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WoR Ch21


Mediationform made for peace, it's said.
Form of teaching and consolation.
When used by the gods, it became instead
Form of lies and desolation.

–From the Listener Song of Listing, 33rd stanza


Point of view: Shallan
Setting: The Frostlands

Progression of the Chapter:

Bluth is mourned; bandits are executed; a significant picture is retrieved; Shallan strikes a bargain with the caravan owner, and the caravans are conjoined under her authority; Vathah is trouble; Pattern is resourceful; Tvlakv is skeptical, suspicious, bitter, and resigned; Tvlakv’s slaves are appropriated by Shallan; a prayer of thanks is offered and burned; and former deserters stand the taller for it.

Quote of the Chapter:

The former deserters gathered in front of the flames and looked at the prayer. Then they turned and looked outward, seeing - as if for the first time - the two dozen people standing there and watching. Silent in the night. Some had tears on their cheeks; some held the hands of children ... .

... The deserters didn’t seem to know how to react, surrounded by that constellation of thankful eyes and tearful appreciation. Finally, they burned the prayer. Shallan bowed her head as they did, as did most of those watching.

She left them standing taller, watching the ashes of that prayer rise toward the Almighty.

Regarding the possible transformative powers of Lightweaving, the transformation, whatever it was, is only now complete. (Or as complete as it can be without new habits and attitudes being established.) Even after these men made a choice to be better than they were, it’s not until they see the difference reflected in the eyes of others that they truly see themselves as being better.

Commentary:

"Ashes.” It’s a fitting title. This chapter is full of death, burning, and bitter confrontation.

As Vathah goes around grimly executing the remaining bandits, Shallan closes Bluth’s eyes, not looking at the carnage of his body. In his pocket she finds the answer to the question left hanging last week: just who had removed a page from her sketchbook. Bluth had taken “ ... her picture of him. The one that depicted him not as he was, but as she imagined he might once have been. A soldier in an army, in a crisp uniform. Eyes forward, rather than looking down all the time. A hero.” She seems grieved for and proud of him, but there’s no real indication that she feels in any way responsible for the change in him.

“I was wrong,” she whispered. “You were a fine way to restart my collection, Bluth. Fight well for the Almighty in your sleep, bold one.”

Shallan moves on to find the caravan owner, while around her the survivors pull corpses to the fires for burning - more ashes - and sort through the contents of overturned wagons. In spite of being tired, sore, disheveled, grungy, and totally lacking in Illusion, she manages to project enough confidence that she convinces Macob and Tyn that she is, and should be, in charge of the whole shebang; that her need of them is only for the comforts they can provide on the journey. Inwardly, she acknowledges the fact that she needs their presence to keep her new “soldiers” mindful of civilization and heroism.

Vathah’s behavior certainly bears out that necessity as he walks with her past the burning dead: he’s disillusioned with what he sees of her now; he doesn’t believe there’s any fundamental change in himself or his men; he certainly doesn’t believe she can keep her promise to have them all pardoned and their debts forgiven. Fortunately, he’s also a bit wigged out by disembodied voices (via Pattern), but he’s clearly going to be trouble.

The next confrontation is with Tvlakv, who has concocted a conspiracy theory in which Bluth and Shallan were in cahoots with the deserters, but it has a rather sieve-like quality which even he sees when he tries to accuse Shallan of it. While he’s still trying to figure out whether it really leaks that badly, she moves on to commandeer his slaves. Whether it would have worked had he not already been off balance is unknown; as it is, she totally steamrolls him. First she tells him he’d better hope the Almighty is a farce, because otherwise he’s got a special place in Damnation waiting for him. Then she claims the slaves, and over his first word of objection ...

“I saved your life, you oily little man,” Shallan said. “You will give me these slaves in payment. Dues in recompense for my soldiers protecting you and your worthless life.”

He claims it’s robbery; she tells him it’s justice. Then she proceeds to tell these five men - these slaves - that if they want to run they won’t be pursued, but if they stay, they can serve her and work toward their freedom. The deal is that they get six firemarks a week if they agree to put five of them toward their slave debt; one, if not. So the slaves go from being treated like animals to serving a light-eyed lady; bearing no worries about getting caught for runaways; good pay for a job that is far from onerous; and the probability of paying off their slave debt and becoming free men again. Shallan gets servants who are completely loyal, and who have a vested interest in keeping her happy. Works out pretty well for everyone, except maybe Tvlakv.

Anyway, after surprising Tvlakv by actually paying him for a wagon, she walks away ... right past the fire where the last body is being thrown into the flames. Then comes the scene from the QOTW: the caravan folk hold out a sheet of paper to a former deserter (who just happens to be Gaz). It is a prayer of thanks for the “soldiers” who came to their rescue. Finally, finally, finally. They’d wanted a second chance, but in the battle and the aftermath they were too busy to think about it much. Now they look around to find men, women, children ... families who are alive because a bunch of deserters dared to be better than they thought they were, and it has a profound impact. Whether the initial impetus was a matter of charisma or Lightweaving, this has nothing to do with either magic or impulsive decisions to acquit themselves like men. This is a matter of seeing gratitude right up close and personal, face to face with people who see them as heroes. This seems to be the point where permanent change takes root; by burning the prayer to the Almighty, they accept that these people are thankful both to and for them, and it can’t help but reshape their view of themselves. They stand taller, as they watch the ashes of the prayer rise to the Almighty.

Heraldic Symbolism:

For once, the Heralds seem fairly obvious. Talenel is the Herald of soldiers, the one whose ideological role is Soldier. His Heraldic attributes are dependable/resourceful. Essentially, he’s the Herald associated with everything Shallan induced these former deserters to become. Nalan is, of course, the Judge, the Herald of justice, which may be reflective of Shallan’s claim of “justice” when she appropriates Tvlakv’s slaves. However, the Soulcasting property associated with his corresponding gemstone is ... wait for it ... smoke. Ashes, again.

- Paraphrased from Alice Arneson[1]

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