Thar she blows! A post like a snow-hill! It is Wheel of Time Re-read!
From Hell’s heart I stab at thee! And also cover Chapter 24 of The Path of Daggers, in which we find “all that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it”, and I’m sure you can make the proper paraphrasical substitutions, there.
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 now, for more fun than you can POSSIBLY STAND, click on!
Chapter 24: A Time for Iron
A dozen leagues east of Ebou Dar, Captain-General Kennar Miraj sits in his command tent and worries over the reports of enemy movement, which seems to put their numbers at over ninety thousand, or twice the Hailene’s troops. The High Lady Suroth enters, accompanied by a da’covale with “honey-yellow hair in a multitude of thin braids” and her Voice of the Blood, Alwhin; Miraj is shocked to notice that, first, Alwhin is linked by a’dam to a short dark-haired damane, and second, that the damane is clothed as da’covale, both of which are very odd. He greets Suroth respectfully, but she ignores him to study the maps, which displease her. Miraj further notices that the honey-haired da’covale is scowling, and that there is an odd similarity between her face and the damane’s face; Alwhin notices and hisses at the da’covale to kneel, calling her “Liandrin.” Suroth then informs Miraj that contrary to what he thinks, there are no more than five or six thousand troops out there, with fifty or so of these Asha’man, and they are moving around by the rediscovered art of Traveling. Miraj wonders at her source for this information, but doesn’t ask; he is disgusted by the idea of men channeling, though he mentally makes an exception for the Dragon Reborn.
The Prophecies of the Dragon had been known in Seanchan even before Luthair Paendrag began the Consolidation. In corrupted form, it was said, much different from the pure version Luthair Paendrag brought. Miraj had seen several volumes of The Karaethon Cycle printed in these lands, and they were corrupted too—not one mentioned him serving the Crystal Throne!—but the Prophecies held men’s minds and hearts still. More than a few hoped the Return came soon, that these lands could be reclaimed before Tarmon Gai’don so the Dragon Reborn could win the Last Battle for the glory of the Empress, might she live forever. The Empress surely would want al’Thor sent to her, so she could see what sort of man served her. There would be no difficulty with al’Thor once he had knelt to her. Few easily shook off the awe they felt, kneeling before the Crystal Throne, with the thirst to obey drying their tongues. But it seemed obvious that bundling the fellow onto a ship would be easier if disposing of the Asha’man—they had to be disposed of, certainly—waited until al’Thor was well on his way across the Aryth Ocean to Seandar.
Miraj comes back to his immediate problems, and asks Suroth if she will release the sul’dam and damane to him, or if they are still sick; the damane flinches, and strangely so does Liandrin. Suroth smiles at her and moves to stroke her hair, and remarks that small failures bring small costs, while great failures bring “painfully great” costs. She tells Miraj he will have his damane, and orders him to “wipe [these Asha’man] from the face of the earth”. Miraj replies that he will obey.
Rand watches his army emerge from gateways very near Ebou Dar, and notes Lews Therin’s inconsistency in wanting to die, but also being fearful of dying after the attempt on Rand’s life the day before. Bashere joins him with a somewhat unpleasant smile at Ailil and Anaiyella, who have not left Rand’s side since the incident with the arrow; Rand’s still not sure whether they want him dead or not. Lews Therin chuckles about what women will kill you for, but Rand ignores him. The rest of the nobles show up, and Rand forestalls another speech from Weiramon to announce that there is a Seanchan force of fifty thousand about ten miles from their position, and there is no sign they have damane with them, but nevertheless no one is to deviate from their orders this time. The plan is to divide into five columns with the Asha’man divided up with each, and fall on the Seanchan from all sides at once.
No plan of battle survives first contact, Lews Therin said in Rand’s head. For a moment, he still seemed lucid. For a moment. Something is wrong, he growled suddenly. His voice began to gain intensity, and drift into wild disbelieving laughter. It can’t be wrong, but it is. Something strange, something wrong, skittering, jumping, twitching. His cackles turned to weeping. It can’t be! I must be mad! And he vanished before Rand could mute him. Burn him, there was nothing wrong with the plan, or Bashere would have been on it like a duck on a beetle.
