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 25: Cairhein
Rand gets his first sight of Cairhein at midday, approaching from the north. The fifty Cairhein soldiers feel like guards as they travel to the city. Loial and Hurin do not appear to mind so Rand tries not to mind as well. He studies the city and it is as large as any he has seen. Unlike Caemlyn, Cairhein seems to be laid out in a precise grid. Towers rise behind the walls each ending in a jagged top. Outside the city walls lies streets criss-crossing at all angles and teeming with people. Rand knows that the community outside of the walls is called Foregate.
Rand finds himself smiling. The Foregaters clothing is shabby but it is also colorful. There is a raucous bustle of life to the place. Music drifts through a babble of hawkers, shopkeepers, barbers, fruit peddlers, knife sharpeners, and dozens of others services. One of the soldiers grumbles about peasants in disgust and says that they should not be there. Rand replies asking where they should be but he does not get an answer. Hurin whispers to him that the Foregaters are largely comprised of farmers who would not return to their farmlands along the Spine of the World after the Aiel War. Hurin points out that the reason the river is filled with grain barges is because there are no longer crops coming into the city from the east. He advises Rand not to mention it because he says that people of Cairhein like to pretend the war never happened, or failing that, that they won the war.
Rand’s party has to stop as a party of men and women leading huge puppets cross the road in front of them. Some of the puppets include fanciful beats – such as a lion with wings and a goat walking on its hind legs, with two heads that breathe fire. Rand also sees something that appears to be half cat and half eagle as well as a bear’s head with a man’s body. Rand takes the last to be a trolloc. Hurin says that whoever made the last never saw a trolloc before and likely did not believe in them. He says that the only monsters that Foregaters believe in are the Aiel.
Rand’s party begins moving forward again. He asks if the Foregaters are having a festival. Loial tells him that this is no more than every day. He says that King Galldrian keeps the people by entertaining them. He also says that gleemen and musicians get the King’s gift, a bounty of silver, for performing in the Foregate that reason. Loial draws as many looks as the puppets had. Loial also says that Galldrian sponsors horse races and provides fireworks. Loial tells Rand that Elder Haman says that Galldrian is a disgrace. He blinks realizing what he said aloud and looks around hurriedly to see if any of the soldiers heard. None seem to have heard. Hurin tells Rand, regarding the fireworks, that the Illuminators have built a chapter house in Cairhein, the same as in Tanchico. Rand has never seen fireworks that require the presence of a single Illuminator, let alone a chapter house. He decides that it is a strange place to which he is coming.
Their party reaches a city gate and comes to a halt. Rand can see the city within the gates. It is far more subdued with wider streets. Rand can see the city’s towers more clearly, too. Loial murmurs about The Topless Towers of Cairhein. He says that they were tall enough to warrent the name, once, but they were burned during the Aiel War. Loial notes that he does not see any Ogier among the stone masons. He says that no Ogier would like working here where the people of Cairhein want what they want without embellishment. He says though that there were Ogier in the city when he was here before. The Cairhein officer in Rand’s group emerges from the gate with a clerk and writing implements.
Rand’s name is announced as Lord Rand of House al’Thor in Andor. Hurin is announced as Rand’s manservant and Loial as being from Stedding Shangtai. The clerk with the ledger opens his arms and the names are written down. The clerk tells Rand that he must return to this guardhouse by the same hour tomorrow and give the name of the Inn where he is staying. Rand asks if it is okay to stay in the Foregate. Hurin whispers to him that it would not be proper as a Lord to stay in the Foregate. Rand can see right away from the reactions of the others that Hurin is right. Rand says that they will take rooms in the city. They ask him what Inn he will stay in and Rand replies that he will let them know when he finds one. He asks the clerk about finding Lady Selene. He says that she is his age, and beautiful, and that he does not know her house. The clerk tells him that he will make inquiries for him. Rand nods and leads Loial and Hurin into the city. They attract even little attention.
Hurin knows of a few Inns in the city and he takes Rand to The Defender of the Dragon Wall. The sign has a soldier with his foot on the chest of a red haired man with a sword at his throat. After their horses are taken, Rand, Hurin, and Loial enter the common room. The room is quiet and neat through Rand has the feeling the people inside are watching and listening. The Innkeeper is a plump man. He looks their party over, especially Rand’s coat and sword, before smiling an oily smile. He bows and washes his smooth hands. He asks Rand for forgive him noting that he initially mistook Rand for something else. Rand realizes that the Innkeeper thought he was Aiel and wishes to be gone from Cairhein.
It takes a while to prepare the rooms. Rand wanted initially to share a room but between the Innkeeper’s scandalized look and Hurin’s insistence, he agreed to get two rooms instead, with a connecting door between them. Rand’s room is massive with a bed almost as large as the two beds in the adjoining room. Once the Innkeeper is gone, Rand calls the other two into his room. He says that the city knaws at him and that he wants to go to the Foregate where people will at least laugh and smile. Loial offers to stay behind to take first watch on the Horn. He explains that just because he did not see Ogier on his way into the city does not mean that there are none. Rand says he is surprised that Loial does not want to meet them. Loial says that the Ogier in Cairhein asked enough questions on his last visit as it was regarding why he was outside alone. He says it is possible that they have received word from Stedding Shangtai by now. Rand shakes his head. He asks Hurin if he wants to go to the Foregate with him and the Sniffer declines on account of the number of fights and killings that occur there. He says that the place stinks. He is also quick to say that the people there are unlikely to bother a Lord.
