which is how the revelation of the sul’dam’s ability to learn to channel will affect the cultural and social order of the Seanchan. Nynaeve and the other Aes Sedai in Caemlyn have been working to force the captive sul’dam to recognize their ability as channelers with the intention of releasing them back into Seanchan-controlled territory, and it’s easy to imagine that the revelation would upset the balance of power and cause confusion in the ranks of the army, and probably all of society. However, Nynaeve and the others are looking in from the outside, unable to know more than the vague shape of Seanchan prejudice against channelers, or how exactly each individual member of the Empire thinks about—or doesn’t bother thinking about—damane. Even Egwene only had a small glimpse during her own time wearing the a’dam and the few explanations Renna gave her.

Now, however, we the readers get to spend time with two different members of the Empire, both of whom were very dedicated and loyal before the revelation about the sul’dam came to rock the foundations of their world.

I’ll admit that I’m inclined to have a little more empathy for Egeanin than for Bethamin, because of how Egeanin acted towards Elayne and Nynaeve in Tanchico, and because of the way Bethamin thinks about the damane, even now that she knows she may very well end up as one. Egeanin’s attitude towards Bayle’s identity as so’jhin isn’t exactly nice, but at least she seems to be questioning her attitudes towards Seanchan slavery practices for moral reasons, not solely out of a desire to save her own skin. When Egeanin freed Bethamin, and agreed to throw the male a’dam into the sea, she did it because she has come to believe that people shouldn’t be collared just because they can channel. Yes, she is still considering that there might be many circumstances in which it would be correct, and yes, she misses the solid certainty of her former beliefs. However, she is not attempting to block her mind to the changes she has been through, and when she had Bethamin collared, Egeanin chose to free her because it felt like the right thing to do, even though it put Egeanin herself in danger—as did her intention to destroy the male a’dam the way Nynaeve and Elayne asked her to.

On the other hand, Bethamin is making her choices solely from an instinct towards self-preservation. One certainly can’t blame her for being frightened, even paralyzingly so, given how horrible the fate of collared women is. But Bethamin doesn’t seem even a little conflicted when it comes to interacting with the damane in her care, even those who are recently collared and with whom she has so much in common. Even as she does everything in her power to avoid being found out as marath’damane, never once does she look at Teslyn and the Atha’an Miere captives and think about how they must feel just as she does. Never once does she seem to regret what has been done to them.

Instead, Bethamin continues to take pride in her work. She is happy to recommend a very harsh method of breaking damane to be used on Teslyn, her only regret being that it produces a meeker damane. She claims to dislike breaking a damane’s spirit, but never considers that every single woman ever collared has had her spirit broken and is forced to change from thinking of herself as a human being to thinking of herself as basically an animal with powers. She does, however, want to be the best sul’dam possible, protecting herself through abuse of others—though she does not see it that way.

When the Seeker suggests that Suroth may be uncollaring the former Aes Sedai, Bethamin’s shocked reaction shows how she still thinks of damane

Who would uncollar a damane? A well-trained damane was a treat and a joy, but as well unleash a drunken grolm!

Does Bethamin consider herself a drunken grolm now? Or is that judgment only for women who can touch the True Source without being taught? Or is it the process of breaking and changing human women into obedient damane that makes them comparable to an intoxicated beast? It would make sense if that was the real opinion; after all, Bethamin is a sul’dam and knows exactly how the training works and what it does. We have seen how the damane who Rand attempted to free reacted. But again, there is no apparent connection with this thought and Bethamin’s awareness of her own situation. She even goes so far as to consider that “Tessi” will be happier in the end, once she is broken to the a’dam, and apparently truly believes it. If that’s true, though, then would it not follow that Bethamin, also, would be happier if she just gave into the “truth” that she is marath’damane and that she would be happier if she just turned herself in and submitted to her fate?

