Best Scenes of The Wheel of Time - August 2018
Disclaimer: This post will contain specific spoilers for The Wheel of Time books through The Dragon Reborn and some non-specific spoilers up through Lord of Chaos.
The scene about to be covered below is very likely my favorite scene from the entire series. So without further adieu, I present to you the scene that I think is, really, the Best Scene from The Wheel of Time.
In The Eye of the World, Mat and our heroes camped in Shadar Logoth in order to try to escape the Shadowspawn from gaining ground on them. While Mat, Rand, and Perrin went out to explore the city (I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time…), they ran into a man named Mordeth. He persuaded them to help him, leading them to a room where he showed them treasure. Mat had the brilliant sense to “borrow” a knife from this stash. After an altercation with Mordeth, they fled and made their way back to camp. While I think the more-than-somewhat-terrifying encounter with Mordeth should have been enough to convince Mat he wanted nothing to do with anything related to Mordeth, Mat thought that the dagger was pretty cool, so he kept it.
As it turns out, the dagger was not pretty cool. Because of the nature of the taint of Aridhol, a taint which had brought about the destruction of one of the greatest cities of the Age of Legends, the dagger passed that taint on to Mat. By the time this was discovered, Mat was so far gone that the only way for him to be freed from it was to be Healed at the White Tower by a circle wielding a sa’angreal. After another book and a half of him running around chasing the dagger, he finally received this Healing.
Like all Healing at the time in which this one took place, this left Mat physically exhausted and ravenous. Never one to let himself be contained, as soon as he was reliably able to stand, Mat began exploring, looking for a way to get off of the island and away from Tar Valon.
In his explorations, he stumbled across the Warder training grounds, where his well-guarded mouth got him into a bit of trouble with Gawyn and Galad--easily two of the best Warders-in-training at the time.
- The Scene
”Break!” The Warder’s voice sounded like rocks emptying out of a bucket… “You can rest till I finish my pip. But rest fast; I am almost in the dottle.” …
“You are Mat Cauthon, are you not?” Gawyn said with a grin…
“Did you come to the practice yard to learn the sword?” Galad asked.
Mat shook his head. “I was only out walking. I don’t know much about swords. I think I’ll put my trust in a good bow, or a good quarterstaff. I know how to use those.”…
Gawyn turned back to Mat. “You should learn something of the sword. Everyone can do with that sort of knowledge these days.”…
Mat said… “Swords aren’t the be-all and end-all, you know. I could do fairly well against either of you, I think, if you had a sword and I a quarterstaff.”Gawyn’s cough was obviously meant to swallow a laugh. Much too politely, he said, “You must be very good.” Galad’s face was frankly disbelieving.
This is where I always cue up my giggle track, because even on the first read you could feel a trimmings of Galad’s ego waiting in the wings.
”I will wager,” [Mat] said, “two silver marks to two from each of you that I can beat both of you at once, just the way I said. You can’t have fairer odds than that. There are two of you, and one of me, so two to one are fair odds.” He almost laughed aloud at the consternation on their faces.
“Mat,” Gawyn said, “there’s no need to make wagers. You have been sick. Perhaps we will try this some time when you are stronger.”
“It would be far from a fair wager,” Galad said. “I’ll not take your wager, now or later.”…
“Thump me once with one of your swords, and I will hand over a silver mark to each of you. If I thump you till you quit, you give me two each. Don’t you think you can do it?”
“This is ridiculous,” Galad said. “You would have no chance against one trained swordsman, let alone two. I’ll not take such advantage.”
“Do you think that?” asked a gravel voice. The blocky Warder joined them, thick black eyebrows pulled down in a scowl. “You think you two are good enough with your swords to take a boy with a stick?”
“It would not be fair, Hammar Gaidin,” Galad said.
“He has been sick,” Gawyn added.” There is no need for this.”
“To the yard,” Hammar grated with a jerk of his head back over his shoulder. Galad and Gawyn gave Mat regretful looks, then obeyed. The Warder eyed mat up and down doubtfully. “Are you sure you’re up to this, lad? Now I take a close look at you, you ought to be in a sickbed.”
“I am already out of one,” Mat said, “and I’m up to it. I have to be. I don’t want to lose my two marks.”
Hammar’s heavy brows rose in surprise. “You mean to hold to that wager, lad?”
