I bear witness of the Wheel of Time Reread, for the Wheel of Time Reread is true!
Today’s entry covers Part 6 of Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light, in which trends are bucked, truth is spoken, and a dear friend is lost.
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!
Before we begin, a reiteration of my Hopefully Self-Evident Scheduling Note: The Reread will soon be going on hiatus, because holidays. Thus there will be no Reread posts on either December 24th or December 31st. Wassail!
Chapter 37: The Last Battle [Part 6]
Elayne wonders what the Sharans on the Heights are waiting for while the Trollocs battle Elayne’s forces to ford the river below. Birgitte confesses that all her memories prior to waking up to Elayne and Nynaeve are now gone, to Elayne’s dismay. Birgitte pretends at first that it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t remember Gaidal, but then admits it is “like a hole inside of me.” Elayne feels her pain through the bond.
What would it be like, to lose so much? Birgitte didn’t have a childhood, parents. Her entire life, all she remembered, spanned less than a year.
Galad approaches and makes a remark about Elayne being on the battlefield in her condition; Elayne retorts that if they lose, her children will be either dead or born in captivity to the Dark One, so she thinks it worth the risk. Galad is insultingly dismissive, but then moves on to wondering aloud why Cauthon put him here. Elayne replies that she thinks Mat only acts simple so he can get away with more. Elayne sends crossbowmen to reinforce her right flank, and thinks it is getting bad.
Elayne was suddenly aware. Of the pervasive scent of smoke in the air, the cries of pain from men. Thunder from the sky, trembles in the earth. The cold air resting upon a land that would not grow, the breaking weapons, grinding of pikes against shields. The end. It really had come, and she stood upon its precipice.
A messenger arrives with a message from Mat—to Galad, to Elayne’s annoyance, but she reads it over his shoulder. Mat says in the note, cryptically, that Galad is the only one he trusts with this, since he will always do right no matter what, and tells him to get Elayne to make him a gateway and “do what must be done.” One of the copies of Mat’s medallion is in the envelope. Galad turns the letter over.
p.s. In case you don’t know what “Do what needs to be done” means, it means that I want you to go bloody slaughter as many of those Sharan channelers as you can. I’ll bet you a full Tar Valon mark—it’s only been shaved on the sides a little—that you can’t kill twenty.—MC
Galad wonders if Cauthon has thought through giving immunity to channeling to one of the Children, but says he will do it. Elayne asks if he is willing to kill women, then.
“Perhaps once I would have hesitated,” Galad said, “but that would have been the wrong choice. Women are as fully capable of being evil as men. Why should one hesitate to kill one, but not the other? The Light does not judge one based on gender, but on the merit of the heart.”
“What is interesting?” Galad asked.
“You actually said something that doesn’t make me want to strangle you. Perhaps there is hope for you someday, Galad Damodred.”
To her surprise, then, Bryne appears, looking for Gawyn, who he says Egwene thought might have come this way to fight on the front lines, perhaps in disguise. Elayne thinks that going in disguise seems unlike Gawyn, but promises to spread the word to keep an eye out for him.
Observing via gateway, Mat sees that Elayne’s lines are being forced back, triggering memories of ancient battles, but he thinks he has never been this engaged by a conflict before. He knows Demandred knows how to gamble by observing how he moves his troops.
Mat was playing against one of the best who had ever lived, and the stake this time was not wealth. They diced for the lives of men, and the final prize was the world itself. Blood and bloody ashes, but that excited him. He did feel guilty about that, but it was exciting.
He gives orders for Lan to strike, and hopes Tam’s forces can hold long enough for Lan’s troops to come around and strike from behind. Logain enters, to Min’s chagrin and Tuon’s deep suspicion. Mat tells him he wants Logain to help the White Tower. Logain replies it is not his war, and Mat retorts that it is everyone’s war. Logain says that he stood forth to fight and got the Red Ajah in answer, because he was “just a little too soon.” Mat asks if he’s really refusing to fight because he didn’t get to be the Dragon, but Logain says Rand is welcome to that task. Mat quickly intuits that what Logain really wants, though, is to be sent against Demandred. He thinks Logain is crazy, but knows that he has to do something about the Forsaken in any case.
Logain didn’t have much of a shot against Demandred, in Mat’s estimation. But he’d have to deal with the man somehow. If Logain wanted to try, then so be it.
“You may fight him,” Mat said. “Do it now, or wait until he is weakened a little. Light, I hope we can weaken him. Anyway, I leave it to you. Pick your time and attack.”
