Welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time! We have finally come to the climactic climax at Cairhien (how’s that for alliteration?) which means a lot of choices that people have been struggling with. Mat has to confront what his leaving Rand means for the fight. Egwene and Aviendha have to honor their commitment to using the One Power in battle, despite the rules that govern both Aes Sedai and Wise Ones. And Rand has to face the consequences at the end of the road Couladin’s usurpation attempt has led him down.
Recapping battles is very hard, as it turns out, and this battle has been the first that has felt really important for me to really recap in depth, rather than glossing over it the way I have most of the action scenes that have come before it. Also the chapters are quite long! So I’ve decided to cover Chapter 43 and the first section of Chapter 44, which is from Rand’s point of view and covers the destruction of the tower.
You know, it’s funny, I complain all the time that Egwene and Elayne’s names are too easy to mix up, but the thing that really got me in this week’s recap is that I have been thoroughly trained to always capitalize the world “tower.”
Brains are funny things, aren’t they? Just ask Mat, with his many lives’ worth of memories and the dice always spinning in his head.
Rand doesn’t sleep at all the night before the battle, and is out of bed before dawn. He has been thinking about his decisions; he knows men will die in the battle, and keeps asking himself if he could have made any different decisions to stop things from getting to this point. Maybe next time, he thinks as he takes up his sword and the Seanchan spear. There will be a next time, and many more after that.
The chiefs arrive, and despite their usual stony way of carrying themselves Rand notes an energy about them, even exuberance, as they point out that it’s a good day to see the end of the Shaido and Couladin. Rand just wishes that not too many of their men will die, and feels guilty that part of the wish comes from the knowledge that he will need them in future.
“Life is a dream,” Rhuarc told him, and Han and the others nodded agreement. Life was only a dream, and all dreams had to end. Aiel did not run toward death, yet they did not run from it either.
Bael and Rhuarc pause on their way out and Bael asks if Rand is sure about what he’s asked the Maidens to do, and says Sulin has been speaking to the Wise ones. Rand tells him that everyone else is doing what they’re told without complaining, and if the Maidens want special treatment then they can come to him, not go running to the Wise Ones. He can tell that the men are close to shaking their heads, and will no doubt get an earful from their wives later.
Rand is about to go out as well when Lan appears. When Rand asks, Lan admits that Moiraine is in her tent worrying about the fact that there will be many more casualties today than she can Heal. Waste always angers her.
“It angers us all,” Rand snapped. His taking Egwene away probably upset her, too. As far as he could tell, Egwene was not very good at Healing on her own, but she could have aided Moiraine. Well, he needed her to keep her promise. “Tell Moiraine if she needs help, ask some of the Wise Ones who can channel.” But few Wise Ones had any knowledge of Healing. “She can link with them and use their strength.” He hesitated. Had Moiraine ever spoken of linking to him? “You didn’t come here to tell me Moiraine is brooding,” he said irritably. It was difficult sometimes, keeping straight what came from her, what from Asmodean, and what bubbled up from Lews Therin.
Lan tells him that he has come to ask why Rand is wearing a sword again, the same question that Moiraine asked before. Rand tells him that it isn’t fair to use the Power to fight someone who cannot channel—he might as well be fighting a child—and Lan realizes that Rand intends to fight Couladin himself, sword against spears. Rand answers that he isn’t going to seek him out, but he wouldn’t be surprised if Couladin came to him. Privately he hopes that fate will bring Couladin to face him.
Lan tells him harshly that seeking a duel with Couladin is foolish—Rand is very good with a sword now, but “Aielmen are all but born with spear and buckler in hand.” When Rand asks if he should avoid a fight, if Lan would avoid it, Lan answers that he is not the Dragon Reborn, and that the fate of the world doesn’t rest on him. Rand assures him that he’s not going to take unnecessary risks.
But when they step out of the tent, they find a wall of Maidens waiting for Rand, as well as Egwene and Aviendha. Sulin informs him that they have come to escort the Car’a’carn with Egwene Sedai and Aviendha.
“Who put you up to this?” Rand demanded. One glance at Lan showed it had not been him. Even in the darkness the Warder looked startled. For a moment anyway, his head jerking up; nothing surprised Lan for long. “Egwene is supposed to be on her way to the tower now, and the Maidens are supposed to be there to guard her. What she will do today is very important. She must be protected while she does it.”
