Top o’ the post queue to yeh, mo chairde! Sure, and it’s a Wheel of Time Reread you’ll be getting now!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 38 and 39 of A Memory of Light, in which Rand finally puts away his helicopter, and things take a turn for the awesome. AT LAST.
Previous reread 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 reread post, and all posts henceforth, contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t read, continue at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 38: The Place That Was Not
Rand sees Lan fall, and is almost spent, crushed under the weight of the deaths he’s seen. He hears his father’s voice say Let go. He whispers that he must save them, but the voice tells him he can’t do this alone, and it was their choice to make. Then he hears what he thinks is Egwene’s voice, calling him a fool.
Am I not allowed to be a hero, too?
“It’s not that…”
You march to your death. Yet you forbid anyone else from doing so?
Let go, Rand. Let us die for what we believe, and do not try to steal that from us. You have embraced your death. Embrace mine.
He apologizes to her for failing, and she replies that he hasn’t failed yet. Rand screams, and then lets go of his guilt, his shame, and his need to protect his friends and allies. He goes through his list of names, that had once only been women but now was everyone who had died for him, and feels them fly away from him, leaving him lighter and lighter.
Ilyena was last. We are reborn, Rand thought, so we can do better the next time.
So do better.
He feels himself come back together from where the Dark One had almost flayed him apart, and stands once more to face the Shadow.
Shendla gazes at the body of her beloved, and shrieks to all that Bao the Wyld is dead. The battlefield seems to go still.
Rand faces the Dark One in the place that was not, and understands that the Dark One is not a being but a force that he can now see completely. The Dark One still strives against him, but Rand stands firm, relaxed now that his burdens are gone. The Dark One tells him that everything is his, now and forever, and throws images of the dead at Rand, but Rand replies softly that he will never give in. The fury of his opponent sends shockwaves across the land, but Rand feels it now as an idle buzzing, and seeks the void as Tam taught him, and feels peace.
I CONTROL THEM ALL. I BREAK THEM BEFORE ME. YOU HAVE LOST, CHILD OF HUMANKIND.
“If you think that,” Rand whispered into the darkness, “then it is because you cannot see.”
Loial reports to Mat about Lan’s fall, and it seems that Demandred’s death has stunned the foe. Mat forces away his grief, and instead raises his ashanderei to scream “Tai’shar Malkier!” His troops take up the cry, Borderlander and otherwise, and Mat leads them back into the fray.
Of the many details of the story that I had forgotten since my first reading, this is definitely one of them: that it is Egwene’s voice that provides Rand his breakthrough turning point. I say this is only appropriate, since she is the one of the core group who has made the largest sacrifice.
It’s left somewhat ambiguous as to whether this is actually Egwene (or Egwene’s ghost) talking to Rand, or it is Rand’s mental projection of what he subconsciously knows Egwene would say if she could. I’m personally going to fail to render an opinion on which it is, because I like the ambiguity better. You don’t tend to get a lot of that in WOT, so I like to appreciate it when I see it.
What I also really like about Rand’s revelation is that it finally addresses what I’ve always considered to be Rand’s Achilles’ heel and central character flaw: his chivalry, this time in a macro-sense.
That’s reflected in his infamous list, which now (finally) includes everyone who’s died for him, not just the women. Rand’s chivalry is his flaw, because while wanting to protect/save people is of course a good thing in principle, insisting on saving people at all costs – at the expense of their own wishes or beliefs, or their need to save themselves, or even their need to not save themselves, for a greater good – doing that robs those people of agency, and endangers the good they could do if they weren’t being so saved all the time.
As possibly-Egwene points out, Rand has to accept that his people have to make their own choices and sacrifices, and to deny them that cheapens them and their suffering, both on his behalf and on their own. Basically, she’s saying that everyone put on their big boy and/or girl pants a long time ago, and Rand needs to respect that and let them be the adults they are.
The analogy here, that of a parent letting go and admitting that his kids are grown-ups that have to be allowed to make their own way in the world, mistakes and all, is both odd (considering Rand is barely an adult himself) and fitting (considering Rand is also a dude who’s been around for centuries, and had kids of his own). Plus, I suppose a Messiah figure is by definition a parental figure to some extent.
And, I know, it probably seems odd on the face of it to say that the one thing a Savior Of The World can’t do is save everyone, but that not actually what I (and, I think, the book) is saying. Rand still has to save the world; he just has to realize that the most important part of saving the world is allowing it to save itself.
And now that all permutations of the word “save” have completely lost their meaning, let’s move on!
