Children of Shadow
This chapter does not start off well. In the pool of water at the center of the stedding, Elyas asks Perrin if he hates Egwene. Instead of instantly denying it he asks, "can you read my mind?" Seriously, is hating Egwene something you think about often?
Perrin says that he loves Egwene. But, no, wait, she's Rand's girl, so not like that! In my opinion he hates her for being a symbol of everything he can't have. But he loves her because he's trying to act like the Great Leader in the stories, someone who protects the innocent. Elyas and Perrin discuss how they think Egwene would want to die. They don't consider bringing her into the conversation, of course. Whatever.
Perrin comes this close to renouncing violence, of going full Swords to Plowshares. He was standing there at the pool, his axe in his hand. The axe, a symbol of all the violent and hateful things that he wants to be rid of. He goes to toss it into the pool, to cleanse himself of his anger and begin the process of becoming a decent human being. Light bless him.
But crazy Warder-killing mountain man stops him. "You'll use it," says the violent nutjob. "I know you don't want to, I know it kills a little bit of your soul every time you use it. But are you trying to be a effin' pussy? Cowboy up, keep your axe, and go kill things with it. That's how you know you're a man, son." Thus Perrin, so close to making a breakthrough, is pulled back into the violent cycle of killing to be cool. Elyas tosses some philosophy at Perrin about how, since he doesn't want to use it then he'll somehow be better at using it. Yeah, the same way a kid who doesn't want to play baseball is going to be better than the kid who wants to play and practices every single day.
This is a theme I see everywhere, not just here. It is as if the people who don't want something are inherently better at it than someone who wants it. Ambition is evil, you know? A person who tries to become king is always a bad king. But the farmboy who has never studied politics, has never seen a foreigner in the flesh, has never dreamed of doing anything but farming? Well, he'll be the best king ever. A person who wants to be a soldier will be far worse than a person who is forced to take up the sword in spite of his better judgement. This applies to farmboys who talk to wolves, too,
Anyway, Elyas and Perrin get a lupine version of the Bat Signal and they know there is danger afoot. They rush back to the fire where Egwene sits, unaware that they were talking about killing her a few minutes earlier. Elyas tells her to douse the fire but when she doesn't move fast enough he shoves her out of the way and pours tea all over it. I've been camping before, mountain man, and doing that to a fire will cause it to billow even more smoke than normal. You should have covered it with dirt. But, whatever. Technical details don't bother me nearly as much as the ocean of misogyny I'm drowning in.
Elyas and Perrin, obviously panicked, manage to get the fire out. Egwene, clueless, asks what's going on. Elyas doesn't even look at her. He ignores her, treating her as he would treat a random stone. She then turned to Perrin to ask him. She asks him more than once:
Her voice was insistent and growing more frightened by the minute as he kept silent.
Minutes go by as they hurriedly break camp and yet Perrin says nothing. Can you imagine? Just look at the clock and wait two minutes. See how long that was? Now imagine there is some sort of horrible evil coming for you in those two minutes, something that scares crazy mountain main, something he claims is worse that Trollocs. Imagine asking for information. What's coming? From where? What is it?! Someone, please tell me what is going on! But no one does. Minutes go by and your voice becomes even move insistent and frightened and yet nobody is saying anything to you. One, a friend you've known your whole life but who lately has been getting cold and distant. The other, a crazy man in animal skins who admits he's on the run from the law for murdering Warders. They pretend as if you weren't even there. Or worse, they shove you out of their way. My heart goes out to you, Egwene. I hope you make it.
It wasn't until after they're on the move (with Egwene on the horse, of course) that Perrin tells her, sentence fragment by sentence fragment, as he keeps a lookout for danger. It turns out that Dapple the wolf smelled funny humans. Not evil or tainted or Trolloc-smelling. Just a bunch of "wrong" dudes on horseback. Okay, this is new. How they survived the ravens would be interesting to know. Why were they are out in the woods so far from anywhere is also a good questions. Let's run away from them and not ask, shall we?
They find a hill that turns out to be the Hawkwing statue's hand. That's pretty neat. They hide there and wait for Elyas who went off and did something. I don't know where he went. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say. But it looks as if all of Elyas's magical wolf powers have copied over to Perrin since he can now see in the dark. Like a wolf, I guess. I wonder, can ravens see in the dark as well as wolves? I dunno. It isn't important. Moving on.
