The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 87

"Head's too big, and it's too skinny. Likely didn't believe in them, either, my Lord, any more than in those other things. The only monsters these Foregate folk believe in are Aiel."
"Are they having a festival?" Rand asked. He did not see any sign of it other than the procession, but he thought that there must be a reason for that. Tavolin ordered his soldiers forward again.
"No more than every day, Rand," Loial said. Walking alongside his horse, the blanketwrapped chest still strapped to his saddle, the Ogier drew as many looks as the puppets had. Some even laughed and clapped as they had for the puppets. "I fear Galldrian keeps his people quiet by entertaining them. He gives gleemen and musicians the King's Gift, a bounty in silver, to perform here in the Foregate, and he sponsors horse races down by the river every day. There are fireworks many nights, too." He sounded disgusted. "Elder Haman says Galldrian is a disgrace." He blinked, realizing what he had said, and looked around hurriedly to see if any of the soldiers had heard. None seemed to have.
"Fireworks," Hurin said, nodding. "The Illuminators have built a chapter house here, I've heard, the same as in Tanchico. I didn't half mind seeing the fireworks, when I was here before."
Rand shook his head. He had never seen fireworks elaborate enough to require even one Illuminator. He had heard they only left Tanchico to put on displays for rulers. It was a strange place he was coming to.
At the tall, square archway of the city gate, Tavolin ordered a halt and dismounted by a squat stone building just inside the walls. It had arrowslits instead of windows, and a heavy, ironbound door.
"A moment, my Lord Rand," the officer said. Tossing his reins to one of the soldiers, he disappeared inside.
With a wary look at the soldiers - they sat their horses rigidly in two long files; Rand wondered what they would do if he and Loial and Hurin tried to leave - he took the opportunity to study the city that lay before him.
Cairhien proper was a sharp contrast to the chaotic bustle of the Foregate. Broad, paved streets, wide enough to make the people in them seem fewer than they were, crossed each other at right angles. Just as in Tremonsien, the hills had been carved and terraced to straight lines. Closed sedan chairs, some with small pennants bearing the sigil of a House, moved with deliberateness, and carriages rolled down the streets slowly. People went silently in dark clothes, with no bright colors except here and there slashes across the breast of coat or dress. The more slashes, the more proudly the wearer moved, but no one laughed, or even smiled. The buildings on their terraces were all of stone, and the ornamentation was straightlined and sharpangled. There were no hawkers or peddlers in the streets, and even the shops seemed subdued, with only small signs and no wares displayed outside.
He could see the great towers more clearly, now. Scaffolds of lashed poles surrounded them, and workmen swarmed on the scaffolding, laying new stones to push the towers higher still.
"The Topless Towers of Cairhien," Loial murmured sadly. "Well, they were tall enough to warrant the name, once. When the Aiel took Cairhien, about the time you were born, the towers burned, and cracked, and fell. I don't see any Ogier among the stonemasons. No Ogier could like working here - the Cairhienin want what they want, without embellishment - but there were Ogier when I was here before."
Tavolin came out, trailing another officer and two clerks, one carrying a large, woodbound ledger and the other a tray with writing implements. The front of the officer's head was shaven like Tavolin's, though advancing baldness seemed to have taken more hair than the razor. Both officers looked from the Rand to the chest hidden by Loial's striped blanket and back again. Neither asked what was under the blanket. Tavolin had looked at it often on the way from Tremonsien, but he had never asked, either. The balding man looked at Rand's sword, too, and pursed his lips for an instant.
Tavolin gave the other officer's name as Asan Sandair, and announced loudly, "Lord Rand of House al'Thor, in Andor, and his man, called Hurin, with Loial, an Ogier of Stedding Shangtai." The clerk with the ledger opened it across his two arms, and Sandair wrote the names in a round hand.
"You must return to this guardhouse by this same hour tomorrow, my Lord," Sandair said, leaving the sanding to the second clerk, "and give the name of the inn where you are staying."
Rand looked at the staid streets of Cairhien, then back at the liveliness of the Foregate. "Can you tell me the name of a good inn out there?" He nodded to the Foregate.
Hurin made a frantic hsst and leaned close. "It would not be proper, Lord Rand," he whispered. "If you stay in the Foregate, being a lord and all, they'll be sure you are up to something."
Rand could see the sniffer was right. Sandair's mouth had dropped open and Tavolin's brows had risen at his question, and they were both still watching him intently. He wanted to tell them he was not playing their Great Game, but instead he said, "We will take rooms in the c

