The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Reread: A Memory of Light, Part 36

Cry Havoc! And let slip the Wheel of Time Reread!

Today’s entry covers Part 1 of Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light, in which a war is begun.

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 ebook series, from your preferred ebook 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!

As a note for those who are curious about how I am breaking up this chapter, I’m basically going to be doing it on the fly: I’ll go until it feels like a good place to stop. At nearly two hundred pages, this seems like the only way to navigate this chapter that isn’t going to make me tear my hair out, so with that y’all will have to be satisfied. It will be interesting to see how many parts we end up with!

Onward!

Chapter 37: The Last Battle (Part 1)

What Happens

 

Dawn broke that morning on Polov Heights, but the sun did not shine on the Defenders of the Light. Out of the west and out of the north came the armies of Darkness, to win this one last battle and cast a Shadow across the earth; to usher in an Age where the wails of suffering would go unheard.

(from the notebook of Loial, son of Arent son of Halan, the Fourth Age)

Lan leads the cavalry that will be in the van of the charge against the Sharans, many volunteers joining him despite Cauthon’s warning that his company will take the brunt of the fighting. He reaches Hawal Ford, where Logain stands with forty Asha’man and Aes Sedai, blunting the force of the fireballs flung at them from the enemy camp, and continues on when Logain parts the waters for them to cross the river. Lan’s cavalry charges down the corridor formed by Polov Heights and the bogs as the archers and dragoners above open fire.

Birgitte warns Elayne of incoming Draghkar, and she weaves a thunderclap which temporarily deafens herself and everyone in range, keeping their heads clear of the creatures’ siren song, then strikes them down with Fire. Then she leads her Guardwomen to attack the Draghkar further in the camp. Once they are dead, she Heals Birgitte’s ears. Seanchan troops appear, including a sul’dam and damane, who curtsey to Elayne, to her surprise.

Elayne hesitated, but what was she going to do? She could return to her own camp for Healing, but that would take time, and it was urgent that she speak with Mat. What was the point of spending days drawing up war plans if he was going to throw them aside? She trusted him — Light, she had to — but she’d still rather know what he intended to do.

She indicates that she wants Healing from the damane; the sul’dam looks insulted, but has her do it, and Elayne’s hearing returns. Elayne tells Birgitte to tell the damane to Heal the others, not wanting to give them the honor of speaking to them directly. The sul’dam doesn’t know why they would want to be Healed by “an animal,” but agrees. Elayne and Birgitte head to the Seanchan command building, where she storms in to demand of Mat what “in the name of a bloody, two-fingered Trolloc haystack-grunter” he thinks he is doing. Mat grins and directs her to a chair in Andor colors. Tuon is there, and Elayne notes sourly that her chair is slightly higher than Elayne’s. Elayne tells Mat about the aborted Draghkar attack, which he says the archers should have seen; a messenger bursts in to report that the archers were wiped out. Mat orders reinforcements, and threatens to have the scouts flogged if they let it happen again.

“Great One,” the scout said, saluting and scrambling to his feet, backing out of the room without looking up to avoid the risk of meeting Mat’s gaze.

All in all, Elayne was impressed by how easily the scout mixed his obeisance and his report. She was also sickened. No ruler should demand such of her subjects. A nation’s strength came from the strength of its people; break them, and you were breaking your own back.

Elayne demands to know why Mat changed their battle plan when it was sound, and he explains to her that the Shadow not only were manipulating the minds of their commanders, but they doubtless have spies in the camps, and that bad battle plans are still better than ones your enemy knows.

“Why didn’t you guess this would happen?” Elayne demanded.

He looked at her, lips in a line. One side of his mouth twitched up, then he pulled his hat down, shading his eyepatch.

“Light,” Elayne said. “You knew. You spent this whole week planning with us, and you knew the entire time you’d throw it out with the dishwater.”

She asks what the new plan is, then, but Mat doesn’t answer, and she realizes he means to keep it all in his head, where there is no possibility of a leak.

“Creator shelter us,” she whispered.

Mat scowled. “You know, that’s what Tuon said.”

Uno watches from the Heights as Lan’s cavalry flank the Sharans and Trollocs below, keeping them contained and better targets for the dragons, while another army of Trollocs approaches from the northeast. Uno doesn’t think much of the Cairheinin in charge of the dragons, Talmanes, and even less of his promotion to Captain, but it is his job to protect the dragoners if the enemy makes it up this far.

Uno figured there was no way he was going to survive this flaming battle. He was surprised he’d made it this long. Really, flaming Masema should have had his head, or the Seanchan near Falme, or a Trolloc here and there. He had tried to keep himself lean so he’d taste flaming terrible when they stuffed him in one of those flaming cookpots.