Perrin's giving a blow-by-blow account of what is going on. Egwene can't see, you see, because she isn't hooked into the wolf hive mind thingie. So Perrin tells her that a wolf she doesn't care about/has no bond with is being attacked by riders. How is this any different than killing wolves back in Two Rivers? She has no love connection with the beasts so why should she give a flip? What she does do is try to comfort Perrin, telling him it'll be okay. After all that he's done to her she is still trying to do the right thing and be nice. I hope Perrin feels like shit.
In fact, she asks him to dance with her during the next summer holiday in Emond's Field. Why? I dunno, maybe she's so scared out of her mind that she thinks she's about to die. Maybe she's nice to a fault. I honestly have no clue.
For once, this is a tense scene. The riders out there are closing in, they appear to be a threat. They're not some monsters so easily killed with fire magic nor are they birds kept at bay with a scarecrow. For a moment I was genuinely worried about the kids' fates.
Perrin decides to surrender to the Children of the Light. I'm glad he did that instead of killing Egwene to save her from them. This also goes to show you just how much of a coward Perrin truly is. When he first met Elyas he spilled his guts about everything after getting a harsh stare. Here? He was given an ultimatum and he gives up instantly. As much as he'd like to be a Great Leader like in the Stories, he's a coward; a self-loathing downcountry nobody blacksmith.
Unfortunately, the surrendering goes to shit when a wolf named Hopper jumped onto one of the Whitecloak horsemen and ripped his throat out. As far as I know, this is the first time a human being was killed on screen. Other than the nameless villagers killed off screen back during the Trolloc attack on Emond's Field there haven't been any human deaths (we don't know whether or not Min and Master Fitch died Baerlon, we know that Padan Fain didn't die in Emond's Field, and Thom probably somehow survived Whitebridge). Even if the Trolloc deaths were nothing for Perrin or Egwene to feel emotional about, this has to mean something to them. I mean, seeing a wild animal rip the throat out of a person, a man with a family, dreams, an entire life... that has to affect them. Right?
There is a cut to some time later. Perrin wakes up with a bump on his head. Egwene is all like, "I'm so glad you made it Perrin!" What does he do? If you guessed "he ignores her" then you get a five points. He ignores her. In fact, it is only after he's surveyed the room, noticed the guy looking through his stuff, and after he figured out he was tied up, only after all that did he even look at Egwene.
Her first thought: "Is Perrin okay?"
His first thought: "Who is that guy over there?"
His second thought: "He's got my stuff."
His third thought: "I'm going to get my stuff back from that guy"
His fourth thought: "I'm tied up."
His fifth thought: "Where's Egwene?"
Dude has his priorities.
It is funny that Perrin compares the guy who is looking down at them, tied up like animals, to Bran al'Vere. What would this Child of the Light have in common with a fat innkeeper? They were both bosses, that's what. They were both kings of their little kingdoms. This Child rules this tent the same way al'Vere ruled Emond's Field: with an iron fist. It makes me wonder how many people al'Vere has had tied up in the basement of the Winespring Inn.
Anyway, a dude walks into the tent to interrupt this tense little scene. He is called Child Byar. Now, I adore this name. First, I don't know if Child is his title (as in "Child of the Light") or his first name. I absolutely love it as a first name, though. It has a ring, you know? The second part, "Byar", sounds like "Bayer" in my mind. Like the pharmaceutical company that makes aspirin. So I have in my mind "Bayer aspirin for children" when I read "Child Byar." Umm, so yeah. Let's get on with it.
The guy in charge, Lord Captain, tells Bayer Aspirin to stand at ease. And he does. He widens his stance into the correct, US Army "at ease" position. It still looks like a rigid military standing position because it is "at ease" not "stand however the hell you want." So I chuckled a bit when Perrin saw nothing "at ease" about the way Child Byar started standing.
Child Byar gives his report on the attack. For some reason, he gives the report right in front of the two prisoners. One the one hand, this is really stupid. On the other hand, how else would Perrin and Egwene know what the Children of the Light know? The Lord Captain hears the report and says that the enemy wasn't all that numerous (since the Captain was there, too). Lord Captain tells Child that with some more field experience he would be better able to assess battle conditions. Instead of taking the criticism and learning from his error like any good officer, Byar takes it as an insult. Thus, Byar is going to be a villain while Lord Captain will be something more of an honorable opponent.