Sulin assures him they will protect her, and the Car’a’carn, who gave his honor to them to carry. Egwene pipes up, pointing out that it only makes sense for Rand, another channeler, to be using the Power to make the battle shorter, as she and Aviendha have been instructed to do. And Rand is more powerful than either of them.
Rand orders them to let him pass, but Sulin repeats that Far Dareis Mai carries the honor of the Car’a’carn, the others taking it up like a chant. When it dies down he orders them again to let him through, and they start chanting again.
After a moment Lan leaned close to murmur dryly, “A woman is no less a woman because she carries a spear. Did you ever meet one who could be diverted from anything she really wanted? Give over, or we will stand here all day while you argue and they chant at you.” The Warder hesitated, then added, “Besides which, it does make sense.”
When the chanting dies down again Egwene starts to say something else, but Aviendha stops her. Still, Rand is sure she was about to tell him he was a stubborn idiot, and in truth he is beginning to feel like one. He knows that the battle is in the hands of the chiefs and fate now, and that he won’t be of any use riding around looking for Couladin. If his ta’veren power is enough to draw Couladin to him it won’t matter where he is, although the Maidens will certainly take care of it, in that case.
But how to back down and retain a scrap of dignity after blustering left, right and center? “I’ve decided I can do the most good from the tower,” he said, his face going hot.
“As the Car’a’carn commands,” Sulin replied without a hint of mockery, just as if it had been his idea from the first. Lan nodded, then slipped away, the Maidens making narrow room for him.
They close ranks around Rand though, funneling him towards the tower, and even Aviendha and Egwene are silent as they walk. Rand is grateful that they aren’t teasing him for backing down. He eventually breaks the quiet himself, remarking to Aviendha that he’s surprised to see her, since Wise Ones don’t participate in battles. Aviendha answers that she is not a Wise One yet, and that she’s been considering the idea since he first asked Egwene. The Wise Ones didn’t even try to stop her; they talked for a long time and then told her to do what she believed she must. And Melaine remarks again that Rand brings change to everything.
“I do that,” he said, setting his foot on the bottom rung of the first ladder. “The Light help me, that I do.”
On the top of the tower Rand tries to decide the most effective way of using the Power from here; he can’t use balefire, and he needs to unnerve the Shaido as much as possible before his own Aiel attack. Meanwhile Egwene and Aviendha are peering through the spyglasses and talking together. Finally they both nod, and Rand feels the goosebumps he gets when a woman channels. Then a breeze picks up, followed by heavy stormclouds that roll in over Cairhien and the land where he knows the Shaido are hidden. Lightning starts stabbing down into the hilltops and across the land, and in other places the earth explodes upwards in showers of dirt and rocks.
Rand realizes it’s time to do his bit and reaches for saidin, feeling icy fire and the greasy taint outside the Void as he struggles to hold it and to decide what to do with it. There’s not a lot he can do without an angreal or sa’angreal—he’s close to the limit of his range and knows that the girls must be stretching theirs.
Suddenly he has a memory from Lews Therin, and for once he doesn’t care. He channels, enveloping the top of a hill in flame. When the flame is gone he can see that the hill is lower and black at its crest, as though melted.
Between the three of them, there might be no need for the clans to fight Couladin at all.
Ilyena, my love, forgive me!
The Void trembled; for an instant Rand teetered on the brink of destruction. Waves of the One Power crashed through him in a froth of fear; the taint seemed to solidify around his heart, a reeking stone.
Rand clutches the rail and brings himself back to calmness with an effort. He refuses to listen to any more thoughts in his head, instead focusing on channeling, methodically roasting the tops of one hill after the other.
Meanwhile, Mat is standing well back in the tree line, holding Pips still as he watches a thousand Aiel moving towards him from the south. He knows they’ll see him if he waits much longer, and although he’s pretty certain they are Rand’s men, not Couladin’s, he’s not going to risk it; he’s already been shot at once from the trees. He backs Pips down the opposite side of the hill and starts west, though that’s not the direction he wanted to go.
The day had begun well—Melindhra had gotten up early to go to some meeting with the Maidens, so Mat had been able to slip out without her noticing, and no one had payed any attention to him as he saddled Pips and headed out. But he hadn’t counted on the Aiel sweeping south in almost exactly the way he told Lan they should, and Mat has found himself continually funneled back towards where the fighting will be.
