Hello! This is the Wheel of Time Re-read, this is!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 23 of A Memory of Light, in which we have strangely anticlimactic celestial phenomena, dismayingly dysfunctional cultural infrastructure, and I get all philosophical on your ass.
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. The index for all things specifically related to the final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, is here.
Also, for maximum coolness, the Wheel of Time reread is also now available as an e-book series, from your preferred e-book retailer!
This re-read post, and all posts henceforth, contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 23: At the Edge of Time
Bao moves off with Leane in tow, and Gawyn insists on Egwene wearing the Warder cloak as he scouts ahead. He feels her consternation over learning Bao’s real name, and wonders at it. Once apart from Egwene, he slips on one of the Bloodknives’ rings; even though he tells himself it is foolish, he knows from testing it earlier that it will hide him from the Sharan sentries, and he senses it makes him faster as well. He reminds himself that he still has to be careful, no matter how powerful the rings make him feel.
He had told himself he wouldn’t use the rings, but that had been during battle— when he’d been tempted to try to make a name for himself. This was different. This was protecting Egwene. He could allow an exception for this.
Egwene follows Gawyn, mind churning with the implications of what she had learned. She knows her survival is essential now, so that someone can tell the Tower that a Forsaken leads the entire nation of Shara. She wonders why Demandred had sent for Rand when everyone knows where he is. She refuses to let herself feel powerless. She is waiting for some sentries to pass by when someone shields her from the One Power. Egwene attacks with her knife, but her captor seizes her with Air. Fighting her training, Egwene allows her terror to rise, hoping Gawyn will sense it. Her captor muses over whether to turn her over to Bao or keep her for herself; there is sudden strong channeling across the camp, but the woman doesn’t seem concerned. Egwene feels Gawyn approaching, but not fast enough, and woman tells her that “her man” will also be taken.
Egwene squeezed her eyes shut. She’d led the White Tower to its destruction.
Her parents would be slaughtered. The Two Rivers would burn.
She should have been stronger.
She should have been smarter.
She had not been broken by the Seanchan. She would not be broken by this.
Her captor is fascinated by her regained calm, and so does not notice the shadow behind her until it knocks her out. It is Leilwin, to Egwene’s astonishment. They move to find Gawyn, but he finds them first, blindsiding them. Leilwin seems very upset about that, and Egwene rather agrees. Gawyn reveals he was jumped by “half a dozen or so” Sharans, but seems to think nothing of how easily he’d defeated them. They move on until they find Bayle, who is astonished that Leilwin found Egwene. Finally they are far enough away the camp that Egwene can Skim them to the Tower.
Aviendha runs with the rest of the Aiel, Alivia, Wise Ones, Asha’man, and Rand’s sworn Aes Sedai through the gateways into the valley of Thakan’dar. None of them are happy about Aviendha being in charge, but they obey. The Shadowspawn in the valley are caught unaware and are quickly slaughtered; Aviendha leads the channelers to the forges, where they dispatch the Shadow-forgers with Fire and free the prisoners awaiting their sacrifice. Aviendha then sends a signal.
A moment later, a gateway opened at the head of the path up to Shayol Ghul. Four figures stepped through. A woman in blue, small of stature but not of will. An aging man, white- haired and shrouded in a multihued cloak. A woman in yellow, her dark hair cut short, adorned with an assortment of gemstones set in gold.
And a tall man, hair the color of living coals. He wore his coat of red and gold, but under it a simple Two Rivers shirt. What he had become and what he had been, wrapped together in one. He carried two swords, like a Shienaran. One looked as if it were glass; he wore it upon his back. The other was the sword of the Treekiller, King Laman, tied at his waist. He carried that because of her. Fool man.
Aviendha raised her hand to him, and he raised his in return. That would be their only farewell if he failed in his task or she died during hers. With a last look, she turned away from him and toward her duty.
The Aes Sedai are ushering the captives to safety via gateway while the rest search for more forgers; Ituralde leads his forces to secure the rest of the valley. Aviendha worries over her task to guard Rand’s back; what if the Forsaken can Travel directly into the cavern itself? She is distracted from this thought when something more solid than a cloud slips before the surface of the sun, blocking its light. The soldiers and even the Trollocs stare at the phenomenon, but soon it ends, the sun reemerging, and the fighting at the mouth of the valley resumes. Aviendha senses a woman channeling, and yells for a circle. The others form one with her at its head, and Aviendha sends a massive column of Fire toward the enemy channeler. She doesn’t dare use balefire, but her opponent has no such compunction. Aviendha’s people scatter to cover, and Aviendha makes a gateway to a hill overlooking the field. They fight there, and Aviendha incinerates a copper-skinned woman and a dark-haired woman, but the third gets away:
One turned toward her, gasped— seeing the attack weaves that Aviendha was making— then vanished.
