Oh, joy! The white smoke over your monitor indicates that a new Wheel of Time post has been selected!
(Or, that you need to get a new computer.)
Today’s entry covers Chapters 8 and 9 of A Memory of Light, in which we discuss Papal marriage rites, amazing daredevil feats of DOING THINGS WHILE PREGNANT
RUN AWAAAAAY, and who would win in a game of 13×13 Chicken.
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.
I am also thrilled to continue to tell you that the Wheel of Time Re-read is also now available as e-books, from your preferred e-book retailer! How cool is THAT, seriously.
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!
Once more with feeling: scheduling note: JordanCon V is ALMOST UPON US, ZOMG. And I am Toastmastering it!
Therefore, the Re-read will be going on hiatus for a week after today’s post, returning April 30th. However, be sure to watch this space, as I will no doubt have a hopefully-coherent con report or two to share with you in the meantime!
Chapter 8: That Smoldering City
Elayne joins Guybon and Talmanes on a hill northwest of Caemlyn, and mourns the sight of her city, destroyed before she had ruled it more than a hundred days. She surveys the damage done by Talmanes’s dragons escaping the walls, and thinks that everything they know about warfare is going to change. Talmanes estimates that there are tens of thousands of Trollocs in the city.
[Talmanes] was said to be one of Mat’s most trusted officers; she would have assumed that, by now, Mat would have corrupted the fellow far more. He didn’t curse once. Pity.
Elayne has Perrin’s forces with her, as well as the Queen’s Guard, Guybon’s Andoran regulars, Bashere’s Legion of the Dragon, and a contingent of siswai’aman. She is uneasy at only having the Kinswomen and the Wise Ones with Perrin for channelers, and not at all sure what to think about the Whitecloaks. She approves of Bashere’s plan to draw the Trollocs out into Braem Wood, where the Aiel and the Two Rivers archers in particular will be put to deadly use, and likes the idea of strengthening her ties with the Saldaean throne as well. Birgitte and Bashere approach to report that most of the fires in the city have been contained by now, thanks to the Halfmen. Bashere says that he is not certain what the purpose of taking Caemlyn was.
“Was this attack on Caemlyn intended to sow chaos and bring fear to our armies, or is it intended to take a stronghold and hold it long- term as a base from which to harry our forces? Back during the Trolloc Wars, the Fades did hold cities for that purpose.”
Dannil approaches to report that Perrin’s forces are set up in the forest. Talmanes thinks that there will be no need of archers once his dragons come into play, but Elayne disagrees. Bashere says her plan for the city itself is almost ready, but asks if she really wants to do something that “drastic”. Elayne says she does, and Bashere leaves. He returns a short time later to report that the basements of many of the remaining buildings in the city have been filled with lamp oil, and they are waiting on Gawyn’s report to begin.
Elayne nodded, and then removed her hand from her belly as Bashere glanced at it. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding it again. “What do you think of me going to battle while pregnant? Is it a mistake?”
He shook his head. “No. It proves just how desperate our situation is. It will make the soldiers think. Make them more serious. Besides…”
Bashere shrugged. “Perhaps it will remind them that not everything in this world is dying.”
Bashere then asks if she is going to let the troops know that she is carrying the Dragon Reborn’s child. Elayne says he doesn’t know that’s true, but Bashere answers that he saw the way Elayne looked at Rand. He does not understand why she is keeping it a secret, and Elayne tells him the children of the Dragon Reborn will be targets. Bashere agrees, but points out that they are targets just as much because of their mother as their father.
“You’re high commander of the armies of the Light! I think your men deserve to know what exactly they’re fighting for.”
“It is not your business to know,” Elayne said, “nor is it theirs.”
Bashere raised an eyebrow at her. “The heir to the realm,” he said flatly, “is not the business of its subjects?”
“I believe you are overstepping your bounds, General.”
[…] “Your men will fight more bravely if they know that you carry the Dragon Reborn’s heir.”
Birgitte approaches with a nod, and Elayne gives the order to burn the city: the Kinswomen open gateways to the oil-filled basements so that torches can be hurled in, setting them all aflame. Elayne watches the Andoran troops watching Caemlyn burn, and grits her teeth and tells Birgitte to spread the word among the army that her children were fathered by the Dragon Reborn. Birgitte and Bashere both grin, and Elayne decides they are insufferable, but she sees that the men seem to stand taller after. When the Trollocs start pouring out of the gates, she gives the order to go north.
“Caemlyn is dead. We take to the forests; let the Shadowspawn follow!”
Androl wakes to find himself bound and shielded along with Emarin, Evin, and Jonneth. He senses that Pevara is somewhere nearby. Evin is sobbing, and he begs for Androl’s forgiveness for caving to the Darkfriends. Mishraile appears and kicks Androl, promising retribution for what he did to Coteren. Mezar and Welyn drag a groggy Logain in and tie him up, and Taim instructs them to take Evin next. Androl yells for them to take him instead, but Taim sneers that he is not even worth Turning, and they drag Evin away. They can’t see him anymore, but they can hear him screaming. Pevara tells him silently that she thinks it’s been less than a day since they were captured. She asks what’s happening with Evin.
They’re Turning him, Androl sent back. Strength of will has something to do with resisting. That is why Logain hasn’t been Turned yet.
Pevara’s concern was a warmth through the bond. Were all Aes Sedai like her? He’d assumed they had no emotions, but Pevara felt the full range – although she accompanied it with an almost inhuman control over how those emotions affected her. Another result of decades of practice?
She tries to guide him through untying the knot that binds his hands, but the attempt fails. Pevara observes that their shields are tied off, and could perhaps be gotten through with time, but Androl isn’t sure how much time they have. Evin is no longer screaming, and Androl can faintly sense channeling going on. Evin returns a few minutes later, and smiles, commenting that was not as bad as he’d thought. He tells Androl not to worry.
“I feel great. No more fear, no more worry. We shouldn’t have been fighting all of this time. We are the Black Tower. We need to work together.”
You are not my friend, Androl thought. You might have his face, but Evin… Oh, Light. Evin is dead.
Evin tells him Nalaam is dead, killed in the cave-in, and confides to Androl that he think he can convince Taim et al to Turn Androl rather than just kill him, and that Androl will thank him later. Androl sees the Fades coming to drag off Emarin next, and thinks of how lucky Nalaam was to already be dead.
It’s got to be quite a thing, giving the order to raze your own city. Some people may be envious of kings and queens and Presidents and High Commanders and etc., but on most days I ain’t one of them. I mean, I get guilty when I don’t tip twenty percent; if I had to make actual life and death decisions, I just… well, I just don’t know how well my soul would bear up under that.
You never know, though, until you’re there. So there’s that. And here’s hoping that that stays over there, and bothers me never. Other than fictionally, of course.
In other, more grammatically coherent news, Elayne’s conversation with Bashere was interesting, because I had forgotten about it until I reread it, and up to that point I had just been thinking about how I was going to say something about how great it was that not just a woman, but a very visibly pregnant woman, had been made the WOT equivalent of Commander in Chief and no one felt the need to even mention it, much less object to her on those grounds. Some of the other rulers had had issues with Elayne’s selection, true, but unless I forgot something, those objections were purely political in nature. And that… that was just really refreshing.
So I was, initially, actually rather irritated that Elayne herself decided to bring it up to Bashere, because I was like, nooo, girl, no harshing my rare and elusive lack-of-sexism buzz! Why you want to do me like that?
But I get it: both why she felt the need to bring it up, and why Bashere thought it was a good thing, both in general and because of who the children’s father is specifically. In general, because one thing you can definitely say about apocalyptic situations is that they cut through societal-barrier bullshit like nothing else: it’s all in, no limit when the end of the world itself is on deck. And in particular, because he was totally right that knowing her kids were the Dragon Reborn’s would boost morale.
It’s one of those things that is so intuitively obvious that it’s actually kind of difficult to articulate why it’s so. But to give it a shot: whether rightly or wrongly, people always automatically invest in the idea of dynasties; if you don’t believe me, just peruse the amount of ink (electronic or otherwise) that’s been wasted on every last blip of Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, or the Kennedys, or even the ongoing paparazzi furor over Brangelina’s children. (Seriously, I generally don’t pay attention to this kind of thing, but I just Googled “Kate Middleton” and holy crap. KATE SHOPS FOR ANTIQUES WHILE PREGNANT ZOMG HOW DOES SHE DO IT. Really, media? That’s just sad.)
Sad, but it does support my point. And it would be even more so in Rand’s case, considering that he is not just some random royal figure or movie star but, you know, the actual savior of the world. And also considering how much he (as such) is tied to images (and literal examples) of rebirth and renewal and, ahem, fertility. The supreme leader of our army is carrying the Messiah’s children? Shit yeah, we good!
