Raulin wasn’t out for very long. His forearms throbbed and itched and he felt very cold. He stirred, pulling the blankets closer over his bare skin, then opened his eyes when he realized where he was.
“He’s awake,” the wizard said, then leaned over to hover just above Raulin’s face. “I want answers.”
“The conditions…still hold,” he said.
“No, you son of a bitch, I want answers!”
“Al,” Anla said, pulling him back. “Give him air.”
“What…do you want…to know?” he asked, taking deep breaths in between.
“How many of you are there? How many Noh Amairians are trirecs?”
Raulin touched his mask, relaxing when he realized it, minus the jaw portion, was still on his face. He took a deep breath and sat up, fighting the dizziness. “As far as I know…I’m the first and only. There are…a few Walpin children…in training. They expect me to mentor them…when the time comes. If they make it.”
“What book did you steal?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Why the hell did you make me do all that work if you didn’t even use what I found out?”
He heard his mentor’s voice again. Do not let them in, Raulin, or else you’ll end your year in pain. If it was anyone else, he would have dismissed it as following orders. But Afren cared about his well-being. They’d had several long talks about his feelings on being a trirec, on his family’s deaths, on all those issues he should have quashed long before his apprenticeship. And then, when he had grown and felt increasing problems related to romantic partners, he and Afren had talked about that as well. His mentor had been the one to suggest he pretend he was a sailor, so that both of them understood that he had to leave after a certain time.
Raulin trusted Afren more than he trusted himself. His mentor had already seen the warning signs. Raulin had no long-term plan, but knew what he had to do to start his new course of relations. “Because I thought it would be…amusing,” he said.
“Yes. I was laughing the whole time. I even told the shopkeeper you were coming in…to ‘spy’ on him, so that he would make it…even harder to get the information. Did you think…that woman in the park…just decided to speak to you…because you were good looking? I paid her.”
Al stared at Raulin for a few seconds before slamming his fist into his jaw.
“Al!” Anla said, diving on him. Al continued to try to punch Raulin until she shoved him away too far.
“Let me go!”
“Tel, hold him! He’s not thinking clearly.”
Tel stood behind Al and shoved his arms under his armpits, lacing his fingers behind Al’s head.
“He looks like a cat…that’s made a mistake…and now he’s clinging to a sill…eight stories high,” Raulin said.
“Get off me!” Al said, struggling to get out of the hold.
The grivven leaned in and spoke. “No man appreciates another man who hurt someone who was already hurting.”
Al tried to squirm out. “I won’t punch him.”
“Go to the other side of the fire and stay there.” Tel released his hold and Al shoved him off before moving away from Raulin.
Telbarisk gave Raulin a steady gaze before moving over to where Al sat.
Anla walked over to Raulin and crouched next to him. He refused to look at her. “Why would you say something like that to him?”
He gave a flippant shrug and continued to sip on his water.
“If this has anything to do with the priestess, you can be assured that she’s alive and well. I wrote a letter to my friends in Hanala and they responded by saying that she had been punished, but survived.”
“Great,” he said in a flat tone. “Where’s the letter?”
“It’s private. Trust me on this, Raulin. You don’t have to worry about her.”
He said nothing. Anla watched him, contemplating the sudden change in his actions. He had gone from walking on eggshells around Al, trying his best not to argue or upset him, to antagonizing him, all within a few days. Raulin argued, sure, but this rudeness seemed off and uncharacteristic.
She moved over to the fire and sat down next to Al. “Tell me everything, every detail, about what happened inside the house.”
Al relayed everything in a torrent that didn’t stop until he got to the end. “I tried to bring him back and…” He sucked in a breath and let it out raggedly before his voice broke. “I killed him.”
Anla put her arm on his shoulder and squeezed. “It will take you some time to get to a place where you feel…not ‘all right’ about what happened, but at least not consumed by the thoughts.”
“I just want to be left alone,” he said.
“No, Al. I’m tying myself to you. You’ve been using magic for several hours tonight. I don’t want you to have your after effects alongside all the thoughts of what happened.”
She moved next to body and put her arms around him. “No.”
It was then that Al began to cry. She didn’t let go.
