“SWARM OF FLYING ants, Excellency.” He kept his head bowed as he spoke. “Weren’t no mounds. Just flies.”
Avestine stretched and peered under the man’s collar to see the bite marks stopped there. “Where did the attack happen?”
“Down the coast, Excellency.”
“After the battle?”
“How many flies?”
“Hundreds, Excellency. Thousands, maybe.”
She walked closer to the other man. He gazed up at her through swollen, watery eyes. “What happened to you?”
“Spiders, Excellency. Hundreds of them at my feet. Striped. Don’t know…what…bit my…” His head wobbled before he collapsed. The guards removed him from the tent.
Avestine returned to the man attacked by ants and asked, “Were you two in the same area?”
“I was farther inland.”
Avestine told the guard to take the soldiers to the surgeon and to send a scouting party into the attack areas. “And send for Essanti Rook.” After sitting back down, she waved away the whiskey offered.
Wald said, “You probably want to be alone.”
“Sit.” After Wald sat back down, Avestine said, “You and Rook must find a way to get along.”
“I have nothing but respect for Essanti Rook.”
“You propositioned him.”
Wald stared at his wrist covers.
“I need my Essanti functioning together.” She left her chair and began to pace. She didn’t want to think the ant swarm was anything but an accident, but she had a bad feeling.
When Rook entered the tent, Avestine told him to sit.
Just as she had tried to hide from history in the Trade Quarter, she had been hiding from the meaning of Kami’s powers. She could admit her own stubbornness, but willful ignorance was inexcusable. As were Rook’s deceptions. “When were you going to tell me?” she asked Rook.
“Tell you what?”
“What about her?”
“That she’s no longer my Essanti.”
Rook’s eyebrow told her of his doubt. “We already had this discussion. I thought you had accepted that she is the Avatar of Sahrot.”
“And we know she’s met the Avatar of Katan. That’s two. Is there something else you haven’t told me?” Rook couldn’t hold her gaze. She leaned down, her face inches from his. She wanted to tear him apart, and her effort to control her anger made her speak her words distinctly. “Tell me what the Avatar of Coth sees when he looks at Arujan’s Emissary.”
Rook’s eyes shifted around before he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. “His master.”
Rook’s desperation amused her. “Oh no. No, Essanti.” She laughed, feeling unsteady, as if the ground were heaving beneath her feet. “What shall I call you, now that you’ve betrayed me?”
“I haven’t betrayed you. Never, Your Grace.”
She slapped his face and tore the collar from his neck. He had been hiding the scar not just from the world but from her. Now she scrutinized it. “You said it looked worse than it was, but they left you for dead because you were dead. You were dead.” She slapped him again. “Why have you been lying to me? Do you speak to ghosts now? Have you seen my shithole father? Is that why you offered that bit of compassion and thought I should forgive him? Did he come to you?”
“The forgiveness was to help you.”
She slapped him again. He covered his face when she began to punch him. She beat him until she was too tired to continue. He lay curled defensively on the floor when she finally rose and walked away.
She sat down and calmed herself before she scooted her chair close to Wald. He remained very still as she spoke into his ear. “If you’re not the Avatar of Mon, then there’s another Essanti of Mercy walking this world, and I know there’s no other Essanti of Mercy, so that means you’re a liar, too.”
Wald was like a frightened rabbit with nowhere to run. Avestine breathed heavily against his cheek as her anger rose. When she stood suddenly, knocking her chair to the ground, Wald screamed and crossed his arms over his head.
Avestine backed away. Rook left the floor and settled onto a chair, and after peeking from under his robe, Wald dropped his arms and scooted close to him.
She paced the room while they watched her. She wasn’t sure what to do next. She considered the feeling of panic rising in her, took a deep breath, and made her decision. “Have the men pack up double-time. Then we search for Kami. Leave the prisoners behind.”
“If she’s who you say she is,” said Rook, “there’s no point in finding her.”
“I can save her.”
“From what, Your Grace?”
She slapped the table. “From herself. I will save her from herself!”
The guards left to form search parties and inform the legion, while her servants strapped her in armor. When a man handed her sword to her, she was stunned at the shine. He had oiled and sharpened it, removing the rust endemic to life near the sea and somehow removing nicks even she had not been able to remove. She tapped the blade on the table and asked the man’s name.
“Well done, Fowke. Get yourself safely to Ureth Mourning.”
Rook retied her hair and added a bit of tar, as her servants packed up the contents of her tent. When she was ready, she asked for her horse. “You two,” she said to Rook and Wald. “Bring your horses.”
Wald tried to ask a question, but Rook pushed him out of the tent.
While Avestine waited, she thought about her last time in bed with Kami. She recalled the horror when she realized all the vermin in the palace were converging upon her room. The feeling wasn’t simply fear, but revulsion. Revulsion so visceral, she had barely been able to restrain herself from running. Kami explained the animals’ encroachment as confusion from her abrupt mental departure. And it was that same sense of confusion she saw in what the servants had told her. Something had confused those insects. Maybe something had interrupted Kami. Maybe she had fallen asleep or hurt herself. Maybe she just needed help. Avestine couldn’t rely on her ability to hear Kami’s thoughts. Kami was often as opaque as any other woman, and more independent than was possible for an Essanti. The only explanation was that Kami had been telling the truth. Kami already knew she had become something other than Essanti, but only Avestine knew what Kami was yet to become.
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |