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Reading The Wheel of Time: Recognition and Apologies in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 13)


Reading The Wheel of Time: Recognition and Apologies in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 13)

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Reading The Wheel of Time: Recognition and Apologies in Robert Jordan’s A Crown of Swords (Part 13)


Published on February 14, 2023

Reading The Wheel of Time on A Crown of Swords

This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, Mat recovers a bit of his own memory, Elayne and Birgitte learn something unusual about their Bond, and Nynaeve and Elayne swallow their pride. A few times. It’s Chapters 21 and 22 of A Crown of Swords!

The citizens of Ebou Dar are celebrating Swovan Night with dancing and drinking, but Mat is more concerned with the fact that three men just attacked him. He considers the one he killed and the large sack he was carrying, and wonders what is wrong with his luck that he would encounter two robbery attempts in the same day. Returning to the Wandering Woman he corners Caira to ask after his men, but she is uncharacteristically cold to him as she informs him that Olver is in bed and that she hasn’t seen any of the others. She tells him that there is a “gilded woman” waiting in his room for him.

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Origins of the The Wheel of Time
Origins of the The Wheel of Time

Origins of the The Wheel of Time

Mat approaches the door cautiously, but when he goes in he is startled to see Elayne’s companion with the long braid, looking severe and studying Mat’s long Two Rivers bow.

“If this is about Olver,” he began, and suddenly a twist of memory unfolded, a mist thinned over one day, one hour in his life.

Mat suddenly remembers being caught between the Seanchan and the Whitecloaks on Almoth Plain. He remembers blowing the Horn of Valere, and seeing the Heroes of the Horn ride to their aid, led by Artur Hawkwing. He saw Birgitte Silverbow among them, and now he recognizes her again.

The woman of legend gave a resigned sigh and propped his bow back in the corner next to his spear. “I was ripped out untimely, Hornsounder, cast out by Moghedien to die and saved by Elayne’s bonding.” She spoke slowly, studying him as if to be sure he understood. “I feared you might remember who I used to be.”

Stunned, Mat drops into a chair and begins to complain about Elayne and Nynaeve keeping so many secrets, how they are truly Aes Sedai now and that Nynaeve is basically a stranger to him now. Birgitte counters that Mat has secrets of his own, and the fact that he blew the Horn of Valere is probably the smallest one. She asks him what language they’ve been speaking, and Mat realizes they’ve been speaking in the Old Tongue this whole time. He tries to brush it off as the Old Blood being strong in the Two Rivers, which makes Birgitte laugh uproariously.

She knuckled a tear from the corner of her eye. “Some people speak a few words, a phrase or two, because of the old blood. Usually without understanding what they say, or not quite. But you… One sentence you’re an Eharoni High Prince and the next a First Lord of Manetheren, accent and idiom perfect.”

Still, Birgitte tells Mat that his secret is safe with her, and he agrees that hers is with him. He is surprised when his comment about needing a drink is met with enthusiasm from Birgitte, especially when she suggests they go downstairs to talk. The dice are still rattling in his head.

She must be a key to it, somehow. A man with any brains would climb out the window right now. “A pitcher or two sounds fine to me,” he told her.

Nynaeve, Elayne, and Aviendha sit in their room, waiting with varying degrees of patience for Birgitte to return, while Thom and Juilin play stones in a corner. Elayne seems distracted, almost as if she’s been drinking, while Aviendha is more interested in talking about why they aren’t going to kill Carridin, since among the Aiel, Darkfriends are killed the moment they are discovered. Thom explains the political situation Tylin is in—how the Inquisitors are by definition followers of the Light, and Tylin’s accusation would result, at best, in her Kingdom being invaded and her made a puppet of the Children of the Light. Aviendha remarks that she didn’t think Tylin was such a coward.

“You have never faced something you could not fight, child,” he said gently, “something so strong your only choice is to flee or be consumed alive. Try to hold judgment on Tylin till you have.” For some reason, Aviendha’s face reddened.

Elayne interrupts with a gay plan to spy on Carridin, and begins weaving disguises for herself, and then Aviendha, and finally for Nynaeve using Illusion. Each illusion is more risqué than the last—she puts herself in the disguise of a Domani, clinging dress and all, and Aviendha as a Taraboner, but when she comes to Nynaeve she depicts the Illusion of a Sea Folk woman, bare-chested as they are only when out of sight of land. Nynaeve is horrified, even though the illusion is of a different woman and she is decently clothed underneath the weave. The amused men close their eyes as directed, but Nynaeve is unable to put a shield between Elayne and the True Source, since Elayne is already embracing saidar. She demands to know if Elayne is drunk, and Elayne drops her weave.

