The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 115

The lower servants' hair hung to their shoulders. They scurried out with bows that almost put their heads on their knees.
Placing the Horn on the stand so that it stood upright, Turak laid the dagger on the table in front of it and went to sit in the chair.
Fain could stand it no longer. He reached for the dagger.
The yellowhaired man caught his wrist in a crushing grip. "Unshaven dog! Know that the hand that touches the property of the High Lord unbidden is cut off."
"It is mine," Fain growled. Patience! So long.
Turak, lounging back in the chair, lifted one bluelacquered fingernail, and Fain was pulled out of the way so the High Lord could view the Horn unobstructed.
"Yours?" Turak said. "Inside a chest you could not open? If you interest me sufficiently, I may give you the dagger. Even if it is from the Age of Legends, I have no interest in such as that. Before all else, you will answer me a question. Why have you brought the Horn of Valere to me?"
Fain eyed the dagger longingly a moment more, then jerked his wrist free and rubbed it as he bowed. "That you may sound it, High Lord. Then you may take all of this land, if you wish. All of the world. You may break the White Tower and grind the Aes Sedai to dust, for even their powers cannot stop heroes come back from the dead."
"I am to sound it." Turak's tone was flat. "And break the White Tower. Again, why? You claim to obey, await, and serve, but this is a land of oathbreakers. Why do you give your land to me? Do you have some private quarrel with these... women?"
Fain tried to make his voice convincing. Patient, like a worm boring from within. "High Lord, my family has passed down a tradition, generation upon generation. We served the High King, Artur Paendrag Tanreall, and when he was murdered by the witches of Tar Valon, we did not abandon our oaths. When others warred and tore apart what Artur Hawkwing had made, we held to our swearing, and suffered for it, but held to it still. This is our tradition, High Lord, handed father to son, and mother to daughter, down all the years since the High King was murdered. That we await the return of the armies Artur Hawkwing sent across the Aryth Ocean, that we await the return of Artur Hawkwing's blood to destroy the White Tower and take back what was the High King's. And when the Hawkwing's blood returns, we will serve and advise, as we did for the High King. High Lord, except for its border, the banner that flies over this roof is the banner of Luthair, the son Artur Paendrag Tanreall sent with his armies across the ocean."
Fain dropped to his knees, giving a good imitation of being overwhelmed. "High Lord, I wish only to serve and advise the blood of the High King."
Turak was silent so long that Fain began to wonder if he needed further convincing; he was ready with more, as much as was required. Finally, though, the High Lord spoke. "You seem to know what none, neither the high nor the low, has spoken since sighting this land. The people here speak it as one rumor among ten, but you know. I can see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice. I could almost think you were sent to entangle me in a trap. But who, possessing the Horn of Valere, would use it so? None of those of the Blood who came with the Hailene could have had the Horn, for the legend says it was hidden in this land. And surely any lord of this land would use it against me rather than put it in my hands. How did you come to possess the Horn of Valere? Do you claim to be a hero, as in the legend? Have you done valorous deeds?"
"I am no hero, High Lord." Fain ventured a selfdeprecating smile, but Turak's face did not alter, and he let it go. "The Horn was found by an ancestor of mine during the turmoil after the High King's death. He knew how to open the chest, but that secret died with him in the War of the Hundred Years, that rent Artur Hawkwing's empire, so that all we who followed him knew was that the Horn lay within and we must keep it safe until the High King's blood returned."
"Almost could I believe you."
"Believe, High Lord. Once you sound the Horn - "
"Do not ruin what convincing you have managed to do. I shall not sound the Horn of Valere. When I return to Seanchan, I shall present it to the Empress as the chiefest of my trophies. Perhaps the Empress wil

"But, High Lord," Fain protested, "you must - " He found himself lying on his side, his head ringing.
Only when his eyes cleared did he see the man with the pale braid rubbing his knuckles and realize what had happened.
"Some words," the fellow said softly, "are never used to the High Lord."
Fain decided how the man was going to die.
Turak looked from Fain to the Horn as placidly as if he had seen nothing. "Perhaps I will give you to the Empress along with the Horn of Valere. She might find you amusing, a man who claims his family held true where all others broke their oaths or forgot them."
Fain hid his sudden elation in the act of climbing back to his feet. He had not even known of the existence of an Empress until Turak mentioned her, but access to a ruler again ... that opened new paths, new plans. Access to a ruler with the might of the Seanchan beneath her and the Horn of Valere in her hands. Much better than making this Turak a Great King, He could wait for some parts of his plan. Softly. Mustn't let him know how much you want it. After so long, a little more patience will not hurt. "As the High Lord wishes," he said, trying to sound like a man who only wanted to serve.
"You seem almost eager," Turak said, and Fain barely suppressed a wince. "I will tell you why I will not sound the Horn of Valere, or even keep it, and perhaps that will cure your eagerness. I do not wish a gift of mine to offend the Empress by his actions; if your eagerness cannot be cured, it will never be satisfied, for you will never leave these shores. Do you know that whoever blows the Horn of Valere is linked to it thereafter? That so long as he or she lives, it is no more than a horn to any other?" He did not sound as if he expected answers, and in any case, he did not pause for them. "I stand twelfth in line of succession to the Crystal Throne. If I kept the Horn of Valere, all between myself and the throne would think I meant to be first hereafter, and while the Empress, of course, wishes that we contend with one another so that the strongest and most cunning will follow her, she currently favors her second daughter, and she would not look well on any threat to Tuon. If I sounded it, even if I then laid this land at her feet, and every woman in the White Tower leashed, the Empress, may she live forever, would surely believe I meant to be more than merely her heir."
Fain stopped himself short of suggesting how possible that would be with the aid of the Horn. Something in the High Lord's voice suggested - as hard as Fain found it to believe - that he actually meant his wish for her to live forever. I must be patient. A worm in the root.
"The Empress's Listeners may be anywhere," Turak continued. "They may be anyone. Huan was born and raised in the House of Aladon, and his family for eleven generations before him, yet even he could be a Listener." The man with the braid half made a protesting gesture, before jerking himself back to stillness. "Even a high lord or a high lady can find their deepest secrets known to Listeners, can wake to find themselves already handed over to the Seekers for Truth. Truth is always difficult to find, but the Seekers spare no pain in their search, and they will search as long as they think there is need. They make great efforts not to allow a high lord or high lady to die in their care, of course, for no man's hand may slay one in whose veins flows the blood of Artur Hawkwing. If the Empress must order such a death, the unfortunate one is placed alive in a silken bag, and that bag hung over the side of the Tower of the Ravens and left there until it rots away. No such care would be taken for one such as you. At the Court of the Nine Moons, in Seandar, one such as you could be given to the Seekers for a shift of your eye, for a misspoken word, for a whim. Are you still eager?"
Fain managed a tremble in his knees. "I wish only to serve and advise, High Lord. I know much that may be useful." This court of Seandar sounded a place where his plans and skills would find fertile soil.
"Until I sail back to Seanchan, you will amuse me with your tales of your family and its tradition. It is a relief to find a second man in this Lightforsaken land who can amuse me, even if you both tell lies, as I suspect. You may leave me." No other word was spoken, but the girl with the nearly white hair and the almosttransparent robe appeared on quick feet to kneel with downcast head beside the High Lord, offering a single steaming cup on a lacquered tray.
"High Lord," Fain said. The man with the braid, Huan, took hold of his arm, but he pulled loose. Huan's mouth tightened angrily as Fain made his deepest bow yet.

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