Who runs the world? Wheel of Time Reread! Okay, not really. But now I bet that song is stuck in your head, so ha!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 20 of A Memory of Light, in which I am dismayed and confused and pleased and a little wistfully choked up all at once. Because I am vast and contain multitudes—OF EMOTION. So there.
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!
Before we start: Thanks, by the way, to everyone who wished me and my family well in the comments to the last entry. The issue is… ongoing, but hopefully will be resolved well in the near future. Cross your fingers for me if you would.
Chapter 20: Into Thakan’dar
Egwene—along with Gawyn, Romanda, Lelaine, Leane, Silviana, Raemassa and a handful of Warders and soldiers—executes a maneuver which turns the Trollocs’ formerly advantageous battle position into a trap, clearing the hilltops behind the bulk of the enemy with Fire, and then pinning the Trollocs against the rest of their forces. It works well, though Egwene et al are obliged to retreat when the Trollocs are forced by the Fades to retake the hill despite massive losses. Back at camp, Egwene thinks on the fake seals she still carries, and tells herself she cannot worry about whether the real ones have already been broken.
Egwene felt a dread she could not abandon. And yet, the war continued, and she had no recourse but to keep fighting it. They would think of a way to recover the seals, if they could. Rand swore to try. She wasn’t certain what he could do.
Gawyn wonders why the Fades are forcing the Trollocs to fight so hard for this position even after it’s proved to be such a disaster for them. Lelaine is dismissive, but Egwene gets a bad feeling, and orders the army to be pulled back. Just then, however, a giant gateway opens to the rear of their position, showing a massive army unlike any Egwene has seen before. She sees hundreds of channeling women among them, glowing with the Power, and shouts for the Aes Sedai to release the Source and hide themselves immediately. Romanda doesn’t listen, trying to weave a gateway to escape, and is killed instantly. Egwene runs for the command tent as the camp falls into chaos, and meets Gawyn and Lelaine there.
“Sharans.” Lelaine, breathless, huddled down beside them.
“Are you certain?” Egwene whispered.
Lelaine nodded. “The reports from the Cairhienin before the Aiel War are plentiful, if not very informative. They weren’t allowed to see much, but what they did see looked a lot like that army.”
Egwene says they must retreat, but Gawyn points out they are trapped between the Sharans and the Trollocs. Then someone channels inside the command tent, and Egwene and Gawyn barely get away before it is destroyed. Egwene is aghast; Siuan, Bryne, Yukiri and many of the command staff had been in there, and Lelaine is nowhere to be found either. They hide, keeping still, while the Sharans kill anything that moves in the camp. After the channelers stop, the army comes through, killing or capturing anyone they find. Egwene and Gawyn escape detection only because they are hiding under his Warder cloak. Egwene longs to do something, but knows she will be killed the moment she tries to channel. Gawyn indicates they must wait until nightfall, and even though she is in an agony of worry over the fate of her forces, Egwene reluctantly agrees. She cannot stop thinking of her people being slaughtered.
I am the Amyrlin Seat, she told herself firmly. I will be strong. I will survive. So long as I live, the White Tower stands.
She still let Gawyn hold her.
Aviendha, Rhuarc, Amys, and a Stone Dog named Shaen crawl to the ridge overlooking Thakan’dar; Aviendha doesn’t know what to think about the fact that Rhuarc has donned the red headband of the siswai’aman. They are horrified by their first sight of the “town” at the foot of Shayol Ghul. Ituralde joins them, to Rhuarc’s irritation, insisting he needs to see the terrain for himself. Aviendha prays that their strange army will be enough to get Rand where he needs to go.
Seeing the end of her people had nauseated and horrified her, but also awakened her. If the end of the Aiel was the sacrifice required for Rand to win, she would make it. She would scream and curse the Creator’s own name, but she would pay that price. Any warrior would. Better that one people should end than the world fall completely under Shadow.
Rhuarc suggests freeing the prisoners waiting at the forges to provide a distraction, but Ituralde points out they don’t know how long that distraction needs to be for Rand to finish his task. Amys says he cleansed the taint in a day, so perhaps this will be similar, but Ituralde would rather plan for the worst: a long siege. He wants to seize the valley and hold it at the bottleneck pass, since most of the Trollocs stationed here are already outside it. Rhuarc agrees. They return to Rand, who seems very troubled about something, but Aviendha also senses through the bond that he is looking forward to his forthcoming battle, to seeing what he is capable of, which Aviendha understands completely. She goes to him, and Rand comments privately to her that many think his plan to kill Sightblinder a foolish one. Aviendha hesitates.