Hurin accompanies Rand down to the Common Room. As soon as they reach it, the Innkeeper gives Rand three folded and sealed parchments, all on a tray. Rand asks the Innkeeper what these are and he tells Rand that they are invitations from three noble houses. After the Innkeeper leaves, Rand asks aloud who would send these to him and who would know he is here. Hurin tells him that everyone knows by now that he is here. He explains that the guards at the gate, the men who took the horses, and even the Innkeeper will tell what they know when they believe it will do them good to do so. Rand grimaces and hurls the invitations into the fire. Loudly enough for everyone to hear, Rand announces that he is not playing Daes Dae’mar. Nobody looks at him but Rand is certain they are listening. He says he is not playing their Great Game, he is merely waiting for friends. Hurin grabs him by the arm and urgently whisper to him not to do that again.
Rand: Again? You think I’ll receive more?
Hurin: I am certain. Light, but you remind me of the time Teeva got so mad at the hornet buzzing around his ears that he kicked the nest. You’ve likely just convinced everyone in the room that you’re in some deep part of the Game.
Hurin winces at the three invitations in the fire and tells Rand that he has surely made enemies of three Houses. He advises Rand to at least answer any other invitations he receives. Rand tells the Sniffer that he will have no part in this and he says they will leave Cairhein as soon as they can. He then stalks out of the Inn angrily. He is not sure who he is angry at – Cairhein, himself, or Moiraine for stealing his clothes and giving him the clothes he now wears in their place. Rand goes through the same city gate through which he entered. A guard makes not of his exit though Rand does not notice. The laughter of the Foregate is pulling Rand onward. Rand’s red coat does not stand out as much in the Foregate as it did in the city. Rand sees another giant puppet show. This time a pig face “trolloc” is killed to the cheers of onlookers. He stumbles across a gleeman performing in front of a large audience. The sight makes him think of Thom Merrilin and he moves on. Rand’s memories of Thom are always sad. As Rand makes his way through the throng, a deep voice with the sound of a harp drifts out through an open doorway. It draws Rand to it like a rope. Rand pushes through the doorway and the applause rises within. A man asks Rand for two coppers to come inside. Rand fishes out some coins and thrusts them into the man’s hands without looking. He is drawn forward in a daze.
Performing on the stage is a tall man, lanky and not young, with mustaches as white as the hair on his head. When the man straightens and sees Rand, his eyes become sharp and blue.
“Thom.” Rand’s whisper is lost in the noise of the crowd.
Holding Rand’s eye, Thom Merrlin nods to a small door beside the dais. Then he is bowing again, smiling and basking to the applause. Rand makes his way to and through the door. Thom appears on the steps limping, as though his right leg no longer bends as well as it had. He eyes the juggler and tumblers, blows out his mustaches disdainfully, and turns to Rand. He complains that the crowd only wants to hear the Great Hunt for the Horn. He says that with the news in the world, some of them might want to hear the Kareathon Cycle, the Prophecies of the Dragon.
He looks Rand up and down and notes that it appears as if Rand is doing well. He fingers Rand’s collar, purses his lips, and says “very well.” Rand laughs and says he left Whitebridge sure he was dead. He says Moiraine said he was still alive. He then says it is good to see him again. When Rand says he should have gone back to help him, Thom replies that he would have been a fool if he had. Thom lowers his voice and tells Rand that the Fade had no interest in him. He says that all Rand could have done is die. Thom pauses, looks thoughtful, and comments on the fact that Moiraine said he was still alive. He asks if she is with him. Rand shakes his head no and to his surprise, Thom seems disappointed.
“Too bad, in a way, she’s a fine woman, even if she is…”
He leaves it unsaid. Thom then says that it must have been Mat or Perrin she was after. He says that he will not ask which. Rand shifts uneasily. Thom fixes him with a bony finger and asks if he still has his harp and flute. He says that he wants them back and that what he has now is not fit for a pig to play. Rand says that he has them and that he cannot believe Thom is not in Illian. Thom replies that he likely would be dead if he had tried to go. He points out that Doman’s crew would have wanted to know why a man was being pursued by Fades and even in a place like Illian, where they do not believe in Shadowspawn, that type of tale could make life uncomfortable. Rand tells the Gleeman that he has so much to tell him. Thom tells him they can talk later. He tells Rand to come to The Bunch of Gates, just beyond the Changai Gate. He says that he has a room there. He says that he will be there in another hour or so. He starts back toward the stage to tell another tale and yells over his shoulder at Rand to bring his harp and flute.
::in sonorous High Chant::
♪Guess who just got back today? That white haired Gleeman who had been away…♪
I don’t really remember if I was surprised by this on my first read-through. I don’t think that I was because the story continued mentioning him so often and we never saw a body at Whitebridge.
Rand Hurin has been carrying around Thom’s harp and flute for some reason.
Rand has been in Cairhein for about 5 seconds and already has made enemies of three noble houses. And I guess Selene was so beautiful that Rand never though of asking for her House name. That’s probably because she doesn’t have one… since she’s Lanfear at all.
Thom was sad not to see Moiraine. Notable.
I guess Rand is going to be drawing attention to himself by running from the Foregate back to his room, then running to Thom’s Inn. He probably should have mentioned to Thom that he has already made enemies of three noble Houses in his five seconds in the city. This encounter here with Thom seems destined to draw Thom back into Rand’s ta’veren Pattern swirl. That said, he clearly needs some guidance from someone. He’s not really listening to Hurin.