Lews Therin was mad, no doubt of it. But so long as Rand al’Thor remained sane… A bitter joke on the world, if the Dragon Reborn went mad before the Last Battle even began. “Take your places,” he commanded with a wave of the Dragon Scepter. He had to fight down the urge to laugh at that joke.
They all split up according to Rand’s instructions, though none of them like it, grouping those who distrusted each other together, leaving him with Tihera, Marcolin, Masond, Ailil, Anaiyella, Flinn, and Dashiva. To his surprise, Dashiva comes up with a worried frown and weaves a ward against eavesdropping around them without asking (Lews Therin tries to take away saidin from Rand to kill him, but fails), and tells Rand tersely that there is something wrong with saidin here, and he doesn’t know what it is, but it “pulses,” and is difficult to control. Rand replies that he’s been channeling longer than Dashiva, and it’s just the taint he feels. Dashiva seems about to explode, but then icily retorts that he is well aware of how long Rand has channeled, but surely even he can feel it.
“Feel, man! I don’t like ‘strange’ applied to saidin, and I don’t want to die or… or be burned out because you’re blind! Look at my ward! Look at it!”
Rand stared. Dashiva pushing himself forward was peculiar enough, but Dashiva in a temper? And then he did look at the ward. Really look. The flows should have been as steady as the threads in tight-woven canvas. They vibrated. The ward stood solid as it should be, but the individual threads of the Power shimmered with faint movement.
Rand checks for himself, and finally notices what they’ve been talking about, and feels relief that it is not madness taking them all after all, not yet; Dashiva almost sneers at him for taking so long to see it. Rand replies that saidin may be more difficult here, but it still works, and tells Dashiva to get back in position; Dashiva obeys furiously, and Rand gives orders for his column to move out.
Madness waits for some, Lews Therin whispered. It creeps up on others.
Miraj rides with his forces, accompanied by Captain of the Air Abaldar Yulan and Lisaine Jarath, his senior der’sul’dam (and personal friend). They are flanked by twenty pairs of damane and sul’dam. His scouts return with a report:
“The enemy is less than five miles due east, my Lord Captain-General, marching in our direction. They are deployed in five columns spaced approximately one mile apart.”
Miraj gives redeployment orders to counter an attempted envelopment, and notes that Lisaine has started to sweat.
Bertome Saighan rides behind Weiramon, and sneers at how the Tairen tolerates that “hot-eyed young monster” Gedwyn. Doressin, one of the other Cairheinin nobles and Bertome’s friend since childhood, comes up to whisper his opinion that the Lord Dragon means them to die, even though Doressin himself only listened to Colavaere; Bertome glances at the seven Asha’man riding with them, and replies that he thinks it unlikely the Asha’man would be there if al’Thor only meant to “feed them into a sausage grinder”. He rides up to speak with Weiramon, who is in conversation with Gedwyn.
Gedwyn was idly playing with his reins, his features cold with contempt. The Tairen was red-faced. “I don’t care who you are,” he was saying to the black-coated man in a low, hard voice, spittle flying, “I won’t take more risk without a command direct from the lips of—”
Then they see Bertome and glare at him, and Bertome realizes that Gedwyn wants to kill him on the spot. Weiramon switches to an oily smile, and (clumsily, to Bertome’s ear) tries to insinuate that the Lord Dragon has plans even more dire for him than he had for Bertome’s cousin Colavaere. Bertome is unimpressed by the attempt to manipulate him, but wonders what Weiramon wants. They are interrupted, though, as one of Bertome’s scouts gallops up to report that there are two thousand Taraboners almost on top of them, and with women with lightning on their dresses. Weiramon is about to dismiss this, but then the Taraboners appear through the trees. Weiramon laughs and tells Gedwyn to kill whoever he wants when he wants, but he, Weiramon, uses his own methods. Then he shouts and charges into the fray, and Bertome and the rest follow as the earth begins to erupt and lightning fall.
