The Seer – Snippet 03

Dirina had told her that it was only a dream and to go back to sleep.

To know what would happen and still not be able to change it was worse than not knowing. Dirina no longer wanted to hear about the future.

Amarta stared into the light of the burning candle. Perhaps they should save what was left of it — they could not afford them as it was — but it comforted her sister, and —

He was coming back.

“Ama, is he –”

A sudden noise outside the thin walls of the cabin. An animal, perhaps, or —

She strained to hear, helpless to stop herself envisioning which of the many night sounds might be a man’s last struggle for breath.

This was the last time, Dirina told herself. No more of Amarta’s visions.

Then they would starve.

No, then she would —

There was a loud pounding at the door.

“What should I do?” Dirina asked, frightened enough to blurt out the question.

Amarta shook her head with a child’s lost, fearful look. She didn’t know. Or wouldn’t say.

The pounding came again, rattling the door-frame and walls. Dirina could too easily imagine him breaking the door in if she waited much longer. She dashed to unbolt it and let him in.

He pushed past her into the room, breathing hard, hood thrown back, hair and face smeared with mud. At his look, Dirina backed away.

From the other room came Pas’s freshly woken howl. Before Dirina could move, Amarta darted to the back room, returning with Pas cradled in her arms, now quieted. Dirina felt a sick jolt at seeing her sister and son here, so near this dangerous man.

“You were right,” he told Dirina, his voice low. “I broke his neck. Hold, twist, snap.” His hands moved in the air, as if to demonstrate. “As we were taught. And yes –” He fixed a look on Amarta. “He hesitated, my brother did. As you said he would. He should have known better.”

Dirina put a hand over her mouth.

For a long moment, the only sound in the room was the stranger’s hard breathing.

His gaze wandered the room, as if seeing it for the first time. When his look came back to Dirina, he seemed to be weighing a decision.

It was slow, the motion of his hand moving out from under his cloak. He was shaking, she realized, despite that his face showed nothing. His hand went for the pile of coins.

For a horrible moment she was sure he would take all the coins and leave. It had happened before. Instead he put another coin on the table.

A gold souver. Dirina’s mouth fell open.

“My life is worth this and more to me, so I’ll give you some advice as well.” He looked at Amarta and settled a weightier look on Dirina. “Charge more.”

With that he left.

Heartbeats passed. When the cold night air finally broke her shock, Dirina went to the door, shut it, dropped the bolt. As if it would protect them from anything.

Her sister was sitting on the floor, curled around Pas, rocking, murmuring to him.

Dirina dropped down next to her, put her arms around them both.

“He’s gone now, don’t you worry,” Amarta was telling Pas.

“We’re safe,” Dirina said, knowing the lie of the words as they left her mouth.

She helped her sister stand and drew them both back to the cot and under blankets. Dirina waited until she was asleep, then wrapped Pas in a blanket and took him back to the table. She gave him her breast to feed as she stared at the coins on the table.

All they had done was to answer the man’s questions.

No, that was a lie, too; they had helped him kill his brother, a man who probably also had fine clothes, a horse, and a good deal of coin. Whoever he was.

It didn’t matter who he was. Both men were gone and the coins remained. Coins that would buy them food to keep them from starving through the winter. Perhaps some tar and straw to seal the roof and stop the drafts. Peat for the stove. Blankets. Food and shelter and warmth.

Or maybe a start somewhere else.

That’s what they would do, she decided. At first light they would pack what little they had and leave. Begin again elsewhere, somewhere no one had heard about Amarta and what she could do.

When the coins ran out, Dirina would mend or clean or cook or whatever was needed to keep them alive. But no more answers for strangers. No more stumbling over long-held secrets or making enemies by telling people things they didn’t really want to know.

For a moment she planned furiously, thinking of what they could take on their backs.

She stopped. It would not happen. Not this season, not the next. She could not take a child and an infant on a mountain trek to another village with ice on the ground and snow on the way.

Then, she decided fiercely, she would find another way. When the money was gone, she would rent herself to the village men for more. She would count carefully this time, and there would be no more mistakes.

That is, if the village men had any extra coin in the winter months at all. Well, she would find out, she decided.

Pas reached for her then, clutching the cloth of her shirt tightly in his little fist. She raised his hand to her mouth and kissed it, allowing herself this moment of sweetness. She tucked the fallen cloth back around his little body and his head dropped onto her chest as he fell asleep.

She was his future. His only future. She would do what she must.

In his sleep, Pas made a small sound. She rocked him gently as the room lightened with the first hint of dawn.

Gold. They had a gold souver. Dirina took the coin in hand and looked it over closely.

Larger than the silver falcons and heavier too. Nothing like the dirty, scratched copper quarter-nals chits she knew, that if you had the right four, you could piece together to make a picture of the Grandmother Queen with her moon-in-sky through the window and dog at her feet.

It was a wonder, this coin, heavy and smooth like a river rock. She brought it close, rubbing her finger over the shining detail.

A soldier on a horse, front legs high in the air, sword raised. Behind him were snow-capped mountains divided by a river. That would be the Sennant, the great river that ran through the empire, that they had crossed to come here to this village. Behind the horse, a palace. The Jewel of the Empire, which her mother had told her stories about when she’d been small. So many rooms. Food in every one of them.

What had Amarta said to the man who had given them this coin? Something about a woman who would be upset. Something about her father keeping his word.

Dirina turned the coin over. A bearded man stared back at her with an imposing expression on his face and a circlet on his head.

A crown. That was what Amarta had said. Something about a crown.

Dirina stared at the coin in her hand, her breath coming hard and fast. She dropped the coin to the table, where it rattled and went still.

What had they done?

In the dawning day, Dirina clutched Pas tight and watched gold and silver coins take on rich color as the prisms of her tears blurred them into wild, luminescent shapes.