In this section, the heroes square off against the villains.
Gawyn is offered a chance to become a Warder. First a mock combat with a pair of Warders establishes that Gawyn is a far better swordsman than them. He has the power to turn the battle in his favour, but has yet to fully commit to a cause he is comfortable supporting. Such a cause is the rescue of Egwene, the love of his life. Had the offer to be a Warder not been there, his choice would have been even more obvious, but dangling that possibility before him makes his choice one of character and not circumstance. Readers need to see that he has more than one promising road ahead of him, or his choice will have less meaning.
Gawyn’s troubled conscience bothers him, but that effect is undermined when, in the same paragraph, you find the two following things he is wishing for, one far more strongly than the other. Even had they been separated by several pages, the strength of the second desire is out of place compared to the angst he is feeling. Gawyn clenched and unclenched his fist, stalking across the village center, wishing he could extend the peace and stillness of sword fighting to the rest of his life. The air was pungent with the scent of cows and dung from the barns; he would be glad to get back to a proper city. Dorlan’s size and remoteness might make it a good place to hide, but Gawyn strongly wished that Elaida had chosen a less odorous place to house the Younglings.
Cadsuane and Sorilea observe Semirhage’s pride and her contempt for lesser women. Cadsuane once again notes that Semirhage’s character is uncomfortably like her own. She is facing some dark version of herself. Similarly, in Tel’aran’rhiod, Moridin observes that he and Rand are somehow bonded, though he himself doesn’t understand how. Rand is meeting with the Seanchan, a culture with twisted views of channeling and rank. Egwene faces her antagonist, an Amyrlin who in many ways is her opposite. Each of the heroes is facing some twisted reflection of themselves, and that may be a clue as to the nature of the Last Battle.
Rand and Moridin’s discussion, as with their earliest interactions, is fraught with hidden meaning. Moridin still believes everything he says, and he reveals some possible clues about their inevitable final confrontation. “Why do you always whine that way? Just a dream. Do you not know that some dreams are more truthful than the waking world?” He has said this before, and it does fit in nicely with the theory that Shayol Ghul is itself in Tel’aran’rhiod, and the Dark One is somehow manipulating reality using the properties of that realm.
Rand questions whether Moridin’s own logic destroyed him: “That is why his victory is assured. I think it will be this Age, but if not then in another. When you are victorious, it only leads to another battle. When he is victorious, all things will end. Can you not see that there is no hope for you?” Moridin has surrendered to the inevitable, yet Rand never has, nor have his inspirations, such as in the tale of the people of Manetheren, or the Aiel, or several other heroes in the story.
Rand reveals his plan to slay the Dark One. Moridin replies “I doubt you can understand the magnitude of the stupidity in your statement.” He is not simply saying the Dark One is immortal, but touching on a truth that Rand has yet to discover. One possibility is that just as we have seen the heroes face antagonists who are evil or opposite to their morals, the Dark One himself is a force that cannot be destroyed, because he exists in the hearts of all men. Rand could hardly destroy part of himself and remain who he is. None of the characters could.
Moridin reveals the manner in which the Dark One reincarnates his Forsaken. Left unrevealed is whether his powers go any further, whether he can resurrect anyone. The only limitation Moridin offers is balefire, which Rand latches onto, never realizing that using balefire serves the Dark One by weakening the Pattern. I was very pleased about this discussion, because Robert Jordan never answered the question I asked him about why Rand never thought any further on the stranger in Shadar Logoth. We’re left with questions about the limitations on the Dark One’s power, and whether the dead people we’ve seen brought back to life in The Eye of the World were fabrications or the real thing. Does the Dark One’s promises to bring Ilyena back refer to a Tel’aran’rhiod replica of her?
For the fifth book in a row, Min’s research is pointed out to the reader, and she finally tells Rand he has to break the Seals, and he agrees. The idea that someone can just pick up some old books and find the answer to the greatest question is far-fetched, and the technique used to overcome disbelief is to show Min not only reading, but reading for a long time, studying, comparing texts, and becoming an expert. Five books earlier, she would have had little credibility, but now her answer is more easily accepted, especially when reinforced with a second learned opinion, that of Lews Therin himself.
After impressing several Sitters with her keen mind, and pointing out that surrendering would not Heal the White Tower, Egwene is set to labor instead of lessons. She turns down a chance to escape, recognizing that only from within can she demonstrate her refusal to surrender. Immediately after, she must serve Elaida at dinner with several Sitters, one from each Ajah, each of whom Elaida belittles. Inevitably, a confrontation with Elaida ensues, and Egwene pulls out the dirt she has on Elaida regarding an Oath of obedience, goading her into threatening Egwene so that she can point out Elaida’s bullying tactics. Elaida obliges, beating Egwene with weaves of air, which she is able to withstand thanks to the last ten days of continuous beatings from the Mistress of Novices. Egwene is sent to rot in a cell until she can be publicly beaten before all Aes Sedai, a strategy that is bound to fail by the evidence before Elaida, but once emotion takes over, logical thought is lost on her.
Elsewhere, I noticed some consistent use of weasel words in straightforward text, such as: seems, probably, maybe, may, could, looks like, etc. I had an idea that this was an artifact of Brandon Sanderson’s writing, possibly reflecting timidity at stating facts authoritatively, given that it is not his original story. I’m out of space for this post, so I’ll look for confirmation in later sections.
Present two or more equally good choices, to force the characters to make choices based on their values, rather than the plot.