The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 12



"There is no need to be so rough."
"Isn't there? Maybe I don't want you two going with me, always hanging around, falling into trouble and expecting me to pull you out. You ever think of that? Burn me, did it ever occur to you I might be tired of always having you there whenever I turn around? Always there, and I'm tired of it." The hurt on Perrin's face cut him like a knife, but he pushed on relentlessly. "There are some here think I'm a lord. A lord. Maybe I like that. But look at you, dicing with stablehands. When I go, I go by myself. You two can go to Tar Valon or go hang yourselves, but I leave here alone."
Mat's face had gone stiff, and he clutched the dagger through his coat till his knuckles were white. "If that is how you want it," he said coldly. "I thought we were ... However you want it, al'Thor. But if I decide to leave at the same time you do, I'll go, and you can stand clear of me."

"Nobody is going anywhere," Perrin said, "if the gates are barred." He was staring at the floor again. Laughter rolled from the gamblers against the wall as someone lost.
"Go or stay," Loial said, "together or apart, it doesn't matter. You are all three ta'veren. Even I can see it, and I don't have that Talent, just by what happens around you. And Moiraine Sedai says it, too."
Mat threw up his hands. "No more, Loial. I don't want to hear about that anymore."
Loial shook his head. "Whether you hear it or not, it is still true. The Wheel of Time weaves the Pattern of the Age, using the lives of men for thread. And you three are ta'veren, centerpoints of the weaving."
"No more, Loial."
"For a time, the Wheel will bend the Pattern around you three, whatever you do. And whatever you do is more likely to be chosen by the Wheel than by you. Ta'veren pull history along behind them and shape the Pattern just by being, but the Wheel weaves ta'veren on a tighter line than other men. Wherever you go and whatever you do, until the Wheel chooses otherwise you will - "
"No more!" Mat shouted. The men dicing looked around, and he glared at them until they bent back to their game.
"I am sorry, Mat," Loial rumbled. "I know I talk too much, but I did not mean -"
"I am not staying here," Mat told the rafters, "with a bigmouthed Ogier and a fool whose head is too big for a hat. You coming, Perrin?" Perrin sighed, and glanced at Rand, then nodded.
Rand watched them go with a stick caught in his threat. I must go alone. Light help me, I have to.
aring after them, too, eyebrows drooping worriedly. "Rand, I really didn't mean to - "
Rand made his voice harsh. "What are you waiting for? Go on with them! I don't see why you're still here. You are no use to me if you don't know a way out. Go on! Go find your trees, and your precious groves, if they haven't all been cut down, and good riddance to them if they have."
Loial's eyes, as big as cups, looked surprised and hurt, at first, but slowly they tightened into what almost might be anger. Rand did not think it could be. Some of the old stories claimed Ogier were fierce, though they never said how, exactly, but Rand had never met anyone as gentle as Loial.
"If you wish it so, Rand al'Thor," Loial said stiffly. He gave a rigid bow and stalked away after Mat and Perrin.
Rand slumped against the stacked sacks of grain. Well, a voice in his head taunted, you did it, didn't you. I had to, he told it. I will be dangerous just to be around. Blood and ashes, I'm going to go mad, and ... No! No, I won't! I will not use the Power, and then I won't go mad, and ... But I can't risk it. I can't, don't you see? But the

