The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 101

"I cannot allow you to leave me, trader," the High Lord said. "In this shadowed land of oathbreakers, I find none who can converse with a man of sensibilities. But you are a collector. Perhaps your conversation will be interesting." He took the chair, lolling back in its curves to study Domon.

Domon put on what he hoped was an ingratiating smile. "High Lord, I do be a simple trader, a simple man. I do no have the way of talking with great Lords."
The man with the braid glared at him, but Turak seemed not to hear. From behind one of the screens, a slim, pretty young woman appeared on quick feet to kneel beside the High Lord, offering a lacquered tray bearing a single cup, thin and handleless, of some steaming black liquid. Her dark, round face was vaguely reminiscent of the Sea Folk. Turak took the cup carefully in his longnailed fingers, never looking at the young woman, and inhaled the fumes. Domon took one look at the girl and pulled his eyes away with a strangled gasp; her white silk robe was embroidered with flowers, but so sheer he could see right through it, and there was nothing beneath but her own slimness.
"The aroma of kaf," Turak said, "is almost as enjoyable as the flavor. Now, trader. I have learned that cuendillar is even more rare here than in Seanchan. Tell me how a simple trader came to possess a piece." He sipped his kaf and waited.
Domon took a deep breath and set about trying to lie his way out of Falme.

(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 30
(Rising Sun)
Daes Dae'mar
In the room shared by Hurin and Loial, Rand peered through the window at the ordered lines and terraces of Cairhien, the stone buildings and slate roofs. He could not see the Illuminators' chapter house; even if huge towers and great lords' houses had not been in the way, the city walls would have prevented it. The Illuminators were on everyone's tongues in the city, even now, days after the night when they had lofted only one nightflower into the sky, and that early. A dozen different versions of the scandal were being told, discounting minor variations, but none close to the truth.
Rand turned away. He hoped no one had been hurt in the fire, but the Illuminators had not so far admitted there had been a fire. They were a closemouthed lot about what went on inside their chapter house.
"I will take the next watch," he told Hurin, "as soon as I come back."
"There is no need, my Lord." Hurin bowed as deeply as any Cairhienin. "I can keep watch. Truly, my Lord need not trouble himself."
Rand drew a deep breath and exchanged looks with Loial. The Ogier only shrugged. The sniffer was growing more formal every day they remained in Cairhien; the Ogier simply commented that humans often acted oddly.
"Hurin," Rand said, "you used to call me Lord Rand, and you used not to bow every time I looked at you." I want him to unbend and call me Lord Rand again, he thought with amazement. Lord Rand! Light, we have to get out of here before I start wanting him to bow. "Will you please sit down? You make me tired, looking at you."
Hurin stood with his back stiff, yet appeared ready to leap to perform any task Rand might request. He neither sat down nor relaxed now. "It wouldn't be proper, my Lord. We have to show these Cairhienin we know how to be every bit as proper as - "
you stop saying that!" Rand shouted.
"As you wish, my Lord."
It was an effort for Rand not to sigh again. "Hurin, I'm sorry. I should not have shouted at you."
"It's your right, my Lord," Hurin said simply. "If I don't do the way you want, it's your right to shout."
Rand stepped toward the sniffer with the intention of grabbing the man's collar and shaking him.
A knock on the connecting door to Rand's room froze them all, but Rand was pleased to see that Hurin did not wait to ask permission before picking up his sword. The heronmark blade was at Rand's waist; going out, he touched its hilt. He waited for Loial to seat himself on his long bed, arranging his legs and the tails of his coat to further obscure the blanketcovered chest under the bed, then yanked open the door.
The innkeeper stood there, rocking with eagerness and pushing his tray at Rand. Two sealed parchments lay on the tray. "Forgive me, my Lord," Cuale said breathlessly. "I could not wait until you came down, and then you were not in your own room, and - and ... Forgive me, but...&r

Rand snatched the invitations - there had been so many - without looking at them, took the innkeeper's arm, and turned him toward the door to the hall. "Thank you, Master Cuale, for taking the trouble. If you'll leave us alone, now, please..."
"But, my Lord," Cuale protested, "these are from - "
"Thank you." Rand pushed the man into the hall and pulled the door shut firmly. He tossed the parchments onto the table. "He hasn't done that before. Loial, do you think he was listening at the door before he knocked?"
"You are starting to think like these Cairhienin." The Ogier laughed, but his ears twitched thoughtfully and he added, "Still, he is Cairhienin, so he may well have been. I don't think we said anything he should not have heard."
Rand tried to remember. None of them had mentioned the Horn of Valere, or Trollocs, or Darkfriends. When he found himself wondering what Cuale could make of what they actually had said, he gave himself a shake. "This place is getting to you, too," he muttered to himself.
"My Lord?" Hurin had picked up the sealed parchments and was gazing wideeyed at the seals. "My Lord, these are from Lord Barthanes, High Seat of House Damodred, and from" - his voice dropped with awe - "the King."
Rand waved them away. "They still go in the fire like the rest. Unopened."
"But, my Lord!"
"Hurin," Rand said patiently, "you and Loial between you have explained this Great Game to me. If I go wherever it is they've invited me, the Cairhienin will read something into it and think I am part of somebody's plot. If I don't go, they'll read something into that. If I send back an answer, they will dig for meaning in it, and the same if I don't answer. And since half of Cairhien apparently spies on the other half, everybody knows what I do. I burned the first two, and I will burn these, just like all the others." One day there had been twelve in the pile he tossed into the commonroom fireplace, seals unbroken. "Whatever they make of it, at least it's the same for everybody. I am not for anyone in Cairhien, and I am not against anyone."
"I have tried to tell you," Loial said, "I don't think it works that way. Whatever you do, Cairhienin will see some sort of plot in it. At least, that is what Elder Haman always said."
Hurin held the sealed invitations out to Rand as if offering gold. "My Lord, this one bears the personal seal of Galldrian. His personal seal, my Lord. And this one the personal seal of Lord Barthanes, who is next to the King himself in power. My Lord, burn these, and you make enemies as powerful as you can find. Burning them's worked so far because the other Houses are all waiting to see what you're up to, and thinking you must have powerful allies to risk insulting them. But Lord Barthanes - and the King! Insult them, and they'll act for sure."
Rand scrubbed his hands through his hair. "What if I refuse them both?"
"It won't work, my Lord. Every last House has sent you an invitation, now. If you decline these - well, for sure at least one of the other Houses will figure, if you're not allied with the King or Lord Barthanes, then they can answer your insult of burning their invitation. My Lord, I hear the Houses in Cairhien use killers, now. A knife in the street. An arrow from a rooftop. Poison slipped in your wine."
"You could accept them both," Loial suggested. "I know you don't want to, Rand, but it might even be fun. An evening at a lord's manor, or even at the Royal Palace. Rand, the Shienarans believed in you."
Rand grimaced. He knew it had been chance that the Shienarans thought he was a lord; a chance likeness of names, a rumor among the servants, and Moiraine and the Amyrlin stirring it all. But Selene had believed it, too. Maybe she'll be at one of these.
Hurin was shaking his head violently, though. "Builder, you don't know Daes Dae'mar as well as you think you do. Not the way they play it in Cairhien, not now. With most Houses, it wouldn't matter. Even when they're plotting against each other to the knife, they act like they aren't, out where everybody can see. But not these two. House Damodred held the throne until Laman lost it, and they want it back. The King would crush them, if they weren't nearly as powerful as he is. You can't find bitterer rivals than House Riatin and House Damodred. If my Lord accepts both, both Houses will know it as soon as he sends his answers, and they'll both think he's part of some plot by the other against them. They'll use the knife and the poison as quick as look at you."
"And I suppose," Rand growled, "if I only accept one, the other will think I'm allied with that House."

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