Child Byar gives Perrin's axe an inspection and says that it is high quality work. If Perrin's dad turns out to be some axe ninja like Tam I'll be pissed. But, again, it's another example of our main characters having to have the best. Best sword. Best axe. No wonder Mat's angry: his "best dagger" turns out to be cursed!
Lord Captain gets a name, now. Geofram Bornhald (Geo Frame Born Hald). Sounds like that Child of the Light back in Baerlon that Mat splashed with mud. Anyway, he turns to ask the prisoners some questions. They get short with him so Child Byar hits them in the head with Perrin's axe handle. Well, he hits Perrin but misses Egwene because I don't think women are legally allowed to be hit in this novel. I may be wrong but I don't remember any woman getting wounded in the 450 pages I've read so far. I think the worst that has happened was that Moiraine got tired that one time.
Lord Captain (I like typing that more than "Geofram Bornhald") says that wolves are creatures of the Dark One. Well, he makes a good point. I mean, look at the Trollocs. Some of them have wolfish features, no? Muzzles and fur and fangs. And the Dark One does employ ravens in his bestiary of evil. Why not wolves? It isn't as if wolves are nice to humans and our sheep and our lone travelers at night. Even if they aren't technically on Team Evil they are still not man's best friend, you know?
Ha, Egwene finally speaks up and says that a Warder told them that wolves hate Trollocs and that Trollocs are afraid of wolves. Afraid of wolves, water, Shadar Logoth, the Aiel Waste, and steddings. The list keeps getting longer. Even better, it's around this time in the book that Lord Captain says the same thing I just did about Trollocs having the same features as wolves. This chapter is so much better than the previous. Then again, getting spat in the face would be better than the last chapter.
On the next page the Lord Captain, probably the smartest character in the book so far and now one of my favorites, gives a long and damning list of reasons why Perrin and Egwene are probably Darkfriends. He has evidence, he explains himself, and he reaches a reasonable conclusion. He's done more than Moiraine has ever done in this book. And Perrin, true to form, spills his guts. Sure he lies a bit but the Lord Captain sees through it.
Still, he doesn't have time to dick around with prisoners. He gives them their things, minus their weapons (did Egwene even have a weapon other than he sling?), and says that he'll take them back to Amador where they'll be someone else's problem (Egwene will go to the Questioners while Perrin will be executed for murdering two Children of the Light). This sounds like every soldier I have ever known. If there is a problem you kick up the chain of command.
I understand that I'm not supposed to like the Children of the Light. The story is written to make them a villain. And in the real world I don't care for religious militarism at all. But here, I can see their point of view. They're trying to fight the Dark One. The stories and rumors about them are harsh. But stories aren't always true. Stories about the Tinkers are turning out to be false, right? Stories about the Aes Sedai being world-ending witches are turning out to not be true (I hope so; I don't want Nynaeve and Egwene being bad guys). So why can't the stories of the Children of the Light be false?
Look at what we've seen of them so far. In Baerlon they walked down the street, people avoided them (based upon legends of who they were, not what they were doing) until Mat sprayed them. Later, they tried to stop Moiraine and the rest from leaving the city. And the fellowship was technically breaking Baerlon's laws by opening the gate after dark and bribing gatekeepers. The Children might very well have been within their charter as a paramilitary police force trying to stop them. Then there is this moment in the stedding.
I have no idea why they were there except to get water. But they ended up killing some wolves around the watering hole. How is that a crime in any kingdom on the Wheel of Time world? They do that in the Two Rivers! In the very first chapter of this book Rand was holding a bow ready just in case he had to kill a wolf! Anyway, they find two kids in the woods only to have one of them leap out and murder two of their riders. The Whitecloaks have done nothing in this entire book except defend themselves and uphold the law. The "heroes" are bribing officials and murdering police officers. What is the world coming to?
Play for Your Supper
We're back to a chapter about Rand. He's trying to avoid being noticed walking east along the road from Whitebridge to Caemlyn. He's wearing a scarf (it must still be cold out there) that someone gave to him. Hiding just off the road as eight or so armed riders go back, Rand has a flashback of sorts.
The flashback begins with actual traffic on the road out of Whitebridge a few days ago. Normally the roads in this universe are vacant and deserted but this time there's people. This book forces me to enjoy little things like that.
