That which does not kill the Wheel of Time Reread only makes it stronger, so here it is again!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 43 and 44 of A Memory of Light, in which just about everyone, in their way, gazes into the abyss, and it gazes back.
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!
Before we begin, scheduling note OF DOOM: JordanCon 6 is, like, totally nigh, you guys, and I will be there! As a result of that, of course, there will be no Reread post on Tuesday April 15th, but keep an eye on this space anyway, because the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, there will be a super-verbose (and probably hilariously sleep-deprivation-fueled) JordanCon report from moi truly up instead. WHOOT.
Chapter 43: A Field of Glass
In the field of glass left by the Amyrlin’s battle with M’Hael, Logain watches as Cauthon’s army beats back the Sharans. Gabrelle comments that it seems he was right that they wouldn’t need him. Logain says he needs to look to the future of the Black Tower, but Gabrelle thinks that he’s looking to assure his own power. Logain remembers the torture he’d endured at the hands of both the White Tower and M’Hael’s men, and thinks that being stronger than anyone else is the only assurance.
I will be feared.
Light. He’d resisted their attempts to corrupt him, turn him to the Shadow… but he couldn’t help wondering if they had broken something else inside of him. Something profound.
Then a Seanchan woman and an Illianer bull their way through his guards to him, and the Seanchan says that the Amyrlin sends him her last words:
“You must deliver the seals up to the White Tower to be broken. The sign is the coming of light! She says it will be known when it arrives.”
He walks away, and Gabrelle calls him a fool, but then touches him arm in sympathy for his anger, and he curses their bond. An Asha’man called Desautel calls that he’s found the scepter. Logain goes over and sees it, and smiles. He tries to shatter the crystal holding it, but it resists, and the shaking of the ground grows worse the more Power he puts into it. He prepares to try balefire, and feels Gabrelle’s panic. But then they are interrupted by Androl, who runs up to tell him that the Caemlyn refugees at the ruins are being slaughtered by Trollocs, and his party is too exhausted to stop them.
Logain held his weave, feeling the One Power pulse and thrive within him. Power. Fear.
“Please,” Androl whispered, so soft. “Children, Logain. They’re slaughtering the children…”
Logain closed his eyes.
Mat notes how easily the Heroes of the Horn accept him among their number, and finally asks Hend the Striker if he’s one of them now, since he technically died. Hend laughs, and says no.
“Be at ease. Though you have done more than enough to earn a place, you have not been chosen. I do not know why.”
“Maybe because I don’t like the idea of having to hop whenever anyone blows on that bloody instrument.”
“Maybe!” Hend grinned and galloped toward a line of Sharan spears.
He glimpses Elayne fighting among her rallied soldiers, and thinks she looks like one of the Heroes herself. He sees the Seanchan closing ranks with the Andorans, and then that the river has returned, washing away many of the Trollocs still in the formerly dry riverbed and dividing the Shadow’s forces. He sees that the remaining Sharans are fleeing the field via gateway, and lets them go. The Trollocs begin to panic, and are swiftly boxed in and mowed down as they try to escape, the Seanchan’s lopar and corlm contributing greatly to the carnage. Talmanes and Aludra have set up the dragons athwart the melee and are firing at will. Soon the Trollocs are fighting among themselves, and from there the end comes quickly.
Mat rests, and thinks of going to find Tuon, but feels that strange tug inside, getting stronger. Mat thinks angrily that he’s done his part, but remembers Amaresu’s words to him, of how he owes his life to Rand.
Mat had been a good friend when Rand needed, had he not? Most of the time? Blood and ashes, you could not expect a fellow to not worry… maybe stay a little distant… when a madman was involved. Right?
He asks Hawkwing whether the Last Battle is finished, and Hawkwing asks what his soul tells him. Mat growls back that his soul says he’s a fool, and asks Hawkwing to do him a favor.
“Do you know the Seanchan?”
“I am… familiar with them.”
“I think their Empress would like very much to speak with you,” Mat said, galloping away. “If you could go to speak with her, I’d appreciate it. And if you do, kindly tell her I sent you.”
YOU THINK I WILL RETREAT? the Dark One asked.
The thing that spoke those words was something that Rand could never truly comprehend. Even seeing the universe in its entirety did not allow him to understand Evil itself.
I NEVER EXPECT YOU TO RETREAT, Rand said. I BELIEVE YOU INCAPABLE OF IT. I WISH YOU COULD SEE, COULD KNOW, WHY IT IS YOU CONTINUE TO LOSE.
He thinks that it doesn’t make sense that the Trollocs had lost, except that Trollocs are animals, and predators only prey on the weak, and flee from strength. He feels the Dark One’s anger, and tells him that his minions will never fight when hope is lost, or for what’s right; it is not strength that has beaten him, but nobility. The Dark One answers that he will bring death and destruction, and Rand’s death in particular. Rand replies that he knows.