(Is what I project the average soldier is saying. Probably not in those exact words. What? Yeah, well. Never let it be said I can’t surfer-dudeize any given situation regardless of historical or fake-fantasy-historical period. I’m gifted that way.)
I continue to really like the Androl storyline. This is going to sound odd, perhaps, but I feel like it’s got an energy and tension to it that maybe isn’t precisely in keeping with the style of WOT as a whole, but taken on its own merits is nevertheless a ripping good suspenseful subplot that I was (and am) genuinely invested in, and anxious to see how it turned out even though I was pretty sure I knew at least generally how it was going to go.
Even so, man, that’s just deeply creepy and upsetting, the Turning thing. Poor Evin. Which I’m certain I’ve said before, but definitely is worth saying again, emphatically, because if you ask me it’s pretty much the mental equivalent of rape. Maybe even worse, because – wait, did we ever find out whether Turning can be reversed? I feel like someone answered that question (or maybe the book did), but I can’t remember if so.
Well, either way I give the entire notion a resounding and categorical DO NOT WANT. Though it is kind of interesting, in a morbid way, to speculate on how long Androl himself would have held out against the Turning process if things had ever gotten that far. Would he have lasted longer than Logain?
Not to mention other channeling characters as well. Given that “ridiculously stubborn” is a root trait of most (if not all) of Our Heroes, that could be a long fight. So if y’all get bored while I’m away, you could always argue about who would outlast who. (My money for longest hold-out, personally, is on Nynaeve, but I bet there are lots of people who would disagree with me. Heh.)
Chapter 9: To Die Well
Lan and the Malkieri fall back from their latest turn at the front, and Lan reflects that as effective as their tactics are, eventually the advantage would go to the Trollocs. Bulen falls from his saddle, and Lan rushes to him to find he is already dead, having concealed his wound from Lan so as not to leave him alone. Lan is furious, but seeing Kaisel and several others watching, announces loudly that he does not mourn for Bulen, who could not have died a better death. The others then begin telling stories of other fallen comrades’ heroic deaths, and taking cheer in the tales. Lan brings Bulen to Narishma and asks him to put him somewhere cold.
“When this is done, and Malkier is reclaimed, we will want a proper resting place for the noble fallen. Until then, I will not have him burned or left to rot. He was the first Malkieri to return to Malkier’s king.”
Narishma obeys, and Lan keeps Bulen’s hadori and ties it on his sword before going to meet with Agelmar. On the way, an earthquake strikes the camp, and Lan sees that there is something unnatural about the fissures it creates; Lan thinks it is “as if he was looking at fractures in the nature of reality itself.” The strangeness fades after a moment, but Lan thinks that the earth itself is weakening. Tenobia is arguing with Agelmar as he approaches, and he thinks she is too hotheaded to be a good tactician, and likely to go off and fight herself if they don’t watch her. He draws Agelmar aside, who agrees with Lan’s assessment. Lan wants to know what Agelmar will do about the increasing fatigue of the troops, and Agelmar answers that they will hold as long as they can and then retreat. Lan is astonished, and says he will not abandon Malkier again.
“The determination of a man set upon justice is a thing not lightly ignored. However, there is a time to put yourself aside and see the greater importance.”
Lan stopped, eyeing the aged general. “Take care, Lord Agelmar. It almost sounds as if you are calling me selfish.”
“I am, Lan,” Agelmar said. “And you are.”
Lan did not flinch.
“You came to throw your life away for Malkier. That, in itself, is noble. However, with the Last Battle upon us, it’s also stupid. We need you. Men will die because of your stubbornness.”
Lan protests that he did not ask those men to follow him, but Agelmar is unimpressed by this. Agelmar insists that the best thing they can do is fall back as necessary and delay the Shadow as long as possible, and attrite their numbers as much as they can. Lan considers his words, but then an emergency signal goes up and Lan goes to return to the field even though he had just left it.
They will follow me. Like Bulen did. Leading them to death in the name of a fallen kingdom… leading myself to the same death… how is that any different from Tenobia’s attitude?
Lan decides that when the time comes, he will retreat as Agelmar suggested.
