Skip to content
Answering Your Questions About Reactor: Right here.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter. Everything in one handy email.

Reading The Wheel of Time: New Black Ajah Hunters are Born and Rand Takes a Bath in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 18)


Reading The Wheel of Time: New Black Ajah Hunters are Born and Rand Takes a Bath in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 18)

Home / Reading The Wheel of Time / Reading The Wheel of Time: New Black Ajah Hunters are Born and Rand Takes a Bath in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 18)
Books The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: New Black Ajah Hunters are Born and Rand Takes a Bath in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 18)


Published on March 28, 2023

Reading The Wheel of Time on A Crown of Swords

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, things go badly for Elaida, and, in a pleasant surprise, look up a little for Rand. Also, we meet some cool new Aes Sedai. Onward for Chapters 32 and 33 of A Crown of Swords.

Alviarin wakes Elaida from a dream, in which Elaida has captured and tamed Rand al’Thor and is in the process of punishing the rebels against the Tower. Alviarin reports that Covarla Baldene has returned from Cairhien. Elaida listens distractedly to Alviarin’s report of the battle as she pulls on her robe, and then goes out into her sitting room, where an exhausted Covarla rises to kiss her ring before reporting that only twelve of Galina’s group of thirty-nine have returned, while the rest are presumed either dead or captured.

She barrels over Covarla’s attempt to tell her about the Asha’man, declaring that they must find these Aiel and rescue the captured sisters, then teach the Aiel what it means to oppose Aes Sedai. She instructs Covarla—who came alone, secretly, into Tar Valon—to sneak out just as covertly and to wait with the others in a nearby village until Elaida summons them.

Buy the Book

The Lies of the Ajungo
The Lies of the Ajungo

The Lies of the Ajungo

Dismissing Covarla, she warns the woman that the Tower will want to make an example of someone for this debacle. But when Covarla is gone, Alviarin suggests that Galina might have satisfied the Hall, but Covarla certainly won’t—they will want someone who stands much higher to pay for what has happened. She also tells Elaida that she wasn’t paying attention to Covarla’s report, and draws her attention back to the fact that there were men who could channel in the battle to free Rand, possibly hundreds of men. She wonders, almost idly, why Rand al’Thor, who knows how to Travel, hasn’t come with these men to take revenge on the Tower, and points out as well that Toveine and the other Red Sisters who were sent to take out the men of the Black Tower are in for a nasty shock.

Finally, she informs Elaida—using the Amyrlin’s first name as well—that she won’t be able to hold onto the stole, will be taken down and stilled and made an example of, unless she takes her Keeper’s advice. Elaida tries desperately to think, overwhelmed by this information and the realization that Alviarin is blackmailing her, but she agrees to all of Alviarin’s “advice,” which includes abandoning both Toveine and her followers as well as Galina and whoever else might have survived the battle with the Aiel, increasing the Tower Guard, and a subtle plan which will make it look as though several sisters ratted out two Green sisters for keeping secret angreal.

The Green Ajah would be furious. They might even try to get back at the others, which would incite those Ajahs, and… “Why do you want to do this, Alviarin?”

“Elaida, it should be enough for you that it is my advice.” Mocking, honeyed ice suddenly turned to cold iron. “I want to hear you say that you will do as you are told. There’s no point in me working to keep the stole on your neck, otherwise. Say it!”

Elaida can’t quite believe what is happening, but she hears herself say that she will do as she is told. Alviarin leaves after commenting that “they” must think about when to declare the Tower’s open stance against Rand al’Thor.

Left alone, Elaida lashes out, throwing a pitcher of punch against the wall. But then she remembers her Foretelling, and her certainty of her triumph. She decides that this is only a small victory for Alviarin, and that Elaida will have to devise some subtle and clever way to get Alviarin out of the picture.

Could Alviarin have seen her smile then, the woman’s knees would have turned to jelly. Before she was done, Alviarin would envy Galina, alive or dead.

Out in the Hall, Alviarin is surprised to see that her hands aren’t shaking. She had expected Elaida to fight harder, but she is also confident that Elaida is done for, especially with Mesaana as Alviarin’s patron. She isn’t entirely sure of Mesaana’s exact plan, but hopes that she herself might be Amyrlin before it’s all over.

