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 34: The Wheel Weaves
Thom Merrilin does not return to The Bunch of Grapes until after first light. This is the time of day when the Foregate is quietest. In his mood, Thom would not have noticed if the empty street was on fire. Some of Barthanes’s guests insisted on keeping him long after the others had gone and long after even Barthanes had taken himself to bed. Thom thinks to himself that it was his own fault for singing the sort of songs that he performs in villages rather than The Great Hunt for the Horn. He remembers though that they laughed in the wrong places of his songs and stories, and they even laughed at him, thinking he would not notice or thinking that gold would sooth any hurt feelings.
The nobles also asked him a lot of questions about Rand. They wanted to know why he was in Cairhein and why he had taken Thom, a mere gleeman, aside to talk. Thom is not sure that his answers were clever enough. Before setting off toward the Foregate and his Inn, Thom first visited The Great Tree. There he learned that Rand and the Aes Sedai were already gone. Thom feels as if he has left something undone.
In The Bunch of Grapes, Thom strolls through the empty Common Room and takes the steps to his room two at a time. He opens the door to his room softly soas not to wake Dena. He smiles to himself when he sees her laying on the bed with her face turned to the wall. She is still in her dress. Thom thinks to himself that she must have fallen asleep waiting for him. He decides, on the spur of the moment, to wake her and tell her that she can perform tonight. He sets his harp case on the floor and shakes her shoulder.
She rolls limply onto her back, glazed eyes open, and with a gash across her throat. Thom’s stomach heaved. If his throat was not so tight that he could not breathe, he would have screamed, vomited, or both. He hears the wardrobe doors creak.
Thom spins, knives coming out of his sleeves, and leaving his hands in the same motion. The first blade take the throat of a fat balding man with a dagger in his hand. Spinning on his bad leg sent through other knife to the wrong place, though. It sticks in the shoulder of a heavily muscled man with scars on his face. The big man’s knife drops from a hand that suddenly will not do what he wants and he lumbers for the door. Before he can take another step, Thom produces another knife and slashes him across the back of his leg. He yells and stumbles. Thom grabs a handful of greasy hair and slams his face into the wall by the door. He screams as the knife hilt sticking out of his shoulder slams into the door. Thom puts a knife in his hand to within an inch of the man’s eye.
Thom: Before I kill you, tell me why.
The man tells Thom quickly that it was not personal, just The Game. Thom replies that he is not mixed up in Daes Dae’mar and asks the man who would want to kill him for the Game. He moves his knife point closer to the man’s eye. The man whispers that it is Barthanes. Thom calls him a liar and says that if the Lord wanted anything from him, he would not have left his manor last night alive. The man replies quickly that they have been looking for him and anyone who knows anything about the Andoran Lord for days. Thom asks him what Andoran Lord and the man gives him Rand’s name. The man tells Thom that he knows Rand came to visit him in the Inn, he and an Ogier, and he encourages Thom to tell him what he knows in exchange for gold. Thom grows visibly angry and the man begins bargaining with him regarding how much money they could make between the two of them, with Thom’s knowledge and him knowing who wants the knowledge.
The man also tells Thom that there is a woman, a Lady, and he says that he has seen her asking about Rand every once in a while. Thom tells the man that he made one real mistake in all of this.
Thom: You should never have touched the girl.
The man reaches for a knife at his belt but he then convulses, suddenly, as Thom’s knife drives home.
The door to the room bangs open and Thom turns, snarling. Zara the Innkeeper hastens to tell him about two men asking after him. Thom tells her that they found him. Her eyes taken in the bodies in the room. She steps into the room and shuts the door behind her. She tells him that he will have to leave Cairhein before her eyes fall on the bed and her breath catches.
Thom tells Zara that he cannot leave the city yet. He tells her that he has another man to kill first. She tells him that if he means Barthanes, he is too late. The talk of the city is that he was found torn to pieces in his bed chamber this morning. She says that the only way they could identify him was because his head was stuck on a spike over the fireplace.
Thom suggests that he might go back to Andor. Zara tells him that Caemlyn is as bad for him as Cairhein now is and she asks Thom if Dena would want that for him. She tells Thom to honor her memory by staying alive. Thom asks Zara if she will take care of her. He cannot bring himself to say Dena’s name. He puts a heavy purse from his pocket in her hands. She tells him that she will see to everything and she insists that he must go now. Thom nods reluctantly.
As Thom packs his things, Zara gets a look at the fat man who Thom killed first and she gasps. She tells Thom that these men do not work for Barthanes. She says it is the worst kept secret in Cairhein that the dead fat man works for House Riatin, for King Galldrian.
