The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Towers of Midnight, Part 16

Neither rain, nor thunder, nor hurricane-force winds can stop me, WOTers, because the Wheel of Time Re-read must go through!

Er. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Today’s entry covers Chapter 27 and 28 of Towers of Midnight, in which we have politics-fu and politics-fail in nearly equal measure, Pervasively Purple Problems, and no elves whatsoever.

Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the upcoming final volume, A Memory of Light.

This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!

 

Chapter 27: A Call to Stand

What Happens
Egwene reads a letter from King Darlin, in which he says that while he is troubled by Egwene’s news that the Dragon Reborn plans to break the seals, he is nonetheless loyal to him, and additionally wary of the Seanchan, and therefore only promises to bring a small number of his troops to Merrilor to discuss the matter. Egwene is impressed that Darlin had the courage to put this in writing, but is not satisfied, as she wants his full strength there to back her. She writes back to remind him that the Dark One is their largest concern, not the Seanchan, but she offers him gateways to bring his forces back to Tear immediately should a threat from the Seanchan materialize.

The Dragon Reborn must see our full forces marshaled to oppose his brash intentions. If he sees this as halfhearted, we will never dissuade him from his course. Please come with all of your troops.

She writes to Gregorin in Illian next, offering him similar terms; she has not yet told him that Mattin Stepaneos is alive and at the Tower, but Stepaneos himself is afraid to return to his nation in any case. She realizes that she is using Rand’s proclamation as “a beacon” to tie the monarchs of the continent to the Tower. Silviana enters to report that the Borderlands are under attack; she says they hold for the moment, but that this is the largest incursion from the Blight since the Trolloc Wars. Egwene asks about Tarwin’s Gap, but Silviana has no information on it. Silviana leaves, only to burst back in with the news (brought by Nicola and another Accepted, Nissa) that the Hall is meeting.

“I can’t believe they would try this,” Silviana said softly as they walked.

“It’s not what you think,” Egwene guessed. “They won’t try to depose me. The division is too fresh in their minds.”

“Then why meet without you?”

“There are ways to move against an Amyrlin without deposing her.”

They reach the Hall to find it two-thirds full, and Egwene notes that the Reds have replaced Pevara and Javindhra with Raechin and Viria Connoral (who are actual siblings). Takima, Lelaine, and Romanda are there, and Egwene is irked that all three Green Sitters are present. Egwene sits and says nothing until Romanda asks, then replies that as they did not inform her of the meeting, she assumes they don’t want her words, and will simply watch. This makes the Sitters uncomfortable, but they continue. Saroiya (White) rises and tells of how Egwene had seized total authority in the Rebel Hall by means of the War Vote, and her concern that she will try to do the same again. She says the Hall is meant to be a balance on the Amyrlin’s power, and this must be prevented. Egwene is somewhat relieved to hear this.

This meeting meant her plans were proceeding as hoped, and that her enemies—or, well, her reluctant allies—hadn’t seen what she was really doing. They were busy reacting to things she’d done months ago.

That didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous. But when a person anticipated danger, it could be handled.

Lelaine says that they cannot declare war, then, but Varilin asks how it is reasonable not to declare war on the Shadow. Takima opines that perhaps that war is already declared by default, by the Tower’s very existence, but Romanda counters that there must be some kind of proclamation from the Hall to dissuade the Amyrlin for calling for war. Andaya wonders how they will do that without sounding ridiculous. Egwene speaks up to say she thinks the Hall acts in wisdom; the war between the factions of the Tower was her war, as it was about the Amyrlin Seat specifically.

“But the war against the Shadow is more vast than any one person. It is greater than you or I, greater than the White Tower. It is the war of all life and creation, from the most destitute of beggars to the most powerful of queens.”

Romanda asks if she consents to let the Hall prosecute the war, then, and Egwene replies that it would depend on how the provision was worded. Saerin and Janya (Brown) enter then, giving Takima dirty looks. Romanda says there is a provision in the Law of War that allows for the Hall to take up prosecution of war, and Egwene points out that is contingent on the Amyrlin’s agreement, and wants to know whether such a provision would attempt to ban her from the “day-to-day” proceedings. Lelaine points out that Egwene has been busy “wrangling” the kings and queens, which is a “fine task” for the Amyrlin.