Then not much happens for a few pages. What the hell? Usually there is either something interesting or something that pisses me off but this is just straight nothing. Rand walks by a house that reminds him of home but Mat pulls him along, tells him that they need to keep moving to Caemlyn. They eventually find a spot just off the road to sleep that night.
Now, I know what this is like. There was this time I was in Madrid a few years ago and got the bright idea in my head to go see the Running of the Bulls. I thought, psht, we wouldn't have to worry about finding a hotel or anything. Wrong. Every hotel in that whole damn city was full. We spent the first night, a cold summer night in the city of Pamplona, on a bench in some city square. I didn't get any sleep and I froze my ass off (Who would have thought Pamplona would be cold? It's in the middle of Spain!). Luckily, the third day there we made friends with some locals and crashed at their place. So I know in my heart of hearts what it feels like to be far from home, sleeping outside, worried that a stray bull will trample you in your sleep.
The days go by in this flashback (I guess this is like that chapter where Nynaeve saw the White Bridge but then we went back in time to cover her trip down the Arinelle) and Rand mentions selling Mat's cursed dagger for grocery money. Mat asks why they can't see Rand's sword. That's a good question.
See, Mat wants them to starve to death because he's cursed. He is magically compelled to keep that dagger. I've played an RPG or two so I know what a cursed sword is. But Rand? Rand wants them to starve to death because he can't bring himself to give up his dad's old sword. Mat is killing them because of a curse. Rand is killing them because of sentiment. Ugh.
Rand's brilliant comeback is that he couldn't sell the sword if he wanted to. What farmer would want a sword (besides his own father, that is)? But that ruby-encrusted dagger? Why, don't you know that farmers love buying ruby-encrusted daggers? Ha, and I wonder how Rand would feel if they did sell the dagger and some poor farmer becomes ensorceled by Shadar Nogoth magic? Would he go back to save the farmer or leave him to his fate the way he left Master Fitch to his?
But they both see that they can't sell the thing and they continue on their way, situation unchanged. The whole exchange? Pointless to the plot. It could have been cut and nothing would have been lost. I'm left wondering why they haven't sold Thom's gleeman cloak and instruments.
Our heroes are reduced to stealing eggs and ninja-milking cows. They end up getting chased by dogs. Up a tree. This is supposed to be funny, but come on. Kill the dogs! Or at least hit them with a stick or something. You guys aren't known for being members of PETA. Remember the badger and the flour-covered dogs and the throwing rocks at ravens? You're farm boys on a quest to flee from the Dark One. Stop getting run up trees and move along.
The next paragraph after the one where they got chased by dogs tells how Rand preferred to just walk up to houses but that, given the hard times, most households were wary of visitors. "Hard times." Yeah, times can be hard when two teenage boys from out of town come in and steal your neighbor's chicken eggs!
However, some people would give Rand and Mat some work in exchange for a warm, dry spot to sleep. This is the first time since they unloaded that apple brandy from Tam's cart that these boys have done any real work. They've practiced their sword on the road up from Taren Ferry, they went to the spa in Baerlon, and they played the flute on a lazy boat ride down the Arinelle. But they haven't worked, really worked, in weeks. I thought they were getting soft.
Anyway, they work here and there on the road east. At one point we're given some much needed fan service as Mat and Rad, sweaty and stripped down to just their pants, muck out a stable. Hmm. Maybe shoveling horse shit isn't all that sexy, but still. We've got to work with what we've got.
After some mishaps and some weird double flashbacks or something (the narrative jumps back and forth so that it isn't told in chronological order, with some event happening before the events mentioned in previous paragraphs; it isn't hard to follow but its different than the rest of the book) they come upon the Grimwell homestead. There are a lot of kids and goodwife Grimwell reminds them of Mistress al'Vere. So she's either super nice (sort of like Ila in the Tinker camp) or she's a mafia wife. Either way is cool. I wish we'd break out of this "women can only be wives or witches" thing, though.
Oh, and speak of breaking of the witch-or-wife thing: we're introduced to Else Grimwell (and that's how I pronounce it: "[or] Else"). Else is a villain. How do I know this? Within four lines of her introduction she's coming on to Rand. So she's a Whore, not a Madonna. In fiction, I've noticed, you can't be unmarried and seek sex. If you do then you're evil. If you're a man then you might get some slack but not a woman. If a woman is interested in the hero then she's got to blush, act coy, get asked out by him, date for a while, get married, and then start to think about sex. Get any of that out of order (or just skip to the end like a person in the real world) then you're evil. Else is a bad guy.
