Seer’s Promise

Book Two of The Seer Trilogy by Maree Anderson

Hope’s Sehani powers have finally grown strong enough to risk returning to Earth. Gods willing, she’ll find a way to rid her daughter of the soul-eater that possesses her, and convince Romana to return with her to Dayamaria.

Romana is captivated by the prospect of becoming a powerful Sehan like her mother. But her dreams are shattered when everything she’d hoped for is bestowed upon someone who couldn’t care less about wielding Sehani magic. Romana craves power with every fiber of her being… and when she finds a way to take what she wants the cost is devastating for gods and humankind alike.

Other books in The Seer Trilogy

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Genre: Fantasy (with romantic elements)
Format: eBook
Length: Novel, approx 106,000 words
Price: US $5.99 (or US$ equivalent)
Publisher: Maree Anderson
Published: March 2013
ISBN:
Amazon ASIN:
978-0-9922498-2-3
B00CCZ1ERO

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Praise for The Seer Trilogy:

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“Great story—I *loved* it. Loved the humor throughout the book. Would *really* like to read the rest of the Dayamari Seers series! Great work!”

“A definite must-read. Can’t explain except it was excellent. Yeh yeh yeh!”

“Bring on the next book (can’t wait). P.S. Husband liked it as well.”

“A compelling read and a great world.”

“Excellent—I really enjoyed this. Great characters. I loved the humor (loved Marc especially) and especially loved the touches of humor that came in the midst of pain, suffering and horror, which you also make very real.”

“I really loved this story. Stayed up most of the night reading, couldn’t put it down.”

“When this series is published in print I want all my copies autographed please. This is one of the best I have read in a long time. Where’s Book 3 to the series? This is even better than the first one.”

“Please, please let me read Book Three! Loved Book One—wondered if I would get the opportunity to read Book Two. Keep it coming!”

“A compelling, fabulous series.”

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Artwork

Cover design by Rob Anderson
(Click on the image to see the full-size cover.)

Seer’s Promise


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The Seer Trilogy

 

Seer's Hope Seer's Promise Seer's Choice

 

Read an excerpt from Seer’s Promise

By Maree Anderson

 

Prologue

It’s happening again. She clenches her teeth until her jaw aches, tenses her muscles to hold her body rigid. She’s desperate to keep it locked inside her. Desperate not to speak the vicious words that spew from her lips when it takes control of her. Because her greatest fear is that one day—maybe today—even her guardian will turn away in disgust. And then she’ll be alone.

She can feel its terrible glee boiling inside her. It’s winning. It wants her to know that—wants her to despair. Stubbornly she holds on.

Sweat oozes from her pores, plastering the flimsy cotton nightdress against her skin. Fury and hatred seethe in her veins, infecting her body with every frantic pump of her heart. She smothers these emotions as best she can. Hatred feeds it. Anger makes it stronger. And fear? It enjoys fear most of all.

A sharp, unexpected pain blooms, and its cruel laughter echoes in her skull.

Moisture worms down her chin. She’s bitten through her lip. She licks the blood, tasting it. Savoring it. Delicious. So warm and sweet and—

These aren’t her thoughts.

Horror skims her skin. She snatches a breath and rallies for one last effort. And as her spine bows and her legs flail on the mattress, inch by inch her hand moves upward toward the pillows.

An age later her fingertips brush the cool smoothness of a crystal sphere. It’s her most precious possession. Her guardian believes it’s a gift from the mother who abandoned her so long ago. And God, how she wants—needs—to believe that.

Her fingers curl about the crystal. Clinging to hope that this will work, that she hasn’t imagined what she saw, she begins the slow, painful journey to extract the sphere from its hiding place.

Almost there. She peels open eyelids that are unimaginably heavy, and it takes a mammoth effort to angle her head until she can see the glint of the crystal in the periphery of her vision. Her hand jerks half an inch across the coverlet, brushing a lighter patch in the nap of the plush velvet. Just a little more….

It knows she’s fighting. It has been toying with her, waiting for the perfect moment to snatch away all hope. That moment is now, and abruptly she can no longer move her limbs. Everything is frozen except her eyes. She longs to blink but if she does it will have her. She refuses to give up and—

A tiny victory. Her gaze is now focused on the crystal and as it warms slightly in her lifeless hand she dares to hope.

A fuzzy picture forms in her mind. Thank you, God. She hadn’t imagined it. This time she can make out a group of oddly garbed people posing as though for a camera. The woman at the center of the group is pregnant. Familiar.

