Telbarisk awoke early and watched the rain from the common room of the inn. He loved the rain. Kiluids often had an affinity for a part of nature and found themselves drawn to certain places or things very strongly. It had always been a benefit to Telbarisk that he enjoyed something that was present so frequently. He didn’t have to miss the mountains from home or the forest just outside of Nourabrikot; he always had the rain.

Telbarisk breathed in. Rocks, grass, flowers, mountains, trees, sky. The heat of morning, the chill of night, arid and dry, then mist and moisture. Death, then life. He couldn’t move his fingertips more carefully over Kelouyan’s face than than when he caressed the lands with his heart.

Kelouyan.  His love. It was a familiar cycle of emotions when it came to her.  He would be reminded of her, and then there was a small shock, as if he heart was jolted.  Then warmth, happiness, laughter, followed by the realization that those things were not there; she was not there.  His heart would lurch and his throat would burn until he could return to the present and fill himself with hope.  In the end, that was all he had. Hope.

It reminded him of the rain, rising from the lakes and oceans, filling the skies with clouds, and falling over and over again.  In fact, it was so familiar that his mind connected the storms to time, then to home. He realized that the rains that fell outside at that moment would fall on Ervaskin in two or three days.  If he followed the storm, slowly, patiently, he could sense it fall from the sky and onto his homeland.  It would nurture the ground, bless the crops, perhaps even fall on Kelouyan.

He closed his eyes and engaged fully with the world.  Kiluids called it “heart soaring”, off listening and hearing nature. His soul moved beyond and into the morning sky, over the trees and through them. His mind glossed over animals moving, some large for Gheny, others so small he was surprised they could exist.  He reached the sea, floated over waves, skimmed the surface.  He dashed through the sky until he came to islands, small to large, and finally Ervaskin.

His breathing was slow and steady.  His soul raced across lands barely familiar until he reached the cold waters of the Miskilt River, so wide you couldn’t see the Valley of the Cold Winds from the western side.  Telbarisk dipped south to the coast, flitting across the clouds and the shore until the land was shaped into a city.  Nourabrikot, where his brother ruled.  Where his parents and his sisters lived.  And the lands graced by Kelouyan.

It was raining there, too.  The droplets fell on trees and stones carved into buildings and houses, each rivulet caressing the world.  His heart danced in the rain, the land coming alive with the sensations found.  And there, somewhere on a hill, carrying a basket of food, was a woman staring at the sky.  Her eyes closed, she breathed deeply and serenely, the rain drenching her clothes and hair.  The drops splattered on her forehead and her cheeks, falling as tears would if she were sad.  She wasn’t, though.  A small smile was on her face.  “Telbarisk,” she whispered.

The still air moved, the rustling of cloth against cloth.  The aroma of baking bread was in the air.  He was ripped back from the world, yanked back to his body.  He kept his eyes closed, savoring the last remnants of that moment, before wiping the tears from his eyes and turning.  He took a steadying breath and smiled before saying, “It is early. Far too early for a man in the company of a woman to rise.”

“It’s better to dream than to live sometimes,” Raulin said, his voice hollow behind his mask. “It’s better to do both, and to let others do both in peace.”

“Or together.” He sighed and looked at his friend. “How was the night for you?”

“I had forgotten how wonderful it is to have a woman sleeping next to you.  Hopefully she feels I was appropriate, despite the need to hold her.” He shook his head.  “It can’t be.  I don’t want her to know.”

“You told me about compasses. I’ve yet to see one, but still I think she is your north.”

He nodded slowly. “I shall have to be more careful.”

“Or less.”

“More.  It’s bad enough that I must be around such a beautiful woman for the next year.  If she knew how I felt and rejected me, it would be worse.”

Tel said nothing. It was best to leave this alone for now. “We will have our morning meal, sit around a talk for some time, perhaps play a game or two. After that, we will leave with dryer weather.”

“This is good to hear. How are you feeling?”

“Mostly recovered. I think it will just be a day or two more until I will be as I was, but I will be better.  Thank you for your care and attention.”

Raulin sat cross-legged on the couch. “I was afraid you weren’t going to get better. Perhaps I should stop by and speak with Alistad, even though I said we weren’t going to be in Iascond.”

Tel looked at Raulin and let his eyes focus beyond him until Raulin turned his head. “You two are up early,” Anla said.

“We were discussing plans,” Raulin said, switching into Ghenian and shifting over on the davenport when she sat next to him. “It seems we’ll have fair weather by late morning and a mostly recovered ledgerer. We should make Iascond tomorrow.”

“Who should stay with Telbarisk?” Anla asked.

“If I had my way, the wizard would. I understand that it might not be fair to Tel, though.”

She rolled her eyes quickly. “I had hoped a miracle would have happened and you would have started getting along with Al.”

