Mara's only sense of time passing were the growing pangs of hunger that withered the heat of her focus, smothered the fires of her anger.
Such a hatred is always more burdensome for the one who bears it than the one who may never choose to receive it. The target of her rage being beyond her immediate reach, the burden remained Mara's alone.
Senses addled, Mara struggled through ever denser scrub and reed and briar. Hours elapsed and yet I could still track her progress effortlessly. A side effect of our brief emotional interaction or of injuries beyond what the girl could comprehend? I had opened old wounds, betrayals and abandonments, planted the seeds of a dream within the girl's obdurate yet undyingly resilient mind.
Some of this Mara suspected. She knew of me second-hand, knew the appropriate curses to mark me as a target for any Raven with 100km -- a trick that worked both ways to a seer par excellence comme moi.
Mara was clever, yes, to guard her mind now as she does, the mental fog lifting with dawn's first rays - drawing new strength from the light.
Released my mental hold seamlessly. She was aware of the intrusion but not the extent of my influence.
Located severe sub-cranial hemorrhaging where my knee cracked her thick skull. Our fearless commander will see that the appropriate attentions can be administered once she is securely restrained. If my father underestimates her for an instant, Silent will not be quick enough to save him.
Timing is everything at this juncture. Every pawn on the board in the proper place, every knight charging, every fastness firing at the crucial clarion call.
Villages will rise up in the night, steeling themselves for the fight. Mountain holdings that have stood barred to the outside world for centuries shall throw wide their doors, the cavalry heeding the cries emanating from the burning ruins that by then will litter the plains. All voices as one cry for revenge, for remonstrance of unrepentant sins, for remembrance of ancient wrongs unredressed.
A cold, elusive tribe of hunters will leave their homes, the frozen wastes of the far North, forewarned of a great disaster upon the Arctic Sea.
"You are my wild card, child
"I am not a child, Daughter of the Plainsmen. An heir to an empty throne would do better to mind her forked tongue in the presence of olter snakes
"You are clever, child, but you're not that quick
I could see her eyes narrowing in what I had before considered a reflex born of simple mistrust.
"A species advanced enough to employ irony, but too primitive to appreciate it, has a thermonuclear explosion or two in its future
It had the sound of a quotation. And then, the danger of an uninformed response became apparent. Older snakes. Not other. Older.
"So our brilliant scholar is a mere mortal after all. Did you think that all the libraries out here in the foothills burned in the War? Or perhaps you assumed us bassackward hill people burned all the books to stay warm at night. Your pet Rangers are not sentinels standing guard against the return of Night. They are the last phalanx of Caesar's centurions, cowering in their mouldering towers
A shift, subtle but telling, from poetic metaphor to historical. Implied an intended shift from subjective observations to a quasi-factual revelation intended to dismantle the walls of my will.
"While our emperor fiddles atop the burning ruins and pigs fly out of the angel of the apocalypse's ass singing harmony. I get the picture.
It knew how its sister had met its end. To expect a repetition of that mistake was foolish in the best of circumstances. My own slip into oblivion would have been a foregone conclusion long before my conscious mind revealed the fatal error. I did not hesitate. Irreverence trumps puffed up pretension any day. At any rate it had flown back north well in advance of the verbal riposte. Only my Mara remained, safe in the sunny southern skies.
"The ambush will fail. Your Commander will not capture me, but I will spare him under one condition.
"So you're listening for once. Good. Send me after his Highness. And please spare us both the indignity of feigned surprise. We intercept all of your correspondence before sending it on it's merry way. I know the plan inside and out. Only give me the tools, the backup, your 'eye in the sky,' isn't that how you phrased it? The assassination will fail without my hand to deliver it. It is the only reason I risk speaking with you now.
I nodded. Did she receive the gesture?
Mara was gone. And I knew that for all my skill, I would never find her without her explicit consent. The source of her sudden aegis did not bear contemplation.
But I know now where she is headed. She will expect the ambush to come while she pillages the armory I pointed her toward. The garrison there is forearmed and forewarned - if they keep their heads they won't lose them. She also thinks I plan to kill a king. Now, when the trap is finally sprung, even if it fails, Mara will be stranded alone in a hostile capital on full alert.
The stakes have been raised, on all sides, and yet the outcome more uncertain the ever.
Bon nuit tout le monde
P.S. J.S. in N.O. P1 is GO
It has been a week since my last entry. This negligence of clerical duties seems to me somewhat ameliorated by recent events, namely the extensive recon of the Capital, or Great Capital, or the "Silver Jewel crowning a once and future Trash Heap."