“No,” Elayne said slowly. Color burned in her face, but it was not embarrassment, or not entirely. Her chin rose, and her voice frosted. “I am not.”

The door bursts open and a very inebriated Birgitte stumbles in. She goes into the other room to upend a pitcher of water over her head, then returns, complaining that Mat must have a hollow leg to drink so much, and Beslan wasn’t far behind. Elayne and Nynaeve are confused, and worried that Tylin might be upset if Mat is being a bad influence on Beslan, but Elayne is more concerned about Birgitte’s behavior. Nynaeve throws Juilin and Thom out of the room, worried that the two women are about to have a serious argument.

Elayne complains that she is experiencing Birgitte’s inebriation through the bond, which makes no sense—Aes Sedai don’t start giggling every time their Warders have a bit to drink. Birgitte points out that Elayne knows more about the Bond than she, then suggests that it is because they are both women.

They return to the subject of Mat, and Birgitte reports that he wants an apology and thanks for what he did in rescuing them from their imprisonment in the Stone of Tear. Nynaeve and Elayne try to insist that they were nearly about to escape on their own, that they had incapacitated the Black Sister on guard and that Bel’al wasn’t even interested in them—his focus was on Rand.

“The Black Ajah.” Birgitte’s voice was flatter than the floor tiles. “And one of the Forsaken. Mat never mentioned them. You owe him thanks on your knees, Elayne. Both of you do. The man deserves it. And Juilin, as well.”

Aviendha tells Elayne that she has toh towards Mat for what he did, and more for the way they have handled things. As Nynaeve insists again and again that she will not apologize, Elayne tells Aviendha that she sees her point, and asks for help in figuring out how to make up for her actions. She tells Aviendha that she does not intend to become an Aiel, but that she wants her near-sister to be proud of her.

“I have pride in knowing you,” Aviendha said, touching Elayne’s cheek lightly. “An apology is a beginning, yet not enough to meet toh, now.”

As they continue right on talking, ignoring Nynaeve’s protests, Nynaeve thinks that they really should have sent Thom and Juilin to talk to Mat.The next morning at sunup, Elayne and Nynaeve stand in front of the Wandering Woman. Nynaeve won’t stop protesting, but Elayne reminds her that she agreed to their plan. They go inside and are directed to Mat’s rooms. Elayne hesitates at the door but doesn’t let her own reluctance or Nynaeve’s stop her from knocking, and then from going in when there’s no answer. They find Mat asleep on the bed wearing everything but his coat and boots, clearly having collapsed in a drunken heap. Elayne’s hands itch to try to take the medallion from around his neck while he sleeps.

Mat wakes sluggishly, clearly hungover and in pain. Realizing it’s them he asks what Birgitte told them, and Elayne pushes herself to make a start on their apology. She thanks him for saving them, and Nynaeve does as well, although her tone is more obviously reluctant. To her surprised, Mat brushes it off, seemingly embarrassed, saying that the rescue was nothing and they would have freed themselves soon enough. Elayne is infuriated that he would demand an apology and then dismiss it after she had humbled herself to him, but she still stops Nynaeve from physically attacking Mat. Mat, with his aching head in his hands, doesn’t seem to notice.

Elayne continues on to apologize for not thanking him sooner, and for how they have treated him since. To make up for that treatment, she offers the following concessions:

  • they will not belittle or demean him, or shout at him
  • they will not give him orders
  • they will not leave the palace without telling him
  • they will listen to his advice
  • they will accept bodyguards if he deems it necessary

Mat responds by pointing out how difficult it was for Elayne to say that, and by giving her “permission” to call him Mat. He points out that Nynaeve has been silent through all of this, and Nynaeve, in a strangled shout, swears that she promises too. Elayne feels a certain satisfaction at the way he grabs his head in response to Nynaeve’s raised voice, and realizes that she is proud that her first Warder came out of the drinking spree better than Mat did.

Mat asks what it is that they want him to find, and cuts off Nynaeve’s attempt to tell him that he is only to accompany them while they find it.

“You just finished promising to do as I say. If you want a tame ta’veren on a leash, go ask Rand or Perrin and see what answer you get.”

