The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Towers of Midnight, Part 18

Slàinte mhòr, WOTlings! Raise your glass if you want another Wheel of Time Re-read post!

Okay, wow, put the glasses down, damn.

Today’s entry covers Chapters 31 and 32 of Towers of Midnight, in which we have Vegas-style psych-outs, improbable death metal shoutouts, and I tell Yoda to STFU. Like you do.

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 31: Into the Void

What Happens
Mat sits in a tavern nicknamed The Rumor Wheel, dicing with dice he knows are loaded in a game he doesn’t know the rules for. When he wins anyway, the men playing stand up, ready to start a brawl, until Mat stands up and calls attention to himself, taking off his scarf, pulling out his medallion, uncovering his ashanderei, and putting on his hat. He watches as slowly the people in the room notice, and realize who he is, before tossing a gold coin on the bar and leaving, people scrambling out of his way. As he leaves, he feels the dice stop in his head.

Light, he felt like he was dangling from another noose. He reached up and felt at the scar on his neck. It had been a long while since he had gone about with his neck uncovered. Even with Tylin, he had normally left the scarf on.

Tonight, though, he danced with Jak o’ the Shadows.

He ties the medallion to the blade of his ashanderei, and begins walking. Several times, he is threatened by gangs of toughs looking to collect the reward, but each time soldiers from the Band appear and scare or fight them off before disappearing again. Mat is worried the plan wasn’t going to work, but then he sees a figure standing in the road ahead of him. The gholam asks if he think he can ambush it, and Mat tells it he’s tired of being chased. The Band soldiers light lanterns to illuminate the street before backing off on Mat’s orders, and the gholam attacks. Mat barely keeps ahead of it as it tries to get the medallion away from him, and then Mat thinks of what it did to Tylin, and attacks himself.

It was the kind of situation where a sensible man would have run. But he was a bloody fool instead. Staying in the city because of an oath to an Aes Sedai? Well, if he died, he would go out with weapon in hand.

The gholam is momentarily shocked at Mat’s offensive, and Mat manages to knock it down and sever its Achilles tendon, but the thing shows no pain. Then it runs, and Mat thinks for a moment that it’s going for his men, but then realizes it is going for the lanterns instead, to blind him. Talmanes ignores Mat’s yells to flee and grabs the last lantern and runs, the gholam in pursuit. It almost gets Talmanes as he backs up into a building, accidentally setting the place alight with spilled oil, but Mat hurls his ashanderei at the gholam like a spear, missing its head but tripping it so it falls. Talmanes scrambles back into the building, and the gholam grins and throws the ashanderei into the burning building with the medallion still attached before going for Mat again. Mat lets it get close, and reaches into his pockets and pulls out two more medallions, slamming them into the gholam’s outstretched hands.

The creature howled, backing up another step. “How?” it demanded. “How!”

“Don’t rightly know myself.” Elayne had said her copies weren’t perfect, but it seemed they did the job well enough. So long as they hurt the gholam, he didn’t care about their other abilities. Mat grinned, spinning the second medallion forward. “Guess I just got lucky.”

The gholam retreats into the burning building, and Mat chases it in. Talmanes tosses him his ashanderei, and Mat fights with the medallions and the spear, herding the gholam down the hallway. As he goes, he yells in the Old Tongue (“Al dival, al kiserai, al mashi!” For light, glory, and love! “Tai’daishar!” True Blood of Battle! “Carai manshimaya Tylin. Carai an manshimaya Nalesean. Carai an manshimaya ayend’an!” Honor of my blade for Tylin. Honor of my blade for Nalesean. Honor of my blade for the fallen). He backs the gholam into a room at the end of the hall with a strange white floor that proves to be a platform hanging over a bottomless void, and slams his ashanderei into the thing’s face, knocking it off balance.

From this side, the doorway into the room was ringed by a glowing white light—the edges of a gateway made for Skimming. “I don’t know if you can die,” Mat said softly. “I hope to the Light that you can’t.” He raised a boot and slammed it into the thing’s back, throwing it off the platform into the darkness. It fell, twisting in the air, looking up at him with horror.

“I hope you can’t die,” Mat said, “because I’m going to enjoy the thought of you falling through that blackness forever, you misbegotten son of a goat’s droppings.” Mat spit over the side, sending a bit of bloody spittle down, plummeting after the gholam. Both disappeared into the blackness below.

