The Seer – Snippet 60
“I will, and closely. Okay, you can argue, but I’ll win.” At that he stopped suddenly, putting the lantern behind himself while he pulled her close with the other hand. Before she quite realized it, he had kissed her on the lips. She felt herself warm all over.
“See? I’m winning the argument already,” he said, pulling her along to the gardens as if nothing unusual had happened. “Up we go, to see the sun.”
The kiss had left her wordless. At the end of the tunnel, the garden Keeper, a tall, slender man with a blond beard, nodded his permission to them to go out. The ferret following them jumped into his lap.
The two of them stepped outside, standing and blinking in the bright day. In the small, flat garden, tiny green seedlings poked up. They walked the small path under the blue sky and overhead sun.
Emendi caution told her she was safe here, that she would not be seen. But she felt exposed.
“Look at my hair, Amarta. Look closely. Can you tell?”
He looked as if he had always had dark hair. Even his eyebrows had been dyed.
“No, but –”
He brought himself very close to her. For a moment she thought he might kiss her again. His blue eyes were on hers, searching. She felt herself warm again.
“Where did you come from, Amarta?” he asked. “And will you go back there?”
“No, no. This is our home now.”
He stroked her face with his fingertips, the touch sending chills down her spine. She wanted him to never stop. “But your eyes,” she finished.
He laughed lightly and petted her head slowly. It was the most marvelous sensation she’d ever felt.
“You worry so much. Trust me, we know what we’re doing. We’ve been doing this a very long time. Truly, I will be fine.”
He was right, she decided at last. As the days and weeks leading up to him leaving on the out-trip went by, she looked into the future as often as she could. There was something odd coming, something to do with Darad, but it was after he got back. He would return safe and sound. She was reassured.
Amarta could give every one of their kisses a name. “First kiss” or “washroom kiss” or “the tossing-ferrets-joke kiss.” Sometimes she named them for what he said before or after. A simple, “Hey, dark-hair” or “There, I think you won that argument after all,” or “You taste sweet.”
When she was not sneaking off somewhere alone with him, she replayed every word he said. She felt as if she were floating. While she ached to tell someone, she knew it would not be Dirina, who, she was somehow sure, would not quite approve, despite that Amarta was pretty certain she was doing something similar when she snuck off in the night with Kosal.
Nidem, though, she might tell. She wasn’t sure she would approve, so for a time she stayed silent, but finally she could bear it no longer and whispered to the girl all that had happened, and how she felt. Nidem seemed uncertain for a moment, then nodded.
“It is good that you keep it secret, though,” she said. “Some would not be so happy to see Emendi and Arunkin close. I am pleased for your joy, Ama.”
Maybe, Amarta thought, this really was their home now.
The day of the out-trip arrived. Amarta went to see them off at the staging area, the same entranceway through which they had first come with the Teva, which she now knew had stables to one side and another huge room for wagons off to the other.
A tencount of Emendi loaded barrels and sacks onto the wagon, then water and food for the three days out and back. Astru and Vatti stood by, directing.
Darad came to her and took her hand, drawing her close. Then, despite all those standing near and watching, he kissed her again, longer than ever before, as if to make a point. As he drew back, Astru and Vatti looked on with unreadable expressions.
Well, it was no secret now.
Then, with one last look at her, he said, “I’ll be back for more.” He squeezed her hand one last time and smiled.
The huge stones were rolled back from the cave entrance and the wagons set out into the sunlight, carthorse hitched. From the front of the wagon, Darad waved at her as they went.
A handful of days. Practically no time at all. She was not worried; vision had told her he would come back whole. She waved back.
Some seven days later, right on schedule, Darad came back. They group was well, returning with sacks of grain, dried fruits, seeds and nuts, bolts of burlap. Even some casks of wine. There were celebrations that night.
But something had changed. From the moment he returned, Darad acted as if the last kiss and all the kisses before had never occurred. She tried to catch him alone, to ask him what had happened, but somehow he was always busy, always walking away or talking to someone else. The next day and the next she tried again.
In despair she went to Nidem.
“He doesn’t want to talk to you,” Nidem told her.
Her stomach went leaden. “But why not?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “He won’t tell me.” Seeing Amarta’s expression, she did not even make it into a joke.
“Did someone tell him not to? Because I’m not Emendi?”
“Maybe that,” Nidem said, nodding slowly. “But just as likely it is that he is fickle.”
“But…” He had said things to her, things that did not go away so fast. “I said or did something to upset him, perhaps?” Her throat hurt. Her chest was tight.
“He went out into the world, Ama. It is not easy for us to do that, to be in the day, all day. To see the freedom your kind has so easily, that we can never have. Sometimes it changes us. Perhaps it changed him.”
“That much? I don’t believe it.”
Surprising Amarta, Nidem took her in a hug and held her a long moment, then pulled back to look into her eyes. “You are not the first to be bruised by Darad’s changing affections. He is a fickle boy. Someday he will be a fickle man. Be glad you discovered so early, so easily.”
It didn’t feel easy at all. She shook her head wordlessly.
“It will get better in time, Ama. Your heart will heal. Trust me on this.”
She did not believe it. She felt ripped apart.
Darad’s inexplicable cold distance continued. Finally she gave up trying to reach him, throwing herself into all the work that was possible to do in Kusan, from sewing to cleaning to leatherwork. The harder the work, the more demanding, the more she preferred it. She even volunteered to go to the bat caves to collected guano, a job always in need of doing.
Be useful, she told herself. Busy enough to keep away the painful thoughts.
One night she woke crying, and realized that the ache she felt for her dead parents, for leaving Enana and her sons, and the tearing pain she now felt for Darad were all kin to each other.
It had not occurred to her before that she could lose someone and still have them be so close by.
At meals Darad sat with another group, no longer inviting her to his table, no longer coming to hers. His hands flew with humor, his silent laugh and smile tugging at her emotions even now, just watching him. It felt as she imagined a knife through her chest must feel.
She expected Nidem and the others she had befriended to sit with him, and they did, clustering tightly around him as they had before. Like moths to a lantern, how he drew people to him, making the world bright and full of warmth.
But only when the light was on you. Now that it was not, she felt a desolate chill.
A few days later at the meal, to her surprise, Nidem sat down next to her.
Fickle as a child, Nidem signed, gesturing toward Darad.
Amarta’s spirits rose.
You are no child. she signed back enthusiastically. Nor fickle.
Friends last longer than pretty boys, Nidem quipped. They laughed silently together.
Across the room, Darad’s gaze flickered to them, then away again when she looked back.
Good. Let him wonder what they were saying about him. Let him wonder where his favorite cousin had gone to.
To her continued surprise, Nidem sat with her again the next day, and the next, then began bringing her along to gatherings after meals.