By that evening, Telbarisk had moved past his extreme flashes in temperature and was now fitfully sleeping with a fever. He jerked every so often, murmuring things in Grivfia or moaning syllables none of them could understand.
“What do you think he’s dreaming about?” Anla asked.
“Nothing good,” Raulin moved to Tel’s side, grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze.
Tel moaned aloud. “Kel…” he said.
“He’s said that before,” Anla said. “What’s a ‘kel’?”
Raulin tipped his head to one side. “There are many words in Grivfia that I don’t know. ‘Kel’ could be anything.”
“’Kel’ and ‘alonska tey vria’, something like that. Those I heard him say a lot.”
“Oh,” Raulin said softly. “’Kel’ isn’t a what, Anla. Kel is short for ‘Kelouyan’, his fiancee.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “He’s betrothed?”
“Yes. Kelouyan and he were engaged to be married many years ago. I’ve met her. She’s actually quite a sweet woman, a great match for him.”
“Why didn’t they get married?”
“He had to reach adulthood first. That only came last year. I’m sure with the instability in his family he told me, it was put off.”
“He’s a teenager?” Al asked, moving on the other side of Telbarisk.
“No, not really. Grivvens live differently from us. Their lives are longer and they reach milestones at different points in their lives. Telbarisk is actually thirty-seven.”
“Thirty-seven? He doesn’t look old, though.”
Raulin sighed. “He’s not old, he’s thirty-seven. That’s about the same as eighteen or nineteen for a human.”
“I’ve never heard any mention of that in any book I’ve read,” Al said.
Raulin didn’t mind Anla sitting so close to him, but the third party was beginning to irritate him. He wanted to quip that not everything you can know is found in a book or that the Ghenian literature on grivvens was paltry, but he held his tongue. The wizard had helped considerably thus far with the care of Tel.
Instead of lashing out, he moved back to the fire and poked it idly. “You don’t have to believe me, Wizard, but I’m telling the truth. A grivven’s official coming-of-age is at thirty-six. It means they can marry, make a family, start a profession, and even settle a new village if they want.
“At the same time, they age about half as fast as humans do. Tel was born during the dying days of summer a dozen and a third shulok ago, as they phrase it. Thirty-seven years. With luck, and a good doctor, he could live to be a hundred-fifty, perhaps more.”
“Maybe it’s because the writers didn’t know what a ‘shulok’ was,” Al muttered.
“Is that why you’re so protective of him?” Anla asked.
“I suppose it might be why. He’s just a kid, in a strange land, his family and his sweetheart thousands of miles away. I feel for anyone in that position, but him in particular more so. He lacks the experience in his world as well as ours and I feel that people may take advantage of him.”
“We wouldn’t,” she replied. “You can be sure of that.”
“Can I, though?” He asked the question to himself, forgetting that Anla had excellent hearing. When he looked up at her, she didn’t look pleased. “I’m sorry. It’s something that’s been bothering me since our time in the cell. Why have you two been so nice to him, especially since you didn’t know he had any magical abilities?”
Al turned to face him. “Well, he was…”
“No,” Anla said, interrupting him. “If you want to ask us a question, you’ll have to agree to an exchange of information. Normal rates apply.”
He laughed quickly and quietly to himself. Teach a smart man to barter and you’ll find yourself poor by the day’s end. “Not normal rates. I will agree to tell you why I’m so concerned and I’ll promise that it’s worth the price.”
“Fine,” she said, leaving Tel’s side to sit across the fire from Raulin. Her mouth was hard and her eyes flashed. “You want to know what, precisely? What plans we have for him? Why we bound him for a year? If we had any sinister intentions?”
“Yes to all.”
“Al saved Tel’s life because he got wrapped up in the moment of trying to be right. He yelled across a square full of hundreds of people and proclaimed they were breaking the law by having a lynch mob. When asked how he would solve the matter, he was forced to say he was a lawyer and couldn’t back out for fear of looking foolish.”
“Well, I didn’t want him to die, either,” Al interjected.
