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 40: A Hero in the Night
Mat leans on the rail as The Gray Gull passes through Aringill. The docks in the town swarm with people. The sun, which has not yet set, shines on the flying Andoran White Lion banner despite the town being on the Cairhien side of the river. Mat does not care about the politics though, so long as he does not meet anyone who insists that he is an Andorman just because of where he is from on a map.
Mat: Burn me, they might even try to make me fight in their bloody army if this Cairhien business spreads.
The captain of The Gray Gull, Huan Mallia, did not quit in his efforts to ingratiate himself with Mat and Thom until Mat finally showed him the letter from the Daughter Heir and told him it was a personal message for the Queen. Mat’s coat pocket contains two purses which are more filled than when he got onto the ship.
On the journey, using a hot knife, Mat lifted the seal on Elayne’s letter and read its contents. There is nothing in it that he can see other than an update on her studies and her eagerness to learn. The letter also explains that the Amyrlin Seat had punished her for running away and forbidden her to speak on it further. The letter also tells Queen Morgase that Elayne had been raised to the Accepted and it gushes over the speed of her progress. The letter also tells Morgase that Elayne is being entrusted with greater duties that will see her leaving Tar Valon on the personal order of the Amyrlin herself, with a note to her mother not to worry about this.
Mat knows that this letter must be the reason those men had come after him but even Thom had been unable to make anything of its contents all the while muttering about ciphers and codes and The Game of Houses. Mat has the letter in the lining of his coat, with the seal replaced, and he is willing to be no one will ever know the difference.
When they exit the vessel, Thom notices the condition of the people and that half of them look as though they are starving. He tells Mat that it may cost one of his purses for the two of them to obtain a room tonight and the other for a meal if he continues to eat as he has on the trip. Mat replies that he has not been eating for two days and reflects that his hunger was simply gone one morning, as if Tar Valon released its last hold on him.
In the crowd, Mat sees a destitute woman and her crying children and presses coins into her hand without looking to see what he gave her, and admonishes her to find food for them. While he thinks that Thom might now expect him to do this for every waif they come across, Mat finds an Andoran soldier and asks about finding an inn and a horse. The soldier looks Mat up and down and tells him that he will be lucky to find a hedge to sleep under and he adds that he is unlikely to find a horse given that the people are now eating them to avoid starvation. Thom expresses shock that things are now that bad but the soldier replies that they are. The soldier explains that the refugees are crossing faster than the mills can produce flour. He then tells them that as of tomorrow, the refugees will no longer be allowed to cross.
Mat and Thom join the stream of people flowing toward the gates and into Aringill. The paved stone streets of the city are crowded with aimlessly moving people. As they move through the streets, Thom tells Mat that the order to stop the inflow of refugees does not sound like Morgase. As they talk, Mat sees a sign for an inn called The Riverman. They go inside and when the innkeeper hears Mat’s request for a room, he laughs until his chin shakes. He explains that he is putting four people to a bed and that if his own mother entered the inn he could not give her a blanket for a fire. Mat pulls Thom outside as he begins to offer gleeman services. When Thom complains, saying he could have at least bargained for them to find a place in the stable, Mat replies that he has slept in enough stables. He says he wants to sleep in a bed.
They pass through four more inns without getting a different answer. By the fifth inn, after hearing no, Mat asks about the stables and is told by the innkeeper that his stables are for horses. Mat begins laying down coins until the innkeeper changes his mind. After securing a place to sleep, Mat attempts to buy the innkeeper’s horses. The man tells him that they are not for sale but Mat offers him a two for one wager that the greedy innkeeper cannot pass up.
Later, having won the wager, Mat finds the two brown geldings in the stables. The two men climbed the ladder up to the loft, eating an listening to the sound of rain and thunder outside. As Mat is thinking of wanting the letter out of his hands, he hears an axel creak, indicating that the stable door has been opened. Mat rolls to the edge of the loft and sees a slender woman standing below. She is wearing a green silk dress, fine once, but now tattered and stained. She talks to herself and then closes the stable door behind her, enclosing the room in darkness. After a moment, and some noise, Mat sees that she has a lantern in her hands and she hangs it up on a hook.
After a moment, the woman begins sniffing at the air and Mat realizes she probably smells Thom’s tabac smoke. Mat was about to stand and announce their presence as one of the stable doors opens again, revealing four large well-dressed men with grim faces. One of them speaks to the woman, calling her Aludra, and says she did not run as fast as she thought to. Aludra calls the man Tammuz and blames him for causing her to be cast out of the Guild. She asks him if he has to chase her, too, and he answers that they would have left her alone but says they heard she is making what it is the right of the Guild alone to make. Suddenly Tammuz has a knife in his hand and he tells her it will be a great pleasure to cut her throat.
