The Seer – Snippet 63
Tayre was impressed with the residents of the hidden enclave and the lengths they went through to hide their existence here in the deadlands. But was the Botaros girl still there?
Judging by the many places he had been that she was not, he was fairly certain she had come this way, down the Great Road, into the deadland flats, and had not emerged. He had circled the area a good number of times, all sixty and some miles of it, watching riders and wagons come and go, noting tracks, keeping count. Almost all the wagons, riders, and those on foot who had entered the deadlands also exited the other side.
One wagon had clearly originated in the deadland expanse itself without having come from elsewhere, and had headed east to the markets in the small towns, returning days later, and failing to emerge elsewhere.
He was becoming fairly certain he had stumbled onto the fabled hidden city of Kusan, an excellent place to hide. If half the rumors about it were true, also uncommonly well-defended. He could not simply ride in and start asking questions.
So he scouted the area, looking for clues as to the people who lived in this, it turned out, not-mythical underground city. He made a methodical survey of the area, avoiding the deadlands themselves, staying well out of sight.
The Kusani, it turned out, were clever enough not to keep a schedule. Wagons left sometime during the waxing or full moon, when the skies were clear enough at night to light their way, so he expected another wagon to emerge from the deadlands soon, at which point he would have someone to question.
Such a community would be keenly aware of newcomers. If she were there, they would know. If he got his hands on any of them, he would also know.
Which he would shortly.
The wagons came eastward from the deadlands via a windswept rocky shelf of land, clearly intending to avoid the kind of tracking he was now doing. As careful as they were at hiding their location and travel, every human alive needed food and water. They could only do so much to hide from someone observant and patient.
So he waited.
When it came, the small covered wagon rolled slowly toward him, one cart horse, two people sitting at the front, he would guess another two inside. They would pass directly under where he now stood, on a hillside in brush and trees.
Then he would ride down from his vantage point and have a conversation. With a bit of care, he could not only find out that the girl was there in the warrens below, but also induce them to bring her out to him, willingly.
He could think of a number of compelling stories that might make the underground residents grateful to him for taking her off their hands, and he had enough coin to back any such story. This would be the tidiest of solutions: fast, direct, with least risk. He might even be able to take her alive.
But if he could not command Kusani cooperation, he would take them off the road into the woods where he could ask questions at length and see what other solutions presented themselves. Then, at least, he would know the girl was there.
As he watched the wagon roll closer he performed his usual checks: saddle, pack bindings secure, knives in place, close-in bow ready, arrows likewise.
Once he knew the girl was here, if his ideal solution of Kusani cooperation was not obtainable, he would go back to the capital and convince the Lord Commander to give him a small army. With enough soldiers he could surround and overwhelm the underground warrens, blocking every exit she might take, then thoroughly search every inch of tunnel. With sufficient eyes and hands and weapons, he felt sure her foresight could be overwhelmed.
Rumor said that Kusan was impregnable. That was not reason enough to take it, but it did make it intriguing.
And no one lived underground without reason. They were hiding something, or hiding from someone. Whatever that was would likely be valuable and further inducement to the Lord Commander to give Tayre the forces necessary. Another thing he would find out from the Kusani.
He swung himself up on his horse, eyes still on the approaching wagon, checking and double-checking that everything on himself and his horse was where he expected it to be.
He heard sounds from the hill west, another vantage point he had considered and dismissed as both too open and likely noisy, which it was now, as two horses came crashing down through the brush, half-sliding down the steep hillside on a fast approach to the wagon, which they now circled, the two riders shouting orders to those inside, to stop, to get out.
Tayre was already riding down the hill as fast as his horse would take him, watching as the two Kusani sitting up front dropped the reins to put their hands up in surrender, facing the first attacker as he let fly an arrow that sank into the chest of the first wagoner. The wagoner clutched at his chest, gasping and slipping off the wagon to the ground. Another shot and the second wagoner, a woman, screamed, and crumpled.
Tayre urged his horse to speed.
At the back of the wagon the second attacker was yelling at those inside to come out, to get onto their knees, which they did rather more quickly than Tayre had hoped. The attacker then pulled a short sword and clumsily but effectively ran it through the first of those. The figure went prone.
The other figure, a girl, lurched to her feet and began to run. The attacker’s arrow caught her in the calf. She stumbled to the ground.
A girl about the age the seer would be now, wearing a cloak with blue trim.
Tayre’s horse was on the road proper, forward at a full gallop, but in the seconds it took him to arrive, the other attacker had put a bolt into the girl’s back. She went flat.
If it were indeed the seer, they had saved him a good deal of trouble. Somehow he doubted it would be that easy.
As he rode up the two attackers turned to face him, the points of their notched arrows aimed at him. One seemed ready to speak, the one he had judged as the more competent of the two, when Tayre shot him through the stomach with his crossbow. He crumpled. The other man’s attempt to shoot Tayre went far wide as he sacrificed accuracy for speed, which was what Tayre had expected him to do, providing plenty of time to put a bolt through his wrist to a loud grunt of pain and a dropped bow.