In this section, events are more dire than ever!
Rand comes to see Tuon, more humble than last time they met. Mat establishes that his allegiance is with the Seanchan. Mat is the only character who could have made the linkage with this alien culture, as he is perpetually the outsider. Now he will truly be a man with a foot in each world, belonging fully to neither.
Rand must concede the lives of many channelers to procure an alliance. Many times throughout the story, characters have had to act contrary to one ideal in order to achieve a greater goal. Those who could not or would not concede became a different sort of evil, such as Aridhol’s, or the Whitecloaks. Rand has come to realize that he can’t take responsibility for every problem men face; people will have to figure those problems out after he faces the Dark One. Cadsuane reminds him of this again when she reveals the men of the Black Tower freed themselves without his help.
Rand’s burden has him reflecting on many philosophical matters, such as whether Trollocs have souls, yet another way to ponder how his actions affect the world, another matter he must set aside in order to focus on his current goal of the Last Battle.
Rand knows Alivia must help him die, so he entrusts her care to Cadsuane, who in turn is placed near Aviendha, whom he trusts. Cadsuane confirms Rand is ready, and insists he maintain hope for life, even if the odds seem insurmountable. Note Cadsuane’s continued role as a stand-in for the Light itself in this interaction with Rand:
“Our interactions have not always been smooth, Rand al’Thor.”
“That would be one way to say it”
“However,” she continued, eyeing him, “I will have you know that I am pleased. You have turned out well.”
Elsewhere, Gawyn has much talent which isn’t being used well. Egwene keeps him in line for now, but he is eager to do something of value. Gawyn also learns more about the Bloodknife rings, and the danger they carry. A false expectation is laid, with the Aes Sedai wondering when Taim will bring his Dreadlords to confront them on the most important battlefield.
Lan speaks to Mandarb, his faithful war horse, about his dream of making a new home for them and Malkier. His love for Nynaeve has truly changed his view of the world. Lan confronts Agelmar about suspected mistakes he has made and receives a very good explanation that is a catch-all for any author’s errors in strategy: “I am not without flaw, Dai Shan. This will not be my only error. I will see them, as I saw this one, and learn from them.” Bashere also makes a mistake, giving a second clue about the generals’ behaviour, but his explanation is also reasonable.
Egwene visits Tel’aran’rhiod for the last time. The World of Dreams is disintegrating, an unexpected complication. Aiel Wise Ones want Rand to move more quickly, yet he has already received advice from Moiraine, and Cadsuane, on that point. Egwene explains the new hazards of balefire, reminding herself that it is only another weave, despite the strong importance place don its unique nature. It is an unimportant observation now, and will still seem unimportant when she refers back to it later at a crucial moment. She bids the Wise Ones a fond farewell, an opportunity for closure that few other characters will have had, and then she gets another with Rand.
When Rand visits Egwene, he realizes the seals he gave her are fakes. This is shocking and risks upsetting all his plans! However dire things felt before, this is much worse!
Gawyn learns how Galad and Rand are related in an awkward conversation. This detail didn’t have to come from Rand’s mouth, did it? We’ll see how important this detail is in a later chapter.
Mat gets a new outfit for the Last Battle. And I had predicted it would be one of the girls who got a new dress. Rats. Mat realizes he has achieved everything in life he set out to do. What now? Nothing is working out as he expected, which is fitting since he never does what is expected. Reminding readers how different the Seanchan are even in terms of dress adds to the sense of mistrust felt as the reader wonders whether Rand’s treaty with them will hold.
At last, the chapter titled Into Thakan’dar tells readers that the really serious stuff is about to begin. It begins with a clunky piece of exposition, which is effective at quickly placing it in time for the reader’s comprehension, but is a violent way to introduce the situation: “Later in the day after her meeting with Rand, Egwene thrust Vora’s sa’angreal out in front of her and wove Fire.”
When Gawyn deciphers the Myrddraal’s tactics, and an immense Gateway opens revealing a surprise army, there is not even a moment’s consideration that this might be Taim or another Forsaken. Demandred has finally made his grand entrance, with as much impact as readers could hope for. Quickly and brutally, his Sharans devastate the Aes Sedai’s army and ranks of channelers.
Despite Aviendha’s belief that one could not describe Thakan’dar, but had to experience it, the author does a masterful job of revealing the utter despair of the place. Another unexpected twist about time is foreshadowed in the planning:
“Let us assume,” Ituralde said with a smile, “that there is going to be more to it than a duel.”
“I am not a fool, Rodel Ituralde,” Amys said coolly. “I doubt that the Car’a’carn’s fight will be one of spears and shields. However, when he cleansed the Source, did that not happen in the space of a single day? Perhaps this will be similar.”
“Perhaps,” Ituralde said. “Perhaps not.” He lowered the glass and looked to the Aiel. “Which possibility would you rather plan for?”
“The worst one,” Aviendha said.
“So we plan to hold out as long as the Dragon needs,” Ituralde said. “Days, weeks, months… years? As long as it takes.”
Aviendha also reminds Rand that the greatest victory would be taking the Dark One gai’shain. It seems even crazier than killing him, but if he can’t be killed, it seems like the next best thing.
Nynaeve confirms that Callandor is a trap, allowing anyone to seize control of him. His allies ambushed, the seals stolen, carrying a tool that can turn against him, facing a dark deity, in a battle that could last years, how much worse can things get? I am so excited!
Writing Lessons: Foreshadowing works better with a strong explanation for the crucial detail you are placing in the text, instead of a weak or random observation.