It’s the Wheel of Time Re-read! OMG SQUEE.
Today’s entry covers Chapter 29 of A Memory of Light, in which we have Mat being, like, SO DREAMY, YOU GUIZE. And some other stuff, too. Whee!
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.
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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 29: The Loss of a Hill
Egwene calls for the Aes Sedai to focus on the Fades, which are now trying to disguise themselves among the Trollocs. She and her troops are exhausted, and she wonders how much longer they can go on. From her vantage point, she sees two units of cavalry moving in a way which exposes their left flank, a mistake the Sharans take advantage of immediately. In minutes both the foot and lancers have taken heavy casualties, despite the channelers’ attempt to aid them, and Egwene is forced to signal a retreat via gateway. She notes in passing that Gawyn, at her side, is looking pale and sick.
“I want to go to the camp and find General Bryne,” Egwene said. “I want to know why this was allowed to happen. And then I will go to our troops defending the ford, and avenge our people who just lost their lives here.”
Neither Gawyn nor Leilwin are happy about this, but Egwene insists that her sa’angreal is keeping her from being as tired as the others, and they obey.
Lan enters the command tent, where Agelmar tells him that he thinks the battle is going well. Lan looks at the map, and sees Agelmar has the Saldaean light cavalry marked as being on the east flank, when Lan knows for sure that they are not there anymore. Agelmar tells him that even a larger force will break if they are sufficiently frightened, and hopes to bring down the leader of the Dreadlords. Lan wonders if perhaps it has all been a mistake, but then a messenger runs up with news that a huge force of Shadowspawn is approaching from the east.
They knew to come in that way, Lan thought. They couldn’t have just noticed that we’d exposed ourselves, not with those hills blocking their view. It’s come too quickly. The Shadow must have been told, or must have known what to expect. He looked at Agelmar.
Agelmar declares that impossible. Lan gives orders to begin a retreat. Agelmar protests, and Lan informs him he is relieved of duty, and is under arrest. Everyone but Lan’s guard reacts with shock, Agelmar included, and he blusters that Lan is overreacting. Lan ruthlessly points out to him the “mistakes” he’s been making.
Agelmar raised a hand to his head, looking dazed. He looked down at the battle map, and his eyes widened.
“What’s wrong with you, Agelmar?” Lan said.
“I don’t know,” the man said. He blinked, staring at the maps at his feet. His face adopted a look of horror, eyes wide, lips parting. “Oh, Light! What have I done?”
Horrified, Agelmar attempts to commit suicide, but Lan stops him. Agelmar says in anguish that he has cost them the war, but Lan says it is only one battle, and that he believes Agelmar has had his mind tampered with. Kaisel runs up, and Lan explains to him that he believes Agelmar has been the victim of Compulsion, and that the Asha’man need to make gateways to get them out of the trap they’re in. Agelmar then interrupts.
“Queen Tenobia,” Agelmar said. “I’ve sent her into danger without understanding what I’d done. Whoever put these plans into my head wanted her dead!”
Lan runs out of the tent to scan the field, but it is too late, and he watches Tenobia’s banner get swarmed under. He knows that he cannot take time to mourn her if they are to survive at all.
Mat, Tuon, Min, Selucia, Galgan, Courtani, and a hundred Deathwatch Guards ride toward the battlefield, Min reluctantly telling of the omens she sees. Mat wishes she hadn’t explained the ones she’d seen around him. He chooses a hill to observe from; atop the hill, Mat observes Demandred at a distance, who is shouting with a Power-enhanced voice for the Dragon Reborn to come and duel him, which Mat thinks make him sound “a bit dotty.”
Well, Mat knew which part of the battle to bloody stay away from. He had not signed up to fight Forsaken. In fact, so far as he remembered, he had not signed up at all. He had been bloody press-ganged every step of the way. Usually by force, and always by one fool woman or another.
