Hello, and welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers the last chapter of A Crown of Swords, Chapter 41, in which we have an ending. Not THE ending, but… well, y’all know how that goes.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related stuff in general.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And before we move on, now that it’s about to go away let’s take our traditional last-post look at the cover art, of which I was rather blissfully unaware for many years after reading ACOS, since I originally bought the paperback version. I’ve heard that this has been derided as the “romance novel cover,” but I thought it was rather spiffy, myself—and, frankly, somewhat less embarrassing to read in public.
But as to the hardcover art: well, it’s not my least favorite WOT cover, but it is definitely my least favorite depiction of Rand. The pose makes very little sense to me, particularly the position of his arms; seriously, what is he doing here? No one stands like that, do they? And since when is Rand being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double?
However, as usual the non-human parts of the picture are excellent; I thought the ruined architecture perfectly captured the creepiness of Shadar Logoth, and even though Mashadar doesn’t ever come up from the ground in this chapter, as it’s shown to be doing here, the color contrast between it and the rest of the city was very nicely done. If Roid Rage Rand (With Kung-Fu Grip!) hadn't been on the cover I would have loved it.
So that’s what that is. And now, let’s put this thing to bed, shall we?
Chapter 41: A Crown of Swords
Rand slowly wakes from disturbing dreams to hear people arguing, apparently about him; he hears Cadsuane’s voice, and is frightened of it, and feels Alanna in his head, also frightened, and knows somehow that she is scared for him. He opens his eyes to find that Min is curled protectively around him, shouting that she won’t let “you” kill him. Cadsuane, Samitsu, and Corele are on one side of his bed, Amys, Bera and Kiruna are on the other, and both groups are staring not at each other but at Dashiva, Flinn, Narishma, and Jonan Adley, all of whom are holding saidin (Rand notes that Dashiva holds almost as much as he could have). Min beams to see he is awake, and Rand sits up carefully, and looks at Adley, who nods slightly. Rand asks how it’s possible that he’s alive; he explains about Fain’s dagger being from Shadar Logoth, which seems to clarify things for Cadsuane. She tells him he can thank Samitsu, Flinn, and Corele that he survived (Flinn grins, and Rand is surprised that the two Yellows nod to him). Cadsuane says they did things that she doesn’t think have been done since the Breaking, but that he needs rest and food if he wants to stay alive; he’s been without food for two days. Rand says he’s getting up; Min objects, Amys threatens to bring in Enaila and Somara, and Bera and Kiruna give him “you’re an idiot” looks.
“Boy,” Cadsuane said dryly, “I’ve already seen more of your hairless bottomcheeks than I wish to, but if you want to flaunt them in front of all six of us, perhaps someone will enjoy the show. If you fall on your face, though, I may just spank you before I put you back to bed.” By Samitsu’s face, and Corele’s, they would be happy to assist her.
Narishma and Adley are shocked, but Dashiva laughs and offers to clear the women out, preparing flows which Rand thinks would cause extreme pain. He quickly refuses, and thinks that the Maidens have cured him of modesty anyway, and gets out of bed. Kiruna flushes and turns her back, Cadsuane mutters imprecations, and Corele comments that at least it’s a nice bottom; blushing, Rand realizes he’s not as immodest as he thought, and dresses as quickly as he can. He tells the women that he wants to speak to the Asha’man alone; Min runs to him and refuses to leave, and Rand realizes he might need her to lean on, literally, and accepts this. Amys wants to know if he intends to leave his rooms, and Rand shows her his bare feet; she sniffs and leaves with Bera and Kiruna. Cadsuane glances at Adley and admonishes Rand not to do anything foolish, sounding as if she doesn’t much expect him to listen, and leaves with Corele and Samitsu. Rand then sends the men into the anteroom, and while he pulls on his boots, Min asks if this is really wise. He asks if she had a viewing.
