Ready, set, Re-read! *cannon boom*
Today’s entry covers Chapter 10 of A Memory of Light, in which a mystery is introduced, involuntarily bad decisions are made, and a deeply unfortunate race is begun.
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.
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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!
HEY YOU GUYZ: JordanCon V totally just happened, and it was a metric ton of awesome. I had so much fun being Toastmaster I can’t even express it—though naturally I tried. At length.
Chapter 10: The Use of Dragons
Perrin and Arganda lead a sortie against the Trollocs outside the city, trying to get them to break from the walls. It is unsuccessful, and Perrin tells Arganda they will sweep past as many times as they need to make them break.
A messenger brings this news to Elayne in Braem Wood, who complains to Birgitte about the slowness of this kind of information relay. Birgitte ignores her until Elayne suggests popping over to the city to look at the situation, and then informs her that if Elayne tries it, Birgitte will throw her over her shoulder and carry her back to camp.
Elayne frowned. “Remind me why, exactly, I gave you one of those medallions?”
“I’m not sure,” Birgitte said. “It showed remarkable foresight and an actual sense of self-preservation. Completely unlike you.”
“I hardly think that is fair, Birgitte.”
“I know! It is extremely unfair for me to have to deal with you. I wasn’t certain you’d noticed. Are all young Aes Sedai as reckless as you are, or did I just end up with the pick of this particular litter?”
“Stop whining,” Elayne muttered, maintaining a smile and a nod for the men who saluted as she passed. “I’m beginning to wish I had a Tower-trained Warder. Then, at least, I wouldn’t hear so much sauce.”
Birgitte laughed. “I don’t think you understand Warders half as well as you think you do, Elayne.”
Elayne is shocked then to see Uno, who tells her that the Amyrlin wanted a “flaming messenger” to report to Elayne’s commanders from Kandor, and he was “bloody chosen.” Elayne smiles and uses a particularly vile curse in return, which causes Uno to do a spittake. Birgitte watches admiringly as he leaves, to Elayne’s embarrassment. They go to the command tent to meet Bashere, Abell Cauthon, Gallenne and Trom (Galad is with Perrin’s strike force). Bashere reports Uno’s news from Kandor, that Egwene’s ranks are being swelled with refugees from the country, and that Ituralde’s troops are still waiting on Rand. Elayne is taken aback at the news that Agelmar is considering a retreat from Tarwin’s Gap, saying she thought he had enough men to hold.
“They are holding for now,” Bashere said. “But they’re still being mightily pressed.” He held up a hand to her objection. “I know you’re worried about a retreat, but I counsel that you shouldn’t try to overrule Agelmar. He deserves his reputation as a great captain, and he’s there, while we are far away. He will know what to do.”
Elayne accepts this, and they move on to their own situation. Elayne reflects that she must win here, and quickly, or the other armies will be left without reinforcement and lose slow wars of attrition. She orders that they step up the harrying of the Trollocs at the walls. Trom asks, what if they retreat back into the city, and Elayne tells him that in that case they will have no choice but to level Caemlyn with the dragons.
Androl barely manages to stay awake against the strange tea they’d forced on him. Pevara is asleep, and Emarin is weeping; they haven’t managed to Turn him yet, but Androl thinks he is weakening. Taim is furious at the thirteen channelers he’s been using, who are exhausted. Taim’s minions drag in Toveine, one of the Aes Sedai bonded to Logain, and Taim orders her Turned next. Androl sees Taim fondling something disc-shaped for a moment, before he gathers up Mishraile and leaves.
Lan gallops toward the Gap with Prince Kaisel and King Easar. Queen Ethenielle joins them as they all hear why Lan went off: explosions. Narishma dashes up with his Aes Sedai to confirm Dreadlords at the front, possibly up to two dozen. Agelmar points out that the Dreadlords will cut through them “like a sword through a spring lamb.”
Lan looked across the bitter landscape, once his homeland. A homeland he’d never known.
