The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 56



It was one of the things that had come to him with the change in his eyes; he could identify people by their smell even when he could not see them. He could see more sharply, too, see in anything but pitchdarkness. He was always careful to light lamps or candles, now, sometimes before anyone else thought they were needed.
From the wolves came a view of men on horses approaching the hollow in late day. That was the last they had seen or smelled of Rand or the other two.
Perrin hesitated. The next step would be useless unless he told Ingtar. And Mat will die if we don't find that dagger. Burn you, Rand, why did you take the sniffer?
The one time he had gone to the dungeon, with Egwene, the smell of Fain had made his hair stand on end; not even Trollocs smelled so foul. He had wanted to rip through the bars of the cell and tear the man apart, and finding that inside himself had frightened him more than Fain did. To mask Fain's smell in his own mind, he added the scent of Trollocs before he howled aloud.
From the distance came the cries of a wolfpack, and in the hollow horses stamped and whickered fearfully. Some of the soldiers fingered their longbladed lances and eyed the rim of the hollow uneasily. Inside Perrin's head, it was much worse. He felt the rage of the wolves, the hate. There were only two things wolves hated. All else they merely endured, but fire and Trollocs they hated, and they would go through fire to kill Trollocs.
Even more than the Trollocs, Fain's scent had put them into a frenzy, as if they smelled something that made Trollocs seem natural and right.
Where?
The sky rolled in his head; the land spun. East and west, wolves did not know. They knew the movements of sun and moon, the shift of seasons, the contours of the land. Perrin puzzled it out. South. And something more. An eagerness to kill the Trollocs. The wolves would let Young Bull share in the killing. He could bring the twolegs with their hard skins if he wanted, but Young Bull, and Smoke, and Two Deer, and Winter Dawn, and all the rest of the pack would hunt down the Twisted Ones who had dared come into their land. The inedible flesh and bitter blood would burn the tongue, but they must be killed. Kill them. Kill the Twisted Ones.
Their fury infected him. His lips peeled back in a snarl, and he took a step, to join them, run with them in the hunt, in the killing.
With an effort he broke the contact except for a thin sense that the wolves were there. He could have pointed to them across the intervening distance. He felt cold inside. I'm a man, not a wolf. Light help me, I am a man!
"Are you well, Perrin?" Mat said, moving closer. He sounded the way he always did, flippant - and bitter under it, too, of late - but he looked worried. "That is all I need. Rand run off, and then you get sick. I don't know where I'll find a Wisdom to look after you out here. I think I have some willowbark in my saddlebags. I can make you some willowbark tea, if Ingtar lets us stay that long. Serve you right if I make it too strong."
"I ... I'm all right, Mat." Shaking off his friend, he went to find Ingtar. The Shienaran lord was scanning the ground on the rim with Uno, and Ragan, and Masema. The others frowned at him as he drew Ingtar aside. He made sure Uno and the rest were too far away to hear before he spoke. "I don't know where Rand or the others went, Ingtar, but Padan Fain and the Trollocs - and I guess the rest of the Darkfriends - are still heading south."
"How do you know this?" Ingtar said.
Perrin drew a deep breath. "Wolves told me." He waited, for what he was not sure. Laughter, scorn, an accusation of being a Darkfriend, of being mad. Deliberately, he tucked his thumbs behind his belt, away from the axe. I will not kill. Not again. If he tries to kill me for a Darkfriend, I'II run, but I won't kill anybody else.
"I have heard of things like this," Ingtar said slowly, after a moment. "Rumors. There was a Warder, a man called Elyas Machera, who some said could talk to wolves. He disappeared years ago." He seemed to catch something in Perrin's eyes. "You know him?"
"I know him," Perrin said flatly. "He's the one ... I don't want to talk about it. I didn't ask for it." That's what Rand said. Light, I wish I were home working Master Luhhan's forge.
"These wolves," Ingtar said, "they will track the Darkfriends and Trollocs for us?" Perrin nodded. "Good. I will have the Horn, whatever it takes." The Shienaran glanced around at Uno and the others still searching for tracks. "Better not to tell anyone else, though. Wolves are considered good luck in the Borderlands. Trollocs fear them. But still, better to keep this between us for the time. Some of them might not understand
."
"I would as soon nobody else ever found out," Perrin said.
"I will tell them you think you have Hurin's talent. They know about that; they're easy with it. Some of them saw you wrinkling your nose back in that village, and at the ferry. I've heard jokes about your delicate nose. Yes. You keep us on the trail today, Uno will see enough of their tracks to confirm it is the trail, and before nightfall every last man will be sure you are a sniffer. I will have the Horn." He glanced at the sky, and raised his voice. "Daylight is wasting! To horse!"
To Perrin's surprise, the Shienarans seemed to accept Ingtar's story. A few of them looked skeptical - Masema went so far as to spit - but Uno nodded thoughtfully, and that was enough for most. Mat was the hardest to convince."A sniffer! You? You're going to track murderers by smell? Perrin, you are as crazy as Rand. I am the only sane one left from Emond's Field, with Egwene and Nynaeve trotting off to Tar Valon to become - " He cut himself short with an uneasy glance for the Shienarans.
Perrin took Hurin's place beside Ingtar as the small column rode south. Mat kept up a string of disparaging remarks, until Uno found the first tracks left by Trollocs and by men on horses, but Perrin paid him little mind. It was all he could do to keep the wolves from dashing on ahead to kill the Trollocs. The wolves cared only about killing the Twisted Ones; to them, Darkfriends were no different from any other twolegs. Perrin could almost see the Darkfriends scattering in a dozen directions while the wolves slew Trollocs, running away with the Horn of Valere. Running away with the dagger. And once the Trollocs were dead, he did not think he could interest the wolves in tracking the humans even if he had any idea which of them to track. He had a running argument with them, and sweat covered his forehead long before he got the first flash of image