“It’s Cadsuane. She is going to teach you something, you and the Asha’man. All the Asha’man, I mean. It’s something you have to learn, but I don’t know what it is, except that none of you will like learning it from her. You aren’t going to like it at all.”
Rand paused with a boot in hand, then stuffed his foot in. What could Cadsuane, or any Aes Sedai, teach the Asha’man? Women could not teach men, or men women; that was as hard a fact as the One Power itself. “We will see” was all he said.
He also thinks that Cadsuane makes him unsure of himself, and nervous. He asks about Merana’s bargain with the Sea Folk, and Min tells him she and Rafela are still on the ship, and keep asking when he can return; she thinks it’s not going well without him there. Rand can’t deal with that yet, and goes into the anteroom and asks for Adley’s report. The others are startled to learn he and Eben Hopwil had been with Weiramon and the Illian invasion force. Adley tells them Weiramon left the foot behind and went ahead with the cavalry, which is why they reached the hillforts days early; he also reports that they randomly ran into Shaido, but they weren’t a problem. Rand grinds his teeth at Weiramon’s idiotic contempt for infantry, and Adley goes on that he and Eben started blowing up the forts until a male channeler who must have been Sammael showed up. Rand is startled at first that Sammael showed up so quickly, but then laughs.
All that elaborate deception to convince Sammael he would be anywhere but with the invading army, to bring the man out of Illian, and all made unnecessary by a knife in Padan Fain’s hand. Two days. By this time, everybody who had eyes-and-ears in Cairhien—which certainly included the Forsaken—knew that the Dragon Reborn lay on the edge of death.
Dashiva doesn’t understand the point of all this; surely when Sammael feels a man channel with anything near Rand’s strength he’ll just flee back to his defenses in the city, where Rand won’t be able to surprise him. Adley interjects that they can at least save the army, which Sammael is currently decimating; Dashiva looks at him like he’s crazy, but Rand assures Adley that they will, for they are going to kill Sammael today (Dashiva looks startled). Rand expects Min to argue, but she just sighs and supposes he wants her to keep people from learning he’s gone as long as possible; she is not looking forward to Amys’s (or worse, Sorilea’s) reaction. She steps up close and, smiling cheerily, threatens to help Cadsuane thrash him if he lets anything happen to him. She walks out, and Rand notices Dashiva ogling her backside and licking his lips, and opens a gateway right next to the man, making him leap back. They go through to Bashere’s camp outside Caemlyn, surprising Dashiva again; Rand thinks that the Black Tower is close, but Fedwin Morr had been charged to watch for spies using saidin, so hopefully Taim would know nothing about this till it was over. The Saldaean soldiers are all watching him in anticipation.
Ducking under the rope, Rand strode directly to a tent no different from any other except for the banner on the staff in front, three simple red blossoms on a field of blue. The kingspenny did not die back even in Saldaean winters, and when fires blackened the forests, those red flowers were always the first to reappear. A blossom nothing could kill: the sign of House Bashere.
Inside, Bashere is ready to go, and so is Deira. Bashere comments he hadn’t expected this for days yet, and hopes the preparations he and Mat had come up with for “Taim’s leavings” are far enough along. Rand thinks whatever they’ve done will have to do, and tells Bashere “no wives today.” Deira looks about to explode, but Bashere agrees immediately, turns to her, and says “Wife,” while holding out his hand; Rand winces, but Deira only stares at him a moment before handing over her dagger, commenting that she and Bashere will discuss this later, “at length.”
One day when he had time, Rand decided, he was going to make Bashere explain how he did that. If there ever was time.
“At length,” Bashere agreed, grinning through his mustaches as he stuffed the dagger behind his own belt. Maybe the man was simply suicidal.
Outside, Fedwin Morr joins Rand and the other Asha’man while nine thousand Saldaean horse and fifteen thousand foot calling themselves the Legion of the Dragon (leftovers from Taim’s recruiting efforts) assemble on the field. The Asha’man are excited, and Deira and the other Saldaean wives angry, but Rand doesn’t care.
