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 28: A Way Out
Wearing only his britches, Mat is eating a large snack when the door to his room suddenly opens and Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne file in. They all smile at him brightly. Mat gets up for a shirt before suddenly sitting back down again. He thinks to himself that they could have at least knocked. He thinks though that it is good ot see their faces in any case. He thinks this at first.
Egwene comments to Mat that he does look better. Elayne agrees. Nynaever putst ahand on his forehead. He flinches at first until remembering that she had done much the same for five years before they all left home. Nynaeve notices his flinch and smiles tightly before saying that he looks ready to be up and about to her. She asks if he is tired of being cooped up yet and reminds him that he never could stand more than two days of being in doors. Mat finishes his apple and sees that they are all still looking at him and still smiling. Mat realizes that he is trying to decide which of the three of them is prettiest and finding himself unable to do so. Had they been anybody but who or what they were, Mat thinks that he would ask any or all of them to dance with him. He remembers dancing often enough with Egwene back home, and even a few times with Nynaeve, but that all seems like a long time ago.
Mat: One pretty woman means fun at the dance. Two pretty women means trouble in the house. Three pretty women means run for the hills. My da’ used to say that.
Mat tells them that they are all smiling like cats staring at a finch caught in the thorn bush. He adds that he thinks he is the finch. The smiles flicker and vanish. Mat notices their hands and wonders why they all look as if they have been washing dishes. Mat also notices that all three of them are now wearing Great Serpent rings. That is new and to Mat’s thinking not a pleasant surprise. Mat tries to convince himself that their rings are none of his business.
Egwene tells the other two women that she told them they should have asked Mat straight out. She says he is as stubborn as a mule and as tricksome as a cat. When Mat frowns, she tells him that he is and he knows it. Mat grins again. Nynaeve tells Egwene to hush before telling Mat that just because they want to ask him a favor does not mean that they do not care how he feels. She tells him that they do care and he knows it. She asks if he is well and says that he looks remarkably well compared to how he looked when she last saw him.
Mat tells her that he is ready to run ten miles and dance a jig at the end of it. His stomach growls, reminding him of how long it is to midday yet. He ignores it and hopes that they did not notice. Suspiciously, Mat asks them about the favor. Mat recollects that Nynaeve does not ask favors – she tells people what to do and expects them to see it done.
Elayne: I want you to carry a letter for me. To my mother in Caemlyn.
Elayne smiles, making a dimple in her cheek and tells him that she would appreciate it so very much. Mat thinks that the morning light through the window seems to pick out highlights in her hair. He wonders if she likes to dance before pushing the thought right out of his head. Mat tells her that it does not sound too very hard before adding that it is a long trip. He asks what he gets out of it. Mat sees her face and thinks that her dimple had not failed her very often.
Elayne draws herself up, slim and proud, and asks him if he is not a loyal subject of Andor. Mat snickers. Egwene tells Elayne that she had told her that would not work with Mat. Elayne shows a wry smile and tells Egwene that she thought it was worth a shot She also reminds Egwene that she had told her to smile. Mat keeps his outward calm while being annoyed at the implication he might be a fool for anyone who smiles at him.
Egwene tells Mat that she wishes asking were enough before telling Mat that he does not do favors.
Egwene: Have you ever done anything without being coaxed, weedled, or bullied?
Mat just smiles at both of them and tells Egwene that he will dance with both of them but not run errands. Mat thinks Egwene is on the verge of sticking out her tongue at him when Nynave says in a too calm voice that they should go back to what they planned in the first place. They other two nod.
Nynaeve, looking like the Wisdom of old, tells Mat that he is ruder than she had remembered. She goes on to tell him that given that they took care of him for so long while he was sick he might show a little gratitude. She tells him further that he has always wanted to see great cities and go on adventures before asking him what better city there might be than Caemlyn.
Nynaeve: Do what you want, show your gratitude, and help someone all at the same time.
She produces a parchment from inside of her cloak and sits it on the table. It is sealed with a lily in yellow and golden wax. She tells him that he cannot ask for more than what they are offering. Mat eyes the paper regretfully because he barely even remembers passing through Caemlyn with Rand. He thinks that it is a shame to stop the three women now but he decides that it is best.
Mat tells Nynaeve that he cannot do what she wants. She asks angrily why. Elayne pleads with him and Egwene stares at him as if he has grown horns like a trolloc. Mat squirms on his chair and tells them that it is not that he does not want to. He says it is that he cannot. He tells them that the Amyrlin has made it so that he cannot get off the island.
Mat: Change that and I will carry your letter in my teeth, Elayne.
The women look at each other. Mat wonders if they can read each other’s minds. They seem able to read his own mind when he least wants it. Finally Nynaeve asks Mat to explain why the Amyrlin wants to keep him here. Mat shrugs, looks her straight in the eye, and tells her that it is because he was sick and that it went on for so long. He tells them that Siuan told him that she would not let him go until she is was sure he would not go off somewhere and die. Nynaeve frowns, jerks her braid, and suddenly takes his head between her hands. A chill runs through Mat.
Mat asks her what she did to him. She tells him that he is healthy as a bull. She adds that he is sicker than he looks but says he is healthy. Mat tries to get his grin back as he tells her that he had told her he was healthy. Mat tells Nynaeve that the Amyrlin looked like her, managing to loom even though she is a foot too short for it. Nynaeve’s eyebrows rise so he stops that trajectory of the conversation. However, Mat does not want to lead the three of them to think of the Horn. Mat decides to say that he thinks they want t to keep him here because of the dagger.
