The Seer – Snippet 14
But he had no choice; he must get the girl in hand, and to do so meant the appearance of being able to spend this amount easily. If all went as planned, that would soon be true enough.
He placed them palace-side up, each stamped with a detailed likeness of the multi-storied monarchical mansion. Not the side that showed the sigils of the Eight Great Houses. A clear message, one that she could hardly miss. “I want the best,” he said. “And soon.”
Bolah did a fair impression of barely considering the coins, but Innel was not fooled; he had her keen attention. “The best, ser? In-city? In the province? Across the empire?”
“And soon as well? You ask a great deal, Captain.” Her eyes flickered to the souver touches. “You will be spending more than that.”
“I may need some credit extended to me.”
“Ah,” she said, drawing out the sound, a look of calculated sadness across her wrinkled features.
“I am going to marry the princess, Bolah. Who will one day soon be queen of the empire. What is that worth, do you think?”
For a moment she looked elsewhere, as if attempting to answer his question by calculating sums. Her eyes flickered back to him and she gave him a merchant’s best smile. “I believe I can help you, Captain.”
“You have someone in mind.”
Bolah took a sip of her wine. “If he is available.”
“And talented and capable, with a solid reputation. My first choice, Captain, if I required such a service. And had I the resources of your princess.”
He did not miss her point.
“It may take more than money to interest him. He chooses his patrons, not the other way around.”
Innel swirled the wine in his cup, watching the red liquid slowly fall in tails down the insides. “What will it take, then?”
“I would not presume to suppose. You will need to negotiate directly with him. I will, of course, take my percentage of any coin, goods, or worth of services on which you agree.”
“Shall I arrange a meeting?”
“With or without your name, Captain?”
He considered the benefits of anonymity. If the man was as capable as Bolah said, then Innel’s own future status was part of the enticement. At the same time, knowing who he was would make him vulnerable.
A balance of risks, as always.
“Give him my name.”
“Captain, in your interest I must say again that this man is expensive. There are ten or twenty in Yarpin alone who are strong, quick, and smart enough to assist you in this matter. Even a handful of them would cost less than this single man. Are you quite, quite sure –”
Innel lifted two fingers, and Bolah fell silent. The gesture was Cern’s, and he was finding it an effective reminder to people of his changing position. He took a sip of the wine. Sweet and dusty, a hint of woodsmoke and pine behind the spices.
Bolah waited, giving every impression of being willing to wait forever with perfect delight. She had built a rich business on such impressions.
“I was ten,” Innel said. “My brother had challenged me to a rabbit-hunting contest. The loser would present his clothes to the winner and spend the night in the woods. That year at spring festival my mother had given me an excellent hunting bow. To this day, I don’t know how she afforded it.” At Bolah’s bemused look, he gave a bitter smile. “Don’t mistake being raised in the palace for having money, Grandmother.”
She inclined her head at this point, then raised her eyebrows for him to continue.
“I had planned to save the bow for when I truly needed it. A hunt with the king, perhaps, something I had not yet been invited to, unlike many others in the Cohort. The contest was only rabbits, I reasoned, so I took a smaller, lesser, and cheaper bow.”
“No rabbits,” Bolah guessed.
“A long, cold, autumn night I will never forget.”
“There is no substitute for quality.”
“Since then I have been fortunate enough to hunt with his royal majesty often. Though I fear his hunting days may well be in the past.”
“Oh?” she asked carefully.
“He is not a young man any more,” Innel said. Sometimes it was enough to breathe a little life into a rumor.
“I pray daily to the sea and sky for his majesty’s most excellent health.”
“As do we all. But no one can stop the years. The moon is eaten and reborn. Seasons chase each other across the year.” He paused. “Wedding horns sound. Knots are tied.”
“Who can know what will come?”
She meant that he was not yet consort, Cern not yet queen. The coronation, even if the king’s promises of abdication were to be relied upon, was still many steps away. There was a limit to how much he could borrow against a future that might not come to pass.
He recalled the girl’s prediction. I think yes.
“The time is coming to place your wagers, Bolah.”
“You have my full support, Captain.”
He picked up the cup again, swirling the small pool of red at the bottom.
“More wine, Captain?”
“The price of metals is going up. Why are merchants hoarding, Bolah?”
“The markets are always in motion, Captain. Now it simply happens that metals are more in demand than yesterday.”
“The rebellions in Gotar and Sinetel are minor affairs. They will not last long.”
“Then I am sure the price of copper and tin will fall again.”
“Tell your fellow merchants that even now Arunkel troops are putting down these rebellions.”
“As you say, Captain.”
He had debated with himself whether or not to say these next words. Even now he was undecided.
A balance of risks.
“Also,” he said, “I need someone who can see into the future.”
Her expression was uncertain, poised, as if ready to laugh at his joke, as soon as she was sure it was one. Seeing that he was serious, her tentative smile vanished. She shook her head.
“You have heard of no such?”
“Of course I have, Captain. Such rumors come and go with the sea winds. These days they blow with a young man’s bluster. There are always such rumors. Always.”
“Beyond rumor, though?”
“You wish someone without pretense, who can truly predict what will come?”
“If I knew of such a person, Captain, I would have my robes made from House Sartor’s silks, eat myself silly on Elupene’s fermented Kukka berries, and only open my door to mages who would keep me young forever.”
After a lifetime at the palace, Innel had faith in his ability to spot duplicity. He was almost certain Bolah was telling the truth. Almost.
“For such a person I would pay a great deal.”
“Yes,” she said with sober amusement, “you would. But I cannot find what does not exist. Even the most powerful mages cannot foretell the future better than a wealthy gambler.”
So Bolah had not yet heard of the girl.
Or having heard, had not credited the rumor. Innel could almost allow himself to hope the knowledge was contained.
He stood. “Contact me when you find him.”
“You will not be disappointed, Captain,”
He hoped she was right. He needed her to be.
Now Innel half wished he had not told Bolah to give the man his name. If the man were as clever as she had implied, how long until he figured out himself what the girl was?
A true Seer. The possibilities were staggering.