Rand, certainly suffering from the effects of starvation, seems to think that Perrin would be good in this situation. Perrin would either violently shove this woman into a corner, slap her around, and then demand that she act like a proper lady (or else she'll get the belt!) or he'd smile like an idiot and pretend to be her best friend all the while hating her for being so confusing to him.
Mat has not only learned to juggle in the two weeks on the Spray but he learned to juggle well. To do tricks even. The children at the Grimwell household seem to enjoy that. And, hey, even I like a good juggle. But, really, two weeks to learn to juggle that well? Not likely.
Eventually Rand pulls out Thom's flute and starts playing it. He, too, managed to learn to play well after two weeks of training (with a trainer who was gave half of his attention to Mat). It makes me wonder, though. Why didn't they sell Thom's flute if they were so hard up for cash? Even Mat's colored balls might have been worth a meal or two.
I actually laughed at this next part: after finishing a song, Else makes some dreamy compliment about Rand's playing. This immediately caused her mother to stop knitting and look down at Else. Ha! It was one of those record scratch moments, you know? Like, "what did my daughter just say?" It was funny. Too bad the whole "men smoke tabac while women knit" thing is going on. Tinkers do it and these Andor folks do it. I guess we all really are alike, aren't we? Gag.
The mother, though, she is smart. She manages to reward the Two Rivers Boys and keep her daughter's slutty hands to herself by letting the boys sleep together in Else's room and have the horny daughter sleep with her. Why Else has her own room is beyond me. With nine kids in one house you'd think they all share two rooms (or even one room for the kids and one for the parents). But, hey, whatever. I like Mistress Grimwell.
Anyway, the night passes without incident (no Rand-on-Else action nor any Mat-on-Rand, either) and the boys are off to the next town. Master Grimwell gets it into the boys' heads that they could trade their flute music for food at the inn. So, hmm, what are the boys to do? Backbreaking manual labor or become rock stars? That's a toughie.
They make it to the inn and meet the innkeepr. He's described as "plump." Will we ever see a slender innkeeper? Or a female one? Anyway, he says that the boys are fantastic and will let them play. This repeats for the next few days as they go from town to town, inn to inn, playing for their supper.
The chapter ends on a spooky note. Something's going to happen in the village of Four Kings. It's going to be important, too, since "Four Kings" is both in the title of the next chapter and the name "Four Kings" is on the map. I'm looking forward to what happens and I'm glad the chapters are getting more fun to read (I think it's the lack of Perrin and wolves).
Four Kings in Shadow
Okay, we are 467 pages into this beast. I can't tell what the icon at the beginning of this chapter is. I looks like a tear drop spinning. Or a bird's talon. Or half of a yin yang symbol without a dot. None of these things really remind me of any of the characters. But who cares?! Let's get started.
The first paragraph is pretty dull. It's a description of the local trade network. Mines from Baerlon supply Caemlyn via the Caemlyn Road and goods are sent up from Lugard in the south. Everything has to pass through Four Kings. Boring. Not only that, but how does Rand know this? Is this third person perspective supposed to be limited to Rand's POV or is it some sort of god-like narrator? A narrator that can describe the economics of an entire region when all I care about is if Rand and Mat have enough to eat right now. I could have started at the second paragraph and not have missed anything.
Anyway, since Four Kings isn't like small town South Carolina it is a bad town. No women gossip over their fences while doing laundry, you see, and children play in dirt roads instead of a village green. It's like an urban ghetto where kids play on god-forsaken basketball courts instead of baseball diamonds (the way good boys are supposed to). Anyway, it's enough to know that Rand and Mat are in a shithole.
Mat, somehow still in possession of his bow (could he not stand to sell it for some food? Or maybe hunt with it?), doesn't want to sleep in a gutter when it looks like rain is coming so he convinces Rand to perform in one of the inns for some lodging. Thus anything bad that happens here is Mat's fault (we can't have Rand making any unwise decisions, not our Main Character!).