"Of course, my Lord Rand." Sandair made a bow. "But ... the inn?"
"I will let you know when we find one." Rand turned Red, then paused. Selene's note crackled in his pocket. "I need to find a young woman from Cairhien. The Lady Selene. She is my age, and beautiful. I don't know her House."
Sandair and Tavolin exchanged looks, then Sandair said, "I will make inquiries, my Lord. Perhaps I will be able to tell you something when you come tomorrow."
Rand nodded and led Loial and Hurin into the city. They attracted little notice, though there were few riders. Even Loial attracted almost none. The people seemed nearly ostentatious about minding their own business.
"Will they take it the wrong way," Rand asked Hurin, "my asking after Selene?"
"Who can say with Cairhienin, Lord Rand? They seem to think everything has to do with Daes Dae'mar."
Rand shrugged. He felt as if people were looking at him. He could not wait to get a good, plain coat again, and stop pretending to be what he was not.
Hurin knew several inns in the city, though his time in Cairhien had been spent mainly in the Foregate.
The sniffer led them to one called The Defender of the Dragonwall, the sign bearing a crowned man with his foot on another man's chest and his sword at the man's throat. The fellow on his back had red hair.
A hostler came to take their horses, darting quick looks at Rand and at Loial when he thought he was not observed. Rand told himself to stop having fancies; not everyone in the city could be playing this Game of theirs. And if they were, he was no part of it.
The common room was neat, with the tables laid out as strictly as the city, and only a few people at them. They glanced up at the newcomers, then back to their wine immediately; Rand had the feeling they were still watching, though, and listening. A small fire burned in the big fireplace, though the day was warming.
The innkeeper was a plump, unctuous man with a single stripe of green across his dark gray coat. He gave a start at his first sight of them, and Rand was not surprised. Loial, with the chest in his arms under its striped blanket, had to duck his head to make it in through the door, Hurin was burdened with all their saddlebags and bundles, and his own red coat was a sharp contrast to the somber colors the people at the tables wore.
The innkeeper took in Rand's coat and his sword, and his oily smile came back. He bowed, washing his smooth hands. "Forgive me, my Lord. It was just that for a moment I took you for - Forgive me. My brain is not what it was. You wish rooms, my Lord?" He added another, lesser bow for Loial. "I am called Cuale, my Lord."
He thought I was Aiel, Rand thought sourly. He wanted to be gone from Cairhien. But it was the one place Ingtar might find them. And Selene had said she would wait for him in Cairhien.
It took a little time for their rooms to be readied, Cuale explaining with too many smiles and bows that it was necessary to move a bed for Loial. Rand wanted them all to share a room again, but between the innkeeper's scandalized looks and Hurin's insistence - "We have to show these Cairhienin we know what's right as well as they do, Lord Rand" - they ended with two, one for him alone, with a connecting door.
The rooms were much the same except that theirs had two beds, one sized for an Ogier, while his had only one bed, and that almost as big as the other two, with massive square posts that nearly reached the ceiling. His tallbacked, padded chair and the washstand were square and massive, too, and the wardrobe standing against his wall was carved in a heavy, rigid style that made the thing look ready enough to fall over on him. A pair of windows siding his bed looked out on the street, two floors below.
As soon as the innkeeper left, Rand opened the door and admitted Loial and Hurin into his room.

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