So just after Moiraine and her bodyguard wander off a peddler comes to town on his wagon. He seems like an okay guy. He's like a trucker, you know, telling his stories at every stop he makes. He's pulling into yet another no account town to sell his junk just to get by. The fact that he's constantly described in less-than-flattering terms just makes him more downtrodden and likable.
He's a bit of a doomsayer, though. Winter has been harsh all over the place (How big is this place? The map doesn't have a scale.) and there's war going on and life sucks. I can see why he's not a gleeman. Try as he might, he's just not spreading any glee with his stories.
I like the fact that no one in Two Rivers has heard of war. Or at least have never experienced it. That, added to the fact that there aren't any murders in the area, makes me think that this is a rather peaceful place. Kinda awesome.
The doomsayer peddler says that there is a Dragon (which is a title, not a creature) is out there in Ghealdan starting a fight. And he's the third one to declare himself Dragon (the previous two being False Dragons). And everyone is pissing their pants about it. Is Ghealdan nearby? I can't find it on the map.
They seem like superstitious folk. The crowd around the peddler are going on and on about who is and who isn't the Dark One and whether or not this Dragon will destroy the world. Hmm, exposition. At least I know now that the Dragon is bad and scary.
In the prologue, Lews Therin was called Dragon and it was implied he destroyed the world fighting the Dark One. So is this a story about Rand and the good guys fighting the evil Dark One and fighting the I-feel-guilty-for-killing-my-family reincarnated Dragon at the same time? That sounds better than a straight Good versus Evil plot.
After being told that the Dragon could channel:
A stunned silence fell. Rand looked at his friends. Perrin seemed to be seeing things he did not like, but Mat still looked excited.
One, I thought Rand was still standing there with Perrin, Mat, and the kid Ewin. Is Ewin not enough of Rand's friend to get a mention? In a small town like this I don't think you can blow off someone just because they're two or three years younger than you. Two, I like that Mat is different than the rest of the townspeople. He's not shaking in his boots or disbelieving everything the peddler says. He's excited! He wants to know more. If it weren't for his childishness I'd like Mat.
Oh, and I forgot to mention Perrin Aybara. No al' on his name but he seems nice. He's like this linebacker-sized kid and all polite. That's about all the impression I get from him.
"You can't take him off! My wife sent me here to buy pins!"
That was what Wit Cogner said as the Village Council decided to whisk the peddler back into the inn. I like Wit. Who cares if someone, somewhere else, is fighting a war? That isn't his business. That isn't even Two Rivers business. He just needs pins to go back to his simple, war-free life. I can't blame the guy. The crowd, though, doesn't agree with me.
Rand says that the Aes Sedai, the same anti-Channeler troops fighting the Dragon, Broke the world after the first Dragon started the Breaking. I dunno; kinda muddled. But is the Aes Sedai that old? Has this organization lasted this entire time? On the one hand, that sounds stupid. What organization can last thousands of years? The Catholic Church of 200 CE is not the same Church in 2000 CE, you know? On the other hand, though, this is a fantasy novel. And if there are two things I know about fantasies they are that the institutions always last and the prophecies are always true.
After 41 pages of talking about her, Nynaeve al'Meara finally makes an appearance just after the crowd dispersed. The first thing she does is call Mat out for being such a tool, too. If some woolbuyer's guard told me that the antichrist was going to save the world by fighting the devil I'm not going to believe him. Mat seems to believe the story of the Dragon saving the world. And Mat's all about getting folks to say the name of the Dark One and being a general nuisance. Good call, Nynaeve.
Nynaeve was just about to tease Rand and his relationship (or whatever) he's got with a girl named Egwene (I pronounce that one Egg When). But, of course, just as she was about to cool down and be friendly Mat had to laugh at her. So the chewing out continues. Then there's talk of the Women's Circle (still don't know what that is, a group of Wisdoms? A pagan druidic circle?) and Nynaeve goes into the inn. Egwene and Rand have a moment alone together and he asks her out. Aw, they're like high school sweethearts (and Perrin is the football player and Mat is the class clown and Ewin is the freshman).
Somehow, it had never occurred to him that she would reach marriageable age at the same time he did.
Rand said that, after Egwene revealed her braided hair (which I like! The whole Spring Pole and Bel Tine cultural ticks make this world vivid, much more so than black riders and generic noblewomen). But Rand is two years older than Egwene, right? So he's been marriageable age for a while. And I'm sure he's been a bit randy before that, if you know what I mean. So what's up with this?
