Hello, and welcome aboard the U.S.S. Longwinded! Also known in certain circles as the Wheel of Time Re-read Cruise. Today’s tour is cunningly named The Dragon Reborn, Part 7 – catchy, no? – and will take us past islands 40 through 46 in the Chapters archipelago.
Please refrain from flash photography, as it scares the fish; postcards depicting the entire voyage can be found in our gift shop. Those of you who’ve taken this trip before can help teach the clueless n00bs how to navigate the tsunami of verbiage that strikes regularly round these parts. Or laugh at them, whichever you prefer. We’re easy.
Now, to sea! Sleep soundly, young WOTians, for I have built you a good ship, strong and true; she has all the lifeboats you need.
Chapter 40: A Hero in the Night
Mat watches as the Gray Gull pulls into the harbor at Aringill, and grins at his two purses, fatter than they had been before he boarded. His luck had not been quite the same as that first crazy night in Tar Valon, but it had been good enough that Mallia had given up trying to ingratiate himself with Mat through gambling. His grin fades as he thinks of Elayne’s letter, though; he had lifted the seal off with a hot blade, and had found nothing but bland news in it. Thom had had no better luck seeing a code or cipher in it, but Mat was sure that the letter must be the reason those men were after him. He thinks that he will deliver the letter if it kills him, but he will have things to say to those women. If he ever sees them again. Thom comes strutting up on deck, flourishing his cloak, and Mat tells him not to bother, no one is watching. Thom stares at the people crowding the docks and says he’d heard it was bad, but not like this; he adds that it might cost them one of Mat’s purses for a room tonight, more if Mat plans to keep eating the way he has been. Mat smiles at Thom, taunts Mallia, and leaves the ship. Thom follows, asking if it was really necessary to needle the man like that when Mat ate the stores Mallia thought would get him all the way to Tear. Mat replies that he hasn’t actually been eating it for two days, but throwing it over the side instead. Looking at the hungry people around him, he thinks that the joke doesn’t seem so funny anymore, but adds that Mallia deserved it, passing that fouled ship earlier and refusing to stop and help. Thom answers, as if you go out of your way to help people, and Mat says he’ll help anyone who can pay for it; only fools do something for nothing. He’s been watching one woman in particular with three children clinging to her and a hopeless look on her face; abruptly he digs a handful of coins out of his pocket and hands them to her, and tells her to get her kids something to eat before she can say anything, and hurries away.
He noticed Thom looking at him. “What are you gawking at? Coin comes easily as long as I can find somebody who likes to dice.” Thom nodded slowly, but Mat was not sure he had gotten his point across. Bloody children’s crying was getting on my nerves, that’s all. Fool gleeman will probably expect me to give gold away to every waif that comes along, now. Fool! For an uncomfortable moment, he was not certain whether the last had been meant for Thom or himself.
Mat finds a Guardsman and asks him about lodging and mounts, but the Guard tells him he’d be lucky to find a stable at any price, and horses are now going for food. Thom is appalled, and says isn’t the Queen sending food? The Guard answers that she was, but an order has come down that tomorrow they close the river crossing; no one else is to be allowed across. They head into Aringill, which is crowded to bursting with refugees, and Thom comments that the order the Guard told them about does not sound like Morgase; she has a quick temper, but a soft heart for the poor and hungry. Mat is more interested in finding themselves a room, but he tries four inns with no luck; finally at the fifth, he asks about the stable, but the innkeeper says his stable is for his horses, not people. Mat notices the man has a dice cup, and proposes a little wager.
When Mat walked into the stable, the first thing he did was check along the half-dozen stalls with horses in them for a pair of brown geldings. They were nondescript animals, but they were his.
Thom mutters about five sixes, and says Mat should watch himself; his luck isn’t always that good. Mat thinks he’s just as glad it isn’t, but that it was almost as if he’d known the dice were going to go his way this time. He and Thom go up in the loft to eat and rest, and a while later they are interrupted by a woman dragging a cart into the stable. Mat looks down to see she wears her hair in many small braids, and though her dress is torn and stained, it’s silk, and once very fine. She lights a lantern in some way Mat can’t see, and he can’t figure out how she did it so fast. Then the stable door opens again to admit four big men. One of them says to the woman she didn’t run far enough, calling her Aludra. Aludra spits back that it is not enough that the man, Tammuz, gets her thrown out of the Guild, he has to chase her as well. Tammuz laughs and asks if she really thought she would get away with selling the secrets that belong to the Guild alone, and takes out a knife. He says it will be a pleasure to cut her throat.
Mat was not even aware that he had stood up until one of the doubled ropes dangling from the ceiling was in his hands and he had launched himself out of the loft. Burn me for a bloody fool!
He plows into the men, scattering them, and tumbles to the floor, coins flying everywhere. He jumps up, and Thom tosses him his quarterstaff. Mat dispatches the men quickly, and glares at the woman, asking if she really had to pick this stable to get murdered in. She merely replies that she would have helped him, but she was worried he would mistake her for an attacker. He notes that she is pretty, if a little older, and laughs and says what’s done is done. Thom has climbed down from the loft by now, and she frowns at his cloak, saying this is like a story, to be rescued by a young hero and a gleeman. Mat asks what secrets Tammuz was referring to, and Thom answers for her: the secrets of making fireworks. Aludra is an Illuminator. Aludra replies that she was one, but that idiot Tammuz ruined a performance for the King of Cairhien, and as Mistress of the Chapterhouse, she was held responsible. She says she does not give away secrets, but she will not let herself starve when she can sell fireworks.