After a mile or two, he pauses on the top of a high hill where he has a good view of the surroundings. He can see a column of Tairen horsemen down in the valley, followed by Cairhienin pikemen and then Cairhienin horsemen. He can see that he’ll have a clear route south once the column has passed… but then he sees a flicker of movement ahead of the column.
He pulls out the spyglass he won from Kin Tovere in dice and manages to spy a group of Aiel as least as large as the Tairen and Cairhienin party, lying in wait further up the valley. Mat tells himself it’s none of his business that those men are about to be slaughtered.
This fellow Weiramon—he had heard the gray beard’s name yesterday—was a stone fool. No foreguard out, and no scouts, or he’d know what was bloody in store for him. For that matter, the way the hills lay, the way the valley twisted, the Aiel could not see the column, either, only its thin dust rising skyward. They certainly had had scouts to get themselves in place; they could not just be waiting there on the off chance.
Mat surprises himself when he kicks Pips down the slope, but he can’t leave those men to die like this. The Cairhienin outriders let him pass, and he rides to the front of the column shouting at the lords to stop in the name of the Dragon.
“Halt here! Now! By order of the Lord Dragon! Else he’ll channel your head into your belly and feed you your own feet for breakfast!”
He rides on, only turning to make sure that they’re following his orders, riding past the infantry men and noting with satisfaction that no one broke ranks despite the disturbance. Then he comes upon the Tairens, getting in front of them to give the same orders. Weiramon isn’t there, and Mat notes that none of the Tairen lords are much older than him. The lord in command speaks harshly to him until Estean, who knows Mat from the Stone, whispers in his ear and he takes on a more deferential manner, introducing himself as Melanril, of House Asegora, and asks how he can serve the Lord Dragon. Estean breaks in as well.
“Why should we ‘halt’? I know the Lord Dragon told us to hold back, Mat, but burn my soul, there’s no honor in sitting and letting the Aiel do all the fighting. Why should we be saddled with chasing them after they’re broken? Besides, my father is in the city, and…” He trailed off under Mat’s stare.
Mat thinks disgustedly that these fools aren’t even where they are supposed to be, and even if he could get Melanril to listen to him, turning the columns around will only invite attack. He asks where Weiramon is, and Melanril answers that Rand sent him back to Tear to deal with the Illianer pirates. He also asks how, if the Lord Dragon sent him, Lord Mat doesn’t know this.
Mat cut him off. “I am no lord. And if you want to question what Rand lets people know, ask him.” That set the fellow back; he was not about to question the Lord bloody Dragon about anything. Weiramon was a fool, but at least he was old enough to have been in a battle. Except for Estean, looking like a sack of turnips tied on his horse, all this lot had seen was a tavern fight or two. And maybe a few duels. Fat lot of good that would do them. “Now, you all listen to me. When you pass through that gap ahead between the next two hills, Aiel are going to come down on you like an avalanche.”
The Tairens are immediately excited and ready for a fight, boasting about how many Aiel they will kill. It’s clear to Mat that only the fact that he’s friends with Rand keeps them from charging off right that moment. Once they’ve settled he gives them instructions he claims come from Rand, telling them to ride ahead slowly as if they suspect nothing, and then once the pikes are through the gap they’ll form a hollow square that the horsemen are to get inside. The lords protest that this is cowardly, but Mat snaps at them, inwardly thinking that this is taking far too long and that the Aiel will suspect something’s up.
He has better luck with the Cairhienin pikemen though, speaking with a grizzled old campaigner named Daerid who takes off his helmet while he talks to Mat.
Yes, his men knew how to form a hedgehog. He had not faced Aiel, but he had faced brigands, and Andoran cavalry. There was an implication that he had fought other Cairhienin as well, for one of the Houses contesting for the throne. Daerid sounded neither eager nor reluctant; he sounded like a man with a job of work to do.
Feeling like the Aiel must be watching him, wondering what message he’s communicating to the others, Mat tries to look like a messenger who has just done his job and is now departing as he rides slowly back to the Cairhienin cavalry, still waiting where he left them. Once he reaches them he lays out the rest of his plan, drawing a map to show the leaders; Talmanes of House Delovinde, after asserting that the Tairen are no friends of his, and neither is Daerid, agrees to lead one half while Mat leads the other. Mat thinks that he’s a lover, not a fighter, and certainly not a leader, but he ends up taking the man’s hand all the same. Talmanes picks the group to follow Mat and they move away, Mat giving a few instructions to his men.
