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WHAT A DEAL AMIRITE
Today’s entry covers Chapter 53-55 of Towers of Midnight, in which we have a rescue.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the upcoming final volume, A Memory of Light.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 53: Gateways
Pevara walks with Javindhra and Mazrim Taim as he shows off how the Black Tower will soon be impregnable. Javindhra brings up the issue of bonding full Asha’man again, and Taim repeats that he will only allow soldiers and Dedicated to be bonded. He mocks them for their continued “consideration”of the matter, and wonders if they do not worry about the other Aes Sedai waiting to bond Asha’man as well. Javindhra dismisses them as “rebels,” and Taim points out that the “rebels” have a larger force than they do; Pevara is made uneasy at the reminder that their party is only six sisters, but reminds herself that she is no easy meat.
“I once saw a skyfisher dying on the city docks of Illian,” Taim said. “The bird was choking, having tried to swallow two fish at once.”
“Did you help the sorry thing?” Javindhra asked.
“Fools will always choke themselves when they grasp for too much, Aes Sedai,” Taim said. “What matters that to me? I had a fine meal of it that night. The flesh of the bird, and of the fish.”
He leaves, with an off-handed warning that now that the perimeter is up, they must tell him if they wish to go outside it. Pevara tells Javindhra that she mislikes their situation, and thinks they should just bond a few Dedicated and go. Javindhra disagrees, almost insolently, and opines that Taim will bend soon on bonding full Asha’man. Pevara thinks this wildly optimistic, and wonders at the other woman’s reversal on the mission, since originally she hadn’t wanted to come at all. She tells Javindhra that the Black Tower is turning into “a cage,” but Javindhra dismisses this, reminding Pevara that they have gateways. Pevara gives up and parts ways with the other woman, fuming. The men of the Black Tower still unnerve her after all this time.
Those dark expressions, like the eyes of executioners while waiting for the next neck to line up before them. The way some of them muttered to themselves, or jumped at shadows, or held their heads and looked dazed. She stood in the very pit of madness itself, and it made her skin creep as if covered in caterpillars. She couldn’t help quickening her pace.
She goes to the hut she shares with Tarna Feir, deciding to get Tarna to help convince Javindhra, since Tarna had agreed last night that they should leave. She tells Tarna this, as well as about Taim’s new restriction on their movements, but to her surprise, Tarna dismisses it as “nothing.” She adds that she has reconsidered her position on leaving, as there is “much to learn here.”
The woman looked up, and Pevara froze. There was something different in Tarna’s eyes, something cold. She’d always been a distant one, but this was worse.
Tarna smiled, a grimace that looked completely unnatural on her face. Like the smile on the lips of a corpse. She turned back to her writing.
Something is very, very wrong here, Pevara thought.
She makes a hasty excuse and leaves the hut, noting that previously unmanned positions on the wall around the village now have channeling men at them. She moves to a secluded copse of trees and attempts to weave a gateway, but the weaves fall apart. She tries other weaves, and they all work, but the gateway weave will not, and Pevara feels chills as she realizes they are trapped.
Perrin wishes Mat luck, and Mat grins and remarks that he’s good with luck. Perrin hopes that Moiraine does indeed turn out to be alive, and warns Mat that he expects them to return safely. Thom gives him an amused look.
“Is every last farmboy I know going to transform into a nobleman by the time this is through?”
“I’m no nobleman,” Mat said.
“Oh?” Thom asked. “Prince of the Ravens?”
Mat pulled his hat down. “People can call me what they want. That doesn’t mean I’m one of them.”
“Actually,” Thom said, “it—”
“Open the gateway so we can get going,” Mat said. “No more nonsense.”
Grady creates the gateway to near the tower, and repeats Perrin’s instructions to open one in the same spot each day at noon. Mat, Noal, and Thom go through with a wave from Perrin. Perrin debates letting Rand know about Moiraine, but decides it would be cruel to raise his hopes before they knew for sure she was alive. He notes that he can still faintly feel the wound in his leg from where Slayer wounded him, even though it had been fully Healed. Faile approaches, and Perrin notes with amusement that she had deliberately missed Mat’s sendoff, as she does not approve of him. Faile tells him the army will be ready within the hour, and it is. Grady, Neald, the Aes Sedai and Edarra link to form a huge gateway to the Field of Merrilor, and Grady is astonished at the sheer number of troops gathered on the other side. Faile asks Perrin if they’ll be enough to stop Rand from breaking the seals as Egwene wanted.
