I was a fool to ever leave your side, Wheel of Time Re-read! I’m glad we’re back together, hey-hey.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 15 and 16 of Winter’s Heart, in which metallurgical riddles are posed, grevious fashion crimes are committed, and we learn Reason #246 in a series for why taking shortcuts through alleys is never a good idea.
But mostly, we have a joyful reunion. And it feels so good!
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related stuff in general.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, let’s reminisce on precious moments like this, and have a post!
Chapter 15: In Need of a Bellfounder
Mat sits uncomfortably in Aludra’s wagon, his injuries from the wall collapse still paining him, and continues his campaign to get the secret of fireworks out of her, which he’s been doing ever since he found out she was with Valan Luca’s show outside Ebou Dar. He tries pointing out that the Seanchan don’t care about fireworks when they have damane to do Sky Lights for them, but Aludra is unimpressed by this. He points out, somewhat tactlessly, that she’s been ousted from the Guild anyway, and then comments that he wagers she’ll never see another Illuminator again anyway. At this, Aludra demands to know what he’s heard; Mat tries to evade the question, but Aludra threatens him with her pestle, so he reluctantly tells her that the chapter house in Tanchico tried to resist letting the Seanchan enter, with the result that half the compound exploded and all the Illuminators were made da’covale. Aludra curses them for their arrogant pride.
“And what would you do if I gave you the fireworks? Hurl them at the Seanchan from the catapult, I suppose?” Her snort told what she thought of that.
“And what’s wrong with the idea?” he asked defensively. A good field catapult, a scorpion, could throw a ten-pound stone five hundred paces, and ten pounds of fireworks would do more damage than any stone. “Anyway, I have a better idea. I saw those tubes you use to toss nightflowers into the sky. Three hundred paces or more, you said. Tip one on its side more or less, and I’ll bet it could toss a nightflower a thousand paces.”
Aludra mutters something about “pretty eyes” and talking too much that Mat doesn’t get. He points out that she could think of it as revenge on the Seanchan for what they did to the Guild, which surprises a look of respect from her, but she answers that she’s thought about this a lot more than he has.
“I will set you the puzzle, since you are so clever, no?” she said, arching an eyebrow. Oh, she definitely was amused by something! “You tell me what use I might have for a bellfounder, and I will tell you all of my secrets. Even the ones that will make you blush, yes?”
Mat bets himself that he would blush less than she thinks, but cannot think of any reason why she would need a bellfounder. Aludra tells him to think about it and come back in a couple of days, and shoos him out. As he leaves she laughs and compliments him on his “pretty bottom,” and Mat blushes furiously, cursing the outfits Tylin has forced him to wear (after hiding all his old clothes).
Snowy lace at his wrists almost hid his bloody hands unless he was careful, and more spilled from his neck almost to his flaming waist. Tylin liked lace on a man. His cloak was a brilliant scarlet, as red as his too-tight breeches, and edged with golden scrollwork and white roses, of all bloody things. Not to mention a white oval on his left shoulder with House Mitsobar’s green Sword and Anchor. His coat was blue enough for a Tinker, worked in red and gold Tairen mazes across the chest and down the sleeves for good measure. He did not like recalling what he had been forced to go through to convince Tylin to leave off the pearls and sapphires and the Light alone knew what else she had wanted. And it was short, to boot. Indecently short! Tylin liked his bloody bottom, too, and she did not seem to mind who saw it!
Mat slams the wagon door and limps through the circus campsite, scowling. He notes with interest the large number of horses Luca has, which he’d been allowed to keep by the Seanchan in return for sheltering one of their animal trainers; he debates having Vanin steal some of them, though he knows he’s in no shape to ride yet. He grouses to himself, imagining that everyone else including Rand and Perrin were likely having a grand time while he was stuck being Tylin’s toy.
He grimaced and rubbed at his forehead as a faint rush of colors seemed to swirl inside his head. That happened lately whenever he thought about either man. He did not know why, and he did not want to know. He just wanted it to stop. If only he could get away from Ebou Dar. And take the secret of fireworks with him, of course, but he would take escape over the secret any day.
He walks over to where Beslan and Thom are drinking with Luca, but sighs and detours to extract Olver from a cluster of women with whom Olver is flirting outrageously; one of them gooses Mat before he can drag Olver away.
