This article contains spoilers through Knife of Dreams.
All excerpts featured in this article can be found in Knife of Dreams, Chapter 20, “The Golden Crane”.
Lan was nothing if not attentive to his duties. He knew it was the responsibility to ride for Malkier in the Last Battle, and he had no expectations of surviving. When Nynaeve confessed her feelings to him in The Eye of the World, he turned her down, letting her know that he wouldn’t marry her because he was not willing to leave her a widow.
In The Great Hunt, Lan started to crack. He gave Nynaeve his signet ring and let her know that if she were in the Borderlands, she would receive any aid she might need.
As the Last Battle began to draw near, Lan grew restless to fight in it. His duty to Malkier and her people lay in the Blight, and that was where he needed to be.
”[Rand] should be marshaling all the force he can gather and taking it to the Blight. The Last Battle will be there, and at Shayol Ghul. The war is there, [Lan said.]
Sadness welled up in [Nynaeve], yet she managed to keep it out of her voice. “You have to go back,” she said quietly.
At last he turned his head, frowning down at her. His clear blue eyes were so cold. They hell less of death than they had, of that she was certain, but they were still so cold. “My place is with you, heart of my heart. Ever and always.”
She gathered all of her courage and held on to it hard, so hard that she ached. She wanted to speak fast, to get the words out before courage failed, but she forced herself to a steady tone and an even pace. “A Borderland saying I heard from you once. ‘Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.’ My duty lies here, making sure Alivia doesn’t kill Rand. But I will take you to the Borderlands. Your duty lies there. You want to go to Shienar? You mentioned King Easar and Shienar. And it is close to Malkier.”
He looked down at her for a long time, but at last he exaled softly, and the tension left his arm. “Are you sure, Nynaeve? If you are, then, yes, Shienar. In the Trolloc Wars, the Shadow used Tarwin’s Gap to move large numbers of Trollocs, just as it did a few years back, when we sought the Eye of the World. But only if you are completely sure.”
No, she was not sure. She wanted to cry, to scream at him that he was a fool, that his place was with her, not dying alone in a futile private war with the Shadow. Only, she could not say any of that. Bond or no bond, she knew he was torn inside, torn between his love of her and his duty, torn and bleeding as surely as if he had been stabbed with a sword. She could not add to his wounds. She could try to make sure he survived, though. “Would I make an offer if I wasn’t sure?” she said dryly, surprised at how calm she sounded. “I won’t like sending you away, but you have your duty, and I have mine.”
The key there was that she knew she couldn’t hold him back from his duty, but she darn well could do her best to ensure that he survived it. And then her Aes Sedai plotting came into play.
“I want a promise from you,” Nynaeve said quietly as they waited. […] An oath. I mean it, Lan Mandragoran. We aren’t alone any longer.”
“What do you want my oath on?” he asked warily. […]
“That you’ll ride to Fal Moran before you enter the Blight, and that if anyone wants to ride with you, you’ll let him.”
His smile was small, and sad. “I’ve always refused to lead men into the Blight, Nynaeve. There were times men rode with me, but I would not—“
“If men have ridden with you before,” she cut in, “men can ride with you again. Your oath on it, or I vow I’ll let you ride the whole long way to Shienar.”
“How far south of Shienar do you mean to leave me?” he asked. When she said nothing, he nodded. “Very well, Nynaeve. If that’s what you want. I swear it under the Light and by my hope of my rebirth and salvation.”
It was very hard not to sigh with relief. She had managed it, and without lying.
Being every so helpful, Nynaeve weaved the gateway to the Borderlands. As they rode through, Lan noticed it.
Lan led Mandarb a few steps westward, staring. Land ended abruptly in what was obviously a cliff no more than twenty paces from him, and from there ocean stretched to the horizon. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, turning back. “This isn’t Shienar. It’s World’s End, in Saldaea, as far from Shienar as you can get and still be in the Borderlands.”
“I told you I would take you to the Borderlands, and I have. Remember your oath, my heart, because I surely will.” And with that she dug her heels into the mare’s flanks and let the animal bolt through the open gateway. She heard him call her name, but she let the gateway close behind her. She would give him a chance to survive.
Part of what makes this scene so great is seeing the man’s understanding progress from “some random woman is interrupting me” to laughing and crying for joy. It is a beautiful and touching moment.
“Master Aldragoran?” a woman said, leaning on the table. “You were pointed out to me as a merchant with a wide correspondence by pigeon.”
He noticed her jewelry first, of course, a matter of habit. […] Then he realized she wore a fifth ring on that hand, stuck against one of the rings with a worthless stone. A golden serpent biting its own tail.
