The Seer – Snippet 34
This was hardly the first time that Tayre had been poisoned.
His apprenticeship with his uncle had included a close examination of many substances that took away a person’s mind to varying degrees, including permanently. In particular, he had more than passing familiarity with the plant whose juice he had painted on the dart that he’d intended to use on the Botaros girl.
This was, however, the first time it had happened to him by accident.
Except that it wasn’t really an accident, despite the girl’s wide-eyed reaction when her own exceptionally well-timed twitch sent the dart into his hand instead of her leg.
He was now convinced; against all probability, Innel had been entirely correct: the girl was a true Seer.
Tayre could feel the tincture working in his body. It was a fast, potent dose, intended to put the girl into something approximating slumber for a half day or more, which he had expected to be sufficient time to secure her in a way that even her foresight would not allow her to escape.
Then again, the dose was measured for her, not someone twice her size, so it should not affect him as much. If he could summon decisive movement, right now, he might still reach her, hold her, disable her. Stop her from getting away.
She was at this moment crouched on the ground, watching him fearfully, mistrustful of his slowing motions. He could turn that to his advantage, if he could act. Struggling against fading concentration and numbing limbs, he stepped toward her once, then again. His fingers loosened against his will, and the knife fell. He looked down at the foliage where it had landed and realized that the ground seemed too far away.
“Looks like you’re going to fall, boy,” his uncle had said from the rise above.
His ten-year-old self’s hands were sweaty, gripping tight but slowly slipping from the branch, twenty feet over the ravine, from which he dangled.
“What do I do?” he’d asked through gritted teeth.
“Sometimes you lose,” his uncle had said conversationally. “Thing is, if you can wake the next morning, then you have another chance to win. If you die — well. You’ve lost entirely, then.”
Another small slip, his grip weakening. He looked down at the steep slope below. At best, it would be a painful fall.
“I suggest, my boy, that you figure out how to land so that you can wake tomorrow.”
Sometimes you lose.
With what fast-fading control Tayre still had, rather than let himself fall as his loosening limbs wanted to do, he lowered himself to the forest floor. On all fours, he considered what was most likely to happen next.
The road was not well-traveled, so despite hours of lying unconscious, there was a good chance he would wake. The girl herself was the greatest risk; she could kill him as he lay there defenseless. If she had the will. He didn’t think she did.
Or she could bring back others who did.
As his thoughts slowed to an agonizing crawl, he laid himself on the ground, keeping his eyes on her as long as he could. She got up and limped away.
Escaping him a third time.
Tayre’s final thought was that it was a shame he had been told to bring her back alive. He was almost certain that, had he been trying to kill rather than disable her, he would not now be lying here, falling unconscious, as she fled.
Tayre woke to wet darkness and sounds of night — crickets, high winds, and the light pattering of rain on leaves overhead. He sat up slowly and reached out to where he remembered dropping his knife. His fingers found it, curled around the handle, resheathed it. His bow, also, was where he dropped it.
Other than being damp from hours of lying in what was now partly mud, it was as good an outcome as he could have hoped for.
He stood, rolling out the ache in his limbs and breathing hard to clear the headache that the tincture had left.
It was very dark. He traced the mud and dirt road with his feet, following to the edge of the woods, in the direction that the girl had gone. The rain slowed and stopped. Overhead he saw small patches of stars.
No rush now. She was hours ahead of him in any case.
With the advantage of being able to see things that had not yet happened.
He considered this for a moment.
Then he stashed his bow and knife under the leaves at the base of a large oak, drew a few lines on his face by feel with an oil pen from his pack in order to make himself look older and more tired than he already felt, and began his search again.
Tayre knocked lightly, stepped back, and threw off his wet hood to reveal his face in the lamplight that came from the house as the door opened.
The tall woman’s eyes widened as she saw him. More than the surprise of a late-night visitor; she had been warned.
“Blessings of the season to you, good woman,” he said softly.
She seemed undecided about how to answer this.
Warned and then some, it seemed.
