The Great Hunt (Chapter 32): Dangerous Words

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 32: Dangerous Words

Barthanes’s Manor crouches like a huge toad in the night, covering as much ground as a fortress with all of its walls and out-buildings. It is not fortress though, with windows streaming light and music loud enough to hear from outside. Rand sees guards on the roofs and tower tops. None of the windows are close to the ground, either.

Rand dismounts from Red and adjusts his sword belt, at the bottom of wide ornately cared stairs at the door to the Manor. Ten Shienarans, under Uno, provide Rand’s escort to the Manor. Uno nods to Ingtar before taking his men to join the other escorts where ale has been provided. The other ten Shienarans in Rand’s party were left behind, along with Perrin. Verin stated that everyone at this event had to be there for a purpose and the other ten soldiers and Perrin had no purpose this night. She said an escort was needed for dignity but also said more than ten would seem suspicious. Rand is there because he received the invitation. Ingtar has come because of the prestige of his title. Loial is present because Ogier are sought-after among the nobility. Hurin pretends to be Ingtar’s body servant though his true purpose is to sniff out the trollocs and Darkfriends if he can. Verin believes the Horn of Valere will not be far from them. Mat, though still grumbling about it, is pretending to be Rand’s servant because he can feel the dagger when it is close. Verin hopes that if Hurin fails then perhaps Mat can find the Darkfriends. Rand had asked Verin earlier why she was also coming and she smiled saying that her purpose is to keep the rest of them out of trouble.

As the climb the stairs, Mat continues complaining about being a servant. He says that if Rand can be a Lord, in a fancy coat, he can also. Verin, without looking at him, says that a servant can go places a noble cannot and she says he and Hurin have their tasks. Ingtar puts in for Mat to be quiet now unless he wants to give them away. Rand introduces himself, Ingtar, Loial, and Verin in turn as he proffers his invitation. The eyes of the servant to whom he showed the invitation popped at the mention of Aes Sedai. He told them all to be welcome in House Damodred and let them enter. A second servant just inside, calling himself Ashin, bows and invites them to follow him.

He leads them to a great room filled with nobles, with a juggler on one end and a tumbler on the other. Voices and music coming from elsewhere say that these are not the only guests nor the only entertainment. The nobles stand in groups of twos and threes and fours, careful to leave space between their respective groups so that no one can overhear what they are saying. Ashin raps his staff and announces them in a loud voice, Verin first. She draws every eye. Loial draws almost as much attention as the Aes Sedai. Rand’s sword and Ingtar’s sword both draw many glances. None of the other lords inside appear to be armed and Rand hears the words “heron marked blade” more than once. Some of Rand’s glances look like frowns and Rand guesses that they are from men he insulted by burning their invitations.

A slim handsome man approaches. He is very tall for someone from Cairhein, only half a hand shorter than Rand, with long gray hair and a deem voice. He speaks to Verin and tells her that grace honors him with her presence. Lord Barthanes takes in the group and says that he did not expect so distinguished a company. He tells Rand that he excites much comment in the city and among the Houses and states that they might be able to speak tonight – though his tone implies he will not care if that opportunity does not come. He tells everyone to be welcome before he is drawn away, though his gaze drifts back to Rand as he is led away.

The murmur of conversation picks up once more. The jugglers begins again. Rand watches the tumblers as Verin and Ingtar drift into the crowd. Rand realizes that Mat and Hurin have already disappeared into the kitchens with the other servants. Rand hopes they will not have trouble sneaking away.

Loial bends down and speaks quietly to Rand telling him that he can feel a Waygate nearby. Loial says that where they are standing was all forest when he came through Cairhein before and he says that the land belonged to the king. Rand tells Loial that he wishes they could stick together but the Ogier reminds him Verin told them that sticking together would create suspicion. Rand whispers to Loial that going anywhere alone is just asking to be knocked on the head. Loial replies again that Verin said Barthanes will not do anything to them unless or until he can be certain of whether he can make use of them in any way. Loial advices just to do what she told them. The Ogier walks into the crowd and gathers a crowd before he takes ten steps. Just then, others start toward Rand now that he is alone. However, Rand walks away avoid talking. Then he continues moving to avoid talking.