Sumeko appears, and Mat thanks her for the gateway, which she had made back at the Palace and Skimmed here with. Displeased, Sumeko tells him the whole thing was nearly bungled, and he should have let her and Julanya deal with the beast. Mat tells her it wouldn’t have worked, though he acknowledges to himself that she was right. Talmanes and Guybon enter, and Guybon asks if the thing is dead. Mat replies no, “but close enough for a Crown contract.” Guybon protests that they asked for the Queen’s aid for this, but Talmanes counters that they rid the Queen’s city of a known multiple murderer, and thus are owed combat pay. Amused, Mat agrees and walks off, ignoring the disapproval of the Kinswomen. Talmanes apologizes for almost burning the trap down, but Mat tells him it worked well enough, and thinks that Elayne and Birgitte’s idea with the gateway had been a lot better than anything he’d come up with.

“Let’s collect Setalle and Olver from their inn,” Mat said, “and get back to camp. Excitement’s over for now. About bloody time.”

Commentary
Ding dong, the gholam’s dead! Whoo!

Or, as Mat points out, close enough for government work, haha. And thanks to the opponent and major weapon used, it was one of the most italicized battle scenes Evar. Snrk.

Very classic fakeout formula used here for the fight too, in the style of what I think of as the Ocean’s Eleven Fakeout even though I know it’s way older than that, and shows up in just about every caper story ever: the hero’s opponent (and the audience) are led to believe that the opponent is outsmarting the hero’s plan for their defeat, only to find that whoops, the seeming screw-up on the hero’s part was actually part of the plan all along! Gotcha!

This one was pulled off pretty well, which is more impressive when you remember that the whole scene was told from Mat’s POV, who of course knew the whole plan, and yet his thoughts had to be realistically phrased so as to not communicate the fakeout to the reader until it was time for the big reveal. Or “reveals,” really, since both the extra medallions and the hidden gateway count separately as “gotcha” moments.

There were only a couple of moments that really jumped out at me, in retrospect, as being contrived on that score; one was Mat’s internal panic when Talmanes grabs the lantern (because he would obviously act panicked about it, but he wouldn’t actually have been panicked in his own head if that was the plan all along), and the other was when Mat thinks about pulling “something” from his pockets (when really, he would have just thought “the other two medallions I have on me”).

Having said that, though, I still didn’t see either reveal coming until they happened, the first time I read this, and that’s really all that’s needed for this trope to be effective.

It’s probably also worth mentioning that unless I’m forgetting something (an eminently possible thing, admittedly), this is the first time you could say that anything even remotely resembling a Caper trope has ever been employed in the WOT series. I don’t intend that as a criticism, because I enjoyed this chapter a lot, but it is definitely a reminder that the tone of the series has shifted a bit. And hey, that shift also meant we got through the “kill the wabbit gholam” sequence in one chapter, so there’s really no bad there.

Other things I enjoyed in this chapter: Mat being all Why yes I AM the BAMF everyone is after, tell your friends! in the tavern at the beginning, and the fact that the gateway/multiple medallions scheme was originally Elayne and Birgitte’s idea. Yay inter-hero cooperation! Avengers assemble! (Whoops, wrong Hero Starter Kit, nevermind.)

Things I did not enjoy in this chapter: Sumeko and Julanya. Seriously, girls, not even a moment of appreciation that Mat successfully eighty-sixed the WOT equivalent of a mid-level supervillain pretty much single-handedly? Nothing? No?

Whatever. Away with ye, killjoys! You do not deserve to be in the presence of such badassery! Sheesh.

Chapter title: Okay, so I don’t really think this chapter was meant to be read with Black Sabbath running through one’s head (though the lyrics are startlingly apropos at this juncture), but it tickles me immensely to imagine it. And hey, considering the last time I saw Brandon in person we had a fifteen minute argument over new Metallica vs. old Metallica, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. Heh.

Also Almost Certainly Not True But I Enjoy The Notion So Neener: the idea that the inspiration for the gholam’s reasonable facsimile of a death came from the WOTFAQ article Fifty Ways to Kill a Gholam, specifically Item #6B. It was certainly the first thing I thought of, but then I would, considering I helped write that article in the first place, so that probably doesn’t mean much.

Still, good times. I chortled.

(Now let’s just hope none of the OTHER gholams are around…)

 

Chapter 32: A Storm of Light

What Happens
Ituralde crouches in a building somewhere in the ruins of Maradon, waiting to spring yet another trap on a group of Trollocs. He is down to fifty men from the two hundred he’d started with. He and Yoeli (who had split off from Ituralde earlier) had accepted long ago that there was no saving the city; the plan was now to use it as a killing ground, slaughtering Trollocs as long as they could.

