The Seer – Snippet 24
As Tayre and his horse ascended the road to the mountain town of Sennant, he considered the many things worse than the freezing rain now finding its way around wraps and oilskin, under leather, to his skin, until only his toes deep in his boots were truly dry.
Many things worse. With a good fire and a little time, the chill he was now experiencing could be banished.
But doing his work in the open, for show — that could follow him for years. And that was worse.
They were proud of their name, the townspeople of Sennant. It gave them a sense of importance, of being part of the empire’s mighty trade route up and down the river from which they took their name. That the village was not on the river and indeed could only be reached by twisting mountain roads did not seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm; they were happy to visit the barge port once a week anyway, to trade furs, cider, jars of maple syrup, gossip.
Which was why it was here that Tayre would start creating the rumors about himself that would circulate back to Innel, to quell his doubts as to Tayre’s capability.
He’d considered ending the contract. Innel was sufficiently annoyed — and Tayre sufficiently expensive — that turning the conversation in a direction that would release him from the bond would have been easy.
However, he had no intention of allowing the contract to end. There was something about the girl that was still beyond his understanding. That she was a true seer he doubted, but something about her did not make sense. She was a puzzle that needed solving.
Find the unknown. His uncle had taught him. And make it known to you.
He rode past the town, circling First Hill, passing by Garlus Lake, the patter of frozen rain hard on the water’s surface. Whatever fell from the sky, the lake would endure. Reputation was just one more tool, and his would endure this, too.
From the lake he entered the dripping canopy of forest and went to one of his hollowed-out cache trees. Suitably replenished, he found the Flute and Drum, where he knew they would take good care of his horse, who was certainly as tired of the chill rain as he was.
It would slow his work, planting stories intriguing enough to get back to Innel’s informants. The best work left no trace.
But so be it. The job had simply become more expensive. Not entirely unexpected when dealing with the monarchy.
The next time he found the Botaros girl, he would watch her as long as it took him to arrange the best circumstances for her acquisition, assure himself that she was alone, with no transportation opportunities handy. Learn her movements, isolate her, take her.
And if magic were involved, he would find a way around it. He had done it before.
He entered the Flute and Drum, pulled the door tight behind him.
A handful of people sat at tables around a central fire, quietly eating. He limped a little as he made his way to a wall-backed table and chair, taking in the room as he went. Who faced whom, cut and fabric of clothing, how they stood, skin tone variations, blemishes, hand positions. He made quick assessments about history, wealth, and agendas.
The limp was a small thing, like the way he held his head a bit off-center and the mud ground into his worn clothes. Enough to make him seem unlike the man who had come through a nearby village a few days ago. People watched strangers who came through, especially in these cold months, and they talked about them. Now to make sure they said what he wanted them to.
At the fire sat men and women eating bits of bread from a greasy communal plate, drinking from mugs, naked feet up on the stones clustered near the flames. On the floor were short-boots and turn shoes propped up to dry, socks draped between them like makeshift tents.
Glances came his way. As he sat, he lifted his hand in a brusque, demanding motion to the innkeeper across the room. The large man shuffled toward him on the unswept wood floor.
“Time preserve the king’s health,” the innkeeper said in an exhale. A traditional greeting, but also a warning that he was a law-abiding citizen and was not looking for black-market action. “What can I get you?”
Tayre knew that Binak was easily startled and would be obvious about it. Rolling his voice with a slight accent from the southeast, with a little Perripin thrown in and a tug toward the lilting tongues of the desert tribes, he spoke slowly, precisely. “Something with no dirt. Resembling food, if you have any.”
The big man spat air through his teeth. “If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else.”
“Don’t know yet. Bring it and I’ll tell you if it’s food. Hurry up.” With that, Tayre spread a handful of nals across the table.
Shaking his head, annoyed, Binak turned away.
“Binak,” Tayre said in another, quiet voice.
The man turned halfway back. Tayre let his expression change and turned his head a little.
“Seas and storms,” Binak said softly, his shoulders hunching slightly, hands together in anxiety, mouth opening and shutting. “I didn’t recognize you. What do I call you this time?”
“Call me Tayre.”
“Sausage and fried bread, is that what you want? We have wine. Something from the north. Let me check, I –”
“Bring me whatever you would bring a stranger.”
“Of course,” the other man said, his eyebrows drawn together.
“I’ll be here a few nights. Also messages up the coast and inland.”
“I don’t have –”
Tayre’s hands met, back of one hand to the palm of the other. Hard currency. The big man’s eyes flickered around the room.
“No one knows me here yet, Binak. Or our history. And won’t unless you continue to fret, or mention other names by which you might know me. I trust that hasn’t occurred to you.”
“No, no,” Binak said, seemingly horrified by the very idea. “The one man asking, I swear I told him nothing. Didn’t even say I knew you.”
“When was this?”
“Tenday and five ago.”
“I will ask you about that later,” Tayre said, gesturing to the other chair. “Join me.”
The big man reluctantly folded himself into the chair across the table. He hunched over, head down.
“Your wife,” Tayre said. “Tharna, isn’t that her name?”
“Children. Four, if I recall. All healthy?”
“You had another, didn’t you?”
“Died in childbirth.”
“And the fishing?”
“Ah.” Binak raised a hand, let it drop palm down on the table with a heavy sigh. “The river nets are empty two years now. The fish have found other places to swim, I think.” A sudden glance at Tayre, worry laced with fear. “Please,” he said softly. “I obey the king’s laws now. I can’t do what you had me do before.”
“I don’t remember any before.”
Binak paled. “Of course not. I didn’t mean, I –”
“Settle,” Tayre said, his hands in a calming gesture. “I won’t ask anything difficult. Nothing to offend the laws.”
“I hear that in some lands, a debt dies with the owner.”
“In some lands, the people have no honor.”
“I don’t need honor. I need fish in my nets. I need to be able to buy grain and wine for what it’s worth, not five times that. Everything is too expensive all of a sudden. I can hardly feed my children.”
“I could pay someone else in Arunkel silver instead of you. Shall I leave?”
“No, no. Forgive me. The times. The taxes. How can they expect us to pay more than we make? Whatever you need. I’ll make up a room for you. A few nights, you say?”