The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 9



He wondered if she had had anything to do with the wind atop the tower; Aes Sedai could do things like that. When he pushed through that door and slammed it shut behind him, muting the roar of welcome that still shook the courtyard, he heaved a relieved sigh.
The halls here were as empty as the others had been, and he all but ran. Out across a smaller courtyard, with a fountain splashing in the center, down yet another corridor and out into the flagstoned stableyard. The Lord's Stable itself, built into the wall of the keep, stood tall and long, with big windows here inside the walls, and horses kept on two floors. The smithy across the courtyard stood silent, the farrier and his helpers gone to see the Welcome.
Tema, the leatheryfaced head groom, met him at the wide doors with a deep bow, touching his forehead and then his heart. "Spirit and heart to serve, my Lord. How may Tema serve, my Lord?" No warrior's topknot here; Tema's hair sat on his head like an inverted gray bowl.
Rand sighed. "For the hundredth time, Tema, I am not a lord."
"As my Lord wishes." The groom's bow was even lower this time.
It was his name that caused the problem, and a similarity. Rand al'Thor. Al'Lan Mandragoran. For Lan, according to the custom of Malkier, the royal "al" named him King, though he never used it himself. For Rand, "al" was just a part of his name, though he had heard that once, long ago, before the Two Rivers was called the Two Rivers, it had meant "son of." Some of the servants in Fal Dara keep, though, had taken it to mean he was a king, too, or at least a prince. All of his argument to the contrary had only managed to demote him to lord. At least, he thought it had; he had never seen quite so much bowing and scraping, even with Lord Agelmar.
"I need Red saddled, Tema. " He knew better than to offer to do it himself; Tema would not let Rand soil his hands. "I thought I'd spend a few days seeing the country around the town." Once he was on the big bay stallion's back, a few days would see him at the River Erinin, or across the border into Arafel. They'll never find me then.
The groom bent himself almost double, and stayed bent. "Forgive, my Lord," he whispered hoarsely. "Forgive, but Tema cannot obey."
Flushing with embarrassment, Rand took an anxious look around - there was no one else in sight - then grabbed the man's shoulder and pulled him upright. He might not be able to stop Tema and a few others from acting like this, but he could try to stop anyone else from seeing it. "Why not, Tema? Tema, look at me, please. Why not?"
"It is commanded, my Lord," Tema said, still whispering. He kept dropping his eyes, not afraid, but ashamed that he could not do what Rand asked. Shienarans took shame the way other people took being branded a thief. "No horse may leave this stable until the order is changed. Nor any stable in the keep, my Lord."
mouth open to tell the man it was all right, but instead he licked his lips. "No horse from any stable?"
"Yes, my Lord. The order came down only a short time ago. Only moments." Tema's voice picked up strength. "All the gates are closed as well, my Lord. None may enter or leave without permission. Not even the city patrol, so Tema has been told."
Rand swallowed hard, but it did not lessen the feeling of fingers clutching his windpipe. "The order, Tema. It came from Lord Agelmar?"
"Of course, my Lord. Who else? Lord Agelmar did not speak the command to Tema, of course, nor even to the man who did speak to Tema, but, my Lord, who else could give such a c

Who else? Rand jumped as the biggest bell in the keep bell tower let out a sonorous peal. The other bells joined in, then bells from the town.
"If Tema may be bold," the groom called above the reverberations, "my Lord must be very happy."
Rand had to shout back to be heard. "Happy? Why?"
"The Welcome is finished, my Lord." Tema's gesture took in the bell tower. "The Amyrlin Seat will be sending for my Lord, and my Lord's friends, to come to her, now."
Rand broke into a run. He just had time to see the surprise on Tema's face, and then he was gone. He did not care what Tema thought. She will he sending for me now.