There was no gateway. The person just seemed to fold up on herself, and Aviendha sensed no channeling. She did feel something else, a faint… something. A tremble to the air that wasn’t entirely physical.
Sarene identifies the two dead Dreadlords/Black Ajah as Duhara and Falion, but didn’t recognize the third one who escaped. Aviendha thinks she had been powerful enough to be a Forsaken, but she had been too ugly to be Graendal or Moghedien. Aviendha splits the large circle into three smaller ones; Amys smiles to recognize an adaptation of a classic Maiden raiding technique, and Aviendha thinks that the Wise Ones no longer seem annoyed to be following her, though she also recognizes that Amys is also not begrudging her the headaches of leadership either.
Rand turns from Aviendha and the battle below to face Shayol Ghul. Moiraine reminds him that this is not actually the Bore, only where the Dark One’s touch is strongest. Rand nods, and says there will be no channeling until he strikes at the Dark One itself. Thom surmises that he will be needed to guard the entrance, and Rand smiles at his determined good cheer.
Above them, dark clouds spun, the peak of Shayol Ghul their axis. Darkness assaulted the sun until it was nearly gone, entirely covered, in total oblivion.
Rand’s forces stopped, staring in terror at the sky, and even the Trollocs paused, growling and hooting. But as the sun slowly emerged from its captivity, the fierce battle resumed in the valley below. It announced his intentions, but the dagger would shield him from the Dark One’s eyes. The Light willing, the Shadow’s leaders would focus on the battle and assume Rand would wait for its outcome before striking.
It seems to take days to reach the cave entrance, and when they reach it Nynaeve points out that the wound in Rand’s side is bleeding again.
He felt blood inside his boot. It had run down his side, down his leg, and when he moved his foot, he left a bloody footprint behind.
Blood on the rocks…
Rand asks Nynaeve and Moiraine for a circle, but one in which he is in control. Neither of them like it, since that means control could be wrested from him, but accept it. He turns to the cavern entrance, and reflects that he will not walk out of that cave alive, but thinks that he no longer cares. Survival is not his goal, only success.
IT IS TIME. LET THE TASK BE UNDERTAKEN.
The voice spoke with the inevitability of an earthquake, the words vibrating through him. More than sound in the air, far more, the words spoke as if from one soul to another. Moiraine gasped, eyes opening wide.
Rand was not surprised. He had heard this voice once before, and he realized that he had been expecting it. Hoping for it, at least.
“Thank you,” Rand whispered, then stepped forward into the Dark One’s realm, leaving footprints of blood behind.
Soooo, that was a major “Whoa” moment, no?
And one that needed to happen, of course. A major and essential aspect of stories like WOT is that sense of closure, of things coming full circle. It is part of the joy of these stories, despite—or rather, because of—how rarely anything in real life has such symmetry. It is just one of the many reasons why fiction, and particularly sci-fi/fantasy fiction, is so much more awesome than reality. I get plenty enough random disjointed meaninglessness in real life, thanks.
So it is only appropriate—and essential—that the VOICE that we’ve only previously “heard” in the very first book of the series should now appear in the very last one. Coming full circle, y’all. Coming full circle.
There used to be some debate among fans as to whether the capitalized voice Rand heard in TEOTW (“I WILL TAKE NO PART”) was actually the Creator or not, but personally I never had any doubt on the matter, and even less now that we have this passage in AMOL. There’s a whole dissertation in here to be had on the subject of God figures versus Satan figures in speculative fiction which I do not have the wherewithal or the time to attempt, but I will observe that the relative noninterference of the God figure, as opposed to the relative meddlingness of the Satan figure, is a recurring and pervasive trope in many more works than this one, for the very good reason that in any remotely objective viewing of the world, this is the only stance of God and the devil (or whatever iteration of good and evil) that makes any sense whatsoever.
And I kind of like that idea at the same time that I hate it. Because whatever my personal thoughts on the existence or nonexistence of God, the only thing that could reconcile me to the unquestionable existence of seemingly unimpeded evil, in the same world that posits an all-loving, omnibenevolent God figure, is the notion that the importance of our own free will and ability to make choices trumps the need to shield us from the consequences of that free will.