There are many rooms all filled with Lords and Ladies, each room with entertainers, including gleeman and jugglers and musicians of all types. Suddenly, as Rand is walking around, Barthanes is at his side. Lord Barthanes tells Rand that he seems restless, as Rand declines a drink from a servant. Rand replies that he likes to walk and abruptly adopts the walking stance of Cat Crosses the Courtyard. This is how he walked when he met the Amyrlin and he knows of no more arrogant way to walk. Rand wonders if he appears too arrogant by the way Barthanes’s mouth tightens. However, Verin’s advice is all he has to go by so he does not stop. Rand tells Barthanes that this is a fine party, that he has many friends, and that he has never seen so many entertainers.

Barthanes agrees that he has many friends and he informs Rand that he can tell King Galldrian how many, and who. He tells Rand that some of the names will surprise him. Rand replies that he has never met the King and says that he does not suspect he ever will. Barthanes says, “of course,” and says Rand just happened to be in that flyspeck village. He says Rand was not checking on the progress of the statue. Rand says yes, and wishing he knew how to talk to someone who believes he is lying, adds that it is dangerous to meddle with something from the Age of Legends if one does not know what he is doing. Barthanes peers into his wine, musing, as if Rand has just said something profound.

Barthanes asks Rand if he does not support Galldrian in the excavation and Rand replies that he has never met the King. Barthanes states then that he did not know Andormen play at The Great Game so well. Rand takes a deep breath and points out the number of Andoran grain barges in the river. Barthanes disdainfully compares merchants to beetles and states that few notice them. He changes the subject and says that few men travel in company with Aes Sedai and he says that Rand seems too young to be a Warder. Barthanes supposes that Ingtar is Verin’s Warder. Rand replies that they are who they said they are. Barthanes is studying Rand’s face, almost openly, and he says that Rand is young to carry a heron marked blade. Rand replies, automatically, that he is less than a year old. He wishes he could have the words back as they sound foolish, however, that answer is what Lan told him to give the Amyrlin if she asked and he is following Verin’s advice to act now as he did then.

Barthanes muses that Rand is an Andorman and yet Borderland trained, or possibly Warder trained. Barthanes says that he understands Morgase has one son, Gawyn, and speculates aloud that Rand must be similar in age to him. Rand cautiously says that he has met Gawyn. Barthanes says that he has heard the Andoran royal line has almost Aiel coloring in their hair and eyes. Rand stumbles and tells Barthanes that he is not Aiel and not of the royal line. He tells Rand that he has given him much to think on and he tells Rand that he believes they may find common ground when they speak again. He turns to speak with someone else. Rand wants to avoid further conversations. Barthanes seemed to be finding deep meaning in trivial comments. As a result, Rand now knows enough of Daes Dae’mar to know that he has no idea how it is played. He thinks to himself that Mat and Hurin need to find something fast so that they can get out of there.

Rand enters another room and the gleeman at the other end of it is Thom Merrilin. Rand stops dead. The gleeman does not seem to see him though the Gleeman’s gaze passes over him twice. It seems that Thom meant what he said about a clean break. Rand turns to go but a woman steps smoothly in front of him, placing a hand on his chest. She introduces herself as Alaine Chuliandred and she says he is “the famous Rand al’Thor.” She says that she hears Rand even plays the flute and asks if it can be true. He says that he does and thinks that Caldevwin must have shared the information. She asks if she can hear him play. Alaine goes on to say that she would like to speak with Rand more and tells him that her husband spends his day sampling his own vineyards, leaving her quite alone. When Rand says that she must miss him, she laughs as though Rand has said the funniest thing in the world. Another woman approaches and places her hand on his chest, also. She, like Alaine, is about ten years older than Rand. The second woman asks Alaine if she means to keep him to herself before introducing herself as Belevaere Osiellin. She asks Rand if all Andormen are so tall and so handsome. Rand clears his throat and say some are as tall. He tries to excuse himself but Belevaere points out that she saw Rand talking with Barthanes and she further states that it is said he knows Galldrian as well. She invites Rand to visit her and talk, pointing out that her husband is away visiting estates in the south.

Alaine: You have the subtlety of a tavern wench.

Alaine tells Rand that Beleavere has no polish and she says no man could like a woman with a manner so rough. She suggests that Rand can bring his flute to her manor and perhaps teach her to play. Beleavere cuts in again and states that what Alaine views as subtlety is really a lack of courage. She says Rand wears a heron marked blade and could not himself lack courage. Rand continues trying to excuse himself but the two women eventually back him into a wall. Rand jumps as a third woman crowds in beside the other two. She is older than they are, but just as pretty, with an amused smile that does not lessen the sharpness in her eyes. They make tiny curtsies and glare at her sullenly. She asks Rand if these two spiders are trying to spin him into their webs. She laughs and says that half the time they tangle themselves more firmly than anyone else. She invites Rand to come with her so that she can tell him of some of the troubles that they would give him. The older woman says she has no husband to worry about. Rand sees over the last woman’s head and states that he sees someone he must speak to. He squeezes past them just as the last woman is reaching for his arm. All three stare after him as he hurries to the gleeman.