At the end, Egwene pretty much opens her little fifteen year-old heart out to Rand, saying she's got dreams of being a Wisdom and leaving Two Rivers to seek adventure. Rand, ever so smooth, basically says that's really stupid so Egwene leaves in a huff. I guess he's not getting his dance tomorrow evening.
So to recap, Rand came to Emond's field and unloaded some casks of apple cider in the Winespring Inn's cellar. Then he went upstairs, eating a pastry, to throw rocks at a raven and briefly speak with a noblewoman. Minutes later a peddler pulled up in front of the inn and started telling stories. Finally, the peddler went inside and a gleeman has come out. That's 61 pages to describe less than two hours of time. And Rand hasn't moved more than fifty feet since he got to town.
Thom Merrilin (In my head that sounds like Tom Merlin) is the name of that gleeman, by the way. He reminds me of Samuel Clemens, he does. He's got the white hair and the pipe and the snarky attitude. He's even got 19th Century ideas when it comes to women. What I mean to say is that his attitude towards Nynaeve and Egwene, to me, is not cool.
"That pretty slip of a girl?" the gleeman exclaimed. "A village Wisdom?"
Why, she should be doing womanly things like cooking and finding a husband, not trying to be a mystical meteorologist or political leader or town healer (or whatever a Wisdom does). On the one hand, he's got a lot of sense (more than any other character has). On the other hand, he's a tool, too. It's a wait-and-see on whether or not I like Thom Merrilin.
"In wars, boy, fools kill other fools for foolish causes."
Well, I waited all of one page before I decided that I like Thom. That is what he says about the war the peddler spoke about. I agree completely. So I'll just grit my teeth at Thom's casual sexism and tell myself that it's just because he's an old man who grew up in another time. Plus, I like how he just stands there with a knowing grin as the three boys go on about how well-traveled they are, what with going two towns down the road that one time.
Then Egwene, after listening to the boys make fools of themselves, tells the gleeman to stop making fun of them. She's seeing someone with way more power and experience (the gleeman) take pleasure in mocking the weak (the boys) so she tries to end it. Even though she has no power of her own in this situation she still calls him out. Brave Egwene! It speaks to Thom's character, too, that he listens to her and stops. I like Tam because of his pimp factor but when it comes to a strong character, I'm going with Egwene. She's got hopes, ambition, and she'll defend her friends even when they don't realize they need defending.
Putting on a pre-show show, the gleeman goes on and on about things of which I have no clue. Since I don't know if any of these are supposed to be stories or foreshadowing I'm going to just ignore it, for the most part. It sounds impressive but I think that's only because it's full of impressive-sounding words. I get the feeling, though, that if I were to re-read the series I would fine this part a treasure trove of goodies.
Thom does, however, seem to talk about how the Dragon freed the Dark One and that the Aes Sedai Broke the world. I still don't know who did what and I think I'm supposed to be confused about it, to match the characters. Wouldn't it be great if we go through the whole series and never find out the truth, never knowing who is on the right side and who is on the wrong?
The pre-show is cut short when the noblewoman and her bodyguard show up in the crowd. I wonder what has happened, here. There is only a few people on the Green then the peddler shows up. So a crowd forms. Then the peddler goes inside and the crowd leaves, disappointed that they can't get their stuff. Then the gleeman walks out and the crowd returns. What are these people doing that they can just wander over to the front of the inn over and over again? And is Wit Cogner still there, trying to figure out how to get his pins? Poor fellow. Will someone please let this man have some pins before his wife gets even more miffed at him?
Thom doesn't seem to know Moiraine but being so traveled he knows her type, no doubt. There is an awkwardness between them but he tries to be meek around her. So maybe Thom's condescending attitude towards Nynaeve earlier wasn't because she was a woman but because she was a poor nobody from nowhere. Thom knows how to deal with high society women.
But whatever is going on between them it is soon over as Moiraine leaves and the inn doors open. Out comes most of the Village Council with the mayor saying this little gem:
"If you please, Wisdom," Bran said stiffly, "kindly leave who should worry me to my deciding."