He did not read in her face and body the look of a woman protecting children, which meant that the girl and her sister and the boy were no longer here.
That would have been his guess anyway; the girl was used to running, and people in fear for their lives tended to repeat what they knew best.
The woman stood aside to allow him entrance, the invitation in obvious conflict with what she really wanted to do. He stepped inside hesitantly, hands together implying supplication, head forward, shoulders slumped.
At a table sat two men, likely her adult sons. On their faces Tayre read the simple suspicion of a stranger. So only the woman knew something more.
He turned an uncertain, grateful smile on her.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Her voice was hostile, charged with tension and challenge.
He glanced at the floor, let pain and regret settle on his features. “You must know that I’m following a girl, a woman, and a young boy.” He glanced at her for confirmation, swallowed twice and went on, his voice cracking. “To whom I have brought so much wretchedness I am nightly tempted to end my life to escape my own shame.”
On her face confusion warred with solid mistrust. For a long moment she said nothing.
“We have food and drink,” she said grudgingly. It was an offer, but barely. An unwilling host. It would do.
He smiled bitterly and shook his head. “They must have told you about me.” He saw the confirming flicker in her eyes. “Whatever they said, it was generous. Did she say I was hunting her? That I would hurt her if I found her again?”
The woman hesitated. Then: “Yes.”
He nodded, put his hand on the still-open door, as if about to leave. “I don’t deserve your kindness. Not a crumb of it.”
Her expression had collapsed into confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“I don’t claim to be a good man,” he said earnestly. “But I could set all this right, if I could only talk to them for a few minutes.”
“Why don’t just you leave them be?”
He nodded. “I want to. As soon as I discharge my obligation and tell them about their inheritance. My cousin has left them everything. They are wealthy now and will never want for anything again. I need to tell them this, even if it’s the last thing I do. It is the one thing I can do to make amends.”
“I think,” the woman said, her voice hard again, “you had better come in and sit down and explain yourself.”
“You are kinder to me than I deserve. Let me tell you how it happened, and you can decide if you want to help me find them so I can repair some of what I have broken.”
It hadn’t taken long to convince Enana of the familial misunderstanding, of the better life in store for Amarta and Dirina and the boy if he could only find them. Of the possibility of them returning here — healthy, happy, and with money.
It was easy: they wanted to believe. Word by word he had used their expressions to guide his story. By the end of his tale, they had been interrupting each other to give him every detail from the months the girl and her family had stayed with them.
They even let him search the small back room where he had found a small blue seashell, a strip of blue cloth, and some hairs.
Apparently the girl had said they were going up river to the town of Sennant, or that they might return to Botaros. Tayre thought neither of these very likely, so he would follow their trail instead, take it as far as it led.
And the girl — how far into the future could she see? How clearly? If he decided to track them back to Botaros, then changed his mind and went to Sennant, would she foresee the one path, then the other, or only the final outcome?
Did she see potential paths, or only the one eventually taken?
It was clear that she was far from infallible. She might foresee well enough into the next few moments, when she thought her life depended on it, but perhaps that was all she could do. He had seen it before, people exhibiting exceptional abilities when faced with death.
But clearly she had limitations, or he would not have found her at all.
Still, he must rethink how to capture her. In the middle of his thwarted forest pursuit it, occurred to him that a sufficient number of capable men under his command might be able to surround her. Every arrow ready to fly could remove an avenue of escape.
But after watching her move and twist and drop to evade, he realized it would take a good many practitioners, nearly as skilled as he was, acting in concert, to accomplish this. An unlikely gathering at best.
With enough soldiers he might conceivably overwhelm her with sheer numbers, flanking and surrounding, but he suspected that would take hundreds.
Not out of the question if Innel rose to power as he clearly intended to, but for the moment, beyond any available resources.
And might she foresee such imminent, mortal danger far enough ahead to circumvent even hundreds of multipronged attacks? However carefully he set such a trap, might she simply avoid it by prediction?
Maybe. Maybe not. He did not yet understand the girl or her ability. He would need to study her.
First he would need to find her. Again.