Mat sees Tylee’s troops just standing around, and goes down to see them alone, relieved that Tuon wasn’t insisting on coming along. He demands to know what Tylee is doing, and she tells him that Bryne told them they were only a reserve force, and ordered them to stay put until they were called. Mat looks over the battlefield, and sees how badly it’s going, and observes out loud that that doesn’t make sense. Tylee adds that they’ve heard two more cavalry units of Bryne’s have been wiped out, trying to support the marath’damane on the hills. Mat decides not to wait to find Bryne, but tells Tylee that the Seanchan cavalry are to attack from three sides; Banner- General Makoti will lead the center force, Tylee the right flank, and Mat will command the left flank.
“Yes, Highness. But surely you aren’t going to get so close to the battle?”
“Yes I am. Now get going, Tylee!”
Tylee insists first that Mat trade his coat for armor, to which Mat agrees, though he refuses to swap his hat for a helmet. He assures Tylee he will deal with the marath’damane personally. The Seanchan cavalry ride across the ford and engage with the Sharans with deadly discipline and efficiency, relieving the press on the White Tower infantry. The battle grinds on, the forces of the Light slowly regaining ground, and Mat finds himself in the thick of it. Then several of his companions are killed by channeling, and he sees a Sharan woman in odd garb focus on him. The medallion goes cold when she tries to attack him, and Mat dismounts and knocks her out. The Seanchan go to aid him as he is beset by Sharan soldiers, and after a grim and fierce battle, Mat and four Seanchan are the only ones left standing. Mat turns to see the remaining officer staring at him in awe.
“Highness…” the officer said. “Great Lord, no man in the Empire’s service would ever dare question the Empress, may she live forever. But if a man had wondered about some of her choices, he would do so no longer. Prince of the Ravens!” He raised his sword, prompting a cheer from those behind.
Mat is uncomfortable with the praise and quickly moves on, finding Pips and heading back to the ford, stopping to change back into his Two Rivers clothes on the way. Selucia tells him Tuon wants to know what he was doing putting himself in the battle that way. Mat tells her he needed to feel “the pulse” of the battle. A messenger arrives for Tuon, but Mat is distracted, linking up the maps to his mental picture of the battle and what he’s seen.
Mat grunted. “Huh. Gareth Bryne is a Darkfriend.”
“He what?” Min sputtered.
“This battle is one step away from being doomed,” Mat said, turning to Tuon. “I need absolute control of our armies right now. No more arguing with Galgan. Min, I need you to send to Egwene and warn her that Bryne is trying to lose this battle. Tuon, she’ll need to go in person. I doubt Egwene will listen to anyone else.”
Everyone is shocked but Tuon, who just stares at him unnervingly, and declares, “it is done.” Min is led off, and Tuon comments to Mat that she hears he not only captured a marath’damane himself, but raised an officer to the Low Blood.
“I did?” Mat asked, baffled. “I don’t remember that.”
“You dropped your nail at his feet.”
“Oh. That… All right, maybe I did that. Accidentally.”
He is dismayed by the news that Tuon plans to have the captured Sharan channeler given to him, but thinks that maybe he can free her later. Tuon says that the officer, who had previously been of suspect loyalty, was now singing Mat’s praises, something she observes he seems to have a skill for garnering. Mat tells her they need to hope he has an equal skill for victory, given how dire the situation is. Tuon points out that no one else thinks that, but Mat assures her he is right.
“If you are not, I will lose influence.”
“You’ll be fine,” Mat said, leading the way back toward the Seanchan camp a few miles north at a brisk pace. “I may lead you wrong now and then, but in the end, you can be sure that I’m always a safe bet.”
Well, and now it all comes to a head—with the Corruption of the Great Captains Scheme, at least. Finally. I’m pretty sure I was in an absolute froth by this point, on first reading, for Team Light to figure out what was going on and fix it already. So Lan’s section, at least, was a great relief.
Though not in time to save Tenobia, which was… well, I wasn’t happy she died or anything, because obviously that’s not awesome at all, but I wasn’t exactly surprised by her death either. Tenobia’s had a big ‘ol target painted on her back ever since we combined the knowledge of Min’s viewing of a broken crown for Perrin with his marriage to Faile, i.e. the person second in line for the throne of Saldaea (whose crown is called—wait for it—The Broken Crown).
