Hello again, The Wheel of Time fans! Can you believe we’ve already reached Week 11 of Reading The Wheel of Time? In some ways it has flown by, and yet in others it does seem like it has been quite the journey to get here. My feelings mirror Rand and Mat’s this week: together we have all reached Caemlyn, which has been such a huge goal for a good portion of the story now, and yet is only a tiny piece of the whole journey. The boys, particularly Mat, are feeling the toll of it this week, but we, from the safety of our couches and armchairs, are feeling the excitement of a book that feels like it’s just about to ramp up the action again. Will Mat and Rand find a safe place to rest in Caemlyn? Will Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve be able to catch up to them? And who is this mysterious Aes Sedai who is friends with the Queen?
All that remains to be seen, but at least in this section, which covers Chapters 34-36, Rand and Mat do make it to Caemlyn, and discover a few unexpected allies, which is a pleasant change from the avalanche of enemies that have beset them for so long. There are also some fun little tidbits, including background for a certain Thom Merrilin, and, to my delight, more about the Ogier who were mentioned earlier in regards to the steddings.
In the beginning of Chapter 34, Mat and Rand pass through a town called Carysford, but although it looks peaceful and welcoming, they no longer trust anything, and are careful not to be seen as they slip through the darkness and further down the road, finding some haystacks to sleep in. Mat asks Rand if they will make it, and repeats his belief that they are the only ones of the group left alive. Rand does his best to stay positive, reminding Mat that it’s only a day or two of travel left before they reach Caemlyn.
When they wake in the morning they find that the road has become very busy, filling up with travelers on their way to see the false Dragon. It even gets crowded enough to be a little dangerous, as passing carts and merchants trains have no compunction about running down those walking on foot or even striking out at them with the butts of spears or their drivers’ whips. Rand takes a gash over his eyebrow when he misjudges the length of one such whip, and overhears a conversation between a local farmer and a member of the Queen’s Guard, during which he learns that as crowded as it is here, it’s even more so in Caemlyn.
The crowd offers some welcome anonymity to Rand and Mat, but they still don’t dare use their flute-playing and juggling for pay, or to even shelter in an inn. They press on through town after town, as wary of the locals as the locals seem to be of them, into the night and ignoring the pain of their endless walking as best they can. Finally, seeing the lights of another town ahead of them, Mat decides they should definitely stop, but Rand insists that it be on the other side of the town. Keeping out of sight, the boys pause in the shadows near an inn to wait for some men to clear out of the way so they can pass, but as they wait, Rand begins to get an uneasy feeling from them. He realizes that one man, who is preparing a horse and cart for travel, is aware that Mat and Rand are there and is deliberately not looking at them. Meanwhile, just at the edge of the illuminated square, two other men are talking. One stands in shadow, and the other seems very uncomfortable with the conversation they are having.
As the man in shadow moves away, Rand feels his skin prickle, and tries to dismiss the feeling until he realizes that an inn’s sign is blowing in the wind, but the figure’s cloak is not moving. It is a Fade.
The two remaining men begin to talk, and the man with the cart (Almen Bunt) accuses the other (Raimun Holdwin) of keeping suspicious company for an innkeeper. Holdwin retorts that a farmer like Bunt doesn’t know anything about all the people Holdwin is friends with, and explains that the man is from Four Kings, and is looking for two thieves who stole a Heron-marked sword from him. He tells Bunt that the thieves are young men who are also Darkfriends and followers of the False Dragon, and goes on about how tricky and sly the young men are. Bunt is highly skeptical of the whole thing, of how much detail Holdwin knows and how extravagant the story is. Rand and Mat also overhear that Bunt intends to drive to Caemlyn in the night, to avoid the crowds, and the farmer is dismissive of Holdwin’s insistence that the night is dangerous and that Bunt is a fool.
After Holdwin leaves, Rand makes the risky decision to ask for a ride, knowing that the Fade is out there in the night and will certainly find them if they stay on foot. Despite being startled by their approach, Bunt agrees easily enough and proves quite chatty as they ride with him through the night, and they learn that the Queen has an Aes Sedai named Elaida who is a close advisor, although Bunt doesn’t like that the throne is still tied to the Aes Sedai, even if it is traditional. Rand wonders if they should go find this other Aes Sedai if Moiraine never meets them in Caemlyn. He then falls asleep as Bunt talks on about Queen Morgase and the royal family, and he dreams of Myrddraal killing Egwene. He wakes up, only to find a raven sitting on his chest, which croaks “You are mine” and plucks out his eye before Rand wakes for real, shouting. Bunt mentions that Rand’s yelling startled him, and then announces that they have arrived in Caemlyn.