Egwene’s forces are assembled on the north end of Merrilor, crossing into Kandor via gateway, while Rand’s are waiting to the south. She hopes his negotiations with the Seanchan are going well. Gawyn complains about the delay, and Egwene reflects that she still feels odd that she had authorized her own wedding to him the night before. The Trollocs have razed Kandor’s capital, Chachin, and are now moving toward the border with Arafel. Silviana approaches to report on Elayne Sedai’s insistence that the Yellows form a central stationary hospital for the wounded from all fronts. Egwene debates giving in to Elayne on this, but decides to suggest Mayene as the staging area, and declares that all Accepted and novices should go there with the Yellows, to add their strength to Healing out of harm’s way. Egwene and Gawyn cross into Kandor and go to the tent where Leilwin and Bayle Domon are being guarded. Leilwin prostrates herself, and when Egwene snaps at her not to bow like that, Leilwin answers that she has failed her duty, and in so doing “endangered the Pattern itself”.
“Yes,” Egwene said. “The bracelets. I’m aware. Would you like a chance to repay that debt?”
The woman bowed herself, forehead to the ground again. Egwene sighed, but before she could order the woman to rise, Leilwin spoke. “By the Light and my hope for salvation and rebirth,” Leilwin said, “I vow to serve you and protect you, Amyrlin, ruler of the White Tower. By the Crystal Throne and the blood of the Empress, I bind myself to you, to do as commanded in all things, and to put your life before my own. Under the Light, may it be so.”
She kissed the floor.
Egwene looked at her, stunned. Only a Darkfriend would betray an oath such as that one. Of course, every Seanchan was close to being a Darkfriend.
Egwene asks what Leilwin can tell her of the Seanchan military and the plans of its Empress, but Leilwin answers that she was a ship captain and therefore only knows of its navy. She begs, though, to be of use any way she can, and Egwene instructs her to tell of anything she knows of her people.
Rand examines maps, and contemplates the idea of a world without evil, without the Dark One. Elayne enters and is shocked to see him there in her tent. He tells her he had to see her alone again one more time, and kneels before her and apologizes that he didn’t know sooner about their babies.
Children. His children. He closed his eyes, breathing in, enjoying the thought.
He would never know them. He would leave them fatherless before they were even born. But, then, Janduin had left Rand fatherless— and he had turned out all right. Just a few rough edges, here and there.
Elayne says she was thinking of naming one of them Rand, if there is a boy, but Rand asks her not to; he says his shadow over their lives will already be great enough. She tells him he will be a good father, and refuses to listen to his protests, telling him a queen must have hope before all else. Rand says he hopes for her and the rest of the world, but he has accepted his own death. She changes the subject to the war, and Rand congratulates her on her ability to coordinate so many great minds. They discuss tactics over dinner, which reminds him of their time together in Tear, when he had fallen in love with her.
Their love was born of the things they shared. With Elayne, he could speak of politics and the burden of rule. She understood. She truly did, better than anyone he knew. She knew what it was to make decisions that changed the lives of thousands. She understood what it was to be owned by the people of a nation. Rand found it remarkable that, though they had often been apart, their connection held. In fact, it felt even stronger.
Rand confesses to her his chagrin at so many people he doesn’t even know dying in his name, and she tells him he cannot protect everyone. He tells her about what he had realized on Dragonmount, that in order to win, he must care, he must feel pain for others.
“And you remember Lews Therin now?” she whispered. “Everything he knew? That is not just an air you put on?”
“I am him. I always was. I remember it now.”
Elayne breathed out, eyes widening. “What an advantage.”
Of all the people he had told that to, only she had responded in such a way. What a wonderful woman.
He tells her he should be able to fix the world, to keep everyone from going through such suffering. She kisses him, but says angrily that he cannot deny his people the right to fight for themselves. He concedes the point, and makes her tea sweet again. She asks how, and he tells her about ta’veren, and how before the effects were random, either good or bad, but now his effects are all good, because someone else is doing all the bad, and that is the Pattern’s effort to restore balance.
“If what you say is true,” Elayne replied, “then there can never be good in the world.”
“Of course there can.”
“Will the Pattern not balance it out?”
He hesitated. That line of reasoning cut too close to the way he had begun thinking before Dragonmount— that he had no options, that his life was planned for him. “So long as we care,” Rand said, “there can be good. The Pattern is not about emotions— it is not even about good or evil. The Dark One is a force from outside of it, influencing it by force.”
And Rand would end that. If he could.
