The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 47

Ingtar put spurs to horse as if he had been told the Darkfriends were still there, and Rand had to keep pace or be trampled by the Shienarans who galloped up the hill behind him.

There was not much to see. The cold ashes of campfires, well hidden in the trees, with what looked like the remnants of a meal tossed in them. A refuse heap too near the fires and already buzzing with flies.

Ingtar kept the others back, and dismounted to walk through the campsite with Uno, examining the ground. Hurin rode the circumference of the site, sniffing. Rand sat his stallion with the other men; he had no desire for any closer look at a place where Trollocs and Darkfriends had camped. And a Fade. And something worse.

Mat scrambled up the hill afoot and stalked into the campsite. “Is this what a Darkfriend camp looks like? Smells a bit, but I can’t say it looks any different from anybody else’s.” He kicked at one of the ash heaps, knocking out a piece of burned bone, and stooped to pick it up. “What do Darkfriends eat? Doesn’t look like a sheep bone, or a cow.”

“There was murder done here,” Hurin said mournfully. He scrubbed at his nose with a kerchief. “Worse than murder.”

“There were Trollocs here,” Ingtar said, looking straight at Mat. “I suppose they got hungry, and the Darkfriends were handy.” Mat dropped the blackened bone; he looked as if he were going to be sick.

“They are not going south any longer, my Lord,” Hurin said. That took everyone’s attention. He pointed back, to the northeast. “Maybe they’ve decided to break for the Blight after all. Go around us. Maybe they were just trying to put us off by coming south.” He did not sound as if he believed it. He sounded puzzled.

“Whatever they were trying,” Ingtar snarled, “I’ll have them now. Mount!”

Little more than an hour later, though, Hurin drew rein. “They changed again, my Lord. South again. And they killed someone else here.”

There were no ashes there, in the gap between two hills, but a few minutes’ search found the body. A man curled up and stuffed under some bushes. The back of his head was smashed in, and his eyes still bulged with the force of the blow. No one recognized him, though he was wearing Shienaran clothes.

“We’ll waste no time burying Darkfriends,” Ingtar growled. “We ride south.” He suited his own words almost before they were out of his mouth.

The day was the same as the day before had been, though. Uno studied tracks and droppings, and said they had gained a little ground on their quarry. Twilight came with no sight of Trollocs or Darkfriends, and the next morning there was another abandoned camp—and another murder done, so Hurin said—and another change of direction, this time to the northwest. Less than two hours on that track found another body, a man with his skull split open by an axe, and another change of direction. South again. Again gaining ground, by Uno’s reading of the tracks. Again seeing nothing but distant farms until nightfall. And the next day was the same, changes in direction, murders and all. And the next.

Every day brought them a little closer behind their prey, but Ingtar fumed. He suggested cutting straight across when the trail changed direction of a morning—surely they would come on the trail heading south again, and gain more time—and before anyone could speak, he said it was a bad idea, in case this once the men they hunted did not turn south. He urged everyone to greater speed, to start earlier and ride till full dark. He reminded them of the charge the Amyrlin Seat had given them, to recover the Horn of Valere, and let nothing bar their way. He spoke of the glory they would have, their names remembered in story and history, in gleemen’s tales and bards’ songs, the men who found the Horn. He talked as if he could not stop, and he stared down the trail they followed as if his hope of the Light lay at the end of it. Even Uno began to look at him askance.

And so they came to the River Erinin.

It could not properly be called a village at all, to Rand’s mind. He sat his horse among the trees, peering up at half a dozen small houses with wood-shingled roofs and eaves almost to the ground, on a hilltop overlooking the river beneath the morning sun. Few people passed this way. It was only a few hours since they had broken camp, but past time for them to have found the remains of the Darkfriends’ resting place if the pattern held. They had seen nothing of the sort, however.

The river itself was not much like the mighty Erinin of story, here so far toward its source in the Spine of the World. Perhaps sixty paces of swift water to the far bank, lined with trees, and a barge-like ferry on a thick rope spanning the distance. The ferry sat snugged against the other side.

For once the trail had led straight to human habitation. Straight to the houses on the hill. No one moved on the single dirt street around which the dwellings clustered.

“Ambush, my Lord?” Uno said softly.

Ingtar gave the necessary orders, and the Shienarans unlimbered their lances, sweeping around to encircle the houses. At a hand signal from Ingtar they galloped between the houses from four directions, thundering in with eyes searching, lances ready, dust ris

ing under their hooves. Nothing moved but them. They drew rein, and the dust began to settle.

Rand returned to his quiver the arrow he had nocked, and slung his bow on his back again. Mat and Perrin did the same. Loial and Hurin had just waited there where Ingtar had left them, watching uneasily.

Ingtar waved, and Rand and the others rode up to join the Shienarans.

“I don’t like the smell of this place,” Perrin muttered as they came among the houses. Hurin gave him a look, and he stared back until Hurin dropped his eyes. “It smells wrong.”

“Bloody Darkfriends and Trollocs went straight through, my Lord,” Uno said, pointing to a few tracks not chopped to pieces by the Shienarans. “Straight through to the goat-kissing ferry, which they bloody left on the other side. Blood and bloody ashes! We’re flaming lucky they didn’t cut it adrift.”

“Where are the people?” Loial asked.

Doors stood open, curtains flapped at open windows, but no one had come out for all the thunder of hooves.

“Search the houses,” Ingtar commanded. Men dismounted and ran to comply, but they came back shaking their heads.

“They’re just gone, my Lord,” Uno said. “Just bloody gone, burn me. Like they’d picked up and decided to flaming walk away in the middle of the bloody day.” He stopped suddenly, pointing urgently to a house behind Ingtar. “There’s a woman at that window. How I bloody missed her. . . .” He was running for the house before anyone else could move.

“Don’t frighten her!” Ingtar shouted. “Uno, we need information. The Light blind you, Uno, don’t frighten her!” The one-eyed man disappeared through the open door. Ingtar raised his voice again. “We will not harm you, good lady. We are Lord Agelmar’s oathmen, from Fal Dara. Do not be afraid! We will not harm you.”

A window at the top of the house flew up, and Uno stuck his head out, staring around wildly. With an oath he pulled back. Thumps and clatters marked his passage back, as if he were kicking things in frustration. Finally he appeared from the doorway.

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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