“Galldrian,” Thom said, sounding almost as wooden as she had. “Well, he is a dead king now, and he’ll see no more fireworks.”
Aludra says she must move on, but she should reward her rescuers. She pulls out a roll of oiled cloth and unrolls it to show many cylinders of waxed paper in pockets inside. Mat is fascinated, thinking that he’s only seen fireworks twice in his life; once when he was ten he’d tried to cut one open, and was strapped within an inch of his life, and no one except Rand and Perrin would talk to him for a month. Aludra slaps his hand away when he tries to touch one, and explains how to light them. She warns them to keep them away from fire, and above all never ever cut one open; the stuff inside sometimes ignites with air far more readily even than with fire, and you could lose a hand. Mat says dryly that he’s heard that somewhere. She says she will go to Lugard, and Mat remembers that she said she had no money until she finds a place where people can actually afford fireworks. He scoops up a handful of coins from the floor and offers them to her.
She paused with her cloak half around her shoulders, then smiled at Thom as she swept it the rest of the way on. “He is young yet, eh?”
“He is young,” Thom agreed. “And not half so hard as he would like to think himself. Sometimes he is not.”
Mat glowered at both of them and lowered his hand.
Thom asks Aludra how she lit the lantern so quickly earlier, and she smiles and says she has no intention of giving away everything; but one day, she says, sticks will make her fortune for her. She heads out into the rain, and Thom and Mat realize they have to leave too, before Tammuz and Co. come to. As they head into the rain, Mat scowls and tells Thom that if he ever looks like he’s acting the hero again, to kick him.
See? Big mushy pile of gallantry. Actually, that’s all this chapter is about – putting the lie to Mat’s big cynical front.
Well, that and arranging matters to get him fireworks, so he can learn to Blow Shit Up, and show off his idealistic heroism by introducing Randland to modern warfare… wait.
Also, this might be Jordan’s snarkiest chapter title yet. Possibly ever.
Chapter 41: A Hunter’s Oath
Perrin watches as their ship pulls in to Illian, in an effort to ignore the sort-of staring contest Moiraine and Zarine are having behind him. Moiraine had been less than pleased to discover that not only did Zarine know she was Aes Sedai, but that she believed Perrin and the others would lead her to the Horn of Valere – and what’s more, that Perrin had known all this and hadn’t told Moiraine of it. Perrin thinks that he’s rather impressed that Zarine meets Moiraine’s stares eye to eye, even if she does swallow and wipe sweat after Moiraine looks away. Lan is obviously very amused by the whole thing; Perrin overheard Moiraine ask him tartly a few days ago if he found something to laugh at, and Lan replied that perhaps he is practicing for Myrelle, as he understands that she likes to tell her Warders jokes. The whole crew is on edge too, thanks to Zarine and Perrin getting into a shouting match on deck and one of them dropping the fact that Moiraine was Aes Sedai for everyone to hear. Perrin turns back to contemplating Illian, and hopes it is large enough to keep the wolves at bay. He had reached the wolf dream twice more, but been chased out of it by Hopper each time, telling him he is too new. As they dock, Zarine sneaks up on Perrin and brushes the back of his neck, making him jump a foot, which pleases her inordinately. Moiraine interrupts this to tell Zarine that this is where she and they part ways; Zarine replies that she thinks not. Moiraine asks if she is sure, softly, and Zarine swallows and says there’s nothing she or stone-face can, or rather will do that will stop her. Lan implies that she is wrong, and to his surprise Perrin finds that he is glaring at the Warder, and tells him to go easy. Moiraine smiles unpleasantly and tells Zarine that if she wishes to go with them, she may, but only under the terms Moiraine sets:
“You will swear by your Hunter’s oath to do as I say, to heed me, and not to leave us. Once you know more than you should of what we do, I will not allow you to fall into the wrong hands. Know that for truth, girl. You will swear to act as one of us, and do nothing that will endanger our purpose. You will ask no questions of where we go or why: you will be satisfied with what I choose to tell you. All of this you will swear, or you will remain here in Illian. And you will not leave this marsh until I return to release you, if it takes the rest of your life. That I swear.”
Zarine is uneasy, but then firms up and declares that she swears it by her Hunter’s oath. Moiraine nods, and tells Perrin that Zarine is now his responsibility. Both Perrin and Zarine yelp in protest, but Moiraine goes on serenely:
“It seems you have found Min’s falcon, ta’veren. I have tried to discourage her, but it appears she will perch on your shoulder whatever I do. The Pattern weaves a future for you, it seems. Yet remember this. If I must, I will snip your thread from the Pattern. And if the girl endangers what must be, you will share her fate.”
