In this section, the heroes learn that power must not only be wielded, but wielded properly.
Like Rand, Gawyn has the power to do anything he wants, which he displays by casually dispatching a handful of guards in the Rebels’ camp. Bryne criticizes him for it, acknowledging that the power is in his hands, but questioning what he will do with it. What guides Gawyn’s hand? He says love for Egwene does, but he has no actual idea what she wants, he is simply making his best guess. Unlike Rand, a mentor’s intervention doesn’t drive Gawyn away, but gives him pause. Gawyn bristles at his mentor’s scathing words about his mother. Bryne’s point is that the truth may be uncomfortable and may shatter heartfelt illusions, but it must be heard nonetheless. Gawyn would like to believe his mother was special, but she wasn’t in this circumstance, she gets no special dispensation. By extension the same is true for Gawyn and Rand, who both wield great power but will be judged harshly if they do not wield it properly.
With Rand abandoning the Light, and Gawyn poised on the precipice before being hauled back, it’s timely to look in on the Black Ajah Sheriam. There were still many holdouts over Sheriam’s allegiance to the Shadow in the Theoryland forums, some positing that Sheriam must have been turned against her will, since she just could not possibly be evil. Jordan had established her kindly character well, as discussed in posts on The Dragon Reborn, and the fact that she was not confirmed as evil allowed readers to stick to their emotion-based judgment of her. Sanderson uses some of the same techniques here, even as she is finally convincingly revealed as a villainess. Ambiguous phrasing, such as ‘the one who had sometimes lurked inside’ tells readers nothing about whether that person was an interloper or a Great Mistress commanding her, and in proving nothing one way or the other create fertile ground for deeper emotional commitment to deep-held beliefs about Sheriam.
We learn that the Forsaken helped raise Egwene as rebel Amyrlin, in the hope that it would further split the Aes Sedai, and that plan paid off very well until now, when Egwene’s status is rising to that of her title and threatening to heal the rift.
Egwene learns she has escaped the headsman for now, but Elaida’s outburst of rage has only unsteadied her, not toppled her, and she may yet recover. Egwene’s options are very limited, but she maintains she will never kneel to Elaida, and she will continue to resist until her trial, and possible death sentence. She still feels her resistance may provide, even in death, the means to heal the Tower and oust Elaida in time for a better candidate to lead the White Tower in the Last Battle.
Aviendha becomes a Wise One after finally standing up for herself. In a plot similar to Shemerin’s, Aviendha learns that only she can raise or debase herself, the power to establish her own worth is entirely in her own hands.
Romanda listens to Shemerin’s tale and is disgusted that Elaida could cause such a change in an Aes Sedai. A sudden swarm of beetles ruptures the floor of the tent, a bubble of evil which represents the fate of the rebels, the first beetle a precursor to the others as Shemerin’s treatment presages the treatment the rebels will receive. Romanda burns her tent, unable to contemplate touching things that had been touched by such filth, in effect destroying her identity as thoroughly as Elaida could. She wonders if she could submit to Elaida to save the Tower. Like Gawyn, Aviendha, and the other examples, she now wields the power to decide, but may not have the means to reach a decision.
Mat brings some followers to Hinderstap to gather supplies and have some fun. The question of saving Moiraine comes up again, and Mat realizes that Lanfear may well be trapped too. He wonders if he would save her from a fate amongst the Aelfinn and Eelfinn, even knowing how evil she is. Based on the thought “You’re a fool, Matrim Cauthon. Not a Hero. Just a Fool”, readers should recognize the familiar mindset of the character who will go out of his way to do the right thing. It’s the first time anyone has considered saving one of the Forsaken; most of Rand’s interactions merely confirmed they weren’t interested in being saved. As I’ve posited before, Lanfear has close parallels in the myths of Eve and Pandora, myths which also include their redemption and salvation.
Why not attach that earlier Mat section to this one? Probably to get a bit of humour in before Rand’s grim scene sucked all the smiles out. It’s a surprise when the next chapter is also Mat’s; two in a row from one character for the first time in the book. Splitting the viewpoints changes the flow of the story, and since some of the split scenes involving the same character fit reasonably well together and could have fit the typical Robert Jordan format, it’s further confirmation that this was a stylistic choice of Brandon’s or the editor’s.
Mat remembers the dagger from Shadar Logoth, a dagger that filled Mat and Padan Fain with all-consuming hatred for the Shadow. Once freed of the dagger, Mat’s carefree attitude is almost opposite to the single-mindedness of purpose that the Shadar Logoth taint filled him with. Mat expressly will do the least possible to rid the world of the Shadow, adopting a live and let live lifestyle, and even contemplating saving dire enemies.
Let’s quickly look at Gawyn’s short battle scene:
The four soldiers are portrayed as competent, taking their duty seriously. Gawyn’s emotions are irritation and anger, fuelled by the soldier’s dismissal of his claims. A cluster of dialogue ends with the sergeant laying a hand on his sword. Words end, action begins.
Gawyn leaps from his horse, an explanation for the strategy behind it is given.
Gawyn begins a sword form, an explanation for the strategy behind it is given.
Gawyn slams into the sergeant, an explanation for the success of the attack is given (wearing helmet the wrong way)
Gawyn repels a few blows, and strikes the halberdiers, an explanation for the necessity of wounding them is given.
Gawyn finishes the battle leaving all four wounded and winded soldiers on the ground.
The author succeeds in demonstrating that Gawyn is intensely analytical during battles with immediate and frequent explanations of his actions.
Where you place explanations for actions in the story affects how readers perceive those actions.