It’s a Wheel of Time Reread, and that’s the truth.
Today’s entry covers Part 15 of Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light, in which… Oh.
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This reread post, and all posts henceforth, contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t read, continue at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 37: The Last Battle [Part 15]
Elayne tries to convince Birgitte that they should go back to the front to inspire the flagging troops, but Birgitte doesn’t think it will help at this point. Elayne, however, is determined not to give up. Then her guards are attacked by a group of mercenaries pretending to be Caemlyn refugees. She defends herself with the Power, but one of them breaks through and kills her horse. Elayne goes down and is seized.
She saw something silver glisten in the night. A foxhead medallion. Another pair of hands pressed it to her skin just above her breasts. The metal was sharply cold.
“Hello, my Queen,” Mellar said, squatting beside her. The former Guardsman — the one many people still assumed had fathered her children — leered down at her. “You’ve been very hard to track down.”
His minions drag Birgitte over, and Mellar first impales Birgitte and then beheads her. The grief and pain of the loss of her friend and Warder completely incapacitates Elayne. The mercenaries bring over the corpse of a woman dressed just like Elayne, and at his instruction raise her banner and ride off with it, crying out that the Queen is dead. Mellar tells her that he has been instructed to bring her to Shayol Ghul, as the Great Lord has “a use” for her children, but he bets that Elayne herself isn’t needed. One of the other men tells Mellar that he should be able to keep the unborn children alive for an hour or so with a weave.
Mellar sheathed his sword and pulled a hunting knife from his belt. “Good enough for me. We’ll send the children on, as the Great Lord asks. But you, my Queen… you are mine.”
Elayne flailed, but the men’s grip was tight. She clawed at saidar again and again, but the medallion worked like forkroot. She might as well have been trying to embrace saidin as reach saidar.
“No!” she screamed as Mellar knelt beside her. “NO!”
“Good,” he said. “I was hoping you’d get around to screaming.”
Rand tries to move or speak, but there is nothing all around him. The Dark One tells him this is their “accommodation”. Rand understands then that the Dark One is offering him a deal.
Rand pushed for peace, glory, love. The Dark One sought the opposite. Pain. Suffering.
This was, in a way, a balance between the two. The Dark One would agree not to reforge the Wheel to suit his grim desires. There would be no enslaving of mankind, no world without love. There would be no world at all.
Rand observes that this is what his adversary promised Elan, and the Dark One points out that this ending offers peace as well. Rand considers it, but then rejects it.
NO, Rand said. AN END TO EXISTENCE IS NOT PEACE. I MADE THIS CHOICE BEFORE. WE WILL CONTINUE.
The Dark One warns him he will not offer it again, and Rand tells him he would not expect it, and the pain begins.
Min waits with Fortuona and the rest of the Seanchan troops on a plain with strange vegetation she does not recognize. General Galgan reports to Fortuona that the battle is not going well for the Prince of the Ravens. Yulan says that the Empress’s consort is “too reckless”, and they should not return. Beslan protests that he has faith in Mat, but Yulan insists that he is losing. Yulan continues to argue against supporting Mat, growing bolder as Fortuona says nothing.
Min frowned, leaning forward. One of the images above Yulan’s head… it was so odd. A chain. Why would he have a chain above his head?
He’s a captive, she thought suddenly. Light. Someone is playing him like an instrument.
Min realizes Yulan is under Compulsion. She despairs at first of figuring out who is controlling him, but then remembers the wealth of images that always accompany channelers. She looks out into the crowd, and notices that one of the so’jhin has such a cluster of images. She stands, speaking softly to Fortuona. Tuon is uncertain whether she should listen to Yulan. Min asks her what Min’s role as Truthspeaker really means, and Tuon tells her it is her duty to censure Tuon, in public if necessary, if she does something wrong.
“However, you are untrained in the station. It would be best for you to hold yourself back until I can provide proper—”
Min turned to face the generals and the watching crowd, her heart beating frantically. “As Truthspeaker to the Empress Fortuona, I speak now the truth. She has abandoned the armies of humankind, and she withholds her strength in a time of need. Her pride will cause the destruction of all people, everywhere.”
Everyone is stunned. Galgan protests that it is more complex than that, and Min says there is a spy for the Shadow among them, and denounces Yulan loudly for acting against the interests of the Empire. Min then pulls a knife and flings it at the so’jhin. The knife stops in midair before hitting the woman, and the spy escapes through a gateway before anyone can stop her. Min announces that Yulan is under Compulsion, and that it is obvious the Shadow is desperate to keep the Seanchan from coming to Mat’s aid. She asks Tuon if, in light of that, she still hesitates. Tuon comments softly that Min plays these games well.
Tuon sighed, ever so softly. “I suppose you give me the opportunity… perhaps the mandate… to follow what my heart would choose, whether or not it is wise.” She stood. “General Galgan, gather your troops. We will return to the Field of Merrilor.”
