The Great Hunt (Chapter 21): The Nine Rings

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.

You can find my previous chapter recaps HERE.

Chapter 21: The Nine Rings

Rand expected the common room to be empty, as it was near supper time, however half a dozen men crowd around one table dicing and another sits by himself over a meal. The men dicing do not wear uniforms but something about the way they are standing tells Rand that they are soldiers. The man sitting alone is a military officer. He wears a slash of red and blue across his coat from shoulder to shoulder and the front of his head is shaved, though hanging long in the back, in the fashion of Cairhein. All seven men turn to look as Rand and the others enter the Common Room. The Innkeeper is a lean woman with a ready smile. She introduces herself as Maglin Madwen before taking in Rand and Selene’s clothing to address them as my Lord and my Lady. She is further surprised to see that an Ogier is in their company. Loial tells her that he is from the Borderlands. Maglin notes that Rand does not have the look of the Borderlands. Rand replies that he is from The Two Rivers, in Andor, and that Lady Selene is from Caihein. The Innkeeper quickly notices the herons on Rand’s sword, frowns slightly at them, before telling her visitors that she will see to their horses and to getting them rooms.

She asks if they are hunting for the Horn of Valere. Rand stumbles over himself to answer that they are not. The Innkeeper replies that two strangers hunting for the Horn have visited the Inn in the last month. Rand tells her that they are not hunting for the Horn and replies that they are visiting the capital. The Innkeeper asks Rand if his lady is well. Selene finally breaks her silence and says she is quite well – however her voice leaves a chill in the air that stifles talk for a while.

Hurin abruptly points out to Mistress Madwen that she is not from Cairhein. The Innkeeper initially appears to be surprised by Hurin speaking before saying somewehat fondly to Rand that she should have known he would let his man speak freely. She then says she is not from Cairhein. However, she goes on to explain that her husband was, that he died after twenty-three years of marriage, and that she is now in charge of the Inn instead of going back to Lugard, where she is from, because her late husband left her with the Inn and his brother with the money.

She seats them at a table and is surprised when Hurin sits with them – expecting him, a servant, to sit elsewhere. She bustles off to the kitchen and soon serving girls, giggling and the Lord and Lady, hurry out with their drinks and food. Rand stares at his food, unsure of it, but Hurin tells him that the people of Cairhein spice their food oddly but for all of that it is not bad. Loial adds that the food will not bite him. Rand finally takes a bite and is surprised and pleased at how well it tastes. After they are done eating, Mistress Madwen comments on the flute case sticking out of Hurin’s bundle. She asks Rand if he would let Hurin favor them with a little music. Hurin looks embarrassed and Rand explains that he plays while Hurin does not. The Innkeeper blinks in surprise. She quickly withdraws the request and says she meant no offense. Rand hesitates only a moment before saying he will play. He thinks to himself that he might need the flute again someday when he gets rid of his fancy clothes after delivering the Horn and dagger.

The flute is worked gold chased with silver and looks like the sort of flute a lord might play, if lords actually played the flute. Rand unconsciously begin by playing Heron on the Wing after glancing at the brand on his palm. Loial beats time with his finger on the table as Selene looks at him as if wondering what he is. The soldiers turn from their talk to listen, too. He stubbornly avoids playing any songs that might fit well in a palace while he plays under Selene’s gaze. Eventually the soldiers begin to sing to a tune Rand is playing though not the words Rand knows.

When Rand finally lowers his flute, the soldiers fall silent at a gesture from the officer. They bow and leave without a backwards look. The officer comes to Rand’s table and bows hand to heart. The front of his head, where it is shaven, looks as though he has dusted it with powder. The officer speaks to Rand, saying that grace favor him, and that he hopes the solders did not offend him with their singing. The officer introduces himself as Aldrin Caldevwin, a Captain in the King’s service. Aldrin’s eyes slide to the heron marks on Rand’s sword. Rand thinks to himself that the officer’s accent reminds him of Moiraine’s – precise with every word pronounced to its full. Rand invites the Captain to sit with them. He asks him if he has seen other strangers recently. He describes Moiraine and Lan without naming them. Aldrin says that he has seen no strangers at all.

The Captain asks Rand for his name, saying that there are so few strangers in the area that he wishes to know everyone. Rand gives his name and claims no title. As with the Innkeeper, Rand tells the Captain that he is from The Two Rivers. Aldrin replies that the Two Rivers must be a wonderous place to produce a blademaster so young. He asks Rand about the Captain General of the Queen’s Guards though he says he doe snot remember the man’s name. Rand tells him the name is Gareth Brynn. Aldrin’s tone is conversational and yet Rand senses a probing quality to his questions. Aldrin turns to ask Selene her name and notes to her that grace has surely favored her. Just as she is about to reply, a serving girl lets out a yell, having dropped a lamp. The oil splatters and causes a pool of flame on the floor. Everyone leaps to their feet. The Innkeeper is first to arrives and smothers the fire with her aprons. She scolds the serving girl and tells her that she was warned to be careful. The girl replies that she was being careful but that she had a sudden painful twinge in her arm that caused her to drop it.

The Innkeeper approaches and apologizes. Selene tells her that she would like to be shown to her room. Selene also says that she would prefer to have a room by herself. The women all disappear upstairs. Aldrin waits for Rand to sit before reseating himself. He shakes himself as if from a trance and apologizes to Rand for staring saying again that grace has surely favored his lady. He says that he means no insult. Rand says no insult is taken. To change the subject, Rand asks the captain about the huge sphere that was being dug up outside of the village. The Captain’s eyes sharpen and he tells Rand that it is part of a statue. His gaze flickers toward Loial as if he is now considering something new. Rand says that having seen a hand and a face as well that the statue must be huge. Aldrin says it is huge and old and from the Age of Legends. Loial speaks up and says that no one has done work so vast since the Age of Legends. Loial says it is a great piece of work to dig it up. Aldrin reluctantly says that he has five hundred laborers beyond the diggings and even so it will be after summer before the statue is clearly dug up.