“Then you’ll stand for such a provision?” Egwene said. “The Hall sees to the army, while I am given authority for dealing with the monarchs of the world?”

“I…” Lelaine said. “Yes, I’d stand for that.”

“I suppose I could agree,” Egwene said.

Romanda calls for a vote, and nine Sitters stand for it. Takima and Saroiya are highly suspicious, though; then Saroiya seems to realize something, but before she can speak, Doesine and Yukiri arrive, whereupon Saerin stands immediately. Doesine sees this, and she and Yukiri stand as well without being told what the vote is for. Saerin declares the lesser consensus.

“No!” Saroiya said, climbing to her feet. “Don’t you see? He is a king! He holds the Laurel Crown. You’ve just given the Amyrlin sole responsibility for dealing with the Dragon Reborn!”

There was silence in the Hall.

“Well,” Romanda said, “surely she…” She trailed off as she turned, seeing Egwene’s serene face.

“I suppose someone should ask for the greater consensus,” Saerin said dryly. “But you’ve managed to hang yourselves quite efficiently with the lesser rope already.”

Egwene rises and tells that she thinks it is wise of the Hall to let her deal with the Dragon Reborn, as he will need a “firm, familiar hand,” and also to relieve her of the burden of managing the day-to-day concerns of their army. She is very displeased, however, by the secrecy of this meeting, and asks if their memory is so short that they have forgotten how foolish such a thing is. She proposes that it be written into Tower law that henceforth no meetings may be convened unless both the Amyrlin and all Sitters are informed of it, in a reasonable enough amount of time to either come themselves, send a surrogate in their place, or send a message that they cannot attend. Saerin points out that she proposes altering traditions that have been in place for centuries.

“Traditions that hitherto have been used only for treachery, backbiting and division,” Egwene said. “It is time for this hole to be closed, Saerin. The last time it was used effectively, the Black Ajah manipulated us into casting down an Amyrlin, raising a fool in her place, and dividing the Tower.”

She tells them of the attack on the Borderlands, and says the Last Battle is here, and that they will stand now, or be forever remembered for their refusal to support openess and honesty. She calls for the vote, and one by one all the Sitters stand for it. Egwene is heartened that in the end, they recognized when to stop the politicking and do right. The meeting breaks up, and Egwene tells Silviana that losing control of the army was worth it to close that loophole in the law. She finds Nicola and Nissa, and as a reward for warning her about the meeting, sends them to Caemlyn to fetch the dream ter’angreal from Queen Elayne, which she promises to use to begin teaching them about the World of Dreams. They leave, and Silviana points out that Egwene did not swear them to secrecy, and it’ll be all over the Tower immediately. Egwene replies that that’s the idea.

“Gawyn scared off the assassin,” Egwene said. “There hasn’t been a murder in days, and I suppose we should bless him for that. But the killer is still hiding, and I’ve glimpsed Black sisters watching me in Tel’aran’rhiod. If I can’t catch them here, then I will catch them there. But first I need a way to trick them into thinking they know where to find us.”

Silviana warns her not to let the Accepted get in the line of fire; Egwene thinks of the danger she was put in as an Accepted, and thinks it made her a stronger person, but nevertheless agrees. She asks where Gawyn has run off to, and Silviana tells her that actually he has gone to Caemlyn. Egwene groans and tells Silviana to tell him to return, as he is “infuriating,” but she is going to need him.

Commentary
This bit with the Hall was maybe not quite as politickingly satisfying as the War Vote in TPOD, but then that’s probably an unfair comparison, as the War Vote was a crucial turning point in Egwene’s entire story arc, and this scene was really just one more step in Egwene’s total pwning of this Amyrlin gig.

That said, that certainly doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. I believe the relevant phrase is oh snap, girlfriend. My favorite part was Doesine and Yukiri automatically toeing the Egwene Party line and voting without even knowing what the hell they were voting for. Mostly because you totally know that happens all the time in real governing bodies. Which ought to be disheartening or irritating, but for some reason right now I only find it amusing. Also, I very much applaud her move to eliminate the secret meeting tactic, because that really is just all kinds of bullshit that I would totally bet was a Black Ajah-instigated thing in the first place. We demand transparency, yo!