Today, the Light willing, no women would die because of him.
When everyone’s ready, Rand opens another gateway and runs through to the Square of Tammuz, in the center of Illian’s capital city. The inhabitants all stop and stare; Rand amplifies his voice and shouts “I am the Dragon Reborn!”, and he and the Asha’man toss Power-wrought fire and lightning up into the sky. The Illianers instantly panic and flee, and Rand and the Asha’man dart aside as Bashere’s cavalry comes barreling through the gateway, breaking into smaller units and spreading through the city. Meanwhile Rand weaves another small gateway and runs through, as do Dashiva et al, and ends up on top of one of the towers of the King’s Palace, the highest point in the city. He and the others start channeling undirected flows of saidin, sweeping them over the city in a spectacular lightshow.
Long ago he had decided that Sammael must have wards woven throughout the city, set to give an alarm should anyone channel saidin. Wards inverted so no one except Sammael himself could find them, wards that would tell Sammael exactly where that man was channeling so he could be destroyed on the instant. With luck, every one of those wards was being triggered now. Lews Therin had been sure Sammael would sense them wherever he was, even at a distance. That was why the wardings should be useless now; that sort had to be remade once triggered. Sammael would come. Never in his life had he relinquished anything he considered his, however shaky his claim, not without a fight. All that from Lews Therin. If he was real. He had to be. Those memories had too much detail. But could not a madman dream his fancies in detail, too?
Lews Therin! he called silently. The wind blowing across Illian answered.
He stops channeling and so do the others; Rand had told them that he would kill any man he sensed channeling in Illian after he himself stopped. He waits, wishing he could sit down, listening to sporadic fighting in the city below, and just as he begins to doubt, feels a man channel in the Great Hall of the Council opposite the Palace. Rand instantly weaves a gateway and jumps through into the Hall just as the tower he had been on explodes; rubble flies through the gateway opening and knocks Rand down, triggering agony in his side, but he ignores it, pretending the pain belongs to someone else. He collapses the gateway and scrambles away just as hundreds of “red filaments” come stabbing down from the ceiling; one pierces his heel, and he falls again. He rolls over and starts to weave balefire.
Someone else’s cheek stung from a remembered slap, and Cadsuane’s voice hissed and crackled in his head like the holes the red filaments had made. Never again, boy; you will never do that again. It seemed that he heard Lews Therin whimpering in distant fear of what he was about to loose, what had almost destroyed the world once.
He replicates the filaments instead and sends them back in the direction of where the attack had come from before limping out into the corridor. Sammael’s voice booms out that Illian belongs to him, and he won’t let either of them destroy it trying to kill each other, and asks if Rand has the courage to follow him again. Rand feels a gateway open and close above him.
The courage? Did he have the courage? “I’m the Dragon Reborn,” he muttered, “and I’m going to kill you.”
Rand gates up to where Sammael’s gate was, and almost sets his next one to come out exactly where Sammael had gone, before it occurs to him that there might be traps laid on the other side; instead he alters the destination slightly, which will put his gate anywhere from fifty to five hundred feet from Sammael’s. The gate opens to show that Sammael has gone to Shadar Logoth.
The last time he had gone there, he had added a name to that list of Maidens in his head; the first time, Padan Fain had followed and become more than a Darkfriend, worse than a Darkfriend. That Sammael had fled to Shadar Logoth seemed like coming full circle in more ways than one.
He limps through and instantly hurries away from his arrival point, and hears it blow up behind him. He feels the slash in his side pulsing in time with the evil permeating the city. He sees a figure dart across the way ahead of him, but Rand doubts Sammael would “scuttle” like that, and remembers he had heard screams earlier; he supposes Sammael had brought henchmen here as well, and tries to catch up to the figure to follow it, but it has disappeared. He sees Mashadar emerge further down the street, and considers leaving, as probably Sammael would not risk staying here once Mashadar was out either. Then he sees two Trollocs, obviously terrified but still hunting, and realizes Sammael must still be here, otherwise the Trollocs would have been busy running. Then a ragged figure leaps down and kills the Trollocs with a spear, and Rand sees it is an Aiel woman.
