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 46: A Message Out of the Shadow
As he returns to the inner city on foot, Mat is far from certain that what he intends will work. It would work if what he has been told is true but he is not sure that what he has been told is true. He avoids the oval plaza in front of the palace and instead wanders around the sides of the structure and its huge grounds. He makes his way almost all of the way around the ground, back to the plaza, when he sees what he is looking for – a steep slow rising from the street to a white wall of rough stone. Some leafy tree limbs stick over the top of the rough wall and he can see the tops of other trees beyond. Beyond the wall lies the garden of the Royal Palace.
Mat decides that maybe Rand was telling the truth. He looks both ways down the street to be certain he has the street to himself. He thinks that he will have to hurry because the curve of the street does now allow him to see far in either direction. Someone could arrive at any moment. He scrambles toward the wall trampling flowers as he goes, before beginning an ascent up the wall. When he reaches the top, he looks quickly in both directions to make certain no one had seen him from the street below, and then he drops into the palace grounds.
The garden is large and covered in flowers in all directions. When he hears the crunch of boots, he crouches behind a bush as guardsmen march past. The men never glance Mat’s way and he grins to himself and wonderingly thinks about his own luck. Mat then slips through the garden like a shadow, as if stalking rabbits, before he hears boots again. Two more pairs of soldiers stride past and again they do not look at him. When they leave, he plucks a star flower and puts it into his own hair with a grin. He thinks that this is as much fun as stealing apple cakes in Emond’s Field. Soon he finds himself against the white wall of the palace itself, sliding along it, searching for a door. There are plenty of wide windows above his head but Mat decides it will be harder to explain climbing in through a window than walking inside through a door.
Two more soldiers appear and Mat freezes, knowing that they will pass within three paces of him. Mat can hear voices in the window overhead speaking just loud enough for him to make out the words. One man, sounding frightened, tells another than they are on their way to Tear. The answering voice, deeper and stronger, tells the first man that they can ruin his plans, if they can.
Second Man: It will serve him right if three untrained girls can foil him. He was always a fool and he is still a fool. Is there any word of the boy? He is the one who can destroy us all.
First Man: No, Great Master. He has vanished. But Great Master, one of the girls is Morgase’s nit.
Mat half turns and then catches himself. The soldiers are coming closer and they do not appear to have seen him yet. He thinks to himself that he wants the soldiers to move so that he can see who the speaker is. When Mat returns his attention to the voices, he has lost some of the conversation. The second man is saying someone has been far too impatient since regaining his freedom. He tells the first man that the unnamed someone wants the world in a day, and Callandor besides.
Second Man: The Great Lord, take him. He may seize the girl and try to make some use of her. That might strain my own plans.
First Man: As you say Great Master. Shall I order her brought out of Tear?
Second Man: No. The fool would take it as a move against him if he knew and who can say what he chooses to watch aside from the sword. See that she dies quietly Comar. Let her death attract no notice at all.
The second man laughs saying that the ignorant ones in the Tower will have a difficult time producing her after this disappearance. The two soldiers are almost abreast of Mat as he tries to will their feet to move more quickly so that he can see the men who are speaking. The first man, Comar, says that the girl may be hard to find but the first man tells him to bring the girl’s head. He then amends the order to include all three heads. Comar hastily agrees as the soldiers crunch past, never looking to either side. Mat only waits for the soldiers’ backs to pass before leaping up to catch the broad stone windowsill, pulling himself up high enough to see through the window. As he looks through he sees tha tone of the broad carved doors is swinging shut.
A tall man with broad shoulders is staring at the door. He has a beard with a streak of white in his hair. The man with his back to the window speaks and says “yes Great Master.” Mat almost looses his grip as he realizes that the man he is watching is Comar, not the unnamed man he was speaking with. Comar mutters bitterly that he will cut the heads off of the three wenches himself as soon as he can find them. Comar strides through the door and Mat lets himself back down.
