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 4: Strings
Thom Merrilin forges a letter the hand of High Lord Carleon.
“Be wary. Your husband suspects.”
He intends for the letter to be found by High Lord Tedosian, where he wife, the High Lady Alteima, might carelessly have left it. Just then, he hears a knock on the door and jumps because nobody comes to see him at this time of the night. He hurriedly hides all sign of the forgery work he is doing and then opens the door to find Mat there.
Mat does not seem like his usual self to Thom. He looks disheveled, has no twinkle in his eye, and makes no comment about Thom’s shabby room. Thom chose the room to help people forget his own connection to Rand and the Aes Seai in the Stone. He hastily explained this to Rand, too, who understood that Thom can be the most useful to him if he is viewed as merely a gleeman. Everyone talks to a Gleeman but nobody really notices him. Thom tries to talk Mat into playing a game of stones, but Mat declines, instead asking Thom if anything happened recently.
Mat tells the story of how the playing cards came to life and attacked him, and he adds that the incident is why the High Lords do not want to play cards with him anymore. Mat believes that the attacked was caused by Rand and he tells Thom that he has been thinking about leaving Tear immediately. Thom wonders to himself why he has not left himself. He thinks that if he left, Rand would have no one except Moiraine to keep the High Lords from maneuvering him into corners. He knows she could do the job, with different methods than his own, but he does not want her to tie another strong around Rand, to the White Tower, while she is about it.
Thom calls himself a fool, aloud, for staying around because of an event that happened fifteen years ago. Thom decides then that he needs to see Rand face to face and thinks that perhaps nobody will think it odd if a gleeman asks to perform a song for the Lord Dragon, especially if he says that song is uniquely composed.
Thom tells Mat that Mat has been thinking of leaving Tear since the day he walked into the Stone. Mat replies that he means to and tries to convince Thom to leave with him. When questioned further by Thom about why he has not gone already, Mat explains that Moiraine watches him. Thom points out that Mat is good at avoiding eyes, but Mat replies again that something always comes up to prevent him leaving. He tells Thom about the gold in the Stone and some of the women he’s run into. Mat explains that every time he is set to leave, he always finds a reason to stay one more day. Thom believes that Mat is compelled by his ta’veren nature to stay close to Rand, but when Mat gets angry as he starts to mention it, Thom suggests instead that maybe Mat does not want to abandon his friend. Mat rejects this idea and asks if Moiraine can keep him in the Stone with the One Power. Thom replies that he does not think she can – at least not in the manner Mat is suggesting.
Thom says that for most people with Mat’s problems that he would suggesting speaking with an Aes Sedai for help, but as that would not work in this case, he suggests that Mat talk to Nynaeve, since she was his Wisdom. Mat tells him, after laughing, that Nynaeve will just complain about his drinking and gambling. Abruptly Mat complains about the holes in his memory. Thom tells him that he doubts an Aes Sedai can help with that and that a gleeman surely cannot.
Mat angrily says he is leaving immediately. Thom convinces him to wait until morning, and to play a game of stones with him. Mat agrees. While setting up the game, Thom notices that Mat is already diverted from his thoughts of leaving, and he believes it is because Mat is caught up in the pull of an even stronger ta’veren. Thom wonders if he is also caught up by Rand in the same way. They began to play stones.
This is basically a chapter that reintroduces the reader to Thom. He’s in the stone, living a little bit off the grid in the servants’ quarters, and playing the Game of Houses from here on behalf of Rand. Thom tells himself that he is involved with Rand and Mat because of an event that happened fifteen years earlier – but we also get the impression that he enjoys what he is doing and is in some denial of that fact.
The most fun part of this chapter for me is seeing Mat from Thom’s perspective. Thom sees greatness in Mat – as well as the twinkle of mischief in his eyes. We also see how Thom views Rand, indirectly, in this chapter. Thom is worldly, a fatherly figure, and he wants to help because he believes that they need the help.
This chapter is also a good case of demonstrating why Mat is less likeable when you don’t *ever* spend time in his head (i.e. the first two books.) A lot of the Mat fans talk about him being almost rebooted in Book 3, but I maintain that he has been the same throughout. The key difference starting in The Dragon Reborn is that we finally get Mat POV chapters. Thanks to those chapters, the reader can interpret his actions more charitably/accurately when he’s in the chapter but it’s not from his POV. We know that Mat cares about his friends – that might actually be his most defining quality – but you would never get that impression from the way he talks outwardly. He seems more than ready to leave Rand and has an explanation as to why.
This is a short chapter but it’s good from a character study standpoint.