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 32: The First Ship
Mat and Thom arrive down at the docks of the South Harbor. The dockmaster sees Mat and stops with surprise on his leathery face. He tells Mat that he should forget whatever it is that he is planning and that he will not board any vessel leaving the harbor. Thom murmurs is surprise as Mat answers firmly that the situation has changed. The ship Mat wants on is beginning to cast off as Mat pulls the Amyrlin’s paper from his pouch and thrusts it toward the dockmaster.
Mat: As you can see I am on the business of the Tower, at the order of the Amyrlin Seat herself. And I have to leave on that very vessel there.
The dockmaster reads the letter and then reads it again, asking aloud why the Tower says he cannot leave the city and then giving him a letter to do just that. Mat suggests that he should ask the Amyrlin before adding that she will have both of their hides if Mat does not sail on that ship. The dockmaster tells Mat that he will never make it, though he also cups his hands to his mouth and yells toward the vessel, The Gray Gull, to stop.
Mat snaps that he will make it and without waiting to see if Thom follows, he runs toward the ship. The gap between the ship’s stern and wharfs widen as Mat jump as hard as he can. He clears the rail and rolls across the deck. As he gets to his feet he hears a grunt and a curse behind him. Thom leans over the rail and tells Mat that he lost his walking stick and will want another.
The men on the ship look stunned and angry. One man calls for two other men toss Mat and Thom over the side. As two extremely large men approach, Mat waves the Amyrlin’s paper toward the man he supposes to be the captain. He fishes a gold crown out of his pouch also, while making sure the Captain sees he has more gold where that came from.
Mat speaks quickly, apologizing for how they boarded, saying that they are on business of The White Tower which has the utmost urgency. The captain looks at Mat doubtfully before motioning the two approaching men to stop where they are. He says he would not anger the Tower and that he comes too often to Tar Valon to anger anyone. He gives Mat a tight smile saying though that he has six cabins for passengers and that all are full.
That captain says that they can sleep on the deck for two more gold crowns. Thom mutters that the price is ridiculous. Mat asks him how much he would ask for one of the cabins to themselves, thinking to himself that if he does not overwhelm a man like this that he will steal from them and claim it is a favor. Mat adds that they eat what the captain eats and not with the crew. Thom tries to intervene by offering to perform but the captain looks Mat up and down and says that they can have his own cabin, and his meals, for five gold crowns from each of them. The captain then begins to laugh so hard that he wheezes. He is still laughing as Mat pulls out one of his two purses but the laughter stops when Mat has placed five gold crowns into his hands. The captain blinks in disbelief. Mat then lays seven more crowns on the pile to offset any arguments about the weight of the coinage and then two more gold crowns atop that for whoever the captain will be forced to push out of a cabin.
The captain suddenly whispers a question to Mat asking if he is a young lord in disguised. Even Thom is staring at him in disbelief. Mat laughs telling them that he is no lord before asking to see their cabin. The captain himself leads them down to where they will be staying. While the man removes his things from the cabin, Mat learns a great deal – including that the captain will not be pushing any passengers out of their cabins. He will instead take his First’s bed, leading the First to take the Second’s bed, with each man in the crew taking the bed of the immediate rank below him until the deckmaster ends up sleeping with the crew. Mat believes it is always best to know where you are going and who you are dealing with.
The captain is named Huan Mallia and he is Tieran. He is not nobly born but he will not have anyone thinking him a fool. He believes a young man with more gold than he should have might be a thief except that everyone knows nobody escapes Tar Valon with their haul. Huan also sees in Mat the air and confidence of a lord that he denies being but he tells Mat that he will not call him a lord if he says he is not. There is no secret that Queen Morgase recently visited Tar Valon. It is obvious to Mallia that something is afoot between Caemlyn and Tar Valon. He believes Mat and Thom must be messengers for Morgase, based on Mat’s accent.
Mallia tells Mat that he will not pry into his affairs, however, it is not long until he is prying. Mat listens and answers questions with grunts and shrugs. Thom says less than that. Mallia rambles while prying, sharing with Mat his contempt for almost every country he mentions, excepting grudging praise for Andor. Mallia hates Illian ferociously and views Mayene as a place with no right to call itself a country at all. In particular, Mallia believes that rule by High Lords is preferable to rule by one King or one Queen. Mallia heaps the most praise on the High Lord Samon of Tear.
The more that Mallia talks, the more that he betrays he hates women who can channel above and beyond even his hatred of Illianers. He lets slip to Mat and Thom that he does not like even docking in Tar Valon. Mallia shares that the High Lord Samon said the Aes Sedai mean to rule the world.
Mallia: There’s no hope for it. Sooner or later they will have to be hunted down and killed, every last Aes Sedai. The High Lord Samon says the others might be saved, the young ones, the Novices, the Accepted, if they’re brought to the Stone, but the rest must be eradicated.
