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Today’s entry covers Chapter 32 of A Memory of Light, in which Randland experiences its first conference call, which is probably one of the signs of the apocalypse. Oh, wait.
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Chapter 32: A Yellow Flower-Spider
Mat pauses in his battle orders to admire Tuon, which earns him a glare. He is very impressed by the floor/spyhole gateways, which Catrona tells him her damane learned from the Aes Sedai. Mat tries not to look at the damane, which is the Sharan he captured, and who has taken to being damane with startling compliance.
Blood and bloody ashes, he thought to himself. You are doing a fine job of persuading Tuon not to use damane, Matrim Cauthon. Capturing one yourself…
Mat thinks that he had known Bryne was behind the trap Egwene’s forces were in by the very subtlety of it, camouflaged like “a yellow flower-spider crouching on a petal.” He knows they are in a bad position, but is thrilled by how quickly his orders are relayed thanks to Traveling. Galgan comments that this will change the world, and Mat agrees. Galgan tells Tuon that Mat is “a diamond of great worth” and an extraordinarily gifted battle commander. Mat murmurs a thank-you to him, whereupon Galgan tells him that it will be a shame to have him assassinated too early, and will make sure to have the first few assassins he sends be incompetent and easily stopped.
Mat felt his mouth drop open. The man said it with perfect frankness, almost affection. As if he were planning to do Mat a favor by trying to kill him!
Mat is concerned about channeling infiltrators during the night, and orders that no one in their camp is to channel. Galgan points out that the Aes Sedai might not like that (choking a bit on the term). Mat decides that they will have to abandon their position on the river or risk being ground to death against it. Tuon points out that Egwene will not enter their camp nor have Tuon in hers, so Mat decides to talk via gateway. Tuon amuses herself while that’s being set up by having Min view various members of the Blood, and placing them in the ranks accordingly. Mat doesn’t pay much attention until Tuon orders one of them, a woman, executed when Min sees a white boar on her, which is the symbol of one of Tuon’s rivals. Min is horrified, and declares that Tuon can’t do that. Mat is very afraid for Min until Selucia points out to Tuon that Min is also her Truthspeaker, which causes her to back off.
“What someone may do is not grounds to kill them,” Min said. “I intend no disrespect, but if you are going to kill people because of what I tell you, I will not speak.”
“You can be made to speak.”
“Try it,” Min said softly. Mat started. Bloody ashes, she looked as cold as Tuon had a moment ago. “Let us see how the Pattern treats you, Empress, if you torture the bearer of omens.”
Instead, Tuon smiled. “You will take to this well. Explain to me what you desire, bringer of omens.”
They strike a bargain that the interpretations of her omens will be between Tuon and Min, and not acted upon unless outside evidence presents itself. Tuon sends the suspected noble away, and Mat makes a mental note to get Min away from the Seanchan as soon as possible. The meeting-via-gateway begins, and Mat notes that Egwene has had the Amyrlin Seat itself fetched for her to sit upon. He also sees how exhausted she is. Mat opens by thanking the Hall for “coming to their bloody senses” and asking him to lead the battle, but Egwene only congratulates him on being “as eloquent as ever” and asks if his “pet fox” is still with him (meaning the medallion).
“So it was really Compulsion?” Mat asked. Egwene had sent him word.
“As near as we can tell,” Saerin said. “Nynaeve Sedai can see the weaves on someone’s mind, I’m told, but none of the rest of us can.”
“We have our Healers looking at Bryne,” said a stocky Domani Aes Sedai. “For now, we cannot trust any battle plans that he touched, at least not until we determine how long he’s been under the Shadow’s thumb.”
Mat tells them he wants to withdraw from the ford. Saerin, who is speaking for the Hall, lets him know that Agelmar and Bashere were also compromised; Elayne’s forces rallied thanks to the Black Tower, but the Borderlanders have lost nearly two-thirds of their army. Shocked, Mat asks after Lan, and Saerin tells him Lord Mandragoran survived, but Ituralde has fallen in the Blight, and no one knows what happened to him. Mat is boggled by the coordination it must have taken to try and crush all four battlefronts at once. Saerin tells him Elayne is having the Asha’man help the remains of Agelmar’s army escape Shienar, which is as good as lost, and plans to move her army to hold the Trollocs in the Blight. Mat insists on bringing Elayne in to consult, and it is arranged. Elayne is impatient, and suggests melding Mat’s forces with the Borderlanders.
