Hunting

Tamora Pierce/Immortals Fanfiction.

Blurb: Sarralyn cannot remember a time when she wasn't hiding from the mysterious man who hunts her mother. Sick of living the life of a coward, she runs away and tries to find out the truth, not knowing that her own deadly curse is hunting her down. D/N

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5. Chapter 5: Sarralyn

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Chapter 5

Sarralyn

 

Is it you, mama? What a strange feeling, to be running away from you! But perhaps it isn’t. I thought weeks ago, when I left, that the hunters would follow you and not me. You could spend your life hiding, but that was your life. You didn’t have to drag me into it. I always hated that life.

When I was seven I remember screaming at you for it. I’d made friends with another little girl. She meant so much to me in those two short weeks, although now I can’t even remember her name. She was a baker’s daughter. She seemed so happy, and every day she would let me go home with her and eat fresh bread with creamy new milk. She always ate with her grandma. I can’t remember the woman’s face, but she smelled of honey and dried apples and her hands were always covered in flour. I would go home to mama with white handprints on my dress and crumbs on my mouth, and being with mama would always seem greyer and colder by comparison.

For the first and last time in my life, I told someone my real name. I told the grandma that I was hiding with my mother, that we would have to leave soon, and that I hated hated hated it. The woman listened in silence, and then asked if I would let mama meet her. They disappeared into a room together, and when mama reappeared she looked serious and tired.

She explained that the grandma had offered to adopt me, which means to let live with her. She said that the grandma had a little granddaughter who had died in the winter, and that she missed her so much that she wanted another little girl to fill the gap in her life. I listened with my mouth hanging open, barely able to believe it. At last- a life in a house, like a normal girl! I could make friends, learn the names of all the people living there, and eat fresh bread every day!

Mama said, You must be a big girl and think carefully. She said, Sleep, and tomorrow tell me what you want to do. She said, Whatever you decide, I won’t be angry.

Sleep! Do you think I slept that night? I’m sorry to say I didn’t think carefully, or even at all. Instead, I daydreamed about bread and biscuits and sweet old ladies. I drifted off eventually, dreaming about the cream that you can skim so deliciously from the top of a jug of milk. But when I woke up in the morning I wasn’t happy, or thinking about bread. All I could see was one terrifying thought, which kept spinning around my mind like a spindle.

Mama is thinking about giving me away, I thought, feeling sick. I couldn’t imagine a life without mama. As lovely as any other life could be, it wasn’t my life. Mama had always been there. The smile in her grey eyes when she said good-morning to me was a part of my every-day. The shine had worn off the trophy life the grandma was offering me, and all I could think of was how much I’d miss mama if she left me here.

I reached over in the bed we shared and clung tightly to mama, not letting go even when she had woken up and sleepily hugged me back. We never spoke about adopt again.

Eight years later, mama, I still can’t believe that you seriously thought about giving me away. Even though I understand some of it, and the danger you wanted to keep me from, I still can’t think of a life without you in it. Which is strange, since in the end I was the one who left you.

Are you following me, now? I don’t know how Numair knows that I’m hunted. I don’t know if I’d prefer it to be you, or the hunters, on my trail. But... whichever one it is, I’m not going to run. I’m on the trail with the merchants, and it’s clear who I am and where I’m going. I’m not going to hide. Whether it’s you or the hunters, I’d rather stand and face the threat than run away again.

Do I feel safer, with Numair helping me? Hardly. He’s under no obligation to help me, and when we get to Corus he’ll probably disappear into the palace, and I’ll never see him again. We still speak awkwardly. True, we now respect each other... but he wouldn’t tell me how he knew I was being followed, and I wouldn’t tell him that he was right. I thought I was fine with lying to him, but it seems unfair. And there’s a warm, guilty feeling in my stomach when I think about that night. I was horrible to him, and blanked him out of my life, and instead of doing the same he quietly and secretly tried to protect me from the hunters.

Oh goddess, mama! What if you are following me? If he saw you, he might think you were a threat. Imagine if he attacked you!

Mama, don’t follow me. Don’t come to Corus.

I have to tell him about you. I have to, mama, or else if you follow me he could kill you in a heartbeat.

 

 

Daine

 

Other people skip up these steps. I take a pace forward, and feel sick.

No, not sick... cold. Like the dark shadows the stone statues cast are more than simple shade. Frightened, if I’m honest, but (as Sa would probably point out) I guess I’ve been frightened for so long that I can barely feel it any more. This feeling is just... cold. Each stair is not a step towards fate or destiny or anything stupid like that, they’re just stone slabs.

 Don’t get me wrong- I still burn incense on the gods days, but... but this is the first time I’ve stepped into a temple in years. If my prey hadn’t led me here, I would have stayed outside. Never mind that the relentless rain drums against the roof and makes the steps into a waterfall. Never mind that I have barely rested or eaten in two weeks. Temples make me uneasy. The hooded and cloaked men and women who intone their prayers in the corners could be anyone. I had heard of people hiding in temples, watching the worshippers. Of course, such a thing is appalling- to abuse the sacred ground of a temple! But I’m just saying that even the holy priests can be bribed. They can turn a blind eye, and be slightly too slow to summon the temple guards if the prey gets captured on the steps.

So. The temple.

It is called Temple of All Gods. This town is too small to have separate temples for each god, like Corus boasts. Instead, the enormous room has separate alcoves, each with their own statue and shrine. I have to admit it is ingenious; with the room a perfect circle, no one god is given greater or lesser favour.