Once again Rand is amazed by the size and commotion of this new, bigger city. Mat is too, and he starts panicking about the number of people, demanding of Rand how they can ever know who to trust among so many people, heedless of the fact that Bunt is right there near them and could overhear. Indeed, Mat seems completely overwhelmed, even to the point of holding his hands over his ears against the noise. Taking them aside, Bunt tells Rand that if people are looking for them, the thing Holdwin said he was hiding will certainly give them away, and suggests he get rid of it before leaving the boys. Instead of losing the sword, though, Rand strikes on a plan to cover it with strips of cloth, mimicking a trend he’s seen other swordsmen in the city wearing. Matt, meanwhile, is caught up in his panic, insisting again and again that Moiraine and the others are dead but leaves off after Rand admonishes him. Together they manage to get directions to the inn Thom told them to find, The Queen’s Blessing.
The innkeeper, a man named Basel Gill, takes them to the back when they mention Thom’s name, and Rand explains that Thom was killed protecting them. Basel Gill seems skeptical of the story, but tells them that he believes they are telling the truth and only doubts that Thom was truly killed. He does not think the bard is easy to kill, and he tells them a little more of Thom’s story, how he was a Court Bard for Queen Morgase, and that it’s suspected that he was her lover, too. But Thom left unexpectedly when the “trouble about his nephew cropped up,” leaving the Queen angry, and when Thom returned, he argued with her and then “left Caemlyn half a step ahead of a trip to prison, if not the headsman’s axe.” Thus, Gill doesn’t think the boys should mention Thom to anyone, but he will give them beds and food for Thom’s sake, for he considers the bard a friend.
Rand gives Gill a truncated version of their story, leaving out the Trollocs and Fades, but still emphasizing that helping them might put Gill in danger. But the innkeeper seems unperturbed, unwilling to let possible danger stop him from helping friends of Thom’s. He promises to keep his ear to the ground for news of Moiraine, but advises them not to go to Elaida, the Queen’s Aes Sedai, or even to the Guards, because their connection to Thom might land them in hot water.
Despite their momentary safety Mat is tense almost to the point of paranoia, despairing of the idea that they may have to continue on to Tar Valon alone, afraid of the crowded city, suspicious of Gill for helping them, and convinced still that Egwene and Perrin and everyone else is dead. Rand does his best to rally his friend, but ends up leaving Mat alone, lying in bed and unwilling to engage with anything.
Looking for somewhere quiet to sit, Rand is directed by a maid to the empty library. But as he’s admiring the collection he is suddenly surprised by a creature that he thinks, for a moment, is a Trolloc. It’s not a Trolloc at all but an Ogier, which Rand only realizes when the creature mentions leaving the stedding.
Rand learns that the Ogier is named Loial, and that he is young for an Ogier at only 90 years old. Loial explains that he left the stedding in order to see the world and the great Groves that the Ogier planted, although he was technically too young to be allowed to go and snuck away while the elders were still debating if he should be allowed. Loial talks about how the Ogier grew the massive Groves to make the world more beautiful, but that most are gone now, much to his sorrow. The Ogier also built many of the cities of men, including Caemlyn, but Rand is surprised to learn that the Ogier learned stonework out of necessity, and it is the trees that are their true passion.
Rand is also surprised to learn that the Ogier believe in the Pattern. There is a brief moment confusion between the two when Loial speaks a quote he clearly expects Rand to recognize, and is almost offended when Rand doesn’t respond; he has pegged Rand as an Aielman, at which point Rand explains that he is from the Two Rivers, and has never even seen an Aielman. Still, Loial’s knowledge and calm demeanor are comforting to Rand, and he finds himself confiding the entire story of his flight from the Two Rivers, leaving nothing out, not the Trollocs or the Fades, or even his dreams. When he is finished, Loial tells Rand of ta’veren. He explains that the Pattern is not entirely fixed, and that if a person tries to change his life in some small way, it often will shift to accommodate it. But large changes are not so possible, unless, as Loial puts it “the change chooses you.” This person whose thread is the change in the Pattern is called ta’veren, and Loial is sure that Rand is such a person, and perhaps his friends too. He asks to travel with Rand, and although Rand is tempted, the danger posed to anyone traveling with him, as well as the fact that Loial will draw a lot of attention wherever he goes, dissuades him. He promises to spend some time with Loial while in Caemlyn, however, and Loial, sympathetically, tells Rand that he is sure that his friends are well.
