The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 108

A great undertaking, that."
"Yes." He had begun thinking of Verin again, wishing she had given him some advice on how to talk with a man who assumed he was lying. He added without thinking, "It's dangerous to meddle with things from the Age of Legends if you don't know what you are doing."
ered into his wine, musing as if Rand had just said something profound. "Are you saying you do not support Galldrian in this

"I told you, I've never met the King."
"Yes, of course. I did not know Andormen played at the Great Game so well. We do not see many here in Cairhien."
Rand took a deep breath to stop from telling the man angrily that he was not playing their Game. "There are many grain barges from Andor in the river."
"Merchants and traders. Who notices such as they? As well notice the beetles on the leaves." Barthanes's voice carried equal contempt for both beetles and merchants, but once again he frowned as if Rand had hinted at something. "Not many men travel in company with Aes Sedai. You seem too young to be a Warder. I suppose Lord Ingtar is Verin Sedai's Warder?"
"We are who we said we are," Rand said, and grimaced. Except me.Barthanes was studying Rand's face almost openly. "Young. Young to carry a heronmark blade."
"I am less than a year old," Rand said automatically, and immediately wished he had it back. It sounded foolish, to his ear, but Verin had said act as he had with the Amyrlin Seat, and that was the answer Lan had given him. A Borderman considered the day he was given his sword to be his nameday.
"So. An Andorman, and yet Borderlandtrained. Or is it Wardertrained?" Barthanes's eyes narrowed, studying Rand. "I understand Morgase has only one son. Named Gawyn, I have heard. You must be much like him in age."
"I have met him," Rand said cautiously.
"Those eyes. That hair. I have heard the Andoran royal line has almost Aiel coloring in their hair and eyes."
Rand stumbled, though the floor was smooth marble. "I'm not Aiel, Lord Barthanes, and I'm not of the royal line, either."
"As you say. You have given me much to think on. I believe we may find common ground when we talk again." Barthanes nodded and raised his glass in a small salute, then turned to speak to a grayhaired man with many stripes of color down his coat.
Rand shook his head and moved on, away from more conversation. It had been bad enough talking to one Cairhienin lord; he did not want to risk two. Barthanes appeared to find deep meanings in the most trivial comments. Rand realized he had just now learned enough of Daes Dae'mar to know he had no idea at all how it was played. Mat, Hurin, find something fast, so we can get out of here. These people are crazy.
And then he entered another room, and the gleeman at the end of it, strumming his harp and reciting a tale from The Great Hunt of the Horn, was Thom Merrilin. Rand stopped dead. Thom did not seem to see him, though the gleeman's gaze passed over him twice. It seemed that Thom had meant what he said. A clean break.
Rand turned to go, but a woman stepped smoothly in front of him and put a hand on his chest, the lace falling back from a soft wrist. Her head did not quite come to his shoulder, but her tall array of curls easily reached as high as his eyes. The high neck of her gown put lace ruffles under her chin, and stripes covered the front of her dark blue dress below her breasts. "I am Alaine Chuliandred, and you are the famous Rand al'Thor. In Barthanes's own manor, I suppose he has the right to speak to you first, but we are all fascinated by what we hear of you. I even hear that you play the flute. Can it be true?"
"I play the flute." How did she ...? Caldevwin. Light, everybody does hear everything in Cairhien. "If you will excuse -"
"I have heard that some outland lords play music, but I never believed it. I would like very much to hear you play. Perhaps you will talk with me, of this and that. Barthanes seemed to find your conversation fascinating. My husband spends his days sampling his own vineyards, and leaves me quite alone. He is never there to talk with me."
"You must miss him," Rand said, trying to edge around her and her wide skirts. She gave a tinkling laugh as if he had said the funniest thing in the world.
Another woman sidled in beside the first, and another hand was laid on his chest. She wore as many stripes as Alaine, and they were of an age, a good ten years older than he. "Do you think to keep him to yourself, Alaine?" The two women smiled at each other while their eyes threw daggers. The second turned her smile on Rand. "I am Belevaere Osiellin. Are all Andormen so tall? And so handsome?"
He cleared his throat. "Ah ... some are as tall. Pardon me, but if you will -"
"I saw you talking with Barthanes. They say you know Galldrian, as well. You must come to see me, and talk. My husband is visiting our estates in the south."
"You have the sublety of a tavern wench," Alaine hissed at her, and immediately was smiling up at Rand. "She has no polish. No man could like a woman with a manner so rough. Bring your flute to my manor, and we will talk. Perhaps you will teach me to play?"
"What Alaine thinks of as subtlety," Belevaere said sweetly, "is but lack of courage. A man who wears a heronmark sword must be brave. That truly is a heronmark blade, is it not?"
Rand tried backing away from them. "If you will just excuse me, I-" They followed step for step until his back hit the wall; the width of their skirts together made another wall in front of him.
a third woman crowded in beside the other two, her skirts joining theirs to the wall on that side. She was older than they, but just as pretty, with an amused smile that did not lessen the sharpness of her eyes. She wore half again as many stripes as Alaine and Belevaere; they made tiny curtsies and glared at her sullenly.
"Are these two spiders trying to toil you in their webs?" The older woman laughed. "Half the time they tangle themselves more firmly than anyone else. Come with me, my fine young Andoran, and I will tell you some of the troubles they would give you. For one thing, I have no husband to worry about. Husbands always make trouble."
Over Alaine's head he could see Thom, straightening from a bow to no applause or notice whatsoever. With a grimace the gleeman snatched a goblet from the tray of a startled servant.
"I see someone I must speak to," Rand told the women, and squeezed out of the box they had put him in just as the last woman reached for his arm. All three stared after him as he hurried to the gleeman.
Thom eyed him over the lip of the goblet, then took another long swallow.
"Thom, I know you said a clean break, but I had to get away from those women. All they wanted to talk about was their husbands being away, but they were already hinting at other things." Thom choked on his wine, and Rand slapped his back. "You drink too fast, and something always goes down the wrong way. Thom, they think I am plotting with Barthanes, or maybe Galldrian, and I don't think they will believe me when I say I'm not. I just needed an ex

