A roofmistress is an Aiel woman who owns property.
There are at least two distinct kinds of roofmistress: any Aiel woman who owns a house, and the Hold's representative roofmistress.
The most common kind of roofmistress is demonstrative of an every-day part of Aiel culture. Aviendha explains it as follows:
—The Shadow Rising, Chapter 48
This illustrates the extent to which "a man cannot own a roof any more than he can own land" and the fundamental concept of a roofmistress. Nobody, not even the Car'a'carn, may enter her domain without her permission.
Roofmistress as a community representativeEdit
A woman's property can represent more than her personal domicile. By merit of being wife or close female relative to a leader, a roofmistress speaks for the communal home of a Hold. In this way, she serves as an ambassador to visiting clans, holds, and septs. In some cases she must be skilled in diplomacy--they are expected to deal with foreign affairs!
There are specific formalities when a man visitor meets a roofmistress to request hospitality to her home and Hold. This is true even for the roofmistress' own husband, who may take residence under her roof but also speaks as authority for the clan. Such a formal public ceremony is seen with Lian, roofmistress of Cold Rocks Hold. Lian's husband Rhuarc, clan chief of the Taardad Aiel intones, "I ask leave enter your hold, roofmistress." Even though they're married, Lian announces formally "You have my leave, clan chief."
Heirn words the request slightly differently, but the difference is highly significant: "Roofmistress, I ask leave to come beneath your roof." The response is: "You have my leave, Heirn... Beneath my roof there is water and shade for you. The Jindo sept is always welcome here." Heirn speaks for his sept, which is under the authority of the Taardad clan and therefore of lower rank than the clan chief.
When Rand al'Thor uses the latter form of the request, people are surprised at his modesty. Presumably the Car'a'carn, chief of clan chiefs, is entitled to ask entry to the entire hold, not just her personal roof. It is the roofmistress, though, whose place it was to accept or not accept Rand's untraditional wording and smooth over the faux pas.
We see one more way a roofmistress can deal with a faux pas and set the tone for guest interaction with Couladin. He uses the less modest wording of the request despite his not being a clan chief at all. Lian gives a formal response that Aviendha explains is "as one friendless and alone... she welcomed him as a beggar. The gravest insult to him, and none to the Shaido." This is the formal response that declares what she thinks of Couladin's status: "You have my leave... to step beneath my roof. Water and shade will be found for you."
There is a hierarchy of roofmistresses within a clan, with the roofmistress of the clan chief at the top, roofmistress of sept chiefs next, and other roofmistresses ranked below according to the size of the holds of which they are roofmistresses. Roofmistresses of other clans are considered to have comparable status in any inter-clan dealings, though without the authority in any clan save their own.
The roofmistress of a hold that is not the home of a clan chief or a sept chief has the same status as the roofmistress of a clan chief or sept chief, at least inside her own hold. She would gain that position by being the wife of the man who leads the algai'd'siswai of that hold, though her authority in some ways outstrips his inside the hold, just as the authority of clan or sept roofmistresses in some ways outstrips that of the clan or sept chiefs inside the hold. There are certain decisions that are hers alone and in which he has no say at all.
- Lian, roofmistress of Cold Rocks Hold, wife of Taardad clan chief Rhuarc
- Sevanna, temporary roofmistress of Comarda Hold (of the Jumai sept); widow of Shaido clan chief Suladric 
- Chenda, roofmistress of Mainde Cut Hold of the Jenda sept of the Tomanelle clan 
- Sulin, roofmistress of the Roof of the Maidens while she was in Rhuidean. (Another unnamed Maiden assumed the role of roofmistress when she departed the city with Rand)
- Dorhindha, roofmistress of Smoke Springs Hold, wife of Bael
- Dyrele, roofmistress for the Moshaine sept of the Shaido (hold unknown), wife of Maeric 
- Marin al'Vere, wife of Bran al'Vere (innkeeper of Winespring Inn) is addressed as roofmistress by Gaul, even though she is unfamiliar with the Aiel custom.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 There is a succession of close female relatives who would serve as Hold roofmistress to an unmarried leader, beginning with his eldest first-sister. See Source:Tor Questions of the Week, 23 December 2003 - 20 April 2004 Week 14 for the complexities of blood-relationships that determine the closest relationship.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 A Crown of Swords, Chapter 7
- ↑ The Shadow Rising, Chapter 49
- ↑ The Shadow Rising, Chapter 57
- ↑ The Shadow Rising, Chapter 23
- ↑ The Fires of Heaven, Chapter 20
- ↑ A Crown of Swords, Chapter 40
- ↑ The Shadow Rising, Chapter 29