The Seer – Snippet 26
“Make more sense now?” Tayre asked.
The man attempted a nod, though Tayre was confident that he had no idea what he was agreeing to. Tayre nodded back.
“My name is Tayre,” he said, careful to enunciate, loudly and clearly. He grabbed the man’s hair again, but this time instead of resistance he was given a whimper of agonized anticipation. He lifted the head as high off the ground as it would go, holding the man’s gaze with his own.
“No, no,” the man whispered, eyes wide. “Please.”
“Much better. What’s my name?”
A croaking sound.
“Say it again.”
“Tayre,” the man whispered.
“You won’t forget, will you? I wouldn’t like that.”
“No, no, no.”
“Good.” With that, Tayre released the man’s head a third time. It fell with a crack. The man exhaled once and was silent.
Nothing like the finesse and subtlety he preferred, this, but Innel’s uncertainty meant that he needed to build a reputation quickly.
Tayre stood, brushed off his trousers, and gave the watching crowd a modest shrug and a friendly wave.
Their eyes were open very wide as they watched him. He’d made an impact, all right. They’d talk about him.
As he walked away, the tall man rolled over onto his side, moaning, seeming content to lie in the street awhile.
It began to rain.
In the sky a three-quarter moon broke the dark of night. Tayre greeted the stable woman and handed her the reins of his horse. He knew her; she was the owner’s adult daughter whom he had entrusted with his horse many times across many years, but she treated him like a stranger. It was not just his stance, expression, and clothes that caused her to fail to recognize him. Had he come with the same horse as last time, she would have looked at him twice. She cared about horses. People, less so.
After entering the eatery, he stood inside the door as if absorbed in thought, adjusting cuffs, collar, shirt folds. He would seem a wealthy trader, clothes new and light in color, with only a few splatters of mud.
By the time he looked up from this distracted fussing, all the eyes in this crowed room were on him.
The owner approached, a woman with gray streaks in the braid down her back. She wiped her hands on her apron.
“Season’s blessing to you, ser,” she said. “You can sit, let me see, right there.” She pointed.
“Corner table, Kadla,” he said, too softly for anyone else to hear.
She looked back, mouth opening to tell him what she thought of his correction. But she hesitated, gave him another look. This was one of the many things he liked about Kadla.
“You,” she said, her tone as much amused as annoyed. “There.” She indicated the table he’d asked for, as if it had been her decision.
He went where she pointed and sat. When she came back a few minutes later, he passed her two palmed falcons, which saw no light before they went into her pocket.
“Call me Enlon. Trading from Perripur.”
Kadla smile a little. “I watch for you all year, then you stride in and I’m surprised. All over again. Fancy clothes this time, too. Didn’t you have a beard before?”
“You look younger every year, Kadla. What rare herbs do you use?”
She snorted. “Mountain air, good water. That’s what keeps me young.”
“Don’t you laugh,” she added. “I’m as strong as my best mare.”
“And she’s a looker, I admit. But you’re far prettier. Smarter, too. Anyone tells you otherwise, I’ll find them and explain their mistake to them. Then I’ll come for you.”
“You and your fancy tongue.” She leaned down close to his face. “Still charming the young ones, are you? I’ve seen you work. They fall like cut grain, don’t they? Rumor is you’re worth washing the bedclothes for, but I don’t think you’re enough for me.”
“What would be enough?”
Even though they had some version of this conversation every year, he could see her slight blush.
“You’re a boy to me.”
“Then teach me to be a man.”
She stood back, made a tsking sound. “Go find yourself an anknapa. You won’t get better food or drink this way. Your silver’s good enough.”
“Kadla,” he said, mock-wounded, “you underestimate me. Come to my room tonight and I’ll show you how much.”
Her smile faded a bit. He could see her wondering how serious he was.
“A lot of food,” she said. “And water. If I remember right.”
“And a room.”
“Same room as last time,” she said.
“Good. You’ll have no trouble finding me tonight.”
“Give it up.”
He raised his eyebrows, met her eyes, held the look. “You sure?”
She inhaled as if to speak, thought better of whatever witty thing she had in mind, and said, with an expression uncharacteristically open, “You keep asking, one of these times I’ll say yes. Then you’ll have to deliver. Careful, boy.”
“I’m always careful.”
“If anyone asks about me, under any name, I want to know about it.”
“Call me shocked to the bone.”
He chuckled at this teasing. He wondered if she would still feel this comfortable talking to him after the stories he was building for Innel made it back to her.
“I have messages I need delivered.” He would ask his contacts if they had seen any unusual travelers.
“Can’t imagine what you’ll do,” she said, making a show of confusion. “Oh, perhaps you’ll give them to me and I’ll have them sent for you.”
“Perhaps I’ll even pay you well to do it.”
“That would be wise.”
“Are your children well?”
“You want a story, wait for the harper. I have work.”
As she walked back to the kitchens, he could that she knew he was watching.
When she returned a few minutes later with thick stew topped with a stack of hardbread dripping in fat, she was a little less smooth in her movements. She was thinking about it.
“Ah,” she said in frustration as the fat dripped off the bread onto the table. She pulled out a rag and gave the table a cursory wipe.
“The best meals are messy,” he said with a smile.
She smirked, put the rag back in her apron. No, he judged: she would not come to his room tonight. She wanted to, and he could have convinced her, but he wanted to see what she would be like when she came to him without influence. One of these years she would. He was in no rush.
At the side of the room, tables and chairs were cleared. A woman descended the steps from the rooms above, a large cloth case in her arms. As she scanned the room, Tayre recognized the expression. A horse master evaluating a new mare. A shepherd assessing a flock.
Or himself looking across a crowded room, deciding where to sit.
She perched on a table and unwrapped the harp. She set up a quick, playful tune. The room fell silent. She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes that fell back immediately. Giving the audience a wolfish grin, she strummed a single, loud, attention-getting chord.
“Blessings of the season,” she said into the sudden silence. “I’m Dalea. I’ll give you my stories, and you leave me what you’ve got to spare. We could both go home happy.” Her fingers did a quick dance across the strings, producing a sound like laughter.
There was a scattering of chuckles.
“Isn’t this warm weather sweet?” Sounds of assent. “Don’t get too used to it. How long is your summer up here? A tenday?” Chuckles.
Tayre studied her words, stance, and the small movements of her face. They were alike, the two of them, both making their way through the world by choosing what others saw.