A rattling tray was brought out by the elderly innkeeper’s wife. “Breakfast proper will be ready in a half-hour. I thought I’d bring you something to eat and drink early, dears.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Raulin said, pulling the bottom part of his mask off. He took a pouch from his belt, sprinkled a pinch of herbs in a teacup, and poured hot water over it.

“Your forgetful tea?” Anla asked.

He removed a slotted spoon, tarnished with use, from the pouch and sifted out the spent herbs. Tel made eye contact with him quickly, wondering how he’d answer. “It’s tea my order forces us to drink every morning. As far as I know, there is no herb in the world that could make you forget a certain time in your life. This is actually called chouren, a tea which makes me unable to sire children.”

“Oh,” she said softly. “May I ask why you lied before?”

“There is a pair of ears amongst us who I felt didn’t need to know the truth.  He likes to collect facts, horde them for the right argument, then use them against me.  I’d rather give him a dull blade than let him continue to look for others to stab me with.”

Tel had noticed that Alpine had an odd way of categorizing the world. He would say he was like a seed man, particularly suited in identifying and harvesting seeds for people to buy, but not great at telling them how to grow the plants properly. This seemed to frustrate Al, who kept wondering who he had before him in Raulin.

Anla left after a cup of tea, to wake Al and change. “Did I improve?” Raulin asked.

“It might be better if you just left it alone. She doesn’t seem to notice; or if she does, she enjoys it.”

Raulin sighed and seemed to contemplate telling him something for a few minutes before Al and Anla came back downstairs. Al yawned loudly and stretched. “It smells wonderful.”

“Fresh baked bread, scones, and tarts with jam and butter are in the nook,” Raulin said. “Enjoy; it will be a few hours before we leave.”

“Do you mind if we settled something first?  Al, either you or I will be going to Iascond with Raulin.  I thought it would be fair to play a game first, to determine the winner.”

“Okay,” Al said, rubbing his hands together. “What should we play? Hierarchy? No, never mind; you cheat at that game.”

“I do not,” she said. “How about Eri, Veri, Don?”

“That’s fair.  I don’t see how you could cheat at that.”

They stood facing each other, one hand behind their back.  “How do you play this game?” Tel asked.

“Easy,” Al said. “You choose a number one to five, put your hand behind your back, and both of you show which number you picked at the same time. Best of three wins. I’m taking evens!”

Telbarisk watched.  It was a simple game, just numbers and addition.  There was something odd, though, and it was hard for him to pick up on what it was.

Al won the first round when he picked a three and Anla picked a one.  The next round she won, when Al picked a two and she a one again.  Anla blinked at this and seemed to consider things before making her next choice.

“Please,” Raulin said from the davenport.  “Anla, help me out here.”

“Eri, veri…don!” Al said, throwing a three.  So did Anla.

“The gods have cursed me,” Raulin said, standing.

“It was sort of a Walpin match, huh?  Not much of a fight, Anla.”

“A what?” Raulin asked, testily.

“A Walpin match,” Al said, looking confused. “You know, how they give up so easily when Merakians invade?  We say something is a Walpin match when it’s too easy.”

“Don’t speak ill of the Walpi,” he snapped. “Maybe if other countries helped them secure their borders, they wouldn’t have to choose between throwing their people into a senseless battle that they’ll lose or giving up.”

“It’s an expression,” Al said. “Everyone uses it.”

“I don’t care. Don’t say it around me.” He stormed out and went back to their room.

“Great, and now I have to spend a week alone with that.”

Anla caught Al’s eye. “Please, try to get along with him. Will it be so hard not to say ‘Walpin match’ over the next week?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Al decided to celebrate his victory by taking tea and breakfast in the corner table.  Anla sat on the sofa again, across from Telbarisk.  “What were you two really talking about?”

“Raulin is still moody about things.  We were discussing that before what he told you.  I think he must be a little sensitive, if Al set him off that easily.”

“It’s the priestess, I think.  We were talking last night, before falling asleep.  I thought the conversation went well until he shut me out.  I thought I did something wrong, but maybe not.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t anything you said.”

She nodded to herself, staring out the window for a moment at the rain.  “How were you and Al?

“He wanted to talk for a long while, mostly about you.  He was concerned about the arrangement and was convinced Raulin was going to be improper with you.  I finally convinced him not to barge in on you two and that you could deal with the situation in your own ways.”

“Thank you, Tel.  I appreciate that.  So, I’ll have to pay extra attention to Al today, so that he doesn’t get grumpy.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

She nodded, stood, and went to sit with Al.  Telbarisk was hungry, but decided it would be best to look out at the rain.  He loved his friends, but there was peace outside and after ten minutes with the three of them, all he wanted was peace.

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