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 31: The Woman of Tanchico
The common room is brightly lit but only a quarter full given the late hour. The patrons have the look of ship’s officers and minor merchants from small houses. Mat does not her the sound of dice anywhere in the room.
The harpist inside plays Mara and The Three Foolish Kings and Mat sees that his instrument is fit for a palace. Mat recognizes him as someone who once saved his life. Mat sees that the sorrowful man playing the harp is Thom Merrilin. Mat takes a table and orders two mugs. Mat giving the serving girl two silver pennies, one for the drinks and another for her eyes. He tells the serving girl that the gleeman will be joining him.
Thom finishes his story causing the patrons to laugh and stamp their feet. The gleeman nearly falls getting down from his table and nearly again as he walks to Mat’s table. He casually places his harp on the table, drops onto a stool, and gives Mat a flat stare. Mat notices that his sharp eyes seem to be having trouble focusing. He mutters to Mat about how the patrons prefer the tale in common speech, instead of plain chant or high chant, and then he buries his face in his wine.
Mat does not remember ever seeing Thom play the harp without immediately putting it in his hard leather case. He also cannot remember seeing the man the worse for drink. It is a relief to hear him complaining about his listeners. When the serving girl returns, she rounds on Mat to say that if she had known Thom was the one going to join him, she would not have served the drinks. Mat protests saying he did not know Thom was drunk. Another woman comes to the table and joins the first in trying to get Thom to cease drinking and to his bed.
Thom looks at both women and says that two pretty women have loved him in his life adding that this is more than most men can claim. They tell him that he has told them all about it. Mat tells the two women that he will take care of Thom. They glare at Mat for the offer. His stomach growls so Mat asks the two women to give him three or four chickens. They continue to glare at Mat until he offers Thom some food as well. Then the join Mat in telling Thom to eat. When he finally agrees, they leave but they make a point of sniffing and glaring at Mat as they go.
Mat tells Thom that Rand mentioned he was still alive. Thom’s eyes sharpen to almost a keenness that Mat remembers as he confirms that Rand is still well, then. He tells Mat that he is not sure he expected Rand to be well. Thom then notes that Moiraine must still be with Rand and says that she is a fine looking woman and a fine woman in general were she not Aes Sedai. Mat asks him carefully why he would not expect Rand to be alright and Thom replies that he knows nothing but suspects more than is healthy.
The older of the two women returns with three chickens. Mat begins to eat as he asks Thom why he is in Tar Valon. He adds that he expected Thom to be in Cairhien. Thom replies that killing a man causes trouble even when he deserves to be killed. Mat says he just wants to know why he is in Tar Valon and says that if he had to leave Cairhien because he killed someone that he does not want to know about it. Thom tells Mat, sourly, that he is in Tar Valon because it is the worst place he can be except possibly for Caemlyn. He tells Mat that being here is what he deserves and says that if Elaida, who he saw in the streets the other day, knew he was here she would peel his hide off in strips before she stopped being pleasant.
Mat grumbles disgustedly that he never knew Thom to be a man who feels sorry for himself. Thom asks him what he knows of it before turning Mat’s question back on him. He demands to know why Mat is here and shares that he remembers Mat’s aversion for the One Power. Mat tells him simply that he is leaving for Caemlyn. He suggests to Thom that if he needs to risk his life for some reason he should go with him.
Thom muses over Caemlyn as Mat says Elaida will likely return to the city at some point. He adds that he also knows that if Morgase gets her hands on him, Thom will wish Elaida had him. Thom suddenly seems to like the idea of going to Caemlyn. He notices that all three chickens are gone and in shock asks Mat if he stuffed them up his sleeve. Mat mutters that sometimes he gets hungry before asking Thom again if he will come with him or not. Thom says that he will. He gets to his feet, no longer seeming so unsteady, and goes to get his things and say some goodbyes. He does not stagger once as he goes.
Mat drinks a little of his wine wondering if he has time to order another chicken but Thom returns quickly. The two serving women return with Thom on either side of him, and Thom kisses them on their cheeks as he goes. Thom is outside before Mat can gather all of his belongings. The younger of the two serving women tells Mat that she does not know what he said to him but that she forgives Mat for the wine. She tells Mat she has not seen Thom this alive in weeks. She presses a silver Tar Valon mark into Mat’s hand and tells him that this is for whatever it is that he said. She also adds that whoever it is that is feeding Mat is not doing a good job of it. Then she tells Mat that he has pretty eyes.
Mat is laughing as he joins Thom outside on the street. He laughter shuts off when he realizes the corpse outside is gone. He knows the city guard would not have carried a dead man away without asking questions at the taverns and in the inn. Thom asks him what he is staring at and Mat replies that he is thinking about footpads. The gleeman tells him that there are no street thieves or strong arms in Tar Valon. He says that when a thief is caught in the city, the women in the Tower do something that scares him or her so much that they leave the city.
Mat strides toward the docks and says that they are going to be on the first ship sailing, whatever ship that is. Thom’s stick clicks hurriedly after him as he hells for Mat to slow down.
If they weren’t footpads, what were they? They had to be thieves.
Mat and Thom are a great pairing. They both have a kind of wild, woman-chasing, reckless streak. But Mat is young and uneducated while Thom is old and with a lot of polish. I also enjoy how easily Mat convinces Thom to uproot and come with him.
This is a great example of a Jordan chapter where not very much happens but it is nonetheless fun to read. “Mat goes into inn. Runs into Thom. He eats three chickens and then leaves with Thom. The body outside is gone.”
Speaking of the body, what do we think happened here? It seems pretty obvious that Mat was being chased by Darkfriends and that the guy who died outside was a Gray Man. Mat described him as very ordinary-looking. Who send the Darkfriends after him is the question of the day.
Lanfear is a candidate… perhaps she did not like that Mat left. It seems more her style to just show up where he is, though, and I do not think she’d want Rand’s friend dead.
Black Ajah? Very likely but they would have to be acting on orders. So…
Ba’alzamon must want Mat dead. Or another of the Forsaken does.
Maybe Mat should have warned Thom about what he was signing up for?