Friday, 29 November 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 4

In this section, Lan fights the Last Battle.

Leane is about to order the retreat of the remaining Aes Sedai, until Egwene shows up, devastating the enemy with her sa’angreal. Even at this late stage of the story, two new Aes Sedai is named. As Keeper of the Chronicles for ten of the last twelve years, Leane has better reason than anyone to know every Aes Sedai’s name and face. Had she not named these two, it would have been out of place, and it would be equally out of place if readers only saw Aes Sedai they had already met.

Talmanes is leading the repair of the dragons. The return of the dragons offers some hope so it is well juxtaposed with Egwene’s return to the field of battle.

Faile chases Aravine and the Horn, riding barebacked on Bela, the mare who has carried many of the heroes throughout their adventures. Stalwart Bela has always been dependable, like her owner Tam. Bela represents the way Rand was raised, his foundation and moral compass that will always carry him through and help him bear his burdens, which is why she has never faltered. Faile appeals to Bela to give her all in the chase: Faile scrambled to Bela’s side, cutting free the saddle – and all of its burdens – with a few swipes of the knife. And then, “Run, Bela,” Faile said. “If you’ve kept any strength back, now is the time to use it. Please. Run, girl. Run.” Bela’s imminent death signals the end of the last vestiges of Rand’s childhood.  

Faile learns that Vanin and Harnan had just been hoping to steal back some tabac, not the Horn. They clear her a path, and she kills Aravine with a dagger in the back. Realizing there is no way she can escape her pursuers, she gives the Horn to Olver while she leads them away. She is certain they will kill her. The feeling of desperation is heavy, with Faile’s imminent death and this essential task passed into the hands of the meekest of heroes.  “I’m sorry to place this upon you, little one. There is no one else. You did well earlier; you can do this. Take the Horn to Mat or all is lost.”

Logain keeps the Seals and goes hunting for Demandred, his sa’angreal, and something to fill the void within him. Logain is one of the only remaining characters who has not yet completely joined one side or the other. While he opposes the Shadow, he feels no affinity for the Light.

Egwene leads her assault and encounters Mazrim Taim, the M’Hael.

Raen and Ila triage the dead and wounded. Raen wonders what alternative there is to fighting the Shadow, since Trollocs would never stop chasing them no matter where they ran. He decides he will not think quite so poorly of those who follow a different path. Though he did not ask anyone to sacrifice their life for his, he recognizes that they have made the sacrifice nonetheless.  Ila considers Raen’s words. When she sees but fails to recognize the Darkfriends who have infiltrated the civilians helping with the wounded, she begins to see the world in greys, not the stark black and white she has seen all these past years. Her strict adherence to a viewpoint which had only two polar opposites drove her grandson away. This rejection of strict moral boundaries is very similar to what Rand will soon come to understand.

Olver has been abandoned. He is chased into a crevice. Simple use of verbs and adjectives strongly convey how hopeless his situation is while retaining his childlike view of the world.

Alone. He’d been left alone again.

Olver whimpered.

No safety.

There were hundreds of them back there, chasing him.

The tantalizing hope of escape ends as Bela is shot dead by arrows. In a little cleft, Olver hides, with Trolloc claws tearing at his clothing. Take the Horn to Mat or all is lost. Can the reader have any doubt that the Horn will never reach Mat, and that all is indeed lost?

Logain attacks Demandred, but is quickly overpowered. He relies on his training to escape, and not only the power. He wonders how they will ever beat Demandred. He is the third to face the Forsaken, and third to fail. Perhaps they will lose unless Rand comes to their aid. The only thing which cuts through Logain’s frustration is the realization that his Aes Sedai Gabrelle actually was concerned for him.

Egwene overpowers Taim, but he escapes using the True Power. She ponders the nature of balefire. This is a second attempt to prepare the reader for Egwene’s surprise weave.

Hurin’s nose describes more violence than has ever been wrought. He manages to keep fighting, but the worst is yet to come. His own faith in Rand is the only certainty any of the characters feel.

Berelain has had to order that only those who can be saved may be tended, rationing the care of the wounded. She further must cajole the gai’shain into helping collect and tend the wounded. Berelain discovers Annoura has burned herself out as a sacrifice of atonement to bring Galad back to Mayene. This final kindness to restore a friendship before the end was one that brought tears to my eyes. For other readers it may have been this scene, or another, since they all build on waves of hopelessness, courage and redemption. Where they finally break through depends on the characters you identify with. The author makes excellent use of the most minor characters such as Ila, Annoura, Hurin, and others to prime the readers for what may be in store for their favourites.

Galad passes out before he can tell Berelain about the medallion.