He would have to abandon Malkier. Admitting it felt like a knife twisting inside him, but he would do it. “You have your retreat, Lord Agelmar,” Lan said.
Narishma is saying that it will be difficult to stop the Dreadlords without making targets of themselves when an explosion almost unhorses Lan. He shouts to Narishma to go to Elayne and bring back more channelers before they are all cut to ribbons.
Light protect us, Lan thought, yelling himself ragged and salvaging what he could of his cavalry. The Gap was lost.
Elayne waits nervously in the Wood. She asks Birgitte about a story in which Birgitte in one of her earlier incarnations had robbed a queen in these woods, but feels guilty for bringing it up when Birgitte can’t remember all of the story. A messenger arrives to report that Lord Aybara has succeeded in baiting the Trollocs, and they are on their way. Elayne sets about getting the news to the rest of her commanders.
Later, Elayne embraces the Source as she hears Perrin’s forces approach their position, and calls the archers to the front, then yells at them to wait until their own troops are past. Tam tells her that no Two Rivers bowman would miss at this range, and Elayne sees the Trollocs readying to shoot their own bows. Though she has qualms about Tam’s claims, she shouts for the archers to fire, hoping he is right.
The arrows arced and dropped, not a one falling too short. They rained onto the Trolloc ranks, especially on the Trolloc archers. A few straggling Trolloc arrows returned, but the Two Rivers men had handily broken up their lines.
“That’s some fine archery,” Birgitte said, riding back up. “Fine indeed…”
The Two Rivers men fall back, and Elayne orders the Legion of the Dragon’s crossbowmen forward. Their assault fells thousands of the enemy, and the Two Rivers men climb trees and begin shooting from above. The Trollocs still advance, and when a contingent breaks toward the road to the east, Elayne calls for her troops to fall back to where the Ghealdanin pikemen are assembled, and past, Elayne shouting to Alliandre to make sure they fall back as well as soon as the Trollocs hit them, drawing them to where the Aiel wait further in. She continues on to the road, hearing explosions from where troops are slinging Aludra’s “roarsticks” at the enemy. She reaches the road at the same time the Trolloc contingent does, where the Band of the Red Hand awaits them, ranked behind the dragons. They shoot four volleys in succession, deafening Elayne and obscuring the battleground with smoke.
A strong breeze from the west cleared the smoke enough for her to see… Elayne gasped softly.
Thousands of Trollocs lay in smoldering pieces, many blown off the road completely. Arms, legs, strands of coarse hair, pieces lay scattered amid holes in the ground fully two paces wide. Where there had once been many thousands of Trollocs, only black blood, broken bones and smoke remained. Many of the trees had been shattered into splintered trunks. Of the Myrddraal that had been at the front, there was no sign at all.
Elayne is exultant, but Birgitte is solemn. She comments that having channelers in open combat is bad enough, but now “any boy with a tube of metal” can destroy an army, and it worries her. Elayne tells her that on the contrary, the dragons will ensure peace once it is over.
“Nobody but Trollocs would go into battle, knowing they face weapons like these!”
“Perhaps,” Birgitte said. She shook her head. “Maybe I have less faith in the wisdom of people than you do.”
Ah, so nice to see Randland joining the arms race with the rest of the world, eh?
Elayne and Birgitte’s exchange at the end of this chapter is about as succinct a summation of the arms race dilemma as I’ve seen, and the problem is, as history stands no one can yet say for sure which one of them is right. Possibly, the question does not admit of an answer. Unless we do actually manage to destroy ourselves in a nuclear apocalypse, in which case Birgitte is right.
But thus far, in a limited way Elayne has been right: given the development of sufficiently horrific weapons of mass destruction, we have managed to refrain (so far) from engaging in a scenario of total and mutually assured destruction. Even if only by the skin of our teeth on occasion.
She’s not completely correct, of course, unless you stretch the definition of “peace” to be the non-nuclear shenanigans we’ve all been merrily and homicidally engaging in for the last sixty-odd years since nukes were invented. And I like making a word work for its supper, y’all, but that’s probably taking it a bit far even for me.
