The Seer – Snippet 13
An investment, he told himself again. It would pay off. He only had to win her. This was the moment.
He walked slowly to the marble table.
“There was no cave, no cache. Just a hole under a rock, by the foot of a twisted hemlock pine, where we found this. Perhaps also the source of the granddaughter rumor. Now I give it to you, My Lady Princess, to put in the treasury. As is my duty to empire, king, and Your Royal Highness.”
He placed the item on the table. At the sound and feel underfoot of the heavy metallic click on the stone, the bird quickly sidestepped away from him to the edge. He stepped back.
Cern reached forward and brushed the small, dully gleaming statuette with her fingers.
Four-fingers high head to shoulders, it was a passable rendition of Nials esse Arunkel, the Grandmother Queen, judging by the portraits that hung in the Great Hall. Cern picked it up, held it wonderingly.
“Pohut died for this?”
No, his brother died because he had crossed the line between competition and betrayal.
And because Innel had gotten to the girl first.
But he could say none of that.
“I’m sorry, My Lady,” he said, knowing it was the only thing he could say, and resenting the part of him that meant it.
Innel found himself jolted awake from dreams of struggles in frozen mud, unable to get hold of his brother, grasping and slipping. Then suddenly, somehow, he had Pohut’s head tight between his locked arms and twisted hard to the sound of a crack.
He was fully awake now, considering the split-second decision that saved his life, and the advice that had made it possible.
If he knew of her, others would. Of those who had heard the rumor, who else might care enough to go to Botaros to find out if it were true?
Innel now keenly regretted not having done something about the girl that night.
But what? He could hardly have dragged both his brother’s body and a resisting child through the mountains and then into the palace, never mind the question of the sister and the baby.
It dawned on him then, the obvious, brutal solution: to slay her there and then, that very night. This problem would now be solved.
His thoughts flickered back to the candle-lit shack. He considered the distance from the nearest neighbors and how far her screams might have carried in the gusting wind. The sister would likely have fought him, so he would have had to kill her, too. And then what? The baby as well?
He wondered if it was in his character to do such a thing, to take sharp steel to the three of them, in order to keep the girl from whoever else might want her predictions.
Well, it didn’t matter if it was in him or not. He hadn’t. He would simply have to find a way to have her quietly brought to Yarpin where he could control what she said and to whom.
Once she was here, he would have more options. For example, he could have her tongue cut out, solving the problem of her talking without any killing at all. He wondered if she knew how to write.
In any case, this could wait no longer.
Innel drummed his fingers on a table of dark wood into which was inlaid a scattering of paler woods showing the sigils of the oldest of the Lesser Houses. Bolah, warming spiced wine in the corner, filling the air with anise and cardamom, was adept at services quieter and less showy than the Great Houses might inspire.
Which was why he was here.
He realized he was drumming on House Finch’s sigil. What was their motto, again? Loyalty through winter. He considered that and paused in his drumming.
“Twunta, Captain?” The small white-haired woman offered him a long, silver pipe from a red mahogany stand.
With a head shake he declined. Wine only clung to his breath, while smoke clung to his clothes. He found it better not to have his indulgences so easily determined.
Getting away from the palace tonight had been no small feat. On this cold, overcast evening, Srel stood outside a soaking bath as if Innel were inside, where instead Nalas enjoyed hours of late-night soaking while a hooded Innel snuck out into the frigid city to meet with Bolah.
Now his eyes wandered the room, taking in the glinting, colorful, polished clutter. On one wall a thick tapestry hung on which people and animals feasted and fornicated, their bodies mingled and twisted together so that it was hard to tell where one limb began and another ended.
Bolah had a reputation for being able to offer the unusual.
On the table between them she set two tall circular porcelain tumblers, equidistant from him.
“Congratulations on your promotion, Captain.”
Innel made a sound between acceptance and amusement. She would surely know that he expected to have another title as soon as he married Cern.
She slowly sat across from him at the small table. “It has been a long time, has it not?”
“Alas, I’ve been quite busy.”
“I can easily imagine, ser.”
Through the translucent sides of the tumblers he could see the dark, aromatic wine fill as she poured.
“The hope your pending marriage brings brightens this dismal night. I trust I may be allowed to say that the empire is most fortunate to have your hands so near what I am certain will be her most grateful reins.”
“You may, but only once.”
Her laugh seemed almost genuine. She waited for him to choose his cup. An old tradition, now mostly formality, but some believed that you could tell a great deal from which cup a person chose. He selected the closest. A gesture of simple trust.
“Surely there must be something this poor old woman can do for you in return for the honor and pleasure of your most excellent company.”
Innel rubbed his thumbs over the geometric design on the cup and raised it high, examining the underside.
“An impressive imitation of House Etallan’s sigil, Grandmother.”
“What keen eyesight you have, Captain, to notice the poor Maker’s mark from House Keramos in this year’s produce. I fear that as he ages, his hands shake, his eyesight dims, and his mark becomes — it pains me to say this, ser — rather sloppy.”
The other word that came to Innel’s mind, of course, was “forged”.
“Perhaps I should have a word with Tokerae dele Etallan, to see if he can assist Keramos in finding a new Maker.” Etallan was Keramos’ patron House. He smiled wide to show he wasn’t in the least serious.
She matched his smile. “No sense in bringing shame to House Keramos, Captain. We depend on them daily for our plates and cookware.”
“As wise as your years, Bolah.”
This was where Innel came when he needed something uncommon. For his part, he saw to it that Bolah could do her business unencumbered by time-consuming questions from the crown’s auditors about anything as insignificant as the veracity of the marks on her cups.
“And so, what can I do for you, Captain?”
“I need someone brought to me.”
Bolah raised her eyebrows in question.
“With no mistakes.”
She held out her hands, as if to say she was sad he asked for so little.
“What sort of someone?”
“A girl child.”
“I know many who could do this for you.”
Innel reached into his pocket and brought out two souver touches, placing the heavy, palm-sized coins on the table between them. It was the rest of everything he had, including the cache of simple souvers that he and Pohut had secreted away against some final, desperate need.