In this section, secondary characters face danger.
Crossroads of Twilight focused on the weighty choices each character had to make. The opening sequences of Knife of Dreams keep that theme, but also go further to reveal the dangers and risks faced as a result of the choices made by each character.
Galad faces his commander in single combat because Morgase deserved justice. Ituralde raids the Seanchan after recruiting disparate forces to his side in the last book. Suroth hardly hesitates to seek Tuon’s death after a tortuous search for her turned up nothing. Pevara is hand picked to seek alliance with the Asha’man after recognizing the need for the Red Ajah to bond them. Pevara also learns that Elaida can offer no protection in the Black Ajah hunt she has undertaken. In each case, the character has previously or just now committed to a course of action, and faces real danger as a result.
The first point of view is Galad, followed immediately by Ituralde, and both contain a battle scene. The utter lack of physical conflict in Crossroads of Twilight is abruptly brought to an end, and these sections signal a welcome change in the pacing. The prologue serves as an advertisement for the book to follow, and the choice of action scenes to start the book off is meant to reassure readers that the slow part is in the past.
I will examine Galad’s point of view sequence in detail, to once again examine Robert Jordan’s technique when describing battle.
From the very beginning, descriptions match Galad’s mood and intent. He walks down a straight road, his shadow stretches ahead symbolizing that his actions may have far-reaching effects, he spares no thought for the nearby Lost Mines of Aelgar which symbolizes his unwillingness to be distracted. Every detail of the location was built around Galad’s mission, and was not created that way for any other reason. Building this part of the world around Galad, as opposed to creating it before knowing when it would show up in the story, if at all, saves time and effort, and gives immediacy to the description that might otherwise be hard to achieve. Similarly, the description of Valda’s manor house represents Valda himself, neatly summarized in the line: “An image of normality where nothing was normal”.
As Galad enters the grounds, his opponents are fleshed out: Asunawa can only be called to account by the Lord Captain Commander, a man who demands obedience. Valda dresses richly, wearing a ring outside his gauntlet to symbolize the even greater force that demands his obedience. These relationships and symbols demonstrate how their approval matters to a soldier such as Galad.
Valda disapproves of Galad’s appearance, as he dismounts, which is contrasted with the obsequious actions of the grooms who take his steed. Valda tries to assert his own independence from the Seanchan through small actions, yet brooks no such behaviour from his own men.
Trom brings his own odd actions under the umbrella of correct actions, by telling Valda he is carrying out his duty under the law. This is underscored by his bow to Valda, which is precisely as deep as required by protocol.
Asunawa, worried about appearances before their new Seanchan masters, tries to take control of the situation but is rebuffed by Valda. Valda invokes the law and the Light, adding a new top level to the hierarchy of relationships introduced earlier. He sets the rules and judgment, intending for himself to be seen as occupying that topmost level, synonymous with the Light and uncontestable.
Trom acknowledges the conditions set for the Trial beneath the Light, and in so doing associates himself with the law and the Light.
At this point, the reasons for Galad’s challenge and accusation are revealed, his mother suffered at Valda’s hands, indicating an emotional weakness. This personal connection also elicits the reader’s emotional involvement.
Valda has no time to answer the charge before Asunawa tries to circumvent the trial by arresting Galad. Valda would have been willing to respect Asunawa’s actions despite how they undermine his own authority. The Children of the Light ringing the courtyard draw swords. They have heard a higher authority be invoked, and they now answer to it, not to Valda nor Asunawa, despite the likelihood that those closest to Valda are his cronyest cronies.
Valda takes credit for his men’s actions, again attempting to place himself at the topmost level of the hierarchy. They drew swords by his will, not their own. He denies the accusation.
Representing the soldiers, Valda’s closest aide, Kashgar, is reluctant to help him. They want to see who is right, under the Light, by the conditions set down in law.
We are reminded of Valda’s skill, by way of his heron-mark blade. Valda flings his own accusations at Galad, reminding everyone of his associations with Aes Sedai. Both of these points undermine confidence in Galad, and the soldiers have doubts now, represented by Dain Bornhald’s sudden worry and shifting of feet.
Byar gives Galad advice, warning about Valda’s favoured techniques and a possible weakness. Galad analyzes what he has been told, and we have renewed confidence in his ability. Galad is surprised and thankful for the help.
Valda tries to take charge, but Trom puts him in his place, taking over the role of arbiter smoothly thanks to the groundwork he laid earlier. Galad worries that if he loses Trom will have made an enemy of Valda, but realizes that he likely already had. Nonetheless, Galad has added the allies he came here with to the people whose lives are at stake in this battle.
Galad sees the Questioners for what they are, even if Bornhald doesn’t. He tells Bornhald to watch them closely, thinking ahead to the end of the Trial.
The ritual beginning to the trial is recited. Valda is arrogant and confident, and tries to anger Galad by humiliating him by insulting his mother. Through his rank and his rape of Morgase, Valda is in effect a monstrous father figure, a standard villain in fantasy stories.
Galad’s weakness is his emotional reaction to his mother’s fate, but he overcomes it with the Oneness, taught to him by true father figures such as Gareth Bryne and Henre Haslin. Bornhald is alarmed about the anger on Galad’s face, but Byar says not to distract him. With the Oneness, Galad cannot be distracted by himself, and once again a dip in confidence has been restored.
Valda shows off his swordsmanship, and the heron-mark blade he earned when he was younger than Galad is now. Galad reckons his odds are poor, and resolves to take a fatal hit if that is what is required to kill Valda.
All of this has been prelude, now the battle begins.
Valda acts as Byar said he would: despite two verbal feints and a physical one targeting Galad’s head, Valda’s true target was the thigh. Seeing through the deception, Galad scores an early hit. The sword forms invoke images of the direction the blades move. Plucking the Low Hanging Apple aims at his throat but turns into Leopard’s caress, a grazing attack on his thigh. Galad deflects it with Parting the Silk. The Dove Takes Flight strikes upward but is pushed away by Galad’s circling motion of Kingfisher Circles the Pond. Six other sword forms are named as they dance back and forth, more than enough to make readers believe the battle is going on and on.
Galad quickly fatigues from his wounds and the effort, and knows he must win soon. He uses Valda’s own trick against him, advertising one move while setting up another. He repeatedly tries the same sword form, executing it more slowly than he is able, even allowing himself to take hits to the thigh to enhance the illusion that he has lost his speed. On the fifth try, as Valda’s blade automatically reacts, Galad unleashes his speed, changing the stroke to get past Valda’s sword and cut his belly open.
Valda dies, messily. Galad is fatigued and hurt, and realizes his vengeance is incomplete; his mother’s return is the only thing that can grant him peace.
The Children of the Light clap in support. They express concern over Galad’s wounds, while Valda lies forgotten on the ground.
Galad expresses concern for all the Children of the Light: those whom Asunawa may target and those held captive by the Seanchan. By stating so openly, Galad takes on the rank of Lord Captain Commander and the role of the Light itself; all men are his concern. The Children of the Light will march to the Last Battle, allied with whoever opposes the Dark One and the Seanchan. Marching to offer the same to the other Children of the Light in Nassad, despite the possible danger if they refuse, Galad presses on. “He had to go. It was the right thing to do.”
Robert Jordan used the prelude to the battle to yank emotion and expectations up and down several times before the physical conflict began. The outcome of the battle affects more than just the characters directly involved, but in their case it affects their identity. Galad’s journey is a micro-version of Rand’s own expected journey. Galad is shown as having done things right, giving an example for Rand to either follow or ignore.
The prelude to a battle is the place to establish the stakes, relationships, and emotional ups and downs that will give the battle its intensity.