Gather ’round me, everybody, gather ’round me while I’m preachin’ the Wheel of Time Reread!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 18 of A Memory of Light, in which you’ve got to AC-CEN-tuate the positive, E-LIM-inate the negative… but Gawyn still insists on being Mr. In-Between.
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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 18: To Feel Wasted
On the battlefield in Kandor, Gawyn guards Egwene and the other sisters from the Trollocs who make it through the defensive line, while the sisters concentrate on blasting the enemy apart on a larger scale. He reflects that the battle is going well; they have held position without falling back for a week now. He kills his fifth Trolloc for the shift, and then he and Egwene and Silviana retire from the field as Sleete’s contingent arrives to relieve them. He is concerned that Egwene is pushing herself too hard, though he is barely sleeping himself, guarding her from the assassins sent into the camp.
He knew he was needed, and what he did was important, but he couldn’t help feeling wasted. He was one of the finest swordsmen in the army, and he stood on the battlefield for two hours a day, killing only the occasional Trolloc stupid enough to charge two Aes Sedai. What Gawyn did was more like putting them out of their misery than fighting them.
He urges Egwene to sleep more, and lies playfully about his surprise when she agrees, to her amusement. He comments on the convenience of the fact that while Aes Sedai must follow the Three Oaths, their Warders do not—an observation that Egwene omits to comment on. They go to the command tent, where Bryne reports that Elayne has asked them to push further into the hills to keep the Trollocs from regrouping. He comments on the effectiveness of the Aes Sedai on the battlefield, and Egwene tells him that is why the Shadow tried so hard to bring the Tower down. Siuan cautions that they’ll need to watch for Dreadlords, given Lan’s reports from Shienar, and Egwene orders Bryne to send riders by gateway to the Black Tower to try and make contact with the sisters camped around it, and have them return to Kandor. She says the Dreadlords will come, and that she will send more sisters to aid Lan; Gawyn is unhappy that this means there will be fewer sisters to support Egwene here. Egwene sees his expression, and decides that she needs to sleep. They leave, and Egwene lets herself slump against Gawyn for a moment before reasserting her Amyrlin face.
So young, he thought, to have so much required of her.
Of course, she wasn’t much younger than al’Thor himself. Gawyn was pleased, and a little surprised, that thinking of the man did not provoke any anger. Al’Thor would fight his fight. Really, what the man did was none of Gawyn’s business.
They go to Maerin Sedai’s tent, where Egwene is sleeping today, and find Leilwin and Bayle waiting there, which sours Egwene’s mood. Gawyn reflects that Egwene has a blind spot regarding Seanchan, but Gawyn himself trusts Leilwin. Egwene enters the tent, ignoring Leilwin, and she observes to Gawyn that the Amyrlin will not let her serve her. Gawyn answers that Egwene doesn’t trust her, despite her oath, and Leilwin answers that she thinks Egwene considers all Seanchan Darkfriends.
Gawyn shrugged. “You beat her and imprisoned her, making her into an animal to be led by a collar.”
“I did not,” Leilwin said. “If one baker made you foul bread, would you assume all of them seek to poison you? Bah.”
She stalks off to get Gawyn food, Bayle in tow. Gawyn pulls out the three ter’angreal rings he’d retrieved from the Bloodknives. He knows he should turn them over to Egwene, but he thinks the Aes Sedai will just hide them away instead of using them, and reflects that the Last Battle is the time to be taking risks instead.
You decided to stand in Egwene’s shadow, Gawyn, he thought. You decided you would protect her, do what she needed of you. She was winning this war, she and the Aes Sedai. Would he let himself grow as jealous of her as he had been of al’Thor?
Leilwin and Bayle return and see the ring, and she hisses that only Bloodknives may wear such a thing. Gawyn points out that he isn’t wearing it, and Leilwin warns him not to let his blood touch the ring; she doesn’t know much about how they work, but she has heard they kill their users. She leaves, and Gawyn tells Bayle that Leilwin should avoid the topic of assassins around Egwene. Bayle agrees, and leaves too. Gawyn feels a little shamed at his misdirection (implying that Egwene already knew about it). He tells himself that using the ring does not mesh with his determination to be a simple Warder, but he still does not tell her about it.
Disguised as Jur Grady, Rand destroys a phalanx of Trollocs for Elayne’s troops, making sure to camouflage his true strength. He wonders if the Trollocs will all die immediately if he kills the Dark One. He thinks back to the first time he (as Lews Therin) had seen one, the result of Aginor’s mad experiments.
Rand worried that these things might be humans reborn. Aginor had used people to create the Trollocs and Myrddraal. Was this the fate of some? To be reborn as twisted creations such as this? The idea sickened him.
He sees that the clouds are clearing, as they do in his presence, and as the sunlight breaks, he dismisses his disguise and creates a column of light to mark himself. The army cheers him, and he leaves via gateway before any of the Shadow’s traps can find him. Min meets him at Merrilor, and remarks that he looks sad.
The Shadow had seen him fighting on all fronts. He had joined Lan’s fighting, Egwene’s fighting and Elayne’s in turn. By now the Shadow had committed most of its armies to the fighting in the south. The time for Rand to strike at Shayol Ghul was at hand.
