Tel’s fever was still high when the light of the day began to fade. The rash had spread over his arms and legs, creeping across his chest to his face, where it concentrated on his cheeks. His fever was still high, so they made a crude wall of fallen trees and limbs between the grivven and their campfire, then fed him from the stock they saved that had no pork.
Raulin squeezed Tel’s mouth open while Anla spoon fed him vegetable stock, then stroked his throat. His eyes would flutter open, unseeing, then roll back in his head as he moaned. Often, he would swallow the broth and then cry out for Kelouyan.
“That’s the hardest for me to hear,” Anladet said, looking up quickly at Raulin. “I wish he could be with her.”
“Me, too. They were cute together, if you could say that about two very tall people. They would light up whenever the other would enter the room. Big, dopey smiles.” Raulin chuckled. “Ah, he’ll kill me for saying this, but they broke a taboo. Grivvens mate for life. Humans are supposed to, but grivvens actually do. So, they are very careful about who they match together. There’s always a ten year waiting period before they are married and they aren’t supposed to engage in relations before that point. Imagine if you were still with the person you tumbled with first.” Raulin gave a mock shudder.
“I take it they ‘tumbled’, then?”
“Mmhmm. He was so deliriously happy afterwards. I’m surprised the whole kingdom didn’t guess what had happened from his face. Of course, if someone had said anything, he would have denied it. I had to assure him several times that, if he had, I wouldn’t judge him. He finally admitted it to me. I think he was happy to tell someone about it that wouldn’t dishonor Kelouyan.”
Anla paused for a few moments. “You miss him, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Raulin admitted. “In my line of work, you don’t make many friends. If and when I do, they tend to mean something to me.”
“How many friends do you have?”
“Oh,” he said, thinking. “Afren, Tel, Isken to some extent. There are some people I’d trust to save me in a pinch, but they don’t know I’m a trirec. That sort of makes it different. I find I enjoy my relationships with people more when they know the worst about me.”
“Who are Afren and Isken?”
“Isken is a like-minded trirec I got to know in Hiben. Afren was my second mentor. He was the one to teach me that what I had been told by Arvariko were my weaknesses were actually my strengths. I’m not sure if they neglected to teach me that or they usually assign that to the mentors, but I thought I was failing before I met him. He said I wasn’t, I was just approaching things from the wrong angle. And our relationship felt more than that, to me. I don’t know if he truly felt the same sense of kinship I had, but he felt as close to an uncle as I’ll ever have. Maybe even a second father.”
Raulin would have gone on further, but he noticed that Al was taking only a minor interest in the campfire.
“What about your childhood? Did you have any friends?”
“The tea I drink in the morning actually suppresses childhood memories. They call it ‘derrin-eti-ro-marna’, ‘child mind killer’. If you are a trirec, you must drink it. Every morning, after you finish your exercises, you drink it, so that you forget everything before your first killing. That’s why they make new students shed blood as soon as possible; once you destroy your innocence, you are no longer a child.”
“That’s awful,” she said. “You remember nothing from your childhood? Your parents, your siblings, where you grew up?”
“Nothing. When I try to remember, it’s as if there is a fog in my mind. It fills in the blank parts, making me think it’s fine that there’s nothing there. But, maybe it’s better that way. I can’t miss people I don’t remember, right?”
Anladet was about to speak when Telbarisk clenched his teeth and groaned. She felt his forehead and sucked in her breath through her teeth. “He’s burning up. Badly.”
Raulin got to his feet, but had no idea what to do. “We need to cool him down,” Al said. “We need ice or snow. I doubt we’d get that, so our next best thing is cool water.”
“The river,” Raulin said. “Get as many blankets and cloaks as possible.”
Anla and Raulin spent the rest of the night relaying what they could from the camp to the river about an eighth of a mile away, soaking the cloth in the river and returning to cover Telbarisk. Al stayed next to the grivven and lent him what magic he felt was safe. Still, Tel shook violently, his teeth clenched and his eyes rolling wildly in his face.
The fever broke sometime in the early morning, just a few hours before dawn. Al and Anla collapsed sometime shortly thereafter.
Someone shook Raulin’s shoulder. “I’m not sleeping,” he said.
“No, you just jerked your head up about five seconds ago. I just wanted to let you know Tel looks stable and I might know what he has.”
Raulin jammed his fingers into his eye holes and tried to freshen his eyes. Al had a concerned look on his face, which Raulin was unsure if it was for him or Telbarisk.
“Anla has already made me swear I won’t say anything to the doctor, but I think he has Brigon’s Disease.”
“What’s that?” he asked, standing to stretch.
“Well, let me say first that I’m not totally sure. I’m not a doctor. I studied the normal medical curriculum in Amandorlam, plus two more when I decided to become a Touch wizard. We covered some diseases, but not Brigon’s.”
“Get to the point, Wizard. Why aren’t you sure?”
“Because we don’t usually work on children.”
“You think he has a childhood disease? He’s young, but he’s not a child.”
“No, but perhaps his body is like a child’s because he wasn’t here when he was one. In school we learned that diseases spread through the elements: air, earth, and water. Fire is the remedy against them, by cooking food, burning bodies, and cauterizing wounds. If Tel came into contact with a child in Hanala or Carvek that had it, then didn’t sip fire water or coat his hands in ashes, then he might have contracted it, even as an adult.”
A few moments of silence passed. “Raulin?”
“Mmm? I’m not sleeping.”
“You should be. Get some rest. Anla and I will wake you if something changes or the doctor gets here.”
He nodded, his head bobbing a few times before he found a quiet spot under a tree and fell asleep quickly.
Al sat next to Anla, who had made a breakfast by warming up their food rations and combining whatever seemed palatable together. “He seems excessively worried. If it’s Brigon’s, then the mortality rate is rather low, even without medication.”
“He doesn’t know that, though. We don’t know that. What if that’s fatal to grivvens? I’m hoping it’s the same for them as for us, but what if it isn’t?”
“Then a doctor will be coming and hopefully he can figure out what’s going on.”
She nodded and went back to eating.
“He’s a confusing man, isn’t he?”
“Raulin?” she asked. “I suppose. Which is why I think you should give him a chance. Stop picking at him.”
“I want him to admit that he’s wrong.”
“Al, for what it’s worth, I think he agrees with you.”
“So, why doesn’t he just say it and stop arguing with me?”
“What would that accomplish? He’s still have to kill people and you’d still continue to tell him how what he’s doing is wrong.”
“But I don’t want to give up…”
“Al,” she said, standing, “do you refuse to give up on the argument or do you refuse to give up on him? I think that until you can answer ‘yes’ to the second, you should leave him alone.”
Anla tended to Telbarisk while Al ruminated on what she had said. His stubbornness still lingered after a while, his obstinate refusal to admit he was wrong even though he knew she was right. “An argument for argument’s sake benefits only one person”, yet another quote from Tichen.
How could he justify a man committing a severe crime against another man? Accidental, ignorance, neither of which fit Raulin, or duress. Al looked over at his sleeping form, not too far from Telbarisk, and wondered how far he could stretch that definition. And did he want to.
He was slowly starting to think that, while Raulin was a bad person for what he did, maybe good could come from him, like a new tree growing on a lava-cooled island. If he could find that one little piece to change him, he could make Raulin into a good man. With that he sat in front of the fire, plotting some way to change the trirec’s mind.