This article contains spoilers through The Great Hunt.
All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are taken from The Eye of the World, Chapter 21, “Listen to the Wind”.
When our initial band of heroes left the Two Rivers, they left in the middle of the night, without much in the way of explanation as to where they were going. The party consisted of Moiraine and Lan, Thom, Egwene, Rand, Mat, and Perrin. They rested briefly in Baerlon where Nynaeve caught up to them.
Nynaeve sipped the wine before answering the Aes Sedai. “There was nowhere for you to go except Baerlon. To be safe, though, I followed your trail. You certainly cut back and forth enough. But then, I suppose you would not care to risk meeting decent people.”
“You . . . followed our trail?” Lan said, truly surprised for the first time that Rand could remember. “I must be getting careless.”
“You left very little trace, but I can track as well as any man in the Two Rivers, except perhaps Tam al’Thor.” She hesitated, then added, “Until my father died, he took me hunting with him, and taught me what he would have taught the sons he never had. She looked at Lan challengingly, but he only nodded with approval.
“If you can follow a trail I have tried to hide, he taught you well. Few can do that, even in the Borderlands.”
( The Eye of the World, Chapter 16, The Wisdom )
She came to persuade them to return to Emond’s Field with her, but when that failed, and Shadowspawn discovered them, she decided to accompany them so she could see them all safely home at the end of it all. And to try and convince them to return sooner.
Continuing on their way, they were pursued by Shadowspawn until they took refuge in Shadar Logoth. The Shadowspawn followed them in and they fled the city, with Mashadar splitting up their party.
Nynaeve ended up on her own in the chaos of leaving Shadar Logoth. In the morning, she began searching the area for tracks and eventually found some. The tracks were muddled enough that she couldn’t tell if they were left by friends or foes, so she followed them very cautiously, concealing her own tracks in the process.
She smelled a fire in the distance and hid her horse, then followed the scent until she came upon Moiraine and Lan. The Warder was just returning after a scouting mission and Nynaeve was able to listen in on their unguarded discussion without being noticed.
Lan stopped his pacing, “You think the Halfmen heading south have them?”
“Perhaps,” Moiraine poured herself a cup of tea before going on. “But I will not admit the possibility of them being dead. I cannot. I dare not. You know how much is at stake. I must have those young men.”
At this point in time, Nynaeve did not trust Moiraine at all, and Moiraine had been pretty careful to always link her interest in the boys with getting them safely away from the Shadowspawn hunting them. With that statement, though, her specific interest in the boys for who they were became apparent, and I doubt very much that Nynaeve missed that distinction.
“That Shayol Ghul will hunt them, I expect. Opposition from within the White Tower, even from the Amyrlin Seat, I accept. There are always Aes Sedai who will accept only one solution. But. . . .” Suddenly she put her cup down and sat up straight, grimacing. “If you watch the wolf too hard,” she muttered, “a mouse will bite you on the ankle.” And she looked right at the tree behind which Nynaeve was hiding. “Mistress al’Meara, you may come out now, if you wish.”
Nynaeve scrambled to her feet, hastily dusting dead leaves from her dress. Lan had spun to face the tree as soon as Moiraine’s eyes moved; his sword was in his hand before she finished speaking Nynaeve’s name. Now he sheathed it again with more force than was strictly necessary. His face was almost as expressionless as ever, but Nynaeve thought there was a touch of chagrin about the set of his mouth. She felt a stab of satisfaction; the Warder had not known she was there, at least.
Yes, Nynaeve, stumping the Warder was definitely the important thing to be thinking just then. </sarcasm>
With her usual graciousness, Nynaeve reunited with Moiraine and Lan with comments, such as:
“What have you meshed Egwene and the boys in? What filthy Aes Sedai plots are you planning to use them in?”
“No, I don’t want any tea. I would not drink your tea if I was dying of thirst. You won’t use any Emond’s Field folk in your dirty Aes Sedai schemes.”
The conversation between Nynaeve and Moiraine in this scene was possibly the most difficult conversation for Nynaeve in the entire series. It was here that she was confronted with the reality of herself, and she had very little time to process it before she had to decide what to do with it.
“You have very little room to talk, Wisdom.” Moiraine showed more interest in her hot tea than in anything she was saying. “You can wield the One Power yourself, after a fashion.”
