In this section Rand and the Seanchan engage in warfare.
Robert Jordan gained a strong reputation for capturing the mood of battles. We’ll now dissect the first large scale battle since The Fires of Heaven.
Rand’s strategy has been shown, and with the advantage of surprise and Traveling, he should be unstoppable. The body count is very high, Bashere will compare it to the Blood Snows, the battle near Tar Valon during which Rand was born. Most of Rand’s followers are in some form of shock at the devastation. Rand’s losses have been limited. Unless they face damane, the Asha’man tear every opponent apart meeting little resistance.
Rand encounters a problem with prisoners. He can’t afford to guard prisoners so he leaves them behind, except for damane and sul’dam, who he keeps in order to weaken the Seanchan. Rand’s unfailing memory of every woman who has died as a result of his actions gets more unbelievable every time he adds a name, there are simply too many. That is one of the points being made: trying to take responsibility for every person you meet is an impossibility.
So far, Rand is winning.
More Seanchan with names and personalities are met. Furyk Karede has been appointed to lead the Seanchan towards Rand. He notices that raken returning from the front lines are anxious. He dispatches a man under his command for actions that have squandered lives. Furyk will luckily live through this battle thanks to his wise decision to retreat. What else could he do with no sul’dam to fight back against the lightnings?
Rand is still winning.
An Asha’man tells Rand about saidin’s strange behaviour, which he dismisses. Rand proves particularly reluctant to take advice or information that has not been solicited. He is not someone you would want to have to serve. Rand continues to lose few men in battle. A group of Seanchan slip past Weiramon and manage to hit Rand directly. Yet the nobles he has been so reluctant to trust come to his aid, charging the Seanchan to protect Rand, coming to his side to treat his wound. Morr is surprised to receive thanks, given that Rand has done such a good job of expecting obedience without question or reward. The Darkfriends in his party plant the idea of continuing the march against the retreating Seanchan, all the way to Ebou Dar. His staunchest supporters, the ones he trusts the most, advise ending the campaign. Lews Therin sagely says “I would not mind having you in my head, if you were not so clearly mad.”
Rand is winning, but we sense he’s about to make a mistake.
A third Seanchan, the short-lived Kennar Miraj, continues to humanize the enemy. Suroth pays him a visit with information she has gleaned from the network of Darkfriends around Rand. This is a fine opportunity to quickly tie off some loose ends by showing the current fate of Alwhin and Liandrin without wasting much page space on it. In mid-battle, the author wants to keep the focus on the battle. These Seanchan perspectives also are a great place to lay groundwork for future Seanchan-related plots such as the Crystal Throne. We are left with the conviction that the Seanchan are quite proficient in war, and also obedient to the point of a death which can be easily avoided. The damane are about to be reintroduced to the fighting, though they may still be ill. The author creates sympathy for the enemy by showing how they are not being given what they need to succeed, and by continually reminding us that the bulk of the forces Rand is killing so far are from Tarabon, who are technically his own people.
This is the Seanchan counter thrust.
Rand directs five columns to attack an assembled force of Seanchan. When the lengthy list of nobles is given for each of the five columns, it serves to place the actors for the next few scenes, as well as to humanize Rand’s forces. Lews Therin makes the same observation about saidin’s behaviour, and now Rand is willing to pay a little attention. Only a little, because he rejects Dashiva’s concerns and carries on with the attack. Yet he can’t help noticing little changes among the Asha’man.
The reader should be worried that the Seanchan counterthrust will succeed.
Miraj has planned for how to meet Rand in battle. But the question of how the sul’dam will do is still up in the air.
Now the reader suspects the battle could go either way.
Bertome Saighan overhears the Darkfriends plotting and disagreeing. They are two of the closest to Rand. The words they use are as confusing as the battle itself. Either their words are being misinterpreted, as other nobles were earlier when Rand fell during an attack, or it is strongly implied that Gedwyn will try kill Rand.
The rapid shifts from character to character represent the confusion and back-and forth nature of the battle. We can’t tell who is winning.
Varek is a Seanchan underling forced to take command and order a retreat. The damane had a difficult time controlling their weaves, and accidentally killed some of their own soldiers.
Bashere has taken heavy losses, and his Asha’man are tired and having trouble using saidin. Extreme caution is keeping Bashere alive. Bashere is alarmed about what would happen if Asha’man began deserting and walking the world.
The battle is still a draw, unknowable except for continued losses.
Adley has also slipped and killed some of his own men. Rand has taken him out of battle, concerned he might have begun turning irreversibly mad. When Bashere appears and tells Rand about orders he sent, we remember how Furyk killed an underling who did the same. Rand seems poised to copy that action in a fury. Bashere is able to direct his ire at the Seanchan, and Rand decides to prove how devoted he is to repelling the Seanchan invasion. Bashere points out the folly, and how good the Seanchan generals are. Rand’s ego prompts him to unveil Callandor.
As with Adley and the damane, Rand cannot control the torrents of lightning he unleashes. Bashere physically topples Rand and wrests Callandor from his grip. The damage is done, Rand has done as much damage to his own forces as the week of fighting has.
Rand has lost.
Yulan orders the final Seanchan retreat, given that Miraj has been killed by Rand’s final outburst.
The Seanchan have lost.
The entire battle has been a metaphor for the futility of war. Both sides retreat, the border hasn’t moved, neither Rand nor the Seanchan have given anything up. Rand can’t win because participating means he loses. The Tinkers may not have been in this book, but their saying that violence harms the axe as well as the tree it chops is apt here. Even as he routed the Seanchan, it was Rand’s own actions that caused the deaths of his men. Humanizing both the nobles and the Seanchan allows the reader to feel their loss. Meanwhile Rand is emotionless as a stone, unmoved by the tragedy of the wasted lives. The end result is that he and the Asha’man are even closer to going mad, as much from the horror of the battle as from the Dark One’s taint.
Give your battles ebb and flow, and meaning beyond the immediate result.