The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 135

. since we arrived here" - he shuddered and scrubbed a hand through his hair; Rand wondered what the Shienaran had seen in his other lives - "another two, at least, to Falme, and we have not found so much as a hair of Fain or Darkfriends. There are scores of villages along the coast. He could have gone to any of them and taken ship anywhere by now. If he was ever here."
"He is here," Verin said calmly, "and he went to Falme."
"And he's still here," Rand said. Waiting for me. Please, Light, he's still waiting.
"Hurin still hasn't caught a whiff of him," Ingtar said. The sniffer shrugged as if he felt himself at fault for the failure. "Why would he choose Falme? If those villagers are to be believed, Falme is held by these Seanchan. I would give my best hound to know who they are, and where they came from."
"Who they are is not important to us." Verin knelt and unfastened her saddlebags, pulling out dry clothes. "At least we have rooms in which to change our clothes, though it will do us little good unless the weather changes. Ingtar, it may well be that what the villagers told us is right, that they are the descendants of Artur Hawkwing's armies come back. What matters is that Padan Fain has gone to Falme. The writings in the dungeon at Fal Dara -"
"- never mentioned Fain. Forgive me, Aes Sedai, but that could have been a trick as easily as dark prophecy. I can't believe even Trollocs would be stupid enough to tell us everything they were going to do before they did it."
She twisted to look up at him. "And what do you mean to do, if you will not take my advice?"
"I mean to have the Horn of Valere," Ingtar said firmly. "Forgive me, but I have to trust my own senses before some words scrawled by a Trolloc ..."
"A Myrddraal, surely," Verin murmured, but he did not even pause.
" ... or a Darkfriend seeming to betray himself out of his own mouth. I mean to quarter the ground until Hurin smells a trail or we find Fain in the flesh. I must have the Horn, Verin Sedai. I must!"
"That isn't the way," Hurin said softly. "Not 'must.' What happens, happens." No one paid him any mind.
"We all must," Verin murmured, peering into her saddlebags, "yet some things may be even more important than that."
She did not say more, but Rand grimaced. He longed to get away from her and her prods and hints. I am not the Dragon Reborn. Light, but I wish I could just get away from Aes Sedai completely. "Ingtar, I think I'm riding on to Falme. Fain is there - I'm sure he is - and if I don't come soon, he - he will do something to hurt Emond's Field." He had not mentioned that part before.
They all stared at him, Mat and Perrin frowning, worried but considering; Verin as if she had just seen a new piece added to a puzzle. Loial looked astonished, and Hurin seemed confused. Ingtar was openly disbelieving.
"Why would he do that?" the Shienaran said.
"I don't know," Rand lied, "but that was part of the message he left with Barthanes."
"And did Barthanes say Fain was going to Falme?" Ingtar demanded. "No. It wouldn't matter if he had." He gave a bitter laugh. "Darkfriends lie as naturally as they breathe."
" Mat said, "if I knew how to stop Fain from hurting Emond's Field, I would. If I was sure he was going to. But I need that dagger, Rand, and Hurin has the best chance of finding it."
"I will go wherever you go, Rand," Loial said. He had finished making sure the books were dry and was taking off his sodden coat. "But I don't see where a few more days will change anything one way or another, now. Try being a little less hasty for once."
"It doesn't matter to me whether we go to Falme now, later, or never," Perrin said with a shrug, "but if Fain really is threatening Emond's Field ... well, Mat's right. Hurin is the best way to find him."
"I can find him, Lord Rand," Hurin put in. "Let me get one sniff of him, and I'll take you right to him. There's never anything else left a trail like his."
"You must make your own choice, Rand," Verin said carefully, "but remember that Falme is held by invaders about whom we still know next to nothing.
If you go to Falme alone, you may find yourself a prisoner, or worse, and that will serve nothing. I am sure whatever choice you make wil

