Welcome back to my re-read, recap, and reaction to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This post will only have spoilers through the current chapter.
You can find my previous chapter recaps HERE.
Chapter 20: Visitations
The woman who enters is wearing white silk and silver. She shuts the door behind her. Then she leans back against it to stare at Mat, and study him, with the darkest eyes Mat has ever seen. She is so beautiful he almost forgets to breath. Her hair is as black as night woven with a finely worked silver band. Mat halfway thinks to himself that he knows her. Then he rejects the idea because he believes no man could ever forget a woman like her.
She tells Mat that he may be passable once he puts on some weight but she suggests that for now he put on some clothes. For an instant he continues to stare at her until suddenly he realizes he is standing there naked. Face scarlet, he hurriedly scrambles to the bed, pulls the blanket around himself like a cloak, and then more falls than sits down on the mattress. He sputters out an apology. He can still feel the heat in his cheeks and for a moment he wishes that Rand or Perrin were there to advise him. He thinks that both of them always seemed to get on well with women.
The woman tells Mat, using his name, that she would not have visited him in this way except that she was already here in the White Tower. She smiles at the mention of the name of the Tower, as though it amuses her. She tells Mat she is here for another purpose but that she wants to see all of them. More graceful than a swan, she glides to the table. She points out that his hunger is to be expected with the way *they* do things. She advises him to eat all that they give him and she tells him that he will be surprised at how quickly he regains his weight and strength.
Mat asks her cautiously if he knows her. He tells her that there is something familiar about her. He is cautious because he believes a woman like her would expect to be remembered. She pauses for a moment before answering him that he may have seen her somewhere before. She tells Mat that he can call her Selene. She tilts her head slightly as if waiting for him to recognize her name. It tugs at the edges of Mat’s memory but he cannot place it. Mat asks her if she is an Aes Sedai and she tells him no emphatically.
For the first time, Mat is able to study her. Mat can see that she is almost as tall as he is, slender, and Mat suspects from the way that she moves that she is strong. Mat cannot place her age. He thinks she might be a year or two older than he is, or maybe even as much as ten years older. Mat sees that she is not wearing a Great Serpent ring. It should not surprise him not to find one, after she said right out that she is not Aes Sedai, but it does anyway. She is as self-possessed and self-confident as any Queen, and something more beyond, which he associates with Aes Sedai. He asks her if she is by any chance a Novice. She smiles and says she is hardly that.
Selene: Let us just say that I am someone whose interests coincide with yours.
She tells Mat the the Aes Sedai mean to use him but that she thinks he will like it in the man and accept it. She adds that there is no need to convince Mat to seek out glory. Mat asks her how they might use him and what she means by glory. She smiles and says that she knew mentioning glory would pull at him. Her smile makes his head spin. He almost drops his blanket. He then tells her they are not interested in him and that he is just some farmer. She tells Mat that he is more important than he yet knows and certainly more important than what the so-called Aes Sedai know. She tells him he can have glory if he knows enough not to trust them.
“You certainly sound as if you don’t trust them.” So-called? A thought came to him, but he could not manage to say it. “Are you a . . . ? Are you . . . ?” It was not the kind of thing you accused someone of.
“A Darkfriend?” Selene said mockingly. She sounded amused, not angered. She sounded contemptuous. “One of those pathetic followers of Ba’alzamon who think he will give them immortality and power? I follow no one. There is one man I could stand beside, but I do not follow.”
Mat laughs nervously and says of course not. Mat thinks that a Darkfriend wouldn’t name herself a Darkfriend. He thinks she probably has a poisoned dagger if she is one. Mat has a vague memory of a woman nobly born who carried a poisoned dagger. Mat tells her that was not what he meant at all. He tells Selene that she looks like a Queen. He asks if she is a Lady. Selene answers by telling Mat that he must learn to trust her.
