The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 108

Selene cut him off. “If he wants to go in, alantin, he needs a door. Such as that one.” She pointed to a dark patch a little down the wall. Even with her telling him, Rand was not certain it was a door, but when she strode to it and pulled, it opened.

“Rand,” Loial began.

Rand pushed him to the door. “Later, Loial. And softly. We’re hiding, remember?” He got them inside and closed the door behind them. There were brackets for a bar, but no bar to be seen. It would not stop anyone, but maybe the Trollocs would hesitate to come inside the walls.

They were in an alleyway leading up the hill between two long, low windowless buildings. At first he thought they were stone, too, but then he realized the white plaster had been laid over wood. It was dark enough now for the moon reflecting from the walls to give a semblance of light.

“Better to be arrested by the Illuminators than taken by Trollocs,” he murmured, starting up the hill.

“But that is what I was trying to tell you,” Loial protested. “I’ve heard the Illuminators kill intruders. They keep their secrets hard and fast, Rand.”

Rand stopped dead and stared back at the door. The Trollocs were still out there. At the worst, humans had to be better to deal with than Trollocs. He might be able to talk the Illuminators into letting them go; Trollocs did not listen before they killed. “I’m sorry I got you into this, Selene.”

“Danger adds a certain something,” she said softly. “And so far, you handle it well. Shall we see what we find?” She brushed past him up the alleyway. Rand followed, the spicy smell of her filling his nostrils.

Atop the hill, the alleyway opened onto a wide expanse of smoothly flattened clay, almost as pale as the plaster and nearly surrounded by more white, windowless buildings with the shadows of narrow alleys between, but to Rand’s right stood one building with windows, light falling onto the pale clay. He pulled back into the shadows of the alley as a man and a woman appeared, walking slowly across the open space.

Their clothes were certainly not Cairhienin. The man wore breeches as baggy as his shirt sleeves, both in a soft yellow, with embroidery on the legs of his breeches and across the chest of his shirt. The woman’s dress, worked elaborately across the breast, seemed a pale green, and her hair was done in a multitude of short braids.

“All is in readiness, you say?” the woman demanded. “You are certain, Tammuz? All?”

The man spread his hands. “Always you check behind me, Aludra. All is in readiness. The display, it could be given this very moment.”

“The gates and doors, they are all barred? All of the . .

. ?” Her voice faded as they moved on to the far end of the lighted building.

Rand studied the open area, recognizing almost nothing. In the middle of it, several dozen upright tubes, each nearly as tall as he and a foot or more across, sat on large wooden bases. From each tube, a dark, twisted cord ran across the ground and behind a low wall, perhaps three paces long, on the far side. All around the open space stood a welter of wooden racks with troughs and tubes and forked sticks and a score of other things.

All the fireworks he had ever seen could be held in one hand, and that was as much as he knew, except that they burst with a great roar, or whizzed along the ground in spirals of sparks, or sometimes shot into the air. They always came with warnings from the Illuminators that opening one could cause it to go off. In any case, fireworks were too expensive for the Village Council to have allowed anybody unskilled to open one. He could well remember the time when Mat had tried to do just that; it was nearly a week before anyone but Mat’s own mother would speak to him. The only thing that Rand found familiar at all was the cords—the fuses. That, he knew, was where you set the fire.

With a glance back at the unbarred door, he motioned the others to follow and started around the tubes. If they were going to find a place to hide, he wanted to be as far from that door as he could.

It meant making their way between the racks, and Rand held his breath every time he brushed against one. The things in them shifted with the slightest touch, rattling. All of them seemed to be made of wood, without a piece of metal. He could imagine the racket if one were knocked over. He eyed the tall tubes warily, remembering the bang made by one the size of his finger. If those were fireworks, he did not want to be this close to them.

Loial muttered to himself continually, especially when he bumped one of the racks, then started back so fast that he bumped another. The Ogier crept along in a cloud of clatters and muttering.

Selene was no less unnerving. She strode as casually as if they were on a city street. She did not bump anything, did not make a sound, but she also made no effort to keep the cloak closed. The white of her dress seemed brighter than all the walls together. He peered at the lighted windows, waiting for someone to appear. All it would take was one; Selene could not fail to be seen, the alarm given.

The windows remained empty, though. Rand was just breathing a sigh of relief as they approached the low wall—and the alleys and buildings behind it—when Loial brushed against another rack, standing right beside the wall. It held ten soft-looking sticks, as long as Rand’s arm, with thin streams of smoke rising from their tips. The rack made hardly a sound when it fell, the smoldering sticks sprawling across one of the fuses. With a crackling hiss, the fuse burst into flame, and the flame raced toward one of the tall tubes.

Rand goggled for an instant, then he tried to whisper a shout. “Behind the wall!”

Selene made an angry noise when he bore her to the ground behind the wall, but he did not care. He tried to spread himself over her protectively as Loial crowded beside them. Waiting for the tube to burst, he wondered if there would be anything left of the wall. There was a hollow thump that he felt through the ground as much as heard. Cautiously, he lifted himself off of Selene enough to peer around the edge of the wall. She fisted him in the ribs, hard, and wriggled out from under him with an oath in a language he did recognize, but he was beyond noticing.

A trickle of smoke was leaking from the top of one of the tubes. That was all. He shook his head wonderingly. If that’s all there is to it. . . .

With a crash like thunder, a huge flower of red and white bloomed high in the now dark sky, then slowly began drifting away in sparkles.

As he goggled at it, the lighted building erupted with noise. Shouting men and women filled the windows, staring and pointing.

Rand longingly eyed the dark alleyway, only a dozen steps away. And the first step would be in full view of the people at the windows. Pounding feet poured from the building.

He pressed Loial and Selene back against the wall, hoping they looked like just another shadow. “Be still and be silent,” he whispered. “It’s our only hope.”

“Sometimes,” Selene said quietly, “if you are very still, no one can see you at all.” She did not sound the least bit worried.

Boots thumped back and forth on the other side of the wall, and voices were raised in anger. Especially the one Rand recognized as Aludra.

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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