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Today’s entry covers Part 9 of Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light, in which I mourn narrative budget cuts, praise Birgitte’s Just Say No (Sometimes) policy, and bet the Saldaeans wish they had a 25th Amendment.
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Chapter 37: The Last Battle [Part 9]
Secure in the void, Tam calmly holds position at the point of the Two Rivers men’s wedge formation, cutting down Trollocs with his sword in a deadly dance. The Two Rivers men are barely holding, though, until they are rescued by a contingent of Borderlanders who force the Trollocs to retreat. Tam sheathes his sword and watches as Lan’s riders crush the routed Trollocs between themselves and the Legion of the Dragon. After, Lan approaches.
“I had long wondered,” Lan said to Tam. “About the man who had given Rand that heron-marked blade. I wondered if he had truly earned it. Now I know.” Lan raised his own sword in salute.
Tam asks if they’ve won, but Lan answers that they’ve only secured this part of the river, and advises Tam to be ready to fight again soon. He leaves. Then gateways open nearby, and thousands of people come through, mostly elderly and children. Puzzled, Tam goes over, and finds Berelain, who tells him the people are refugees from Caemlyn, who insisted on coming to fight.
“Pardon,” Tam said, “but this is a killing field.”
“So I tried to explain,” Berelain said, a hint of exasperation in her voice. “They claim they can be of use. Better than waiting out the Last Battle huddled together on the road to Whitebridge, so they say.”
Tam watches the children search among the dead for arrows and wounded, and he sees a host of Tinkers doing the same under the direction of several Yellow sisters. Tam is uneasy, but supposes it must be allowed. Berelain asks hesitantly if Tam has seen Galad Damodred, but Tam tells her he was sent downriver, and he hasn’t heard from him in hours.
Elayne closes Gareth Bryne’s eyes tenderly before having his body carried off the field. Birgitte says he just tore into the battle, screaming, and Elayne says Siuan must be dead. She pushes away her grief, and asks for updates. Birgitte reports that the Seanchan have apparently abandoned them, and she doesn’t know where Cauthon is. Elayne tells her that she, Elayne, will take back command until they hear from Mat. The situation here at the ford is not good, with the Trollocs slowly surrounding the Andorans and pressing in, fighting on into the night.
Her early assumptions that this battle would last days now seemed silly. The Shadow pushed with all of its might. Humankind did not have days remaining, but hours.
Captain Guybon approaches, and Elayne asks for advice from him, Birgitte, and Theodohr, commander of the cavalry. They are discussing the impossibility of retreat when a swath of balefire blazes through Elayne’s bodyguards and nearly kills Guybon.
“Lews Therin!” A power-enhanced voice rang over the field. “I hunt a woman you love! Come to me, coward! Fight!”
The earth explodes nearby, throwing Elayne from her horse. Birgitte hauls Elayne onto her own horse, and shouts at the bannerwoman to ride the other way and draw Demandred off while she gets the Queen to safety. Elayne protests that that is a death sentence, and she can’t leave, but Birgitte ignores her and gallops off. She points out to Elayne that Demandred is going for the command posts, first Dashar Knob and now her, and her duty is to get somewhere safe and secret to reassume command.
“Once we’re far enough away that Demandred’s scouts can’t sense you channeling, we’ll make a gateway and you will be back in control. Right now though, Elayne, you need to shut your mouth and let me protect you.”
Galad rides toward where Demandred is making a spectacle of himself, seeing his brother’s dead body in his arms over and over again. He thinks that nothing in his life had felt as right as this does. Galad kills a Sharan channeler that comes for him, and then shouts at Demandred, saying he is Rand al’Thor’s brother, here to fight in his stead.
Rand al’Thor. His brother. The shock of Gawyn’s death had numbed Galad to this revelation. He would have to deal with it eventually, if he survived. He still did not know if he would be proud or ashamed.
Demandred is intrigued at Galad’s claim, as well as by the “interesting artifact” he carries that protects him from channeling. He draws his sword, and hopes that Galad gives him more of a challenge than his other brother did.
Galad stepped forward into the ring of crossbowmen and channelers. If he won, he would still die. But Light, let him take one of the Forsaken with him. It would be a fitting end.
Demandred came at him, and the contest began.
Nynaeve works frantically to save Alanna’s life, and thinks of how some of the Yellows had mocked her reliance on ordinary healing techniques.
If any of those women had been here instead of Nynaeve, the world would have ended.
She sews up Alanna’s wound as best she can. Meanwhile, Rand and Moridin are not moving, but Nynaeve senses that Rand is fighting a fight she cannot see.
Davram Bashere expresses surprise that Mat is alive, and Mat replies he’s only failed at that once that he remembers, and “it hardly counts.” Mat expresses surprise that Bashere is on the field, and Bashere says he may not be able to lead, but he can still kill Trollocs.
At Tenobia’s fall, this man had become king of Saldaea—but he had refused the crown, so far. The corruption in his mind had shaken him. All he had said was that Saldaea fights alongside Malkier, and told the troops to look toward Lan. The throne would be sorted out if they all survived the Last Battle.
