Monday, March 7, 2016

A Memory of Light Read-Through #8: Chapter 5—To Require a Boon

By Linda

Rand POV

At the start of a momentous day, Rand reaches out and feels the Land:

He could feel it, the land itself, like a faint Warder bond. Beneath his feet, grubs crawled through the soil. The roots of the grasses continued to spread, ever so slowly, seeking nutrients. The skeletal trees were not dead, for water seeped through them. They slumbered. Bluebirds clustered in a nearby tree. They did not call out with the arrival of dawn. They huddled together as if for warmth.
The land still lived…
He could hear the land breathing, could sense a beetle on a leaf half a league away…

A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

His perspective and understanding has widened:

"Thank you," he said, fetching a towel and tossing it to her. "You would consider most of what we did during the Age of Legends to be crackbrained and irresponsible. That was a different time, Aviendha. There were many more channelers, and we were trained from a young age. We didn't need to know things like warfare, or how to kill. We had eliminated pain, hunger, suffering, war. Instead, we used the One Power for things that might seem common… We wanted our lives to be perfect, so we ignored imperfections. Problems were magnified through inattention, and war might have become inevitable if the Bore hadn't ever been made.”

A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

The good centuries of the Age of Legends—the paradise—were paid for by hundred years of Collapse, ten years of world war and over three hundred years of Breaking. Rand thinks it was worth it. I’m not sure that it was.

The opening of the Bore just accelerated problems that were already in society. While knowing this, Rand is still not thinking of how to defuse conflict and handle disagreements. Rand may be poor at this, because he expects people to either see issues the way he does or behave the way he does. This is a lead-in to Merrilor, where the flaws in Rand’s treaty are quickly revealed and he gets entangled in countering Egwene.

Rand asks Aviendha what is wrong but she diverts him skilfully enough that he doesn’t notice. However, she does refer indirectly to what is worrying her—the terrible risk of the Aiel decaying—by trying to do something about it. She warns him that she will ask for a boon at the meeting, although she doesn’t know what it will be, just that she believes it will be important and will change his plans. Aviendha plays fair—Rand implies that he will/would grant whatever it is, but she doesn’t want that. Always merit and fairness with Aviendha.

Egwene’s POV

Prophetic dreams are disturbing Egwene’s sleep. In her dream, the cracking world is the breaking up of reality as a result of balefire, and the cords lashing it together are the flame of Tar Valon weave that Egwene will create. This weave is not in her mind at this stage; she still thinks balefire is invincible.

The frozen pillar of glass that almost seems like a column of light is the crystal pillar created as she died, a physical manifestation of the Light from her soul and her weave.

Not surprisingly, Egwene is annoyed at Gawyn reading her mail from Elayne. He also insisted that she sleep in the White Tower in a bed because she was exhausted. It was a ruse to avoid assassination attempts in Merrilor as well as to get better rest. Egwene is much more accepting of these precautions after the Seanchan attack.

One positive thing that she does in this chapter is order all sisters strong enough to provide Healing and gateways for Andor. The Tower is finally helping nations properly, as Egwene takes a leaf out of Tamra’s book.

Egwene doesn’t dare arrive late at Merrilor because while she isn’t there Rand would persuade rulers to accept that he will break the Seals. She goes expecting to combat him. She also expects that the forces Rand has summoned will fight each other without her intervention. In fact, she stirred them up.

Did Rand realize what he'd done here? Putting soldiers together like this, leaving them edgy and uncertain, was like tossing a handful of fireworks into a stewpot and setting it onto the stove. Eventually, things were going to start exploding.
Egwene needed to manage the chaos. She strode out of her tent, Gawyn a step behind and to her left, and smoothed her face. The world needed an Amyrlin…
Best to be quick. Her presence would calm the rulers, perhaps prevent problems. They wouldn't like being near so many Aiel.

A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

I think she exaggerates her influence on the rulers. "The world needed an Amyrlin”—the Amrylin the world needs doesn’t have to be Egwene. For all that Egwene is jealous of her prerogatives, there is always another Aes Sedai suitable to be Amyrlin. Not so for the Dragon. It’s rather a prophetic phrase in itself, considering that she will be dead before the end of the Last Battle after making a far greater contribution than she does here. This scene is not her finest hour by any means. She is at her best in battle, be it against the Seanchan or the Shadow, and her antagonistic attitude causes problems here.

Egwene tallied up everybody for who they will support. In spite of herself, she is finally acknowledging the importance of the meeting that was Rand’s initiative. Nevertheless, her belief in the superiority of the Tower—and the Amyrlin—is total.

