The Seer – Snippet 64

“Wait, wait –” the man said, stumbling back, his other arm raised to block the next shot.

“Turn her over,” Tayre ordered, motioning to the girl on the ground, face down.

Clutching his wrist, giving an agonized look at his bow lying feet away in the dirt, the man lurched to the girl and pushed onto her back with his foot.

She was not Amarta al Botaros. Disappointing, but not surprising. He doubted any of the other Kusani were still alive to tell him anything. Maybe the attackers knew something.

“Why kill them?” he asked. “Any of these could have led you to the girl.”

Swallowing hard with pain, he said, “We only need the head.”

“You do know it has to be the right head, don’t you?”

“It is the right head.”

“What makes you think so?”

“She’s wearing the cloak. The one we were told she wears.”

Hunting the cloak. Not the girl.

Idiots. These two clearly knew nothing of the hidden city or the whereabouts of the seer.

“Who hired you?” he asked.

“No one. I –”

The next bolt went through his shoulder. The man screamed.

Tayre dismounted. “Who hired you?” he asked again.

“The Lord Commander. No, no, please don’t, I –”

It was, alas, the answer he had expected, so he sent the third bolt through the man’s throat to keep him quiet for a bit but alive in case Tayre wanted more answers. The man’s mouth moved silently as he slipped to his knees, hands clawing at his throat.

Tayre bent down to touch the girl’s neck. Dead. The cloak was definitely the seer’s — he remembered the unusual strip of blue on the hem, now bloodied.

What did all this mean? That someone had taken the cloak from her was the simplest and thus most likely explanation. But she could see into the future, making this far from a typical situation. He had to assume what he was looking at now was no accident.

Did she know he would be standing here right now, watching this girl’s blood seep out of her into the cloak, this garment that used to be hers? Had she predicted his intent here today and acted to thwart him? Or was this all instinct to her, as a horse knew to snap at a fly, or a cat to kill a mouse?

He confirmed that each of the Kusani was dead. As clumsy as the attackers were, they were competent enough in surprise against the Kusani; not a pulse remained to question.

Too bad all around, he thought, standing, gaze sweeping the land from the road leading west to the deadlands to the eastward hills that went to the market towns that were the wagon’s original destination.

While the road was rarely traveled, it would be in time. The Kusani might even come to investigate when their people failed to return. Best to clean up and move on.

He put his knife blade up and through the heart of the attacker still gurgling and clutching his throat on the ground, and inspected the second attacker, a man so young he could barely grow a beard. He lay keening, curled around his stomach, the bolt having sliced through his kidney as Tayre had intended, accounting for the obvious discomfort. A few more questions of the young man gained Tayre no new insights, so he twisted the man’s head sharply and let him die.

As he stripped the cloak off the dead girl for closer inspection he came to the conclusion that the seer was no longer here. Not in the deadlands, not in Kusan. Her cloak on this girl, so close in age, could be no accident.

An intriguing mystery, Kusan, but for now one best left hidden. By the time he returned with force sufficient to take the underground city, he was confident she would be long gone, the trail again cold. He could not, with that level of expenditure and visibility, afford to be wrong again; it would exhaust what little credibility he still had with the Lord Commander.

So it seemed this event had changed his mind after all.

Had she foreseen all this? Was she clever enough to have engineered it? If he had decided to apprehend her alive, before he had the Lord Commander’s permission to kill her, would she have acted otherwise?

How many moves ahead could she see?

He stopped himself from this line of supposition. Guessing at what she might foresee based on his intent would get him nowhere. Short of examining her up close and with sufficient time, this was no more than circles of speculation and excessive conjecture, a trap as surely as his previous underestimation of her had been.

He must reason from immediate evidence. He turned slowly, looking for any other clues in the scene of slaughter before him.

Another thought occurred to him, born of another set of rumors entirely. He knelt down and made a second, closer examination of the fallen Kusani, looking at their eyes, scalps, brows and arms. They were all blond.

Even more interesting: Kusan, it seemed, was at least in part a slave refuge. It did not change his plans; while a city of Emendi was a prize of significant worth and something the Lord Commander might even be interested in, making slaves had nothing to do with this contract nor his determination to find the girl.

The seer had turned into a potent adversary. Acquiring her, breathing or not, was all that concerned him now.

He had to admit that it might not be possible. His uncle, the man who had raised him and taught him his craft, had also shown him how to find the edge of the possible and go beyond it. That meant finding the place where what you knew wasn’t enough, where your very conception of the world kept you from understanding the next step.

Find the unknown. Make it known to you.

He would find her, study her, and complete his contract. However long it took.

With that thought he rode the dead bodies up into the high hills, putting them deep in the ground. The wagon and carthorse he would take to one of the small towns where those he knew would make it vanish for him.

Then he would search the deadland roads again for the girl, her sister, and the now-walking boy-child. Most likely she would continue southward, heading toward one of the coastal port towns or cities. Possibly even Munasee.

The trail was there. He would find it.