Yes, [the Trollocs’] army was large. But any man who had ever tried to kill rats knew that the size of his hammer didn’t matter so long as the rats knew how to hide.

Ituralde’s party successfully ambushes another group of Trollocs, and Ituralde worries that his One Power-induced energy is beginning to wear off as they move to another building. He hears marching, and assumes at first it is more Trollocs, but then realizes the sound is too well-regimented, and emerges from hiding to find a large company of Saldaean infantry, looking fresh and clean in the sunlight that is suddenly bathing the city. Ituralde realizes his hoped-for help from the Dragon has only now arrived when the city is ashes, and begins to laugh and cry at the same time.

As the Saldaeans take him to Bashere, Ituralde learns that al’Thor’s troops have retaken most of the city, and driven the Shadowspawn back to the hillside fortification by the river. Ituralde finds himself resenting the clean, well-fed soldiers all around when most of his own men are dead, and tells himself to stop that. Despite his growing exhaustion, he goes to meet with Bashere, who is appalled at Ituralde’s condition and calls for Healing. Ituralde refuses that, but accepts a chair. Bashere tells him that his defense of the city was “nothing short of stunning” considering the odds. Ituralde asks about Yoeli, and Bashere tells him he died bravely, though he is puzzled as to why he’d locked up and abandoned Bashere’s cousin Torkumen; Ituralde replies that Yoeli had saved Ituralde and Maradon by bringing Ituralde into the city despite Torkumen’s orders to the contrary. Bashere observes that Maradon hardly stands anyway.

Ituralde hesitated. He’s uncle to the Queen—this city is probably his home.

The two looked at one another, like old wolves, leaders of rival packs. Stepping softly. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Ituralde said.

“The city stands as well as it does,” Bashere said, “because of you. I’m not angry, man. I’m saddened, but not angry.”

Bashere adds that he’d never liked Torkumen anyway. Ituralde then realizes they are standing in Torkumen’s home. Ituralde listens, trying not to fall asleep, as Bashere issues orders and takes reports, which amount to the fact that this is only a temporary reprieve, and the city is lost. Bashere begins making arrangements to evacuate, and then a soldier exclaims in shock from the window, which looks out over the hillside fort. Bashere and Ituralde go to the window, and see that the massed Trollocs there outnumber the force that assaulted Maradon by several orders of magnitude. Ituralde whispers that that is enough to overrun the whole of the Borderlands, and hopes the Lord Dragon made peace with the Seanchan.

“In that,” a quiet voice said from behind, “as in so many other things, I have failed.”

Ituralde spun, lowering his looking glass. A tall man with reddish hair stepped into the room—a man whom Ituralde felt he had never met before, despite the familiar features.

Rand al’Thor had changed.

Ituralde thinks that al’Thor had looked cold and emotionless before, but now his eyes hold wisdom and concern; oddly, he feels less tired than he did a moment before. Al’Thor apologizes sincerely to Ituralde for leaving him and his men to be overwhelmed, and calls what he has accomplished “a miracle.” Ituralde finds himself telling al’Thor of the friends he’d lost that day. Bashere says that Maradon is lost, and they must leave, but al’Thor declares, with “an edge of anger,” that the Shadow will not take this city after what these men did to hold it. He creates a gateway and goes through it with two Maidens, to Bashere’s consternation, and he and Ituralde go back to the wall to see that al’Thor has emerged before the massed army of Trollocs, thousands of which immediately charge the trio.

Al’Thor raised one hand, then thrust it—palm forward—toward the tide of Shadowspawn.

And they started to die.

He uses fire and ice and Deathgates, killing thousands of Trollocs at every stroke, and the Asha’man Naeff gasps that he has never seen so many weaves at once.

“He’s a storm. A storm of Light and streams of Power!”

Lightning and wind funnels and waterspouts from the river join in, increasing the carnage. Ituralde hears a scream from nearby but ignores it, watching the massacre below in awe. Some of the Trollocs flee, but tens of thousands of the enormous host are slaughtered by al’Thor’s incredible display of Power. Finally it ends, and al’Thor turns and walks away. Stunned, Ituralde et al go to investigate the source of the scream, and find it was Torkumen, who has gouged his own eyes out with a quill, while his wife has committed suicide by jumping out of the window. Torkumen groans about “that terrible light.”

