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 52: In Search of a Remedy
In Thom’s room, sitting on a stool, Mat grimaces as the gleeman coughs again, and he wonders how they are going to continue their search if Thom is so sick that he cannot walk. He is ashamed as soon as he thinks it though, knowing that Thom has pushed himself day and night despite knowing that doing so is leading him to greater illness. Mat thinks that he has been so absorbed in his hunt that he has paid too little attention to Thom’s coughing.
He tells Thom that they are going to see a Wise Woman – the local name for a Wisdom. Thom protests but does so through coughs. He tells Mat to go while he rests a while with a promise to join him later. Mat replies that Thom learns most of what they find out though he thinks that this is not exactly true as men talk freely over games of dice and more freely than they would with a gleeman nearby hacking so hard that they fear contagion. Mat then tells him his coughing keeps him awake at night, even in another room, and over his protests he pulls him to his feet. Finally Thom relents to go see a Wise Woman.
The innkeeper gives them directions but Mat almost turns around when they reach the city gate and the mud streets beyond. He thinks there must be another Wise Woman in a city this size but Thom’s wheezing decides him and they step off into the mud, with Mat half-carrying the Gleeman. He thinks to himself that he remembers passing by the Wise Woman’s house in their first night in the city. The innkeeper had advised him to go to the back but Mat, having had enough of mud and the smell of fish, knocks on the front door instead. He thinks to myself that he sees hoof prints from horses and ox or carriage cart tracks outside. He notes them because he has seen nothing but ox tracks in Tear so far.
After Mat knocks three times, and considers leaving, a stout gray haired woman finally looks out. She asks what he wants in a tired voice. Mat puts on his best grin, confirms that her name is Mother Guenna, and introduces himself as Mat Cauthon. He tells her the name of the innkeeper who directed him here, explains that they need help for his friend’s coughs, and offers to pay well for her services. She sighs and says that she supposes she can still do that at least before inviting him inside. Her accent sounds so much like the Amyrlin’s that Mat shivers but he follows her to the back of the house, all but carrying Thom along. Thom mutters that he does not need this and that these types of mixtures always taste like dung.
In the kitchen, Mother Guenna begins making something in a stone pot while Mat notices three good horses tied up behind the house. He has not seen anyone in Tear riding a horse, other than nobles, and is surprised that she has one, let alone three. Mother Guenna brews some sort of strong tea with a rank smell and forces it down Thom’s throat, holding his nose when he tries to complain. Thom coughs and sputters when she is done.
Thom: Ah, woman, I don’t know whether you mean to drown me or kill me but the taste… you ought to be a bloody blacksmith.
Mother Guenna: You will take the same twice a day until that hacking is gone.
She adds that she has a salve that she will rub on his chest every night. With hands on her hips, she tells him that she has never had a gleeman come to her before and that she will not let the first one who does cough himself to death. Thom glowers but seems to take her threat seriously. From the sour look on Thom’s face and the look on hers, Mat decides that he better smooth things over before he refuses to take her medicines and she decides to make him.
Mat tells her that he knew a woman once who sounded like her once and speculates that she must have been Tieran. Mother Guenna replies that she knew some girls once with the sound of Mat’s speech on their tongues as well. She says two of the girls had it, anyway, before sighing heavily. Mat feels his scalp prickle and thinks to himself that his luck cannot be this good. He asks her quickly if their names are Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne, with the last of them having hair like the sun and blue eyes. Mother Guenna frowns at Mat and shares that those were not the games the women gave but that she suspected the women did not give their true names.
She tells Mat that she is sorry. When he asks why, and tells her that he has been trying to find them for days, before asking where they are. She stares wearily at the stove. Her mouth works but she says nothing as Mat implores her to tell him where they are as they are in grave danger. She quietly tells him that he does not understand, because he is an outlander, and when she brings up the High Lords Mat shouts that he does not care about any bloody High Lords.
He calms himself, noticing that Thom is taking in what she is saying, and asks her what the High Lords have to do with his friends. Finally she tells him that he is asking for information she has been told not to speak of and asks again if he knows what will happen to her if Mat even breathes her name.
Mother Guenna: I will lose my tongue to begin. Then I will lose other parts before the High Lords have what is left of me hung up to scream its last hours as if to remind others to obey. And it will do those young women no good, not my telling or my dying.