I EMBRACE IT, FOR DEATH IS— AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN— LIGHTER THAN A FEATHER. DEATH ARRIVES IN A HEARTBEAT, NO MORE TANGIBLE THAN A FLICKER OF LIGHT. IT HAS NO WEIGHT, NO SUBSTANCE…
Rand strode forward, speaking louder. DEATH CANNOT KEEP ME AT BAY, AND IT CANNOT RULE ME. IT COMES DOWN TO THIS, FATHER OF LIES. WHEN HAVE YOU INSPIRED A PERSON TO GIVE THEIR LIFE FOR YOU? NOT FOR THE PROMISES YOU GIVE, NOT FOR THE RICHES THEY SEEK OR THE POSITIONS THEY WOULD HOLD, BUT FOR YOU. HAS IT EVER HAPPENED?
The darkness grew still.
BRING MY DEATH, SHAI’TAN, Rand growled, throwing himself into the blackness. FOR I BRING YOURS!
Aviendha collapses, her ruined legs unable to hold her. Graendal stumbles back, wounded, but blocks Aviendha’s further attacks. She spits insults at Aviendha, and Aviendha weaves a gateway back to Thakan’dar while Graendal attends to her wound. But then Graendal prepares a shield, and Aviendha barely blocks it. She tries to crawl through the gateway, but Graendal hauls her back with Air, and Aviendha screams in pain. Graendal is fading, though, weak with blood loss.
The open gateway beside her invited Aviendha, a means of escape—but it might as well have been a mile away. Mind clouding, legs afire with pain, Aviendha slipped her knife from its sheath.
It fell from her trembling fingers. She was too weak to hold it.
It says something that at this point I was genuinely worried that Aviendha was going to die, because unlike some other epic fantasy serieseseses I could mention, WOT has traditionally been rather (some would say, excessively) conservative with the number of major characters it has killed off. AMOL, however, has certainly been where the gloves have come off in that respect, and so I was really pretty sure at this point that Aviendha wasn’t going to make it.
I was sure, however, that if she was going out, she was going to take Graendal with her. Because really, how could we expect anything less?
Meanwhile, though, the Last Battle is over! Sort of! Or more accurately, the big showy “thousands of extras dying” part of it is over, and the smaller, grittier, mostly-only-named-characters battle is still going. Which is nice for the surviving extras, of course. In other news, it’s probably a subject worthy of examination in how profoundly my narrative sense of things has been influenced by a lifetime of watching movies. But then again, it’s not like anyone reading this isn’t in the exact same boat, so maybe I should just learning to stop worrying and love the meta. Or something.
And, well, not all the extras are done dying, actually, since we have to give Logain a chance to prove he is not, in fact, a total douchenozzle by (hopefully) choosing to rescue the refugees instead of tearing the world apart to get the shiny Power thingy. Yay?
I do admit his reflections in this chapter gave me some pause, though, in condemning him for his douchenozzlery, because I had kind of forgotten that whole thing where he’d been subject to multiple attempts to turn him to the Dark Side of the Source. And not just by psychological warfare, either, but by actual magically-induced physiological means. Or however you want to describe the Turning process; I’m having a little trouble coming up with a coherent way to encapsulate it myself.
But my point is, by comparison, Logain’s fighting-off-evil-influence problems make Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi look like, um, kind of a wuss, really. Though I suppose you could speculate that there was a lot more going on in that scene with the Emperor tempting Luke than just words. But this is one of the distinct advantages that written words have over visual media: in a written story, we can have access to what’s happening to characters subliminally or mentally with ease, while the type of non-tangible conflict Logain is mentally describing here is often incredibly difficult to get across on screen without coming across as incoherent, super-cheesy, or both. So maybe Luke was under mental coercion too and we just couldn’t see it.
(Or Lucas never actually put that much thought into it and fans are just really good at compensating for flawed narratives.)
In any case, the specter Logain raises here is a kind of terrifying one when viewed objectively: if you know that you almost got Turned evil, how much can you trust that any of your impulses afterwards are not at least partially evil?
Talk about ultimate paranoia, y’all. If I were Logain I would probably try to convince myself that it was an all-or-nothing kind of scenario—like, either it totally worked and you were EVIL™, or it totally didn’t and you were… er, as morally ambiguous as Logain had been long before the whole Turning thing ever happened.
Um. Okay, maybe that wouldn’t work for Logain as well as it would for me. Never mind.
Meanwhile Mat is busy setting up one of my bigger “Aw, c’mon!” moments in this novel, because while I suppose at this point it would have been a distraction from the larger things going on, I REALLY REALLY wanted to see Tuon meet Artur Hawkwing, you guys. More specifically, I really really wanted to see Hawkwing be like, Honey, what is this, what’s happening, no. Basically I wanted Hawkwing to be Karen Walker to Tuon’s… Grace? Or less facetiously, I wanted to see Hawkwing lay the smackdown on the entire Seanchan raison d’être. HARD.
