The Seer – Snippet 25
Binak pressed lips together. He inhaled to speak.
“Be content, Binak. Don’t ask for more. Or less.”
Binak swallowed, nodded. “I’ll bring you food.”
“In my room.”
“As you say.”
Tayre stood and followed the large man upstairs, where he unlocked the first door, handing Tayre a long iron key.
“Next time someone asks you about me,” Tayre said softly, “tell them I’m looking for a girl, a woman, and a baby. Usually I like you to keep silent, but now say that much. Understand?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Also tell them I’m not a good man to cross. I think you can make people believe that.”
Binak’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly. Finally he swallowed and looked down.
A month later, Tayre sat in a corner of a smaller, half-full public house of dock workers called the High Tide. Midday sun shone down through upper windows in columns, casting pale, smoky triangles across the floor and tables. The room smelled of cheap twunta, cut with pressweed and salted with cinnamon. Also heavy spice, the sort used to cover the taste of sour meat.
Sour meat. Impure twunta. Girls and boys wandering the streets in too few clothes for the weather, looking lost and hungry, cloaked figures lurking behind, prodding them forward. All signs of tightening times.
It was not only the rumors of the king’s health weakening, not merely the uncertainty of the succession. Something was shifting oddly in the markets.
Arunkel metals had made the empire powerful for centuries, giving the Anandynar royals and their Houses enviable wealth and an uninterrupted monarchy, but it was a vulnerability, too; as the price of metals went up, the lines of influence across the aristos and Houses and royals shifted.
Tayre’s morning’s walk through this village’s market had told him nothing about where the girl and her family might have gone, but much about the new taxations. Muttering and looks tracked him as he played the early season merchant, but the open talk about what unsanctioned goods could be bought without levy surprised him.
When the black market took over the gray, the king’s rule was weakening. He wondered if the princess knew, or if Innel had any idea. If the king were smart, he’d hand the reins over to his daughter before she was left with a ship taking on seawater in the open ocean.
In any case, changing times meant opportunity. Even in his search.
As he sipped from a mug of tea, a tall man sat down across from him. The man held his arms and shoulders in a way that spoke of hard labor and fast reflexes. Dock work, perhaps. Tayre knew the type: he liked to fight, and his few scars indicated that he was used to winning.
Good; it was far easier to take down those who expected to win.
Tayre raised his eyebrows in question.
“Hear you’re looking for someone.”
“Depends on what you tell me.”
“I’m muscle on a coast trade vessels. I get around. I like girls.”
Tayre put a silver falcon on the table between them, falcon side up. On the coin, the raptor held a smaller, dead bird in its talons. Finch, if he recalled correctly. House Finch had been lobbying the crown to change the coin’s design for some time.
“Southern Arunkel features,” Tayre said. “Broad face, green eyes, clear skin. She travels with a woman and a yearling baby.”
The other man reached for the coin, but Tayre’s hand covered it.
“Sure, I’ve seen her,” the man said, pulling back his hand.
Tayre searched the man’s face a moment, then slid the coin into his pocket. “No, you haven’t.”
“I have,” the man insisted, his chin jutting aggressively. “I can tell you where she went. And the woman, too.”
“What sex is the baby?”
The man’s pause gave him answer enough. Tayre pushed back from the table, standing while keeping the man in sight, then turned his back on him, walking to the door.
“Hey. You don’t walk away from me when I’m talking to you.”
Now they had the attention of everyone in the room. How to best use it?
He was unsurprised when the man darted between him and the door, facing him, arms spread wide to block his way. Sidestepping, Tayre slipped by, the man’s fingers brushing him without gaining hold. He stepped through the open door just in front of the man’s next grab.
In the middle of the cobbled street he turned to face him. Overhead the sky threatened rain.
“Around here,” the tall man said, walking toward him, “you don’t offer coin and then take it back. Rude, that. Guess you don’t know, having been raised in a shit-pen. Give me the coin and we’ll call it a pig’s apology.”
Behind the man, the tavern was emptying into the street to watch, hoping for good entertainment. Tayre would make sure that they got it.
“Why would I pay for your lies? Worthless, just like you.”
At this, the man’s face went red. He lunged forward, grabbing for Tayre’s neck, a foolish move at best, telling Tayre how much this man depended on his size and strength. A quick but slight step to the side, a grab and a shift of weight sent the man forward in the direction he’d already been traveling, but faster. He stumbled forward, yelped once in surprise, caught his balance, and danced sideways, circling back, a grin on his face.
Turning his back on him, facing the audience, Tayre held his hands out in a gesture of mock confusion, giving the collected crowd a warm, humorous, and slightly self-deprecating smile.
These people would know the other man and not Tayre, but when this was over, they would remember Tayre and his modest, warm smile. Across cultures, people liked winners, but they always preferred the ones who didn’t think too highly of themselves.
He watched their eyes track the man coming closer behind him. As his arm circled around Tayre’s neck, Tayre dropped and stepped back, slamming his elbow into the other man’s sternum, letting the motion carry his fist into his groin.
As the man grunted heavily and began to fold, Tayre spun in place, hands on the man’s head, easily directing it into his rising knee. There was a gratifying crunch as his nose met Tayre’s knee.
Then a gentle push with his foot on the man’s less-weighted knee and the large fellow went sprawling onto the stony street.
Tayre followed him down, dropping atop him, straddling torso and arms. Taking his time, he wrapped a hand around the man’s neck, a move that was more for the audience than the man under him, who seemed, for the moment, to have had the fight taken out of him.
The man squinted upwards at him and gurgled, a bubble of blood coming from his nose.
“You should take more care who you choose to annoy,” Tayre said, making sure that his voice was loud enough to reach the gathered crowd.
The man struggled. Anger flickered across his features. Tayre’s grip on his throat tightened, and the expression went back to confusion.
Clearly he didn’t have much experience losing.
He tried to sit up, but Tayre held him pinned easily. Still, the effort implied a general lack of attention, so Tayre grabbed the top of the man’s head by his curly dark hair, raised it slightly, and let it drop to the stone. The man gave a pained yelp.
“And it would be smart of you to show me some respect. You see how that might be wise?”
The man blinked a bit, then struggled again to try to get free, so Tayre repeated the motion with the man’s head, raising and dropping it to the stone. The man’s jaw went slack, eyes unfocused.