The Mother Goddess has fresh flowers and jars of mead covering her feet. I forget why I am here for a split second and stared at the statue. Someone has left a tiny blanket at the mother’s feet, the soft wool embroidered with daisies and butterflies. It’s a common enough sight; when your baby is born safely, you leave a thank-you gift in return. Women who are unlucky with their pregnancies, or whose children are ill, can take one of the offerings as a charm against further worries.

I don’t know if I believe in any of that. It isn’t cynicism that sends another sick chill down my spine. You see, I recognise the blanket. I remembered placing it at the Mother’s feet in Corus, in our own united temple. We had decided to leave an offering at ma’s feet as well. She didn’t have her own temple then, so we went to the larger complex where minor gods were housed. I often wonder if things would have been different, if we had decided that I should leave an offering alone in the temple that only women were allowed to enter. Because... it was in that temple that the mage first saw me. It was the same temple where we were cursed, and the same temple where we had to flee for our lives.

No. I don’t like temples. They make me feel cold. And the blanket makes me freeze completely, because it means that my prey knows I am here, following him.

I blink and stare around, wondering how I could have missed him in this room full of pilgrims. After following him for so many years, I know his walk as well I knew my own. And... there! Suddenly, there he is. I stare at the brown robe he wears, see the smug smirk on his face, and realise why he’d left the blanket. It doesn’t matter that I know where he is, or that I was closing in on him. He is as well protected as any fortress, and there is no way I could ever confront him.

Because, wearing the soft grey robes of a pilgrim now, he is untouchable. The man who cursed me is a priest of the Hag, protected by the gods and by the law. Holy, respected, welcome wherever he goes... no wonder he has drifted ahead of me so easily for so many years!

I put my hand out. I had drawn a sharp breath when I saw him and held it too long in my shock, and the room spins dizzily. Don’t let me faint! Let them think I’m kneeling in prayer, not in weakness. I imagine the mocking delight on his face, and the room rights itself. I won’t be weak, not in front of him. Never! I glare up at him, but he has gone. There is no-one there. I breathe again, trying to get my confused thoughts to settle down so I can plan what to do next.

“Mistress, are you feeling well?”

I think I shock the poor man with how quickly my head snaps up. A grey robe- it’s him! But no, he takes a nervous step backwards. I can’t imagine my prey being nervous. It’s another priest. I think he’s unnerved by my staring; I can’t think of anything to say. He rubs his hands on his robe and tries again,

“I, er... well, we thought you looked ill and Sefan suggested I should enquire, seeing as how you’ve obviously walked a ways, mistress.”

I blink. Yes- I realise I’m covered in mud, and I probably look like some wild witch. I smile crookedly, and he smiles back in relief until he hears the honeyed barb in my question, “Sefan?”

“Err...er...” this time he wrings his hands together, “Well, the other priest I was co-conversing with, mistress.”

“You call him Sefan?” He looks blank. I sigh- of course they call him that, it’s probably his name by now. I stand up and brush off my skirt. I miss the boys clothes I used to wear, but I need to blend in. At least I look fairly respectable, I guess. I smile at the priest and hold out a hand, trying not to laugh when he stares at it in panic.

“My name’s Beth- Elizabeth, I mean.” A good start, looking like I don’t know my own name! It doesn’t feel right, lying to a priest... even one as nervous as this one. He takes my hand and bows awkwardly, which gives me time to think of my next sentence. “I’m a pilgrim. I want to be a priestess. Here. I mean, I want to train in this temple. Can I?”

I thought the question would make him even more nervous, but he straightens up at my words. Now he can retreat into the professional jargon he’s been trained in, I guess. “You want to be a priestess?” He repeats, quite obviously looking me up and down. At least I look like a pilgrim. I try a smile again, but this time he doesn’t smile back.

“Yes, I’ve walked here from my village. From... from Haroth.” I hope he’s never heard of it; I can’t remember the place. It’s far away enough that it would explain the mud, at least.

He shrugs and asks, “Which goddess, mistress, do you wish to serve?”

Goddess? I panic for a second, and then blurt out the first name in my head, “The Green Lady.”

He sighs and looks around, as if wishing another priest was here to say this. “You do realise, mistress, that this isn’t a light decision to make? If you are sworn to the goddess, you will have to answer to her in the immortal realms. Training is difficult, it’s hard work, and it’s for life. You can’t change your mind.”

I have to force myself to smile this time. The idea terrifies me- to be trapped like that! But it’s the only way I can think of to get close to Sefan. I have to confront him. I have to watch him. A priestess can drift from place to place just like a priest, as they are called to work for the gods. Perhaps, if I follow him closely enough, I’ll see him breaking the rules, or mocking the gods. Perhaps he’ll show his true nature. I can’t kill a priest, but I can destroy him.

Of course, he’ll do the same to me. He could easily slip away while I’m training, but something tells me he won’t. He’s always watched me. He told me he would- to see if I wrote a letter, or spoke to the wrong person, or even if I told Sarra the truth. I’m not stupid enough to think he could watch me constantly, but one slip up would be deadly. If he snaps his fingers, she’ll die.

The thought makes me decide, suddenly. I straighten up and this time my smile is genuine.

“I’m sure,” I say confidently, “I won’t change my mind.”

He smiles and beckons for me to follow him into the depths of the temple. I pick up the blanket before I follow him.

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