Heigh-ho, WOTters! Welcome to another Wheel of Time Re-read! Because I know y’all can resist everything except temptation.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 37 and 38 of A Crown of Swords, in which we learn the importance of (a) being earnest, and (b) bringing the right fashion accessory to a knife fight.
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.
Now that that’s all out of the way, don your coat and gloves, say something appropriately Victorian, and Bunbury off to read the post!
Chapter 37: A Note from the Palace
Mat hurries through the Palace to where the carriages are assembling, trying not to start every time a serving woman smiles knowingly at him, or admit to himself that Tylin is making him feel helpless. Vanin, Nalesean and most of the Redarms are by the carriages, as is Elayne, Reanne Corly, and seven more women from the meeting he had interrupted, all but Reanne wearing a red belt. Elayne is reassuring Reanne et al that the other Aes Sedai’s faces will only attract attention in the Rahad, which is why they are not coming; Mat eyes her gold-embroidered silk dress and finds this rather ironic. Reanne asks diffidently why the other Aes Sedai think they are lying, and one of the red belts (Tamarla) adds that Sareitha Sedai called her a liar to her face before Reanne shuts her up. Mat is distracted, thinking of how Tylin had had her serving women grab him in the hall and drag him to her apartments.
The bloody woman treated him like a toy! He was not going to put up with it anymore. He was not. Light, who was he trying to fool? If they did not grab this Bowl of the Winds and get out of Ebou Dar, Tylin would be pinching his bottom and calling him her little pigeon again tonight.
Elayne explains to Reanne that it’s about their ages; with some hesitation, she tells Reanne that no Aes Sedai since the Breaking has lived as long as the Knitting Circle (the Kin’s ruling council) claim—in Reanne’s case by over a hundred years. Reanne is astounded, and Mat decides the conversation is idiotic and interrupts, asking where everyone is and when they can get going. Elayne glances at Reanne, and Mat thinks with satisfaction that she is trying to figure out how to save face in front of the Kin without breaking her promise to him. She tells him Thom, Juilin, Aviendha and Birgitte are watching Carridin, and Nynaeve will be there shortly, and Mat notes she’s decided to go with “snooty Daughter-Heir.” She adds that he really doesn’t need to come along, and could “enjoy himself in the Palace” instead; horrified at the notion, Mat demands to know what the point of watching Carridin is, since they aren’t staying long enough to settle him; they are getting the Bowl and leaving. Reanne and Co. frown balefully at him, and Elayne struggles with herself before answering that they cannot leave Ebou Dar until they have used the Bowl, and it might take half a week or more to figure out how to use it. Mat is aghast, and argues that surely the Bowl can be used anywhere, and don’t they need to get back to Egwene? And also, doesn’t she want to get back to Caemlyn so Rand can give her the Lion Throne? Elayne’s face darkens and she seems about to explode, but they are interrupted at that point by a maid, Laren (one of those who had accosted him the night before), with a basket for Mat, which has red flowers woven around the handle and breakfast for Mat, who “must maintain his strength.” Mat flushes.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather remain here?” Elayne asked. “I’m sure Tylin would enjoy your company for breakfast. The Queen said she finds you wonderfully entertaining and courteously compliant,” she added in a doubtful tone.
Mat fled for the coaches with the basket in one hand and his ashandarei in the other.
“Are all northern men so shy?” Laren said.
Over by the Redarms, Mat is appalled to find Beslan sitting there, who thinks that Mat is going to “find more fun” for him in the Rahad, and therefore is coming along. Nalesean complains about getting dragged off just when Sea Folk women show up, and Mat asks what he means. Beslan tells him that Nynaeve had brought back a dozen or so of them, and Mat remembers that Elayne had told him (reluctantly) about Nynaeve’s errand, if not why. He also wonders where the two Redarms he had sent with her have gotten to, but is derailed from this thought when he sees Nynaeve walking toward them arm in arm with none other than Lan. Mat’s jaw drops, and he thinks that if it were anyone but Nynaeve he would call her expression “moon-eyed and dreaming.” Then Nynaeve gives a start, and tells Lan to go join the other men peremptorily; he bows and obeys, and she marches off yelling at everyone to get moving. Mat pounces on Lan, telling him that Mat and Rand thought he was dead, and asking where he’s been and what happened and why is he letting Nynaeve order him around.
