The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 113



The big man's knife dropped from a hand that suddenly would not do what he wanted, and he lumbered for the door.
Before he could take a second step, Thom produced another knife and slashed him across the back of his leg. The big man yelled and stumbled, and Thom seized a handful of greasy hair, slamming his face against the wall beside the door; the man screamed again as the knife hilt sticking out of his shoulder hit the door.
Thom thrust the blade in his hand to within an inch of the man's dark eye. The scars on the big man's face gave him a hard look, but he stared at the point without blinking and did not move a muscle. The fat man, lying half in the wardrobe, kicked a last kick and was still.
"Before I kill you," Thom said, "tell me. Why?" His voice was quiet, numb; he felt numb inside.
"The Great Game," the man said quickly. His accent was of the streets, and his clothes as well, but they were a shade too fine, too unworn; he had more coin to spend than any Foregater should. "Nothing against you personal, you see? It is just the Game."
ame? I'm not mixed up in Daes Dae'mar! Who would want to kill me for the Great Game?" The man hesitated. Thom moved his blade closer. If the fellow blinked, his eyelashes would brush the point. "Who?"
"Barthanes," came the hoarse answer. "Lord Barthanes. We would not have killed you. Barthanes wants information. We just wanted to find out what you know. There can be gold in it for you. A nice, fat golden crown for what you know. Maybe two."
"Liar! I was in Barthanes's manor last night, as close to him as I am to you. If he wanted anything of me, I'd never have left alive."
"I tell you, we have been looking for you, or anyone who knows about this Andoran lord, for days. I never heard your name until last night, downstairs. Lord Barthanes is generous. It could be five crowns."
The man tried to pull his head away from the knife in Thom's hand, and Thom pushed him harder against the wall. "What Andoran lord?" But he knew. Th

