As I reach the middle of Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising, I just have to stop and say something: I really love Tam al’Thor.
Granted, I’ve always been a sucker for an archer. Tam is the best shot in the Two Rivers, according to Perrin, and when Perrin returned to find him hiding in the woods and living off the land (so many Robin Hood vibes!) with Abell Cauthon, holding an uneasy truce with Verin and Alanna, ready to join Perrin’s daring rescue attempt, I have to admit that I was smitten.
Then again, Tam was a fascinating character right from the start. Before there were three ta’veren in Two Rivers, before Moiraine came to visit and discovered the untapped potential of female channelers there (nevermind the Dragon Reborn), when he was no older than Rand is at the beginning of The Eye of the World, some itch or impulse led Tam al’Thor to leave his home and travel out into the larger world. That decision helped shape the destiny of the most important person of the age, the Dragon Reborn himself.
That’s quite a remarkable adventure to occur before our story even begins.
My initial impression of Tam was one of easy, stoic strength. He seemed to be a man who knew himself and knew the course he wanted for his life. His refusal to remarry even many years after the death of his wife made him a romantic, and somewhat tragic, figure. The revelation that he not only owned a sword but knew how to use it added to the mystique even before we saw Lan’s reaction to the heron mark, and the fascination it elicited everywhere Rand went with it. And then, in the beginning of The Great Hunt, we found out that not only did the sword mark Tam as a blademaster, but it is also power-wrought, an ancient treasure from the Age of Legends. Where in the Light did the man get such a special and rare possession from?
I mean, we know from his feverish ramblings after the Trolloc attack that Tam fought in the Aiel War, so he was ostensibly a soldier. I don’t know which nation he fought for, though I’m tempted to assume it wasn’t Andor—the story of man from the Two Rivers who won or was awarded a power-wrought, heron-marked sword and the title of blademaster would probably have been remembered by someone who was in attendance during Rand’s interview—Gareth Bryne perhaps.
In any case, I know the broad strokes of Tam’s life but I don’t yet know how, exactly, he distinguished himself in his career, or how he met his wife, Kari. I do know that he made an impressive showing against the Trollocs on Wintersnight (in my opinion, poisoned blades are a cheap trick and don’t count) and that he was able to resist the Whitecloaks when they came to arrest him. He and Abell also have a lot to offer in Perrin’s fight to drive the invaders from his home, like safe connections with other farmers and households, and practical knowledge from scouting the Whitecloaks’ camp.
What can I say? Competence is sexy.
When Rand learns the history of the Aiel and the story of sharing water, he muses upon the complexity of the Age Lace and all the events that had to happen to lead to his being born on Dragonmount just in time to be carried off to the Two Rivers, but he never thinks of the fact that it was extraordinary for Tam to be there at all. And if Tam hadn’t been there in that battle, who knows how events would have unfolded. Perhaps Shaiel’s child would have died, and the Wheel would have had to go back to trying to spin out a new Dragon, foisting more Logains and Mazrim Taims upon the world. Or perhaps the baby would have been found by someone else—someone who had darker intentions or would raise him somewhere less isolated than the Two Rivers, resulting in the young Dragon being discovered by the Forces of the Dark long before he could be prepared to face them.
And without Tam, would Rand have ever figured out how to consciously touch saidin? It was Tam who taught him the concentration trick of the flame and the void to help Rand learn to shoot a bow. The technique has saved Rand’s life many times in swordplay as well, and most significantly it has accidentally provided Rand with a starting point in learning how to channel saidin. This is something no Aes Sedai alive could teach him, a knowledge only possessed by the male members of the Forsaken, but somehow Tam al’Thor, shepherd from the Two Rivers, was able to give Rand the key.
I have so many questions about Tam’s history, and I also have questions as to what he’s thinking or guessing about Rand’s fate (Perrin did let slip that he has seen evidence of ta’veren powers in Rand). What will he do when he learns that his adopted son is the Dragon Reborn? Certainly he must have wondered at the baby’s strange beginnings, wondered what his mother’s story was, wondered about the significance of his Aiel heritage. Perhaps Tam occasionally saw something in Rand, some flicker of greatness or power he couldn’t account for but recognized all the same. Perhaps even now something is tugging at his mind, making him wonder.
I can’t wait to see what happens when Tam learns the truth about Rand. And will the two will meet again during the series? I’d love to see Tam join Rand, following and supporting him as an advisor or trusted general. Not that there aren’t a variety of practical obstacles to reaching Rand right now, even if one could figure out where he’s gone off to. It just seems to me that Tam would want to aid his son, to recognize the growth in him and follow his lead the way he has responded to and followed Perrin. Yes, there is stigma around the Dragon, but I don’t think even the threat of taint madness would stop Tam if he thought he could help his boy.
For they say the Old Blood is strong in the Two Rivers, and there is perhaps no better example of this than Tam al’Thor.
Sylas K Barrett would also like to see Tam and Lan hang out. They are kind of similar people, and it feels like they would be buds.