[Logain smiles and leaves via gateway.] “Glory of men…” Min whispered. “It’s still to come.”
Mat is about to start a pre-arranged fight with Tuon (pulling the same ruse Rand had with Perrin in Cairhien) when he realizes one of the guards who has entered the tent is a Gray Man, and pulling a knife. He yells and falls back, reaching for his own knives, and Mika screams that there is channeling nearby.
The tent bursts into flame and Sharans come barreling through, and Min lunges at Fortuona’s throne, tipping it over. To her surprise, Fortuona’s elaborate costume breaks away easily, leaving her in black clothes she can move easily in. Min sees Mat go down with a knife-wielding man on top of him, and Tuon produces her own knife and lunges for Mat’s attacker. Hampered by her own robes, Min flounders through the back wall of the tent and encounters a Sharan channeler. She flings a knife at him, but he catches it in midair. He smiles, but then falls over dead. Siuan appears and remarks she is not supposed to know how to do that. Min hisses that Siuan isn’t supposed to be there, and Siuan replies it was lucky for Min she was.
“I told you. Stay near Gareth Bryne!”
“I did stay near him, almost near as his own smallclothes, I’ll have you know. We saved one another’s lives because of it, so I guess the viewing was right. Are they ever wrong?”
“No, I’ve told you that,” Min whispered. “Never. Siuan… I saw an aura around Bryne that meant you had to stay together, or the two of you would die. It hangs above you, right now. What ever you think you did, the viewing has not been accomplished yet. It’s still there.”
Siuan freezes a moment, but then says they have to save Cauthon or everything is lost. They go around the tent to where the Deathwatch Guard is fighting the Sharans furiously, keeping the channelers occupied. Siuan uses water to dampen them against the flames, and they dash back inside the burning tent. Mat is fighting three Gray Men at once, and Tuon is down. Siuan hauls one of them off Mat. The sul’dam is dead, and her damane useless as a result. The Gray Men are hard to see, but Min finally realizes one of them is about to kill Tuon. She flings a knife and kills him. Mat kills the last assassin.
Min met him. “Siuan is here, too. She—”
Mat pointed. Siuan lay on the floor of the building. Her eyes stared sightlessly, and all the images were gone from above her.
Dead. Min froze, heart wrenching. Siuan!
Mat forces her to leave Siuan’s corpse, and they escape just before the tent collapses. Min wishes Siuan farewell as they are ushered away; she will send word about Bryne, but knows it will be useless, and hates that her viewings are never wrong.
Egwene strikes at the Sharans, wielding as much Power as she can through her sa’angreal. She feels Gawyn somewhere above her on the Heights, but only faintly; she thinks he is unconscious, and her only hope is to reach him in time.
She stepped forward. One step after another.
I’m coming, Gawyn, she thought, growing frantic. I’m coming.
Well. That little snippet of Egwene POV was much nicer to read when I thought she’d actually reach him in time. Now? Not so much.
And then there’s Siuan, which, okay, wow.
Rhuarc’s fate in the last post was deeply upsetting, but this is (I think) the first death in AMOL that truly just slapped me in the face. Probably at least partially because of how sudden and strangely off-screen it was (seriously, I don’t think we even know for sure how she died!), but more so because this is (again, I think) the first death of what I would consider a major Lightside character in, well, the entire series so far.
That’s kind of crazy when you think about it. And in fact that has been a common criticism leveled against WOT in general, that so few (or, really, none) of the truly significant Good Guys in the story have died, despite being embroiled in an epic apocalyptic battle for the fate of the world (or at least the lead-up to it) since Day One. And that is not an invalid criticism, one must admit; it’s just harder to see, since the unkillability of Our Heroes is more or less standard operating procedure with 95% of modern Western stories told today, and has come to be the way we just expect these things to go, to some extent. For franchise marketing reasons, if no others. Can’t very well churn out more stories about a thing if you kill off all its protagonists, now can you?
Thus the Bad Guys die, and the Good Guys don’t (or, the Bad Guys get vanquished but keep coming back, whatever). It is the Way of Things, as we have been trained to accept. Which makes it all the more startling when a story refuses to conform to that stereotype. WOT was a bit late to the table on bucking that trend (unlike some series I could mention), but in certain ways that makes the deaths in AMOL even more shocking, and upsetting, by contrast. Perhaps. Or you could consider it gratuitous back-loading. I guess in the end it really depends on your point of view.