The dragons fire, the eggs exploding among the Trollocs below. The Taraboner woman with Talmanes gives Uno some wax to put in his ears, but Uno doesn’t bother with it, instead yelling at his pikemen to ready themselves for the Trollocs’ advance up the hill to their position. They defeat the first wave handily, and then a message is dropped almost on his head from a raken, which instructs them to retreat down the southeast slope.

“Retreat?” Allin said. “Now?”

“They’ve flaming lost their minds,” Uno said.

Uno hopes Cauthon knows what he’s doing, and begins to give the order when they are assaulted by a wave of lightning strikes and fireballs, all concentrated on the hilltop. Uno demands of Talmanes why the Aes Sedai didn’t stop the attack, but Kwamesa Sedai and the Asha’man Einar say that whoever sent the weaves was immensely powerful. Then a gateway opens, and a man in ornate armor and carrying a gold scepter steps out. Kwamesa attacks him, and the man evaporates her with white fire.

“I come for the Dragon Reborn!” the figure in silver announced. “You will send for him. Either that, or I will see that your screams bring him.”

The ground beneath the dragons heaved into the air just a few feet from Uno. He threw his arm up in front of his face, bits of wood and soil flying across him.

“Light help us,” Einar said. “I’m trying to stop him, but he’s in a circle. A full circle. Seventy-two. I’ve never seen such power before! I—”

Then that same white-hot light destroys Einar, and Uno scrambles back, shouting orders for the other men to do the same, no longer questioning Cauthon’s order at all.

Logain forces himself to let go of the Power flowing through him from his circle of thirty-nine; he suspects that his version of the madness is his fear that releasing the Power will mean he never gets it back. He asks Androl, Emarin, Jonneth, and Canler if they feel what is happening on the Heights, and Emarin says it must be Demandred. Logain concludes the Forsaken must have a sa’angreal of immense strength.

With such a tool, his thoughts whispered, no man or woman could ever take the Power from you again.

Taim had done it, during Logain’s imprisonment. Held him captive, shielded, unable to touch the One Power. The attempts to Turn him had been painful, crushing. But being without saidin

Strength, he thought, watching that powerful channeling. The lust to be so strong almost drowned out his hatred of Taim.

Logain says they will not engage Demandred for now, instead splitting into teams to hunt the traitors from the Black Tower. Pevara says she thought they were here to help move troops, but Logain replies he has orders from the Dragon Reborn himself.

Rand al’Thor had called them his “last” orders for them, a note delivered with a small angreal of a man holding a sword. The Shadow has stolen the seals of the Dark One’s prison. Find them. If you can, please find them.

During their captivity, Androl had heard what he thought was Taim bragging about the seals. It was their only lead.

Logain is not sure he wants to follow orders from al’Thor, but decides he will if it gives him a chance at Taim. He orders the Asha’man to search for any men channeling and attack; if they are renegade Asha’man and not Sharans, they are to attempt to capture one of them to find out where Taim is. If they find Taim himself, they are to report back to Logain. After the others leave, Gabrelle asks what he intends re: Toveine. Logain says he will kill her if he finds her, and asks if Gabrelle would rather live if she were in Toveine’s place. Gabrelle is silent, and he can tell she is still afraid of him.

Was this what you wished for, his mind whispered, when you raised the banner of the Dragon? When you sought to save mankind? Did you do it to be feared? Hated?

He ignored that voice. The only times he had accomplished anything in life had come when he’d been feared. It was the only edge he’d had against Siuan and Leane. The primal Logain, that something deep inside that drove him to keep living, needed people to fear him.

He tells Gabrelle that he released Toveine’s bond, and is shocked at the envy she feels at the news; he’d thought she had begun to enjoy their bond, but tells himself that she had just been trying to manipulate him all along, like Aes Sedai do. He laughs and calls for the remaining channelers to join him in a circle to hunt for the M’Hael.

And after that… Who knew? He had always wanted to test himself against one of the Forsaken.

Commentary
Well, here we go.

I should probably note at the outset that I am unlikely to get too into the minutiae of the actual battle maneuvering/tactics/what have you, for two reasons. One, I’m trying to maintain some semblance of sanity re: wordcount here, and two, as a general rule I’m more interested in the characters themselves and what they’re feeling and thinking as a result of those maneuvers than in keeping obsessive track of who is where on what terrain using what weapon blah blah blah. Those who disagree (which, of course, you are perfectly free to do) will have to read the text itself for those sorts of details. Just FYI.