But, you know. Still sucks. Not nearly as much as some of the deaths we’ve got coming up, but Tenobia’s death is really where that dire tally begins in AMOL, more or less. So, yeah.
I forgot that Agelmar actually tries to commit seppuku over the knowledge of his inadvertent betrayal. Which is terrible, of course (or at least certainly undeserved), but also a nice callback to the cultural flavorings of Shienar and the Borderlands in general, which take a lot of cues from Japanese samurai traditions as well as other Asian cultures.
But all that aside, this chapter is mainly notable for reminding me why Mat is awesome—something which, admittedly, all the stuff with me hating on Tuon and the Seanchan has somewhat obscured, of late. But I’m sorry, there’s no way you can’t love Mat just looking at a battlefield and coming to the immediate (and correct) conclusion that its commander has to be fucking up deliberately. Anyone who claims they don’t have a competence kink is lying, as far as I am concerned, because how is that not sexy, I ask you?
And granted, Mat comes by his competence in a cheaty kind of way (i.e. having it shoved into his head via spooky intra-dimensional elves), but at the end of the day it’s not just about having the ability to do something, it’s about whether you’re willing to employ it for the greater good that matters. And also granted, Mat talks a lot of shit about not wanting to use his ability for said greater good, but as we see here, when push comes to shove he is totally lying about that. And I am a firm believer in the idea that actions speak louder than words.
Or at least, I try to remember that idea as much as I can. Sometimes words are hard to ignore, but I try.
(Like Mat’s mental nonsense above about being pushed into everything by the women in his life, which, whatever, dude. What woman was forcing you to get involved in the Battle of Cairhien, exactly? Or into picking up that dagger in Shadar Logoth? Just to name two rather pivotal events in your life. I’m just saying.)
Plus, this scene with Mat brings back something that I particularly loved about his plotlines throughout the series, and which I think had gotten a little lost in the later books: namely, the way he’s always managed to combine luck, skill, and sheer chutzpah to cause him to stumble into doing the right thing at the right time, even when he doesn’t realize or even want it to happen. All three of the Superboys have that tendency to a certain extent, of course, but Mat is the especial champion of it. I’m not sure what to call that character trope, or even if it is one, but many of my favorite characters in SF (and elsewhere) have tended to have it to one degree or another—Mat Cauthon, Miles Vorkosigan, Indiana Jones, Honor Harrington, Vlad Taltos, Harry Dresden, and probably a good many more I can’t think of at the moment.
There’s something uniquely relatable about that characteristic, in the sense that even when these characters are doing ridiculously amazing and/or grandiose things, you still identify with them as people because the whole time their mental dialogue is along the lines of Holy shit I have no idea what I’m doing what is happening aaaagggh, and that’s something that I think we can all identify with. (Massive amounts of snark on the side also helps.)
I don’t know about you guys, but I pretty much go through my whole life with that OMG who the hell is driving this crazy thing feeling, so it’s nice to see that people you admire are in the same boat… even if they’re only fictional.
Additionally, it’s pretty hilarious (as Tuon notes) how every soldier who sees Mat fight is totally his fanboy forever afterward. (Talmanes, of course, being president and CEO of the Official Mat Cauthon Fanboy Club.) I mean, not that I blame them for adoring him, because I can imagine that nothing is more awesome to a soldier than having incontrovertible proof that his commanding officer is both a brilliant tactician AND can physically kick all the ass regionally available, but it still makes me grin every time when these guys do the Manly Warrior™ version of squealing over him like a preteen girl at a One Direction concert. I think it’s so nice they can express themselves like that!
(This fanboy magnet thing, incidentally, is also a trait shared by most of the characters I listed above. It seems I have a type, eh?)
Also hilarious: Mat describing Demandred as “dotty.” Because, you know, he ain’t wrong—at least not when it comes to the topic of the Dragon. Demandred’s years-long temper tantrum over Rand would be kind of hilarious, actually—if it weren’t, you know, costing thousands upon thousands of lives at the same time. That bit tends to be a funsucker for some reason.
And we can’t have the sucking of fun, now can we? NO WE CANNOT. So we’ll stop here for the nonce, and I’ll see alla y’all next Tuesday!