Egwene and the Aes Sedai fight furiously, she attacking while the others defend, slowing pushing the Sharans east, but sisters keep falling, exhausted or dead. The black cracks are no longer fading, too much balefire having been used. Leilwin approaches and tells her that the Asha’man have recovered the seals, but Egwene barely has time to be relieved when a huge swath of balefire comes, vaporizing over a dozen sisters at once and erasing all their efforts backwards for hours, so that Sharans who were dead are now alive again, attacking anew.
She found M’Hael standing atop the Heights, the air warped in a bubble around him. Black tendrils — like moss or lichen — crept out of gaps in the rock around him. A spreading sickness. Darkness, nothing. It would consume them all.
The onslaught continues, wreaking utter havoc, and in desperation Egwene begins to return balefire for balefire, but stops, knowing that it would destroy everything. She thinks again of Perrin’s words—“It’s only a weave”—but her exhaustion threatens to overtake her. Leilwin yells that the Aes Sedai have broken, and they must flee. Egwene sees M’Hael see her and smile, and thinks of what will happen if she is balefired and all her efforts for the past hours are erased.
Just a weave…
No other like it.
That isn’t the way it works, she thought. Two sides to every coin. Two halves to the Power. Hot and cold, light and dark, woman and man.
If a weave exists, so must its opposite.
M’Hael attacks, and Egwene creates a weave like the one she did before but much greater, a combination of all five Powers, and a column of pure white meets Taim’s balefire and cancels it out. She feels the Pattern stabilize, and something well up in the black cracks, patching them like a scab on a wound.
The two streams of power sprayed light against one another, the ground around M’Hael cracking as the ground near Egwene rebuilt itself. She still did not know what it was she wove. The opposite of balefire. A fire of her own, a weave of light and rebuilding.
The Flame of Tar Valon.
Egwene feels a great peace descend upon her, and draws on every last bit of the Power she can. Her weave pushes past M’hael’s and impales him. He gasps as he is crystallized instantly. Egwene feels Rand’s fight to the north, and feels the land around them crumbling, the weight of the balefire forming a void that will kill them all. Egwene orders Leilwin to “watch for the light”; to find the seals and break them “the moment the light shines”. Then she shoves Leilwin through a gateway, severing their bond, and faces the Sharan channelers still before her.
She closed her eyes and drew in the power. More than a woman should be able to, more than was right. Far beyond safety, far beyond wisdom. This sa’angreal had no buffer to prevent this.
Her body was spent. She offered it up and became a column of light, releasing the Flame of Tar Valon into the ground beneath her and high into the sky. The Power left her in a quiet, beautiful explosion, washing across the Sharans and sealing the cracks created by her fight with M’Hael.
Egwene’s soul separated from her collapsing body and rested upon that wave, riding it into the Light.
Rand screamed in denial, in rage, in sorrow.
“Not her! NOT HER!”
THE DEAD ARE MINE.
“Shai’tan!” Rand yelled. “Not her!”
I WILL KILL THEM ALL, ADVERSARY.
Rand bent over, squeezing his eyes shut. I will protect you, he thought. Whatever else happens, I will see you safe, I swear it. I swear it…
Oh, Light. Egwene’s name joined the list of the dead. That list continued to grow, thundering in his mind. His failures. So many failures.
He should have been able to save them.
The Dark One’s attacks persisted, trying to rip Rand apart and crush him all at once.
Oh, Light. Not Egwene.
Rand closed his eyes and collapsed, barely holding back the next attack.
Darkness enclosed him.
Right, walking away for a moment.
Maybe several moments.
Oh, Egwene. Oh, my Ooh Ooh Girl. I just.
There’s… nothing else to say. Not yet. I will do her justice later. Maybe by then I’ll actually be able to write about her without tearing up. Maybe.
That’s what I said in my original spoiler review of AMOL, and there didn’t seem to be anything to do now but repeat it, because: Oh.
Turns out, “not tearing up” is not in the cards, because here it is over a year later and it still makes me cry. But I will try to do her justice anyway.
I didn’t always agree with Egwene or what she did, and sometimes she made me want to smack her silly (though admittedly this does not actually differentiate her from pretty much any other character in WOT), but the thing is, y’all, and you know this if you’ve been following this blog at all, Egwene was my girl. I identified with her even when I didn’t want to; I often recognized myself to a nearly uncomfortable extent in her personality, in fact, both positively and negatively.
Because she was the girl who couldn’t shut up. She was the girl who, if this had been a high school AU, would have been the one in the front row of every class, shooting her hand up with explosive stiff-armed wavy glee at every question because I know the answer, ooh, ooh, look, look, call on me, I have totally got this. She was the girl who couldn’t sit down and take only what was offered her, who couldn’t be demure and complacent and quiet and inoffensive, because fuck that, she said, if in not so many words. Fuck that, she said, because how are you supposed to get anywhere being quiet? That is ridiculous, why are you even suggesting this, I mean, come on.
