The Seer – Snippet 31
Or, she realized with a chill, she could have taken an arrow from his pack, aimed for his heart, and let it loose. Standing right over him, surely she could not miss.
He could have been stopped, right then, for good.
“We’re sorry,” Dirina was saying. “So sorry. The wash is half done, and Amarta dropped all the groceries from market in the woods –”
“Down now,” Pas said very soberly. Enana let him to the ground. He ran to his mother, hugged her leg.
Maybe the hunter would not wake at all. Maybe he lied to her about the dart not being deadly, and she had inadvertently killed him. She paused, wondering if this was likely. Reason said no.
And what would he do when he woke?
A dark figure in the night, the top of the crescent moon at the treeline. He knocked on the farmhouse door. Enana’s silhouette against the lamplight from inside. His tone was apologetic, gentle. Charming.
She felt suddenly ill.
“We’ll go upriver,” Amarta said quickly. “Back to Sennant. Or –”
Dirina looked a question at her.
“Home to Botaros,” she continued, making her tone as certain as she knew how, catching Dirina’s gaze. When the shadow hunter came to ask Enana questions, Amarta wanted her to have answers.
“This man,” Enana said. “Where did you say he was now?”
“He attacked Amarta in the forest,” Dirina said, her hand on Pas’s head. Amarta willed her sister not to say the rest, but she did anyway. “Asleep on the ground, from poison on a dart. You said, Amarta.”
“Yes,” Amarta said reluctantly, “But –”
Enana’s expression turned hard. “Tell us where he is. I’ll take the boys out there and we can take care of him where he lays.”
Hope surged inside her. Was this possible? Enana and her two sons. Big men. Surely they could take one unconscious man.
Back at the house, the hunter in the cellar, a makeshift bolt across the door. Enana and her sons sitting at the table, discussing what to do with him, what would be right. What would be just. And then —
They would bring him back to the house, yes, and lock him in the cellar with the apples and the preserves. But sometime before dawn —
Enana in her bed, slumped over, arms twitching, blood trailing down her neck, the blankets soaked in red.
He would break free of the basement. The men would die first, quickly, but Enana slowly, after being asked questions.
And this because Enana and her family would not, could not, take the life of a man who had yet to do them wrong.
“He’ll kill you,” she said flatly.
“One man?” Enana snorted.
“No,” Amarta lied. “He’s not alone this time. He has a whole band of outlaws with him, hiding in the woods.” She licked her lips, looking at Dirina. “Twenty or thirty. All armed with crossbows and swords. They’re killers, Enana. Brutal killers.”
“But they’re only after us,” Dirina added. “You and Cafir and Loham will be safe without us.”
Enana frowned. “But I don’t want you to go. We could hide you. The basement –”
Amarta shook her head. “He’ll find us.”
The tall woman looked between them both, anger sharp across her features. “No one tells me what to do –”
Amarta stepped close took Enana’s hands. “We must leave, and soon. So much safer for you.”
Enana’s pressed her lips together. Then spoke, her tone low. She was still angry. “I have coins I can give you. I’ll pack you some food.”
Amarta hid her relief as she saw the future’s tangle of threads twist a new way. Enana might live through the hunter’s visit.
What could she do to make it more likely?
“Enana,” Amarta said urgently. “He’ll come here. He’ll ask you questions. He can read a lie. Tell him everything you know about us. Let him in, feed him, give him drink.”
Enana turned around slowly, her expression darkening further. “I won’t feed a killer who forces you from my house. No one comes into my home I don’t let in. Not even the king’s soldiers with their manners of goats and brains of chickens. No one.”
Amarta’s ankle and shoulder were throbbing for attention now, distracting her. Dimly she thought she heard Enana cry out in pain, but it might be her imagination. Everything seemed to suck away her focus.
“He’s worse than the king’s soldiers. Please, Enana, don’t fight him.”
“You want me to show him hospitality, this monster? To treat him well?”
“There is no sense in this.”
“And,” Amarta whispered, struggling with the last of her focus to seek a toehold in the future, not just for tonight, but farther, farther, “it will be dry until a tenday before the new moon, then the rain will come all at once for three days, then stop.” With that, Enana would know how to best harvest, when to cut the hay. If she believed it.
“What are you saying?”
Amarta and Dirina exchanged looks. Amarta licked her lips.
“The future sometimes…” how to explain? “It whispers to me.”
Enana shook her head, disbelief on her face. “No one knows when the rains come.”
“Amarta does,” Dirina said simply.
Amarta spoke again, feeling a sudden urgency. “He will come tonight, Enana, as the moon comes over the rise.” In her mind’s eye she saw it clearly, the knock on the door, Enana backlit by stovelight. “If he comes when I say he will, will you remember my words? Don’t fight. Treat him…” She swallowed, hating to say it, but knowing she must. “Treat him well. Tell him everything. It will go better for us if you do.”
Enana stared at Amarta for a long, thoughtful moment.
It was slow going along the forest road with Amarta limping. The walking stick Enana had given them was a help, but each step was full of pain that she resolved to hide. Dirina slowed so as not to outpace her.
The nals chits Enana had given them sat heavily in Amarta’s pocket, weighted with her guilt at the knowledge of how little the family had to spare. From the jabbing pain in her ankle to her shoulder, never mind the other places her encounter in the forest had left her bruised and scraped, Amarta ached.
“Do you think we have until nightfall before he comes after us?” Dirina asked.
“I hope so.”
“You hope? Ama, you said –”
A flash of hot resentment went through her, hand in hand with a sickening remorse. “I know what I said. Seeing is not the same thing as knowing. And now I don’t see anything at all. Diri, everything –” hurts, she didn’t finish — “is confusing.”
Her sister said nothing.
“Up now,” Pas said after they had let him walk a little way. Dirina hefted him and put him on her shoulders, holding his feet, wrapped with tiny turnshoes Cafir had made for him.
One more thing the family had given them, which they repaid so wretchedly. The gnawing ache inside threatened to eat through her. It was as if along with the seedlings she’d planted in the fields she had also put some of her self into the ground, and now she was being torn out by the roots. “Diri, where do we go?”
Dirina squinted at the sky and the sun. “The river. We’ll get the barge. It comes five hands past noon, so we should…” She inhaled. “We should hurry.”
“Down now,” Pas said.
“You ride, sweet,” Dirina said. “We have to go faster than you can go.”
“I go fast.”
“Then you’ll have to carry me, too,” Amarta said, giving him a smile. He looked at her, considered, and fell silent.
“He will come after us, Diri,” Amarta said. “That’s not –” she said, seeing her sister’s wide-eyed look, “what I’m seeing, it’s what I’m thinking.”
She could have prevented it. Picked up the bow. Notched an arrow. Tried again if she missed. Or used his knife on him. It had been right there on the ground.
To have ended it right then, to be able to stay with Enana — but she had not. She prayed to the guardian of travelers and orphans that Enana would do as she had told her. As vision had told her.
She realized that she had made a short, pained sound. “If he hurts them –”
“He doesn’t want them. He wants us.”
No, he wanted Amarta. “But how will we make money? How will we eat?”
“We’ll clean, we’ll mend, as we’ve done all along.”
That wasn’t what they had done. Dirina still thought Amarta might believe it, though, so she kept on saying it.