Seaine, Sitter for the White Ajah, is quite surprised when the Amyrlin comes into her room suddenly. In living memory, no sister has ever been birched for keeping back angreal, and she is somewhat on edge wondering why Elaida would come to her rooms like this.

Seaine was a Sitter for the Hall under Siuan, and was one of the Sitters who wasn’t informed that the Hall was voting on deposing Siuan and raising Elaida until after it happened. All the other Sitters who were left out of this decision fled the Tower with the rest of the rebels, except for Seaine. Now, Elaida asks why, and Seaine replies that the Tower must remain whole. Elaida agrees, repeating the words a few times, then tells Seaine that she has a special job for her, a job Sealed to the Flame—Seaine can tell no one of it.

Elaida tells her that there are women in the Tower with treason in their hearts. Someone helped Siuan and Leane to escape, and someone has been in communication with Rand al’Thor. She charges Seaine to “follow the stench of treason” wherever it leads, even if it leads to the Keeper herself, and to bring whatever information she finds directly back to the Amyrlin, and only the Amyrlin.

Seaine sits and puzzles over this strange request for a while, and the conclusion she eventually comes to chills her bones. Despite the fact that she has been charged not to tell anyone, she knows she can’t handle this on her own and decides to confide in Pevara, a Red who used to be Seaine’s friend back when they were novices.

Walking the halls of the Tower, Seaine notes how suspiciously all the sisters are regarding each other, and how everyone is only walking with members of their own Ajah. She is treated coldly by the Reds when she reaches their quarters, but when she eventually is shown to Pevara’s quarters her old friend greets her cheerfully and warmly. Pevara even apologizes for breaking off their friendship once she was raised—Reds are strongly discouraged from having friends outside the Ajah.

Seaine promises she understands, and the two reminisce for a moment about the pranks they used to pull as novices. Then Seaine admits that she did not just come to rekindle their friendship—she also needs Pevara’s help.

With some difficulty, she explains Elaida’s visit, and that Seaine is confident that what the Amyrlin was circumspectly asking her to do was hunt out Darkfriends in the Tower. Pevara, whose entire family was killed in a Darkfriend uprising when she was still a novice, grows serious, but admits that she has always suspected the Black Ajah was real, ever since the end of the Aiel War. Many sisters died during that time, and there were other events too, ones she alludes to but doesn’t name.

The two hatch a plan to examine records and reports, especially ones from the last year, and to look for discrepancies. Since it is clear that the Black Ajah members must be able to lie, if they can discover that a sister’s actions and reports differ, they will know she is Black. Pevara tells Seaine that she was very brave to come to Pevara with this, and that she loves her for it. Privately, Seaine reflects that if she wanted to be brave she would have chosen Green—but there is no turning back now.

In the days after Perrin’s departure, Rand locks himself away in his rooms, refusing to see anyone, and barely eating. He spends a lot of time musing over the two ter’angreal he brought back from Rhuidean, the ones which allow a channeler to connect to the Choedan Kal, which he has hidden in a niche surrounded by saidin traps and hidden behind a wardrobe. He sleeps at all hours, though his dreams are plagued by visions of Colavaere’s hanged face, fighting with and killing Perrin, and leading Asha’man to the White Tower only to discover the Aes Sedai waiting to imprison him, with Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve on their side. He also dwells on Cadsuane’s words to him, and sometimes calls to Lews Therin, but receives no answer.

On the fourth day he finds Min waiting for him in the anteroom. She tells him that Alanna is desperate with worry, and that Nandera is concerned because Rand is not eating. Rand, overwhelmed with guilt and unsure how she can stand to be in the same room as him, tries to apologize, telling her that he knows that he’s a monster and an animal, and that if the world didn’t need him he’d go to the gallows in recompense. She realizes slowly that he believes that he has raped her.

“So that’s why you’ve been keeping me away,” she said finally. “You listen to me, you wooden-headed numbskull. I was ready to cry myself to dust because I’d seen one death too many, and you, you were about to do the same for the same reason. What we did, my innocent lamb, was comfort one another. Friends comfort one another at times like that. Close your mouth, you Two Rivers hay-hair.”