Varek kills an enemy soldier, and sees a division of newly-conscripted Altarans; he prepares to take command of them, but then a barrage of crossbow bolts mows them all down, and Varek shivers. He thinks this is even worse than Falme, remembering how half an hour earlier he had seen one man in a black coat rip a hundred Taraboners to shreds, literally. He goes to find Banner-General Chianmai, but finds that Chianmai is dead, burned to char with a dozen others; the leader of the survivors, a Taraboner, tells Varek that they were fighting against a group of Illianers, and their damane channeled lightnings, but then the lightning fell among them as well as the Illianers. The sul’dam is irate at the implied slight against “her Zakai,” but Varek soothes her and tells the Taraboner he is assuming command, and they are to disengage.
“Disengage!” the heavy-shouldered Taraboner barked. “It will take us days to disengage! The Illianers, they fight like badgers backed into a corner, the Cairhienin like ferrets in a box. The Tairens, they are not so hard as I have heard, but there are maybe a dozen of these Asha’man, yes? I do not even know where three-quarters of my men are, in this jolly-bag!”
Varek can guess what a “jolly-bag” is, but repeats his orders, and the men finally obey. He tells the sul’dam to settle the weeping Zakai down, as they will be depending on them in the south, and wonders why that makes the sul’dam go pale.
Bashere observes the clearing ahead of his division while the other nobles argue about whether to risk crossing it, and notes that Rochaid looks worried instead of superior. He pulls Rochaid aside and asks if he can count on them next time, referring to the increasing delays in the Asha’man response times.
“I know what I’m about, Bashere,” Rochaid snarled. “Aren’t we killing enough of them for you? As far as I can see, we’re about done!”
Bashere isn’t sure about that last, but certainly does agree that there’s been more than enough killing, on both sides. He decides to go around the clearing, and hopes Rochaid can keep the remaining five Asha’man with him from deserting.
Rand scowls at the rain, exhausted from the struggle of making saidin do what he wants all day. Adley bursts out that it was an accident, and Rand tells him to shut up and watch; Adley is with him instead of out with Morr, Narishma and Hopwil because he had managed to kill almost sixty of their own men with Fire. Flinn looks grim and Dashiva is sweating with concentration; Rand has ordered them not to seize the Power unless he permits it. Anaiyella asks if they are done yet, and at his furious look, adds that by the number of dead alone he will already be in the history books for today.
“I mean to drive the Seanchan into the sea!” Rand snapped. Light, he had to finish them now, when he had the chance! He could not fight the Seanchan and the Forsaken and the Light alone knew who or what else, all at the same time! “I did it before, and I will again!”
Do you have the Horn of Valere hidden in your pocket this time? Lews Therin asked slyly. Rand snarled at him silently.
Bashere comes up, dead tired, and reports flatly that he’s killed five hundred of the enemy, and it’s time for them to go; he’s sent orders to the other columns to rally. Rand answers that Bashere had no right to send those orders, and he means to destroy the rest of the Seanchan army. Bashere laughs and points where he just snuck past ten to fifteen thousand more of them, with maybe a hundred damane, and with more on the way. Rand touches the bundle under his saddle, jerks away, and tells Bashere, if that’s where they are, that’s where Rand will destroy them. Bashere moves closer and tells him in a low voice that he isn’t thinking straight; it was a good plan, but the Seanchan general is just as good, and a full-scale attack is what he’s waiting for; they can’t surprise him.
“Nobody stands nose-to-nose with the Dragon Reborn,” Rand growled. “The Forsaken could tell him that, whoever he is. Right, Flinn? Dashiva?” Flinn nodded uncertainly. Dashiva flinched. “You think I can’t surprise him, Bashere? Watch!” Pulling the long bundle loose, he stripped away the cloth covering, and Rand heard gasps as raindrops glistened on a sword seemingly made of crystal. The Sword That Is Not a Sword. “Let’s see if he’s surprised by Callandor in the hands of the Dragon Reborn, Bashere.”
Rand hesitates a moment, afraid, remembering what he had tried to do last time he’d used Callandor, but tells himself that he is the Dragon Reborn and can do anything, and seizes saidin through the sa’angreal. An unbelievable amount of saidin (and taint) flows through him, and he laughs.
“I am the storm,” he whispered—a shout in his ears, a roar—and he channeled.
He doesn’t quite know what he’s creating, but the skies boil and hundreds upon hundreds of lightning bolts rain down on the terrain before him. Then something knocks him down; Rand thinks it is a counterattack, and screams defiance against Shai’tan, calling down more lightning bolts, until he is knocked down a second time, and realizes it is Bashere on top of him.