“Oh, I told her I needed to be there,” Perrin said. “But I never said I was going to take Egwene’s side. I trust Rand, Faile, and it seems right to me that he’d need to break the seals. It’s like making a sword. You usually don’t want to forge one out of the pieces of a broken and ruined weapon. You get new good steel to make it. Rather than patch the old seals, he’ll need to make new ones.”
“Perhaps,” Faile said. “But this is going to be a fine line to walk. So many armies in one place. If some side with Rand and others with the White Tower…”
Nobody would win if they turned against one another. Well, Perrin would have to make sure that didn’t happen.
Perrin’s troops begin to march through; Perrin instructs Aravine, now his camp steward, to set them up somewhere apart from the other armies already present. He walks down the columns as they go through, noting that Galad and Berelain have managed to put the Mayeners and the Whitecloaks next to each other. He returns the salutes of Alliandre’s Ghealdanin troops, to her pleasure, and notes that somehow even without wolf senses most of the troops had seemed to sense that he had finally stopped resenting his leadership role. He tells Alliandre that he will need her to send some men back to Jehannah to gather any able-bodied fighters left there and bring them too, as Berelain and Tam are doing in Mayene and the Two Rivers, respectively.
Light, but he wished he could let them stay behind, on their farms, to live in peace while the storm raged elsewhere. But this really was the end. He could feel it. Lose this fight and they lost everything. The world. The Pattern itself. Facing that, he’d field boys who could barely swing a sword and grandfathers who had trouble walking. It twisted his stomach to admit it, but it was the truth.
When he reaches the Two Rivers men, Jori Congar approaches him to apologize for “foolish words” he’d said re: the Berelain thing, just as a dozen other Two Rivers men had in the last few days. Perrin tells him it’s all right, and Jori smiles and assures Perrin they’d follow him anywhere. He leaves, and Perrin blesses Faile for straightening that out. He goes to the gateway himself and steps through.
Come quickly, Rand, he thought, colors blossoming in his vision. I can feel it starting.
Mat looks at the metal tower and thinks seeing it is one of the few of his own memories from after Shadar Logoth he remembers. Noal is dressed in clothes of an unfamiliar cut to Mat, and Thom is back in his gleeman’s garb; he had commented that it felt like what he should wear to see Moiraine. They step to the tower, and Thom draws an inverted triangle with a wavy line through it with his knife on the side. A portal appears, but it is too small, and Thom has to redraw the triangle large enough for them to walk through.
“And so we begin the game that cannot be won,” Thom said, sliding the knife back into its sheath.
“Courage to strengthen,” Noal whispered, stepping forward, holding up a lantern with a flickering flame. “Fire to blind. Music to dazzle. Iron to bind.”
“And Matrim Cauthon,” Mat added. “To bloody even the odds.” He stepped through the doorway.
He finds himself in an off-kilter black room, with glowing white steam rising from vents in the corners, and four corridors leading off in each direction. Thom and Noal follow him, stumbling. Thom comments it doesn’t look like either of the places Mat had described. Noal tries going back through the triangular opening, and returns to report it sealed him out and he had to draw the triangle again to get back in. This relieves Thom, but Mat is not so convinced, remembering how the rooms had shifted before. They see that the mist actively bends away from the flame of their torches.
“Don’t ask me,” Mat said, scowling. “I said this place doesn’t make sense. If that’s the oddest thing we see here, I’ll be a Murandian’s mustache. Come on.”
He picks a hallway and they begin walking. They come to a window, and Mat realizes they must be in one of the three spires he’d seen from the window of the Aelfinn’s domain on his first visit. As they walk, they all feel like they are being watched, but see no one. They reach the end of the corridor to find a chamber identical to the first except without the triangular entrance. They pick another direction and go, Noal making a map. They reach another identical chamber, and on impulse, Mat turns and leads them back the way they came, to find that the first chamber is now empty, the triangular entrance gone. Mat hears faint laughter, and then one of the Eelfinn appears, saying they have broken the bargain. Mat answers that there is no bargain entering this way, and they can bring what they want. The fox offers to take them where they want if they will lay down their iron, music, and fire. Mat refuses, and has Thom play a tune on his flute. The fox glares, and Mat says they won’t leave their fire unless the Eelfinn take them directly to Moiraine. The fox says that is impossible, but offers to lead them half the way to “the Chamber of Bonds.” Mat begins singing along with the flute, and the fox yawns and lays down to sleep.