“You could get yourself in deep trouble talking to women that way,” Mat told him. “Women like a man to be quiet, and well-mannered. And reserved. Reserved, and maybe a little shy. Cultivate those qualities, and you’ll do well.”
Olver gave him a gaping, incredulous stare, and Mat sighed. The lad had a fistful of uncles looking after him, and every one except Mat himself was a bad influence.
Luca, who detests Mat for no reason Mat can fathom, flounces off as soon as Mat approaches, claiming he has to get ready for a possible visit from the High Lady Suroth, an event which Mat considers highly unlikely. He asks Thom if Luca’s agreed yet to let them go with the circus when it leaves; Thom tells him he has, albeit at a ridiculously high price, but that Luca doesn’t intend to leave Ebou Dar until spring. Mat tries not to consider what Tylin will have him doing by spring, and pretends it doesn’t matter. Beslan comments that his mother will not be pleased with him for helping “her pretty” leave the city, and Mat winces. Olver demands to return to the Palace (and Riselle’s bosom), and Mat groans.
It was not his leg, this time, or the fact that every man in Ebou Dar seemed to be choosing the bosom they rested their heads on except for Mat Cauthon. Those bloody dice had just started tumbling in his head again. Something bad was coming his way. Something very bad.
HOORAY, MAT IS BACK.
*does a happy dance*
I was thrilled, the first time around, to turn the page and see that dice icon after having been denied my favorite WOT character for so long. Like, to the point where I put the book down for a moment so I could clap. So much yay. I was not nearly so upset about Perrin’s disappearance.
Of course, that might have been because I didn’t read TFOH until after the first seven books had already been published, so I only had to miss Perrin for the length of time it took me to plow through TFOH and the first half of LOC (i.e. about four days), and then he was back again. Whereas I’d been Mat-deprived at this point for almost four YEARS, which is just mean. But either way, a very happy moment for me all around, this chapter was.
I immediately remembered why I had missed him so much too, which is that reading him almost never fails to be amusing. Even when he’s being an ass (and sometimes he definitely is being an ass), his continuous snarky internal monologue to himself is virtually guaranteed to be good for at least a couple of good chuckles. And considering how much darker this series gets as time goes on, good chuckles are something to be cherished.
Besides being thrilled, I remember I was also quite indignant at realizing that Mat is having to recover from his injuries the old-fashioned way. I know, of course, that this is because Mat avoids the One Power like the plague, but this is one area where I really think he’s being stupid about it. Sorry, but if it’s a choice between icky magic cooties or possibly walking with a limp for the rest of my life, I’ll take the cooties, thanks.
And yes, I know there are no Aes Sedai left in Ebou Dar anyway, but surely Tylin could have drummed up a damane via Suroth or something to Heal her “pretty” (Grr), right?
…Actually, do damane even know how to Heal? Do we ever see that they are taught how to do it, or see a damane Heal someone? I don’t think we do!
Okay, never mind then. But still, it sucks that Mat has to rely on boring inefficient Nature to heal when there are perfectly good Unnatural shortcuts all over the place. Bah, I say!
Speaking of Tylin (loathe though I am to do so), I was forced to quote the entire description of Mat’s outfit because I am in AWE of how unbelievably hideously ugly it sounds based on the color scheme alone. And that’s before you get to the lace! Tylin thinks this looks good? What is wrong with her?
Well, other than the obvious, of course.
She must be stopped, y’all. Seriously, Tim Gunn would hunt that woman down if he lived in Randland, just to save us all from her unholy reign of sartorial terror, and no court in the world would fail to acquit him. Lord in heaven.
Although, it was kind of hilarious that it’s obvious (though not to Mat himself, of course) that the reason Luca hates him is because Mat’s clothes are even tackier (and thus, in Luca’s twisted brain, awesomer) than his own. Heh.
Aludra: I’ve always liked her relationship with Mat, how she totally calls him on his bullshit but also clearly really likes him, even if Mat is a tad too dense to completely get this. I mostly left out of the summary all Mat’s mental commentary on how Aludra baffles him from a romantic perspective, which I found amusing because Mat is so one of those people who unconsciously expects that all flirting and/or romantic interest is binary—either on or off, all or nothing—because that’s how they themselves are, and the notion that some people put out ambiguous signals (sometimes deliberately, even) is alien to them. Mat’s a bit of a prat in certain ways, but you do have to admit that in general he doesn’t flirt unless he means it.
