Holy cow-juice, it’s a Wheel of Time Reread!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 31 of A Memory of Light, in which Things Is Revealed, and it’s about damn time.
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.
Also, for maximum coolness, the Wheel of Time reread is also now available as an e-book series, from your preferred e-book retailer!
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 31: A Tempest of Water
Egwene returns to camp to find Bryne’s tent empty. She sends orders that the Aes Sedai and archers have an hour to rest before rejoining the battle at the river. Leilwin confirms that the troops fighting across the river are Seanchan, summoned by Bryne, and Domon adds that the Prince of Ravens is rumored to be fighting with them, and arrived just in time to bolster the Tower’s pikemen. They see Uno fording the river and go to meet him, where he reports (with a great deal of profanity) that his unit had been ordered to expose their flank in order to protect the Aes Sedai on the hills and had been decimated as a result.
“Oh, they were just waiting for us, like they knew we was coming. No, Mother, this can’t be the fault of Gareth Bryne, we’ve been tricked by some sheep-gutted milk-drinking traitor! With all due respect, Mother!”
Egwene promises to sort it all out, and sends Uno to rest before heading back to camp.
Later at the river, the Aes Sedai and the archers attack from the Arafellin side, protecting the Seanchan and other troops pinned between the Trollocs and the river. Egwene is exhausted, but decides her anger is greater, and attacks relentlessly until Gawyn finally convinces her to retreat and rest. She can see that they are still losing this battle, though, and decides it is time to find Bryne. Back at camp, Gawyn points out a woman in Seanchan finery approaching, and Egwene is astonished to realize it is Min. She greets Min cautiously, and Min tells her that Mat is convinced Bryne is leading her army to destruction.
“He says… he says he thinks Bryne is a Darkfriend.”
Gawyn started laughing.
Egwene jumped. She would have expected anger from him, outrage. “Gareth Bryne?” Gawyn asked. “A Darkfriend? I’d believe my own mother to be a Darkfriend before him. Tell Cauthon to stay out of his wife’s royal brandy; he’s obviously had too much.”
Egwene is inclined to agree that Mat is overreacting, but Min says Mat is certain, and wants her to turn over control of her armies to him. She adds that the Empress has already put him in command of the Seanchan forces. Egwene concedes that Mat is a good tactician, but says putting him in command of the White Tower is impossible. She then subtly offers to shelter Min from the Seanchan, but Min grimaces and says she thinks she would be of more use with them.
“Will you at least consider what Mat is saying?”
“That Gareth Bryne is a Darkfriend?” Egwene said. It really was laughable. “Go back and tell Mat to submit his battle suggestions to us, if he must. For now, I need to find my commanders to plan our next steps.”
Gareth Bryne, where are you?
Ituralde watches the battle at the mouth of the pass and tries to forget the horrific nightmares that have been plaguing him. He reviews his troop formations and thinks it is going well, though he’s had to restrain himself several times from just ordering a full-on direct assault. He tries to remember that they are here to hold, not slaughter indiscriminately. He is grateful that the Windfinders have been using their bowl ter’angreal to keep the storms at bay, otherwise they would have been wiped out long since. Then he sees, puzzled, that the Trollocs are pulling back too far.
A dark wave slid out of the mouth of the pass. Myrddraal. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. Black cloaks that did not move, in defiance of the breeze. Faces with no eyes, lips that sneered, black swords. The creatures moved like eels, sinuous and sleek.
They gave no time for orders, no time for response. They flowed into the squares of defenders, sliding between pikes, whipping deadly swords.
Horrified, Ituralde bellows for the Aiel and channelers to come in. The seventh infantry collapses under the assault, and Ituralde seems to hear a voice whispering that he should pull back, but he thinks if they do that, they will be surrounded, and the Fades will slaughter everyone. He tries to say something different, and then tries to tell Captain Tihera to take command, but the words won’t come out. Just as he is about to give the wrong order, wolves appear and attack the Fades, and a man in furs climbs up to Ituralde’s position.