Selene: Oh, I will use you, too. You have too suspicious a nature, especially since carrying that dagger, for me to deny it. But my use will gain you wealth and power and glory. I will not compel you. I have always believed that man perform better if convinced rather than forced.
She tells him that these Aes Sedai do not know how important he is, and she says *he* will try to dissuade Mat or to kill him. Mat asks who *he* is. He thinks quickly that it is Rand they are after and he wonders how Selene knows about the dagger. He supposes that perhaps the entire Tower knows about it. He asks her who wants to kill him and Selene’s mouth tightens as if she said too much. She tells Mat that she knows what he wants as well as he does. She tells him that he must choose who he will trust to gain it for him. She tells him that while she admits that she will use him, these Aes Sedai will never admit the same. She tells him that she will lead him to wealth and glory and that they will keep him tied to a leash until he dies.
Mat tells her that she says a lot but asks how he can know that any of it is true. He asks how he can know that he can trust her more than them. She tells him to listen to what they tell him and what they do not tell him.
Selene: Will they tell you that your father came to Tar Valon?
Mat: My da’ was here?
She tells Mat that Abell Cauthon and a man named Tam a’Thor made nuisances of themselves until they gained an audience wanting to know where Mat and his friends are. She tells Mat that Siuan Sanche sent them both back to the Two Rivers with empty hands. She adds hat the Amyrlin did not even let them know Mat and his friends are alive. She asks Mat if the Aes Sedai will tell him that unless he asks? She points out that even if he does ask, they might not tell him, for worry that he will attempt to run back home.
Mat mutters about his father thinking he is dead and Selene promises Mat that she can see to it that he learns otherwise. She asks Mat if the Aes Sedai will tell him that Rand is trying to escape from them and that the one called Moiraine is hunting him. She asks Mat if they will tell him that the Black Ajah infests the White Tower. She asks if they will even tell him how they mean to use him.
Mat is catching up with all of this and brings up Rand’s attempt to escape. He cuts himself off after thinkin that Selene might know Rand has proclaimed himself The Dragon Reborn or that she might not. He decides that he will not tell her. Frustrated, he asks Selene who or what she is. Her smile hides secrets. She tells him to remember that there is another choice. She tells Mat that he does not need to be a puppet for the White Tower or prey for Ba’alzamon’s Darkfriends. She tells him that the world is more complex than he can imagine. She advises him to do as the Aes Sedai wish but to remember that he has choices. She asks if he will do that. Mat replies glumly that he does not see that he has much choice at all. He tells her that he supposes he will.
Selene’s look sharpens. Friendliness falls off of her voice like an old snake skin.
Selene: Suppose? I did not come to you like this, talk in this way, for suppose, Matrim Cauthon.
She stretches out a slim hand. Despite her being halfway across the room, Mat leans back away from her, as if she is on top of him with a dagger. He sees a threat in her eyes and he knows that it’s real. His skin begins to tingle and his headache returns. Suddenly tingle and pain vanish. Selene’s head whips around as if listening to something beyond the walls. A tiny frown appears on her face and she lowers her hand. She tells Mat that they will talk again. She advises him to remember his choices. She tells him that she alone can guarantee him life and what he desires if he is willing to do as she says. She then slips out of the door as silently and gracefully as when she entered.
Mat lets out a long breath and sweat runs down his face.
Who in the Light is she? A Darkfriend perhaps – except that she had sounded as contemptuous of Ba’alzamon as she was of Aes Sedai.
Mat thinks that Selene had not told him to conceal his visit from the Aes Sedai. He quickly dismisses telling them about her visit, though, given what she said and did. Leaving the White Tower is sounding better to Mat by the minute. With a blanket wrapped around him, Mat slips off the bed and walks toward the wardrobe. His boots are on the floor inside and his cloak hangs on a peg under his belt, and pouch, and sheathed belt knife. The rest of Mat’s clothes have been cleaned, folded, and placed on shelves that take up one side of the wardrobe.