“I cannot watch it,” Torkumen muttered. “I cannot! Great Lord, where is your protection? Where are your armies to rend, your swords to strike? That Light eats at my mind, like rats feasting on a corpse. It burns at my thoughts. It killed me. That light killed me.”

Bashere is appalled that his own cousin is a Darkfriend, and leads the others to find al’Thor.

Min tries to ignore the anger coming through the bond from Rand and wonders if she is interpreting the line she’s found wrong: “Light is held before the maw of the infinite void, and all that he is can be seized.” She stops reading and runs to the gateway room when she feels Rand come suddenly closer, and finds him exhausted and stumbling. One of his Maiden guards (Evasni) opines he took on too much, foolishly, but the other (Ifeyina) counters that he earned much ji that day. Bashere and a battered man who must be Ituralde emerge from the gateway as well, and she asks Rand if he is all right. Rand answers that he grew angry, even though he’d thought he was beyond that.

“It was not a terrible anger, like before,” Rand said. “It was not the anger of destruction, though I did destroy. In Maradon, I saw what had been done to men who followed me. I saw Light in them, Min. Defying the Dark One no matter the length of his shadow. We will live, that defiance said. We will love and we will hope.

“And I saw him trying so hard to destroy that. He knows that if he could break them, it would mean something. Something much more than Maradon. Breaking the spirit of men…he thirsts for that. He struck far harder than he otherwise would have because he wanted to break my spirit.” His voice grew softer and he opened his eyes, looking down at her. “And so I stood against him.”

Bashere asks if Rand let the Dark One drive him to it, but Rand replies that he has a right to his anger, that he was wrong to try not to feel anger and pain at the losses of his people. Still, he acknowledges that he may have erred; he cannot allow the Dark One to provoke him into a confrontation before Shayol Ghul at “the right time.” He adds that he also cannot afford to exhaust himself like this; if his enemies were to come for him now he would be defenseless. Besides, he says, he is not to fight this war.

“What is coming will be grander than that, grander and more terrible than any one man could hope to hold back. I will organize you, but I must leave you. The war will be yours.”

Rand says he will rest now, and goes to meet Bashere’s niece and the other Borderlanders tomorrow, but Min interjects to tell him that Cadsuane has returned with someone. Rand decides to go to her first, and tells Ituralde to come along, as he has some small repayment for the honor he’s shown. As they walk, Min tells Rand about her studies. She was thinking about the references to Callandor as “the fearful blade” and “the blade of ruin” in the prophecies, and has found a line in the Jendai Prophecy that says “and the Blade will bind him by twain.” Rand thinks it refers to the two women he needs to control Callandor, and Min grimaces.

“There’s another phrase, from The Karaethon Cycle. Anyway, I think that Callandor might be flawed beyond that. I think it might… Rand, I think it might make you weak, open you to attack, if you use it.”

Rand surmises that perhaps that is the way he will be killed, then, and Min insists hotly that she will not allow him to die; Rand smiles and says he almost believes her. They reach Cadsuane’s rooms, where Merise lets them in with ill grace, and Ituralde gasps to see that the man with Cadsuane is Alsalam, his King. Ituralde weeps with joy, and Rand and Min withdraw quietly. Min feels how happy Rand is, and asks where he found the king. Rand replies that “a friend left [him] a secret,” and that it turns out that the White Tower had “collected” Alsalam the same as they had Mattin Stepaneos, but had gotten trapped in the snows on their return trip.

He seemed so relieved. “Graendal never had him. I didn’t kill him, Min. One innocent I assumed that I’d killed still lives. That’s something. A small something. But it helps.”

Commentary
Two Great Captains and a Messiah enter! A googolplex or two of Trollocs fail to leave! Whoo!

You know, give or take a googol or two. What I’m trying to say is, a metric fuckton of Shadowspawn died in this chapter, y’all. I didn’t know if you’d noticed, see, so I’m pointing it out to you. You are so welcome.

Relatedly, we may have all seriously dodged a bullet when Jordan refused to explain how Trollocs reproduce, because given the completely insane numbers here I’m thinking there are some things the fannish mind is better off resolutely not contemplating, ever. No, like, for real.

This is definitely my plan, at any rate. You sick bastards can think about whatever you want.

And… yes. Anyway.