Nynaeve pushed at Lan’s arm again; it still did not move, and she decided to ignore it. “Why don’t you try claiming I am a Trolloc?”
Moiraine’s smile was so knowing that Nynaeve wanted to hit her. “Do you think I can stand face-to-face with a woman who can touch the Truce Source and channel the One Power, even only now and then, without knowing what she is? Just as you sensed the potential in Egwene. How do you think I knew you were behind that tree? If I had not been distracted, I would have known the moment you came close. You certainly are not a Trolloc, for me to feel the evil of the Dark One. So what did I sense, Nynaeve al’Meara, Wisdom of Emond’s Field and unknowing wielder of the One Power?”
Lan was looking down at Nynaeve in a way she did not like; surprised and speculative, it seemed to her, though nothing had changed about his face but his eyes. Egwene was special; she had always known that. Egwene would make a fine Wisdom. They’re working together, she thought, trying to put me off balance. “I won’t listen to any more of this. You—”
“You must listen,” Moiraine said firmly. “I had my suspicions in Emond’s Field even before I met you. People told me how upset the Wisdom was that she had not predicted the hard winter and the lateness of spring. They told me how good she was at foretelling weather, at telling the crops. They told me how wonderful her cures were, how she sometimes healed injuries, that should have been crippling, so well there was barely a scar, and not a limp or a twinge. The only ill word I heard about you was from a few who thought you too young for the responsibility, and that only strengthened my suspicions. So mush skill so young.”
“Mistress Barran taught me well.” She tried looking at Lan, but his eyes still made her uncomfortable, so she settled for staring over the Aes Sedai’s head at the river. How dare the village gossip in front of an outlander! “Who said I was too young? she demanded.
Moiraine smiled, refusing to be diverted. “Unlike most women who claim to listen to the wind, you actually can, sometimes. Oh, it has nothing to do with the wind, of course. It is of Air and Water. It is not something you needed to be taught; it was born into you, just as it was born into Egwene. But you have learned to handle it, which she still has to learn. Two minutes after I came face-to-face with you, I knew. Do you remember how I suddenly asked you if you were the Wisdom? Why, do you think? There was nothing to distinguish you from any other pretty young woman getting ready for Festival. Even looking for a young Wisdom I expected someone half again your age.”
Nynaeve remembered that meeting all too well; this woman, more self-possessed than anyone in the Women’s Circle, in a dress more beautiful than any she had ever seen, addressing her as a child. Then Moiraine had suddenly blinked as if surprised and out of a clear sky asked….
She liked lips abruptly gone dry. They were both looking at her, the Warder’s face as unreadable as stone, the Aes Sedai’s sympathetic yet intent. Nynaeve shook her head. “No! No, it’s impossible. I would know. You are just trying to trick me, and it will not work.”
“Of course you do not know,” Moiraine said soothingly. “Why you should even suspect? All of your life you have heard about listening to the wind. In any case, you would as soon announce to all of Emond’s Field that you were a Darkfriend as admit to yourself, even in the deepest recesses of your mind, that you have anything to do with the One Power, or the dreaded Aes Sedai.” Amusement flitted across Moiraine’s face. “But I can tell you how it started.”
“I don’t want to hear any more of your lies,” she said, but the Aes Sedai went right on.
“Perhaps as much as eight or ten years ago—the age varies, but always comes young—there was something you wanted more than anything else in the world, something you needed. And you got it. A branch suddenly falling where you could pull yourself out of a pond instead of drowning. A friend, or a pet, getting well when everyone thought they would die.
“You felt nothing special at the time, but a week or ten days later you had your first reaction to touching the True Source. Perhaps fever or chills that came on suddenly and put you to bed, then disappeared after only a few hours. None of the reactions, and they vary, last more than a few hours. Headaches and numbness and exhilaration all mixed together, and you taking foolish chances or acting giddy. A spell of dizziness, when you tripped and stumbled whenever you tried to move, when you could not say a sentence without your tongue mangling half the words. There are others. Do you remember?
Nynaeve sat down hard on the ground; her legs would not hold her up. She remembered, but she shook her head anyway. It had to be a coincidence. Or else Moiraine had asked more questions in Emond’s Field than she had thought. The Aes Sedai had asked a great many questions. It had to be that. Lan offered a hand, but she did not even see it.