“I want to do more than that, Elayne,” Mat said, stepping forward. “This ploy the Shadow tried… it was clever, Elayne. Bloody clever. We’re bloodied and almost broken. We don’t have the luxury of fighting on multiple battlefronts anymore.”
“A last stand,” Mat said softly. “All of us, together, at one place where the terrain favors us.”
Elayne says that sounds desperate, and Mat replies that they are desperate. He further points out that he is the only commander whom they can be sure is not compromised anymore. Elayne is silent a while, then agrees. They discuss where this stand should be; Mat says it has to be a place that looks tempting to the enemy, and where they will either defeat them or be crushed.
A drawn-out fight would serve the Shadow. Once enough Trollocs reached southern lands, there would be no containing them. He had to win or lose quickly.
One last toss of the dice indeed.
He sees Merrilor on the maps, and points it out. Saerin chuckles at the irony. Mat thinks on his memories of other battles, seeing how he could use the terrain to his advantage. He declares it the place.
“Let it be done,” Elayne said. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Mat.”
As she spoke, the dice started tumbling inside his head.
Galad takes the officer’s knots from Trom’s dead body and trudges wearily across the corpse-strewn field. He thinks of Elayne, and thinks that he respects her and the other leaders even though they cannot see the right way as clearly as he can. The other survivors are numb, even though they have won, technically. Galad is sickened by the news of the Great Captains, especially on behalf of the Borderlanders. He finds Elayne as she is telling Tam al’Thor, Arganda, Logain, Talmanes, Elder Haman, and Havien Nurelle of Mat’s decision to gather at Merrilor for a last stand. Galad refuses again the offer to have his fatigue washed away, and seeing how that offends Elayne, wishes Aybara hadn’t run off. Elayne insists that they must convince the troops to see this day as a victory despite their losses, and Tam agrees, but Galad says that is a lie. Tam counters that it is not.
“We lost many friends today. Light, but we all did. Focusing on death, however, is what the Dark One wants us to do. I dare you to tell me I’m wrong. We must look and see Light, not Shadow, or we’ll all be pulled under.”
Elayne insists their victory here gives them a reprieve to gather their strength for Merrilor, but the others only see that it will be more of the same. Galad, however, disagrees.
Galad looked out over the fields of the dead, then shivered. “Merrilor will be worse. Light help us… it’s going to get worse.”
Well, that’s cheery.
Galad: definitely not in his happy place as of this chapter. Of course, since his literal location is a battlefield littered with the corpses of his comrades, I think he’s kind of justified in not being Mr. Sunshine right now.
In other (not) news, the Seanchan are fucked up, except where they aren’t, which is at least part of the reason that they are so annoying. Because on the one hand, slavery, and also a society in which respect is shown by not trying too hard to assassinate your compatriots, because what the fuck, but on the other, there’s this:
Men’s armor and women’s armor [for the Seanchan] didn’t actually look much different, which [Mat] found a shame. Mat had asked a Seanchan armorer if certain areas of the female breastplate shouldn’t be emphasized, so to speak, and the armorer had looked at him like he was a half-wit. Light, these people had no sense of morality. A fellow needed to know if he was fighting a woman on the battlefield. It was only right.
I totally don’t know what to do with a culture that glorifies such heinous things as institutionalized slavery and sanctioned murder-as-political-discourse, but yet at the same time seems to be the only culture in Randland that has utter equality in every other aspect. Because it is very clear that the Seanchan as a whole make no differentiation whatsoever when it comes to either race or gender, and while I don’t think it has been specifically shown in canon, I feel fairly certain in assuming that they don’t care about sexual orientation either. Which is awesome. And yet, slavery.
I can only assume, by the way, from the above quote, that Mat is consciously letting his own cultural prejudices override his warfare know-how, because anyone with a decent knowledge of how armor works (as I would think Mat would) would know that despite what the video game industry would like us to believe, putting “breasts” on chestplate armor is in fact a spectacularly bad idea. It doesn’t even matter if this is an authorial gaffe or a deliberate blind spot, it still reflects badly on the character, that he would prefer female soldiers wear dangerously defective armor just so they can be identified more easily.
Sigh. Chivalry. As always, a classically bad idea (or ideal) camouflaged by a nominally good one.