Rand was on his feet and running before he thought. “Liah!” he shouted. He had thought her dead, abandoned here by him, dead for him. Liah, of the Cosaida Chareen; that name blazed on the list in his head.
She whirled to confront him, spear ready in one hand, round bull-hide buckler in the other. The face he remembered as pretty despite scars on both cheeks was contorted with rage. “Mine!” she hissed threateningly through her teeth. “Mine! No one may come here! No one!”
He stopped in his tracks. That spear waited, eager to seek his ribs too. “Liah, you know me,” he said softly. “You know me. I’ll take you back to the Maidens, back to your spear-sisters.” He held out his hand.
Her rage melted into a twisted frown. She tilted her head to one side. “Rand al’Thor?” she said slowly. Her eyes widened, falling to the dead Trollocs, and a look of horror spread across her face. “Rand al’Thor,” she whispered, fumbling the black veil into place across her face with the hand that held her spear. “The Car’a’carn!” she wailed. And fled.
Rand chases her, but his body has taken too much abuse, and he keeps falling, and loses her. He turns a corner, runs into four Trollocs and a Fade, and kills them; an instant later lightning falls on the spot, knocking him down. Rand staggers away and into a ruined building, and the floor collapses underneath him; Rand grabs the edge of the hole and tries to haul himself out without using saidin, to avoid giving himself away to Sammael, but is too weakened.
A hand grabbed his right wrist. “You are a fool,” a man’s deep voice said. “Count yourself lucky I don’t care to see you die today.” The hand began drawing him up. “Are you going to help?” the voice demanded. “I don’t intend to carry you on my shoulders, or kill Sammael for you.”
Rand helps, and the man starts hauling him out of the hole, and Rand sees he is a big man a little older than he, with black hair. Rand demands to know who he is, and the man laughs and answers that he’s just “a wanderer” passing through. Halfway out, Rand suddenly sees a huge wave of Mashadar is about to come down on top of them.
Without a thought, his free hand rose, and balefire shot upward, a bar of liquid white fire slicing across the wave sinking toward them. Dimly he was aware of another bar of pale solid fire rising from the other man’s hand that was not clasping his, a bar slashing the opposite way from his. The two touched.
Head ringing like a struck gong, Rand convulsed, saidin and the Void shattering. Everything was doubled in his eyes, the balconies, the chunks of stone lying about the floor. There seemed to be a pair of the other man overlapping one another, each clutching his head between two hands. Blinking, Rand searched for Mashadar. The wave of shining mist was gone; a glow remained in the balconies above, but dimming, receding, as Rand’s eyes began to clear. Even mindless Mashadar fled balefire, it seemed.
Rand asks what just happened; the man snaps that he doesn’t know, and tells him to run. They do so just as Sammael’s lightnings come down again, and burst out into a street. Rand tries not to collapse, and asks the man if he has taught himself, and tells him he can go to the Black Tower; he adds that he doesn’t have to “live afraid of Aes Sedai”, and then doesn’t know why he said that. The man retorts that he has never been afraid of Aes Sedai, and adds that if Rand intends to try and kill Sammael, he’d better try thinking like him.
“You have shown you can. He always liked destroying a man in sight of one of that man’s triumphs, if he could. Lacking that, somewhere the man had marked as his would do.”
“The Waygate,” Rand said slowly. If he could be said to have marked anything in Shadar Logoth, it had to be the Waygate. “He’s waiting near the Waygate. And he has traps set.”
The man laughed wryly. “You can find the way, it seems. If you’re led by the hand. Try not to stumble. A great many plans will have to be relaid if you let yourself be killed now.” Turning, he started across the street for an alleyway just ahead of them.