A last glimpse of the other bristle of bright banners and con, and then a twist in the shallow valley hid them. How had he gotten into this? It had all started so simply. Just give warning and go. Each step after had seemed so small, so necessary. And now he had waded waist deep into the mud, and no choice but to keep on. He hoped Talmanes meant to show up. The man had not even asked who he was.
Mat notes that there are dark clouds forming over the city, and thinks that rain will be good for farmers and good for the horsemen too, settling all the dust they’ve been kicking up. He’s just enjoying a bit of cool wind when he hears the sound of fighting begin. They ride upslope until they can see the hedgehog, and Mat is angry when he sees that only half the Tairen are inside it, while the others are dashing around amongst the Aiel, slashing and stabbing and quickly being brought down. Mat thinks that it’s good riddance, and starts down the slope, shouting “horsemen forward” in the Old Tongue. His men follow, understanding his gesture if not the meaning of the words, and the Shaido don’t even see them coming until the two sides of the Cairhienin cavalry crash into them. And then the lightning begins to fall.
It’s not yet noon, but Rand feels like he’s run a marathon and been beaten by a club as he struggles to keep working with the Power, drawing saidin through the angreal in his pocket. He’s ever more tempted to draw more of saidin, with only the taint keeping that impulse at bay, and ever more aware of the difficulty in holding it safely. Aviendha is standing at the railing, peering off towards the city, and Egwene is sitting cross-legged against an upright, her eyes closed.
Before he could do anything—not that he knew what; he had no skill at Healing—Egwene’s eyes opened, and she stood, exchanging a few quiet words with Aviendha that the wind snatched away from even his saidin-enhanced hearing. Then Aviendha sat down in Egwene’s place and let her head fall back against the upright. The black clouds around the city continued to stab lightning, but they were wild forks far more often than single lances now.
He realizes that they must be spelling each other, and wishes he had someone to do that with him. Looking out the glass himself, he can see Aiel fighting each other, and he can see corpses too. Friends and enemies are far too closely gathered for him to do anything. He can’t even find the column of horse and pike, and supposes there’s not much hope that Melanril would decide to obey his orders now. He’d chosen the man because he was embarrassed by Weiramon’s behavior, but there’s nothing to be done about it now.
He can also see that a set of gates to the city is open; Aiel and horsemen are fighting while others try to close the gates, but there are too many people caught in the middle. Defenders are shooting arrows and spears and rubble from the wall, but Rand can see more Aiel marching towards the fighting, and he’s sure they are Shaido. He grits his teeth, knowing what will happen if they get in, and uses Aviendha and Egwene’s clouds to channel lightning, striking into the midst of the fighting and killing both Shaido and defenders alike in three sharp blasts. When the lightning clears and he can see the destruction he has wrought, he can also see that the gates are beginning to close.
How many won’t make it back inside? How many of my own did I kill? The cold truth was that it did not matter. It had had to be done, and it was done.
Rand is just thinking that he needs to pace himself if he’s going to last the rest of the day when lightning suddenly flashes out of the clear sky and into the midst of the Maidens gathered below. Rand can feel the saidin that’s being channeled and thinks that Asmodean took advantage of Rand’s fatigue. More bolts hit the ranks of the Maidens until finally one strikes the base of the tower. It starts to fall, and Rand grabs Aviendha and Egwene and throws himself, and them along with him, over the edge and into the trees, hoping the branches will slow their fall.
He comes awake with difficulty, and he can hear Aviendha begging him to be alright, saying that he’s taken everything from the Aiel and they need something to keep believing in. That they need him, and she needs him too. She’s just starting to threaten what she’ll do to him if he dies when he opens his eyes.
She’s a mess of blood and bruises, and he can feel every ache in himself now that the Void is gone. He’s horrified at the way he lost his hold on saidin and feels lucky that it didn’t scour his mind blank in the last moment. He can feel that the wound in his side has opened again as well, and knows he needs to hide it lest the Maidens drag him off for healing.
Getting to his feet he looks around, seeing dead Maidens everywhere, including Jolien who had been in the Stone. There are many more injured with lightning burns and broken bones—he sees Egwene bandaging Sulin’s head—and thinks bitterly that he hasn’t been able to keep the Maidens from harm, after all.
