The Seer – Snippet 67
Clearly Innel was arranging these. It was the next step after fear, testing, and only mildly insulting.
In truth she was barely annoyed. He was paying her astonishingly well to eat magnificently, bathe often, and keep track of a few people.
And there was the library. Truly as astonishing a collection as Gallelon had promised.
One day as Maris had come into the book-filled rooms she found an elderly woman there, dressed in the gray and brown of House Nital. Yliae was her name, and she was warm and well-spoken, engaging Maris in a fascinating discussion of the architecture of stone bridges and the challenges of harvesting amardide forests. Hours slipped pleasantly by.
The following week a man in Helata’s green and blue proved eager to talk with her about the various ships on which she’d sailed. He was happy to tell her stories of the far side of Arapur, which he had been to and she had not yet. More hours slipped by.
Gallelon was right. Some of the cleverest of the Iliban.
Of course Innel was arranging these visits. But she could hardly complain when week after week, she was kept engaged, engrossed, delighted.
One day Yliae offered to take Maris into the city by carriage to hunt rare books from small, private collections. Now Maris had begun to amass another small set of tomes, one that would be hard to transport when she left. It was a pleasant problem to have. Innel was working hard to keep her happy.
“Surely the old king had mages of his own,” she said to Innel.
His eyes flickered, ever so slightly. “If he did, he has them no longer.”
Maris had come across the old king as she had explored the palace. He lay in his bed, sick with something in his blood that should not be there. Something that, with some effort, she might be able to clean. “I could look in on him.”
Innel shook his head. “The queen wouldn’t allow it. And rightly so; if he gets better under your care, they’ll say you had no part in it, but if he gets worse, they’ll blame you.” He smiled ruefully. “I’m afraid Arunkin have a ways to go to accept your kind.”
“I don’t need to be in the room,” she said, suspecting he knew this. “Simply nearby. No one need ever know.”
“No,” he said firmly. “That is not where I want your attention.”
It was obvious that Innel knew perfectly well what was causing the old king’s illness. Whether it was Innel or the queen or someone else feeding Restarn something to keep him sick didn’t matter; Innel did not want him to get better.
So be it. Not her concern.
But Innel was watching her keenly now.
Very well; he was paying her enough to have earned a bit of reassurance.
“The great halls are full of spiders, best left to do their work without interference,” she said, borrowing a saying from Perripur. Innel’s eyes narrowed slightly. He knew the saying, knew what it meant. Knew what she suspected.
“In Arunkel we honor spiders,” he said. “They ensure appropriate behavior from lesser insects.” By eating them, he meant. “You are wise, Marisel.”
Wise enough to know who provided her with sumptuous meals, insightful conversation, and a library that rivaled any she had ever seen before.
Thus reassured, Innel unrolled the black silk, revealing a pale blue and white seashell, a strip of blue cloth, and a few strands of brown hair.
Maris put her fingertips on the shell, sorting out her impressions, separating out the taste of human presence from the vast backdrop that was the shell’s many years prior in the ocean. She subtracted out the most recent and fleeting touches of whoever delivered these items to Innel. Few others had touched the shell since it had been parted from the great salt seas, so this did not take long. She let the impressions settle inside her, like tea leaves falling into patterns at the bottom of a cup. It was important not to rush, a lesson that Keyretura had drilled into her repeatedly.
One strong presence remained. An odd mix of terror and assurance and grief. “She is young,” Maris said. “Still a child. There is the taste of knowing about her that most do not have so early in life. Is this the one you seek?”
“Yes.” In his voice she heard the force of desire and a touch of surprise.
Well, that was unavoidable. Half her work to the wealthy was proving herself.
“Is there more?” he asked.
“Often tired. Hungry. Afraid. Cold.”
“I can’t tell. Across many years.”
“And the cloth and hairs?”
Maris shook her head. “They tell me nothing.” Some parts of the body could say a great deal about the spirit who lived in them. A bone, even a bit of flesh. Maris saw no reason to tell him that.
“Can you find her?”
Maris focused on the man before her. “If she is where I happen to be looking, I will know her. But to find her in the world at large is another matter. You would do better to have your many informants search for her.”
“I am already doing that. I want you to search for her as well.”
“Perhaps you don’t understand my meaning. I would need to search tile by tile through the palace. Each brick of each building. Every step along the Great Road.”
“I understand. Start in Yarpin and expand outward. I don’t believe she is in-city, but she might be. I need to be sure.”
She looked at him in astonishment. “You cannot be serious. That could take a very long time.”
“Years. Decades. Centuries. I don’t know.”
He nodded, stood. “Then best you begin soon.”
“Finding her this way is impossible, Lord Commander. That’s certain.”
“It’s only impossible until someone does it. All I ask is that you try, Marisel.”
Maris walked the halls, tasting those in every room she passed, searching for the girl. She suspected it would be faster to knock on doors and ask if she were there, but she doubted Innel would appreciate such a direct approach.
It occurred to Maris to wonder if this were another test. But no; there was an intensity and urgency about Innel’s tone.
An absurd way to search, but so be it; as long as she took Innel’s coin and enjoyed the palace’s extravagances, she would uphold her end of the contract.
So she strolled along polished wood floors, trailed her fingers along painted walls, and sent bits of herself into each room, questing for the one taste that would match the owner of the shell. Despite not wearing the black robes, she gathered curious stares.
Not her problem. Innel could explain her as he wished. After enough hours, she would tire, and return to the library.
Weeks passed this way. She did not find the girl in the palace. But she found other interesting people.
Like the old king, whom she looked in on despite Innel’s objection. She dipped into his body as he lay there in the bed, sweating and coughing, then into the body of the slave who slept in his room, and the doctor who came to treat him. A taste of what the doctor brought to him told Maris that this was the source of his illness.
That did not surprise her. What did surprised her was that every time the doctor rubbed the ointment into his gums, right before she did, the old king’s body tightened and his heart sped.
She thought of telling Innel but decided that it was best to stay out of the matter. He had made clear he didn’t want her attention on the old king.
So be it.
Maris knew she would eventually need to take her search outside to the palace grounds, then into the city at large, but as the weather turned cold and wet, she found herself far more interested in staying warm and dry inside.
So instead she took the search deeper, into kitchen corners, back rooms, servant dormitories, underground storage areas, tunnels that led to garrison and dungeon. She touched on each person, passing quickly over the ones she already knew, telling herself that she was being thorough, that the girl might have somehow slipped into the palace while she wasn’t looking. It was a weak justification.
The truth was that she had grown accustomed to being around those who were not suffering and in need. She delayed through autumn as the land slid into dark winter. With rains and then snows outside, she wandered the now-familiar palace halls, delving into basements, toilet rooms, deep closets. The deep, sealed tunnels. The spaces above and between floors.
Which was how she had come across a man and a woman sitting together a small cellar room disguised as root storage on one side and a closet on the other. She knew them: the older woman was the minister of finance, the young man an administrator.
Both were afraid. Very afraid.
Usually she did not listen in on such things, wanting to stay as far from Arun politics as Innel’s coin would allow, but she was intrigued to find people where they should not be, where no room was supposed to be, and in such a state of agitation. She moved her consciousness fully into the room, curling bits of air on itself to give herself the equivalent of ears inside.