Mat tells them that the Amyrlin made it so that he cannot cross a bridge or board a ship without an order from her. He reiterates that it is not that he does not want to help. He says that it is that he cannot. Nynaeve asks him again if he will help them if they can get him out of Tar Valon.
Mat: You get me out of Tar Valon and I’ll carry Elayne to her mother on my back.
Elayne’s eyebrows rise this time. Egwene just shakes her head and mouths his name with a sharp look in her eyes. Mat thinks to himself that women have no sense of humor sometimes. Just then Nynaeve motions the other two women to follow her over to the window in Mat’s room. They talk so softly that he can only hear a murmur though Mat thinks he hears Egwene says something about only needing one if they stay together.
When they come back to the table, Egwene hands Mat a thick folded paper. He eyes them suspciously before opening it. As he reads, he begins humming to himself without knowing it.
What the bearer does is done by my order and by my authority. Obey and keep silent at my command.
– Siuan Sanche, Watcher of the Seals, Flame of Tar Valon, The Amyrlin Seat
Mat realizes that he is humming A Pocket Full of Gold and stops himself. He asks them if this is real and asks how they got this. Elayne says firmly that it is not a forgery. Nynaeve tells him that it is not his business how they got it before adding that it is real. She advises him not to show it around, though, or else the Amyrlin will take it back. She tells him though that it should get him past the guards and onto a ship.
Mat says that they can consider the letter to be in Morgase’s hands right now. He folds the second piece of paper and lays it atop Elayne’s letter. He asks them if they have a little coin to go with this and adds that he has enough for his passage but points out that he has heard things are growing expensive down river.
Nynaeve shakes her head and reminds him that he gambled with Hurin every night on their journey. He replies that they gambled for coppers and says that Hurin would not even do that after a while. He tells them that it does not matter and that he will manage before asking them if they have not been listening to the news of a war in Cairhein. Mat tells them that he hears it is bad in Tear as well. She tells him sharply that they have been busy while exchanging worried looks with Egwene and Elayne that cause him to wonder. Mat tells them again that he will be fine. He thinks that there must be gaming near the docks and he speculates that a night of gambling will put him aboard a ship with a full purse.
Nynaeve tells Mat to deliver the letter to Queen Morgase and to not let anyone knows he has the letter. He tells her that he said he would.
After, they all stay for a while longer talking mostly of home. Talk of Emond’s Field makes Mat homesick and it seems to make Egwene and Nynaeve sad as if they are speaking of something the two of them will never see again. Mat is sure that their eyes moisten. When he tries to change the subject, they bring it back up again.
Elayne tells Mat about Caemlyn, what to expect at the Royal Palace, and who to speak to. She also tells him a little about the city. Sometimes she holds herself in a way that causes Mat to all but see a crown on her head. He thinks to himself that a man would have to be a fool to let himself get involved with a woman like her.
When the three of them rise to leave, Mat is sorry to see them go. He stands suddenly feeling awkward.
Mat: Look, you have done me a favor here. A big favor. I know you are all going to be Aes Sedai and you will be a Queen one day Elayne but if you ever need help, if there is anything I can do, I will come. You can count on it.
They laugh and he asks if he said something funny. Nynaeve tells him that he did not before saying that they are reacting to something she has observed about men. Elayne tells him that he would have to be a woman to understand. Egwene says to journey well and safely.
Egwene: And remember if a woman does need a hero she needs him today not tomorrow.
The laughter bubbles out of Egwene after that. Mat stares at the door as it closes behind them. He decides for at least the one hundredth time that women are odd. His eyes fall on Elayne’s letter and the folded paper lying atop it.
Mat dances a little caper in the middle of the flowered carpet.
Mat: Your own words will free me of you Amyrlin and get me away from Selene, too. They’ll never catch me. You’ll never catch Mat Cauthon.
Remember those two letters that Siuan gave Nynaeve and Egwene? In case you forgot, now the girls only have one. The Wheel weaved a way for Mat to get off the island of Tar Valon.
Adding to that “remember when…” list, the reason the girls laugh at Mat here is because Hurin makes almost the exact same offer to them when he leaves them for Shienar. Mat’s offer creates an instant “inside joke” for them. Just as I did not like their response to Hurin (who literally is someone that other people send for to help them) I do not like their response here to Mat. As far as they know, they might be endangering his health by asking him to do this. He agreed to do it. After all the banter and talk of home, he says something sincere to them and they laugh their way out of the room rather than responding to him in kind. As far as they know, they may never see him again. This is definitely not the finest moment for these three.
Does Nynaeve have a point that when someone needs help, they usually do not want (nor can they afford) to wait for it? Of course. I’m not sure how Mat could have responded better, though. In a sense, this is basically a way for him to say that he would like to see them again and he is inviting the opportunity for them to ask to make that happen.
One thing I noticed again in this chapter is how observant Mat is regarding everything. He notices facial expressions, new jewelry, the rumors of events outside of the city, etc. This talent for data gathering is probably something that allows him to be good in gambling. It’s certainly something that helps him both get into and out of trouble. I suspect we will see it become useful to him in other ways as well. This little observation tick of Mat’s is a really neat writing trick that Jordan does when writing from Mat’s perspective. It’s a subtle way to help us distinguish Mat’s voice and to help us feel like we know how his mind works.