The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 101

“Who would send me invitations?” Rand turned them over in his hand. None of the men at the tables looked up, but he had the feeling they were watching just the same. He did not recognize the seals. None was the crescent moon and stars Selene had used. “Who would know I was here?”

“Everyone by now, Lord Rand,” Hurin said quietly. He seemed to feel eyes watching, too. “The guards at the gate would not keep their mouths closed about an outland lord coming to Cairhien. The hostler, the innkeeper . . . everybody tells what they know where they think it will do them the most good, my Lord.”

With a grimace, Rand took two steps and hurled the invitations into the fire. They caught immediately. “I am not playing Daes Dae’mar,” he said, loudly enough for everyone to hear. Not even Cuale looked at him. “I’ve nothing to do with your Great Game. I am just here to wait for some friends.”

Hurin caught his arm. “Please, Lord Rand.” His voice was an urgent whisper. “Please don’t do that again.”

“Again? You really think I’ll receive more?”

“I’m certain. Light, but you mind me of the time Teva got so mad at a hornet buzzing round his ears, he kicked the nest. You’ve likely just convinced everyone in the room you are in some deep part of the Game. It must be deep, as they’ll see it, if you deny playing at all. Every lord and lady in Cairhien plays it.” The sniffer glanced at the invitations, curling blackly in the fire, and winced. “And you have surely made enemies of three Houses. Not great Houses, or they’d not have moved so quickly, but still noble. You must answer any more invitations you receive, my Lord. Decline if you will—though they’ll read things into whose invitations you do decline. And into whose you accept. Of course, if you decline them all, or accept them all—”

“I’ll have no part of it,” Rand said quietly. “We are leaving Cairhien as soon as we can.” He thrust his fists into his coat pockets, and felt Selene’s note crumple. Pulling it out, he smoothed it on his coat front. “As soon as we can,” he muttered, putting it back in his pocket again. “Have your drink, Hurin.”

He stalked out angrily, not sure whether he was angry with himself, or with Cairhien and its Great Game, or Selene for vanishing, or Moiraine. She had started it all, stealing his coats and giving him a lord’s clothes instead. Even now that he called himself free of them, an Aes Sedai still managed to interfere in his life, and without even being there.

He went back through the same gate by which he had entered the city, since that was the way he knew. A man standing in front of the guardhouse took note of him—his bright coat marked him out, as well as his height among the Cairhienin—and hurried inside, but Rand did not notice. The laughter and music of the Foregate were pulling him on.

If his gold-embroidered red coat made him stand out inside the walls, it fit right into the Foregate. Many of the men milling through the crowded streets were dressed just as darkly as those in the city, but just as many wore coats of red, or blue, or green, or gold—some bright enough to be a Tinker’s clothes—and even more of the women had embroidered dresses and colored scarves or shawls. Most of the finery was tattered and ill-fitting, as if made for someone else originally, but if some of those who wore it eyed his fine coat, none seemed to take it amiss.

Once he had to stop for another procession of giant puppets. While the drummers beat their tambours and capered, a pig-faced Trolloc with tusks fought a man in a crown. After a few desultory blows, the Trolloc collapsed to laughter and cheers from the onlookers.

Rand grunted. They don’t die so easily as that.

He glanced into one of the large, windowless buildings, stopping to look through the door. To his surprise, it seemed to be one huge room, open to the sky in the middle and lined with balconies, with a large dais at one end. He had never seen or heard of anything like it. People jammed the balconies and the floor watching people perform on the dais. He peeked into others as he passed them, and saw jugglers, and musicians, any number of tumblers, and even a gleeman, with his cloak of patches, declaiming a story from The Great Hunt of the Horn in sonorous-voice High Chant.

That made him think of Thom Merrilin, and he hurried on. Memories of Thom were always sad. Thom had been a friend. A friend who had died for him. While I ran away and let him die.

In another of the big structures, a woman in voluminous white robes appeared to make things vanish from one basket and appear in another, then disappear from her hands in great puffs of smoke. The crowd watching her oohed and aahed loudly.

“Two coppers, my good Lord,” a ratty little man in the doorway said. “Two coppers to see the Aes Sedai.”

“I don’t think so.” Rand glanced back at the woman. A white dove had appeared in her hands. Aes Sedai? “No.” He gave the ratty man a small bow and left.

He was making his way through the throng, wondering what to see next, when a deep voice, accompanied by the plucking of a harp, drifted out from a doorway with the sign of a juggler over it.

“. . . cold blows the wind down Shara Pass; cold lies the grave u

nmarked. Yet every year at Sunday, upon those piled stones appears a single rose, one crystal teardrop like dew upon the petals, laid by the fair hand of Dunsinin, for she keeps fast to the bargain made by Rogosh Eagle-eye.”

The voice drew Rand like a rope. He pushed through the doorway as applause rose within.

“Two coppers, my good Lord,” said a rat-faced man who could have been twin to the other. “Two coppers to see—”

Rand dug out some coins and thrust them at the man. He walked on in a daze, staring at the man bowing on the dais to the clapping of his listeners, cradling his harp in one arm and with the other spreading his patch-covered cloak as if to trap all the sound they made. He was a tall man, lanky and not young, with long mustaches as white as the hair on his head. And when he straightened and saw Rand, the eyes that widened were sharp and blue.

“Thom.” Rand’s whisper was lost in the noise of the crowd.

Holding Rand’s eye, Thom Merrilin nodded slightly toward a small door beside the dais. Then he was bowing again, smiling and basking in the applause.

Rand made his way to the door and through it. It was only a small hallway, with three steps leading up to the dais. In the other direction from the dais Rand could see a juggler practicing with colored balls, and six tumblers limbering themselves.

Thom appeared on the steps, limping as though his right leg did not bend as well as it had. He eyed the juggler and the tumblers, blew out his mustaches disdainfully, and turned to Rand. “All they want to hear is The Great Hunt of the Horn. You would think, with the news from Haddon Mirk and Saldaea, one of them would ask for The Karaethon Cycle. Well, maybe not that, but I’d pay myself to tell something else.” He looked Rand up and down. “You look as if you’re doing well, boy.” He fingered Rand’s collar and pursed his lips. “Very well.”

Rand could not help laughing. “I left Whitebridge sure you were dead. Moiraine said you were still alive, but I. . . . Light, Thom, it’s good to see you again! I should have gone back to help you.”

“Bigger fool if you had, boy. That Fade”—he looked around; there was no one close enough to hear, but he lowered his voice anyway—“had no interest in me. It left me a little present of a stiff leg and ran off after you and Mat. All you could have done was die.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Moiraine said I was still alive, did she? Is she with you, then?”

Rand shook his head. To his surprise, Thom seemed disappointed.

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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