Chapter 2: Strangers
After all that excitement about Shai’tan and mysterious dark riders, it’s time to settle down for some scintillating small-town gossip and wholesome antics!
Worry was not uncommon for the Village Council these days, not in Emond’s Field, and likely not in Watch Hill, or Deven Ride. Or even Taren Ferry, though who knew what Taren Ferry folk really thought about anything?
Taren Ferry is, if I remember correctly, the place our heroes get to in like two days on horseback (with some magical assistance, to be fair). I don’t know why they’re talking about it like it’s the dark side of the moon or why none of them have ever been there before. Surely you’d go and have a look, at least once, just for the hell of it?
There’s some guff about Mat having gotten up to some shenanigans and the village council suspecting him of whatever, I’m not going to go into it (I warned you all this book is boring).
Toward Rand her motherliness extended to warm smiles and a quick snack whenever he came by the inn, but she did as much for every young man in the area. If she occasionally looked at him as if she wanted to do more, at least she took it no further than looks, for which he was deeply grateful.
We get it, every woman in the village wants to bone Rand. Fear not, for soon damn near every woman in the world will want to bone him.
The upshot of this chapter is that two strangers have arrived in the village: a seemingly high-born woman named Moiraine and her bodyguard, a dudely dude named Lan. Rand and Mat have a run-in with them after spotting a mysterious raven (it’s mysterious because they throw stones at it and it steps aside, or something).
Rand’s gaze fell to the woman who had spoken. She, too, had been watching the flight of the raven, but now she turned back, and her eyes met his. He could only stare. This had to be the Lady Moiraine, and she was everything that Mat and Ewin had said, everything and more.
The Wonder Boys don’t learn this until a bit later, but Moiraine is an Aes Sedai who has come to whisk them away to a life of adventure. At least she’s not another twinkly-eyed pipe smoking wizard. Jordan spends like a million words describing her appearance and clothes (this will become a recurring thing), but the short version is that she has a strangely ageless look and is terribly impressive indeed. She claims to be in Emond’s Field to study “history”, as the Two Rivers region wasn’t always the remote backwater it is now.
“As the Wheel of Time turns,” Moiraine said, half to herself and with a distant look in her eyes, “places wear many names. Men wear many names, many faces. Different faces, but always the same man. Yet no one knows the Great Pattern the Wheel weaves, or even the Pattern of an Age. We can only watch, and study, and hope.”
Moiraine talks a whole lot about the pattern and the wheel and the pattern that the wheel weaves and the weave of the pattern that’s woven as the wheel turns. It’s very repetitive, although to be fair it’s not entirely pointless fluffery– the concept of “the pattern” is a tangible reality in the setting that sometimes has important plot implications.
“That was Lan,” Ewin said throatily, as if he, too, had been holding his breath. It had been that kind of look. “I’ll bet he’s a Warder.”
“Don’t be a fool.” Mat laughed, but it was a shaky laugh. “Warders are just in stories. Anyway, Warders have swords and armor covered in gold and jewels, and spend all their time up north, in the Great Blight, fighting evil and Trollocs and such.”
The above information is entirely accurate. So all of these facts about the outside world have filtered down to the Two Rivers completely intact, but for some reason not the part where they’re actually real.
(Warders are linked to Aes Sedai through magics and have various physical and mental enhancements as a result)
The peddler had come at last. Strangers and a gleeman, fireworks and a peddler. It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.
I sure hope something ironically tragic doesn’t happen to ruin the festivities!
Chapter 3: The Peddler
I should probably mention that each chapter in a Wheel Of Time book is accompanied by a little drawing that denotes which major plot element or viewpoint character the chapter focuses on. It’s a neat little touch. This chapter has what appears to be a sort of horn thing, and it’s actually a pretty huge clue about something that happens later, although there’s no way you’d be able to tell on a first read through.
If the introduction of a new character is accompanied with a piece of chapter art that hasn’t been seen before it’s a pretty reliable indicator that they’re going to play an important role. If the story seems to be deliberately downplaying them as bit players, odds are good they’re actually Forsaken in disguise (the Forsaken pop up in disguise a lot to troll the heroes).