His eyes jerked to her face, and he suffered his second shock. Her face, framed by the hood of her cloak, was very young, but she wore the ring, and few were foolish enough to do that without the right. He had seen young Aes Sedai before, two or three times. No, her age did not shock him. But on her forehead, she wore the ki’sain, the red dot of a married woman. She did not look Malkieri. She did not sound Malkieri. […] Besides, he could not remember the last time he had heard of a Malkieri girl going to the White Tower. The Tower had failed Malkier in need, and the Malkieri had turned their backs on their Tower. Still, he stood hurriedly. With Aes Sedai, courtesy was always wise. Her dark eyes held heat. Yes, courtesy was wise.
“How may I help you, Aes Sedai? You wish me to send a message for you via my pigeons? It will be my pleasure.” It was also wise to grant Aes Sedai any favors they asked, and a pigeon was a small favor.
“A message to each merchant you correspond with. Tarmon Gai’don is coming soon.”
He shrugged uneasily. “That is nothing to do with me, Aes Sedai. I’m a good merchant.” She was asking for a good many pigeons. He corresponded with merchants as far away as Shienar. “But I will send your message.” He would, too, however many birds it required. Only stone-blind idiots failed to keep promises to Aes Sedai. Besides which, he wanted rid of her and her talk of the Last Battle.
“Do you recognize this? she said, fishing a leather cord from the neck of her dress.
His breath caught, and he stretched out a hand, brushed a finger across the heavy gold signet ring on the cord. Across the crane in flight. How had she come by this? Under the Light, how? “I recognize it,” he told her, his voice suddenly hoarse.
“My name is Nynaeve ti al’Meara Mandragoran. The message I want sent is this. My husband rides from World’s End towards Tarwin’s Gap, towards Tarmon Gai’don. Will he ride alone?”
He trembled. He did not know whether he was laughing or crying. Perhaps both. She was his wife? “I will send your message, my Lady, but it has nothing to do with me. I am a merchant. Malkier is dead. Dead, I tell you.”
The heat in her eyes seemed to intensify, and she gripped her long, thick braid with one hand. “Lan told me once that Malkier lives so long as one man wears the hadori in pledge that he will fight the Shadow, so long as one woman wears the ki’sain in pledge that she will send her sons to fight the Shadow. I wear the ki’sain, Master Aldragoran. My husband wears the hadori. So do you. Will Lan Mandragoran ride to the Last Battle alone?”
That right there had to be one of the most powerful speeches in the entire series, and it took only a handful of sentences. In such a brief paragraph, she reminded him of the duty of all Malkieri, showed him that his King remembered that duty and was riding for it at that moment, reminded him that he still wore his hadori which meant that duty was also his. She then put him on the spot, basically asking him if he would honor that duty or leave the last king of Malkier to carry that duty on his own.
I don’t think that’s a call any true Borderlander could ignore.
He was laughing, shaking with it. And yet, he could feel tears rolling down his cheeks. It was madness! Complete madness! But he could not help himself. “He will not, my Lady. I cannot stand surety fore anyone else, but I swear to you under the Light and by my hope of rebirth and salvation, he will not ride alone.”
Silence hung in the common room. They had not been keeping their voices low, and even the girl with the dulcimer and ceased plying her hammers. Everyone was staying at him. Most of the outlanders had their mouths hanging open.
“Well, Managan, Gorenellin,” he demanded, “do you still remember who you are? Do you remember your blood? Who rides with me for Tarwin’s Gap?”
For a moment, he thought neither man would speak, but then Gorenellin was on his feet, tears glistening his eyes. “The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai’don,” he said softly.
“The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai’don!” Managan shouted, leaping so fast he overturned his chair.
Laughing, Aldragoran joined them, all three shouting at the top of their lungs. “The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai’don!”
Why I Love It
It is not often that we get to see a nation rise from the ashes, but this is exactly what this scene was. Everyone knew that Malkier was dead, even Lan had declared it dead. But Nynaeve was not willing to let it remain dead, not when that meant Lan had to ride into the Blight alone. So she found the remnants of Malkier and breathed new life into them.
I think Nynaeve was the only one who could have gotten that response from the scattered Malkieri. They had all know the fall of Malkier, and Lan felt that destruction very keenly. He would never point-blank confront these men and essentially ask them if they had any honor left, but Nynaeve was willing to, and did just that.
The Malkieri did not disappoint.
The Golden Crane flew for Tarmon Gai’don, and Lan did not ride alone.