“What is it?” Rand asked.
“Well, the greatest victory would be to take your enemy gai’shain.”
“I doubt he would submit to that,” Rand said.
“Don’t make jest,” she said, elbowing him in the side, earning a grunt. “This must be considered, Rand al’Thor. Which is the better way of ji’e’toh? Is imprisoning the Dark One like taking him gai’shain? If so, that would be the proper path.”
“I’m not certain I care what is ‘proper’ this time, Aviendha.”
“A warrior must always consider ji’e’toh,” she said sternly. “Have I taught you nothing?”
Rand says he’d hoped the lecturing would end now that they are closer, and Aviendha is baffled by that assumption, which amuses Rand. They travel back to camp, whose forces include several dozen Aes Sedai and Asha’man, the Domani (with King Alsalam), the Tairen Defenders (with King Darlin), and the Dragonsworn, who include any and all nationalities, and even some Aes Sedai. Aviendha is uncomfortable with the idea that they are essentially oathbreakers.
Rand’s coming was said to remove all bonds from men. Oaths shattered when he drew near, and any loyalty or alliance was secondary to the need to serve him in this last fight for humankind. Part of her wanted to name that wetlander foolishness, but perhaps she used that term too easily. A Wise One had to see with better eyes than that.
Rand is amazed that the dagger ter’angreal Elayne had given him worked; he says they’d tried to make them back in the Age of Legends, but never succeeded. Aviendha asks if he can be sure Sightblinder won’t see him, but Rand is positive that he won’t be seen or sensed until he is at the Bore itself. He tells her about the seals, but adds that he is sure they have not broken them yet, opining that they will wait until the worst possible moment to do so. He brings up another concern, that once it becomes obvious Rand is here and not at the other battlefields, the Forsaken will come to Thakan’dar, and he needs her to help hold them off.
“I need you, Aviendha. I need all three of you to watch, to be my hands—my heart—during this fight. I am going to send Min to Egwene. Something is going to happen there, I’m certain. Elayne will fight in the south, and you… I need you in the valley of Thakan’dar, watching my back.”
He says she will be in command of the channelers here, and must keep the Forsaken from entering Shayol Ghul, where he will be helpless, caught up in the larger fight. Aviendha jests that he is always helpless, and Rand laughs. They go to his tent, where Min, Moiraine, Nynaeve, and Thom wait. He asks Nynaeve about Callandor, and she confirms there is no way around the flaw, and that he must not use it. Rand makes no reply, but turns to Min, asking her to go to Egwene’s front and watch her and the Seanchan Empress, who will be joining her there. Aviendha knows Min had been hoping he would take her with him into the cavern, but she accepts the task. Nynaeve returns to Callandor:
“Its weakness… so long as you are channeling into that… thing, anyone can seize control of you. They can use you, and can draw the One Power through Callandor into you until it burns you out—leaving you powerless, and leaving them with the strength to level mountains, destroy cities.”
“I will take it,” Rand said.
“But it’s a trap!” Nynaeve said.
“Yes,” Rand said, sounding tired. “A trap I must stride into and allow to spring shut upon me.” He laughed, suddenly, throwing his head back. “As always! Why should I be surprised? Spread the word, Nynaeve. Tell Ituralde, Rhuarc, King Darlin. Tomorrow, we invade Shayol Ghul and claim it as our own! If we must put our head into the lion’s mouth, let us make certain that he chokes upon our flesh!”
Why don’t I have one of these cloaks? [Egwene] thought with annoyance. Why should they only be for Warders?
This is an excellent question, Egwene. Too bad nobody thought of that before the fit hit the shan.
Because, leave us make no mistake, peoples: the excrement has most definitely just hit the revolving cooling apparatus. Or, at least, this is most definitely a fresh, new, and excitingly drippy load of it.
(I are so classy.)
So, enter: THE SHARANS, avec dramatic musical sting and everything. This… was absolutely not something I saw coming, and I won’t deny that my heart dropped into my stomach when I first read it. It also rather raised my eyebrows when I read it, too, especially once we learn just who is leading them. However, that is a discussion best saved for when we do learn that information, so I will leave it alone for now.
And like it or not, you certainly can’t fault the tactics here, from the Sharans’ point of view. It helps, of course, that they had a guy on the inside, even if that guy (i.e. Bryne) doesn’t know he’s their inside guy. Grr.
(There’s probably a discussion to be had here of how much more coordination this implies between the Forsaken—or at least between Graendal/Hessalam and the other Forsaken individually—than has ever been seen before in the series, and how rather surprising that is. Though I guess if they were ever going to get their act at least partially together, this would be the time to do it. Dammit.)
