Reading The Wheel of Time: Mat Escapes and Elopes in Winter’s Heart (Part 20)

Welcome back once again to Reading The Wheel of Time! We are almost to the end of Winter’s Heart, a book that really seemed to go by in a flash. In many ways, Winter’s Heart is a little bit calmer of a book than its predecessors, with fewer overarching plot moments and a lot of talking and maneuvering by many of the important players. Still, it seems like so much has happened in such a short span of time. I only just remembered that we began this book with Faile’s kidnapping. Somehow, that feels like a thousand years ago.

I’ve now finished reading the rest of the book, and given that chapters 32–35 are connected, I’ve decided to only cover chapter 31 this week. There is a lot to talk about, however, especially when it comes to Tuon. I’m so desperate to know what is going on in that woman’s head! But first, let’s recap.

Edesina is annoyed with Mat when he accompanies her, Domon, and the sul’dam to the kennels. He reminds her that this is his plan, and assures her that he only has to run a small errand. 

Once the others have headed to the rooms housing Teslyn and Edesina, Mat goes to a room where he remembers seeing one of the Windfinders. Groping in the dark he manages to find her and cover her mouth with his hands to stop her from crying out. He asks what she would do if he set her free, and she says that, if it pleased the Light, she would free her sisters and attempt to cross the harbor to free the rest of the Sea Folk.

The unseen woman’s voice remained low, but grew fiercer by the word. “The Light be willing, we would take back our ships, and fight our way to sea. Now! If this is a trick, punish me for it and be done, or kill me for it. I was on the brink of yielding, of giving up myself, and the shame of that will burn me forever, but you have reminded me who I am, and now I will never yield. Do you hear me? Never!”

Mat asks what she would do if he asked her to wait three hours, and after a moment, she asks his name. Giving hers as Nestelle din Sakura South Star, she tells Mat that he is a great and good man, and that she will wait the three hours. He frees her, shows her how to work the a’dam’s collar, and slips quietly back out into the hall—only to find himself standing directly behind a sul’dam, who is talking to Egeanin. Renna is beside her, wearing the bracelet of Teslyn’s a’dam. Mat considers trying to overpower the woman from behind, but Egeanin seems to have the conversation under control, so he sneaks away and down the stairs.

He’s so preoccupied when he reaches Tylin’s rooms that he doesn’t realize the torches are lit until he has already stepped inside and discovered the Queen there, trying to unbutton her own dress.

Tylin tells him that Suroth received reports of an army vanishing from Murandy, and was so concerned that she and Tylin returned at once, without the rest of the escort. She notices Mat’s coat and deduces that he is leaving, and declares that they will spend one last night together and then she will send him on his way.

Mat is relieved to learn that Suroth has gone to the generals staying at the Inn and that his luck is at least holding that much. He tells Tylin that he is leaving now, and that he is taking some of the captured Aes Sedai with him. He asks her to come, but Tylin refuses to abandon Altara and become a refugee, and insists that Mat tie her up and leave her under the bed. Once he has bound and gagged her according to her specifications, Mat tells Tylin that he will miss her, and realizes that the words are true.

After the delay with Tylin, Mat expect to be the last one to reach the stableyard door, but he finds no one there waiting for him. As he’s debating about moving to check the stables, he is surprised by Tuon. She tells him that she cannot allow him to leave, but rather than trying to run or call for help, she attacks him, and the two fight, equally matched, until Noal appears from nowhere and grasps Tuon from behind.

“I didn’t know this was what you were planning,” Noal said, not breathing hard in spite of the way the tiny woman thrashed herself about in his grip, “but as you can see, I’m leaving tonight, too. I thought that in a day or two, this might be an unpleasant place for someone you gave a bed to.”

“A wise decision,” Mat muttered. Light, he should have thought of warning Noal.

Together, Noal and Mat tie Tuon up. Juilin arrives with a woman in da’covale robes who clings to his arm until she sees Tuon, at which point she drops to put her head to the floor. Mat tells Juilin that they will leave Tuon tied up in the hayloft, to be found in the morning, and Noal remarks that he thought Mat was kidnapping her. Egeanin and Domon arrive next, with the sul’dam and their new damane charges. Egeanin pales when she sees Tuon, calling Mat a madman and declaring that it’s death by slow torture to lay hands on the Daughter of the Nine Moons.