Whatever the case for other readers, for me Siuan’s death was a distinct shock. I’m pretty sure I had to go back and reread that couple of paragraphs just to make sure it had really happened. I kind of waver between being indignant that she didn’t get more of a death scene, and being appreciative that death in battle really can be that sudden and stupid and wait, what the fuck just happened?
I do regret that Siuan never really seemed to get the closure as a character I felt she deserved, though. It’s almost odd that I feel that way, since right now I can’t even say what that closure should be, but I feel certain that there is one, and I’m just forgetting it…
Oh wait, that’s what it was: Moiraine.
Siuan should really, really have met up with Moiraine before everything went down, y’all, and it’s kind of awful that she didn’t. I mean, not only were she and Moiraine the long-term conspirators and architects of most of our main heroes’ and heroines’ entire journeys, especially in the early books, but New Spring establishes that they were not just best friends, but erstwhile lovers before they went off on their separate-but-linked quests toward that end. It’s sort of terrible, therefore, that they apparently didn’t even get to have a passing conversation between Moiraine’s “resurrection” and Siuan’s death here.
One can believe, of course, that this conversation happened off-screen and we just didn’t get to be privy to it, but that may be being overly generous. In any case, I do think it was a failure on the narrative’s part not to even hint that such a thing happened even if it refused to devote the screentime, so to speak, to show it to us directly. There’s even more I could say about the negation and marginalization of an clearly deep female-to-female relationship (sexual or otherwise) in favor of the heteronormative relationships for both Siuan and Moiraine that were apparently more important while ironically being not nearly as well-developed (at least on Moiraine and Thom’s part), but okay, sure.
In any case, props must be given to Siuan for deciding that her own safety was less important than assuring the success of Team Light, and even more for her recognition that that success hinged on Mat’s survival far more than her own. She died suddenly and tragically, but she did not die in vain, and that’s more than most people get, I suppose.
Also, to Logain: stop being a dick, The End. Thank you. (Though I was intrigued, initially, that he still had “glory to come” according to Min, at this point I think I was fairly sure that he didn’t deserve to earn it. But more on that at the proper time.)
In other news, I was very sad to learn here that Birgitte’s memories have finally totally disappeared. Which also (perhaps ironically) was what made me sure that she was going to die Real Soon Now. It’s maybe interesting that I never thought that her demise and subsequent re-Hero-of-the-Horning would happen at all like it did, but that’s a discussion for later on.
In other other news, I hearted Elayne all across the land in this section, because she totally spoke for me in her conversation with Galad. In fairness, I also have to give props to Galad himself, for acknowledging (and articulating) re: women combatants what I have only been yelling since Day One, but Elayne’s acid commentary on his late realization made me grin, because exactly. Her point re: the stupidity of objecting to her being pregnant on the battlefield was also delightfully cogent, and basically she wins all the things at the moment.
I did kind of love, though, that Galad himself pointed out the possible stupidity of giving a Whitecloak immunity to channeling. Though I have to point out that all things being equal, Mat and Elayne between them would really not have had all that much trouble in getting the medallion back afterwards, if things had fallen out that way. That whole thing where the medallion doesn’t protect against indirect effects of the One Power is really pretty significant, after all.
I made a point of marking out Elayne’s thought to herself about suddenly really realizing she is in the midst of the Last Battle, because it was something I had been thinking too, especially on my first reading of AMOL. I was thinking about it in terms of how I would be thinking if I was actually a character in this story, naturally, but I was thinking it even more in a meta sense, as a reader.
In a weird way, the journey toward Tarmon Gai’don has been even longer (and, in certain ways, even more fraught) for the fans of WOT than it has been for the characters. The characters, after all, only had to get through a little over two years to get to the main event, while the readers have been waiting for over two decades for it. Plus (and I can’t tell if this is crass, I hope it’s not), unlike the readers, the characters haven’t had to suffer through the demise of their own story’s creator, and the knowledge that maybe their story wouldn’t get finished at all.
Of course, the characters have had to deal with a lot more, you know, torture and hardships and angst and dying than (hopefully) any of the readers have, so there’s that. The comparison is sort of ridiculous when looked at that way, actually, but whatever. Evidence occasionally to the contrary, we fans can make the differentiation between fiction and reality, so in that sense I don’t think it is completely outré to compare our travails to that of the fictional characters we have waited so long to know the fate of. I hope.
Whatever, my point is that like Elayne, I totally had, more than once, that sense of “holy crap, we are actually here, at the endgame” while reading AMOL, and I bet I’m not the only one, ergo I mention it. So There.
And that’s it for now, me hearties! Have a week, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!