For a man who had been so thrilled with trains, Tel had been quite trepidatious about stepping aboard one. He’d full-stopped as he was climbing up the short platform to the carriage, suddenly unsure about what he was going to embark upon. Alpine had slammed into his back and he heard a few disgruntled sighs from people behind him. Raulin had turned around and Tel had heard those people immediately mumble apologies.
He had boarded the train, class carriage, and took the forward seat next to the window at the insistence of the other three. After a blasting whistle, the train started to move and Tel found himself gripping the table. The buildings began to whisk by, followed by the trees, houses, and other landmarks. It was hard to keep track of what passed, though he tried hard to keep the important things in his sight.
“Tel, stop that,” Raulin said, who sat across from him. “You’ll get sick.”
“Moving your head like that. If you do that for too long, you’ll start to feel nauseous. Just let everything pass by and you’ll be fine.”
He did as Raulin suggested. The landscape blurred to green and blue as he let his focus drift away from the outside. Alpine was reading a book and Anladet and Raulin were engaged in a conversation Tel thought had something to do with her magic. With nothing keeping his attention, he found himself bored.
He pulled out his notes and reviewed them. Fifty-eight pages worth of interviews, sketches, observations, and amusing anecdotes on the people and happenings of New Wextif. It concluded with a quick sketch of the train he was taking with a very blatant note that it was not an animal, but a hollow metal container that sailed on tracks that acted like ice.
New Wextif had been fascinating and he already missed it. He had been pleased to find that his assumption that it was the largest city in the world was almost right. It was the largest in Gheny and likely one of the five largest on Yine. It had felt enormous, a gigantic forest of mountainous trees straight and metallic, full of treasures. Most seemed not to care much about all the interesting things he’d noticed, like the shops with fabrics, glass, books, inventions, and amazing items he’d never seen before. After some time he had grown like they had been, but he still caught himself occasionally mesmerized by a brightly colored shop.
Tel opened up to a page and a sketch of Bienta stared back at him. He flipped the page quickly, then looked up at Raulin. He was laughing at a joke Anladet had said, his brown hair catching the sun and showing off its gold and red highlights. While Tel had not told Bienta that Raulin was a trirec, it had come close enough that he had felt some guilt when Raulin had confronted him about it and he had said he had told no one.
He had spent some time wandering the neighborhoods where they had stayed, trying to keep out of everyone else’s way. He understood; Alpine and Anladet and especially Raulin were busy and he couldn’t give them much help. It was best if he found a place to watch people and write about his thoughts, and didn’t demand to be entertained by the other three. Raulin gave him a daily allowance for food and would ask if things were all right, and he would say he ate well and was happy, which was true most of the time.
When they had moved closer to the heart of the city, he discovered there were many more shops to find and many more people to watch, but he was still lonely. They passed him by, either as some strange marvel to stare at or nothing worth looking at for more than a second. He tried not to let it bother him, but he was keen to talk to someone and learn about Gheny. And thus, three blocks towards the large statue, and five to the right at the blue brick corner building, he had found solace from his alienation.
Well, actually, he had found a museum. Nourabrikot was the only place on Ervaskin someone like Raulin would call a city, and in that city there was the palace. And in the palace was a room with trophies and drawings and jewelry and other fancy things, but it was only accessible to those of the royal family and the household staff. This museum let anyone in, for a small fee, and let them see all the paintings, sculptures, books, tapestries, and inventions they had on display. The first day he’d found it, he noticed he was staring gape-mouthed in one room, taking in everything. He’d spent hours there, until they had to close and Tel’s stomach had started rumbling.
The next day, he got there early and sat in the same room. A young woman sat on the bench next to him and said nothing for a few minutes. “Dia Divaly by Gustin Fefriholt. He’s one of the leading artists in the Mirage Movement. If you look up close, the painting looks very different.”
Tel had turned to her, then stood to walk over to the painting. Sure enough, the dark-haired woman’s portrait was made up of soft, wavy brushstrokes and background colors that had disappeared in the distance. The young woman stood next to him. “Some speculate that the yellow smudge right there was a mistake.”
“You know a lot about paintings,” he said.
“My father is the curator. I spend most of my time reading about paintings or looking at them. Would you like to see my favorite?”
“Absolutely,” he said and followed her several rooms over. It was smaller with just six paintings, the fourth wall opening to a large hallway. In the corner was a small piece with several children in the middle of playing. A toddler sat crying, two boys splashed each other, and a young girl with braided hair sat on the wall, watching the remaining group.
