The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 105

Perrin slouched at the table, studying his hands clasped on the tabletop. To his nose, the room smelled of beeswax used to polish the paneling. It was him, he thought. Rand is the Shadowkiller. Light, what's happening to all of us? His hands tightened into fists, large and square. These hands were meant for a smith's hammer, not an axe.
He glanced up as Rand entered. Perrin thought he looked determined, set on some course of action. The Aes Sedai motioned Rand to a highbacked armchair across from her.
"How is Hurin?" Rand asked her, arranging his sword so he could sit. "Resting?"
sisted on going out," Ingtar answered. "I told him to follow the trail only until he smelled Trollocs. We can follow it from there tomorrow. Or do you want to go

"Ingtar," Rand said uneasily, "I really wasn't trying to take command. I just didn't think." Yet not as nervously as he would have once, Perrin thought. Shadowkiller. We're all of us changing.
Ingtar did not answer, but only kept staring into the fireplace.
"There are some things that interest me greatly, Rand," Verin said quietly. "One is how you vanished from Ingtar's camp without a trace. Another is how you arrived in Cairhien a week before us. That clerk was very clear on that. You would have had to fly."
One of Mat's eggs hit the floor and cracked. He did not look at it, though. He was looking at Rand, and Ingtar had turned around. Loial pretended to be reading still, but he wore a worried look, and his ears were up in hairy points.
Perrin realized he was staring, too. "Well, he did not fly," he said. "I don't see any wings. Maybe he has more important things to tell us." Verin shifted her attention to him, just for a moment. He managed to meet her eyes, but he was the first to look away. Aes Sedai. Light, why were we ever fools enough to follow an Aes Sedai? Rand gave him a grateful look, too, and Perrin grinned at him. He was not the old Rand - he seemed to have grown into that fancy coat; it looked right on him, now - but he was still the boy Perrin had grown up with. Shadowkiller. A man the wolves hold in awe. A man who can channel.
"I don't mind," Rand said, and told his tale simply.
Perrin found himself gaping. Portal Stones. Other worlds, where the land seemed to shift. Hurin following the trail of where the Darkfriends would be. And a beautiful woman in distress, just like one in a gleeman's tale.
Mat gave a soft, wondering whistle. "And she brought you back? By one of these - these Stones?"
Rand hesitated for a second. "She must have," he said. "So you see, that's how we got so far ahead of you. When Fain came, Loial and I managed to steal back the Horn of Valere in the night, and we rode on to Cairhien because I didn't think we could make it past them once they were roused, and I knew Ingtar would keep coming south after them and reach Cairhien eventually."
Shadowkiller. Rand looked at him, eyes narrowing, and Perrin realized he had spoken the name aloud. Apparently not loud enough for anyone else to hear, though. No one else glanced at him. He found himself wanting to tell Rand about the wolves. I know about you. It's only fair you know my secret, too. But Verin was there. He could not say it in front of her.
"Interesting," the Aes Sedai said, a thoughtful expression on her face. "I would very much like to meet this girl. If she can use a Portal Stone ... Even that name is not very widely known." She gave herself a shake. "Well, that is for another time. A tall girl should not be difficult to find in the Cairhienin Houses. Aah, here is our meal."
Perrin smelled lamb even before Mistress Tiedra led in a procession bearing trays of food. His mouth watered more for that than for the peas and squash, the carrots and cabbage that came with it, or the hot crusty rolls. He still found vegetables tasty, but sometimes, of late, he dreamed of red meat. Not even cooked, usually. It was disconcerting to find himself thinking that the nicely pink slices of lamb that the innkeeper carved were too well done. He firmly took helpings of everything. And two of the lamb.
It was a quiet meal, with everyone concentrating on his own thoughts. Perrin found it painful to watch Mat eat. Mat's appetite was as healthy as ever, despite the feverish flush to his face, and the way he shoveled food into his mouth made it look like his last meal before dying.
Perrin kept his eyes on his plate as much as possible, and wished they had never left Emond's Field.
After the maids cleared the table and left again, Verin insisted they remain together until Hurin returned. "He may bring word that will mean we must move at once."
Mat returned to his juggling, and Loial to his reading. Rand asked the innkeeper if there were any more books, and she brought him The Travels of Jain Farstrider. Perrin liked that one, too, with its stories of adventures among the Sea Folk and journeys to the lands beyond the Aiel Waste, where silk came from. He did not feel like reading, though, so he set up a stones board on the table with Ingtar. The Shienaran played with a slashing, daring style. Perrin had always played doggedly, giving ground reluctantly, but he found himself placing the stones with as much recklessness as Ingtar. Most of the games ended in a draw, but he managed to win as many as Ingtar did. The Shienaran was eyeing him with a new respect by early evening, when the sniffer returned.
Hurin's grin was at the same time triumphant and perplexed. "I found them, Lord Ingtar. Lord Rand. I tracked them to their lair."
"Lair?" Ingtar said sharply. "You mean they're hiding somewhere close by?
"Aye, Lord Ingtar. The ones who took the Horn, I followed straight there, and there was Trolloc scent all around the place, though sneaking as if they didn't dare be seen, even there. And no wonder." The sniffer took a deep breath. "It's the great manor Lord Barthanes just finished building."
"Lord Barthanes!" Ingtar exclaimed. "But he ... he's ... he's ..."
"There are Darkfriends among the high as well as the low," Verin said smoothly. "The mighty give their souls to the Shadow as often as the weak." Ingtar scowled as if he did not want to think of that.
"There's guards," Hurin went on. "We'll not get in with twenty men, not and get out again. A hundred could do it, but two would be better. That's what I think, my Lord."
"What about the King?" Mat demanded. "If this Barthanes is a Darkfriend, the King will help us."
"I am quite sure," Verin said dryly, "that Galldrian Riatin would move against Barthanes Damodred on the rumor that Barthanes is a Darkfriend, and glad of the excuse. I am also quite sure Galldrian would never let the Horn of Valere out of his grasp once he had it. He would bring it out on feastdays to show the people and tell them how great and mighty Cairhien is, and no one would ever see it else."
ed with shock. "But the Horn of Valere has to be there when the Last Battle is fought. He couldn't just keep it."
"I know little of Cairhienin," Ingtar told him, "but I've heard enough of Galldrian. He would feast us and thank us for the glory we had brought to Cairhien. He would stuff our pockets with gold and heap honors on our heads. And if we tried to leave with the Horn, he'd cut our honored heads off without pausin

Perrin ran a hand through his hair. The more he found out about kings, the less he liked them.
"What about the dagger?" Mat asked diffidently. "He wouldn't want that, would he?" Ingtar glared at him, and he shifted uncomfortably. "I know the Horn is important, but I'm not going to be fighting in the Last Battle. That dagger..."
Verin rested her hands on the arms of her chair. "Galldrian shall not have it, either. What we need is some way inside Barthanes's manor house. If we can only find the Horn, we may also find a way to take it back. Yes, Mat, and the dagger. Once it is known that an Aes Sedai is in the city - well, I usually avoid these things, but if I let slip to Tiedra that I would like to see Barthanes's new manor, I should have an invitation in a day or two. It should not be difficult to bring at least some of the rest of you. What is it, Hurin?"
The sniffer had been rocking anxiously on his heels from the moment she mentioned an invitation. "Lord Rand already has one. From Lord Barthanes."
Perrin stared at Rand, and he was not the only one.
Rand pulled two sealed parchments from his coat pocket and handed them to the Aes Sedai without a word.
Ingtar came to look wonderingly over her shoulder at the seals. "Barthanes, and ... And Galldrian! Rand, how did you come by these? What have you been doing?"
"Nothing," Rand said. "I haven't done anything. They just sent them to me." Ingtar let out a long breath. Mat's mouth was hanging open. "Well, they did just send them," Rand said quietly. There was a dignity to him that Perrin did not remember; Rand was looking at the Aes Sedai and the Shienaran lord as equals.
Perrin shook his head. You are fitting that coat. We're all changing.

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