The image begins to fade. No! Not yet. She concentrates fiercely, willing it to form again, and when it re-forms time the image in her mind is perfectly clear. Exultant, she stares at the woman’s face, memorizing her features. It is her—the same woman in the old photos. And the man standing next to her, holding her hand, must be—

Her father’s voice whispers in her mind. Goodbye, little one. Your mother and I will always love you, even if we’re a world away. Remember me, Romana. Please, remember me.

The love she hears in his voice enfolds her, cocooning her in its power. Protecting her. And when she becomes conscious of the world around her again the monster inside her has subsided.

She can feel it lurking inside her, awaiting its chance, but for now she basks in the warm, heady glow of triumph. This time she is the victor, not the slave.

~~~

Chapter One

The most powerful woman in Dayamaria stood atop a lushly grassed knoll at the outskirts of the Fourth Settlement, gazing down at the grave marker. The grass rippled in the strong breeze but her unbound hair remained still, untouched by the elements. She was not wholly physical in this place. She was here, and yet not.

She didn’t mourn her inability to see the marker in the physical sense. In her mind’s eye she saw it as vividly and clearly as any sighted person. She’d made it herself. Selected the stone, smoothed it with her Sehani powers, buffed it until it shone brightly as any gemstone. And she’d used those same powers to carve words that she hoped captured the essence of the man who’d mentored her, adopted her as his daughter. Died for her.

Dayamar lies here,
Beloved father and friend,
First Sehan and Spiritual Leader of his people.
We hold him forever in our hearts.
His sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Shaping her blood-father’s grave maker had been a labor of love and grief and loss—a catharsis. Even using Sehani magic the task had taken an entire night to complete. The tradespeople of the Fourth Settlement would willingly have performed this small service for her, but this task had been hers and hers alone. She’d failed to prevent Dayamar’s death. She’d wanted—needed—to provide a fitting memorial of his life.

At first she’d believed she was belittling his memory by using a Sehan’s abilities instead of a tradesperson’s honest tools, but in this instance her blindness had been a true handicap. And midway through that long night she’d come to understand her Sehani powers were as much the tools of her trade as the hammers, chisels and rasps wielded by a Master Carver. Dayamar had foreseen she would save his people. He’d risked his life to travel across worlds and bring her to Dayamaria. That she would use the Sehani powers he’d unlocked to carve his grave marker was a fitting tribute.

From nothingness she conjured a sprig of lavendula, his favorite flower. The delicate scent wafted on the breeze, perfuming the air. She wrapped the offering in pure power, ensuring a longevity far beyond any that Nature could bestow. She placed it by the grave marker, where it would live until the power infusing it finally waned and it withered and died… as all things did eventually.

“I love you, Father.” As she murmured the words it seemed as though his spirit enfolded her, and for a brief moment she was comforted before a familiar anguish clawed her soul. If Dayamar had lived perhaps—

She thrust the thought aside. The world of “what ifs” was a sure path to madness. She’d fulfilled the destiny Dayamar had foreseen. She’d done everything that had been asked of her, and more. She’d sacrificed her daughter to save her adopted people. No one could fault her.

No one save herself.

Her Sight took wing, drawn across worlds to witness her daughter’s struggle. And what she Saw nearly broke her spirit anew. Tears, plump with bitterness and guilt, dripped onto the grave marker and were slowly absorbed by the stone.

~~~

Blayne knew better than to disturb Hope during a Seeing but he defied any man to stand by and watch such soul-deep pain twisting the features of the woman he loved.

A moment’s indecision with his hand outstretched—

Gods. He couldn’t bear to see her like this. And, as he’d hoped, the gentle pressure of his hand on her shoulder brought her back to her physical self. With luck there’d be no backlash headache to blame him for. “Are you all right, dearling?” he asked. “You were miles away.”

Her golden eyes blazed in the flickering firelight. Sehani eyes. All-seeing. All-knowing. Discomfiting even for those who knew her intimately and loved her, as he did.

“A Seeing,” she said, brushing off the ability the see past and future events with a light gesture as though it were of little consequence.

“Of her?” He phrased it as a question despite knowing the truth. And wondered whether she would lie to him.

She seemed to hunch in on herself, all poise and confidence banished. “I can’t help it,” she said.

