The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 38

is he headed in such a hurry?" Rand wondered aloud.
"I heard," Loial said, "that she was sending someone out today, all the way to Arad Doman. There is word of some sort of trouble on Almoth Plain, and the Amyrlin Seat wants to know exactly what. What I don't understand is, why now? From what I hear, the rumors of this trouble came from Tar Valon with the Aes Sedai."
Rand felt cold. Egwene's father had a big map back at home, a map Rand had pored over more than once, dreaming before he found out what the dreams were like when they came true. It was old, that map, showing some lands and nations the merchants from outside said no longer existed, but Almoth Plain was marked, butting against Toman Head. We will meet again on Toman Head. It was all the way across the world he knew, on the Aryth Ocean. "It has nothing to do with us," he whispered. "Nothing to do with me."
Loial appeared not to have heard. Rubbing the side of his nose with a finger like a sausage, the Ogier was still peering at the gate where the Warder had vanished. "If she wanted to know, why not send someone before she left Tar Valon? But you humans are always sudden and excitable, always jumping around and shouting." His ears stiffened with embarrassment. "I am sorry, Rand. You see what I mean about speaking before I think. I'm rash and excitable sometimes myself, as you know."
Rand laughed. It was a weak laugh, but it felt good to have something to laugh at. "Maybe if we lived as long as you Ogier, we'd be more settled." Loial was ninety years old; by Ogier standards, not old enough by ten years to be outside the stedding alone. That he had gone anyway was proof, he maintained, of his rashness. If Loial was an excitable Ogier, Rand thought most of t

