Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapters 5-6

In this section, Long-anticipated and hoped-for happy things happen.
With the Last Battle slated to bring mankind to the brink of extinction, the author knows that some upbeat moments are needed to balance out these dire events, or the reader may grow weary. There are several reminders that this is the last quiet time the heroes expect to have, such as Rand’s shower with Aviendha. In the morning, she asks him for a future favour and he agrees to hear it when the time comes.
Rand reveals more of his peaceful weaves as he erects a pavilion with the Power while grass flourishes beneath his feet. Despite that he can wield great destructive power, in these scenes Rand shows off the value of utilitarian weaves which impress as much or more than any aggressive weave might. As much as the assembled people might wish for weaves that can save them, Rand inspires more hope simply by making grass grow.
News from Caemlyn is handled perfunctorily. Egwene and Elayne cannot afford to let it affect their decision-making, yet the summary discussion of the city’s demise gives a feeling that the author needs to simply drive the plot forward, explain the strategy quickly, and not belabour the point. This feeling will arise often throughout the book, but given the length of the conflict, it may be just as well to have events recited rather than seen, even if it goes against one of the cardinal rules of show, don’t tell.
The Sea Folk make what might as well be their final appearance, without even one of them named. The Sea Folk played an important role in earlier books, if irritating to many readers, being one of the first groups which the heroes had to accept rather than overcome or bring under their wings. This proved to be a key theme of the series, that of acceptance of others, despite vast gulfs between the cultures that separate them. The Seanchan would later drive that point home even more forcefully, remaining a final obstacle to the Dragon’s Peace when the meeting at Merrilor concludes.
Entire chapters of past books were dedicated to preparations for meetings such as this one, so things feel rushed when six pages after showing up on the field, the meeting begins. Illian and Tear are used as proxies for all the rest, yet the threat of Nations coming to blows feels minimal. Egwene correctly sees that no one will move until the true conflict between Amyrlin and Dragon is resolved.
Rand himself had suspicions of Demandred masquerading as Roedran, given his late decision to show up, and wonders where he is hiding, a blunt reminder that the secretive Forsaken may play a major role in the Last Battle.
Rand makes his three demands, setting off frantic discussions amongst the world’s leaders. Despite his attempts to eradicate war, flaws are shown which undermine his objectives and make his treaty untenable. The old friendship between Rand and Egwene ought to stave off a stalemate, yet even their trust of each other has been damaged. “I’ve known the White Tower’s guidance, Egwene. In a box, beaten each day.”
Consensus is as far away as it has ever been, Rand’s plan seems destined to fail, Egwene has resorted to hurling insults at him as when they were young, the Dragon’s peace offends the pride of every nation, and Rand can’t even get his closest allies to agree.
Into this, pulling Rand back from the edge of the precipice, comes Moiraine.
She has a knack, as she says, for showing up at the right place just in time. Years of traveling the world in search of Rand have allowed her to forge lasting bonds with Borderlander rulers. Her cousin is betrothed to Darlin, and she is aunt to the leader of the Children of the Light. She brought the current Amyrlin Egwene to Tar Valon, bonded the uncrowned king of Malkier, and was in line to a throne herself. Moiraine is as well connected as anyone in this story could be, and she alone can bring order where this group dissents.
Quoting the Prophecies of the Dragon, the Karaethon cycle, Moiraine directs gentle barbs at each of the attendees, reminding them what will happen, not what must happen. She presents the prophecies as a done deal, beyond negotiation or appeal, they are simply fact.
Once she has quelled the group, and they are willing to listen again, she steps to the sidelines as others begin serious discussion of flaws and possible solutions. Rand must get the Seanchan to sign, or it is all void. Possibility of disputes is solved when Aviendha insists on including the Aiel, who are assigned the role of protectors of the peace.
Rand’s other conditions are then addressed. He easily agrees to let someone else command the forces of the Light, so long as there is agreement. When Egwene’s name is put forth, talk returns to breaking the seals, and Moiraine easily sways Rand’s position, so long as she signs. With her major complaint addressed, Egwene concedes, leading a flurry of other nations to do the same.
Of all those who should follow the Amyrlin’s lead, longtime friend and lower-ranking Aes Sedai Elayne should be amongst the first, yet she holds out until the very end, petulant as ever. Though it annoys her many detractors, Elayne behaves as one trained by Merrilin and Morgase, exacting the greatest price for her aid, perhaps making subtle use of her rumoured love with Rand to position herself above all other rulers.
The emotional high note comes as a result of them all setting aside their differences to work together. Unified, Rand sets them a first task, one they eagerly accept. Lan’s army fights alone, in a war that cannot be won, an extension of his own personal war. They haven’t been seen since marching into Tarwin’s Gap at the end of the last book. Having attached themselves to Lan, they now face the same fate he always foresaw for himself. Within the hour, they will be overrun and killed, and Lan leads a final charge, hoping to deny the Trolloc hordes until his last breath. Unlike the fall of Malkier, when nations and Aes Sedai failed to come to Malkier’s aid for selfish or political reasons, this time those reasons have been set aside in favour of a more important need, to stand together. Lan’s charge gave the world another chance to do things right, and they do so in force. Even Lan can’t help himself: He didn’t just smile, he laughed… “Malkier lives on this day!

I had previously identified that Nynaeve plays the role of Rand’s conscience, which begs the question of what Moiraine’s role is. Moiraine represents Rand’s sense of duty. It is a duty to protect his fellow townsfolk that leads him to set off into the world, following Moiraine. It is Moiraine who continually tried to push Rand towards what he must do, just as she does to the participants at this meeting, though much more gently.  Rand rejects Moiraine and his duty when he sets off into the Aiel Waste. Moiraine is being dutiful when she destroys Lanfear, doing what Rand cannot bring himself to do. And now at last, it is no coincidence that her reappearance immediately leads to fulfillment of the duty to Lan, her former warder, providing uplifting closure to the woeful tale of Malkier.
Writing Lessons:
For an event to be uplifting, it must have personal meaning to the characters and readers.

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