The Great Hunt


The Great Hunt: Page 91



"Thom," he said at last, "are there any books that have The Karaethon Cycle in them?" Easier to call it that than the Prophecies of the Dragon.

"In the great libraries," Thom said slowly. "Any number of translations, and even in the Old Tongue, here and there." Rand started to ask if there was any way for him to find one, but the gleeman went on. "The Old Tongue has music in it, but too many even of the nobles are impatient with listening to it these days. Nobles are all expected to know the Old Tongue, but many only learn enough to impress people who don't. Translations don't have the same sound, unless they're in High Chant, and sometimes that changes meanings even more than most translations. There is one verse in the Cycle - it doesn't scan well, translated word for word, but there's no meaning lost - that goes like this.
and twice shall he be marked,
twice to live, and twice to die.
Once the heron, to set his path.
Twice the heron, to name him true.
Once the Dragon, for remembrance lost.
Twice the Dragon, for the price he must pay."
He reached out and touched the herons embroidered on Rand's high collar.
For a moment, Rand could only gape at him, and when he could speak, his voice was unsteady. "The sword makes five. Hilt, scabbard, and blade." He turned his hand down on the table, hiding the brand on his palm. For the first time since Selene's salve had done its work, he could feel it. Not hurting,

"So they do." Thom barked a laugh. "There's another comes to mind.
"Twice dawns the day when his blood is shed.
Once for mourning, once for birth.
Red on black, the Dragon's blood stains the
rock of Shayol Ghul.
In the Pit of Doom shall his blood free men
from the Shadow."
Rand shook his head, denying, but Thom seemed not to notice. "I don't see how a day can dawn twice, but then a lot of it doesn't really make much sense. The Stone of Tear will never fall till Callandor is wielded by the Dragon Reborn, but the Sword That Cannot Be Touched lies in the Heart of the Stone, so how can he wield it first, eh? Well, be that as it may. I suspect Aes Sedai would want to make events fit the Prophecies as closely as they can. Dying somewhere in the Blasted Lands would be a high price to pay for going along with them."
It was an effort for Rand to make his voice calm, but he did it. "No Aes Sedai are using me for anything. I told you, the last I saw of Moiraine was in Shienar. She said I could go where I wanted, and I left."
"And there's no Aes Sedai with you now? None at all?"
"None."
Thom knuckled his dangling white mustaches. He seemed satisfied, and at the same time puzzled. "Then why ask about the Prophecies? Why send the Ogier out of the room?"
"I ... didn't want to upset him. He's nervous enough about the Horn. That's what I wanted to ask. Is the Horn mentioned in the - the Prophecies?" He still could not make himself say it all the way out. "All these false Dragons, and now the Horn is found. Everybody thinks the Horn of Valere is supposed to summon dead heroes to fight the Dark One in the Last Battle, and the ... the Dragon Reborn ... is supposed to fight the Dark One in the Last Battle. It seemed natural enough to ask."
"I suppose it is. Not many know that about the Dragon Reborn fighting the Last Battle, or if they do, they think he'll fight alongside the Dark One. Not many read the Prophecies to find out. What was that you said about the Horn? 'Supposed to'?"
"I've learned a few things since we parted, Thom. They will come for whoever blows the Horn, even a Darkfriend."
Bushy eyebrows rose nearly to Thom's hairline. "Now that I didn't know. You have learned a few things."
"It doesn't mean I would let the White Tower use me for a false Dragon. I don't want anything to do with Aes Sedai, or false Dragons, or the Power, or ..." Rand bit his tongue. Get mad and you start babbling. Fool!
"For a time, boy, I thought you were the one Moiraine wanted, and I even thought I knew why. You know, no man chooses to channel the Power. It is something that happens to him, like a disease. You cannot blame a man for falling sick, even if it might kill you, too."
"Your nephew could channel, couldn't he? You told me that was why you helped us, because your nephew had had trouble with the White Tower and there was nobody to help him. There's only one kind of trouble men can have with Aes Sedai."