So this chapter made me wonder if Rand’s Jesusifying process not only gave him a spiritual colonic, but also possibly bumped up his Badass level by a few notches, because wow. But then again, his power level may not have actually increased per se, since I would imagine that merely not having to wrestle with crippling nausea and a crazy dead guy in your head every time you try to do anything Power-related will increase your productivity level by about 5000% all by itself. I’m sure there’s a study on it at NIMH. Assuming the rats haven’t stolen it, of course. Whee!

So that was awesome, if a little terrifying to contemplate the idea of any one person, no matter how Zen Mastered he or she may be, holding that much destructive capability literally at their fingertips, because, as I may have mentioned, wow.

Also awesome is Rand’s continuing new shtick of showing actual compassion and consideration to people who deserve it. Less facetiously, it seriously is very cool, that he articulates here the importance of feeling your feelings and owning your own anger and pain, rather than trying to pretend they’re not there. To not at all go on a tangent, because I would Nevah, this was always one giant problem I had with the Light Side/Dark Side philosophy espoused in the Star Wars movies: that anger and fear lead only to evil. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.

Unchecked anger and fear leads to bad places, no doubt, but they are both natural and real responses that (in my opinion) should not be repressed, but controlled and examined so that you can understand why they are occurring, and channeled into doing something useful about the causes of them.

Not to mention, sometimes they occur for damn good reasons. There are certain things I’m pretty sure you’re not ever going to convince me I shouldn’t be pissed off about (not to mention there are certain things I should definitely absolutely scream and run away from very fast), so me and asceticism, fictional versions and otherwise, are just going to have to agree to disagree on that score. Pfeh.

Also, hi, Alsalam! I’m glad you’re not dead, I guess! Though mostly I’m just glad because it made both Ituralde and Rand happy. If ever there were a pair of men who could use a few extra warm fuzzies at this juncture, it’s them, so kudos to you for providing, man.

(So who was Graendal’s Old Man, then—the old guy we see in her demesne in the TFOH Prologue—if it wasn’t Alsalam? Did we ever find out, or was he just communism a red herring?)

Also, I’m presuming that the “friend” Rand refers to who tipped him off re: Alsalam was Verin, via her letter that, er, someone delivered to Rand at, er, some point. (It’s like Jello in a sieve in here sometimes, guys.)

Which is cool, and all, but I find that I can’t help but hope that, if so, that this was not the sole FYI Verin imparted in her last communication with the Savior of the world, because really. We’ll see, I guess.

This talk of Callandor being even more borked than previously suspected does not make me happy at all, by the way. Because it seems to me like Min is suggesting that wielding it is like letting your opponent have open season on your soul or whatever, and that strikes me as a particularly unwise thing to do when planning to confront The Fount of All Evil. That’s just a feeling I have, on that score.

So, in light of that, maybe let’s not use the Sword That Ain’t for your upcoming spelunking vacay, Rand old buddy old pal? Yes? Hello?

But of course he’s gonna anyway, because stupidly he continues to not listen to me. So rude, y’all. Blerg.

“What is coming will be grander than that, grander and more terrible than any one man could hope to hold back. I will organize you, but I must leave you. The war will be yours.”

This is the most overtly Tolkienish setup we’ve seen in a while. I mean, it’s long been speculated/foreshadowed/hinted that Aragorn Egwene and everyone else will be fighting the mundane battle (on the increasingly aptly-named Field of Merrilor, presumably) while Frodo Rand goes to the more highly symbolic/spiritual/metaphorical one-on-one confrontation at Mount Doom Shayol Ghul, but the above quote from Rand really brought it into sharp focus for me.

None of this is meant as a criticism, by the way, at least not from me. It’s thematically appropriate, after all; so much so, in fact, that avoiding it would be virtually impossible in my opinion. There’s only so many ways an ultimate showdown between the forces of Good and Evil can realistically (heh) go, in my opinion.

Besides, The Wheel of Time began with an homage to The Lord of the Rings; it is only meet that it should end with one.

And last but not least:

“What is [Torkumen] talking about?” one of Bashere’s men said. “A light? Surely he couldn’t have seen the battle. None of these windows face the right way.”

“I’m not sure he was talking about the battle, Vogeler,” Bashere said.

First of all, this is interesting in and of itself. Super Spiritual Messiah Light™ don’t need no steekin’ windows, maaan! It sees your dumb Shadow-friending ass WHEREVER YOU ARE. Oooooooh…

Second of all, is that a shoutout to my friend James Vogel? If so, sweet. Whiskey for everyone!


And that’s last call on this post, kids! You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay… actually, no, you can stay here as long as you want, nevermind. Bottoms up, and see you next week!

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