Thom’s thoughts must have been on his face. Zara tells him that Dena wants him alive and she says that if he tries to kill the King he will be dead before he gets within one hundred spans of him. A roar comes from the city walls as if half of Cairhein is shouting. Thom peers through his window. Beyond the city walls and beyond the Foregate, a thick column of smoke is rising into the sky. Thom tells Zara that she should consider leaving the city, also, as someone has set fire to the city’s granaries. She tells him that she has lived through riots before. Zara sees something of Thom’s thoughts on his face again and she warns him to not do anything foolish. Thom tells her that he is just a gleeman and that he could not possibly be dangerous to anyone. As he closes the door behind him, a wolfish grin comes onto his face.
Padan Fain reigns in his horse above Falme. A packhorse bearing his precious burden bumps his leg and he kicks the animal. The Darkfriend from whom he took the horse had not wanted to give the animal up so he allowed the trollocs to eat her. The scene made the other Darkfriends very biddable after.
Fain studies his surroundings. He has learned a little of the Seanchan in his day and a night on Toman Head. After questioning men, women, and children, he initially discarded much of what he had heard. Now, however, he takes some of that back. He cannot make out the mounts clearly, of some he can see are soldiers, but he is certain that the mounts are not horses. Fain rides into the town. He sees more soldiers but everything seems peaceful. However, beneath the peace, Fain can also sense tension beneath.
Most of the Seanchan soldiers wear black armor and their helmets look to him like locusts’ heads. Fain approaches a manor house. Three eyed beasts, with a beak where a mouth should be, guard the door. He sees a blue edged banner with a hawk clutching lightning bolts above the House. Women linked by silver leashes go into and out of a house across the street. He ignores them. He knows about damane from the villagers. The soldiers by the beasts are looking at him. Fain forces an ingratiating smile onto his face.
He bows and tells them that he has brought something that will interest their great lord. He motions to the chest bound beneath a blanket, atop the horse. The soldiers tell him that he sounds like a foreigner to Falme and they ask him if he has taken the oaths. Fain replies that he obeys, awaits, and will serve.
The officer motions two of his men to see what is under the blanket. The soldiers are surprised by the weight of it and then they gasp when they strip the blanket away. The officer tells Fain that the silver worked chest is a gift fit for the Empress herself and he tells Fain to come with him. Fain quietly endures the soldier checking him for weapons and follows.
Fain next finds himself on his face in a room bare of furnishings while the Officer tells the High Lord Turak about Fain and his offering. Servants bring a table upon which to set the chest so that the High Lord has no need to stoop. Fain bides his time impatiently. When the soldiers are dismissed, Fain is told to rise. He does, slowly, studying the High Lord and the man beside him.
Turak tells Fain that this is a marvelous gift. He asks Fain how he came by a chest that many lesser Lords could not afford. He asks Fain if he is a thief. Fain tells the High Lord that his present shabbiness allowed him to bring the chest unmolested. He tells the High Lord that the chest is as old as the Age of Legends and that within it lies a treasure such as few eyes have ever seen. Fain tells him that soon he will know how to open the chest.
Fain cuts off as Turak runs his long nailed fingers over the chest. The High Lord tells Fain that he has seen chests such as this before, though none so fine. He says that they are meant to be opened by only those who know the pattern. Turak presses and a sharp click follows.
Fain bites the inside of his lip to keep from snarling. It lessens his bargaining position that he is not the one who opened the chest. Turak lifts out the curled Horn in one hand and the ruby hilted dagger in the other. Fain clutches his hands in fists at his sides to prevent himself from reaching for the dagger. Turak’s finger traces the silver script inlaid around the bell of the Horn. Turak’s brows rise, startled. He asks Fain if he knows what this is. Fain smoothly replies that it is the Horn of Valere. Turak leaves the room. Fain follows at a sharp gesture from the other man.
In another room, all of the furnishings are gone except for a single chair facing a cabinet. Turak, still holding the Horn and dagger, looks at the cabinet and then looks away. Servants bring an assortment of stands out. Turak chooses one and places the Horn upon it, upright. He sets the dagger on a table in front of the Horn. Fain can no longer stand it and he reaches for the dagger. The man with Turak grabs his wrist with a crushing grip. Fain growls that the dagger is his.
Turak: Yours? Inside a chest you could not open? If you interest me sufficiently I will give you the dagger.
Turak asks Fain why he has brought The Horn of Valere to him. Fain eyes the dagger, longingly, and bows. He tells Turak that he has brought the Horn to him so that he can sound it and take the entirety of this land if he wishes. Turak’s tone flatly asks Fain that he personally is to sound it. He asks Fain, again, why.