However, all that being said, I confess to more than a little instinctive apprehension about what Egwene is doing re: Rand. As many commenters have pointed out and I myself agree, it’s a pretty fair bet that Rand totally manipulated things to goad Egwene into doing the very thing she is doing, so that he doesn’t have to, and that therefore it’s probably all good, but even so I have issues with it on principle.

Setting up any kind of “us vs. them” mentality between the forces of Light and their putative leader, no matter how benign Egwene believes it to be, is by its very nature an inherently unstable situation. In fact I would liken it to smoking a cigarette while sitting atop a leaky powderkeg.

And let’s not kid ourselves: the fact that Egwene is so gung ho on getting the monarchs to bring all their military puissance to bear on this meeting means that she is definitely preparing for the possibility that that powderkeg will go off. Anyone who thinks a strategic standoff that basically amounts to Mutually Assured Destruction is either comforting or stable needs to have their head examined.

So, yeah, not overly thrilled with Egwene on that score. No matter that Rand probably maneuvered her into it, she still took the bait, and that’s on her.

I’m also rather raising my eyebrow in her general direction at her order to Silviana to get Gawyn back. Weren’t you just complaining about him being all up in your grill, Eg? Not very consistent of you! Plus, Gawyn going to Caemlyn is probably the first decision he’s made since the Tower coup that didn’t make me want to roll my eyes, so I’m personally a bit miffed that Egwene disapproves of it. I approved that, girl, how dare you contradict me!

 

Chapter 28: Oddities

What Happens
Perrin tells Faile about the strange smell he’s noticed in the area, and also that there are no wolves anywhere near, and other wildlife seems scarce as well. He plans to look for answers in the wolf dream. Faile tells him she does not like this trial idea, and he counters that she is angry about Maighdin.

“Of course I’m angry about Maighdin,” she said. They’d been through Malden together, and she hadn’t told Faile that she was the Queen of bloody Andor? It made Faile look like a fool—like a small-town braggart, extolling her skill with the sword in front of a passing blademaster.

Perrin points out that Maighdin didn’t know she could trust them; this does not mollify Faile, but he tells her to let it go, and she is pleased he stood up to her. She goes back to the trial, and Perrin tells her he won’t let himself be taken, but the trial gives him time to think, and also gets their people back; he adds that maybe what he needs is to finally have a chance to plead his side. He also comments that Damodred doesn’t smell “rabid with anger or hate” like so many Whitecloaks do. Faile thinks of how Berelain had reacted to Damodred, and thinks privately that there might be some way to use that. Perrin falls asleep.

Perrin finds himself in the wolf dream, leaning against a massive steel tower with no openings that feels unnatural. Hopper appears and scolds him for coming there, and Perrin protests he didn’t do it on purpose. Hopper replies that his mind is focused on it, “or the mind of one to whom you are connected.”

“Mat,” Perrin said, without understanding how he knew. The colors didn’t appear. They never did in the wolf dream.

As foolish a cub as yourself?

“Maybe more foolish.”

Hopper smelled incredulous, as if unwilling to believe that was possible.

Hopper leads him to the Jehannah Road, where the violet glass wall has appeared again, in a different place than before, and comments that wolves have seen this thing before, long long ago. His images include confused pictures of things Perrin tentatively thinks might be from the Age of Legends. Perrin moves a way down, and realizes the thing is a dome, rather than a wall, leagues wide. He senses Oak Dancer, Sparks and Boundless inside, feeling frantic, and tries to go after them, but the dome will not let him inside. Perrin wonders if that is the purpose of it, to trap wolves inside so Slayer can hunt them, and tries to physically touch the dome. It saps all the strength out of him, so he can’t even breathe, until Hopper hauls him back. Hopper then tries it himself; he stumbles, but makes it through. Perrin asks him how he did it.

I am me. Hopper as he saw himself—which was identical to who he was. Also scents of strength and stability.

The trick, it seemed, was to be in complete control of who you were. Like many things in the wolf dream, the strength of one’s mental image was more powerful than the substance of the world itself.