She was the girl who wanted to know everything, wanted to do everything, and being told she couldn’t do or couldn’t know only made her want to do or know it more. And she didn’t care in the slightest if this made other people view her as obnoxious or overbearing, because whatever, this was important shit, okay, this knowing and doing of all the things, and anyone who got in the way of that was obviously a far bigger problem than she was, because how could you not want to know all the things? How could you not want her to know all the things? Why is this a problem, why are your priorities so messed up, God.
She is the innkeeper’s daughter who became the most powerful woman in the world because, even as she may have doubted her ability to do the job, it was nevertheless her job, the job she’d been given, whether by shady means or not be damned, and damn if she wasn’t going to do the shit out of that job, and haters to the left, because ooh, ooh, call on me, I can do it, I have totally got this.
She was my Ooh Ooh Girl, and so maybe it might have hurt me even more than it should have to see her die, even as it filled me with a kind of terrible pride to see her go down in such a (literal) blaze of glory. She didn’t just take down her opposite; she also saved the world while doing it, because if I’m reading this right, if she hadn’t done what she did Rand might not have had a world left to save, so it totally counts. Her stint as Amyrlin has to be the briefest and yet most spectacular in the history of the Tower, so take that, traditionalists!
There’s possibly a debate to be had over whether her death was “called for” or not, over whether it was appropriate that she was the sole member of Our Heroes Starter Kit™ who didn’t make it out alive, but if so it’s not a debate I’m really all that interested in having. Because yeah, maybe it was going for the emotional nut-punch to kill her, but honestly, we’re in the middle of an apocalypse right now. If there aren’t at least a couple of gut-wrenching emotional nut-punches in your apocalypse, you simply aren’t doing it right, and that’s all there is to it.
And actually, if there’s a nut-punch I’m going to have a problem with in this section, it’s probably actually more what happened to Elayne and Birgitte than what happened to Egwene, odd as that may sound.
Not so much what happened to Birgitte, because while that was unquestionably shocking in the extreme when I first read it, later events have done much to mitigate that feeling. But the thing with Mellar and Elayne, on the other hand, verged nearly on the gratuitous side for me. I’m not sure, honestly, if I’m overreacting here or not, but the… well, the rape-yness of this entire scene really bugged me, and I’m not really convinced that it was necessary in the first place.
But, then again, it was definitely a shocking and terrible twist to the situation, and it can’t be denied that the conflict between Elayne and Mellar was one that needed to be resolved (though one could make a comment wondering why this end was tied up when so many more interesting ones weren’t, but anyway). And there’s also no denying that Mellar’s threat to literally cut Elayne’s kids out of her belly scores really high on the “visceral body horror” scale, so, you know, nut-punches. Gotta have ‘em… I guess.
Also, in retrospect I was possibly dumb not to realize that Ila’s POV from earlier was the big clue that something very bad was about to go down, but you know, whatever. I observe what I want! …Yeah.
I don’t have much to say about Egwene’s anti-balefire weave, for the simple reason that it seems to make perfect sense to me, both in its existence and in its execution, if that makes sense. Balefire’s always been kind of the big hanging chad in the WOT magic system, so it seemed to me to be utterly cromulent that there is a direct counter to it. I’m not sure I would have named it “The Flame of Tar Valon”, but you know, Egwene was kind of under a lot of pressure when she came up with that, so it’s probably not cool to judge.
Min’s POV was whatever. Tuon’s coming back! …Well, that was shocking, not.
I mean, yay and all, but compared to the rest of what’s going on it’s almost like, who cares? Except for Min being badass, of course, but otherwise I confess I was totally distracted by the other more shocking bits of this section.
As for Rand’s bit, I discussed in the last post about how I didn’t actually know whether the Dark One was going for Ishamael’s Total Annihilation scenario or the other Forsakens’ tamer (by comparison) Crapsack World version of victory. Which just proves how little I actually remember about my first read-through of AMOL, because of course right here is where the Dark One says, hey, I’ll do either, whatevs.
There’s a certain amount of irony there, methinks.
The far more interesting part of this, in my opinion, is that Rand is suddenly talking (or “talking”) in all caps, which was a thing that had previously been reserved for rather more… deity-like entities in this series. So that was definitely something which made me sit up and go, Ooookay.
But, I guess the important part is that Rand thoroughly rejected the idea of peaceful oblivion, and decided to fight for being-awake and corporeally-existing people everywhere, and that’s the kind of thing that you just can’t help but like in a person, you know?
I won’t lie, though, Rand’s reaction to Egwene’s death both deeply moved me and made me very worried about his ability to keep his shit together and fend off the Dark One.
But mostly: Egwene. Oh, my Ooh Ooh Girl. You died saving the world, and it doesn’t get any better (or any more bittersweet) than that. You were amazing, and I love you, and I’m so proud of you, silly as that may sound, and you will always be one of the fictional character deaths I will remember the most.
So, yeah. And now it’s time for me to go find a tissue, and you to discuss all the things, because you can. Enjoy, and see you next Tuesday!