He compressed his lips. If their firstborn had died it would have been easier to bear. Then he could have mourned her, eventually learned to live with her death—moved forward. Instead, Romana’s fate was a canker that ate at his soul. The Sehani abilities that allowed Hope to keep watch over their daughter and report her progress were both a blessing and a curse. It comforted him to know Romana was cared for by a woman who loved her like a daughter. But there was no comfort to be had in knowing the true extent of her suffering.

Blayne was Panakeya, First among healers, and yet he was powerless to heal his own daughter. Just as he’d been powerless to prevent Hope from taking matters into her own hands and sending their baby girl to another world. He hated being powerless.

He guided Hope to a cushion and sat next to her, tucking her beneath his arm as he settled. “What did you See this time?” The words were ripped from his throat. He, too, couldn’t help himself. He had to know.

“The struggle for dominance still takes a physical toll but I sense she’s reached a turning point. Something’s going to happen soon. Something life-changing.” She gripped the kuruvinda pendant nestled between her breasts—his gift when they’d Promised to each other. Her knuckles whitened as she worried the blood-red stone.

“Do you think I’m imagining things?” she asked, sensing his disquiet.

“No. I feel it too.” He paused, ordering his thoughts. “Her strength of will is astounding but her physical health worries me greatly. I believe that thing feeds on her physical body, too. If only she’d stayed with us—”

“I had no choice but to send her back to my world.” Her tone was cold and sharp enough to cut to the bone.

Gods. He hadn’t meant to voice that last thought.

“What else did you expect me to do?” she said. “Kill her? My own daughter?” She pushed him away and rose to her feet, staring down at him in that unnerving way she had. When she was relying only on her physical senses her gaze wasn’t as focused, and observant strangers quickly realized she was blind. But when she was using her seer-senses—as now—she gazed directly at your face like a sighted person would do, but somehow drilled deeper, as though she gazed into your soul.

“I know you hate me for making that choice.” She sounded so weary it wrenched his heart. “And I have to live with that. But it was the only way to give her a fighting chance.”

He surged to his feet to grasp her forearms. “I don’t hate you. Sending her away was the only thing you could have done.” A lie, but she had enough of a burden to bear and he couldn’t hurt her further by revealing his true feelings. His doubts, his anger and guilt, the blame he laid at her feet—and his own—were better left buried.

He watched the expressions flitting across her face, saw the exact moment she chose to accept his lie. He didn’t allow himself to show or even feel relief. Years of living with a Sehan had taught him to hide his deepest thoughts and school his every reaction. He released her to brush a stray lock of hair back from her temples.

She nuzzled his hand with her cheek and sighed. “I wish I could help her. I wish I could travel there and use my Sehani powers to cure her. Imagine how everyone would react if her supposed mental illness vanished. In my home-world they’d call it a miracle.” She chuckled, her dark mood lightening.

Despite the darkness of his own thoughts a smile curved his lips. “I can only imagine the havoc you’d wreak if you took a trip to your world and—” A frown pleated his brows as he noted the disturbing glint in her eyes. “Kunnandi’s fickle fangs. Tell me you’re not seriously thinking about taking such a risk.”

“I—”

A blood-curdling howl came from the sleeping quarters. “Mommy? Mommy! Daddy!”

Blayne launched himself toward his sons’ room. He pushed past the privacy drape and a small figure tackled him about the knees.

“You’re safe, Ryley,” he told his distraught five-year-old son. “There’s nothing to be frightened about. See? Mommy’s here, too.” He lifted the little boy into his arms and cuddled him tight, tousling the sweat-dampened curls and rubbing soothing circles on his back.

Ryley wound his arms around Blayne’s and held on tight until his sobs eventually morphed to occasional hiccups.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong, Ryley?”

“B-bad dream.” He sniffled and buried his face in Blayne’s tunic.

“Tell me?” Blayne wheedled.

“No. Don’t wanna.”

“Hope?”

She understood what he was asking and gave him a quick nod. Any moral issues she had about probing a person’s thoughts were shoved aside when it came to discovering what had scared their son. She held out her arms. “Ryley? How about a cuddle for your mommy? After that loud noise you made, I’m a bit scared, too.”

Blayne handed Ryley to her and she pretended to stagger under his weight. “Oof! You’re getting heavy, my son. Have you been eating too many of Aunty Maya’s yummy cakes?”

“No. I dreamed of my sister again. She has a shiny ball thingy and she sees stuff in it. She’s been sick again, too.”