Tihera stumbled back, calling for their guards. The newcomer in furs leaped for Ituralde and shoved him off the top of the rocks.
Ituralde did not fight back. Whoever this man was, Ituralde was grateful to him, feeling a moment of victory as he fell. He hadn’t given the order to retreat.
He hit the ground not far below, and it knocked the wind out of him. The wolves took his arms in gentle mouths and pulled him off into the darkness as he slowly drifted into unconsciousness.
Egwene is frustrated to be sitting out the ongoing battle, but she is drained. She still hasn’t found Bryne. Gawyn, annoyingly, doesn’t seem tired at all, though he looks strangely pale. She thinks about Mat, how he is a “carouser” and troublemaker and how he leered at women, but she also thinks of how he had saved a boy from drowning when no one else had even realized there was danger.
He came for me in the Stone of Tear, she thought. Of course, he’d also tried to save her from the Aes Sedai, unwilling to believe she was Amyrlin.
So which was this? Was she drowning or not?
How much do you trust Matrim Cauthon? Min had asked. Light. I do trust him. Fool that I am, I do. Mat could be wrong. He often was wrong.
But when he was right, he saved lives.
She sends Gawyn to find out why they haven’t heard anything from Elayne’s front, and goes to find Silviana, who reports that Bryne is back in his tent. They go to the tent, where he is looking at the battlefield via Yukiri’s window gateway; Egwene is glad Siuan is not there. Egwene quietly sends Silviana to gather as much of the Hall as she can, and thinks this will have to be handled delicately. When enough Sitters have arrived, Egwene begins to talk to Bryne, but Gawyn interrupts, running in with the news that Bashere is a Darkfriend, and Elayne’s front would have been lost if the Asha’man hadn’t shown up.
“Impossible,” Bryne said. “He was the Lord Dragon’s companion for months. I don’t know him well, but… a Darkfriend? It couldn’t be.”
“It is somewhat unreasonable to assume…” Saerin said.
“You can speak with the Queen yourself, if you wish,” Gawyn said, standing tall. “I heard it from her own mouth.”
The tent stilled. Sitters looked to one another with worried faces.
Egwene asks Bryne about the cavalry units he sent into a trap, leaving their flank exposed. Bryne protests that he made a mistake, almost shouting. Faiselle points out that it was more than “a mistake” when it cost thousands of lives, and Egwene agrees. Bryne counters that he had to save the Aes Sedai at all costs, but Saerin replies that the Aes Sedai could have held alone. Egwene adds that his order to deploy the Seanchan cavalry never came, and if it hadn’t been for Mat Cauthon they would never have moved. Bryne whispers that he doesn’t understand why he keeps making these mistakes. Gawyn insists that he is just tired.
“No,” Bryne said softly. “No, it’s more than that. I’ve been tired before. This is like… my instincts are suddenly wrong. I give the orders, then afterward, I see the holes, the problems. I…”
“Compulsion,” Egwene said, feeling cold. “You’ve been Compelled. They’re attacking our great captains.”
Several women in the room embraced the Source.
Egwene moves that General Bryne be removed from command. The Hall concurs, and Bryne thanks Egwene, to her surprise. He explains that he thought it was him, but it wasn’t. Gawyn points out that they must bring in new commanders immediately, but Doesine asks what if they have been corrupted as well, and Egwene agrees. Faiselle says the Hall may have to lead themselves, but Ferane protests that none of the Sitters have sufficient training.
“No,” Egwene said, pulling herself up on Gawyn’s arm.
“Then what?” Gawyn asked.
Egwene clenched her teeth. Then what? She knew of only one man she could trust not to have been Compelled, at least not by Moghedien. A man who was immune to the effects of saidar and saidin. “We will have to put our armies under the command of Matrim Cauthon,” she said. “May the Light watch over us.”
Ah, the worm turns!
So finally we get in this chapter what the previous ones have been building up to: all the Compelled captains are exposed and/or taken down, and damn was it a relief.