"Ta'veren," Loial rumbled.
Rand threw up his hands.
Uno came in from the square, shaking rain off his cloak. "Not a flaming soul to be found, my Lord. Looks to me like they ran like striped pigs. Livestock's all gone, and there isn't a bloody cart or wagon left, either. Half the houses are stripped to the flaming floors. I'll wager my next month's pay you could follow them by the bloody furniture they tossed on the side of the road when they realized it was only weighing down their flaming wagons."
"What about clothes?" Ingtar asked.
Uno blinked his one eye in surprise. "Just a few bits and pieces, my Lord. Mainly what they didn't think was bloody worth taking with them."
"They will have to do. Hurin, I mean to dress you and a few more as local people, as many as we can manage, so you won't stand out. I want you to swing wide, north and south, until you cross the trail." More soldiers were coming in, and they all gathered around Ingtar and Hurin to listen.
Rand leaned his hands on the mantel over the fireplace and stared into the flames. They made him think of Ba'alzamon's eyes. "There isn't much time," he said. "I feel ... something ... pulling me to Falme, and there isn't much time." He saw Verin watching him, and added harshly, "Not that. It's Fain I have to find. It has nothing to do with ... that."
Verin nodded. "The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and we are all woven into the Pattern. Fain has been here weeks before us, perhaps months. A few more days will make little difference in whatever is going to happen."
"I'm going to get some sleep," he muttered, picking up his saddlebags. "They can't have carried off all the beds."
Upstairs, he did find beds, but only a few still had mattresses, and those so lumpy he thought it might be more comfortable to sleep on the floor. Finally he chose a bed where the mattress simply sagged in the middle. There was nothing else in the room except one wooden chair and a table with a rickety leg.
He took off his wet things, putting on a dry shirt and breeches before lying down, since there were no sheets or blankets, and propped his sword beside the head of the bed. Wryly, he thought that the only thing dry he had for a coverlet was the Dragon's banner; he left it safely buckled inside the saddlebags.
Rain drummed on the roof, and thunder growled overhead, and now and again a lightning flash lit the windows. Shivering, he rolled this way and that on the mattress, seeking some comfortable way to lie, wondering if the banner would not do for a blanket after all, wondering if he should ride on to Falme.
He rolled to his other side, and Ba'alzamon was standing beside the chair with the pure white length of the Dragon's banner in his hands. The room seemed darker there, as if Ba'alzamon stood on the edge of a cloud of oily black smoke. Nearly healed burns crisscrossed his face, and as Rand looked, his pitchdark eyes vanished for an instant, replaced by endless caverns of fire. Rand's saddlebags lay by his feet, buckles undone, flap thrown back where the banner had been hidden.
"The time comes closer, Lews Therin. A thousand threads draw tight, and soon you will be tied and trapped, set to a course you cannot change. Madness. Death. Before you die, will you once more kill everything you love?"
Rand glanced at the door, but he made no move except to sit up on the side of the bed. What good to try running from the Dark One? His throat felt like sand. "I am not the Dragon, Father of Lies!" he said hoarsely.
The darkness behind Ba'alzamon roiled, and furnaces roared as Ba'alzamon laughed. "You honor me. And belittle yourself. I know you too well. I have faced you a thousand times. A thousand times a thousand. I know you to your miserable soul, Lews Therin Kinslayer." He laughed again; Rand put a hand in front of his face against the heat of that fiery mouth.
"What do you want? I will not serve you. I will not do anything that you want. I'll die first!"
"You will die, worm! How many times have you died across the span of the Ages, fool, and how much has death availed you? The grave is cold and lonely, save for the worms. The grave is mine. This time there will be no rebirth for you. This time the Wheel of Time will be broken and the world remade in the image of the Shadow. This time your death will be forever! Which will you choose? Death everlasting? Or life eternal - and power!"
Rand hardly realized that he was on his feet. The void had surrounded him, saidin was there, and the One Power flowed into him. That fact almost cracked the emptiness. Was this real? Was it a dream? Could he channel in a dream? But the torrent rushing into him swept away his doubts. He hurled it at Ba'alzamon, hurled the pure One Power, the force that turned the Wheel of Time, a force that could make seas burn and eat mountains.

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