The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 70




letting the calm of emptiness envelope him. His hand was on his sword, but he did not think of it. The void was all. Whatever happened, happened. He watched the Trolloc without blinking.
A moment longer the snouted shadow watched the Darkfriend camp, then, as if satisfied, folded itself down beside a tree. Almost immediately a low sound, like coarse cloth

Loial put his mouth close to Rand's ear. "It's asleep," he whispered incredulously.
Rand nodded. Tam had told him Trollocs were lazy, apt to give up any task but killing unless fear kept them to it. He turned back to the camp.
All was still and quiet there again. The moonbeam no longer shone on the chest, but he knew now which shadow it was. He could see it in his mind, floating beyond the void, glittering golden, chased with silver, in the glow of saidin. The Horn of Valere and the dagger Mat needed, both almost within reach of his hand. Selene's face drifted with the chest. They could follow Fain's party in the morning, and wait until Ingtar joined them. If Ingtar did come, if he still followed the trail without his sniffer. No, there would never be a better chance. All within reach of his hand. Selene was waiting on the mountain.
Motioning for Loial to follow, Rand dropped to his belly and crawled toward the chest. He heard the Ogier's muffled gasp, but his eyes were fixed on that one shadowed mound ahead.
Darkfriends and Trollocs lay to left and right of him, but once he had seen Tam stalk close enough to a deer to put his hand on its flank before the animal bounded off; he had tried to learn from Tam. Madness! The thought flew by dimly, almost out of reach. This is madness! You-are-going -mad! Dim thoughts; someone else's thoughts.
Slowly, silently, he slithered to that one special shadow, and put out a hand. Ornate traceries worked in gold met his touch. It was the chest that held the Horn of Valere. His hand touched something else, on the lid. The dagger, barebladed. In the dark, his eyes widened. Remembering what it had done to Mat, he jerked back, the void shifting with his agitation.
The man sleeping nearby - no more than two paces from the chest; no one else lay so close by spans - groaned in his sleep and thrashed at his blankets. Rand allowed the void to sweep thought and fear away. Murmuring uneasily in his sleep, the man stilled.
Rand let his hand go back to the dagger, not quite touching it. It had not harmed Mat in the beginning. Not much, at least; not quickly. In one swift motion he lifted the dagger, stuck it behind his belt, and pulled his hand away, as if it might help to minimize the time it touched his bare skin. Perhaps it would, and Mat would die without the dagger. He could feel it there, almost a weight pulling him down, pressing against him. But in the void sensation was as distant as thought, and the feel of the dagger faded quickly to something he was used to.
He wasted only a moment more staring at the shadowwrapped chest - the Horn had to be inside, but he did not know how to open it and he could not lift it by himself - then he looked around for Loial. He found the Ogier crouched not far behind him, massive head swiveling as he peered back and forth from sleeping human Darkfriends to sleeping Trollocs. Even in the night it was plain Loial's eyes were as wide as they could go; they looked as big as saucers in the light of the moon. Rand reached out and took Loial's hand.
The Ogier gave a start and gasped. Rand put a finger across his lips, set Loial's hand on the chest, and mimed lifting. For a time - it seemed forever, in the night, with Darkfriends and Trollocs all around; it could not have been more than heartbeats - Loial stared. Then, slowly, he put his arms around the golden chest and stood. He made it seem effortless.
Ever so carefully, even more carefully than he had come in, Rand began to walk out of the camp, behind Loial and the chest. Both hands on his sword, he watched the sleeping Darkfriends, the still shapes of the Trollocs. All those shadowed figures began to be swallowed deeper in the darkness as they drew away. Almost free. We've done it!
The man who had been sleeping near the chest suddenly sat up with a strangled yell, then leaped to his feet. "It's gone! Wake, you filth! It's gooonnne!" Fain's voice; even in the void Rand recognized it. The others scrambled erect, Darkfriends and Trollocs, calling to know what was happening, growling and snarling. Fain's voice rose to a howl. "I know it is you, al'Thor! You're hiding from me, but I know you are out there! Find him! Find him! Al'Thoooor!" Men and Trollocs scattered in every direction.
Wrapped in emptiness, Rand kept moving. Almost forgotten in entering the camp, saidin pulsed at him.
"He cannot see us," Loial whispered low. "Once we reach the horses - "
A Trolloc leaped out of the dark at them, cruel eagle's beak in a man's face where mouth and nose should have been, scythelike sword already whistling through the air.
Rand moved without thought. He was one with the blade. Cat Dances on the Wall. The Trolloc screamed as it fell, screamed again as it died.
"Run, Loial!" Rand commanded. Saidin called to him. "Run!"
He was dimly aware of Loial lumbering to an awkward gallop, but another Trolloc loomed from the night, boarsnouted and tusked, spiked axe raised. Smoothly Rand glided between Trolloc and Ogier; Loial must get the Horn away. Head and shoulders taller than Rand, half again as wide, the Trolloc came at him with a silent snarl. The Courtier Taps His Fan. No scream, this time. He walked backwards after Loial, watching the night. Saidin sang to him, such a sweet song. The Power could burn them all, burn Fain and all the rest to cinders. No!
Two more Trollocs, wolf and ram, gleaming teeth and curling horns. Lizard in the Thornbush. He rose smoothly from one knee as the second toppled, horns almost brushing his shoulder. The song of saidin caressed him with seduction, pulled him with a thousand silken strings. Burn them all with the Power. No. No! Better dead than that. If I were dead, it would be done with.
A knot of Trollocs came into sight, hunting uncertainly. Three of them, four. Suddenly one pointed to Rand and raised a howl the rest answered as they charged.
"Let it be done with!" Rand shouted, and leaped to meet them.
For an instant surprise slowed them, then they came on with guttural cries, gleeful, bloodthirsty, swords and axes raised. He danced among them to the song of saidin. Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose. So cunning that song, filling him. Cat on Hot Sand. The sword seemed alive in his hands as it had never been before, and he fought as if a heronmark blade could keep saidin from him. The Heron Spreads Its Wings.
Rand stared at the motionless shapes on the ground around him. "Better to be dead," he murmured. He raised his eyes, back up the hill toward where the camp lay. Fain was there, and Darkfriends, and more Trollocs. Too many to fight. Too many to face and live. He took a step that way. Another.
come on!" Loial's urgent, whispered call drifted through the emptiness to him. "For life and the Li

