The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 61




"Lord Rand," Hurin said abruptly, "something moved down there."
Rand whirled his horse, ready to see charging Trollocs, but Hurin was pointing back the way they had come, at nothing. "What did you see, Hurin? Where?"
let his arm drop. "Right at the edge of that clump of trees there, about a mile. I thought it was ... a woman ... and something else I couldn't make out, but ..." He shivered. "It's so hard to make out things that aren't under your nose. Aaah, this place has my guts all awhirl. I'm likely imagining things, my Lord. This is a place for queer fancies." His shoulders hunched as if he felt the spire pressing on them. "No doubt it was just the wind, my Lord."
Loial said, "There's something else to consider, I'm afraid." He sounded troubled again. He pointed southward. "What do you see off there?"
Rand squinted against the way things far off seemed to slide toward him. "Land like what we've been crossing. Trees. Then some hills, and mountains. Nothing else. What do you want me to see?"
"The mountains," Loial sighed. The tufts on his ears drooped, and the ends of his eyebrows were down on his cheeks. "That has to be Kinslayer's Dagger, Rand. There aren't any other mountains they could be, unless this world is completely different from ours. But Kinslayer's Dagger lies more than a hundred leagues south of the Erinin. A good bit more. Distances are hard to judge in this place, but ... I think we will reach them before dark." He did not have to say any more. They could not have covered over a hundred leagues in less than three days.
Without thinking, Rand muttered, "Maybe this place is like the Ways." He heard Hurin moan, and instantly regretted not kee

