Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Arthurian Battle of Caemlyn

By Linda


Years ago I noticed the similarity between the names Caemlyn and Camlann (the place where King Arthur's final and fatal battle against Mordred took place and most combatants died), the number of major characters in Caemlyn with Arthurian names and the prevalence of Celtic themes in Caemlyn (see Arthurian myths and Arthurian Who's Who), and theorised in the Origin of Place Names article that there would be a huge battle at Caemlyn as part of the Last Battle. And at the end of Towers of Midnight we saw it begin with a great fire (of London?)

Andor has English influences, specifically the England of Arthurian myth and of the Tudor Queens, hence, perhaps, the great fire. Its western province or ‘colony’ of the Two Rivers is similar to the early American colonies, notably the Carolinas. In fact, Jordan, a resident of South Carolina, said that he lived in the Two Rivers. Elayne has parallels to Elaine the Lily Lady and Queen Guinevere of Arthurian myth, and to the long-reigned Queen Elizabeth I. Her mother Morgase has parallels to Morgause, sister of Morgan le Fay, and to the historic Queen Mary I of England who, once married to a prince of England’s rival nation Spain visited atrocities on religious grounds on her people, just as Morgase had her close supporters abused while under Rahvin’s Compulsion.

Caemlyn has been under threat from the beginning of the series: the first major city to be so.This is due to Rand; he is the trigger for the Shadow to attack. Lan is the first to point out that the Shadow is prepared to destroy any city Rand stays in or takes an interest in:

"But we're in Caemlyn," Egwene said. "They can't get to us as long as-"
"They can't?" the Warder cut her off. "The Fades are building their numbers in the countryside. That's plain enough from the sign, if you know what to look for. Already there are more Trollocs than they need just to watch all the ways out of the city, a dozen fists, at least. There can only be one reason; when the Fades have enough numbers, they will come into the city after you. That act may send half the armies of the south marching to the Borderlands, but the evidence is that they're willing to take that risk. You three have escaped them too long. It looks as if you've brought a new Trolloc War to Caemlyn, sheepherder."
Egwene gave a gasping sob, and Perrin shook his head as though to deny it. Rand felt a sickness in his stomach at the thought of Trollocs in the streets of Caemlyn. All those people at one another's throats, never realizing the real threat waiting to come over the walls. What would they do when they suddenly found Trollocs and Fades in their midst, killing them? He could see the towers burning, flames breaking through the domes, Trollocs pillaging through the curving streets and vistas of the Inner City. The Palace itself in flames. Elayne, and Gawyn, and Morgase ... dead.
"Not yet," Moiraine said absently.”

The Eye of the World, Old Friends, and New Threats

This is Foreshadowing of the battle of Caemlyn (and of armies from the south going to the Borderlands). And Moiraine is correct, the attack will come later.

Egwene’s sorrow and horror were reprised in the Accepted ter’angreal:

As far as she could see in every direction lay ruin and desolation, buildings that looked as if they had been torn apart by madmen, thick plumes of smoke rising from the fires still burning. There were people in the streets, bands of armed men prowling, searching. And Trollocs. The men shied away from the Trollocs, and the Trollocs snarled at them and laughed, harsh guttural laughter. But they knew each other, worked together.
A Myrddraal came striding down the street, its black cloak swaying gently with its steps even when the wind gusted to drive dust and rubbish past it. Men and Trollocs alike cowered under its eyeless stare. “Hunt!” Its voice sounded like something long dead crumbling. “Do not stand there shivering! Find him!”…
She had trained herself not to see the dead buried in the refuse heap Trollocs and Darkfriends had made of Caemlyn. She could do nothing for the dead.

The Dragon Reborn, The Price of the Ring

and Rand’s fears of Shadowspawn attacking Caemlyn were actualised in a ‘small’ way when Rahvin brought some Shadowspawn in to the city to defend his throne in The Fires of Heaven, but once Rand balefired him, the Aiel drove them off. Worse was Rahvin’s attack on Andor’s unity and leadership, which set the stage for Morgase’s departure and abdication, and the Succession. During the siege Moridin ordered Darkfriends to set fires:

“Can you shift guards away from the food warehouses? It would please me if some of those actually burned. I am tired of attempts that always fail.”
“That I cannot do,” he muttered. “Not unless you expect me to go into hiding right after. They keep a record of orders that would make a Cairhienin wince. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway, not with those bloody gateways bringing in more wagons every bloody day.” In truth, he was not sorry for that. Queasy over the means used, certainly, but not sorry. He expected the palace would be the last place in Caemlyn to go hungry in any case, but he had lived out sieges on both sides of the lines, and he had no intention of ever boiling his boots for soup again. Shiaine wanted fires, though.

Crossroads of Twilight, Gathering Darkness

and the Shadow will finally commit arson on a grand scale at the end of Towers of Midnight, to add to the chaos, terror and destruction of the long-portended Shadowspawn attack.