Rand shouts after him, wanting to know what plans, but the man disappears around a corner; Rand hobbles after him, but the man is gone. Rand doesn’t understand how he could have made a gateway to vanish like that without Rand feeling the saidin used to weave it, then realizes he hadn’t felt saidin when the man had used balefire earlier, either.
Just thinking of that, of the two streams touching, made his vision double again. Just for an instant, he could see the man’s face again, sharp where everything else blurred. He shook his head until it cleared. “Who in the Light are you?” he whispered. And after a moment, “What in the Light are you?”
Rand decides to think about it later, and heads to the Waygate, not bothering to kill the Trollocs and Fades he sees wandering around; Sammael must have brought them through the Ways, and therefore they will die soon anyway from having passed through the trap Rand set there. He finds an intact tower near the square containing the Waygate, and climbs painfully to the top to get a bird’s-eye view of the square, and waits. Soon, a figure emerges from a palace edging the square, and Rand sees it is Sammael, waiting for him. He also sees that Sammael has not noticed Mashadar slowly cascading out of the windows above him, about to come down on top of him. Rand shakes his head and prepares to balefire Sammael anyway. Suddenly a woman screams, and Sammael and Rand both turn to see Liah in agony, with a tendril of Mashadar touching her leg.
“Liah,” he whispered. Unconsciously he reached out, as though he could stretch his arm across the intervening distance and pull her away. Nothing could save what Mashadar touched, though, no more than anything could have saved him had Fain’s dagger plunged into his heart. “Liah,” he whispered. And balefire leaped from his hand.
For less than a heartbeat, the shape of her still seemed to be there, all in stark blacks and snowy whites, and then she was gone, dead before her agony began.
Screaming, Rand swept the balefire down toward the square, the rubble collapsing on itself, swept down death out of time—and let saidin go before the bar of white touched the lake of Mashadar that now rolled across the square, billowing past the Waygate toward rivers of glowing gray that flowed out from another palace on the other side. Sammael had to be dead. He had to be. There had not been time for him to run, no time to weave a gateway, and if he had, Rand would have felt saidin being worked. Sammael was dead, killed by an evil almost as great as himself. Emotion raced across the outside of the Void; Rand wanted to laugh, or perhaps cry. He had come here to kill one of the Forsaken, but instead he had killed a woman he had abandoned here to her fate.
He stands on the tower top and watches Mashadar fill the square for a long time before Skimming back to Illian, flailing himself with Liah’s name the entire trip. Bashere and the Asha’man are waiting for him in the throne room of the King’s Palace, and Rand wearily sits down on the steps to the dais. Bashere looks at his tattered and battered figure, and presumes Sammael is dead; Rand confirms it, and Dashiva sighs in relief. Bashere tells him the city is his; the fighting stopped quickly once “the right people” found out whose forces were invading. He then gives the floor to Illian’s Council of Nine, the eight remaining members of which have been waiting at the far end of the throne room. They come forward, bowing copiously, and their spokesman, Lord Gregorin den Lushenos, apologizes for “Lord Brend”’s absence. Rand replies flatly that he won’t be back, and Gregorin swallows and agrees.
We do offer you…” A hand at his side waved vigorously at a shorter, beardless man, who stepped forward bearing a cushion draped with a length of green silk. “…we do offer you Illian.” The shorter man whipped the cloth away, revealing a heavy gold circlet, two inches wide, of laurel leaves. “The city do be yours, of course,” Gregorin went on anxiously. “We did put an end to all resistance. We do offer you the crown, and the throne, and all of Illian.”
Rand stares, thinking that no one had actually offered him a crown before, and asks if Mattin Stepaneos is so willing to give up his throne; Gregorin answers that Mattin disappeared two days ago, and they think Brend might have had something to do with it.
