The Great Hunt: Page 112
The goal they had sought had vanished, and even Verin's face wore a floundering expression.
"I'd never have thought Fain had the courage for the Ways." Ingtar sounded almost mild, but suddenly he banged his fist against the wall. "I do not care how, or even if, Machin Shin works on Fain's behalf. They have taken the Horn of Valere into the Ways, Aes Sedai. By now they could be in the Blight, or halfway to Tear or Tanchico, or the other side of the Aiel Waste. The Horn is lost. I am lost." His hands dropped to his sides, and his shoulders slumped. "I am lost."
"Fain is taking it to Toman Head," Rand said, and was immediately the object of all eyes again.
Verin studied him narrowly. "You said that before. How do you know?"
"He left a message with Barthanes," Rand said.
"A trick," Ingtar sneered. "He'd not tell us where to follow."
"I don't know what the rest of you are going to do," Rand said, "but I am going to Toman Head. I have to. I leave at first light."
"But, Rand," Loial said, "it will take us months to reach Toman Head. What makes you think Fain will wait there for us?"
"He will wait." But how long before he decides I'm not coming? Why did he set that guard if he wants me to follow? "Loial, I mean to ride as hard as I can, and if I ride Red to death, I'll buy another horse, or steal another, if I have to. Are you sure you want to come?"
"I've stayed with you this long, Rand. Why would I stop now?" Loial pulled out his pipe and pouch and began thumbing tabac into the big bowl.
"You see, I like you. I would like you even if you weren't ta'veren. Maybe I like you despite it. You do seem to get me neckdeep in hot water. In any case, I am going with you." He sucked on the pipestem to test the draw, then took a splinter from the stone jar on the mantel and thrust it into a candle flame for a light. "And I don't think you can really stop me."
"Well, I'm going," Mat said. "Fain still has that dagger, so I'm going. But all that servant business ended tonight."
Perrin sighed, an introspective look in his yellow eyes. "I suppose I'll come along, too." After a moment, he grinned. "Somebody has to keep Mat out of trouble."
"Not even a clever trick," Ingtar muttered. "Somehow, I'll get Barthanes alone, and I will learn the truth. I mean to have the Horn of Valere, not chase Jak o' the Wisps."
"It may not be a trick," Verin said carefully, seeming to study the floor under her toes. "There were certain things left in the dungeons at Fal Dara, writings that indicated a connection between what happened that night and" - she gave Rand a quick glance under lowered brows - "Toman Head. I still do not understand them completely, but I believe we must go to Toman Head. And I believe we will find the Horn there."
"Even if they are going to Toman Head," Ingtar said, "by the time we reach it, Fain or one of the other Darkfriends could have blown the Horn a hundred times, and the heroes returned from the grave will ride for the Shadow."
could have blown the Horn a hundred times since leaving Fal Dara," Verin told him. "And I think he would have, if he could open the chest. What we must worry about is that he might find someone who does know how to open it. We must follow him along the Ways."
Perrin's head came up sharply, and Mat shifted in his chair. Loial gave a low moan.
"Even if we could somehow sneak past Barthanes's guards," Rand said, "I think we'll find Machin Shin still there. We cannot use the Ways."
"How many of us could sneak onto Barthanes's grounds?" Verin said dismissively. "There are other Waygates. Stedding Tsofu lies not far from the city, south and east. It is a young stedding, rediscovered only perhaps six hundred years ago, but the Ogier Elders were still growing the Ways, then. Stedding Tsofu will have a Waygate. It is there and we will ride at first light."
Loial made a slightly louder sound, and Rand was not sure whether it referred to the Waygate or the stedding.
Ingtar still did not seem convinced, but Verin was as smooth and as implacable as snow sliding down a mountainside. "You will have your soldiers ready to ride, Ingtar. Send Hurin to tell Uno before he goes to bed. I think we should all go to bed as soon as possible. These Darkfriends have gained at least a day on us already, and I mean to make up as much of it as I can tomorrow." So firm was the plump Aes Sedai's manner that she was already herding Ingtar to the door bef
Rand followed the others out, but at the door he stopped beside the Aes Sedai and watched Mat heading down the candlelit hall. "Why does he look like that?" he asked her. "I thought you Healed him, enough to give him some time, anyway."
