Happy Mardi Gras, Tor.com! Have a Wheel of Time Reread to celebrate!
Today’s entry covers Part 16 of Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light, in which we have a nadir, a sacrifice, and the beginning of the end.
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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 37: The Last Battle [Part 16]
Leane recovers from the blinding light to see the Sharans and the earth alike covered in crystal; the crystal fills the cracks from which blackness had been oozing. She creeps to the epicenter of the where the light had come from, and sees there a column of crystal wide as a tree and fifty feet high, with Vora’s sa’angreal frozen in its center.
There was no sign of the Amyrlin herself, but Leane knew.
“The Amyrlin Seat has fallen,” a nearby Aes Sedai cried amid the crystallized Sharans. “The Amyrlin Seat has fallen!”
Berelain watches the growing storm outside, wondering whether anyone would come to Heal Galad. She sees that he has a foxhead medallion around his neck.
“…back to Cauthon…” Galad whispered, eyes closed. “…Hope…”
Berelain considers, and then leaves, taking the medallion with her.
Mat is stunned by Arganda’s report of Egwene’s death and the total exhaustion of the surviving Aes Sedai, but forces himself to concentrate on the good news, which is that all the Sharan channelers fighting the Aes Sedai are now dead. He thinks that his own situation is dire, though; he has gathered all remaining forces to him on the Heights, but the Trollocs have broken through on the east and they have been forced to retreat before them and the Sharans almost to the edge of the plateau.
This would be the last push. The end of the battle. With the Sharan channelers gone, Mat would not be wiped out immediately, but Light… there were still so many bloody Trollocs left. Mat had danced this dance well. He knew he had. But there was only so much a man could do. Even Tuon’s return might not be enough, if it came.
Mat tells Lan to get ready for the next wave and to check with Mayene for hopefully returning Healed soldiers, and then pulls out Rand’s banner with the ancient sign of the Aes Sedai. Dannil hoists it up, and Mat entreats his luck to kick in already. Then Arganda returns to report that the Queen of Andor is dead, along with Bashere and his wife and six Aiel clan chiefs, leaving the troops at the riverbend leaderless.
“This is the end!” Demandred’s augmented voice washed across Mat from the other end of the plateau. “Lews Therin has abandoned you! Cry out to him as you die. Let him feel your pain.”
Mat sends for the Aes Sedai, exhausted or not. Naeff and Neald arrive via gateway to report that “it is done” and Tuon found the spy and is waiting for his signal to return. Mat tells Naeff to send for her. Then he tells Neald to go to Talmanes and have him “move forward with the plan”.
“Will it be enough?” Arganda asked.
“No,” Mat said.
“Because I’ll be a Darkfriend before I’ll let this battle go without trying everything, Arganda.”
Demandred continues to call for Lews Therin, and Mat growls that he is getting very tired of him. He asks where Lan is, as the Trollocs prepare to attack, but then sees a lone horseman on a black stallion charging past the Trolloc line, toward Demandred’s position.
Lan had gone to fight a war on his own.
Trollocs dig in the soil, trying to pry Olver free of his hiding place. Olver shakes and cries, and can’t move.
Weary beyond belief, Loial thinks that for all he left the stedding to experience new things, war is one experience he could have done without. He takes comfort in comforting Erith beside him, as bloodstained and exhausted as he, and pretends that he will survive to write this story down later. Then he sees Lan’s solo charge toward the enemy. He stands and tells Erith he must go.
“I need to witness this,” Loial said. The fall of the last king of the Malkieri. He would need to include it in his book.
Tam sees Lan’s charge as well, and realizes he is going for Demandred, but there is a host of Trollocs in the way. He shouts for fire arrows. A mercenary laughs that at a hundred paces they’ll probably only shoot Lan, and Tam ignores him.
“First rank, on my signal!” Tam yelled, ignoring the other orders that came down the line.
“Let’s give Lord Mandragoran a little something to guide his way!”
Tam drew in a fluid motion, the burning rag warming his fingers, and loosed.
Lan charges, the medallion Berelain had given him to give Cauthon around his own neck instead.
Some men would call it brash, foolhardy, suicidal. The world was rarely changed by men who were unwilling to try being at least one of the three.
He charges the line of Trollocs, knowing it won’t work, but out of nowhere a hail of flaming arrows comes down before him, breaking up the line, and Lan crashes through the opening, sending a mental thank you to Tam, and continues on to where Demandred stands. Lan plows through the Sharans between him and the Forsaken and jumps down, rushing to the attack on foot. Demandred is contemptuous up until Lan wounds him within the first three strokes.
Demandred felt at the wound in his cheek, and his eyes opened wider. “Who are you?” Demandred asked.
“I am the man who will kill you.”
Min rides a torm toward the gateway leading back to Merrilor and a last desperate stand, and feels Rand trembling, far to the north.
The Pattern spun around Rand, forcing him to watch. He looked through eyes streaming with tears. He saw the people struggle. He saw them fall. He saw Elayne, captive and alone, a Dreadlord preparing to rip their children from her womb. He saw Rhuarc, his mind forfeit, now a pawn of one of the Forsaken.
He saw Mat, desperate, facing down horrible odds.
He saw Lan riding to his death.
Demandred’s words dug at him. The Dark One’s pressure continued to tear at him.