The stone-faced Warder seemed to consider which question to answer. “Nynaeve and I were married last night by the Mistress of the Ships,” he said finally. “The Atha’an Miere have several… unusual… marriage customs. There were surprises for both of us.” A small smile touched his mouth, if nothing else. He shrugged slightly; seemingly that was all the answer he intended to give.
Nalesean and Mat are flabbergasted by this news, and Mat thinks he would have rather “stuffed a rabid fox down his shirt” than marry anyone, least of all Nynaeve. Lan then tells him that more importantly, Mat’s men are dead, balefired when Moghedien attempted to kill Nynaeve; Nynaeve didn’t want him told, but Lan decided it would be best that Mat know what might be facing them in the Rahad, though Nynaeve believes Moghedien must be long gone. Nalesean is appalled, Beslan enthralled, and Mat just mutters “Those bloody flaming women.” Lan hopes coldly that Mat is not including his wife in that, and Mat hastily backtracks, and thinks it’s just like Nynaeve to almost get him killed by her husband while failing to mention a Forsaken is in town. Beslan asks if he’s going to read his mother’s note, which Mat does reluctantly:
Mat, my sweet,
I am having your things moved to my apartments. So much more convenient. By the time you return, Riselle will be in your old rooms to look after young Olver. He seems to enjoy her company.
I have seamstresses coming to measure you. I will enjoy watching that. You must wear shorter coats. And new breeches, of course. You have a delightful bottom. Duckling, who is this Daughter of the Nine Moons I made you think of? I have thought of several delicious ways to make you tell me.
Mat realizes this means that unless he manages to get Elayne and Nynaeve to leave today, everyone in the Palace will know about him and Tylin by tonight. He tells the others that the Queen thinks he needs new clothes, and pulls his hat over his eyes in case he starts crying.
Argh, the dissonance, it burns.
Yes, I’m talking about the Mat/Tylin thing, what else. Again, this is so clearly being played for comedy, and I so would love to be able to turn my brain off and enjoy it as such, and I just can’t. Having Mat “kidnapped” and dragged to Tylin’s rooms would be a fine sexy game to play if both participants were actually playing, but, well.
There was a lot of back and forth in the comments last time this was discussed about exactly to what extent Mat is an “unwilling” partner in Tylin’s “seduction” games, with several people pointing out that a badass fighter such as Mat could certainly have defended himself if he’d really wanted to. And I am not contesting that, actually; I just think (and other commenters have pointed out) that this is completely missing the point.
Sure, if Mat had been absolutely determined to keep Tylin from him at any cost, he could have done it. He would have had to hurt Tylin to do it, of course—at the very least, he would have had to wrestle her down to disarm her, and given Tylin’s personality I doubt she would have gone down very easily. And this is to say nothing of what such an episode would do to her pride and her temper—which, as we have seen, is considerable.
Still, he could have done that, yeah. And then he would get to watch his entire mission fall down around his ears, and see all his promises broken, since the only three scenarios Mat would logically be able to suppose would result from manhandling and/or injuring a ruling sovereign would be Mat either fleeing Ebou Dar as a fugitive, thrown in prison, or executed. Some of these, obviously, are worse outcomes than the others, but none of them allow him to do what he’d sworn to do—namely, safeguard Elayne and get her to Caemlyn. And we know how Mat is about promises—and about his sense of self-preservation.
And, not to mention, his Two Rivers hang-ups about hurting women. Mat is not quite as self-destructive about this as Rand is, but up to this point, the only woman he’s ever hurt (killed) deliberately is Melindhra—and that was only in the last extreme of self-defense, against a Darkfriend who was about to kill him. And even so, he still beats himself up about it.
So yeah, technically Mat could have defended himself, physically, from Tylin. But you are a fool if you think physical force is the only effective form of coercion out there. In all other ways—politically, strategically, and ethically—Mat had no choice in the matter.
So, in conclusion, blagh.
Other than that I don’t have a lot to say about this chapter, so let’s move on to something more awesome, shall we?
Chapter 38: Six Stories
Mat is in a fury of impatience as the carriages wend their way to the river, but eventually they reach it, and Mat gets out of his carriage and marches over to Nynaeve and Elayne to give them a piece of his mind about keeping secrets about Forsaken; Lan follows, and Mat amends his plan to leave Nynaeve out of it.
Nynaeve was standing on the landing, tying on her blue-plumed hat and talking back up into the coach when he reached it. “ . . . Will work out, of course, but who would think the Sea Folk, of all people, would demand such a thing, even just in private?”