Hope’s heart ached for him. Poor little soul. If some of what she’d Seen Romana suffering had leaked into his consciousness it was little wonder he was having nightmares. “Thanks for telling us. We’re watching over her. Are you still scared, Ryley?”

“No, Mommy.”

“Good.” She hugged him and worked her subtle magic.

Ryley yawned and after a few moments his eyelids drooped.

“Off to sleep now.” She tucked him into his bed while Blayne checked on his twin.

Blayne patted her arm to catch her attention. “He’s fast asleep—oblivious. Can you See anything?” he whispered.

She surface-probed Aryn’s mind and uncovered only sleepy dreams typical of any five-year-old boy. Imaginings of brave deeds and bold adventures… and the latest devious plan to con their aunt out of another cake. She smiled as she bent to kiss his forehead. And wrinkled her nose at his earthy smell—evidence that Aryn hadn’t been too particular about washing off all the dirt before bed.

Her boys were peas in a pod to look at, both sturdy with curly brown hair, freckled faces and the usual dark brown eyes of the Dayamari people. But in personality they were as different as two brothers born of the same parents could possibly be.

Aryn was boisterous, mischievous, bluntly outspoken, a magnet for trouble, and always dirty despite the best efforts of his longsuffering child-minders. Blayne was forever anointing him with salves to ease cuts, bruises and bumps. Not to mention apologizing for the latest prank Aryn had pulled on some unsuspecting member of the First Settlement.

Ryley was quiet, introverted and innately cautious. He seemed content to trail after Aryn and fall in with his schemes—and, when they were inevitably caught red-handed, let his brother do the talking.

“Ryley’s asleep, too,” Blayne murmured.

“I’m worried, Blayne. He’s too strong for his own good. He’s already learned how to erect a barrier to keep his thoughts private. I’ll have to speak to Chryss about increasing the strength of the protective weaving. He’s far too young to cope with full Sehani powers. If we can just protect him for a few more years….”

Blayne squeezed her hand. “Chryss will think of something. He always does.” He tugged her back to the hearth and she sank onto a cushion while he served their evening meal.

She sniffed the contents of the bowl he handed her and took a taste. Mmm. Mouthwatering, as usual. He’d finally made a decent cook of her but more often than not he prepared the main meal every night. He’d told her as far back as he could remember he’d loved cooking. She figured his skill stemmed in part from his knowledge of the herbs he also used for healing.

He was silent while they finished their meal. She sensed something was bothering him but didn’t probe his thoughts. Knowledge wasn’t always power. Sometimes knowing another person’s secrets only made you miserable and left you wishing you’d remained blissfully ignorant. But the silence closed in and the things he refused to reveal shrouded the air, and finally she could bear it no longer. Best to sort this out now, or she’d face a sleepless night of worrying about him as well as Romana and Ryley.

“What’s wrong, Blayne? I know you’re angry about something—it’s leaking out despite your efforts to hide it. Please tell me.”

“Do you ever regret having children?”

Gods. She hadn’t expected this. It was all she could do to keep the shock from her face and let him finish.

“You were infertile before you came here. We’d both accepted we would never be parents. Sometimes I wish—”

“I know,” she said. “I wish it, too.”

How could she make this right? He wasn’t to blame. It was her fault—all of it. If she’d been stronger she might have been able to save Dayamar, and the sixth soul-eater wouldn’t have escaped. If she’d been stronger, she might have been able to extract the monster from Romana, and wouldn’t have been forced to send their daughter away. “I’m a Sehan who’s supposed to be able to see the future but even I didn’t See we’d have to give up our daughter. Nor did Dayamar.” She had to believe that last was true. The alternative was too awful to consider.

“I know.” He sounded as desolate as she felt. Knowing, accepting the logic, didn’t make what had happened any easier to bear.

She braced herself to continue. “If the spore hadn’t cured my infertility when it transformed me Romana wouldn’t have been born and she wouldn’t be suffering right now. If this, if that. If, if, if! But as Wisa told you a very long time ago, it was written in the stars we would have a child. There was nothing we could have done to stop it. There’s a reason things happened the way they did—I just can’t See it yet.” She reached for his hand in mute apology for her harsh words. “And tangled with all that is the reason your herbal concoction suddenly failed and I became pregnant with the twins.”

“You’re right. Our sons are gifts from the gods—both of them.”

She felt the same way now. But once it had been a different story.

