Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: The Power of the Ta’veren in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 13)

Hello, good morning, and welcome back to week 13 of Reading The Dragon Reborn! Although traditionally an unlucky number in the western world, thirteen has always been a lucky one for me—I was even born on a Friday the 13th. And it seems to be a lucky number for Mat, too, although in a rather alarming sort of way, which may foreshadow some pretty strange and dangerous consequences for the grabbiest of heroes. Also Thom comes back (you all know my feelings about Thom) and we learn some more creepy things about the High Lords of Tear.

In other news, I’m going to try to really shorten the recap sections of the posts. As the books get longer and more complicated, so too do the recaps! You’ve all read the books, so you know what happens—so I’m going to try to cover only the broad strokes in the recap portion, and spend more time getting into the nitty gritty of the analysis. And with that, on to Mat’s gambling adventures.

Mat stockpiles extra food and lies to Anaiya about his intentions to leave, although she sees right through him and later even catches sight of him leaving the Tower with all his belongings. But she just shakes her head and allows him to go, not knowing, of course, about the Amyrlin’s paper that Egwene and Nynaeve gave him.

Mat feels confident once he is out in the city and goes to the first inn he sees, to gamble a little and acquire the money he needs for his travels. However, he quickly finds something extraordinary is happening: He wins literally every toss of the dice. Even leaving that inn and finding another yields the same results. He ends up traveling from one inn to another, never staying long enough to get into trouble with the other gamblers, but still winning every round of every game he tries, even those he has never played before. He plays as if caught up in a fever by the dice.

At one inn, a jealous player remarks that Mat has “the Dark One’s own luck,” sending Mat into a rage, despite the fact that it is a rather common saying. When Mat realizes he has thrown the man back against the wall he backs down again, but inwardly he is terrified that this really is the Dark One’s luck—some change brought about by the cursed dagger of Mordeth.

Mat examines his memories of the evening and the contents of his bags, finding every cranny filled with gold coins but entirely empty of the food he packed. He has a vague memory of giving away silver pence, not worth keeping himself, to serving girls, and of having eaten something at one of the inns, but his thoughts are vague and clouded by the fever of the dice. A stumbling drunk reminds him to be wary of thieves and footpads, and he resolves that it is well past time to be on a ship, lest he find himself caught by an Aes Sedai or robbed.

Sure enough, he almost immediately hears the sounds of boots on the cobblestones, someone following him while trying not to be heard. He has the quarterstaff he used to beat Galad and Gawyn, but he is hardly confident of himself in the dark against unknown assailants, and decides that discretion is by far the better part of valor. He tries to lose the men following him by ducking through an alley, only to find others waiting at the other end. Mat wedges himself into the shadows as a man approaches from the shadows, knife in hand. The man stops just shy of being able to see Mat and calls out to his companions on the other end of the alley. Neither side knows where Mat went, and both retreat back the way they came. Not wanting to risk running into them again, Mat manages to climb up onto the building he is crouched against, and takes off through the city across the rooftops.

Eventually deciding that he needs to get back down to street level again, Mat comes to a place where a stone bridge stretches from the top floor of the building he’s on to one on the other side of a lit street. It looks narrow, but Mat tosses his quarterstaff down onto it, and then drops and rolls the way he used to when he was a boy jumping out of trees, and is able to land safely up against the railing. He’s just considering climbing in the darkened window on the other side of the bridge when he suddenly becomes aware of a man on the bridge with a knife in his hand.

They fight, the assailant too close for Mat to use his quarterstaff, which gets trapped between their struggling bodies as the man shoves Mat against the stone railing, bending him over it. Mat realizes that he can’t hold the knife away much longer, and with a muttered, “Time to toss the dice,” he flips both of them over the railing and into the empty air. The impact knocks the breath from his lungs and blurs his vision, but when he can think again he realizes that he landed squarely on his attacker, his own fall cushioned by the others’ body. But it’s not just the thirty foot drop that killed the man—his own dagger was also driven straight through his heart.

