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 45: Caemlyn
Mat has vague memories of Caemlyn but as they approach it in the early hours after sunrise it seems as though he has never been there before. People pack the road with them and he thinks that it is as surely as large as Tar Valon. As they pass through throngs of merchants and people selling their wares, Mat remembers that he thought Caemlyn was too noisy when he visited before. Now he thinks it sounds like a heartbeat pumping wealth.
At the city gates, the red-coated Queen’s Guards eye Mat and Thom no more than anyone else. Their only care is that the people continue to move. Mat tells Thom that a man could earn some gold here playing dice or cards. Thom yawns at him and tells him that they have ridden all night. He tells Mat that they should at least find something to eat first and suggests that The Queen’s Blessing has good meals and good beds. Mat tells him that he remembers that.
Mat remembers that the innkeeper there is a fat man named Master Gill and that Moiraine caught up with himself and Rand there just as Mat thought they had escaped from her. He tells Thom that he will meet him there at the inn but that he wants to be rid of the letter immediately. Thom nods and warns him not to become lost as Mat heels his way up the crowded street.
Even with the holes in his memory, Mat is sure he has never been to the inner city or to the Royal Palace. The main boulevards all lead to the inner city – the part of the city older than two thousand years – so Mat is certain he will not become lost. The guards at the gates of the inner city make no effort to stop anyone. In no time, he finds the Royal Palace of Andor coming into view. Mat draws reign in front of the guards and puts on a smile. He greets the soldier who seems to be in charge. The soldier is both older and fatter than Mat would have expected for his rank.
Mat tells the man that he comes from Tar Valon and is immediately cut off. The older man laughs at the idea that Mat has come from Tar Valon and then he tells Mat, calling him a rogue, that they want no letters from Tar Valon even if he has such a thing. The man then begins to rant at Mat that they will accept no word from Tar Valon until the Daughter-Heir is returned and then to be gone.
Mat waited for the man’s speech to be over, all the while trying to get a word in, and when he finally can speak he tells the soldier that the letter is from the Daughter-Heir. In reply, the soldier asks Mat if he did not already tell him to be gone. He then threatens Mat that if he is not out of his sight, by the time he counts to ten, that he will arrest Mat for littering the plaza with his presence. He then quickly begins counting.
Mat: Can you count so high, you fat fool? I tell you Elayne said —
The officer’s face is purple as he shouts for Mat to be seized as a Darkfriend. Mat hesitates only for a moment until he sees red coated guards dashing toward him, then he wheels his horse and gallops ahead of them. The horse outpaces the men afoot, easily enough, though Mat incurs a lot of curses from people on the street as he rides away. He chides himself as a fool for not mentioning Elayne’s name right away and is surprised at how hostile the guards had been at the mere mention of Tar Valon. Mat then chides Elayne internally for not telling him how Andor now feels about Tar Valon but then he blames himself for not asking questions before going.
Before Mat reaches the arched gates that lead out into the city, Mat slows his horse to a walk. He does not want to attract eyes at the gate by galloping through. As he rides through the gates, he almost turns around as he suddenly has an idea that he likes better than approaching the guards again. He becomes lost twice while searching for The Queen’s Blessing but at last he finds the sign with a man kneeling before a woman with red gold hair and a crown of golden roses.
Mat rides around to the stable yards and the name of the stableman comes to him. He greets Ramey, tossing him a coin, and asks the man if he remembers him. The stableman starts to say that he does not when he sees that the coin is silver instead of copper. When he sees the silver, the man knuckles his forehead and gives a jerky bow and says that of course he remembers. At the door to the inn, a bulky muscular man is sitting on an upturned barrel beside the door to the kitchen. He studies Mat with heavy-lidded eyes, especially the quarterstaff across Mat’s shoulder. Mat thinks that he can remember this man also but cannot bring up a name. They do not speak to each other at all as Mat passes through the door.
In the kitchen, Mat remembers the woman, Coline, directing the others. He also remembers that everyone calls her “cook.” Mat calls out to her and says that he is back and not a year since he left. She replies that she remembers him and Mat begins to grin until she says that he was with a young prince who looked like Tigraine. She asked Mat if he is the prince’s serving man and if the prince is coming back. Mat curtly tells her no and adds that he does not think she would like it if he did return.
She protests that Rand was a fine young man as Mat complains inwardly and wonders if there is a woman, anywhere, he does not make calf eyes at the mere mention of Rand’s name. He thinks to himself that the cook would scream if she knew what Rand is up to now. Mat asks her if Master Gill and Thom Merrilin are about and she tells Mat that they are in the library. She adds to Mat that he needs to inform Master Gill she said the drains need cleaning – and today.
Mat shakes his head and goes in search of the library. He thinks to himself that he did not remember that Master Gill and Coline are married but he thinks that her instructions are those of a goodwife to her husband. A pretty serving girl directs Mat to the library and when he steps inside, he stops and stares. He is astounded at the more than three hundred books lining the walls and stacked atop the tables. He sees a copy of The Travels of Jain Farstriders and thinks that he has always meant to read that and remembers that Rand and Perrin always told him things out of it.
Basel Gill and Thom Merrilin are seated at a table and looking at each other across a Stones board. Thom tells Mat that he is done sooner than he expected before asking Gill if he remembers Mat. The innkeeper says that he remembers and that Mat was sickly on his last visit. He asks Mat if he is all better now and Mat replies that he is. Mat asks if all that he remembers about him is that he was sick, causing Gill to reply that considering who Mat left with last time, and who he is arriving with this time, it is perhaps better that he remembers no more than that.