A mighty ring of unmanned, unguarded watchtowers lines the northern perimeter. I say unmanned due to the rather embarrassing ratio of boys swinging dull swords to full blooded warriors. We could cripple the entire northern border in a single coordinated offensive, leave the plains open to refugees from the endless hordes of the North. Then we may learn how 'polyculturally tolerant' our magnanimous leader truly is.
The Regent is neither the benevolent god-king he so desperately pretends, nor the genocidal megalomaniac that his many detractors are equally desperate to paint him.
Neither is he the black mark my correspondence has painted squarely between his brows. The truth is far more subtle. I do not wish to slay him nor depose him. I mean to apprise him of the coming storm:
The North will run black as burnt molasses so far south as the Badlands. The very air will choke the trees long before the falling ash and debris strangle the sundry streams and rivers. Deadfalls and landslides will form a slowly tightening noose around the few thoroughfares capable of supporting the lifeblood of the Empire.
The first Winter will wither all those who linger in the Northern wastes, the ash falling with and as the snow for months, neither purely one nor the other. Only the hardiest fishermen of the Arctic will weather this one.
Shepherds (insurgents or refugees depending which side of your bread is buttered) will dot the Central Plains confederacy (nominally a colony of the Crown) as has not been seen since wild buffalo (actually, bison, as I occasionally intrude to correct, or as is more and more often necessary these days, remain silently vigilant for greater sins.)
You will hear many stories around the farmers' great grill fires. Some lights grow dim the closer you come to the light of the Empire. Out here in the fields, where the strength of a man's back and the force of his word carry more weight than a pouch of gold, you will hear many stories.
You will hear many stories - of the life of glory and sacrifice that is the lot of the Ranger. What they tend to omit is the scarcity of the one and price of the other.
Who among them has perched motionless in a tree, for a day and a night, not daring to shift a single aching muscle for fear of discovery. Eating when the woods are empty and the sounds and smells are most likely to remain undetected by prowling hunters, either man or beast. You must become something of both to survive this life. We can no longer afford petty divisions or social niceties. But then, some of us never bothered, did we?
But then you know this, Mara. There is much you know, dear, of war and poetry, but you fail to find each in the other. Poetry must light a fire under someone's ass. Plant a seed in someone's heart. Not the hardy thorns you wrap about your own heart, but the tender one, the rose that possesses a quiet radiance of love and light, the fatal barb that is a gift to its victim:
That we may both outlive the hardfought days in isolation pulling weeds and chanting our vespers, dancing, barefoot steps in perfect cadence with distant drums. Not the long low beats of dead skin stretched taut over cedar frames, but a tonic pattern, an organic 'melody' to use our plain parlance.
The Plains are truly a nation of nations, a land where one flighty bird, should she stoop so low as to purchase a sensible working dress and brush her raven locks of dead leaves and ash, could dive right in wholly unnoticed by any beyond her immediate interest.
And I suspect strongly that you will find all Plainsmen quite beyond your passing interest. But you will change your lonely tune, my strange little lark. You will come to crave society, the company of your own kith and kin.
Are we not birds of one feather, Marahiel? What is birth but an accident? What do you even know of your own parents? Names? Tribes of origin? Living, dead or dying?
Shake of a head. Over 1000km to the south. Dry wind rustling coarse hair tied in flowing knots down her back. Pastel green dress, faded lavender pattern ghosting rays of light and muted color, caressing slender curves - ending mid-calf, accentuating taut muscles tuned by years of running, skin bared to the sun through fields resplendent with sun flower, cone, lily of the valley.
Gather yourself Rin! Close your mind in a lock box. Swallow the key and pass through the key hole.
I am awake. The trance was too tempting to throbbing joints and aching muscles. Does she understand how powerfully her suggestions shape my frame of mind? How the subtlest desire for sleep (never to mention her sister death) takes root in my waking mind? If so, let her think it a weakness, let her accept the truth she doubts lest she suspect the truth she fears.
Regardless of its source or numerous implications for future consideration, sleep was needed, and, at any rate, had not been immediately perilous to my continued existence. Not because I push my body far beyond reasonable limits, but because I needed that distance from corporeal concerns to finalize the plan.
The plan, the right and proper course, that was always father's lot. These circumstances call for more than my rank allows.
Messengers are many and trusted. Far fewer, though certainly more reliable are those sensitive enough for a more nuanced communication. The speed of a thought is sluggish and riddled with electrical interference traveling from flesh to flesh. But in the spaces in between. Not between synapses, but between spaces. Where speed has no frame of reference. Infinite velocity is indistinguishable from standing still. More pertinently, the background media of the cosmos, the infinite membrane of existence is mercifully free of interference. Would that these constants could remain constant in the wake of human interference. My greatest fear is possibility. I have seen a future that can not be allowed. That I have seen it confirms its possibility. I would end myself, erase my name indelibly from the book of life, without hesitation but for one fact.
One cold fact.