Following the traces of saidin he can still feel, he realizes that the weave came from the west, not from the tents where Asmodean is.
“Sammael.” He was sure of it. Sammael had sent that attack in the Jangai, Sammael was behind the pirates and the raids in Tear, and Sammael had done this. His lips peeled back in a snarl, and his voice was a harsh whisper. “Sammael!” He did not realize he had taken a step until Aviendha seized his arm.
Egwene grabs his other arm, reminding him that whoever did this waited until he was tired to ensure that Rand would be easy to take out if he came after his attacker. Aviendha reminds him that his honor doesn’t lie with killing this man, but with the Aiel he has brought to this land.
Just then a messenger runs up to deliver the news that the other four clans are on the move to join each other. Han of the Tomanelle means to join with Dhearic and Erim, which means that there will be no one available to force Couladin north if the Shaido break. Rand can’t figure why the clans would come together like this; it only serves as a warning if they meant to attack.
Rand asks for his horse, and after being assured that he’s not going after Sammael but just trying to get closer to the city so he can see what ‘s happening, Aviendha sends for both his and Egwene’s. Sulin comes over and Rand tells her his plans, giving orders for the injured Maidens to stay and be looked after. Despite her head, Sulin tells him that she is not one of the injured. Rand expects that her injury is actually pretty serious, but he nods and impresses upon her that he doesn’t want anyone who is injured following and slowing him down, and is satisfied that she’ll make that happen.
The Wise Ones arrive at the same time that a gai’shain brings Rand’s horse, and he notices Sorilea eyeing him and Aviendha and Egwene as she sets about directing the care of the wounded. They all smile at Sorilea as they mount, and Rand and Egwene exchange banter as to the others’ difficulty getting on their horses. Riding hurts, but Rand is careful not to let Sorilea, or anyone else, see him grimace as they head off, Maidens running on either side of him. He seizes saidin, wanting to be ready, in case Sammael tries anything else.
So I guess we’ve finally gotten to the reason for the name of this book! Up until now the titles have been fairly straightforward, but I’ve been wondering this whole time what the fires of heaven were, and whether they were going to be coming from the good guys or the bad guys. I mean, fires coming from the sky sounds like a bad guy thing, but the use of the word heaven implies good guys, even though it can just mean the sky or the firmament, not necessarily a dwelling place of deities.
We’ve already seen the lightning used a time or two, of course, mostly by Moiraine, but never like this—never as a tactically chosen part of the battle, and never against human adversaries. It’s interesting to see the One Power used in battle, and I wonder how Egwene, Aviendha, and Rand’s strategy matches up to how it might have been wielded by channelers in the Age of Legends. Or how it is used by the damane, for that matter. It’s difficult to say how effective their work has actually been so far—they’ve certainly killed a lot of Shaido, but it’s not like Rand’s prediction that they could basically take care of the whole fight themselves is bearing out. And we can see that Rand would be better off if he had more knowledge and finesse; perhaps he could have more specifically targeted the Shaido in front of the open Cairhienin gate, rather than just stabbing blindly with lightning and killing indiscriminately. It was no doubt the right choice, given his options—he couldn’t let the Shaido breach the city—but I think that moment shows how little knowledge and skill he really has to work with, despite having enormous raw power. Rand’s attacks are all hammer blows, but he might have wished to have a few metaphorical knives up his sleeves, too.
The same goes for Aviendha and Egwene, really. I wish we could have some of the battle from their point of view. We know it was a big deal for Egwene to decide that she would use the One Power to fight, but we don’t know what she is feeling really, and can only surmise that it reminds her of being a damane, and that maybe she worries about being marked as only an Accepted, who hasn’t yet taken the Three Oaths to become Aes Sedai. What did it feel like to admit that Rand is more powerful than she is? And although there are no ter’angreal bindings prohibiting the Wise Ones from channeling in battle, Aiel prohibitions are nearly as strict, so one wonders what Aviendha is thinking and feeling as well. Was she conflicted, as Egwene was? Or does she find relief in being able to use her new skills to fight, since she resisted them for so long in favor of being a warrior?
It makes sense that Rand wouldn’t be able to sleep before the battle, but it’s never good to start a physically and emotionally trying day when you’re not fully rested. Even if you just intend to ride around the battle looking for Couladin, and don’t know you’re going to spend all morning channeling at the end of your range and then have a tower dropped on your head. Or have yourself dropped off the tower. A bit of both.
