The Seer – Snippet 49
In Maris’s dream her parents were still alive. A breeze delivered scent of ginger vine and jasmine flower through the open windows, baking taro wafting in from the kitchen. Her father’s resonant laugh, her mother’s flute-like song. Home, where she had lived her earliest years in something very much like happiness.
A sweet dream. A rare, sweet dream.
In the dream he had knocked on the door, a rat-a-tat demanding response. She knew who it was, even before he stepped across the threshold, not waiting for an invitation.
Keyretura did not wait.
She cried out a warning, but her parents did not hear. They turned to him with gracious, deferring smiles, their Perripin hospitality unimpeachable.
Then his gaze found her, his dark eyes burning into hers.
She ran from door to door, searching for an escape, but he was always there. As the sweet dream turned ugly and rancid, Maris disgustedly took control away from her dreaming self and woke.
From under the warm blankets she spread her fingers and sent channels of thought out and past the walls of the small cabin into the overcast winter day, out to the perimeter of the property where her wards were woven through the land and the trees, tuned to warn her of any trespasses. Had he somehow found her?
No, he had not. Only a dream.
As she pulled her attention back into the cabin, she sensed the new depth of snow on the ground. So much snow.
The first time she’d seen snow, it had been a marvel to her. White flakes falling endlessly from above, covering the world, making it seem clean. A canvas on which anything might be written. Even, somehow, her own freedom.
She remembered that moment vividly, sitting atop a bay mare, looking across the astonishing white fields. He was at her side, of course; there was no escaping him in those days. How she wished then that when she turned back to face him, he too would be covered in white, her life made clean of this black-robed man, releasing her from the nightmare of her apprenticeship.
Absurd, of course. Freedom did not come from bits of frozen water, praying to the nine elements, or wishing upon grains of sand. And when she turned back, he had still been there, eyes hard on her, assessing.
No escape. Year after year, lesson after lesson, that had become indisputable.
Then, at last, the test that did free her. An ordeal best forgotten, like Keyretura himself. In the years since, she had seen snow many times, had learned that it blanketed without discrimination, making all things white, from villages flattened by plague, to the dead of battle with pikes and flags sticking up like some odd winter flower.
But snow made nothing clean. It only covered for a time. When the seasons changed, it would melt away, revealing the debris beneath.
Now, in the waking world, the banging came again at her door. She sent a bit of herself outside, focus settling atop the boy, floating down over him. Youth came off Samnt in hot waves, the swirl of etheric flow around his body bright and vibrant. She sank her attention in through his skin, feeling the press of blood in his veins, hearing his child’s heart beat strong and fast in his chest.
Not a child, she reminded herself. Not for long.
She withdrew her focus back under warm covers. The door was unlocked, but unlike the monster of her dreams, Samnt would never enter without invitation. Not because she was a mage. Not because he was afraid to offend. Because it was not done.
“Come in,” she called.
He threw open the front door, stamping inside, bringing in swirls of snow and wafts of cold air. This sent her burrowing deeper into the cocoon of blankets.
Grinning, he slammed the door behind. “My ma sends hello. And this,” he said, holding up a burlap bundle, fist closed around the top of the bag.
He was breathing hard from the run up the hill to her cabin, exhaling a white fog into the air. He could have come more slowly, but no — passion drove him to speed.
With a thunk he landed the bag on the table. The sides slid down to reveal bread, a large hunk of white cheese, and a brown ceramic jar. His eyes flickered around the room, as if to assure himself that nothing had changed in the day since he had been here last, then he was at the window, pulling back heavy drapes to let in a gray light.
Next at the woodstove, prying off bits of wood for kindling, setting them in the stove under the logs he had chopped and stacked for her back in autumn.
What, she wondered again, was she doing in this wretched, frigid land? For a time she lay there, thinking of her home in Perripur, in the Shentarat Mountains, and how overgrown with green it would be now. How warm.
The stove fire was burning enthusiastically. She struggled into clothes and braved the air of the room.
“Didn’t wake you, did I?” he asked, poking at the logs. Concern flickered briefly across his face, then his mind was elsewhere. “Snow later, I think.”
“Such fortune we are heir to,” Maris said wryly. “What’s in the jar?”
“Applesauce,” he said, “Our trees, our spices. Ma’s quite proud of it. You’ll like it, truly.”
“Thoughtful of her. Thoughtful of you. You may stay.”
He laughed and crouched down to put more wood into the fiercely burning stove and a kettle of water on top. She found herself smiling at him.
This, perhaps, was why she was still here.
“Let’s get started,” she said.
“Need more wood brought in.”
“It will wait. It’s not going anywhere.”
At this he sighed and dropped into the chair by her side. A moment later he was up again, tilting his head sideways to look at the books on her shelf. “Pa went to the village yesterday,” he said, running his fingers across the leather spines. “Trading tools at market. Saw a book there. Cost so much.” He turned back with a quick smile.
“What was it about, the book?”
A shrug. “He didn’t know. Leather working, maybe.”
“Next time you go with him. You read it for him, yes?”
Samnt nodded but without enthusiasm. That, she resolved, would change when he understood what books could be.
It had been so warm in autumn when she’d come here to wait out the winter in the mountains of Kathorn. Samnt had been eager to help stock the cabin, helping her lay in far more wood than she thought she would ever need. Now she found herself wondering if she would have enough to get through to spring thaw.
When the kettle boiled Samnt prepared tea from her dwindling supply that she had brought with her from Perripur. He sweetened it with local honey, just as she liked, without her even asking. A simple gesture, but one that touched her. He sipped his own mug, made a face, wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
The face of another boy came to mind, one who drank tea and wiped his face on his sleeve. Five years ago, was it? No, ten. The boy’s parents were already dead, his feverish sister restless on the soaked, stained mattress. Maris did all she could for them, gave the last of her herbs, but the illness held strong, eating through them, their family, their village. Still she stayed and nursed them.
The boy had died last.
“Let’s do some reading,” she said to Samnt. “From the animal book.”
“Teach me magic, Maris.”
“What, that again?”
“Yes. Why not?”
“You don’t need it.”
“But I do. I’m a fast learner. You said so yourself.”
To learn fast had little to do with it. Yes, he had the rare spark, but Maris would not wish the nightmare on anyone.
“Study something else.”
“Anything. You must learn to read. Then we’ll go to numbers –”
Samnt cut in, exasperated. “Maris, I’m fifteen in spring. I’m going to plant grain, raise pigs, and dig crappers for my life’s keep, just like my parents do. I don’t need to read for that.”