The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 69

Maybe they are not coming here at all. Hurin says there are a number of passes through Kinslayer's Dagger. If they went only a little further west, they do not have to come into the mountains at all."
"But the trail we followed came here. They will come here. The Horn will come here. You may turn around, now."
"You say that, but we don't know ..." He turned, and the words died in his mouth. Her dress lay across her arm, and she wore his shirt, hanging in baggy folds on her. It was a longtailed shirt, made for his height, but she was tall for a woman. The bottom of it came little more than halfway down her thighs. It was not as if he had never seen a girl's legs before; girls in the Two Rivers always tied up their skirts to go wading in Waterwood ponds. But they stopped doing it well before they were old enough to braid their hair, and this was in the dark, besides. The moonlight seemed to make her skin glow.
"What is it you don't know, Rand?"
her voice unfroze his joints. With a loud cough, he whirled to face the other way. "Ah ... I think ... ah ... I ... ah ..."
"Think of the glory, Rand." Her hand touched his back, and he almost shamed himself with a squeak. "Think of the glory that will come to the one who finds the Horn of Valere. How proud I'll be to stand beside him who holds the Horn. You have no idea the heights we will scale together, you and I. With the Horn of Valere in your hand, you can be a king. You can be another Artur Hawkwing. You..."
"Lord Rand!" Hurin panted into the campsite. "My Lord, they ..." He skidded to a halt, suddenly making a gurgling sound. His eyes dropped to the ground, and he stood wringing his hands. "Forgive me, my Lady. I didn't mean to ... I ... Forgive me."
Loial sat up, his blanket and cloak falling away. "What's happening? Is it my turn to watch already?" He looked toward Rand and Selene, and even in the moonlight the widening of his eyes was plain.
Rand heard Selene sigh behind him. He stepped away from her, still not looking at her. Her legs are so white, so smooth. "What is it, Hurin?" He made his voice more moderate; was he angry with Hurin, himself, or Selene? No reason to be angry with her. "Did you see something, Hurin?"
The sniffer spoke without raising his eyes. "A fire, my Lord, down in the hills. I didn't see it at first. They made it small, and hid it, but they hid it from somebody following them, not somebody ahead, and up above. Two miles, Lord Rand. Less than three, for sure."
"Fain," Rand said. "Ingtar would not be afraid of anyone following him. It must be Fain." Suddenly he did not know what to do, now. They had been waiting for Fain, but now that the man was only a mile or so away, he was uncertain. "In the morning ... In the morning, we will follow. When Ingtar and the others catch up, we'll be able to p