Carefully, Rand bent to wipe his blade on a Trolloc's coat. Then, as formally as if Lan were watching him train, he sheathed it.
"Rand!"
As though he knew of no urgency, Rand joined Loial by the horses. The Ogier was tying the golden chest atop his saddle with straps from his saddlebags. His cloak was stuffed underneath to help balance the chest on the rounded saddle seat.
Saidin sang no more. It was there, that stomachturning glow, but it held back as if he truly had fought it off. Wonderingly, he let the void vanish. "I think I am going mad," he said. Suddenly realizing where they were, he peered back the way they had come. Shouts and howls came from half a dozen different directions; signs of search, but none of pursuit. Yet. He swung up onto Red's back.
"Sometimes I do not understand half of what you say," Loial said. "If you must go mad, could it at least wait until we are back with the Lady Selene and Hurin?"
"How are you going to ride with that in your saddle?"
"I will run!" The Ogier suited his words by breaking into a quick trot, pulling his horse behind him by the reins. Rand followed.
The pace Loial set was as fast as a horse could trot. Rand was sure the Ogier could not keep it for long, but Loial's feet did not flag. Rand decided that his boast of once outrunning a horse might really be true. Now and again Loial looked behind them as he ran, but the shouts of Darkfriends and howls of Trollocs faded with distance.
Even when the ground began to slope upwards more sharply, Loial's pace barely slowed, and he trotted into their campsite on the mountainside with only a little hard breathing.

"You have it." Selene's voice was exultant as her gaze rested on the ornately worked chest on Loial's saddle. She was wearing her own dress again; it looked as white as new snow to Rand. "I knew you would make the right choice

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