So what is a Wisdom, then? She obviously isn't an adviser (even if being called a "Wisdom" implies that she's wise and would make a good adviser) since the Mayor doesn't give two shits about what she has to say. Just look at the quote! And she wasn't even invited to the inn for the meeting. Some kids had to tell her about it. So she isn't a political leader in town. She is a healer, though. So maybe that's her only job and she's jumping on everyone's toes, overstepping her bounds? That doesn't seem right, either, since she was eventually allowed in the inn even though the rest of the commonfolk were told to stay out. From what I read, I guess that she's supposed to be some sort of mystical attachment to the Council that holds no real power and isn't very respected. No wonder Egwene wants to be a Wisdom in some other town. What is she going to do in Emond's field? Make bread and henpeck her husband?
Anyway, Shady Mayor tries to put Nynaeve in her place but she gets in a good comeback and storms off. Cenn Buie says that she needs a husband. Yeah, the best way to keep a woman in line is to get her domesticated. It's like Thom saying she should be looking for boys and not being a Wisdom. Now Cenn, too? This guy's been a pain to like (though I've tried) but, seriously, he's a douche. Not only that, but he's a douche on the Village Council. If he can't think of anything better for Nynaeve to do than get married then he's probably not going to listen to any advice she has to give. So far I like Tam and Egwene and hate Cenn Buie. The rest? Kinda meh.
At least everyone else on the Council seems to hate him, too.
So it turns out that the war is actually hundreds of miles away on the other side of a forest that few have returned from and across a river that is nearly uncrossable. It seems pretty far away, but a war between Aes Sedai wizard-hunters and an army lead by a guy who can create volcanoes when he dies might spill over to neighboring lands. So the council has decided to send out patrols along it's backwoods road just in case. To me, it sounds like hillbillies in their trucks riding up and down Country Road 1441 just in case the Russians want to go all Red Dawn on them. But, whatever. It's nice to know that there are people in this town that have never seen war, never investigated a murder, do military patrols. Doing what you can with what you've got, right? You know what they say, though? When you have amateurs doing your security you get amateur security.
Tam tells Rand that it's time to go back to the farm. It's been, what, two hours since they got to town? It isn't even noon, yet. On the way back to the farm Tam tells his son that the village is full of idiots. Stubborn and prideful, sure, but idiots. That's why the Council questioned the peddler in the inn instead of outside before the crowd. Who knows that kind of opinions the crowd would have come to? In a very autocratic fashion, Tam says that the Council knows what is best for the yokels. I'm paraphrasing here.
Anyway, Tam is going back to the farm because he's worried that the black rider all the kids in town are seeing might be a thief. That thief just might be at their house right now, stealing their 'shine! That's how this chapter ends.
This story isn't exactly hard to read. In fact, it goes by fast. But it's going nowhere. These first 60 pages have introduced a bunch of people but other than Rand I'm not sure if any of them are important. The book cover shows a giant samurai on a horse (is that supposed to be Rand?) and a tiny woman on a miniature pony. She's got a stick so I'm guessing that's Nynaeve. But she's wearing blue so maybe she's the noblewoman (would that make the samurai guy Lan?). There's a guy in the background who looks like Nicholas Cage. Maybe that's Rand.
Rand and Tam live alone in their farmhouse and they've no family in town. That seems odd since everyone else has big families. Tam's dead wife was an outlander and Rand is some sort of interracial kid. Plus, Tam's an apple cider moonshiner so it makes sense that he's one of those weirdos in the woods, you know? Could it be that Tam's sage wisdom is just the mumblings of a crazy person?
Tam's kinda paranoid, too. He's running around the perimeter of his house and barn, checking the well for poison, all that good stuff. He doesn't want a black rider stealing from him, sure, but I can't get the image of a guy trying to hide his illegal still from the county sheriff and making sure his tripwires and such are still in working order. He's so paranoid, in fact, that I wonder what he was smoking in that pimp pipe of his.
What follows is about two pages of chores. Milking the cows and pulling weeds and chopping wood. Funny, but more time passed in those two pages than in the sixty-two that came before.
Once chores are done the father and son go inside for the night. There's a shelf of books and that got me thinking. Who can read? Tam can, it seems, and Rand, too. I don't know why they'd need to know, but they do. Plus there were books back at the Inn in Emond's Field so I'm assuming Bran or his wife can read, too. But what about Ewin or Mat or Perrin? Why would a blacksmith need to read? It isn't as if books were common in Two Rivers, either. And I've heard nothing of a newspaper. Even Mat the prankster isn't going around writing smutty graffiti on walls. Is that because he can't read or write, maybe?