She waited until Mat and the others had turned up the stairs before speaking. "Apparently, it did not work so well as we believed. The sickness takes an interesting course in him. His strength remains; he will keep that to the end, I think. But his body wastes away. Another few weeks, at most, I would say. You see, there is reason for haste."
"I do not need another spur, Aes Sedai," Rand said, making the title sound hard. Mat. The Horn. Fain's threat. Light, Egwene! Burn me, I don't need another spur.
"And what of you, Rand al'Thor? Do you feel well? Do you fight it still, or have you yet surrendered to the Wheel?"
"I ride with you to find the Horn," he told her. "Beyond that, there is nothing between me and any Aes Sedai. Do you understand me? Nothing!"
She did not speak, and he walked away from her, but when he turned to take the stairs she was still watching him, dark eyes sharp and considering.
(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 34
(Serpent and Wheel)
The Wheel Weaves
The first light of morning already pearled the sky by the time Thom Merrilin found himself trudging back to The Bunch of Grapes. Even where the halls and taverns lay thickest, there was a brief time when the Foregate lay quiet, gathering its breath. In his present mood, Thom would not have noticed if the empty street had been on fire.
Some of Barthanes's guests had insisted on keeping him long after most had gone, long after Barthanes had taken himself to bed. It had been his own fault for leaving The Great Hunt of the Horn, changing to the sort of tales he told and songs he sang in the villages, 'Mara and the Three Foolish Kings' and How Susa Tamed Jain Farstrider and stories of Anla the Wise Councilor. He had meant the choices to be a private comment on their stupidity, never dreaming any of them might listen, much less be intrigued. Intrigued in a way. They had demanded more of the same, but they had laughed in the wrong places, at the wrong things. They had laughed at him, too, apparently thinking he would not notice, or else that a full purse stuffed in his pocket would heal any wounds. He had almost thrown it away twice already.
The heavy purse burning his pocket and pride was not the only reason for his mood, nor even the nobles' contempt. They had asked questions about Rand, not even bothering to be subtle with a mere gleeman. Why was Rand in Cairhien? Why had an Andoran lord taken him, a gleeman, aside? Too many questions. He was not sure his answers had been clever enough. His reflexes for the Great Game were rusty.
Before turning toward The Bunch of Grapes, he had gone to The Great Tree; it was not difficult to find where someone was staying in Cairhien, if you pressed a palm or two with silver. He was still not sure what he had intended to say. Rand was gone with his friends, and the Aes Sedai. It left a feeling of something not done. The boy's on his own, now. Burn me, I'm out of it!
He strode through the common room, empty as it seldom was, and took the steps two at a time. At least, he tried to; his right leg did not bend well, and he nearly fell. Muttering to himself, he climbed the rest of the way at a slower pace, and opened the door to his room softly, so as not to wake Dena.
Despite himself, he smiled when he saw her lying on the bed with her face turned to the wall, still in her dress. Fell asleep waiting for me. Fool girl. But it was a kindly thought; he was not sure there was anything she would do that he would not forgive or excuse. Deciding on the spur of the moment that tonight was the night he'd let her perform for the first time, he lowered his harp case to the floor and put a hand on her shoulder, to wake her and tell her.
She rolled limply onto her back, staring up at him, glazed eyes open wide above the gash across her throat. The side of the bed that had been hidden by her body was dark and sodden.
Thom's stomach heaved; if his throat had not been so tight he could not breathe, he would have vomited, or screamed, or both.
He had only the creaking of wardrobe doors for warning. He spun, knives coming out of his sleeves and leaving his hands in the same motion. The first blade took the throat of a fat, balding man with a dagger in his hand; the man stumbled back, blood bubbling around his clutching fingers as he tried to cry out.
Spinning on his bad leg threw Thom's other blade off, though; the knife stuck in the right shoulder of a heavily muscled man with scars on his face, who was climbing out of the other wardrobe.
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