Rand tells Thom that he is sorry and that he knows the gleeman told him ‘a clean break’ but he says that he had to get away from those women and that those women are all telling him their husbands are away. Thom chokes on his wine. Rand says that they believe he is plotting with Barthanes and, or, Galldrian, and he does not think they will believe him if he says he is not. He says he just needed an excuse to leave them.

Thom looks at the three women and says the third woman, Breane Taborwin, would give Rand an education such as any man should have at least once in his life if he can live through it. Thom says that he is glad to see Rand is worried about their husbands. Suddenly, his eyes sharpen and he reminds Rand that he told him he was free of Aes Sedai.

Thom: Half of the talk here tonight is of the Andoran Lord, appearing with no warning, and an Aes Sedai at his side. Barthanes and Galldrian – you’ve let the White Tower put you in the cooking pot this time.

Rand tells him that Verin only arrived yesterday. He says that as soon as the Horn is safe that he will be free of them again. Thom replies warily that Rand sounds as if the Horn is not safe now. Rand whispers to him that Darkfriends stole it and brought it here – and that Barthanes is one of them. Thom replies that it is a dangerous thing to say if it is not true and even more dangerous if it is. He supposes that Rand is after his help again now that he is tangled once more with the White Tower. Rand tells him no and that he just wants to get away from those women. Thom seems taken aback by that answer but then says that the last time he tried to help Rand he got a limp out of it. He says Rand will have to get himself untied from Tar Valon strings this time. Rand tells him that he will. Rand wonders where Mat and Hurin are.

Just then, as if the thought was a summons, Hurin appears searching among the Lords and Ladies. When he finds Rand and Thom, he makes his way through the nobles and bows to Rand. He tells Rand that he was sent to tell him that his manservant had a fall and twisted his knee. Conscious of the eyes on him, Rand speaks loudly enough for the other nobles to overheard.

Rand: Clumsy fool! What good is he to me if he can’t walk?

Rand says that he supposes he better go see how badly he has hurt himself. Hurin looks relieved as he bows again and says “as my Lord wishes.” He asks Rand to follow him. Softly Thom tells Rand that he plays well at being a Lord.

Thom: But remember this – Cairheinin may play Daes Dae’mar, but it was the White Tower that made The Great Game in the first place. Watch yourself, boy.

Rand tells Hurin to lead on out of the room as he feels the eyes on the room following him.

REACTION:

al’Thor still needs his occasional advice from Merrlin. I guess that Jordan reversed the King Arthur tale’s version regarding which of them is magical.

I am trying to put Daes Dae’mar in Cairhein into something like a real-world paradigm. The best that I can come up with is imagining a society where everyone in power is a galaxy-brain conspiracy theorist. (That does not even mean that the galaxy-brain types are always wrong.) But you can become so consumed with seeing subtleties and hidden meanings, where they are not intended, that you essentially become insane. You can become insane looking for them even when they are intended.

As a result, Rand’s interactions here are funny. As a reader, I can see the webs Rand is spinning in Barthanes’ mind. He – to Barthanes’s mind anyway – pitted himself against Galldrian, tied himself to the Andoran royal family, and his interest in the statue (as well as Verin’s presence) ties him to the White Tower, too. Barthanes might be thinking up plots wherein the White Tower wants to remove Galldrian and might seek to put an Andoran on the throne instead of Barthanes himself. He’ll see opportunity in the first part of that and danger in the second.

The section with the three women was also somewhat humorous. Let me tell you something though… Nynaeve might have spontaneously combusted, in rage, at older married women planning adultery with the same Rand that she used to babysit. Egwene would have hurled her body at all three of them simultaneously. Thom’s reaction was more along the lines of “you should probably go visit them but be careful to live through it.” I suspect that Thom has had to make certain to live through some similar dangerous situations in his life.

Thom is not wrong to doubt that Rand can untie himself from Tar Valon strings.

Anyway, this is a fun chapter. The suspense is building even though not much really happened. I think that’s just a credit to how weird and almost alien the environment is inside the manor house.

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