As Nynaeve struggles with her temper, Elayne reminds Mat that they promised to listen to his advice, not to obey him. She sits, and explains about the Bowl of Winds. Mat is intrigued, but immediately insists that Nynaeve and Elayne be accompanied at all times by four or five men each. Aviendha and Birgitte, he says, don’t need “minders.”

They tell him his first job is to move himself into the palace, and Elayne is surprised by his horrified look. He ignores Nynaeve’s jabs and Elayne’s placating comment that he will be better able to keep an eye on them if he’s in the Palace, and moans “Why did they bloody well have to stop now?” They’re even more surprised by Mat’s reaction to being told that Tylin herself picked out his rooms, a mix of amusement and outrage. He stiffly refuses their offer of Healing, then incongruously thanks them for it.

Leaving his room Nynaeve begins to complain about Mat, only to be interrupted by Mistress Anan, who hauls them bodily into a nearby room and starts telling them off for pretending to be Aes Sedai. She threatens to take them over to the sisters in the Tarasin Palace, and neither their Great Serpent rings nor Nynaeve physically wrapping her up in Air fazes Mistress Anan in the least, as she continues to lecture Nynaeve.

“​​You look to be, oh, twenty-one give or take a year, so you might be as much as ten years older if you’ve already reached the slowing. You might even have worn the shawl four or five years. Except for one thing.” Her head, the only part of her she could move, swiveled toward Elayne. “You, child, aren’t old enough to have slowed yet, and no woman has ever worn the shawl as young as you. Never in the history of the Tower.”

She goes on to ask if Elayne was ever in the tower, and whether they had the rings made or Nynaeve simply stole them, and Elayne concludes that Mistress Anan must have spent some time in the Tower, perhaps journeying there in her youth hoping that she might have the ability to channel. She doesn’t, Elayne can tell, but the realization makes Elayne feel more sympathetic towards the woman.

But when Mistress Anan mentions some women who take in strays and starts asking about the specifics of their channeling abilities—whether they are wilders, whether they were put out of the Tower or ran away, etc.—Nynaeve starts to play along, intimating that what Mistress Anan is accusing them of is true. Mistress Anan tells them that she knows of a few women, the Circle who “take in the occasional wilder or runaway or woman who failed her test for Accepted or the shawl” and help them find a life that won’t get them in trouble with the Aes Sedai.

Elayne remains baffled as Nynaeve promises Mistress Anan that she’ll make Elayne behave, and that they’ll put away their rings. Still, when Nynaeve asks Elayne to trust her, she reluctantly goes along with the strange charade.


Ooh, this surprise reveal with Mistress Anan is really fun. Elayne thinks that she must have gone to the Tower when she was a girl hoping to find out that she could channel but was disappointed. But I don’t think that would explain the breadth of knowledge Mistress Anan seems to have. She knows approximately what age Aes Sedai start slowing down in their aging, she knows in a fair amount of detail what sort of punishments are meted out to runaways, and she knows without a doubt that no one, in the history of the Tower, has ever been raised to the shawl as young as Elayne is. I don’t think a woman who merely visited to be tested could have learned that much about the Aes Sedai. I think she’s either a fairly important, long-standing member of somebody’s eyes-and-ears network or, possibly, she was a full sister who was stilled or burnt out and left the Tower.

I know that stilling as a punishment is pretty severe, but I’m pretty sure we’ve been told that sisters who are punished by stilling are then thrown out of the Tower—a stilled Amyrlin would be kept around as an example, but for the rest I believe that they are just put out of the Tower and left to figure it out for themselves. That’s the reason Siuan and Leane’s changed appearances are so confusing to the Aes Sedai—they don’t keep stilled women around long enough to observe how they change after they are cut off from the One Power.

We also know that some Aes Sedai burned themselves out while studying angreal. While the Aes Sedai would have more sympathy for such a sister than they would for someone who was stilled as a punishment, they would still be very uncomfortable having her around, and the same Aes Sedai “pragmatism” would kick in around her fate—it is what it is, and only those who can channel can be Aes Sedai. A woman who burned herself out might be given some money or something when she was put out of the Tower, but the results would be about the same.

If Mistress Anan was once an Aes Sedai but is no longer, even if it wasn’t because she was being punished, it would make sense that she would have empathy for other women who were put out or refused by the White Tower. It would also make sense that she wouldn’t put herself in the same group—if she was once Aes Sedai, then she would still feel that identity in some way, and the fact that it made her different from women who never attained the shawl. Thus her disdain for what Nynaeve and Elayne are doing, but also her desire to help (under the guise of caring about Mat).

