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.

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