The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 127

“I see someone I must speak to,” Rand told the women, and squeezed out of the box they had put him in just as the last woman reached for his arm. All three stared after him as he hurried to the gleeman.

Thom eyed him over the lip of the goblet, then took another long swallow.

“Thom, I know you said a clean break, but I had to get away from those women. All they wanted to talk about was their husbands being away, but they were already hinting at other things.” Thom choked on his wine, and Rand slapped his back. “You drink too fast, and something always goes down the wrong way. Thom, they think I am plotting with Barthanes, or maybe Galldrian, and I don’t think they will believe me when I say I’m not. I just needed an excuse to leave them.”

Thom stroked his long mustaches with one knuckle and peered across the room at the three women. They were still standing together, watching Rand and him. “I recognize those three, boy. Breane Taborwin alone would give you an education such as every man should have at least once in his life, if he can live through it. Worried about their husbands. I like that, boy.” Abruptly his eyes sharpened. “You told me you were clear of Aes Sedai. Half the talk here tonight is of the Andoran lord appearing with no warning, and an Aes Sedai at his side. Barthanes and Galldrian. You’ve let the White Tower put you in the cooking pot this time.”

“She only came yesterday, Thom. And as soon as the Horn is safe, I’ll be free of them again. I mean to see to it.”

“You sound as if it isn’t safe now,” Thom said slowly. “You didn’t sound that way before.”

“Darkfriends stole it, Thom. They brought it here. Barthanes is one of them.”

Thom seemed to study his wine, but his eyes darted to make sure no one was close enough to listen. More than the three women were watching them with sideways glances while pretending to talk among themselves, but every knot maintained its distance from every other. Still, Thom spoke softly. “A dangerous thing to say if it isn’t true, and more dangerous if it is. An accusation like that, against the most powerful man in the kingdom. . . . You say he has the Horn? I suppose you’re after my help again, now that you’re tangled with the White Tower once more.”

“No.” He had decided Thom had been right, even if the gleeman did not know why. He could not involve anyone else in his troubles. “I just wanted to get away from those women.”

The gleeman blew out his mustaches, taken aback. “Well. Yes. That is well. The last time I helped you, I got a limp out of it, and you seem to have let yourself be tied to Tar Valon strings again. You’ll have to get yourself out of it this time.” He sounded as if he were trying to convince himself.

“I will, Thom. I will.” Just as soon as the Horn is safe and Mat has that bloody dagger back. Mat, Hurin, where are you?

As if the thought had been a summons, Hurin appeared in the room, eyes searching among the lords and ladies. They looked through him; servants did not exist unless needed. When he found Rand and Thom, he made his way between the small clusters of nobles and bowed to Rand. “My Lord, I was sent to tell you. Your manservant had a fall and twisted his knee. I don’t know how bad, my Lord.”

For a moment Rand stared before he understood. Conscious of all the eyes on him, he spoke loudly enough for the nobles closest to overhear. “Clumsy fool. What good is he to me if he can’t walk? I suppose I’d better come see how badly he’s hurt himself.”

It seemed to be the right thing to say. Hurin sounded relieved when he bowed again and said, “As my Lord

wishes. If my Lord will follow me?”

“You play very well at being a lord,” Thom said softly. “But remember this. Cairhienin may play Daes Dae’mar, but it was the White Tower made the Great Game in the first place. Watch yourself, boy.” With a glare at the nobles, he set his empty goblet on the tray of a passing servant and strolled away, plucking his harp. He began reciting Goodwife Mili and the Silk Merchant.

“Lead on, man,” Rand told Hurin, feeling foolish. As he followed the sniffer out of the room, he could feel the eyes following him.



A Message from the Dark

“Have you found it?” Rand asked as he followed Hurin down a cramped flight of stairs. The kitchens lay on the lower levels, and the servants who had come attending the guests had all been sent there. “Or is Mat really hurt?”

“Oh, Mat’s fine, Lord Rand.” The sniffer frowned. “At least, he sounds all right, and he grumbles like a hale man. I didn’t mean to worry you, but I needed a reason for you to come below. I found the trail easy enough. The men who set fire to the inn all entered a walled garden behind the manor. Trollocs joined them, went into the garden with them. Sometime yesterday, I think. Maybe even night before last.” He hesitated. “Lord Rand, they didn’t come out again. They must still be in there.”

At the foot of the stairs the sounds of the servants enjoying themselves drifted down the hall, laughter and singing. Someone had a bittern, strumming a raucous tune to clapping and the thump of dancing. There was no worked plaster or fine tapestries here, only bare stone and plain wood. Light in the halls came from rush torches, smoking the ceiling and spread far enough apart that the light faded between them.

“I’m glad you are talking to me naturally again,” Rand said. “The way you have been bowing and scraping, I was beginning to think you were more Cairhienin than the Cairhienin.”

Hurin’s face colored. “Well, as to that. . . .” He glanced down the hall toward the noise and looked as if he wanted to spit. “They all pretend to be so proper, but. . . . Lord Rand, every one of them says he’s loyal to his master or mistress, but they all hint they’re willing to sell what they know, or have heard. And when they have a few drinks in them, they’ll tell you, all whispering in your ear, things about the lords and ladies they serve that’d fair make your hair stand on end. I know they’re Cairhienin, but I never heard of such goings on.”

“We will be out of here soon, Hurin.” Rand hoped it was true. “Where is this garden?” Hurin turned down a side hall leading toward the back of the manor. “Did you bring Ingtar and the others down already?”

The sniffer shook his head. “Lord Ingtar had let himself be cornered by six or seven of those who call themselves ladies. I couldn’t get close enough to speak to him. And Verin Sedai was with Barthanes. She gave me such a look when I came near, I never even tried to tell her.”

They rounded another corner just then, and there were Loial and Mat, the Ogier standing a little stooped for the lower ceiling.

Loial’s grin almost split his face. “There you are. Rand, I was never so glad to get away from anyone as from those people upstairs. They kept asking me if the Ogier were coming back, and if Galldrian had agreed to pay what was owed. It seems the reason all the Ogier stonemasons left is because Galldrian stopped paying them, except with promises. I kept telling them I didn’t know anything about it, but half of them seemed to think that I was lying, and the other half that I was hinting at something.”

“We’ll be out of here soon,” Rand assured him. “Mat, are you all right?” His friend’s face looked more hollow-cheeked than he remembered, even back at the inn, and his cheekbones more prominent.

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