The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 113

“Muadh!” he roared. A grizzled man trotted away from those holding the prisoners. Muadh had fallen into the hands of Darkfriends, once; his scarred face took even the strongest aback. “Is this your work, Muadh, or the Seanchan?”

“Neither, my Lord Captain.” Muadh’s voice was a hoarse, whispered growl, another leaving of the Darkfriends. He said no more.

Bornhald frowned. “Surely that lot did not do it,” he said, gesturing to the prisoners. The Children did not look so neat as when he had brought them across Tarabon, but they seemed ready to parade compared with the rabble that crouched under their watchful eyes. Men in rags and bits of armor, with sullen faces. Remnants of the army Tarabon had sent against the invaders on Toman Head.

Muadh hesitated, then said carefully, “The villagers say they wore Taraboner cloaks, my Lord Captain. There was a big man among them, with gray eyes and a long mustache, that sounds twin to Child Earwin, and a young lad, trying to hide a pretty face behind a yellow beard, who fought with his left hand. Sounds almost like Child Wuan, my Lord Captain.”

“Questioners!” Bornhald spat. Earwin and Wuan were among those he had had to hand over to the Questioners’ command. He had seen Questioner tactics before, but this was the first time he had ever been faced with children’s bodies.

“If my Lord Captain says so.” Muadh made it sound like fervent agreement.

“Cut them down,” Bornhald said wearily. “Cut them down, and make sure the villagers know there will be no more killing.” Unless some fool decides to be brave because his woman is watching, and I have to make an example. He dismounted, eyeing the prisoners again, as Muadh hurried off calling for ladders and knives. He had more to think about than Questioners’ overzealousness; he wished he could stop thinking about Questioners altogether.

“They do not put up much fight, my Lord Captain,” Byar said, “either these Taraboners or what is left of the Domani. They snap like cornered rats, but run as soon as anything snaps back.”

“Let us see how we do against the invaders, Byar, before we look down on these men, yes?” The prisoners’ faces bore a defeated look that had been there before his men came. “Have Muadh pick one out for me.” Muadh’s face was enough to soften most men’s resolve by itself. “An officer, preferably. One who looks intelligent enough to tell what he has seen without embroidery, but young enough not to have yet grown a full backbone. Tell Muadh to be not too gentle about it, yes? Make the fellow believe that I mean to see worse happen to him than he ever dreamed of, unless he convinces me otherwise.” He tossed his reins to one of the Children and strode into the inn.

The innkeeper was there, for a wonder, an obsequious, sweating man, his dirty shirt straining over his belly until the embroidered red scrollwork seemed ready to pop off. Bornhald waved the man away; he was vaguely aware of a woman and some children huddling in a doorway, until the fat innkeeper shepherded them out.

Bornhald pulled off his gauntlets and sat at one of the tables. He knew too little about the invaders, the strangers. That was what almost everyone called them, those who did not just babble about Artur Hawkwing. He knew they called themselves the Seanchan, and Hailene. He had enough of the Old Tongue to know the latter meant Those Who Come Before, or the Forerunners. They also called themselves Rhyagelle, Those Who Come Home, and spoke of Corenne, the Return. It was almost enough to make him believe the tales of Artur Hawkwing’s armies come back. No one knew where the Seanchan had come from, other than that they had landed in ships. Bornhald’s requests for information from the Sea Folk had been met with silence. Amador did not hold the Atha’an Miere in good favor, and the attitude was returned with interest. All he knew of the Seanchan he had heard from men like those outside. Broken, beaten rabble who spoke, wide-eyed and sweating, of men who came into battle riding monsters as often as horses, who fought with monsters by their sides, and brought Aes Sedai to rend the earth under their enemies’ feet.

A sound of boots in the doorway made him put on a wolfish grin, but Byar was not accompanied by Muadh. The Child of the Light who stood beside him, back braced and helmet in the crook of his arm, was Jeral, who Bornhald expected to be a hundred miles away. Over his armor, the young man wore a cloak of Domani cut, trimmed with blue, not the white cloak of the Children.