Mat is not even aware that has stood up until the ropes are in his hands and he is launching himself out of the loft. He calls himself a fool as he begins knocking over the large men with his momentum. He lands, with his coins spilling out as he does, and then he and the four men all rise together. Now all four of the men have knives in their hands. Thom calls out to him and Mat looks up in time to see the gleeman tossing his quarterstaff down to him. He snags it out of the air in time to knock the knife from Tammuz’s fist. For a hectic moment, Mat does all he can to keep their knives away from him. But soon he has hit all of the men in the head and stares at Aludra.
Mat: Did you have to choose this stable to be murdered in?
Up close, Mat sees that she is ten or fifteen years older than he is. She explains that she would have helped but says she did not want him to mistake her for one of them. She sees Thom climbing down now and says that this is like a story – rescued by a gleeman and a young hero. She looks at the four men on the floor and says she was rescued by these whose mothers are pigs. Mat asks why they wanted to kill her and notes that they said something about secrets. Before she has a chance to answer, Thom guesses that the secrets are about making fireworks and that she is an Illuminator.
Aludra replies that she was an Illuminator before adding that Tammuz ruined a performance for the King of Cairhien and nearly destroyed the Chapter House in the process. She says that as Mistress of the Chapter House, she was blamed and held responsible Thom, sounding wooden, gives the name of the King of Cairhien as Galldrian. He tells her the king is dead now and that he will see no more fireworks. She tells Thom and Mat the Guild all but blames her for the War in Cairhien as if that one night of disaster had made the king die. Aludra says that Tammuz and the others will wake soon so that she needs to go now.
She looks at Thom and Mat and tells them that she must reward them but also says she has no money. She suggests that she has something that is perhaps as good as gold. She takes a bundle from her cart and removes a cloth and binding cords around it. Thom tells her that she should not give them fireworks noting that she could sell them for enough money to live for ten days or more at a good inn and also eat well every day while there. She tells him to be quiet and says she has more to sell if she needs to do that, and then she proceeds to explain to both of them what eat of the cylinders do, and how to light and care for them.
When she is done, she tells them that she must go before the sons of goats awaken. Seeing the rain, she sighs, and says that she hopes to find somewhere else that is dry. She adds that she will go toward Lugard tomorrow because those four will likely expect her to go to Caemlyn. Before she goes, Mat scoops up some of the coins that fell out of his pockets when he dived from the loft and gives them to her. Mat tells her that he can always win more. Aludra smiles at Thom and tells the gleeman that Mat is young yet. Thom agrees noting that Mat is not so bad as he would like ot think himself. Mat glowers at both of them. As she goes, Thom asks her how she lit the lantern so quickly in the dark, and she replies asking if he wishes her to tell him all her secrets.
Aludra: I am grateful but I am not in love. That secret not even the Guild knows for it is my discovery alone. I will tell you this much. When I know how to make it work properly, and only when I want it to, sticks will make my fortune for me. She then pulls her car into the rain and the night swallows her.
Mat wonders if she might not be a little strange in the head as Tammuz groans. Thom suggests that they best do the same as she did, or else slit their throats and spend the next few days explaining themselves to the Queen’s Guards.
By the time Mat and Thom are on their new horses, Tammuz and the other men are on their hands and knees groaning. Mat stares out at the rain outside.
Mat: A bloody hero. Thom, if I ever look like acting the hero again, you kick me.
Thom asks what he would have done differently and Mat admonishes him again to just kick him before riding out into the rainy night.
Just in case it is not clear to the reader what kind of person Mat really is, we get this chapter to demonstrate a few times that despite what he says about himself, or how he might think about himself, Mat is actually quite soft-hearted and heroic. He gives money to needy children. He risks damsels in distress. He is thoughtful enough to make sure that damsel has money for food when she goes.
He also ends up with Chekhov’s Fireworks.
This chapter re-introduces us to Aludra, who we met (sort of) in The Great Hunt when Rand (not Tammuz) destroys the Illuminator’s Chapter House in Cairhien. Her interaction here with Thom is fun because little does she know she is sharing a room with the man who actually killed the King of Cairhien.
Note: In case you missed it, we learn in this chapter that Mat’s vessel sees the ship the Supergirls got off of (the one that got stuck in the river, causing the girls to disembark and meet the Aiel) and Mat’s ship goes on past without stopping. That gives us some indication that he is following slightly behind them though it is difficult to say by how much.
Note 2: Mat read Elayne’s letter. So did Thom. Bold move breaking a royal seal and reading what is inside, no?
Note 3: Thom hints that not all is right with Morgase. He doesn’t think it sounds lke her to stop refugees from entering Andor under these circumstances.
Note 4: We hear one more time from Mallia (the ship captain) about some new High Lord Samon in Tear.
Note 5: I think Aludra has invented matches (i.e. “sticks.”)