12-10

“Oh, look,” Raulin said, holding out his hand, gloved due to the cold. “Do you see this? This is exactly what I wanted to avoid.” Against the black wool, a single snowflake stood out in his palm.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Telbarisk said in an almost dreamy tone.

“Nice? It’s…” He paused to look at his friend. “It’s wonderful.”

“Do you think we could stop by a beach before we leave? I’d like to see the snow falling into the sea, at least once more.”

“Even if we can’t, we can,” he said, turning the group away from the train station. “Well, Wizard? A moderately priced hotel near the ocean? Perhaps a beach we haven’t seen before?”

Al nodded and began leading them south without a word. After a few miles of winding streets and dockside shops, with the air taking on a progressively saltier tang, the street opened up to a gull-infested beach in line with the road. The snow laid on the sand, swirling white dust against the tan dunes.

Tel began to walk the beach, disturbing the gulls who seemed more annoyed than scared. Al alternated between watching the snow fall on the ocean and collecting seashells. Raulin and Anla sat hip-to-hip, crossing their inside arms. “Is he okay?” Raulin asked. “He seems awfully pensive.”

“Al? I think he made peace and might be mulling things over.”

“Oh, do you think he’s going to stop nagging me about my job?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “We’ll have to see. I’ll do my best to encourage it, but…”

“But…?”

“Well, it’s not terrible for you to meditate on what you do.”

“Not you, too,” he said, his sigh somewhere between joking and dismay. “You know I do think about it.”

“I’m not saying you don’t. In fact, I know you do. And if I had to guess, I’d say you’re starting to feel differently about it.”

“Why would you say that?”

“I listen. When you speak about doing your work and being a trirec, you don’t sound as proud about it as you did when we first met.” She sucked air in through her teeth. “Not proud, but…confident in your position.”

“I’m not,” he said. “My two major advantages, preferential treatment in my order and anonymity on the streets, are gone. The Umber knows there’s a Noh Amairian trirec and Arvarikor has no reason to help me when I need it. I don’t know which is worse.

“I didn’t say much to you about this last contract, but it was more difficult for me than they normally are. I kept second guessing happenstances. I watched behind my shoulder more. I waited much too long and didn’t take the chances I normally do. All that, far away from other trirecs or the Cumber. I feel too shaken over what’s happened these last months.”

“So, what would you do?”

“That’s the problem,” he said. “I’m not skilled in practical things. I wasn’t really around tradesmen growing up, so I never picked up any skills. All I know is how to spy, steal, and kill, and I don’t want to live my life as some wharf thug-for-hire. I might have enough money to start a business and to buy a piece of land, but actually working them doesn’t mean I can make a living at it.”

“At least you’re thinking about it,” she said, blowing on her hands. He ungloved his own, grabbed hers, and began rubbing them, massaging warmth back into her fingers.

“I’m not supposed to, but I do, at least to have a backup. Of course, I’ve dreamed many plans when I’ve been in instances of misfortune. Once, while awaiting trial in Kipraud, I dreamed to one day be one of those horsemen out in the western parts of Gheny, the ones that tend to cattle. Lonely work, but good pay, from what I hear. Something to do for a few years while you save your money and spend it wisely, then head back east and find a lady to settle down with.

“But, escaping Arvarikor is another matter. That’s my biggest obstacle. You don’t quit being a trirec; you either retire as a trivren or you die. And trivrens are still in Arvarikor. So, unless you know a way for a man to die, but not actually die, then I’m stuck doing this.”

“We should run it by Al,” she said. “He’s good at finding loopholes.”

“While I agree that he’s quite good at thinking of alternative methods, I doubt the wizard would help me.”

“I think that getting you to stop being a trirec would align with his wants. Just, maybe wait until he’s had some time to think.”

They sat for some time more until the wind began to blow hard and they grew too cold to stand it. Despite the chill, Telbarisk seemed comfortable in just his bakinar, shirt, and pants. Al was freezing.

“Not used to this,” he said, leading them inland and to a hotel.

“It’s not this cold in Whitney?” Raulin asked.

“You might see a week’s worth of snow over the whole winter, and the snow doesn’t start falling until close to the end of the year.”

“Excellent to hear. I hope to be in and out, then, with plenty of time to spare before we see any more cold weather.”

“Definitely. It’s far too early for snow. It’ll be nice outside, a little cooler than it was in New Wextif, but comfortable.”

“All right. There is a ten-thirty train to Whitney tomorrow morning. We will be on it. Settle your accounts tonight, because we aren’t coming back here. Everyone fine with that?”

“Yes,” Al said. Though he still had a lot to parse through, he had to admit that he felt rather peaceful over his decisions. And that in and of itself was something he was going to need to understand.

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