In this section, Mat saves Moiraine! And the final confrontations are set up.
Rustling and motion at the edge of their vision makes Mat, Thom and Noal jumpy. They find the slagged remains of one of the redstone doorways, leaving them only one other doorway or a bargain with the Eelfinn as possible escape routes. Mat compares himself to a cow behind led to the slaughter by captors who know and control all.
Eelfinn appear, urging them to set aside their iron and fire, vanishing into shadows if threatened, threatening Mat in turn. Dozens of them! Mat has his dice stolen, losing a tool to help them find their way. Attempts to hit the Eelfinn with weapons fail, unless they are iron. Music stops affecting the Eelfinn. The Eelfinn are swift and cunning, taunting Mat’s group, getting Thom to expend knives. The humans quickly find themselves overwhelmed, being toyed with by the Eelfinn.
Mat uses a trick of his own, setting off a firework, then decides to run in a random direction, and commits to it, finding a hidden passage, which leads to a bargaining chamber where they find Moiraine.
Mat makes his bargain. Will Mat ever see life the same way again? Half the light that he’s given up represents the way he sees the world, and this sacrifice on his part means he’ll accept the rules society imposes on him, particularly Seanchan society. Sometimes. The Eelfinn frown during the only part that actually gives them a loophole to exploit, which is a clever way to keep the reader from noticing the loophole themselves. As though anyone could slow down and think during this frantic sequence! The loophole is quickly pointed out, forcing Mat to give up the quick and simple path to the exit which he bargained for. Only more cheating with fireworks buys the group enough time to make a hasty plan.
Noal will hold back the Aelfinn long enough for Mat to be able to reverse his path at the next chamber. Noal’s farewell speech mirrors Ingtar’s from long ago. Can you tell which parts are from which? These corridors are narrow. Good choke points. A man could stand there and only have to fight one or two at a time. He’d last maybe a few minutes. We knew this place would demand a price. One man could hold fifty here. One man holding fifty at a narrow passage. There has to be a price. There is always a price. Perhaps I can pay it here. Neither Noal or Ingtar were who they seemed, they both redeem themselves, sacrificing their lives in a vain attempt to let their friends escape safely.
A bit if extra time allows Mat to make his way to the chamber where the redstone doorway should take him back to Tear, but it has been destroyed, reduced to rubble. Now there is only one exit left, far away and inaccessible. Mat is forced to play by the rules, and closely scrutinizing the rules and gifts from his previous visits, realizes that he holds a key to leaving.
Mat Cauthon wins again, but the last opponent he’ll face at the Last Battle has great luck of his own, and still holds a ter’angreal that twists luck in its favour.
Moiraine recounts her captivity, revealing that she got three wishes, as did Lanfear. Moiraine did not wish for freedom and since Moridin or Slayer came looking for her, it seems plausible that Lanfear did ask to be released or saved from their realm. Another wish may have been to speak to Rand, anticipating the Dark One’s punishments. Moiraine and Thom decide to wed, and bond, surprising Mat. Mat says he’ll never allow himself to be bonded, then is reminded that his wife can learn to channel. If he can adapt to some Seanchan cultural behaviour maybe she will adopt some from his land?
Rand has an immediate effect on the weather wherever he appears.
The Black Tower is still impervious to Gateways. Androl and Pevara find they are all too willing to take a chance on each other to escape the Black Tower.
Graendal is revealed as Asmodean’s killer when Shaidar Haran attributes three deaths to her actions. We would have argued lengthily over whether the third was Asmodean or Sammael, except that the Glossary states it outright. No matter how gloriously some readers chortle over this, the mystery is diminished by stating something as fact outside of the story that is a matter of conjecture inside it. The identity of Asmodean’s killer is not central to the story, but it was central to the early interactions with fans, and has taken on added importance because of it. The Wheel of Time may not be in the mystery genre, but I still expect the answer to an important mystery in the story, not in the dust jacket, appendix or index. Whenever the answer to some question was too sensitive to answer without giving away more than he wanted, Robert Jordan responded ‘RAFO: read and find out’, and a few more decades of RAFO is more respectful than closing the discussion this way. A simple insertion of it as fact in the story could have mitigated these feelings. The obvious place to insert the fact in the story is between these two lines:
“Three Chosen, destroyed by your actions. The design builds, a lattice of failure, a framework of incompetence.”
Three? The Great Lord knew of her hand in killing both Asmodean and Aran’gar? Who was the third? Of course!
“I had nothing to do with Mesaana’s fall.”
A little bit of introspection on Graendal’s part could have easily made her role in the deaths more clear in the story, and still allowed the fact to be repeated in the Glossary. But, since the author can’t satisfy everyone, they might as well satisfy themselves and maintain a thick skin.
Perrin meets Boundless, who appears as a wolf in Tel’aran’rhiod, and learns that he is a wolf by choice, not from losing control. Perrin has been freed from all doubts about himself, just in time for the Last Battle.
Olver wins the game of Snakes and Foxes, which is a nice way to mirror the fact that Mat won, but may also be yet another sign that the regular rules governing the world are breaking down. Reminders of that were less intrusive in this book than in The Gathering Storm.
Olver opens Verin’s letter to Mat, revealing a plot to invade Caemlyn from within. Mat defied expectations once again by not acting as curious as Verin had hoped, and as a result Caemlyn is aflame.
Picking up exactly where the prologue ended, a merchant escapes the Trolloc hordes which have overrun Heeth Tower, but is then murdered by a trio of red-veiled Aiel with filed teeth. Ending the section by calling them ‘something terrible’ veers slightly into omniscient narration.
Rand is sequestered in his dreams, pondering his meeting on the morrow, when something perturbs the dream. Only the Mistress of Tel’aran’rhiod could have done this, and she is revealed as a desperate woman, regretful and pleading for release from the Dark One’s torments. This development disturbs Rand in a way that nothing else does, bringing up conflicting emotions. It was this section that provoked me to consider that Rand’s role is to break all bonds and save all humanity, even the Forsaken. Casting Lanfear as Pandora or Eve means she can be redeemed at the Last Battle. There is no doubt that she is truthful here, and used a narrow window of opportunity to attract Rand’s attention, only to be discovered almost immediately.
Lan prepares to make a fateful charge into Tarwin’s Gap, certain to be overwhelmed. Help never came to Malkier, or Manetheren, and only just in time for Maradon. Will Lan and the Malkieri fall alone?
The dark prophecy which Graendal read is presented, and confirms that the Towers of Midnight from Egwene’s dream are the Forsaken. And that they will kill Perrin. Then the Dark One will kill Rand.
An author can’t please every reader. Write your story the way you want, with passion, and readers will respond.