The Seer – Snippet 58
Startled at this, she obeyed, taking the chair across from him. The manner in which people sat in chairs told Innel a great deal about them, soldiers especially. They were accustomed to being watched when they stood; sitting was what they did off-duty, drinking or eating, their defenses lowered.
“You have a lover,” he said. “Bintal.”
Her eyes widened. She stuttered in her reply. “Yes, Lord Commander.”
“He spoke to you before you left Yarpin on campaign last year. About me and my brother, Pohut sev Restarn. Is that so?” He was guessing. Satisfyingly, the blood drained from her face and her stark expression made reply unnecessary. “What was said?”
“Some sort of plan,” she said, her voice low. “Against you. By Lieutenant Pohut.”
“Give me details, Sergeant.”
“The lieutenant was asking someone questions.”
“In the mountains south? Some fortune-teller.” She laughed a little, uneasily.
Innel’s stomach clenched. “Who did you tell this to?”
“No one, ser.”
“No one? Not one person in your company?”
“No, Lord Commander.”
He leaned forward. “No talk about the lieutenant’s funeral? No rumors about how he might have been killed? No late-night speculations about the new Lord Commander? I find this hard to believe. I can have you interviewed at length by someone who can tell the truth of your words if I have any doubt about your sincerity. You are far better off telling me. Now.”
Her face went even paler, her voice barely a whisper. “I might have said something, Lord Commander. In jest. Once.”
“How many might have heard you, had you said this something?”
Her mouth opened and closed and then again. “We were out. Drinking and smoking, Lord Commander. Truly, I don’t recall.”
She was too easy to read: she wanted anything but to recall.
“Guess,” he urged.
“A tencount, perhaps, my lord.”
She swallowed. Her mouth fished open again. “Perhaps a few more than that.”
There it was, then: a rumor based in fact, with plenty of time for it to have found life across the public houses of the cities and the fire pits of the camps. It would sound like typical aristo dalliance and excess, consulting a fortune-teller, but Pohut’s death might give it more credence than he could afford.
Innel would start his own rumors to combat it, of course, far more outrageous. Pigs that snorted predictions, dogs that burped tomorrow’s weather. This would help confuse anyone looking for a kernel of truth. He hoped.
The woman before him was slumped in her chair, face a mask of despair, gaze on the floor.
“You’ll want to go back to your company,” he said after a moment’s consideration.
“Yes, ser,” she said, her tone flat.
She did not expect to survive this interview. In Restarn and Lason’s time, she might not have. Might have quietly disappeared, family and friends acting as if she had never existed at all. No funeral, no gift ceremony, no body. Innel had seen it countless times.
“I can’t let you go back,” he said, letting that sink in, watching her face collapse, giving her another moment to consider her mortality. “So I will post you here, on the palace grounds. Something modest, perhaps the cavalry inventory staff. Would you like that?”
She blinked a few times, doubt warring with hope, then nodded with fragile enthusiasm.
“You can keep seeing Bintal; indeed, I encourage it. But you will tell me anything that is said around you, about me or anyone in my family. My own people will be feeding you some of those rumors, just to keep you in practice. Understand?”
“Lord Commander, thank you, I –”
He waved it away. “You’ll tell me you’re loyal, that you owe me your life.” He leaned forward, caught her gaze. “I advise you to make sure I never question having let you keep it. Yes?”
“Yes, Lord Commander.”
Getting away from the palace was harder than it had ever been, taking hours to arrange. Again he made his way to the toilet room of the Frosted Rose.
“Where in the hells have you been?” Innel demanded of the vent overhead.
“Finding your girl, Lord Commander.”
“You were right: she sees the future.”
“You have her?”
“No. And I will need more funds to continue my search.”
Innel’s fist trembled as he touched white knuckles to the wall of the small toilet room. Softly. “Hiring you, first and most expensively, was intended to resolve this matter quickly. Yet I see no resolution.”
“Commander, this no a simple girl. In each moment she knew what I was about to do next. A seer. Truly, this is extraordinary.”
“It took you a year to come to the conclusion that I was right? And you are supposed to be the best?”
“Few escape me, even once. I doubt anyone will get closer to her than I have.”
“We can celebrate that at least,” Innel said, “because rumors of the girl are now everywhere. Let’s hope your competition is even less competent than you are.”
“Lord Commander, I urge you to allow me to kill her. She will be far easier to control when she is dead.”
“Absolutely not. I need her alive.” Cern’s rule was yet weak, his own command under hers consequently tenuous. Innel needed the girl’s answers far more than he needed her silence. “So you come to me with nothing?”
“Not quite. I have some items that once belonged to her. A small seashell, some blue cloth. You may wish to ask your mage about these.”
His mage. Tayre was surely guessing. That Innel had every intention of doing just this as soon as he could bring Marisel dua Mage to the palace did not change the fact that it was still against both law and custom. He wondered if he should pretend to be offended for the sake of appearances. “Explain your meaning.”
“You are an insightful man, not given to common superstitions during your uncommon rise.” Mutt to Royal Consort to Lord Commander, he meant. Innel frowned a little at this, wondering if Tayre was flattering him. “You would have a mage.”
Innel made a noncommittal sound.
“Though,” Tayre continued, “I suspect the girl’s ability to anticipate danger will work equally well against magical forces.”
“Is that intended to reassure me?”
“If you want reassurance, ser, you’ll find it for far less coin than what you’ve been paying me. But coin is the least of your costs if someone else finds her first.”
The very thought that kept Innel awake at night. “This is neither news nor does it put her in my hands. If you cannot find her –”
“I know where she is.”
“What? Why didn’t you say that before?”
“Because finding her is not the problem.”
Again his hand was clenched into a fist. “And yet it seems to have thwarted you repeatedly.”
“Lord Commander, your other hires — have any of them reported finding her?” He paused. “Or reported finding me?”
“No,” he admitted.
“I’ve threatened her life twice. If any of your other hounds had done that much, I doubt you would be here.”
“Damn this. Can you apprehend her or not?”
“Her foresight has limitations or she wouldn’t be fleeing from me in the first place. I will keep pursuing, but I can offer no promises.”
Unlike the others Innel had hired, all of whom had been quite willing to give promises. That it would be easily accomplished. That they would have the girl to him shortly.
“She is still on the run,” Tayre said. “No one else has her, either.”
A doubtful sound. “Perhaps.”
So many ways to use the girl if he could only get his hands on her. He thought of the mountain regions, where towns thought taxes and House Charters didn’t apply to them, or the Greater and Lesser Houses and their squabbles. Trade boats that had been lost in bad weather, costing the crown astonishing amounts. The shifting metals markets.
For whoever held her, the potential advantages were boundless. He exhaled in a long stream.
“If capture is not possible…” It would be a great shame to lose her. But far worse to let someone else have her. “Bring me her head.”
“A prudent decision, Lord Commander. And the woman and the boy?”
For all Innel knew, the girl’s exceptional ability ran in the family. It made no sense to remove the girl and leave alive two other potential and similar threats. It was time to finish this.
“Yes. If you cannot capture, kill them. All of them.”