Darlin also wonders if the meeting is going to be disastrous:

"Some old rivalries run deeper than the ocean's depths, Mother. I can almost wonder if this meeting was the work of the Dark One, hoping that we would end up destroying one another and doing his work for him."

A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

The Shadow would not take the risk, particularly with having two of the three ta’veren in one place. When it last happened—in Towers of Midnight—Perrin could feel a sense of rightness.

Egwene anticipates that Rand would want to direct the forces personally in the Last Battle, but his battle will be with the Dark One—and on a spiritual level—and he will be fully occupied. At this point in the scene, Egwene intends to have the Tower “acknowledged as leading the collective forces against Shadow”, but she doesn’t personally push for this in the meeting. I guess she wants other rulers to suggest it, otherwise it looks like a cheap power grab.

Egwene remarks on how Rand has grown in confidence and cunning. So has she. She doesn’t see this as bad if he can be reasoned with. The same applies for Egwene. This is why a third party—Moiraine—is needed to mediate.

Rand makes grass grow as he walks along, restoring health to the Land locally (by singing under his breath) to remind them of his role. And induce awe. He will do the same to the Empress. The erection of the tent showcases his channelling ability.

Egwene pauses to score a small victory over Roedran before entering the tent and the fray:

All understood that this confrontation was, at its core, between Rand and Egwene. Or, rather, the Dragon and the Amyrlin Seat.

A Memory of Light, To Require a Boon

I wonder if Cadsuane intended to step up if Moiraine had not?

Egwene assumes that Rand’s politeness is not genuine. She is quite a sour-puss at Elayne’s pride in Rand. Her own respect for him is very grudging. (As was Cadsuane’s when Rand met the Borderlanders in Towers of Midnight, A Testing).

Rand also allows entry to, and nods in respect to, Cadsuane, as though she is an alternative Amyrlin. She is to Wise Ones also—and to the Sea Folk. She has held herself apart from the White Tower conflict, although that would not have saved the Tower from the Seanchan. We never see her meet Egwene, or comment on the Seanchan attack.

Egwene reads Perrin as worried, but trusting Rand. Perrin knows what Rand intends—especially with the Seals—and agrees with it. His worry is about how the meeting will go, and the mood of the people there.

Rand’s quizzing of Roedran is a nod to fans’ theory that Roedran was Demandred. It was popular, but incorrect. When Rand asks “where are you?” he is wondering aloud about Demandred’s whereabouts. It turns out to be a very good question.

Rand points out what went wrong in the War of Power and how they are not as skilled or well-equipped as the Age of Legends was. Very tellingly he looks at Egwene when he says that everyone fancied themselves a general. (In fact, she was planning to claim this position for the Tower, as he suspected.) He also doesn’t want nations fighting each other the moment the war is over. Egwene diverts attention away from the rulers at this point by saying that Rand is over-stepping himself, and he should let events play out and not “bend the world to your whims.” She suggests that he would be a tyrant. Yet Amyrlins and Tower have behaved in this fashion for centuries. It’s a fine hypocrisy. Her language is very negative here.

Rand is not expected to survive, so it would be a bit hard to be tyrannical after the Last Battle. Plus Egwene has suborned to her cause two leaders who owe Rand their positions if not their fealty, without him objecting. Hardly what a tyrant would countenance. Rand answers her digs in a positive manner with an actual, concrete treaty. The Aes Sedai are “troubled” because they have lost the initiative and been side-stepped. It is more difficult to counter something so definite and formed at short notice. Egwene dismisses Rand’s conditions as foolishness.

The Amyrlin claims to be the Watcher over the Seals when she didn’t know where they were. Yet the remaining Seals are in Rand’s possession, so Watcher appears to be an empty title. Rand says that he approached her about the Seals. She disputes this because he made neither request nor demand but told her what he was going to do with them. He implies it was as much as she was entitled to, possibly more, considering that he possesses them, while she knew nothing of their location.

Egwene thinks his plan to break the Seals to remake the seal on the Dark One’s prison anew is too risky; he thinks it is worth it. I suspect that similar arguments would have been made regarding using the Choedan Kal to cleanse the taint. Low-ranking Aes Sedai quizzed him on it, but acceded to his arguments. Again, using the Choedan Kal was something that Cadsuane did not argue against. Like Moiraine, Cadsuane has tended to let Rand run free, trusting in the Pattern to arrange for him to do what he should. What they both tried to influence was his sanity and how he related to others.

Egwene would reprise patching the Bore as a “safer” plan. It’s Latra Posae versus Lews Therin again. Two immovable sides need a third for resolution. In the Age of Legends, opening the bore did not directly and immediately damage reality, so claiming that shattering the Seals would destroy the world is alarmist. Likewise, using the Choedan Kal was wrongly believed would crack the world like an egg.

