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The Eye of the World/Chapter 34

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"If you ask me, one thing the Guards could do to make sure the roads are safe would be clap that friend of yours in irons. Sneaking around in the dark, afraid to let anyone get a good look at him. Can't tell me he's not up to no good."
   — Almen Bunt

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Setting: Carysford, on the road to Caemlyn

SummaryEdit

Point of view: Rand al'Thor

It is dark when they reach Carysford, and has taken longer than Rand had thought as he mentally takes stock of the time since the events in Four Kings. Outwardly this town looks peaceful, but Rand wonders what is underneath; he has learned not to trust appearances and worries about the presence of Darkfriends. They make their way through the town, hugging the shadows and avoiding the townfolk. The bridge they use to cross the River Cary is old and weathered, though it only has to cross a river that is thirty paces wide. After they use it, Rand fears a challenge from behind for a long time.

He notes that the countryside is filling up, looking more settled and tame, devoid of Darkfriends. Abruptly, Mat sits down in the middle of the road and refuses to budge until he knows where they are going, and begs Rand to feed him. Rand decides to sleep in some haystacks. Mat complains lightly about where they have to sleep, but both burrow into the hay for the night. Rand muses over the number of haystacks he has slept in since Whitebridge.

Mat asks Rand if they are going to make it. Rand replies that it's a long way to Tar Valon, and Mat corrects him to say he means Caemlyn. Rand reassures him that they should be in Caemlyn in two days, according to Master Kinch. Mat qualifies that with the possibility that there are one hundred Darkfriends between here and there, and then shows that he is quickly sinking into despair when he opines that he and Rand are the only two left of the original party that left Emond's Field. Out loud Rand tells Mat to go to sleep. Inwardly, he worries about just such a possibility.

A cock wakes Rand at false dawn. Rand gets out and divests himself of straw that has burrowed into his clothing. He notices that a thin trickle of people are already upon the Caemlyn Road, and the sun isn't even all the way up. They are mostly young men, wearied with travel. Mat pops out of the haystack and performs the same preparations as Rand, and asks about the possibility of some breakfast. Rand suggests they worry about that once they are on their way.

As they approach the road, Mat notices the people and stops. He calls out to one young man to tell them where he is bound, and the young man answers "To Caemlyn, to see the Dragon...just like you."

Throughout the day, Mat continues to ask that question and gets the same answer, unless he asks it of locals, who act suspicious, and keep a wary eye on all the travelers, and are put out because of the delay the mass of travelers are causing to their regular routines, and the mischief they may cause.

Merchant wagons are worse, people jumping out of the way of them. As the first approaches, Rand only moves to the side, and is toppled, sprawling to the ground for not doing more. Mat protests, and is knocked down to the ground with a spear handle, to land atop Rand, while the guard who wields it shouts "Out of the way, you dirty Darkfriend!" They find that all merchant carts have pretty much the same attitude. Rand and Mat learn after that to avoid the carts, which are many and seem to constantly come. One driver lashes Rand above the eye and he has to restrain Mat from shooting him with an arrow.

The Queen's Guard make several appearances, and attentively listen to complaints from the locals. Rand listens to one of those conversations, and the captain reaffirms the right of the travelers to be on the Queen's Road, informing the complainant that the crowd on this road is nothing; in Caemlyn the walls are bulging with them, then turns and threatens Mat and Rand for blocking the road in the same tone he used against the farmer. Because of the hostility shown by the Queen's Guard, Rand decides to stop Mat from stealing some eggs if he brings it up again.

Still, Rand decides, there is one advantage to this crowded road. Those who are chasing them will have trouble figuring out which of the myriad young men are Rand and Mat.

They pass through two more villages, each distrustful of the crowd of travelers. When evening sets in, the road begins to clear. Mat looks for another haystack, but Rand pushes them on, arguing that they should keep moving so long as they can see the road. As it gets later and the two of them begin to feel their fatigue, Mat begins complaining, but Rand continues to push on. They see a village up ahead and Mat demands to know if they are going to stop. Rand says "on the other side of town." Mat protests some more, but Rand pushes on and Mat finally follows.

It is late and the town streets are empty, but from a nearby, brightly lit inn come sounds of merriment. One man and a cart stand in the Caemlyn Road at the near end of the inn, the man checking the harness. Two other men stand at the far end of the inn, one just inside the pool of light, the other, just outside. Rand stops, to look for a way to go around. Mat sighs with relief at the small respite.

Rand is uneasy about the two men, and it is obvious by the behavior of the man with the cart that his uneasiness is shared. The two men are conversing; one is a black shape, unable to be seen in the shadow, the other is wearing an apron, and is obviously not enjoying the conversation. They finish, and the man shape moves completely into the shadow. Rand realizes that he is really uneasy about this one. He whispers "Fade" and makes Mat jump, but then assures Mat that it is gone now.

The innkeeper moves back toward the inn when he is challenged by Almen Bunt, who names the aproned man as Raimun Holdwin and comments on how strange his friends are, especially in the dark for an innkeeper. Holdwin jumps but then calms. "And what do you mean by that, Almen Bunt?" he asks.

Bunt replies that there have been an awful lot of odd folk passing through. Holdwin responds with a vigorous rebuttal, then explains that the person with which he spoke is from Four Kings, and is hunting a couple of thieves who stole a heron-mark sword from him. This rattles Rand and Mat.

Holdwin continues by describing these two so-called thieves as troublemakers, Darkfriends and followers of Logain. Bunt is amused by this, though it escapes Holdwin. He asks if Holdwin said that they were young, and though Holdwin has said no such thing, he avers that they are less than twenty, and that there is a hundred-crown reward out for them. He continues by saying that they are dangerous, and if Bunt comes across them he should just notify his friend, who will come pick them up. They converse back and forth for a bit until Holdwin realizes that Bunt is not taking him seriously and criticizes Bunt for his plan, which Bunt reveals is to travel the night go see the false Dragon, a trip which will see him in Caemlyn by the morning. Holdwin criticizes Bunt for his recklessness, and Bunt returns right back that the roads this close to Caemlyn ought to be safe. He also casts aspersions on the man to whom Holdwin was just speaking, which causes Holdwin to almost lash out at Bunt, but he catches himself before he says anything that will get him into trouble, and returns inside the inn with the slam of the door.

Rand hears the conversation, and, against Mat's opposition approaches Bunt about joining him on his trip to Caemlyn. Bunt's first reaction is aggression, but then he mellows and asks the two if they are going to see the false Dragon too. Rand agrees that they are, and Bunt tells them to get in. Rand climbs aboard and as the cart begins moving off, grabs Mat and swings him on as well.

Rand fights to stay awake with the creak and sway of the cart as Bunt sets a good pace. Bunt starts to converse with them about the grandeur of Caemlyn. The only thing that might make things better, he suggests, is if that Tar Valon witch were sent packing. Rand asks him if he means an Aes Sedai and Blunt replies bluntly that that's exactly what he means, naming her as Elaida and calling her a spider. It is obvious that Blunt loves Queen Morgase, but hates Elaida.

Rand wonders if it would be a good idea to contact Elaida if Moiraine does not show up. Mat shakes his head, obviously thinking the same.

Bunt continues his monologue by cataloging all the ills of the time and then pleading that Morgase needs to do something. Rand makes a noncommittal noise in his throat but is thinking that he was extremely lucky to find this old man and his cart. Bunt takes his grunt for agreement and continues on with his diatribe. He says he's the Queen's man, but something needs to change with the Lady Elayne and the Lord Gawyn. Yes, he says, its been the tradition that Daughter-Heirs get sent to Tar Valon for training, and the eldest son is sent to Tar Valon to train with the Warders, but look what happened last time—Luc dead in the Blight before he was sworn in as First Prince of the Sword and Tigraine disappearing before she could become Queen, which has caused and still causes problems.

Bunt continues on, discussing the repercussions of Tigraine's disappearance; how it caused all the houses to join in a frenzy of scheming and how Taringail Damodred schemed with the lot to figure out who would come out on top so he could marry her and retain his post as Prince Consort. He mentions that Taringail brought in Cairhien before the contest was ended, and that eventually led to the Aiel War. He fathered Elayne and Gawyn before getting himself decently killed. Bunt passionately argues for not sending the two to Tar Valon; send them to Illian instead—it will give them as good an education, if not better. He also suggests Tear and Shienar as good places for training the two as well, saying with vigor that it's time to break the three-thousand year tradition of the Andor throne being thought of as Aes Sedai.

Bunt continues in that vein, but Rand is so tired that he drifts off into sleep, where he dreams of Tam and then Thom Merrilin. In the latter, Thom comments about the Queen's relationship to the land, and contrasts it with the Dragon's relationship, while juggling on a litter that is reminiscent of the one Rand used to drag Tam to Emond's Field. In the same dream he sees a Fade riding a horse with the severed heads of Moiraine and Lan attached to his belt, and Mat, Perrin, and Egwene bound and tied to the horse, following behind in despair. Rand protests that the Myrddraal wants him and not Egwene, but the Fade turns and burns her with fire, while Thom repeats his discussion about the Dragon and the land. Rand screams and awakens. He is in the cart on the Caemlyn Road. A raven stands on his chest and tells him, "You are mine," and then plucks an eyeball out of Rand's head. Rand truly awakens this time and sits up in the cart, clapping his hands to his eye, but finds that nothing has been damaged.

Mat comically claims that at least Rand got some sleep; Bunt talked all night, implying that his monologue kept him from sleeping. Bunt then asks if they are awake, and announces grandly that they have arrived at "Caemlyn, the grandest city in the world."

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