Rand watches as friends and allies die. His ability to see the battle unfold in detail even while in an otherworldly dimension is an efficient way to compress many emotional moments into a small amount of text. Minor characters are dying, quickly. Now that they are out of the way, the author can move on to the main characters. The Dark One weaves…

Taim receives a loan of the sa’angreal Sarkanen. Egwene is commanded to be destroyed by balefire. Taim forces himself to think of himself as M’Hael. When Fortuona renamed Mat as Knotai, he made no similar effort despite acknowledging Karede’s insistence he go by that new name; he still thinks of himself as Mat. M’Hael’s forced effort to adopt the identity thrust upon him by another is contrary to how each of the Heroes has resisted changing their identity when it was dictated by others.

Elayne is attacked by mercenaries. Mellar’s control of her is displayed as Elayne is even denied the chance to spit in his face properly. He then kills Birgitte in a bloody and awful manner. The suddenness of her death is jarring, lacking any heroism, and emphasizes Elayne’s lack of options. Mellar even gets to brag about how good it felt. A substitute blonde corpse convinces her army that she is dead, so none know she is missing. Her children will be cut out of her and delivered to Shayol Ghul. This looks bad.

Rand receives the Dark One’s final offer to annihilate the world, eliminating pain suffering and existence itself. He can stop Elayne’s forced caesarean, end the violent deaths, and end the betrayals and the burdens. The Dark One offers suicide. Rand rejects the offer. He does not seek an end, he seeks a solution.

Min unmasks Moghedien using her ability to see Viewings. It is one of the only times when a character’s abilities trump their personality in overcoming an obstacle. In past examples, there has almost always been an overt decision or affirmation made by the character before the abilities or happenstance come into play. Nonetheless, it is rewarding to have a non-channeler such as Min best one of the Forsaken. The Seanchan will soon join the fray.

Egwene delivers destruction unto her enemies. Despite bonding Leilwin, she is distraught, and fueled by rage. In most circumstances this ends badly for an Aes Sedai, and her suicidal frontal assault would normally end poorly, if not for the entirety of the White Tower’s channelers providing defense while she recklessly advances.

The use of balefire in large quantities is shown to have the expected effects, but in such a chaotic battle, there is no use in dissecting the chain of events that has been rewritten. This provides some cover to the author, who is free to dictate what has happened and what hasn’t, with no further explanation. Egwene discovers a new weave, as she has done in the past, yet the explanation feels contrived and I wonder if less explanation may have been more convincing than this blaze of illogic: Two sides to every coin. Two halves to the Power. Hot and cold, light and dark, woman and man. If a weave exists, so must its opposite.

The counter-weave to balefire and Egwene’s death have deeper meaning. M’Hael sought to undo Egwene, erasing her from existence. Egwene represents Rand’s childhood. She needed to die so that he could truly pass from childhood to adulthood. The manner of her death by balefire would represent that Rand had forever lost his childhood ideals and the love of the community that raised him. With Egwene’s final assertion, embodied in the new weave, she instead protects that childhood, stopping its erasure, preserving it for Rand to draw upon in times of need.  

Rand gets very angry at Egwene’s death. THE DEAD ARE MINE. I WILL KILL THEM ALL, ADVERSARY. Rand feels her loss like part of him has been cut away. He remembers all his failures.

Leane discovers Egwene is gone, and a crystal column stands in her place, that will likely stand forever. The balefire damage has been repaired. Word of the Amyrlin’s demise begins to travel.

Berelain hears a whisper from her beloved Galad “…Hope…”, and she rushes out to return Mat’s medallion. Once again, I am impressed how even the least powerful characters have essential roles to play, and could easily have carried a story on their own.

Mat learns Egwene has eliminated almost all the enemy channelers, leaving a battle between armies. And Demandred.  He has no brilliant strategy to give Lan, asking him to check on reserves from Mayene. He calls on his luck, and receives word Elayne is dead, which is fitting as she represents both the present and the gleaming promise of civilization itself. Andor and the Queen have always been foremost among humanity’s champions. Mat delivers orders to Tuon and Talmanes, his last reserves. Mat can’t win, but he fights on anyway, “Because I’ll be a Darkfriend before I’ll let this battle go without trying everything, 
Arganda.” As Mat makes his final preparations, Lan has gone on to fight Demandred alone.

Trollocs tear at Olver. He stands in for all humanity, enemies mercilessly clawing, the ground caving in on him, trapped with no hope of escape.

Loial must witness the fall of the last King of the Malkieri. Predicting his death with a reliable character works convincingly. All other opponents before have lost, why should Lan fare any better? Loial is trustworthy, which means Lan will die.

Tam sees Lan, a dim spark of Light in the Shadow: Tam almost lost Lan’s figure atop the midnight stallion, despite the bonfires burning on the Heights. Their light seemed feeble. He paves the way for Lan with a hail of fiery arrows. Lan’s spark alone can’t do it, but with a second to join with Lan’s? Rand’s father figures unite for a last desperate strike.

