Welcome back to my chapter-by-chapter recap and reaction to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. There are spoilers through the current chapter but not beyond the current chapter.
Chapter 26: Whitebridge
Mat puts Thom’s flute down. Rand and a nearby sailor uncover their ears. Thom bemoans what he says was a wrong belief that shepherds spend their time playing the pipes. Mat mutters that Rand is the shepherd and Thom agrees that Rand has talent for the flute. Thom mentions though that Mat’s talent is juggling.
Rand asks Thom why he is trying so hard to teach them to be Gleemen. Thom responds that they do not know that the rest of their party is even still alive. Rand argues with Thom that they are still alive but Mat replies, “what if they are dead?”
Just then a lookout on the ship shouts “Whitebridge! Whitebridge ahead!”
The sailors ready the cables for docking. The white bridge arched high over the water, and above the ship’s mast, milky white from end to end. It looked all of one piece as though carved from a single stone.
When Rand mutters that it looks like glass, Bayle Domon replies that rain does not make it slippery and the strongest chisel cannot leave a mark on it. Thom then chimes in that it is a remnant from the Age of Legends.
As the vessel docks, Domon tells Floran Gelb he can either leave the vessel via the dock or over the side and into the water. Gelb glares at everyone, especially Rand, but he goes below to his quarters to gather his things. Thom, Rand, and Mat gather their things, too.
Merchants are now talking to Domon. Rand looks around on the docks and does not see any of the faces from their party that he had been hoping to see. Thom warns both Mat and Rand to keep an eye out for Gelb in the town. Thom believes he will make trouble for them. Domon tries to talk Thom and the boys into staying on the vessel and traveling with him all the way to Illian. He returns the boys’ money with more besides, saying that they earned their passage while on the boat. Rand says thanks to Domon but points out that they are meeting friends in Whitebridge. Thom replies to Domon, though, that they will consider passage with him in the event their friends are not in Whitebridge after all.
Domon points at the coin purse he just gave Thom and offers him twice that amount if he rides with him to Illian and keeps the men’s minds off of how hard he works them.
Think on it. I sail on the first light on the morrow.
Rand shepherds Thom off the dock. Thom then suggests that they talk to an innkeeper for traveler’s gossip. Thom believes the right innkeeper will know if traveler’s meeting the description of their party have passed through Whitebridge.
The three men go into an Inn called “The Wayfairer’s Rest.” Rand wonders if all Innkeeper’s are fat and losing their hair. The common room is mostly empty. The innkeeper is interested in hiring Thom to perform but Thom demurs and asks only for some place to have a private conversation. The innkeeper motions the three to the other side of a walled partition.
When the innkeeper comes to bring the three something to drink, Thom asks him about the news. The innkeeper, Bartim, replies that there is big news. Logain, the False Dragon, has been captured after a big battle near Lugard. Aes Sedai were involved in his capture and they are now bringing him north to Tar Valon. Bartim tells Thom, Mat, and Rand that the Aes Sedai are stopping at every town on their journey north to display Logain and assure people that they are safe from him. Bartim tells them that the Aes Sedai will be taking Logain to Caemlyn to show him to Queen Morgase.
Thom inquires subtly about strangers who may have passed through who might know what route the Aes Sedai procession is taking. Bartim says that all anyone knows is that they are traveling north and that they will go through Caemlyn. Thom again directs him toward the topic of strangers and Bartim shares that a couple of days earlier, an Illianer passed through with a proclamation that the Hunt for the Horn of Valere is being called. Bartim considers the people who swear their lives to the Hunt as fools, but admits that given the recent spate of False Dragons, and the strange winter, something is going on in the world.
Rand asks the Innkeeper outright if he has seen their friends passing through in the last week or two. He tells the Innkeeper they would have come from the west. Thom gives land a sharp silencing glance and then gives the Gleeman rough sketches of their traveling companions. Bartim suddenly asks them to finish their drinks and leave. Thom asks if someone else has asked about their friends and Bartim explains.
He says a week earlier, a weasely crazy man came to the inn asking for them. He was crying one minute, and making demands like a king the next minute. He eventually left and went on toward Caemlyn. More than the friends that Thom described, the crazy man was desperate to find three young men from the country. Bartim cast a quick glance at both Rand and Mat.
Bartim goes on. The next day, “the other one came for the first time.” He dressed all in black with the hood of his cloak pulled up to hide his face. Bartim describes the man’s voice as sounding like a snake crawling through dead leaves. He says that the man has been repeatedly returning and asking the same questions that the crazy man asked. Nobody ever sees him coming or going. Bartim puts Thom’s coins back on the table and pleads with him to drink his wine and go.
Thom suggests that they take up Domon’s offer and travel to Illian – the opposite direction that the myrddraal expects them to go. Rand says no. They wait in Whitebridge or go on to Caemlyn. Rand believes that even in Illian there will be Fades waiting for them. He also points out that he cannot escape his dreams anywhere.
Mat jumps in and tells Thom to go. He says they can make it to Tar Valon alone if they have to.
Suddenly the three hear laughter on the other side of the wall. Bartim is incredulous about someone’s story regarding trollocs. Rand peers over the divider wall and sees Floran Gelb. Gelb is telling the innkeeper about Rand, Mat, and Thom’s arrival on the Spray. Gelb is arguing that the three are Darkfriernds.
Thom suddenly says that going with Domon to Illian is now out of the question. He says Domon will have trollocs chasing him to Illian. He divides the money purse Domon gave them into three piles in case they are separated. Their only option now is to run and to run immediately.
Thom creeps toward a window on their side of the wall. The three crawl out quietly into an alley. Mat asks Thom why he is staying with them and helping them.
Thom tells them that he had a nephew, Owyn, his only living kin. Owyn got in trouble with Aes Sedai and Thom was too late in coming to his aid.
You could say Aes Sedai killed him.
Rand can only think of one type of trouble a man could get into with Aes Sedai. Thom creeps out of the alley and tells Rand and Mat to stay behind. Suddenly a man walks toward the alley, all in black, with a black hood pulled up to hide his face. The man comes closer and then tosses back his hood. It is Thom. Rand can see now that the new cloak is dark brown, not black.
The three men then leave the alley, one at a time, in hope of avoiding notice.
After leaving the alley Rand sees a myrddraal across the square. It strides toward the three of them. Thom mutters to not look at its face. Mat pulls the ruby hilted dagger out and has it in his hand.
Abruptly Thom growled. “I never should have gotten mixed up with you boys.”
He gives them his instruments and tells them to run when he says run. He says he will try to catch up with them and if he cannot, he will meet them at The Queen’s Blessing, an Inn in Caemlyn.
Thom tells them to run. The boys begin to run. Thom shouts run again and springs into motion himself – in the direction of the myrddraal. He pulls daggers from his sleeves and crashes into the myrddraal.
Whitebridge roils like a kicked anthill in the chaos of this event. Townspeople are fleeing through the town’s gates.
Some distance outside of the town, Rand tries to catch his breath and mutters about Thom. Mat tells him that Thom is dead, that Rand both saw and heard it. Mat tries to get Rand to run.
Rand tells Mat that he believes that Moiraine, Lan, and all the rest are dead, too. “If they’re dead why are the myrddraal still hunting them?” Mat concedes Rand’s point but tells Rand that he saw himself with Thom.
Rand and Mat trudge alone down the road toward Caemlyn. Sometimes Rand looks back, expecting to see Thom, but the road behind them remains empty.
Just when you get the place where you hope you will find some more safety? Less safety.
And now none of the young folks from Emond’s Field are with an adult from back home. Moiraine, Lan, Nynaeve, and Thom are separated from Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene.
Do I think Thom is dead? I am a big believer in the rule that if we do not see a body, we should always assume that the person survived. So… no. I do not think Thom is dead.
Seems like a good and solemn occasion to mention that Mr. Willaume will be playing Thom for Amazon’s Wheel of Time adaptation next year. Maybe someone with some skill can MS Paint some gray hair and a mustache on his face.
On a less solemn note, one thing I am excited to see in the TV adaptation of things like the actual “White Bridge” from which this town gets its name. If it is not clear from my recaps, I find the post-apocalypse / pre-apocalypse dichotomy of this story to be very compelling. I suspect artifacts like White Bridge are kind of like The Pyramids of Giza. They’re stunning, roughly 4,500 years old, cannot be duplicated by modern builders, and were undoubtedly even more astounding 500 years ago when we were nowhere close to being able to build something similar.