The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 75

"As I was riding to the village, Captain, I saw a huge sphere. Crystal, it seemed. What is it?"
The Cairhienin's eyes sharpened. "It is part of the statue, my Lord Rand," he said slowly. His gaze flickered toward Loial; for an instant he seemed to be considering something new.
"Statue? I saw a hand, and a face, too. It must be huge."
"It is, my Lord Rand. And old." Caldevwin paused. "From the Age of Legends, so I am told."
Rand felt a chill. The Age of Legends, when use of the One Power was everywhere, if the stories could be believed. What happened there? I

"The Age of Legends," Loial said. "Yes, it must be. No one has done work so vast since. A great piece of work to dig that up, Captain." Hurin sat silently, as if he not only was not listening, but was not there at all.
Caldevwin nodded reluctantly. "I have five hundred laborers in camp beyond the diggings, and even so it will be past summer's end before we have it clear. They are men from the Foregate. Half my work is to keep them digging, and the other half to keep them out of this village. Foregaters have a fondness for drinking and carousing, you understand, and these people lead quiet lives." His tone said his sympathies were all with the villagers.
Rand nodded. He had no interest in Foregaters, whoever they were. "What will you do with it?" The captain hesitated, but Rand only looked back at him until he spoke.
"Galldrian himself has ordered that it be taken to the capital."
Loial blinked. "A very great piece of work, that. I am not sure how something that big could be moved so far."
"His Majesty has ordered it," Caldevwin said sharply. "It will be set up outside the city, a monument to the greatness of Cairhien and of House Riatin. Ogier are not the only ones who know how to move stone." Loial looked abashed, and the captain visibly calmed himself. "Your pardon, friend Ogier. I spoke in haste, and rudely." He still sounded a little gruff. "Will you be staying in Tremonsien long, my Lord Rand?"
"We leave in the morning," Rand said. "We are going to Cairhien."
"As it happens, I am sending some of my men back to the city tomorrow. I must rotate them; they grow stale after too long watching men swing picks and shovels. You will not mind if they ride in your company?" He put it as a question, but as if acceptance were a foregone conclusion. Mistress Madwen appeared on the stairs, and he rose. "If you will excuse me, my Lord Rand, I must be up early. Until the morning, then. Grace favor you." He bowed to Rand, nodded to Loial, and left.
As the doors closed behind the Cairhienin, the innkeeper came to the table.
"I have your Lady settled, my Lord. And I've good rooms prepared for you and your man, and you, friend Ogier." She paused, studying Rand. "Forgive me if I overstep myself, my Lord, but I think I can speak freely to a lord who lets his man speak up. If I'm wrong ... well, I mean no insult. For twentythree years Barin Madwen and I were arguing when we weren't kissing, so to speak. That's by way of saying I have some experience. Right now, you're thinking your Lady never wants to see you again, but it's my way of thinking that if you tap on her door tonight, she'll be taking you in. Smile and say it was your fault, whether it
was or not."
Rand cleared his throat and hoped his face was not turning red. Light, Egwene would kill me if she knew I'd even thought of it. And Selene would kill me if I did it. Or would she? That did make his cheeks burn. "I ... thank you for your suggestion, Mistress Madwen. The rooms ..." He avoided looking at the blanketcovered chest by Loial's chair; they did not dare leave it without someone awake and guarding it. "We three will all sleep in the same room."
The innkeeper looked startled, but she recovered quickly. "As you wish, my Lord. This way, if you please."
Rand followed her up the stairs. Loial carried the chest under its blanket - the stairs groaned under the weight of him and the chest together, but the innkeeper seemed to think it was just an Ogier's bulk - and Hurin still carried all the saddlebags and the bundled cloak with the harp and flute.