For a moment, Mat crouches and thinks. Someone in the palace wants Elayne dead and also casually threw Egwene and Nynaeve too, as afterthoughts.
Mat: What under the light are they doing, going to Tear?
Mat pulls the daughter-heir’s letter out of the lining of his coat as he thinks that perhaps with this in his hand, the Queen will believe him when he tells her of what he just overheard. Mat wiggles out from behind roses and starts down the flagstone path after the soldiers, holding Elayne’s letter out in front of him, with the golden lily seal plainly visible. Mat waits until he encounters a soldier before trying to enter the palace, believing that if he enters uninvited that whoever finds him might do him harm first before talking to him. Finally he runs into a helmet young officer with one knot of rank. The soldier has a foot of steel bare before Mat can push the letter into his face and announce that Elayne, the Daughter-Heir, sends this letter to her mother, Queen Morgase. The officer’s eyes look to the sides, as if searching for other people, without ever really taking them from Mat, either.
The soldier asks Mat how he came into the garden but does not draw his sword further. He tells Mat the the guard on duty in front of the palace is a fool, but not so much a fool that he would let anyone wander freely into the palace. Mat asks the soldier if he means the fat man with eyes like a rat, before cursing his tongue. The soldier seems almost about to smile as he nods curtly so Mat plows on, explaining that the man grew angry when learning of Mat’s letter and where he came from. Mat explains that the guard threatened to arrest him if he did not go, hence he climbed the wall. Mat tells the man that he promised to deliver the letter to Queen Morgase herself and adds that he always keeps his promises.
The officer mutters about the garden wall and tells Mat that he is Guardsman-Lieutenant Tallanvor. He says that he recognizes the Daughter-Heir’s seal. He stretches out his hand and tells Mat to give him the letter so that he can deliver it to the Queen, after he shows Mat out. Tallanvor tells Mat that some would not be gentle about finding him walking about loose. Mat answers saying that he promised to put the letter in the Queen’s hands himself. In a moment, Tallanvor’s sword is resting against Mat’s neck. He tells Mat that he can take him to the Queen and then adds that he will take Mat’s head before he can blink if he so much as thinks about harming her.
Mat puts on his best grin and tells Tallanvor that he is a loyal Andorman and a loyal subject of the Queen. He adds that if he had been here in the winter he would have followed Lord Gaebril for sure. Tallanvor gives him a tight mouthed stare before taking his sword away. Mat stops himself from touching his neck to see if he was cut, just as Tallanvor instructs him to remove the flower from his hair. Mat snatches the flower from his own hair, cursing himself for being a fool, and then follows Tallanvor.
As they proceed throgh the palace, with Tallanvor simultaneously leading Mat and keeping an eye on him, Mat appraises his surrounding and marvels at the value of everything. He catches himself wondering if Morgase plays at dice before indulging himself that the Queen might reward him with a fat purse for the information about an assassination attempt he is about to share with her. He even thinks of the possibility that she might make him a Lord.
Tallanvor leads him down so many courtyards and corridors that Mat begins to wonder if he can find his way out. Suddenly though one of the courts has more than servants in it. Soldiers and women are attending a woman with red hold hair who wears a Great Serpent ring on the third finger of her hand. A tall dark man stands at her shoulder. The woman is the one who holds Mat’s eye though. He does not need to see the crown wreath on her head to know that she is Morgase. She has Elayne’s face and beauty and every other woman in the courtyard fades into the background by her very presence.
Tallanvor goes to one knee with a fist pressed into the white stone of the courtyard. He announces that he brings a messenger bearing a letter from the Lady Elayne. Mat bows and holds out the letter so that the golden wax seal is visible. Mat decides to tell Morgase about the conversation he overheard after she reads the letter. When she focues her blue eyes on him, Mat hopes that the letter puts her into a better mood. She asks Mat where Elayne is and he replies formally that she is in Tar Valon. As the Queen takes the letter, she frowns for a moment at the wax seal before opening it and murmuring after every other line.