Anyway!

Of Lan’s brief scene I have little to say, other than that I feel it is very apropos that it should be the man who has been fighting the endless war against the Shadow his whole life who begins the Last Battle, both narratively and literally. Good choice, there.

I don’t think, before reading Elayne’s POV here, that I had quite realized the extent of the burden Mat is taking upon himself in assuming command under the specter of Compulsion and/or invisible spies. Being in charge of all the forces of Light would be quite enough of a thing to shoulder all on its own, but essentially what Mat is proposing to do here is to deprive himself of what even the greatest tacticians and generals need: namely, advisors. This means he can’t compare notes with anyone, can’t ask for advice, can’t even just bounce things off people. He has to do it completely on his own.

Well. I guess, as long as you don’t count the few hundred or so people—or fractions of people, whatever—that he’s technically got stuffed in his head. But even so, that’s a staggering amount of responsibility. There’s lots of clichés out there about the loneliness of command, but what Mat is doing zooms right past “lonely” and ends up more in the territory of an isolation tank in a soundproofed room five hundred feet underground. On the Moon.

Eek.

Yeah, if I were Elayne (and Tuon) I’d be freaked out too. And that’s even with me having the advantage of knowing exactly how awesome Mat is at this war thing, which they really do not.

Random question: does Tuon—or anyone—actually know about Mat’s memories? I seem to recall that Mat kinda sorta told Tuon about them—and she at least knows that he knows Hawkwing’s face, which should have given her at least some clue—but I honestly can’t remember if Mat ever flat-out told anyone, or if he’s kept his mouth shut. Huh.

And then we have Uno, with the most unique (and depressing) motivation to stay on a diet ever.

He is, as always, entertaining to read. And there was a nice bit of continuity in there (which I left out of the summary) that reminds us that the last time Uno saw Mat, Mat was in the full throes of Shadar Logoth Dagger Addiction Syndrome, so it’s pretty understandable that he’s leery of following Mat’s orders—at least until it becomes clear that not following Mat’s orders drastically increases your chances of getting squashed like a bug.

In other news, Demandred definitely subscribes to the “Chew ALL the Scenery” school of thought when it comes to making entrances. But, you know, appropriate grandstanding is appropriate; if ever there was a time for over the top grandiose melodrama, the apocalypse would be it. If for no other reason than that it might literally be your last chance to go for that Oscar. So ham it up, baby.

Lastly we have Logain, and his somewhat belatedly introduced but still interesting character arc/flaw/struggle which will inform the rest of what he does during Tarmon Gai’don. One of the things which I really rather regret is that we never really got to spend any quality time in Logain’s head prior to this point. In fact, is this the first time we’ve done that? I think it might be!

In any case, I find it interesting that despite the fact that Logain has always been presented as a morally ambiguous and/or suspect character (a thing which is only reinforced here with his thoughts about lusting for power and his mildly megalomaniacal behavior), I have personally never had the slightest doubt that he would end up on the right side of things. And I’m not sure if that indicates a failure to properly induce tension on the narrative’s part, or if I’m just inexplicably naïve when it comes to a certain type of character. I couldn’t quite define to you what that “type” consists of, but whatever it is, Logain is it.

Perhaps the mere fact that he expresses doubt about whether he wants to be feared or not is enough—probably combined with the knowledge of the kind of story WOT is, which can get fairly dark but generally does not stray into true moral ambiguity when it comes to characterization, unlike some other epic fantasy series I could mention.

I do kind of have to roll my eyes at him re: Gabrelle, though, and his surprise that she is not 100% thrilled with her involuntary soulbond situation. I mean, c’mon, dude. The sulking about her “manipulation” (i.e. her seduction) of him is even more eye-rolly; yes, the Aes Sedai have historically been kind of dicks with their manipulation tactics, but that doesn’t apply as a complaint here, because seriously, what would you do if you were in her position, Aes Sedai or otherwise? Just lie down and take it, or, well, lie down and try to do something to your advantage with it?

I’m just saying, getting mad at the person you’ve basically bound into involuntary servitude against their will for fighting back in the only way they can is both icky and immature. Though not more so for doing the involuntary binding in the first place, of course. I think I sort of gave the whole “Extra Bit” bonding thing a pass at the time for the way it prevented wholesale slaughter on both sides, but that doesn’t make it any less creepy and wrong, especially this long after the fact.

In conclusion, Logain = sort of a douche. But one that, for whatever reason, I never had any doubt was going to end up doing the right thing.


And thus concludes Part 1 of THE CHAPTER OF DOOM. Come back next week for Moar!

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