Mistress Madwen had a third bed brought in and hastily assembled and made up. One of the beds already there stretched nearly from wall to wall in length, and had obviously been meant for Loial from the start. There was barely room to walk between the beds. As soon as the innkeeper was gone, Rand turned to the others. Loial had pushed the stillcovered chest under his bed and was trying the mattress. Hurin was setting out the saddlebags.
"Do either of you know why that captain was so suspicious of us? He was, I'm sure of it." He shook his head. "I almost think he thought we might steal that statue, the way he was talking."
"Daes Dae'mar, Lord Rand," Hurin said. "The Great Game. The Game of Houses, some call it. This Caldevwin thinks you must be doing something to your advantage or you wouldn't be here. And whatever you're doing might be to his disadvantage, so he has to be careful."
Rand shook his head. "'The Great Game'? What game?"
"It isn't a game at all, Rand," Loial said from his bed. He had pulled a book from his pocket, but it lay unopened on his chest. "I don't know much about it - Ogier don't do such things - but I have heard of it. The nobles and the noble Houses maneuver for advantage. They do things they think will help them, or hurt an enemy, or both. Usually, it's all done in secrecy, or if not, they try to make it seem as if they're doing something other than what they are." He gave one tufted ear a puzzled scratch. "Even knowing what it is, I don't understand it. Elder Haman always said it would take a greater mind than his to understand the things humans do, and I don't know many as intelligent as Elder Haman. You humans are odd."
Hurin gave the Ogier a slanted look, but he said, "He has the right of Daes Dae'mar, Lord Rand. Cairhienin play it more than most, though all southerners do."
"These soldiers in the morning," Rand said. "Are they part of Caldevwin playing this Great Game? We can't afford to get mixed in anything like that." There was no need to mention the Horn. They were all too aware of its presence.
Loial shook his head. "I don't know, Rand. He's human, so it could mean anything."
't know, either." Hurin sounded as worried as the Ogier looked. "He could be doing just what he said, or ... That's the way of the Game of Houses. You never know. I spent most of my time in Cairhien in the Foregate, Lord Rand, and I don't know much about Cairhienin nobles, but-well, Daes Dae'mar can be dangerous anywhere, but especially in Cairhien, I've heard." He brightened suddenly. "The Lady Selene, Lord Rand. She'll know better than me or the Builder. You can ask her in the morning."
But in the morning, Selene was gone. When Rand went down to the common room, Mistress Madwen handed him a sealed parchment. "If you'll forgive me, my Lord, you should have listened to me. You should have tapped on yo

Rand waited until she went away before he broke the white wax seal. The wax had been impressed with a crescent moon and stars.
I must leave you for a time. There are too many people here, and I do not like Caldevwin. I will await you in Cairhien. Never think that I am too far from you. You will be in my thoughts always, as I know that I am in yours.
It was not signed, but that elegant, flowing script had the look of Selene.
He folded it carefully and put it in his pocket before going outside, where Hurin had the horses waiting.
Captain Caldevwin was there, too, with another, younger officer and fifty mounted soldiers crowding the street. The two officers were bareheaded, but wore steelbacked gauntlets, and goldworked, breastplates strapped over their blue coats. A short staff was fastened to the harness on each officer's back, bearing a small, stiff blue banner above his head. Caldevwin's banner bore a single white star, while the younger man's was crossed by two white bars. They were a sharp contrast to the soldiers in their plain armor and helmets that looked like bells with metal cut away to expose their faces.
Caldevwin bowed as Rand came out of the inn. "Good morning to you, my Lord Rand. This is Elricain Tavolin, who will command your escort, if I may call it that." The other officer bowed; his head was shaved as Caldevwin's was. He did not speak.
"An escort will be welcome, Captain," Rand said, managing to sound at ease. Fain would not try anything against fifty soldiers, but Rand wished he could be certain they were only an escort.
The captain eyed Loial, on his way to his horse with the blanketcovered chest. "A heavy burden, Ogier."
Loial almost missed a step. "I never like to be far from my books, Captain." His wide mouth flashed teeth in a selfconscious grin, and he hurried to strap the chest onto his saddle.
Caldevwin looked around, frowning. "Your Lady is not down yet. And her fine animal is not here."
"She left already," Rand told him.

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