This is good storytelling here, by the way, people: having the readers realize the problem before the characters do, and generating tension in the wait for them to figure out what the audience already knows, and in waiting to see how they will solve the problem once they identify it, and whether they will do so in time. It’s a technique that’s older than the hills, precisely because of how effective it is, and I must give props to Team Jordan in how well they employed it.
Speaking of the “writing geekery” side of things: I mentioned that the last chapter broke the rules about POV switching between scene breaks, but this chapter seems to indicate that this is a feature rather than a bug, as we have two Egwene POVs in a row as well. So, never mind?
I’m not necessarily pointing this out as a flaw, mind you, just more of a… thing. It’s part and parcel of what I’m interpreting as Brandon’s influence on the writing, which, I feel, is far more tilted toward efficiency than it is toward aesthetic structure. You can certainly have a debate about whether that’s a good thing or not, but it’s worth pointing out that, given the general bloat of WOT overall, “efficiency” is not necessarily a bad trait to have when you’re trying to wrap up such a monster of a saga. Ultimately, it’s probably going to be in the eye of the beholder to judge.
And in the eye of this particular beholder, I think it is… both good and bad, but probably more good than it is bad, on balance. Because, I miss Jordan’s poetic prose and symmetrical structure sometimes (or even a lot), but I can’t help but note that that very tendency had caused Jordan to paint himself into a virtual corner previously (i.e. Crossroads of Twilight). And given that, I don’t think there is any way that Jordan would have been able to wrap this story up in three books the way that Sanderson has.
Then again, there’s still things like Gawyn using the term “command structure” in conversation, so, well. It’s a tradeoff, sometimes.
Backing off the meta front for a moment and back to the story: I do definitely appreciate that all of the Great Captains are shown to be fighting against their Compulsion, which is no less strong-minded than what I would expect of the greatest military geniuses of the Age, after all. Ituralde in particular is impressive, as he is (as far as I recall) the only one of the four who twigged to the fact that there was something wrong without anyone actually confronting him about it. Since I don’t think Elyas tackling him off a rock actually counts as a “confrontation”—except in the most literal sense, hah.
(So, does that mean Ituralde “wins” as Most Badass of the Badass Captains? Discuss!)
And again I want to give props to this entire plot twist, which was, I think, a pretty ingenious way to introduce genuine major complications to the conflict, and come up with a plausible reason for why Mat ends up in charge of it all at the end—which I’m pretty confident in saying is what we all expected to happen at one point or another. Mat’s memories (and medallion) may not be precisely a Chekhov’s Gun, considering how often he’s been employing them from TSR onwards, but surely this is the ultimate, ahem, firing of it, so to speak.
And that’s pretty darn cool, if you ask me.
I think I may have mentioned this before, but I remember being—relieved? Vindicated? Something like that—when I read here that the Windfinders were using the Bowl of the Winds at Thakan’dar, because that was a plot thread I would have been rather annoyed to have dropped.
Er, assuming I remembered that it had been dropped. Because really, there are SO MANY THREADS. But just because I don’t remember them all doesn’t mean everyone should forget them!
So, this was good, because this was the sole validation of the Windfinders’ (and the Bowl’s) reason for existing in this story in the first place, in my opinion. Because seriously, otherwise their raison d’être would have been “to be annoying,” as far as I can tell, and that’s just not cool. So yay that, eh?
I am also proud of the Hall for recognizing, with shocking humility, that they are not actually military geniuses, and concurrently I am proud of Egwene for getting past her childhood prejudices enough to recognize that Mat is a military genius, and acting accordingly. I say this with no mockery at all, because if it were me in her place and I saw Mat as nothing more than (in modern parlance) a lecherous frat boy slacker dude, that would have been… difficult to get past, too. We are none of us free from bias, and it would behoove us all, including me, to remember that.
In conclusion: yay major turning point, at least until we get to the other major turning points, and yay for the little breath of relief it gives us until everything goes even more to shit, yes? Yes!
Tell me your thoughts, Oh My Peeps, and I’ll see you next Tuesday with More!