“I need the money.” Mat laughed.His laughter cut off abruptly as he turned toward the nearest stand that held quarterstaffs and his knees almost buckled. He stiffened them so quickly he thought anyone who noticed would think he had just stumbled…I have to win this. I opened my fool mouth, and now I have to win. I can’t afford to lose those two marks. Without those to build on, it will take forever to win the money I need.
After choosing his staff, Matt tossed out his trademark, “Time to toss the dice,” though he inadvertently said it in the Old Tongue this time.
”Remember the wager,” he said loudly. “Two silver marks from each of you against two from me.”
A buzz rose from the Accepted as they realized what was happening. The Aes Sedai watched in silence. Disapproving silence…
“No wager,” Gawyn said. “There’s no wager.” At the same time, Galad said, “I’ll not take your money like this.”
“I mean to take yours,” Mat said.
“Done!” Hammar roared. “If they have not the nerve to cover your wager, lad, I’ll pay the score myself.”
“Very well,” Gawyn said. “If you insist on it – done!”Galad hesitated a moment more before growling, “Done, then. Let us put an end to this farce.”
And the contest was on. In one of my favorite fight sequences of the entire series, we see Mat act mostly on instinct, battling not only Gawyn and Galad, but also his weakness and hunger from his very recent Healing. In order to have a chance, he realizes he must be on the offensive because he has no chance at lasting in a long contest. In just two paragraphs, Mat eliminates Gawyn from the fight, knocking him out with a quick blow to the side of his head as he is rising from the ground.
Mat keeps up the attack on Galad, continually attacking, trying to drive Galad back. As much as I dislike Galad, no one can claim he was anything but an excellent swordsman, even this early in his career. He holds his own at first, managing to step to the side to get away from Mat’s attacks when he needs to move. Pressing harder, Mat manages to get him to step back, and once that first step of retreat was made, it continues. As his strength begins to fail, Mat throws all he has into a final attack, speeding up his attack and slipping past Galad’s defenses. He takes Galad down with quick blows to his knee, wrist, and ribs.
As the fight ended, Mat’s legs give out and he only manages to keep himself standing by clutching his quarterstaff. It's then that he realizes that the entire training ground had stopped in order to witness the competition and all the Warders and students were now watching him.
Hammar… raised his voice to shout, “Who was the greatest blademaster of all time?”
From the throats of dozens of students came a massed bellow. “Jearom, Gaidin!”
“Yes!” Hammar shouted, turning to make sure all heard. “During his lifetime, Jearom fought over ten thousand times, in battle and single combat. He was defeated once. By a farmer with a quarterstaff! Remember that. Remember what you just saw.” He lowered his eyes to Galad, and lowered his voice as well. “If you cannot get up by now, lad, it is finished.” …
Gawyn was on his feet, Mat noted with relief. He pulled himself up as Gawyn came over.He pushed two silver marks into Math’s hand with a dry, “I think I will listen next time…”
- Why I Love It
There’s so much I love about this scene that it’s hard to narrow down.
First off, I love reading about Mat. He’s carefree and lively, he has his personal code and he lives by and he isn’t beholden to anyone else. I just love reading Mat’s perspectives in the first six books. I also love the Old Tongue slipping in at the worst times. Mat definitely has the most trouble with the Old Tongue coming out when he least expects it, even before Rhuidean. It’s just so great to see them flounder for a moment every time it happens.
Another thing to love about this scene is that when he thinks of earning money, he doesn’t think of getting a day job to earn the money to start with, he just immediately jumps to gambling. He is barely out of his sickbed and he immediately jumps into a 2 v 1 spar against two of the best Warders-in-training, of course betting every penny he has to his name on the match.
I also love how honest and open he is. He meets two of the most powerful men in Andor and they get into a discussion saying swords are super awesome. And he doesn’t just agree with them saying, “Yeah, swords sure are useful.” No, he calls them on it, “Swords aren’t the end-all and be-all. I could take you on.” They don’t agree to the wager but agree to the contest and he doesn’t go along with it just to prove his point, he says, “I mean to take your [coin]!”
All in all, this is a fun, lighthearted scene where nothing major is decided, no one is getting stuffed into boxes or taken prisoner. We see someone going to fairly silly lengths for something in a way which no other character would probably even consider. We don't need to worry about the Last Battle or Darkfriends infiltrating anything, we just get to see Mat dig himself into a hole and then work to climb out of it. And I always find that fun!