Lan intends to destroy Demandred, implausible as it seems. First he must get close, and even knowing the impossibility of it, he tries, and finds that Tam has come to his aid. Even as he nears his objective, he shows care for his horse by leaving its saddle, though it seems likely Mandarb would not stand idly by, and could end up just as dead. Lan offers no opening, shows no hesitation. There is no glory, no pride, no contest of equals. He is the man who will kill Demandred. Who then is Demandred? He is the man whose pride could not abide being less than first, who chose to gamble on being first for the Shadow’s cause, who traded ideals for a chance at prominence. Demandred is pride, and too much pride has been one of Rand’s weaknesses.

Min sees signs of the end, or so it seems. Once again she is a reliable character whose viewings are never wrong, and this confidence in her statements transfers easily to her opinions, which have also proven mostly correct. She represents the future, and she watches the lights flicker, the last embers of a fire that would soon be extinguished. She feels Rand tremble.

Rand thinks he has failed. In his pride he believes that all of these deaths were his fault, their lives were his responsibility. And then he remembers to let go. Rand has a role to play in people’s lives, but he does not bear final responsibility for everything that befalls them. He is there to give them a chance to choose who they will be, and how they will stand, or fall.

Lan calls himself just a man, which is why he succeeds when the prince of Andor, the Dragon’s Brother, and the leader of the Black Tower all failed. While the medallion and swordsmanship allow him to stand on almost equal terms with Demandred, it is his dedication to what he stands for and understanding of who he is and the battle that he fights that allows him to anticipate his enemy’s moves, whether with sword or the One Power. Mirroring what he taught Rand near the beginning of the series, Lan impales himself on Demandred’s sword, immobilizing it, then drives his own blade into Demandred’s throat. He never cared about winning as Demandred did, so full of pride. A tie is all he needed. He came to do what needed to be done, and he slays false pride. He quotes “Death is light as a feather”, sends his love to Nynaeve and dies.

The Last Battle is apparently over, and surprisingly, it was not Rand’s, but Lan’s.

Writing Lessons:

 The identity and reputation of the character delivering the message matter as much as the message itself.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 3

In this section, Mat commits all his resources to his plan.

Tam fires arrows at Trollocs. Throughout the battle, it has been regularly shown that Tam and the other Two Rivers archers hardly ever miss. Having enjoyed some amount of success with their bows, the archers abandon them for lack of arrows. They enter the fray in wedges, trying to split up Trolloc armies assaulting the Whitecloaks.

Making an example, Fortuona dispatches Karede, a beloved guardian, and others of her Deathwatch guards to the front lines as punishment for letting her be put in danger. Then she publicly turns her ire on Mat. While safety is presented as the foremost reason for their rift, the final nail in the coffin is, as always, one of personality. She deftly diverts the attention from the strategy and its results to the man behind them. “This entire battle has been a disaster. You lose ground each moment. You talk lightly and joke, refusing proper protocol; I do not think you approach this with the solemnity befitting your station.”  For readers and Seanchan nobles, it is clear Mat will never abide by her rule. Readers know Mat better than they know tactics. The author marries the irrefutable reason of Mat’s behaviour to a debatable reason in the form of his tactics.

The Dark One spins a new reality for Rand, one in which there is no value to human life. Children are murdered callously, might makes right, and the very concept of compassion is absent. The Dark One’s words are chilling: MEN WHO THINK THEY ARE OPPRESSED WILL SOMEDAY FIGHT. I WILL REMOVE FROM THEM NOT JUST THEIR WILL TO RESIST, BUT THE VERY SUSPICION THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG. COMPASSION IS NOT NEEDED. WHAT I SHOWED BEFORE IS WHAT MEN EXPECT. IT IS THE EVIL THEY THINK THEY FIGHT. BUT I WILL MAKE A WORLD WHERE THERE IS NOT GOOD OR EVIL. THERE IS ONLY ME. Rand responds by beginning to spin a world without the Dark One.

Mat sends Min to follow Fortuona, but keeps Karede and the other exiled Deathwatch Guards. Surprisingly, the Seanchan only comprise a quarter of his forces.

Tam fights Trollocs. He wins. Lan meets him and salutes him. Both of Rand’s father figures are solid, unchangeable, and are able to stand against anything. No reed practiced how to bend in the wind. It simply did. Tam watches children and elderly take to the field of battle, to collect arrows and identify the wounded. As in the Two Rivers back in The Shadow Rising, the battle is not just the men’s battle, it is everyone’s battle. This depth of involvement, down to the least trained and least able indicates the level of desperation. It proves to be an effective way to raise the stakes without resorting to a contrived battle scene putting heroes in danger. In fact, it works despite Tam’s victory over the Trollocs only minutes earlier.