It was not a pleasant thought. Enter a Waygate - they could be found just outside Ogier stedding, and in Ogier groves - enter and walk for a day, and you could leave by another Waygate a hundred leagues from where you started. The Ways were dark, now, and foul, and to travel them meant to risk death or madness. Even Fades feared to travel the Ways.
"If it is, Rand," Loial said slowly, "can a misstep kill us here, too? Are there things we have not yet seen that can do worse than kill us?" Hurin moaned again.
They had been drinking the water, riding along as if they had not a concern in the world. Unconcern would kill quickly in the Ways. Rand swallowed, hoping his stomach would settle.
"It is too late for worrying about what is past," he said. "From here on, though, we will watch our step." He glanced at Hurin. The sniffer's head had sunk between his shoulders, and his eyes darted as if he wondered what would leap at him, and from where. The man had run down murderers, but this was more than he had ever bargained for. "Hold on to yourself, Hurin. We are not dead, yet, and we won't be. We will just have to be careful from here on. That's all."
It was at that moment they heard the scream, thin with distance.
"A woman!" Hurin said. Even this much that was normal seemed to rouse him a little. "I knew I saw - "
Another scream came, more desperate than the first.
"Not unless she can fly," Rand said. "She's south of us." He kicked Red to a dead run in two strides.
"Be careful you said!" Loial shouted after him. "Light, Rand, remember! Be careful!"
Rand lay low on Red's back, letting the stallion run. The screams drew him on. It was easy to say be careful, but there was terror in that woman's voice. She did not sound as if she had time for him to be careful. On the edge of another stream, in a sheerbanked channel deeper than most, he drew rein; Red skidded in a shower of stones and dirt. The screams were coming ... There!
He took it all in at a glance. Perhaps two hundred paces away, the woman stood beside her horse in the stream, both of them backed against the far bank. With a broken length of branch, she was fending off a snarling ... something. Rand swallowed, stunned for a moment. If a frog were as big as a bear, or if a bear had a frog's graygreen hide, it might look like that. A big bear.
Not letting himself think about the creature, he leaped to the ground, unlimbering his bow. If he took the time to ride closer, it might be too late. The woman was barely keeping the ... thing ... at the edge of the branch. It was a fair distance - he kept blinking as he tried to judge it; the distance seemed to change by spans every time the thing moved - yet a big target. His bandaged hand made drawing awkward, but he had an arrow loosed almost before his feet were set.
The shaft sank into the leathery hide for half its length, and the creature spun to face Rand. Rand took a step back despite the distance. That huge, wedgeshaped head had never been on any animal he could imagine, nor that wide, hornylipped beak of a mouth, hooked for ripping flesh. And it had three eyes, small, and fierce, and ringed by hardlooking ridges. Gathering itself, the thing bounded toward him down the stream in great, splashing leaps. To Rand's eye, some of the leaps seemed to cover twice as much distance as others, though he was sure they were all the same.
"An eye," the woman called. She sounded surprisingly calm, considering her screams. "You must hit an eye to kill it."
He drew the fletching of another arrow back to his ear. Reluctantly, he sought the void; he did not want to, but it was for this that Tam had taught him, and he knew he could never make the shot without it. My father, he thought with a sense of loss, and emptiness filled him. The quavering light of saidin was there, but he shut it away. He was one with the bow, with the arrow, with the monstrous shape leaping toward him. One with the tiny eye. He did not even feel the arrow leave the bowstring.
The creature rose in another bound, and at the peak, the arrow struck its central eye. The thing landed, fountaining another huge splash of water and mud. Ripples spread out from it, but it did not move.
"Well shot, and bravely," the woman called. She was on her horse, riding to meet him. Rand felt vaguely surprised that she had not run once the thing's attention was diverted. She rode past the bulk, still surrounded by the ripples of its dying, without even a downward glance, scrambled her horse up the bank and dismounted. "Few men would stand to face the charge of a grolm, my Lord."
She was all in white, her dress divided for riding and belted in silver, and her boots, peeking out from under her hems, were tooled in silver, too. Even her saddle was white, and silvermounted. Her snowy mare, with its arched neck and dainty step, was almost as tall as Rand's bay. But it was the woman herself - she was perhaps Nynaeve's age, he thought - who held his eyes. She was tall, for one thing; a hand taller and she could almost look him in the eyes. For another, she was beautiful, ivorypale skin contrasting sharply with long, nightdark hair and black eyes. He had seen beautiful women. Moiraine was beautiful, if cool, and so was Nynaeve, when her temper did not get the better of her. Egwene, and Elayne, the DaughterHeir of Andor, were each enough to take a man's breath. But this woman ... His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth; he felt his heart start beating again.
"Your retainers, my Lord?"
Startled, he looked around. Hurin and Loial had joined them. Hurin was staring the way Rand knew he had been, and even the Ogier seemed fascinated. "My friends," he said. "Loial, and Hurin. My name is Rand. Rand al'Thor."
"I have never thought of it before," Loial said abruptly, sounding as if he were talking to himself, "but if there is such a thing as perfect human beauty, in face and form, then you -"
"Loial!" Rand shouted. The Ogier's ears stiffened in embarrassment. Rand's own ears were red; Loial's words had been too close to what he himself was thinking.
The woman laughed musically, but the next instant she was all regal formality, like a queen on her throne. "I am called Selene," she said. "You have risked your life, and saved mine. I am yours, Lord Rand al'Thor." And, to Rand's horror, she knelt before him.
at Hurin or Loial, he hastily pulled her to her feet. "A man who will not die to save a woman is no man." Immediately he disgraced himself by blushing. It was a Shienaran saying, and he knew it sounded pompous before it was out of his mouth, but her manner had infected him, and he could not stop it. "I mean ... That is, it was ..." Fool, you can't tell a woman saving her life was nothing. "It was my honor." That sounded vaguely Shienaran and formal. He hoped it would do; his mind was as blank of anything else to say as if

Suddenly he became conscious of her eyes on him. Her expression had not changed, but her dark eyes made him feel as if he were naked. Unbidden, the thought came of Selene with no clothes. His face went red again. "Aaah! Ah, where are you from, Selene? We have not seen another human being since we came here. Is your town nearby?" She looked at him thoughtfully, and he stepped back. Her look made him too aware of how close to her he was.

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