He gives her a gift: a Seed, an object designed to help her make angreal. She gives him a gift in return: a dull dagger with a deerhorn hilt, a ter’angreal which, when worn, prevents the wearer from being seen by the Shadow. They stay together long into the night.
This chapter ended kind of weirdly. For one thing, I’d think that Elayne, of all people, would have had a much stronger reaction to being told she had just been handed a device for making angreal. Because this is Elayne, the original Ms. I Am Obsessed With Figuring Out This Ter’angreal Thing Even If It Blows Me Up Occasionally. Not to mention the whole thing where the secret of making angreal has only been lost for three thousand years or thereabouts.
I’m just saying, I’d think that would at least rate a gasp of surprise or something. But here she’s just like “Oh, I got you something too!” like Rand had given her a bottle of wine or something. Eh?
In that same vein, you’d think that if Elayne had had a ter’angreal lying around all this time that hides you from the Shadow, that she would have at least tried to reproduce it. *shrug* Well, maybe she did try and the attempt failed and we just weren’t told about it. Still, daaaaaamn could that have come in handy in mass production, right? Or even if there had been just enough copies to give to a few key people. Imagine Graendal’s Compulsion plan falling through just because she could never even find the captains to corrupt them!
Speaking of which, I’m actually not sure if Graendal’s subversion of the captains has started here yet or not, because I was sort of under the impression that Agelmar’s plan (to slowly fall back while whittling down the Trollocs as much as possible) is basically the same as the one they’d had all along. I mean, maybe I’m missing something here, but what else can they do, but give ground as slowly as they can? It’s not like they have the numbers to actually defeat the Trollocs.
Although I suppose, considering the crazy shenanigans Team Light gets up to later with gateways and cannons and lava and so forth, that this could instead be a tragically shortsighted case of thinking inside the box.
So, probably Graendal’s already going to town, then. Hrm.
That said, I don’t think it invalidates what Agelmar said to Lan about his selfishness, though. There is often a very fine line between nobility and stupidity – and sometimes there’s no difference at all.
Also, aw. Bye, Bulen. I’d be more upset about your death but I’ve got to save up for later, sorry.
I found it a little startling that we had evidently skipped over Egwene and Gawyn’s wedding completely, as well as rather surprised by the lack of goofy morning-after moments between the two of them. Yes, I know, imminent apocalypse to coordinate, we’re all very busy here, but unless I’m very much mistaken Egwene just lost her virginity to Gawyn the night before. And while that’s probably not as big a deal for her as it might be for some (I imagine getting het up about popping your cherry rather pales in comparison once you’ve personally hurled a dragon off a tower and snapped a Forsaken’s brain like a twig), I would still think it would merit a passing thought or two, you know?
I did snort a bit, though, at Egwene’s chagrin at having to authorize her own wedding. “I now pronounce me – us – husband and wife!” Heh. I guess that’s one good argument for realworld!Pope to be celibate: who would he get to marry him?
Leilwin: blah blah slavery slavery blah. Because don’t try to tell me da’covale (which is essentially what Leilwin was making herself here) don’t count, because they so do. Plus, in the same scene, a nice added dollop of xenophobia from Egwene’s side of the tent, too. Good times!
Besides being a nice scene between Rand and Elayne (the last they’ll get, er, ever, unless I’m mistaken), their dinner conversation in this chapter is a lot more significant in retrospect than I realized the first time I read it. Because what they’re actually arguing about, of course, turns out to be the first real iteration of what will end up being the pivotal dilemma of Rand’s confrontation with the Dark One. Nice.
And in light of that, Elayne’s role (or rather, fake Elayne’s role) in proving to him that Rand’s accidentally-horrific fantasy world was, in fact, horrific, provides for some very nice symmetry there, I like it.
Also, how terrible it must be to have to accept that you’ll never get to meet your own children? I can’t even imagine. (Though now I’m having faintly ridiculous thoughts about the potential for awkwardness down the line, post-bodyswap: “Mommy, why do none of us look anything like our father?”)
Racking my brains now: Rand got to have his
impregnating night with Aviendha, and now he’s had his time with Elayne, but I honestly can’t remember what the hell happens to Min after this. Does he get his scene with Min, too, or does she get shafted because of the three of them she’s already had the lion’s share of face time? That’s still not fair, you know, if so. Goodbyes are Very Important!
Except for this one, because it is only for the nonce, my chickens! Wish me luck at JordanCon (and see some of you there!), and I’ll be back with a new post week after next! Cheers!