KAMI WAS ONE of the first off the ship. As soon as her feet hit dirt, she fell to her knees and let all of her senses run free, but she didn’t wallow long. A detachment of guards arrived with urgent news for Rook. The ship hands dispersed as Rook escorted Kami to the palace.
Avestine’s eyes flashed when she saw Kami, but she turned first to Rook.
Kami watched their harshly whispered exchange and found it difficult to care. Men’s wars. Armadas. Legions of soldiers. It seemed a game, a sport to be won once before the tide turned and the other side won.
Gerard arrived at the door, and guards parted for him as he entered one of the throne’s ancillary rooms. Kami watched him walk past Avestine and those she spoke with as he made his way to a parchment map hung on the far white stone wall. With white chalk he circled the port, the Fulbern Forest and the bridge at the Wealth River’s grand fork.
Everyone in the room watched.
With his back to the room, he pointed at his circles on the map. “Scouts report regiments in each of these places, combined forces of Avjakar and the Sovereignty.” He turned around. “I don’t know how they could have mobilized this quickly. They’ve cut off the sea and the river. Sovereignty troops are also crossing over Arrowreign’s seaward border. At least two divisions. Our garrison at Rock Point has been sending out scouts and messengers daily. It looks like a major incursion.”
“And there’s no one to treaty with,” said Rook.
Kami noticed that Avestine was watching Gerard carefully, and she wondered about the intensity. They were both people of regal bearing, although Gerard appeared more careful, more reflective. He had worn bright shirts in Avjakar but now wore the uniform of Arrowreign: a wide-necked black tunic belted over brown trousers. Gerard’s tunic had a collar decorated with silver brocade in a leafy design. Avestine’s was gold. The collars were so broad they revealed a wide swath of skin from the chest to the collarbone at the ball of the shoulder. The style gave Avestine an even more masculine figure.
Kami straightened, stepped back, and saw Gerard and the other people in the room in a different way, as if with the eyes of a predator. She felt as if she could fly, as if she were flying, looking down on a gathering of rabbits or deer. She evaluated each man, and the one woman at their center, and then her view moved beyond the room, where she evaluated every other person who roamed the corridors, manned the walls, stood in the market, sat at tables, or played in the streets.
In the fields beyond the city, she saw men and beasts reaping an early harvest, frantic to gather what they could before invaders stole or burnt it. Men sharpened spears, arranged picks and shovels, gathered wood and built fires. Women smoked meat, boiled roots, hid children.
Beyond them, beyond the communities of man, Kami greeted wild things in their daily quests, oblivious to the anxiety of their masters. And beyond even these, she saw more men moving through the dense and busy landscape, leaving their homes as they made their way to the homes of others. They carried swords and ballistics and fire. They wore metal and leather and followed wagons filled with tools of both destruction and construction.
She realized her eyes were closed only when someone shook her. She opened her eyes to see Avestine, whose steely fingers gripped her shoulders. “What do you see?” she said.
Kami realized Avestine was frightened, and because of that, she was angry, and because of that she was aggressive and would soon become abusive. That, too, seemed like an unimportant game. Kami wished she could share what she saw with Avestine. She wished she could make Avestine see that petty wars among tribes held all the value of a skirmish among chickadees.
Kami knew Avestine would never accept losing her kingdom, even if it meant she would live. Life wasn’t enough for Avestine. That was the difference between beasts and men, between Kami and the woman she loved. Just being alive wasn’t nearly enough to make that life worthwhile. Avestine needed to believe she controlled life, too.
“Gerard’s right.” Kami’s voice cracked. Her throat was dry because she had spoken little. She swallowed. “They’re on their way, well-armed, every escape cut-off.”
Avestine’s icy stare intensified, as if she didn’t believe her.
Kami smiled and touched Avestine’s cheek. “You don’t die.”
“You can stop this. You can stop them. Take out the ships first. Send whales or sharks. Give us the port, and we have a chance.”
“There’s no chance.”
Avestine stepped back slowly, calming herself. She said to Rook, “You returned sooner than expected, but not soon enough.”
“Are you all right?” asked Kami.
“All right?” Avestine was sweating. Kami reached to touch her shoulder, but Avestine moved and one of her guards stepped close, expecting an order. Avestine waved him back and took a deep breath. “I know you can stop them. Stop them, Kami. If you don’t, thousands of people will die.”
“They will die. Many will die, but not you.”
“How do you know?” “The Avatar of Katan.”
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |