See this hat? This is a Wheel of Time re-reading hat. I Re-read Wheels of Time in this hat.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 12 and 13 of A Memory of Light, in which variously shocking revelations are made, and some of them make a hell of a lot more sense than others.
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!
Chapter 12: A Shard of a Moment
Birgitte sneaks swiftly through the wood with a small group of Aiel, trying not to think about her fading memories of her past lives, and whether that means she has been broken from the Horn, and thus might never see Gaidal again. She and the Aiel ambush and dispatch a fist of Trollocs, and Birgitte tries to remember if she’d ever asked Hawkwing about that possibility. Her company scouts out another group of Trollocs, but these are too many for them to engage, so Birgitte signals a silent retreat.
After his failure at Tarwin’s Gap, Rand flees to his dreams, to a dreamshard that is not truly of Tel’aran’rhiod but is kin to it. He thinks of all the knowledge like this Lews Therin had stored away without ever really using, and wonders if things would have gone differently if he had.
Rand didn’t know. And, truth be told, this valley was no longer safe. He passed a deep cavern to his left. He had not put it there. Another attempt by Moridin to draw him? Rand passed it by without looking.
The cavern appears again, and this time Rand enters it. He hears splashing and gasping, and soon finds a pool in the cavern with a woman in white struggling to stay afloat in it. She has a different face, but Rand knows it is Mierin, and unwillingly remembers his time with her, in the Age of Legends and as Selene in the present. She begs him to free her from where “he” has claimed her, and he answers that she chose this.
He held himself back. He finally felt like a whole person again, after a long fight. That gave him strength, but in his peace was a weakness— the weakness he had always feared. The weakness that Moiraine had rightfully spotted in him. The weakness of compassion.
He needed it. Like a helmet needed a hole through which to see. Both could be exploited. He admitted to himself that it was true.
She begs him again, and he wavers, but then returns that she used to be better at this kind of deception. The pool disappears, and Lanfear observes that at least she is no longer obliged to deal with “a simple farmboy.” She asks for asylum as an equal, instead of as a damsel in distress, but Rand laughs and asks when she ever considered anyone her equal. He points out that she swore to kill him, and she counters that she didn’t mean it, which Rand knows is true, but he snaps that he was nothing but an ornament to her, and he will not give her a second chance when he knows it is all a ploy. He demands that she open her mind to him completely, as can be done in this place, and prove her sincerity. She hesitates, but then refuses. He says he is done with her, but she asks how he can ask that of her when she has so often been betrayed.
“You really remember it that way, don’t you?” Rand said. “You think I betrayed you for her?”
“You said that you loved me.”
“I never said that. Never. I could not. I did not know what love was. Centuries of life, and I never discovered it until I met her.” He hesitated, then continued, speaking so softly his voice did not echo in the small cavern. “You have never really felt it, have you? But of course. Who could you love? Your heart is claimed already, by the power you so strongly desire. There is no room left.”
He only feels pity for her now, and opens his mind to her instead. Lanfear gasps as she sees not only his plans and intentions, but also the truth that it is Rand and not Lews Therin who forms the core of him. He shows her his past love for Ilyena, and his present love for Elayne, Aviendha and Min, and how he feels absolutely nothing for her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really did mean it. I am finished with you, Mierin. Keep your head down during the storm to come. If I win this fight, you will no longer have reason to fear for your soul. There will be no one left to torment you.”
He turned from her again, and walked from the cave, leaving her silent.
Perrin makes sure his people’s camp is secure, and goes to find Edarra. He asks if she is a dreamwalker; she answers no, but admits (to his surprise) that she knows a little of it. He asks if there is a way to enter the World of Dreams physically, and she tells him it is an evil thing. Perrin thinks of how strong Slayer is in the dream, and how he grows stronger the more “there” he allows himself to be, and is sure that Slayer is there physically.
Our contest will not end, Perrin thought, until you are the prey, Slayer. Hunter of wolves. I will end you.
He asks why it is evil, and she replies that it costs the dreamer a part of what makes him human. And worse, if he dies that way, he may never be reborn, his thread burned out of the Pattern entirely. Perrin says that the servants of the Shadow are doing this, and he may need to take the risk to stop them. Edarra tells him it is a terrible mistake, and he should not “cut off [his] foot for fear that a snake will bite it,” and leaves him.
Ah, the moon and stars icon. It’s been a while since I saw that one. Bit of a blast from the past, it felt like.
I really liked this scene between Rand and Lanfear. Rand doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know about either Lanfear or himself, I think, but this interlude in particular really nailed their respective tragic flaws, directly and succinctly. Lanfear’s flaw, naturally, being her inability to put anything above her pursuit of power (“Who could you love? Your heart is claimed already, by the power you so strongly desire. There is no room left”).
And Rand’s tragic flaw, of course, is his chivalry, in the sense I have used the term before on this blog. Which is, when the normally praise-worthy qualities of empathy and the desire to protect are taken to obsessive, unreasoning and dogmatic extremes, ultimately to the detriment of the very person or persons he wants to protect. And if you don’t think this is Rand’s central character flaw, you are reading a very different story than I’ve been reading, let’s just say.
Rand himself, as I said, acknowledges it in this chapter, calling it his “weakness of compassion”—not in the sense that he has compassion in the first place, but in the sense that Rand has rarely or never been able to pin down the proper proportion of it to apply. Rand’s been burned by his compassion both ways over the course of this story, either by giving into it too much, or trying too hard to block it out (or trying to do both at the same time, and no wonder boy nearly went bugnuts, trying to figure out how to make that work), and he’s not done dealing with that conundrum by a fair sight. We’ll be coming back to this later, fo’ sho.
I was genuinely shocked, on first reading, when Rand opened his mind to Lanfear. Not because I thought it was a bad move (though I think you can definitely make an argument both ways on whether it actually was a bad move or not, depending on whether you think the revelation that Rand/Lews Therin had never loved her was the tipping point for her actions at Shayol Ghul, or whether you think she would have ended up doing that regardless), but because even now I’m still not completely used to the notion of a Rand who doesn’t hide things from people. Open honesty, like all the time? Goodness! IT’S ALL SO SHOCKING.
(Well. Mostly open honesty. It’s still like a freakin’ smorgasbord of truth-telling compared to what we previously had.)
So, in conclusion, good scene, and nice set-up for what happens later. Definitely one of those scenes that has a hell of a lot more resonance (and significance) once you know the end of the story.
And Birgitte and Perrin were in this chapter too, briefly. Speaking of things which are still vaguely shocking even though they probably shouldn’t be anymore, you can put “three different POVs occurring in less than ten pages of a WOT book” on that list.
Birgitte doesn’t have that much to do here, other than be badass as usual (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but I do love the suggestion in this and earlier chapters that one of Birgitte’s past lives might be a foundation for/parallel to the legends of Robin Hood. At least, that’s the first thing I thought of, when told about legends of an improbably skilled outlaw archer hanging out in the woods with her
merry men “skilled companions,” robbing royalty and such. But maybe I’m just crazy.
(Also, Rule 63 FTW!)
(Also also, if that parenthetical made no sense to you, you clearly have not been wasting nearly enough time on the Internet. For shame!)
Perrin: to be discussed in the commentary on the next chapter. On you scroll!
Chapter 13: What Must Be Done
Egwene rides toward the Kandor front with a hundred Aes Sedai, mostly Green Ajah. Two other smaller groups of sisters ride toward the army’s flanks. As they move into position, she pulls out Vora’s rod, the sa’angreal she’d used in the Seanchan attack on the Tower. She and the other sisters embrace the Source as the Trollocs charge, and begins with erupting the earth under the Trollocs’ feet. The other sisters join in, adding fire and wind to the fray. Egwene attacks again, but this time concentrates on metal, exploding armor and weapons into deadly shrapnel.