She reminds him of how she ripped his shirt when he wouldn’t get it off fast enough, and scolds him roundly for thinking that she wasn’t perfectly capable of letting him know that his advances weren’t wanted. Bemused, Rand suggests sending her away, reminding her of the other dangers in being near to him, resulting in more indignation from Min. She reminds him that he needs her, in no uncertain terms, and that he has no right to dictate what she does.

She is pleased when he admits that he loves her, and shockingly unfazed when he admits to also loving Aviendha and Elayne. She reminds him that Rhuarc loves more than one woman, as does Bael, and tells him that she loves him, as does Aviendha, as does Elayne. They continue to argue, but a note of playfulness emerges, and Rand finally relents.

“How do you do it?” he sighed, slumping back in the chair. “Even when you stand me on my head, you make all my troubles shrink.”

Min sniffed. “You need to be stood on your head more often. Tell me. This Aviendha. I don’t suppose there is any chance she’s bony and scarred, like Nandera.”

This makes Rand laugh, and admit that Avienha is pretty, though you can’t compare two sunrises. He’s tempted to kiss her, but instead tries to move things back to a more professional discussion. Min reminds him about the Sea Folk, who are still waiting to speak to him, and Rand asks about a viewing she alluded to. Reluctantly she admits to seeing two men, one which was definitely Rand, who merged into one. She knows one died, but she can’t say if it was Rand or the other.

The other man had to be Lews Therin. I’m not just insane and hearing voices, he thought, jubilant. One lived and one died, but he had known for a long time that he was going to die. At least he was not mad. Or not as far mad as he had feared.

Rand decides that he wants to eat, and Nandera is very pleased when she sees that Min has convinced him to eat and to bathe. The Maidens bring in a tub and carry the water to fill it themselves, fussing over him as he tries to undress and bathe without them doing all the work for him. Min sits and watches, which embarrasses Rand, as she discusses Rand’s appearance with the Maidens. He is forced to get out of the tub with her still there, holding out his towel for him.

By the time he is clean and dressed everything is ready for his trip to see the Atha’an Miere.

Rand al’Thor might have been routed in a bathtub, but the Dragon Reborn was going to the Sea Folk in a style that would send them plummeting to their knees with awe.


I’m not sure if “delusions of grandeur” is the right term for Elaida. Maybe “delusions of godhood” would be a better fit? She doesn’t just want to be a powerful Amyrlin, she basically wants to be the most important person the world has ever known. Which I guess we already knew from her last section where she fantasized about the Tower records of her time as Amyrlin listing her accomplishments and speaking of her her as the woman who saved the world. But somehow this dream fantasy drove it home for me in a much more dramatic way.

She wants everything. She wants to be feared, and loved, and worshiped; she wants to control everyone and make everyone’s power her own. We see it in the way she thinks about the captured Rand in her dream as “a symbol of her power” and how she feels like the amount of saidar she is holding while controlling the link of Sitters as “a manifestation of her power.” When she dreams of Egwene begging and repenting, she considers that “she could keep this girl’s strength. She was the White Tower.”

Of course, that is what people say of the Amyrlin Seat, that she is the White Tower. And it is true that the Amyrlin is the sovereign head of the Aes Sedai, her authority likened to that of a parent over her children. But that phrase is still symbolic, not literal the way Elaida clearly wants it to be. The Amyrlin is not omnipotent, and the Hall is also supposed to lead the Aes Sedai. They are supposed to work together, to be a system of balances and checks—not 50/50 or anything, but after all, we know that the Sitters and the Ajah Heads have their own control and authority, and that they can even overthrow the Amyrlin if they think she has broken Tower law, or even just failed badly enough at doing her job.

Elaida seems to want to think of the Sitters more like favored servants, and everyone else as desperate supplicants. Of course, these desires might be created, and are certainly at least heightened, by her impotent rage at the Tower schism, and by the fact that the circumstances of her raising gave her less power than an Amyrlin raised more regularly. If Elaida had been just a regular Amyrlin she might not have become so imbalanced, and she’d have better things to focus on than fantasies of destroying Sheriam and having Egwene begging at her feet. But the less power and authority Elaida feels she has, the more unhinged she seems to become, almost as though she’s compensating for feelings of failure or betrayal by wanting twice as much as she should.

