—Jolien of the Salt Flat sept of the Nakai Aiel
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|Setting: The wilderness of Cairhien, along the shores of the Erinin|
Point of view: Egwene al'Vere
After having been startled by the sudden appearance of a figure, Egwene al'Vere simultaneously embraces saidar and screams. She notes that Elayne Trakand has also done so. After wondering if help will come from the Blue Crane, she weaves Air and Fire so she can channel lightning. Nynaeve al'Meara stands there with arms crossed, not embracing saidar, whether it is because she cannot or because she sees what Egwene now sees is the question. The subject of their surprise is a woman about Egwene's age, though taller.
She calms down, but Egwene does not let go of saidar, though she notes that Elayne has and muses that the daughter-heir holds foolish notions about what is safe, but she [Egwene] has been a Seanchan prisoner. Few men would think the woman in front of her is not dangerous.
Egwene feels an odd affinity for the woman and thinks that she looks like Rand's cousin. She recognizes the woman as Aiel and wonders what Aiel are doing out here. Aiel are deadly, even the Maidens of the Spear, but she strangely feels no fear.
The woman introduces herself as Aviendha of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel. She and her unseen companions, are Maidens of the Spear. She asks them if they are Aes Sedai. Egwene hears the plural in the woman's first statement and wonders where the others are with a bit of unease but concludes that with saidar flowing through her, they are no threat.
Nynaeve replies that they are women of the White Tower and asks what they want. Aviendha smiles and says that they talk like Aiel Wise Ones and then informs them that they have a companion close by who is gravely hurt and asks for their aid. Egwene marvels that they talk like they are asking for some small favor rather than something involving life or death.
Nynaeve agrees to try to Heal their companion but makes no promises and states flatly that the injured woman may still die. Aviendha acknowledges Nynaeve's dictum and offers to take them to her. Immediately, and very close by, two additional Aiel stand, surprising Egwene. One of them lowers a black veil which startles Egwene because she remembers Elayne telling her that Aiel only cover their faces when they are ready to kill. These two new Aiel women are armed and look ready to fight.
Egwene releases saidar when she realizes that the Aiel can kill her if they wish, saidar or no. She worries however that the Aiel will kill them if Nynaeve cannot heal their companion.
Elayne introduces herself on the way, and the second Aiel woman introduces herself as Bain of the Black Rock sept of the Shaarad Aiel. The third Aiel woman introduces herself as Chiad of the Stones River sept of the Goshen Aiel. Both Aiel women glance at Egwene, who takes the hint and introduces herself.
Bain asks if they are first-sisters and, comically Egwene answers yes at the same time that Elayne answers no. Elayne then explains the meaning of first-sisters to Egwene. First-sisters have the same mothers. Second-sisters are women whose mothers are sisters. She then explains to the Aiel that she doesn't know a lot about Aiel ways and asks their pardon. She then also says that she sometimes thinks of Egwene as a first-sister, but they are not blood kin.
Chiad asks them why they don't become first-sisters. Egwene asks how that can happen and in the process shows her ignorance, especially when she says that Maidens don't care for men. Inside her head she compares them to the Red Ajah. Both Aiel women are surprised by that assertion and explains that being wed to the spear means being bound to no man, but Maidens have given up the spear for a man or a child, though once given up, the spear cannot be taken back. They also explain that a woman who goes to Rhuidean, that is, a Wise One, cannot be a Maiden, though some struggle against that fate, and in this latter it seems to Egwene that Bain and Chiad are communicating something secret between the two of them.
They also explain that their particular clans have blood feud with each other so they decided that even though Maidens do not lift the spear against one another they needed to go further. They risked their lives to go to each others' clans to become first-sisters. Then Bain says coyly that she wouldn't say they don't like men. Then she asks if she has made things clear and Egwene replies in the affirmative and silently changes her perception of them to women from the Green Ajah.
The Maidens encourage them to go to their Wise Ones and "say the words" but then are puzzled about how they can say the words if they are already Wise Ones. Both Egwene and Elayne are obviously thinking about what it might be like to share Rand, but Egwene silently admits that Rand can't be shared by either of them.