I’d have sympathy for Bethamin if there was some indication that Bethamin regretted Teslyn’s fate but was so certain that nothing could be done that she genuinely believed it would be better for Teslyn’s sake that she stop hoping and trying for a freedom she will never obtain. But in the absence of such an indication, the way the chapter unfolds just makes it seem like Bethamin is happy to commit what she sees as treason to save her own skin, but that she still fundamentally believes in the damane system, or at least that she really doesn’t care one way or the other about anyone who might get caught up in it, other than herself.

Both Bethamin and Egeanin assume that Suroth is hiding the truth about Renna and Seta to protect the Empire, which is a logical conclusion to make, I think. If one’s main goal is to protect the Empire, carrying on with the status quo, burying anything that doesn’t fit the social narrative and focusing on the important matter of the Return is probably the most logical course of action for someone who knows what Egeanin, Suroth, and Alwhin all know. Of course, we the readers are aware that Suroth is a darkfriend, using this knowledge about Renna and Seta for her own power and advancement—and for whatever ends her Dark superiors order her to accomplish. However, the two things don’t necessarily have to be in conflict. Suroth hopes to become Empress, after all, so she would want to protect the Empire and its power, for her own gain rather than out of loyalty to the current Empress or the people of Seanchan.

The situation with the Seeker isn’t great for Egeanin or Bethamin, but I’m really enjoying the way he’s very correctly seized on all of the extraordinary events that have occurred whenever the Seanchan came in contact with one of our protagonists as important… and then comes to a very incorrect assumption about what they all mean. Not that he could have done any differently, of course, and the conclusion he’s come to does make a certain kind of logical sense, even though it has little evidence to support it. The man has noticed the strange “coincidence” of Bayle and Egeanin and their connections to Aes Sedai, and is sharp enough to conclude that there is something more going on here than random chance. He had reason to believe that Egeanin was conspiring with Aes Sedai—after all, she was—and although there is a perfectly logical and easy explanation for Turak’s death, the Seeker can hardly be expected to guess at the truth there. And, of course, there is also Turak’s order for the Seeker to watch Suroth, and his belief that Suroth is a danger to the Empire, to guide the Seeker towards the conclusions he has come to.

One has to wonder what Turak suspected, what actions of Suroth’s made him wary of her, and whether or not he thought she might be a Darkfriend. I can’t help thinking of Elaida commanding Seaine to look for traitors in the Tower. Elaida wasn’t looking for Darkfriends, but Seaine assumed this was what was meant and that assumption led to an actual discovery of some of the Black Ajah members. It’s possible that Seaine and her allies might even discover that Alviarin is Black, which would ironically be sort of what Elaida was hoping for, though she herself isn’t smart enough to suspect Alviarin of that particular crime.

It would be amusingly ironic if Turak suspected Suroth of being a Darkfriend but didn’t specify this to the Seeker, who now suspects Suroth of being part of a “venomous worm of treachery” without realizing that the worm he suspects is one that belongs to the Dark. What will happen if Egeanin escapes with Mat and the others? Will the Seeker try to follow her, or will he stay close to Suroth? Will some other piece of evidence lead him to discover the truth about Suroth? I have a feeling that, as cunning as the Seanchan Seekers may be, getting too close to Suroth will spell death for this man.

Speaking of Mat, I am absolutely delighted that even more people are going to be seeking his help to escape Ebou Dar. I can just imagine his frustration at having to make this escape happen for himself, Thom and Juilin, three Aes Sedai, Bayle (a so’jhin) and Egeanin (a member of the Blood), and probably a few others by the time we’re through. His men not so much, I guess; they can probably depart whenever they want, and Mat can leave some money for them. Still, this is a big and amusing troupe already.

I really really hope Mat can rescue Teslyn. Bethamin’s chilling observation that Teslyn was playing nice to lull the sul’dam before an escape attempt was a stark reminder of how little time Teslyn has before she’s broken. Perhaps as stark as her words to Mat saying as much. Mat will, of course, be grousing in his own head the entire time, but I know he doesn’t want anyone to suffer the fate of being a damane, and he has an even stronger appreciation now of what it’s like to be held on a leash. Metaphorically in his case, but still.