And it’s interesting because I, like Alviarin, was surprised at how easily Elaida gave in to the blackmail. Probably she was so lulled into such a state of false confidence by her Foretelling that she was completely blindsided by so much going wrong so quickly, and was unprepared to change her thinking. I suppose it’s also possible that knowing she has less sway with the Hall than other Amyrlins makes her feel more vulnerable than she admits to herself. But I also noticed that several times in her section there were variations of the line “she needed to think” and yet she never… actually thought anything? Her mind was almost a blank from the moment Covarla started talking, and everything she does do or think is entirely reactionary. Maybe she just put so much of her time into fantasies of victory that she hasn’t worked on anything else.

Or maybe Elaida just isn’t a very good Amyrlin.

She has always been ambitious, we know, and other Aes Sedai have observed she is intelligent and a forceful personality. But even putting aside her megalomania and vindictiveness, just because she’s intelligent doesn’t mean she has the right kind of intelligence, the right skillset, to be an Amyrlin. For example, she’s clearly never been a people person, and she’s no diplomat, which are two skills every good leader needs to have. Yes, she’s blinded by her vindictiveness; yes, she’s too greedy for power and prestige; yes, she is being manipulated by Alviarin; yes, she has less authority with the Hall because of how she was raised and because of the rebellion—but also… maybe she just was never cut out to do the kind of work required of an Amyrlin. Maybe she would never have known what to do, even under different circumstances, and was always destined to be a pretty mediocre Amyrlin that the Hall needed to manage.

And then there’s Alviarin, head of the Black Ajah and working for Mesaana. Her goals are pretty clear; she’s using Elaida to sow discord and distrust between the Ajahs, further weakening the Tower. Obviously, a public denouncing of Rand will weaken the Tower too, and the forces of the Light in general—it will be very, very difficult for the Tower Aes Sedai to forge an alliance with Rand after such a move, putting every sister remaining there into opposition with the forces Rand is readying for the Last Battle. The loss of so many experienced channelers will hurt Rand badly, which is, of course, exactly what the Forsaken are trying to do. I am curious about Alviarin’s instructions to increase the Tower Guard, though. Perhaps this is also a tactic to make the Aes Sedai anxious? Or does Alviarin have Darkfriends she’d like to bring into closer proximity?

It was interesting to spend one chapter watching Elaida striving for Chosen One levels of power and prestige and losing what little authority she has in the process, and then turn to the next and see Rand, the actual Chosen One, and the immense suffering he experiences as a result of that position. Rand either already has, or must achieve by the time the Last Battle commences, most of what Elaida desires, but for him it is a nearly impossible burden, and he sees no glory in it, only guilt and shame. It’s ironic in a way, because as much as the taint has been plaguing him, a lot of Rand’s suffering would exist even if he was able to shield himself somehow from the effects of the Dark One’s touch. The fear and hatred that this world has for male channelers has hampered Rand’s efforts at every turn, and of course it encourages him to fear and hate himself.

But it’s also true that, even this far into the series, it’s still hard to put one’s finger on exactly which aspects of Rand’s deteriorating mental health are directly due to the taint’s influence, and which aren’t. Lews Therin’s existence in Rand’s head is obvious enough, and there are definitely other effects—but it’s hard to say where the taint-madness starts and the debilitating pressure and trauma of Rand’s life ends.

Chapter 33 reads to me as written by an author with personal knowledge of what it feels like to suffer a depressive episode, especially since A Crown of Swords was published in 1996, before we had our current social media-driven discussions around mental health and depression. The theme of not bathing or changing clothes that runs through the chapter and ends with Rand in the bath, surrounded by the friends he’s been keeping at arm’s length, was just the right amount of symbolism, I think, and I finished the chapter still sad, but uplifted. It was a hard chapter to read, especially since I myself suffer from depression. But that’s what made it good, as well. I felt with Rand, the dragging stagnation of his time spent moping about without appetite, obsessing over the hidden ter’angreal and his own guilty conscience, sleeping at all hours of the day and yet never getting any rest.