Paranoid Tam begins to lock the doors and goes upstairs to move around some old chests. Tam, it turns out, has a sword with a bird emblazoned on it. A fancy sword, too. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that it's magical. I'm also going to go out on a limb here and predict that Tam's going to give Rand that sword before Rand goes on a wild adventure.
Anyway, Tam and Rand's talk of swords-to-plowshares is interrupted by their front door being kicked in. You can tell a bad guy did it because he's wearing black armor with spikes. That's just not something a good guy wears, am I right?
Rand throws a tea kettle at the tall creature with ram's horns and a hairy muzzle. I thought for a second what would happen if Mat had been the one to break in their door with a monster costume on. You know, to play a prank. Then Mat gets scalded and learns a lesson about playing tricks. But, no, it was a real monster man. Not the black rider, though.
The scene is fast and a little scary. Tam somehow manages to sword fight to death two of the monsters before they even got inside the house while Rand escapes out the back. I thought it was funny when he made a mistake and called himself a "Coplin fool idiot." Those poor Coplins; their name is synonymous with dumb in this town.
Tam calls the monster men Trollocs (I guess this is pronounced "Troll Ocks" instead of a more Spanish "Tro Yokes." I like the Spanish-flavored pronunciation better, though.). At least, I'm assuming that the monsters all had a gender and they were all male. I could be wrong. Hmm, in fact, unless I'm proven wrong, I'm going to go ahead and assume that the Trollocs are men and women in equal number. Why not, eh? Anyway, they're not imaginary like the myths say. I suppose it's kinda like learning that little green men from Mars are real, too. Only they don't come in peace. And aren't little. Trippy.
Anyway, Tam gives Rand (and the reader) the skinny on Trollocs. Are we to take this at face value, that Trollocs are dumb, lazy, bloodthirsty savages who kill for pleasure? In the real world I'd toss that garbage right out the window but this is a fantasy. Is Tam some sort of racist against these half-humans (of which he's only heard stories rather than actually getting to know them) or are they standard fantasy orcs and goblins to be slaughtered because they're Not Like Us?
Armed with the knowledge that Trollocs are dumb brutes, Rand reenters his farmhouse only to be ambushed by a clever Trolloc hiding among the dead. So maybe what Tam said was really bullshit, right? This Trolloc, Narg, speaks in broken... whatever language the locals speak. WOTish? Anyway, imperfectly speaking a second language (which WOTish seems to be for Narg) doesn't mean you're an idiot. In fact, if you've mastered one language and can make yourself understood in another then you've probably got some brains in you, right?
Too bad for Narg, impressive language skill, a massive body weight advantage, and clever tactics are no match for main characters armed with dumb luck. After telling the sword-wielding teenager to put his weapon down so he can come talk to someone named Myrddraal, after saying that other Trollocs are coming and this whole thing can escalate and more people could get hurt, and even after Rand lowered his sword and agreed to talk to the person in charge, after all that Narg still got run through with the bird-stamped sword. Poor monster man.
Rand has killed his first sentient creature. Who could deny that Narg was a person? He wasn't all that bad, either. He probably just joined the Dark One's army for college money. But he's dead now and Rand killed him. Obviously now is not the time, but I wonder if Rand ever deals with that? Slaughtering chickens is one thing but stabbing a guy you've just had a conversation with? Even in self defense, that's got to weigh heavily on the mind of someone who's never seen war or lethal street violence or even Call of Duty 4.
Turns out that Myrddraal isn't a name but a title. Or something. A species, maybe. It's also called a Fade which irks me. Are the villains going to have, like, three names each? Lews Therin was also the Lord of Morning and also the Kinslayer and also the Dragon. Now we've got a Myrddraal who is also a Fade who might be the dark rider who might have a personal name and who knows what else. Maybe all the bad guys are just one being with a thousand names. It would jive with what Moiraine said about the same men wearing a thousand faces and having a thousand names.
Also: "Myrddraal." I'm going with "MIRD ra ALL." Twenty feet tall and are so thin they disappear when they turn sideways? Sound pretty awesome to me!
This chapter ends with Rand's quick thinking. He makes a litter out of parts from the broken cart and begins to carry the wounded Tam back to the Emond's Field. I bet Tam feels a mighty bit sorry he left the village to check on his moonshine stills.