The contents of Mat’s pouch are on a shelf. He is disappointed to learn that his memory is good as to how little coin he has. He knows he will not travel far on that. He looks around and finds his two leather dice cups in the back. He thinks that with these dice, his two marks will be enough to take him far away from Tar Valon.
A peremptory knock is followed immediately by the door opening. Mat whirls around and sees the Amyrlin Seat and the Keeper of the Chronicles entering. Mat has seen them once before, far from Tar Valon, and remembers both of them. The Amyrlin’s eyebrows rise at the sight of him with a blanket hanging from his shoulders and a purse and dice cups in his hands. She tells him that she does not think he will need those for a while and hten she tells him to put those things up and to get back in bed before he falls on his face.
Mat hesitates but his knees pick that exact moment to wobble. He does as he is told. He returns to the bed and lays down straight as a board. The Amyrlin puts a hand on his head nd asks how he is feeling. He feels goose bumps covering his skin as he tells her that he is fine and that he is ready to be on his way.
Mat: Just let me say goodbye to Egwene and Nynaeve and I’ll be out of your hair I mean, I will go, Mother.
Siuan tells Mat that this is nonsense. She tells Leane that men always refuse to admit when they are sick until they are so ill that they are twice as much work. She says that then they claim they are well too soon with the same result. The Keeper glances at Mat, nods, and says that this one cannot claim that he is well when he ca barely stand up. Leane notes that Mat has eaten all of the food on his tray and she guesses that he is still hungry, too. Leane suggests having someone bring Mat a pie or some cakes. Siuan tells her that she thinks Mat has had as much as he can hold for now. Mat scowls and thinks that when a man is sick, he is invisible to women unless they are actually talking to him directly. Then when they do, he thinks, they take at least ten years off of his age.
Mat announces that he is not hungry at all – he is fine. He tells both of them that if they would let him get dressed, he will show them exactly how well he is by leaving. Siuan snorts and tells him that he has eaten a meal for five and that he will eat many more like it for days yet. She tells him that if he does not continue to eat that way, he will starve to death.
Siuan: You’ve just been healed from a link to an evil that killed every man, woman, and child in Aridhol and no less strong for waiting a near two thousand years for you to pick it up. It was killing you just as surely as it killed them.
Siuan admits to Mat that they very nearly killed him themselves trying to save him. Mat maintains that he is not hungry and his stomach growls loudly to demonstrate the lie. Siuan tells Mat that she read him correctly the first time she saw him. She says she knew right then that he would bolt the first time he thought someone was trying to hold him. She tells Mat that it is well that she took precautions. She tells Mat that his name and his description are on the way to the bridge guards and the dockmasters. She tells Mat that she will not attempt to hold him inside of the Tower but she says that he will not leave Tar Valon itself unless he is well. Mat demands to know why they want to keep him there so badly. He hears Selene’s voice in his head whispering that they want to use him.
Mat: Why should you care whether I starve or not? I can feed myself.
The Amyrlin gives a small laugh and tells Mat that she knows how little money he has. She tells him that his dice would need to be very lucky, indeed, to buy all of the food that he will need for the next few days. She tells him firmly that they do not heal people so that they can die starving, wasting their care. Siuan tells Mat that he may end up needing more healing. Mat is surprised and she tells him that he carried the dagger for months. She says that they thought they dug every trace of it from him, but if they missed even the smallest spec, it might still be fatal. She suggests that if it has ill effects on him six months or a year from now, he will be happy to have an Aes Sedai nearby.
Mat asks her incredulously and loudly if she wants him to stay in Tar Valon fora year. Siuan tells Mat that it will probably not be that long. She asks him if he would set sail on a boat without knowing whether the caulking will hold. Mat thinks that what she is saying may be the truth but there are too many mights and mays in what she is saying for him to feel comfortable. Mat then tells her that he has been gone from home for a long time and he suggests that his parents probably believe that he is dead. She tells him that if he wishes to write a letter to them, she will see that it is carried to Emond’s Field. Mat waits for more but she says nothing else. He thanks her. Mat laughs and tells her that he is half surprised that his dad did not coming looking for him. He tells her that his dad is the kind of man who would.