Chapter 39: Those Who Fight
Rand says to the Dark One that he cannot fathom humanity, why they continue to fight. The Dark One says he has Rand, but Rand replies that it has never been about him.
It was about a woman, torn and beaten down, cast from her throne and made a puppet— a woman who had crawled when she had to. That woman still fought.
It was about a man that love repeatedly forsook, a man who found relevance in a world that others would have let pass them by. A man who remembered stories, and who took fool boys under his wing when the smarter move would have been to keep on walking. That man still fought.
It was about a woman with a secret, a hope for the future. A woman who had hunted the truth before others could. A woman who had given her life, then had it returned. That woman still fought.
It was about a man whose family was taken from him, but who stood tall in his sorrow and protected those he could.
It was about a woman who refused to believe that she could not help, could not Heal those who had been harmed.
It was about a hero who insisted with every breath that he was anything but a hero.
It was about a woman who would not bend her back while she was beaten, and who shone with the Light for all who watched. Including Rand.
It was about them all.
Rand declares that it was never about beating him, but breaking him, making him and those who fight with him give up. But, he says, they never will. The Dark One bellows that he can still kill; he is the Lord of the Grave, and they will all be his eventually.
Rand stepped forward, hand stretched out. In his palm sat the world, and upon that world a continent, and upon that continent a battlefield, and upon that battlefield two bodies on the ground.
Mat fights furiously, bellowing in the Old Tongue, with Tam and Karede and Loial and the rest of who were left. They are outnumbered three to one, but Mat thinks that now is his chance, while the Sharans are still dazed at Demandred’s death.
THE SON OF BATTLES. I WILL TAKE HIM. I WILL TAKE THEM ALL, ADVERSARY. AS I TOOK THE KING OF NOTHING.
Blood and Bloody ashes! What was that nothingness in his head?
Arganda shouts that they will be overwhelmed, but Mat thinks to himself that he can do this, if he could only get a favorable toss of the dice.
Rand watches, and says the Dark One is wrong.
Surrounded and terrified, a boy raises a golden horn to his lips.
Mat hears Rand’s voice in his mind, telling Shai’tan he is wrong, and then everyone hears it.
That one you have tried to kill many times, Rand said, that one who lost his kingdom, that one from whom you took everything…
Lurching, bloodied from the sword strike to his side, the last king of the Malkieri stumbled to his feet. Lan thrust his hand into the air, holding by its hair the head of Demandred, general of the Shadow’s armies.
That man, Rand shouted. That man still fights!
Everyone on the field seems to freeze, and then Mat hears the pure tone of a horn, one he’d heard before.
Mellar taunts Elayne that it was a pity her little Captain-General hadn’t survived to watch what he was going to do to her. He laughs that she had really thought herself Birgitte from the legends. Elayne thinks despairingly that Birgitte had been right all along, and it was possible for Elayne to die but her babies to survive. Then Mellar goes rigid.
Elayne blinked, looking up at him. Something silvery jutted from the front of Mellar’s chest. It looked like… an arrowhead.
Then she sees Birgitte standing over her own corpse, resplendent and glowing. Birgitte shoots Mellar in the head, then his Dreadlord. Everyone else gapes at her in shock.
“I am Birgitte Silverbow,” Birgitte announced, as if to dispel doubt. “The Horn of Valere has sounded, calling all to the Last Battle. The heroes have returned!”
The armies of the Shadow stand stunned at Lan’s appearance, and Mat shouts to press forward. He wonders how the Horn of Valere could have been sounded without him, and decides that his death at Rhuidean must have broken his link to it. The sound of the Horn has disoriented the Shadow, and the Trollocs run from Lan, leaving their flank exposed. No one seems to be in charge; the Sharans still fight, but the Trollocs are beginning to fall back. Mat leads a mounted charge to rescue Lan, and reaches him just as Lan collapses. Narishma appears and gives Lan a little Healing, and then they escape back to their own side.
Behind them, mist gathered. Mat was struck with a terrible thought. He had ignored a terrible possibility. The Horn of Valere still called, a distant — yet unmistakable sound. Oh, Light, Mat thought. Oh, bloody stumps on a battlefield. Who blew it? Which side?
Then he sees the figures of legend coming out of the fog, led by Artur Hawkwing, though one breaks off and streaks away, Mat can’t see who. Mat goes to meet Hawkwing, figuring he’ll know who summoned him if Hawkwing tries to kill him. Hawkwing greets him (“Gambler”), and admonishes him to take better care of his things; he was worried they wouldn’t get summoned at all. Relieved, Mat says that the Heroes fight for them, then.