Elayne seems to have forgotten the Domani woman, Asra, she saw in the Rahad, the one who discreetly channeled while pretending to use herbs in an attempt to heal a man wounded in a duel. She wondered what a Domani wilder was doing in Ebou Dar, and even wanted to chase after her, though she was restrained by Birgitte. Or perhaps she just hasn’t connected this incident with Mistress Anan’s references to women who can channel operating in Ebou Dar. But Nynaeve has clearly latched onto the fact that there is some kind of organization at work, an organization which may have knowledge they need. I, of course, have been waiting for it, because I know that Jordan never puts extraneous events in his stories—almost everything comes back around eventually.

Most interestingly, I am reminded that Falion and Ispan were torturing Ebou Dari Wise Women in an attempt to locate the cache. I thought at the time that this was a misstep on their part, assuming that the cache was hidden so long ago that no one alive probably knows that it’s there. But I’m guessing that Nynaeve thinks that this Circle might be the ones hiding the cache, or at least that they might be able to locate it. If these women all have the ability to channel and if at least some, possibly all, have been trained at the Tower, then they would know how to recognize angreal. They live in Ebou Dar, some apparently in the Rahad—if anyone would know about the cache, it would be this mysterious Circle. And even if they didn’t know, they would be best able to look for it—Asra clearly had some sway in the Rahad, which is certainly more than Elayne, Nynaeve, Birgitte, and Aviendha have.

I’m also thinking a lot about Egwene’s desire to gather all female channelers to her, and to make a place for them, even if they aren’t Aes Sedai. There have been so many revelations recently that channeling, and even organized channeling, is much more common and expansive than the Aes Sedai understand, and I’m really curious and excited to see how the world of the books opens up in this new way. Maybe we’ll see Aes Sedai (Elayne and Nynaeve), a future Wise Woman (Aviendha), Sea Folk Windfinders and the members of this Circle all working together to find and use the Bowl of the Winds. The only thing more exciting than that will be if we ever get to see male and female channelers of this Age working together.

Speaking of men and women, I’m equal parts annoyed at the premise and enjoying the execution of the concept that Birgitte and Elayne are affected differently by the Warder/Aes Sedai Bond than they would be if it was a Bond between a female Aes Sedai and a male Warder—the suggestion that there is too much bleed over because, since they are both women, they are too biologically similar. Granted, this is only a hypothesis made by Birgitte and might not actually be what is happening, but the theory does fit with the way Jordan has structured his world building. Men and women are inherently and fundamentally different, both in body and in soul, so of course the Bond would work differently between two women. More than that, when it comes to the One Power, the difference between men and women together is what creates balance, in the One Power and in the world, so it follows that a link between only women (or only men) might very well be unbalanced.

There are other examples of this imbalance, such as when several female Aes Sedai link together and how different the results are than if a female Aes Sedai creates a link with a male channeler. As I’ve mentioned before, his set-up creates a sort of biological essentialism in the world building of The Wheel of Time, one that is especially obvious here because Birgitte isn’t a channeler—this isn’t just about being connected to the same half of the One Power but about a physical biology as well.

However, as much as I am made uncomfortable by this aspect of the world building, I am fully ready to admit that the idea of Elayne getting sympathetically tipsy when Birgitte gets drunk is a fantastic joke, and I loved it very much. It would be a waste of the concept of the Bond not to have something like this happen, and though I might wish that the setup was different, I really enjoyed the execution. When Nynaeve asked if Elayne was drunk and Elayne sniffed “I am not,” I could absolutely hear the delivery, the way she must have leaned on the “I” even though Jordan didn’t italicize it. It was a perfect cinematic moment when Birgitte drunkenly burst through the door a moment later. And Elayne is such a cute drunk. A cute and horny drunk.

Also, I find it absolutely hilarious when stories insist that a cup of coffee or a splash of cold water sobers a person up—it might make them more aware, but neither of those things diminishes the amount of alcohol in someone’s system.

I really like the idea of Mat and Birgitte becoming friends. They have similar temperaments, are both fun-loving and irreverent while still being very down to earth and capable when they feel the moment calls for it. They know at least the basis of each other’s secrets now, and they both could sure use a confidant with whom to talk about these things. They both have memories of different lives, and both sometimes reference those lives without meaning too, without even realizing what they are doing. It might be very nice to occasionally get drunk and share about the confusing nature of remembering lives you lived Ages ago, during different turnings of the Wheel.