After a moment, Mallia gives a start as if realizing what he just said. He tells them that this is what Samon says, adding that he thinks that might all be going a bit too far. He tells them that the High Lord Samon speaks in such a way as to carry a man beyond his own beliefs. Feeling mischievous, Mat suggests that Mallia imagine the Stone of Tear with a couple dozen Aes Sedai in it. The captain stiffens and then leaves. As he goes, Mat mutters that perhaps he should not have said that. Thom dryly tells Mat that next he might considering telling The Lord Captain Commander of the Whitecloaks to marry the Amyrlin Seat.
Thom’s eyebrows draw down as he says that he has never heard of any High Lord Samon. Mat dryly replies that even he cannot know everything about all of the kings and queens and nobles. Thom replies that he knows the names of every king and queen as well as the names of every High Lord of Tear, too. Thom suggests that they might have raised a High Lord of the land but he says he thinks he would have heard of the old High Lord dying.
Later, on impluse, Mat pulls out his dice cup. He tosses the dice and each shows a single pip. This is toss called The Dark One’s Eyes – a winning toss in some games and a losing toss in another. Mat wonders what game he is playing. He scoops them, tosses them, and five pips show again. The same thing happens a third time. Thom tells Mat that if he used those dice to win all of that gold it is no wonder he had to leave by the first ship sailing. Mat mutters that it is not the dice, it is the luck. He puts the dice back into the cup and caps it.
Thom asks if Mat will not tell him where all the gold came from. Mat explains that he won it, tonight, with the dice of the men he played against. Thom seems doubtful and then asks about the paper Mat was waiving around. Mat tells him that he is carrying a letter from Elayne to Queen Morgase, adding that Nynaeve gave him the paper and that he does not know how she obtained it.
Thom: Well, if you are not going to tell me, I am going to sleep. Blow out teh lamps, will you?
Mat lies down but cannot sleep. Thom is snoring and he wonders how Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene got the paper from the Amyrlin. He knows that this means they must be involved with her in some plot. However, not that he thinks about it, he realizes they must be holding something back form the Amyrlin as well. Most of all, though, Mat thinks about luck and footpads. He is thinking on these things when he hears the first bump on the stern. The sound barely registers on him. He pays no attention to a subsequent thump and scuffle overheard. Soon though, stealthy footsteps toward his door merge with Mat’s thoughts of footpads and make his ears perk up. Mat nudges Thom in the ribs with an elbow whispering to him to wake up. Mat gets to his feet, hoping the floor does not creak, as Thom resumes snoring. He places himself in front of the door, holding his quarterstaff, and he waits.
The door swings open slowly as two cloaked men faintly outlined by dim moonlight enter. The light is enough to glint off of their knife blades. Both men gasp as they had not expected to find anyone waiting for them. Mat thrusts with his quarterstaff catching the first man hard right where his ribs join together. He hears his father’s voice as he strikes, warning him that this is a killing blow. As the first man collapses, Mat steps over him and drives the end of his staff into the second man’s throat. The second man drops his knife, clutching his throat, and falling on top of his companion.
Mat stares down at them thinking that after never hurting another person before, he has now killed three men in one night. Silence fills the dark passage way as Mat hears the thump of boots overhead. The crewmen aboard the ship all go barefoot. Mat rips the cloak from one of the dead men and settles it around his shoulders. On bare feet, he goes down the hallway and climbs the latter, barely peaking above the hatch opening. Mat hears no sounds except the rush of water along the vessel’s sides.
Mat sees a man wearing boots at the till. Holding the quartertaff low, he climbs on up. He mutters to the other man in a low rough whisper.
Mat: He’s dead.
The booted man replies that he hopes he squealed when his throat was cut. The heavily accented voice is one that Mat remembers calling from a twisting street in Tar Valon. Just as the man realizes he does not know who he is speaking to, Mat swings his quarterstaff as hard as he can at his head. The hood of the man’s cloak only partly muffles the sound of what sounds like a melon falling onto the floor. He falls across the tiller, shoving it over, and the ship lurches. staggering Mat.
Out of the corner of his eye, Mat sees a shape rising out of the shadows by the railing. He knows he will never get his staff around in time to stop the blade from striking home, however, something else flies through the night and merges with the shape in a dull thunk. The shadow is now a dead man sprawledalmost at Mat’s feet.
A babble of voices spring up below deck as the ship lurches again with the tiller still carrying the weight of the first man. Thom limps form the hatch in smallclothes. He and Mat walk together to the ship’s rail where a rope is hanging. As the ylook down, they see a small boat below and two men on it. One of the two men below yells.
Man: The Great Lord take me, it’s him!
