Macduff Wheel of Time Reread!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 36 of A Memory of Light, in which a shoe is dropped, a dream is ended, and a tipping point is reached. Like that point right when you’ve chugged up to the top of the 200-foot drop on the first hill of the roller coaster and you’re about to go over and ohhh shit.
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!
Chapter 36: Unchangeable Things
Nynaeve clings to a rock to keep herself from being dragged into the void before them, and worries about Rand, who has been standing frozen in place ever since his foot touched the darkness; Moridin is similarly motionless. She wants to try and do something, but she cannot let go of the rock, and Rand is drawing every bit of the One Power she has, though he doesn’t seem to be doing anything with it.
I am not spending the Last Battle clinging to a rock! she thought. Not the same one the whole time, at the very least.
She manages to move sideways to another stalagmite, then another, and then sees there is a woman huddled against the wall of the cave. It is Alanna, and Nynaeve then sees she has been stabbed in the gut. She realizes that Moridin must have done it so that when Alanna died, Rand as her Warder would go mad, leaving him easy prey for Moridin. Nynaeve tries to draw saidar for Healing, but Rand will not let her take any of it away from him. She gets out her herbs, though she doesn’t know if they will help.
What to do? If this woman died, Rand would lose control. That, likely, would be the end of him… and of the Last Battle.
Mat shows a group of villagers how to construct a palisade while trying to ignore the dice rolling in his head. One of them looks vaguely familiar to Mat, something about a cart, but he can’t place him. Urien passes by and cheerily urges him to win, as he has bet a skin of oosquai on it. Mat is bemused. He moves on, contemplating his preparations to defend the place he had chosen, and trying not to think it was like picking your own gravesite.
Counting everyone he had, Mat would be outnumbered four to one when those Trollocs arrived, at least according to the reports from the Fists of Heaven. It was going to be messy.
Mat stops to give some extremely green Tower Guard recruits a lesson in staff fighting. One of them, Sigmont, asks why they can’t learn the sword instead, and Mat asks if he wants to go ask the Trollocs for a few months’ extra time so he could train them to use a sword. He assures them this is the best method for the time they have, and hurries off before the Deathwatch Guard catches up with him, ending up running into Egwene with a group of Aes Sedai. Mat complains to her that the Deathwatch Guards are stalking him, and urges her to go the Aes Sedai portion of the camp, not really listening to her until:
“We’ll have to find a way to explain to Fortuona why you ran,” Egwene said as they approached the Aes Sedai quarter. Mat had placed it as far from the Seanchan as was reasonable. “The marriage is going to present a problem. I suggest that you—”
“Wait, Egwene,” Mat said. “What are you talking about?”
“You are running from the Seanchan guards,” Egwene said. “Weren’t you listening… Of course you weren’t. It is pleasant to know that, as the world crumbles, a few things are completely unchangeable. Cuendillar and Mat Cauthon.”
Mat explains that he’s hiding because Tuon wants him to “sit in judgment” over soldiers being tried for crimes. Egwene is skeptical of the idea of Mat being a judge, but still chides him for ducking his responsibilities. Gawyn is also giving him dirty looks, which Mat ignores.
Mat was not going to order men to be executed, and that was that.
He asks in a low voice whether they’ve found the Horn, and Egwene says no. Mat rants about what he went through to find the bloody thing. Egwene asks about the dagger.
“That trinket? Hardly worth anyone’s time.” He caught himself reaching to his side, to where he had once carried it. Egwene raised an eyebrow at him. “Anyway, that’s not the point. We’re going to need that bloody instrument, Egwene. We’ll need it.”
Egwene assures him they are looking. Mat asks about Perrin, and Egwene says no one has seen him; she’s assumed he was with Rand. Mat lets it go, and gets her to make him a gateway to the top of Dashar Knob, an unclimbable rock formation in the center of Merrilor where Mat plans to have his command center during the battle.
“I have never known anyone else,” Egwene said to him, “who will work so hard to avoid hard work, Matrim Cauthon.”
“You haven’t spent enough time around soldiers.”
