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 35: Caemlyn
Rand is excited to finally reach Caemlyn. However, as he exclaims his relief to Mat, he is stunned by the immensity of Caemlyn. After Baerlon and the ruins of Shadar Logoth, he is surprised to learn that he did not yet know what a great city might look like. He feels as though every place he has passed through, so far, has all been gathered together behind a wall in one place. Caemlyn is the picture of every great city he has ever imagined from any story he has heard.
Almen Bunt tells Rand that Caemlyn is the greatest city in the world and that much of it was built by Ogier. Rand is ready to agree. Rand thinks about how, when he Baerlon, he thought that there were too many people on the street to be believed. Now in Caemlyn, his former thought almost makes him laugh.
Mat wonders aloud how they can hide with so many people around them. He covers his ears and seems almost pained by the noise of the city. Rand puts his mouth to Mat’s ear and answers, “how can they find us in a city of so many?”
The closer to the city gates that Bunt’s cart comes, the thicker the crowd becomes. The Queen’s Guards stand at the gates as they pass through. After they pass through the gates, they see another wall much father ahead in the city, with many more towers inside of that wall. The second wall demarcates the older, Ogier-built portion of the city from the rest. The Queen’s Palace is inside the Ogier-built portion of the city.
Abruptly, Bunt pulls his cart onto a side street and stops. He turns and asks Rand what he is hiding under his cloak. Bunt goes on, saying that he is not after a reward, that he does not like the Innkeeper, Holdwin, or his friend, who was offering the reward. Rand tells him that he had never seen Holdwin’s friend before the night he got into the cart with Bunt.
After Rand and Mat exit the cart, and just before Bunt leaves, the older man leans over and advises Rand to hide his sword or to get rid of it. He tells Rand that it will draw unwanted attention and he suspects Rand and Mat do not want any attention. Then he leaves.
Mat has dark circles under his eyes. He asks Rand what they are supposed to do now. Rand thinks that the noise from the city feels like being inside a giant beehive. He tells Mat that Moiraine will find them. Rand and Mat discuss whether their friends are even alive, or what they might do if the Fade finds them before she does.
Rand reminds Mat that Thom told them to find an Inn called The Queen’s Blessing. He decides that they will go there first. Mat seems deeply troubled by both their circumstances and the crowd of the city.
Mat: Rand, I can’t… Rand they’re everywhere.
Rand grabs Mat’s collar in a fist and tries to pull him together. Rand himself feels like he might vomit.
Rand: We’ve made it this far, haven’t we?[…] They haven’t caught us yet. We can make it all the way if we just don’t quit. I won’t just quit and wait for them like a sheep for slaughter. I won’t!
Mat pulls himself together enough that he can walk alongside Rand. However, he shares his worries. He does not think that they will ever go home. He believes they are going to die. He cannot stand not knowing who to trust.
Rand starts asking people for direction to The Queen’s Blessing. Most people either refuse to answer and continue walking, or they look at him blankly. One man, with a white arm band, asks if they are Queen’s men and laughs that they are too late. Rand and Mat witness fights – one that seems to lead to a riot. They also draw the attention of people looking to sale wares to travelers in the city to see Logain. They even see Whitecloaks walking the streets as they had in Baerlon.
Rand begins to worry about his sword drawing unwanted attention. Rand sees other swords being worn in the city but none with a heron mark. However, he also notices that many of the swords that he sees are wrapped in cloth and cords. White cloth with red cords or red cloth with white cords. Rand decides to buy some cloth to cover his sword. He hopes that adopting local fashion will have the additional benefit of helping them to not stand out so much in the crowd. The red cloth is cheaper than the white so he buys that and the white cord to go with it.
Rand’s purchase gets a grimace from the shopkeeper. He asks for a place inside to wrap the sword and the shopkeeper threatens him that if he makes any trouble, a hundred men within the sound of his voice will take care of him. Rand nodded cheerfully to the shopkeeper and pulled Mat away and into an empty alleyway. With their backs to the street, nobody can see Rand wrap his sword.
Mat tells Rand that he believes the shopkeeper most likely charged him double or triple. He thinks everyone in the city will try to cheat them. He tells Rand that Caemlyn is no place to be and that he wants to leave for Tar Valon right away.
Back on the street, they resume their search for the Inn. Bit by bit, the directions go from vague to increasingly clear as they draw nearer. Eventually they find themselves standing outside the The Queen’s Blessing. Rand takes a deep breath and pushes open the door. The Inn is clean and not too crowded.