“That’s real life,” Bienta said. “The portraits and sceneries are in the other rooms are beautiful, but I don’t know if they ever existed. The artist might be remembering several days and painted the best parts of all of them, or maybe he painted a woman to look prettier than she was. I don’t know. But that,” she pointed at the painting, “happened. No one would put a screaming baby in a painting unless they were being true. And I love looking at it.”
And thus began Telbarisk’s education into Noh Amairian art. Over the course of a week he had learned all the little stories behind artists and their works. That artist had supposedly slept with his model. That piece contained the artist’s blood mixed with the paint. The statue of Ap Jorsen was haunted and spoke to jilted lovers, but only in May.
He had been afraid to ask her why she never mentioned his heritage. She walked him over to a fifteen foot marble statue and introduced him as Tipper. “I talk with him when there’s no one around. Compared to him, you’re short.” And that was that.
He told her that he was traveling with other people and that he wouldn’t know when he’d have to leave. She had asked who he was with, and he had sidestepped the question as much as possible. People, he had said, a couple and a guard. He had told her a little about them. She wanted to know more. He admitted that Raulin, their guard, was in love with Anladet, who was pretending to be Al’s wife and may or may not feel the same way. This had absolutely fascinated her young heart and they had spent a good deal of time talking about it.
“My opinion,” she said, in the same tone she used when describing the paintings, “is that they need a little nudge. Maybe you can help them.”
“I wouldn’t do this,” he said, “but they have already kissed.”
Bienta wasn’t expressive, but at that her eyes widened and she smirked. “What happened afterwards?”
“I do not know. Raulin was concerned that Anladet was upset by the act, but after a little bit of confusion and I think embarrassment, things went back to normal.”
“Pooh,” Bienta said, crossing her arms. “I wish I could meet them and see if there’s something there. Say, I think you’re like I am, with the paintings,” she said, turning towards him. “You can look at people and see more than what’s on the surface. What do you think?”
He considered this for a few moments. “I think they make each other happy and that’s enough. They both would have to scale some important things in their lives for anything to happen. But, I think they might.”
“You’ll write to me and tell me, please?”
Tel hadn’t meant to keep Bienta a secret, but he felt that if he had told Raulin about their conversations, his friend would be disappointed. Raulin had never asked outright and Tel had never volunteered. He liked having something in Gheny that was just his. She was only one of two significant relationships he’d had since he’d been exiled, and he felt keeping their time together quiet from the others meant he had something special about their time together that they didn’t.
The journey to Ispen had taken the whole night, so their tickets had included beds in the sleeper cars. “I’m sorry, Tel,” Raulin had said. “The rooms are rather cramped and the beds aren’t long enough for you.”
“I’ll sleep if I’m tired,” he said, but he was a little disappointed that he’d have to curl up tightly, but not that much. Ghenians weren’t as tall as he was; why would they make long beds?
Raulin slept above him, keeping his mask on even though they were alone. (Tel thought it was an odd thing, since he had seen his face in the forest after the men had tried hunting him, but understood that Raulin liked to keep his habits. Perhaps he didn’t know that Tel had seen him.) Tel laid on the cot below, his knees bent over the edge and his feet almost touching the floor. He had tried sleeping below the bed on the floor, but the rhythmic click-clack click-clack wasn’t very soothing and kept him awake.
A thought that occurred to him, right before he began to drift off, was the main difference between the train and New Wextif. There, things had been so hectic even when he stood still. Now, he was moving so fast, but everything was quiet.
Ispen reminded him that there was a middle. As the capital of Eerie, it was still a large city, but it was a far cry from New Wextif. They only stayed long enough for Raulin to get money, which he said was a substantial amount because he couldn’t rely on New Wextif for a return exchange, and then they boarded the train again.
This journey was slower and Tel was able to enjoy the scenery more. It was bumpy and rocky, but forested with lakes stretching out for miles. In that it reminded him a little of Ervaskin, wild and untamed. Towns glowed in the evening, small, expanding mounds of golden tendrils that dotted streets and alleys nestled below hills and high woods.
Alpine had set his book down and looked out the window for some time before he spoke up. “Most of those towns are self-sufficient. They can’t do large fields because of the soil, but they make enough food to feed themselves. And every woman in every household teaches her daughters a set of skills. The men pass down their professions to their sons.”
“Really?” Tel asked.
“Yeah. The women have circles that help the younger girls learn and to preserve certain advanced skills.”
Alpine talked for hours. Tel listened and wrote in his journal. Anladet and Raulin moved around, talked, brought them food, and made sure they were fine. And the next day, heading towards evening, they arrived in the capital of Quisset, Baradan.