“Rand shook his head weakly on the hay. “No, Egwene. I didn’t want to leave you. Please.” “We’re all dead,” she said sadly, “and death is the kingdom of the Dark One. The Dark One has us, because you abandoned us.” “No. I had no choice, Egwene. Please. Egwene, don’t go. Come back, Egwene!” But she turned into the shadows, and was shadow.” – The Eye of the World, p. 507.
“A Place of Safety” is the title of the eighth chapter of The Eye of the World and the search for safety with Rand and Mat is exactly what this stretch of The Eye of the World is all about. That and the very odd moment of Robert Jordan repeating himself for one of the few times in the series (the other time being most of Crossroads of Twilight). Specifically there is a technical error in the writing where what is intended to be a flashback of the boys going from barn to barn and inn to inn and facing all sorts of trouble and several Darkfriends and just generally bad people. This weird repeat essentially lasts until Chapter 34, when Rand and Mat find a place of safety on the back of a cart taking them all the way to Caemlyn. There are people gathering in Caemlyn to see Logain, this False Dragon, who will be paraded throughout the city. This is the point where The Wheel of Time gives some human evil, truly human evil, at this point in the books. Before this point we’ve only seen Shadowspawn: Trollocs, Myrddraaal, and Dragkhar; and the Children of the Light being zealots, but not irredeemable evil. There are Whitecloaks who at least have some humanity. There are two Darkfriends here, one of whom attempts to stab Mat, to which he retaliates getting ready to genuinely murder somebody: ““She tried to kill me, Rand. She’d have killed you, too. She’s a Darkfriend.” Mat spat the word. “But we’re not,” Rand said. The woman gasped as if she just realized what Mat had intended. “We are not Mat.”” – The Eye of the World, p. 510. They are only given passage to Caemlyn by Almen Blunt, who appears in one other book in the series, much later on, simply putting in one little bit of kindness and protection from others. It is also Mat who is the one to find Blunt as Rand falls ill after a lightning storm, one that did not seem natural. Second time readers will know exactly what that means and is implying, but it is a terrifying scene as it brings something right into perspective. There is also this interesting connection between Queen Morgase, the ruler of Andor, and the Dragon, who is said to be one with the land.
The arrival in Caemlyn also provides a place of safety for Rand and Mat and a look into Thom Merrilin’s past. After an earlier chapter where Rand says he will never trust a skinny innkeeper again after the one in Four Kings sells them out to Darkfriends and tries to steal from them. The innkeeper in this chapter is Basel Gill, of the Queen’s Blessing, and is one of those supporting characters who can provide worldbuilding as well as giving insight into who Thom was. He does not believe that Thom is dead for a moment. He does believe the boys saw what they saw but not that he is actually dead. Rand for the first time is able to think: “The worst meant seeking out Elaida, the Aes Sedai in the Palaec. He would go on to Tar Valon, first. He did not know if Mat remembered what Thom had said about the Red Ajah – and the Black – But he surely did.” – The Eye of the World, p. 533. Elaida is the first named Aes Sedai we get and there hasn’t actually been an explanation of what the Ajahs are yet, but the mention of Red and Black make a start on definite structure of the Aes Sedai as an organization. There is also this moment where it is revealed that words against Aes Sedai in Caemlyn are something that shouldn’t be tolerated, adding to the idea that there is something not to be trusted on the Aes Sedai. They could still be a tyrannical group, while Rand puts his faith in Moiraine, it isn’t a faith in Aes Sedai as a whole. Seeking out Elaida is what Rand sees as the worst, and something we will circle back to in the next section of the book. The safety is one little ray of hope in the world: Rand was still sick and Mat is getting worst every day. It is at this point where everything needs to come back together, there needs to be some guidance just as hope is something that needs to grow into something better.