"Perhaps so," Loial mused, "but you humans do so much with your lives. We do nothing but huddle in our stedding. Planting the groves, and even the building, were all done before the Long Exile ended." It was the groves Loial held dear, not the cities men remembered the Ogier for building. It was the groves, planted to remind Ogier Builders of the stedding, that Loial had left his home to see. "Since we found our way back to the stedding, we ..." His words trailed off as the Amyrlin approached.
Ingtar and the other men shifted in their saddles, preparing to dismount and kneel, but she motioned them to stay as they were. Leane stood at her shoulder, and Agelmar a pace back. From his glum face, he appeared to have given up trying to convince her to remain longer.
The Amyrlin looked at them one by one before she spoke. Her gaze stayed on Rand no longer than on any other.
"Peace favor your sword, Lord Ingtar," she said finally. "Glory to the Builders, Loial Kiseran."
"You honor us, Mother. May peace favor Tar Valon." Ingtar bowed in his saddle, and the other Shienarans did, too.
"All honor to Tar Valon," Loial said, bowing.
Only Rand, and his two friends on the other side of the party, stayed upright. He wondered what she had said to them. Leane's frown took in all three of them, and Agelmar's eyes widened, but the Amyrlin took no notice.
"You ride to find the Horn of Valere," she said, "and the hope of the world rides with you. The Horn cannot be left in the wrong hands, especially in Darkfriend hands. Those who come to answer its call, will come whoever blows it, and they are bound to the Horn, not to the Light."
There was a stir among the listening men. Everyone believed that those heroes called back from the grave would fight for the Light. If they could fight for the Shadow, instead ...
The Amyrlin went on, but Rand was no longer listening. The watcher was back. The hair stirred on the back of his neck. He peered up at the packed archers' balconies overlooking the courtyard, at the rows of people jammed along the guardwalks atop the walls. Somewhere among them was the set of eyes that had followed him unseen. The gaze clung to him like dirty oil. It can't be a Fade, not here. Then who? Or what? He twisted in his saddle, pulling Red around, searching. The bay began to dance again.
Suddenly something flashed across in front of Rand's face. A man passing behind the Amyrlin cried out and fell, a blackfletched arrow jutting from his side. The Amyrlin stood calmly looking at a rent in her sleeve; blood slowly stained the gray silk.
A woman screamed, and abruptly the courtyard rang with cries and shouts. The people on the walls milled furiously, and every man in the courtyard had his sword out. Even Rand, he was surprised to realize.
Agelmar shook his blade at the sky. "Find him!" he roared. "Bring him to me!" His face went from red to white when he saw the blood on the Amyrlin's sleeve. He fell to his knees, head bowed. "Forgive, Mother. I have failed your safety. I am ashamed."
"Nonsense, Agelmar," the Amyrlin said. "Leane, stop fussing over me and see to that man. I've cut myself worse than this more than once cleaning fish, and he needs help now. Agelmar, stand up. Stand up, Lord of Fal Dara. You have not failed me, and you have no reason for shame. Last year in the White Tower, with my own guards at every gate and Warders all around me, a man with a knife came within five steps of me. A Whitecloak, no doubt, though I've no proof. Please stand up, or I will be shamed." As Agelmar slowly rose, she fingered her sliced sleeve. "A poor shot for a Whitecloak bowman, or even a Darkfriend." Her eyes flickered up to touch Rand's. "If it was at me he aimed." Her gaze was gone before he could read anything on her face, but he suddenly wanted to dismount and hide.
It wasn't aimed at her, and she knows it.
Leane straightened from where she had been kneeling. Someone had laid a cloak over the face of the man who had taken the arrow. "He is dead, Mother." She sounded tired. "He was dead when he struck the ground. Even if I had been at his side ..."
"You did what you could, Daughter. Death cannot be Healed."
Agelmar moved closer. "Mother, if there are Whitecloak killers about, or Darkfriends, you must allow me to send men with you. As far as the river, at least. I could not live if harm came to you in Shienar. Please, return to the women's apartments. I will see them guarded with my life until you are ready to travel."
"Be at ease," she told him. "This scratch will not delay me a moment. Yes, yes, I will gladly accept your men as far as the river, if you insist. But I will not let this delay Lord Ingtar a moment, either. Every heartbeat counts until the Horn is found again. Your leave, Lord Agelmar, to order your oathmen?"
He bowed his head in assent. At that moment he would have given her Fal Dara had she asked.
The Amyrlin turned back to Ingtar and the men gathered behind him. She did not look at Rand again. He was surprised to see her smile suddenly.
"I wager Illian does not give its Great Hunt of the Horn so rousing a sendoff," she said. "But yours is the true Great Hunt. You are few, so you may travel quickly, yet enough to do what you must.
I charge you, Lord Ingtar of House Shinowa, I charge all of you, find the Horn of Valere, and let nothing bar your way."
Ingtar whipped his sword from his back and kissed the blade. "By my life and soul, by my House and honor, I swear it, Mother."
Ingtar swung his horse toward the gate.
Rand dug his heels into Red's flanks and galloped after the column already disappearing through the gates.
Unaware of what had occurred within, the Amyrlin's pikemen and archers stood walling a path from the gates to the city proper, the Flame of Tar Valon on their chests. Her drummers and trumpeters waited near the gates, ready to fall in when she left. Behind the rows of armored men, people packed the square in front of the keep. Some cheered Ingtar's banner, and others no doubt thought this was the start of the Amyrlin Seat's departure. A swelling roar followed Rand across the square.
He caught up with Ingtar where loweaved houses and shops stood to either side, and more people thickly lined the stonepaved street. Some of them cheered, too. Mat and Perrin had been riding at the head of the column with Ingtar and Loial, but the two of them fell back when Rand joined them. How am I ever going to apologize if they won't stay near me long enough for me to say anything? Burn me, he doesn't

"Changu and Nidao are gone," Ingtar said abruptly. He sounded cold and angry, but shaken, too. "We counted every head in the keep, alive or dead, last night and again this morning. They are the only ones not accounted for."
"Changu was on guard in the dungeon yesterday," Rand said slowly.
"And Nidao. They had the second watch. They always stayed together, even if they had to trade or do extra duty for it. They were not on guard when it happened, but ... They fought at Tarwin's Gap, a month gone, and saved Lord Agelmar when his horse went down with Trollocs all around him. Now this. Darkfriends." He drew a deep breath. "Everything is breaking apart."
A man on horseback forced his way through the throng lining the street and joined in behind Ingtar.

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