So, no, Elayne, inventing bigger and badder weapons does not ensure peace. All it ensures is that the other guy is either going to invent an even bigger and badder weapon than yours, or, lacking that, find some way to make your big bad weapon irrelevant.
Thank God for human ingenuity, amirite? Yeah, we’re awesome.
This is where the cosmology of the Wheel of Time occasionally falls down for me a little bit. Because I can certainly follow how the Third Age eventually morphs into our own Age, wherever that may fall on the cycle, but seeing how we get from the rather shitty Age of Us to the (apparently) pristine and lovely and violence-free utopia of the Age of Legends is a bit of a hard sell, sometimes.
Cynicism: it’s what’s for breakfast!
I’m not really calling Elayne out for her blithe optimism on the dragons, mind you. Well, I am, but it’s worth pointing out that many many supposedly very wise people have thought the exact same thing before her. So even if we’re pretending that she’s not a fictional mouthpiece representing all those people (which she totally is), we can certainly say she is not alone in her massive misconception of the fundamental nature of human aggression towards itself. Yay?
Yeah, probably not yay. But anyone expecting happy warm fuzzies as we move into the middle(ish) section of this novel should probably quit reading and go find a puppy to hug or something, because it all just gets more and more dire from here.
That said: Uno! Hooray!
It was a very little cameo, but I enjoyed it. Uno’s one of those strange minor characters that (I feel) has become very unexpectedly popular with the fans. Probably because of the cursing. Because as we know, people who curse a lot are AWESOME.
Also, Birgitte: still awesome. I love how she never fails to call Elayne on her shit. And how Elayne still doesn’t really get that that’s the actual second-most important function of Warders in the first place. Possibly, the most important.
(Warders: equivalent to the Seanchan practice of Truthspeakers? DISCUSS.)
The battle scene in Braem Wood was sort of parallel-ishly interesting alongside the cannon/dragon thing, because of the reminder that until gunpowder was used in weaponry, the most significant weapons advancement in warfare was the longbow. Which we also see employed to devastating effect in this chapter. I don’t really have an especially deep observation to go with that; I just think the way Randland occasionally dogpiles historical periods/developments on top of each other is fun.
Androl’s little blip of a scene here was, as I recall, rather shocking, or really just befuddling. Because how in the hell, thinks me, does Taim have a seal? All but three of the seven seals are broken (I know this because of my FAQings), and we just saw Rand hand those three unbroken seals to Egwene at the Team Light Symposium of (Mostly) Non-Evil Plotting™ in Chapter 6. So what the hell, over?
And… erm. I don’t remember what the explanation is for this. Although the most logical and obvious thing to assume, of course, is that the seal Taim gave to Rand as a peace offering in LOC was a fake from the start, and Taim’s had the real seventh seal all along. Oooooh.
Very sneaky, if that’s the case. Though I have to ask, if so, why no one thought to wonder why one of the seals wasn’t leaking icky Dark One juice everywhere, as we learned the other seals were doing. Or maybe it was, and the ruse set-up was just that elaborate. Sure, why not.
Randomly, I was oddly pleased that Emarin proved to be resistant to being Evilled. That whole storyline is filled with characters I never expected to empathize with this much, actually. Which is awful nice.
As for the strategery in this chapter (what, that is totally a word), it’s amazing (or not, really) how much more ominous every word coming out of any of the Great Captains’ mouths are, now that I know It’s All An Evil Plot. But, I guess, kudos for it being one of the few Evil Plots of the series that (a) was nearly totally successful, and (b) I genuinely never saw coming.
Also: LAAAAAAAAAAN. Speaking of someone who’s getting utterly hosed by that Evil Plot. Though it’s worth pointing out, terrible as it might be to say, that if the Borderlands are the only thing Team Light loses in this war, it’s probably cheap at the cost, you know?
Yeah, you totally know. Just like you totally know I will be back next Tuesday with Moar! Cheers!