Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
AVESTINE, ROOK, AND Kami made camp in a clearing some distance from the Wealth River.
They had traveled darkward, hoping to use the river as a guide on their way to Avjakar, but they found the route dangerous. Traders and barges continued to transport goods. They also carried Darklaw soldiers who patrolled the great waterway.
The group didn’t make a fire that sunfall. Huddled on a blanket, Avestine and Rook talked. Kami had gone to sleep quickly.
Avestine watched Kami. Rook watched her watching Kami.
“She should be bound soon,” said Rook.
“Play something different, Essanti. I’m tired of your one-note tune.”
“She’s dangerous until she’s bound.”
“So where do we do it? Here, in this shithole of a forest with the black legions all around?”
Rook acquiesced with a sigh.
Avestine understood that regret. The Essanti training would have to begin as soon as they were safe. But “safe” was not a word she associated with Avjakar any more than a forest swollen with Darklaw soldiers.
She touched the scar next to her left eye as she thought back many years to her time at the court of Eldon Severesh.
The Avjakar Ascendancy had been an ally of her father when the Architect had tried to make the Trade Quarter his own. Yes, Severesh owed her father, but he had a larger debt to settle with her.
The memory brought a grim smile to Avestine’s lips.
Rook interrupted her recollection. “You should have made this journey earlier. With your brother’s legions so close, Severesh may be less willing to help now. And what’s to guarantee he doesn’t just hand you over for the bounty and a new treaty?”
“I think he’ll be grateful for the chance to free his conscience.”
After a pause, Rook said, “She loves you.”
Avestine’s eyebrow arched curiously. “That’s not what you meant to say.”
His shaggy face soured, emphasizing the lines around his eyes. Avestine wondered if she looked as old.
“An Essanti of Instinct is a rare thing and of no use to you,” he said. “But she doesn’t seem quite like the other ones we’ve known.”
“Let’s hope not.”
“Why do you suppose Essanti who serve the Wild are so different?”
Avestine saw that Rook had an answer, so she waited.
“Maybe even without hands, they lack the necessary faith.”
Without the means of worldly power, only faith remains, and great is the faith of the Essanti. As she thought about the ancient words and ritual, Avestine wondered if Rook didn’t have the difference reversed. “Or maybe it’s just that taking their hands doesn’t take away their worldly power.”
Rook’s rising eyebrow suggested he had never thought of it that way. “If that’s the case, she’ll always be a danger to you, even when you take them.”
“You, too? Don’t think you can manipulate me. At least she has a cunt.” She blew out a sigh of exasperation. “She thinks she has the right to deny me. Me. The Emissary. I could empty her guts, and no one would stop me. She shouts at me as if I’m some servant. She’s the daughter of a whore, and she’s never even screwed a man!” Avestine shook her head in disbelief. She took a breath to calm herself. Kami could rile her too easily. “But she’s no stranger to self-abuse. I once saw her humping a log in the forest.”
Rook said, “That doesn’t seem like her.”
“You don’t know.” Avestine shook her head. “You don’t know what’s in her.”
“My point exactly, Your Grace. She’s an Essanti of Instinct. She serves the Wild, not you. She is chaos and death. You should never have let her live.”
“Does Arujan fear Sahrot?” Avestine shrugged. “She’s merely a girl who thinks words have power. She argues and jabbers. I’ve shown her real power, and she’s blind to it. And who is she? A slop-jar surprise. A whore’s rat! Her mother—do you remember Fat Rosi? Of course you do. As I recall, she had an affection for you.”
A secret smile turned Rook’s lips. He seemed to be looking back in time but snapped out of it suddenly. “Kami’s mother is Fat Rosi?”
“You don’t remember the little rat running around the tavern, listening in on everything? Curious eyes, nervous as a sparrow?”
Rook stared at the ground, concentrating. “Don’t seem to. You never mentioned her.”
“Why would I?”
“Because even then you should have known what she was.”
Avestine nodded an acknowledgement. “Thought I’d save you from having the blood of a little girl on your conscience.”
“I have no conscience when it comes to protecting you.”
“Of course not.” Avestine was still thinking about the past. “Fat Rosi was ruthless with her girls. I had to pay twice the rate to get Domna after she begged me to save her from three pirates who paid to plunge her starfish. Filthy dogs.” She shook her head. “Fat Rosi had a list of services that would make Cochin blush! A mother like that and the girl’s not even a good screw.”
Rook’s eyebrows rose. “Why do you bother to lie to me?”
Avestine eyes narrowed as she searched the man she had known longer than anyone. She grinned. “Fair enough.” She laughed. “If I had a palace, I’d keep her chained to the floor, have slaves oil her tits and ride her face every night. How much do you suppose she would hate that?”
Avestine turned serious again. “She’s smart. Too smart. And smug. She thinks she’s better than me. She thinks I’m vulgar.”
Rook considered that and said, “You are, Your Grace.”
Avestine thought a moment and then shrugged. “It’s never bothered you.”
“I don’t think it bothers her, either.”
“Oh, I bother her a lot, but she’ll have to get used to it.” Her eyes danced. “Because I will have a palace again one day.” Her humor faded once again as she stared at him. “Your first duty is to preserve the truth, Essanti, and that truth is me.”
“Yes, Your Grace, the truth that flows through you. I recognize it, even when you don’t.”
“The oath you took, like the hands I took, means the truth is mine to decide.”
“And who would know truth better?”
Avestine scowled at him, sure he was mocking her.
He nodded respectfully and added, “And yet, my duty is to protect you, at the cost of my life, from anyone who would harm you in any way that you can be harmed.”
She waited for him to explain his point, but he had said it all. He had said he would protect her, even from herself.