Thom lowered the flute from his lips, looking impressed.
“Nicely done,” Noal whispered. “I had no idea you were so fluent in the Old Tongue.”
Mat hesitated. He had not even realized they had been speaking in it.
Noal wants to know how they will find their way without a guide. Mat reasons that the “Chamber of Bonds” must be where he’d met the Eelfinn leaders, and remembers they’d said that once you were there, they had to bargain with you. He also remembers they’d said he was wise to ask for a way to leave, but cannot remember what that way actually was. He says there must be a correct path, and Noal says the odds against them finding it are incredible.
“Odds,” Mat said, holding out his hand. He opened it, revealing a pair of dice. “What do I care for odds?”
He says there are twelve total possible rolls, leaving three for each choice of passageway. Noal points out that you can’t roll a one with two dice, and Mat promptly proves him wrong when one die stops on one pip, and the other lands on edge, caught between two tiles. They follow the corridor thus chosen, and at the next chamber Mat rolls a nine, which sends them back the way they came. The sleeping fox is gone when they get there. Noal offers that he could have woken, and Mat counters, or it’s a different room. He rolls another nine, and they go back the same way again.
“[…] this place has rules.”
“Rules have to make sense, Mat,” Noal said.
“They have to be consistent,” Mat said. “But they don’t have to follow our logic. Why should they?”
It made sense to him.
They get to the other chamber, and Mat again rolls a nine, so they go back the same way again. Noal is arguing how foolish this is when they reach the other end and emerge in a totally different room, with a white floor, black columns and no visible ceiling. The columns are lit with glowing yellow stripes, and Mat tells them he’s been in this room before.
“We’re on track. If Moiraine still lives, then she’ll be somewhere past here.”
First things being first, can I just state for the record that it is RIDICULOUS that anyone remotely still believes Taim is a Good Guy? What does he have to do, twirl his moustaches and tie a flapper-esque damsel to a railroad track? HE IS EVIL, PEOPLE, HOW HAVE YOU NOT GOTTEN THIS MEMO. Sheesh.
Seriously, we’re talking like weapons-grade malevolence here! The man is not subtle! Come ON. How do you not notice this? Unless you’re also Recently Evil™, of course, in which case I guess you get a pass. In a weird way.
Speaking of which, Tarna! NOOOOOOOO! *shakes fist*
Granted, it’s not like she was my favorite character or anything, but along with Pevara she was that rarest of WOT fauna: a non-sucky Red sister. And such rare and elusive creatures should be protected and cherished, Team Jordan, not chucked willy-nilly into the gaping maw of M’Dickhead’s 13×13 McEvilmaker (pat. pending)!
I am divided, at the moment, whether Javindhra is also on the Recently Evil train along with Tarna or not. This chapter makes it rather ambiguous; sure, she could be evil, or she could just be unwittingly supporting Taim’s evil plan of evil because she is of the much more frequently observed variety of Common Sucky Red, and therefore sucks on general principle.
(I was briefly tempted to call Evil on her simply because of how incredibly annoying her name is to type, but then I decided that might be a tad judgmental on my part. Just a tad.)
Anyway, the now lack of gateways from the Black Tower definitively signals to me that we are all caught up here, timeline-wise. And also fills me with dread, because eeeek. I’m pretty sure that, Aviendha’s Future of Suckage aside (and, you know, that whole overall apocalypse thing), the Black Tower cliffhanger that TOM leaves us with is one of the things I am most looking forward to seeing resolved in AMOL. Go, Pevara, go!
As far as Perrin’s section goes, my radar was (perhaps overzealously) pinged by the random observation he made about the wound he received from Slayer still hurting him even though it had been Healed. I dunno, that was just kind of odd. I’m not sure what the significance there is (or even if it has any significance), but if you ask me the observation was far too out of left field for it not to mean something. But what that is, I have no idea. Glad I could be of help!
Also: Ah ha! I knew I was right that Perrin would be on Rand’s side!
That gleefully said, I’m really hoping I’m not going to end up in a position where I have to be pissed because it ends up Supergirls Vs. Superboys at Merrilor, with all the girls, then, on the wrong side. Because that’s just not cool. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, because I’m pretty sure that Nynaeve, at the very least, will be solidly in Rand’s camp, but the possibility that I’m wrong is kind of setting my teeth on edge. Seriously, people, let’s not do that.
And then we come to the sequence which will be occupying our attention for the rest of this post, which is, more or less, Through the Looking Glass and What Matrim Found There.
Because, while obviously there is a whole smorgasbord of cultural/mythological references getting dog-piled in here, the dream-logic/Alice in Wonderland vibe of *Finnland really cannot be denied, at least not in my opinion. You know, just with less chess and poetry, and more gore and death and stuff. Whee!
In that vein, if the hypothetical movie/TV show/miniseries of WOT ever happens, I envy the lucky hypothetical set designer who gets to go hog wild on designing the Aelfinn/Eelfinn world, because I bet that would be all kinds of freaky fun to play with. (To say nothing of the costume and makeup designers.)
[Mat] carried his pack slung over one arm and his ashandarei in his hand. He had practiced with the new iron counterweight on the butt, and was pleased.
The Eelfinn had given him the weapon. Well, if they dared stand between him and Moiraine, then they would see what he could do with their gift. Burn him, but they would.
Nice clue right there on the actual significance of the ashanderei. And yet, I never saw it coming. More on that later.
Chapter 54: The Light of the World
Things move in the shadows of the five-pointed room, and Mat instructs Thom to play more music. Noal finds a melted lump of slag on the floor of the chamber which Mat realizes must be the remains of the twisted doorway destroyed on the docks at Cairhien, and says they’ll have to bargain their way free. He shouts into the darkness for the foxes to show themselves, thinking that they’d let him go the first time only to draw him back, like cattle to the slaughter. An Eelfinn appears then, calling Mat “son of battles,” offering to lead them where they want to go, for a price. Mat answers that they will not bargain until they are in the Chamber of Bonds. Another fox says their “comforts” (fire, music, etc.) will not slow them, and Mat, Noal and Thom are soon surrounded by Eelfinn, taunting and baiting them. The three fight back with iron, wounding some, but cannot gain ground, and the Eelfinn close in with bronze weapons. Mat throws a nightflower, blinding the foxes momentarily, and spins around to choose a direction at random in which to run. Thom declares this insane, but it works, and they end up in another corridor.
Birgitte, you were right, he thought. You probably walked past the corridor you needed several times, never knowing it was only a few feet away.
Never choose the card a man wants you to. Mat should have realized that. It was one of the oldest cons in creation.
They walk until they arrive at a suddenly appearing doorway, and step through into the eight-pointed chamber Mat remembered from his first trip. There is a woman floating in the center, cloaked in mist, and Mat realizes it is Moiraine.
Mat felt a surge of emotions. Worry, frustration, concern, awe. She was the one who had started this all. He had hated her at times. He also owed her his life. She was the first one who had meddled, yanking him this way and that. Yet—looking back—he figured that she had been the most honest about it of anyone who had used him. Unapologetic, unyielding. And selfless.
She had dedicated everything to protecting three foolish boys, all ignorant of what the world would demand of them. She had determined to take them to safety. Maybe train them a little, whether they wanted it or not.
Because they needed it.
Mat tries to reach into the mist to grab her, but the mist is blazing hot and he jumps back. Thom steps forward and reaches into the mist anyway, ignoring the pain to pull her free. He says she is alive, and takes off the strange bracelet she’s wearing to put it in his pocket, remarking it looks like a ter’angreal. A voice interrupts to tell them it is an angreal, a powerful one, and it can be part of her price if they wish. They turn to see the eight pedestals in the room are now occupied by Eelfinn, and Mat warns Noal and Thom to watch their tongues. Mat declares that the Eelfinn must abide by any bargains made here, and one answers that the bargain has been arranged.
“Burn you, what bargain?”
“A price must be paid,” one said.
“The demands must be met,” said another.
“A sacrifice must be given.”
Mat demands a way out as part of the bargain, hedging the demand with conditions to try and cover any possible trickery, including that the foxes cannot “knock us unconscious or try to kill us or anything like that.” The Eelfinn look disgruntled, and one asks what he will pay for such expensive demands, but another whispers that “the price has been set.”
And it had been. Somehow, Mat knew. A part of him had known from the first time he had read that note. If he had never spoken to the Aelfinn that first time, would any of this have happened? Likely, he would have died. They had to tell the truth.