Sudden realization of everything that just happened rushes over Mat, as well as the awareness of how it will look if anyone finds him there standing over the body, and, shaking, he ducks into a nearby inn called “The Woman of Tanchico.”

Inside the brightly-lit common room, Mat finds no dice games, for once, but he does discover a familiar figure playing a harp and reciting “Mara and the Three Foolish Kings” for the patrons. Thom looks as Mat remembers him, with his lean body, colorful cloak, and gold and silver harp that’s fit for a palace. But what Mat doesn’t remember is the sorrowful look on Thom’s face.

He orders two mugs of wine, one for the friend who will be joining him, and slips the serving girl an extra silver just for her pretty eyes. When Thom finishes the story, to much applause, he nearly falls climbing down from the table, and Mat notices how unsteady his walk is, even after accounting for a stiff leg. He complains a little of the fact that the listeners wanted the story in Common instead of High Chant, or even Plain Chant, and then buries himself unceremoniously in the wine.

The serving girl comes and scolds Mat for giving Thom wine, and is soon joined by a second, both cajoling Thom to leave off the wine and the tales and go to bed, but he only asks them if he’s told them of the other pretty woman who have loved him in his life.

“Two,” Thom murmured. “Morgase had a temper, but I thought I could ignore that, so it ended with her wanting to kill me. Dena, I killed. As good as. Not much difference. Two chances I’ve had, more than most, and I threw them both away.”

Mat assures the two women that he will take care of Thom, and orders chicken for the both of them, although all Thom wants is more wine. Eventually the three persuade him to agree to eat something and the serving girls leave them to talk. When Mat mentions that Rand said that Thom was still alive, Thom asks if Rand is alright and whether he is still with Moiraine, only to claim he knows nothing that would suggest that Rand wouldn’t be alright. Mat abandons that line of conversation, neither of them wanting to confirm that they know anything “more than is healthy” for them to know.

Mat asks why Thom isn’t in Cairhien, and Thom pulls out one of his knives, alluding vaguely to the trouble that comes from killing a man who needs killing, and talking of balance. When Mat says he doesn’t want to know about some man Thom killed in Cairhien, the gleeman manages to give him a straighter answer. He is in Tar Valon because it is the worst place for him to be, besides Caemlyn, and that it is what he deserves. Asking what Mat is doing in Tar Valon only yields the reply that what Mat is doing is leaving. He urges Thom to come to Caemlyn with him, pointing out that then he can have Elaida and Morgase to worry about. Thom agrees that Caemlyn would suit his mood, then starts when he realizes that Mat ate all three of the chickens he ordered down to the bone.

With renewed energy and less unsteadiness, Thom goes to fetch his things, returning quickly with his harp and flute tucked into their cases beside his blanket roll and a plain walking staff as tall as Thom himself. Mat watches him kiss the two serving girls goodbye and pat them both on the cheeks, then dart out the door, motioning for Mat to follow. The younger girl catches him on his way out, thanking him for helping Thom and pressing a silver Tar Valon mark into his hand, to show her thanks and because he has such pretty eyes.

Mat leaves, pleased at the notion that he’s the one with the pretty eyes, but his laughter dies in his throat when he finds Thom alone in the street, no corpse in sight. Thom asks what he is staring at, and Mat answers that he’s worried about footpads. Thom informs him that there are no footpads in Tar Valon; whatever the Aes Sedai do to those who are caught thieving is enough to send them running from Tar Valon the next day, and the word spreads. But there are no footpads.

Truly alarmed now, Mat sets off at a brisk pace, declaring that they are going to be on the very first ship out of Tar Valon, no matter which one. Thom follows, complaining about walking so fast and how there are plenty of ships leaving Tar Valon at all hours, but Mat’s resolve doesn’t waver. He tells himself that they had to have been thieves, because what else could they possibly be?