“I will go further,” Moiraine said when Nynaeve kept silent. “You used the Power to Heal either Perrin or Egwene at some time. An affinity develops. You can sense the presence of someone you have Healed. In Baerlon you came straight to the Stag and Lion, though it was not the nearest inn to any gate by which you could have entered. Of all the people in Emond’s Field, only Perrin and Egwene were at the inn when you arrived. Was it Perrin, or Egwene? Or both?”
“Egwene,” Nynaeve mumbled. She had always taken it for granted that she could sometimes tell who was approaching her even when she could not see them; not until now had she realized that it was always someone on whom her cures had worked almost miraculously well. And she had always known when the medicine would work beyond expectations, always felt the certainty when she said the crops would be especially good, or that the rains would come early or late. That was the way she thought it was supposed to be. Not all Wisdoms could listen to the wind, but the best could. That was what Mistress Barran always said, just as she said Nynaeve would be one of the best.
“She had breakbone fever.” She kept her head down and spoke to the ground. “I was still apprentice to Mistress Barran, and she set me to watch Egwene. I was young, and I didn’t know that the Wisdom had everything well in hand. It’s terrible to watch, breakbone fever. The child is soaked with sweat, groaning and twisting until I could not understand why I didn’t hear her bones snapping. Mistress Barran had told me the fever would break in another day, two at the most, but I thought she was doing me a kindness. I thought Egwene was dying. I used to look after her sometimes when she was a toddler—when her mother was busy—and I started crying because I was going to have to watch her die. When Mistress Barran came back an hour later, the fever had broken. She was surprised, but she made over me more than Egwene. I always thought she believed I had given the child something and was too frightened to admit it. I always thought she was trying to comfort me, to make sure I knew I hadn’t hurt Egwene. A week later I fell on the floor in her sitting room, shaking and burning up by turns. She bundled me into bed, but by suppertime it was gone.”
They discussed Nynaeve’s experience further, then Moiraine shared that most women who encounter the Power on their own without being taught do not survive it, and that Egwene would most likely not survive it should she return to Emond’s Field with Nynaeve. As stubborn as Nynaeve is, she couldn’t justify exposing Egwene to that risk so she finally gave up that point. After that, Moiraine was fully in her element and managed to get Nynaeve to go along with them using a bit of reverse psychology.
The scene came to a close with Nynaeve facing one finally difficult truth. They had no idea where Egwene was, and the Shadowspawn were hunting the boys. They were going to leave Egwene alone and follow the trail Moiraine had for one of the boys. Egwene was young, inexperienced, and a woman, and they had no idea where she was. Searching for her would take a long time, and it would leave the one they were able to track similarly undefended.
Why I Love It
This scene was a great one for foreshadowing. We saw the beginning of Nynaeve’s future relationships with Moiraine and, more importantly, with Lan. We saw how the resentment was formed – by Moiraine being the one to hold the mirror on some truths about herself which Nynaeve was not interested in seeing, and by Moiraine mercilessly driving home the fact that, as Wisdom, Nynaeve was helpless to protect the boys and Egwene from the dangers before them. Helpless was not a state that worked for Nynaeve, and in this scene she had to make some pretty big decisions about herself, her life, and where her duty would take her. It also laid the groundwork for the connection she forms with Lan, which, at least in my opinion, is possibly the most natural relationship in the series.
I love how this scene showcased Nynaeve’s stubbornness without making her seem ridiculous. She was determined aned sure of herself, but she did eventually give the necessary ground once she was certain it was the only way. Once there was no way to deny it, she confirmed Moiraine’s assertions, and accepted the conclusions, but that didn’t mean she was a member of the Moiraine Fan Club™!
I also love how much we get to know about Nynaeve’s backstory, as well as her outlook on life. We also had the pleasure of seeing Moiraine in all her unflappable Blue glory, pursuing her cause, bringing the necessary elements in line, and handling every question thrown at her as if it were scripted. We even got to see Lan in a new light. To this point, he had generally been fairly abrupt, direct, and unyielding. In this scene, though, he showed surprise, courtesy, and a hint of compassion.
All in all, this scene was a great one, which taught us a lot about our characters’ histories, their personalities, the magic system, and a very natural progression towards the end goal of the entire story.