Perrin protests that he did not ask for this, but Moiraine ignores him. As they mount up, Zarine eyes Perrin and says he doesn’t look ta’veren to her, and if he tries to make her “his responsibility”, she will carve his ears. He growls, grabs her arm and hauls her up behind his saddle; she pretends not to be impressed by his strength. He tells her his name is Perrin, not “big man” or “blacksmith” or anything else.
“And mine is Faile, shaggy-hair.”
He snarls and boots his horse after the others; behind him, Zarine grabs his waist to keep from falling off, and he thinks that she is laughing.
Sigh. Neutral. I am being neutral!
Part of the problem is that I’ve never been a huge fan of the “Their Hate Is So TWUE WUV” romance plotline. This isn’t to say this phenomenon doesn’t exist in real life (it must, since things generally don’t become clichés unless there’s a reason for them to), but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to not find it irritating and headdesk-y. Which means I’m in trouble with regard to romantic relationships in WOT.
Actually, the only fictional example of it I can think of offhand that didn’t irritate me is Pride and Prejudice, and I’m not even entirely positive that counts, since Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are only bitches to each other until all the misunderstandings are cleared up; after that they are positively sappy in wuv. Which, needless to say, is not the case with Perrin and Faile.
All that being said, I must reluctantly admit that the trope is a somewhat legitimate method of dealing with two very strong-willed characters, at least one of whom is coming to terms with the knowledge that they are being forced into, essentially, a prophetically arranged marriage.
Chapter 42: Easing the Badger
Perrin hears a smithy as they head into Illian, and misses it. They ride though a square bounded by two palaces, almost identical in every way except one is slightly smaller, and Zarine tells him that the King told the Council of Nine that they could have any palace they wanted as long as it was not bigger than his, and they replicated his palace exactly, just making it two feet smaller in dimension. Loial is uneasy, and tells Perrin that Ogier from his stedding come to Illian often; Perrin tries to assure him Moiraine would not let them take Loial away, but wonders if he’s right. Loial nods, but says he does not like this place anyway. Perrin overhears Moiraine tell Lan that there is something wrong with the city, and notices that of the people he sees, maybe one in five wears expressions of anger or hatred, and don’t even seem to be aware of it. Lan leads them into what was ironically called the Perfumed Quarter, and goes to an inn called Easing the Badger. The common room is filled with workmen and sailors, listening to a girl with a very low-cut blouse sing a song that gets progressively more ribald. Zarine grins and tells Perrin she never knew a man his age who could still blush. The innkeeper, Nieda, gives a start of surprise when she sees Moiraine, and comes over, saying she never thought to see “Mistress Mari” here; haven’t her pigeons arrived safely? Moiraine tells her she is sure they did, and asks about anything unusual of late. Nieda says she supposes Lord Brend’s ascension to the Council of Nine qualifies; she had never heard of him before this winter, but he came to the city and was raised inside a week. He’s said to be a strong leader, but sometimes Nieda has strange dreams of him. Moiraine had been about to dismiss this news, but at this she hesitates, and asks what kind of dreams.
“Oh, foolishness, Mistress Mari. Just foolishness. You do truly wish to hear it? Dreams of Lord Brend in strange places, and walking bridges hanging in air. All fogged, these dreams do be, but near every night they do come. Did you ever hear of such? Foolishness, Fortune prick me! Yet, it do be odd. Bili does say he does dream the same dreams. I do think he does hear my dreams and copy them. Bili do be none too bright, sometimes, I do think.”
“You may do him an injustice,” Moiraine breathed.
Perrin realizes that Moiraine is frightened, and is thoroughly unnerved by this. Moiraine asks what ships sail for Tear tomorrow, and Nieda replies, none, by order of the Council; there is talk of war with Tear. Moiraine asks tightly for rooms and meals. As Perrin puts his things in his rooms, he reflects that seeing Moiraine frightened ought to have him terrified, but all he feels is excitement; he recognizes it as the way wolves feel when they are about to fight, and wishes that he felt afraid instead. The party reconvenes in the common room, where Perrin taunts Zarine about the fish, and Zarine tries to find out what Moiraine is so distracted about. Moiraine reminds Zarine that she swore to ask no questions, and they are silent for the rest of the meal. Afterwards, Perrin is listening to the girl singing another raunchy song when he smells something vile. He looks for the source, but sees nothing out of the ordinary. He looks at Moiraine and Lan, knowing they can sense Shadowspawn, but they are just sitting there.
He studied the room again. Bili against the wall, some men crossing the floor, the girl singing on the table, all the laughing men sitting around her. Men crossing the floor? He frowned at them. Six men with ordinary faces, walking toward where he was sitting. Very ordinary faces. He was just starting to reinspect the men listening to the girl when suddenly it came to him that the stink of wrongness was rolling from the six. Abruptly they had daggers in their hands, as if they had realized he had seen them.
“They have knives!” he roared, and threw the cheese platter at them.