In general, the artwork’s meaning is fairly easy to figure out, although some of them can refer to several people or concepts. If you’re into that sort of thing, there’s a bit of meta-fun to be had in working out what exactly they’re referring to in more ambiguous chapters.
The man on the wagon was Padan Fain, a pale, skinny fellow with gangly arms and a massive beak of a nose.
Will this be the sort of book that equates goodness with beauty?
(Yes, although women who are too beautiful or attractive in the wrong way are likely to be allies of Shai’tan, if they’re not the Sexy Enchantress Forsaken wearing a glamour)
Everyone loses their shit when this dude shows up because he’s the peddler carrying the fireworks. I am thankful that Jordan didn’t refer to him as a tinker like Rothfuss did with his equivalent.
Every bit as important was word of outside, news of the world beyond the Two Rivers
And yet the existence of the army of beast-men that rule the north hasn’t filtered down as anything other than legend. No, I won’t stop harping on about this.
“I had been thinking you were going to stay out on the farm through the whole Festival,” Perrin Aybara shouted at Rand over the clamor.
Perrin here is our third brotagonist, and is directly involved in some of the most boring plot threads of the entire series later on (apparently for a huge chunk in the middle he does literally nothing of importance). He will be playing the role of the Big Strong Guy Who Is Actually Kind Hearted.
Padan Fain delivers the news that war has broken out in Ghealden, triggered by the arrival of a man claiming to be the Dragon Reborn. The crowd helpfully supply some quick exposition to get us up to speed on the significance of this:
“Just as bad as the Dark One!”
“The Dragon broke the world, didn’t he?”
“He started it! He caused the Time of Madness!”
“You know the prophecies! When the Dragon is reborn, your worst nightmares will seem like your fondest dreams!”
“He’s just another false Dragon. He must be!”
“What difference does that make? You remember the last false Dragon. He started a war, too. Thousands died, isn’t that right, Fain? He laid siege to Illian.”
“It’s evil times! No one claiming to be the Dragon Reborn for twenty years, and now three in the last five years. Evil times! Look at the weather!”
Many people have claimed to be the Dragon Reborn and raised armies to sally forth and conquer the land, but all were defeated. This particular one has the ability to channel (use magic), so he’s going to be a target for the Aes Sedai (female channelers, and the only legitimately recognised magic users in this part of the world).
I will say I quite like how this book sets up the world and handles exposition; it’s a bit clunky at times, as we saw above, but it does a good job of getting you up to speed.
This is a decent village of decent folk, and it’s bad enough to have Fain here talking about false Dragons using the Power without this Dragon-possessed fool of a boy bringing Aes Sedai into it. Some things just shouldn’t be talked about, and I don’t care if you will be letting that fool gleeman tell any kind of tale he wants. It isn’t right or decent.”
For some reason the people of the Two Rivers are mightily suspicious of Aes Sedai and their tricksy ways. This ends up being a never-ending source of trepidation among our heroes later.
Ghealdan. Tar Valon. The very names were strange and exciting.
More Arthuriana here. Tar Valon (the Aes Sedai’s home base) is likely supposed to be analogue of Avalon.
Still, it must be different out there, beyond the Two Rivers, like living in the middle of a gleeman’s tale. An adventure. One long adventure. A whole lifetime of it.
Gosh do you think Rand will come to realize that adventure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and long for a return to his simple rural lifestyle?
There’s some more expository dialogue and we learn that some people believe that the Dragon Reborn will actually save the world instead of destroying it, appearing during humanity’s greatest hour of need, but expressing this opinion isn’t popular with the forces of orthodoxy so it’s generally not said out loud.
“You think they’re really Darkfriends?” Mat was frowning thoughtfully.
“Who?” Rand asked.
You can probably work out what Darkfriends are. Now, why would someone willingly serve a being of ultimate evil and his asshole cronies? The answer will disappoint you!
“You are just stupid enough to do that, aren’t you, Matrim Cauthon?” Nynaeve al’Meara stepped into their huddle, the dark braid pulled over her shoulder almost bristling with anger
Our fourth protagonist has appeared (there are a lot of main characters in these books). If you decide to read the rest for yourself you’re going to be hearing a whole lot about Nynaeve and her braid.
