ROOK KNEW HE should be dead, and when he woke, he thought he was. He felt like a ghost left to haunt the woods. He wandered a while. He grew cold when the sun dimmed. He ate berries and killed a fish and even managed after half a day to kindle a fire. So he realized he wasn’t dead.
Blades had cut his chest and throat. He bled for days but didn’t weaken. When the bleeding stopped, his cuts healed, leaving telling scars. Peering down into a pond, he stared at the thick pad of skin circling his throat and wondered what someone seeing it would think. He had never seen such a cut heal itself.
Maybe he had been dead. At least, the soldiers had left him for dead, but the gods had not. He was sure only the will of Coth had kept his heart beating. The god had some need of him, but he resisted that idea for what it suggested about Avestine’s safety. Cheating death was a risky endeavor, even for the gods, so the risk must be worth it. Avestine must be in desperate need of him.
Still, he didn’t like to think about what would happen when he returned, since the news he would bear was of Kami’s death. How would he explain his failure? He had promised upon his life to protect Kami. In her fury, Avestine might kill him where he stood. Or she might allow her grief to fester and devise some torture. Either way, it wasn’t the retribution Rook feared the most, but leaving the Emissary alone in the world.
Finding Kami with Avestine at Riverside had been a relief, because it meant the gods had not grown silent. The Father, the Rebel Son, and the Motherless Daughter would continue to be heard through the Essanti, and their voices would help to restrain the demons of possession and revenge. Those demons ruled over Avestar, and they were a constant temptation to Avestine. Rook knew those demons and he knew, as well, that even Avestine wasn’t stronger than a demon. She needed her Essanti.
He found himself trudging through the Fulbern and into the Breakland Forest toward Koledoon, drawn by destiny. He had made his way toward Star Melwary. One day he saw a wagon traveling a narrow logging road. The occupants appeared to be a family of tailors with their wares. Because of his appearance, Rook loathed approaching them, but these were the first people he had seen who didn’t appear to have weapons.
“Ho!” he shouted, stepping onto the road in front of the covered wagon, a rickety but enormous creation that looked to have been in service a very long time and repaired many times.
The man driving the wagon pulled his four mules to a stop and waved his curious family back into the wagon. He looked Rook over. “Why do you stop us?”
“News of Koledoon.”
He pointed tradeward. “There it is. See for yourself.”
“I’ve seen soldiers, scouts patrolling these roads. Why? Has there been trouble? Has Avjakar attacked?”
The man seemed surprised. “Avjakar? Everyone abides the treaty.”
“Then what of the patrols? I’ve seen so many.”
The man shook his head, but a boy dropped from the side of the wagon and peaked around the mules. Rook saw him before his father, so he stepped to the side and beckoned him out.
“Scons!” his father scolded.
“Scons?” repeated Rook gently. “You look like a smart boy.”
“Scons in the wagon, now!” The boy watched Rook as he disappeared into the wagon. The man said, “You look like you’ve been in a dogfight.”
“Nearly killed by thieves. I have nothing left.”
The man looked him over with suspicion, and only then did he notice Rook had no hands. His distrust turned to fear. “What kind of man has no hands?” He turned back into the wagon, where he had a short conversation with someone. He tossed Rook a small loaf of bread and slab of sausage wrapped in leaves. “That will get you to Koledoon if you take the barge across the bay.” He pulled a copper piece from the purse on his belt and tossed it to Rook’s feet. “Do you have family?”
“Are they at Koledoon?”
“I need to see the chieftains.”
“There are no chieftains in Koledoon. They have withdrawn to their tribal lands. The Council relies on Avjakar for protection, but at least there’s peace now. ”
“What about the visitors from Avjakar? Liaison and warmaster of King Severesh?”
“That renegade bitch and her general?” The man scowled. “The bounty on her head has doubled in the last week. Stole off to Ureth Mourning. Are you a friend? Is it that witch you’re going to see?”
Before Rook could answer, the man whipped his mules. Rook leapt off the road, and let him pass. Then he sat down and swore at the gods, cursing every last one of the twenty-nine he knew.
He calculated the time it would take to walk across the expanse of the Trade Quarter and through the foothills of the Katan Ri. He then calculated the time it would take if he stole a mule or a horse. Neither choice seemed feasible. He had the sense that she needed him now, not weeks from now. He had already been away too long.
Rook let his intuition guide him. Instead of beginning the journey by land, he roamed the outskirts of Star Melwary, searching farms and surveying patrols until he found suitable peasant clothing, which he stole from lines near a barn. He tore a blanket apart to make himself a scarf that hid his neck. He was saved from having to kill a young man by the unlikely appearance of a bear that sent them running in opposite directions. But that left him thinking about Kami, wondering how Avestar had killed her and where her body lay. He had spent some time searching for it and found nothing but the marks of struggle.
Rook managed to steal a knife and a copper pot from the rooms of three farmhouses. He brought his booty in a sack into the town, where he presented himself as a seller of crafts. The gatekeeper thought little of his wares, but Rook’s bluster seemed in line with the petty occupation.
He spent little time enjoying the long-missed comforts of civilization, although he drooled as he passed a tavern, where drunks splashed their whiskey into the sand. He searched the docks for ships traveling demonward. The journey to Ureth Mourning would be a few days at most, so he accepted passage in the cargo hold of a vessel, which cost everything of value in his pack.
He had only the clothes on his back. At least the Emissary would soon have him back at her side.
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |