We hold these truths to be self-evident: this is a Wheel of Time Reread! DUH.
Today’s entry covers Chapter 26 of A Memory of Light, in which assertions are leveled—some true, and some false, and some sort of false, and some that make me want to punch all the things, because AAAAGHGH.
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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 26: Considerations
Egwene finds the idea of fighting alongside the Seanchan abhorrent, but she knows that they have no chance of defeating the Sharans without them. She goes to meet Fortuona at a neutral meeting place which had taken hours to agree upon, and immediately sees that her picture of the Empress as a spoiled adolescent is incorrect. The Seanchan are shocked when Fortuona announces she will speak to Egwene directly, and Egwene replies that she had considered not speaking to Fortuona at all, as one who has committed such atrocities. Fortuona says she has decided to view Egwene not as marath’damane, but as a queen in her own land; Egwene insists she speak to her as she is. Fortuona supposes she can speak to “a hound,” and Egwene supposes in turn she can speak to “murderers and rapists.” Fortuona observes that this will be “an uneasy alliance.”
[Egwene:] “This is why I insist that you see me as I am, for I represent the ultimate proof that your society and empire are built upon falsehoods. Here I stand, a woman you insist should be collared for the common good. And yet I display none of the wild or dangerous tendencies that you claim I should have. So long as I am free from your collars, I prove to every man and woman who draws breath that you are a liar.”
Fortuona tells her she would be happier collared, whereupon Egwene shocks her by relating how she had been collared and trained in Falme, and found nothing but “pain, humiliation, and terror” in the experience. Fortuona demands to know why she was not told about this to a man behind her, and Egwene is astonished to recognize Mat. Mat greets her sheepishly, and Fortuona warns Egwene not to expect Knotai to serve her, as he is now Prince of the Ravens and her husband. Egwene bursts out laughing.
“You married Matrim Cauthon?”
“The omens predicted it,” Fortuona said.
“You let yourself draw too close to a ta’veren,” Egwene said, “and so the Pattern bound you to him!”
“Foolish superstitions,” Fortuona said.
Mat tells Fortuona that he didn’t think Egwene’s stint as a damane was worth mentioning, but Fortuona says this is “inconvenient.” She goes on to say that per her agreement with the Dragon Reborn, they will collar no marath’damane beyond their current borders. Egwene argues that these do not include the Sea Folk islands, and Fortuona threatens to walk. Egwene asks if she realizes what will happen if they lose here, but Fortuona does not believe forces “populated by oathbreakers” are that vital to the Last Battle, and says the Seanchan could stand against the Shadow alone if need be. Egwene thinks she is bluffing, and reminds Fortuona that she made an oath to Rand. She argues that the Seanchan have no ruler in place on Tremalking, and is surprised that Fortuona seems to consider this seriously, and then accedes.
“And your condition?”
“You will announce through your Tower and through your lands,” Fortuona said. “Any marath’damane who wish to come to Ebou Dar and be properly collared must be allowed to do so.”
Egwene tells her none will do so, and Fortuona replies that the proclamation should be no problem, then. She demands to be allowed to send emissaries to “educate” marath’damane on the right path, and Egwene agrees, bemused that she is actually sincere, but demands in return that any girl who discovers she can channel in Seanchan lands must also be allowed the choice to leave rather than be collared. Fortuona balks at first, but then counter-demands that the sul’dam be able to take damane from the enemy’s ranks. Egwene argues that they should be executed, but Fortuona regards this as a waste of resources.
“Do you realize that every one of your sul’dam, your precious trainers, is herself a marath’damane?”
Fortuona spun on her. “Do not spread such lies.”
“Oh? Shall we test it, Fortuona? You said you trained them yourself. You are a sul’dam, I presume? Put the a’dam on your neck. I dare you. If I am wrong, it will do nothing to you. If I am right, you will be subject to its power, and will prove to be marath’damane.”
Fortuona is infuriated, and Egwene taunts her, daring her to be subject to her own laws. Fortuona compares the idea that sul’dam might be able to channel to the idea that a man might become a murderer, and promises that someday she will break Egwene herself. Egwene hisses back that she will watch Fortuona’s empire crumble, and goes to poke Fortuona. Fortuona grabs her hand, and Egwene embraces the Source. The damane gasp and do the same, and Mat pushes between the two women, separating them. Egwene tries to bind him, and fails, remembering his medallion with a curse. Mat threatens to spank them both, and Egwene knows he is trying to deflect their anger at each other onto him.
“The people of this world need you two, and they need you levelheaded, you hear me? This is bigger than any of us. When you fight each other, the Dark One wins, and that is that. So stop behaving like children.”
Fortuona is greatly displeased, but Mat doesn’t care. Egwene asks sarcastically if she really married him. Fortuona replies that it was “an unusual event.” Egwene asks if she intends to fight or not. Fortuona replies that she will, but her army will not be subject to Egwene’s, though she will send sul’dam and damane to help them hold the ford. She walks off, and Egwene offers Mat help to escape in a low voice, if he needs it. Mat thanks her, but declines, and hurries after Fortuona. Egwene returns to Gawyn, who asks if she will really fight with the Seanchan after what they’ve done.
“Our options are limited, Gawyn, and our allies dwindling. For now, whoever is willing to kill Trollocs is a friend. That is that.”
Elayne hurls attack after attack at the Trollocs buckling the Andoran line, but she is utterly exhausted, and passes out. She recovers to find Birgitte insisting it is time to pull back. Elayne is startled to see how few reserves they have as they return to camp. Elayne reports to Bryne that she is too weak to continue fighting at the front, and watches as the Aiel come around to flank the Trollocs. She thinks their gambit is working until they hear horns, and realize the second Trolloc army is approaching a day earlier than she had been told. Elayne sends orders for Aludra’s dragons to turn and face them, and rides to find Bashere. She finds him yelling at Tam al’Thor. Bashere tells her they must pull out via gateway, but Elayne tells him the Kinswomen are exhausted from the push up here. Bashere says they must retreat into the city. Talmanes arrives and says they must not, as then they will be trapped. Elayne murmurs that it is like they planned it, and Tam answers that he thinks they did. Bashere grows furious, but Elayne insists that Tam explain.
“He knew, Your Majesty,” Tam said softly. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. He hasn’t been using the Aiel to scout.”
“What?” Elayne said. “Of course he has. I read the scout reports.”
“The reports are faked, or at least tampered with,” Tam said.
Tam says he confirmed it with Bael. Bashere protests angrily, but Elayne realizes it must be true: Bashere is a Darkfriend. She orders him put under arrest, feeling cold inside. She orders Galad and Arganda to throw everything they have at the Trollocs north of the city, while Aludra’s dragons, the Ogier, and the Two Rivers men concentrate on the southern army. She says that if they cannot defeat them in the next hour, they are lost.
Elayne took a deep breath, then opened herself to saidar. The One Power flooded into her, though she could hold only a trickle. She could act as if she weren’t exhausted, but her body knew the truth.
She would lead them anyway.
(I’m probably going to have to retire the “Dun” fairly soon here, since I’m pretty sure that’s how just about every chapter for the entire rest of the book is going to end. Aw. I’ll miss you, Dun! You were such a nice neutral brownish gray color!)
Okay, so now I’m getting all confused about what I realized when. I thought I had maybe figured out what was going on with the Captains before this, but on rereading it, I remember that on the first reading I was both terribly upset with Elayne’s conclusion that Bashere was a Darkfriend and convinced it wasn’t true—but I also think I remember being unsure why it was untrue. Given my track record for not figuring things out before they’re shoved in my face, it might be safer to assume I hadn’t completely figured it out by this point.
So, no points to Leigh for plot-twist-figuring-outness, maybe. Also no points to me for not figuring out how to phrase that less idiotically. Also also, Microsoft Word thinks precisely none of this paragraph so far has been grammatically legit, and Microsoft Word probably has a point. Oy.
Anyway. My lack of acuity re: the actual cause of Bashere’s bad Captaining aside, his confusion and bewilderment here nicely telegraphed to the reader (or to me, at any rate) that whatever was going on, he wasn’t screwing up out of malice. That didn’t make the situation any less upsetting, of course; in fact it made it more so. Though I didn’t doubt that Elayne, Talmanes, Galad, and Tam between them would manage to pull a win out of their asses, it was still a very nicely done cliffhanger of tension over how exactly they would manage to pull it off. (And in fact right at this moment I don’t actually recall how they did it, so that will be fun to read in future chapters.)
But the Bashere Situation is by far the smaller part of this chapter, and so I must, with remarkable reluctance, turn to the larger part, which is That Fucking Empire. Which I fully feel deserves a thorough headdesk, so here, have one:
I rather have the feeling that maybe I am supposed to be a little more conflicted over the Egwene-Tuon détente, such as it was, but given that I am so thoroughly and irrevocably on Egwene’s side here, well, I’m really just not. Conflicted, that is. Because, and really it’s always going to come down to this simple thing: SLAVERY NOOOOOOO.
Seriously, there’s just no getting past that for me. I am against moral absolutism on general principle (or any kind of absolutism, for that matter), but I may have to confess to a certain amount of hypocrisy on this count, because every time I consider it, it’s like running into a brick wall for me.
Political or practical expediency or even outright necessity be damned, I cannot countenance the idea that it is ever acceptable to deprive any sentient being of the fundamental right of liberty without sufficient cause of their own actions necessitating the need for its removal (i.e. committing crimes). And even then, we do not say that criminals are owned, only (ideally) curtailed. They are still their own person. Anything else is an abomination, and I do not drag out that word lightly.
In other words, Tuon’s reasoning for the rightness of collaring damane is a giant, steaming pile of horseshit, as far as I am concerned. The question of what you can and cannot do to criminals doesn’t even apply to the situation, in my view, because in the Seanchan system you are deprived of liberty not because of what you did, but because of what you might do. Or, even worse, because of who (or what) you were born as. And that is crap. In any remotely equitable system of justice, you cannot be condemned for crimes you might do, only for those you do commit. If that holds true for her (bullshit) rationale of leaving sul’dam free, then it should hold for damane as well.
But of course it doesn’t. Because look at how useful those collared damane are, and how useful those uncollared sul’dam are. What does it matter if you trample all over someone’s right to control their own bodies when it serves the state? Eh? Eh?
Yeah. Of such philosophies are the worst injustices in human history borne. And ohhh, the utter hypocrisy of Tuon refusing to put on a collar herself! Sorry, I have to go throw up in my mouth a little. Be right back.
Sooooo, right. I think it’s fairly safe to say, therefore, that I am not inclined to have a whole lot of sympathy for Tuon’s position. So mostly the first portion of this chapter consisted of me pumping my fist and saying “Fuck yeah!” anytime Egwene scored a particularly scathing point on Tuon, even if she shouldn’t have succumbed to playground scuffle tactics at the end there. Because everything Egwene said in this chapter can be summed up as ME=THIS.
It also consisted of me trying not to be inordinately pissed at Mat. Because, yes, I recognize that it was a damn good thing that Mat was there to talk both Egwene and Tuon off their respective ledges, and yes, I recognize that that is pretty much the entire reason he is where he is right now, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream at him about supporting this heinous culture of slavery by default when he doesn’t even have Tuon’s lifetime of culturally indoctrinated blinders as an excuse.
And yes, I know, apocalypse in progress, everyone doing what they have to do to survive, blah blah blah. Forgive me if I cannot regard it as an adequate excuse. I am stubborn that way.
I probably also have to take a minute to be annoyed, once again, that the revelation of the sul’dam’s ability to learn to channel had so little effect on Tuon, either inwardly or outwardly. It would be one thing if she were just putting on the “I don’t care” shtick for show and then stressing about it on the inside, but as far as I can recall, anytime we’ve been inside Tuon’s head it never seems to bother her at all, and that’s what really makes me lose all sympathy for her character. If I don’t even see a character I’m supposed to be sympathizing with even have some moral qualms over her questionable actions/decisions, I don’t see how I’m even remotely supposed to do anything but hate that character.
And, yeah. I like to think of myself as a realist, but I’ve come to realize that in some ways I am very much an idealist, at least on certain points. That said, I do not actually condemn Egwene for her decision to hold her nose and work with the Seanchan, because there is a difference between being unable to condone a thing, and being unable to deal with it when survival is at stake. Especially when the survival of the world is at stake.
I’m not sure if I just contradicted myself in what I said a couple of paragraphs ago—I think I probably did—but that’s just part and parcel of my dilemma here. If you ever want to see my realist tendencies at furious and intractable war with my idealist ones, you need look no further than my reaction to the Seanchan, it seems.
In conclusion: Blagh.
What do you think?
And that’s what I got for this one, peoples. See you next Tuesday!