“Of course we fight for the Light,” Hawkwing said. “We would never fight for the Shadow.”
“But I was told—” Mat began.
“You were told wrong,” Hawkwing said.
Hawkwing tells him that his death at Rhuidean isn’t what broke his link to the Horn, but another moment he cannot remember, thanks to Lews Therin. Amaresu chastises him sharply for fearing Rand’s madness when he owes his life to the Dragon twice over, and Mat reflects that even dead women treat him like Nynaeve does. Mat supposes he can pull his forces back now, but Blaes of Matuchin explains that even the Heroes can be defeated, and if wounded severely enough will be forced to go back to the World of Dreams to recover. Hend adds that they can be bound, as well.
“We can fight well,” Hawkwing said to Mat. “And we will lend you our strength. This is not our war alone. We are just one part of it.”
“Bloody wonderful,” Mat said. That Horn was still sounding. “Then tell me this. If I didn’t blow that thing, and the Shadow didn’t do it… who did?”
Crying, Olver keeps blowing the Horn even as Trollocs yank him from his hiding place. He thinks an apology to Mat, thinking he is about to die, but then the Trolloc drops him, and Olver looks up to see someone standing over him, fighting a dozen Trollocs at once.
Olver caught sight of the man’s face, and his breath caught. “Noal?”
Noal smiles at him, all his former weariness gone. Olver blurts that he was told Noal died. Noal says that he did, but the Pattern wasn’t finished with him yet. He tells Olver to keep sounding the Horn, and Olver does while Noal fights on.
Noal. Noal was one of the heroes of the Horn! The hooves of galloping horses announced others, come to rescue Olver from the Shadowspawn.
Suddenly, Olver felt a deep warmth. He had lost so many people, but one of them… one… had come back for him.
Dammit, Olver, quit making me choke up.
So the sheer number of awesome and genuinely surprising things that happened in this chapter, after the relentless and endless vortex of suck that had been the stuff before it, just about made my head explode on first reading. Even now, I’m having difficulty organizing myself sufficiently to do more than make helpless gestures at it.
Because! Olver! Horn! Heroes! Undead Birgitte! Undead NOAL!! Actually-Not-Dead Lan!!!! OMGWTFBBQ!!!
See?! I’ve been reduced to multiple punctuation points, y’all! This is bad! I’m turning into a Tumblr tag set before your eyes!
Agh, I’m actually disgusting myself right now. Get a grip, self, sheesh.
In related news, you guys might as well resign yourselves now to the inevitability of massive amounts of direct quotes from the text in the summaries from this point on, because yeah.
Speaking of which, I love that on first reading I was actually stumped by a couple of the people Rand was referring to at the beginning of the chapter for a little bit, probably because I was a little startled that Morgase made the cut. I mean, I loved that, because if anyone in this story besides Rand himself (and Egwene, possibly) had more incentive than Morgase to give the hell up and yet didn’t, I can’t think of them offhand, but even so, her inclusion there was unexpected.
It’s a photo finish over which thing in this chapter surprised me more, Lan’s survival, Noal’s appearance, or Olver sounding the Horn, but it was probably the latter happening that most made me go WHAAAT. Because I will say, it never occurred to me prior to this that Mat’s link to the Horn was broken, and this is because what Hawkwing claims here to Mat is in direct contradiction to what most of fandom (or at least the parts of fandom I was keeping tabs on) has considered the final word on the matter for years.
Long before AMOL came out, there was a ton of debate in the fandom over which of the two incidents of Mat’s “death” counted as fulfilling the Snakes’ prophecy about him dying and living again: when he was hanged in Rhuidean in TSR, or when he was blasted in Caemlyn in TFOH? And did either one mean Mat was no longer linked to the Horn?
I’ll just quote the WOTFAQ’s summation here, since it’s easier:
If the Caemlyn incident is the only time Mat Died and Lived Again, then he is probably still linked to the Horn, due to the way BF [balefire] works: Mat gets toasted, the link to the Horn breaks. Rand BFs Rahvin, making Mat not-having-died, and thereby unmaking the destruction of the link to the Horn. If the Rhuidean incident counts as Mat having died and lived again, then the question of his being linked to the Horn is still up in the air – does restoring him to life restore the link?
It turns out, though, that the latter question is a moot point, because RJ has clarified the matter.
