The Seer – Snippet 18
The strange musky smell of wet animal. Pas’s terrified wailing. Amarta tried to get to him but she could not seem to move. The wail abruptly ceased.
Softly Dirina breathed out, “We have to go somewhere, Ama.”
Amarta turned around slowly in the dimming light, looking for what, she didn’t know. A tree, a rock — anything that might connect her confusing vision to direction. She took a small step off the road in one direction, then another, but nothing changed. Then forward again on the road. Was it still there?
The ground was hard and cold beneath her, Pas’s broken, lifeless body just out of reach.
Amarta exhaled sharply, a soundless cry, and doubled over, fingers on the frozen ground.
“Ama?” Alarm in her sister’s voice.
Struggling back aright, she stepped close, reached out to touch Pas’s face where he curled in Dirina’s arms. At this he opened his brown eyes, smiled. She put her lips to his forehead gratefully.
They must move. Where? Swallowing hard, she again took a step forward on the road.
It was suddenly free of disaster.
“We can go forward now,” Amarta said.
“What? But why?”
“I don’t know.”
“But — are you sure?”
Another step. No warnings. “Yes.” she said. Her visions were sure, anyway.
They went forward, hesitantly, Amarta in the lead, holding the no-doubt-useless knife in front of her.
They rounded a curve, the land sloping up on one side and down on the other, then rounded another curve. With every step Amarta listened for warning, heart pounding in her ears.
When at last they came to the place there was barely enough light to see the broad, dark stains in the snow, the large animal pads where something had walked, the gouges where a body had been dragged away after a struggle.
Something had died here. Minutes ago. Instead of the three of them.
As they passed, they gave wide berth to the blood-soaked snow and bits of fur.
Darkness fell around them as the cold settled hard. Dirina took Amarta’s hand and led her forward as if she knew where they were going, but of course she could not possibly.
Another flash of vision, and Amarta squeezed Dirina’s hand, leading them by feel to the side of the road, then on a short path to a tiny cabin. The waystation, the dimmest of outlines. They felt their way inside blindly, finding the room empty and small enough that they could both barely stretch out on the wood floor.
But it kept out the wind, and the door bolted.
She woke her sister at dawn, feeling the pressure of pursuit.
By early afternoon they could see down the steep embankment to the river valley below. From this distance the Sennant was a thick gray and white rush, the sound a distant roar.
“You see,” Dirina said, her tone one of relief as she pointed out a small square of brown at a wide, slow area on the other side of the river where the road continued from the rocky banks. “The raft. It’s attached to a rope, strung between those two huge cedars. We’ll be able to draw it back over to our side and take it across.”
As they hiked down the switch backed road to the river, the roaring was a welcome sound. Amarta felt her spirits rise. Underfoot, snow gave way to rockier land and patches of dirt.
Once they found the town, what then? They were out of food, had no more coin, knew no one there. A woman, a girl, a baby — how much generosity could they hope for in winter, when strangers were even less welcome?
It would not take long for the talk in Botaros to follow them. The first thaw’s trade wagons would see to that.
“We won’t be welcome in Sennant, will we?”
A pause. “We’ll see when we get there.”
Beggars. That’s what they were. As welcome as mice in a granary.
Mice who knew things they shouldn’t.
They reached the riverbank, their feet crunching over rocks. On either side the tall rises were edged with snow-tipped firs and pines that rose to points against the flat, gray sky.
At last they reached the river’s edge and the short wooden dock where a pole for the raft was waiting. Dirina handed Pas to Amarta while she set to pulling the dangling rope. On the other side the raft jerked and began to move toward them.
Pas was restless, so she let him down to the dock, where he tried to stand, bouncing up and down, almost hopping. He looked up at her and smiled. Her fear eased. Dirina was right. She worried too much.
Then she looked back at the hills. At the high point of the road was a dark-clad horse and rider.
Her sister looked and inhaled sharply.
The rider was trotting toward them.