Bellfounder: So, the answer to Aludra’s riddle (cannon, or as she will end up calling them, dragons) is screamingly obvious to me now, but I really can’t recall whether I guessed the answer myself on first reading, or if I just saw it on the Internets before I’d had the chance to think it through. For my ego’s sake I’m going to assume the former.
Mat’s mention of catapults piqued my interest, because to date I don’t think we’ve ever seen one used in the series. The closest we get, as far as I remember, is when Mat made a passing reference to “siege engines” when outing himself as a military jeenyus to Lan in TFOH.
…Wait, no, my bad. Perrin used them in the Two Rivers in TSR, didn’t he? With One Power enhancement, even!
So, never mind again. I would still be surprised at the dearth of them other than that, but I guess once you’ve upgraded to fighters who can call down lightning and also explode you, contraptions that toss rocks might seem a little passé.
Olver: Hah. Too funny. If the joke ain’t broke…
Chapter 16: An Unexpected Encounter
Mat, Thom, Beslan and Olver walk back to Ebou Dar, slowly in consideration of Mat’s leg, and Mat frets over the dice and what they might portend; he barely notices that the harbor is full of ships. The gates are patrolled by sul’dam and damane pairs and decorated with over a dozen heads of criminals, three of them Seanchan.
Two placards marked REBELLION hung below the heads of the woman who had been Mistress of the Ships to the Atha’an Miere and her Master of the Blades.
Mat overhears Thom murmuring something about “risky business” to Beslan, but ignores it. They emerge from the gate tunnel and stop dead in amazement at the streets, which are jam-packed with what Mat realizes are Seanchan farmers and artisans and livestock.
“The Return,” Thom muttered, and if Mat had not been right at his shoulder he would not have heard. “While we were taking our ease with Luca, the Corenne has arrived.”
Mat now recalls all the ships in the harbor, and wonders how many more had yet to unload their passengers, and shivers. He had thought the Return was about an army, but realizes that this would actually be harder to fight than soldiers. He tells the others to go on without him, ignoring Beslan’s caution against him trying to buy passage on a ship again, and then remembers the “risky business” thing. He tells them to forget whatever plot they are cooking up before it gets them—and Mat—beheaded. Thom obliquely requests his help on their scheme, pointing out he has luck, and a certain “flair for the adventurous.”
Mat grunted sourly. Why did people always want him to be a hero? Sooner or later that sort of thing was going to get him killed.
He tells Beslan that the Seanchan aren’t going anywhere, and he should wait for Rand to deal with them, trying to ignore the color swirls every time he thinks of Rand. Beslan retorts that Suroth says she will give Tylin rule over all Altara, not just Ebou Dar, but his mother had to grovel and swear fealty to some woman an ocean away to keep her throne, which makes it lies in Beslan’s opinion. He reminds Mat of how badly the Whitecloak War went for the Whitecloaks against Altarans, and Mat reminds him about Listeners. Beslan growls that Mat might change his tune once the Seanchan get to Andor, and marches off.
“Cool his temper if you can, Thom. And cool your own while you’re about it. I would think by this time you’d have had enough of shaving blind.”
“My head is cool and I’m trying to cool his,” Thom said dryly. “He can’t just sit, though; it is his country.” A faint smile crossed his leathery face. “You say you won’t take risks, but you will. And when you do, you’ll make anything Beslan and I might try look like an evening stroll in the garden. With you around, even the barber is blind.”
Mat doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Thom and Olver leave, and Mat wanders to a few taverns in search of a dice game (having learned his lesson about gambling with Tylin). His clothes, however, draw too much attention and the taverns are too crowded anyway, and finally Mat decides angrily that it’s time to go back and “be the Queen’s bloody pet!” He heads back to the Palace, ducking through alleys to avoid the crowds, and is almost there when he trips on something and falls, just as someone drops down on top of him, landing on his shoulder and toppling off.
Mat’s eyes were accustomed to the dim light, enough for him to make out a slender, nondescript man. A man with what appeared to be a large scar on his cheek. Not a man, though. A creature he had seen rip out his friend’s throat with one bare hand and take a knife out of its own chest and throw it back at him. And the thing would have landed right in front of him, in easy reach, if he had not tripped.