The Innkeeper was fat, he was pleased to see.
Basel Gill is his name. Rand tells him that a friend of theirs, Thom Merrilin, advised them to seek out this Inn. Gill eyes the flute case Rand is carrying and tells them to come with him toward the back. He stops to talk with the cook before leading the two boys to the stables in the back. When he is certain that nobody is listening, he rounds on them. He asks Rand what is in the case and Rand shows him the flute. Gill says he recognizes it. He then asks how Rand came by the flute because, he says, Thom would rather part with his arm than the flute. Rand tells him that Thom gave it to him. Rand also shows him the harp case and the Gleeman’s cloak.
Thom’s dead, Master Gill.
Gill does not believe that Thom is dead.
Gill: I’ll believe he’s dead when I see his corpse.
Gill then says he believes that they saw what they saw. He just does not believe Thom is dead. Rand puts a hand on Mat’s shoulder and tells him that Gill a friend. Mat stares at him warily and his cheek twitches. Gill says that he is a friend. He also says that Caemlyn is the last place he would expect Thom to visit, excepting maybe Tar Valon.
Gill lowers his voice and suggests that the two boys have trouble with Aes Sedai. Mat says yes at the same time that Rand asks why he thinks that. Gill says he thinks that because he knows Thom. Gill believes that is the kind of trouble that Thom would jump into. Gill hems and haws around asking the boys whether either of them can channel. Rand tells him no. He says that there was even an Aes Sedai named Moiraine helping them before he bit his tongue.
Rand tells him there is no offense for asking the question.
Gill tells them that he will give them beds and something to eat because Thom is a good friend.
If he doesn’t show up, well, we’ll figure something out then.
Gill advises them not to mention Aes Sedai helping them. He does not want Queen’s Guards teaching them a lesson about proper respect for Aes Sedai in his Common Room and he does not want Whitecloaks encouraging someone to draw the Dragon’s Fang on his door. After a long pause, Gill also tells them that it is probably best not to mention Thom’s name where anyone other than himself might hear.
Some of the Guards have long memories. And so does the Queen.
Rand is incredulous that Thom had trouble with the Queen. Gill tells them that Thom used to be Court Bard in Caemlyn and known in every Royal Court from Tear to Maradon. Mat cannot believe it. Gill tells them that it was not long after Taringail Damodred died that the trouble with Thom’s nephew occurred. According to Gill, after her husband died, the Queen was closer to Thom than some thought was proper. However, he left without a word to see about his nephew. Morgase did not like that. When Thom returned, he said things to Morgase that were unwise to say to a Queen – or any woman with Morgase’s spirit. Elaida, the Queen’s Aes Sedai advisor, was not happy with Thom due to his involvement with the Aes Sedai regarding his nephew.
Thom left Caemlyn half a step ahead of a trip to prison if not the headsman’s ax.
Rand suggests that perhaps nobody remembers but Gill disabuses him of that notion. He tells him that Gareth Bryne was Captain of the Queen’s Guards and that he was sent to bring Thom back in chains. He was not happy to return empty-handed. Gill says the Queen never forgets anything.
Gill tells them to keep Thom a secret and then he leads them back inside to get them something to eat.
Having spent most of my childhood in a farmhouse, many miles from the nearby small rural town, in a sparsely populated region of the world with more cattle than people, I have some appreciation for, and understanding of, Rand and Mat’s reaction to seeing Caemlyn for the first time.
Everything that they grew up with will forever feel small afterwards.
Meeting a kind and generous person again, at this point in the story, feels like a relief. A bed and food and they do not have to do anything for it? They have a place to stay because someone else’s friendship is paying for it? It’s like being back at home.
It seems increasingly clear that Mat’s mental health is in severe decline. The boy at the start of the book who turned a badger loose on the Village Green to watch girls scream, who muddied Whitecloak clothes in Baerlon for the fun of it… that guy is gone.
On the other hand, reaching Caemlyn and finding help feels like Mat and Rand have reached the end of a journey. I suspect that they would have preferred their first trip out into the wider world to have gone more smoothly.
In case the reader did not pick up on the earlier clues regarding Thom’s fate, we have someone else telling us that he does not think Thom is dead. We also got a lot more backstory on Thom. Why would we be learning this information if he is dead? We did not see a corpse. He must be alive. But where did he go?