Thom asks Mat, with a booming voice, if he wants to kill these two men as well. Mat tells him no, quickly, The men below must have heard the question because they abandon the attempt to free their boat from The Gray Gull and leap over the side to great splashes. The sound of them thrashing away across the river is loud. Thom tells Mat the the river is still half a mile or more wide where they are and that those men will never make it in the dark.
A shout from the captain is raised from the hatch asking what has happened. He asks why his crewman is lying across the tiller but when he pulls the dead man off, he sees that it is not one of his men. He asks who all of these dead men are. More crewmen and frightened passengers clamor onto the deck now. Thom tells the captain that there were river brigands. Thom adds that since he and Mat saved everyone, perhaps he should reconsider his passage fee.
The captain cannot believe brigands would attack the vessel. Mat returns to the hatch, to climb down, and hears the captain mutter that he has never heard that Andor employed assassins but that he (Mat) is a cold one. Mat makes it halfway to his bed before he begins to shake. When the shaking starts, all he can do is sink down to his knees.
Light, what game am I playing in? I have to know the game if I’m going to win.
Rand plays ‘Rose of the Morning’ softly on his flute while peering into his campfire. This song is one of the tunes he had played at those weddings. He cannot remember how many days gone that was and continues to be in disbelief over how many weddings there were. He wonders to himself if he is going mad already. He plays on barely loud enough to be heard. He wonder if he really is ta’veren and whether he caused all of those weddings. He thinks to himself also that both the living and the dead say he is The Dragon Reborn. He says to himself that duty forced him to let them proclaim him but adds that letting them do it does not make it true. The song makes him think of Egwene and how he once believed they would be married. He knows that is gone now, though he remembers she visited him in his dreams.
Rand thinks that it might really have been her. However, he remembers a lot of other familiar faces in his dreams who were not what they appeared. All of the other faces had tried to kill him. He wonders if those were only dreams while knowing that some dreams are real. The problem is he cannot tell the difference.
His mind wanders to a memory of Min trying to kill him and he is surprised by how much that pained him. He has been unguarded around Min, for so long, despite what she sees when she looks at him. Rand thinks that being with her is lying having balm on his wounds.
And then she tried to kill me. No, not her, Shadowspawn with her face. Least of all would Min try to hurt me.
Rand cannot understand why he thinks that but he is sure it is true. He has seen so many faces in his dreams. He remembers seeing Selene, cool and mysterious, and his mouth goes dry just thinking of her. Instead of glory, she tells him now that he must take the sword, and with the sword will come Selene. Callandor is always in his dreams. He also sees taunting faces as well as hands pushing Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne into cages. He wonders why he should weep more for Elayne than the other two. Rand’s head spins. Sweat rolls down his face as he softly plays “Rose of the Morning” through the night.
I love this chapter. The action scenes as Mat flees “footpads” in Tar Valon are good but this sequence on the ship is great.
If it was not clear before, though, we know now that these “footpads” are Darkfriends. One of the men who got away – perhaps to drown in the river – referred to “The Great Lord.” Only Darkfriends use that term.
In addition to all of the luck, the thing I really like about this chapter is that Mat’s skill is his own. His father trained him on the quarterstaff and he even thinks of his dad in this chapter. Mat’s inability to sleep is a function of his over-active mind. Those things are not a magical power-up, they’re just Mat being Mat. Being awake and knowing how to use his quarterstaff is why Mat survived – well, that and Thom’s throwing knives. Luck helped a bit though it makes sense that Thom wakes up after the first couple of bodies drop.
High Lord Samon of Tear is mentioned a lot. My guess is that this is important. I don’t think a writer makes a point of hammering home the existence of a new character like a High Lord that Thom has never heard of, when we already know our supergirls are going to Tear, unless it’s highly relevant.
There are some good emotional beats in this chapter. I like that Mat thinks about his father while fighting for his life. I enjoy that he kind of has a panic attack at the end of his section in this chapter, too. OF COURSE a farmboy from a flyspeck village would panic under these circumstances. These things help Mat to feel *real* in spite of what is happening around him.
I still don’t think Lanfear is behind the attacks on Mat. That means these Darkfriend killers are most likely sent by another of the Forsaken – though maybe via Aes Sedai.
Rand’s section is interesting. His thoughts seem jumbled and you get a sense that maybe he is going mad. He has been attacked in his dreams repeatedly. Is he a Dreamer like Egwene? It seems very possible. The other big thing we pick up in Rand’s section is that he finds himself – to his own surprise – caring more about Min and Elayne than Egwene or other people in his life. Min has implied that Egwene is not for him but this is the first strong evidence that either she or Rand are going along with that internally. Egwene still seems VERY emotionally attached to Rand, in my opinion. Her Accepted testing is pretty good evidence of that.