11-18

Raulin was warm and comfortable, covered and dry and satiated. He heard the soft sound of a woman humming, but knew immediately it wasn’t his mother. His mother’s voice had been full-throated and trained; this woman’s song was reaching, searching for a particular note or tone. It wasn’t a song for comfort but for some other purpose.

He cracked open his eyes, or at least one since the other was swollen shut. Anla was leaning over him, a compress in her hands. “Good morning,” she said kindly.

His forearms were cleaned and bandaged as well as his head. “Good morning,” he croaked. She brought a teacup of water to his lips and he drank until his throat no longer hurt. “How long?”

“Just the night. Telbarisk brought you in around midnight and it’s nine o’clock now.”

“Why were you humming? I’ve never heard you do that before.”

“It’s one of the things a baerd can do, from what I’ve read. Not only can they manipulate sound and it’s structure, but manipulate how people hear the sound and its effect on them. It’s like when I influence someone, but instead of stoking their fear or desire, I’m encouraging healing. At least, I’m trying to.”

He gingerly touched his face. “It doesn’t seem as bad as I was expecting. Well done.”

She smiled. “Actually, that was likely Al’s doing. He put you into a deep sleep and helped you heal with the Calm. He was reluctant to do so, but did it.”

“He didn’t..?” He touched his bare face again, mapping out the swelling. Definitely not the worst he’d had, but he doubted Marin Liasorn would get many donations looking like he did.

“He was upset about it, saying it was best done where he could see if the magic was affecting you and how, but agreed to help without any light to see by.”

“That was kind of him. I know how he feels about healing me.”

“I think he was more afraid of killing you, since the last time he used the Calm he killed a man.”

Raulin closed his eye for a moment. “I need to apologize to you.”

“I know,” she said, placing the cool compress on his face. “I assume you met your betrayer last night and you’ve realized it wasn’t us. I forgive you, but only if you tell me who it was.”

“Three rogue trirecs who took it upon themselves to punish me further for killing Afren.”

“Ah,” she said. “It would have been my guess, but you didn’t want to hear it.”

“I didn’t,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s still hard for me to trust people as much as I’ve been trusting you three. Your work has been exceptional, and because of that I keep feeling like something is going to come along and ruin it. It almost seemed expected that one of you was going to betray me.”

“And that’s not something I can tell you you’re wrong about. You’ll just have to see that we won’t again and again.”

“On that note,” he said, feeling queasy in his stomach, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you and apologize about that night a few months ago at the libertine ball.”

The crinkle around her eyes disappeared. “I should be apologizing for that. I wanted to show you that I was worthy of a partnership and wound up forcing my magic on you. That was unfair.”

“I should have trusted that you could handle yourself, especially since I knew you could.”

“We’re even, then?”

“Yes,” he said, trying to smile with swollen and cracked lips. “And I want to help you learn more about your magic. When we’re traveling, I’d like to set aside some time to give you an opportunity to experiment.”

“That’s quite a leap in faith!” she said. “Thank you.” She rose and brought over a bowl of soup. “Since you’re awake, I’ll have you sit up and eat this broth. Al’s at the apothecary, since one should be open now, and he’ll bring back some healing salve for your cuts. I’ll leave you to rest some more.”

Before she left, she turned from the doorway. “For what it’s worth, you’re a really great kisser.”

He stopped mid spoonful. “I’m sure someone else has kissed you like that before.”

“No, definitely not,” she said, smirking, before closing the door.

Later that evening, snugly masked, Raulin went to the adjourning room where Al, Anla, and Tel were sitting, eating a take-away dinner. Without saying a word, Raulin got to his knees, folding his arms behind his back, and bowed.

“What is he doing?” Al asked.

“Asking for forgiveness,” Raulin replied. “I will stay like this until it is accepted.”

“So, we could leave you there for hours?”

“Al,” Anla chastised. “We forgive you, Raulin.”

“Thank you. I was starting to feel faint.” He took a seat on the desk. “I regret to inform you all that I did not get the funding I needed for the next portion of our journey. It’s not dire; I still have some funds in my account, but I would prefer to exchange with Arvarikor agents and leave a paper trail. That way they won’t suspect I have monetary means outside their control.”

“I think we should take the train up to Whitney,” Anla said, “and let you rest a bit more. I’m sure I can cover our tickets.”

“Ispen first. There are no agents in Whitney or anywhere north of there. I’ve decided to switch things up and go to Baradan first. It’s starting to cool there and I’m afraid we might get caught in a snowstorm if I leave it for later. Besides, at this point I’d rather have my order confused as to where I’m going, should someone else want to take liberties with my schedule.”

“That’s wonderful!” Al said. ” I’ll show you all the sights and take you to the best restaurants.”

“One other thing. I’ve decided to help Anla learn more about her magic. I’m hoping that you’ll extend her the same courtesy.”

“Oh,” Al said. “I’ll…have to think about it.”

“Better than a ‘no’, I suppose. I’m going to go lay down again and we can set out in a day or two.”

At some point in the night, Raulin awoke to find Anla curled up next to him, her head on his bare chest. He sighed and pulled her closer, closing his eyes and falling deeply asleep.

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