Mat feels as though he’s been kicked, but he knows that the Aelfinn always tell the truth. He knows that he will die and live again, if that hasn’t already happened, he knows that he will give up half the light of the world to save the world, though he can’t think what that might mean, and he knows he will marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons. Aloud, he declares that she is his wife.

Shocked, Egeanin tells him he must not say such things, but Mat repeats that the bloody Daughter of the Nine Moons is his wife. The Seanchan are all staring in disbelief, except Tuon, whose face remains unreadable. And then Selucia appears, and Mat wonders why the whole bloody Palace seems to be awake tonight.

“Forgive me for speaking,” she said in a fear-filled voice, “but what you do is foolish beyond madness.” With a groan, she darted to half crouch between the kneeling sul’dam with one hand on the shoulder of each, as though seeking their protection. Her blue eyes never ceased flitting about the room. “Whatever the omens, this can still be rectified if you will only consent to draw back.”

Mat tries to soothe her, even though she is not looking at him. She looks alarmed for a moment before settling into calm and declaring that she will obey Mat as long as Mat does not harm her mistress; if he does, Selucia will kill him. Mat doesn’t feel particularly threatened by a lady’s maid.

He declares that they will bring both Selucia and Tuon with them when they make their escape, and to his surprise and alarm, Tuon smiles.

I got so emotional when Mat freed Nestelle. The enslavement of the damane remains one of the most horrifying things in a story filled with dark deeds, evil people and terrible monsters, perhaps because it walks a line between the fantastical and things that are true in our own world. The psychological effects of slavery, of denying someone’s personhood, exist in our world too. We may use different metrics—skin color, place of birth, gender identity, disability to name a few—but the way the damane are viewed in their culture as being subhuman is a familiar one, even if the reasons they are treated so are very different. Jordan does an excellent job in describing how the loss of a sense of self affects the women who are taken by the Seanchan, starting with Egwene and then continuing on to the way other Aes Sedai are broken to the a’dam. Teslyn and Nestelle have both told Mat how they were aware of starting to lose themselves, and the horror of it is very strong in the narrative even though it isn’t dwelt on.

In the coming weeks we will see Rand dealing again with the horror he experienced while he was held captive by Galina and the other Aes Sedai from Elaida’s “embassy.” In some ways, the two experiences—that of captive damane stripped of their personhood and that of Rand’s PTSD which threatens to rob him of his sanity, and thus his sense of self—parallel each other in interesting ways.

I’m really hoping that Nestelle will be able to at least somewhat succeed in freeing the other Windfinders and escaping from Ebou Dar. I don’t know how optimistic I can be about it, but the advantage of surprise is on their side, and it doesn’t seem like too many sul’dam have quick access to the damane kennels. So maybe they have a chance, but sadly, we will have to wait until the next book to find out.

Speaking of being captives, the more Mat worried about Tylin being blamed for his mistake, the more I began to worry about her, too. The fact that Tylin was forcing the relationship on Mat and not letting him leave kind of made me forget that the Seanchan don’t actually care if he departs the city (well, apart from Tuon, anyway). He has taken the oath, after all, so he isn’t in any direct danger from them until he breaks his oath or commits some other crime.

You know, a crime like helping damane and marath’damane escape Seanchan control. A crime like helping a woman under observation evade one of the Seekers for Truth.

And it’s interesting because that fact doesn’t ever come up in the narration. Mat is very aware, and very frustrated, of how much extra danger the task of rescuing Joline and Teslyn (and then Edesina, and Thera, and finally Egeanin and Domon) put him in. It was very hard to come up with a viable plan to rescue them all, and at one point Mat seemed almost to be thinking that he might not manage it. But while he is frustrated by the increased danger and difficulty of his escape, Mat never really considers that, if not for promising his services to the others, he could just ride away.

It never really occurred to me, either, because of Tylin. And perhaps the power of Tylin and the power of the Seanchan did become a little tangled together, for Mat as well as for me. But I think, too, that it isn’t actually in Mat’s nature to consider such a thing. He likes to complain, to other people and especially to himself, but the more time passes, the clearer it becomes that the lady doth protest too much. Mat has a healthy sense of self-preservation and only a moderate sense of ambition; he likes money and nice things, but only because he wants to be comfortable in life and enjoy himself, not because he desires power or control or prestige. However, he is also a fundamentally good person—a good and great man, as Nestelle says. As Noal says, he has an air about him that makes people follow him. Yes, it’s his luck, and his skill as a general, but I also think Mat inspires loyalty because people can see his kindness. They may well see it better than he sees it himself.