Mat is not sure but he thinks that there is a small hesitation before Siuan speaks. She tells Mat that his father did come to Tar Valon and that Leane spoke with him. Leane takes the conversation up and tells him that they did not know where he was at that time and that his father left before the heavy snows. She tells Mat that she gave his father some gold to make the journey home easier. Siuan adds that there is no doubt that his father will be pleased to hear from him as will his mother. She tells Mat to give her the letter when he has written it and she says that she will see to it.
Mat thinks to himself that they did tell him but he had to ask. He also noticed that they did not mention Rand’s father. Mat tells Siuan that he was traveling with a friend, Rand al’Thor, and asks if she knows if he is alright. Mat says that he bets Rand’s father would also like to be updated. Siuan tells Mat that as far as she knows, Rand is well enough. She tells Mat that she has seen Rand only once in Fal Dara, at the same time that she saw him also. Siuan turns to the Keeper and suggests that Mat could perhaps do with some pie and something for his throat if he is going to do all of this talking. She asks Leane if she will see that it is brought to him. The tall Aes Sedai leaves with a murmured “as you command, Mother.”
When the Amyrlin turns back to Mat, she is smiling, but her eyes are blue ice. She tells Mat that there are things it might be dangerous for Mat to talk about, perhaps even in front of Leane. Mat tells her that he does not know anything dangerous and he adds that he can hardly remember half of what he does know. She asks Mat if he remembers the Horn. Mat asks what Horn she means. She is on her feet and looming over Mat in an instant, warning him not to play games with her. She asks again firmly if he remembers.
Mat has to swallow before he tells her that he remembers. She seems to relax, just a little. She tells him that it is good that he remembers. She then asks him if he knows that he is linked to it. Mat mouths the word “linked” shocked, and Siuan replies that she did not think he knew.
Siuan: You were the first to blow the Horn of Valere after it was found. For you, it will summon dead heroes back from the grave. For anyone else, it is only a Horn – so long as you live.
Mat takes a deep breath before pointing out that Siuan could have let him die. She nods. He says that if she had, she could have had anyone she wants blow it and it would have worked for them. She nods again.
Mat: Blood and ashes! You mean me to blow it for you. When the Last Battle comes, you mean me to call Heroes back from the grave to fight the Dark One for you. Blood and bloody ashes!
Siuan asks Mat if he would prefer the alternative. Mat frowns and then remembers what the alternative is. Mat tells her that if she wants him to blow the Horn, then he will blow it. He points out that he never said he would not. She gives him an exhasperated sigh and tells Mat that he reminds her of her uncle Huan.
Siuan: “You remind me of my uncle Huan. No one could ever pin him down. He liked to gamble, too, and he’d much rather have fun than work. He died pulling children out of a burning house. He wouldn’t stop going back as long as there was one left inside. Are you like him, Mat? Will you be there when the flames are high?”
Mat tells her that he does what he has to do but he says he is no hero. Siuan tells Mat that most of those we call heroes only did what they have to do. She warns Mat not to speak to anyone other than herself of the Horn or of his link to it. Mat starts to curse again but stops and then tells her that he will not tell anyone and that he wishes no one knew. Mat asks her if she does not trust her Aes Sedai.
For a moment, Mat thinks that he has gone too far. When Siuan speaks, she tells him that if she could make it so that only she and he knew, she would She points out that the more people know a thing, the more the knowledge spreads even with the best will. She tells him that most of the world believes the Horn of Valere is only a legend and those who do believe think one of the Hunters has yet to find it. She then tells him that Shayol Ghul knows it has been found which means that at least some Darkfriends know as well. She tells Mat that they do not know where it is and if the Light shines on them, they do not know that Mat sounded it. She asks Mat if he really wants Darkfriends, halfmen, or other Shadow spawn coming after him. She tells Mat that they want the Horn and that the Horn will work as well for the Shadow as for the Light. She also reminds him that if it is to work for them, they must take Mat or kill him.