“While Al was mending from his neck injury in the Zayine temple, Tel and I spoke about things outside his doorway. He was strong, having come so close to death without a single complaint, but he seemed so worried in that moment. He told me more about kouriya, what it meant to him, how it guided him…and how he was afraid.”
“Afraid?” Raulin asked. “How so?”
“I didn’t want to say this, it’s private, but he has doubts about it working so far from home. More like he’s afraid that his presence will effect things negatively in ways he doesn’t realize. He said the greatest lesson about Gheny he learned thus far wasn’t in Wyok, but at a farm not far from Hanala. He wouldn’t tell me what he did, but I think it must have been something to do with his magic. He hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but it scared him when we spoke. He said he didn’t want to be the lightning that strikes the tree and burns the forest.
“I told him he could travel with us and we’d watch out for him, answer his questions and make sure he didn’t harm anyone. It made him feel better to have mentors, but he was afraid he might wander due to kouriya and not find us again. That’s when I took a chance and told him about the chalice. He was pleased at the offer. I asked Al and we made it official.” She turned to the wizard. “Anything to add?”
“No, I don’t believe so,” he said softly.
“That’s it?” Raulin asked. “You felt…sympathy for him and decided to put your lives on the line for a stranger?”
“Why is that hard to believe?” Anla asked. “Have you never done the same?”
“I have, but that’s me. Telbarisk isn’t a street urchin you put food out for once a day; he’s a huge responsibility. I have a hard time believing someone would commit to a year of education, boarding, and dealing with the cruel situations Ghenians create for people unlike them. Wizard? As a honest man, tell me what you know of Telbarisk.”
Al gathered his thoughts. “He’s a kiluid, which we didn’t know when we did the binding. He’s a grivven from Ervaskin. He…doesn’t eat meat. Oh, he was exiled from his home because he killed a man.”
“You were correct up until that point,” Raulin said. “He wasn’t exiled for killing a man.’
“But he said ‘a man died’ when we asked him about it.”
“It’s not the same thing. I’ll explain, but I want to be sure that you two didn’t help him out for any reason other than pity.”
“It’s not pity,” Al said. “He’s quiet, but he’s a good companion. Maybe, honestly, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about Ervaskin and grivvens. Maybe…write a book about that some day.”
“So, educational exploitation. You, Anla?”
She scowled. “I’ve lived on the streets of Hanala for some time now. When my parents were killed, other orphans and runaways took us in, shared their food and clothes with us. It wasn’t altruism; it’s survival. Not everyone can make enough every day to live by, so they shared and then we shared.”
“And thus communal living based in mutual care. Your motivations make sense now. I had to ask because there’s more to Tel than him being a kiluid.”
“What else could there be?” Anla asked. “It’s your turn now.”
“Yes, I know.” He leaned forward and thought for a few moments before he began. “I met Telbarisk when my order requested my presence on a diplomatic mission to the Valley of the Cold Winds. My job was to assist the diplomat in convincing the grivvens they wanted our services, in any way possible. The king, Sheiskan, wasn’t hard man to convince. He’s not your typical grivven: pugilistic, petty, cruel at times. You can get along with him, if you entertain him and pepper your conversations with jokes at the expense of others. I have no problem making fun of myself and my people, so we got along well enough when he spoke.”
“Why is he still king?” asked Al. “If he doesn’t stand for what the grivvens believe in, then shouldn’t they overthrow him?”
“Well, it’s partially because there are other atypical grivvens who enjoy seeing someone like them in power. And it’s partially because there are some who don’t like him, but they like that he’s interested in expansion and diplomacy. Mostly, though, it’s because his family supports him. His parents relinquished their rule on his thirty-sixth birthday and act as liaisons to the crown. His siblings are representatives and ambassadors. They all work for the land and the grivvens’ best interests, even when it means doing things they don’t want to. Like taking the fall for a foreign official’s death and being exiled.”
There was silence for a few moments. “Telbarisk is the king’s younger brother?” Anla asked.