Perrin is also good and kind, but he’s less of a people person, and it’s harder to get close to him as a friend or a follower. Rand is too busy trying to make himself hard as stone. But Mat is still Mat, kind and fun-loving and wanting good things for the people around him. There’s a reason he is the one of the trio who ended up basically adopting a kid.

I wonder if Noal is also drawn to him because of this, or if there is something else at work here. I’m not 100% confident he was telling the truth when he claimed that he was leaving the palace on his own. Even if he had no inkling of Mat’s plan, he might have been watching for Mat to make a move, and when he sees Tuon fighting Mat his first thought is that Mat is trying to kidnap her. There is definitely more to Noal that we’ve yet seen, and I think he knows more than he’s letting on. Hopefully he is an ally and not a Darkfriend, at least.

In any case, I’m a little worried that it might not be as easy for Tylin to clear herself of suspicion as she believes. Mat is taking damane from the kennels, but he is also setting Windfinders free to fight the Seanchan, and he will no doubt be thought responsible for the warehouse Beslan’s people are going to blow up. Oh, and he’s kidnapping the Daughter of the Nine Moons. That’s a lot of damage. Some people might start asking some hard questions about how Tylin didn’t know her “toy” was capable of causing so much damage and hold her responsible for it, even if they believe that she didn’t aid him and would have stopped him if she had been able.

Mat seems to take Selucia’s words about drawing back as being directed at him, or perhaps he isn’t really paying attention to the content as he’s more worried about soothing her so that she doesn’t cause trouble—not to mention managing his growing herd of Seanchan prisoners and accomplices. But her mention of omens makes me think that perhaps she isn’t talking to Mat at all but is actually speaking to Tuon. Tuon never called for help or tried to raise the alarm when she caught Mat trying to leave, and when he declares his intention to take Tuon and Selucia with them, she smiles.

It almost makes me wonder if Tuon didn’t get herself kidnapped intentionally. Perhaps that is a bit too outrageous an assumption, especially considering how difficult it would have been for Tuon to know exactly what Mat was up to, and to manage all the variables of getting herself involved, but she does know that Mat is going to be her husband, and getting kidnapped by him does have a certain Daes Dae’mar flavor to it.

If Tuon is taken by Mat to lands that aren’t yet controlled by the Seanchan, she might have an invaluable opportunity to learn information that could help in conquering those lands and understanding the cultures of the people she one day hopes to rule. And of course, the opportunity to observe Mat is also going to be very desirable to her. Added to that, it might be difficult for her to prevent Mat from being punished if he is caught. As the Daughter of the Nine Moons, I’m sure she would be obeyed if she did protect him from punishment, but such a move could have other consequences. The Seanchan system of justice is very strict; subverting it for her own ends might inspire resentment and mistrust among her subjects. The Seanchan customs and laws are very strong, but they are not flexible. If she tried to bend them too much, they might break.

Given the choice of having to navigate that or to go with him, I can certainly see her choosing the latter. Of course, it’s quite likely she didn’t know about his intention to free Aes Sedai or to help Egeanin evade the Seekers, and that she only came to stop him from leaving Ebou Dar himself. She was probably as caught off guard by the appearance of Egeanin and the sul’dam as she was by Noal’s. It’s fun to imagine she was in on the whole thing, but even if she wasn’t, she clearly gave some kind of indication to Selucia about what she intends with Mat, given Selucia’s reaction and decision to obey Mat as long as Tuon remains safe.

Perhaps Selucia knows who Mat is/will be to Tuon. It’s possible that Tuon could have told her about the future and some of the omens she has seen that have helped direct her course; she must have told Selucia at least some of it, given Selucia’s references to omens in her speech. I can see this information being enough to sway Selucia into her current acceptance of the situation, but would also imagine that she might not feel as confident as Tuon does about the choices Tuon is making.

It was amusing to see Mat dismiss Selucia’s threat so easily; for some reason I feel like he should know better than to judge a book by its cover. He should certainly know better than to judge a woman by what she appears to be! Tuon herself has already surprised him several times.