Which sucks but is kind of awesome at the same time, because it is the difference between being treated like an immature child, and being treated like an adult; we’ve made our own mess, and it’s up to us to clean it up or not.
With the occasional assistance of your basic Messiah figure, of course.
It would be an interesting question to debate, whether (or how much) the Messiah figure negates our expression of free will (in terms of the problems inherent in the idea of one dude—and it’s always a dude, isn’t it—making decisions that affect an entire species), or whether the Messiah figure merely encapsulates that free will in archetypal fashion, as a stand-in for humanity at large.
As far as Rand al’Thor in particular is concerned, that question gets even more interesting the further into AMOL we go, so this is a thing we will definitely be coming back to.
He had chosen his clothing deliberately. His red coat, embroidered with long- thorned briars on the sleeves and golden herons on the collar, was a twin to one of those Moiraine had arranged for him to receive in Fal Dara. The white shirt, laced across the front, was of Two Rivers make.
Loved the detail that Rand had had made a replica of his first “fancy” coat for the occasion. Symmetry, again.
One thing I didn’t much like in this chapter was the eclipse. Because that was surprisingly… peripheral? I just expected that to be more central in some way that I can’t actually articulate. But instead it showed up for a paragraph or so and then was over, and I was kind of like, “Oh. Okay then.” Enh.
Oddly, in contrast to this, the “blood on the rocks” thing was pretty much just what I expected. That always was an extremely (and deliberately) vague prophecy, after all, and most fans have been assuming since the beginning that it didn’t mean what Rand assumes (even now) it does. It seems appropriate, as well, that the blood came from that never-healing wound in his side. So I liked that.
I… really don’t have much to say about the Aviendha POV. Aviendha is badass, duh. Duhara and Falion are dead, yay. Graendal/Hessalam is apparently taking a break from dicking around in captains’ heads to indulge in some light universe-unraveling. Whoo?
(I didn’t mention it in the summary, but after Graendal/Hessalam uses balefire Aviendha notices more of those nothing-cracks springing up. So good going there, Hessie. Although I’ll allow it just because it inspired the use of the “disintegrating Pattern” icon for the chapter, which is one of my favorites.)
Oh, and Hessalam apparently still has access to the True Power even despite her disgrace, which I’m not sure we knew before.
(As a side note, thanks to the commenters who pointed out in the last entry that Bao/Demandred’s “strange” arrival (from Egwene’s POV) on the battlefield was obviously accomplished via the True Power as well. Duh, Leigh.)
Which provides a nice segue to the Gawyn/Egwene portion of this episode. I’m tempted to *headdesk* at Gawyn again for using those damn rings, but really, he sort of has a point this time. Desperate times calling for desperate measures, and all. Still, there’s also that other cliché about the price of power, plus he just kind of reflexively irritates me at this point, so I guess I’ll settle for sighing heavily at him and leave it at that. FOR NOW.
Meanwhile, Leilwin to the rescue! I love how she is always braining people and rescuing Supergirls like a boss. It is apparently her Thing.
I thought on first reading that this was probably the fulfillment of Egwene’s Dream of the Seanchan woman helping her, but as we will see, this is just the beginning of that fulfillment.
That Sharan accent was oddly monotone, as if the people had no emotions at all. It was as if… the music was gone from their speech. Music that Egwene hadn’t realized was normally there.
This was actually a nice reminder/throwback to the early books, when we saw the effect of a Forsaken ruling over a city/people. Continuity is awesome, for one thing, and for another the reminder had the effect of making me feel a little less skeeved out at the Sharan culture in general, because what we’re seeing of it isn’t really Sharan culture, but the Shadow-tainted version of it.
The system disturbed her. You could always add to a person’s tattoo, but she knew of no way to remove one. Having the tattoos grow more intricate the lower one was in society implied something: people could fall from grace, but they could not rise once fallen— or born— to a lowly position.
…Although, it’s pretty clear that some of the more problematic aspects of the place were around long before Bao was. Seriously, a society where you can only be demoted is just depressing. Not to mention psychologically unsound. Positive reinforcement is a good thing, Sharans!
But, at least this answers my question from the last entry. Yay? And Egwene is no longer hiding under a cart in enemy territory, definitely yay!
Also, the real Last Battle has begun, for, like, real. I… don’t think “yay” is quite the appropriate emotional signifier to tack on to that, but I guess it’s close enough for government work.
And there I shall ambiguously leave it, peeples! Have a broiling hot week, if your weather is anything like mine (srsly, this summer is FIRED), and I’ll see you next Tuesday!