“But, Nynaeve,” Elayne said as she stepped down with her green-plumed hat in her hand, “if last night was as glorious as you say, how can you complain about—?”
The women see Mat and Lan, and Nynaeve goes bug-eyed and bright red; Lan looks at her with no expression, while Elayne directs a frown at Mat for some reason. Wringing her hands, Nynaeve begins to stutter an explanation, but Lan interrupts to point out that they are in public, and she can say whatever she wants in public. Nynaeve nods vigorously and tows Lan off to the boats, and Mat prepares to light into Elayne, but she pokes him in the chest, scowling, and tells him that Reanne has explained to her and Nynaeve the significance of the red flowers on the basket Tylin gave him. Mat flushes even redder than Nynaeve, and Elayne hisses that it’s true then, and informs him that all her promises to him are abolished, to a man who would force his attentions on any woman, much less a Queen.
“Me force my attentions on her!” he shouted. Or rather, he tried to shout; choking made it come out in a wheeze.
Seizing Elayne’s shoulders, he pulled her away from the carriages a little distance. […] “You listen to me! That woman won’t take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! She has more hands than any six women I ever met. She threatened to have the serving women undress me if I didn’t let her—” Abruptly, what he was saying hit him. And who he was saying it to. He managed to close his mouth before he swallowed a fly. He became very interested in one of the dark metal ravens inlaid in the haft of the ashandarei, so he would not have to meet her eyes. “What I mean to say is, you don’t understand,” he muttered. “You have it all backwards.”
Elayne flushes a little herself, and says solemnly that that is very bad of Tylin. Then her lips twitch, and she asks Mat if he’s ever tried practicing smiles in the mirror, as she’s heard women who attract the attention of kings do. Then she starts giggling and walks off, saying something about “a taste of his own medicine.” Mat considers throwing a tantrum, but remembers he has made promises, and that one of the Forsaken might be out there. He catches up to Elayne, who is still giggling, and pulls off his medallion and holds it out to her, telling her she and Nynaeve will have to decide which of them wears it, but he wants it back once they leave Ebou Dar. Elayne stops dead and stares at him, and he tells her he knows all about Moghedien (a dockworker falls into the river in surprise at his words), and he doesn’t think much of the fact that she and Nynaeve kept it from him even after it got two of his Redarms killed, but if the Forsaken shows up she’ll go for one of them, so they should take the medallion. Elayne shakes her head slowly and takes the medallion, examining it, and asks if he knew what she would give to study it. She goes on that he troubles her, and then puts the medallion back on him, saying that she will not carry it while Nynaeve and Aviendha don’t have one, and neither will they.
That faint blush returned to her cheeks. “I am sorry I laughed at you.” She cleared her throat, looking away. “Sometimes I forget my duty to my subjects. You are a worthy subject, Matrim Cauthon. I will see that Nynaeve understands the right of… of you and Tylin. Perhaps we can help.”
“No,” he spluttered. “I mean, yes. I mean… That is… Oh, kiss a flaming goat if I know what I mean. I almost wish you didn’t know the truth.” Nynaeve and Elayne sitting down to discuss him with Tylin over tea. Could he ever live that down? Could he ever again look any of them in the eye afterward? But if they did not… He was between the wolf and the bear with nowhere to run. “Oh, sheep swallop! Sheep swallop and bloody buttered onions!” He nearly wished she would call him down for his language the way Nynaeve would, just to change the subject.
Her lips moved silently, and for an instant he had the strange impression that she was repeating what he had just said. Of course not. He was seeing things; that was all. Aloud, she said, “I understand.” Sounding just as if she did. “Come along, now, Mat. We can’t waste time standing in one spot.”
