The truce between Raulin and Al, while impressive, had died soon into the evening. They had sat around the campfire after dinner, discussing events and histories. Al had asked Telbarisk some leading questions about his fiancee. Raulin had thought they were too suggestive and embarrassing and had snapped at Al to quit his badgering. That had led into them bickering over a series of topics, each trying to win points and neither of them getting enough.
Anla had observed the two as they fought. She thought they reminded her of hens pecking at a kernel of corn, neither understanding that there was feed on the ground elsewhere. While it irritated her slightly, she had made two important observations.
The first was that the arguing broke Raulin’s somber mood, at least temporarily. When he was forced to think of other things, he didn’t dwell on his past mistake. She wasn’t quite sure which was better: an irritated or morose Raulin.
The second was that Al was a poor debater. She had assumed that, because he had done a brilliant job in the court on behalf of Tel, that he was great at discussing topics and proving his point. He reminded her more of a child who had climbed a tree too high, clinging desperately to the trunk to avoid falling. There was no considering for him; he listened with half a mind to prove Raulin wrong on what he was saying and the other half to use whatever Raulin was saying against him.
She had to wonder what the two would say if they were alone. Did they do this because there was an audience or because they would do this anyway? And was it such a terrible thing? She had known several friends, including Isky and Tiorn at the pasta place in Hanala, who spent copious amounts of time doing what Al and Raulin did. It was different, of course, more teasing, but sometimes not.
Really, all she wanted was another full day when Al didn’t feel the need to henpeck Raulin about his profession and Raulin didn’t feel the need to trap Al into using logical fallacies to win the argument. She was tired of traveling and eating bland food; their arguing only put her in a bad mood.
They made it to Ammet Canyin with a half-hour to spare before it began to pour. They took refuge under the eaves of a cobbler’s workshop. “What’s our prognosis, Telbarisk?”
The grivven squinted and looked far off into the sky. “It will rain like this throughout the night.”
“Well, then. I wouldn’t recommend spending our coin on meals and rooms frequently, since New Wextif is going to be very expensive for us, but I would love a little comfort tonight,” Raulin suggested.
“Our alternative being to sleep outside? We’re liable to float away!” Al said, looking to see if anyone laughed at his joke.
“I think I’d like to sleep under a roof tonight,” Anla said. “It’s been five days since we’ve had that or a nice cooked meal.”
“Thanks,” Al said.
“You’re cooking is fine, Al. It’s the best you can do with what you have.”
“She’s right, Wizard. You can’t beat a full kitchen and fresh ingredients.” He looked down at the floor for a moment and she thought she knew what he was thinking. “So, we’ll find an inn and two rooms.”
“I’d like to switch rooms tonight.”
“I’m not sleeping with Raulin,” Al said quickly.
“No, I mean, you can have the bed all to yourself, Al, and I’ll share one with Raulin.”
“Really?” Raulin asked.
There was little room under the awning, but Al managed to find a corner to discuss this new development. “He’s going to try something with you.”
“He might, but I’m not worried. He may be a trirec, but he’s also still a man. Last I knew, that came with a few prominent and sensitive issues.”
Al sucked in his lips for a moment. “Yes, but he’s Merakian. I don’t know if he works the same way we humans do.”
“I can also scream. I won’t lock the door so you can save me as fast as possible.”
She placed her hands on his forearms and smiled. “Al, thank you for your concern, but I can take care of myself. When we get to Iascond you and I can share a bed again, to keep our cover.”
“I still don’t feel well about this.”
“Thank you for your concern, but I’ll be fine.”
Anladet had hoped to use the time alone to speak with Raulin, to check in on him and make sure he was fine. Or just to chat about the past or what to expect in Iascond, anything to get to know him better.
Al was unhappy at dinner. He sat almost uncomfortably close to Anla, making her feel thankful that they both were right-handed. At one point she looked up at Raulin, nodded her head at Al, and rolled her eyes. He laughed quietly and seemed cheerier for the rest of dinner.