Amarta let Pas’s hand go to help Dirina’s pull on the rope. Pas sat heavily on the dock and began to whine.
The two of them put everything they had into retrieving the raft. A glance back showed the rider halfway down the hills, now moving even faster.
No point in looking at him. She pulled harder, not thinking; grab and tug, grab and tug.
The raft bumped the dock on their side.
“Get on,” Dirina said.
Amarta snatched up Pas and stepped onto the raft.
Now the horse was past the switchbacks and on the bank of the river.
“Downstream,” Dirina said curtly. She pulled the knife and began sawing at the ropes that held the raft to the pulley. “Not to Sennant town. He’ll follow there. Understand?”
“Yes, but –”
“He’ll track you along the shore,” Dirina said, strands of the thick rope parting as she cut fiercely. “It’s rocky, so you can go faster than he can ride, but stay to the other side.”
“Diri. Get on.”
The rocky bank slowed the horse, but not much. The sound of hooves grew louder.
The cut rope gave way. Dirina held tight to the end that held the raft. She turned on Amarta. “Take Pas. Get to a town. Hide. Pretend to be someone else. Find someone to take care of you. Use your visions, Ama. Use them!”
“I’ll stop him. You go.”
With that her sister released the rope. At the same moment, Amarta grabbed her arm with the hand not holding Pas. The raft struggled in the current, held only by Amarta’s tight grasp on her sister.
“You have to come,” she said, struggling to hold both Pas and Dirina at once. A seeing haze came over her, a warning. They had to leave, and now. If Dirina stayed…
The horse and rider were nearly on them.
“You won’t slow him down,” Amarta cried desperately. “Not enough.”
Uncertainty flickered across her sister’s face.
Amarta’s visions were howling at her, one thing and one thing only: the shadow hunter was coming, and if he got her, she would not get away. Closer each heartbeat.
“I’m sure,” she lied firmly. “Get on.”
Dirina hesitated, a precious moment they didn’t have. Amarta jerked her onto the raft, and she didn’t resist, taking up the pole. With it she gave a hard push, propelling them away from the dock.
He was close enough now that she could make out details. He was well-wrapped against the cold, his chestnut-brown horse’s hooves finding traction on the ground to come alongside them.
Amarta knelt down on the raft, holding Pas, keeping the two of them steady. As the raft wobbled, Dirina took a wide stance, poling into the water, pushing them farther away from shore.
Now the rider held reins in one hand and in the other a bow and arrow.
“Down,” her sister shouted. Amarta went prone on the wooden raft, curling around Pas, who made frightened sounds. She whispered in his ear to comfort him, but he only cried louder. She went silent, letting him cry for the both of them.
Maybe there was no escaping the future. Maybe all you could do was trade one bad happenstance for another. She shut her eyes, not wanting to see what would happen next. But she opened them almost immediately, craning her head around to see him, this hunter.
Every part of the man was covered, gloves to high boots, a snug hood, only his eyes showing. He dropped the reins, but the horse continuing forward as if nothing had changed. He took the bow in both hands.
Amarta sat up, grabbed her sister by the arm, and tugged her down. Dirina dropped by her side, still managing to hold the pole. Around Pas they hugged each other.
A hard thunk on the raft. An arrow stuck upward, a scant foot from Dirina’s back.
At that, fury overcame her. He was supposed to be coming after her, not Dirina. She was on her feet, struggling for balance. “Stop it!” she yelled at him. “Go away!”
The distance between the raft and the horse was widening slowly. Too slowly.
“Ama, get down!” Dirina shouted, grabbing at her hand. She shook off Dirina’s grasp and turned to face her pursuer.
He lifted his bow again, aimed at her.
She felt oddly calm, as though she had all the time in the world. She considered how he had almost hit Dirina with his last shot. From a moving horse. Aiming at a moving raft. He was very good at this.
Next time he probably wouldn’t miss.
Especially if she were standing.