14-1

“So, this means we’re safe now?” Raulin asked Al once they had crossed the ducal border into Ashven.

“To the fullest extent? No. But, in order for someone to arrest someone else for a crime committed in one duchy after they’ve passed into another, they need a lot of paperwork and the cooperation of lawmen. And that’s duchy lawmen, judges and lawyers, not just the nearest constable. It wouldn’t be impossible for the trackers, or someone else, to gather all that help, but it will take time and money and a lot of energy to try and capture someone just for a theft.”

“Oh, now see, I didn’t know it was like that. Essentially, my crimes are wiped when I pass over borders?”

“It’s not that they’re expunged, it’s that they’re essentially not enforceable. You’d need a powerful organization tracking your moves and anticipating where you’ll be for them to get the drop on you.”

“You mean like the Cumber?” Raulin asked flatly.

“Yes, like the…oh. The Cumber does have kingdom jurisdiction. Sorry about that.”

“Nothing really to be sorry about, Wizard. My job requires dodging lawmen anyway. What’s another charge? I think it’s safe to say that those men in Eerie won’t be coming after you. Maybe me, but not you. So, let’s take a lunch break and relax a little. We’ve pushed hard over the last few days.”

“I’ll make lunch,” Al said. “We still have some turkey from the inn last night and those apples from Baradan. I can make us sandwiches.”

As soon as they found a spot, Al got to work, happily making the meal for the others. “Should we build a fire?” he asked after passing Raulin his sandwich.

“Are we planning on staying here? No sense in making a fire if we have to kick it out in an hour.” Anla and Al both shrugged, neither interested in committing to an answer they thought he was going to give. “Tel, what does kouriya tell you?”

“Kouriya has told me to rest several times already, but I ignored this. I wanted to leave on my own for a little while, like we did before the big city, but I knew it was important to you to keep moving. So, I said nothing and did nothing.”

Raulin paused before saying, “Thank you, Tel. We’re looking good as far as time. If you would like to lead us for a while, then I think we can take it at your pace, so long as it’s generally in a southern direction.”

Telbarisk closed his eyes and tilted his head slightly. “We should stop for the day.”

“Excellent,” Raulin said, laying down on the ground and eating the rest of his sandwich.

After a few minutes, Anla softly mentioned that she was going for a walk. “Mind some company?” Raulin asked and she smiled, then gestured for him to follow.

“What’s on your mind? Are we going to work on my magic again?” Raulin had taken her aside when they could, pouring over the notes she had taken in Calaba to determine what she could potentially do, then suggesting ways to hone her skill. There had been a reprieve while they had traveled several hundred miles by train and foot over the last few days.

“Mmm? Uh, yes,” he said, moving a branch out of his way.

“Have you thought of something to work on?”

“Of a sort.” He held his hand out reflexively to help her over a large pile of rocks, but she was more nimble than he was and didn’t accept.

“Well, whatever we’re doing, it sounds vague. Perhaps even mysterious.”

He gave a small chuckle and caught up with her as she stepped into a glen. “Lovely place.”

“I knew I heard a stream. So?”

Raulin wiggled off his mask and placed it next to him as he sat next to her. Instead of speaking, he exhaled slowly, a thoughtful, crooked smile on his face. “Are you testing me?” she asked.

“No, just trying to figure out how to say this without insulting you.”

“Just say it.”

“You’re magic still scares me.”

She raised her eyebrows. It wasn’t where she thought the conversation was going to go. “It scares me, too,” she said carefully.

“Yes, but you are afraid of what you can do to others, while I’m afraid of what you can do to me.”

Her face clouded, her mouth almost frowning. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”

“Most of me does, yes. But, I’m not a trusting man; I can’t be, not with what I do. I have a lot at stake, a lot that can be compromised by someone doing what you can do, and that makes me fearful of our interactions.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said quietly.

“No, no, I don’t mean I distrust you. I just…can’t trust someone completely. I’m sorry.”

“I understand. What would you like me to do?”

“Thank you,” he said. “This is going to sound a little strange, but Arvarikor taught us to face our fears. I’d like to do that, so three things: I’d like you to put me under and have me do some menial task that will take a few minutes. I’d like to see how the passage of time feels and whether I can resist it. You had me under that spell too quickly back at the count’s mansion and I think my mask dampened some of your magic, so it wasn’t…”

“Two?” she asked curtly.

“All right. Before you bring me out, give me a one time command. Tell me right before you do it, so I can see if that’s also resistible.”

“And the third?”