The room erupts; Lan leaps up, Moiraine throws a ball of fire, and Perrin grabs a chair and rips off the back post, using the long piece of wood as a bludgeon. The men are all trying to reach Perrin, but between him and Lan, all six are down in moments. Moiraine and Zarine are both staring at Perrin. Moiraine says they were Gray Men, and after Perrin. Nieda scoffs at this, and Moiraine lets her believe they were merely Darkfriends; Nieda has Bili start dumping the corpses outside. The singer calls Moiraine “Aes Sedai” and nervously hopes she did not offend with her songs, and Perrin remembers that one ball of fire. Moiraine does not look pleased that everyone there knows what she is, and curtly tells the girl to sing whatever she likes before heading for the door. Lan intercepts her and they whisper together, but Perrin can hear every word. Lan reminds her that he pledged to protect her, and Moiraine says there are some things she must do alone. He starts to protest, and she cuts him off and tells him that should she die, he will know, and be compelled to return to the Tower, and he must take Perrin with him.
“It seems the Shadow has made his importance in the Pattern known to me, if not clear. I was a fool. Rand is so strongly ta’veren that I ignored what it must mean that he had two others close by him. With Perrin and Mat, the Amyrlin may still be able to affect the course of events. With Rand loose, she will have to. Tell her what has happened, my Gaidin.”
Lan says she talks as if she is already dead, and Moiraine answers that the Wheel weaves as it will, and leaves.
Easing the Badger: Nope, still too easy.
This whole thing with the Forsaken taking over cities and everyone dreaming about them as a result is a nice followup to an almost throwaway piece of knowledge Moiraine gave us back at the beginning of the book, when she told Perrin (in reference to Rand) that channelers can force their dreams upon others if they don’t take measures to prevent it. I suppose it’s meant to be an indication of the various Forsakens’ contempt for the people that they don’t even bother to take such precautions.
There are times when my habit of speed-reading is a real disadvantage; the first time I read this I had to go back and reread twice before I got where the Gray Men had come from. My problem is I always pay more attention to dialogue than description. Hangover from Hollywood, possibly.
Perrin gets a little moment of badassery here, with the chair. That really is pretty impressive.
I’m bemused by Moiraine’s instructions to Lan to take Perrin back to the Tower to help Siuan affect the course of events, like her own personal ta’veren Pattern-altering battery. Does she really think that would work?
Chapter 43: Shadowbrothers
The singer starts up again, but to Perrin’s disappointment her song is now completely innocuous. Lan comes over to Perrin and asks him how he knew the Gray Men were there; Perrin replies that he smelled them, trying to speak softly enough that Zarine won’t overhear. Lan tells him he’s going to look around outside, and asks Perrin and Loial to come with him; Perrin thinks it is an indication of how worried Lan is, that he actually asked for help. Zarine invites herself along as well, and Lan gives her a flat look but does not forbid it. Outside, he smells something that reminds him of fireworks.
Zarine tapped the chair leg in his hands with her knife blade. “You really are strong, big man. You tore that chair apart as if it were made of twigs.”
Perrin realizes he’s standing up straighter, and deliberately slouches; Zarine laughs, and he calls himself a fool. Lan has stopped to look at the top of a stone mounting block, and Perrin joins him to see that there are two giant pawprints pressed into the stone; the sulphur smell is strongest here. “Darkhound”, Lan says, and Zarine gasps. Lan explains that Darkhounds leave no prints on dirt or mud, but on stone, and this is the first one he’s heard of south of the Mountains of Dhoom since the Trolloc Wars. This one was hunting something, and now that it’s found it, it’s gone to tell its master. Zarine mutters about Shadowspawn, and says Perrin had better lead her to the Horn; Lan tells her that she still knows little enough that she can go, if she swears not to follow, and he advises her to do so. Zarine answers that she will not be frightened away that easily. Perrin asks why neither Lan nor Moiraine sensed the Darkhound; Lan says the answer to that question might well kill them all. He tells the others to get what rest they can; he is going to find Moiraine and tell her about the Darkhound. Perrin goes up to his room, closing the door in Zarine’s face, and tells himself he has to find out. He strips down to his breeches and lies down and falls asleep.
Perrin dreams of a tall, slender man holding a glowing sword, with kings and queens groveling before him; these seem strange, as if they are not his dreams at all. Then he finds himself in the wolf dream, with his bow and quiver instead of the axe. He calls for Hopper, but instead sees strange visions in the sky; Mat dicing with a man with eyes of fire, who Perrin knows is Ba’alzamon, and Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne stepping inside a cage and reaching up to spring the catch, while a woman in braids laughs at them, and a woman all in white laughs at her. Then Hopper shows up and again tells Perrin that he is too young to be here, and Perrin asks him if the things he sees here are real or not. Hopper’s answer is esoteric, and Perrin presses, asking about Ba’alzamon and Lanfear, who Hopper calls “Heartfang” and “Moonhunter”. He tells Hopper that Gray Men (“Notdead”) are after him, and so are Darkhounds.
Shadowbrothers! Hopper crouched, looking to either side as if he almost expected an attack. Long since we have seen the Shadowbrothers. You must go, Young Bull. Great danger! Flee the Shadowbrothers!
“Why are they after me, Hopper? You do know. I know you do!”
Flee, Young Bull. Hopper leaped, forepaws hitting Perrin’s chest, knocking him back, over the edge. Flee the Shadowbrothers.
He wakes from falling to find that Zarine is sitting in the room, watching him. She informs him that he talks and thrashes in his sleep.
