I have an abbreviated morning today so I will be covering less ground than usual. On the plus side, this is a great chapter.
Chapter 7: Out of the Woods
As day is breaking, Rand is still in the woods. Tam is no longer murmuring. Rand begins to smell smoke.
The village comes into view. Half the houses of Emond’s Field are burnt rubble. Villagers – in their nightclothes – are picking through debris to find what is salvageable. Abruptly, Harral Luhhan, the village blacksmith, with a burn wound on his chest, approaches Rand. We learn that the Village has been attacked by trollocs as well. Master Luhhan calls out to Egwene to find Nynaeve.
Rand: All the stories are real.
Master Luhhan: So it seems, lad. So it seems.
Rand and Master Luhhan carry Tam behind Egwene. We learn that Mat’s house has been burned as well as Master Luhhan’s house and forge.
“I don’t suppose today will be much of a Bel Tine. But we’ll make it through. We always have.” Abprutly, he took up his ax and his face firmed. “There’s work waiting for me. Don’t you worry, lad. The wisdom will take good care of him. And the Light will take care of us all. And if the Light doesn’t? Well, we’ll just take care of ourselves.”~Harral Luhhan summing up the people of the Two Rivers.
Nynaeve appears. She says that there is nothing she can do and apologizes. As she leaves, Egwene “cannons into” Rand and gives him a hug. Nynaeve calls for Egwene, saying she needs help, and Egwene leaves him crying.
Rand decides to take Tam to see the mayor at the Inn. When Rand arrives, he finds a charred Peddler’s Wagon but the Inn remains intact. Thom Merrilin is outside clipping charred pieces from his cloak. He hops down and helps Rand carry Tam’s litter inside. Thom assures Rand that Nynaeve will help. Rand is unable to answer.
As they arrive at the Inn door, Rand finds a tear drop balanced on its point – the Dragon’s Fang – scrawled onto the door. It serves as an accusation of evil and an effort to bring the place where it is scrawled bad luck. When they go inside, they find the mayor.
He tells us that Bela galloped into the village an hour after the trollocs left. The mayor had been worried both al’Thors were dead. Bran al’Vere sends Thom to get the Wisdom. He and Rand carry Tam upstairs to a bed. After Thom leaves, Rand finally finds words to speak. He lets Bran know that Nynaeve could not do anything to help Tam and that he hopes Bran can think of something.
As Rand and the mayor prepare the room, pulling back the curtains, starting a fire, and washing Tam’s face, the Gleeman returns. When Thom says that Rand could have told him he had already seen the Wisdom, Rand says that he was hoping the Mayor would have a different idea, or that he could get Nynaeve to try again. He says he will do anything.
Thom then asks the Mayor if he knew who scrawled the Dragon’s Fang on his door. “Someone seems to not like him anymore. Or maybe it’s his guests they don’t like.”
The Mayor speculates that it was a Coplin or a Congar who scrawled the Dragon’s Fang. The inter-married families had suggested that the Mayor put Mistress Moiraine and Master Lan out of the Village. “As if there would be a village left standing without them.”
We learn that as the village was preparing for Bel Tine, Moiraine and Lan suddenly burst out of their rooms in the Inn shouting about trollocs. Soon after, Moiraine was attacking the trollocs with ball lightning and Lan was attacking them with his sword. Moiraine is an Aes Sedai and Lan is a warder.
Suddenly Bran realizes that Moiraine might be able to help Tam. When Bran asks Thom why he did not speak up about that option, Thom says that it was “best the idea came from you.”
Rand thinks about “the stories” regarding Aes Sedai. Their gifts always have a hook in them. It is said – in the Two Rivers at least – that sometimes no help at all is better than help from an Aes Sedai. Bran assures him that he has seen nothing but good from Moiraine Sedai. Thom further encourages him by saying that sometimes the stories are exaggerated and “what choice do you have?”
Rand sets out to find Moiraine Sedai. When he leaves the Inn, and sets out to where Thom believes her to be, he smells something sickly sweet on the air. The townsfolk are burning the bodies of the dead trollocs. Rand and Moiraine are with the villagers as they burn the bodies.
As the villagers are tossing the bodies onto the fire, Lan is collecting badges from the trollocs’ armor. These badges indicate the “band” from which the trolloc comes. “That makes seven bands so far.” Moiraine states “that many have not acted together since the Trolloc Wars.”
Rand manages to say her name. She replies by asking him how his dreams have been. He fumbles toward asking for help and she replies by saying she will do what he can. Lan, cheerily, says “death comes sooner or later for everyone unless they serve the Dark One. And only fools are willing to pay that price.”
Moiraine tells Lan that they have some reason to celebrate and then she asks Rand to take her to his father. Rand darts off and Moiraine follows slowly. Lan gruffly explains to an impatient Rand that she is exhausted. Moiraine instructs Lan to be more gentle.
The stories have come to life as Rand arrives in Emond’s Field. Trollocs have burned a lot of the village. However, an Aes Sedai and her Warder were there to help protect the village. In fact, Moiraine and Lan, we are told, might be the reason the village was saved at all.
Rand’s fatigue and desperation are well-written. He has carried his father all night, through the woods, in search of help. His last meal was the day before around lunch time. In addition to the obvious problems, he is also dealing with the potential fever dream revelation that Tam might not be his biological father.
We get a good sense of what the people in this village are like in this chapter. They are a superstitious lot. They are also a stubborn and hard-to-break people. They were caught off guard by fictional monsters come to life – and also by a magic wielding Aes Sedai who saved them. But they quickly accept the new reality and trudge forward to rebuild.
I really liked Jordan’s description of the interaction between Nynaeve, Rand, and then Egwene. Nynaeve is pained that she cannot help but knows she must hold herself together because she has a lot of work in front of her. Egwene is not bound by that work in the same way and “cannons” into Rand. That was a perfect word choice.
We get a sense in this chapter that Thom is a good character. The charred spots on his cloak imply – but do not tell us directly – that he was helping in the midst of the fires despite his poor reception after arriving and despite being a stranger generally. He was quick to help Rand move Tam into the Inn. He was quick to fetch Nynaeve for help. He also subtly guides the Mayor to thinking of the Aes Sedai when Rand is pleading for alternatives to Nynaeve. He does this by bringing up the Dragon’s Fang scrawled on the Inn door. (Explaining the Dragon’s Fang requires the Mayor to explain that Moiraine is Aes Sedai, which leads to… “oh yeah, you should ask her.”) Thom manipulated that line of thought on purpose. He tells us as much. As a stranger in town, he thought it was better if the idea of Aes Sedai help came from the Mayor. Thom even suggests that not all Aes Sedai are as bad as the stories would lead one to believe.
We now know that Thom is a court bard turned Gleeman. We know that he is willing to help when help is needed. He knows quite a bit about the wider world. He also has some skill in subtly manipulating people. File that away.
Moiraine comes across in this chapter as a bit distant, and with motivations beyond just helping the village. She was clearly referring to Rand’s presence when she told Lan that they had some good news. Why does she care so much about Rand specifically? That said, she also seems like a good character. She helps the village to the point of personal exhaustion. She agrees to help Rand with Tam despite Lan’s misgivings. She even instructs Lan to be a little bit nicer.
What we do not know at the end of this chapter is *why* any of this is happening.