The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 102

“Too bad, in a way. She’s a fine woman, even if she is. . . .” He left it unsaid. “So it was Mat or Perrin she was after. I won’t ask which. They were good boys, and I don’t want to know.” Rand shifted uneasily, and gave a start when Thom fixed him with a bony finger. “What I do want to know is, do you still have my harp and flute? I want them back, boy. What I have now are not fit for a pig to play.”

“I have them, Thom. I’ll bring them to you, I promise. I can’t believe you are alive. And I can’t believe you aren’t in Illian. The Great Hunt setting out. The prize for the best telling of The Great Hunt of the Horn. You were dying to go.”

Thom snorted. “After Whitebridge? Likely I’d die if I did go. Even if I could have reached the boat before it sailed, Domon and his whole crew would be spreading the tale all over Illian about how I was being chased by Trollocs. If they saw the Fade, or heard of it, before Domon cut his lines. . . . Most Illianers think Trollocs and Fades are fables, but enough others might want to know why a man was pursued by them to make Illian somewhat more than uncomfortable.”

“Thom, I have so much to tell you.”

The gleeman cut him off. “Later, boy.” He was exchanging glares down the length of the hall with the narrow-faced man from the door. “If I don’t go back and tell another, he will no doubt send the juggler out, and that lot will tear the hall down around our heads. You come to The Bunch of Grapes, just beyond the Jangai Gate. I have a room there. Anyone can tell you where to find it. I’ll be there in another hour or so. One more tale will have to satisfy them.” He started back up the steps, flinging over his shoulder, “And bring my harp and my flute!”

CHAPTER

26

Discord

Rand darted through the common room of The Defender of the Dragonwall and hurried upstairs, grinning at the startled look the innkeeper had given him. Rand wanted to grin at everything. Thom’s alive!

He flung open the door to his room and went straight to the wardrobe.

Loial and Hurin put their heads in from the other room, both in their shirtsleeves and with pipes in their teeth trailing thin streams of smoke.

“Has something happened, Lord Rand?” Hurin asked anxiously.

Rand slung the bundle made from Thom’s cloak on his shoulder. “The best thing that could, next to Ingtar coming. Thom Merrilin’s alive. And he’s here, in Cairhien.”

“The gleeman you told me about?” Loial said. “That is wonderful, Rand. I would like to meet him.”

“Then come with me, if Hurin’s willing to keep watch awhile.”

“It would be a pleasure, Lord Rand.” Hurin took the pipe out of his mouth. “That lot in the common room kept trying to pump me—without letting on what they were doing, of course—about who you are, my Lord, and why we’re in Cairhien. I told them we were waiting here to meet friends, but being Cairhienin, they figured I was hiding something deeper.”

“Let them think what they want. Come on, Loial.”

“I think not.” The Ogier sighed. “I really would rather stay here.” He raised a book with a thick finger marking his place. “I can meet Thom Merrilin some other time.”

“Loial, you can’t stay cooped up in here forever. We do not even know how long we’ll be in Cairhien. Anyway, we didn’t see any Ogier. And if we do, they would not be hunting for you, would they?”

“Not hunting, precisely, but. . . . Rand, I may have been too hasty in leaving Stedding Shangtai the way I did. When I do go home, I may be in a great deal of trouble.” His ears wilted. “Even if I wait until I’m as old as Elder Haman. Perhaps I could find an abandoned stedding to stay in until then.”

“If Elder Haman won’t let you come back, you can live in Emond’s Field. It’s a pretty place.” A beautiful place.

“I am sure it is, Rand, but that would never work. You see—”

“We will talk about it when it comes to that, Loial. Now you are coming to see Thom.”

The Ogier stood half again as tall as Rand, but Rand pushed him into his long tunic and cloak and down the stairs. When they came pounding through the common room, Rand winked at the innkeeper, then laughed at his startled look. Let him think I’m off to play his bloody Great Game. Let him think what he wants. Thom’s alive.

Once through the Jangai Gate, in the east wall of the city, everyone seemed to know The Bunch of Grapes. Rand and Loial quickly found themselves there, on a street that was quiet for the Foregate, with the sun halfway down the afternoon sky.

It was an old three-story structure, wooden and rickety, but the common room was clean and full of people. Some men were playing at dice in one corner, and some women at darts in another. Half had the look of Cairhienin, slight and pale, but Rand heard Andoran accents as well as others he did not know. All wore the clothes of the Foregate, though, a blend of the styles of half a dozen countries. A few looked around when he and Loial came in, but they all turned back to what they had been doing.

The innkeeper was a woman with hair as white as Thom’s, and sharp eyes that studied Loial as well as Rand. She was not Cairhienin, by her dark skin and her speech. “Thom Merrilin? Aye, he has a room. Top of the stairs, first door on the right. Likely Dena will let you wait for him there”—she eyed Rand’s red coat, with its herons on the high collar and golden brambles embroidered up the sleeves, and his sword—“my Lord.”

The stairs creaked under Rand’s boots, let alone Loial’s. Rand was not sure if the building would stand up much longer. He found the door and knocked, wondering who Dena was.

“Come i

n,” a woman’s voice called. “I cannot open it for you.”

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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