Mat tells them that the Guards at the palace seemed to think The White Tower stole Elayne. Gill says it is hardly that but he adds the entire city knows she disappeared from the Tower. He adds that while Thom says she has returned, they have heard none of that in Caemlyn. Gill tells Mat that everyone in the city, all the way down to stable boys, are stepping lightly to avoid incurring the wrath of Queen Morgase. He adds that Lord Gaebril has kept her from actually sending anyone to the headsman but he will not say that she would not do it. He adds that Gaebril has certainly not soothed her temper toward Tar Valon and if anything, Gill says he thinks Gaebril has made it worse.
Thom explains to Mat that Morgase has a new advisor and says that Gareth Bryne was sent into retirement on his estate because he did not like Gaebril. Mat says that this explains the way that the guards acted when he told them that he came from there.
Gill: If you told them that, you might be lucky that you escaped without any broken bones, if it was any of the new men at least. Gaebril has replaced half the guards in Caemlyn with men of his own choosing. That is no mean feat considering how short a time he has been here. Some say Morgase may marry him.
Mat says that he will have to avoid the guards and put the letter directly into Morgase’s hands. Thom barks out in surprise that Mat did not deliver the letter as Gill exclaims in surprise that Mat has a letter from the Daughter-Heir. Gill asks Thom why he did not tell him and the gleeman apologizes and adds that Mat thinks someone is out ot kill him over the letter.
Thom: So I thought I’d let him say what he wanted and no more. Seems he does not care any longer.
Gill asks Mat what kind of letter it is and if this means Elayne is coming home, adding that he hopes she and Lord Gawyn are returning. He says that he has heard talk of war with Tar Valon, as if anyone would be mad enough to fight Aes Sedai. He says that all of this is one with those rumors of Aes Sedai supporting a False Dragon somewhere in the west.
Mat changes the subject by asking Gill if he is married to Coline. The innkeeper bursts out asking the light to save him from that, adding that you would think the inn is hers now. He asks what that has to do with The Daughter Heir’s letter. Mat says it has nothing to do with it before saying that Gill went on so long that he thought the man had forgotten his own questions. Gill responds with a choking sound and Thom laughs. Mat hurries on before Gill can speak and says that the letter is sealed and that Elayne did not tell him what it says. Thom eyes Mat sideways as Mat continues on saying that he does not think Elayne is coming home and he believes she intends to become Aes Sedai.
Gill advises Mat to wait until the afternoon before returning, so that the Guard will change, and he suggests saying Elayne’s name right away, remembering to put his hand to his forehead as he does. Mat refuses to do that and says he will hand the letter to Morgase without going near the guards at all. Gill looks at Mat as if he is mad and asks him how under the Light he means to do that. Suddenly Gill’s eyes widen as if he is remembering something.
Gill: Light, you don’t mean to… and you’d need the Dark One’s own luck to escape with your life.
Thom asks Gill what he is going on about and Mat about the fool thing he intends to try. Mat tells Gill that he is lucky and asks him to have a good meal ready for when he returns. As Mat stands, he picks up a dice cup from atop the Stones table and spins the dice out for good luck. The five spotted dice come to rest, each showing a single pip – The Dark One’s Eyes.
Gill: That’s the best toss or the worst. It depends on the game you are playing, doesn’t it. Lad, I think you mean to play a dangerous game. Why don’t you take that cup out into the common room and lose a few coppers. You look to me like a fellow who might like a little gamble.
Gill offers to see that the letter gets to the palace safely himself. Mat replies by telling him that Coline wants him to see to getting the drains cleaned. As Gill sputters, he says that it does not seem to matter whether he takes an arrow getting into the palace, or a knife in the back while he waits. He says that it is six up and half a dozen down. Mat then tosses a gold crown onto the table and asks that a meal is waiting for him when he returns and to have his things put into a room. He promises that if it takes more coin that Gill will have it. As an aside, he tells Gill to be especially careful of the big roll and says that it frightens Thom something awful.
As Mat stalks out he hears Gill tell Thom that he always thought Mat was a rascal and then asks Thom how he came by gold. Mat thinks to himself that he always wins, that is how. He thinks to himself that he just needs to win once more.
It’s a lot of fun to be in Mat’s head. Jordan does a great job of distinguishing’s Mat’s inner voice by having him constantly in observation mode. We get a feel for how fast Mat’s mind works this way. [paraphrasing] “The gold on that dome could keep a man living in comfort or a year.” “Those are the instructions of a goodwife to her husband.” “Based on Mat’s observation of the Stones board it doesn’t look like Master Gill has much chance.” It’s easier to accept that Mat might out-think someone if we’re constantly experiencing his racing mind.
Keeping a lot of Mat’s character inside of his head also creates a lot of opportunities for humor. For example: Nothing happens outwardly between Coline and Mat, re: Rand, but Mat’s inner monologue about women mooning over Rand is really funny. [He’s not wrong, either.]
I think getting into Mat’s head, starting in this book, is why he becomes a much more likable character. We miss entire humorous thoughts if we’re just observing Mat form the outside in a Rand or Perrin POV chapter.
“Luck” should be an almost annoying plot armor but it’s actually the opposite and that’s a testament to Jordan’s writing. We know that Mat is going to somehow get out of whatever jam he walks into but his sections are fun b/c we do not know *how* he will get out of that jam or how much it will consternate someone who thought they had a perfect plan to thwart him. Jordan always has the reader primed to go on that journey even if we know the outcome. In the 80s, you always knew Hulk Hogan was going to win his wrestlign match… the fun part was seeing how. Mat is like that.
It really helps, too, that Mat is something of a Han Solo rogue after his healing from the dagger. That characterization makes it easier to accept him taking “unnecessary” risks and it makes things more fun when he escapes. Egwene, Rand, or Perrin couldn’t have the power of luck. It wouldn’t be fun. Mat has fun with it and that’s why it works.