Rand had failed.
But in the back of his mind, a voice. Frail, almost forgotten.
Lan fights, holding nothing back, not daring to let his opponent think enough to use indirect effects of the Power against him.
“You are… good…” Demandred said with a grunt, falling back before Wind and Rain, a line of blood dripping from his chin. Lan’s sword flashed in the air, reflecting the red light of a bonfire nearby.
Demandred gains enough ground to fling rocks at him, but Lan uses the man’s tells to dodge them. Demandred says no mortal could have such skill, and wonders aloud whether he is Asmodean, or Lews Therin in disguise. Lan replies that he is just a man. Lan knows that Demandred is in fact the better swordsman, and is relatively fresh where Lan is exhausted. Demandred presses his advantage, abandoning attempts at channeling for pure swordplay, delivering Lan several wounds.
I’ve only time for one last lesson…
“I have you,” Demandred finally growled, breathing heavily. “Whoever you are, I have you. You cannot win.”
“You didn’t listen to me,” Lan whispered.
One last lesson. The hardest…
Demandred struck, and Lan saw his opening. Lan lunged forward, placing Demandred’s sword point against his own side and ramming himself forward onto it.
“I did not come here to win,” Lan whispered, smiling. “I came here to kill you. Death is lighter than a feather.”
Demandred’s eyes opened wide, and he tried to pull back. Too late. Lan’s sword took him straight through the throat.
The world grew dark as Lan slipped backward off the sword. He felt Nynaeve’s fear and pain as he did, and he sent his love to her.
Okay, before I say anything else: holy crap, you guys, I finished Chapter 37.
Hot damn. Only took four months’ worth of posts!
So, whatever other issues I may have had with AMOL in general and The Chapter of (Literal) DOOOOOM in particular, one thing I totally and utterly did not have a problem with was how it ended.
There’s probably a more eloquent and dignified (and coherent) way to convey how I feel about Lan’s duel with Demandred than jumping around going Whoo! Yeah! Whoo! Yeah!,but at the moment I really couldn’t care less about coming up with one, because Whoo! Yeah! Whoo! Yeah!
As Crowning Moments of Awesome go (don’t click that), I rather feel that this one might be one of the textbook examples of the phenomenon.
Because seriously, there was literally nothing about it that was not awesome. From the crazy/suicidal charge, to the Tam rally/rescue from said crazy charge, to the hilariously perfect badass entrance (swish swish flick, yeah I just cut you in three moves, Mr. Forsaken, SUCK IT), to the deliciousness of Lan being able to do what the supposed finest swordsmen in the land AND a world-class channeler couldn’t do (because he’s “just a man”, a one-man war against the Shadow, because he is Aan’allein, which is Old Tongue for “HE’S THE MAN” and you can’t convince me otherwise, yo), to the wonderfully apropos callback to that so-long-ago sword lesson in TGH, where Lan taught Rand the ultimate undefeatable final strike and ultimate sacrifice all in one: if there’s no other way to win, then take your enemy with you.
Just, ugh. It was so perfect I basically don’t even know what to do with it except kind of flail at it forever and make incoherent noises of ZOMG ILU.
At this point, on first reading, I honestly almost wasn’t concerned with whether Lan had survived or not; in fact, I’m pretty sure I assumed he was dead, but I wasn’t even all that upset about it, because what a insanely perfect way for him to go, you know? If nothing else, to be the only non-channeler to ever take down a Forsaken single-handedly is enough badassery for fifty people, and the most completely fitting legacy for Lan I could think of off the top of my head. If you’ve got to go, that is the way to do it.
Yeah, that was kickass. *happy sigh*
As for everything else, I was initially a bit bemused that the chapter entitled “The Last Battle” ended before the actual battle did. But in retrospect it’s clear that the intent was to have the chapter bring it all to its utter nadir, where everything was most desperate and dire for the Good Guys, and then break right as it began to turn around, and that makes sense to me.
Because there can’t possibly be a bigger break than getting rid of Demandred, who not only was the WMD of the Shadow at the battle, but his death will utterly demoralize the Sharans to boot. So Lan also provided the turning point for the entire physical battle (if not the metaphorical one, since that’s all Rand), just in case he needed any more awesomeness points on his resume.
Rand, on the other hand, is not doing so hot with his own battle, but the last line of his last POV in this chapter is a pretty strong indicator that that’s about to turn around too. The link between the success (or failure) of Rand’s battle and that of the physical one is not so explicitly defined as it was in TGH at Falme, but I have to assume that the same idea applies in both cases. It would certainly make sense to do it that way, in any case.
Also, thanks, Rand, for the reminder about Rhuarc, which makes me all sad and furious about what happened to him all over again. Grr.
Also also: Egwene. Sigh.
I can’t remember if anything is said in the aftermath about what happened to the crystal spire that marked Egwene’s own version of a Final Strike (in its way just as badass as Lan’s, and that’s a fact), but I would hope that it would become a monument to her, and preserved for as long as magically-created anti-balefire crystals last. Forever, probably. (Hopefully.)
And… well. Everything else here is set-up for what comes next, so while I feel bad that I don’t have more to say about it for now, I… don’t have more to say about it for now, really, so I’m going to stop here.
FOR NOW. Happy Fat Tuesday, and see you next week!