They had warned him of a payment to come. For life. For Moiraine. And he would have to pay it. In that moment, he knew that he would. For he knew that if he did not, the cost would be too great. Not just to Thom, not just to Moiraine, and not just to Mat himself. By what he’d been told, the fate of the world itself depended on this moment.
Well burn me for a fool, Mat thought. Maybe I am a hero after all. Didn’t that beat all?
“I’ll pay it,” Mat announced. “Half the light of the world.” To save the world.
“Done!” one of the male Eelfinn announced.
The foxes leap down and surround Mat, ecstatically sniffing at him, and Mat yells at Noal and Thom not to do anything. He growls at the foxes that this is the last they will get of him, and one of them steps forward and rips Mat’s left eye from its socket. Mat screams in agony, falling to his knees.
“The savor!” one Eelfinn exclaimed.
“So long!” cried another.
“How it twists around him!” said the one who had taken his eye. “How it spins! Scents of blood in the air! And the gambler becomes the center of all! I can taste fate itself!”
Mat continues to scream before finally forcing himself to stop, and the Eelfinn collapse around the room in a seeming drunken stupor. Noal and Thom dash to Mat, but he only picks up his hat and ashanderei and forces himself upright, defiantly ignoring the pain. Thom says he should have been the one to pay, but Mat replies that it had to be him; the snakes had told him so. (“Bloody snakes.”)
“To save the world?” Thom asked, looking down at Moiraine’s peaceful face, her body wrapped in the patchwork cloak. He had left his pack on the floor.
“She has something yet to do,” Mat said. The pain was retreating somewhat. “We need her, Thom. Burn me, but it’s probably something to do with Rand.”
They leave the chamber, and the corridor beyond is straight, as Mat had demanded. Mat tries to ignore the agony as they walk, contemplating how his fighting would have to compensate for the missing eye, and wondering at how tenderly Thom was holding Moiraine. They reach the chamber with the melted doorway slag again and continue on; they see Eelfinn lurking in the shadows, but none attack, and Mat begins to feel proud of the bargain he made. Then they enter a corridor with black, interlocking, scaly triangles on the floor. Noal says his Old Tongue is rusty, but that he’d understood most of what Mat had said to the Eelfinn back there, and that part of the bargain was that the foxes couldn’t hurt or kill them.
“You said foxes, Mat,” Noal said. “The foxes can’t hurt us.”
“And they let us pass.”
“But what about the others?” Noal asked. “The Aelfinn? If the Eelfinn can’t hurt us, are the Aelfinn required to leave us be as well?”
The shadows then resolve into dozens of figures with slit-pupiled eyes, armed with swords, advancing upon them, and Mat yells for them to run.
So, Egwene Dreamed it – twice:
Mat, placing his own left eye on a balance scale. [TDR]
…Mat throwing dice with blood streaming down his face, the wide brim of his hat pulled down low so she could not see his wound, while Thom Merrilin put his hand into a fire to draw out the small blue stone that now dangled on Moiraine’s forehead. [TFOH]
And Min saw a viewing of an eye on a scale around Mat all the way back in TEOTW, and now it’s come to pass, twelve books later.
That’s… pretty cool, y’all. Not particularly surprising, at this point, but cool.
The “balance scale” aspect of the prophecies isn’t literally represented, of course, but that’s pretty efficiently covered in how Mat is weighing the cost of his eye versus what it may cost if he doesn’t sacrifice it. Also, we don’t yet know, obviously, how Moiraine’s reunion with Rand is going to go, but if there isn’t also some aspect of “restoring balance” to that meeting I’ll eat Mat’s hat.
The Odin parallels with Mat’s eye sacrifice have been discussed ad nauseum by this point, so I won’t belabor them further, but I did notice with amusement that at least one of the versions I’ve read of the story of Mimir’s Well mentions that after he lost his eye, Odin would wear a hat pulled low over his face when he went out so as not to be so easily recognizable. It’s a little tidbit, but it tickled me. So I share it!
Also, if you’re in the mood to give yourself a raging headache, you can always try contemplating how Mat knew what price he had to pay the Eelfinn because the Aelfinn had told him what the price would be, but the Aelfinn only knew what his price would be because they looked into his future and saw that that would be the price, and so they told Mat that that would be the price and so that’s how Mat knew it was the price, but if they hadn’t told him he wouldn’t have known, and that’s not what he would have paid in the future for the Aelfinn to see and so that’s not what they would have told him, but they did tell him so he did pay it and chicken and egg and oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Also: HI, MOIRAINE, LONG TIME NO SEE.