Speaking of Couladin, I find Rand’s perspective on the would be usurper really interesting. Rand has had to make lots of decisions that he doesn’t like; he’s aware that his very existence is cause for destruction and suffering, and that in order to be successful in the Last Battle he’s going to have to sacrifice a lot of other people. It’s something we’ve seen him struggle with emotionally since he first accepted his true identity—even earlier, really—but the act of claiming Callandor and declaring himself the Dragon reborn, as well as the act of claiming the title of He Who Comes With the Dawn, has changed his approach to the grief and guilt he feels. He’s still deeply saddened by the choices he must make, even disgusted by the fact that he’s capable of making them, but he isn’t railing against them anymore. He’s chosen his path, and accepted that these things are a part of it, no matter how much it hurts.
But in the beginning of Chapter 43, we see Rand considering everything that Couladin’s actions have cost him, and there’s a great deal of rage there. In his mind, everything he has chosen has been inevitable, driven by destiny, but Couladin is something of a wild card. Couladin isn’t a Dark Friend, nor does he care about the Dragon or the Last Battle. For Rand, this no doubt seems like a side quest, to use video game language, a conflict full of death and destruction that could have been avoided in a way that things like Rand’s subjugation of the Lords of Tear could not have been. As a problem that seems at least somewhat outside Rand’s fate as the Dragon, Couladin is a convenient place for Rand to funnel all of his rage and feelings of helplessness. This is, I think, why he wants to meet Couladin with a sword instead of the Power. It’s not because he thinks it would be morally unfair—I’m sure he does feel that way about using the Power against other people who can’t channel, but not Couladin—but because that fight feels personal. He wants to meet Couladin man to man, face to face, and look him in the eye when he takes his rage out on the man who has cost him time, resources, and the lives of many Aiel.
And truth to tell, he would not rest himself until only one living man bore the Dragons. By rights he should lump Asmodean in with Couladin. Asmodean had marked the Shaido. But Couladin’s unrestrained ambition had made it possible; his ambition and refusal to abide by Aiel law and custom had led inevitably to this place, this day. Beyond the bleakness and war between Aiel, there was Taien to be laid at Couladin’s feet, and Selean, and dozens of ruined towns and villages since, countless hundreds of burned farms. Unburied men and women and children had fed the vultures. If he was the Dragon Reborn, if he had any right to demand that any nation follow him, much less Cairhien, then he owed them justice.
Couladin is a great villain, but I have to say I’m not that impressed with the characterization of the Shaido. From the moment we were first introduced to them we learned that the other clans all think of them as dishonest, deceitful, and cowardly, and that stereotype has born out exactly, without any mitigation. It’s almost like they had to be painted that way to ensure that Couladin (who is dishonest, deceitful and cowardly, but also a fleshed-out human being) has a big enough army behind him. Jordan is very good at building different civilizations, but he does tend to fall into these types of generalizations from time to time. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s a bit irksome.
On the other hand, I’m intrigued by the idea that some or many of those who experienced the bleakness would turn to Couladin, who offers them a way to escape Rand’s claims and to hold onto their old beliefs about the origins and history of the Aiel. That is some very interesting motivation.
You know, I just realized that there have been several false Dragons, and now there has also been a false Car’a’carn. I wonder if that’s part of the Pattern too—if Couladin is somehow the natural result of the world needing a Car’a’carn. That might be a stretch, but it’s interesting to consider that he’s just another in a long line of imposters.
All in all, it’s a good thing the Maidens showed up to force Rand to go to the tower. Lan gave good advice, and I’m not sure Rand’s actually a match for Couladin. Remember the way Mat beat the stuffing out of Galad and Gawyn because staves trump swords? You gotta wonder how that would play out with spears and buckler. Probably better not to test it.
This revelation of Rand’s feelings has been really well built too. As I mentioned last week, I have really enjoyed the pacing of all the chapters that have lead up to this battle. The way everything slowly unfolded, the time it has taken to actually get to the climactic confrontation of Couladin at Cairhien (Eeyyyy?) has felt very real, as though we the readers have been running that long chase beside Rand. The wait has also allowed us, and Rand, to spend a little more time with his feelings of doubt and guilt about his choices. He’s not jumping from moment to moment, doubting this choice then spiraling about that bit of fate; he’s spending time on one continuing mission, allowing those doubts to marinate and facing them logically.