In Arthurian myth, King Arthur left Mordred in charge of Britain while he fought on the continent, but the traitor Mordred took advantage of Arthur’s absence to claim the crown and Guinevere. Arthur hurriedly returned and defeated Mordred in battle at Camlann, but both were fatally wounded in the fight. Apart from the death of the two leaders, it was a very costly battle in lives: none survived on Mordred’s side and only a few on Arthur’s. After the battle the wounded Arthur was taken to a barge:

Now put me into the barge, said the king. And so he did softly; and there received him three queens with great mourning; and so they set them down, and in one of their laps King Arthur laid his head. And then the queen said: Ah, dear brother, why have ye tarried so long from me? Alas, this wound on your head hath caught over-much cold. And so then they rowed from the land, and Sir Bedivere beheld all those ladies go from him…thus was he led away in a ship wherein were three queens; that one was King Arthur’s sister, Queen Morgan le Fay; the other was the Queen of Northgalis; the third was the Queen of the Waste Lands. Also there was Nimue, the chief lady of the lake…

- Le Morte D’Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory, Book XXI, Chapters V and VI

Likewise there will be a titanic battle at Caemlyn, perhaps crucial to the outcome of Tarmon Gai’don. Rand has not gone near the city since Winter’s Heart, when he left Elayne to it and Taim in charge of the nearby Black Tower. The traitorous Taim has taken advantage of Rand’s absence to turn the Black Tower to his own cause and so may represent Mordred here.

Another possibility for Mordred is Moridin, who gave orders for Elayne’s rule to be undermined. He commands the Black Ajah in Caemlyn, the ones that were tricked by Elayne into warning her that Caemlyn was soon to be attacked (Towers of Midnight, Foxheads). Since Moridin claims to be playing both sides of the board (ostensibly ‘helping’ Rand at times in order to further the Shadow’s – or at least his own – cause), and has people on both sides helping him, he is traitorous. And, of course, if Taim is Moridin this parallel becomes even stronger. Other possibilities for the identity of Mordred are Mordeth/Fain (although he is now in the Blight) and Demandred.

On the opposite side of the battle, Talmanes has been left in charge of the Band while Mat went to rescue Moiraine. He is the highest ranked leader of forces remaining around the city.

As well as being Elaine the Lily Lady, Queen Elayne is one of Rand’s three Guinevere figures. She allowed people to think Hanlon fathered her child, the very man who claims her unwilling body as his reward, while the actual father has no idea Elayne is even pregnant.

So the way this parallel may play out is that Elayne will return to defend her city and be captured again (just as Guinevere seemed to require rescuing every other day). Rand, hearing of the danger she is in, rushes to Caemlyn to save her and the city. Another possibility is that Mat takes Rand’s place as King Arthur here and rescues Elayne. There is a long-standing wrangle between Mat and Elayne of him rescuing her and her unwilling to have toh to him. This would mean that the fatal duel between Rand and his Mordred figure and his subsequent departure on the boat takes place elsewhere and elsewhen (since Elayne will be there).

King Arthur’s departure on the boat for Avalon is paralleled in Nicola’s Foretelling of:

"The lion sword, the dedicated spear, she who sees beyond. Three on the boat, and he who is dead yet lives. The great battle done, but the world not done with battle. The land divided by the return, and the guardians balance the servants. The future teeters on the edge of a blade."

- Lord of Chaos, Dreams and Nightmares

and Melaine’s and Bair’s dream of Rand

“on a boat with three women whose faces they could not see and a scale tilting first one way and then the other”

- Lord Of Chaos, Matters of Toh).

Why, with so many channellers around would they use a boat instead of Travelling? The boat may be a Skimming platform, Skimming being a way travelling if you don’t know your starting place well.

While the three queens do not seem to be precisely paralleled by Jordan, the Queen of the Wastelands likely represents Aviendha (the dedicated spear). Nicola describes the other two women on the boat as the lion sword (Elayne) and she who sees beyond (Min). Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s sister may be a parallel of Elayne here, who Rand feared was closely related to him by blood (but she is not). One of the queens exclaims over Arthur’s head wound. In Towers of Midnight, Nynaeve attempted to Heal the madness of the taint in Rand and exclaimed at the presence of Light as well as Darkness in Rand’s mind. Perhaps this delicate balance is overthrown in A Memory of Light, and Rand has problems with his mind once more. We saw Lanfear’s quite effective attempt to destroy Rand’s refuge in his dreams at the end of Towers of Midnight. Malory indicates that Nimue (a parallel of Nynaeve, as Lan’s wife Lady of the Thousand Lakes) was also among the women on the funeral barge, in addition to the three queens. Just because the soothsayers speak of three women and Rand on a boat doesn’t mean that Nynaeve is not also there. There are a couple of significant foreshadowings that Nynaeve will bring back someone from the dead – or at least someone perceived to be dead.