Though it’s perfectly possible, of course, that Hawkwing would not have had nearly as huge a problem with the Seanchan using his legacy as an excuse to exercise their imperialistic tendencies as I do, seeing as the man did more than a bit of continent-subjugation himself back in the day, but I like to fondly imagine that being a Hero of the Horn for a few millennia would have changed his perspective on wars of rampant conquest. This may make me an incorrigible optimist. Blah.
But, well, at least Mat got to be his particularly odd brand of adorable by just straight-up asking if he was one of a band of legendary heroes—not because he wanted to be part of them, but because he didn’t. That is a special brand of hilarious, in its way, I think.
As for Rand, we’ll note that he is pretty much exclusively speaking in all caps by this point. It’s probably a matter of debate what that is meant to indicate. The obvious answer, since the only characters we’ve seen speaking in all caps prior to this are the Dark One and the Creator, is that Rand is essentially stepped up to be a god/deity/ supreme supernatural force himself, on a level with the other two.
Personally, though, I choose to think it is a little subtler than that. I don’t think Rand actually is a god/deity/whatever supreme force, but he is an entity in a position to enact world and/or universe-changing events, and thus by default his words have gained, let’s say, a little more weight than your average dialogue. Because, given the amount of emphasis placed on how Rand is still very much human (and that, in fact, his humanity is the entire point of the exercise), I don’t think that the implication is meant to be that he has essentially ascended into godhood or whatever. But he is a person doing distinctly godlike things at this point, so that needed to be indicated, if that makes sense.
(Sometimes, I guess, there are nuances which are difficult to get across no matter what medium you’re using, eh?)
As for Rand’s actual intentions as to what he’s going to do with this godlike power, well, we’ll get to that soon.
Chapter 44: Two Craftsmen
Perrin awakes in Berelain’s palace, and finds Chiad waiting for him. She tells him the battle at Merrilor is won, but the greater one at Thakan’dar still rages. Chiad is humiliated at the extent to which she is pushing her vow as gai’shain, but asks him about Gaul. Perrin thinks her adherence to ji’e’toh is foolish considering the circumstances, and says Rand should have released the Aiel from all their vows. She retorts that he does not have that power.
“What good is honor if the Dark One wins the Last Battle?” Perrin snapped, pulling up his trousers.
“It is everything,” Chiad said softly. “It is worth death, it is worth risking the world itself. If we have no honor, better that we lose.”
Well, he supposed there were things he’d say the same thing about. Not wearing silly white robes, of course—but he wouldn’t do some of the things the Whitecloaks had done, even if the world was at stake. He didn’t press her further.
He tells her Gaul is still in the World of Dreams, and Perrin must return to him, though he is still exhausted and weak. He wants one of the Aes Sedai to take away his fatigue; Chiad thinks this is dangerous, but goes to find someone. Master Luhhan enters, and calls him “Lord Goldeneyes,” but Perrin pleads with him to call him Perrin, or even “that worthless apprentice of mine.” Luhhan laughs, and compliments him on the craftsmanship of his hammer. Perrin feels Rand tugging on him, and confesses to Luhhan that he thinks he made a mistake, pushing himself too far. Master Luhhan, however, counters that if ever there was a time to push oneself, this is it.
“I could fail because I’ve run myself out of strength.”
“Then at least you didn’t fail because you held back. I know it sounds bad, and maybe I’m wrong. But… well, everything you’re talking about is good advice for an average day. This isn’t an average day. No, by the Light it’s not.”
Luhhan tells him that he watched Perrin learn to be so careful with things and people around him for fear of hurting them, but thinks that maybe Perrin learned to be too careful, and maybe it is time to stop holding back. Then he apologizes for acting like Perrin’s father. Perrin tells him it was not Trollocs that killed his family, but Padan Fain, and that he thinks Fain and another man, Lord Luc, are both going to try to kill Rand before this is over.
“Then you’ll have to make sure they don’t succeed, won’t you?”
Chiad reenters with Masuri, to Perrin’s displeasure. Masuri acknowledges that he does not trust her, but says she is probably the only one at the palace willing to wash away his fatigue. Perrin demands to know why she was meeting with Masema. She replies that it was because she thought he could be of use, but protests it was before she really knew Perrin, and apologizes for being foolish. Perrin is still skeptical, but allows her to replenish his strength. Energized after, he tries to summon his hammer to him and then remembers he is in the real world. He promises Chiad (and Bain) that he will bring Gaul back to them, and then shifts himself back into the wolf dream, hearing Masuri gasp as he disappears. In the dream, Berelain’s palace is all but demolished.