“A permanent command. Every time I’m put under that same spell, I do something that indicates it happened.”

She nodded, then smoothed out her wide-pleated peasant skirt. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Raulin took a deep breath, released it slowly, then nodded. “Go ahead.”

With considerable bitterness, Anladet whispered his name, feeling the heaviness to her voice that she had realized when she was thirteen could stop a man in his tracks and do whatever she wanted. Raulin inhaled slowly, his gaze far off in the distance. His breathing was deep and his eyes she thought had darkened, until she saw his pupils had taken over his dark blue irises almost to the edge.

Given the opportunity, she examined him more closely than she would normally. He had what she’d decided was a charming face, expressive and bright, easy to read when he wanted you to know what he was thinking. She saw a few scars, but they didn’t make him seem menacing, only victimized. Without his mask, he was someone she could trust. But, despite the fact that she often slept next to him and thought of him as a close friend, she wouldn’t necessarily say she felt totally safe around him. She knew what he was capable of doing to another person, with or without his knives, and knew that he could turn that on her at any point.

It was unfair for her to be disappointed by his position. She nodded to herself in a final understanding before continuing his request.

Raulin didn’t return to consciousness quickly. It was as if he had been hit hard in the head and needed to readjust his sight and hearing, though thankfully the ordeal was missing the pain and fuzziness he remembered. The sounds were easiest; the stream babbling nearby, the birds singing, the wind rustling the leaves that were painted gold or orange every so often . Then came the realization of him sitting on the grass, in a small, green glen near a river cutting through brown-gray shale. Lastly, before he was completely returned, was the pain.

He rubbed his right wrist, then held up his left arm. Scratch marks clawed down the outside of his forearm, deep enough to draw blood. “This is my sign?” he asked.

“Every time you’re put under, by anyone with baerdic powers, you will do that.”

He looked around for a moment. “How long was I out?”

“Maybe ten minutes? I asked you to find ten rocks in the river the same size as your hand and stack them next to me, one at a time.”

Sure enough, his boots and the knees of his pants were wet and his fingers slightly numb and cut. There was a pile of wet rocks next to Anla, neatly stacked. “And the command I need to resist?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever put a thought like this in someone’s head, to be done while they know it. It seemed cruel to make them suffer in confusion while they struggle against something they can’t stop. I hope this works, then. I asked you to bring me a leaf, knowing you’re doing it, if I say ‘Tondeiva’.”

There were many times in Raulin’s life he had caught himself doing something without thought. Most of the time it didn’t bother him; it was rote muscular memory that allowed him to fence and fight, after all. But, every once in a while it bothered him that he hadn’t been thinking of what he was doing and he’d intentionally stop himself in the moment for at least a second. Normally, bringing attention to the action would bring him in thought of whatever it was he was doing and it would cease any worries he’d had over it. Then, however, had him in that same wheel-rut motion, something worn and unneeded to think about, but he didn’t have that opportunity to break himself from it. He was with thought, but without command.

“This is…peculiar,” he said as he walked to the edge of the glen.

“You’re not walking like you walk normally,” she said. “You seem like you’re struggling.”

“In my mind I am. I can’t stop this at all and I’m trying with every fiber of my being. A part of me thinks this is absolutely fine, that I’m even grateful for you to for doing this to me, and I’m fighting against that as well.”

He began to climb a maple tree having spotted an orange leaf some fifteen feet up. “I wonder if you can fall,” Anla thought out loud. “Does my command actually help here, like Al suggested at the church in Whitney? I mean, does it make you complete the task in the smoothest way possible, or can you come to harm from it?”

“That’s an interesting thought,” he said from the branches. “It might be like a man traveling a road in a cart instead of on his feet. The thought has merit for certain situations.” He climbed back down carefully with a leaf in his hand and staggered back to Anla. “I think this is for you.” Once she had taken it from him, the tension in his body snapped and he almost fell backwards to the ground.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile. “And so you’re not wondering, ‘Tondeiva’.”

He sat down. “Nothing from that. Thank you. I feel…better about things.”

He went on to talk about different things, from the experience he had just gone through to a few funny anecdotes about times he had to deal with magic in Noh Amair. And while she listened, she realized she had passed a test. He had given her the opportunity to alter him with her magic, had trusted her with his blessing to make him do something he wouldn’t know about. She could have chosen anything, including doing whatever it took to make Al like him and save their group when the year was up.

But, she hadn’t. And she wouldn’t. She had let the temptation exist and had rejected it. And though she had used her magic, later that night she balled her fist and kissed it.

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