She hadn’t wanted to risk having another baby. And, after more than a decade of successfully preventing conception thanks to the efficacy of Blayne’s herbs, it’d been an unwelcome shock to discover she was pregnant again… and even more of a shock when she’d used her Sehani powers to scry the fetus and discovered she was carrying twins. Fear had gnawed at her soul until she’d barely been able to glance at an infant without feeling physically ill.

After birthing the twins she’d tried her best to distance herself from the babies, determined not to bond with them—terrified that, like their sister, something would be terribly wrong with them and she’d have to give them up. She even refused to name them. But they’d won her over in the end. Degan, their simple-minded housekeeper, had seen to that.

He had turned up one morning to do his chores and discovered both infants wailing, and Hope cowering in the sleeping room. He’d scooped up one baby and dumped him in Hope’s arms without a by-your-leave, before turning his attention to soothing the other. She vividly remembered her panic, the way she’d sat there, unable to move or speak. And how the infant had stopped crying the instant he had been placed in her arms.

“See, Sehan Hope?” Degan had said. “That baby has stopped crying now. He just wanted you to hold him and be a proper mother. Now all these babies need are names and you’ll all be a real family again. What are you going to call the baby you’re holding?”

She had stroked the infant’s downy head—it’d been Ryley—and the pain of losing her first child had gushed from her in a torrent. When she’d cried herself out she mind-spoke Blayne, and the instant he’d arrived they’d named their sons with Degan as witness.

The years had passed, and she hadn’t foreseen any future disasters affecting her sons. She’d banished her fears to the inner recesses of her heart. She’d believed Blayne had done the same. Until now.

The pride in his voice had been obvious, but there was something else there, too. She probed his aureya with her seer-senses. Amidst the predominantly cool green tones signifying a talented healer with a strong affinity for nature she noted vivid orange swirls. Ah. “Don’t be afraid for them, Blayne. Our sons will fulfill their destinies. This I have Seen.”

She couldn’t tell him anything else—Seeings involving the boys were always hazy, ephemeral things. Thankfully, he didn’t ask. But there was something new she could tell him about Romana—something that might give him hope. “She’s discovered the secret of the picture globe. She recognized me from some old family pictures. And she knows what you look like now, too. I Saw it in her mind.”

He huffed a long, soft breath. “I’m glad.”

“Me, too. But I can’t let her live like that anymore. She doesn’t know it yet but she has choices—risky ones. I’m going to let her choose, Blayne. I think I’m strong enough now, but even if I’m not, I’ll find a way. I have to—I made a promise.”

“I know.”

~~~

Her sons woke bright and early the next morning. As usual, they tiptoed into their parents’ room hoping to catch them still asleep. Hope had never been a morning person, and to make matters worse she’d spent a restless night, her busy mind flitting from one plan to the next until finally, in the wee small hours, fatigue dragged her into sleep. With any luck the boys would tiptoe back out and let her sleep a little longer.

No such luck.

Aryn immediately discovered his father was only feigning sleep. Crowing with delight, he pounced on Blayne and the two began a wrestling match. Ryley, thankfully, was content to crawl in next to Hope for a cuddle. She groaned at the ruckus, fended off a stray elbow, and yanked the blankets over both their heads.

The tussle between father and son lasted a few more minutes and then Blayne flung back the covers and climbed off the sleeping platform to throw on some clothes. “Let’s leave your mother to sleep in a while longer and rustle up some breakfast. Anybody hungry?”

“Me!” Aryn yelled. “Coming, Ryley?”

“In a little bit.”

He’d always been an unusually patient child. He waited ’til he heard his brother coaxing Blayne to add more dried fruit to the porridge pot before speaking. “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetling?” She suppressed a yawn. “What’s upsetting you?”

“How d’you know I’m upset?”

“I just know. What’s wrong, Ryley? You can tell me anything, you know.”

He heaved a dramatic sigh. “You could read my mind any time you want, so how come I need to tell you?”

“Yes, I could just read your mind. But it’s not polite to do that. So I don’t. Or at least, I only do it sometimes. When it’s really important.”

“Oh.” He silently absorbed the lesson in Sehani etiquette. “You’re going to leave and go to Romana’s world, aren’t you?”

She briefly considered lying. But she couldn’t—not about this, not to the ones she loved. She cuddled him and pressed a kiss to his brow. “Yes, I’m going to leave you. But only for a little while. I have to try and help your sister because she’s not well. And maybe she’ll come back with me to live with us. Would you like that?”

“It might be nice to have an older sister.”

She smiled at his solemn tone.

“But who will we stay with while you’re gone? Aunty Maya and Uncle Cayl?”

She frowned. “Why would you need to stay with anyone? Daddy will look after you both while I’m gone.”

“No he won’t,” Ryley said.

A frisson skated down her spine. Had he Seen that something going to happen to Blayne. Gods, please no.

She kept her voice light. “Whatever makes you think that?”

“Because he’ll be with you. Daddy won’t let you go alone. You won’t be able to stop him going with you.”

She flinched at his matter-of-fact tone.

“I’m hungry.” He wriggled from her embrace and wandered out to the cooking hearth, leaving her cringing at how naïve she’d been. No matter how perilous the journey, Blayne would never allow her to leave him behind. Not when this might be his only chance to see his daughter again.