At Southharbor, Mat zeroes in on a large three-masted vessel beginning to cast off. Before he can get to it, however, he’s cut off by the dockmaster, who assures him that he knows who Mat is and what he’s trying to do: The sister already showed him Mat’s picture, and there’s no way Mat will be allowed to board a ship. While Thom expresses his confusion, Mat assures the dockmaster that things have changed, and turns over the Amyrlin’s paper for the dockmaster to read. He’s confused by the change in orders and assures Mat that he won’t catch the departing ship, but he calls out to the crew of the Grey Gull anyway. They don’t stop, and Mat takes off at a run, hurling his quarterstaff onto the deck and leaping after it. Thom manages to follow him, although he loses his walking stick on the way.

A tall bearded man, clearly the Captain, sputters in surprised rage at the sudden appearance of the two men, and orders his crew to have them overboard, but Mat waves both the Amyrlin’s paper and a gold crown at the Captain, making sure that they notice he has more money in his pouch. He assures the Captain that they are on urgent business for the Amyrlin, that they can pay for passage as well as the inconvenience, and that they must get to Aringill, in Andor.

The Captain calms a little, but he makes it clear that he’d rather not have anyone involved with the White Tower on his ship, and that he has no room for passengers. He offers them space on the deck and meals with the crew for another gold crown each, but Mat pushes, wanting to know how much for a cabin and for better food. After some incredulous discussion, the Captain jokingly offers them his own cabin and meals for ten gold crowns in Andorean weight, his laughter cutting off when Mat counts out the money. Awed, he asks if Mat is a lord in disguise.

Mat laughs the question off, but as the Tairen Captain, Huan Mallia, shows them to his cabin and gathers up his own things, it’s clear that he still believes Mat to be a lord. He talks a lot, about how Mat has more money and acts so confidently, how it is known that Morgase visited Tar Valon, and how they were clearly messengers being sent back to her, given Mat’s accent. He claims to be eager to help in such a great venture, although he doesn’t mean to poke his nose where it is not wanted.

He is clearly prying, however, asking questions that Mat and Thom barely respond to. He rambles on about his opinions of different countries, talking respectfully enough of Andor but becoming increasingly derisive of other nations. He calls Mayene not even a true country, and outright declares that one day Tear will “loot Illian bare, tear down every town and village, and sow their filthy ground with salt” and carry the people off in chains, according to someone called High Lord Samon. Mallia’s hatred for the Aes Sedai comes through clearly as well, although he tries to hide it. He goes on about High Lord Samon’s claims that the Aes Sedai intend to subjugate all nations and men, and that Tear must find a way to eradicate the Power from all the lands, not just keep it out of their own.

Finally realizing that he has perhaps said to much, Mallia tries to backtrack a little, unconvincingly pointing out that if Caemlyn can make covenants with the White Tower then so can Tear, but Mat teases him suggesting that they ask a few dozen Aes Sedai to come to the Stone. Mallia leaves quickly, and Mat regrets his mischief almost at once. Thom can’t imagine why Mat would think such a thing, and remarks that he has never heard of a High Lord Samon, even though he knows all the names of the Kings and Queens of the Land, as well as those of the High Lords. He also hasn’t heard of any of the High Lords dying.

Mat begins to feel uneasy, realizing he could have had better luck than to end up on board this particular ship, and takes out his dice to try rolling them.

They were spotted dice, and five single pips stared up at him. The Dark One’s Eyes, that was called in some games. It was a losing toss in those, a winning in other games. But what game am I playing? He scooped the dice up, tossed them again. Five pips. Another toss, and again the Dark One’s Eyes winked at him.

Thom mentions what happens to people who use what he sees as loaded dice. Mat explains that he won all the money with other people’s dice, and that he got the Amyrlin’s paper from Nynaeve after agreeing to carry a letter to Morgase from Elayne, but Thom doesn’t believe him and goes to sleep instead. Mat can’t sleep, however, too caught up in wondering about the truth of his luck and what kind of scheme Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne have mixed him up in.