He drew rein, stopping his horse dead. The others did the same, looking at him, waiting. He stared straight ahead and cursed softly, bitterly.
Wolves would kill men, but men were not a preferred prey. Wolves remembered the old hunting together, for one thing, and twolegs tasted bad, for another. Wolves were more particular about their food than he would have believed. They would not eat carrion, unless they were starving, and few would kill more than they could eat. What Perrin felt from the wolves could best be described as disgust. And there were the images. He could see them much more clearly than he wished. Bodies, men and women and children, heaped and tumbled about. Bloodsoaked earth churned by hooves and frenzied attempts to escape. Torn flesh. Heads severed. Vultures flapping, their white wings stained red; bloody, featherless heads tearing and gorging. He broke loose before his stomach emptied itself.
Above some trees in the far distance he could just make out black specks whirling low, dropping then rising again. Vultures fighting over their meal.
"There's something bad up there." He swallowed, meeting Ingtar's gaze. How could he fit telling them into the story of being a sniffer? I don't want to get close enough to look at that. But they'll want to investigate once they can see the vultures. I have to tell them enough so they'll circle around. "The people from that village ... I think the Trollocs killed them."
Uno began cursing quietly, and some of the other Shienarans muttered to themselves. None of them seemed to take his announcement as odd, though. Lord Ingtar said he was a sniffer, and sniffers could smell killing.
"And there is someone following us," Ingtar said.
Mat turned his horse eagerly. "Maybe it's Rand. I knew he wouldn't run out on me."
Thin, scattered puffs of dust rose to the north; a horse was running across patches where the grass grew thin. The Shienarans spread out, lances ready, watching in all directions. It was no place to be casual about a stranger.
A speck appeared - a horse and rider; a woman, to Perrin's eyes, long before anyone else could discern the rider - and quickly drew closer. She slowed to a trot as she came up on them, fanning herself with one hand. A plump, graying woman, with her cloak tied behind her saddle, who blinked at them all vaguely.
"That's one of the Aes Sedai," Mat said disappointedly.

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