The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 61

“These wolves,” Ingtar said, “they will track the Darkfriends and Trollocs for us?” Perrin nodded. “Good. I will have the Horn, whatever it takes.” The Shienaran glanced around at Uno and the others still searching for tracks. “Better not to tell anyone else, though. Wolves are considered good luck in the Borderlands. Trollocs fear them. But still, better to keep this between us for the time. Some of them might not understand.”

“I would as soon nobody else ever found out,” Perrin said.

“I will tell them you think you have Hurin’s talent. They know about that; they’re easy with it. Some of them saw you wrinkling your nose back in that village, and at the ferry. I’ve heard jokes about your delicate nose. Yes. You keep us on the trail today, Uno will see enough of their tracks to confirm it is the trail, and before nightfall every last man will be sure you are a sniffer. I will have the Horn.” He glanced at the sky, and raised his voice. “Daylight is wasting! To horse!”

To Perrin’s surprise, the Shienarans seemed to accept Ingtar’s story. A few of them looked skeptical—Masema went so far as to spit—but Uno nodded thoughtfully, and that was enough for most. Mat was the hardest to convince.

“A sniffer! You? You’re going to track murderers by smell? Perrin, you are as crazy as Rand. I am the only sane one left from Emond’s Field, with Egwene and Nynaeve trotting off to Tar Valon to become—” He cut himself short with an uneasy glance for the Shienarans.

Perrin took Hurin’s place beside Ingtar as the small column rode south. Mat kept up a string of disparaging remarks, until Uno found the first tracks left by Trollocs and by men on horses, but Perrin paid him little mind. It was all he could do to keep the wolves from dashing on ahead to kill the Trollocs. The wolves cared only about killing the Twisted Ones; to them, Darkfriends were no different from any other two-legs. Perrin could almost see the Darkfriends scattering in a dozen directions while the wolves slew Trollocs, running away with the Horn of Valere. Running away with the dagger. And once the Trollocs were dead, he did not think he could interest the wolves in tracking the humans even if he had any idea which of them to track. He had a running argument with them, and sweat covered his forehead long before he got the first flash of images that turned his stomach.

He drew rein, stopping his horse dead. The others did the same, looking at him, waiting. He stared straight ahead and cursed softly, bitterly.

Wolves would kill men, but men were not a preferred prey. Wolves remembered the old hunting together, for one thing, and two-legs tasted bad, for another. Wolves were more particular about their food than he would have believed. They would not eat carrion, unless they were starving, and few would kill more than they could eat. What Perrin felt from the wolves could best be described as disgust. And there were the images. He could see them much more clearly than he wished. Bodies, men and women and children, heaped and tumbled about. Blood-soaked earth churned by hooves and frenzied attempts to escape. Torn flesh. Heads severed. Vultures flapping, their white wings stained red; bloody, featherless heads tearing and gorging. He broke loose before his stomach emptied itself.

Above some trees in the far distance he could just make out black specks whirling low, dropping then rising again. Vultures fighting over their meal.

“There’s something bad up there.” He swallowed, meeting Ingtar’s gaze. How could he fit telling them into the story of being a sniffer? I don’t want to get close enough to look at that. But they’ll want to investigate once they can see the vultures. I have to tell them enough so they’ll circle around. “The people from that village. . . . I think the Trollocs killed them.”

Uno began cursing quietly, and some of the other Shienarans muttered to themselves. None of them seemed to take his announcement as odd, though. Lord Ingtar said he was a sniffer, and sniffers could smell killing.

“And there is someone following us,” Ingtar said.

Mat turned his horse eagerly. “Maybe it’s Rand. I knew he wouldn’t run out on me.”

Thin, scattered puffs of dust rose to the north; a horse was running across patches where the grass grew thin. The Shienarans spread out, lances ready, watching in all directions. It was no place to be casual about a stranger.

A speck appeared—a horse and rider; a woman, to Perrin’s eyes, long before anyone else could discern the rider—and quickly drew closer. She slowed to a trot as she came up on them, fanning herself with one hand. A plump, graying woman, with her cloak tied behind her saddle, who blinked at them all vaguely.

“That’s one of the Aes Sedai,” Mat said disappointedly. “I recognize her. Verin.”

“Verin Sedai,” Ingtar said sharply, then bowed to her from his saddle.

“Moiraine Sedai sent me, Lord Ingtar,” Verin announced with a satisfied smile. “She thought you might need me. Such a gallop I’ve had. I thought I might not catch you short of Cairhien. You saw that village, of course? Oh, that was very nasty, wasn’t it? And that Myrddraal. There were ravens and crows all over the rooftops, but never a one went near it, dead as it was. I had to wave away the Dark One’s own weight in flies, though, before I could make out what it was. A shame I did not have time to take it down. I’ve never had a chance to study a—” Suddenly her eyes narrowed, and the absent manner vanished like smoke. “Where is Rand al’Thor?”

Ingtar grimaced. “Gone, Verin Sedai. Vanished last night, without a trace. Him, the Ogier, and Hurin, one of my men.”

“The Ogier, Lord Ingtar? And your sniffer went with him? What would those two have in common with . . . ?” Ingtar gaped at her, and she snorted. “Did you think you could keep something like that secret?” She snorted again. “Sniffers. Vanished, you say?”

“Yes, Verin Sedai.” Ingtar sounded unsettled. It was never easy discovering Aes Sedai knew the secrets you were trying to keep from them; Perrin hoped Moiraine had not told anyone about him. “But I have—I have a new sniffer.” The Shienaran Lord gestured to Perrin. “This man seems to have the ability, also. I will find the Horn of Valere, as I swore to, have no fear. Your company will be welcome, Aes Sedai, if you wish to ride with us.” To Perrin’s surprise, he did not sound as if he entirely meant it.

Verin glanced at Perrin, and he shifted uneasily. “A new sniffer, just when you lose your old one. How . . . providential. You found no tracks? No, of course not. You said no trace. Odd. Last night.” She twisted in her saddle, looking back north, and for

a moment Perrin almost thought she was going to ride back the way she had come.

Ingtar frowned at her. “You think their disappearance has something to do with the Horn, Aes Sedai?”

Verin settled back. “The Horn? No. No, I . . . think not. But it is odd. Very odd. I do not like odd things until I can understand them.”

“I can have two men escort you back to where they disappeared, Verin Sedai. They will have no trouble taking you right to it.”

“No. If you say they vanished without a trace. . . .” For a long moment she studied Ingtar, her face unreadable. “I will ride with you. Perhaps we will find them again, or they will find us. Talk to me as we ride, Lord Ingtar. Tell me everything you can about the young man. Everything he did, everything he said.”

They started off in a jingle of harness and armor, Verin riding close beside Ingtar and questioning him closely, but too low to be overheard. She gave Perrin a look when he tried to maintain his place, and he fell back.

“It’s Rand she’s after,” Mat murmured, “not the Horn.”

Perrin nodded. Wherever you’ve gotten to, Rand, stay there. It’s safer than here.

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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