A while back a few people on Twitter pointed out to me that Mat’s extra memories weren’t necessarily from his past lives, that they are just the memories of random other people. I admit that the idea hadn’t occurred to me, and might not have without input from y’all. But if the memories are random, that raises the question of where they came from and why the foxy folk chose the memories they did. They all seem to be specifically the memories of generals and heroes—perhaps they saw some of that heroism in Mat and chose memories that seemed thematically relevant. They must have gotten the memories from somewhere, so perhaps they traded for them or stole them from other people who stepped through the ter’angreal doorway. Back when more was known about the “snake people” and the “fox people,” it’s possible that visiting them was something only undertaken by powerful channelers and other heroes. Those might have been the sorts of people the foxy folk normally encountered, and so a larger portion of the memories would be of heroism and danger.

Another possibility is that some of the memories are from Mat’s past lives, but not all of them. We know he used a phrase or two of the Old Tongue back in The Eye of the World, long before he encountered the ter’angreal doorways. He has the Old Blood in him, and the connection to Manetheren, so those memories might be of a past life or lives. Maybe certain memories would have been accessible to Mat anyway, or perhaps, by giving him the memories they did, the foxy folk changed Mat’s relationship to being able to connect with his past.

Really anything is possible at this juncture, but given the number of different lives that Mat seems to have access too, it seems more likely that maybe they aren’t (all) his own. If so, I am disappointed he doesn’t have any memories from women. It would be awesome if he had the memories of being a female channeler or a lady hero mixed in with all those boring but useful generals.

I loved the little detail of Birgitte noticing the difference in Mat’s accent and delivery when he accidentally speaks the Old Tongue. It makes a lot of sense, given that he knows it because he has the memories of many different people. She specifically notes the speech of an “Eharoni High Prince” and a “First Lord of Manetheren.” Again, the mention of Manetheren seems significant to me.

I’m now confident in saying that both the attacks on Mat were kidnapping attempts—I think that sack and the empty chest were for stuffing him in, in order to carry him off. Ironic that Mat thinks his luck is off, not realizing the reason the odds of him being attacked are so high. The dice started rolling when he was outside Carridin’s rented palace and stopped when he was told that he would be moving into the royal palace; I suspect specifically that they started when he was spotted by Carridin and stopped when he made the decision to accept Nynaeve and Elayne’s request that he leave The Wandering Woman and move nearer to them. My guess, therefore, is that, if he had resisted being moved and had stayed in the Wandering Woman, he would eventually have been captured, despite his luck, or perhaps even killed. The choice to move has set him on a different path, to a different fate.

I’m worried about him though, especially given his distress at being so near to Tylin. I also have a lot of empathy for the fact that he is clearly discomfited by the very apology he wanted in the first place. He’s justified in feeling abused and passed over by them, but Mat is one of those people who has a lot of pride in the little things about himself and is in fact quite humble when it comes to his actually impressive qualities. Ironically, he and Nynaeve are very similar in this way, though their personalities are so different that the mix of stubborn pride and humility comes out very differently in one than it does in the other.

As badly as Egwene and Nynaeve have acted towards Mat, I do understand why, partly. Their prejudice against him because he was a troublemaker and a slacker as a kid in the Two Rivers is pretty unfair, but their desire to establish control and authority over him comes partly from the fact that they are due more authority in name, as newly-minted Aes Sedai, than they are able to achieve in practice. Even before they were raised by Egwene, these two were masquerading as full sisters out of necessity—they are constantly being asked to accomplish remarkably difficult tasks despite the fact that they have very little authority to wield in the pursuit of very challenging goals. For all that they could stand to listen to Thom and Mat more, it’s still understandable that they want to be obeyed—it is their task, not Thom, Mat, and Juilin’s. Finding the bowl is their responsibility.

It must be a very vulnerable feeling, being in Elayne and Nynaeve’s position.

It would be really interesting if being introduced to the Circle is what leads Elayne and Nynaeve to find the Bowl. Could that be Mat’s ta’veren luck at work for them already? It would be amusingly ironic if it’s not him looking, but merely them coming to him to ask, that did the trick.

I can’t wait for next week—we’ll be covering Chapters 23 and 24, and learning more about this mysterious Circle of non-Aes Sedai lady channelers. In the meantime, I’m just glad we got to see Thom and Juilin—their stones game and their banter was really fun to read, and I’ve been missing them in the narrative.

Have a good week everyone, and a Happy Valentine’s day!

Sylas K Barrett has never stopped being fascinated by the Warder/Aes Sedai bond, and would really like to see more things done with 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)
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