Rand comments that Moiraine thinks his forays are a foolish risk. Min agrees that they are, but says she is glad that he is the kind of person who cannot sit by while others die. Rand hugs her, and wonders how he would have survived without her. Cadsuane and Moiraine both approach, but Moiraine turns back when she sees the Green sister, avoiding her. Cadsuane examines Rand from all sides, and Rand asks if she’s deciding whether he’s up for his job. Cadsuane replies that wondering that is for fools, and asks if he is one.
“An impossible question,” Min replied. “If he says that he is, then a fool he becomes. If he says that he is not, then he implies he does not seek further wisdom.”
“Phaw. You’ve been reading too much, child.” Cadsuane seemed fond as she said it.
Cadsuane brings up the gifts he’s been giving his loved ones, and remarks that it is a typical practice for those preparing for a battle from which they do not expect to return. Rand is disconcerted. She asks to talk to him alone. After Min leaves, she remarks that Moiraine is growing impatient with his delays, but Cadsuane is much more concerned that he obviously expects to die. Rand answers that he has embraced his death, and that she should leave it.
“I am pleased at that,” she said, “and do not think—for a moment—that I would not trade your life for the world.”
“You’ve made that obvious from the start,” Rand said. “So why worry now? This fight will claim me. So it must be.”
“You must not assume that you will die,” Cadsuane said. “Even if it is nearly inevitable, you must not take it as completely inevitable.”
She asks if she gets a gift, and Rand tells her he is only giving them to people he cares about. This amuses her, and she tells him their relationship may not have been the smoothest, but that she is pleased with how he turned out. He asks sarcastically if he has her permission to save the world, then, and she answers, seriously, that he does—as long as he does it soon. Rand asks her to assist Aviendha in fending off the Forsaken after he enters the mountain, and to bring Alivia. She agrees, and then asks about the Black Tower; Rand knows the Black Tower is a trap for him, and answers that he sent Perrin to deal with it, but she correctly divines that he still wants to go himself.
“They’re free.” Cadsuane turned to walk away. “Taim and his men have been cast out of the Black Tower.”
“What?” Rand demanded, stepping up to take her by the arm.
“Your men there freed themselves,” Cadsuane said. “Though, from what I’ve been told, they took a beating doing it. Few know it. Queen Elayne might not be able to use them in battle for some time. I don’t know the details.”
Rand is both exultant and guilt-ridden by the news, wondering if he could have prevented more deaths by going himself. Cadsuane sighs and tells him he “has cracks in him”, but he’ll have to do.
Lan’s men toast Deepe’s memory, and Lan finds he can’t be angry at the man for disobeying orders, when he’d taken the chance to take down one of the Shadow’s most dangerous channelers. He is pleased that the soldiers are beginning to treat the Asha’man as comrades. Lan goes to check on Mandarb, who had miraculously survived the attack earlier, and promises the horse a peaceful life in restored Malkier one day.
It had been a very long time since Lan had thought of the future with anything resembling hope. Strange to find it now, in this place, in this war. He was a hard man. At times, he felt he had more in common with the rocks and the sand than he did with the men who laughed together beside the fire.
That was what he’d made of himself. It was the person he’d needed to be, a person who could someday journey toward Malkier and uphold the honor of his family. Rand al’Thor had begun to crack that shell, and then Nynaeve’s love had ripped it apart completely.
He thinks Rand will never know how similar they are. Lord Baldhere, Queen Ethenielle’s Swordbearer, approaches, and confesses to Lan that he is worried about Lord Agelmar. He says that he is confused by some of Agelmar’s strategy choices, that they are too aggressive. He brings up the recent loss of two entire cavalry squadrons; Lan points out that everyone makes mistakes, but Baldhere counters that he does not think that that was one Agelmar would have made. Lan asks if perhaps Baldhere is expecting too much of Agelmar just because he is one of the Great Captains, and Baldhere concedes this.
“I guess it comes down to an instinct, Lan. An itch. Agelmar seems tired a lot, and I worry it’s affecting his ability to plan. Please, just watch him.”
“I’ll watch,” Lan said.
Lan goes to the command tent. Agelmar is not there, and Lan studies the maps for the next day’s campaign; he thinks the plan is ambitious, but nothing strikes him as out of the ordinary. Agelmar enters and sees Lan, and asks if he approves. Lan answers that it is very aggressive for a retreat, and Agelmar answers that they are razing Shienar as they go, and he will have Trolloc blood “to quench those ashes.” He correctly guesses that Baldhere came to Lan about the cavalry losses, and freely admits it was a mistake. Lan says Baldhere thinks Agelmar is pushing himself too hard, but Agelmar insists that he knows his limits.
“Relieve me or let me be,” Agelmar said, cutting in. “I will listen to advice—I am not a fool—but I will not be second-guessed.”
“Very well,” Lan said, rising. “I trust your wisdom.”
Agelmar nodded, lowering his eyes to his maps. He was still working on his plans when Lan finally left to turn in.