The city beyond was mostly gone, heaps of rock here and there indicating where buildings had once stood. The sky groaned like bending metal.
Perrin summoned his hammer into his hand, then began the hunt one last time.
Thom sits on a boulder next to the entrance to the Pit of Doom, and judges that he has the finest seat in the world to watch it end. He prays that Moiraine is safe while watching the battle rage below, and distracts himself by trying to compose an suitably epic ballad to tell the tale. He has no idea how much time has passed. He rejects the adjectives “epic” and “momentous” as being overused; he thinks “terrifying” is an appropriate term to describe the experience, but is “too pedestrian.”
There was heroism in every line, in every pull of the bowstring and every hand that held a weapon. How to convey that? But how also to convey the fear, the destruction, the sheer strangeness of it all. The day before—in an odd sort of bloody truce—both sides had broken to clear away bodies.
He needed a word that gave the feel for the chaos, death, the cacophony, the sheer bravery.
[…] Exquisite, Thom thought. That is the word. Unexpected, but true.
He thinks he is glad he’d been unable to abandon Rand and the others, to wait out the Last Battle in some quiet inn somewhere. A group of Aes Sedai approach, led by Cadsuane. She nods to him before continuing toward the cavern. Thom waits till she is past before throwing a knife into her back, severing her spine. She dies, the illusion falling from her face to reveal Jeaine Caide.
Thom shook his head. The walk had been all wrong. Didn’t any of them realize that a person’s walk was as distinctive as the nose on their face? Each woman who tried to slip past him assumed that changing her face and dress—maybe her voice—would be enough to fool him.
He dumps her bodies with the others who had tried to get past him, and returns to his perch to continue to compose his song.
Thom’s interlude here could possibly be viewed as a little extraneous, but I don’t look at it that way, To me, it struck me as being not so much extraneous as it was being amusingly self-referential.
I have no basis for this other than my own impressions, mind you, so take it for what it’s worth, but the reason Thom’s POV made me grin here is because I took it as a sly sort of commentary from the author(s) themselves on the sheer difficulty of writing about an apocalypse. Because really, how many times can you use the words “epic” and “momentous” before they lose their impact? And yet, what other words can you use for something that encompasses the fate of fate itself?
I don’t know, it was such a writer’s complaint that I had to chuckle at it. Maybe that was just me.
And Thom’s selection of “exquisite” as the word he likes made a lot more sense to me once I remembered that while its primary definition is “beautiful” (typically in a “delicate” or “elegant” sense), its secondary definition is “intensely felt,” and its synonyms in that definition are things like “acute,” “keen,” “piercing,” “excruciating,” “agonizing,” and “harrowing.” In that secondary sense, then, it’s a very accurate adjective indeed.
(And maybe, in a rather morbid and twisted kind of way, it’s appropriate in the first sense of the word as well. No one who’s enjoyed disaster movies can deny that there is a kind of terrible beauty in utter destruction; that on some level we yearn for it even as we abhor it. This, possibly, is why humanity has problems.)
Of course, I also totally didn’t see the fakeout re: Cadsuane/Jeaine Caide coming, either, which also rather detracts from the scene’s possible extraneousness. I hadn’t ever pictured Thom’s role in the Last Battle being quite this, but on reflection I think it fits pretty well. I’m probably just glad he got something significant to do, honestly.
(Besides debate word choice, that is. Which I am the first to declare is a really tough job sometimes!)
As for Perrin, I… don’t have much to say about this scene, as it is primarily set-up for what’s coming next. Although it was nice that we got to squeeze in a scene here with Master Luhhan, seeing as he’s about the only thing other than Faile that Perrin has left in the way of family/father-figure.
Though now that makes me kind of sad in retrospect that we never get to see Mat meet up again with his father. Although, admittedly, Mat never seemed to have quite the emotional connection to his family that either Perrin or Rand had. Which matches the way that he seems to have, far more than either of the other Superboys, to have gladly left the Two Rivers and everything in it behind him forever. And, you know, some people are like that. It’s not a judgment thing, necessarily, it’s just a thing.
I suppose there’s something to say about Perrin and Chiad’s debate about the foolishness of adhering to (objectively) arbitrary cultural mores in the face of extreme and/or apocalyptic circumstances, but Perrin’s point is well taken in that perhaps outsiders to a given culture shouldn’t get to make judgments about what is and is not “arbitrary” about its mores—even if those mores are in direct contradiction to your own culture’s mores. On the other hand, surely there are certain “mores” which are beyond the pale, right, and should not be tolerated in any culture?
Now that I think about it, it is probably this debate, even more than the deadly allure of devastation, that sums up why humanity has problems. If only all our enemies could be straightforward Trollocs, eh?
And that’s the way of that, fat cats! Have a delightful week, and I look forward to seeing a whole buncha y’all in Atlanta this weekend! JordanCon! WHOO!