Then he realizes he’s hearing thumps and footsteps that have nothing to do with the normal sounds of the ship, and, after attempting and failing to wake Thom, he climbs out of bed and takes up his quarterstaff, waiting by the door in his underwear. The two cloaked men carrying knives are taken by surprise. Mat takes them out with killing blows, and although he’s struck by the fact that he’s gone from having never taken a life to killing three men in one night, he hears the sound of boots overhead and knows there are still more men. He takes a cloak from one of his assailants and climbs back out on deck, trying to pass for one of them and telling the others “he’s dead” in a rough whisper.

A man at the tiller remarks that he hopes “he squealed when you cut his throat” and then is cut off by Mat’s attack. A blow to the head sends him slumping, his body hitting the tiller and causing the boat to lurch. Mat realizes there’s another knife-wielding assassin behind him and knows he can’t turn in time, but then Thom’s knife whizzes through the dark and takes him out.

They find a rope tied to the stern, and, looking over, discover two more men in a small boat.

“The Great Lord take me, it’s him!” one of them gasped. The other darted forward to work frantically at the knot holding the rope.

“You want to kill these two as well?” Thom asked, his voice booming as it did when he performed.

“No, Thom,” Mat said quietly. “No.”

The men in the boat must have heard the question and not the answer, for they abandoned the attempt to free their boat and leaped over the side with great splashes. The sound of them thrashing away across the river was loud.

Thom mutters that they are fools and will never make it back to shore in the dark, then Mallia appears, hollering about the bodies and how the ship is going to run into a mudbank. As the Captain takes control of the ship, Thom quickly and secretly cuts the line tethering the boat and tells Mallia that they were attacked by river brigands, and how the Captain should reconsider his fee now that Thom and Mat have saved his vessel. Mat turns away and walks down to his room, hearing Mallia remark at Mat’s coldness. He manages to get into the cabin before he starts shaking uncontrollably, wondering over and over what game he is playing in, and how he can win.

Somewhere in the darkness, Rand sits by a fire, roasting a rabbit and playing “Rose of the Morning” on his flute. He remembers playing it for all those weddings in the village, although he’s not sure if it was real or something he imagined. He knows he is ta’veren, that he could have caused all that uproar, but he doesn’t want to think about it, because it gets too close to something else.

They say I’m the Dragon Reborn, too. They all say it. The living say it, and the dead. That doesn’t make it true. I had to let them proclaim me. Duty. I had no choice, but that does not make it true.

He plays the song over and over, thinking of Egwene in his dream, wondering if it was really her. He’s seen so many faces of people he loved, but they weren’t really those people, just Shadowspawn wearing their faces. He knows some dreams are real and some are only dreams, but he doesn’t know how to tell which is which. And once he let down his guard, for Min, only to have her try to kill him. He reminds himself that it was not Min, just Shadowspawn wearing her face.

And then there was Selene, beautiful as ever and urging him to take Callandor. It was also always in his dreams, as were the hands pushing Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene into cages. He doesn’t know why he wept more for Elayne than the other two. Afraid to sleep, his head hurting as much as the partially-healed wound in his side, he plays on.

 

These chapters were a wild ride! I’m very happy to see Thom again, super curious as to who Mat’s attackers might be (and are they all on the same team, or not?), and very creeped out by Mallia’s xenophobia. Last week we were warned by the Amyrlin about the High Lords of Tear and their opinions about the One Power, but it’s not so much of a shock to hear a group of people declare their hatred of the Aes Sedai, given what we get from the Children of the Light specifically and many people of most cultures, more generally. Lots of folks distrust the Aes Sedai, seeing their power as too close to the one that Broke the World, and the order itself as sneaky and self-righteous—and not without some merit, there, I must admit. But to hear Mallia proclaim that an entire nation should be captured and enslaved, and the land itself burned to the ground and salted is something else again, even knowing that some nations have regular feuds, such as Arad Doman and Tarabon.