"Rand. Of House al'Thor. Tall. Young. A blademaster, or at least he wears the sword. I know he came to see you. Him and an Ogier, and you talked. Tell me what you know. I might even throw in a crown or two, myself."
"You fool," Thom breathed. Dena died for this? Oh, Light, she's dead. He felt as if he wanted to cry. "The boy's a shepherd."
A shepherd in a fancy coat, with Aes Sedai around him like bees around honeyroses. "Just a shepherd." He tightened his grip in the man's hair.
"Wait! Wait! You can make more than any five crowns, or even ten. A hundred, more like. Every House wants to know about this Rand al'Thor. Two or three have approached me. With what you know, and my knowing who wants to know it, we could both fill our pockets. And there has been a woman, a lady, I have seen more than once while asking after him. If we can find out who she is ... why, we could sell that, too."
"You've made one real mistake in it all," Thom said.
"Mistake?" The man's far hand was beginning to slide down toward his belt. No doubt he had another dagger there. Thom ignored it.
"You should never have touched the girl."
The man's hand darted for his belt, then he gave one convulsive start as Thom's knife went home.
Thom let him fall over away from the door and stood a moment before bending tiredly to tug his blades free. The door banged open, and he whirled with a snarl on his face.
Zera jerked back, a hand to her throat, staring at him. "That fool Ella just told me," she said unsteadily, "that two of Barthanes's men were asking after you last night, and with what I've heard this morning ... I thought you said you didn't play in the Game anymore."
"They found me," he said wearily.
Her eyes dropped from his face and widened as they took in the bodies of the two men. Hastily she stepped into the room, shutting the door behind her. "This is bad, Thom. You'll have to leave Cairhien." Her gaze fell on the bed, and her breath caught. "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, Thom, I'm so sorry.""I cannot leave yet, Zera." He hesitated, then tenderly drew a blanket over Dena, covering her face. "I have another man to kill, first."
The innkeeper gave herself a shake and pulled her eyes away from the bed. Her voice was more than a little breathy. "If you mean Barthanes, you're too late. Everybody's talking about it already. He is dead. His servants found him this morning, torn to pieces in his bedchamber. The only way they knew it was him was his head stuck on a spike over the fireplace." She laid a hand on his arm. "Thom, you can't hide that you were there last night, not from anybody who wants to know. Add these two in, and there's nobody in Cairhien who won't believe you were involved." There was a slight questioning note in her last words, as if she, too, were wondering.
"It doesn't matter, I suppose," he said dully. He could not stop looking down at the blanketcovered shape on the bed. "Perhaps I will go back to Andor. To Caemlyn."
She took his shoulders, turning him away from the bed. "You men," she sighed, "always thinking with either your muscles or your hearts, and never your heads. Caemlyn is as bad as Cairhien, for you. Either place, you'll end up dead, or in prison. Do you think she'd want that? If you want to honor her memory, stay alive."
"Will you take care of ..." He could not say it. Growing old, he thought. Going soft. He pulled the heavy purse from his pocket and folded her hands around it. "This should take care of ... everything. And help when they start asking questions about me, too."
"I will see to everything," she said gently. "You must go, Thom. Now."
He nodded reluctantly, and slowly began stuffing a few things in a set of saddlebags. While he worked, Zera got her first close look at the fat man sprawled partway in the wardrobe, and she gave a loud gasp. He looked at her inquiringly; as long as he had known her, she had never been one to go faint over blood.
"These aren't Barthanes's men, Thom. At least, that one isn't." She nodded toward the fat man. "It's the worst kept secret in Cairhien that he works for House Riatin. For Galldrian."
"Galldrian," he said flatly. What has that bloody shepherd gotten me into? What have the Aes Sedai gotten us both into? But it was Galldrian's men murdered her.
There must have been something of his thoughts on his face. Zera said sharply, "Dena wants you alive, you fool! You try to kill the King, and you'll be dead before you get within a hundred spans of him, if you come that close!"
A roar came from the city walls, as if half of Cairhien were shouting. Frowning, Thom peered from his window. Beyond the top of the gray walls above the rooftops of the Foregate, a thick column of smoke was rising into the sky. Far beyond the walls. Beside the first black pillar, a few gray tendrils quickly grew into another, and more wisps appeared further on. He estimated the distance and took a deep breath.
"Perhaps you had better think about leaving, too. It looks as if someone is firing the granaries."
"I have lived through riots before. Go now, Thom." With a last look at Dena's shrouded form, he gathered his things, but as he started to leave, Zera spoke again. "You have a dangerous look in your eyes, Thom Merrilin. Imagine Dena sitting here, alive and hale. Think what she would say. Would she let you go off and get yourself killed to no purpose?"
;m only an old gleeman," he said from the door. And Rand al'Thor is only a shepherd, but we both do what we must. "Who could I possibly be dangerous to?"
As he pulled the door to, hiding her, hiding Dena, a mirthless, wolfish grin came onto his face. His leg hurt, but he barely felt it as he hurried purposefully down the stairs and out of the inn.
Padan Fain reined in his horse atop a hill above Falme, in one of the few sparse thickets remaining on the hills outside the town. The packhorse bearing his precious burden bumped his leg, and he kicked it in the ribs without looking; the animal snorted and jerked back to the end of the lead he had tied to his saddle. The woman had not wanted to give up her horse, no more than any of the Darkfriends who had followed him had wanted to be left alone in the hills with the Trollocs, without Fain's protecting presence. He had solved both problems easily. Meat in a Trolloc cookpot had no need of a horse. The woman's companions had been shaken by the journey along the Ways, to a Waygate outside a longabandoned stedding on Toman Head, and watching the Trollocs prepare their dinner had made the surviving Darkf

From the edge of the trees, Fain studied the unwalled town and sneered. One short merchant train was rumbling in among the stables and horse lots and wagon yards that bordered the town, while another rumbled out, raising little dust from dirt packed by many years of such traffic. The men driving the wagons and the few riding beside them were all local men by their clothing, yet the mounted men, at least, had swords on baldrics, and even a few spears and bows.

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