In this section, the long war begins.
The ink is hardly dry on the Dragon’s Peace before planning for the conflict begins. Splitting the conflict onto three immediate fronts in Andor, Shienar and Kandor allows the author to showcase more characters playing roles and to balance momentum, so that even if one battle front goes well for the heroes, other dire situations maintain tension. If there is a downside, it is that with so many plotlines to juggle, some may get only short attention, if they show up at all, and if they play off each other, the complexity of the plotting increases. This intricacy, and the time needed for the author to handle it, is one of the reasons that The Wheel of Time came to feel bogged down. Much of what the author needs to establish now is the setting and placement of characters in each locale.
One of the four great captains is assigned to each of the battle fronts. Merrilor is maintained as Elayne’s central command location, a seemingly trivial decision that will dictate the setting of the Last Battle. A countdown for two locations will run out if a victory is not achieved in Andor quickly. Loial sticks his head in the story long enough to announce the Ogier will fight alongside the humans. The Horn of Valere is entrusted to Faile, who originally left home hunting for it. Lan sets the tone for the coming battle: no sadness, no mourning, only pride that when the time of their testing came, and victory all but impossible, the soldiers were ready, and did their duty, even unto death. Most importantly, the men of many nations fight together, as they never have since the Age of Legends.
The events beginning the conflict have an air of finality. Elayne torches her home city, and reveals the father of her children, admitting there can be no safety for them since she herself is a target. Evin is turned to the Shadow with little fuss, and it seems inevitable that Androl will receive no outside help. Bulen and other Borderlanders give their lives for small, but meaningful causes in their battle. Their sacrifices buy time, but Agelmar tells Lan that even so, they will eventually retreat and give up the land their comrades paid for in blood. Each painful decision is made in the name of duty, necessary evils meant to improve their marginal chances against the Trollocs. Lan grudgingly realizes he will abandon his lost home of Malkier yet again, because duty to his fellow men compels this grim course of action.
Through the preparations, the author maintains each character’s personality, highlighting the unique way in which they think instead of committing solely to plot-based descriptions. Elayne held out for the most advantage when the Dragon’s Peace was signed, and now Egwene can’t help but lament that all of the choices arrayed before her undermine her authority, regarding Elayne’s place at the head of the armies: Refusing her would set a bad precedent. As would obeying her.
Egwene also keeps up her intense hatred of the Seanchan, despite that humanity needs the two forces to be allies. Egwene embraces the use of the name Leilwin for the hated Seanchan woman Egeanin, happy to remind her that she is less than nothing in Egwene’s eyes.
Despite the overwhelming military aspects of the story, small introspective moments point to the possibility that some non-violent means may give the key to victory. Lan prefers to use Aes Sedai as useful tools rather than weapons, and Rand considers grand philosophical questions as he evaluates his chances for success. Was the flame alive? It ate, it moved on its own. You could smother it, so in a way it breathed. What was it to be alive? Could an idea live? A world without the Dark One. A world without evil. There have been clues in earlier books as well, notably Verin’s assertion that the Last Battle would not be fought in the way that Rand imagined. Little reminders such as this one will keep the reader from being distraught if the greatest battle of all time isn’t resolved through battle.
Elayne and Rand share a last night together, exchanging gifts and revealing their deepest feelings and secrets. Elayne represents Rand’s present, while Aviendha and Min were his past and future. Elayne embodies Andor, especially now that Caemlyn is burned. Andor itself represents a set of morals and ideals that Rand was raised with, given to him by Tam. Through these ideals, Elayne represents what is best in Rand, the core of his being, his shining heart, like the gleaming city on the hill, the oldest and most respected of the Nations to rise after Hawkwing’s empire shattered. Elayne is all that is good, and when Rand tells her who he is now, her reaction is acceptance and love, unlike anyone else’s.
Writing Lessons:Keep your characters in character, no matter what exciting events are taking place.