Well, mostly logically at least. He’s definitely got a lot of personal feelings going on where Couladin is concerned. Which is understandable. But Lan is right to rein him in, and so are the Maidens.
I don’t understand the whole deal with the Maidens. I understand that where Rand’s from women aren’t fighters the way the Far Dareis Mai are, but this seems to go deeper than just a cultural difference. The last time Rand saw Lanfear he thought about how he couldn’t kill a woman, even one of the Forsaken, and now we have consistently seen him keep the Maidens as far from any kind of fighting as he can. It feels… misogynist, somehow? Like it’s gone beyond chivalry to a point of feeling like Rand views these women, these warriors, as being something fragile and valuable. He upbraids himself for thinking of people as tools, but it’s really only men he sees this way, at least as long as there is physical danger involved.
I’m as surprised as he is that there hasn’t been a confrontation yet. I think maybe the incident has forestalled it; they all are still feeling a little guilty and don’t want to risk behaving childishly again. And maybe Rand is more crafty than he thinks he is. But I want to know more about what’s behind this motivation, if there is anything. Because it feels almost like there’s a point to it, narratively speaking, that we’re building to. And if there isn’t, I wonder why we’re spending so much time on the idea.
We’re seeing more of Lews Therin popping up in Rand’s mind lately. The memory of his grief over killing Ilyena reminded me of reading the prologue to The Eye of the World for the first time. I didn’t even cover it at the beginning of the read, because although it was an intriguing opening it didn’t mean anything to me yet. But it means a lot to me now, and I feel like I relate to Lews Therin’s grief because I’ve come to relate to Rand’s feelings and understand more about the circumstances that created them.
Nothing like the memory of your last death to really get the blood pumping, huh Rand?
And then there’s Mat. I was pretty certain that he wasn’t going to get away from the battle, and that he was going to end up exactly where Rand needed him to be. Maybe it was Rand’s power, or maybe Mat’s, or maybe some other aspect of the will of the Wheel, but it makes sense that Mat’s strategic ability, not to mention his luck, would be employed in such a way by the Pattern.
I love that he got a spyglass from Kin Tovere from gambling. It seems like such a silly moment of deus ex machina, but Mat kind of is deus ex machina incarnate, so it works.
It’s probably a very good thing that Rand sent Weiramon away; Mat might be annoyed at dealing with all these inexperienced Tairen lords, but I doubt he’d have had much success getting Weiramon to follow his orders. He doesn’t have Perrin’s powers of ta’veren persuasion. Unless you count the Lord Dragon will “channel your head into your belly and feed you your own feet for breakfast” which I just might.
I’m still trying to figure out how much weight to give Mat’s inner protests. My instinct is always to view them as largely self-delusion; Mat doesn’t want to think of himself as a hero and a soldier in the same way that Rand wanted to think of himself as the Dragon. The size of the burden is different, but the type is not terribly changed. Mat talks like he has a strong sense of self-preservation but he doesn’t really; he’s always wanting to avoid danger and dangerous places, but then he goes and touches haunted daggers and throws himself into battle to save people he doesn’t even like very much.
The other thing I love about Mat’s section is how clearly I could follow the action. I have a hard time picturing the scope of the battle as a whole. Conceptualizing big numbers and spaces has never been a forte of mine, but I’ve seen enough historical, war, and fantasy movies to understand the strategy that Mat employed to save the column from the Aiel trap; the formation of a hedgehog is always an evocative moment on screen, and it was weirdly fun to feel smarter than the Tairen lords. Also shout out to Daerid, who I like immensely already. He feels like a lot of the good old warrior boys from the series, like Hurin, and Tam, and even Gareth Bryne and his men.
Also, I kind of love how the Forsaken’s strategy for baiting and trapping almost paid off here. It has always seemed a little silly and transparent, the way they have been sending sloppy attacks Rand’s way, as though any strategist in Rand’s company couldn’t figure out that shouting about Sammael’s golden bees (the bees will never not be funny to me) was an obvious ploy. But of course in this moment, with Rand tired and emotional, transparent didn’t matter so much after all.
Next week we’ll finish up with Chapter 44 and go into Chapter 45. Me? I’m going to go have something to eat and maybe a nap, just like basically everyone in this book needs to do right about now.
Is it too early for wine? Sylas K Barrett might need a glass of wine. And at least Mat would approve.