Best Scenes of The Wheel of Time - February 2018
**This article contains specific spoilers for the series up to and including The Fires of Heaven chapter 45, some specific spoilers from A Crown of Swords, as well as non-specific spoilers for plot points later in the series.**
Welcome back! The next stop in our tour of Best Scenes of The Wheel of Time is in chapter 45, After the Storm, of The Fires of Heaven. The scene we’ll be looking at spans roughly the first half of the chapter.
- Important Characteristics of this Scene
- Significant character turning point
- We see how inescapable the pull of a ta’veren is
- We see personality traits that lay the groundwork for significant future events
- Mat being amusing
The main conflict Rand has been facing in this and the previous book has been Couladin, who was also claiming to be Car’a’carn. After a long chase across the Aiel Waste and through the Spine of the World, they come to the city of Cairhien. Rand and his advisors prepare for the battle with Couladin and Mat makes plans to take off, find a tavern somewhere, and spend the rest of his life happily drinking and playing dice.
Mat had been trying to get away from Rand for quite a while before this but every time he decided to do it, something would come up and keep him there, just one more night, one more day, until another week had passed. Finally he decided enough was enough and he was getting out first thing the following morning. And he did. He rode away from the armies marching to battle, away from everything he didn’t want to be mixed up in anymore. Before he got far, though, he was sucked back in. Through a series of individually necessary steps, he ended up saving some small armies and leading them safely through various encounters.
By the end of the battle he had killed Couladin himself and acquired an army full of men who were now utterly loyal to him. This scene takes place fairly immediately after that battle.
- The Scene
While everyone around him, Tairen, Cairhienin, and Aiel, are overjoyed at not only surviving the battle but also having won, Mat is not so enthusiastic.
One more time they had walked under the Dark One’s nose and survived to tell the tale. One more dance along the razor’s edge finished. Almost dead yesterday, maybe dead tomorrow, but alive, gloriously alive, today. He did not feel like celebrating. What good was being alive if it meant living in a cage? (The Fires of Heaven, 717)
Mat is just emerging as a very skilled, not to mention lucky, general. To this point no one has really taken him seriously, and for pretty good reason. He has never been a particularly serious person. He likes to drink, gamble, and “snuggle the girls, be they short or tall,” not make decisions that will determine who lives and who dies. Now, not only is he inescapably tied to Rand, he has also taken responsibility for the lives of thousands of men. He plans now are to relieve himself of that responsibility… unfortunately, not all of Mat’s plans are as successful as are his military endeavors.
Before long he is joined by Talmanes and Nalesean, who are both upset that the Cairhienin leaders have sent delegations to Rand but not to Mat. In true Mat fashion, he’s not actually paying attention to the conversation and it doesn’t take long for him to be blind-sided because of his inattention. The two are both concerned that Rand will receive his procession but that Mat’s men will not receive the honor of riding at the front of it, which they feel Mat had earned them by killing Couladin. His response boiled down to “Okay, whatever. You deal with it,” which didn’t go over terribly well with Talmanes and Nalesean.
Talmanes and Nalesean gaped at him as if he were demented. “You are our battle leader,” Nalesean protested. “Our general.”
“My bodyservant will polish your boots,” Talmanes put in with a small smile that he carefully did not direct at the square-faced Tairen, “and brush and mend your clothes. So you will appear at your best.”
Nalesean gave his oiled beard a jerk; his eyes darted halfway to the other man before he could stop them, “If I may offer, I have a good coat I think will fit you well. Gold satin and crimson.” It was the Cairhienin’s turn to glower.“General!” Mat exclaimed, holding himself up with the spear haft. “I’m no flaming-! I mean, I wouldn’t want to usurp your place.” Let them figure out which one of them he meant. (The Fires of Heaven, 721)
Nalesean and Talmanes have been jockeying for position in Mat’s eye since they first started working together and it is demonstrated wonderfully in this scene. They spend the first half of their time here trying to outdo each other, but when Mat fails to see the position he has taken at the head of the men, they suddenly start working together. Rather than trying to have their bodyservant chosen over the other’s, they find ways for them both to contribute, leaving Mat baffled and pretty well overruled.
By the end of the scene, Mat is coming to realize that the men he had saved were now his men, they had made their choice and their choice was to follow him, wherever that takes them. Of course, he accepts this information gracefully by joining in the heavy drinking, if not the celebrating.
- Why I Love It
I love seeing Mat with his soldiers. It is always so exhilarating to see how well his is able to lead such different groups. He unites them, enabling them to work together seamlessly, utilizing their different strengths and mitigating their weaknesses. Another thing that makes this chapter so great is it’s our only glimpse of the battle that we’ve been working up to for nearly two books now. It’s more than a little disappointing that the only view of the actual fight which brings down Couladin is a broken up memory of it, but it’s still a great scene.
This scene is also a little sad when I think of the coming books, particularly Mat’s involvement with Tylin in A Crown of Swords. We see here how nonconfrontational Mat is, which is an interesting trait in a war general. Just hours before, Mat was completely fine giving them harsh, rigid orders and requiring complete obedience. Now, out of the heat of battle, he isn’t willing to command them to stop following him.
With Tylin, Mat behaves much the same: He is so diplomatic that he ends up never saying a definite “No.” This enables Tylin to take advantage of him. The scene here in The Fires of Heaven makes me laugh, but the situation with Tylin does not. While it is frustrating and sad to see how Mat’s personality opens him up to this type of interaction, I still appreciate that Robert Jordan was consistent enough to make these situations feel natural for Mat, and believable. Neither of these situations could ever have happened to Lan, but for Mat they are not only believable, but almost expected.
The best part of the scene is, without a doubt, the image of the soldiers from various nations all joining together to sing Dance with Jak o’ the Shadows. This is our first glimpse of the verse added for Mat:
We’ll toss the dice however they fall,
And snuggle the girls be they short or tall,To dance with Jak o’ the Shadows.
Then follow young Mat whenever he calls,