Chapter 1: An Empty Road
Rand al’Thor, his father Tam al’Thor, and their shaggy brown cart horse, Bela, are traveling down the “Quarry Road,” from their farm, on their way to the local village, Emond’s Field. The wider region they all live in is called The Two Rivers. The quarry road runs through a forest called “the Westwood.” Despite it being spring, the winter has not yet subsided. Their journey is a windy one which makes the biting cold all the more bitter. The al’Thors are delivering casks of brandy for the upcoming Bel Tine celebration.
While on the road to the village, Rand sees a black cloaked rider, on a black horse, trailing behind them. Rand felt a sense of hatred and malice emanating from the horseman. Rand also noticed, to his astonishment, that the rider’s black cloak was not moved by the wind. When he alerts his father to the man’s presence, the rider vanishes before his father turns around.
Rand and Tam arrive to the thatched roof homes of Emond’s Field. They periodically stop to talk to the people of the town as they drive their cart horse toward the village inn where their brandy is to be delivered. The harsh winter has led to an abundance of wolves closer to the village than usual and dead fields instead of crops. Grim times.
We meet Wit Congar and are told that the Congars and Coplins are well-known trouble makers and complainers. Wit complains to Tam – who is on the Village Council – about the Village Wisdom, Nynaeve, who he deems too young for the job. Just then Wit’s wife Daise emerges from their home and chides him for discussing “Women’s Circle” business.
We learn a little about the Bel Tine celebration. There is a “spring pole” wherein marriageable women entwine it with a ribbon while marriageable men sing. There are contests of all sorts – archery, quarter staffs, singing, puzzles, dancing, etc. There are bonfires, drinking, and this year – for the first time in a decade – fireworks.
The Emond’s Field Inn is named “The Winespring Inn.” Brandelwyn “Bran” al’Vere owns it. The inn building itself is over 1,000 years old. Bran is both an innkeeper and the village mayor. He lives in the inn with his wife and daughters.
While Tam talks to the mayor and Cenn Buie, the cantankerous village thatcher, Rand talks to his best friend Matrim “Mat” Cauthon. Mat is known for being a prankster throughout the village. As Mat is about to tell Rand about strangers in the Two Rivers, Rand interrupts and asks about a man on horseback, wearing black. Mat had seen the man three days earlier. The two young men agreed the rider was terrifying. Mat confessed that he thought the rider might be “The Dark One.” Upon hearing that, Rand recites:
The Dark One and all of the Forsaken are bound to Shayol Ghul beyond the Great Blight, bound by the Creator at the moment of Creation, bound until the End of Time. The Hand of the Creator shelters the world and the Light shines on us all.
Mat further suggests that maybe the rider was “the Dragon” and that if he ever saw anyone who looks like Ishamael or Aginor, it was this rider.
When the two young men are done talking about the black rider, the Mayor, Tam, and Cenn approach them. The three older men let them know that a Gleeman has arrived and is currently in the Inn sleeping, after arriving in the middle of the night.
The older men leave the younger two to carry in the casks of brandy. Mat agrees to help. He jokes that Egwene might be inside and that watching Rand stare at her like a “poleaxed ox” will be entertaining.
I always found this introduction to the Two Rivers and Emond’s field relatable. I spent some of my formative years in an extremely rural area. Like Rand, I even managed to avoid living *in* the small rural community. I lived well outside of it.
We meet Rand al’Thor, who appears to be the protagonist of the story, and we get a sense of the village and community he lives in without the info-dump feeling too overt. For instance, we know that the village has a “wisdom” named Nynaeve. We know she is young. But we do not know what a Wisdom does, really, or why she might be too young for the job. We do not know what the “Women’s Circle” is or what purpose it serves in the community. We have only a vague sense of what the religion is, with Rand’s recitation about the Dark One and the Forsaken, but Jordan did not give too many details.
The first half of this chapter is filled with grimness and foreboding until Mat shows up. I guess when one of the first things you learn about someone is that they captured a badger, with the intent to turn it loose on the village green and watch the girls run screaming, it is hard not to feel some levity.
Chapter 2: Strangers
Rand and Mat unload the brandy. The Emond’s Field Village Council have an unplanned private conversation inside the Inn while the two unload the cart.
While they are unloading the brandy, we find out that Mat has recently played a prank on one of the village boys. After telling some village boys that there are ghost dogs about in the woods, he covered some actual dogs with flour and turned them loose. The dog ran into the Master and Mistress Luhhan’s kitchen, though, and shook off the flour in messy fashion.
As they are finishing their work, a younger boy, Ewin Fingar, joins them to let them know that there are strangers in the village. The “strangers” are the two Mat had intended to tell Rand about before their conversation was diverted by talk of the black clad rider. In addition to the village having a gleeman, which is very unusual, the village also has as visitors Lady Moiraine and Lan. The boys are not sure what to call Lan. Moiraine is “like someone out of a Gleeman’s tale” and Lan carries a sword as though it is part of his body and wears a cloak that blends into its surroundings.
Rand, Mat, and Ewin leave the Inn and head toward the village green. They observe a raven that seems to be staring at them. After they chase it away, they meet the aforementioned Lady Moiraine. She gives the the three boys a coin as a pre-payment for work she might have them do for her while she is in Emond’s Field. She further explains to them that she is in the Two Rivers because she is a student of history and a collector of old stories.
After she leaves, the boys notice that the coin she gave them was valuable enough to buy a horse. They wonder what kind of chores she might have for them. Rand and Mat both feel strongly, though, that they should not spend the coin.
The undercurrent of foreboding continues in this chapter. Moiraine and Lan are mysterious strangers whose presence has no precedent in the living memory of anyone in the region. The raven that stared at Mat and Rand behaved in a way that neither had ever seen before. The Gleeman – who is still sleeping – apparently arrived suspiciously and in the dead of night. The Village Council is having a quiet but urgent meeting in front of the fire inside the Inn.
Jordan manages to create a lot of suspense, and do a lot of world building, through an organic conversation that spans a walk from the Inn across the street to the Village Green.
You may have noticed some Arthurian names to this point:
Egwene al’Vere = Guinevere
Nynaeve = Nyneve (the Lady of the Lake)
Lan = Lancelot
al’Thor = Arthur (maybe)
Moiraine probably derives from Moirai. Her name is also similar to Arthurian character, Morgan Le Fay.
The other character that we have spent time with is Matrim Cauthon. As for his name? Matrim seems to be a hint toward marriage (matrimony.)
Edit: Bela, the carthorse, has a name meaning, too: Derived from Latin, the name means beautiful. In Hungarian, the name means “cordial, shining, or noble.” HOWEVER… in Hebrew, it means “devour.” Let’s keep an eye on that horse, shall we?