Strips of grimy coatsleeve and pieces of shirtsleeve dangled as Rand reached to pick up the Laurel Crown. The Dragon wound around his forearm glittered in the lamplight as brightly as the golden crown. He turned it in his hands. “You still haven’t said why. Because I conquered you?” He had conquered Tear, and Cairhien too, but some turned on him in both lands still.
Gregorin answers dryly that that do be part of it, but also because the grain Rand had ordered Tear to send to Illian is the only thing that kept them from starving. Rand had forgotten all about that order, and had had no idea the Tairens had kept doing it even after he’d started planning to invade Illian; he thinks maybe he’d earned some right to this crown. He pricks his finger on it, and realizes the laurel leaves almost hide that the crown is also made of swords.
Gingerly he set the circle of laurel leaves on his head. Half those swords pointed up, half down. No head would wear this crown casually or easily.
Gregorin bowed smoothly. “The Light illumine Rand al’Thor, King of Illian,” he intoned, and the seven other lords bowed with him, murmuring, “The Light illumine Rand al’Thor, King of Illian.”
Bashere contented himself with a bow of his head—he was uncle to a queen, after all—but Dashiva cried out, “All hail Rand al’Thor, King of the World!” Flinn and the other Asha’man took it up.
“All hail Rand al’Thor, King of the World!”
“All hail the King of the World!”
That had a good sound to it.
The story spreads as it usually does, truth and rumor and misunderstanding all mixed together, but one fact turns up again and again, that the Laurel Crown of Illian has a new name: The Crown of Swords. And for some reason people always add that the storm is coming.
Master of the lightnings, rider on the storm, wearer of a crown of swords, spinner-out of fate. Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time, may learn the truth too late.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the chapter that ate Schenectady. Good Lord but this thing was huge.
I seem to vaguely recall that this ending was one of the reasons many people were less than thrilled with ACOS. While I don’t agree that it was a book-killing flaw (I’ll explain why in a minute), I certainly grant that it doesn’t quite match the awesomeness of the endings of some of the other books, both before and after it. And I think this is mainly because of the, in my opinion, inexplicable ambiguity of the outcome of the climactic battle.
I’m just really not sure why Jordan wrote the climax in such a… well, an almost anticlimactic way. I say “anticlimactic” because there’s such a bizarre lack of closure to the whole sequence—which would have been fine, except that apparently Jordan didn’t do it that way on purpose.
For one thing, it’s a bit of a strange choice that after this protracted one-on-one battle, Rand didn’t even get to deliver the coup de grace to his enemy. I’m all for playing against expectations/subverting tropes, but having Rand get distracted and end up not only not delivering the killing blow, but not even getting to see his opponent die is just… weird.
And this is not even to mention the fact that it’s completely unclear from the incident that Sammael actually died. Which, again, would have been fine if ambiguity was what the author was going for, but as I recall Jordan never even attempted to be coy about it; when asked at signings, his quote on the matter was “Sammael is toast.” Mashadar killed him, end of story. Which, okay, but if the matter was never intended to be in doubt, why write it in such a way that 95% of the fans immediately assumed the whole thing was a fake?
While Rand’s reasoning on how Sammael could not possibly have escaped Mashadar without Rand knowing about it is (apparently) sound, the fact that we never saw a body is eleven thousand different kinds of warning bells to any remotely trope-savvy sf reader to suspect that Something Is Fishy. And I have to assume Jordan knew that, so… why?
The weirdest part to me was that Sammael had just been engulfed by this evil fog that is supposed to put its victims in agonizing pain—yet apparently, he never makes a sound. No cry of horror, no scream of pain, nothing.
This is even more fishy-warning-bell to me when you consider that we will inevitably be forced to contrast Sammael’s silence upon being Mashadared with the very non-silent example of Liah just moments before. I mean, I guess you can rationalize that he just didn’t have time to make any noise, but again, why make the rationalization necessary? Seriously, all it would have taken was to let the man have one scream, and the whole thing would have lost about nine-tenths of its ambiguity.