~~~

Hope had finished dispensing spiritual guidance—also known as plain common-sense—to those who thought they needed it. She was headed for home and deep in thought when a man cleared his throat.

“My apologies,” she said, trying to hide her shock that she hadn’t sensed anyone approaching. “I was a little distracted. What can I help you with?”

“It’s more how I can help you,” a familiar voice boomed.

“Chryss!” She threw herself at him, and he swept her into a bone-crushing hug that left her feet dangling, and bussed her on both cheeks before setting her down.

“Long time, no see.”

Four months of “no see” to be precise. “What brings you here, Chryss?”

He linked an arm through hers. “Walk with me, girl. I have an inkling of your plans and before you try anything rash we have things to discuss.”

Ah. She’d wondered whether he’d figure it out. The huge blond man wasn’t a Sehan but he knew far more about Sehani than anyone she’d met save perhaps Dayamar. And he had powers of his own. One day she would ferret out his secrets. “We do need to talk,” she said. “But before we get into any of that—”

“Yes. Do tell me about those rascally boys of yours. Giving you trouble again?” The deep affection he held for Ryley and Aryn was evident in his voice.

“Of course. That’s what sons are for, I’m reliably informed. Aryn is the same as ever—a disgustingly normal five-year-old boy. It’s Ryley I’m worried about.”

She heard a scritching sound, and guessed Chryss was scratching his chin. “He’s breaking through the protective weaving again,” he said.

“I hope it’s not a sign his transformation is imminent.” Sweet Wisa, not yet. Please give my baby a few more years to enjoy being a normal little boy. Please!

“Calm yourself, girl. What is written, will be. Can’t change that. Wouldn’t want to either, for that matter. Only opens a sack of worms. The boy is destined to become a Sehan and if he’s beating back our best efforts to delay it then he’s obviously ready now—whether we like it or not.” Chryss paused, and she sensed him observing her closely. “You can’t protect him forever, Hope. No one can.”

She barely registered his rare use of her given name instead of the “girl” he usually favored. “But he’s only five years old. He’s just a little boy. Becoming Sehani was ghastly for me. The pain was unbearable. How can I stand by and watch my son go through that?” She scrubbed the tears from her face with her palms, humiliated by her loss of self-control.

He squeezed her shoulder. “Hush, now. Tears won’t help. And we can’t have our people seeing their First Sehan weeping uncontrollably.” His voice took on a pompous air, in an uncanny mimicry of First Elder Fillip. “It’s not seemly to show weakness. Come inside and blow your nose before someone sees you.”

He dragged her through a doorway. “Hola!” he called to someone. “We’re here.”

“I’ve been expecting you,” came the brisk, no-nonsense response. “I’ve brewed tea already and there’s cake. Sit down, sit down! Oh dear. I hoped you were wrong when you told me how upset she’d be, Chryss.”

“Maya? How did you—? Oh, never mind.” Hope sniffed and managed a semblance of a smile.

Chryss pushed her down onto a cushion and allowed Maya to take over.

Hope’s blood-sister doled out huge slices of cake with the hot drinks, earning Chryss’s hearty compliments. Only when she’d served her guests to her satisfaction did she ask, “Now, what’s all this about?”

She sighed. “The usual, Maya. I’m fretting about Ryley. He’s getting too strong and I’m afraid the Sehani transformation will take him soon. But he’s so young… really just a baby.” Despite her resolve to control her emotions her voice trembled and tears threatened again.

“Well, he’s certainly young for it.” Maya hesitated, and Hope guessed she was choosing her words carefully. “But he is incredibly strong—even I can sense that and I only have a smidgeon of Sehani ancestry in my veins. And you know he survives it, Hope. You’ve Seen him grown, remember?”