Just short of two decades, in reader time. But you’re unconscious at the moment, so we’ll come back to you.
Instead, a writerly grousing:
“The price has been set,” another whispered from behind.
And it had been. Somehow, Mat knew. A part of him had known from the first time he had read that note. If he had never spoken to the Aelfinn that first time, would any of this have happened? Likely, he would have died. They had to tell the truth.
They had warned him of a payment to come.
So, I was initially really puzzled by this passage, because “that note”? Which note? As far as I knew, the only “note” the *Finn have ever left Mat is the inscription on the ashanderei:
Thus is our treaty written; thus is agreement made.
Thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades.
What was asked is given. The price is paid.
Which, as you see, does the opposite of warning him of an upcoming price; it tells him a price was already paid. So I was confused, until it occurred to me that “that note” might be referring to Moiraine’s letter to Thom. Which does sort of obliquely mention a price as well:
“…Mat knows the way to find me, yet you must not show him this letter until he asks about it. That is of the utmost importance. He must know nothing that is in this letter until he asks. Events must play out in certain ways, whatever the costs.” [from KOD, emphasis added]
Which, okay, but considering that for the rest of that paragraph (and for the rest of this entire lead-up to the big revelation) Mat is talking about what the *Finn said, then if he did mean Moiraine’s letter it really should have been made clear that that was the “note” he was referring to, because for a while there I was thinking I had really missed something. It was actually doubly confusing, because not only did Mat not mention Moiraine, he called it a “note,” when as far as I can recall it was only ever called “a letter” before this – for the very good reason that it was a letter, and not a “note.”
This may seem nitpicky, but this happened at the crucial turning point of not only this chapter but of this entire storyline, and having to stop and think through unnecessarily ambiguous wording in order to figure out what Mat was talking about came perilously close to throwing me out of the moment. Which is, needless to say, bad.
Clarity, y’all. It is seriously important. Especially when it is such an easy fix: change “that note” to “Moiraine’s letter” in the passage above, and bang, no confusion. I’m just saying.
I do think it’s interesting that this entire sequence raises some questions about Mat’s “luck,” and whether his deliberate use of his “randomness” factor here kind of inherently contradicts the nature of his gift in the first place. I think the problem, really, is that as far as I can tell Mat’s luck never once steers them wrong in Finnland, whereas his luck factor in the real world historically has always had that element of uncertainty. Mat wins at gambling far more often than he loses, naturally, but he doesn’t always win. And that little margin for error is what always gave Mat’s gift that bit of realism, because in the real world nothing ever works with 100% efficiency and we know it.
So, that’s a thing. Which… is there. I throw it to others to decide what they think on that score.
“We are the near ancient, the warriors of final regret, the knowers of secrets.”
“Warriors of final regret”? I’m… not sure what I think that means, but I kind of like it.
But onward, to the finish!
Chapter 55: The One Left Behind
Mat, Thom, and Noal run, Mat tossing fireworks behind them to stall and/or kill the snakes, but he is running out of ammunition. Noal tries using a drum to soothe them, but it does not seem to be working, and he soon tosses it aside. Mat tries spinning to pick a direction, but it points back the way they came, and they cannot run headlong into the Aelfinn chasing them. Thom asks how Mat got out the last time, and Mat answers that they threw him out. Exhausted, Thom says there’s no winning this game, and Mat takes Moiraine from him and gives him the ashanderei. Noal tells Mat to give him his pack. Mat asks what he is doing, and Noal tells him they need more time, to get far enough ahead of the snakes that they can double back. He says the corridor has natural choke points where a man might last a few minutes holding them back. Thom realizes what he is suggesting and protests that he can’t, but Noal answers that Thom is in no shape to fight, and they need Mat’s luck to get out, but he can stay. Mat says they won’t be able to come back for him.
Noal met his eye, that weathered face determined. “I know. A price, Mat. We knew this place would demand a price. Well, I’ve seen a lot of things, done a lot of things. I’ve been used, Mat, one too many times. This is as good a place as any to meet the end.”
Mat nods respect to him, and tells Thom to come, ignoring his protest. As they go to leave, Noal calls to Mat and he looks back.
“If you ever meet a Malkieri,” Noal said, “you tell him Jain Farstrider died clean.”