At least Bayle doesn’t have to have that kind of experience, even if it is hard for Egeanin to understand how he feels about being made so’jhin. It seems very fair of her to be frustrated that he wouldn’t take her advice about how to behave when the Seahawk was identified by the other ships and Egeanin was forced to pretend that it was always her intention to deliver the male a’dam. Bayle doesn’t understand the Seanchan, and I believe her when she says that listening to her advice would have kept him from being made a slave. However, now that he’s in that position, Egeanin does seem baffled by his inability to just adapt, to easily accept his new situation and pick up the behavior and mannerisms of a so’jhin.

It’s clear that Bayle is treating his new position as a cover. He doesn’t consider himself to be property and doesn’t really seem to think that Egeanin considers him property either—rather, they are forced to act out the part because the alternative was Bayle being purchased by someone else who wouldn’t see him as Egeanin does. Egeanin, on the other hand, is conflicted. She certainly didn’t want Bayle to be taken as a slave, but it’s difficult for her to overcome the social conditioning, the way she thinks of him as being a so’jhin. She even is aware that, as much as she wants to marry the man, she isn’t sure she can bring herself to wed a former slave.

She and Bethamin are in very different situations in one sense, since Egeanin’s danger comes from her choices and Bethamin’s comes from her identity, but in other ways they are in a very similar position. Bethamin hasn’t changed her view of damane despite how easy it would be for her to become one. And even though Egeanin’s conscience is starting to affect how she thinks of Seanchan order, she still views that order as important, as significant to someone’s identity. Bayle has been somehow changed in her eyes by becoming so’jhin, and although I think in time this view will fade, for the moment it is still important. And yet Egeanin herself could easily end up made da’covale, if her true intentions for the a’dam are ever found out. And so I come back to the same question. If Bethamin is made damane, will she think differently of herself without needing to be broken to the a’dam? If Egeanin were made da’covale, would her sense of identity be fundamentally changed? It’s an interesting question, and one that I think a lot of Seanchan might grapple with at one time or another in their lives. And I think it’s only going to become more common as they are exposed to other cultures and their worldview is threatened by outsider opinions and action.

And I do hope things work out for Bayle and Egeanin. I like both characters. In some ways they remind me of Lan and Nynaeve—not in personality, of course, but in the way both Egeanin and Nynaeve are women who put a great deal of importance on their own personal strength and independence, both women who have risen from a position of command (and responsibility) over a small group to command (and responsibility) over a much larger group, and at the same time have stepped into a wider world whose rules and demands are different than the ones they were used to. And beside each of them, in a strange subservient position and yet in many ways not subservient at all, are strong men with similar temperaments to the women they love, who are strong enough to help these strong women carry the heavy burdens of their position. 

Before Bethamin comes in and complicates everything for Egeanin, she shares a moment with Bayle, wrapped in his arms, and wishes she could just stay there, safe and secure and free from the difficult decisions she faces, forever. Just as, not too many chapters past, Nynaeve expressed a wish for Lan to take her back to their rooms and keep her there for days.

Next week we’re catching up with Rand, among others, as we continue on to chapters 22 and 23. In the meantime, I’m left thinking about the revelation that in Seanchan, anyone who experiences male pattern baldness has to wear a wig, because being bald is reserved for the highest of the high. I don’t know why I find this so funny, but I really do.  icon-paragraph-end

About the Author

Sylas K Barrett


Sylas K Barrett is a queer writer and creative based in Brooklyn. A fan of nature, character work, and long flowery descriptions, Sylas has been heading up Reading the Wheel of Time since 2018. You can (occasionally) find him on social media on Bluesky ( and Instagram (@thatsyguy)
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