What would be disastrous for the world is exactly what Egwene wants—repatching the prison as per before. I wonder if she would be so sanguine if saidar was at risk. She has been reading Aes Sedai writings on the Bore and says that White Tower was founded in part to prevent the bore being re-opened. They would fall afoul of the law of diminishing returns if they follow Egwene’s plan of patching the patch. It is likely that the Dark One would make the taint again, but Egwene says they’d be ready for that. However, they would not be adequately prepared since the Choedan Kal were needed to remove the taint. These sa’angreal were made before the taint and no longer exist.

Rand takes a leaf out of Egwene’s book and accuses Egwene of promoting the re-tainting of saidin because male channellers undermine her authority. Basically he is accusing her of being sexist. Her thoughts do back his claim that she is sexist.

Then he completely appals her by saying that he wants to kill the Dark One. When he told Aviendha this, she considered it carefully as a reasonable tactic. Egwene exclaims that Rand’s insane and he says, yes, that was the price to be the Dragon—to fight the Dark One you have to be mad. Egwene says that he should be guided by the White Tower. He counters that they guided him by beating him and locking him in a box. There is no answer to that. Just as when Egwene repudiates the Empress because of her inhumane treatment as a damane. The Empress felt she lost face talking to an escaped slave, but to the reader she lost face by lying. As the Aiel declared, the Aes Sedai had no honour after their embassy violated parley to capture and torture Rand.

The treaty appears to be quite a good and robust document because Galad announces that the Whitecloaks will sign it, and the Sea Folk were impressed with it. It needs to cover two more nations, though.

Many rulers say that the Borderlanders are desperate and therefore their judgment is poor. They don’t seem to realise this will be them in a matter of weeks if they don’t unite and fight. The southerners want the Seanchan dealt with more urgently than the Trollocs. (Some don’t really believe in Shadowspawn.)

Egwene thinks that Rand is like an Aes Sedai in being angry but showing calmness. She is about to “take control of the meeting” when she notices that it is getting dark. Great Trees are growing outside either by the Land, or Rand himself, as a way of making them feel awe at him. The loss of light makes the attendees uncertain enough to quieten down. It is also symbolic that the nations are losing their way, lost in the dark of ambition.

On the whole, the rulers feel that the bargain is one-sided—that they are giving up too much for salvation. Rand says that they have no choice. Egwene feels Rand’s force of will swaying them and protests. She calls his bluff. Rand feels that always female channellers are against him. Egwene is jealous of the White Tower’s privileges but the Aes Sedai have done little in recent decades to deserve such. Many others have done far more. The Aes Sedai are leaning on past glories like idle aristocrats. It is those Aes Sedai who have left the Tower who have done good work for Rand and the nations—Cadsuane, Nynaeve, Pevara, Verin, Moiraine and Elayne, for instance. This was the Shadow’s tactic, but the Tower succumbed to it the most.

At this point, Egwene becomes uncertain and fears that she is going too far. In fact, she and Rand both privately feel this way.

Egwene is unlikeable in this chapter with barely a pleasant thought for most people in the tent. This is quite a contrast to Perrin’s POV in the next chapter. For example, Egwene thinks Elayne besotted and is very judgmental of Berelain. While Berelain’s behaviour to Perrin and Faile was very poor, Egwene does not know the full extent of it and had this attitude to Berelain in Tear (where Berelain pursued Rand for a while for political reasons). She could never understand the Wise Ones’ good opinion of Berelain.

Rand says his sacrifice must be willing. True. It must be his free choice—a willing martyrdom. Otherwise it is an execution-type sacrifice, more suited to the Shadow than the Light.

The Sea Folk think it’s reasonable that people do something for the Dragon in exchange for what he will do for them. The rulers take him for granted, even behaving like he’s not really necessary. Or irreplaceable. Elaida took it for granted that Rand would not do his duty—his role—unless forced. (The nobles, and Elaida herself, are the ones who qualify for this). Egwene takes it for granted that Rand will have the wrong idea about the Last Battle and needs her to take charge. She has not been there when he did his great deeds—often, she was captive or being rescued at the time. Egwene tends to underestimate her other friends. She abuses him and he her. It’s quite a relief when Moiraine enters.

To sum up and check Egwene’s superior judgment on Rand’s conditions:

The treaty is untenable—actually it is a very good idea but is imperfect as yet until the Aiel and Seanchan are included. Draw.
Rand should not lead the Last Battle—Egwene is correct on this.
The Seals should not be broken; patch the patch instead— Egwene is wrong.

50%. Not a super score.

With Moiraine’s encouragement of some re-thinking and cooperation, we get a better result.