Mat sat alone in his tent, staring up at the ceiling from his bed. He'd barely moved in hours. It was likely the shock of it that kept him there. He hadn't expected to go back to living a 'normal' life after the Last Battle for nearly two years now, but he'd certainly expected it to have some sort of normalcy. But without him there, it would be drastically different.
All in all, the battle had gone well; he knew that. He was a good enough tactician to know that considering the odds they'd faced, they'd come out far ahead of what could be reasonably expected of the Light's forces. But there had been one loss that had struck him harder than any other, than any ten, or twenty, or even a hundred.
The Dragon Reborn, Car'a'carn, Coramoor, was dead.
The King of Illian was dead.
And most of all, Rand al'Thor, Mat's oldest and closest friend, was dead.
He and Perrin had gotten together after the battle to talk. Despite their intentions, though, they hadn't talked much. Mostly, they'd just sat in silence, a lot like he was doing now. There would be a lot of that going on.
Neither of them had said anything at his pyre, either. No one had, not Min, or Elayne, or Aviendha. Not even Tam. They'd all just stood there in silence and watched what was left of his friend burn.
He should be happy, if anything. Even Nynaeve hadn't been able to save him, and if she couldn't do it, no one could have. No doubt he'd been in extreme pain before he'd died. That didn't make Mat feel any better, though.
The flap of the tent opened, and Mat turned his head to see. When he'd heard the noise, he had assumed it was Tuon, but instead, an enormous figure stood in the faint light of the fire, one hand holding up the cloth of the tent and the other resting on the sword on his hip. "Get up," al'Lan Mandragoran rumbled. "We have something to do."
"Blood and ashes, Lan," he groaned, shutting his eyes tight and covering his face with his hat. "Can't you people leave me alone for one night?"
The hat was pulled out of his fingers quickly. "No," the Warder said, his voice firm. "Get up," he said again."
With a sigh, Mat did as he was told, pulling a green coat over his shoulders. He jerked the hat out of Lan's gigantic hand and flopped it onto his head.
"Take it," Lan said, offering him the ashandarei that had been leaning against the bed moments before. "There will be Borderlanders there."
"So no Borderlander can respect a man who leaves his weapon in his tent, this close to the Blight. Not even after the enemy has been defeated."
"You're all bloody mad," Mat grumbled, taking the black-shafted weapon from Lan's hands. It felt good under his fingers, like it was in the right place again, considering how long he'd held it today. He might even have birds carved into his hands by this point.
Like Rand, he thought. He grimaced. "So where are we going?"
"To the blacksmith's tent, first," Lan said. "Then to the fire. We have a tradition to uphold."
"Is this about... him?" Mat asked, looking up at the Malkieri man with a cocked eyebrow.
"Of course it is," he said. "For a little while, at least, everything will be about him."
Mat only nodded, and followed closely behind the Warder with his weapon across his shoulders. Even now, Lan walked with caution in his step, like he was expecting something to spring from the shadows. That's no king's walk, Mat thought. His back needs to be straighter. More like Thorin. It took him a moment to remember that he didn't know who Thorin al Toren al Ban was.
Lan disappeared into Perrin's tent and reappeared within the minute, Perrin close behind him. Perrin only nodded when he caught sight of Mat. He didn't look well, his beard scraggly and his eery yellow-gold eyes empty.
"Haven't slept, have you?" Mat asked. Perrin shook his head.
Lan set off again, towards the center of the camp, where the Peace had been signed only days ago. He stopped at one of the fire pits near the pyre. "Sit down."
They did as he said, lowering themselves onto the wooden log stools around the pit and feeling much like the boys they'd been when they'd left the Rivers two years ago.
Lan handed them a wineskin. "Drink," he ordered. Once again, they did as they were told. "The others will be here soon."
"What others?" Mat asked.
"The ones that knew him best, among we who remain."
That seemed to shoot a lance of fire into Mat's heart as he thought of Egwene. Light, we knew he might die, but I never would have guessed she would, too.
Lan was right. They were not alone for very long. Several soldiers and Asha'man joined them, but Mat was sure they weren't the people Lan intended them to meet. The first to arrive was a tall man, white-haired and moustached, with a patched cloak around his shoulders. The gleeman sat down next to Mat and took the wine from his hand, drawing deep from it. "I hope you have more of this, Lan," he said. "We're going to need it."
Lan nodded towards the supply tent not far away. "I've told them to bring over more bottles when it gets too quiet here."
Thom nodded, too, gazing at the fire. "Exquisite is a good word, I think," he said simply. "But not quite enough."
"What in the Light are you talking about?" Mat asked.
An Arafellin man, the same age as Mat and Perrin, with braided black hair and equally dark eyes, sat down next to Lan. From the pins on his collar, Mat guessed he was one of Rand's Asha'man. The surprising thing about him, though, was the glass sword he wore on his belt- Callandor itself. He touched it constantly, as if trying to remind himself it was actually there.
The next was a figure so large it made even Lan seem small, with wide shoulders and big ears. "Good evening, Mat," Loial said quietly. He looked almost lost, saying nothing more, as he sat down.
"Is that everyone?" Perrin asked.
Lan shook his head. "One more."
Tam arrived soon after. If Loial had seemed lost, then Tam was so far into the depths of his misery that Mat couldn't be sure he would ever find his way out again. He sat on Perrin's right. "Why did you call us here, Mandragoran?" he asked. There was a gruff sound to his voice, and his eyes were red.
Lan nodded to him, and Thom handed over the skin. "Drink, first," the king said. "Then, we will talk." He did, lifting the bladder into the air and drank until it was empty. Then, Lan took up one of the bottles of wine sitting next to his log by the neck and passed it along, followed by the next, until each man had a bottle. He raised his into the air and said, simply, "He died well."
Mat was sure the echo could be heard for miles around.