Morgase: She can say no more, can she? We shall see if she holds to that.
Abruptly the Queen’s face brightens as she announces to Gaebril that Elayne has been raised to the Accepted. She remarks on the fact that Elayne has been in the Tower for less than a year and is raised already. Her smile fades quickly though as she mutters that when she gets her hand on Elayne she will wish she was still one of the Accepted. Mat thinks to himself that nothing will put her into a good mood so he begins to just tell her straight out. As he speaks, the man at her shoulder, Lord Gaebril, tells Mat to be silent and that they will hear what he has to say in a moment. The large handsome man plucks the letter from Morgase’s hands and begins reading. Initially she looks at him with anger, but he places a hand on her shoulder and the anger melts away.
Gaebril speaks up saying that it seems Elayne has left the Tower again and this time on the service of the Amyrlin Seat. He tells Morgase that the woman oversteps herself again. Mat has no trouble holding his tongue now, and thinks again about his luck, as he realizes Gaebril’s voice as the one which gave the order to have Elayne, Nynaeve, and Egwene killed. Mat looks at Morgase and sees that she is staring up at Gaebril like an adoring dog with her master’s hand on her shoulder. Gaebril turns his nearly black eyes on Mat and asks him what he can tell them of Elayne’s absence from the Tower.
Mat replies that he does not know anything and explains that he went to the Tower to see his sister, Else Grinwell, a novice, and he explains that his name is Thom Grimwell. He stammers and explains that the Lady Elayne learned he was intending to see Caemlyn on his way back home. He adds quickly that he is from a little village north of Baerlon and adds that he had never seen any place bigger than Baerlon before he went to Tar Valon. Mat adds quickly that the Lady Elayne gave him that letter to bring. Mat notices that Morgase glanced at him when he said he was from north of Baerlon but Gaebril asks him if he knows where Elayne is going. Gaebril tells Mat that if he speaks the truth, he has nothing to fear, but that if he lies he will be put to the question. Mat does not have to fake a worried frown as he replies to Gaebril that he met the Daughter Heir only once, adding that she gave him the letter and a gold crown so that he would take the letter to the Queen.
Mat: I know no more of what was in it than I’ve heard here.
Gaebril gives no sign of whether he believes Mat or not but Morgase speaks up and says too many have been put to the question. She tells Gaebril that she sees the need, as he has put it to her, but she says that a boy who brought a letter, whose contents he does not know, should not be one of them. Gaebril replies that as he Queen commands, so shall it be. Morgase asks Thom Grinwell if her daughter looked well when he saw her.
Mat: Yes, my Queen. She smiled and laughed and showed a saucy tongue. I mean..
Morgase laughs softly at the look on his face and tells Thom Grinwell not to be afraid, admitting that Elayne often does have a saucy tongue. Morgase replies that she is happy Elayne is well as she studies Mat deeply with her eyes. She adds that a young man who has left his small village often finds it difficult to return to that village. She says that she thinks Thom will travel far before he returns home. She suggests that perhaps he will even return to Tar Valon and see her daughter again.
Morgase: If you do, and if you se my daughter, tell her that what is said in anger is often repented. I will not remove her from the White Tower before time. Tell her that I often think of my own time there and that I miss the quiet talks with Sheriam in her study. Tell her that I said that, Thom Grinwell.
Mat shrugs uncomfortably. He agrees but tells her that he does not mean to go to Tar Valon again. He says that once is enough for anyone’s lifetime and that his da’ needs him to help with the farm – pointing out in particular that his sisters are stuck with the milking while he is gone. Gaebril laughs at this in amusement and asks him if he is anxious to milk cows. He produces a purse and tosses it to Mat, suggesting that he should see something of the world first.
Gaebril: If Elayne can give you a gold mark for carrying her letter, I will give you ten for carrying it safely. See the world before you go back to your cows.