And lastly, of course, is that Jordan had, by this point, strewn just a few too many red herrings in his readers’ path for him to expect that we wouldn’t immediately jump all over even a mere vestige of narrative doubt and concoct wild conspiracy theories with it. Not that this is the author’s, um. Fault? Responsibility? I’m not sure what word I’m looking for here—but it certainly should be something to be taken into account if your intention is not to create a red herring in the first place.
*shrug* I dunno. Possibly I’m wrong; possibly Jordan did want there to be an element of doubt in Sammael’s death, and then later just decided he didn’t want it to be in doubt any more. That’s his prerogative. I think there were better ways this could have been accomplished than telling people at signings, though.
HOWEVER, all that being said, there is still plenty of awesome in this chapter, particularly the very end, when we finally see the foreshadowing established all the way back in TEOTW come to fruition: Rand goes royal. Whoot!
I loved this scene—everything except the last line, which I’ll get to in a moment. But everything else, from Bashere’s dry casualness (heh) to the surprising and refreshing gratitude of the Illianers, was great. After having everyone hate on him for so long, it was just cool to have at least one group of people be like You are actually kind of awesome, here, rule us. I mean, not that the honeymoon is going to last that long, given where Rand’s character arc is going to be headed soon, but it was awfully nice to have in the short term, at least.
Which brings us to the last line, when Rand goes and kills the buzz by actually buying into Dashiva’s James Cameron bullshit. “That had a good sound to it,” Rand? Really? Weren’t you the same guy who a couple of books ago said, and I quote:
Who would rule a nation when he could have easier work, such as carrying water uphill in a sieve?
Where’d all that common sense go, huh? Huh? I am not down with this megalomaniacal crap, young man!
…And yet, I have a whole book of it coming up to deal with, don’t I. Le sigh.
But, somewhat in that vein, this scene also contains what is for me one of the most vivid pieces of imagery in all the series, which I’ll quote again here for convenience:
Strips of grimy coatsleeve and pieces of shirtsleeve dangled as Rand reached to pick up the Laurel Crown. The Dragon wound around his forearm glittered in the lamplight as brightly as the golden crown.
It’s a little difficult to explain why this image struck me so strongly, but I think it’s because it’s almost like a visual representation of Rand’s entire journey as a character: a young man picks up a crown—usually the ultimate symbol of triumph and strength—yet he is already marked, with a symbol that shines just as brightly as the crown, and the tattered coat tells the tale of what he had to go through—and what he had to destroy—to get there. A crown and rags: victory and ruin, conquest and defeat, power and fragility, all contained in one person. It’s about as concise an image of the destructor/savior archetype that Rand embodies as I recall coming across in the whole series.
And that’s pretty darn cool, you guys.
Also, the imagery of the Crown of Swords itself is a thoroughly awesome hodge-podge of legendary and historical references, smashing together as it does the laurel wreath of the Olympic Games (a symbol of victory, and itself a reference to the Greekness of Illian’s fictional culture) with the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at the Crucifixion, which symbolic link I trust needs no explication. (This also, by the way, brings Rand’s stigmata stand-ins up to four out of five; five out of five if you decide the filament stabbing through Rand’s heel counts for the feet.)
Uh, what else. Oh, Moridin, and his demonstration of why crossing the streams is Bad. Important safety tip, thanks, Nae’blis!
The consequences of this incident are clearer than they used to be, but the causes and ultimate effects are still murky. I’m fairly certain, for one, that this event is what causes all of Rand’s later dizziness issues when using the Power, but I don’t think we ever get confirmation of whether Moridin is having similar or parallel issues with the TP. It would seem logical to suppose so, though.
And then there is the issue of the link between the two men (and the Very Very Bad places that seems to be leading). The whole “prohibition on killing Rand” thing initially made more sense to me since the revelation (or confirmation, really) we got in TGS of how Moridin and Rand are linked—especially since TGS made clear that what happens to one, happens at least to some degree to the other. We haven’t been told when exactly this link first formed, but the logical supposition is to assume that it started right here; we’ve also seen that this link has been growing stronger with time. Which would give Moridin a pretty strong incentive to keep Rand alive, right?