“I know. But it’s one thing to See that he makes it through the transformation, and quite another to stand by and watch a child—my child—suffer what I went through.” She bit her lip, keeping the rest of the words locked inside her for fear of hurting Maya. Maya’s sister Katya had been a Sehan. And as if Katya’s transformation hadn’t been traumatic enough, her powers had eventually turned inward and killed her.

“But you weren’t Dayamari, Hope,” Maya said. “Of course it was worse for you. Ryley will have an easier time of it because of Blayne’s bloodline. And besides, you’ve protected him for five years. He’s not a baby anymore.”

Ryley and Aryn would always be her babies, and to her mind a five-year-old deserved far more coddling than the Dayamari routinely offered their offspring. But she desperately craved reassurance. “Do you really think so?”

“I know so.” Maya sounded adamant. “And there’s more to that little boy than meets the eye. I see them most days at the center and I believe Ryley’s just as determined as Aryn in his way.”

Hope crinkled her brows. “How come you’re not at the child-minding center today? Who’s in charge?” It was highly unusual for Maya to take time off like this. Cayl usually had to threaten to make her eat his cooking for a week to get her to take some personal time.

“Merryn’s recently moved into the dormayres and she’s been begging for the opportunity to take on more responsibility. So when someone convinced me to take the afternoon off, how could I refuse?”

Hope extended her seer-sense toward the center, and scanned the aureyas of all the adults present until she found Maya’s teenage daughter. Merryn’s colors were vibrant and her surface thoughts pulsated with barely concealed mirth. She winced. “I think Aryn’s pulled one of his pranks. I hope he doesn’t run her ragged.”

“She’ll cope. And if she doesn’t it only means she needs a bit more coaching from me on how to handle mischievous five-year-olds.”

Before Hope could respond Chryss heaved a contented sigh. “Wonderful cake, Maya—best I’ve tasted from you yet. Feeling better now, girl?”

For once she didn’t bother to hide her exasperation. “I’m almost forty, for Wisa’s sake. I’m hardly a girl.”

“You’ll always seem like one compared to me, girl.”

Maya giggled at the expression on Hope’s face. She knew Chryss had won that round and she didn’t like it a bit. But for all that he appeared to be in the prime of his life, Chryss exuded a sense of great age. He could be as old as the hills. Older, even.

“Besides,” Chryss said, “the first time we met you were a girl. And so far as I can see you haven’t changed a bit.”

Maya scrutinized Hope’s face, intrigued by Chryss’s comment. When one saw a person every day, often one didn’t note the changes unless it was pointed out. Or in this case, the non-changes. Her years rested lightly on the most powerful Seer in Dayamari history. Maya couldn’t spot a single strand of gray in Hope’s thick, reddish-brown hair. And especially now, with her nose slightly reddened from crying and her face blotchy from tears, she looked like a young woman in her early twenties.

“What nonsense!” the object of their scrutiny declared, burying her nose in her mug.

Maya considered her own gray hairs, luckily not too noticeable yet amongst the blonde. She threw Chryss a sardonic look that provoked a grin from the big man. And then he sniffed, his nostrils flaring.

“What’s that you’re drinking, girl? Doesn’t smell like tea.”

“It’s not,” Hope told him. “It’s the closest thing to coffee I can get in this world. Would you like to try some? I prefer it unadulterated but you may want to add some sweetener.”

He shrugged and taking that as an affirmative, Maya replaced his tea with a mug of the dark brew. She watched him take a tentative sip and hid a smile when he grimaced at the bitterness. But instead of requesting sweetener as she’d expected, he ventured another sip. And another.

“Excellent,” he finally pronounced. “Definitely an acquired taste, though. What is it?”

“Blayne discovered cichoria, which is a wild endive, has similar properties to plant back on my world called chicory root,” Hope explained. “I could only give him sketchy details of how it was used, so he spent the next few months experimenting before he decided to try kiln-drying the sliced roots, roasting them, and grinding them. To get this final brew the grounds are infused through a fine cloth.”

“Cichoria, eh?” Maya could tell from his tone Chryss was impressed. And it took a lot to impress the big man.

“During his experiments Blayne also discovered the root has some healing properties,” Hope was saying. “Evidently it’s useful as a heart tonic, a diuretic, and even a mild laxative.”

“Smart man that Blayne,” Chryss said.