I can’t remember if Lelaine or Yukiri survives at this point, though I know Bryne and Siuan got out (for now). But, well, bye, Romanda. That was—not a shock, exactly, but it kind of sucks that she didn’t even get an exit line. Of course, that’s something I’d best get used to. Fast. Blah.
In another edition of Timing Be Wonky in the latter fifth-ish of WOT, I’m sort of confusedly assuming that the second half of this chapter takes place chronologically before the first half, since neither Min nor the Seanchan are in evidence at Egwene’s camp when the Sharans not-so-metaphorically curb-stomp them. Which I guess is nice for Min and the Seanchan, but leaves me wondering, therefore, why the chapter is structured that way? *shrug*
The Callandor thing is… puzzling. Maybe I missed a memo, but the “flaw” in The Sword That Ain’t as Nynaeve defines it here, is definitely not the flaw we’ve been previously told about. Before this we were told that Callandor induces “wildness”—a belief that you can do anything and have no bounds to accomplish it—not that someone else can seize that power from you and use it to their own ends.
Seriously, when did we learn this? Am I forgetting something? I recognize that this is all leading up to what happens with Moridin, but as the whole point of the one-man-two-women circle was to prevent the “wildness” thing from happening, why isn’t the circle solution also a preventative for this sudden new flaw? And if it isn’t, how does Nynaeve know this? It’s not like the damn thing’s been field-tested, after all. I dunno, that seems a little… not-thought-out, in my opinion.
My continuity complaints aside, the most significant (and awesome) part of this chapter, from an over-arching thematic point of view, is Aviendha’s conversation with Rand. In which, I note, she sort of off-handedly offers the solution to his entire central conflict as a character in this novel (that the highest honor is to defeat your enemy, not kill him), and even why it’s the right choice:
“Someone must keep you humble,” Aviendha said. “It would not do for you to think yourself something grand, simply because you save the world.”
Because, well, yeah, pretty much. Rand takes Aviendha’s comment as a joke, but it really isn’t one, in the grand scheme of things. I’ve spoken at length before about how pride is/could have been/still kinda is Rand’s besetting sin, and this absolutely hearkens back to that issue, and will continue to do so. So we’ll definitely be revisiting this issue, but for now I just want to point out that as far as Rand has come in overcoming his pride, he obviously still has a ways to go.
This is not to say that he hasn’t come a long way, though, as is wonderfully demonstrated in this chapter as well. I can’t even tell you how much I appreciated his speech to Aviendha here, asking her (and, by extension, Elayne and Min) to defend and protect him, instead of (just) the other way around.
Chivalry, as I have defined it before on this blog, is merely a subset of the larger sin of pride—in the sense of what arrogance it is to decide that X category of people must be “saved,” the way you think they should be saved, regardless of their wishes on the matter. Regardless, in other words, of their right to participate in their own salvation.
It’s a bit tangled, perhaps, the way I’m putting this, but my point here is that I am applauding Rand’s resolution to save his loved ones (and the world) while also acknowledging their right to be active and vital agents in that process. He’s trusting Aviendha (and Elayne, and Min, and Egwene, and pretty much everyone else) to hold the line for him. To have his six, in military parlance. He’s saying here that he knows he can’t do it all himself, and that he needs the support of Aviendha et al. in order to succeed. And, most importantly, that he trusts her and the others to reliably provide that support for him.
And as someone who has so depressingly frequently in her life run into the assumption (implied or explicitly stated) that being a woman automatically means I am less capable/reliable/able/smart/strong enough to do X thing than a man, to hear Rand put such unquestioning trust in the women in his life to have his back… well, I ain’t gonna lie, it actually made me choke up a little. Maybe even right now as I’m writing about it.
To have such trust in real life—to have the default assumption be that I am capable/reliable/able/smart/strong enough to do whatever is needed… well, I can barely even picture it, sometimes.
And isn’t that sad.
This also (for me) links in to Aviendha’s understanding of Rand’s wish to test himself to the limit re: the fight against the Dark One, and her desire to do the same. Another of the crimes of chivalry, I think, and of sexism in general, is the cultural taboo it inherently supports against letting women see just how strong they really can be, if only allowed to try their strength against the world.
Rand isn’t done making this mistake on a larger scale, of course, as we will learn, but, ironically perhaps, I am still so super proud of him for learning that lesson on this smaller scale. And I’m convinced that this was a vital stepping stone for him to learn that larger lesson, to boot. So, ergo, yay.
And “ergo, yay” is always a nice place to stop a thing, n’est-ce pas? I think so! So have a week, my beauties, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!