In this section, Mat tries to re-establish command.
Mat has an awful time trying to earn respect. His own men know all he is capable of, and Thom and Juilin know enough to respect him. The Seanchan he has picked up only know him as Tylin’s Toy, and treat him accordingly. Even the Seeker searching for Tuon considers Mat a pawn being moved by Thom Merrilin. Earlier scenes with Gawyn, Logain, and Samitsu established that having two captains is terribly inefficient. Mat is in a similar plight, with both he and Egeanin fighting for dominance among their followers.
Mat is finally able to throw Egeanin off balance by mentioning Tuon’s name. This gains him a precious advantage over her, for the time being. He has no such hold on Tuon herself however.
Tuon is angered over being called a servant as part of the cover story Mat has cobbled together. She hurls a cup at him, and Setalle presents her with another one to throw should she desire it. Mat promises to set her free once he figures out how to do so safely. After some intense seemingly random questions directed at each other, Tuon makes a promise herself. She will not betray Mat or try to escape.
Mat learns that the search for Tuon is being carried out secretly and that Tylin has been killed by the gholam, which Tuon calls superstition. Importantly, Joline senses the cleansing of saidin, far to the north, which frightens her so much she wants Mat to get the circus move as far from it as possible. The cleansing is a convenient marker for establishing the timing of these chapters, but it isn’t necessary unless there is some chance of these separate storylines being brought together.
Noal takes too long to reach Mat’s Wagon, which Mat thinks is due to him dropping off his fish, but it comes so close after the last clue that Noal is not what he seems that the reader should be distrusting him. This is a very deliberate attempt by the author to introduce doubt about Noal. The first clue was Noal finding a dark-skinned man with blue eyes familiar, and the second is that he vanished for a few minutes. It’s not much, and it’s not menacing, but it does have the desired effect, and the reader should be watching Noal very closely, even if Mat is not.
The chapter featuring Karede allows a glimpse into the most secretive parts of Seanchan society. The supposed conspiracy around Tuon’s disappearance prompts the Seeker and Karede to establish their own conspiracy, so secret only they know of it. Their persistence is played up, and builds up some tension as they set out to find Tuon. Mat never had a chance to fight Seanchan, and this could be building up towards a great battle.
Let’s take a closer look at how new ideas are introduced in the text.
In chapter 2, we first learn Valan Luca has a circus. We next see that attendance is down, so the bouncers are playing dice. Next, the strongman and his wife are engrossed in the dicing, which is atypical for them. Any behaviour out of the ordinary catches the reader’s attention. The flow from the first idea to the next, and the next after is smooth and logical.
The circus folk react to Mat and Egeanin’s arrival, giving an opportunity to describe Mat and Egeanin’s cover story. The strongman warns Mat about Seanchan speaking with Luca. Egeanin interrupts. Noal is ready to flee. The strongman’s wife tells Egeanin the Seanchan are just talking. The strongman adds to Mat that he doesn’t think there’ll be any trouble. The bouncer adds that they’ll protect Egeanin, admitting her gold is a factor in that loyalty. Egeanin lays down the law and renews the promise of gold. Mat is angry because it’s actually his gold. He launches into all the other things that Egeanin does wrong, and then, out of nowhere, asks himself the original question again: why are the Seanchan there?
These pages allowed the introduction of a danger to reveal aspects of Mat and Egeanin’s relationship. They jostle for control, and each of them is seen as the leader by some of the circus folk. After a short while, the author brings the reader’s attention back to a previously raised point. The fact that the Seanchan’s presence had been revealed and discussed earlier allows the sudden shift in Mat’s thinking back to that topic. By placing that sudden shift in the middle of a paragraph, the author makes it feel even more like a sudden thought interrupting Mat’s other thoughts.
Considering the danger, Mat doesn’t even think of making a run. He tells everyone he’s confident it will work out, and they are mostly surprised he even spoke since Egeanin had done such an effective job of presenting herself as leader. Mat says he’ll slip near Luca’s wagon. Noal implies they will all die. Mat searches for signs he may be right by listening for dice rolling in his head. Egeanin catches up to him. Mat worries she will be recognized by one of the Seanchan. Egeanin dismisses the idea. Mat warns her not to glare at everyone. She angrily agrees.
Now the control has shifted back to Mat. Note how Egeanin ruins his plan by showing up immediately after he has dismissed the danger. Mat is not given any time to find solid footing, and it is not done through physical inconveniences, but through relationships. There is no time pressure, no imminent threat, just a chance of impending doom if he can’t regain control of his followers.
They traverse the circus grounds, spotting Aludra on the way. Egeanin berates Mat for blowing their cover by staring at her. Mat gives a snide comment, winning that particular skirmish. They see the Seanchan, as well as a number of their followers who are also watching the Seanchan. Mat worries about the clues they are giving away to the Seanchan. Egeanin recognizes the officer as he leaves. Mat realizes his luck is all that kept him from recognizing Egeanin.
The Seanchan wanted horses, but Luca’s warrant was enough to send them on. Luca worries about them returning and insists they should have left Ebou Dar earlier. Mat says leaving that night would have drawn attention. He says not to worry, they can leave right after Thom returns from the city. Luca dances a happy dance. Egeanin is angry her orders were not followed. Luca points out that Mat has the gold so he gives the orders.
As each event unfolds, it allows the strained competition between Mat and Egeanin to be revealed. Every other danger is subordinate to that one. Except the one that Mat eventually uses to finally beat her out: the danger posed by Mat’s relationship with Tuon.
Allow the solution to a problem to pose its own problems to the heroes.