However, Perrin decides to try charging the wall instead. He makes it through, but Hopper scolds him again. They hunt for Slayer, sensing that Sparks is wounded and the other wolves are trying to distract Slayer. Hopper sends Perrin after Sparks while he goes to join the others. Perrin finds Sparks and pulls an evil-smelling arrow out of him, and picks him up. Perrin heads for the dome barrier as fast as he can run, but when they arrive they find Slayer waiting for them. Perrin shifts himself to where he first entered before Slayer’s arrow finds him, and throws himself and Sparks through the barrier. Slayer appears again, and Perrin shifts again, to Dragonmount. Slayer does not follow, and Hopper appears and tells Perrin all the wolves but Whisperer got away. Perrin tells him about the odd scent in the air in the waking world, and they both speculate it is related to the dome.

Search another time. Slayer is too strong for you.

Perrin took a deep breath. “I have to face him eventually, Hopper.”

Not now.

“No,” Perrin agreed. “Not now. Now we practice.” He turned to the wolf. “As we will do every night until I am ready.”

Ituralde can’t sleep, and tries to figure out why the Trollocs massed around Maradon haven’t attacked yet, instead beating drums for hours on end. He is unsettled by the accusation that he is Dragonsworn, and the realization that he is fighting in a foreign land for a man he’d only met once. A messenger comes to tell him Captain Yoeli has sent for him. Ituralde goes to the wall to meet him and the head Asha’man, Deepe Bhadar. Deepe tells Ituralde that he can sense men channeling among the Trolloc army below, doing “something powerful.” Ituralde curses and says that’s why they’ve been waiting.

“With Asha’man of their own—”

“They are not Asha’man,” Deepe said fervently.

“All right, then. With channelers of their own, they can tear this wall down easily as knocking over a pile of blocks, Yoeli. That sea of Trollocs will surge in and fill your streets.”

Deepe says he will stop them, but Ituralde points out that he is exhausted; Deepe replies that there’s nothing they can do about that, and signals for the other Asha’man to join him. He tells them that whatever is going to happen is going to happen soon, and Yoeli hurries off. Ituralde tells Deepe that the Asha’man are too valuable to lose, and orders him to leave if the city falls. Deepe doesn’t like it, but agrees. Then Deepe suggests that perhaps they should all leave; Ituralde says that this is still the best place to make a stand, and rejects the idea. Then an explosion hits, and Ituralde is knocked down. He gets up to see that a massive hole has been blown in the wall, and the Trollocs are already moving to breach.

The city is lost…Light! It’s lost, just like that.

He sees that Deepe is unconscious and his leg has been severed at the knee, and tries to bind the wound. Connel arrives with other soldiers and helps them get away from the wall to the sick tent. Ituralde is dazed and partially deafened until Antail Heals him, then camouflages his tiredness so Ituralde can function. Antail warns him of the danger of that last weave, and that he’ll pay for it later. Deepe is alive but still unconscious. Ituralde goes to the palace, which they’ve been using as a command post, and gets up high enough to see that the breach is indeed hopeless to defend. He orders Connel to gather the Asha’man to prepare for evacuation, but Yoeli appears and tells him no. He points to a watchfire on the horizon which he says means his sister has seen aid coming.

“Give us a few hours,” Yoeli said. “Hold the city with me and send scouts through those gateways of yours to see if a force really is coming.”

“A few hours?” Ituralde said. “With a hole in your wall? We’re overwhelmed, Yoeli.”

“Please,” Yoeli pled. “Are you not one of those they name Great Captain? Show me what that title means, Lord Rodel Ituralde.”

Ituralde hesitates, then calls the Asha’man Tymoth forward. He orders the Asha’man to defend the wall breach for half an hour with everything they’ve got, leaving only Antail out for a last minute retreat. Tymoth dashes off, and Ituralde tells Yoeli he needs four cavalry companies formed up in the courtyard in ten minutes, along with firewood, oil barrels, all the walking wounded and anyone who can use a bow. An hour later, the Asha’man line is weakening at the breach, which fortunately is the only point at which the Trollocs are attacking. Finally the Asha’man are spent and limp away, leaving the breach undefended. The Trollocs enter the city to see the carefully arranged picture of chaos and disarray Ituralde has prepared, and storm the city with glee, pursuing the wounded soldiers left as bait to draw them down one particular avenue as much as possible. Ituralde asks Yoeli if he ever plans to be a general, to learn this lesson well.

Below, shutters on windows were flung open on buildings along the avenue the Trollocs had taken. Bowmen surged out onto balconies. “If you ever have so much as an impression that you’re doing what your enemy expects you to do, then do something else.”