“Muadh is talking to a young fellow now, my Lord Captain,” Byar said. “Child Jeral has just ridden in with a message.”

Bornhald waved for Jeral to begin.

The young man did not unbend. “The compliments of Jaichim Carridin,” he started, looking straight ahead, “who guides the Hand of the Light in—”

“I have no need of the Questioner’s compliments,” Bornhald growled, and saw the young man’s startled look. Jeral was young, yet. For that matter, Byar looked uncomfortable, as well. “You will give me his message, yes? Not word for word, unless I ask it. Simply tell me what he wants.”

The Child, set to recite, swallowed before he began. “My Lord Captain, he—he says you are moving too many men too close to Toman Head. He says the Darkfriends on Almoth Plain must be rooted out, and you are—forgive me, Lord Captain—you are to turn back at once and ride toward the heart of the plain.” He stood stiffly, waiting.

Bornhald studied him. The dust of the plain stained Jeral’s face as well as his cloak and his boots. “Go and get yourself something to eat,” Born-hald told him. “There should be wash water in one of these houses, if you wish it. Return to me in an hour. I will have messages for you to carry.” He waved the young man out.

“The Questioners may be right, my Lord Captain,” Byar said when Jeral was gone. “There are many villages scattered on the plain, and the Darkfriends—”

Bornhald’s hand slapping the table cut him off. “What Darkfriends? I have seen nothing in any village he has ordered taken except farmers and craftsmen worried that we will burn their livelihoods, and a few old women who tend the sick.” Byar’s face was a study in lack of expression; he was always readier than Bornhald to see Darkfriends. “And children, Byar? Do children here become Darkfriends?”

“The sins of the mother are visited to the fifth generation,” Byar quoted, “and the sins of the father to the tenth.” But he looked uneasy. Even Byar had never killed a child.

“Has it never occurred to you, Byar, to wonder why Carridin has taken away our banners, and the cloaks of the men the Questioners lead? Even the Questioners themselves have put off the white. This suggests something, yes?”

“He must have his reasons, Lord Captain,” Byar said slowly. “The Questioners always have reasons, even when they do not tell the rest of us.”

Bornhald reminded himself that Byar was a good soldier. “Children to the north wear Taraboner cloaks, Byar, and those to the south Domani. I do not like what this suggests to me. There are Darkfriends here, but they are in Falme, not on the plain. When Jeral rides, he will not ride alone. Messages will go to every group of the Children I know how to find. I mean to take the legion onto Toman Head, Byar, and see what the true Darkfriends, these Seanchan, are up to.”

Byar looked troubled, but before he could speak, Muadh appeared with one of the prisoners. The sweating young man in a battered, ornate breastplate shot frightened looks at Muadh’s hideous face.

Bornhald drew his dagger and began trimming his nails. He had never understood why that made some men nervous,

but he used it just the same. Even his grandfatherly smile made the prisoner’s dirty face pale. “Now, young man, you will tell me everything you know about these strangers, yes? If you need to think on what to say, I will send you back out with Child Muadh to consider it.”

The prisoner darted a wide-eyed look at Muadh. Then words began to pour out of him.

The long swells of the Aryth Ocean made Spray roll, but Domon’s spread feet balanced him as he held the long tube of the looking glass to his eye and studied the large vessel that pursued them. Pursued, and was slowly overtaking. The wind where Spray ran was not the best or the strongest, but where the other ship smashed the swells into mountains of foam with its bluff bow, it could not have blown better. The coastline of Toman Head loomed to the east, dark cliffs and narrow strips of sand. He had not cared to take Spray too far out, and now he feared he might pay for it.

“Strangers, Captain?” Yarin had the sound of sweat in his voice. “Is it a strangers’ ship?”

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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