This article contains spoilers for the entire series.
“Talmanes pulled off one steel-backed gauntlet and put out his hand, but for a moment Mat only stared at it. Lead? Him? I’m a gambler, not a soldier. A lover. Memories of battles long gone spun through his head, but he forced them down. All he had to do was ride on. But then maybe Talmanes would leave Estean and Daerid and the rest to roast. On the spit Mat had hung them from. Even so, it was a surprise to him when he grasped the other’s hand and said, ‘You just be there when you’re supposed to be.’”–Mat, The Fires of Heaven, Chapter 43
As he finds himself inexorably drawn into Rand’s war against the Shaido, Mat meets a character who will prove indispensible to his narrative. Determined to escape Rand’s ta’veren influence and head south on his own, Mat stops only to offer advice to a force of Tairen and Cairhienin men he spies walking into a trap. It is an invitation from Talmanes Delovinde, a Cairhienin noble of no little note, which ultimately impels Mat to delay his departure and join the battle instead: “I will lead one half, if you lead the other.” Their shaking of hands symbolically initiates the campaign that will eventuate in Mat’s legendary victory over Couladin and the formation of the second Shen an Calhar, the Band of the Red Hand.
Approximately three years older than Mat, which places him in his early twenties, Talmanes is a careful and reserved man who prefers the plain dress of a soldier to that of a lord. Rarely one to smile, he is often considered by those around him to possess nothing in the way of humour—although we certainly see glimpses that suggest just the opposite. Indeed, when the prologue to A Memory of Light gives us our very first scenes from Talmanes’s point of view, we learn that he frequently finds it amusing when others fail to comprehend his deadpan jokes.
In the aftermath of Couladin’s defeat, Talmanes is one of those who pledges to follow Mat, telling him that “Until yesterday I have followed men of other lands because I must. You I will follow because I want to” (TFoH, Ch. 45). From its very creation, Talmanes holds a position of leadership within Mat’s Band. He initially commands the First Banner of the Horse, who call themselves “Talmanes’ Thunderbolts” (LoC, Ch. 22); when the Band increases exponentially in size, he is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General. Invariably one of Mat’s most trusted officers, he is left in charge of the Band on multiple occasions when Mat is required to travel without it—into Salidar, to Ebou Dar, to the Tower of Ghenjei.
Although at one point Mat thinks in consternation that Talmanes “could be almost as eager to go off and charge somebody as Nalesean” (LoC, Ch. 38), his actions reveal him to be a careful observer and a solid commander. From his first meticulous assessment of Mat, Talmanes’s watchful nature continually receives comment within the series. He is consistently among the first to perceive a problem and to grasp the solution. “Wide-eyed and alert” (LoC, Ch. 5), with his “head swiveling constantly” (KoD, Ch. 26) to survey his surroundings, he works to evaluate all conceivable risks on a potential battlefield. On their first meeting, Tuon is impressed by his apt appraisal of the area and the way he accounts even for the possibility of raken, a Seanchan military asset of which he has heard tell but never seen in person.
Though Mat is the undisputed leader of the Band, Talmanes is responsible for a significant portion of its success. It is under Talmanes’s supervision, for example, that the Band more than triples in size, a statistic that astounds Mat when he and Talmanes are reunited in Knife of Dreams after a separation of more than four books. Although it is Mat’s reputation that draws recruits, Talmanes is the one to oversee the intake of thousands of new soldiers while simultaneously securing a contract with the King of Murandy that yields more than a year’s pay for the entire Band.
Likewise, at the dawning of the Last Battle, Talmanes plays a crucial role in rescuing the dragons from the ruins of Caemlyn—an act that has immense significance for both the Band and the fate of humankind itself. Knowing that Caemlyn is lost beyond saving with the forces at hand, Talmanes refuses to commit his men to a senseless attempt to hold the city. Instead, he opts to concentrate on what is absolutely necessary: securing escape for as many civilians as possible and preventing the dragons from falling into enemy hands. Although Talmanes knows that he cannot “reproduce Mat’s blend of insanity and inspiration,” he is also fully aware of what he must do and how he can best do it: “We will retrieve the dragons,” he assures the Band, “but we’ll do it smartly” (AMoL, Prologue).
Which is not, of course, to say that they will do it without flair.
The first Band of the Red Hand died protecting Aemon al Caar al Thorin, the last King of Manetheren. Mat’s Band is named after it.