The Seer – Snippet 30
On the ground beside her, fallen leaves brushed her the skin of her pinned arms. The breeze filled the air with the scent of pine and bark, of grasses and rotting leaves.
It was quiet now. No wind, no bird calls. No squirrels.
“Amarta. Tell me what you foresaw.”
Before the reason and terror made her reconsider, obedient to vision, she lifted and turned her head, pressing her neck into the edge of the knife he held at her throat. His eyes flickered, and he pulled the knife away, a little, shifting his balance. Not much, but enough.
Twist hard, vision said, and she did, all at once rolling to follow his slight movement, hard and fast.
The weight change took both of them into a half roll onto the dirt where he came off her. She kept twisting as vision demanded, hands now under her, pushing against the ground to keep herself rolling.
Now he was on his feet, knife in hand, stepping toward her where she sat on the ground looking up at him. She groped for the next move, pushing away panic, surrendering to the guiding whispers.
Move thus, they said, so she did. She tensed, twisted, and kicked from where she lay prone, at what was empty air, just as he stepped onto the spot. Not hard enough to hurt him, of course, but enough to force him to step to the side instead of forward, giving her another heartbeat of time. In that heartbeat she leapt to her feet and started to run.
He was right behind her. Vision gave her a particular feel as a hand reached for her hair. She shook her head sharply. The hand missed. When it came again she ducked and it grabbed empty air.
Deep in a flickering foresight, she saw him move, right before he did. She sidestepped. He lunged. She stopped suddenly, and turned in place. He stumbled past.
He froze where he stood, looking at her. He understood now, she could see from his expression. As he was considering what to do next, vision told her to go, and she did, turning to run, glancing back as she stumbled ahead on the road.
He took the bow off his back. A moment later she felt a pressure, a craving to stop, to step to the right, to brush a particular tree trunk as she passed, so she did. An arrow hissed by her ear, sinking into the ground beyond.
She launched away from the tree, a sprint forward, dodging bushes, running as fast as she could.
An arrow through the air, a finger width from her neck.
Suddenly she felt light-headed, giddy. The future knew where he would aim better than he did, and the future was hers. She sprinted past trees, bushes, mind jumping between now and a heartbeat ahead.
He was following, but he had to slow to put an arrow to his bow, take aim, and shoot, and he fell behind as she ran.
The pressure again. She stepped to the left, heard the arrow sink into a nearby tree.
Then something shifted. The next moment narrowed to a pinpoint, and the dark wall returned. Two options unfolded: an arrow through her ribs, or a fall to the ground.
She let herself fall, realizing as she went down that she had misstepped, ankle twisting painfully under her as she went down. Something bit through her shoulder, and she landed heavily on the dirt and leaves, pain shooting through her leg.
The pain broke her concentration. Fear came flooding back. Vision became blurry, indecipherable. She rolled over onto her back, reached for her aching shoulder, momentarily confused by the red wetness on her fingers. His last arrow had sliced through her shirt and skin like a knife.
Above her leaves flickered in the breeze like small blades. A crow called.
He stood over her now, bow in hand, arrow notched and pointed at her chest. She groped inwardly, searching for the map that had guided her thus far, but her mind was clear of anything but pain and terror. She gasped a sob, forced herself to stare up at him through her watering eyes.
“Where are your visions now, Amarta?”
Not a mocking tone. He was truly curious.
“Gone,” she whispered, feeling all at once weak. “All gone. Before you kill me, tell me why. Please.”
He was silent. Could he be undecided? He lowered the bow the smallest bit. “If I let you live, will you promise me you won’t try to escape?”
Amarta tried to think, swallowed. Somehow he could discern a lie. But she would say anything to live.
“Yes,” she said. “Anything.”
He laid the bow on the ground behind him, knelt just out of her reach.
Don’t give reason to reconsider. “I won’t,” she said, meaning the words as she said them.
He pulled away the loose cloth of her shirt, and she tensed against the pain, whimpered. He took out a strip of cloth from his pack and pressed where she’d been sliced.
“It will heal. This will stop the bleeding.”
“Then you won’t kill me?”
“I still have the option, Seer.”
“Why are you chasing me?”
He reached into another sleeve, drew out a small leather case and from that a thin piece of metal. “There’s tincture on this dart,” he said. “Enough to make you sleep, not to harm you. I think this may stop your visions for a time. What do you think?”
What should she say? She nodded.
“We’ll see,” he said. “You understand me, girl? You’ll cooperate?”
He put one hand on her leg to hold it steady. His other hand, the one with the dart, was already moving toward her leg when vision came upon her again, strong and urgent.
She moved suddenly, a sharp twitch. Instead of going into her leg, the dart went deep into his hand.
Then she twisted in the other direction, escaping his hold, and scrabbled back and away on the ground. He pulled the dart out of his hand, tossed it away, and put his hand to his mouth, sucking and spitting onto the ground.
What had she done? She cringed, backing farther away.
From his sleeve he snapped out his knife and stood. A step toward her, and he swayed slightly. His hand opened loosely, the knife falling to the dirt.
He dropped to his knees and hands, hands flat on the ground, still watching her.
“Your visions come back?” His voice was slow, slurred.
She nodded uncertainly. Was he really this drugged, this fast? Could it be a trick?
She sought guidance from her visions, but they were again silent.
“Why are you after me?” she asked.
He lowered himself to the ground, still watching her.
He blinked twice, then his eyes closed.
Ignoring the agonizing pain in her ankle and the ache in her shoulder, she struggled to her feet. She looked back at him where he lay now motionless on the ground. Then she turned and limped home to the farmhouse.
She and Dirina stuffed what they could into their bags. Amarta looked around their small room, trying to keep the weight off her throbbing foot. What more could they carry?
“What do we tell Enana?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just go.”
“Where we go?” Pas asked, grabbing a shirt at random and offering it to Amarta.
“Without even saying good-bye?”
Dirina hesitated in her packing, not looking up, tone edged. “Do you have another plan, Amarta?”
“The less she knows, the safer she is.”
Dirina was right. But it felt wretched, after all the family had done for them.
“We can’t take food from them, and we have no money. Where are we going? What will we do?”
“That’s what I was wondering,” came Enana’s voice from the doorway.
At that, Pas ran to Enana, and she lifted him into her arms. The tall woman walked into their room, balancing the boy on her hip. Pas turned to look at his mother and Amarta, thumb in his mouth.
“Is this the same man after you?”
“Yes,” Amarta said softly.
Enana had been so good to them, taking them in at midwinter, feeding them, letting them stay. What a wretched way to repay her, leaving now, before harvest, when they were needed most.
Amarta saw the hunter again in memory, lying there, his bow and knife a few feet away on the ground.
Why hadn’t she taken them? She felt a fool now, thinking of it. It would have been so easy to just pick up his weapons and take them away.