Screams wake Will from his dreams where they have blended waking and sleep. He does no know if he has dreamed ahead, or if the sounds had just crept familiar into one of his few innocent dreams and found themselves welcome and familiar. As among friends.
He moves, and the chains move with him. Hard cuffs at his chapped wrists, heavy bands at his ankles. They are longer than some he has endured before, but heavy. Will is slowed to a shuffle as he makes for the front of his tent. With both hands held together to keep the chill manacles from scraping his tender wrists, he brushes the flap of his tent aside.
There is chaos living without, soldiers stumbling half woken from their tents to fight what enemy has presented itself. Dark horses seat dark warriors, made bulky with furs against the frigid night. Where they go there is the sound of hooves, the flash of steel. The sounds of pain. Will cannot, standing as he is in the eye of the storm, see that many riders.
A small raid, at best. Perhaps twenty five men.
But they have come awake, aware on sleeping enemies. They have come ahorse and bring death. Will watches impassively, still. He knows enough of war and death to have learned the virtues of immobility. One that did not run did not catch the eye, did not draw the sword down upon his back.
He turns toward his lord's tent and sees the man stern faced in the entryway, fingers clenched in the oiled canvas flap that closes the tent, holding it aside. His lord senses Will's gaze on him, and turns, anger writ clear and decisive on his features.
Will had not forseen this.
He had not been asked to look.
If, perhaps, his dreams had hinted in the recent days, he had not been asked. Sometimes he dreamed of the far future, years before it mattered. If he had felt these dreams to be more imminent, he had not cared to share them. He has passed hand to hand, thusly, since the warlords had obliterated and enslaved his people. One more aspect of the countryside smashed like a flower beneath the heels of the many tribal armies.
His chains here are heavy. His heart is heavy. He has been used both more kindly and more cruelly in the past. None of it weighs on his decision to let death come to these Surdik - these southerners.
It was because they had never asked, but demanded only obedience. Because they did not listen. He could unsling the cords of fate, pull one from the twisted weaves to follow, if asked. But it was ever at flux, Fate. It was not a line that could not be broken.
His lord disappears within the tent. Will's heart is calm when the man reappears with the dagger. This, he had dreamed.
It is wicked steel, the blade a slithering shape like a snake, bright in the flickering light of the fires now adding color and chaos to the camp. The tents are burning. One of the horsemen holds aloft a torch, until Will sees an arrow take him. He feels nothing for the loss.
"You are a curse,' his lord shouts, loud over the sounds of the fighting. His knuckles are rounded white on the hilt of the bare dagger.
Will only smiles, displaying his chains.
"I am what you have made of me, my lord," he answers. He is ready.
In his dreams he felt peace when the dagger took him. He does not try to stop it. Will closes his eyes and lowers his chained hands, feeling the sting of the cold iron against his raw wrists.
It is this way that he mistakes the pounding of hooves, that he loses the sound beneath the rhythm of his heart. Then he can feel the bulk and brush of a heavy body passing near enough that the breeze touches his hair. Fate steps in the way of Will's death, riding a glossy bay horse with shining, sweated flanks. He can smell the heat and exertion of the animal, and when he looks up, all he can see of the rider is a fierce, bulky beast.
Thick fur covers the shoulders, and for a moment, Will cannot reconcile the image before his eyes as anything but a horned, black monster. A black creature with sweeping antlers spread wide in a crown.
Then the archer looses his shot and with the arrow flown, the image becomes clear. Just a man on a horse - the horns he had seen nothing more than the curved wings of a bow held high to take the shot.
His lord stands on the other side of the horse, and from his chest springs a black fletched arrow.
Will had dreamed once, of seeing the man laying open and slain with a flight of ravens pouring from his chest.
Here the vision springs alive, and he feels triumphant, having seen it through.
Will is laughing when the rider reaches down and seizes the chain between his wrists, wrapping the length around his own fist to jerk Will from his feet and into the air. He lifts him the whole of the way from the ground, seemingly effortless.
He has the image of deep, dark eyes hidden in the depths of the wolf-eared cloak the man wears. They are looking into Will's own, seeking the telltale luminescence, the brilliant blue that would make a liar of him if he tried to deny his gift of sight.
His legacy. His curse.
Will cannot hide, then. There is no smile of victory when he is recognized, but no doubt that he is. He has been sought. The warrior hoists him up over the front of his saddle.
"Ride," he says, though the voice is not cruel. It is a command. "Or be slung. Your choice, Seer."
Will rides, though the high front of the saddle bruises him beneath his ribs, though his body must sit twisted astride with his legs chained. The warrior holds him steady and still with little effort - strength, and a sure seat. A born horseman.
They do not stay in the camp, then. There is no reason. They have stolen what they sought, and cut the head from the snake.
His captor gives a sharp signal whistle. It echoes and calls, rider to rider, and then they run. Horsemen fall in around them, holding Will and his captor at their center.
He watches the camp at which he had lived for some few years now disappear behind them. He must cling to the heavy furs of his captor, leaning his shoulder into the man's chest. He can feel the rush of the man's warm breath on the nape of his neck, when he peers behind them over the furred shoulder. The wolf skin cloak smells of blood and smoke, and he digs his fingers into the long coarse fur and holds on. His bared skin numbs where the cold wind of their passage touches.
Without slowing, another rider eases alongside, taking Will from his captor in a transfer that leaves Will breathless. This horse is fresher, will not falter under the extra weight. They value the animals, then.
For him, the ride is slow agony. Though the countryside rushes past in a blur, the weight at his wrists and ankles rubs and chafes and the chains make a maddening sound.
A deep sadness wells up in him at the loss of his own death. He has dreamed that his only freedom, and there failed at every fork. Will twists cruelly between the fingers of fate.
They ride north.