The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 120

“It was nothing,” Rand said wearily. “I wish Ingtar would get here. And Mat, and Perrin.”

They walked along in silence for a time, with Rand lost in thought. Thom’s nephew had lasted almost three years by channeling only when he thought he had to. If Owyn had managed to limit how often he channeled, it must be possible to not channel at all, no matter how seductive saidin was.

“Rand,” Loial said, “there’s a fire up ahead.”

Rand got rid of his unwelcome thoughts and looked off into the city, frowning. A thick column of black smoke billowed up above the rooftops. He could not see what lay at the base of it, but it was too close to the inn.

“Darkfriends,” he said, staring at the smoke. “Trollocs can’t come inside the walls without being seen, but Darkfriends. . . . Hurin!” He broke into a run, Loial easily keeping pace beside him.

The closer they came, the more certain it was, until they rounded the last stone-terraced corner and there was The Defender of the Dragonwall, smoke pouring out of its upper windows and flames breaking through the roof. A crowd had gathered in front of the inn. Cuale, shouting and jumping about, was directing men carrying furnishings out into the street. A double line of men passed inside buckets filled with water from a well down the street and empty buckets back out. Most of the people only stood and watched; a new gout of flame burst through the slate roof, and they gave a loud aaaah.

Rand pushed through the crowd to the innkeeper. “Where is Hurin?”

“Careful with that table!” Cuale shouted. “Do not scrape it!” He looked at Rand and blinked. His face was smudged with smoke. “My Lord? Who? Your manservant? I do not remember seeing him, my Lord. No doubt he went out. Do not drop those candlesticks, fool! They are silver!” Cuale danced off to harangue the men lugging his belongings out of the inn.

“Hurin wouldn’t have gone out,” Loial said. “He would not have left the. . . .” He looked around and left it unsaid; some of the onlookers seemed to find an Ogier as interesting as the fire.

“I know,” Rand said, and plunged into the inn.

The common room hardly seemed as if the building were on fire. The double line of men stretched up the stairs, passing their buckets, and others scrambled to carry out what furniture was left, but there was no more smoke down here than if something had been burning the kitchen. As Rand pressed upstairs, it began to thicken. Coughing, he ran up the steps.

The lines stopped short of the second landing, men halfway up the stairs hurling their water up into a smoke-filled hallway. Flames licking up the walls flickered red through the black smoke.

One of the men grabbed Rand’s arm. “You cannot go up there, my Lord. It is all lost above here. Ogier, speak to him.”

It was the first Rand realized that Loial had followed him. “Go back, Loial. I’ll bring him out.”

“You cannot carry Hurin and the chest both, Rand.” The Ogier shrugged. “Besides, I won’t leave my books to burn.”

“Then keep low. Under the smoke.” Rand dropped to his hands and knees on the stairs, and scrambled up the rest of the way. There was cleaner air down near the floor; still smoky enough to make him cough, but he could breathe it. Yet even the air seemed blistering hot. He could not get enough of it through his nose. He breathed through his mouth, and felt his tongue drying.

Some of the water the men threw landed on him, soaking him to the skin. The coolness was only a momentary relief; the heat came right back. He crawled on determinedly, aware of Loial behind him only from the Ogier’s coughing.

One wall of the hallway was almost solid flame, and the floor near it had already begun to add thin tendrils to the cloud that hung over his head. He was glad he could not see what lay above the smoke. Ominous crackling told enough.

The door to Hurin’s room had not caught yet, but it was hot enough that he had to try twice before he could manage to push it open. The first thing to meet his eye was Hurin, sprawled on the floor. Rand crawled to the sniffer and lifted him up. There was a lump on the side of his head the size of a plum.

Hurin opened unfocused eyes. “Lord Rand?” he murmured faintly. “. . . knock at the door . . . thought it was more invi. . . .” His eyes rolled back in his head. Rand felt for a heartbeat, and sagged with relief when he found it.

“Rand. . . .” Loial coughed. He was beside his bed, with the covers thrown up to reveal the bare boards underneath. The chest was gone.

Above the smoke, the ceiling creaked, and flaming pieces of wood fell to the floor.

Rand said, “Get your books. I will take Hurin. Hurry.” He started to drape the limp sniffer over his shoulders, but Loial took Hurin from him.

“The books will have to burn, Rand. You can’t carry him and crawl, and if you stand up, you will never reach the stairs.” The Ogier pulled Hurin up onto his broad back, arms and legs hanging to either side. The ceiling gave a loud crack. “We must hurry, Rand.”

“Go, Loial. Go, and I’ll follow.”

The Ogier crawled into the hall with his burden, and Rand started after him. Then he stopped, staring back at the connecting door to his room. The banner was still in there. The banner of the Dragon. Let it burn, he thought, and an answering thought came as if he had heard Moiraine say it. Your life may depend on it. She’s still trying to use me. Your life may depend on it. Aes Sedai never lie.

With a groan, he rolled across the floor and kicked open the door to his room.

The other room was a mass of flame. The bed was a bonfire, red runners already crossed the floor. There would be no crawling across that. Getting to his feet, he ran crouching into the room, flinching from the heat, coughing, choking. Steam rose from his damp coat. One side of the wardrobe was already burning. He snatched open the door. His saddlebags lay inside, still protected from the fire, one side bulging with the banner of Lews Therin Telamon, the wooden flute case beside them. For an instant, he hesitated. I could still let it burn.

The ceiling above him groaned. He grabbed saddlebags and flute case and threw himself back through the door, landing on his knees as burning timbers crashed where he had stood. Dragging his burden, he crawled into the hall. The floor shook with more falling beams.

The men with the buckets were gone when he reached the stairs. He all but slid down the steps to the next landing, scrambled to his feet and ran through the now-empty building into the street. The onlookers stared at him, with his face blackened and his coat covered with smut, but he staggered to where Loial had propped Hurin against the wall of a house across the street. A woman from the crowd was wiping Hurin’s face with a cloth, but his eyes were still closed, and his breath came in heaves.

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