(FreeBooks.Mobi) Chapter 3
(RubyHilted Dagger)
Friends and Enemies
Rand did not run far, only as far as the sally gate around the corner from the stable. He slowed to a walk before he got there, trying to appear casual and unhurried.
The arched gate was closed tight. It was barely big enough for two men to ride through abreast, but like all the gates in the outer wall, it was covered with broad strips of black iron, and locked shut with a thick bar. Two guards stood before the gate in plain conical helmets and plateandmail armor, with long swords on their backs. Their golden surcoats bore the Black Hawk on the chest. He knew one of them slightly, Ragan. The scar from a Trolloc arrow made a white triangle against Ragan's dark cheek behind the bars of his faceguard. The puckered skin dimpled with a grin when he saw Rand."Peace favor you, Rand al'Thor." Ragan almost shouted to be heard over the bells. "Do you intend to go hit rabbits over the head, or do you still insist that club is a bow?" The other guard shifted to stand more in front of the gate.
"Peace favor you, Ragan," Rand said, stopping in front of them. It was an effort to keep his voice calm. "You know it's a bow. You've seen me shoot it."
"No good from a horse," the other guard said sourly. Rand recognized him, now, with his deepset, almostblack eyes that never seemed to blink. They peered from his helmet like twin caves inside another cave. He supposed there could be worse luck for him than Masema guarding the gate, but he was not sure how, short of a Red Aes Sedai. "It's too long," Masema added. "I can shoot three arrows with a horsebow while you loose one with that monster."
Rand forced a grin, as if he thought it was a joke. Masema had never made a joke in his hearing, nor laughed at one. Most of the men at Fal Dara accepted Rand; he trained with Lan, and Lord Agelmar had him at table, and most important of all, he had arrived at Fal Dara in company with Moiraine, an Aes Sedai. Some seemed unable to forget his being an outlander, though, barely saying two words to him, and then only if they had to. Masema was the worst of those.
"It's good enough for me," Rand said. "Speaking of rabbits, Ragan, how about letting me out? All this noise and bustle is too much for me. Better to be out hunting rabbits, even if I never see one."
Ragan half turned to look at his companion, and Rand's hopes began to lift. Ragan was an easygoing man, his manner belying his grim scar, and he seemed to like Rand. But Masema was already shaking his head. Ragan sighed. "It cannot be, Rand al'Thor." He gave a tiny nod toward Masema as if to explain. If it were up to him alone ... "No one is to leave without a written pass. Too bad you did not ask a few minutes ago. The command just came down to bar the gates."
"But why would Lord Agelmar want to keep me in?" Masema was eyeing the bundles on Rand's back, and his saddlebags. Rand tried to ignore him. "I'm his guest," he went on to Ragan. "By my honor, I could have left anytime these past weeks. Why would he mean this order for me? It is Lord Agelmar's order, isn't it?" Masema blinked at that, and his perpetual frown deepened; he almost appeared to forget Rand's packs.
Ragan laughed. "Who else could give such an order, Rand al'Thor? Of course, it was Uno who passed it to me, but whose order could it have been?"
Masema's eyes, fixed on Rand's face, did not blink. "I just want to go out by myself, that's all," Rand said. "I'll try one of the gardens, then. No rabbits, but at least there won't be a crowd. The Light illumine you, and peace favor you."
He walked away without waiting for an answering blessing, resolving not to go near any of the gardens on any account. Burn me, once the ceremonies are done there could be Aes Sedai in any of them. Aware of Masema's eyes on his back - he was sure it was Masema - he kept his pace normal.
Suddenly the bells stopped ringing, and he skipped a step.
Minutes were passing. A great many of them. Time for the Amyrlin Seat to be shown to her chambers. Time for her to send for him, to start a search when he was not found. As soon as he was out of sight of the salley gate, he began to run again.
Near the barracks' kitchens, the Carters' Gate, where all the foodstuffs for the keep were brought in, stood closed and barred, behind a pair of soldiers. He hurried past, across the kitchen yard, as if he had never meant to stop.
The Dog Gate, at the back of the keep, just high enough and wide enough for one man on foot, had its guards, too. He turned around before they saw him. There were not many gates, even as big as the keep was, but if the Dog Gate was guarded, they all would be.
Perhaps he could find a length of rope ... He climbed one of the stairs to the top of the outer wall, to the wide parapet with its crenellated walls.

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