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—Bartim the innkeeper
|<<< Whitebridge >>>|
|Setting: The town of Whitebridge|
- Point of view: Rand al'Thor
Mat is practicing the flute, and doing badly. He stops and there is a noticeable appreciation among his listeners for his so doing. Thom and Mat banter about the boy's playing. Rand joins in with a comment about how unnecessary Tom's training is, since they're just doing this as part of a disguise. Thom asks Rand what they will do if they never meet back up with Moiraine and the rest, mentioning that they may be dead. Rand insists that they are alive. He looks to Mat for support and then chastises his friend when he does not give it. Indeed, Mat asks morosely, "what if they are dead?" Just then a sailor cries out that Whitebridge is ahead.
Mat's statement shocks Rand and he debates internally his reaction to Mat's pessimism while outwardly he is staring at Mat. Abruptly they end the quiet confrontation, both moving to the railing to observe their approach to the city, though Mat is acting very strange, for Mat. The sailors prepare the boat for arrival, Captain Domon supervising. Rand looks for the White Bridge, which gives the town its name. He sees it and marvels at how it looks, which is all white, and looking like it was carved from one piece. It dwarfs the busy town it marks.
Rand observes that it looks like glass. Captain Domon says that it is not, because it is never slick, even when it rains, and no chisel driven by the strongest arm can mar it. Thom remarks that it is a remnant from the Age of Legends. Captain Domon agrees grudgingly that it may be Aes Sedai work, and returns to his supervising.
After marveling some more about the bridge, Rand observes to Thom that they made it to Whitebridge and without a mutiny, which earns him a dirty look from some of the crew.
The Spray docks. Tall, black-lacquered carriages appear by the ship ready to do business. Their well-dressed passengers board as soon as the gangplank is lowered, along with servants carrying moneyboxes. They have smiles painted on their face, but are momentarily distressed while Captain Domon orders Floren Gelb off the ship. Gelb looks hatefully at Rand then for support from the crew, which is not forthcoming, then rushes down to get his things followed by two to watch that he does not get into mischief.
Thom tells them to gather their things and while doing so, Rand wonders if they will ever see home again. Gelb departs, though he emanates hatred as he does so. Meanwhile, on the dock, quite a crowd has gathered, but no familiar faces are among them. Rand speculates that maybe they just didn't come down to the dock. Thom agrees that it is possible, then warns both of them to keep an eye out for Gelb because he may cause trouble. He says that he wants to touch down in Whitebridge so lightly that no one knows they were there five minutes after they are gone.
Captain Domon intercepts them at the head of the gangplank and tries to talk them into staying, but Thom graciously refuses, ultimately saying that they could not afford Domon's fare. Captain Domon returns his fare and provides additional money to boot, saying that repairs were not as bad as expected and offered again as much if they stayed aboard, using more enticing words. Rand speaks up, simply saying that they're meeting friends here in Whitebridge and going on to Caemlyn. Thom says that they might consider it if their friends aren't here in Whitebridge.
Captain Domon lets them go but not before admitting that maybe Trollocs really were after them. Mat takes umbrage at the implication that maybe they weren't. Domon remains non-committal, and once again offers twice as much in the current purse if Thom will return before they leave on the morrow at first light.
Thom hesitates, but Rand does not, heading down to the shore, the gleeman following. The crowd notices Thom's coat and Rand muses "so much for not being noticed." Even the carriage drivers notice Thom, but say nothing. Rand chooses a direction randomly and heads forward.
He mentions that they should look for Moiraine right away, and that Thom should have changed his cloak. Thom stops dead and states that they can ask an innkeeper. Then he indicates—without explicitly saying so—that they may have to make a decision, by stating, "We have to talk, we three." He takes the lead, stepping quickly so that Rand and Mat have to hurry to keep up.
As they move through the town Rand compares it to Baerlon. He also notes that people are anticipating the arrival of warmer weather and are beginning to worry that it may not come. Their goods are beginning to show that pessimism. Thom leads them to the Wayfarer's Rest, an inn situated on the town square.
Thom orders spiced wine from the balding, fat innkeeper, and then asks for a private room. The common room is divided by a half-wall and the innkeeper says that the other side of the wall is the best he can do. Then he notices that Thom is a gleeman and asks him if he is staying because he sure could use a gleeman. Thom answers noncommittally, and repeats his request for privacy. Thom sets them in the center of the half-room to ensure they know when someone is listening, and then grumbles about the innkeeper's lack of honesty toward a gleeman. Rand notes the place is filthy and reminds Thom that they are there only for information.
Mat demands to know why Thom chose this inn. Thom replies that the road leads to Caemlyn straight from the bridge through this square. If no one there has word of them, then it doesn't exist. The innkeeper brings their drinks and promises that if Thom sticks around he won't have to pay for his drinks. Thom promises to think on it and then asks for news.