It also occurs to me that Rand isn't well traveled. How many times in his life has he seen someone not from Two Rivers play music? Gleeman are rare in Emond's Field so maybe he's seen a dozen different out-of-town musicians. In Baerlon he only saw Thom play. And on the Spray he only saw Thom play. But here in Four Kings he's walked into an inn with real performers. Probably the first non-Thom, non-Two Rivers players he's seen in years. What new sounds must they be making? What new techniques, new tricks with their instruments? Rand doesn't care because he just leaves any inn with a musician already in there. He isn't in the least bit concerned with perfecting his craft, no. He just wants paid.
And I can understand that. The boys are hungry. But maybe the book could acknowledge the fact that he's hearing this music for the first time. All Rand seems to notice is that these "civilized" people are a little too rough and rowdy for his tastes.
Anyway, Rand doesn't seem moved by the different music. He doesn't even seem to notice. I guess he's that hungry. He moves on until the fourth inn, The Dancing Cartman (I immediately think of Eric from South Park doing his German dance, maybe painted on a wooden sign swinging above the inn door.). Nobody on stage there! Even better: for the first time in the entire book we have an innkeeper, Hake, that isn't fat. He's described as "bony." The first barmaid we see gives a "plump smile," but I say that doesn't count.
But the barmaid pisses off Hake so he pimp slaps her. Nice. The first time in this entire book that a woman actually receives an injury (Seriously, has Egwene or Nynaeve or Moiraine ever been touched by a bad guy?) and it's because of workplace violence, because of boss-on-underling violence, and gendered violence (a slap is used against/by women, a punch is used against/by men). Fucking fantastic.
Rand and Mat, of course, just stand there and watch this assault like a pair of dumb shits. Why should they give a flip about it, huh? That woman sprawled out on the dirty floor there, covered in their beer, a hand-sized red splotch spread across her face? Yeah, eff' her. The Two Rivers Boys came here to play music not to be heroes. Heroes? Them? Ha!
How are they in any way considered heroes? They've done nothing but run away this entire novel. They ran away from Emond's Field. They ran away from Baerlon. They ran away from Shadar Logoth. They ran away from Whitebridge. They'll run away from Four Kings, no doubt. There isn't a single town in which they haven't burned something down and ran away. Emond's Field burned down. The Taren Ferry ferry sank. The Stag and Lion burned down. Half of the Whitebridge town square inexplicably burned down. If I were to place a bet I'd say the Dancing Cartman will suffer some property damage. They might even have rename the town Three Kings after what the Two Rivers Boys are going to do here.
This book has been about running away from one dangerous town after another. And get this: their goal? To get to Tar Valon to hide from danger. That's the whole plot of this book. Hide from danger. Run from danger. Just look at this scene in the Dancing Cartman. Hake beats a woman to the ground right in front of Rand and Mat and they do nothing about it. No, wait, they agree to work for the monster! They're not trying to stop violence or fight evil or help the helpless. That is not what this book is about. It's about avoiding danger. It's about letting evil happen as long as evil isn't directed towards them. Some heroes.
Sure, one can argue that the baddies are too strong to fight right now. But that's Robert Jordan's fault. He designed a world where the baddies are so powerful that the good guys can only run away. In that argument, I'm upset with Jordan for creating the world like this instead of the main characters for acting like this. But that's even worse, I think.
Anyway, Rand and Mat get up on stage and start their routine. Rand tries to hide his bird-marked sword because it attracts unwanted attention. These people don't believe in Trollocs but they believe that anybody with a bird sword is dangerous. This is a world without counterfeiters. Seriously, I wouldn't be able to tell an aluminum toy sword from a centuries-old masterwork katana from across a smoke-filled bar so I wouldn't assume the majority of half-drunk roughnecks in that room could, either. But Rand is still worried. So there you go.
Somehow word spread that there was a juggler and flautist were performing at the Dancing Cartman so a crowd begins to show up. How does word spread? There aren't any cellphones or Twitter accounts so that means somebody, so filled with joy at Mat's tossed balls, ran out of the inn and shouted, "Juggler!" Soon everyone within earshot got a hard on for a juggling act and stopped by. I have a suspicion that the crowded room had more to do with the coming rain storm than anything the Two Rivers Boys were doing.
As the "heroes" continue their performance a number of fights and sexual assaults occur in the crowd. The bouncers throw the brawlers out into the rain while Hake screams at the felt up barmaids for letting his customers grab them. There are tears and blood on more than once occasion. And the band played on.
Trying not to notice all of that dirty violence against women, Rand notices a guy in the crowd that's not like the others. Gee, where have I seen this before? Oh, yeah, in Baerlon! Back then it was a Whitecloak spy with a scar across his face who sat in the back of the inn, staring at Rand, while everyone else was having a good time. Now who is this guy sitting in the back of the inn, staring at Rand, while everyone else was having a good time? Zeus, plot points repeating in the same book? I can already see that this book series is going to be repetitive.
Anyway, this guy is the worst spy in the world. He dresses differently than everyone, sits apart from everyone, orders wine but doesn't drink it. Seriously, its as if he is trying to be noticed. A true spy would be one of those burly men in the crowd screaming for Rand to play, "Freebird!"
Yada, yada, yada, Rand and Mat go get something to eat a few hours into their set and in the kitchen they hear the women gossiping about the strange rich man out front. That's what women do, you know, talk about men. So based upon overheard gossip (that's solid intel, right there) Rand goes outside into the pouring rain to check out the guy's BMW. And wouldn't you know, the vanity plate says Howal Gode (Howl Goad). Why not just call him Professor Evil?
Realizing that this information means absolutely nothing to him, Rand tries to go back inside only to be stopped by one of the bouncers. The big man gets in a good joke that made me giggle but allows Rand to go in and keep playing the flute. You'd think hours of a flute solo would get boring but this isn't the most sophisticated of crowds.
Based on rumor and the carriage outside, Rand and Mat figure out that Howal Gode is a Darkfriend. Remember the Lord Captain's long list of reasons Perrin was a Darkfriend? His case was pretty solid. Rand's evidence is flimsy, at best. But guess who is right and who is wrong?
Two pages of playing, of being trapped in the inn, and of getting into a staring contest with Howal Gode go by. It's a little tense, I'll admit, but because I don't really like the way the Two Rivers Boys are acting and because of the cartoony way Hake is being evil... because of all that I'm just not too worried. Rand might get captured (like Perrin and the Whitecloaks) but he'll get away. The Two Rivers Boys aren't going to die. They won't even get hurt. Mat's not going to lose that knife (what a stupid way to end that plotline). Rand is not going to lose his father's sword (I bet he'll use it at the very end to kill Ba'alzamon). They probably won't even lose Thom's instruments.
Hell, a monstrous Fade caught Rand by surprise in Baerlon and all that happened was that Rand spilled his milk. Here there are no Fades, no Trollocs. Rand has his sword and his battle buddy next to him. Rand sees all of his human opponents and has time to plan. If anything, they are even less of a threat to him than the milk-spilling Fade.
Anyway, even ignoring all of that, though, I still know they're going to get out uninjured and with all their stuff. How do I know? This is a flashback! We know that some days from now Rand and Mat are standing next to the road to Caemlyn, scarves around their necks, avoiding an oncoming group of horsemen.
Moving on. The evening ends, Gode goes upstairs to his room, the common room clears, and the boys are left in a storeroom to sleep. They don't want to sleep, though. They want to run away into the storm. After trying to pull down the iron bars blocking the window they hear Gode outside. He says that he's put Master Hake and the bodyguards to sleep so they won't bother Rand.
First, if Gode is evil then why not kill Hake? He put them to sleep! Talk about nonviolence. (I'm beginning to think that the people killed in Emond's Field during the Trolloc attack weren't killed by the monsters but rather by Moiraine's crazy lightning storm magic; after all, none of the Dark One's forces have killed anything since then, what with their use of non-lethal weapons and all.) And now Gode is standing outside Rand's door asking him to talk.
The chapter ends in some sort of bullshit. Trapped in a closet with no way out, evil Darkfriends outside, Rand is about to meet his end (or he is about to go talk to the Dark One; no one is killing anyone here). But a deus ex machina comes in and saves the day. Again. Frikkin' lighting comes in and not only blows a hole in the wall big enough for the boys to go through but it also kills Gode and his minions (the other bodies weren't identified but they could have easily been some of the barmaids sleeping in a room across the hall who came outside to see what all the noise was).
This is so stupid on it surface that there has to be something else beyond random chance causing it. The boom on the Spray? Yeah, that could have been luck. But this? Something or someone is looking out for Rand. Is there an Aes Sedai out there casting storm magic? Has Moiraine decided to not go into the wilderness but rather come to Four Kings (this wouldn't explain the boom thing; maybe that really was just luck.). How did Rand escape? I dunno. A wizard did it.