* * *
Telbarisk was already awake when Anla stirred. Al was still next to her, asleep, but his fingernails bloody from clawing at his forearms. She sighed, moved his hair out of his eyes, and untied the rope around her ankle.
She sat next to the grivven, hoping he’d volunteer something. He seemed tired and she reminded herself that he was still recovering from something himself. “How was your night?” she asked.
“After things calmed down, I slept well.”
“Good. How is Raulin?”
“He seemed to be regaining his strength. I saw him walk to get breakfast.” Tel waved his hand in the direction to his right.
Anla frowned. “Our food stores are behind us. I slung it over the tree…”
She followed the direction that Tel had said and listened, hearing the fading lumbering gait of Raulin with her magic . She came upon him standing in front of their packs with a letter in hand. “Who’s Tiorn?”
Anla’s stomach flopped. “No one,” she said, covering the distance between them. “I said this was private.”
He held the letter beyond her reach when she tried to snatch it from him. “This Isky seems pretty sure that Tiorn is at least someone to you. Former lover? Current lover?”
She could feel the heat burn her face. “It should mean less than nothing to you! I said it was private and I didn’t want you reading it. I don’t ask about your affairs.”
“You do, though. You want to know what my fears are and where I’m from. What Merak is like. You offer to let me sleep next to you without my mask, as if you were curious about what I look like.”
“Fine,” she said, reaching and almost grabbing the letter. “I’ll never ask you anything else. Just give me the damn letter!”
“Answer my question: who’s Tiorn?”
“No one!” He continued to hold the letter above her. She gritted her teeth. “Tiorn’s father owns a pasta restaurant in Hanala. He’d let me sleep on the floors and eat some leftover food.”
“In exchange for…?”
“Things, all right?”
“What kind of things?”
“Raulin, please. I get that your upset. You’re not feeling well or you’re not yourself at the moment. Just give me the letter and I’ll forget it.”
“What kind of things?” he repeated.
Anla took a deep, fuming breath. “He was never my lover, but he wanted to be. At first it was small things. Sitting on his lap, getting something from his pocket. Once he watched me clean the floors. I didn’t care about that. Dinner and a warm place to sleep? I’d clean the whole restaurant with a toothbrush if he wanted me to. But, his requests got worse. More invasive, more risque.”
“Oh, like what?”
Tears welled in her eyes. “Dammit, Raulin, I’m not going to…keep the damn letter! I don’t care! I left after I realized how bad he was getting and didn’t return unless his friends were there or I was very desperate. I haven’t seen him since last year, during a few very cold days.”
He handed her the letter. “I’m sure he made them warmer. Or at least richer.”
She turned, heading for the fire to burn the papers, and passed Telbarisk. “I’m leaving before I knee him in the groin.”
What precisely had gone on, Tel didn’t know. This whole situation was strange. He knew Raulin had strong feelings for Anladet, but thought he was more the type to wish well for most things he couldn’t have. Jealousy didn’t suit him and neither did cruelty.
Raulin slowly walked past Tel, still weak and recovering. Tel didn’t care. He shoved him into the trunk of the nearest tree and held him there with just his fingertips. His hands were so large that his fingers spanned Raulin’s chest, his pinkie finger almost digging into the hole that had been stitched the night before.
Tel spoke levelly, since he had no intention of scaring or hurting Raulin. “And what do you have to say to me? Something about Kelouyan? Or my brother?”
“I was going to start with how you failed your family by winding up here.”
“This is supposed to hurt me and drive me away from you?”
“It’s the best I’ve come up with so far. Let me work on it for a bit.”
Tel looked beyond the mask into Raulin’s dark blue eyes. The metal cut down severely on what he could figure out about his feelings, but his eyes still told him he was terrified. No, not terrified; he was scared in the same way Telbarisk had felt when he had stood on the wharf in Hanala. He was lost, afraid of the uncertainty of the future.
Tel removed his fingers. “All right. Come back when you have something worthwhile.”
“I’m going to make it hurt,” Raulin said.
“If that’s what you need to heal, then so be it. Let’s test the bond of our friendship. I think you’ll be disappointed when I’m still there.”
Telbarisk walked back to camp leaving Raulin to grit his teeth before following. Things are much easier when I can escape, he thought.