I also enjoyed the fact that Min’s reaction actually helped Rand. Obviously being told that she wanted what happened between them and that Rand did nothing wrong was a relief to him regardless of the way it was delivered. But Rand so often receives accusations and rebuke when what he needs is a little kindness, and is often accused of putting on airs or being selfish when he is anything but. Here, in contrast, he receives reassurance but also a little bit of tough love from Min, and it works. He often considers that she is the only person he feels that he can talk to, and the only woman he can (sometimes) understand, and it’s nice to see that in practice here. Like Loial, I was worried Rand might push Min away, might find some excuse to get rid of her. But although he tries here, he doesn’t try very hard. He gives her the same little speech about being dangerous, but mostly he’s actually honest.

It was such a pleasure to have someone in this narrative actually just come out and tell the truth, unabridged, this way. These characters so rarely do that! And I must say, I have a lot of respect for Rand after this chapter. Despite his deep-rooted feelings of shame, both in general and specifically around his belief that he assaulted her and the fact that he is in love with two other women in addition to Min, he is remarkably forthright about all of it. When one feels such deep-rooted shame it can be almost impossible to speak those things aloud. And yet it is also very realistic that this is the moment in which Rand finally comes clean—coming out of a depressive episode can often result in a release of the things one has been holding in, as I myself have also experienced.

I do wish we knew a little bit more about how the Two Rivers’ folks think about sex. It’s clear that they don’t believe in sex before marriage, and have a relatively conservative view on things such as public displays of affection and how women dress. It’s also notable that, once Rand has been convinced that their encounter was entirely consensual, he still believes that the Women’s Circle would punish him and Min for what they did. But I’m not sure if that is because it was unmarried sex, or because of the vehemence of the encounter. I’m also not sure how correct he is in that assessment of the Circle’s potential opinion on the matter. Given that Rand wasn’t yet an adult when he left Emond’s Field, he is still going to think in that context—he only knows what children are taught, not what adult life is actually like in the Two Rivers.

It’s possible that Rand misreads (misremembers?) his encounter with Min because he has certain associations with the fragility of women. He has no doubt been taught to handle them with care and gentleness in matters of courtship and sexual relationships, and since his sex with Min was vehement and rough, it’s easy to imagine how feelings that he behaved improperly could have been magnified in his mind into the idea that he raped her. Rand’s mind always exaggerates his blame in every situation, especially where women are concerned, and again, it’s difficult to say whether this is the fault of the taint or merely a more ordinary cognitive distortion brought on by the rest of Rand’s circumstances.

After all, how could anyone not feel guilty being the Dragon Reborn. The prophecies about his existence speak of the disorder and violence he will bring, or at least herald. The destruction of the Aiel. The dissolution of all bonds of fealty and order. The breaking of the Tower, and the second Breaking of the World. Rand has watched his ta’veren abilities create refugees and poison wells, has led men and Maidens into battles where they lost their lives, has ordered executions. He was never trained for these kinds of responsibilities, never given any guidance in navigating the psychological effects that making such choices would have on any halfway decent human being. Instead, he internalizes everything, and the occasional reminder that such things are inevitable, as well meaning as they may be, doesn’t do much to alleviate the pain Rand is feeling.

But here, also, I wonder if the taint plays a hand. It’s possible, even probable, that the taint is amplifying Rand’s feelings of shame, just as it seems to amplify his anger. Like his shame, his anger is often understandable, but it’s also true that it erupts in surprising and intense ways, and Rand experiences a great deal of distress in his inability to control it, his feelings that he will be overwhelmed by it. He also lashes out very intensely, increasingly using the Power, as we saw with the fight between him and Perrin.

This seems to fit with the experiences of other male channelers who have lost themselves to the Dark One’s corruption of saidin. Being overwhelmed by anger, or at least by violence, and lashing out with the Power seems to be the inevitable conclusion of taint madness, as far as we have seen. Rand’s pain and guilt over the death of women, be it Maidens, innocent bystanders brought down by Shadowspawn, or someone like Colavaere, also seems to be exaggerated by the taint, and is often accompanied by Lews Therin’s memories, or his actual presence, grieving over Ilyena.