There was something energizing about using raw power, sending weaves in their most basic forms. In that moment—maiming, destroying, bringing death upon the enemy—she felt as if she were one with the land itself. That she was doing the work it had longed for someone to do for so long. The Blight, and the Shadowspawn it grew, were a disease. An infection. Egwene—afire with the One Power, a blazing beacon of death and judgment—was the cauterizing flame that would bring healing to the land.
Trollocs and Myrddraal die in droves under the Aes Sedai onslaught, until finally the enemy force falls back. Bryne’s soldiers are wide-eyed, having not been required to do a thing for the entire battle. Gawyn calls it “impressive,” but an exhausted Egwene tells him there will be more the next day, and they will not be so easy to slaughter next time.
“You didn’t just hold, Egwene,” Gawyn said with a smile. “You sent them running. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an army so thoroughly trounced.”
The army cheers as the Aes Sedai depart the front, and Egwene is content to allow them to enjoy the easy victory, for she knows it will not remain that way for long.
Bashere reports to Elayne that the Lord Dragon’s forces are waiting for the battles at Kandor and Shienar to draw out more forces from the Blasted Lands before moving on Shayol Ghul. He is confident that Kandor is holding well with the Aes Sedai, but is concerned about Lan and Agelmar’s army’s retreat from the Gap. Elayne studies the maps and sees the route their retreat will inevitably take, and reluctantly orders that the cities of Fal Dara, Fal Moran and Ankor Dail be evacuated and then razed, along with all the surrounding farmland.
“I’m sorry,” Bashere said softly.
“It is what must be done, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Bashere said.
Light, what a mess. Well, what did you expect? Neatness and simplicity?
Talmanes enters the tent as Bashere reports that the Trollocs control almost the entire southern half of the forest, and adds that the dragons are practically useless on forested terrain. Elayne asks about Aludra’s “dragon teeth”—ammunition which shoots a spray of metal rather than one big ball—and Talmanes answers it is better, but still not that effective in the woods. Bashere wants to pull out of Braem Wood and build raft bridges over the Erinin to gain the open terrain to the east, and keep drawing the Trollocs east and north all the way to Cairhien. Elayne frowns; she needs a swift and decisive victory here so she can join the battles to the north, not an endless retreat, but Bashere says they are “stirring” this battle, not controlling it. Elayne doesn’t like it, but approves the plan.
Tam and Perrin read Elayne’s orders, and Tam comments that she is a good tactician, by which he means she is smart enough to listen to those who are better tacticians than she. Perrin sees Rand in the colors, talking to Moiraine, and feels the tug toward him. He tells Tam that he will be taking command of their forces here, with Gallenne, Arganda and Galad under him. Tam is startled, but then intuits that Perrin intends to leave.
“Rand needs me,” Perrin said softly. “Burn me, Tam, I hate it—but I can’t fight along with you here in Andor. Someone needs to watch Rand’s back, and it… well, it’s going to be me. I know it, somehow.”
Tam points out that the other men might not listen to “a common farmer” without Perrin there to back him up, and suggests putting one of them in charge instead. Perrin turns to their assembled forces and loudly announces that he is hereby making Tam al’Thor a lord—steward of the Two Rivers, with all of Perrin’s authority in Perrin’s absence, and his heir in the event of Perrin’s death. The men nod and salute, and Tam groans.
“Is it too late to turn you over to the Women’s Circle for a good talking to?” Tam asked. “Maybe a sound swat on the behind and a week spent carrying water for Widow al’Thone?”
“Sorry, Tam,” Perrin said.
Neald tries again to make a gateway to the Black Tower, and cannot. Perrin thinks of Lan’s report from Shienar, and knows something is very wrong there. He has Neald make a gateway to Merrilor instead. He makes a speech to the soldiers, apologizing that he must go to the Lord Dragon and promising a celebration when they win. The men cheer him, and Perrin goes to leave, but Dain Bornhald approaches and asks for a private word. Perrin is suspicious, knowing that Bornhald hates him, but agrees. Bornhald then shocks him with the abrupt confession that it was not Trollocs who killed his family, as he’d been told, but Ordeith. The Whitecloaks with him had not participated, but they hadn’t stopped it, either. Perrin is stunned.
