The Seer – Snippet 33
As it came near, Dirina and Amarta quickly stood and stepped back behind the rock. Dirina pushed the excited Pas back behind her as he struggled to break free of her grip. He reached out his other hand around his mother to the horse who had walked around the rock to reach him. Horse lips and small fingers met before Dirina managed to get between them, Amarta hobbling over to help.
“Stop that!” she told the horse, who swung its head to stare back at her.
“Ho! What do you do here?” One of the tribesmen strode over. He glared at Dirina and Amarta as if they had somehow caused this problem. A smallish man, his light brown hair nearly the same shade as his skin, he turned on the animal, speaking softly to it with words Amarta did not understand. The horse snorted, tossed its head slightly and turned back to Pas again, snuffling. Pas held his hand out, again blocked by his mother. Pas giggled.
Now the man made a soft sound, a sort of warbling, interspersed with a clicking. When that didn’t work, he put a hand on the side of the horse and pushed, with no obvious result.
At last the horse turned, slowly, but in the other direction, to take it closer to Amarta. She reached out a hand, fingers trailing across the neck and soft, warm hair, as it turned the rest of the way around. Somehow the animal conveyed an amused insolence even as it returned to the wagons to rejoin its similarly furred companions. With a snort of frustration, hands in the air, the man followed.
“‘Bye horse,” Pas said.
A tiny, wet animal colt trembling in the early dawn, dark brown with pale tan stripes, lips hungrily searching upwards.
“Oh”, Amarta blurted. “She’s pregnant.”
Then, despite the pain and everything that had happened that day, she laughed in delight. A future flash of something not painful, threatening, or about to hurt her — she hadn’t realized it was possible.
The tribesman stopped suddenly, looking between Amarta and the horse. He walked back to Amarta.
“Why do you say that?” he demanded.
“Take us with you and I’ll tell you.”
He shook his head, then went back to his wagons. The larger gray horses were harnessed, and the tribespeople seemed ready to leave. The man and woman mounted their striped horses in a fast, fluid motion.
“It’s a colt, the foal,” Amarta called out to him, in a final desperate attempt. The man glanced at her, then leaned toward the woman, speaking, head motioning back at Amarta and Dirina.
In truth, Amarta wasn’t sure about that, but it would be almost a year before the mare birthed, whereas the hunter would track them here in — hours? A day?
Soon. Too soon.
The man turned in the saddle to look at her again for a moment. The wagons were leaving, the striped horses following. In minutes they were all gone.
Amarta turned her head to look at Dirina, wiping her eyes of tears.
“It was a good try, Ama,” Dirina said, her arm around her shoulders.
The riverbank and dock, busy and full only a little bit ago were now empty and quiet. The sun was dipping down behind the trees. Dirina pulled Pas onto her lap and held him tight.
“Ama.” Her sister’s voice was soft.
Where should they go, Dirina wanted to know. The sky was now awash in red and gold and deepening blue. In another hour, perhaps two, the hunter would wake. Go to the farmhouse.
The nightmare would begin again.
She sought vision, but it wasn’t answering, the door shut and barred. She was too tired. Everywhere she looked she saw bitter failure.
“We’ll be okay,” she said with as much certainty as she could pretend, though she doubted Dirina was much convinced.
Perhaps vision would return after she’d rested. Or perhaps only when she was about to be captured, or her life threatened.
Pas wanted down again. Sighing as if defeated, Dirina let him go. He raced around the rock on which they sat.
“Here, give me your foot,” Dirina said.
Amarta lay her foot in her sister’s lap. Dirina turned it gently, and Amarta yelped with pain.
“Sprained,” Dirina said wearily. “Then you walked another hour. No surprise it is swollen and red.” She rubbed it gently for a time. Then: “We must go somewhere, Ama.”
Amarta struggled to think of what to say, found nothing. She struggled to her feet, pain lancing through her leg as she put weight on it.
“Ama, where –”
“I don’t know, but we can’t stay here.”
They made their way to the main road, Amarta’s step slow and labored. Dirina insisted and Amarta let her take her pack, put it on top of her own. With Pas in one hand, she offered an arm to Amarta to steady her. Amarta refused, limping forward. Was she not already enough of a burden?
The main road was in shadow. Through shutters she could see flickers of lamps, stoves. Smoke rose from chimneys.
Not for her, a home and safety.
Pushing to walk faster, her foot collapsed under her. She fell painfully to the dirt road, hitting an already bruised knee, curling around the pain.
For a moment she let herself weep, watched the drops fall into the fine dirt, making small puffs where they landed. If she could be so small, as small as an ant, she could sleep right there in the dirt, hidden from sight. Dirina knelt down next to her, squeezed her shoulder.
Every moment he was closer. Beyond her not to cry, perhaps, but not quite beyond her to stand. She struggled to her feet.
Her sister’s encouraging smile was forced and fragile. Leaning on Dirina she limped forward. One step. Then another, putting as little weight on the bad foot as possible.
They would walk until she dropped again, she supposed. And then she would stay there until he found her.
The sound of a horse’s hard gallop brought her head up. Dirina gently pulled her to the side of the road to get out of the way.
The striped horse, the dusky-skinned woman atop, pulled up fast in front of them and stopped, as if showing off. The woman slipped down off the side, strode to Amarta, bringing her sharp nose right up to Amarta’s face.
She smelled like horse, Amarta noticed, as she stumbled painfully back in surprise.
“You say pregnant,” the woman said. “You say this. Why?” She glanced sidelong at her horse, who looked back. “Are you a healer?”
Amarta wondered if she could pretend to that. “No.”
“You lie, then.”
“Say then, how you know.”
“Take us with you,” Amarta countered.
“You run from something. Someone,” the woman guessed.
Dirina and Amarta said nothing. Their silence was answer enough.
“The king’s Rusties?”
“Soldiers of the King. In red and black.”
A knife at her eye. A blade at her throat. But her hunter had worn no red.
“Yes,” Dirina said at the same moment that Amarta was adamantly shaking her head no.
The woman hissed wordlessly in response, gave each of them a look. To Amarta she said, “She has been changed this last week. So it may be true, what you say. Did you guess this?”
“You say a colt. You can predict this for all animals?”
“Yes,” Dirina answered determinedly. But the woman ignored her, looking the question at Amarta.
Amarta tried to remember the many times she had foreseen a baby. Goats. A few cows. Human children. She had not always been right about the baby’s sex. People wanted to be sure, but babies themselves weren’t always sure, not until later. Sometimes not even then.
“Sometimes,” she answered honestly.
At this Dirina gave Amarta an incredulous look. “No. She sees things truly.”
The woman gestured at Pas. “Can he be silent, the boy?”
At this both she and Dirina nodded together. But it was Pas, smiling up at the woman with his beautiful smile who seemed to convince her. She looked down at him, considered for a long moment, petted his head, then nodded. “Come with, then.”
Seeing Amarta limp forward, she added: “You ride.” With that, she picked Amarta up, surprising her with how strong she was. Before Amarta quite realized what had happened, she had been set atop the small, striped horse. The woman swung up behind. The horse turned an eye to Amarta, then swung her head back and gave a soft neigh that almost sounded like a laugh.
“They wait for us,” the woman said to Dirina, who now had Pas in her arms, packs on her back. “We must hurry.”