WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT
The prologue starts and ends with Borderlanders indicating the important part they play in this book.
The chapter title, Distinctions, refers to the distinction between right and wrong, honour and dishonour. The opening passage precedes it, but is part of the motif too. Loial is trying to persuade the Ogier to do the honourable thing and stay to fight evil alongside humanity. Covril has so far convinced them to think only of themselves (futile, considering it is actually in their interest to fight) and get out while the going is good. In the final book we shall see if she is misguided or corrupted and whether her gesture to Loial rebounds against her.
We finally get Lan’s first POV in the main series of the books; twenty years later in time than his previous POV. Some of his issues are still the same. Like Perrin and Rand, he dreads leading men to their deaths. Lan’s battle with the Blight, and thus the Dark One, has always been personal. The Shadow stole his kingdom, his nation, his family and his childhood from him. Mind you, Lan denies being a monarch just as much as Perrin and Mat reject being leaders/nobles, yet, unlike them, Lan was born and mentored into that role.
Lan and Rand are emotionally very similar in their negativity, their expectation of imminent death and fear of how it will affect their beloved/s and their anger at Aes Sedai. The Aiel name for Lan, A’an allein - One Man – is accurate. A man with no family (Isam doesn’t really count), whose mentors are dead, can’t be just one of a society. Lan is so isolated like Rand, and emotionally crippled. He reminds me of the Simon and Garfunkel song I Am a Rock.
The series is coming full circle in time, hearkening back to The Eye of the World and to New Spring. The Malkieri epitomise this, so it’s right that Lan’s POV starts this book. Lan always expected to return to the Borderlands to fight one last time even though he swore an oath to follow Moiraine.
The point of Lan’s POV was to show us that he's still haunted by the past. How could he not be? So is Bulen, as I think Lan recognised in the end. It was that that made Lan relent. I don’t think anything else would have.
Like Lan, Bulen has almost no memories of his parents, just his father’s prediction – which is an unspoken oath to fight – and his hadori. No gift, or ring or sword as Lan has. Lan has his vow too, and it has taken a heavy toll on him emotionally. Bulen strengthened his father’s promise or belief into a true oath.
Twenty years ago Bulen was the errand boy assigned to Lan in the Aesdaishar palace along with two serving women. The women took Lady Edeyn’s commands ahead of Lan’s (New Spring, When to Surrender), but Lan thought Bulen remained loyal and that he polished Lan’s boots better than Lan expected; yet Bulen felt that he failed his King back then and now wants to gain his respect. Lan only ever gives respect grudgingly, but Bulen proved worthy by being practical and dedicated to Malkieri cultural traditions.
Lan is the one not behaving properly now, by not keeping his word, and the spirit of his oath. He criticises Nynaeve for adopting Aes Sedai ways and then follows them himself:
A petty distinction, but twenty years with Aes Sedai had taught him a few things about how to watch one’s words.Egwene says being Aes Sedai is about the fine distinctions of the oaths:
Towers of Midnight, Prologue
It wasn't using the Power as a weapon, but it was close. A fine distinction. But being Aes Sedai was about fine distinctions.Lan describes these distinctions as petty and at first twists them to his advantage even though he despises this. However, Bulen’s determination to follow honourable Malkieri ways makes Lan keeps to the spirit of his oath and not try to be like Aes Sedai. Bulen thinks only of fulfilling his vow to fight the Shadow, the very thing Aes Sedai should also be concentrating on. Such honour reminded Lan of how to truly meet an oath and why. He was resenting Aes Sedai but behaving like one until he rose above being petty.
The Gathering Storm, The Tower Stands
Lan’s goal is Tarwin’s Gap, where, as was mentioned in The Eye of the World, the Shienaran Ingathering of the Lances and mustering of Borderlanders to repel Shadowspawn at Tarwin’s Gap begins each Spring. And it is Spring. The Borderlander rulers are not there, but believe they have left behind enough soldiers to fight almost anything unless the Trolloc Wars come again...
During his great ride across the Borderlands, Lan leaves the forts intact, only taking twelve thousand men, and the youngest of the nobility from the Borderland nations. Lan will lead what becomes the Charge of Light Brigade. Hopefully it will be more successful than the previous charge of the Light Brigade: the Children of the Light’s charge against the Darkfriend-led Seanchan at Falme.
The real world Charge of the Light brigade occurred during the Crimean War. It was a brave but futile charge and a terrible accident of history resulting from that favourite theme of Jordan’s: miscommunication. Jordan tends not to have accidents of history – they being explained by the ta’veren effect, and usually ending positively. I will write more about this parallel, and the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson inspired by it in the Epilogue read-through.
The scene, and the book, starts in an area of Saldaea that is badly affected by the Dark One’s Blighting of the Land; with degradation caused by salt:
“the earth was sprinkled white with crystals of salt that precipitated from below.”There are places where salt is natural, but excess salt makes the land infertile. This is an example of the increasing hold that Wrongness caused by the Dark One takes in this book. Basically, the Dark One has sown the ground with salt. In ancient times conquered cities in the Middle East had their earth salted as a curse against re-building.
Towers of Midnight, Prologue