“Yes, he is.”

“And he’s devoted to you, Hope.” Maya paused for effect. “So devoted, he won’t let you go alone on that journey you have planned—not that I blame him.”

She choked on her mouthful of cichoria. “Shikari’s hairy paws, how do you know what I’ve got planned, Maya? I only started thinking seriously about it last night. Are you sure you’re not secretly a Sehan?”

“Definitely not, thank the gods. But Sehan or otherwise, I can still receive divine messages.”

“Who—?”

“Wisa. She wanted to check if I had any objections to her looking after Ryley and Aryn. Of course I told her I didn’t mind at all—maybe those two scamps won’t get into so much mischief if they’re being minded by a goddess.” Especially if she can grow another set of eyes in the back of her head.

Hope’s eyes widened and she muttered something that sounded suspiciously like an order for her head to cease spinning. “I suppose Wisa told you where I was going, and why, too. Am I not allowed any secrets?”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Maya said. “And don’t be like that. You should be grateful to have so many people looking out for you. Isn’t that right, Chryss?” She gave him her best frown to let him know he was expected to back her up. Or else.

“That’s right, Maya,” Chryss said, his tone so neutral that she slanted him a quick glance from beneath her lashes to check whether he was poking fun at her. Lucky for him his expression revealed nothing but the bliss of a man savoring a hot beverage.

Hope sighed and rubbed her temples. “Sorry to sound so grouchy and ungrateful. I didn’t get much sleep last night for worrying. So I guess you’ve been told that Blayne and I will attempt to cross the barrier between worlds to reach Romana. And if we succeed, we’ll try and bring her back to Dayamaria. Does that about sum it up?”

“Yep. That’s what Wisa told me.” Maya tried very hard not to sound too smug.

“One more thing, girl,” Chryss rumbled. “I’ll be going with you.”

Hope’s eyes turned so owl-like with shock Maya almost laughed. “You? Why?”

“I have my reasons.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what they are,” Hope said in a blatantly wheedling tone that Maya could have told her wasn’t going to work on Chryss.

“No,” he said. “And you know better than to try and coax them out of me.”

“Yes, I do. Trying to change your mind is like trying to wring blood out of a stone.”

“Good,” Maya said brightly. “It’s all arranged.”

The sudden panic flitting across Hope’s face made her stomach knot in sympathy.

“No, it’s not all arranged,” she said before Maya could think of anything to say that might reassure her. “How can I leave Ryley now? What if the Sehani transformation takes him while I’m away?”

Maya leaned over to pat her hand. “Wisa will be there for him. Ryley won’t be able to poke holes in a weaving constructed by a goddess. And Wisa hinted she’d have some friends along to help her look after the boys. She’s arriving tomorrow.”

“That doesn’t give me much time to prepare at all.” Hope’s brow furrowed and she chewed her thumbnail. “I suppose I’d better tell Blayne—”

“He already knows,” Chryss said, his tone bland.

Maya waited for her blood-sister to explode and rail against the liberties they were taking. To her surprise, Hope only sighed. “Thank you for telling him,” she said. “Doubtless I’ll get a talking to tonight, though. He won’t be pleased this has been arranged without his input.”

“Actually,” Chryss said, “it was Blayne who called me to the settlement. This morning. He already knew what you were planning.”

Hope gaped at him.

“You’re both very close, girl. Doesn’t surprise me in the least he can access your thoughts when you’re in a highly emotional state.”

Maya watched Chryss’s eyes narrow with a speculative gleam as he tugged on his beard, and tried not to grin. She’d bet her best cooking pot that one of these days Chryss would corner Blayne for a long chat. And she’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

“So, the day after tomorrow, then,” Hope was saying.

She appeared far more relaxed now. And no wonder. Wisa would protect Ryley from Sehani transformation and divert Aryn from his habit of jumping feet first into trouble. And with Chryss and Blayne going along to help with Romana’s problems, there was really nothing for her to be concerned about.

“As you two are such experienced problem-solvers,” Hope said in a too-bright tone, “here’s one for you. Exactly how am I going to transport two extra people along with me to my home-world? I have to admit I haven’t the faintest clue.”

Maya’s jaw sagged. She darted a gaze at Chryss… and wasn’t at all reassured to glimpse the same dismay mirrored on his face.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seer’s Promise by Maree Anderson

© Copyright 2013,  Maree Anderson

www.mareeanderson.com/books/seers-promise

www.seerspromise.com

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