This High Lord Samon was making me pretty nervous even before Thom had never heard of him. I’m reminded of Egwene and Silvie-Lanfear encountering those footsteps in the Heart of the Stone; I said at the time that it was possibly some new villain, rather than Ishamael coming to brood, and perhaps now we have a name to add to that suspicion. Also, the way Mallia explained how Samon said the novices and Accepted might be “saved” if they were brought to the Stone gave me chills. Knowing they have ter’angreal there makes me wonder if they have some way to still or block less powerful channelers from touching the True Source. Or maybe they just torture the young women until they convince them to never try to channel again. Either way, brr.

There is a chance, of course, that this is connected with whatever Liandrin and co. are planning. Perhaps Samon, in his quest to eradicate all Aes Sedai, has partnered with the Black Ajah and with the Shadowspawn to either corrupt or still channelers. Start with the Dragon Reborn, move on to the White Tower… he certainly sounds evil enough to be a Darkfriend. If all these people are truly connected, then perhaps all these threads are drawing the Two Rivers folks together again.

I think Mat played the Aes Sedai’s confidence rather well. The Aes Sedai are certain of their power and control within Tar Valon, and with good reason. But it is time for them to start thinking differently, I think. Of course they can’t know of the wild coincidences that led Mat to have the Amyrlin’s get-out-of-Tar-Valon-free card, but people have been secreted out of Tar Valon before: There are Black Ajah running around, not to mention Gray Men and who knows what other Darkfriends. I suppose this is another example of the Amyrlin’s desire for secrecy working against the Aes Sedai; few know the truth about Liandrin and co., and even fewer know about the Grey Men. This is good for keeping up appearances, but bad for adapting to situations. Still, I applaud Mat using the Aes Sedai’s confident superiority against them. Mat’s analysis, I think, was spot on.

It was not until he was across the big square and into the streets of the city that relief finally surged up in him. And triumph. If you can’t hide what you are going to do, do it so everybody thinks you are a fool. Then they stand around waiting to see you fall on your face. Those Aes Sedai will be waiting for the guards to bring me back. When I do not return by morning, then they’ll start a search. Not too frantic at first, because they’ll think I have gone to ground somewhere in the city. By the time they realize I haven’t, this rabbit will be a long way downriver from the hounds.

On the other hand, Mat’s got a bit of hubris of his own going, despite the soundness of his plan. It didn’t really occur to me that the saga of the dagger and its influence on Mat might not be over. Perhaps I put too much trust in the power of the Aes Sedai—after all, the Amyrlin herself said that there was no way of knowing for sure what lasting effects the dagger may have had on Mat, or even of being completely sure they left no trace of that connection behind. Mat’s quick to settle on the more comfortable—though far less likely—explanation that his newfound luck-powers are something the Aes Sedai did accidentally while Healing him.

I can’t really blame him for wanting to believe that over the thought that the dagger is still messing with him, though, and I was really moved by his reaction to the “Dark One’s own luck” comment. For these people it is just a saying; they may not live in the ignorance of Emond’s Field, but they do live under the protection of the White Tower, and I doubt anyone would believe there could be Darkfriends in Tar Valon, unlike most of the other great cities of the world. Mat’s intense real-life experience with Darkfriends and Shadowspawn (and Ba’alzamon himself) would have a big effect on how he felt about the expression, even without his fear that he may still be tainted by some evil force from the dagger.

Perhaps he should just confide in Thom. That’s kind of become Thom’s thing, as much as Mat doesn’t know that and Thom doesn’t like it. He really is kind of a reluctant Merlin figure that way. And Thom could really use some purpose, right about now—something to focus him and make him productive, rather than leaving him to wallow in his own guilt. Even seeing how much the choice to go with Matt improved his motor-function and mood shows what Thom can do if he has reason enough to do it. Then again, Mat did tell Thom a little bit of what was going on and Thom didn’t believe him. And went to bed. Perhaps Mat should try again when Thom is sober.