“Stop it!” the Saldaean shouted. Blood fanned down his face from a split across his scalp. “You’re killing us, man! Stop!”
Rand looks, and sees the lightning coming down on his own troops; stunned, he lets saidin go, and Bashere lets him up warily. Standing shakily, Rand sees that Adley is dead, and listens to the screams coming from his forces, and wonders if he even hurt the Seanchan at all, or only his own men. Anaiyella faints at the sight of him, and Rand tells Bashere to set a guard while they wait for the others to return, then they will Travel to the supply line. Bashere nods and leaves.
I’ve lost, Rand thought dully. I’m the Dragon Reborn, but for the first time, I’ve lost.
Suddenly, Lews Therin raged up inside him, sly digs forgotten. I’ve never been defeated, he snarled. I am the Lord of the Morning! No one can defeat me!
Rand sat in the rain, turning the Crown of Swords in his hands, looking at Callandor lying in the mud. He let Lews Therin rage.
Yulan weeps, not for Miraj’s death or the apology he would soon have to make to the Empress, but for that the Ever Victorious Army has now suffered a second devastating defeat on these shores. He gives the order to retreat.
Excuse me, I need to go get a cookie. And some hot chocolate. And three little birds, hang on.
Okay, I feel a little better now. Marginally.
And hey, I recapped it! It’s done! So that’s over, yay!
Oh. I still have to talk about it, though, don’t I. Curses, foiled again.
And you know, this is not to say that I don’t appreciate the importance of this whole episode. It’s been pointed out long before I got here that Rand kind of severely needed this wake-up call: No, you are NOT infallible or invincible, and yes, you CAN lose, and lose big, at that. Get A Grip, Dude.
I totally get it, I do. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy reading about it. As I may have mentioned.
This is the problem with the tendency to… well, I don’t know if you would consider it overidentifying, because I would think that getting the reader to feel such a sense of—contact embarrassment? Something like that—on behalf of a fictional character just means the author has done their job, characterization-wise. If this whole episode didn’t make me feel horrible I should probably stop reading altogether.
And, you know, emotional detachment is for androids. I’m here for the visceral entertainment, right? And that means I oughta shut up and take my gut-wrenching disappointments-by-proxy right along with the happy fun stuff, right? Right.
Though I can’t decide if the I Hope You’ve Learned Your Lesson, Young Man theme is a bit undermined by how anomalous the whole situation was. Meaning, I guess we simply have to infer that Rand using Callandor would still have gone as badly even if he didn’t have to contend with the post-Bowl of the Winds One Power Weirdness around Ebou Dar? Which is, after all, a complete once-off fluke occurrence which Rand cannot really be blamed for?
On the other hand, maybe it’s still part of the moral, here, since first Rand didn’t believe Flinn et al about the weirdness, and then, after Dashiva almost blew his cover to get him to acknowledge it (see what your Forsaken mole does for you, man? Sheesh. No gratitude!), Rand still doesn’t believe it applies to him. Because he’s the Dragon Reborn, thankyouverymuch! Bah.
So, humbleness yay, hubris nay, right? Rand’s learned his lesson, right? All smooth sailing from here, right?
Lews Therin: He’s like that guy on the subway, isn’t he, with his random little haiku-ish nuggets of nuttery. (Trust me, he is.) Except, of course, when he’s being both eerily right and kind of hilariously bitchy, like when he asks Rand if he’s got the Horn of Valere in his pocket. Heh.
I’m also still amused, in a grim way, by Rand hoping he won’t go crazy while simultaneously talking to a voice in his head, though at this point he and Lews Therin seem to be starting to trade off by turns on who gets to be the looney one. Joy.
Prophecy, Schmophecy: Kneeling to the Crystal Throne MY ASS. Won’t happen. It’d better not happen!
Well, it won’t happen literally, because Jordan is on record as saying the action would never go to Seandar in the series proper, so no ocean cruises for Rand, thank God. And I’m pretty sure it won’t happen metaphorically either, since the mainland version of the Karaethon Cycle says Rand will “bind the nine moons to serve him”, which kind of implies the exact opposite of what the obviously-bullshittier (because I SAID SO, that’s why) Seanchan version says, so that’s good.