Bill Garrett's report of RJ's appearance at Balticon 30 (April 1996) mentions: “(Jordan noted that Mat's death by lightning and subsequent undoing of his death when Rand balefired Rahvin, fulfills a prophecy about living, dying, and then living again.)” Tim Kington reports that, when asked how long Mat had hung from the Tree of Life in Rhuidean, RJ replied, “Long enough to be almost dead” (emphasis mine) [post-COT signing, Dayton, OH, January 16, 2004].
So, it is the Caemlyn incident and not the Rhuidean one that fulfills the prophecy. Given that and the reasoning above, it seems that yes, Mat is still linked to the Horn.
…Except, evidently not. I’m not sure whether to call this a gaffe or not, because there’s certainly enough esoteric magical handwavy shit going on here that it’s possible to just suppose that Horn-of-Valere Linkage has an opt-out clause re: balefire effects, but I confess I’m still raising a little bit of an eyebrow at it.
But whatever, really, because allowing it means AMOL got to pull off one of the biggest and most genuinely surprising plot twists in the entire series. I’ll raise my eyebrow at it, but I’ll take it.
Also, Heroes of the Horn! FINALLY, GOD. I only spent the entirety of Chapter 37 waiting for them to show up, jeez.
And we got names for some previously unmentioned Heroes this time, it seems:
Buad of Albhain, as regal as any queen. […] Hend the Striker, dark- skinned, a hammer in one hand and a spike in the other.
Also a dude named “Blaes of Matuchin.” I presume that these guys, like Amaresu and Hawkwing and Birgitte and so on, are based on real life legends and mythology, but none of them ring a bell for me offhand except for Buad, who may be a reference to Boudicca, an ancient (and awesome) Celtic warrior queen. I hope I’m right, because Boudicca is one of my favorite historical figures.
Also, I was intrigued by Hawkwing’s claim that the Heroes would never fight for the Shadow. I liked it, because that certainly makes more sense than supposing they would just slavishly fight for whoever summoned them, but now I want to know what would have happened if the Shadow had blown the Horn? Would the Heroes have shown up and slaughtered whoever did it, or would they have just done the magical equivalent of sending the call to voicemail and ignoring it?
Elayne: oh, honey. You finally learn not to trust too-obvious interpretations of prophecies, just a little too late. Or not actually too late, thanks to Undead Birgitte (YAY!), but way later than you should’ve. Prophecies NEVER MEAN WHAT YOU THINK THEY MEAN, GIRL. It is A Rule. Learn it, know it, embrace it. Sheesh.
But, you know, congrats on not getting eviscerated and raped, possibly in that order, because Mellar was a sick fuck. No, seriously, I was so relieved at that I can’t tell you. I would have liked Mellar to suffer a bit more before he died (or, okay, a lot more), but I guess you can’t have everything.
Also, y’all, there are just not many things more awesome than the mental image of Birgitte standing over her own beheaded corpse while shooting dead the man who killed her. Things more awesome do absolutely exist (and we’ll be encountering most of them shortly), but it is definitely up there.
Lan: In retrospect, I really don’t know why I was surprised at Lan’s survival, because of COURSE he’s just too badass to die, but nevertheless I was totally all GASP! at his reappearance. Another moment which would be awesome to see on film.
The one thing that seems a little off to me re: Lan’s survival is that evidently the Dark One didn’t know Lan wasn’t dead, which seems like a really odd thing for the Lord of the Grave not to know. But I guess one can suppose the Dark One is seriously off his game by this point, what with all the Rand-defying and so on. Which I suppose is also why he threatened Mat directly and yet seemed to do nothing to follow through on the threat?
(I mean, other than the hordes of Trollocs trying to kill Mat at that moment, of course. But that was sort of a pre-existing life threat, so I declare that it doesn’t count. BECAUSE I SAID SO.)
I am still unclear, by the way, on whether Mat actually “heard” the words the Dark One said or not, because his line immediately after that (“What was that nothingness in his head?”) is… unclear. Did he just feel a “nothingness,” or did he hear the words? I guess he did, because that’s his POV and therefore if he hadn’t “heard” the words neither would we have, but if so his reaction (especially his lack of follow-up – like, he’s not going to freak out even a little bit that he just heard the Dark One directly threaten him personally, in his head?) seemed a little bizarre to me. *shrug*
Speaking of voices from nowhere, I should note as an aside that throughout both these chapters (and a couple of times before this, I think), Rand has been slipping in and out of talking in all caps. This is a topic we will be coming back to later.
Later, because I is done for the nonce, my goslings! Have a lovely week, recovering from all that green beer I bet you drank, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!