Nynaeve (also an Arthur reference) is Emond’s Field’s village Wisdom (wise woman/healer/seer/soothsayer), a position she attained at a prodigiously young age as she’s only slightly older than Rand et al.
Slender and barely taller than Mat’s shoulder,
It’s mentioned earlier that Rand is half a head taller than Mat, so either Rand and Mat are giants or Nynaeve is unusually short. I’ve noticed a lot of authors tend to have all of their male characters hulking over the female ones for some reason.
I suspected something of the sort about Bili Congar at the time, but I thought you at least had more sense than to try taunting him into such a thing. You may be old enough to be married, Matrim Cauthon, but in truth you shouldn’t be off your mother’s apron strings. The next thing, you’ll be naming the Dark One yourself.
So let’s just get this out in the open: most of the women in these books are incredibly annoying and frustrating to read about for reasons that only become fully apparent in the following volumes, and many people regard Nynaeve as the worst of the bunch. I actually disagree with this– despite having a bad case of the same Unnecessary Asshole Syndrome that tends to afflict Jordan’s female characters, she doesn’t get pulled into the vortex of his authorial obsessions to nearly the same extent.
Blood and ashes, I—”
Here’s a quick primer on Jordanian dialogue: if the character is male just have them say “Blood and Ashes! Light! Burn me! Blood and Ashes, light take you! Light!” over and over again, with the occasional exclamation that they just don’t understand women, whereas if they’re women pepper their dialogue liberally with “Apron strings! Woolheads! Men, am I right? Such woolheads!” And then make them fold their arms under their breasts or thrust their chins out.
The stick in her hand was thick at one end and a slender switch at the other
An ominous warning of things to come.
Egwene stood a few paces behind the Wisdom, watching intently.
Ah, Egwene. For a long time it seems like she’s not going to be annoying, but then around book four or so she falls down the Jordan Hole and never recovers.
she could at that moment have been a reflection of Nynaeve’s mood, arms crossed beneath her breasts
Did you think I was joking about the arm folding thing?
Rand has another attack of the puberty jitters (and is still just as mystified by it) but manages to ask her to
the prom dance with him tomorrow at the Bel Tine shindig.
“Just because someone is old enough to marry,” he muttered, “doesn’t mean they should. Not right away.”
“Of course not. Or ever, for that matter.”
Rand blinked. “Ever?”
“A Wisdom almost never marries. Nynaeve has been teaching me, you know. She says I have a talent, that I can learn to listen to the wind. Nynaeve says not all Wisdoms can, even if they say they do.”
Listening to the wind, eh? Wonder what that could be about.
And did you catch that thing about people not marrying? Could this be a fantasy series where women don’t have to pair off into relationships, where they aren’t defined solely by the adjacent men in HA HA NO of course not.
“Wisdom!” he hooted
Suddenly, Rand turned into a giant owl. Everyone was very surprised.
Rand manages to get Egwene mad at him by acting weird and possessive when she shows enthusiasm for the idea of having an independent life (women, right?).
Chapter 4: The Gleeman
Does anyone else think “The Gleeman” sounds like the stage name of of the lead singer in a glam rock band?
Thom The Gleeman comes hurrying out of the inn and everyone is like “wow a gleeman” and he’s like “ya I know”.
He gestured imperiously at Rand and the others with a long-stemmed pipe, ornately carved, that trailed a wisp of smoke. Blue eyes peered out from under bushy white brows, drilling into whatever he looked at.
We’ve got a pipe and bushy eyebrows, people. I’m issuing a level 5 twee alert, be on the lookout for the presence of finger magic.
Thom comes from more high-falutin’ places than the Two Rivers and thinks everyone there is a narrow-minded yokel. Which, to be fair, is pretty much true.
Now you’re a lovely lass. You should have rose buds in your hair. Unfortunately, I cannot pull roses from the air, not this year, but how would you like to stand beside me tomorrow for a part of my performance? Hand me my flute when I want it, and certain other apparatus. I always choose the prettiest girl I can find as my assistant
Actually I take back what I said about Mat, Thom is the fantasy Han Solo character.