“This is an awful time to tell you this, I know,” Bornhald said. “But I couldn’t keep it in. I just… We may fall. Light, it might all fall. I had to speak, say it.”
He pulled away, moving back toward the other Whitecloaks with eyes downcast. Perrin stood alone, his entire world shaking.
Then he pulled it back together. He had dealt with this; he had mourned his family. It was over, through.
He could and would go on. Light, the old hurts returned, but he shoved them down and turned his eyes toward the gateway. Toward Rand, and his duty.
He had work to do. But Ordeith… Padan Fain… This only added to that man’s terrible crimes. Perrin would see that he paid, one way or another.
He tries to get Gaul to stay behind, but Gaul informs him he’ll have to kill him to make him do that, so Perrin gives in. He sees two white-clad figures on the other side of the gateway to the hospital in Mayene, watching Gaul, and wonders how it must feel for Bain and Chiad to sit out the Last Battle. He and Gaul go through the other gateway to Merrilor, where they gather supplies, and then Perrin browbeats the Asha’man at the camp into sending him to Rand in the Blight.
Distant, in front of them, rose the peak of Shayol Ghul. Perrin felt a shiver. It was distant, but Perrin could not mistake the intense determination in Rand’s expression as he regarded the peak.
“Light,” Perrin said. “Is it time?”
“No,” Rand said softly. “This is a test, to see if he senses me.”
Perrin draws him aside from Moiraine and Nynaeve, and tells Rand that he needs to enter the wolf dream in the flesh, rather than “the easy way.” He asks if Rand has anything in “that ancient brain” to help him. Rand tells him it is a very dangerous thing, which some call evil.
“It’s not evil, Rand,” Perrin said. “I know something evil when I smell it. This isn’t evil, it’s just incredibly stupid.”
Rand smiled. “And still you ask?”
“The good options are gone, Rand. Better to do something desperate than to do nothing at all.”
Rand didn’t reply.
They discuss the Black Tower; Rand says he needs to go there, but he knows it is a trap. Perrin says he thinks he knows part of who is behind the trap, but he needs to be able to face him on equal terms in the dream. Rand nods slowly. He thinks they will have to leave the Blight to make the gateway into Tel’aran’rhiod, but it turns out they do not, and Rand comments that “the worlds are drawing together, compressing.” Perrin arranges for Rand to have an Asha’man make a gateway like this for him once a day at dawn at Merrilor.
“The Light willing, we will see one another again,” Rand said. He held out his hand to Perrin. “Watch out for Mat. I’m honestly not sure what he’s going to do, but I have a feeling it will be highly dangerous for all involved.”
“Not like us,” Perrin said, clasping Rand’s forearm. “You and I, we’re much better at keeping to the safe paths.”
Rand smiled. “May the Light shelter you, Perrin Aybara.”
“And you, Rand al’Thor.” Perrin hesitated, and realized what was happening. They were saying goodbye. He took Rand in an embrace.
He warns Moiraine and Nynaeve to watch over Rand; Nynaeve sniffs and asks when she ever stopped. She asks if Perrin is doing something foolish; Perrin tells her, “Always,” and then he and Gaul step through the gateway, into the World of Dreams.
Re: Egwene’s thoughts about being a cleansing flame to clear the infection of the Shadow from the land: I really hate that I can’t turn off my brain sometimes. Because instead of just enjoying how epic fantasies provide ways for statements like that to be literally true (thus allowing the reader to enjoy the inevitable scenes of wholesale slaughter guilt-free!), the only thing I could think when reading it was to wonder how many real-life despots/conquerors/terrorists have used that exact rationale to justify their own, much less fun versions of wholesale slaughter. Blarg.