“I will, Jain,” Mat said. “May the light hold you.”
Noal turned back to face the Aelfinn and Mat left him.
There was another boom as a nightflower went off. Then Mat heard Noal’s voice echo down the corridor as he screamed a battlecry. It was not in any tongue Mat had ever heard.
Thom is weeping as they run. Mat thinks that he used to think dying with honor was a foolish notion, but he has too many memories of soldiers, both old and new, to believe that now. He thinks Noal is the hero, not him. He spins and points them back the way they came; they run, and come to a different chamber than where they left Noal. Mat gives Moiraine back to Thom and takes the ashanderei, and then spins again and takes the corridor he lands on. Moiraine begins to stir in Thom’s arms, and they reach a chamber which Mat recognizes as where he entered to speak to the Aelfinn in Tear, but the redstone doorway here has also been destroyed, and the chamber is a dead end. Thom sinks down, exhausted, and Mat screams curses. He tries spinning again, but only ends up pointing at the broken doorway. He feels hope slipping away, but stoutly maintains that there is a way. Then Moiraine opens her eyes.
“Thom,” she whispered, smiling. “I thought I heard your voice.”
Light, but her voice took Mat back. To other times. Ages ago.
She glanced at him. “And Mat. Dear Matrim. I knew you would come for me. Both of you. I wish you hadn’t, but I knew you would….”
“Rest, Moiraine,” Thom said softly. “We’ll be out of here in two strums of a harp.”
Mat looked at her, lying there, helpless. “Burn me. I’m not going to let it end like this!”
The Aelfinn approach, smiling in triumph, and in desperation Thom begins playing his harp. Mat recognizes the song as a lament for the fallen dead, and racks his brain, trying to remember how he got out the last time. He thinks that the Aelfinn’s answers were about things now in the past, of no use to him now, but then thinks to reflect on what the Eelfinn had given him. The Aelfinn continue to advance as he remembers: he’d wanted the holes filled in his memory, and they’d filled them with other men’s memories. He’d wanted a way to be free of Aes Sedai and the Power, and they’d given him the medallion. He’d wanted to be away from them and back to Rhuidean, and…
And what? They sent him back to Rhuidean to hang. But hanging was a price, not an answer to his demands.
[…] “They did give me something else,” Mat whispered, looking down at the ashandarei in his hands as the Aelfinn began to hiss more loudly.
Thus is our treaty written; thus is agreement made.
It was carved on the weapon. The blade had two ravens, the shaft inscribed with words in the Old Tongue.
Thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades.
Why had they given it to him? He had never questioned it. But he had not asked for a weapon.
What was asked is given. The price is paid.
No, I didn’t ask for a weapon. I asked for a way out.
And they gave me this.
“So come at me with your awful lies,” Thom bellowed the final line of the song. “I’m a man of truth, and I’ll meet your eyes!”
Mat spun the ashandarei and thrust it into the wall. The point sank into the not-stone. Light sprayed out around it, spilling free like blood gushing from a split vein.
The Aelfinn hiss, shying back as Mat carves the triangle-and-wavy-line symbol in the wall, revealing a glowing white hole. The Aelfinn attack, and Mat defends, screaming at Thom to get Moiraine out. Thom goes, and Mat fights the dazed Aelfinn, forcing them back in a pile of wounded bodies.
Mat stepped back and tipped his hat to the creatures. “Looks like the game can be won after all,” he said. “Tell the foxes I’m mighty pleased with this key they gave me. Also, you can all go rot in a flaming pit of fire and ashes, you unwashed lumps on a pig’s backside. Have a grand bloody day.”
He held his hat and leaped through the opening.
All flashed white.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MATRIM CAUTHON HAS LEFT THE BUILDING.
That’s right, biznatches. Mat was here, and then he left. SUCK IT.
YEAH I SAID YEAH
Arms up in the air like you just don’t care, y’all!
Okay, look, it’s 4 AM right now, shut up. Because the sentiment is giddy, yet VALID. So sayeth me.
I think back in my initial review of this entire Finnland/rescuing Moiraine sequence, I said that I enjoyed it, but that it hadn’t quite thrilled me the way Perrin’s storyline in TOM did. Mainly because (I said) Perrin’s story was largely unknown (and therefore surprising) to me, while so much of what happened in Mat’s storyline had been foreshadowed and prophesied out the wazoo for decades, literally, that it just didn’t have that same zing of something completely new.
