“Clear enough. Go now!” The spice woman spoke harshly as a team and wagon rounded the corner, heading our way, and I resolved never to buy anything in her store.
“Don’t step out,” I warned him. “You’ll be crushed. Wait and I’ll walk across with you.”
“Well, aren’t you the interfering little snippet!” She bent forward at the waist to mock me. Her heavy breasts lunged at me like chained dogs. “Does your mother know you are running wild on the street and talking to dirty beggars?”
I wanted to say something clever back to her, but she turned back into her shop, calling, “Heny? Heny, that beggar is still blocking our door! See him off, as I asked you to do hours ago!”
The rumbling wagon had passed. “Come with me now,” I said. He smelled very bad. I didn’t want to touch him. But I knew that my father would not have left him there at the mercy of the spice woman. It was time for me to begin behaving as my father’s daughter. I took hold of his staff below his grip. “I’ll guide you,” I told him. “Step now. Come.”
It was a slow business. Even with both hands grasping his stick, he could barely stand. He took two little steps, hopped his stick forward, and took two more little steps. As I guided him out into the street and away from the door of the spice shop, I realized suddenly I did not know where to put him. There, he had been sheltered from the wind. To either side of us, the doors of the shops were busy with customers coming and going. Ahead of us was only the town commons. We hitched along slowly toward it. No one had returned to the place where the dog had died. Someone had taken her body away and the bull’s head, and as my father had asked, they had spread clean snow there, but the blood had soaked up through it. Pink snow, almost pretty, if one did not know what it was. I do not know why I guided him there, except that it was an open space. The canvas that had covered the bull’s head was on the ground under the tree. Perhaps he could sit on that.
I glanced back at the tavern door, knowing that if I did not return soon, my father or Riddle would come after me. Perhaps both of them.
Or perhaps neither. Shun was there and she was fully capable of keeping both of them occupied to the point at which they would forget about me. A nasty feeling smothered my heart. Jealousy. I finally named it for what it was. I was jealous.
It fueled my desire to help the blind beggar. I would not go back. They would have to come and find me, and when they did, they would see that I could be as brave and kind as my father. Helping a beggar that no one else would touch. A man by a tinker’s cart was staring at us in distaste. Plainly he wanted us to move farther away from him. I steeled my resolve and shifted my bag to settle firmly on my shoulder. “Give me your arm,” I said boldly. “I can help you walk better.”
He hesitated, knowing how disgusting he was. Then his weariness won. “You are too kind,” he said, almost sadly, and held out his stick of an arm. I took it. He lurched a little. I was shorter than he had expected. His dirty hand gripped my forearm.
The world wheeled around us. The sky rainbowed. There had been a fog, but it had been a fog I had looked through all my life. Now it parted, as if a wind of joy had torn through it. I looked in awe at a beauty that tore my heart wide open. All of them, the scowling tinker, the holly-crowned girl kissing a boy behind a tree, the inn cat under the porch, the old man bartering for a new felted hat, all of them burst forth in glorious colors I had never imagined existed. Their flaws were overcome by the potential for beauty in each of them. I made a small sound and the beggar sobbed aloud.
“I can see,” he cried out. “My sight has come back to me. I can see! Oh, my light, my sun, where have you come from? Where have you been?”
He gathered me to his breast and embraced me and I was glad of it. The beauty and the possibility of glory that blossomed all around me flowed from him through me. This, this was how it was supposed to be done. Not in tiny glimpses, not as unconnected dreams. Everywhere I looked, possibilities multiplied. It reminded me of the first time my father had lifted me to his shoulder and I suddenly realized how much farther he could see from his height. But now I saw, not just from a better vantage, not just to a distance, but to all times. It was comforting to be held safe at the middle of that swirling vortex. I did not fear as I allowed my sight to follow the myriad threads. One caught my attention. The kissing girl would marry that boy, crowned with orange blossoms, and bear him nine children at a farm in a valley. Or not. She might dally with him for a time, and marry another, but her memory of this moment would add sweetness to every pie she baked, and the love she had known would be shared with chickens and cats until she died, barren, at seventy-two. But no. They would run away together, this very night, and lie together in the forest, and the next day, on the road to Buckkeep, they would both die, he of an arrow wound and she would be raped and torn and cast aside to die in a ditch. And because of that, her older brothers would band together and become the Oaksby Guard. During the time of their patrols, they would take the lives of fifty-two highwaymen and save over six hundred travelers from pain and death. The numbers were plain. It was suddenly so very simple. All I had to do was give them a tiny nudge. If I smiled at them as they strolled the village green and told them, “You shine with love. Love should not wait. Run away tonight!” they would see me as a harbinger and take my advice. His pain would last but a moment, and hers only hours. Less time than she would spend struggling in childbirth for her first child. I had the power. I had the power and the choice. I could do so much good in the world. So much good. There were so many choices I could make for the good of the world. I would start with the holly-crowned girl.