Other than that the Egwene scene was good, mostly because it was so nice to see the Aes Sedai finally act in concert and bring all their thus-far-mostly-potential badassedness to bear—on the right enemy to boot! Though I had to wonder a bit at this point why Team Shadow apparently has so few Dreadlords that they couldn’t spare any for Kandor. However, I think this objection gets addressed quite emphatically later on, so I’ll leave it.
Elayne’s bit here was pretty brief and straightforward, but it did cement my conviction that Bashere and the other Great Captains were already being messed with by this point. There are only so many iterations of “wait, you want to do what? Oh, well, you’re a Great Captain, so I’ll convince myself that whatever cockamamie thing you just said to do must be tactically brilliant!” that I can see before the writing’s on the wall, and ladies and gentlemen, we now officially have grafitti.
Perrin’s POV made me feel rather schizophrenic, because there were parts of it I loved, like his tactical lordening of Tam (and Tam’s reaction to it), and parts of it I hated. Well, okay, there was only one part I hated, but I really hated it, and that was the scene with Bornhald.
Because, what the hell was that? Where did that come from? Bornhald drops this GIANT bomb on Perrin of “oh hey, I totally watched my nutcase of a pseudo-commanding officer slaughter your family and did nothing to stop it and then lied about it for months, my bad,” and doesn’t even get a fist (or a hammer) to the face for it? And Perrin, apparently, absorbs and accepts this information in like ten seconds and then just moves on? What?
Ugh, no, it was clunky and weird and dissatisfying in the extreme, and I don’t even know why we needed Perrin to learn this information if he was going to decide ten seconds later that it wasn’t going to change anything. And it didn’t; Padan Fain ends up being Mat’s problem in the endgame, because Perrin has to concentrate on Slayer and then Lanfear (which, that whole thing has its own problems, but we’ll discuss that when we get there). So why Perrin needs any more emotional ammunition against a character he never ends up facing himself anyway (at least not as far as I can recall) is beyond me, from a narrative perspective.
[ETA: Peter Ahlstrom points out in the comments that Brandon has said that Bornhald's confession was supposed to have happened much more organically, in a sequence involving Perrin's forces going down into the Ways, which was later deleted. And now that he mentions it, I remember hearing Brandon talk about that; sorry, it slipped my mind previously. And that certainly explains why the scene feels so shoehorned in, because apparently it literally was. I still rather feel that it might have been better to leave it out entirely, in that case, since again, as far as I recall the knowledge ultimately doesn't have any effect on Perrin's future actions. *shrug*]
Anyway. Perrin’s scene with Rand was good just because I was like THANK YOU PERRIN, for finally being the one to call bullshit on this whole “entering the dream in the flesh makes you evil!” thing, which I have always kind of regarded as the WOT equivalent of an urban legend. Certainly all the evidence for it was entirely circumstantial. Because sure, Rand almost became evil, but I’m PRETTY SURE that factors other than his episodes of running around in the dream physically were behind that near-downfall. And sure, Slayer smells less than human to Perrin, but again, PRETTY SURE there are other reasons for that in play there. So you go, Perrin, telling it like it is!
Also, many quiet and understated badass points go to Gaul and his “bitch, please” response to Perrin’s attempt to leave him behind. I heart him lots.
Lastly, the scene with Rand and Perrin makes me very sad in retrospect, because unless I’m mistaken (and I might be), this is basically the last time they interact in the series. And possibly the last time they interact, period, depending on how committed Rand decides to be to his J.D. Salinger impression, post-apocalypse.
But, I guess sometimes the fact that we’ll never know for sure is a blessing in disguise. Because this way, I can decide that in my personal post-Tarmon Gai’don headcanon, all of the surviving Superfriends eventually get together and have yearly secret barbeques or whatever, and no one can prove me wrong. YAY.
And on that happy image, we out! Come back next Tooooooosdy for Moar, y’all!