The room suddenly feels very cold. Mat asks if she is telling him that Darkfriends could come after him in the White Tower. He says that he thought the White Tower could keep Darkfriends out. Siuan tells him that is a good reason to stay. She then stands up and smooths her skirts. She advises Mat to rest and then leaves.
For a long time, Mat lays staring up at the ceiling. He barely notices when a serving woman comes with a piece of pie and another pitcher of milk. He considers his situation. The Amyrlin thinks she holds him like a sheep in a pen. And he has no idea who in the Light Selene even is or what she wants. He admits to himself that Selene had been right about some things. However, the Amyrlin did tell Mat that she meant to use him and how she meant to do it. He thinks that there are too many holes in what the Amyrlin said to suit him. Mat thinks to himself that he might prefer trollocs to being tugged at from either side by Selene and the Amyrlin. He thinks that there has to be a way out of Tar Valon and out of both of their grasps. Mat decides that once he is beyond the river, he can keep out of Aes Sedai hands, as well as Selene’s hands and Darkfriend hands, too. He is sure of it and he thinks there must be a way.
All he has to do is think about it from every angle. The pie grows cold on the table.
Selene / Lanfear is back. Unlike Rand, Mat picks up that he should be afraid of her in his first meeting with her. Rand, Loial, and Hurin spent days (weeks?) with her and did not do the same. Rand could only think about uh, marrying her. Freshly healed Mat’s got a great radar for people who are SUS. We saw some of that on the Caemlyn Road. Mat often sniffed out Darkfriends faster than Rand there, too. At the time, some of that is attributed to the dagger making him suspicious. But some of that may be innate in Mat.
Except… Mat totally dove right in on that crazy preposterous treasure story Mordeth sold him in Shadar Logoth – forcing Rand and Perrin to go with him. Maybe that was a ta’veren thing and Mat could not really control himself in that moment because the Wheel literally would not let him.
This chapter actually is a tremendous journey into how Mat thinks. He picks up on conversation nuances that the other Emond’s Fielders do not. He notices when things are being left out and avoided and he notices that they are left out or avoided in real time. It’s fun to be in his brain and feel the flurry of activity as he processes a conversation. The only other Two Rivers native who does that semi-consistently is Nynaeve (and we don’t / haven’t spent time in her head, yet.) We learn that Mat actually takes a lot of pride in out-thinking other people. He considers it a trait his father has and he tries to live up to his father’s standard. If he uses that brain to avoid work, gamble, and play pranks… well, that just makes him more likeable.
I think Siuan probably has Mat’s personality pegged really well. But Jordan kind of uses that story about her uncle to trick the reader into crediting Mat with the heroic characteristics of Siuan’s uncle – before we have ever really seen them from him. I found myself thinking “yeah, Mat is like that” as Siuan told the story. To be clear, Mat has not demonstrated any heroism like that at all just yet. Siuan has seen no evidence of this from Mat, either. Maybe she just incepted into Mat a notion of the type of hero he wants to be. I assume we should look at that burning building story as personality foreshadowing.
So… Mat is linked to the Horn. That link ends when he dies. It means he is the only person who can use it properly and it is also is a likely source of future assassination attempts on Mat’s life. The White Tower and Selene are tugging at him and both are open about wanting to use him. Mat wants to escape the city and Siuan has made that all but impossible. He is going to try anyway but he also wants to see his friends before he goes.
Something to consider: If Lanfear is in the White Tower, does that mean she sent the Gray Man to kill Egwene and Nynaeve? It seems likely that she at least knew about it. If she wants Rand to stand beside her, she can’t exactly have Egwene in the picture. And Nynaeve might just need to die due to her potential future power.