This article contains spoilers for through A Crown of Swords.
This month our journey takes us to A Crown of Swords, Chapter 21 “Swovan Night” where we meet up with Matrim Cauthon and Birgitte Silverbow, starting with confrontation and uncertainty, and ending with the forming of a delightful friendship.
In The Eye of the World, our merry band of travelers took shelter in Shadar Logoth. While there, our ta’veren trio met with one Mordeth who asked them for help. Mat was particularly brilliant and took a dagger from Shadar Logoth. This dagger carried the taint of the city, making him intensely distrustful of everyone around him, as well as physically ill. Moiraine did what she could to contain the taint, but it was too ingrained by that point for her to do more on her own.
At the end of The Great Hunt, we saw Mat blow the Horn of Valere, calling the Heroes of the Horn back from their slumber to help drive back the Seanchan. Temporarily at least.
Unfortunately, when Mat was finally permanently separated from the dagger he took from Shadar Logoth, he lost many of his memories, including those of blowing the Horn. This made it so when he met Elayne’s Warder – Birgitte Silverbow – he didn’t recognize her. He assumed she was simple another Hunter for the Horn, looking for adventure.
Until Swovan Night, a festival celebrated in the southern portion of the main continent in Randland, most notably, for this scene at least, Ebou Dar.
Mat returned to his room, having been informed that there was a woman waiting for him. When he entered his room, he saw Birgitte, and a memory rolled in.
There was no hope, with Seanchan to the west and Whitecloaks to the east, no hope and only one chance, so he raised the curled Horn and blew, not really knowing what to expect. The sound came golden as the Horn, so sweet he did not know whether to laugh or cry. It echoed, and the earth and heavens seemed to sing.While that one pure note hung in the air, a fog began to rise, appearing from nowhere, thin wisps, thickening, billowing higher, until all was obscured as if clouds covered the land. And down the clouds they rode, as though down a mountainside, the dead heroes of legend, bound to be called back by the Horne of Valere. Artur Hawkwing himself led, tall and hook-nosed, and behind him came the rest, little more than a hundred… Mikel of the Pure Heart, and Shivan the Hunter… and his sister Calian, call the Chooser… Amaresu, with the Sword of the Sun… and Paedrig, the golden-tongued peacemaker, and there, carrying the silver bow with which she never missed…
He pushed the door shut, trying to lean against it. He felt dizzy, dazed. “you are she. Birgitte, for true. Burn my bones to ash, it’s impossible. How? How?”
(A Crown of Swords, 459-460)
Birgitte saw right away that he remembered and she was not happy. She did not want anyone knowing she had been a Hero of the Horn. For ages she had known her fate. Gaidal Cain would be born, then she would be born. They would find each other, and fulfill their duty together. Then they would die and wait together in tel aran’rhiod. When Moghedien tore her from the pattern, all that certainty vanished. She couldn’t be certain she would ever see Gaidal again, in fact it seemed fairly certain that she would not. She couldn’t be sure that she was truly Birgitte Silverbow anymore rather than just a woman out of her time who was quite good with a bow. The more people who knew who she had been, the more pressure there would be on her to be that Hero. In the end, Mat knowing who she was ended up being a relief, an outlet for her, but at this point in time, it felt more like an added weight. One more person with mile-high expectations.
The woman of legend gave a resigned sigh and propped his bow back in the corner next to his spear. “I was ripped out untimely, Hornsounder, cast out by Moghedien to die and saved by Elayne’s bonding.” She spoke slowly, studying him as if to be sure he understood. “I feared you might remember who I used to be…”
Who she used to be, indeed. Fists on hips, she confronted him challengingly, no whit different form the Birgitte he had seen ride out of the sky. Even her clothes were the same, though this short coat was red ad the white trousers yellow. “Elayne and Nynaeve know and kept it from me, true? I weary of secrets, Birgitte, and they harbor secrets as a grain barn harbors rats….”
“You have your own secrets.” The way she looked at him, you would have thought he was a tavern puzzle. “For one, you’ve not told them you blew the Horn of Valere. The smallest of your secrets from them, I think…”
“What secrets do I have? Those women know my toenails and dreams…”
“… I am no hero now, only another woman to make my way. And as for your secrets. What language do we speak, hornsounder?”
He opened his mouth… and stopped, really hearing what she had just asked. Nosane iro gavane domorakoshi, Diynen’d’ma’purvene? Speak we what language, Sounder of the Horn? He hair on his neck tried to stand. “The old blood he said carefully. Not in the Old Tongue. “An Aes Sedai once told me the old blood runs strong in – What are you bloody well laughing at now?”
“You, Mat,” she managed while trying not to double over… She knuckled a tear from the corner of her eye. “Some people speak a few words, a phrase or two, because of the old blood. Usually without understanding what they say, or not quite. But you…. One sentence you’re an Eharoni High Prince and the next a First Lord of Manetheren, accent and idiom perfect. No, don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.” She hesitated. “Is mine with you?”
He waved a hand, still too flabbergasted to be offended. “Do I look like my tongue flaps?” he muttered. Birgitte! In the flesh! “Burn me I could use a drink.” Before that was out of his mouth he knew it was the wrong thing to say. Women never –
“That sounds the right notion to me,” she said. “I could use a pitcher of wine, myself. Blood and ashes, when I saw you’d recognized me, I nearly swallowed my tongue.”
(A Crown of Swords, 460-462)
Why I Love This Scene
The Birgitte-Mat friendship was always one of my favorite friendships in the entire series. They each held a secret the other desperately wanted to keep hidden, but one didn’t trust the other because they had the power of the other’s secret. Rather, their friendship was strengthened because they knew the other held their secret and would keep it safe. They could let down their hair, to some extent, around each other because they didn’t need to hide.
Besides, it was always fun to see someone shock Elayne and her manners, and Mat and Birgitte together did that admirably! Birgitte also wouldn’t put up with Elayne’s petty, juvenile treatment of Mat. When she learned that Mat had rescued her in the Stone of Tear from the Black Ajah as well as a Forsaken, and in return they had gotten upset with him and belittled him, Birgitte didn’t pull any punches.
“The Black Ajah.” Birgitte’s voice was flatter than the floor tiles. “And one of the Forsake. Mat never mentioned them. You owe him thanks on your knees, Elayne. Both of you do. The man deserves it. And Juilin as well.”
(A Crown of Swords, 471)
No one in this series ever really treated anyone else very well, but I was always particularly upset by how Elayne and Nynaeve treated Mat. It made them seem arrogant and juvenile. Yes, he had been young and brash, playing ridiculous pranks and not always being responsible, but he was still growing up. If you never give someone a chance to grow up, how are they ever supposed to finally be grown up?