The Seer – Snippet 01
by Sonia Lyris
The tall man dropped five silver falcons onto the rough wooden table. The coins clinked against each other, silver faces bright in the light of the single candle that Dirina had just sparked to flame.
“I want answers,” he said.
Her hand went toward the coins as if of its own volition. She pulled it back, tucked it under the blanket wrapped tight around her shoulders.
If he wanted answers, he wanted Amarta, asleep with the baby in the small back room of the shack.
Her gaze went to the bright coins. Three were bird-side up, the king’s profile was on the other two. A good omen?
His large palm came down flat, covering the silver, breaking her focus. She looked up at his bearded face and met his dark eyes.
Now was moments after being woken by his pounding that shook the entire structure, dragging Dirina awake and off the cot where her sister and baby miraculously slept on.
Her gaze went to his hand, then back to his face, trying to make sense of this.
His expression told her nothing, but his cloak and coins and smell of horse said plenty. That her sister’s reputation had spread, again, far beyond this small mountain village to which they had come only last spring, before the baby was born. Where they were still welcome, if barely.
Were there really five falcons under his hand? Maybe she had imagined them.
She would tell him no. Come back tomorrow. When Amarta was rested. When Dirina could see him clearly in the daylight.
“Your pardon, ser,” she said, ducking her head. “She is asleep. She’s only a child. She –”
He picked up his hand, revealing the five coins again. For a moment her mouth moved silently.
“She’s only –”
“Asleep. A child. I heard you. Get her in here.”
Outside the wind picked up, blowing a roar through the trees, scraping branches against the roof, hissing through shutters that never closed properly, sneaking under the door that had to be bolted to stay shut in high winds.
But Amarta was exhausted. She had foreseen three times today already. Next week’s weather, when the goat would birth, how many kids, the arrival of trade wagons. So, today, they had eaten.
Dirina liked eating. Feeding the baby from her own body always left her so very hungry. She always wanted more food.
Also, rent was due, the roof needed patching, and the stove ate peat voraciously.
Five falcons. She ached to touch them.
The candle flickered wildly in a puff of air. On the walls, shadows danced with the flame’s motion.
“I’m sorry, ser,” she said, pulling her hand back again. “She’s too tired. She can be ready in the morning. At first light. Then she would be happy to answer –”
Her breath caught at his look. He scared her, this large stranger whose face she couldn’t read, who had five falcons to spend on a child’s divination in the middle of the night.
Even his clothes were odd. Loose, as if he had so much material he didn’t know what to do with it. Some kind of wool, fine and thick. She wondered what it felt like.
He made a noise. Sharp, displeased. Taking hold of a nearby stool, he pulled it to the table and sat. It creaked a little.
“One of us is going to go back there and get her. She might prefer it be you.”
Dirina’s stomach tightened. She looked for the oak stick she kept in the corner, alarmed to not see it. There it was; it had slipped to the dirt floor. When she looked back at him, he was watching her.
This man had needed to bend to come inside. His loose clothes did not hide his bulk.
She should never have let him in.
Again his hand went for the falcons, and for a wretched moment she thought he might take them away. Instead he dropped another silver coin onto the pile.
A beautiful, terrible sound.
“A moment,” Dirina said softly and ran to the tiny back room.
Through the shutter slats, pale moonlight illuminated a straw-stuffed cot where Amarta slept curled around the baby. Dirina had named him Pas, after a tasty fruit-filled pastry she had once eaten because every time she looked at him she felt as if she had bitten into something wonderful.
On her knees she reached over him, breathing a quick prayer that he would stay asleep. She squeezed her sister’s shoulder.
Amarta muttered something into the layers of clothes and blankets, the muffled, flat tone telling Dirina just how exhausted she was. Then she opened her eyes.
“A man,” Dirina said. “He has seven falcons, Ama. Can you see for him?” She didn’t pause for an answer. “You must.” She brushed her sister’s dark hair out of her face. “Seven falcons. He won’t wait. My sweet, I’m sorry.”
Her sister struggled to sit up, blinking, then pulled a tunic over the light clothes she slept in and stood. Dirina hastily tucked the blankets around Pas and then followed Amarta into the other room.
Amarta looked at the man, at the coins on the table, then back at the man.
His eyebrows furrowed. “You are the seer?”
Dirina recognized the tone. It was easy to understand, with Amarta’s hair a dark, fluffy mess and her child’s eyes lidded with sleep.
Amarta nodded and sat across the table from him on another stool. Dirina stepped back, leaning against the wall by the stove, a grab away from the oak stick on the floor.
The man put his hands on the table and leaned forward a little. In the light of the candle, Dirina could make out odd white lines crossing the backs of his hands and fingers. Scars, she realized suddenly. They were all scars.
Amarta put a finger on the pile of silver coins.
“We don’t usually ask that much,” she said.
“Then do good work, girl.”
Her sister crossed her forearms on the table and lowered her chin atop them, squinting into the candle flame. Dirina gnawed a knuckle.
The silence lengthened. “Ama,” she said, summoning her most encouraging tone, “what do you see?” She gave the man a quick smile. “Sometimes she needs a moment.”
He tapped a fingernail on the table in a slow, annoying beat. “I don’t have a lot of moments.”
“Amarta?” She hadn’t fallen asleep, had she?
Those who came to them for answers were desperate, their problems having pushed them to spend money they didn’t have in the hope that someone else might know what was good for them better than they did. Usually she reminded her sister to say only good things to them. So often the future was not what people wanted it to be.
As the silence continued, her stomach went leaden, chest tightening. They needed this man happy with his answers.
The wind knocked a branch against the side of the house, and for a moment the candle flickered furiously, threatening to go out.
Then Amarta sat up, looking into the distance at something beyond flickering shadows and wood walls. Dirina knew the look, felt a flush of relief.
“There’s a man,” Amarta said easily. “He’s looking for you. And you — you’re looking for him, too. He’s your brother, isn’t he?”
The man nodded, very slowly, his attention now entirely on Amarta.
Dirina knew this look as well. No matter what people had heard about Amarta, no matter what they believed, this was the moment of shock, when she told them something she couldn’t possibly know.
“Where is he?” the man asked.