The Seer – Snippet 40
On the fourth day at Kusan, Amarta was using the washroom for her own clothes, soaping at the lowest of the waterfall basins carved in the stone, rinsing upstream in successive basins. She had wrung out her shirt, then Dirina’s as well, and hung them to dry on lines strung across an opening overhead that brought in dry air from the outside.
She sat on a low bench for a time and watched the Emendi across the room in their wash work.
Jolon sat next to her. At their feet was a small puddle of water that had gathered during her washing. Very softly, so that only she could hear, he motioned to it and said, “Is it in such water that you see the future, Amarta?”
Amarta kept her eyes on the puddle at her feet in which the lamps around the room reflected, points of light in dark water. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“We keep it to ourselves, Mara and I, but we guess it is so. Is it magery?”
“No,” she said sharply, realizing her answer for the admission it was, then pressed her lips tightly together.
He brushed her shoulder. “I hear your words. That does not mean I believe them. No one else knows, and we keep secrets well.”
She would say no more about it, she resolved. Not a word.
“I am also here to say good-bye.” he said.
“What?” Amarta scrambled to her feet. He stood with her.
“We continue our journey south, to deliver the goods we have come to trade and sell.”
“We can be ready in minutes. We –”
“No. We do not take you with us. Stay here. The Emendi have no more desire to be found than you do.”
“They won’t let us stay without you.”
“They will. You work hard. They see this. We have spoken for you.”
Spoken for them? Vouched for strangers they had known mere days? Jolon and Mara could not know what they had saved her from, but until this moment, it had not occurred to her how much they had risked in bringing them here.
But to be left here?
Her mind raced. She thought of Darad, of laughing with him. With Nidem. “Jolon, you have been so good to us. Why?”
He made a thoughtful sound, then drew a large circle in the air with a forefinger and jabbed at a point along the circumference. “Today you need something, so we give it to you.” His finger continued along the circle, stopping at another point along the arc. “Another day you give something to someone who does not have what you do. That other, perhaps –” his finger traveled further and stopped. “gives to another. And then” — his finger went back to the first spot — “who can say? It is a better place, the world, when we give what we can. But there is another reason.”
His face turned sad. “Long ago,” he said, “a force came to Otevan, bearing weapons, claiming our lands. Before blood was shed, we showed them what we and the shaota do together. Not in challenge, but in display, you understand?”
“They saw the wisdom of having us by their side. So we fought with Arunkel and helped them take the lands, one hill after another.” His eyes narrowed, the ends of his mouth turned down. “We sold ourselves for freedom. For some of us, it is a great sorrow and a sharp shame that our ancestors did this.”
“But you had to, or –”
“Yes, it seemed so. But if we had all faced the invader as one? It cannot be known.” He sighed. “Now we have a debt. To those who come to us in need, we give what we can.”
“But it wasn’t your decision. It was your ancestors’. How is it your debt?”
“What affects one Teva affects all. With you and your sister it is the same, yes?”
She hadn’t thought about it that way, but now she could see it was so: Amarta’s visions caused Dirina and Pas to suffer. “But if you leave us here –”
“We come back to Kusan next year. If you wish to leave then, perhaps we can take you. Yes?”
“We’ll be here,” Amarta said, but even as she said it, the words echoed hollowly. She pushed away the tickle of vision that wanted to deny her words. No; they would stay or go as they decided.
Jolon gestured to the puddle below them. “I have heard this is how the future is seen, in still water. It is not so?”
Amarta thought of those who had come to her across the years with dead rabbits and birds. “No. Nor thrown sticks, nor animal entrails.”
“Then — since no blood or water is needed, will you tell me something of what is to come?”
She owed the Teva a debt, greater than they knew, but to foresee now felt like she was bringing her curse here into the tunnels, where she had the last few days felt safe and more.
Amarta glanced at the rest of the hall to be sure no one was listening. “I will,” she said, a soft whisper.
“Those who we meet in Perripur, can we trust them?”
Amarta took a deep breath. As she let it out, she cast her mind into the open space that was the future.
Perripur, he said.
A world of green and brown. Air wet and warm, full of scent. Walking and more walking. A dark-skinned woman by her side.
No, no — not for herself. For Jolon and Mara. She reached out a hand to Jolon’s arm, to help her focus. She saw the inked scars that circled his forearm and hesitated.
“Yes,” Jolon said, offering his arm forward for her examination.
“What are those?” Amarta asked of the circles around his arm.
“We call them limisatae. Life-doors we pass through. Our first shaota. The first mate. The first child.” He met Amarta’s eyes, and she saw for a moment a flicker of something she could not name. “A life taken to keep our people whole. That is limisatae as well.”
“What are yours for?” she asked.
He shook his head. “It is for me. Not about the telling, but the being.”
Not about the telling.
That she could understand.
“Do you have a life-door to mark, Amarta?”
She thought of Enana. Of her parents. Of the attack she had thwarted in the forest. Had any of it changed her as his three marks must have changed him? “I don’t think so.”
“In time, I think.” He took her hand and wrapped her fingers around his forearm. “Will you tell now? Those we meet in Perripur? How much caution? How much trust?”
With her fingers on his arm, she reached into his future.
Faint smells of flowers, spice, smoke, fish. A collection of people standing in a circle. Voices.
“This is your first meeting with them?”
A knife separated links of heavy twine; a roughspun pouch opened. A deep-throated woman’s voice, another language. Words, back and forth. Dark faces turning away, smirking. Secrets.
Amarta opened her eyes to the dark and drip of the cave, the images already fading, the meaning sorting itself out in her mind. Trust was too big a word for this meeting, too wide a river to cross. “I think you will offer them a lot. Too much?”
She closed her eyes again, tried to find the place in time where she had seen the dark faces, to see if another outcome might change their expression. It was hard to hold, hard to see.
The same faces, different expressions. Fewer bags.
“Keep back more of what you brought to trade. The bags of…” She tried to remember what she’d seen. “Rocks? See what they offer for a smaller set first.”
“Then we will know what the rest is worth. I see. Thank you for that good counsel.” He clasped her shoulder and gave her a gentle smile. “Amarta, if hundreds of Emendi are safe here, you might be, too. Kusan has stood for centuries. You are safer here than anywhere in the world.”
Could he be right? Here in the dark, underground, might she be safe from the hunter who pursued above?
“Now I must ask another thing of you,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Nidem was not wrong to doubt us, bringing you here. The Emendi are safe only as long as Kusan is also secret. We have trusted you very much.”
“We are grateful. We –”
“Yes, this I know. But Amarta, whatever it is you run from, do not bring it here.”
“I won’t. I promise.”