The Seer – Snippet 51
The woman’s words hadn’t mattered — it was the intent behind them that had settled ill into Maris’ body and spirit — but Maris would never forget them. My grief to you, a hundred times, and a hundred times beyond that.
Today, perhaps, Maris had made some payment on that curse.
Her eyes roamed over the room, stopping at the books of her small library, that had been comfort and friend, aid and insight. Now they seemed entirely senseless, an absurd weight, a foolish indulgence.
Much like her desire to teach this boy.
She reached a bit of herself into Samnt to check how his body waited. The pathways from his mind to his body were slowed, frozen. Brain and blood and breath still moved, but nothing else. If she wished, she could keep him there until he starved to death.
Keyretura would never have bothered with such a demonstration. He would simply have told Samnt how much the apprenticeship contract would cost, an amount that would ruin his parents as it had hers, and the conversation would have ended there. Samnt would have been disappointed, his curiosity about magic unfulfilled, but his body and spirit undefiled.
Kinder, perhaps, Maris realized bitterly.
Of course, if Keyretura had been master of the house, Samnt would not have been here at all. Keyretura did nothing for free.
Maris turned back to the book on the table about farm animals that she had been using to teach Samnt. It seemed they would not need it today after all.
“Stand up, Samnt,” she said, hearing in her tone the hopelessness she felt.
Finally she forced herself to look at him, at his frozen, rictus grin, letting it make her feel wretched, taking penance for her mistakes. So many mistakes. Then she released him.
He fell forward, slumping over the table, gasping for air. He pushed himself to his feet, the chair’s legs scraping against the floor, nearly toppling as he stumbled backwards toward the door.
“Magic,” Maris said. “Now you’ve seen it.”
From the look on his face, he would never want to again.
Well, she had given him that, at least.
His eyes darted around the room — the jar on the table, the book, back to her. A look of terror that she recognized.
There were other things that she could have shown him. A spark of light. Pictures drawn in the air as if with smoke. An ant following her finger. But these would only make him want more.
No demonstration was as powerful as the one that touched you deep inside, where, until that very moment, you had never questioned your own control. It was something Keyretura had taught her.
Samnt fumbled behind himself, feeling for the door handle, unwilling to take his eyes off her.
“You may go,” Maris said unnecessarily.
He opened the door and turned, running, leaving the door wide open.
It was some time before Maris noticed the cold.
Another storm came and went, another foot of snow atop the last, as if the sky felt an urgency to produce as much of winter’s fruit as it could.
A tenday passed, then another. Absurd as it was, each day she prayed to the nine elements, the snow, and anything else she could think of, that Samnt would not return. As the days went by, that bitter wish seemed fulfilled.
But he was young, and she had given him a shock, so she waited a little longer to be sure.
The snow melted, the rains came, and the roads cleared.
Samnt was not coming back.
At last she collected her clothes, herbs, and most of the books, loaded up her pack, and wondered yet again how it was she kept accumulating things everywhere she went. More things than she could take with her.
She took one last look around the room. On the table sat the jar of applesauce, unopened and untouched since the day Samnt had brought it. She could hardly lift her heavy pack as it was, but she took the jar anyway.
Maris hiked to the coast, wondering if it were time to get a freighter home to Perripur, to her isolated home in the Shentarat Mountains, where she would not need a supply of wood to stay warm, or the help of a farmboy to get through the season.
At a harbor village she found a public house with the encouraging name of the Ill Wind, its facing gouged and dented from years of coastal storms and neglect. Exactly what she needed.
The Ill Wind was as gloomy inside as the name promised, walls slimy and dark, floor poorly swept and into corners where it had been addressed at all.
Maris rapped the edge of one of her few remaining coins on the table to get the tavernmaster’s attention. In moments she had a bowl of stew in front of her. She hadn’t needed coin for a while, indeed hadn’t worked for it in some time, so to discover she had only a few remaining, while disappointing, was hardly surprising. She’d spent the last of the previous collection on wood and foodstuffs in the mountains.
Even mages must eat.
Ship’s passage, food — these things required money.
Mages could always find work in the cities. All she need do was go north to the capital. But the thought took away her appetite. She wanted to be no closer to the horror that was Yarpin than she already was.
Worse than the misery and stink of that city was the chance of running across her own kind. From high cuisine to imported twunta to ship’s passage to lucrative contracts, mages went to Yarpin for the same reasons she was now considering doing so. She had no desire to cross paths with most of them.
The one in particular. All the world in which to roam, yet there he had been, at the very Yarpin bookseller where she stood amidst high shelves of books, so absorbed in a heavy tomb that she did not even notice him there, watching her. He had spoken, she did not remember what. She dropped the book and fled the city.
He would not be in Yarpin now, not these decades later. He disdained Arunkin. He’d be back in south Mundar, in his garish mansion of glass and water of which he was so revoltingly proud.
Perhaps she could find work here in this village, wherever here was. If someone had money and the work was not too offensive.
Or, of course, she could find a Perripin-bound vessel and trade on her robes, boarding with Perripin sailors who superstitiously believed that mages brought good weather.
No, she would not sink so low as to pretend to have value merely by wearing the right clothes and breathing, like the Arun aristos, or her own Perripin statesmen. That she could not stomach.
But she could sign on as crew without revealing what she was and work for her passage. The briny winds off the sea tempted her. A roundabout way to get back to Shentarat, to be sure, but there on the ocean, the chaos of undirected human passion was at least limited to the crew, giving her time to sort out the pulls and pushes among them, the wounds and past that each carried, slowly weaving it all together into a serene and settled braid.
She had even achieved a bit of a reputation this way, without anyone knowing she was a mage. When Maris was on board, some sailors said, the crew got along as smoothly as an anknapa’s kiss, making for calm voyages that lacked unpleasantness.
She was not quite ready to be away from the land that long. The last time she’d been months with crew it had taken her time to recover, wandering mountains, deep forests, baking deserts. Then she had traveled to the high arid lands of Mirsda, toward the Rift, to see Gallelon.