The bowmen fire away, targeting the Myrrdraal in particular. Before the surviving Trollocs can storm the buildings, Yoeli’s cavalry charges down the avenue, trampling and slaughtering the Trollocs. The Trollocs retreat, herded into the palace courtyard, where the archers and horsemen repeat their volleys until the Trollocs are all down. Yoeli moves to order a defense of the breach again, but Ituralde stops him, and tells him to move the archers and cavalry somewhere else and start again. Yoeli points out that they won’t fall for it so easily the next time, and Ituralde agrees, but tells him that it will make them slow and cautious, and the whole point is to buy enough time for help to arrive. Yoeli hesitates, and asks, doesn’t that violate Ituralde’s rule about not doing what your enemy expects? Ituralde tells him he’s overthinking it, and sends him off.

This, Ituralde thought, is why I should never teach tactics. It was hard to explain to students that there was a rule that trumped all of the others: Always trust your instincts. The Trollocs would be afraid. He could use that. He’d use anything they gave him.

He didn’t like to think too long about that rule, lest he dwell on the fact that he’d violated it already. Because his every instinct screamed that he should have abandoned this city hours ago.

Commentary
Mm. Still a little underwhelmed by Perrin’s response to the Maighdin thing. At least Faile is having a more normal reaction to the revelation; I just would have liked to see that indicated a little more in the initial scene. And I still don’t like that we never saw the Aes Sedai react. But whatever, I’m moving on.

Meanwhile, Perrin continues to be shocking by doing things like exercising actual caution and prudence, and actually listening to what Hopper says (well, mostly), and it’s almost as disconcerting as it is welcome. It’s like he’s Growing As A Person or something!

Also, I totally forgot about the detail that Perrin initially appears next to the Tower of Ghenjei here, and his theory that Mat’s concentration on it is what caused that to happen. That’s… really interesting. We know the Superboys can all see each other in the colors, and that Rand can exert influence over Perrin and Mat, pulling them one way or another, but unless I’m mistaken this is the first time anything like that has happened between Perrin and Mat, excluding Rand. Perhaps an indication that all three boys’ ta’verenness is getting stronger as the Last Battle approaches?

This dreamspike thing in general, I find interesting in an abstract way, because it obviously was developed during the Age of Legends and yet is also very obviously nothing but a weapon, which seems a little out of character for the utopia-ness of the period. Then again, the Age of Legenders were also apparently running around with things like “shocklances,” so clearly they weren’t all sitting around singing “Kumbaya” 24/7. It’s a little bemusing, though, to think about a weapon that’s (evidently) designed to only work in a dreamworld state. It’s very Inception when you think about it.

(I’ve always kind of vaguely wondered if “shocklance” wasn’t just a fancy name for “cattle prod,” because that would be kind of hilarious. Bzzt! Hah.)

As for Ituralde’s section, my main thought was oh heeeeyyy DREADLORDS. About time they showed up, even if only off-screen. What do you want to bet they are graduates of the Mazrim Taim 13×13 Precinct Public School of Made You Evil Neener?

Also, was I the only one having flashbacks to the Helm’s Deep sequence in The Two Towers, with the hole blasted in the wall and all? Except with an appalling dearth of elves, of course.

(Sometimes I like to taunt Tolkien purists, because I am a bad person.)

Also also, survey: is the head Asha’man’s name pronounced “DEE-pay” or just “DEEEEP”? I suspect the former, but I kept saying the latter in my head in this basso profundo voice and mentally giggling, because I am apparently four years old sometimes. DEEEEEP.

And wow, Yoeli, no pressure on Ituralde or anything. Though Ituralde did definitely deliver on pulling a brilliant strategy out of his ass magic hat, so there’s that. Though I do find it at least a trifle convenient that the Trolloc didn’t even try to breach the wall at any other point through more conventional means concurrently with the Dreadlord attack. I mean, I know Trollocs as a general rule are never going to be Mensa members, but surely whoever’s ultimately in charge of this shindig would have thought of it.

*shrug* Whatever, it was a good scene regardless.


And that’s what I got for this one, kids. I’m off to batten down hatches, stock up on batteries, and brace for impact. If y’all have a minute to send good flood-and-wind-damage-avoidance thoughts down Gulf Coast way, please do. We could use it. Cheers!

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