So I’d speculated that we’d seen evidence of the captains being tampered with before this, but this chapter is the first time it’s happening for sure. I’m fairly certain that I found the later reveal of Graendal’s scheme to be a shock, so I assume, therefore, that on first reading I took this whole interlude at face value—i.e. I bought that Agelmar was making mistakes because he was tired. If so, well played, Team Jordan.
Not that it wasn’t just as worrying, either way.
Lan’s reflections, both on his similarity to Rand and his faint stirring of hope that he might actually survive this, dovetailed nicely with Cadsuane’s conversation with Rand earlier in the chapter, so that was also nicely done.
I am never going to be Cadsuane’s biggest fan (any more than Rand is—I snickered out loud at his explanation of why she doesn’t get any presents), but of course she is nothing but correct in her assertions here. Because in a weird way, going into a highly dangerous situation already accepting that you won’t walk away from it is the easy way out, emotionally. If you assume your death is assured, you have nothing to lose, and thus you don’t have to deal with the stress of hope. And while I am not a soldier and never will be one, I can still intuit that in such dire situations as war, hope can be more stressful than almost anything else.
So what Cadsuane was telling Rand was, once again, he doesn’t get to cheap out on the pain of his path, any more than when he tried to do so by feeling nothing at all. Because it just doesn’t sit right that the last hope of the world has no hope himself. In a way, he’s almost morally obligated to look on the bright side, if you think about it. Which is sort of hilarious and sad at the same time.
But you know, it’s tactically dangerous anyway. A person who feels they are going to their certain death makes different decisions than one who is still striving to stay alive. And in literature, at least, decisions made in hope are always better than those made in despair. I’m not sure if that actually translates to real life, but real life is not what we’re doing here anyway.
So, good scene, although I rather pouted at being deprived a Cadsuane-Moiraine confrontation. Yet another meeting I would have loved to see, and (as far as I recall) will never get to. Sigh.
I was very amused, though, by Min employing her Logical Fallacy-fu to pwn Cad’s attempt to manipulate Rand re: his readiness. That is indeed of what comes from reading too much, y’all, and it is awesome.
And then there’s Gawyn.
Oh, you special snowflake, you.
Yeah. The only reason I am not actually headdesking at him right now is because I have apparently devoted a disproportionate amount of migraine space to him already, and I wouldn’t want to have my indignation at fictional characters distributed unfairly, quelle horreur! We have standards here, after all. I’m not sure what those standards are, but I am sure that we have them!
And, probably I am also not full-on headdesking because I do have to acknowledge (I suppose) that he is making progress. Sort of. A Little.
I mean, yes, he’s still doing the eminently stupid thing of not telling the local Mysterious Magical Object Experts about his Mysterious Magical Object, even though one of them is YOUR WIFE, GAWYN, and even after being specifically warned about how dangerous it is, but at least he recognizes that his desire to go off and be a Big Damn Hero with it is backsliding on his part.
And I can even see how that would be totally tempting, because it really does kind of suck to know that you’ve voluntarily relegated yourself to the role of sidekick forever. Especially when you’ve been told your whole life that you’re supposed to be the hero. Yes, chapter title, you feel wasted. But honey, you made a smart decision for once in your life, please just stick with it, mmkay?
No? No dice? Sigh.
But, aside from that whole thing, slightly startled props do go to him for actually admitting that his hatred for Rand was really about jealousy. Not that that is aside from the above thing, because it absolutely ties into his resentment that Rand gets to go be the Big Damn Hero when he, again, doesn’t.
Then again, the fact that Gawyn actually wants on some level to be in Rand’s shoes (his blood-stained, too-tight, callus-rubbing, fatal-athletes-foot-causing, angsty, angsty shoes) just shows how much Gawyn has really, really not thought that wish through.
Because Gawyn is and always has been a special, special snowflake.
*pats him on head a little too hard*
Leilwin (I guess I really do have to stop calling her Egeanin): has a very good point about tarring all Seanchan with the same brush, and yet there’s an incoherent and Godwin-tastic point in here somewhere about Germans living in Nazi Germany who didn’t actually vote for Hitler which I’m sure you can figure out. Bah.
Final, mostly random notes:
Rand’s thought about human souls being reborn as Trollocs is horrifying, and I categorically refuse to believe it. What say you?
I am deeply amused that Lan’s horse is even more unkillable than Lan is. You go ‘head with your bad self, Mandarb. Heh.
Was I the only one restraining myself from making stoner jokes at the chapter title? Just me? Okay.
Besides, anyone who paid attention would know that Baldhere clearly preferred men to women.
I don’t care what anyone says, this put warm sparkly rainbow feelings in my anti-heteronormative heart. AMOL may not have given me absolutely every last thing I wanted out of it (and realistically, all complaints aside, there was no way it ever could have), but this wish, at least, got granted, and granted unambiguously, and that makes me a happy Leigh. Happy enough that I am choosing to ignore the voice that whispers about bread and circuses, because LA LA LA happy. Right? Right!
Which makes this a much more cheery entry than last time, neh? Yeh! Have a week, WOTers, and see you next Tuesday!