Moving on, Mat’s astonishment at the coordination displayed by the Shadow is frankly mirrored by my own, because we have always been told (and shown) in this series that the bad guys’ biggest failing is their own infighting and lack of ability to work together. It’s probably reasonable, though, to suppose that if they were ever even remotely going to get their act together it would be at this point, so I’m not pointing this out as a problem with the writing per se, just more as a “oh wow, they did get their act together, who’d’ve thunk it!” kind of thing.
Although, I don’t know that there would be much more coordination required than between Moridin, Demandred and Graendal, really, because Lanfear turned out to be more of a wild card than Fain ever was, and unless I’m mistaken, all the other Forsaken at this point are either dead, or Moghedien. So I guess attrition does have its advantages!
As far as the whole “last stand” idea goes, I’m not versed enough in military tactics to say whether it’s a good idea from a practical standpoint, but from a narrative standpoint, it’s about the only thing that could logically happen for this kind of story. Because, what kind of Last Battle would it be if there weren’t a Last, Desperate Stand by the good guys to defeat the bad guys?
A pretty lame one, if you ask me.
So yes, the concatenation of circumstances to get Team Light all gathered in Merrilor may seem a little contrived in retrospect, but it didn’t seem so at the time it happened, and that’s probably what’s important. I don’t even mind the plot-device-iveness of Mat’s medallion being the thing that finally puts him in charge of Team Light, because any plot device that’s been set up ten books in advance automatically gets a Literary Out of Jail Free card if you ask me.
I do kind of wonder at the apparent assumption that no one in the Hall could possibly have been corrupted in the same way Bryne and his commanders were or might have been. We learned from Sammael that someone actually holding the Power was immune from Compulsion, but we also know from Elayne and Nynaeve’s adventures with Moghedien that channelers are perfectly susceptible to Compulsion when they aren’t holding the Power, so unless all the Aes Sedai are walking around embracing saidar 24/7, which I’m pretty sure they aren’t, how do they know they aren’t under the influence, so to speak? Seems like a fairly large oversight it you ask me.
As for Min and Tuon: sigh. Tuon. In addition to “slavery” and “assassination as routine political tool”, I suppose I should add “total lack of due process” to the con side of the ledger for the Seanchan. Of course, I think that’s a thing in general in Randland. I don’t think we’ve seen any other monarch actually summarily execute someone (I think the closest is when Compelled Morgase ordered Ellorien flogged), but they definitely could.
…Although, now that I think about it, we’ve seen Rand order executions without trial, haven’t we? Mangin, I think his name was, in Cairhien? The Aiel dude who killed a Cairhienin and went cheerfully to his own hanging? Yeah, so. I mean, not that there was any doubt Mangin was guilty of the crime he was charged with, but he also definitely didn’t get a formal trial first, so, yeah.
Medieval-ish law is awesome, not. Or, since Randland isn’t actually a medieval-ish setting but more of a Renaissance-ish one, I guess I should say “pre-democratic law is awesome, not”. Not that democracy is exactly covering itself with glory right now (at least not in my country), but as Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others.”
(And yeah, I know, someone’s going to point out that historically absolute monarchies are actually the most stable form of government, but sorry dude and/or dudette, even so I am not interested in living in a society where “off with her head!” is not just a funny Lewis Carroll catchphrase.)
I sense I have drifted off topic. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Min and Tuon. Good for Min, I guess, for standing up to Tuon. Though I wouldn’t have blamed her for choosing the wise course and backing down, because from an outsider’s point of view (as Min certainly is) the Seanchan must seem stone-cold crazy, and not antagonizing crazy people is not cowardice so much as it is a basic survival skill.
Though it is interesting that this is the first time (that I recall) that Min’s ever really acknowledged or played upon her own importance as a seer. Because one thing I will give Tuon props for (and I think I’ve said this already but whatever) is that she is the only one who seemed to actually recognize that Min’s ability is not just valuable, but that it is (apparently) more or less unique, which quadruples its value at the very least. (Well, Siuan recognized it to an extent when she was still Amyrlin, but even she didn’t value it enough to actually listen to Min, thus failing to prevent her own downfall. Oops.)
Also, life lesson: do not Google “yellow spider” unless you are entirely arachnophobia-free. I, it turns out, am not, and I’m feeling a bit like doing the “oh God is there a bug on me” dance right now. Eurgh.
However, the results of that un-fun web search suggest that there is no real-world equivalent to the “flower-spider” that names this chapter. And… uh, now you know that. Congratulations!
…Yeah, I clearly have nothing constructive left to say, so we’ll stop here. Have a lovely week, y’all, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!