The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 3

He noticed the Myrddraal looking at the figures, trembling; and unless he misjudged entirely, its trembling was no longer fear, but hatred.
Dead silence had fallen, silence that Ba'alzamon let deepen before he spoke. "There is now one who walks the world, one who was and will be, but is not yet, the Dragon."
A startled murmur ran through his listeners.
"The Dragon Reborn! We are to kill him, Great Lord?" That from the Shienaran, hand grasping eagerly at his side where his sword would hang.
"Perhaps," Ba'alzamon said simply. "And perhaps not. Perhaps he can be turned to my use. Sooner or later it will be so, in this Age or another."
The man who called himself Bors blinked. In this Age or another? I thought the Day of Return was near. What matter to me what happens in another Age if I grow old and die waiting in this one? But Ba'alzamon was speaking again.
"Already a bend is forming in the Pattern, one of many points where he who will become the Dragon may be turned to my service. Must be turned! Better that he serve me alive than dead, but alive or dead, serve me he must and will! These three you must know, for each is a thread in the pattern I mean to weave, and it will be up to you to see that they are placed as I command. Study them well, that you will know them."
Abruptly all sound was gone. The man who called himself Bors shifted uneasily, and saw others doing the same. All but the Illianer, woman, he realized. With her hands spread over her bosom as if to hide the rounded flesh she exposed, eyes wide, half frightened and half ecstatic, she was nodding eagerly as though to someone facetoface with her. Sometimes she appeared to give a reply, but the man who called himself Bors heard not a word. Suddenly she arched backwards, trembling and rising on her toes. He could not see why she did not fall, unless something unseen held her. Then, just as abruptly, she settled back to her feet and nodded again, bowing, shivering. Even as she straightened, one of the women wearing a Great Serpent ring gave a start and began nodding.

So each of us hears his own instructions, and none hears another's. The man who called himself Bors muttered in frustration. If he knew what even one other was commanded, he might be able to use the knowledge to advantage, but this way... Impatiently he waited for his turn, forgetting himself enough to stand straight.
One by one the gathering received their orders, each walled in silence yet still giving tantalizing clues, if only he could read them. The man of the Atha'an Miere, the Sea Folk, stiffening with reluctance as he nodded. The Shienaran, his stance bespeaking confusion even while he acquiesced. The second woman of Tar Valon giving a start, as of shock, and the grayswathed figure whose sex he could not determine shaking its head before falling to its knees and nodding vigorously. Some underwent the same convulsion as the Illianer woman, as if pain itself lifted them to toe tips.
The man who called himself Bors jerked as a red mask filled his eyes. He could still see the room, still see the floating shape of Ba'alzamon and the three figures before him, but at the same time all he could see was the redmasked face. Dizzy, he felt as if his skull were splitting open and his eyes were being pushed out of his head. For a moment he thought he could see flames through

"Are you faithful ... Bors?"
The hint of mocking in the name sent a chill down his backbone. "I am faithful, Great Lord. I cannot hide from you." I am faithful! I swear it!
"No, you cannot."
The certainty in Ba'alzamon's voice dried his mouth, but he forced himself to speak. "Command me, Great Lord, and I obey."
"Firstly, you are to return to Tarabon and continue your good works. In fact, I command you to redouble your efforts."
He stared at Ba'alzamon in puzzlement, but then fires flared again behind the mask, and he took the excuse of a bow to pull his eyes away. "As you command, Great Lord, so shall it be."
"Secondly, you will watch for the three young men, and have your followers watch. Be warned; they are dangerous."
The man who called himself Bors glanced at the figures floating in front of Ba'alzamon. How can I do that? I can see them, but I can't see anything except his face. His head felt about to burst. Sweat slicked his hands under his thin gloves, and his shirt clung to his back. "Dangerous, Great Lord? Farmboys? Is one of them the - "
"A sword is dangerous to the man at the point, but not to the man at the hilt. Unless the man holding the sword is a fool, or careless, or unskilled, in which case it is twice as dangerous to him as to anyone else. It is enough that I have told you to know them. It is enough that you obey me."
"As you command, Great Lord, so shall it be."
"Thirdly, regarding those who have landed at Toman Head, and the Domani. Of this you will speak to no one. When you return to Tarabon ..."
The man who called himself Bors realized as he listened that his mouth was sagging open. The instructions made no sense. If I knew what some of the others were told, perhaps I could piece it together.
Abruptly he felt his head grasped as though by a giant hand crushing his temples, felt himself being lifted, and the world blew apart in a thousand starbursts, each flash of light becoming an image that fled across his mind or spun and dwindled into the distance before he could more than barely grasp it. An impossible sky of striated clouds, red and yellow and black, racing as if driven by the mightiest wind the world had ever seen. A woman - a girl? - dressed in white receded into blackness and vanished as soon as she appeared. A raven stared him in the eye, knowing him, and was gone. An armored man in a brutal helm, shaped and painted and gilded like some monstrous, poisonous insect, raised a sword and plunged to one side, beyond his view. A horn, curled and golden, came hurtling out of the far distance. One piercing note it sounded as it flashed toward him, tugging his soul. At the last instant it flashed into a blinding, golden ring of light that passed through him, chilling him beyond death. A wolf leaped from the shadows of lost sight and ripped out his throat. He could not scream. The torrent went on, drowning him, burying him. He could barely remember who he was, or what he was. The skies rained fire, and the moon and stars fell; rivers ran in blood, and the dead walked; the earth split open and fountained molten rock...
The man who called himself Bors found himself half crouching in the chamber with the others, most watching him, all silent. Wherever he looked, up or down or in any direction, the masked face of Ba'alzamon overwhelmed his eyes. The images that had flooded into his mind were fading; he was sure many were already gone from memory. Hesitantly, he straightened, Ba'alzamon always before him.
"Great Lord, what - ?"
"Some commands are too important to be known even by he who carries them out."
The man who called himself Bors bent almost double in his bow. "As you command, Great Lord," he whispered hoarsely, "so shall it be."
When he straightened, he was alone in silence once more. Another, the Taren High Lord, nodded and bowed to someone none else saw. The man who called himself Bors put an unsteady hand to his brow, trying to hold on to something of what had burst through his mind, though he was not completely certain he wanted to remember. The last remnant flickered out, and suddenly he was wondering what it was that he was trying to recall. I know there was something, but what? There was something! Wasn't there? He rubbed his hands together, grimacing at the feel of sweat under his gloves, and turned his attention to the three figures hanging suspended before Ba'alzamon's floating form.
The muscular, curlyhaired youth; the farmer with the sword; and the lad with the look of mischief on his face. Already, in his mind, the man who called himself Bors had named them the Blacksmith, the Swordsman, and the Trickster. What is their place in the puzzle? They must be important, or Ba'alzamon would not have made them the center of this gathering. But from his orders alone they could all die at any time, and he had to think that some of the others, at least, had orders as deadly for the three. How important are they? Blue eyes could mean the nobility of Andor-unlikely in those clothes-and there were Borderlanders with light eyes, as well as some Tareni, not to mention a few from Ghealdan, and, of course ... No, no help there. But yellow eyes? Who are they? What are they?
He started at a touch on his arm, and looked around to find one of the whiteclad servants, a young man, standing by his side. The others were back, too, more than before, one for each of the masked. He blinked. Ba'alzamon was gone. The Myrddraal was gone, too, and only rough stone was where the door it had used had been. The three figures still hung there, though. He felt as if they were staring at him.
"If it please you, my Lord Bors, I will show you to your room."

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