"So," Selene said. "You will let this Ingtar take the Horn of Valere. And the glory."
"I don't want ..." Without thinking, he turned, and there she was, legs pale in the moonlight, and as unconcerned that they were bare as if she were alone. As if we were alone, the thought came. She wants the man who finds the Horn. "Three of us cannot take it away from them. Ingtar has twenty lances with him."
"You don't know you cannot take it. How many followers does this man have? You don't know that, either." Her voice was calm, but intent. "You don't even know if these men camped down there do have the Horn. The only way is to go down yourself and see. Take the alantin; his kind have sharp eyes, even by moonlight. And he has the strength to carry the Horn in its chest, if you make the right decision."
She's right. You do not know for sure if it's Fain. A fine thing it would be to have Hurin casting about for a trail that was not there, all of them out in the open if the real Darkfriends did finally come. "I will go alone," he said. "Hurin and Loial will stand guard for you."
Laughing, Selene came to him so gracefully it almost seemed she danced. Moonshadows veiled her face in mystery as she looked up at him, and mystery made her even more beautiful. "I am capable of guarding myself, until you return to protect me. Take the alantin."
"She is right, Rand," Loial said, rising. "I can see better by moonlight than you. With my eyes, we may not need to go as close as you would alone."
"Very well." Rand strode over to his sword and buckled it at his waist. Bow and quiver he left where they lay; a bow was not of much use in the dark, and he intended to look, not fight. "Hurin, show me this fire."
The sniffer led him scrambling up the slope to the outcrop, like a huge stone thumb thrust out of the mountain. The fire was only a speck - he missed it the first time Hurin pointed. Whoever had made it did not mean for it to be seen. He fixed it in his head.
By the time they returned to the camp, Loial had saddled Red and his own horse. As Rand climbed to the bay's back, Selene caught his hand. "Remember the glory," she said softly. "Remember." The shirt seemed to fit her better than he recalled, molding itself to her form.
He drew a deep breath and took his hand back. "Guard her with your life, Hurin. Loial?" He heeled Red's flanks gently. The Ogier's big mount plodded along behind.
They did not try to move quickly. Night shrouded the mountainside, and mooncast shadows made footing uncertain. Rand could not see the fire any longer - no doubt it was better hidden from eyes on the same level - but he had its location in his mind. For someone who had learned to hunt in the tangle of the Westwood, in the Two Rivers, finding the fire would be no great difficulty. And what then? Selene's face loomed before him. How proud I'll be to stand beside him who holds the Horn.
"Loial," he said suddenly, trying to clear his thoughts, "what's this alantin she calls you?"
"It's the Old Tongue, Rand." The Ogier's horse picked its way uncertainly, but he guided it almost as surely as if it were daylight. "It means Brother, and is short for tia avende alantin. Brother to the Trees. Treebrother. It is very formal, but then, I've heard the Cairhienin are formal. The noble Houses are, at least. The common people I saw there were not very formal at all."
Rand frowned. A shepherd would not be very acceptable to a formal Cairhienin noble House. Light, Mat's right about you. You're crazy, and with a big head to boot. But if I could marry ...
He wished he could stop thinking, and before he realized it, the void had formed within him, making thoughts distant things, as if part of someone else. Saidin shone at him, beckoned to him. He gritted his teeth and ignored it; it was like ignoring a burning coal inside his head, but at least he could hold it at bay. Barely. He almost left the void, but the Darkfriends were out there in the night, and closer, now. And the Trollocs. He needed the emptiness, needed even the uneasy calm of the void. I don't have to touch it. I don't.
After a time, he reined in Red. They stood at the base of a hill, the widescattered trees on its slopes black in the night. "I think we must be close by now," he said softly. "Best we go the rest of the way on foot." He slid from the saddle and tied the bay's reins to a branch.
"Are you all right?" Loial whispered, climbing down. "You sound odd."
"I'm fine." His voice sounded tight, he realized. Stretched. Saidin called to him. No! "Be careful. I can't be sure exactly how far it is, but that fire should be somewhere just ahead of us. On the hilltop, I think." The Ogier nodded.
Slowly Rand stole from tree to tree, placing each foot carefully, holding his sword tight so it did not clatter against a tree trunk.
He was grateful for the lack of undergrowth. Loial followed like a big shadow; Rand could not see much more of him than that. Everything was moonshadows and darkness.
Suddenly some trick of the moonlight resolved the shadows ahead of him, and he froze, touching the rough bole of a leatherleaf. Dim mounds on the ground became men wrapped in blankets, and apart from them a group of larger mounds. Sleeping Trollocs. They had doused the fire. One moonbeam, moving through the branches, caught a shine of gold and silver on the ground, halfway between the two groups. The moonlight seemed to brighten; for an instant he could see clearly. The shape of a sleeping man lay close by to the gleam, but that was not what held his eye. The chest. The Horn. And something atop it, a point of red flashing in the moonbeam. The dagger! Why would Fain put ... ?
Loial's huge hand settled over Rand's mouth, and a good part of his face besides. He twisted to look at the Ogier. Loial pointed off to his right, slowly, as if motion might attract attention.
At first Rand could not see anything, then a shadow moved, not ten paces away. A tall, bulky shadow, and snouted. Rand's breath caught. A Trolloc. It lifted its snout as if sniffing. Some of them hunted by scent.
For an instant the void wavered. Someone stirred in the Darkfriend camp, and the Trolloc turned to peer that way.

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