Atop the Knob (Egwene comes with him), Mat surveys the land below, planning his defenses, and feels Rand tugging at him from the north. He thinks he will have to go to him soon. Jur Grady approaches and points out where a company of Redarms, led by Delarn, are leading some five hundred raggedy-looking people into camp through a gateway. Grady asks what the point of that had been.
I saved your life, man, Mat thought, trying to pick Delarn out of the group. And then you volunteer for this. Bloody fool. Delarn acted as if it were his fate.
Mat tells Grady to take them to where they’ll be blocking the river, but to let Delarn and his recruits do most of the defending. Grady is puzzled, but obeys. Mat says to Egwene that there will no retreat from this battle; they stand here, or fall. He also tells her that it will no be enough for them to merely survive the battle; they have to win it, and destroy the enemy. Egwene asks him how he expects to do that, considering how outnumbered they are. Mat replies that he will have to “change it all.” Another gateway lets a group of the Guard through, led by Gelen, who furiously tries to order Mat back to Tuon, but Mat stops him.
A cool, somehow familiar wind blew across him, rippling his long coat, brushing at his hat. He narrowed his eye. Rand was tugging on him.
The dice still tumbled in his head.
“They’re here,” Mat said.
“What did you say?” Egwene asked.
“The scouts are wrong,” Mat said.
He realizes the Trollocs must have marched through the night, and the Sharans will be coming in first via gateway. He orders Gelen to get the troops in position, and to warn Elayne that Mat is changing the battle plan, ignoring Egwene’s exclamation.
“This is it, Egwene,” Mat said. “Take a deep breath, a last pull on the brandy, or burn your final pinch of tabac. Have a good look at the ground before you, as it’s soon going to be covered in blood. In an hour, we’ll be in the thick of it. The Light watch over us all.”
Perrin is exhausted, slipping away; he tells himself he can’t let go yet, but he is still stuck in the wolf dream. He is numb and almost unable to move, but then he feels his hammer growing hot against his side, and the warmth seems to wake him up.
That was what Slayer had done. He had… awakened… somehow…
Perrin’s life was trickling away. Not much time left. Half within death’s embrace, he gritted his teeth, drew in a deep breath and forced himself to wake.
The silence of the wolf dream shattered.
Perrin hears shouting around him, and then a voice he knows, Master Luhhan’s, calling his name and telling him to hang on.
And so, the last calm (sort of) before the CHAPTER OF DOOM.
Er, literally, really.
Including the shoe-droppage that I have been waiting for ever since Alanna bonded Rand against his will and I was like, well that’s going to end well, not. As I’ve said before (probably numerous times), Alanna’s had a big ol’ target painted on her forehead ever since her giant douchey move in LOC, because as far as I am concerned there was literally no other reason to have her both bond Rand (and then later refuse to release him) than for exactly a gambit like this one.
So it was all totally inevitable and stuff, and this may be why I was kind of annoyed by it. I mean, like I said, logistically Alanna was a Chekhov’s Gun that Team Jordan pretty much had no choice but to fire, so I am not harshing on them about that, exactly, but I’m just… I dunno, I dislike it when plot twists are so very clearly telegraphed that you’re just like “Oh, yeah, that” when they finally show up, instead of like “OMGWTFBBQ,” which is what they’re supposed to make you say. In My Opinion, Of Course.
Fortunately, to compensate for that we also have in this chapter the set-up for a plot twist that I totally did not see coming, namely Mat’s Hinderstap Ploy. This was so well-hidden, in fact (at least for me), that the mention of them in this chapter completely sailed over my head, and I didn’t even make the connection until the reveal later. Very nicely done.
(And wow, Delarn actually volunteered to become a chronically recurring ravening madman For The Cause? That’s commitment, man. In both senses of the word. Damn.)
Nynaeve’s POV here reminds me how sad I was that she had so little to do in AMOL. I mean, yes, technically she is helping Rand in the most important conflict in the battle, but in practice, having her spend 95% of her time (as I recall) clinging to a rock while being a One Power battery for the main dude is… underwhelming. Especially when compared to her badassedness in previous books.