The innkeeper introduces himself as Bartim and starts in on how his feet hurt. Bartim announces that Logain, the false Dragon, had been captured near Lugard. Refugees pack the roads to the south, Bartim noting dryly that none of them supported Logain. He mentions that Aes Sedai were involved in taking Logain, and that they are taking him to Tar Valon. He spits on the floor both times at the mention of the hated Tar Valon witches. He grouses for a bit about Aes Sedai and then notes that they are taking Logain through every village on their way to Caemlyn, showing him off so that all will know that he had been taken and the world was safe again. He admits to a desire to go to Caemlyn and see him, mentioning Queen Morgase respectfully. He notes that Logain can do things and by this we know he means that Logain can channel and compares Logain to the last false Dragon who was just a normal man.
Rand listens with great interest, because he really does find it fascinating. Thom mentions that he would like to see it, because it would be worth a story that would be told for a thousand years. He asks which way the troupe went, and Bartim replies, vaguely, "north..."
Bartim then announces that just the other day an Illianer was in his inn announcing a new Hunt of the Horn. After questioning from Thom, Bartim disparages the hunt and the man who announced it, who also announced that Tarmon Gai'don was on its way. He pauses and then speaks words that indicate he was at least considering it.
Thom recites a passage about the Horn of Valere that seems to indicate it is meant to be sounded to call back the dead. Bartim gets excited and says Thom has the right story and if he tells that one in his inn, he'll have people hanging off of the rafters.
Because Thom seems distracted, Rand asks Bartim if he has seen any strangers from the west. Bartim admits to seeing some and asks for a description. Thom takes control of the conversation again, saying that it was two men and three women and giving thumbnail verbal sketches of the missing.
Bartim stands and withdraws his offer of letting Thom perform and advises the party to leave Whitebridge. Thom fishes for a reason for the change in the innkeeper's attitude. Bartim reports that a week ago a weird, crazy man  asked the same set of questions, alarming everyone in the process, before taking off to Caemlyn. The three do not recognized the person described. Rand asks if Bartim is sure the descriptions match, and Bartim says he is fairly sure about the fighting man and woman in silk, but that the man wasn't that interested in those two; he really wanted to find three country lads, and then he eyes Rand and Mat.
Rand wonders if the crazy man could be a Darkfriend and wonders if Ba'alzamon is a crazy man. Bartim continues by saying that it was the other one, who came the next day. He describes him as wearing black and keeping his head covered with a hood, but when he speaks it feels like an icicle shoved into your spine. This creepy man keeps coming back and asking the same questions. No one sees him arrive, and the gatekeepers have never seen him pass through the gates, coming or going. He's making everyone paranoid.
The three work very hard not to let on that they recognize a description of a Myrddraal. Thom muses out loud that he would remember someone like that. Bartim agrees and says that the second guy wants the same group as the first guy, as well as a girl and a white-haired gleeman. Thom protests that its not him. Bartim acknowledges Thom but tells him what he told the Myrddraal, he doesn't know anyone by those descriptions, then he slaps Thom's money back down on the table and bids them drink up and leave.
Mat breaks the silence by acknowledging what the three were thinking—Bartim's visitor was a fade. Thom recommends hopping back onto the Spray and heading toward Illian since the hunt for them will center on the road to Caemlyn.
Rand vetoes that and reminds him that they agreed either to wait in Whitebridge for Moiraine or to head on to Caemlyn. Thom gets angry and tries to reason, if angrily, with Rand, but Rand keeps saying no. Thom continues to attempt to persuade Rand and Rand gets stubborn. He thinks of his dreams and then says that he has to get to Tar Valon either alone or with his help. Thom blurts out that dreams can't hurt him, and Rand remains silent. Thom turns to Mat and asks for his support. But Mat surprises him by telling him to go back to the boat if he wants to. Thom angrily answers him with indisputable points about his ignorance regarding Myrddraal and Aes Sedai and then demands Mat to tell him to go if they aren't true. Mat tells him to go while clutching his ruby dagger.
Raucous laughter interrupts the conversation. Someone is trying to convince two others that he encountered Trollocs and his listeners aren't buying it. Rand carefully checks out the conversation and finds out that it is Floran Gelb talking with two men who were in the tavern when they arrived. They are laughing but listening, as is Bartim.
He informs Mat and Thom while the conversation continues in the other room with one man dismissing Trollocs as long since vanquished. Gelb protests that the story is true and that the three claimed to be chased by the Trollocs, but he knew better and names them and Captain Domon as Darkfriends.
Rand wonders how long before Gelb describes Thom, Mat, and himself. What if he has already? Mat opines that the boat sounds good, but Thom says "not anymore." He splits the money into three piles and gives the boys a share and states that their only choice is to run because the halfman will soon hear the story and that makes the Spray a target. Rand inspects his pile and notes that Moiraine's coin is not in the original cache and he wishes that it had been. Thom explains that it's just in case they get separated.
Rand protests that he thought Thom was going to stay with him, and Thom insists that he is going to stay with them, and that this is just in case. He then tweaks Mat by saying "I hope you no longer mind me staying with you," to which Mat replies that for some reason he's always on edge these days and then asks what they are going to do.
The laughter on the other side of the wall gets louder. Rand worries that Bartim will soon put it all together.
They exit from the inn through a window into an alley. Thom slows them down until they can check things out. Mat demands to know why Thom is helping them. Thom tells them that he had a nephew named Owyn who got into trouble with the Aes Sedai and he wasn't around to help him because he was too busy with...other things. Two years later Owyn died and Thom blames it on the Aes Sedai. There are tears in Thom's eyes when he says, "If I can keep you two free from Tar Valon then maybe I can stop thinking about Owyn." He then goes to scout out the end of the alley. He has left his cased instruments on a bedroll with Mat and Rand.
Mat observes that Thom will not leave his instruments, and asks Rand if he believes Thom's story. Rand suddenly displays his worry about Mat, claiming that he is not himself. Mat snaps that he doesn't like being hunted like a rabbit, then apologizes and reveals a growing paranoia that is gripping him, and wonders that Rand doesn't share it. Rand barks a short laugh and says that he is too scared to be nervous.
Mat asks what Rand thinks the Aes Sedai did to Owyn. Rand says he doesn't know but admits to himself that there's only one kind of trouble for a man to get into with Aes Sedai, but both agree that they are not having that kind of trouble.
They nervously wait for Thom to return. A tall man with his hood pulled up stumbles into the alley alarming both until they can hardly stand it, but they finally determine that it is only Thom. Thom makes light of it suggesting that if he had them fooled, then it ought to be good enough for the gates.
Thom now wears a brown cloak, and he puts all his belongings into it. The boys do not quickly recover from his startling appearance, and Thom snaps at them. He then instructs them to exit the alley one at a time, keeping each in sight. Rand exits the alley nervously, and suddenly sees a Myrddraal across the square and it is heading toward them. Rand is frozen in place. Thom reminds them not to look in his face. Rand demands that they act but he cannot move. Mat draws the ruby dagger, his face a rictus of fear. Thom mutters something but all Rand can catch is the name Owyn. He then says out loud that he doesn't know why he let the boys get him into this. Thom thrusts his instruments into Rand's hands and orders the boys to run when he says so, and tells them not to stop until they get to the Queen's Blessing, an inn in Caemlyn. Rand protests that he doesn't understand, but Thom just commands him to run. As the boys retreat, Thom heads toward the Myrddraal, flourishing knives. Rand is startled but so is the Fade, who stops and begins to draw his black blade. Thom crashes into him before he can finish drawing it. Thom shouts one more time for the boys to run. An eye-searing blue flash fills the square and Thom starts screaming, but one last time shouts for Rand and Mat to run. Rand finally obeys. Mass panic ensues and envelops the boys as the whole town tries to flee.
As Rand approaches the gates he remembers the remarks Thom had made about his height and stoops a little, but he needn't worry. The mass panic has the gatetenders completely frozen. They look at Rand and Mat, but there are so many fleeing that they do nothing.
Rand thinks despairingly of Thom as he passes through the gates. Finally, having run himself out, Rand falls to his knees in the dust. Mat urges him to get up, but Rand just repeats Thom's name. Mat insists that the gleeman must be dead. Rand reminds Mat that he thinks Moiraine and Egwene and the rest are dead, but if that were so, why would the fades still be searching for them? Mat admits that they may be alive, but he still encourages Rand to get up, lest they earn the same fate as Thom. Rand acknowledges the truth of that and, half expecting, hoping that Thom would come strolling down the road from Whitebridge, stands. He slings Thom's bundle onto his back. "Let's go" he orders and starts, Mat joining in shortly. The road is empty and Rand sometimes looks back, but the road remains empty.
- Moiraine Damodred
- Tam al'Thor
- Egwene al'Vere
- Lan Mandragoran
- Bran al'Vere
- Morgase Trakand
- Padan Fain (as weasely fellow)
- Owyn Merrilin
- Tar Valon
- Emond's Field
- Taren Ferry
- Sea of Storms
- Two Rivers
- Mountains of Mist
- Aryth Ocean
- Queen's Blessing
Teach him how you will, a pig will never play the flute. -Saying known by Thom Merrilin)