Of course, there are those who bring up the annoying observation that one way Rand could “bind the nine moons to serve him” is, actually, to kneel to Tuon, or at least come to some kind of treaty with her, which I guess if you kind of pull it like taffy that could be interpreted as being partially subservient to her, or something. And can I just say that I am incredibly not a fan of this?
I can? Oh good. I am incredibly not a fan of this, you guys.
I am really most sincerely not on board with this whole détente-y Hey the Seanchan aren’t such bad chaps thing the last couple of books appear to be moving us toward. I say this because however badly the meeting between Tuon and Semi-Evil Rand went in TGS, it seems to me that even so, the inevitable result is going to be that at some point they’ll have to come to some kind of agreement, at least temporarily, to fight the Shadow together.
Which, yeah yeah, practicality, survival trumps ethics sometimes, enemy of my enemy is my frenemy, anemone, but nevertheless! I am not happy about this, no. Why?
One word: SLAVERY. Thank you, goodbye.
I could go on about this, but I should probably save it for when it’s slightly more relevant, so I’ll stop here. And fume. And then move on.
Liandrin: Hi, Liandrin! Though I am in principle opposed to the fact that you are a slave and kind of hope you escape for that reason, I am still glad to see you are in the meantime having absolutely zero fun. I think we find out later how she ended up in Suroth’s clutches, but even if we don’t, well, I don’t really care.
The Other Damane: Is Ryma Galfrey, now called Pura, captured at Falme; we’ll see her again in WH. Don’t get any ideas.
Suroth: The accuracy of her information about Rand definitely indicates that she was getting it from a Darkfriend mole in Rand’s forces, which makes perfect sense; the only question is which one. We know for sure that Gedwyn and Rochaid are evil, but I kind of wonder whether Suroth would deal with them voluntarily, or even if so how they got in touch with each other. Then again it wasn’t like she and Liandrin were a likely pair in TGH, and yet. So, okay.
Of course, it could also be Weiramon, whose half-overheard conversation with Gedwyn can certainly be very easily interpreted to indicate proof that he was in cahoots with Gedwyn and, ergo, a Darkfriend. Maybe they’re all one big happy evil conspiracy family!
Here’s the thing about this, though: being in cahoots with Gedwyn, and even passing intelligence to the Seanchan (assuming he did either of those things) does not, actually, constitute proof that Weiramon is affiliated with the Shadow. There’s a whole jolly-bag of characters in WOT who have schemed against Rand and yet were not technically of the Dark Side, and it’s perfectly possible that Weiramon could have been plotting with Gedwyn without having any idea of Gedwyn’s true allegiances.
And to my mind, that would be the more yummy dramatic irony anyway. The biggest irony of all, of course, would be if that conversation was actually Weiramon not plotting against Rand at all, and just telling Gedwyn to piss off and quit telling him how to fight a battle, young whippersnapper! Which is just as easily how his words could be interpreted as well.
But he could have been up to something with Gedwyn, true, and this is bolstered somewhat by it being Weiramon moving out of position in the previous chapter that allowed for the attempt on Rand’s life (plus Gedwyn’s frown at Weiramon later, when he returns and Rand is still alive). I guess I just much more easily buy him as being in it for himself and a dupe of the Shadow (via Gedwyn, or Suroth, or both) than that he himself is evil per se. For whatever reason I just don’t see him as evil with, ahem, malice aforethought; I think he’s “evil” only in the sense that truly breathtaking willful ignorance (and/or ambition) generates evil involuntarily.
But, you know, I ain’t married to the notion. If it turns out Weiramon is a card-carrying member of the Evil League of Evil, I’ll be happy to shrug and be all, Whatevs. Maybe others are right and he’s the Purloined Letter of Darkfriends, but until there’s a definitive answer one way or t’other, I’m gonna continue to call him High Lord WYSIWYG.
And, a tool. But you knew that.
And thus I give up this spear, and the drama’s done, and I can stop (a) recapping this storyline for a while, praise the Lawd, and (b) mangling Melville quotes. FOR NOW. Laters!