Elayne explains that she and Egwene already guard each others' backs, and Chiad shows puzzlement and ask why there is need. The three are freed from answering by their arrival at their destination.
Nynaeve looks at the wounds and asks if the woman has been moved. Aviendha answers yes, that Dailin wanted to die near water. Nynaeve chastises them for thinking like men then pulls out herbs and a cup, thrusting it at Chiad, telling her to fill it. Bain accompanies Chiad to the river--both women act as if they are afraid of the river.
Aviendha gently reproves Nynaeve for her scolding. Nynaeve sniffs and starts mixing herbs since she needs to be angry in order to channel. The Aiel admit surprise that an Aes Sedai uses herbs to Heal, and Nynaeve snaps out "I use what I use!" This causes Chiad to observe that Nynaeve sounds like a Wise One.
Still worried about Aiel becoming violent, Egwene decides to get them talking. She asks them about their uneasiness around the river, saying that they could swim in it if they wanted. Aviendha admits that she once saw a Shienaran swim. Egwene asks Jolien about the Stones River, and Jolien successfully reasons that "swimming" means getting into the water. She also admits that the Stones River is dry and that she has never seen running water she could not step across.
After a reproachful look from Elayne, Egwene realizes that she has put the Aiel even more ill at ease. She decides that if they will try anything she will hold them with Air, though she doesn't know if she can hold four at once. She embraces saidar, though Elayne does not and Egwene wonders at that. Aviendha abruptly states that they would never harm Aes Sedai. She continues that she would never use her spear against another woman.
Elayne speaks up and says to the Aiel that she knows that, though Egwene knows the words are for her.
Bain explains that if a woman came after her with weapons, she would give her a drubbing. She considers the case of a man, and announces that men are strange.
Elayne replies "so long as we do not attack you, you will not try to harm us." Again, the words are not meant for the Aiel, nevertheless all four Aiel women are shocked by the statement. Elayne gives Egwene a significant look, a look that suggests she can release saidar now, but Egwene holds saidar anyway, reasoning that the Aiel may not be telling the truth. Besides, it feels good to hold saidar.
Nynaeve feeds Dailin her concoction, ordering her to drink, despite its taste. Dailin complies with difficulty.
Aviendha continues the conversation by revealing that not even if the Aes Sedai offered them violence... once the Aiel served the Aes Sedai before the Breaking of the World, and that the Aiel failed in that service; perhaps that is why they were sent to the Three-fold Land. She finishes her statement by saying that if they fail in their service to the Aes Sedai, it will destroy them.
Nynaeve orders Dailin to drink all of the medicine, and it is obvious by her words that she is trying to make herself angry so she can channel.
Elayne promises that they are not going to destroy them. Aviendha continues by saying that the old stories say they must not fight the Aes Sedai even if they come with balefire and lightning. They may dance with the lightning, but they would never harm an Aes Sedai.
Meanwhile, in her ministrations to Dailin, Nynaeve continues to try to make herself angry.
Egwene asks Aviendha what balefire is. Aviendha tells her little except that it is fearsome and then pleads that so much has been forgotten by the Aiel. Egwene offers that perhaps the White Tower has forgotten much as well. She muses that she knew of it in "that dream" in Tel'aran'rhiod.
Nynaeve snaps out "no right to tear bodies so!" Aviendha asks if she is angry and looks worried. Bain, Chiad and Jolien share in her uneasiness.
Elayne says that it is all right, but Egwene says that it is much better than all right. Suddenly the glow of saidar surrounds Nynaeve, and Egwene and Elayne lean forward to watch what is happening, how Nynaeve is forming the weaves. Dailin starts up with a scream, eyes wide open. Almost immediately Nynaeve lowers her down, saidar fading. Dailin shuts her eyes and pants.
Egwene ruminates silently that she saw what Nynaeve did, and it was like weaving four carpets at once while blindfolded.
Nynaeve cleans the Aiel woman's belly with the bloody bandages. No wound, no scar can be seen where the woman had once been hurt; only skin far paler than Dailin's face.
Nynaeve stands, tosses the old bandages into the river, orders the Aiel women to finish cleaning her, and then orders that she be clothed and once she wakes, fed, noting that she will be hungry. Then she kneels by the water to wash her hands.