"Watch your tongue... I don't love them Aes Sedai I didn't say I'm a fool thinks they're behind everything that's wrong. The Queen supports Elaida and the Guards stand for the Queen."
   —Basel Gill

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Setting: Caemlyn, Queen's Blessing


Point of view: Rand al'Thor

Rand and Mat have arrived at the city of Caemlyn, and Rand becomes overwhelmed by the sight of a great city. He is befuddled by its sheer size, noting that Baerlon and Whitebridge are nothing compared to it. He notes the multiplicity of colors and styles in the complex of buildings outside the walls. Then he concentrates on the walls, which are marvels in and of themselves. The city gates are large and overpowering in their majesty, and a storm of noise greets them as they move closer. Once again Almen Bunt praises the city, reminding the boys that the inner city is Ogier-built and that Queen Morgase rules from the inner city.

Rand notices that Mat is having a similar, if gloomier reaction to the noise, and the sheer number of people in Caemlyn. Mat complains loudly to Rand that it will be too hard to hide in such a crowd. Rand doesn't let Mat's gloom affect him, and tells him that they will do quite well if only Mat learns to control his tongue better. Once again, his speech lets Mat know that he is overwhelmed by what he sees. He even speculates that they might find Moiraine in the city, to which Mat replies, "if they're alive." Even this pessimism doesn't drive Rand's sense that anything could happen in Caemlyn.

As they approach the gate, Rand notices that there are plenty of young men, travel-worn and weary, entering the city at the same time as he and that pleases him. The Queen's Guard watches the gate and keeps order.

They finally roll past the gates and see the city beyond, stretched across rolling hills, and in the distance another wall of white demarking, Rand assumes, the inner city of which Bunt spoke earlier. The Caemlyn Road, which leads directly into the city splits into two, separated by a strip of dead grass and leafless trees. The people on the boulevard are talking cheerfully, as if they hadn't noticed that spring was taking a very long time in coming.

Bunt suddenly turns down a side street and stops. He asks if Rand is hiding under his cloak what Holdwin said he was. In a very steady voice, Rand asks Bunt what he means, as he gets ready to leave the cart. Mat yawns, but reaches for the dagger under his coat. Bunt explains that he really doesn't mean harm to the boys and he realizes that Holdwin, whom he does not like, wants the boys more than anything else. After Rand responds, Bunt finally decides that he doesn't really want to know. Mat has a distinctly dark reaction to the questioning as he takes his time getting down from the cart. Between his hunger pangs and his fear of Bunt, Rand feels like he is going to vomit. Bunt leans close and tells Rand to hide the sword, or get rid of it, or something. It will attract attention. Then he drives off, leaving Rand and Mat to their own devices in a busy city. Mat looks to Rand for what to do next in this city that feels like a beehive. Rand replies that Moiraine will find them, worries about the city and the fact that in it he cannot reach for the void, and then fiercely proclaims that they (meaning the rest of their party) are alive, especially naming Egwene.

Mat again plays the pessimist, demanding of Rand a course of action if the rest of their party is dead they are found by a... but he cannot name his worst fear. Rand simply says that they will think about it when it happens. Rand silently muses that the worst would mean seeking out Elaida the Aes Sedai at the palace, but resolves to attempt to go to Tar Valon first. He continues his silent musing with remembering what Thom Merrilin said about the Red Ajah and the Black Ajah, and then out loud he tells Mat that they should look for an inn called The Queen's Blessing. Mat protests, but Rand holds fast, and then Mat shows what he is really worried about; people are everywhere and they might be hiding a Fade.

Fearing that he may lose him, Rand literally gets into Mat's face and tells him not to quit in very angry and forceful terms, and that seems to be what Mat needs, because Mat apologizes, and they go look for The Queen's Blessing together. But Mat's pessimism comes out and one begins to get the impression that it is more than just a passing fear; Mat is quite certain that they are going to die, and says so. Rand encourages his friend by saying that everyone dies, but he isn't ready to give up just yet. In their quiet interplay, Rand finally notices a whiff of spirit in Mat, and that is good, but his own words belie the fact that Rand, too, is terribly worried about the fate of the rest of the party.

They begin asking for directions to the inn and get a variety of responses, from curses to blank stares. They ask one man who is broad-faced and as big as Perrin, wearing a white armband, and he tells them they're too late, and wanders off laughing, to the puzzlement of the two boys, who noted there were plenty of odd folk in the town. In fact the town is quite cosmopolitan. Rand and Mat observe the start of a riot, ostensibly caused by polemen carrying a sedan pushing someone out of the way who didn't take too kindly to the treatment. They quickly vacated the scene.

The boys are also targets of con artists who attempt to sell them trinkets purportedly belonging to Logain, but Rand doesn't buy it and sends them on their way. They also note Whitecloaks, just like in Baerlon.

Rand thinks about staying unnoticed, but he will not remove the sword as Bunt has suggested; it is a link to Tam, his father, and he just will not do it. Lots of others wear swords, some covered with cloth, red-bound with white cord, or vice versa. Rand stops to buy some, choosing the red cloth because it is cheaper. The shop keeper curses Rand when he asks for a quiet place to use to wrap it around the sword. His attempt to mollify the angry merchant fails. Rand finally finds an alley where he can stop and wrap his sword. While doing so, Mat lobbies for an immediate setting out to Tar Valon or Illian, but Rand refuses, saying that the rest of their party will be along soon.

They finally find the Queen's Blessing, and enter. Rand sees that the innkeeper is fat, and that pleases him. He is a pink-faced man in a starched apron, with graying hair combed over a bald spot that it does not quite cover. He has a ready smile and his name is Basel Gill. Rand speaks up, mentions that Thom Merrilin sent them to the inn and the innkeeper's smile slips. Noticing this, Rand asks if he knew Thom, and the innkeeper admits that he does, and, looking at the flute case and harp case, orders the boys to come with him. They enter the kitchens, where their two days of enforced fasting makes them vulnerable to the kitchen smells, but they pass through to the stable yard where Gill confronts them with a question: "What's in the case, Lad?" Rand admits that it is Thom's flute, opening the case to show him. Gill questions him about how he obtained the flute. Rand explains that Thom gave it to him, that Thom is dead and offers apologies.

Master Gill asks how it happened, and Rand gives him an abbreviated version of Thom's encounter with the Fade in Whitebridge, including the bit where Thom tells them to come to Caemlyn, and to seek out his inn. Master Gill says that he will believe Thom is dead when he sees his corpse, but quickly amends his speech to say that he believes the boys, but tells them that Thom Merrilin is harder to kill than they might believe.

Rand tells Mat that Gill is a friend, and Gill announces that he supposes he is, at that. He then states that Caemlyn is the last place he would expect Thom Merrilin to come to, unless it was Tar Valon. Then in an intuitive leap, Master Gill guesses that the boys have trouble with Tar Valon. While Mat replies positively, Rand asks why he would say that, Master Gill explains that he knows Thom and that Thom would jump into that kind of trouble, especially to help a couple of lads their age. And then, in a stumbling way, he asks the boys what the nature of their problem with Aes Sedai is. It is obvious that he is wondering if they can channel.

Rand replies that neither of them can channel, in fact an Aes Sedai was helping them; and mentions Moiraine's name, and immediately regrets doing so, though it has no effect on Master Gill. The innkeeper reassures them that he can handle just about anything else except a man who can channel, though he says so obliquely. Rand assures him that they took no offense. He then asks if they can pay, and realizes that they cannot. So he promises beds, warm and dry, and food, but nothing more. Puzzled at his generosity, Rand thanks him. And Basel Gill explains that Thom is a good friend, hot headed but still a good friend. He then advises the boys not to speak of their involvement with Aes Sedai at this time, explaining that the temper of the city makes such relationships unhealthy, and not just from Whitecloaks.

Mat takes the opportunity to mutter an epithet about Aes Sedai, and Master Gill snaps, "Watch your tongue!" Angrily, he explains that guardsmen have been punishing those who speak against Aes Sedai, and Whitecloaks have been harassing those who speak for Aes Sedai, and he doesn't want Mat's irresponsible tongue to be the reason why either group attacks his inn. Having vented, he then says much more quietly that it probably wouldn't be a bad idea if they didn't mention Thom Merrilin, either, explaining that both the guard and the Queen have long memories.

Master Gill doesn't explain why he said what he said, but he does reveal that at one point, Thom was court-bard for Caemlyn, and known by every court from Tear to Maradon. He then explains that it was not long after Taringail Damodred died that the trouble with Thom's nephew arose. Thom got closer to the Queen than was proper, but the Queen was a widow and Thom was in his prime. Morgase has a temper, and Thom took off when he learned the trouble his nephew was in, giving her cause to be angry. The Queen didn't like his leaving or his meddling in Aes Sedai affairs, Master Gill explains, and when he came back, he said some words--things you don't say to someone with Morgase's spirit. Elaida, Master Gill explains, was also against him, and Thom left half a step ahead of prison, and perhaps the headman's axe, and the writ still stands, he says.

Rand suggests that maybe people have forgotten. Master Gill shakes his head and notes that Gareth Bryne was very unhappy with Thom, and he notes that Queen Morgase never forgets anything. In fact, after Thom left, the whole city walked softly for a whole month. Then he opines that there are plenty of other guardsmen around who remember, and suggests once again that Rand and Mat hold close to their chests their friendship with Thom. He then offers to feed the two starving boys.











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