Fain tries to make his voice convincing. He tells the High Lord that his family served Artur Hawkwing and he says that when the High King was murdered by the witches in Tar Valon, his family did not abandon their oaths. He says that it is his family’s tradition that when the armies of Hawkwing return from across the ocean, they will serve and advise as they once did for the High King. Fain tells Turak that excepting its border, the flag over the roof of the building where they are now is the banner of Luthair, Artur Hawkwing’s son.
Turak is silent for so long that Fain begins to winder if he needs further convincing. The High Lord speaks. He muses over the fact that Fain knows things that those in this land seem not to know. He says that any Lord in this land would use the Horn against him rather than put it into his hands. He asks Fain about himself. Fain tells him that the Horn was found by an ancestor in the turmoil following Artur Hawkwing’s death. Fain says his ancestor knew how to open the chest but that the secret died with him in the War of One Hundred Years. Turak tells him that he almost can believe him. Turak tells him that when he returns to Seanchan, he will present the Horn to the Empress and that she will sound it herself.
Turak muses aloud about giving Fain to the Empress along with the Horn. Fain replies, “as the High Lord wishes.” Turak tells Fain that whoever blows the Horn is linked to it thereafter and that for so long as he or she lives, it is no more than a Horn to anyone else. He tells Fain that he is twelfth in the line of succession and he says that if he kept the Horn, all between himself and the Empress will think he means to be first. Turak tells Fain that the Empress currently favors her second daughter to succeed to the throne and he says that she would not look well upon a threat to Tuon. Turak tells Fain about Listeners for the Empress, who might report on him to her, as well as the Seekers for Truth.
Turak tells Fain that until he sails back to Seanchan, he will amuse the High Lord with tales of his family and its tradition. He tells Fain that it is a relief to find a second man in this land who can amuse him – even if they both tell lies as he suspects. Turak tells Fain that he may leave.
Fain does not leave immediately. He tells the High Lord that there are those who follow him to mean to steal the Horn. Fain calls them Darkfriends and worse. He says that they cannot be more than a day or two behind him. Turak tells him that it might be amusing to meet a Darkfriend. Fain tells them that they are dangerous, travel with trollocs, and are led by one who calls himself Rand al’Thor.
Turak tells Fain that there are no trollocs in Seanchan, however, he says that the Armies of the Night had other allies. He says that he has often wondered if a grolm could kill a trolloc. He tells Fan that he will have a watch kept for Fain’s trollocs and Darkfriends.
Fain barely notices as he is pushed outside into the street with a coin and instructions to return the following day. Fain thinks to himself that he will see Rand dead. Fain leads his horses down into the town in search of an Inn.
Robert Jordan’s chapter naming technique: When you can’t think of a title, call it something about The Wheel or The Pattern.
I feel as though the first section of this chapter is when the story goes from YA fantasy to something a bit more and a bit darker. We see the deaths in Thom’s Inn, Dena in particular, and the gruesome way that Barthanes dies. Thom also sets himself to the task of killing King Galldrian.
Why did this feel like a turn? I think this is our first “good guy” death in the story. Dena’s death is impactful in its tragedy, too. She was going to be a female court bard – breaking glass ceilings in Randland! She was Thom’s next chance at love. She died over something that had absolutely nothing to do with her. You can hardly even blame Thom for any of this except that perhaps he should have known that talking to Rand might have posed some danger to himself.. and those close to him. Would she have lived if Thom has not detoured on his way home to visit Rand’s Inn? Maybe. Or maybe Thom would have died with her.
We learn as Thom kills one of Galldrian’s men that a Lady has been asking after Rand in the city. That is not likely to be Selene… so who might it be?
The gruesome way that Galldrian dies indicates something… but what? Who did he infuriate? I don’t think that sounds like the King had him killed. It sounds like a bigger bad guy had him killed.
Fain gives the Horn to Turak. Why was he set on going to Toman Head this entire time? He did not know about the Seanchan before he left (as this chapter demonstrates.) But all the way back in Fal Dara, Fain told Rand that they will meet at Toman Head. Did Ba’alzamon somehow control him into doing that?
I’ve got to be honest here, re: Fain. I just cannot get into this character. I think it’s possible to tell an interesting story re: completely insane folks (think: The Joker) but it’s a challenge. At this point, I’m not that into the Seanchan, either. It is pretty funny that Fain could not figure out how to open the chest, though.
In case you did not pick up on it, we learn in this chapter that Bayle Doman is still alive and entertaining Turak with lies, too.