Mat promises that he will never utter her name and he swears it, pleading with her to tell him where they are. She studies him for a long time before telling him, on that oath, that she will tell Mat where they are. She admits that she liked them, adding that he is too late by nearly three hours. She explains that they were taken to the Stone, that the High Lord Samon sent for them, and that he sent women who can channel to retrieve them. She seems confused by this and shares that she has nothing against the High Lords but women who can channel in Tear is against the law that the High Lords themselves made. She says that if they break every other law, they would not break that one, except that they did in this case.
Mat feels relieved and tells her that if Aes Sedai came for them that there is nothing to worry about. He explains that all three of them are going to be Aes Sedai themselves, not that he likes it much, but his relief and his grins fades at the heavy way she shakes her head.
Mother Guenna: Boy, those girls fought like lionfish in a net. Whether they mean to be Aes Sedai or not, though who took them treated them like bilge pumpings. Friends do not give bruises like that.
Mat feels his face twisting at the notion of Aes Sedai hurting them. Mat thinks about the Stone and how it makes getting into the Palace in Caemlyn look like walking into a barnyard.
Burn me! I stood right out in the rain in fron tof this house! Burn me for a light blinded fool!
Mother Guenna warns him that if he breaks his hand, she will splint and poultice it, but if he breaks her wall she will strip his hide like a redfish. Mat realizes that he just punched her wall with his fist. She takes his hand with a surprisingly gentle grip and probes the bones, concluding that nothing is broken. She apologizes to him but he tells her not to be as at least he knows where they are now. He tells her that all he has to do is get them out. After he says this, he fishes out his last two Andoran golden crowns and presses them into her hand. He tells her that they are for Thom’s medicines and letting him know about the girls.
On impulse, he gives her a quick kiss on the cheek, and a grin, and tells her that is for him. Startled, she touches her cheek not knowing whether to look at the coins or at him. She repeats Mat’s statement about getting them out of the Stone and then stabs him in the ribs, with a finger. She tells him that he reminds her of her husband who was a headstrong fool who would sail into the teeth of a gale and laugh while doing it. She adds that she can almost think he will manage it. She then looks down at the mud Mat has tracked in and says that it took her six months to teach her husband not to track mud into the house and she adds that whichever of those girls he has an eye on will have a hard time with him, too.
Mat grins at her and tells her that she is the only woman who could do that and his grin broadens at her responding glare. Mat hears Thom cough and tries to think quickly of how to keep him from trying to go with him into the Stone, too, believing him not fit to go. He abruptly asks if he can leave his friend with her and says that he believes him to be too sick to return with him to the inn. Thom rises, barks in outrage, but wheezes and hacks, and Mother Guenna pushes Thom easily back down into a chair. She tells Mat that she will take care of him as Thom splutters in anger that Mat cannot do this to him.
Mat: I have enjoyed knowing you, Thom.
Mat hurries into the street and wonders why he said that. He knows that Thom is not going to die, even if Mother Guenna has to drag him kicking and screaming from his grave by his mustaches. Mat then wonders who will keep him alive. Ahead of him lies the Stone of Tear. With a laugh he heads back toward the inn uncaring of the mud or the damp heat. He can feel the dice tumbling inside his head.
The Mat chapters in this book are really excellent. This is no exception. We get everything here from his attention to detail, his absurd fearlessness when it comes to helping his friends, his deep sense of caring for his friends, and his ability to smile and charm his way into help when he wants or needs it – and the way that women nearly always seem to melt for his intentional use of “his best smile.”
Mat is a parallel to Nynaeve. Both of them have exteriors that obscure just how much they care about everyone around them. Nynaeve’s exterior is anger and Mat’s is joking. Both of them also are oblivious to their own absurd bravery.
Mat kind of blacks out with concern when he finds out that the girls were beaten badly in their capture. He punches a wall nd does not remember doing it. This after crossing half a continent in record speed and then killing a paid assassin on his first night in Tear. We get to know a lot about Mat’s motivations by his actions. He rarely admits the depth of those motivations even to himself. It’s just a lot of fun to read.
I really enjoyed the end of this chapter, too, with Mat telling Thom that it has been good knowing him and not acknowledging – even to himself – that he sounds like he’s on his way to die.