As for “he who is dead yet lives”, Sir Bedivere witnesses what appears to be Arthur’s transportation into the otherworldly realm of Avalon, an obvious parallel to Tar Valon in The Wheel of Time full as it is of long-lived women with magical powers. However on the following day, Sir Bedivere goes to a hermitage and there finds a hermit lamenting over a newly made tomb. The hermit says that at midnight

“here came a number of ladies, and brought hither a dead corpse, and prayed me to bury him; and here they offered an hundred tapers, and they gave me an hundred besants.”

Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter VI

Bedivere believes that these ladies must have been the queens he saw taking King Arthur away on the boat, even though, significantly, the hermit does not identify the corpse as Arthur’s, and there is the lasting legend that King Arthur lives on or will live again. Min had a viewing of three women standing over a funeral bier with Rand on it (The Eye of the World, Strangers and Friends) and Darrel Sweet portrayed Rand’s body on a bier with the three women grieving around it. The Aelfinn prophesied that to live, Rand must die (Lord of Chaos, Connecting Lines).

“The world not done with battle” phrase in Nicola’s foretelling is probably an allusion to the continuing and escalating war of Tarmon Gai’don, and I believe that the “great battle” soon to be “done” is the Battle of Caemlyn/Camlann.


Housedad said...

I respectfully disagree with your last paragraph. Given Aviendha's visions in Rhuidean, I think the meaning of Nicola's Foretelling is clear: Just because the Dark One is defeated, doesn't mean the world is a peaceful place. The world is not done with battle, mostly because of the precarious nature of the Dragon's Peace. Elsewhere, there is a prophecy that the future will balance on the edge of a blade--I think everyone has heard the theory of Rand using Artur Hawkwing's sword to settle the Seanchan down, and Aviendha's vision makes it clear how short-lived that Peace will be.

"For his peace was the peace of the sword."

The "battle" of Caemlyn is unlikely to be much of a fight, certainly not enough of one to be "the great battle." The bulk, if not the entirety, of Elayne's forces are at the Field of Merrilor--Egwene has demanded this of all the monarchs. (Honestly, I'm not sure why the Band of the Red Hand stayed behind. Did Mat just derp on the fact that every other army east of the Seanchan would be there?) More likely, Caemlyn is simply going to be sacked. Talmanes may be able to rescue Aludra and her dragons, but unless Elayne did some serious planning, there's little anyone can do to stop the Shadow from trashing Andor's capital.

Anonymous said...

When I first read of the attack on Caemlyn I conjectured that this was the shadows way of diverting the armies (and Attention) of the Good Guys away from the Invasion lines to the North, which would be substantially weakened. Must be up at the top of the "Art of War's" what to do list. Psychologically, striking at the enemy's main capital also wins points.
I personally think that this is not "the great battle" but rather the first skirmish in a series of battles that collectively will become to be known as the "Great Battle". After all, we have potential conflict areas along all of the Boarderlands, Tar Vallon, The Black Tower, the Shaenchen held lands, as well as Shayol Ghul and in Tel'aran'rhiod - a defeat for the "Light" in any one of which would probably preclude victory.

Fragrant Elephant said...

I'm somewhere between Housedad and Anonymous. I think Caemlyn will be nearly destroyed by the Shadow's forces, and that it will be one of the key battles during the Last Battle. But Nicola's prophecy always sounded like "the great battle" was Tarmon Gai'don, especially with the added "the world not done with battle," i.e. why the Dragon's Peace is necessary.

I'm still not convinced that Taim is Moridin, but what a coup if he were! Doooom.

Russ said...


First I want to say that I'm a big fan of your essays and that they've really enhanced may appreciation and enjoyment of WOT. Thank you.

I just wanted to ask whether Alivia had any Arthurian character parallels (I couldn't find any articles) as she's central to Rand's death. And whether you think her part will play out in your Caemlyn theory. (Judging by the MoL cover, she isn't going to be with him in the Pit of Doom)

I myself am starting to suspect she will play her part in some way while helping Rand overcome Cyndane, the dual at Shadar Logoth being a sort of preliminary match.

Linda said...

Thanks Russ.

I haven't really researched Alivia. The name Olivia was invented by Shakespeare and so post dates the Arthur.

The male version of the name, Oliver/Olivier, is held by one of the characters in the myths around Charlemagne (he was one of Charlemagne's retainers), a body of work tangential to the Arthurian myth. Just as Arthurian myth is referred to as the Matter of Britain. so Charlemagne myths are referred to as the Matter of France. Both Charlemagne and Arthur were kings who are believed to rule again one day. The Song of Roland in the legend of Charlemagne has a parallel of the Horn of Valere in it (written about here. (Ogier, and Loial in particular, also have a parallel from the Matter of France.)

Your idea that she will help him against Cyndane is an excellent one. She is the opposite of Cyndane the arch-temptress, being a particularly innnocent virgin, so a repeat face-off seems very apt.

Another thing that has struck me is that Alivia has the work "live" in it. To live Rand must die and she will help him do that.