He gapes as she walks off, and decides he will never understand women in general and noblewomen in particular. They get on the boats (Nynaeve quickly begins throwing up), and Beslan is mournful that he won’t get his fun; with seven Wise Women in tow, he opines that even in the Rahad no one will try anything, and “what’s the fun of kissing a woman without the risk she’ll decide to stick a knife in you?” Mat is dismayed that he is apparently getting so “sober” that Beslan’s idea of fun doesn’t even remotely appeal to him, and Nalesean sighs in anticipation of boredom. They reach the Rahad, and Beslan’s prediction is soon proved right: even murderous cutthroats are falling all over themselves to be courteous to the Wise Women. Nalesean makes a pointed remark about how little sleep he’s gotten, and Mat asks irritably if he wants to die in bed. They reach one particular building, and Elayne is very satisfied and Nynaeve very disgruntled, for some reason, that the building has six stories. Mat sends half the Redarms around the back to guard, though Nynaeve tells him there’s no need, and Mat comments that maybe Moghedien likes back doors. Nynaeve is furious at Lan for telling Mat, though she tries to deny it; Elayne is done with their drama and darts upstairs impatiently, followed by Vanin and all but two of the Kin (Sumeko and Ieine). Nynaeve and Lan have a fight about whether Nynaeve is angry at him as Mat tries to get past them, until they are interrupted by two Aes Sedai Mat doesn’t recognize, who have at least two dozen hired thugs with them. Sumeko and Ieine curtsy, but Mat knows trouble when he sees it; Nynaeve says faintly that they are Black Ajah, and have her shielded. Falion smiles and declares this nonsense, and tells Nynaeve there is someone who will be “overjoyed” to see her, as she thinks Nynaeve is dead. Lan abruptly flings himself bodily at the Black sisters, knocking them down, and all hell breaks loose as Mat, Beslan, Nalesean and the remaining Redarms battle the Darkfriend thugs in the narrow quarters while Nynaeve faces Falion and Ispan; Mat can tell from the medallion that they are channeling even though they don’t move. Nynaeve snaps at the Kin to fight, but they just look horrified; then a woman screams upstairs, and Nynaeve tells Mat there’s trouble upstairs. Mat hesitates, and Nynaeve begs him please, and Mat curses and pulls himself out of the fight to run up to the top story. He bursts into a nightmare scene, with women sprawled everywhere, including Elayne, and Vanin down and bleeding. One of the Wise Women, Janira, runs toward him, screaming, and an ordinary-looking man in a gray coat grabs her from behind and snaps her neck.
[Mat’s] eyes went from Janira’s crumpled corpse to Elayne. He had promised to keep her safe for Rand. He had promised. With a cry, he launched himself at the killer, ashandarei extended.
Mat had seen Myrddraal move, but this fellow was quicker, hard as that was to believe. He just seemed to flow from in front of the spear, and, seizing the haft, he pivoted, flinging Mat past him five paces down the hall.
Mat rallies and goes for the man again just Nalesean enters and attacks from the other side, but the man rips Nalesean’s throat out as if it were nothing. Mourning Nalesean, Mat crashes into the man, knocking all three of them down, and stabs him under the arm three times, but the man flips over somehow and grabs Mat.
The man smiled at him. With a knife sticking out of his side, he smiled! “He wants you dead as much as he wants her,” he said softly. And as if Mat was not holding him at all, his hands moved toward Mat’s head, driving Mat’s arms back.
Mat pushed frantically, threw all of his weight against the fellow’s arms to no avail. Light, he might as well have been a child fighting a grown man. The fellow was making a game of it, taking his bloody time. Hands touched his head. Where was his flaming luck? He gave a heave with what seemed his last strength—and the medallion fell against the man’s cheek. The man screamed. Smoke rose around the edges of the foxhead, and a sizzle like bacon frying. Convulsively, he hurled Mat away with hands and feet both. This time, Mat flew ten paces and slid.
Mat doesn’t understand what happened, but knows the man can’t be human, and decides it’s not worth the risk to avenge Elayne and Nalesean, and plans to escape. The “man” pulls Mat’s knife out of his side and hurls it at Mat; Mat catches it and notes with dismay that there is no blood on the blade. Then he sees that Elayne is moving, and so does the creature; it smiles and turns toward her.
Sighing, Mat tucked the useless knife into its scabbard. “You can’t have her,” he said loudly. Promises. One jerk broke the leather cord around his neck; the silver foxhead dangled a foot below his fist. It made a low hum as he whirled it in a double loop. “You can’t bloody have her.” He started forward, keeping the medallion spinning. The first step was the hardest, but he had a promise to keep.
The thing backs away from the medallion warily, then runs into another room; Mat follows, and sees the thing has disappeared even though there is no other exit. Elayne calls out to him weakly and he goes back to her. She is hurt, but not badly, and tells him they were like “chickens in a box with a weasel”; channeling just melted off the man. She adds that she saw what Mat did.
“Thank you, Mat. I apologize for everything I ever did or thought.” She sounded as though she really meant it. “I keep building up toh toward you,” she smiled ruefully, “but I am not going to let you beat me. You are going to have to let me save you at least once to balance matters.”