Of course, that also introduces a problem, in that the “don’t kill Rand” order has been in effect since long before this chapter, and in fact the whole reason Moridin even shows up here is to save Rand’s bacon. So if I’m right to assume the link started when Rand and Moridin crossed the streams here, that can’t be the reason behind the “don’t kill” order, or at least not the initial one. And also, we know by now that Moridin’s own personal survival is actually pretty low on his list of priorities.
The reason, then, is likely exactly what Moridin says here: that the Dark One has plans for Rand that, since they apparently don’t involve him dying, involve turning him to the Dark Side instead. In fact I seem to dimly recall Moridin (or was it Jordan, outside of the books?) saying that the Dragon turning to evil is the only way for the Shadow to actually really win; when the Dragon just dies, it’s only a stalemate, and then they have to do it all over again. However, I could just be hallucinating this; I’m kind of punchy right now.
I could also be wrong about the timing of the link, too; maybe the link was always there, somehow, from the moment Ishy was reincarnated, and this incident just made it worse, or screwed it up, or something. I’m not quite sure how this makes sense except in a very meta-karma-plotty-symmetry way, but I do recall that in our very first description of Moridin, one of the very first things the POV character (Moghedien) notes is his resemblance to Rand. COINCIDENCE?
So, in conclusion, dunno. Aren’t I helpful? Feel free to hug it out in the comments, though!
Couple more random notes:
Liah: Man, that sucks. I mean… yeah, no, that pretty much just sucks. I wonder what effect it would have had if Rand had been able to take a name off his list?
(Hopefully we’ll find out Real Soon Now! *jumps up and down*)
So, bye, Closest-thing-I-had-to-a-namesake-in-WOT! At least we know you were pretty badass to have survived in Shadar Logoth as long as you did!
Dashiva: Wow, could you be any more a Forsaken in disguise, man? If his puzzlement at wondering why Adley cared about Weiramon’s soldiers didn’t give it away, nothing would.
I have to wonder at his whole “King of the Woooooorld!” shoutage at the end, though. What was that, mockery? Or overplaying a role? You decide!
Bashere: That kingspenny sigil is wicked cool. That is all.
Cadsuane: okay, “hairless bottomcheeks” was pretty funny. Also, as usual, her acts that completely piss me off turn out to be the right thing to do, as Rand backs off from using balefire (well, once, anyway) because of her slap. Grumble.
Although, I don’t know if we’re supposed to regard Rand’s revelation that he is frightened of Cadsuane as a good thing or a bad thing. I think it’s a bad thing, of course, but then I would, because I don’t like Cadsuane, but in defense of my objectivity, people do stupid stupid things when they are scared. I’m just saying.
Hokay, there’s probably more in here I didn’t cover, but I am so very very done, so I will stop here.
And thus ends A Crown of Swords! Seven down, whoo!
So I guess I should pause here and ask myself: after recapping it, is it still my favorite book in the series?
Hm. Well, the by-necessity much slower pace of the re-read left me to conclude that ACOS is definitely more uneven as a whole than the novels that preceded it. And, as I said, the ending was not quite as snazzy as many of the other BAEs, either.
That being said, there is still no denying that ACOS contains my absolute favorite scene (thus far) of the entire series (Mat and Birgitte), and no few of my top favorites overall in addition (Elayne telling off Merilille, Nynaeve breaking her block, Mat fighting the gholam, Rand and Min getting it on, Rand’s coronation).
So, I think I’m actually going to hold off on a verdict, actually. Once this whole shebang is finished, I’ll look back on the series as a whole and see what I think. The answer might surprise us all.
But until then, I say Adieu, to you and you and you! Next up, The Path of Daggers! Dun! Laters!