Min has been fairly honest with Rand as well, which resulted in an easing of his suffering. Not only has she made it quite clear that their sex was consensual and that she thinks they both behaved in a good and natural way, she has also told him about her viewing of Rand and another man merging into one. Rand is just happy to know that he’s not imagining Lews Therin’s voice, which makes him believe that he is less mad than he feared. Personally I’m not sure that actually having another consciousness in your mind with you is better than merely imagining you do, but more importantly, I’m wondering if Min’s viewing indicates a future event. I’m pretty sure that we’ve never seen her have a viewing that was about a present state—i.e. that Rand has Lews Therin in him. They always seem to indicate a future event—Colavaere will die, Logain will experience glory, Rand will be betrayed by women who can channel. Thus, I wonder if this viewing indicates that the balance between Rand and Lews Therin will change. Min sees that they will merge into each other and become one, but also that one person will die. Rand has worried before that Lews Therin might take over his body—this viewing could indicate something like that. It could also indicate that Rand might eventually be able to absorb Lews Therin into his own mind, perhaps keeping the memories and knowledge but “killing” the extra consciousness off. Or something like that.

Rand also seems to accept his fate again, deciding that he can’t actually just ignore the Sea Folk into going away and making new plans for the first time in a bit. I wouldn’t say he’s doing amazingly, but he seems more animated than he has since he was captured, and the image of him (begrudgingly, embarrassedly) allowing Min and the Maidens to help him left me feeling fairly optimistic.

As did the introduction of Seaine and Pevara. I’ve mentioned a few times in the read that I really wanted to meet a Red who wasn’t just a Very Bad Person, and it seems like we finally have. Of course, there’s always a chance that Pevara could be Black Ajah—we’ve seen Darkfriends lose their families before as punishment for failures, so the death of her family could be a little different than what Seaine believes—but I’m feeling optimistic about this one. Their childhood friendship and unfortunate parting of ways once they were raised reminded me a lot of Moiraine and Siuan, and Pevara’s backstory is really interesting.

Seaine observes that Pevara chose the Red because she thought hunting men who could channel would be the best way to also find Darkfriends. That belief looks kind of ridiculous from where I’m sitting, but the connection between saidin and the Dark One is so strong in the minds of everyone who lives in this world that I can kind of see how she got there, especially since women choose their Ajahs the day they are raised, before they have spent much time in the world or have a chance to explore what being a part of those Ajahs even means. It seems that the person an Aes Sedai becomes is heavily shaped by her Ajah—we see here how Pevara was disciplined into following a way of life and a mindset that wasn’t natural to her. I appreciate that she hasn’t come to hate men just because of her encounters with channelers—I’ve always thought that was a remarkably prejudicial way to think, both because it lumps every man in with a handful of those born with the spark, and because the men who discover that they touch saidin are not responsible for a taint that was placed before they were born.

In any case, Pevara seems to have a very logical head on her shoulders, and she’s charming too. I’m looking forward to watching her and Seaine, who is also a very interesting character. Just as I’ve been wanting to see some Reds who weren’t monsters, I’ve also wanted to see what life is like for Aes Sedai who stayed in the Tower but are ultimately good people. Plus, the Black Ajah have been ignored for far too long, and I think it’s about time that the White Tower started fighting back. Alviarin deserves to be challenged, at the very least, and it’s been a long time since anyone was thinking about the task of hunting Black Ajah. Siuan set Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve on it several books ago, but that got derailed very quickly.

Next week Rand will pay a long overdue visit to the Sea Folk, and we’ll see more evidence of how ta’veren powers work. Plus, Rand makes some new friends. It’s Chapter 34 and 35! Until then, and as always, I wish you a pleasant week. And may you walk in the Light.

Sylas K Barrett is very pleased to know that, although the fight was planned, Rand didn’t know Perrin was going to bring up the Aes Sedai prisoners. He would like to know Perrin’s thought process behind this choice, but it really does help to understand how personal the conflict really was, despite the fact that Rand intended it as a ruse. He would like to hug both Perrin AND Rand, if they would allow it.

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)
Learn More About
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments