Welcome back to my re-read, recap, and reaction to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. This post will only have spoilers through the current chapter.
Chapter 32: Four Kings in Shadow
The village was bigger than most but still a scruffy town to bear a name like Four Kings.
Everything in this village centers around the merchants who pass through. There is no village green. Women do not gossip about neighbors over fences. People keep their heads down and move quickly from place to place.
Rand does not like the feel of the town and suggests that they go on this time. Mat gives him a scornful look and looks up at the dark cloudy sky. They can hear music coming from Inns in the town but Mat suspects that none of the places have a juggler. The two boys peer inside three Inns, finding large crowds and musicians, before finding a fourth, The Dancing Cartman, that is silent. The Inn is painted gaudily, in bright colors, but the paint is fading. Rand can see that business at this Inn is not good but can tell from looking that the Inn had previously seen better days.
A bony man, Sami Hake, asks Rand and Mat what they want. He was the first skinny Innkeeper Rand has seen. Rand gives Hake their sales pitch and promises to fill the Common Room. Hake replies that he already has a musician, a dulcimer player. One of the serving women says loudly that Hake has a drunk and that they have not seen their musician in two days. Hake backhands her across the face. She falls to the floor.
Hake takes in Rand’s heron marked sword and tells the two of them that they can have a couple of pallets in an empty storeroom in the back. He tells them that they can eat when the Common Room empties. Rand continues to feel misgivings about both Hake and Four Kings in general. Mat stares at him as though he suspects a trap. Thunder outside begins to rattle the windows. Rand counters that the blankets must be clean and that they will eat no later than two hours after full dark. Hake agrees and tells them to get started.
Rand and Mat begin performing. As the rain pours down outside, the Inn begins to fill with people. Rand knows some of the requests by other names – as has been the case for him at previous stops. A fight broke out between patrons arguing over whether to hear more music or to see more juggling. The two strongmen who work for Hake, Jak and Strom, threw everyone involved out of the Inn with lumps on their heads.
Rand notices that Hake is smiling in their direction. However, Rand sees that he is not smiling at them, but instead he is smiling at the heron marked sword atop their things. Rand notices that he smiles at the flute when Rand sits it down. Rand whispers to Mat that Hake is planning to rob them. Mat nods as though he expects as much. Rand suggests that they get out of there and Mat replies that they should wait until after eating. He points out that the two strongmen cannot attack them in a crowded Common Room. He also reminds Rand of the storm outside.
Rand notices a man in the crowd, sleekly fleshy, with a velvet coat and a dark green velvet cloak lined with silk slung around his shoulders. All of his clothes look expensive. The man sits alone and appears to make everyone in the Inn uneasy. He looks at Rand and Mat with recognition. After two hours, the two boys bundle up their things and climb down off the stage. Hake approaches them angrily and Rand tells him that it’s time to eat. Rand shifts the bundle he is carrying so that he can rest a hand on his sword. He tells Hake that he can *try* to throw them out. He also points out that if he and Mat fall over from hunger, the Inn will clear out quickly. Hake shouts to the kitchen to feed them.
Rand again says that they need to get out of there and Mat says that they can eat first. Rand overhears the cooks discussing the wealthy man in the Common Room. They say that he visited half the Inns in town before stopping where he is now. Another cook says that she has heard he did not arrive at Four Kings until after dark with his horses blowing like they had been pushed hard. The women continue discussing the man and one of them says a man cannot be too fat as long as a little gold comes with it. They causes all of them to roar with laughter.
Rand buckles on his sword and puts on his cloak. He sneaks out the door of the Inn. He finds a pair of sleek black coaches with the name Howal Gode on the outside of the coaches. Rand remembers seeing coaches like this in Whitebridge. Rand is now even more suspicious of Gode. On his way back into the Inn, Jak blocks the door. He tells Rand that he and Strom have a bet. Strom believes that Rand stole his sword from his grandmother. Jak says that he believes Rand’s grandmother would kick him around a pigpen if he attempted a theft like that. He grinned menacingly.
Night’s long, yet, boy.
Rand brushes past him. Rand softly tells Mat that the man in the Common Room is from Whitebridge. Mat takes it in and asks Rand if they can get past Jak who is watching them from the door. Just then, Hake and Strom return from the Common Room and asks if they are going to eat all night. The two boys gather their things and return to the Common Room.
Rand plays and tries to think of how they might escape later. When he changes places with Mat, he sees that Mat is glaring at Hake, Jak, Strom, and Gode. Gode notices Mat’s glares but is not bothered by them. His smile deepens if anything.
Gode does seem to be bothered by Rand’s sword. Rand did not take it off before he resumed performing. A few drunk patrons approached him to ask if his playing is so bad that he needs to protect himself. They do not notice the heron mark though Gode plainly does notice it.