“You are ta’veren,” she said as if ticking off a point. “Stone-face thinks those odd eyes of yours can see things his can’t. Gray Men want to kill you. You travel with an Aes Sedai, a Warder, and an Ogier. You free caged Aiel and kill Whitecloaks. Who are you, farmboy, the Dragon Reborn?” Her voice said that was the most ridiculous thing she could think of, but he still shifted uneasily. “Whoever you are, big man,” she added, “you could do with a little more hair on your chest.”
Perrin curses and pulls the blanket over himself, then remembers Min’s warning that he should run from a beautiful woman. He had thought she meant Lanfear, but she was only in his dream. He demands to know what Zarine is doing here and what she wants. Zarine laughs and says she is Faile, a Hunter; who did he think she was, the woman of his dreams? Then she wants to know why he jumped like that, but before he can say anything, the door crashes open and Moiraine is there.
“Your wolf dreams tell as truly as a Dreamer’s, Perrin. The Forsaken are loose, and one of them rules in Illian.”
I wonder why Perrin’s prophetic wolf-dreams were abandoned so early on. As far as I know there are none after The Shadow Rising. I suppose it might have been because they are too close to Egwene’s shtick?
(Incidentally, Word’s spellchecker recognizes “shtick” as a real word, which is kind of hilarious.)
I like Faile in this chapter, solely because she brings the self-realization goodness on Perrin’s behalf, to a degree. I think my biggest problem with her is that too often she acts in a manner that I feel degrades Perrin, whether through ignorance or cultural nonsense or sheer bloody-mindedness, and so I automatically like her better when she’s realizing that no, he’s actually way cooler than you give him credit for. And also under a lot of pressure, leave the poor boy alone already!
Chapter 44: Hunted
Perrin starts dressing, and asks if they’re leaving; Moiraine says dryly, unless he wants to get better acquainted with Sammael, yes. Zarine murmurs in shock, and Moiraine asks her if she still wishes to follow; Moiraine would not make her stay in Illian now, but will still accept her pledge to go another way than they. Zarine hesitates, and then refuses. She says she thinks that this story will be one for the ages, and she will be part of it. Perrin starts to argue with her, and Moiraine tells them to shut up and get ready to leave before Lord Brend finds out one of his Darkhounds is dead. They all pack up and come downstairs, to find Moiraine arguing with Nieda, who is resisting Moiraine’s attempt to convince her to leave Illian. Lan has a bay horse for Zarine to ride. Perrin doesn’t understand why Moiraine thinks Sammael doesn’t already know they’re here, because of the Gray Men; Moiraine replies that the Gray Men were not Sammael’s; he would not have sent both them and a Darkhound. She believes that the Darkhound followed her trail, but the Sammael likely does not know Perrin exists. Yet. Perrin still doesn’t get it, and is annoyed that he doesn’t.
“If he did not send the Gray Men, who did? If a Myrddraal, or another Forsaken…” He stopped to swallow. ANOTHER Forsaken! Light! “If somebody else sent them, why did they not tell him? They’re all Darkfriends, aren’t they? And why me, Moiraine? Why me? Rand is the bloody Dragon Reborn!”
Nieda and Zarine gasp, and Moiraine looks like she wants to skin him alive. She tells Zarine that she is sealed to them now, and may not ever turn back, and commands Nieda to flee Illian right this moment. Then she tells Perrin softly that there are many threads in the Pattern, and to take care one of them doesn’t strangle him.
Burn you, Moiraine, Perrin thought as he rode after them. Sometimes I do not know which side you are on.
They ride out into the rain, and are soon out of the city. Perrin is relieved at first when the rain begins to slacken, but Lan tells him that rain discourages Darkhounds; they will be in trouble once the weather clears. He is soon proved right when the rain stops, and they hear howls behind them. Perrin surprises himself by almost reaching out as if to wolves, but stops himself in time. Moiraine and Lan slow, and Perrin asks why; Lan replies that no one can outrun Darkhounds. They will have to find a place to stand and fight. Moiraine soon finds a treeless mound, and they scramble up it. Lan tells Zarine and Loial to hold the horses, and Perrin takes out his bow and strings it. Lan doubts it will do much good, but it is worth a try. Soon ten Darkhounds come galloping out of the trees; Perrin shoots three times, but only manages to bring down one. Then Moiraine says “now”, and balefires the Darkhounds. Perrin is staggered, and Zarine asks what that was.
“Something forbidden,” Moiraine said coolly. “Forbidden by vows almost as strong as the Three Oaths.” She took Aldieb’s reins from the girl, and patted the mare’s neck, calming her. “Something not used in nearly two thousand years. Something I might be stilled just for knowing.”
She hopes they were far enough that Sammael didn’t notice what she did, but doesn’t think he will try again; they were an annoyance to him, no more. She thinks he is after bigger game. Perrin asks, Rand?, and she nods, and says, or perhaps Mat, seeing as he blew the Horn of Valere. Zarine about falls off her horse, but Moiraine ignores her and says once again events outpace her. She looks at Perrin and says, and if they outpace me they might well trample you, and takes off for Tear.