“He’s a prince?” Al asked, shifting to face Tel better.
“That’s what we would call it. They don’t have a title for him; it’s just known he’s a member of the royal family, even though he’s next in line to the throne of the Valley of the Cold Winds.”
“As in he’s royalty?” Al asked.
“Yes, Wizard. If his brother ever blesses this world by leaving it, Telbarisk will be king of his lands.”
“But why is he here?” he asked.
“Perhaps I’ve been unfair to Sheiskan. He has his problems, but lacking intelligence isn’t one of them. He knows who he is and how he looks to his people. And he knows that there is a better, more popular leader just a poisoning or a mysterious fall away, namely Telbarisk. By inviting trirecs to the island, he increased the possibility of removing his adversaries, but he also increased his chances of someone doing the same for him.
“His first course of action was to discredit Tel, which happened when he was barely a teenager, in our terms. It didn’t stick. Then, the king sent him to a remote location in hopes that he would be forgotten. It backfired; Telbarisk wound up helping stop a border incursion and saved many grivvens’ lives. He did, unfortunately, kill one of the raiders during that battle.
“His brother decided to keep him close, so he called him back to Nourabrikot after some time. I had been in the capital for a few weeks when I met him. He was not at all what I thought he was going to be. He wasn’t some grand hero, some stuffed, full-of-himself peacock like the king and his lackeys made me think. He was, well, Tel; young, friendly, and far too trusting. I liked him almost immediately and realized quickly that what I had been hearing from the king was propaganda. And then I realized what danger Tel was in. We became good friends partly because we enjoyed each others’ company, but partly because I was around him quite a bit.”
“So you have guarded before,” Anla said, “and for free.”
“Ah, ah, not officially. I was just…around him a lot. And I made sure to know which trirec was contracted, and to keep tabs on them to make sure they weren’t going to stab my new friend. Arvarikor paid me to gather information and help increase business prospects; what I did in my own time was none of their concern.”
“How would you prove all of this?” Al asked.
“Why do we need proof?” he retorted.
“We answered your question. If you’ve been making all of this up, then you still owe us the truth.”
“Anla?” Raulin asked.
She took in a slow breath. “I don’t think you’re lying, but I’d still like to see you answer that without any corroboration with Tel.”
“I can tell you what those marks on his face mean. The bar across means he’s affirmed as a kiluid and that vertical line from it means he’s served ten years for his people. The circle with two lines means a significant commendation for protection. The curved moon tattoo means he made a great sacrifice to his king. That one was for being exiled. “
Raulin thought for a moment. “Ah, his…oh I forget the name. His people’s equivalent of a crown. It’s that chain he wears to tie his hair back.” Anla had removed it from his hair so that it wouldn’t get tangled. She grabbed it and held it up. “Ervaskin doesn’t have many smiths or the ore to produce much in the way of jewelry. Look at the craftsmanship. Those are tiny links all done to perfection. And those gems are precious stones, each setting uniform. Only the royal family are gifted with those.”
Anla passed the tie to Al, who studied it. “These are cheap stones. Garnet, quartz, malachite…”
“They don’t have the tools to work with diamonds and they prefer these over gems like emeralds. Look, Wizard. I’m not really motivated to lie here. I could have found out through casual conversation what I asked you two. I didn’t need to give you this information. I wanted to know what you were willing to do for him and why. If you knew he was a prince and thought to attach yourselves in hopes of getting money at some point, I needed to know.”
Al put the chain down next to Tel’s head. “So, we really have noble blood in our little quartet?” Al asked.
“Then we really need to make sure he gets the help he needs.”
“Good. I think you understand why I asked.”
There was one more issue for Raulin, something he felt it was good to keep them in the dark about. Arvarikor had started taking guard jobs a few centuries ago and had immediately saw an integrity issue. Guards who took contracts didn’t find it imperative to keep their clients alive, so a clause was added. Should their employer die, they would die, too.
While Raulin wanted Tel to live so that his friend could live, Raulin wished to live also.