I thought it was very interesting that they both seemed to be mostly enjoying their fight. Like Perrin, Mat seems to have found a woman with a great deal of strength and even more pride, and I imagine very much that Tuon is hoping that this man she is fated to marry will be something of a match, something of an equal, to her. She might have worried when he was not someone of particular wealth or influence, might have worried still more when she saw the way he was treated and “kept” by Tylin even though he was a free man. She would want proof of his capability and strength of will, just as she was relieved to learn that he is a kind person.

Throughout this chapter, I kept thinking about the role of fate—of prophecy, of the Pattern, or ta’veren power as a tool of the Pattern, and I think that it is very interesting that both Mat and Tuon were told the identity of the person they would marry before they met them. The fact that Tuon clearly realized who Mat is/is going to be made her pay attention to him in a way she probably would otherwise never have, even if she did find him interesting or attractive. Mat almost certainly would never have decided to bring her with him in his escape from Ebou Dar if he hadn’t found out that she is his future wife. Thus, in having heard predictions of the future, the possibility of the future is changed.

Except, of course, we can’t actually know what either of them would have done in different circumstances. If Tuon hadn’t learned her fortune, she wouldn’t have become angry and had Lidya caned, and if she hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t have chosen the penance of wearing the veil. A lot of things might have been different in Ebou Dar if Tuon had landed as the Daughter of the Nine Moons rather than simply as a woman of the High Blood. Maybe it would have changed so many things that both her experiences and Mat’s would have been entirely different; they would have come together in an entirely different, but still inevitable, way.

Only, I’m not sure that’s how the Pattern works. From what Loial told Rand way back in The Eye of the World, the Pattern is mostly fixed. It can accommodate small changes, but not big ones. Ta’veren seem to be a device forged by the Pattern to enact larger changes, but even those changes might be said to have been there all along. The turn of the Wheel is cyclical, never ending, ultimately repeating. Everything that will be has already been, and so, viewed from outside itself, the universe itself is already decided. Mat’s and Tuon’s marriage, Rand’s fate, and the very outcome of the Last Battle have already been decided.

I am not a philosopher and have never studied philosophy, but I find myself thinking a lot about how, from the inside, it kind of doesn’t matter. The very nature of the Pattern would prohibit you from, say, deciding not to try so hard because you believe the Pattern will dictate the same result no matter what choices you make. The illusion of choice is just as real to the people living their lives, striving their hardest to protect themselves and their loved ones in the moment and to build a future for themselves going forward. The fear of a bad outcome, of death, of the Dark, are just as strong if you believe that everything is preordained as if you believe the future is yet to be written. Facing the idea that the future is already decided might make some fall prey to nihilism, while it might strengthen others, especially knowing that the Pattern is of the Light. Many, I imagine, might just shrug the idea off and continue to focus on what is in front of them.

Most ordinary people, at least in this Age, probably don’t really know much about how the Pattern works, and haven’t ever given it a lot of thought. But I wonder if they knew more about it in the Age of Legends, and if the feeling of inevitability, of the limitation in the ability to change, might be one of the things that drove some of the Forsaken to choose the Dark. The Dark One, after all, wants to remake creation entirely. In a way, you could almost argue that he is the only agent of true change possible. If you want significantly more than what you were born to have—power, prestige, wealth—it might be argued that allegiance with a victorious Dark One is the only possibility for such a change.

Of course, you’d also have to believe that the Dark One would actually honor such a promise, once he had the one thing he needs humanity for: the ability to be within the Pattern. Which is a pretty foolish belief, in my opinion, but there you go.

Finally, I don’t think we’ve ever seen the “snakey folk” referred to by a name before, though it’s possible we have and I’ve just forgotten. I checked my notes but didn’t find anything conclusive, however I was reminded that the one doorway took Mat to the snakey folk, who gave him answers to his questions, and the other one, in Rhuidean, took him to “foxy folk” who seem to have granted him wishes. And I suddenly realized that the game Olver likes to play, the one that can’t be won unless you cheat, is called snakes and foxes.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I can’t imagine what “give up half the light of the world to save the world” means any more than Matt can, but I can’t wait to find out.

And with that I will leave you, dear readers, until next week, when we cover chapters 32 and 33. Rand will face some of the enemies he expects, and some he doesn’t, and finally come to terms with his need for Cadsuane and the lessons she brings. And Lan will come along for the ride. icon-paragraph-end

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