Elayne lays Bryne to rest. Adding to the desperation, Elayne hears a summary of the bad news: “The camp at Dashar Knob has been abandoned,” Birgitte said. “I don’t know where Cauthon is. The Seanchan have forsaken us.” Elayne responds by raising her banner, to offer some point of hope to the troops. Nonetheless, she concludes that humankind did not have days remaining, but hours.  Demandred begins sending balefire into Elayne’s troops trying to kill her, so Birgitte pulls her from the field.

Galad attacks Demandred, announcing his identity. Everything feels right to him. The right thing had always seemed clear to Galad before, but never had it felt as right as this. With Mat’s medallion in hand and an introduction like that which ties his very identity to the action he is about to take, readers are easily led to believe Galad is going to pull this off.

Nynaeve sews to save Alanna’s life. The most mundane of skills and Nynaeve’s creativity and stubbornness may be all that keeps Alanna alive long enough to save Rand. Of all the scenes of courage in this book, I don’t think any stole my breath as much as this one. For all her power, Nynaeve’s ability to care and to try save lives, her desire to heal is what makes the difference. Her brief scenes packed a strong emotional punch.

Mat orders Bashere to carry his orders. “I don’t care if you’ve bloody been touched by the Shadow!” Mat said. “Every man has had the Dark One’s fingers on his heart, and that’s the bloody truth. You can fight through it.”  He then gathers his remaining forces to keep Demandred pinned on the plateau. A ta’veren twist brings Teslyn at an opportune moment.

Egwene feels the absence of Gawyn deeply. She needs something to fill the void, someone to watch her back when she goes back to the battle.  Leilwin is the only potential warder available who has loyally served and saved her. Egwene finally embraces her former enemy and completes her character arc, making peace with the decision to bond Leilwin, bringing the representative of her most hated opponents as close as her beloved Gawyn was.

Demandred wounds Galad, and is wounded in turn. Then Demandred lops off Galad’s arm, and seemingly kills Galad. Despite that Demandred was worried and is wounded, Galad did everything the heroes are supposed to do, using a ter’angreal, being one of the world’s best swordsmen, and never giving in, even going so far as to spit at Demandred in defiance as an Aiel would. If Galad can’t beat Demandred, can anyone?

Androl approaches Taim in disguise and manages to steal the seals. It would have been easy and simple to use a Gateway to sever Taim’s hand off and drop it into another Gateway to send the Seals directly elsewhere. More believable too. Echoing the reader’s thoughts often works to suspend their disbelief, but seems to fall short on this occasion. “You’re not going to believe this, but…”

Arganda’s battle with a Trolloc plays off of Demandred’s taunts, with him falling to a Trolloc. He faced just the one, and lost. Only wounded, he is later revived and concludes they are doomed. “To win… Light, to win we’d need to break these Sharans, rescue the pikemen – they will soon be surrounded by the Trollocs – and each man of ours would need to kill at least five of those beasts! That’s not even counting Demandred.”

Rand weaves a reality which is too good, and demonstrates that removing the Shadow would change those he loves as surely as the Dark One would remake them. IN KILLING ME, I WOULD WIN. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, I WILL WIN. YOU CANNOT SAVE THEM.

I am thrilled with the way Mat contrasts the battle to a game of cards, how I recognize that it is playing out like a game of cards, and that one of Robert Jordan’s hobbies was playing cards. It feels right. Mat and Demandred have been slowly adding chips to the pot, neither one committing all their forces. Keeping the Seanchan in reserve with their damane has kept Demandred from committing too strongly, lest Mat use them to gain some advantage. Demandred holds the advantage of both time and numbers. Mat can hold him off for only so long. With no reserves after the Seanchan departure, Mat’s armies look more vulnerable. Demandred poses a problem to Mat’s attempt to contain him until an attack from Egwene begins drawing channelers away.

Olver and Faile’s caravan infiltrates a Shadow supply line, and get brought to the fighting at Merrilor. Aravine has been a Darkfriend all along, but the traitor’s identity is not as important as her story. She had hoped to leave that life behind and return to the Light, but even a small step in the Shadow is one too many. There is no return. Despite this warning, the earlier attempts to cast Lanfear in an uncertain light are too effective, and readers may retain some hope for at least one Forsaken to be redeemed.

Events seem set in stone now. Mat is committed, Rand is losing hope, Perrin is still wounded. The few bright spots shown by Elayne and Tam have been quickly overturned. Only Egwene and Androl offer a glimmer of hope. And Olver.

With the Horn taken by Darkfriends and his friends captured, pitiful Olver has been ignored. Knowing that all is lost, he still makes a desperate attempt to kill the Dreadlord holding Faile captive. The moment when the meekest of characters tried to win in the face of impossible odds felt like a turning point, when once again, momentum can begin building for the heroes.

Writing Lessons:

Use character to motivate actions, rather than strategy or logic.