The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 2

“Rise.” There was a snap in the red-masked figure’s voice this time. He gestured with both hands. “Stand!”

The man who called himself Bors scrambled up awkwardly, but halfway to his feet, he hesitated. Those gesturing hands were horribly burned, crisscrossed by black fissures, the raw flesh between as red as the figure’s robes. Would the Dark One appear so? Or even one of the Forsaken? The eyeholes of that blood-red mask swept slowly across him, and he straightened hastily. He thought he could feel the heat of an open furnace in that gaze.

The others obeyed the command with no more grace and no less fear in their rising. When all were on their feet, the floating figure spoke.

“I have been known by many names, but the one by which you shall know me is Ba’alzamon.”

The man who called himself Bors clamped his teeth to keep them from chattering. Ba’alzamon. In the Trolloc tongue, it meant Heart of the Dark, and even unbelievers knew it was the Trolloc name for the Great Lord of the Dark. He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered. Not the True Name, Shai’tan, but still forbidden. Among those gathered here, and others of their kind, to sully either with a human tongue was blasphemy. His breath whistled through his nostrils, and all around him he could hear others panting behind their masks. The servants were gone, and the Trollocs as well, though he had not seen them go.

“The place where you stand lies in the shadow of Shayol Ghul.” More than one voice moaned at that; the man who called himself Bors was not sure his own was not among them. A touch of what might almost be called mockery entered Ba’alzamon’s voice as he spread his arms wide. “Fear not, for the Day of your Master’s rising upon the world is near at hand. The Day of Return draws nigh. Does it not tell you so that I am here, to be seen by you favored few among your brothers and sisters? Soon the Wheel of Time will be broken. Soon the Great Serpent will die, and with the power of that death, the death of Time itself, your Master will remake the world in his own image for this Age and for all Ages to come. And those who serve me, faithful and steadfast, will sit at my feet above the stars in the sky and rule the world of men forever. So have I promised, and so shall it be, without end. You shall live and rule forever.”

A murmur of anticipation ran through the listeners, and some even took a step forward, toward the floating, crimson shape, their eyes lifted, rapturous. Even the man who called himself Bors felt the pull of that promise, the promise for which he had dealt away his soul a hundred times over.

“The Day of Return comes closer,” Ba’alzamon said. “But there is much yet to do. Much to do.”

The air to Ba’alzamon’s left shimmered and thickened, and the figure of a young man hung there, a little lower than Ba’alzamon. The man who called himself Bors could not decide whether it was a living being or not. A country lad, by his clothes, with a light of mischief in his brown eyes and the hint of a smile on his lips, as if in memory or anticipation of a prank. The flesh looked warm, but the chest did not move with breath, the eyes did not blink.

The air to Ba’alzamon’s right wavered as if with heat, and a second country-clad figure hung suspended a little below Ba’alzamon. A curly-haired youth, as heavily muscled as a blacksmith. And an oddity: a battle axe hung at his side, a great, steel half-moon balanced by a thick spike. The man who called himself Bors suddenly leaned forward, intent on an even greater strangeness. A youth with yellow eyes.

For the third time air solidified into the shape of a young man, this time directly under Ba’alzamon’s eye, almost at his feet. A tall fellow, with eyes now gray, now almost blue as the light took them, and dark, reddish hair. Another villager, or farmer. The man who called himself Bors gasped. Yet another thing out of the ordinary, though he wondered why he should expect anything to be ordinary here. A sword swung from the figure’s belt, a sword with a bronze heron on the scabbard and another inset into the long, two-handed hilt. A village boy with a heron-mark blade? Impossible! What can it mean? And a boy with yellow eyes. He noticed the Myrddraal looking at the figures, trembling; and unless he misjudged entirely, its trembling was no longer fear, but hatred.

Dead silence had fallen, silence that Ba’alzamon let deepen before he spoke. “There is now one who walks the world, one who w

as and will be, but is not yet, the Dragon.”

A startled murmur ran through his listeners.

“The Dragon Reborn! We are to kill him, Great Lord?” That from the Shienaran, hand grasping eagerly at his side where his sword would hang.

“Perhaps,” Ba’alzamon said simply. “And perhaps not. Perhaps he can be turned to my use. Sooner or later it will be so, in this Age or another.”

The man who called himself Bors blinked. In this Age or another? I thought the Day of Return was near. What matter to me what happens in another Age if I grow old and die waiting in this one? But Ba’alzamon was speaking again.

“Already a bend is forming in the Pattern, one of many points where he who will become the Dragon may be turned to my service. Must be turned! Better that he serve me alive than dead, but alive or dead, serve me he must and will! These three you must know, for each is a thread in the pattern I mean to weave, and it will be up to you to see that they are placed as I command. Study them well, that you will know them.”

Abruptly all sound was gone. The man who called himself Bors shifted uneasily, and saw others doing the same. All but the Illianer woman, he realized. With her hands spread over her bosom as if to hide the rounded flesh she exposed, eyes wide, half frightened and half ecstatic, she was nodding eagerly as though to someone face-to-face with her. Sometimes she appeared to give a reply, but the man who called himself Bors heard not a word. Suddenly she arched backwards, trembling and rising on her toes. He could not see why she did not fall, unless something unseen held her. Then, just as abruptly, she settled back to her feet and nodded again, bowing, shivering. Even as she straightened, one of the women wearing a Great Serpent ring gave a start and began nodding.

So each of us hears his own instructions, and none hears another’s. The man who called himself Bors muttered in frustration. If he knew what even one other was commanded, he might be able to use the knowledge to advantage, but this way. . . . Impatiently he waited for his turn, forgetting himself enough to stand straight.

One by one the gathering received their orders, each walled in silence yet still giving tantalizing clues, if only he could read them. The man of the Atha’an Miere, the Sea Folk, stiffening with reluctance as he nodded. The Shienaran, his stance bespeaking confusion even while he acquiesced. The second woman of Tar Valon giving a start, as of shock, and the gray-swathed figure whose sex he could not determine shaking its head before falling to its knees and nodding vigorously. Some underwent the same convulsion as the Illianer woman, as if pain itself lifted them to toe tips.

“Bors.”

The man who called himself Bors jerked as a red mask filled his eyes. He could still see the room, still see the floating shape of Ba’alzamon and the three figures before him, but at the same time all he could see was the red-masked face. Dizzy, he felt as if his skull were splitting open and his eyes were being pushed out of his head. For a moment he thought he could see flames through the eyeholes of the mask.

“Are you faithful . . . Bors?”

The hint of mocking in the name sent a chill down his backbone. “I am faithful, Great Lord. I cannot hide from you.” I am faithful! I swear it!

“No, you cannot.”

The certainty in Ba’alzamon’s voice dried his mouth, but he forced himself to speak. “Command me, Great Lord, and I obey.”

“Firstly, you are to return to Tarabon and continue your good works. In fact, I command you to redouble your efforts.”

He stared at Ba’alzamon in puzzlement, but then fires flared again behind the mask, and he took the excuse of a bow to pull his eyes away. “As you command, Great Lord, so shall it be.”

“Secondly, you will watch for the three young men, and have your followers watch. Be warned; they are dangerous.”

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