Rand and Mat continue to perform and eventually the late night begins to draw patrons to their feet and out the Inn’s door. The Common Room slowly empties. Gode is the last patron. He speaks with Hake, smiles knowingly at Rand and Mat, then leaves for his room. Rand slings his things around his shoulders. Hake approaches the two of them, gives them a small bow, and directs them toward their pallets. Rand says for them to lead the way. Hake leads them into a dark hallway. Only Hake’s lamp provides any light at all. The hall ends in a rough unpainted door and Hake motions them inside. Rand is surprised to see two pallets there as promised.
As they leave, Rand asks for Hake to leave the lamp and he reluctantly agrees. Rand believes that his sword is making Hake hesitant to rob them. Jak and Strom seem surprised when Hake motions for them to leave. Soon, Rand and Mat are alone in the storeroom where their pallets are located.
Rand listens for their footprints and counts to fifty. He peaks out. He can see Jak’s shadow at the far end of the hallway. Their room door has no lock and no bar on the inside. Mat asks what they are waiting for and Rand replies that they are waiting for the two of them to fall asleep.
Mat says that he wants to exit through the window because he would rather be wet than dead. Rand tells him that he saw one of them at the end of the hallway. He believes the men will be down on them quickly if they hear a lot of noise. The two boys look for something that would work to bar the door. He finds a pair of splitting wedges on a shelf. When a roll of thunder occurs, he kicks the wedges under the door quickly with his heel.
Rand and Mat force the room’s window open. Once it is open, they realize that iron bars on an iron frame bar them from leaving through the window. Mat finds a crowbar on the shelf. With the next peel of thunder, the two of them heave against the iron frame. If shifted a quarter of an inch, if that. They continue, over and over, making little progress. Suddenly Rand slips from a puddle on the floor and the crowbar clangs like a gong against the iron bars. Rand waits. He and Mat do not hear footsteps coming down the hallway.
Rand puts the crowbar back under the iron frame in the window when someone attempts to open the door. Rand yells for Hake to go away because they are trying to sleep.
I fear you mistake me.
The voice is so sleek that it names its own – Howal Gode. He tells them that Hake and the other two will not trouble them because they are sleeping soundly. He says that when Hake, Jak, and Strom wake tomorrow, they will wonder to where Rand and Mat have disappeared.
He tells them that he knows what they are better than they know themselves.
You halfway belong to my master. Stop running and accept it.
He tells them that only his Master can protect them from the Aes Sedai. Floor squeaks in the hallway with Gode tell them that he is not alone. Lightning flashes and Rand sees still more men outside the window. Gode commands them to open the door. The door trembles, over and over, and bodies hurl themselves at it. Bit by tiny bit, the door creeps inward.
Mat suggests that they could say that they will submit and then try to escape later. He tells Rand that there is no way out.
Rand starts to panic about finding a way out. Suddenly light fills the room flooding their vision. Rand feels himself thrown against the wall. As he opens his eyes, the window, bars, and most of the wall, have vanished. The door into the hall hangs off its hinges. Mat gets up from beneath a pile of crates.
Rand asks Mat what happened. He tells them that lightning hit the bars of the window and that he cannot see. Gode and his companions are missing. Nobody is outside, either. Rand grabs Mat by the arm and guides him through the gaping hole and into the night. Outside, Rand finds Gode’s men. on their back and staring glassy eyed up toward the sky.
Rand guides Mat around the bodies. Some distance from the Inn, Rand looks back and sees the silhouette of a man from the hole in the Inn’s wall. The man is shaking his fist at them. Rand and Mat hurry as much as they can in a deluge listening for pursuit.
This is a suspenseful chapter. Jordan describes the town in an unflattering way when the two boys arrive. Rand does the classic horror movie dialogue of saying something like “this place doesn’t feel right” and Mat does the classic friend in a horror movie line of “nah, we’re staying a while.” The Inn environment is dirty, Hake is skinny and mean… then Gode is just oily and icky. The tension builds throughout as the two boys feel increasingly trapped by their circumstances (first, the weather, then their need to eat, then the room, then the window, then the men outside their room…)
Of course, then that lucky lightning blast helps them get away.
Gode is the first Darkfriend that the boys know they are meeting (not counting Ba’alzamon in their dreams and not counting Narg the trolloc on Winternight.) He seems to be under the impression that they are future Dreadlords – something we have not learned a lot about just yet.
The two boys – who do not have Thom or Moiraine coming after them – do not appear to be in very good shape at the end of this chapter. Mat cannot see. It’s pouring down rain. Maybe we are about to catch up in the narrative to the point where Rand started this “remembrance” in the previous chapter.
Oh yeah, that’s right. This entire chapter along with most of the previous chapter is Rand remembering back from some indeterminate point in the future.
Taking stock of where things are for our group overall: Rand and Mat are in this situation. Egwene and Perrin are captured by Whitecloaks. Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve are looking for Perrin and Egwene. Thom may or may not be dead.