12-9

Al spent the next few days in his room. He would rise,get dressed, shave, then spend the rest of the day lying in bed, his back to the door. Anla and Raulin left him alone, save to check in on him and bring him food.

There was a lot for him to think about. For Al, it was two crushing forces moving against each other, trying their hardest to win out over each other in a battle for his soul. At least, that’s how Kiesh the Black would think of it, had he been inside Al’s head. It was really Al just trying to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and failing to do so for some time.

There was also a lot of hypocrisy mixed in to his contemplation. He had abandoned his family because of duty and law. Then, he had broken that same law because he deemed it not applicable, which contradicted what had told Raulin in that he would obey all laws set forth in Gheny. And there was a lot of other things he needed to be honest with himself about.

In the end, it was what Telbarisk had said about family and time not being a given that made him break away from his main arguments and try to see things differently. If he left in a few days and never spoke to his madra because he was mad at her, then she died, how would he feel? Would he regret not telling her the truth? Would he regret leaving her with reason to be heartbroken every time she thought of him? She was his mother, after all. What man could do that to his mother, over something that didn’t even involve him?

He awoke early on the third day, wore his nice suit, had his face completely shaved, and ventured to his madra’s business. He hadn’t been there in a long time, but the smell brought him back to playing in the dirt and picking flowers for his little sister.

She arrived not long after he did, Glendina at her elbow. “9:30 with Tanask, 10:00 with Aviz Holdings.”

“Mai’am,” the secretary said, handing her a piece of paper.

She scanned it. “The Baradan Times would like a few comments on what happened last night, ma’am.”

“When do I have a break?”

“Madra?” Al said, interrupting her planning.

His mother stopped for a moment. Glendina turned, her mouth an O. “Hold off Tanask as long as possible,” she said to her assistant, then beckoned her son to follow her into her office.

She poured herself some tea, sipped, then poured him a cup. Al almost ignored the sequence, but remembered that tea was an integral part in determining status in meetings. His madra had made it clear that she had the upper hand, but that she still wanted to hear what he had to say.

“You’ve heard the news, then,” she asked, “and you wish to negotiate your terms?”

“No,” he said, perplexed. “What news?”

“Tonen Whiskef’s throat was slit last night while he slept,” she said. “Someone managed to sneak past an impressive number of guards and servants in order to achieve this, so most are saying it’s a trirec.”

“Not as impressive as a count’s,” he muttered under his breath.

“Let me explain what this means for my business and the community.”

“I don’t care,” he said, meeting her eyes.

“Well, then.”

“I don’t care because it’s your business. I don’t understand it. I think it’s wrong to kill people, but I can’t sit here and judge you for it. It would be hypocritical.

“Madra, I lied to you. I’m not a vizier, I’m a touch wizard who makes a pittance. My wife cheated on me and I left her a few months ago. Since then I’ve been traveling Gheny, doing better for myself, but there is no lord that I work for. The woman you met is a fr…acquaintance of mine. The trirec you wound up hiring is also, which is how I knew what that sigil was. And I’ve…done some terrible things. I killed a man. It was an accident, but he is still dead just the same. I think that’s why I didn’t want you to keep your contract. I know what it feels like and I pain over it. I didn’t want that for you.”

She sipped her tea for a few moments. “Knowing you, I think there was a fair amount of moral preeminence included in your offense.”

“Yes, there probably was.”

“And, you felt the need to confess so that you can walk away feeling better about yourself?”

“No.”

“So, why are you here, then?”

“Because I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”

“Which means you don’t know when you’ll be around to make sure I’m punished for my crime?”

“No! It’s because I love you! I…I was fine with not seeing you and everyone else because I didn’t think there would be a time when I couldn’t write to you or take a train here if I wanted to. But I thought about how I would be leaving soon, angry at you, and you knowing I was angry at you. I decided that I’d rather not leave like that.

“I don’t approve…”

“A given,” she said.

“…and I am still upset that you hired a trirec to kill someone. But, I don’t want to leave like this.”

“How would you like to leave?”

“Like this. Talking to you. Leaving things open and good, or mostly good.”

She placed her hands softly on her desk. “Well. I can’t say this is something I expected from you.”

“I know.”

“You must know that you’re always welcome at home. You can stay, if you want.”

“I need to go with them.”

“Whenever you’re finished, then, you can come home. I have my disappointments in you as well, but you are my rino and nothing will change that.”

“I understand.”

His madra sighed and sipped her tea. “She’s not your wife?”

“Anla? No.”

“Anla. She’s invited, too, if she wants a job. Her ability to read people and situations was uncanny.”

“I’ll tell her you made that offer.”

She stood, walked around the desk, and cradled Al’s head against her chest. “So, when you are finished wandering, sowing your wild oats, you will return?”

“Yes. If.”

“If?” she asked, looking at him.

“I told you I was a vizier because that’s what I really want to be. And if I find a noble who wants a wizard on-call to heal him or be a guard, then I’m going to take that opportunity. But, if not, then I will visit you next June and we can talk.”

“I’d like that. And you’re welcome to come to dinner tonight, you and your acquaintances.” She stood and smoothed her blouse. “I need to get back to work. There’s a bit of a power vacuum and I’m sure there will be moves to fill that void.”

“I understand,” he said. “Good luck.”

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