Mat lifts the purse and manages a weak grin, saying thank you. The dark man has already waived him away, turning to Morgase with hands on his hips. He suggests that the time has come to lance the festering sore on the border of Andor. He adds that by her marriage to Taringail Damodred she has a claim to the Sun Throne. Gaebril says that the Queen’s Guards, and himself, can help to make her claim stronger.
Tallanvor touches Mat on the arm. They back away, bowing. Mat does not think anyone notices their departure. Gaebril is still speaking as every Lord and Lady hangs on his words. Morgase frowns as she listens but nods as much as anyone else.
This chapter is a lot of fun as a redux of Rand’s palace scene in Caemlyn. We learn that one of the Forsaken rules Andor (well, we don’t know that officially but it’s heavily implied), we learn said Forsaken wants Elayne, Nynaeve, and Egwene dead. We learn he sent someone named Comar to kill them. Mat hears the plot (ta’veren) and sees the killer assigned to the task. Mat sneaks into the palace, gets so drunk on his own luck that he puts a flower in his hair (lol), and then gets caught by a soldier who appears to remain loyal to the Queen and not to Gaebril (hence he is willing to let Mat deliver the letter.)
We should assume then that Mat is going to try to save the super girls. Thus, everyone of the main characters is now on their way to Tear to meet High Lord Samon who is most likely also a Forsaken, too. Full speed ahead.
I love this chapter (and pretty much Mat’s entire story in this book) but something about this palace scene bothers me. We know from the prologue of The Great Hunt that a LOT of Darkfriends know what Rand, Mat, and Perrin look like. Why is it that one of the Forsaken – and Gaebril is *clearly* one of the Forsaken – does not know what Mat looks like? Is Ba’alzamon’s secret-keeping his own undoing to an extent? Ba’alzamon seems to be the most likely person behind the numerous attempts on Mat’s life since he left Tar Valon (Mat erroneously blames the letter he is carrying.). If Ba’alzamon has been having Darkfriends follow Mat, in their attempt to kill him, then he knows that Mat is in or near Caemlyn. Furnace Face won’t let Gaebril know that Mat is in the city? If Ba’alzamon wants Mat dead, then telling Gaebril about him guarantees that Mat dies.
Why doesn’t he do it?
If Gaebril knows what Mat looks like, there is NO WAY he gets out of the palace alive after he walks right up to the Queen. Clearly, Ba’alzamon did not tell him. Is it realistic that he could have failed to learn about Mat on his own? Gaebril knows about Rand – at least enough to know roughly where he is and where he is going. He knows about Egwene and Nynaeve though he does not seem to understand their importance. Is it possible that he does not know Rand’s name at all? At first I wanted to say no but I’m not sure why or how Gaebril would learn his name without one of the other Forsaken telling him. The people on Almoth Plain declaring themselves for the Dragon Reborn do not have to know his name. They probably don’t know it. They did see him in the sky, and draw his picture, so at a minimum, Gaebril knows what Rand looks like and maybe that is how he is tracking Rand. But that does not mean he knows Rand’s name. I think we have to assume he is still very ignorant about most events.
Lanfear knows Mat’s name (and what Mat looks like naked for good measure.) That does not mean Gaebril does. The Forsaken are apparently a big competitive dysfunctional family.
I do feel safe in saying that Mat’s decision to call himself Thom Grinwell probably saved his life. Even if Gaebril did not think Mat Cauthon was important enough to watch closely, he probably heard his name as someone who arrived in Tar Valon with Elayne’s party. He would not likely have let Mat leave if he knew a member of Elayne’s traveling party just walked into his presence.
In this chapter, then, Mat lies his way out of a palace where one of the Forsaken is in charge. 1) “Gaebril” is going to be so very angry when he realizes that later, and 2) there’s no way Rand or Perrin pull that off. Mat’s easily the best liar in their group.