Mat hurls his staff at the gholam, which it avoids easily, but it delays the thing long enough for Mat to get his medallion out. The gholam tries repeatedly to reach him, and each time Mat drives it back with a burning blow from the medallion, but his wounds are slowing him, and Mat knows he’s not going to last much longer. Then someone shouts “He’s down this alley! Follow me! Hurry! He’ll get away!” The gholam tells Mat he is ordered to avoid notice save by “those I harvest,” and so Mat will live for a little longer. It runs, and Mat chases it, hoping the medallion could kill it as well as wound it, but then watches in shock as the gholam squeezes itself through a hole in the wall less than a foot square.
“I don’t think I have ever seen the like,” someone said quietly beside him, and Mat gave a start at realizing he was no longer alone. The speaker was a stoop-shouldered, white-haired old man with a large hooked nose planted in the middle of a sad face and a bundle slung on his back. He was sliding a very long dagger into a sheath beneath his coat.
“I have,” Mat said hollowly. “In Shadar Logoth.” Sometimes bits of his own memory he thought lost floated up out of no where, and that one had just surfaced, watching the gholam. It was one memory he wished had remained lost.
The man asks what took him to Shadar Logoth, but Mat ignores the question to ask where his friends are that he was shouting to. The old man shrugs that he thought it would scare off Mat’s assailant, but after seeing that, he thinks maybe he and Mat both have the Dark One’s own luck.
Mat grimaced. He had heard that too often about himself, and he did not like it. Mainly because he was not sure it was not true.
The old man introduces himself as Noal Charin, and Mat is about to invite him back to stay at the Palace when he realizes the dice still have not stopped, and wonders what could be waiting for him that’s even worse than the gholam.
Okay, so, wow. I kind of completely forgot this chapter existed until just now.
I completely forgot that Mat meets up with the gholam again! How could I have forgotten that? Man.
Objectively this bit doesn’t quite rate as a Moment of Awesome, I think, but I’m giving it an honorable mention just because I forgot it, and so it was like reading something new, which is a rare (and awesome) event for a WOT fan. Gave me quite a turn, actually, when I realized what Mat was dealing with, heh. And how it got away, too, which, whoa.
Speaking of which, I rather wish Mat had never compared the gholam’s antics to Mordeth’s in Shadar Logoth, if for no other reason than that I then wouldn’t have had to FAQishly sift through the inanity that was the “Is Mordeth a gholam?” debate. (Short answer: No. Short reason: Because that is Silly.)
As an aside, I never really understood why the gholam refers to “drinking people’s blood” as “harvesting.” Those are two really… not-alike terms, there, is what I’m saying; there’s no logic to it at all that I can see. I mean, I guess… in a “gathering in” sense? Sort of? I still don’t see it.
I don’t think this has any real significance, by the way; it just bugs me in a kind of, um, vocabularian pedant way.
(Look Ma, I made a word!)
Noal: Hi, Jain Farstrider! Nice of you to join us again! Thanks for saving my favorite character’s life, you’re a peach. We’ll talk more about you later.
La Résistance: I have to say, my sympathy is with Beslan on this one. One of the things I find most infuriating about the Seanchan plotline in general is how pretty much everyone they conquer (so far) totally falls for their integration tactics and just kind of rolls over and lets it all happen, despite the heinousness and general insanity of their social structure. That those tactics (as Mat observes re: the Corenne) are unquestionably brilliant, and that the Randlanders’ capitulation to the path of least, ahem, resistance is realistic only makes me more annoyed. So I have to admire Beslan here even as I agreed with Mat that his rebellion was hosed from the start.
Which is why it was kind of a sad moment for me in TGS when Beslan finally chucked in the towel and drank the Seanchan Kool-Aid—at least to all appearances. There’s a possibility he’s faking, or so I tell myself. I kind of hope so, because even if it’s a doomed effort, it would be really nice if at least one character had the courage of his convictions on this score.
…Like, er, the Mistress of the Ships, I suppose. Which is, admittedly, not exactly a ringing endorsement for sticking to your underground rebellion guns, considering where she ended up. That bit with the heads-on-pikes was a bit of a shock to me too; I mean, damn. That’s one way to effect government turnover, I guess, but I’m betting it’s not what the Sea Folk would have preferred.
Speaking of which, bah, because that now clears the way for frickin’ Harine, whom I personally would much rather give an atomic wedgie than a throne (or the Sea Folk equivalent). Because she is a tool. Blargh. Well, that whole thing will take four more books to even start to happen anyway, so whatever.
Annnd that’s about what I got for this one. Have a lurvely weekend, my chickens, and come back for more yummy Mat goodness next week!