I did love how much Thom just went with all Mat’s weirdness; he complained a lot, but he also followed him onto that boat. He didn’t have to do that, but when Thom commits, he does seem to commit his whole heart to things, even when they irk him or he doesn’t understand what’s happening. I think Mat is very lucky (heh) to have run into him again.

I don’t know if Mat is self-aware enough to realize that he is now getting himself into a position that is very similar to the one he was so angry with Rand about, back in Fal Dara: He’s throwing money around like a rich man and acting like a lord, and Mallia didn’t believe his insistence that he isn’t a lord in disguise anymore than the Fal Daran’s believed Rand. Granted, it’s only one person so far (plus Mat may still not remember much of that time) but I get the feeling that this won’t be the last, either.

Maybe it’s just the money and the fact that Mat is great at bluffing, but I can’t help wondering if there’s a little bit of that timeline bleedthrough happening here, as well. Mat has retained bits of speaking in the Old Tongue from his connection to his past life, and there could very easily be other bits of knowledge or talent seeping through. In fact, it’s even possible that this is where his supernatural luck is coming from. We know there are other talents people can have besides the ability to channel: Perrin is a wolfbrother, and Min has the ability to see and sometimes read parts of the Pattern. Perhaps Mat also has some strange ability he was unaware of, until now, that is manifesting itself after being awoken by the taint of the dagger, or the connection to his past life, or both.

And even more interestingly, perhaps it is Mat’s status as ta’veren that is affecting the fall of the dice and his lucky escapes from the strange men who keep attacking him. The final section of Chapter 32 suggests that the weddings Rand caused may not have been completely random effects of his ta’veren powers, but somehow shaped by his thoughts of Egwene and the married life he had once dreamed he would have. In the same way, perhaps Mat is manifesting his luck into the Pattern by virtue of how hard he is concentrating on it. We’ve seen Rand get swept along by his powers manifesting, and while I always put that down to the weird early-channeling high that many of the characters seem to get, there’s nothing to say that it couldn’t be part of ta’veren nature as well.

Speaking of those people chasing Mat, I cannot figure out who they could be. Given the description of the man on the bridge (“Such an ordinary-looking man to have tried to kill him. Mat did not think he would even have noticed him in a crowded room.”) and the fact that he never says anything or makes a sound, it’s possible he is a Grey Man. He does sneak up on Mat very unexpectedly. The rest seem to be ordinary humans, ones who Mat can hear walking behind him and thumping around on deck, who talk to each other and get spooked in the dark. (“I wish to be out of this. There are the strange things moving this night.”) But who are they, and why are they after Mat? How did they even know where to look for him? There was the one Sea Folk man who followed Mat, ostensibly because he wanted to win his money back, but that could have been a cover for something else. I’m really not sure.

Mat was pretty cute in this section, though. I liked how he gave away his silver coins to the serving girls; even if it was because he couldn’t carry everything, there was a generosity in the gesture that I liked. Mat can be self-centered, but he’s not a cruel or a miserly man, and he strikes me as the sort that would like to share his good fortune, as long as he knew he was secure himself. And his pleasure at having the tables turned on him by Saal, the serving girl, who gave him a coin for his pretty eyes (and her gratitude, of course) was very sweet. I wonder about that silver Tar Valon mark, though. The last time Mat was given a silver Tar Valon mark, it was a lot more than an ordinary coin. And it seems too prominent here to not be some kind of call back.

We’re going back to Perrin next week, with two more chapters (33-34) in which we get a few more clues about Rand’s situation, Perrin makes some important choices, and we meet a girl who sometimes calls herself Falcon. And Egwene’s not the only one who will see some significance in that.

Sylas K Barrett has always been bad at summarizing, and is fighting his fear of leaving out something really important.

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