And it was a little weird that Moiraine basically had no presence in that scene at all, even though we know she’s right there. This may seem a little picky on my part, but I’m just saying, have Nynaeve notice a look from her, or exchange a line of dialogue, or something. Because Moiraine has even less to do in the actual Last Battle than Nynaeve does (again, as far as I recall), so it would have been nice to at least include her in the narrative in scenes where she is actually in the room. Or cave, whatever, you know what I mean.
And as long as I’m complaining, I should probably also mention the rather marked clunkiness of Egwene’s more or less out of the blue mention here of the Shadar Logoth dagger to Mat, and his reaction to that. Which, of course, is the setup for what’s going to happen later with Fain. Which is fine, except for how we’ve had, as far as I can recall, virtually zero mentions of the dagger or its addictive qualities from any of Mat’s many, many POVs since he was separated from it in TDR… until now, eleven books later. And conveniently, right before it suddenly becomes relevant to his life again. Hrm.
Again, perhaps I am being overly picky, but in a series infamous for setting up situations multiple books before they come to fruition, by comparison this was… well, clunky.
And if I’m wrong about this I’m sure someone will tell me, but even if Mat has mentioned it before this, it obviously wasn’t in a significant enough way that I was aware that he was still longing for it. Which is the sort of thing which I feel like I really should have been aware of long before this. In my mind I equate it to being like a former drug user or alcoholic, or really any kind of reformed addict; you can be clean for years, for the rest of your life even, but that addiction is still there, a palpable presence in your life and thoughts.
I still remember the testimonial of one former alcoholic I knew, who, when asked how often he thought about having a drink, replied, “I always think about having a drink.” And he’d been sober for twenty years at that point. So if the dagger was like that for Mat (as I feel like it should have been), then he should have thought about it not just in passing, but often. But he didn’t.
*shrug* Maybe I’m interpreting it wrong. What do you think?
But other than that, Mat’s scene reminded me in part of why (a) he’s awesome and (b) I wish that the other characters could get to see into his head the way we do, so they can better realize how awesome he is. Or alternately, (c) why I wish that Mat would just articulate his reasoning already to other people, so that Egwene (for instance) would realize that his slacking off of his “responsibilities” here has an actual principled reason behind it, rather than him just running off to play or whatever.
Though I suppose we could have a debate over whether refusing to uphold the established law of the people
you’ve been shanghaied into being a ruler of is a “principled” stance or not, but in this case it seems fairly cut and dried to me. Because surely even if you’re a proponent of capital punishment you could agree that killing off your soldiers on the eve of a battle where you’re outnumbered four to one is the height of idiocy anyway.
I mean, come on. Got some criminals? Put them on the front lines. There, problem almost certainly solved, without depriving your army of needed warm bodies. (Er, so to speak.) And if they are still around afterward, then fight about whether to execute them. This is not rocket science, Tuon. Sheesh.
Also, I feel like we should all stop and remember who we were when we were 22 years old, and then think about how we would feel if that 22-year-old us was put in charge of the battle that will decide the fate of the world. Just as a perspective check, for a moment.
(If you’re too young to do this mental exercise, I don’t want to know about it. And also, get off my lawn.)
Was I the only one who snickered at the drive-by Urien cameo? Just me? Okay. I’m not even sure why I found it amusing anyway.
And Perrin’s back among the waking! Hooray!
Though I kind of raised an eyebrow at the big reveal of Slayer’s secret to switching between the dream world and the real world being “he just woke up,” at the same time I can’t really think of what else his method could actually be, so maybe I should shut up. But then, everything about Slayer is destined to remain infuriatingly unexplained, apparently, so maybe I should just regard it as part and parcel of the overarching annoyance that is his entire existence and let it go.
And thus, we arrive at what is functionally, if not literally, the midpoint of AMOL. From here on out it is all endgame, kids. I hope you’ve metaphorically strapped yourselves in for it.
I’m not sure I have, but whatever, into the breach! …Next week, that is. See you there!