Raulin was almost formal when they got ready to sleep. “I’ll take the outside closest to the door. We can lie in opposite directions, if you’d prefer.”
“That’s not necessary. We can share the pillow if we’re both in the same direction.”
The bed was narrow and pushed against the wall. Anla got in first, snuggled under the covers, and raised her fist. Each finger went down, followed by her thumb before she kissed her hand and smiled. Raulin had removed his shirt and shoes, but was otherwise dressed the same when he laid on top of the comforter.
“What’s Merak like?” she asked a few minutes after he had blown out the candle.
“Like here, only different.”
He shifted so he was facing the ceiling. “Well, there are more Merakians there than here. It’s colder, at least where my order trains. More mountains that are very tall and rocky. No volcanoes, no warm beaches, barely any humans. Lonely, really.”
“Aren’t there villages near where your order trains?”
“A few. But outside a day’s walk it’s wilderness for some time.”
“Some parts of Gheny are like that. The eastern duchies are rather populated, from what I’ve heard, but beyond the Oloron Mountains there aren’t many settlements.”
“Mmm, I know. I’ve been to Aviz. That was a long train ride across a lot of uninhabited land.”
“You’ve been to Aviz?” she said with some delight. “What was that like?”
“Very different from the rest of Gheny. Everything is so proper here. They care a lot less about high society and the latest fashions in Aviz. They make their own. People are more relaxed and more likely to befriend you. I saw several nobles who owned regular businesses and would dine in the open with whomever wanted to join them.” He relaxed as he spoke of the western duchy. “They’re landscaping is amazing. It feels more natural. In Hanala, for example, all the trees are in rows, the lawn in little rectangles with beds of one kind of flower. In Ons Ruith, you’ll turn a bend in the road of the city to find several trees growing up against a building. They love yellow and orange, too, the colors sun-kissed and deep. And the glass! That’s what they’re famous for. Houses will often have plastered walls of that saffron color, with windows that have tiny panes of cobalt and green along the edges.”
“It sounds amazing.”
“It was. I’d say it was almost worth the trip. It’s a very, very long ride, though.”
“What is worth the trip? If you could go somewhere tomorrow, where would that be?”
“Kinto. That’s always my answer.”
“Really? What’s Kinto like?”
“It’s like Genale and New Wextif combined. I know a lot of people feel the height of sophistication in this world is in Arouk or Sayen, but they aren’t giving Kinto a fair chance. It’s a little behind, I’ll admit, but not one of those other places, not even Gheny, has all the things Kinto has. The food, the women, the entertainment, the architecture, the weather, the art… You can spend weeks finding new things in Achiya and, when it gets too much, sail out to one of their thousand islands and live there for a while. One of my best friends is Kintan.”
“You didn’t mention him before when we spoke about it.”
“I consider her a best friend, but I haven’t spoken with her in a long time. I feel like, if I ran into her, she’d hate me for not trying to find her. I’d rather keep my memories of our friendship warm.”
“If you two were truly good friends, she’d be happy to see you whenever she could. She might be mad, but she’ll get over it. Go and see her when the year is done.”
“I might. That’s a good idea. Thank you.”
The funny part was that he had seen Maya. It wasn’t hard to find her in Kinto; she was where the people were, and he had found her amongst the people quite a few times. It made her busy, and she had never seen him watching her, missing her, wanting to call out to her. But, it was complicated and he was afraid. What if she didn’t remember him? What if she didn’t care? What if…
“You can say no,” Anla said, breaking his reverie, “and I would totally understand why, but if you wanted to, you could sleep without your mask. I promise not to look, even when I wake up.”
He considered it. If she wore a blindfold and the door was locked, it might be a chance for him to get a few hours without the hunk of metal strapped to his face. It was kind of her.
Perhaps it was because he had been thinking of Maya that his mind drifted to more intimate thoughts. He thought of Anla turning towards him with his face bare. Her fingertips would trace his face, his brow, his jawline, and then his lips. He’d kiss her fingers and…
He turned away from her and pretended to fall asleep.