On re-reading, I think that is… sort of still true, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that there is one part of this whole shindig I absolutely and totally did not see coming, and yet was clearly an element of it that had been planned since at least TSR, and is one of those things that is so obvious in retrospect that I kind of want to whap myself upside the head for not getting beforehand.
But since I have never ever, to my knowledge, come across anyone else in fandom who’d correctly sussed out the true function of Mat’s ashanderei beforehand either, I’m not going to let myself feel too bad about it. Because maybe I was a dumbass, but then SO WERE ALL OF YOU, HA HA NEENER.
But seriously, that was a total Holy-Crap-slash-OMGDUH moment for me, because exactly! Why would the *Finn have given Mat a random spear just to leave him a little Receipt of Sale poem on it, when a piece of parchment would have done just as well? How is it that I never wondered why the ashanderei didn’t seem to fit (or fulfill) any of the requests Mat made to the foxes! Well, It Is All So Clear Now!
Ah well. I’ve always said I rather like my frequent lack of ability to see twists coming before they arrive; entertainment is infinitely more entertaining that way.
So, I have never had an eye torn out of my head, nor do I plan on trying the experience, like, ever, because wow with the amount of No on that one, but I kind of have to wonder whether that can be a thing that happens to a person and that person be even remotely functional afterward, much less running and fighting and quipping and stuff.
I mean, I guess that is more or less a function of Mat Is Just That Badass, Thank You, and we can certainly roll with that, but I’m remembering a thing I read where an author was talking about how she really really wanted to have her character get her shoulder dislocated in the middle of a fight, and didn’t believe her editor when he told her that a dislocated shoulder would absolutely incapacitate said character with pain, until said author actually witnessed her own husband dislocate his shoulder, and saw how he basically couldn’t do a damn thing except lie there and scream in excruciating agony until they got him to the hospital, and how she called her editor afterward and was like, okay, right, you win, because it turns out that extreme trauma to the human body is a pretty unignorable sign to said human body that it is time to shut the fuck down until said trauma is addressed.
That said (in one ridiculously run-on sentence, no less), adrenaline is known to suppress pain, in the short term at least (love that dopamine), so in a survival situation (which this pretty damn clearly qualifies as) perhaps it is not so unbelievable that Mat would be able to ignore such extreme trauma. It’s kind of a toss-up, really, because honestly I have no idea whether losing an eye is more or less painful than dislocating a shoulder. Logically it should be, but I was hit by a pickup truck as a child (no, really), and snapped both bones in my left arm, and yet when the EMTs got to the scene they told me later I was screaming at them the whole time to ignore my stupid arm, and instead do something about the brushburns all over my legs from skidding across the concrete. And clearly broken bones trump brushburns in the scale of “bad things you don’t want happening to your body,” but as far as relative pain scales go apparently that was not the case from my point of view.
So, who knows, is my point. Talk amongst yourselves, you’re like butter.
Noal: I really do wish we had gotten more of a chance to get to know who he really was before he died. It was pretty obvious from fairly early on that he was really Jain Farstrider, of course, but more of a chance for anyone to acknowledge that would have been nice. His death scene was moving, but I feel like it might have been even more so if we’d had the opportunity to understand him better.
But space is at a premium here (all evidence seeming to the contrary, sometimes), and so like so many things, Jain/Noal was ultimately only a footnote in the grander story of WOT, and I suppose I can’t be too upset that the story was not able to give him quite the character development he deserved. I can be a little upset, but not too.
(I wonder if we’ll get to see Mat pass on Noal’s message? To Lan, presumably?)
Also, I kind of feel like I should be having opinions about Moiraine’s contribution to her own rescue—which is to say, less than your average sack of potatoes—but then there are probably very few characters who fit the damsel in distress stereotype less than Moiraine, so I don’t actually have those opinions in this case. Moiraine, I think, has more than got in her quota of Badass Awesome in this series (and there is a definite possibility of more to come), so really I think it’s okay for her to relax and let someone else do the heavy lifting for once.
Also also, I do love that snakes and foxes icon. It’s a shame it’s not likely to come up again in the series, since (I devoutly hope) we are now officially Done with the *Finn for the rest of WOT, world without end, amen. I’m still kind of amazed about it too.
Speaking of things being Done, one of those things is me! Have a splendiferous week as is usual, my chickens, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!