“I’ll see what I can arrange,” he said dryly, stuffing the medallion into a coat pocket. Toh? Beat her? Light! The woman was definitely spending too much time with Aviendha.
Elayne sees all the wounded, and yells for Nynaeve; Nynaeve appears and tells her “no need to shriek like a cat” before shrieking (like a cat, Mat thinks) down the stairs to “hold her tight” and not let her get away like the other one. Then she sees the bodies and hurries to begin Healing Tamarla. Lan and Sumeko enter, and Sumeko dashes to Reanne and begins doing something that seems to astound Nynaeve, though she tries to be casual about it. Elayne goes into the next room to look for the Bowl, and a terrified Ieine enters, frogmarching Ispan before her; Ispan is sobbing in terror. Beslan and the surviving Redarms follow, and Harnan tells Mat that the rear guard was attacked by a man who “moved like a snake” and killed six Redarms altogether. Mat sees that all the women are up and Healed except Janira and Melore, who are dead. Elayne bursts back in excitedly with a large bundle, exclaiming that they have the Bowl of the Winds.
“In that case,” Mat announced, “we are bloody well getting out of here now.”
The FDA would like you to know that this chapter contains 150% of your recommended daily value of Awesome.
Also, it is relatively high in protein for a WOT scene—as long as we define “protein” to be “bloody gore and guts,” of course. We haven’t had this much red meat since Dumai’s Wells!
Okay, yes. I am gross. AND PROUD OF IT.
Anyway. Let’s all give a cheer for Master Matrim I’m So Badass I Catch Knives In Midair, Thankyouverymuch Cauthon, shall we? Well, you don’t have to, but I’m gonna.
Part of the Awesome, no doubt, was the relief of getting to see Mat back in his element—namely, kicking ass and snarking about it – after such a long stretch of humiliation and belittlement. But a far larger part of it, for me anyway, was getting to see Elayne see it—and acknowledge it, in no uncertain terms.
One of the larger frustrations WOT engenders in me is how often the various Lightside characters fail (or are not allowed) to see the awesomeness of each other, and the misunderstandings and lack of appreciation that results. It is Very Frustrating. Of course, this is deliberate, and makes these rare moments of honesty, whether expressed verbally or through action, all the more satisfying as a result.
At least, this is what I continue to tell myself. Personally I wouldn’t mind a wee bit more payoff in this way than we have gotten to date, but then that’s just not the series I’m reading, is it? Ah well.
That being said, this chapter is doubly satisfying on that score, in that we see Mat’s (eventual) reward for his unguarded moment of honesty to Elayne re: Tylin, and then later for his unqualified acts of heroism in fighting the gholam. You have to give it to Elayne: she may be snooty and overly quick to judge, but when she’s proven wrong, she owns up to it—and she doesn’t get all bitter or resentful over it, either. That’s a rarer talent than you might think.
In short, I flat-out rejoiced to see this détente between them, and am only sorry that we have never gotten to see any potential fruits from it, since they are shortly to be separated and (to date) not seen each other since. I hope someone somewhere keeps a tally of how many characters never get to see each other again before the series ends, because wow there are a lot of reunions I’m wishing for. Elayne and Mat are not the highest on the list, by any means, but they’re up there.
Also, her memorizing his profanity was hilarious.
(Although, “bloody buttered onions”? Really? And what the hell is “sheep swallop,” anyway? Never mind, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.)
So, in conclusion (sorta), yay Mat awesome.
Gholam: one of the scarier monsters ever introduced in WOT, and perhaps for that very reason, also one of the most under-utilized. Convenient that it got fixated on the one character who actually has a defense against it, eh? Presumably it and Mat are due for one last mano a mano before the series ends. (Or, mano a… cosa. Whatever.) At least in the meantime the fans can have some geeky fun with the concept.
Oh, and bye, Nalesean! I never liked your name, but that didn’t mean you deserved to die like that. Sorry, man.
Last note. Lan and Nynaeve: HA!
I had no idea, the first time around, what all that business about being “in public” meant (for the very good reason that Jordan hadn’t explained it yet), but still, that was hilarious, even if the full significance of her exchange with Elayne is not clear until later. “Glorious,” eh? I snicker semi-pruriently in your direction!
Heh. This is something I will discuss in more detail later, but I had to get the chuckle in here.
Oh, that is nonsense! But nevertheless, true, for here we end our post. Or something; Oscar Wilde quotes are harder to work into this sort of thing than one might think. But at least I’ll be thinking in a British accent for a while! See you Friday!