The Seer – Snippet 20
Again Innel stood in the small toilet room at the back of the Frosted Rose. Against the patter of a light spring rain came a familiar series of knocks from the roof by the ceiling vent. Innel responded.
“Captain,” came a familiar voice.
“I found them.”
“Finally. Where are they?”
“Gone. When I arrived at Botaros, they had just left the village in some haste. I tracked them to the Sennant river, where they escaped me on a raft.”
“They escaped you?”
“Yes. And here is the interesting part, Captain: they were warned that I was coming.”
“Warned? What makes you think that?”
“They left a warm room and belongings to face a rough mountain road deep in snow with a babe in arms. At the riverbank they escaped me by mere heartbeats. What would you conclude, Captain?”
“That makes no sense. Who would even know to warn them?”
“An excellent question, Captain, since I told no one.”
After a moment it occurred to Innel what the man was implying. He snorted. “I have no reason to send you after them and warn them as well. Not with what I’m paying you.”
“No, you don’t,” the other responded mildly. “Perhaps it was coincidence that they left abruptly just before I arrived, and coincidence that they did not seem entirely surprised to see me at the river. What do you think, Captain?”
Innel thought that the girl had foreseen Tayre coming, as she had foreseen Innel’s duel with his brother. But he would not say so.
He had underestimated the girl. She was more dangerous than he had thought.
Worse, anyone who found her would be similarly dangerous. He had to get to her first.
“I think we will know better when you have brought them to me. A woman, a child, and a baby. How hard can they be to apprehend? Did you follow them?”
“Yes. They are somewhere off the Sennant, which describes rather a lot of territory.”
“They’re poor. I don’t think they will have gone far.”
“Perhaps. But there are clearly forces here beyond the obvious, and thus many things become possible. Fortunes can change quickly.”
Innel remembered placing bright coins atop a rough wooden table. Who else was overpaying the girl for her answers?
He exhaled. It came out a growl.
Before he could respond, Tayre spoke again. “What aren’t you telling me, Captain?”
Innel hesitated. Careful, he warned himself. “I’ve told you what I know.”
“My reason and your tone says otherwise. Keep your secrets, and I’ll keep looking, but every day whatever it is that you won’t tell me now might delay my finding her. My expenses rise. I will pass them on to you.”
Innel exhaled, this time more softly. This was not going well.
“Captain, how badly do you want this girl?”
“Badly enough to hire you.”
“That is my point. If this is that important to you, I suggest you tell me everything. Then I have a better chance of completing your business quickly.”
Innel considered the man’s words, aware that his silence was an admission. But perhaps the man was right. “You have a reputation for confidences.”
Annoying as it was, he was starting to appreciate that Tayre did not use a lot of words to reassure him. But how far to trust?
A balance of risks.
“The girl is a Seer,” Innel said at last. “She predicts the future.”
“She has done this for you?”
Should he admit that much?
“I have been told by those who should know that there are no true Seers.”
“So have I. Nonetheless, she is one.”
A thoughtful noise from the vent, and a moment’s pause. “I have had occasion to cross paths with many who can accurately predict outcomes, Captain, but what is cause, and what is consequence, can be cleverly reversed. I can arrange a demonstration if you wish.”
A reply just short of condescending.
“No need. I know what a swindler can do.”
“What has this girl told you, to make you believe this?”
That was more than he was prepared to reveal. “You’ll have to take my word for it.”
“As you say. Shall I resume the search?”
“Yes. And when you find her, I don’t want her getting away again.”
“I have no intention of letting her get away.”
“My meaning is this: if you have to wound her to keep her from escaping, do so.”
“I understand. How whole do you want her?”
“Alive. Able to speak, at least. Do whatever else you need to.”
“And the woman and baby?”
“I no longer care about them. Do whatever you must, but get me the girl.”
These last few days’ drenching spring rains meant that Innel was more than a little damp when he came in from leading his ever-present guard at a hard sprint around the circumference of the garrison field, where he then beat on a rain-soaked straw-filled sack while his guard looked on, because no one would take up a practice weapon against him.
“This is absurd,” he had said to Nalas.
“Captain,” Nalas had said, with amused forbearance. “If I won’t, they won’t. And I won’t.”
“Why not? I assure you the king would not object to any of you hitting me. With force.”
“No,” Nalas said, nodding, “but His Royal Majesty might be less than perfectly pleased if we actually damaged you. We like our positions, ser.”
So Innel beat on stuffed sacks that didn’t hit back, while his guard and everyone else watched. A pretend opponent with all the wit and tactics he might expect.
When he was done, his guards trailing him into the palace, he stripped off his wet jacket and handed it to Nalas. Someone handed him a towel and he began to dry his head while he considered which of the many plans he was cultivating required his attention most.
Cern, of course. Nothing else would advance without her.
She had not so much as permitted him a touch since he returned from Botaros, now pushing a half year. From what his informants were telling him, she wasn’t having any of the other boys to her room, either, and that was something, but he could hardly expect her to marry him until that door was open again.
The bitch makes the match.
No one would say that within Cern’s hearing, of course, but the king had said it often enough to the Cohort that it stuck in all of their minds. From early on, the king would bring them to see his dogs and horses mate.
Bloodlines mattered, the king told them repeatedly, in any breeding match — he’d point out the preferred traits of his dichu dogs and coal-black horses — but if the female wasn’t interested in the male, the offspring would always be flawed. So when the Cohort came of age, they were all sent to the anknapa for training, the boys especially.
The king liked his lessons vivid and bloody, so the point was driven home by his requiring every member of the Cohort to cull the weakest of those born to the kennels and stables. Slaughtering pups and foals that didn’t meet the king’s standards went a long way to inspiring the Cohort’s focus on learning to make Cern happy.
Innel was certain that it had occurred to many to wonder just how pleased Cern’s mother was with the king’s attentions a quarter century back, but no one who valued their future would wonder that aloud.
From his lifelong study of the princess, Innel knew that his strategy back into her bed was simple: a gentle but relentless persistence. He had to seem confident, but not overly so. Just enough to be charming.
Well, he’d done it before; he could do it again.
He wiped the sweat from his face and neck as he walked the halls to her suites for what was turning into a daily rejection. Srel quick-stepped to catch up with him.
“Two of the Lesser Houses are meeting shortly,” Srel said at a low volume. “Glass and Chandler. The lamp contracts. Elupene and Murice are sitting in to approve. They want amendments.”
“Because the last ten amendments weren’t enough?”
Srel made a sound that said he didn’t disagree. “In any case, ser, the king’s Seneschal requires your presence.”
“Of course he does. Well, I doubt this will take long.”