Rand asks the Captain what they will do with the statue. Aldrin hesitates but Rand merely looks back at him until he speaks again. Aldrin finally replies that King Galdrian himself has ordered that the statue be taken to the capital. Loial blinks and wonders aloud how something so big can be moved so far. Aldrin merely replies sharply that his majesty has ordered it to be done. He says it will be set up outside the city. He then says Ogier are not the only ones who know how to move stone.

Finally, Aldrin visibly calms himself and apologizes to Loial saying he spoke in haste. The Captain asks Rand if he will be staying long and Rand says they are leaving in the morning for the capital. Aldrin asks if some of his men can ride in Rand’s company because he must send them back to the capital as he keeps a rotation. Aldrin leaves and says he will see them in the morning. The Innkeeper comes to their table with Lady Selene’s saddle. She says she has good rooms prepared for Rand, Loial, and Hurin. She gives Rand some advice. She says that while Rand may be thinking that his Lady Selene never wishes to speak to him again, she believes that if Rand taps on her door tonight, she will take him in. She advises Rand to smile and says it was his fault, whether it was or not. Rand clears his throat and hopes his face is not turning red. He thinks to himself that Egwene would kill him if he even thought of taking the Innkeeper’s advice and then he wonders if Selene would kill him if he actually did it. On the latter he is not sure. Rand thanks her for her suggestion. He instructs her that the three of them will all sleep in the same room.

Once inside their crowded room, Rand asks the other two if they know why the Captain was so suspicious of them. Hurin explains that the reason is Daes Dae’ar. He explains that it is the Game of Houses. Rand does not understand. Loial explains that it is not a game at all and that it involves humans from noble houses doing and saying things to gain advantage. He concludes by saying humans are odd. Hurin says that Loial has the right of it. He explains that Cairheinin play the great game more than most though he says all Southerners play it. Rand asks if the soldiers in the morning are part of the great game, noting that they cannot afford to get mixed up in that. Neither Loial nor Hurin are sure if the soldiers are part of the game of Houses though Hurin notes that not knowing is part of how the game of houses works.

Hurin suddenly brightens and says that the Lady Selene will know better than any of them. He suggests that Rand ask her about it in the morning. However, in the morning, Selene is gone. In the Common Room, the Innkeeper tells Rand that he should have listened to her and tapped on his Lady’s door. Selene left Rand a sealed message. The wax on the seal was impressed with a crescent moon and stars.

I must leave you for a time. There are too many people here and I do not like Caldevwin. I will await you in Cairhein. Never think that I am too far from you. You will be in my thoughts always as I know that I am in yours.

The note is not signed but the elegant flowing script has the look of Selene. Caldevwin is there with two younger officers also. Aldrin bows as Rand comes out of the Inn. He introduces Rand to Elricain Tavolin who will command Rand’s escort to the city. Elricain bows but does not speak. Rand says the escort is welcome, thinking that Fain will not try anything against fifty soldiers. He worries, though, about whether the soldiers are only an escort. Aldrin notices Loial’s large chest and the ogier says that he never likes to be far from his books. The Captain also notes that Rand’s Lady is not down and that her fine animal is gone. Rand tells him that she left already during the night. Caldevwin’s eyebrows raise, and begins to say something, “but my men,” before pulling the young officer aside and speaking to him furiously. Hurin whispers to Rand that Aldrin had the Inn watched the previous night. Hurin notes that the Lady Selene must have gotten past them unseen somehow. Rand thinks to himself that whatever chance there might have been that the Captain did not suspect them of something evaporated with this news.

Rand tells the two officers when they return that nothing is happening as he expects. They give him a small smile before their strange procession sets off for the city of Cairhein.

REACTION:

Is it not interesting that just as soon as we get to a place where someone might be able to corroborate *anything* about Lady Selene… she stops speaking and then suddenly vanishes. She is SUS.

Actually, she’s definitely a Forsaken – probably Lanfear, “Daughter of the Night,” with the wax seal that has a crescent moon and stars. A Forsaken also has no problem getting herself out of an Inn sight unseen.

At this point, I find Selene/Lanfear way more interesting than General Fireface, err, Ba’alzamon. Her motivations are more mixed. Does she seem like she wants to sleep with Rand? Yes. Do I think she might be infuriated with him if he tried to sleep with her? Yes. Do I think she simultaneously wants to control Rand and also co-rule the world with him? Yes. Does she want Rand to fall in love with her? Yes. Will she react well to love? Probably not. We have not really even gotten much from her and I feel pretty confident in those assessments of her.

Rand (Hurin) has been lugging around Thom’s musical instruments for a long time. Rand plans to use the flute. Does he ever plan to sell the harp? Does he believe Moiraine that Thom is not really dead? Obviously Robert Jordan does not continue reminding us about the musical instruments for no reason at all.

[Note: I *really* wish I knew what Selene was thinking when Rand started playing the flute.]

This chapter introduces “The Game of Houses” – where people lie, or say things with double-meaning, to manipulate each other for advantage. We also get our first long look at the feudal system in this chapter – with notes about how Lords usually treat their servants, subtle indicators about how soldiers and officers are supposed to act around Lords, etc. Now Rand’s decision to let Hurin think of him as a Lord actually matters.

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