The Seer – Snippet 29
She stopped, holding her breath. The future was struggling to unfold itself, like a map. She could not stop it from its motion any more than she could stop the moments from coming toward her. But she could decide not to look.
Resolutely she walked forward. Whatever it was, she would be surprised. Like anyone else.
Rounding the rise, heart speeding, she expected a dark figure. He would jump out. He would have a bow. An arrow in her chest.
Instead, shafts of sunlight cut through tall trees, patches of light finding their way to fallen piles of leaves. Bird calls echoed through branches. A high breeze made the treetops sigh.
There was no one there.
In the distance she could make out the strand of trees past which was the road that would take her to the farmhouse. She exhaled relief, laughed a little to find that she was not anything more than a girl returning home from market. She shifted the bag to her other shoulder and hurried forward.
A squirrel poked its head around a tree trunk and stared at her, body and head frozen. Then it twisted, scampered up the tree, and was gone.
Behind her came the sounds of footsteps.
Vision came upon her like a huge stove fire: close, heavy, hot. Too strong to press away.
It shouted at her to drop, and she obeyed, bending her knees as instructed, barely missing the arm that swept over her head.
Again, vision barked direction and she thrust the bag that had come off her shoulders in the last motion behind, pushing hard. The bag pressed into leather-clad legs, slowed them only slightly. She struggled to her feet, turned.
For a moment she took him in: dark hair, hands open, empty, a pack and a bow slung across his shoulder.
He stepped lightly over the spilled bag at his feet and toward her. She turned and ran.
“Amarta,” he called.
With part of her mind she realized that it was the first time she had heard his voice. She half remembered hearing it before. Vision or dream?
The tone was friendly, somewhere between a greeting and bemusement that she was running away. At this she herself might have been confused enough to pause, but vision was not. It told her to run, so she did, and his steps were hard on the dirt behind her.
The arm came across her face again, and she bit it, or tried to; it was covered in hard leather and pulled her tight against him, wrapping tightly around her head.
Strange, really, that she had time to think about the taste of leather, that it must be awfully hot to wear that much leather over your arms and legs, here in late summer. Serious, quite serious. About what he was doing. Which was —
She screamed, howled her rage and resistance. His wrap tightened, burying her face in the leather arm, muffling the cry. Not that it would matter — there was no one nearby to hear.
Then the arm was gone. Before she could blink, a wad of cloth was stuffed in her mouth, soaked in something sticky and bitter. She began to inhale then realized vision was saying spit. She did, but even so the stink of it burned her lungs and made her eyes water. Her next cry came out as a croak. It hurt to breathe.
Now he had her arms and was pulling her off the path into the brush. She struggled, kicking backwards, but fruitlessly. He twisted one arm behind her back, another around her neck. Pain shot up her shoulder as he yanked her backwards, stumbling across the uneven underbrush. She was slammed to the ground on her back, he on top, pinning her arms with his legs, a hand on her neck.
Above her, dark hair and face was framed by a thick green and golden canopy of leaves. In the air between them she could smell leather and the sticky stuff that still made her eyes water.
While she gasped for breath, they looked at each other.
Light brown eyes. Her hunter had light brown eyes.
She struggled, and he held her without any seeming effort, expression nearly blank. With his free hand he reached into his sleeve and pulled out a knife, put the tip at her face. A pinpoint of pain on the underside of her eye stopped her moving.
“You are Amarta al Botaros,” he said. “The seer.” There was no hint of question now, no pretense of friendliness.
How could he have found them, after all this time? They had hidden, changed their names, pretended to be other than they were. She hadn’t foreseen for anyone, not since they had left Botaros. Not once.
“Answer,” he said.
Vision had warned her, despite that she had pushed it away for so long; it had come when she needed it. If only she had listened sooner… But no, she had thought to be like everyone else.
Fear washed over her, pushed away reason.
“Please,” she heard herself croak. “Please don’t hurt me…” Once started, she could not seem to stop. “I’ll do anything. Please don’t hurt me.”
“You’ve no cause to fear,” he said gently, pulling the knife back a bit. “I know who you are. I just want to hear you say it.”
If she lied and gave him the false name she had been using — if she said it as though she meant it — would he believe it? Would he let her go?
An answer tried to form within. From determined practice these last months she pushed it away, then struggled to reverse and pull it back. Sluggishly, like an atrophied muscle, it began to unfold.
Slowly. Too slowly.
With a quick, fluid flip of the blade, his knife went blunt-side along his forearm and he leaned forward, the sharp edge now up under her chin. The move was so fast that it spoke of skill far beyond anything she had ever seen.
Vision gave her an answer: he would know a lie, but the truth would not serve better; the future promised capture, pain, blood, and darkness.
The blade would cut her throat. She would struggle. He would keep her pinned, gaze locked on hers as she lost consciousness.
It was near, that future, very near.
And would that be so bad? If she were gone, if he sent her to the Beyond, Dirina and Pas might finally be safe from the hunter and the ill-fortune that seemed to follow her.
Sounds and flashes, nothing certain. The future shifted like spray from a spun waterbag. She could not follow the drops, nor tell one from the next.
He tightened his grip on her throat, shook her a little. Her head swam.
“I only want to ask you some questions.” His tone was soft, reluctant, as if to say that he hated to be this hard on her, that if she answered him he would certainly let her go. The grip on her neck loosened a little. The pounding in her head eased. “Who have you spoken to about your visions since you left Botaros?”
She thought the tone a lie. She searched her visions, frustrated at the fog-filled traces that led out of this moment. She should never have stopped practicing. A bit late for that understanding.
For all the half-seen flashes and muttering voices the future revealed now that she had opened the door again, as she peered along the dim paths that led forward, she saw only darkness.
There must be a way, a thread that led through the next handful of heartbeats, that would take her past the approaching wall.
She struggled harder. A cacophony of sounds grew, each crowing about what might yet be, a tumbling and turning, a thousand voices muttering, talking, screaming. Then a pinpoint of light. She hurled herself forward toward it, fear propelling her. She overshot her destination, went far distant.
A familiar scent of breath. A smile on a face that didn’t smile.
She opened her eyes. He stared down at her.
“You are foreseeing,” he said, watching her.
“Tell me what.”
Relief flooded her, pouring over the many layers of vision, the myriad of noisy futures.
This — his curiosity — was the thread she had been searching for. She held tight to it while she opened herself to the dictates of foresight. Under his grip and weight she went limp, not fighting, letting herself sink into this moment and the very next.
The way he watched her, somehow he could tell her plans.
No plans. No thought.