Mat lounges by his and Thom’s campfire, gazing thoughtfully at the small wax-covered cylinder in his hand. He unsheathes his belt knife, and carefully slits open the tube. It is made of paper as he thought, but all that is inside is grayish black pebbles and dust. Thom sees what he is doing and yells is he trying to kill them both? Fireworks are next thing to Aes Sedai work. Mat mutters something about thinking the same thing about clocks, but that it isn’t so.
“You would be surprised, boy,” Thom said dryly. “Even a bad clock-maker is a fairly rich man, and they earn it. But a clock does not explode in your face!”
“Neither did this. Well, it is useless, now.” He tossed the handful of paper and little pebbles into the fire to a screech from Thom; the pebbles sparked and made tiny flashes, and there was a smell of acrid smoke.
“You are trying to kill us.” Thom’s voice was unsteady, and it rose in intensity and pitch as he spoke. “If I decide I want to die, I will go to the Royal Palace when we reach Caemlyn, and I’ll pinch Morgase!” His long mustaches flailed. “Do not do that again!”
“It did not explode,” Mat said, frowning at the fire. He fished into the oiled-cloth roll on the other side of the log and pulled out a firework of the next larger size. “I wonder why there was no bang.”
“I do not care why there was no bang! Do not do it again!”
Mat laughs and tells Thom not to worry, he knows what is inside them now and won’t be cutting any more open. Thom is in the middle of chewing Mat out anyway when they are interrupted by a party of four on horseback. One is a well-dressed woman, looking like a merchant with three guards. She dismounts and starts toward Mat, asking if he knows the way to an inn, and he grins and starts to rise when one of the men pulls out a crossbow. The woman shouts “Kill him, fool!”, and Mat throws the firework he’s holding into the fire and dives toward his staff. The firecracker goes off and a crossbow bolt lands right where Mat had been sitting, and then the crossbowman goes down with Thom’s knife in his chest. The other two go for Mat, but Thom gets one with another knife in the back, and Mat reaches his staff and takes out the third. Mat points at the woman, who is still walking toward him, and starts telling her off for being a thief when Thom throws a third knife and gets her in the throat. Mat springs to catch her as she falls, but knows it is already too late. Mat curses at Thom, saying they could have just turned her in, and there was no need to kill her. Thom shows him the dagger she had been holding, and asks if he should have waited till she planted it in Mat’s ribs. Mat covers her face with her cloak, and says quietly they had best be moving on; Thom has to prod him before he moves, though. Mat gets a closer look at one of the men, and tells Thom as they mount up that the crossbowman was a good swimmer; he made it ashore from the Erinin that night. He adds that he intends to have Elayne’s bloody letter out of his hands an hour after they reach Caemlyn; he can’t think of any other reason why these people would be after him so hard. Pretty girls always get him in trouble.
Heh, Faile learned more than she bargained for in this chapter. Too bad too sad, eh? Somebody already blew the Ho-orn, na na na na na naaa!
(Do Mat and Faile ever interact on-screen, so to speak? I know they must have at least met in passing in TSR, but I can’t recall what if anything they talked about together.)
Mat: playing with fire, ha. Thom is hilarious here.
Y’know, even though Mat and Rand have much the same hang-up about hurting women, Mat’s has never bothered me as much as Rand’s did. Perhaps because of the two of them, Rand’s hang-up is (a) the more vehement, and (b) the more likely to get him killed. Of course, this is because Rand is far more rigid in his notions of honor than Mat, who as I’ve said is secretly a smushy hero, but still retains a certain moral flexibility which as a person living in a gray world I am much more comfortable with.
Unswerving adherence to a code of honor is nice in theory, but it makes me very uneasy in practice; not least because absolutes of any stripe tend to blow up in your face sooner or later. As Rand will discover.
Chapter 45: Caemlyn
Mat has some vague memories of Caemlyn, but seeing it now is like for the first time. He remembers thinking it was too noisy before, but now it sounds to him “like a heartbeat, pumping wealth.” As they enter the city, he tells Thom there is no point in waiting; he will go straight to the Palace. Thom yawns and tries to convince him to go to the Queen’s Blessing first for meals and sleep, but Mat says he will meet Thom there. Thom tells him to be careful, and splits off. Mat rides toward the Palace, noting that his memories were not vague so much as full of holes; he would distinctly remember one particular building, but nothing surrounding it, for instance. He arrives at the Palace and rides up to the main gate, which is guarded by a dozen men under the command of an older man who reminds Mat of a pudgy rat. The officer demands to know what Mat wants, and Mat pulls out Elayne’s letter. He says he has come from Tar Valon bearing a letter, but before he can say more the officer cuts him off, ranting at him that Caemlyn will take no letters from Tar Valon until the Daughter-Heir is returned, and he had best be off before he is beaten within an inch of his life. Mat tries to explain that the letter is from Elayne, but the officer gets madder and madder until he yells at the Guards to seize Mat for a Darkfriend. Mat cannot believe that anyone would take such an order seriously, but all the Guards charge him, and he is forced to take off, easily outdistancing them on his horse. He curses himself for not saying Elayne’s name up front, and wonders at the apparent change of heart toward the Tower among the Guard. He finds his way back to the Queen’s Blessing, and goes into the kitchen, where he remembers the cook, Coline. He announces to her that he’s back.
