“Are you sure you didn’t need anything else?” Chockwell said. “I don’t mind lending you some money or clothes or food. Do you need food? We can go to the market and get some food.”
“You’ve been more than helpful,” Raulin said. “All we needed was the information, really.”
“I can give you the money,” the plump little priest said. “You don’t have to return it.”
“We’ve enough money. Again, we thank you for your help, but we must be off.”
“I can go with you,” he tried again.
“No, you need to tend to your flock here. You’re a good priest with good people.”
“Come, Tel. We need to make haste in order to catch up with our associate.”
With that, Raulin left the despondent priest standing in the crossroads while they headed east. “You’re sure you don’t have any royal blood?” Al asked. “It’s odd that clergymen fawn over you like that.”
“No royal blood,” he said. “It’s just a thing about me, Wizard. Now, I have a conundrum for you. Why would a group of men kidnap Anla? Why haven’t they gone beyond our radius and why hasn’t she escaped?”
“Well, what makes you think she was kidnapped? You said yourself you saw her bed a man last night. Maybe they’re running off together.”
“I didn’t see her bed him. I saw them go upstairs. I reached a conclusion that seemed likely, but might not be the truth.”
“Oh, well, it seems likely enough. What if he enjoyed the night and wished to marry her, or bring her to some place where he could make a lot of money selling her?”
Raulin ground his teeth. Telling the wizard about his jealous suspicions had been a very poor course of action. He worked his jaw and admitted that he probably deserved the pain it was causing him. “That makes sense if only she was willing to withstand crippling pain when she moved beyond a mile of us.”
“What if she’s drugged?”
“Then why haven’t the drugs worn off?”
“Possible, but the man would have to be prepared with the concoction in the event he happened to meet a charming woman he wished to kidnap. And he’d have to also have the means of moving a sedated woman a long distance. The priest mentioned they didn’t have any animals nor a cart with them, nor were any of them carrying her. Which also begs the question of why a group of men joined the first man this morning.”
“That does sound premeditated. The first man lured her into a situation, but had the other men standing by?”
Raulin continued the thought. “She trusts the man and goes upstairs for some reason. He waylays her for an entire night, keeping her unconscious since she could use her magic to escape, but then with her full capacity still walks out to the group of men and leaves. I’m still missing why she wouldn’t have struck earlier to protect herself and didn’t seem to struggle.”
“Does it matter?” Al asked. “We’ll be upon the group soon enough and we can sneak in and take her back.”
“It does matter. I love dashing into an easy theft, taking what I need to, and leaving as soon as possible, but even I know I need some foundation of the situation or else we could stumble into something unpleasant. Off the top of my head, I’ve had at least three instances where a theft would have turned into me taking the blame for murder if I hadn’t been more careful.”
It was a few minutes before Telbarisk shared his thoughts. “I think you both are forgetting that Anladet isn’t just a woman. She’s part elven, and if I remember what she told me correctly, that holds a bit of danger for her here in these lands. It’s why she wears her hair down most of the time.”
Raulin looked over at Tel. “That’s a good point. It still doesn’t explain why she didn’t resist.” He clicked his tongue. “Wizard, can you give me a list of ways someone familiar with magic could coerce another into incapacitation? Let’s start with those common to Liyand and work our way to more exotic kinds.”
“Soft wizards can make someone unconscious, or at least potentially malleable through induction of a pleasing state. Hard wizards can cause a panic in someone and stoke the fear to their advantage.”
“She definitely wasn’t afraid, nor unconscious. I won’t rule out he was a skilled soft wizard, but it seems unlikely. Good, keep going.”
“A priest of the Twelve might have a spelled item that could do the actions you described.”
“I don’t recall him giving her anything other than a bowl of stew. It didn’t seem out of place at the time, the bowl or spoon, and I don’t remember him taking it with him when she finished the meal. What would it entail for a priest, or anyone, really, to have an item like that?”
“You’d need a Skethik priest to place the spell and I think an Aliornic priest to make the spell. They would both have to be fine with the spell being put on an item that is usually associated with Zayine. I recall that general idea being scorned by most priests. I doubt Rayani, for instance, would stoop to do that.”
“But not an impossible object to have, just unlikely to be made. Not all priests are so picky when money is involved. Let’s shelve that idea at the top for the moment. Anything else?”
Al recited from the master list he had memorized in school each kind of magic followed by either him scratching the entry or explaining the way each might have been used against Anla. Piscarin enchantments, dobi fire magic, Tektornian shaminism, and Ukilian kameseno written spells made the short list of potential types of magic used against her.
“Amandorlam knows of Ukilia?” Raulin asked. “That’s fairly far out in Merak. I thought Ghenians assumed everyone in Merak was Kachilan, the short reddish-skinned people that make up all trirecs. Well, almost all.”
“Amandorlam knows of the different people of Merak. The average person, though, I’m not sure.”
“What of the baerds?” Tel asked.
Al thought of this for a moment. “They didn’t teach anything about them because they were supposedly wiped out by the Nui-Breckin Law.”
Both he and Raulin inhaled sharply. Raulin said, “Here I was thinking her magic was so rare that we’d never see another baerd. Of course, it fits. And now that I’m picturing the man in my head, he could be a half-elf. His ears were covered by a knit cap I thought out of place, since most men wear bowlers and top hats. It would make sense he was covering his heritage. And the rest follows if she had her own magic used against her.”
“About time,” Al said.
“What was that, Wizard?” he asked sharply.
“It’s about time that she had her own magic used against her.”
“Are you celebrating the fact that a young woman was kidnapped by a group of men and is now currently being carted off to some place for reasons that can’t be good?”
“I’m just saying that someone that powerful should understand what it’s like to have that power turned on them. That way, she might think twice before using that power carelessly or thoughtlessly.”
“When have you seen her do that?”
“I would think you of all people would be upset about her flagrant use of magic. She did stop you from escaping the count’s room.”
“As did your mouth,” he retorted, “and I hold it against neither of you while Telbarisk gets accolades for beaning that guard over the head with the vase.”
“In Amandorlam, we regularly had required sessions in which we had teachers use the Unease and Calm on us, so that we could understand what we were doing to others. She’s never had to deal with knowing what it’s like to be under her spell.”
“And yet she’s been rather responsible about it. I’ve had conversations with her about how reluctant she is to use the abilities she has that are morally questionable. She was quite pleased to rely on her new spell that only influences instead of enslaves.”
“It’s not like a lesser evil isn’t an evil,” Al said. “That spell is still repugnant.”
“I can guess you weren’t complaining about her using magic on you when you were gasping for air like a landed fish on the floor of that courtroom. She saved your life and still asked for your permission, knowing how much it bothered you.”
“And how do I know she hasn’t used it again? Why would I suddenly decide to kill a man, huh? It makes no sense. She had to have whispered in my ear at some point to do it.”
“I have no idea why you did that. It was unnecessary. But, you did it and I know she didn’t use her magic on you.”
“How do you know that?”
“We discussed this back in Whitney. