The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 104



He looked and sounded sick, his cheeks flushed and tight, but he managed a grin. Rand had never noticed his cheekbones before. "I couldn't hear what she said, but I didn't know whether his eyes were going to pop out of his head or he was going to swallow his tongue first. All of a sudden, he couldn't do enough for us. He told us you were waiting for us, and right where you were staying. Offered to guide us himself, but he really looked relieved when Verin told him no." He snorted. "Lord Rand of House al'Thor."
"It's too long a story to explain now," Rand said. "Where are Uno and the rest? We will need them."
"In the Foregate." Mat frowned at him, and went on slowly, "Uno said they'd rather stay there than inside the walls. From what I can see, I'd rather be with them. Rand, why will we need Uno? Have you found ... them?"
It was the moment Rand realized suddenly he had been avoiding. He took a deep breath and looked his friend in the eye. "Mat, I had the dagger, and I lost it. The Darkfriends took it back." He heard gasps from the Cairhienin listening, but he did not care. They could play their Great Game if they wanted, but Ingtar had come, and he was finished with it at last. "They can't have gone far, though."
Ingtar had been silent, but now he stepped forward and gripped Rand's arm. "You had it? And the" - he looked around at the onlookers - "the other thing?"
"They took that back, too," Rand said quietly. Ingtar pounded a fist into his palm and turned away; some of the Cairhienin backed off from the look on his face.
Mat chewed his lip, then shook his head. "I didn't know it was found, so it isn't as if I had lost it again. It is just still lost." It was plain he was speaking of the dagger, not the Horn of Valere. "We'll find it again. We have two sniffers, now. Perrin is one, too. He followed the trail all the way to the Foregate, after you vanished with Hurin and Loial. I thought you might have just run off ... well, you know what I mean. Where did you go? I still don't understand how you got so far ahead of us. That fellow said you have been here days."
Rand glanced at Perrin - He's a sniffer? - and found Perrin studying him in return. He thought Perrin muttered something. Shadowkiller? I must have heard him wrong. Perrin's yellow gaze held him for a moment, seeming to hold secrets about him. Telling himself he was having fancies - I'm not mad. Not yet. - he pulled his eyes away.
st helping a stillshaky Hurin to his feet. "I feel right as goose feathers," he was saying. "Still a little tired, but ..." He let the words trail off, seeming to see her for the first time, to realize what had happened for the first time.
"The tiredness will last a few hours," she told him. "The body must strain to heal itself quickly."
The Cairhienin Reader rose. "Aes Sedai?" she said softly. Verin inclined her head, and the Reader made a full curtsy.
As quiet as they had been, the words "Aes Sedai" ran through the crowd in tones ranging from awe to fear to outrage. Everyone was watching now - not even Cuale gave any attention to his own burning inn - and Rand thought a little caution might not be amiss after all.
"Do you have rooms yet?" he asked. "We need to talk, and we ca

"A good idea," Verin said. "I have stayed here before at The Great Tree.
We will go there."
Loial went to fetch the horses - the inn roof had now fallen in completely, but the stables had not been touched - and soon they were making their way through the streets, all riding except for Loial, who claimed he had grown used to walking again. Perrin held the lead line to one of the packhorses they had brought south.
"Hurin," Rand said, "how soon can you be ready to follow their trail again? Can you follow it? The men who hit you and started the fire left a trail, didn't they?"
"I can follow it now, my Lord. And I could smell them in the street. It won't last long, though. There weren't any Trollocs, and they didn't kill anybody. Just men, my Lord. Darkfriends, I suppose, but you can't always be sure of that by smell. A day, maybe, before it fades."
"I don't think they can open the chest either, Rand," Loial said, "or they would just have taken the Horn. It would be much easier to take that if they could, rather than the whole chest."
Rand nodded. "They must have put it in a cart, or on a horse. Once they get it beyond the Foregate, they'll join the Trollocs again, for sure. You will be able to follow that trail, Hurin."
"I will, my Lord."
"Then you rest until you're fit," Rand told him. The sniffer looked steadier, but he rode slumped, and his face was weary. "At best, they will only be a few hours ahead of us. If we ride hard ..." Suddenly he noticed that the others were looking at him, Verin and Ingtar, Mat and Perrin. He realized what he had been doing, and his face colored. "I am sorry, Ingtar. It's just that I've become used to being in charge, I suppose. I'm not trying to take your place."
Ingtar nodded slowly. "Moiraine chose well when she made Lord Agelmar name you my second. Perhaps it would have been better if the Amyrlin Seat had given you the charge." The Shienaran barked a laugh. "At least you have actually managed to touch the Horn."
After that they rode in silence.
The Great Tree could have been twin to The Defender of the Dragonwall, a tall stone cube of a building with a common room paneled in dark wood and decorated with silver, a large, polished clock on the mantel over the fireplace. The innkeeper could have been Cuale's sister. Mistress Tiedra had the same slightly plump look and the same unctuous manner - and the same sharp eyes, the same air of listening to what was behind the words you spoke. But Tiedra knew Verin, and her welcoming smile for the Aes Sedai was warm; she never mentioned Aes Sedai aloud, but Rand was sure she knew.
Tiedra and a swarm of servants saw to their horses and settled them in their rooms. Rand's room was as fine as the one that had burned, but he was more interested in the big copper bathtub two serving men wrestled through the door, and the steaming buckets of water scullery maids brought up from the kitchen. One look in the mirror above the washstand showed him a face that looked as if he had rubbed it with charcoal, and his coat had black smears across the red wool.
He stripped off and climbed into the tub, but he thought as much as washed. Verin was there. One of three Aes Sedai that he could trust not to try to gentle him themselves, or turn him over to those who would. Or so it seemed, at least. One of three who wanted him to believe he was the Dragon Reborn, to use him as a false Dragon. She's Moiraine's eyes watching me, Moiraine's hand trying to pull my strings. But I have cut the strings.
His saddlebags had been brought up, and a bundle from the packhorse containing fresh clothes. He toweled off and opened the bundle - and sighed. He had forgotten that both the other coats he had were as ornate as the one he had tossed on the back of a chair for a maid to clean. After a moment, he chose the black coat, to suit his mood. Silver herons stood on the high collar, and silver rapids ran down his sleeves, water battered to froth against jagged rocks.
Transferring things from his old coat to his new, he found the parchments. Absently, he stuffed the invitations in his pocket as he studied Selene's two letters. He wondered how he could have been such a fool. She was the beautiful young daughter of a noble House. He was a shepherd whom Aes Sedai were trying to use, a man doomed to go mad if he did not die first. Yet he could still feel the pull of her just looking at her writing, could almost smell the perfume of her.
"I am a shepherd," he told the letters, "not a great man, and if I could marry anyone, it would be Egwene, but she wants to be Aes Sedai, and how can I marry any woman, love any woman, when I'll go mad and maybe kill her?"
Words could not lessen his memory of Selene's beauty, though, or the way she made his blood go warm just by looking at him. It almost seemed to him that she was in the room with him, that he could smell her perfume, so much so that he looked around, and laughed to find himself alone.
"Having fancies like I'm addled already," he muttered.
Abruptly he tipped back the mantle of the lamp on the bedside table, lit it, and thrust the letters into the flame. Outside the inn, the wind picked up to a roar, leaking in through the shutters and fanning the flames to engulf the parchment. Hurriedly he tossed the burning letters into the cold hearth just before the fire reached his fingers. He waited until the last blackened curl went out before he buckled on his sword and left the room.
Verin had taken a private dining room, where shelves along the dark walls held even more silver than those in the common room. Mat was juggling three boiled eggs and trying to appear nonchalant. Ingtar peered into the unlit fireplace, frowning. Loial had a few books from Fal Dara still in his pockets, and was reading one beside a lamp.

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