Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
ROOK PUSHED A sputtering soldier onto a horse beneath a tree. The soldier begged for his life, begged the Emissary to let him serve her. The soldiers had learned who Avestine was.
She reached over from the top of her own mount and seized his hair, forcing his head into a rope. Without a moment’s hesitation, she slapped the horse and left the man to hang. She returned to her hotel room and sat beside the bed where Kami lay.
Avestine and Rook had killed a half-dozen soldiers in the fight before the townsfolk finally turned, using their numbers to overwhelm the rest of them. Avestine then took charge, pulling the piles of townsfolk from the disarmed men and having the remaining soldiers confined to one of the shops at the edge of town.
The soldiers had murdered the only surgeon in Graystone, so Avestine had to rely on medicine brewed by the town’s midwife to save Kami. The wound had nicked her gut. Once the blood loss stopped, Avestine hoped Kami would recover. But she didn’t. Fever arrived, and Kami remained unconscious. Avestine thought the gods had forgotten about Kami, so she decided she would get their attention.
“Eight more, and then what?” asked Rook as he stood in Kami’s doorway.
“Then we begin on the townsfolk,” said Avestine.
“I know you don’t mean that.”
“Every day that she lays here someone will pay for it,” said Avestine. “Maybe the Great Mother will want to save her disciple. Or maybe Coth will appreciate the soldiers I’m sending him. Maybe the gods will let her go if I can just get their attention. They don’t seem to care, so I’ll make them care. They’ve taken every damn thing from me, but they won’t get her.”
Avestine shook her head. “In all the years, only two Essanti like her came to serve Father. Remember the three bodies we found in the shed? Alamaor must have been eating on them for weeks. Is that what she’ll become? A savage? Remember the deer she killed? Merciless Coth, she just chewed it raw.” Avestine shook her head trying to clear away the memory.
“Maybe the best thing is to let her die.”
Avestine rose to her feet. “Shut up. I don’t care if she eats her own leg and starts screwing dogs. She’s mine. I’ve given up too much. No more.”
“She sees by the light of Instinct, the Emanation of Sahrot. An Essanti of Instinct,” muttered Rook.
“Sahrot!” Avestine growled with disgust. “Who needs that bitch-god? My father had every wolf in the Dark Quarter slaughtered looking for the Darklord, and she did nothing to stop him.”
“She prefers foxes.”
“That’s not what the Elumen said. They weren’t lying when they told him the Darklord preferred wolves, and would come at the side of that bitch.”
Staring at Kami, Avestine found her mind unable to give words to what she felt. Something stirred in her, the sort of fear that accompanied sailing with no sight of shore. “Fine. Sahrot likes foxes. Talk to the trapper at the edge of town. Get a fox.
We’ll sacrifice it. Sahrot will listen. And go tell the remaining soldiers to pray it works.”
On the day when only two soldiers remained alive, Kami awoke. Rook ran to the store. Avestine was there, dragging another soldier from his desperate grip on the store’s door.
When Avestine saw Rook’s expression, she didn’t need an explanation. She let go of the man and ran with all her speed to the hotel. Kneeling beside the bed, she listened to Kami mutter meaningless sentences that sounded like dreams. Kami focused for a moment on Avestine and asked where they were. She fell asleep before Avestine could answer.
Avestine felt as if she had just awakened from a nightmare, and she knew the townsfolk would feel the same. They had helped subdue the soldiers, but had long since ceased to help in her ruthless reprisal. Rook alone followed Avestine’s commands, and now she told him to bring the soldier she had almost hanged.
Rook was happy to retrieve a man for something other than execution. But the soldier didn’t know his fate, and he struggled with unceasing effort as Rook marched him to meet the Emissary.
After the soldier arrived, he flinched when she came near. He dropped to his knees, begged forgiveness, and swore allegiance to the Emissary of Arujan.
Avestine spoke in the language of the Sahr. “What do you care about your god? You turned on him when you served my brother and then again when you abandoned your oath, along with the army. Your companions’ corpses are feeding the dogs of Graystone right now. You deserve no better.”
“No, no, Excellency! We didn’t abandon the army. A storm broke our mainmast, and we run aground near Fivefold Woke.”
“What wind could destroy the mast of an imperial dragaard?”
“Not the wind. The strike of Arujan’s Blade!”
Her eyes narrowed as she looked the man over again. “And yet, you didn’t rejoin your division but wandered here, to torment villagers?”
“The commander. We did as he said. By the time we crossed Cutrock Peninsula, the other ships weren’t to be found. They’d dropped crew and pulled out to the island of Salus. Since the ships were gone, we didn’t know about the crew drop, not for days.”
“You should have gone to Salus.”
He nodded, as if with regret.
When she reached for him, he slid backward until he came up against the door. She shoved him to his side and cut the rope binding his hands. Rubbing his wrists, he rose to his feet, gazing at her with hope.
“You would have died as your companions, had she not awakened today. The gods let thirteen of you die, but they saved you. What’s your name?”
“Esavij,” he said unsteadily.
“How old are you?”
Avestine didn’t believe he was more than twenty. Reaching into her tunic, she drew out the necklace she always wore. With a quick snap, she broke its chain and handed the fishhook to the soldier. “You’ll leave this town and find your lord, Avestar, and beg him to forgive your desertion. Then you’ll give him this. Arujan saved you for a reason. You might want to reconsider the life you’ve chosen.”
The soldier nodded slowly at first. Avestine watched it come to him that he would live. She waited to see whether he would ask after his companion, the last soldier confined at the store, but he didn’t.
Before Esavij passed through the door, Avestine told him, “Your life was mine to take, but I gave it back. Tell Avestar that I’m the one with the powers of life and death. The Father has given them to me.”
Having removed the darkness that had held sway over Graystone, Avestine, Rook, and Kami received fresh horses, new clothes, and new boots from townsfolk eager to rid themselves of the curse and its equally terrible solution.
Avestine had left the last soldier to the town’s mercy, and as she expected, they had none. As she passed beneath the swinging body of the once-blustery commander, Avestine reached into her belt pouch and found Faye’s coin safely stored away. She maneuvered her horse closer to Kami. “You have a lot of death yet to see. It’ll make you strong if you don’t look away.”
Kami peered up, holding her bandaged side as she leaned back for a clear view of the swinging body. She straightened and looked back at Avestine. “Death holds no power over me.”
The declaration surprised Avestine, not because it was rash, but because Kami had said it so mildly. As if she meant it.