Thom studied the tabletop, pursing his lips. "I don't suppose there is any use in denying it. You understand, it is not the kind of thing a man talks about, having a male relative who could channel. Aaagh! The Red Ajah never gave Owyn a chance. They gentled him, and then he died. He just gave up wanting to live . . ." He exhaled sadly.
Rand shivered. Why didn't Moiraine do that to me? "A chance, Thom? Do you mean there was some way he could have dealt with it? Not gone mad? Not died?"
"Owyn held it off almost three years. He never hurt anyone. He didn't use the Power unless he had to, and then only to help his village. He ..." Thom threw up his hands. "I suppose there was no choice. The people where he lived told me he was acting strange that whole last year. They did not much want to talk about it, and they nearly stoned me when they found out I was his uncle. I suppose he was going mad. But he was my blood, boy. I can't love the Aes Sedai for what they did to him, even if they had to. If Moiraine's let you go, then you are well out of it."
For a moment Rand was silent. Fool! Of course there's no way to deal with it. You're going to go mad and die whatever you do. But Ba'alzamon said - "No!" He colored under Thom's scrutiny. "I mean ... I am out of it, Thom. But I still have the Horn of Valere. Think of it, Thom. The Horn of Valere. Other gleemen might tell tales about it, but you could say you had it in your hands." He realized he sounded like Selene, but all that did was make him wonder where she was. "There's nobody I'd rather have with us than you, Thom."
as if considering it, but in the end he shook his head firmly. "Boy, I like you well enough, but you know as well as I do that I only helped before because there was an Aes Sedai mixed in it. Seaghan doesn't try to cheat me more than I expect, and with the King's Gift added in, I could never earn as much in the villages. To my very great surprise, Dena seems to love me, and - as much a surprise - I return the feeling. Now, why should I leave that to go be chased by Trollocs and Darkfriends? The Horn of Valere? Oh, it is a temptation, I'll admit, but no. No, I will not get mixed up in it again."
He leaned over to pick up one of the wooden instrument cases, long and narrow. When he opened it, a flute lay inside, plainly made but mounted with silver. He closed it again and slid it across the table. "You might need to earn your supper again someday, boy."
"I might at that," Rand said. "At least we can talk. I will be in - "
The gleeman was shaking his head. "A clean break is best, boy. If you're always coming around, even if you never mention it, I won't be able to get the Horn out of my head. And I won't be tangled in it. I won't."
After Rand left, Thom threw his cloak on the bed and sat with his elbows on the table. The Horn of Valere. How did that farmboy find ... He shut off that line of thought. Think about the Horn too long, and he would find himself running off with Rand to carry it to Shienar. That would make a story, carrying the Horn of Valere to the Borderlands with Trollocs and Darkfriends pursuing. Scowling, he reminded himself of Dena. Even if she had not loved him, talent such as hers was not to be found every day. And she did love, even if he could not begin to imagine why.
"Old fool," he muttered.
"Aye, an old fool," Zera said from the door. He gave a start; he had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he had not heard the door open. He had known Zera for years, off and on in his wanderings, and she always took full advantage of the friendship to speak her mind. "An old fool who's playing the Game of Houses again. Unless my ears are failing, that young lord has the sound of Andor on his tongue. He's no Cairhienin, that's for certain sure. Daes Dae'mar is dangerous enough without letting an outland lord mix

Thom blinked, then considered the way Rand had looked. That coat had surely been fine enough for a lord. He was growing old, letting things like that slip by him. Ruefully, he realized he was considering whether to tell Zera the truth or let her continue thinking as she did. All it takes is to think about the Great Game, and I start playing it. "The boy is a shepherd, Zera, from the Two Rivers."
She laughed scornfully. "And I'm the Queen of Ghealdan. I tell you, the Game has grown dangerous in Cairhien the last few years. Nothing like what you knew in Caemlyn. There are murders done, now. You'll have your throat cut for you, if you don't watch out."
"I tell you, I am not in the Great Game any longer. That's all twenty years in the past, near enough."

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