The Seer – Snippet 27
Across the room Kadla leaned against the door to the kitchen, the bowl of stew in her hands forgotten.
Another stream of notes flowed from the harp and Dalea began to sing, smiling at the audience as if they were friends, as if they all shared a secret. It was an effective trick, her sincerity and vulnerability, irresistible to these people, who would be guarded with family and neighbors they knew too well. To a warm and attractive stranger, they would gladly give their hearts. Their coins would follow easily enough.
When she finished the last song, the crowd hit their thighs and made the trilling sounds that Tayre knew originally came from the tribes before the Arunkin took over. Quarter-nals and some half-nals landed at her feet and on her side table. A crowd surged to talk to her, the men ducking their heads like awkward boys.
Tayre ate another bowl of stew and waited until the room had emptied.
She was wrapping her harp, tying it into a pack.
“Beautiful,” he said, giving her the uncertain smile he knew she would most expect.
“I played a bit,” he said, looking at the wrapped instrument, letting a conflicted expression flicker across his face for her to see. “Never any good at it. I studied with Melet al Kelerre.”
“Melet?” she asked, surprised. Impressed.
“A little,” he said, modestly. It was, entirely coincidentally, true, though he’d actually been better at it than he was implying. “My father was trying to figure out what to do with me. See what I might be good for.”
“And it wasn’t music.”
“Ah.” Her curiosity was piqued. “What was it, then?”
“Oh, selling things. Jars and jewels, spices and extracts. A few books. Whatever’s easy to carry on horseback. I do all right. And you?”
She gave a forced smile. “Tonight I’ll eat. Sometimes I’m not so lucky.”
Tayre dug into his pocket and put a falcon on the table.
“You’re very kind, ser,” she said in a tone clearly reserved for those who overpaid.
“Good fortune to you, Harper.”
He turned to go, then back to face her, as though something had only now occurred to him. “I don’t suppose — did you come from downriver?”
“I did. Why?”
“Have you seen a young woman and a girl? A yearling baby, perhaps walking now?
Dalea frowned thoughtfully.
“Cousins,” he said, putting pain into his tone and eyes. “They had a falling out with my father. Took things that weren’t theirs. Ran. They were scared.”
“Hard times,” the harper said sympathetically.
“Yes, but there’s forgiveness for them if they want it. I have to find them to tell them so, but I don’t know where to look. The woman is slender, the girl has sort of –” He held out a hand as if sketching in the air, “a roundish face. A cloak with blue trim.” He smiled fondly. “She was always so clever with needle and thread. Sky blue. A distinctive touch. Hard to miss.”
“Oh,” she said slowly. “I think so. Downriver. A small village. I remember now. The girl is trying to seem a boy, but she’s…” she shook her head to convey the extent of the failure of that attempt. The grin faded. “She seemed fragile, somehow. Afraid.”
“That’s her. Do you remember where?”
“A tenday downriver. On foot, that is,” she added with a nod at his riding boots.
“May fortune bring you a horse,” he said.
She laughed the rich, deep tone of a singer. “How would I afford to feed it?”
“A least a new pair of shoes, then.”
“That is at least possible. I hope you find your people.”
“Oh, I will.”
In a corner of a nearly empty village greathouse that doubled as an eatery, Tayre fished the last bite of cold stew out of his bowl with a hunk of bread. The greathouse’s windows were open to the evening’s warm summer night. Moths flickered around room’s lamps.
The woman who had brought him the goods smoothed her dress as she brushed by his table. She stopped, turned, glanced around to see who might be watching, and sat down across from him, her elbows on the table and her chin on her fists.
“Want some dirt ale with that?” she asked.
“It’s better than it sounds. We keep it in the cellar so it’s cool. You’ll like it.”
“No again. What are you really offering?”
“I heard you asking around, about a girl and a woman and a baby. You’re not the only one asking, you know.”
“I do know that. And?”
“I’m wondering what I would get if I knew something about it.”
“Depends on what you know.” He tapped his bowl. “More of this.”
She stood. “I’d want you to pay me first.”
“I’m sure you would.”
She pressed her lips together and left, returning with another bowl of the cold mix of meats, which she put in front of him. She sat again. “How do I know that you’ll pay me if I tell you?”
“Because I said I would.”
“Well, words don’t mean much, now, do they –”
He leaned forward suddenly, took her hands gently in his. At his intense look, she fell silent.
“Mine do,” he said mildly.
Her eyes widened slightly. She pulled her hands out of his light hold.
“Come now, pretty one; tell me what you know.” He mixed a seductive smile with a commanding tone, a mix that usually worked on this sort.
“Some new folks. Arrived in spring. Don’t see them much. A woman and baby and a boy. Farm outside the village.” She leaned forward again, lowered her voice. “Except it isn’t a boy.”
Tayre tore off a piece of bread. “Go on.”
“I can tell what people are about, you know. Not like some who only see what you show them. I’m not so easy to fool.”
Tayre made an encouraging sound and gestured for her to continue.
“So there he is,” she said, “and I think, that’s not a boy. Must be a reason he’s pretending then and wouldn’t that be interesting to know.” She nodded decisively, looked to see if he was listening, then nodded again.
“Well, now,” she said, tracing a greasy circle on the tabletop with a fingertip, “if I told you, it wouldn’t be worth much for me to know it, would it?”
He chuckled. “It’s not worth anything, otherwise.”
“How much will you give me?”
“If it leads me to what I’m searching for, you’ll see silver.”
Her finger stopped. “Falcons?”
“I’m sure it’s not a boy. Voice high. Too soft. Some people think they can fool anyone. Not me.”
“Not you. Tell me where I can find them.”
The finger resumed its circuit. “I don’t want to be left with nothing,” she said. “How about you give me something now, the rest after I tell you?”
Tayre leaned forward, grinning. “When I’m finished eating, your chance at silver ends as well.”
She lifted her chin. “Maybe I should tell someone else.”
“That wouldn’t be wise,” he said. “You can either tell me everything now, for the possibility of silver later, or tell me everything in an hour or so, for no money at all.”
An uncertain look crossed her face.
He added, “I really do advise you to tell me now.”
“Are you — Wait. Are you threatening me?”
“Silver,” he said again. “I wouldn’t want you to forget that part.”
“Mmm.” She exhaled. Then: “There’s a small village. Nesmar.” She shifted in her chair. “There’s a farm east of there…”