Bashere is dismayed at the news that the Seanchan have abandoned them. Mat is grateful for whoever had apparently distracted Demandred, which gives him a chance to shore up his own formations. Mat asks Bashere if anyone has heard from Faile, but Deira tells him no, and Mat wonders how he is going to win this without the Horn. Mat sends Bashere to aid Lan, ignoring his protests.
“I don’t care if you’ve bloody been touched by the Shadow!” Mat said. “Every man has had the Dark One’s fingers on his heart, and that’s the bloody truth. You can fight through it. Now ride to Lan and tell him what needs to be done!”
Bashere stiffened at first; then—strangely—he smiled a broad smile beneath drooping mustaches. Bloody Saldaeans. They liked being yelled at. Mat’s words seemed to give him heart, and he galloped off, wife at his side.
Mat needs a gateway, but he’s sent all the damane away. He heads for the Dragonsworn aiding Elayne’s troops, but stops at the sight of the Ogier, singing as they mow down Trollocs. He yells for Loial, and is shocked at how fierce his friend looks. He notes that some of the Seanchan Gardeners are fighting alongside the local Ogier, but seem to be keeping separate. He tells Loial he needs them, and Loial bellows to the others that “the Hornsounder commands!” Mat winces. They ride, Mat having a conversation with Karede over whether he is insane for seeking death so cavalierly.
Those dice kept rattling in his head. He also felt a pull from the north, a tugging, as if some threads around his chest were yanking on him.
Not now, Rand, he thought. I’m bloody busy.
No colors formed, only blackness. Dark as a Myrddraal’s heart. The tugging grew stronger.
Mat dismissed the vision. Not. Now.
He had work to do here. He had a plan. Light, let it work.
He finds Lady Tinna, commander of the Dragonsworn and also a channeler. Tinna tells him she cannot Travel herself, but a woman in red comes up and says she can, and Mat is overjoyed to recognize Teslyn. Teslyn tells Tinna she’ll need a circle, and asks where Mat is going. Mat tells her “the top of the Heights.” Karede protests that Mat just abandoned the Heights to the enemy, but Mat knows that the only way to prevent Demandred from surrounding them was to keep his troops from coming down from there. Karede points out that he is risking everything on this move, and Mat agrees.
“A strike at the enemy’s core, Mat?” Loial asked, hefting his axe. “It will not be the worst place I’ve found myself, following one of you three. I do hope Rand is all right. You do think so, don’t you?”
“If Rand were dead,” Mat said, “we’d know it. He’ll have to watch out for himself, without Matrim Cauthon saving him this time.”
He shouts orders to make ready; they must seize the northern slope of the Heights and hold it no matter what.
I ain’t gonna lie, this chapter is sort of wearing me down, in a recapping sense. And I’ve still got (*checks*) 75 pages to go on it. God.
Of course, this is probably at least partly because this mega-chapter is meant to be a relentless grind, in certain ways, in order to get the reader feeling the same way the characters are feeling (which can probably be summed up with a weary fist-shaking cry of DOOOOOOMMMMM), but in my specific case it’s also because a whole hell of a lot more is happening on any given page of it than is generally typical. To say this chapter is dense would be to understate the case drastically. Which is rather a problem when you’re trying to summarize a thing in anything remotely approaching a concise manner.
It’s sort of interesting to realize that one of your problems, however minor it is in the grand scheme of things, is still probably a problem that just about no one else in the world has. I’m not sure if I should be proud of that or what.
Anyway, enough of my meta solipsism, let’s talk turkey.
Tam al’Thor is badass. Which we know because Lan said so, and if Lan thinks you are badass, then you are officially, like, at Olympic gold levels of badassery and everyone else can go home, thanks.
The men of the Two Rivers pushed forward, a thorn to the Dark One’s foot and a bramble to his hand.
Nice callback to Moiraine’s story, all the way back in TEOTW, of the legend of Manetheren, and its reminder that Tam’s badassery (not to mention that of most of the main cast) has historical precedent. I have issues with the idea that “blood will out” in the real world, but for epic fantasy purposes I’m more than willing to be thrilled by the notion.
As for the whole thing with allowing children onto battlefields, well, normally I would be all hell to the no on the entire notion, but I don’t think anyone could deny that this is just about the sole situation where it would be justifiable. Because really, if it’s the literal actual end of the world, than it’s all hands on deck, and we’ll all deal with the therapy bills once the apocalypse has been averted, mmmkay?
(But what therapy bills those would be, jeez. Digging through corpses for arrows, at the same age that I was spending stressing over memorizing multiplication tables and whether side ponytails were still cool or not is, uh. A lot. A lot a lot.)
Also, Berelain, you are not subtle. Tam will pass on your note (do you like me like me Galad circle one Y/N) at recess.
And aw, bye, Gareth Bryne. His death was not a surprise, of course, because of Siuan’s death earlier, so you knew that was going to follow, but wow, he got even less of an exit scene than Siuan did. And yes, time constraints etc., but I can acknowledge the necessity of conservative narrative budgeting while simultaneously being sad about what it means we don’t get to see. Plus there is just a sense of unfinishedness about Bryne and Siuan’s story that continues to bug me, which is mostly unrelated to their actual relationship with each other (which I think was pretty well resolved, by contrast), and is more about their other significant relationships in the story.