I am here for my art.” Suddenly he thrust a finger at Rand. “You, lad. You’re a tall one. Not with your full growth on you yet, but I doubt there’s another man in the district with your height
Rand is nineteen, he should be fully grown by now. And if he’s already taller than everyone in the town (more than a full head taller than Nynaeve, remember) then what, is he going to be like seven foot when his late-blooming growth spurt hits?
I get the feeling these character were originally meant to be way younger. They come across more like 13-14 year olds, and when Egwene and Nynaeve start training as Aes Sedai later (spoiler, that happens) the whole thing comes off more like Fantasy Boarding School than the quasi-monastic order it’s supposed to be (I believe one of the characters even comments on this, only to have it clumsily hand-waved).
In wars, boy, fools kill other fools for foolish causes. That’s enough for anyone to know.
This Thom guy seems like he has hidden depths.
The point is, you’re an axe handle across the shoulders and as tall as an Aielman
My, several characters have now commented that Rand doesn’t really look like anyone else in the village, or his father. I wonder what this could possibly mean?
(The Aiel are a desert culture, by the way)
“Tell us about Lenn,” Egwene called. “How he flew to the moon in the belly of an eagle made of fire. Tell about his daughter Salya walking among the stars. Tales of Materese the Healer, Mother of the Wondrous Ind”
Tales of Mosk the Giant, with his Lance of fire that could reach around the world, and his wars with Elsbet, the Queen of All
In case it’s not obvious, these are references to Mother Teresa, the space race and the Cold War (Lenn and Salya are astronauts John Glenn and his daughter Sally Ride, Mosk is Moscow and his lance is an ICBM. Elsbet is Queen Elisabeth). Our own time is vaguely alluded to as being “the Age before the Age of Legends”, although since the cyclical nature of history is a big thing in this series it’s quite possible that these myths originated in other cycles.
Normally when stories set in the very far future (which is also the past– wheels, how do they even work) reference contemporary times it comes across as extremely hokey, but I actually quite like these mentions. They’re not immediately obvious at first glance, and they show clear signs of the sort of corruption you’d expect history to undergo after long periods of time, ie neither of the astronauts mentioned went to the moon and positioning Queen Elisabeth as “queen of all” and Moscow’s enemy is obviously conflating the Cold War with the period when the British Empire was at its peak.
I find this kind of thing fascinating, since it’s likely that some of our own myths are based on historical events. For example, it’s been suggested (although for obvious reasons none of this can be verified) that the story of Noah’s ark and similar flood myths from nearby regions originated from an actual catastrophic (although not worldwide) flood event, or that the wide diversity of dragon-like creatures in many cultures may be due to discoveries of dinosaur bones. Even if none of that is true, the idea that stories and images that persist to this day could be echoes of the very distant past is exhilarating.
While Thom is impressing everyone with some juggling Moiraine wanders over and he has an odd reaction to her. She in turn refers to him as “Master Bard”; he earlier told Rand and co that he used to be a court bard, but Moiraine was nowhere nearby. Sure seems like these characters know each other!
Surely [Egwene] could see the world outside was no place for Two Rivers folk. Listening to tales of adventures, even dreaming about them, was one thing; having them take place around you would be something else again.
Rand stop being boring.
Egwene looked at Rand as if she were going to speak, then darted after the Wisdom instead. Rand knew there must be some way to stop her from leaving the Two Rivers, but the only way he could think of was not one he was prepared to take, even if she was willing.
Rand stop being a possessive weenie.
“Battles interest me,” Mat said
So much foreshadowing. You can picture Jordan pulling a giant troll face as he wrote this.
Why, if we get up to the Taren, we might even see soldiers, or who knows what. Even Tinkers.
Oh wait, I forgot there are totally tinkers in these books. Except they’re even more offensive than the Rothfuss ones! They show up later.
After some more blabbing Tam and Rand head back to the farm, Tam strangely insistent about it despite their earlier intentions to spend the night in town. It turns out that other young men saw the strange black-cloaked rider as well, and Tam is evidently genre savvy and realises that when the call to adventure intersects with the doomed hometown the results aren’t pretty.