The gamblers were looking at him, he realized. All of them, still kneeling against the wall, had turned to stare at him. Shienarans of any class were almost always polite and correct, even to blood enemies, and Ogier were never any enemies of Shienar. Shock filled the gamblers' eyes. Their faces were blank, but their eyes said what he had done was wrong. Part of him thought they were right, and that drove their silent accusation deep. They only looked at him, but he stumbled out of the storeroom as if they were chasing him.
Numbly he went on through the storerooms, hunting a place to secrete himself until some traffic was allowed through the gates again. Then he could hide in the bottom of a victualer's cart, maybe. If they did not search the carts on the way out. If they did not search the storerooms, search the whole keep for him. Stubbornly he refused to think about that, stubbornly concentrated on finding a safe place. But every place he found - a hollow in a stack of grain sacks, a narrow alley along the wall behind some wine barrels, an abandoned storeroom half filled with empty crates and shadows - he could imagine searchers finding him there. He could imagine that unseen watcher, whoever it was - or whatever-finding him there, too. So he hunted on, thirsty and dusty and with cobwebs in his hair.
And then he came out into a dimly torchlit corridor, and Egwene was creeping along it, pausing to peer into the storerooms she passed. Her dark hair, hanging to her waist, was caught back with a red ribbon, and she wore a goosegray dress in the Shienaran fashion, trimmed in red. At the sight of her, sadness and loss rolled over him, worse than when he had chased Mat and Perrin and Loial away. He had grown up thinking he would marry Egwene one day; they both had. But now...
She jumped when he popped out right in front of her, and her breath caught loudly, but what she said was, "So there you are. Mat and Perrin told me what you did. And Loial. I know what you're trying to do, Rand, and it is plain foolish." She crossed her arms under her breasts, and her big, dark eyes fixed him sternly. He always wondered how she managed to seem to be looking down at him - she did it at will - although she was only as tall as his chest, and two years younger besides.
"Good," he said. Her hair suddenly made him angry. He had never seen a grown woman with her hair unbraided until he left the Two Rivers. There, every girl waited eagerly for the Women's Circle of her village to say she was old enough to braid her hair. Egwene certainly had. And here she was with her hair loose except for a ribbon. I want to go home and can't, and she can't wait to forget Emond's Field. "You go away and leave me alone, too. You don't want to keep company with a shepherd anymore. There are plenty of Aes Sedai here for you to moon around, now. And don't tell any of them you saw me. They're after me, and I don't need you helping them."
Bright spots of color bloomed in her cheeks. "Do you think I would - "
He turned to walk away, and with a cry she threw herself at him, flung her arms around his legs. They both tumbled to the stone floor, his saddlebags and bundles flying. He grunted when he hit, sword hilt digging into his side, and again when she scrabbled up and plopped herself down on his back as if he were a chair. "My mother," she said firmly, "always told me the best way to learn to deal with a man was to learn to ride a mule. She said they have about equal brains most of the time. Sometimes the mule is smarter."
He raised his head to look over his shoulder at her. "Get off me, Egwene. Get off! Egwene, if you don't get off" - he lowered his voice ominously - "I'll do something to you. You know what I am." He added a glare for good measure.
Egwene sniffed. "You wouldn't, if you could. You would not hurt anybody. But you can't, anyway. I know you cannot channel the One Power whenever you want; it just happens, and you cannot control it. So you are not going to do anything to me or anybody else. I, on the other hand, have been taking lessons with Moiraine, so if you don't listen to some sense, Rand al'Thor, I might just set your breeches on fire. I can manage that much. You keep on as you are and see if I cannot." Suddenly, for just a moment, the torch nearest them on the wall flared up with a roar. She gave a squeak and stared at it, startled.
Twisting around, he grabbed her arm, pulled her off his back, and sat her against the wall. When he sat up himself, she was sitting there across from him, rubbing her arm furiously. "You really would have, wouldn't you?" he said angrily. "You're fooling with things you don't understand. You could have burned both of us to charcoal!"
"Men! When you cannot win an argument, you either run away or resort to force."
"Hold on there! Who tripped who? Who sat on who? And you threatened - tried! - to - " He raised both hands. "No, you don't. You do this to me all the time. Whenever you realize the argument isn't going the way you want, suddenly we are arguing about something else completely. Not this time."
"I am not arguing," she said calmly, "and I am not changing the subject, either. What is hiding except running away? And after you hide, you'll run away for true. And what about hurting Mat, and Perrin, and Loial? And me? I know why. You're afraid you will hurt somebody even worse if you let them stay near you.

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