She peered at him a moment, then nodded. “I remember you.” He began to grin. “You were with that young prince, weren’t you?” she went on. “The one who looked so like Tigraine, the Light illumine her memory. You’re his serving man, aren’t you? Is he coming back, then, the young prince?”
“No,” he said curtly. A prince! Light! “I do not think he will be anytime soon, and I don’t think you would like it if he did.” She protested, saying what a fine, handsome young man the prince was—Burn me, it there a woman anywhere who doesn’t moon over Rand and make calf-eyes if you mention his bloody name? She’d bloody scream if she knew what he is doing now—but he refused to let her get it out.
He asks where Thom and Basel Gill are, and is directed to the library, along with instructions to tell Gill she said to clean the drains. He goes to the library, and finds Thom and Gill there, playing Stones. Gill comments Mat was pretty sickly the last time he was there; Mat replies he’s fine now, and asks if that’s all Gill remembers. Gill winces and says that all things considered, he probably shouldn’t remember more than that. Mat remarks that the Guard doesn’t seem to like the Tower anymore, and Gill says that Morgase is in quite the temper over whatever happened to Elayne; Lord Gaebril has kept her from sending anyone to the headsman, but Gill thinks that Gaebril has made her attitude toward the Tower worse than before. Thom puts in that Gaebril is Morgase’s new advisor, and has sent Gareth Bryne home to his estate. Gill says that if Mat mentioned the White Tower to the Guards he was lucky to escape unscathed; Gaebril has already replaced half of them with his own men. Some say he will marry Morgase, but Gill doesn’t like the notion. Mat says he will just have to avoid the Guards, then, and put the letter right into Morgase’s hands. Thom exclaims, he didn’t deliver it yet?, and Gill wants to know if it says Elayne and Gawyn are coming home. Mat lies that he doesn’t know what the letter says, but doubts Elayne is returning; he thinks she means to be Aes Sedai. He tells them about what happened at the Palace gates, and Gill advises him to wait until the guard changes, and try again, and knuckle his forehead a little.
“Burn me if I will. I pull wool and scratch gravel for nobody. Not to Morgase herself. This time, I’ll not go near the Guards at all.”
Gill realizes what he means to try, and tells him he’d need the Dark One’s own luck to escape alive.
“I am lucky, Master Gill,” Mat said. “You just have a good meal waiting when I come back.” As he stood, he picked up the dice cup and spun the dice out beside the stones board for luck. The calico cat leaped down, hissing at him with her back arched. The five spotted dice came to rest, each showing a single pip. The Dark One’s Eyes.
“That’s the best toss or the worst,” Gill said. “It depends on the game you are playing, doesn’t it.”
He advises Mat to go gamble or something, and let Gill get the letter to the Palace; Mat tells him Coline wants him to clean the drains, and tosses him a gold mark, saying to have a room ready for him when he returns. He heads out, and hears Gill saying to Thom that he always thought that boy was a rascal; where did he come by gold? Mat thinks to himself, he always wins, that’s how; he just needs to win once more.
I love how Mat is constantly evaluating the value of everything, and yet when it comes down to it does not actually care about keeping any wealth he gains. Of course, this is an attitude he can afford, since unlike most people he has the luxury of knowing he can sit down at any given game of chance and walk away richer than he sat down.
I still can’t get over how much fun it is to read about Mat, post-Healing. He’s like a breath of fresh snarky air, truly. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, since Mat as a character is practically tailor-made to appeal; everyone loves an honorable scoundrel. Cf. Robin Hood (steals from the rich to give to the poor), Danny Ocean (who only lied about being a thief, and is himself a Robin Hood character), and Han Solo (arguably the most iconic loveable rogue in modern pop culture).
Chapter 46: A Message Out of the Shadow
Mat returns to the Palace on foot, and looks for the wall Rand had talked about. He soon finds it, and scrambles up, thinking it was careless of them to make it so easy. He then almost falls off before recovering. He drops down into the garden inside, and sneaks around avoiding guard patrols, grinning and thinking this is easier than stealing applecakes at Sunday, and more fun; he sticks a flower behind his ear and finds his way to the Palace wall. He slides along between the wall and the trellises against it, searching for a way in, and freezes under a window when two more guards patrol past. He overhears two men in the room beyond the window. One, who calls the other “Great Master” in an obsequious voice, is saying something about someone being on their way to Tear. The other answers that it will serve “him” right if three untrained girls ruin his plans, and asks if there is any word of “the boy”. Obsequious answers no, but adds that one of the girls is Morgase’s “nit”. Mat almost turns at this, but catches himself before the guards see him. He’s lost a little of the conversation:
“—has been far too impatient since regaining his freedom,” the deep voice was saying. “He never realized the best plans take time to mature. He wants the world in a day, and Callandor besides. The Great Lord take him! He may seize the girl and try to make some use of her. And that might strain my own plans.”
“As you say, Great Master. Shall I order her brought out of Tear?”