I’ve already spoken about my dissatisfaction with the lack of closure between Siuan and Moiraine (and, to a much lesser extent, between Siuan and Egwene), but I feel that there is nearly as much of a lack of closure between Bryne and the Trakands. Elayne and Gawyn, obviously, but even more with Morgase. I’m not a hundred percent on this, but I think Morgase and Bryne never even met up again after she turned up not dead, and that is just one more dangling plot thread that should have been tied up and wasn’t.
Is that right, that they never saw each other again? I can’t remember. In fact I don’t have the slightest idea where Morgase even is right now. So maybe I’m wrong about that, but nevertheless Gareth and Siuan definitely get put on the shelf of “story things that were sacrificed in the name of fucking finishing this series already.” So it goes.
Birgitte is also badass, even more for her ability to stand up to Elayne than for her battle prowess. It’s sort of a thing which is either so obvious as to not merit mention or eclipsed by the necessities of the situation, but Elayne is an incredibly willful character, to the point where she stands out in a cast of characters notorious for stubbornness being their primary characteristic. She is willful more often in a good way than she isn’t (or so I contend—I know there are folks who would disagree), but regardless of whether it’s a good thing or not, I think a lot of people tend to underestimate the guts it takes to hold your ground and disagree with someone with such conviction at their disposal. It’s even harder when that conviction is, to a large degree, based on valid reasons, not to mention backed up by the societal privilege of being, you know, royalty.
So all props to Birgitte to be able to more or less literally throw Elayne over her shoulder and be like, shut up and come with me if you want to live. And, more importantly, to know when to do that, and when to give Elayne free rein to do her thing despite the danger. It’s a delicate judgment call, to say the least.
Galad …Okay, you know, I think I was all prepared to be pissed at Galad for pulling this shit, but on reflection, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t be, at least not totally. Because, yes, normally going mano a mano on one of the Forsaken when you’re not even a channeler would be the height of idiocy (see: Gawyn), but in this case Galad does have the advantage of knowing that he is protected against channeling, which makes the idea at least marginally less insane.
Of course, Galad doesn’t know about that whole “indirect effects” loophole of the medallion ter’angreal, but fortunately for him it’s a moot point anyway, since Demandred’s pride is having him be all I will defeat you with the equivalent of my pinky finger, puny mortal, making it much less likely that Demandred would just pick up a boulder and smush Galad with it. So, er, yay for excessive hubris on all sides, I guess?
I can’t decide whether I like that Galad is willing to use his blood relationship with Rand to his advantage while still not really dealing with the actual reality of that situation or not, but you can’t deny that as a “getting Demandred’s attention” gambit, it was quite effective. That said, I will take (another) moment here to be disgruntled that we never get to see Galad deal with it with Rand in his presence. (Or, possibly, at all; I don’t remember if it ever gets addressed again after this.)
Nynaeve’s scene here is very short and transitory, but you do have to love that she manages to get in a (thoroughly justified, in my opinion) thumb of her nose to all the Yellows who never appreciated her genius in all things Healing. Take that, old school purists!
Mat’s scene here is… well, it’s mainly just setup for what’s going to follow on the battlefront, and as such it’s very important stuff, without actually being something I really feel the need to comment on until such time as it all comes to fruition. There were only two things which really caught my attention, both of them rather peripheral to the actual action.
First is Mat’s thought about how Bashere had refused the Saldaean crown after Tenobia’s death. Which is totally understandable under the mind-control-tastic circumstances, but still left me wondering who the hell was in charge of the Saldaeans, then, and how the uncertainty of that question could possibly not cause chaos. Sure, it’s maybe not reasonable to expect succession laws to have “So Your Presumptive Monarch’s Been Brainwashed” clauses written in, but still. Does that mean Faile is already automatically Queen? What do you do if one heir is mentally compromised and the other is M.I.A.? I’m just, saying, that’s all kind of bonkers, and somewhere, even in the middle of all this end-of-the-world stuff, you know there’s a historian tearing her hair out somewhere over it. Heh.
The other thing that caught my attention in Mat’s POV is the passing mention of how some of the Seanchan Ogier were fighting alongside the Randland Ogier, but only standoffishly. This is the kind of passing mention that I almost wish wasn’t in there at all, because of course my immediate geeky response was to want to know all about that dynamic: what are the relations between the two groups? Did the Randland Ogier know about the Seanchan Gardeners, and vice versa? Did they communicate before? How did that initial reunion/meeting go? What was said?
But of course, this came right along with the sad certainty that none of those questions were likely to be answered, because AMOL. Sigh.
Oh, though I should be all like, hi, Teslyn, right? Because… yeah. Hi, Teslyn! Glad you’re… not dead yet?
Yay? Sure, yay, why not.
And that’s what’s what for now, my little cheese blintzes! Have a week, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!