Whew! There’s enough exposition in Chapter 36 alone for an entire post, but mainly I’m just over here dancing because I knew Thom wasn’t dead! Of course, technically I still don’t know, but the narration wouldn’t drop such juicy tidbits as “‘I’ll believe he’s dead… when I see his corpse,’” for nothing.
There’s a lot of great detail in these chapters, and the exposition is some of the smoothest we have had to date. From Bunt’s chattering about Queen Morgase and the royal connection to Tar Valon, to Loial’s scholarly explanations of how the Pattern works, to the important misidentification by the Ogier of Rand as an Aielman (if it was a misidentification at all) the reader has learned a lot they didn’t know before. The explanation of how the Pattern works might be the most significant in terms of the whole tale, but the fact that Loial believes Rand to be an Aielman will probably be very important to Rand later.
Despite Nynaeve’s reassurances when she and Rand talked back in Baerlon, it is pretty clear to us by now that Tam’s fevered ramblings held more truth than not. Rand was somewhat reassured by the explanation that he had, in fact, been born outside the Two Rivers, but that Kari al’Thor was clearly (in Nyneave’s mind) his mother. On the other hand, Rand is aware that it doesn’t actually prove anything. No doubt he remembers Tam’s words “I knew you’d take [the baby] to your heart, Kari.” And while Rand doesn’t recognize the name Sightblinder, he probably does remember Tam uttering the word Avendesora in his fever. Connecting the name with Loial’s description of the chora clearly startles Loial, and although neither Rand nor the reader fully understands why, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Loial may have intuited more about Rand’s heritage than Rand himself yet knows.
Thinking back to Chapter 6, there’s a lovely little tidbit there as Rand listens to Tam’s mumblings. He knows the name Avendesora means the Tree of Life and has heard tales of it, though in the tales there is only one tree belonging to someone called the Green Man. Rand is bemused to hear Tam ramble so much about things of legends, and specifically thinks: Maybe all the stories were as real as the news the peddlers and merchants brought all the gleeman’s tales and all the stories told at night in front of the fireplace. Next he might actually meet the Green Man, or an Ogier giant, or a wild, black-veiled Aielman.
Those thoughts meant nothing to me back on page 98, but here now the Avendesora has come back into the story, and Rand is talking to an Ogier who believes that Rand himself is an Aielman. That is a really tight little piece of narration. I can only assume Rand is going to meet the Green Man, too, before long.
I am also really pleased that I didn’t have to wait too long to find out what Ogiers are! A mix of the traditional idea of ogres and and Tolkein’s ents, it would seem. I was having visions of Quickbeam from the way Loial went on about humans being “hasty” because their lives were so short, and how he himself is young for an Ogier and “hotheaded” in comparison to the others. His name (literally loyal with the Y changed to an I) is probably significant too, and I wonder if he won’t end up being a valuable companion to Rand at some point. Rand could certainly use a steady friend, now more than ever since Mat is totally falling apart. I’m getting worried about him, to be honest, his depressive paranoia is going to have to come to a head sometime soon.
Loial’s explanation of the way the Pattern works has given me another thread (haha) to add to my evolving theories about free will vs fate in the world of The Wheel of Time. The fact that people can often change the Pattern in small ways is an interesting one, and it makes everything feel a bit more like our world to me. Whether it be through the web of Fate or just the mechanics of everyday life, it makes sense that small changes would be easy but large ones would be harder to achieve, and it also makes sense that the greatest changes of all would send ripples throughout the world, altering many things. It is of course significant that Artur Hawkwing and Lews Therin were both ta’veren. As a great king who reshaped the kingdoms and affected the lives of every subject very deeply, Artur Hawkwing would have redirected so many threads of the Pattern that it would be forever altered in its course. And Lews Therin was responsible for the Breaking, which seems to have been the most significant event to happen in the world literally ever. I wonder if every Dragon would be automatically ta’veren, though, considering the significance of the identity as Champion of the Light.
In addition to the idea of fate vs choice, of personal control vs. a universal pattern, I also like thinking of the karmic aspect of the fact that each person’s pattern influences the whole. The ways we behave in the world can have far reaching consequences to others, but often those are not so easy to comprehend. If only we could see the strands we weave, and the shape of those we effect.
On that rather philosophical note, I will leave you to the comments section, dear readers. Next week I am going to take another break like Week 4’s and go back to analyze Perrin’s dream in Chapter 27 and Rand’s dreams in Chapter 33 and 34. We’ll talk about Ba’alzamon marking them, about rats and ravens, and about the fact that all three boys have dreamt of losing an eye.
Sylas K Barrett works as a writer and actor and lives in Brooklyn.