Thom stroked his long mustaches with one knuckle and peered across the room at the three women. They were still standing together, watching Rand and him. "I recognize those three, boy. Breane Taborwin alone would give you an education such as every man should have at least once in his life, if he can live through it.
Worried about their husbands. I like that, boy." Abruptly his eyes sharpened. "You told me you were clear of Aes Sedai. Half the talk here tonight is of the Andoran lord appearing with no warning, and an Aes Sedai at his side. Barthanes and Galldrian. You've let the White Tower put you in the cooking pot this time."
"She only came yesterday, Thom. And as soon as the Horn is safe, I'll be free of them again. I mean to see to it."
"You sound as if it isn't safe now," Thom said slowly. "You didn't sound that way before."
"Darkfriends stole it, Thom. They brought it here. Barthanes is one of them."
Thom seemed to study his wine, but his eyes darted to make sure no one was close enough to listen. More than the three women were watching them with sideways glances while pretending to talk among themselves, but every knot maintained its distance from every other. Still, Thom spoke softly. "A dangerous thing to say if it isn't true, and more dangerous if it is. An accusation like that, against the most powerful man in the kingdom ... You say he has the Horn? I suppose you're after my help again, now that you're tangled with the White Tower once more."
"No." He had decided Thom had been right, even if the gleeman did not know why. He could not involve anyone else in his troubles. "I just wanted to get away from those women."
The gleeman blew out his mustaches, taken aback. "Well. Yes. That is well. The last time I helped you, I got a limp out of it, and you seem to have let yourself be tied to Tar Valon strings again. You'll have to get yourself out of it this time."

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