The Seer – Snippet 68

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The Seer – Snippet 68

“We’ve waited long enough,” the man said urgently. “Restarn promised us –”

“It doesn’t matter what Restarn promised.”

A frustrated sound. “Yes. All right. But look at how the price of metals rises, Oleane. We could make a profit now, one that would fund everything. If Restarn were on the throne, we’d have some liberty in our operations, and privacy, too, but now –”

“No, no, no,” the woman called Oleane said, cutting him off. “Things are different now.”

“Damn it, I want what I was promised.”

“Keep your voice down, boy. My books are under audit. No more slop. We must be very careful. You must be very careful.”

“I am, I am.”

“You are not.” Her voice dropped. “It’s not Restarn any more. It’s not even Cern. It’s Innel you need to be concerned with. The sooner you get fixed with that, the better.”

“It doesn’t have to be Innel.”

“I don’t want to hear it. You stink of treason.”

“He’s sending the city into the sewer, Oleane. No one is following the old agreements. He has shaken the table, and game pieces are everywhere. The queen only watches. We must to do something.”

“When things are settled, perhaps –”

“Old woman, if we wait for things to settle, you will be cold in your grave and I will be too old to act. Cern turns whatever way the wind blows, and now the wind is called Innel. Let’s change the wind’s name.”

“Hush!”

“There are others who think as I do, Oleane. Don’t hide behind your hands like a child, or when the wind changes next you will be left behind.”

“Don’t threaten me. I’m old enough to be your grandmother.”

“Maybe that’s the problem. Best you leave these battles to those young enough imagine what might yet be.”

“Idiot. Leave war to the young and you repeat the same mistakes we made when we were young. That’s why we have generals. Have you learned nothing in your short life?”

“Innel is not much older than I am. Look at what he has managed.”

“He was in the Cohort, you fool.”

“You are wise, Oleane. Will you be our general?”

“Ah.” The woman’s voice held a smile. “I see. You and your ‘others.’ Not a general among you.”

“Truly, we need you. Will you stand with us?”

“Innel is clever. His people are everywhere.”

“That could be a different name on your tongue soon, if you’re with us. Maybe even yours.”

“Don’t flatter me, boy. I know who could take over from Innel, and it isn’t me.”

The man’s whisper held sudden passion. “Then you could be the one to choose. We’ve waited long enough. This is the time, Oleane.”

“I’m not convinced. You can’t just –”

“We are ready. Are you with us or not?”

A pause. “Do you know what you’re suggesting, boy? How dangerous this is? Do you see who squirms in Execution Square this week?”

“I am not afraid. It is time to act. Yes or no.”

A longer pause. At last: “Yes.”

Maris chuckled at the drama, withdrew, wondering if she should relay this to Innel or not. As she walked the hallways, a window afforded her a view of the aforementioned square where two men hung by their feet, heads a hand’s width above the ground, coated with some sticky substance that Maris guessed was honey. They had lasted two days thus far, despite the rats, but she did not give them much longer.

Yes, she decided, she must tell Innel. While her contract did not require it, it seemed to her that to take his money meant to tell him when his life was in danger.

The woman named Oleane and the young man with her were spiders. They had made their choices.

She went to find the Lord Commander.

#

The winter passed more comfortably than Maris would have thought possible so far north. Stoves and fireplaces were always warm.

And the library. She could live in it for a hundred years and still not exhaust her interest.

As for the search, as long as she continued to report various corruptions and treasonous plots to Innel, he seemed happy for her to put off leaving the palace grounds. When the ice began to melt and spring came, though, he reminded her, ever so gently, that he still needed the girl.

So Maris took the search out of the palace with its warm halls onto the palace grounds, searching laundry and garrison, pig and goat pens. At the kennels and stables, she took her time with the dichu, the large Arunkel dogs, their black and tan brindled faces looking up at her eagerly, tails wagging, ears forward. Then the horses, strong and happy and eager to run. It was a pleasure to her.

The girl was not there, though.

When she could put it off no longer, she left the place grounds. Above, a clear night sky showed the constellation of archer chasing the world-snake, a battle that surely would satisfy no one. She brushed herself with a touch of shadow and illusion, enough that anyone who looked at her would see someone paler, in poorer clothes, less interesting than a Perripin woman wandering alone at night in Yarpin.

As she walked past the Great Houses, she trailed her fingers across walls and iron gates, her attention raking through those within to see if they were the owner of the small seashell. When she had passed across every resident of the Eight Great Houses, she moved downhill and to the Lesser Houses.

None of this took as long as Maris had hoped. There were simply not that many girls, and none of them the one the Lord Commander sought. Reluctantly she expanded her search outward, lane by lane. Merchant houses. Inns. Public houses. Storefronts. Apartments.

And who was this girl on whom Innel was sufficiently intent to hire a mage at exorbitant cost to execute a fruitless search? She felt a twinge of sympathy for her, not wishing Innel’s attention on anyone but spiders.

It seemed too much coincidence, the many rumors on the streets about fortune-tellers. Not only rumors, either — as the weather turned mild, girl children and young women flocked to street corners, shouting and calling, promising to reveal the future for a pittance and indeed a much lower price than the charlatan girl down the lane.

Some used stones or ointments or bits of metal to aid with the prophecy. One even insisted on first obtaining a drop of blood from the inquirer; a clever trick to get the quarry invested, to stretch credibility before a word of supposed prophecy had even been spoken.

Even so, Innel was too smart to believe such foolishness, and she could not imagine these tales at the heart of his motivation. More likely he had created the rumors himself to serve some intrigue or another. Perhaps the girl was some runaway aristo child, or the daughter of an enemy who could provide him some leverage once he had her in hand.

As she walked the streets and watched the displays, Maris found herself saddened at how credulous people could be. Accounts of prophecy swept villages and cities as would a catchy tune, belief cresting and crashing with rumor, only to rise again years later when people forgot. They were good at forgetting, Iliban were.

Or perhaps they remembered perfectly well, and these girls with their small pigs and dogs and buckets of bloody entrails were merely entertainment now that the coronation was over and life had returned to a bleak misery.

In any case, if the new queen’s Royal Consort and Lord Commander wanted the girl, one way or another, with or without Maris’s help, he would have her.

At last the search took her into the poorest sections, down-city. Now when she slipped her awareness into the inhabitants of the apartment buildings, she found sluggish blood, chronic illness, searing pain. When she found such need, she might sometimes take a moment. Open a slow channel here, shift the balance of blood there. Smooth the working of an organ, remove a pinpoint tumor. Small things, things that surely she had the time to do as she went by.

Her search slowed. She tired more quickly. It left her aching, body and spirit, sparking images she thought buried, memories of those who had trusted her when they had nothing left. For them, she decided, she could give a little more, especially when so little was desperately needed.

One night she sat, her back to a dilapidated wall, working on twins, a boy and a girl, who had eaten some corrupted food. She eased the tightening of their throats, shifted the fire in their veins, and watched as they slept to be sure they kept breathing. Hours later, when she was confident they would live, she stood slowly, stretching her stiffness, walking back to the palace where she lay on top of her soft palace bed.

When at last she drifted off, the faces of the dead accompanied her into dream.

 

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