“No. The fool would take it as a move against him, if he knew. And who can say what he chooses to watch aside from the sword? See that she dies quietly, Comar. Let her death attract no notice at all.” His laughter was a rich rumble. “Those ignorant slatterns in their Tower will have a difficult time producing her after this disappearance. This may all be just as well. Let it be done quickly. Quickly, before he has time to take her himself.”
Obsequious protests that the girls may be difficult to find; Great Master cuts him off and says that he, Comar, will bring him those girls’ heads, or pray for him to take Comar’s. Comar agrees hastily, and the guards finally pass, freeing Mat to pull himself up to look inside the room. He sees only one man, barrelchested and with a white streak in his beard, and realizes when the man mutters to himself that this was Comar and not his master. Mat decides the time for skulking is past, and wriggles out into the open. He walks in full view through the garden until he runs into a young officer. The officer starts to draw his blade, but Mat immediately announces he has a letter from Elayne, and shows the seal on it. The officer asks how he got in the Palace, and Mat tells him about the wall; the officer mutters “that bloody garden wall again”, and gives his name as Tallanvor. He tells Mat to give the letter to him, and Mat counters that he promised the Daughter-Heir to give it to no one but Morgase herself. Tallanvor whips his blade out and puts it to Mat’s neck, and promises he’ll kill him if he tries anything. Mat grins innocently and assures Tallanvor he is a loyal Andorman; Tallanvor stares at him a moment, then tells him to come along, and take that stupid flower out of his hair. Mat follows Tallanvor into the Palace, thinking that perhaps a man who revealed a plot against Elayne might get a fat purse out of it. They come to a courtyard where Morgase and various hangers-on are disporting themselves, including a handsome dark-haired man at her shoulder. Mat admires how beautiful she is as Tallanvor introduces them, and elects to bow instead of kneeling as Tallanvor did. Morgase asks, so he brings a letter from her “scapegrace child”; where is she, then? Mat replies Tar Valon; Morgase reads the letter, and tells the man next to her, Gaebril, that Elayne has been raised to the Accepted, wasn’t that wonderful, but then her foul mood comes back. Mat decides it’s now or never, and starts to tell her what he overheard, but Gaebril tells him to be silent, and plucks the letter out of Morgase’s hand. She glares at him, but he puts a hand on her shoulder, and her anger seems to evaporate. He comments that the Amrylin oversteps herself again.
Mat had no trouble holding his tongue. Luck. It was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Sometimes I don’t know if it’s good or bad. The dark man was the owner of the deep voice, the “Great Master” who wanted Elayne’s head. She called him Gaebril. Her advisor wants to murder Elayne? Light! And Morgase was staring up at him like an adoring dog with her master’s hand on her shoulder.
Gaebril asks Mat what he can tell them of this, and Mat spins a tale about being a farmboy, Thom Grinwell, from Comfrey near Baerlon, who went to visit his sister Else Grinwell, a novice in the Tower, and that Elayne heard he was going to Caemlyn and gave him a gold mark to deliver a letter for her. He knows nothing else. Gaebril studies him a moment, and Morgase suddenly speaks up, asking Gaebril not to put anyone else to the question. Gaebril acquiesces, and Morgase asks “Thom” if Elayne looked well when he saw her.
“Yes, my Queen. She smiled, and laughed, and showed a saucy tongue—I mean…”
Morgase laughed softly at the look on his face. “Do not be afraid, young man. Elayne does have a saucy tongue, far too often for her own good. I am happy she is well.” Those blue eyes studied him deeply. “A young man who has left his small village often finds it difficult to return to it. I think you will travel far before you see Comfrey again. Perhaps you will even return to Tar Valon. If you do, and if you see my daughter, tell her that what is said in anger is often repented. I will not remove her from the White Tower before time. Tell her that I often think of my own time there, and miss the quiet talks with Sheriam in her study. Tell her that I said that, Thom Grinwell.”
Uncomfortably, Mat says he doesn’t think he will likely return to Tar Valon; he’s needed back on the farm. Gaebril laughs and tosses him a purse, saying he should see the world before going home to his cows. Mat smiles weakly and thanks him, and as Tallanvor takes him out, hears Gaebril telling Morgase about how she has a claim to the Cairhienin throne through her marriage to Taringail Damodred, and it is time to take advantage of that; Mat notices that Morgase is frowning, but nodding as much as everyone else.
This is the second time that an interlude in the Caemlyn Palace marks a shift into high gear for the plot, though not quite as awesomely, in my opinion, as the one in TEOTW.
Good thing that Mat’s the one of Our Heroes who happens to be a competent liar, eh? I suppose that’s some kind of accomplishment, to be able to tell bald-faced lies to a Forsaken’s face and get away with it. Probably helps, of course, if the liar in question is not aware that it’s a Forsaken he’s lying to.
Speaking of which, I have no idea if I knew Gaebril was a Forsaken at this point, first time though. I mean, I must have, right? It’s completely obvious – now. Hmm. I am sure, though, that I didn’t connect him with either of the two guys Perrin sees arguing with Ishy in TAR waaay back at the beginning of the book. Oh, well.
All Ashore! But make sure you’re back on the ship in time for Wednesday’s Chapters 47-52, or the boat leaves without your tourist ass. Bon voy-ah-gee!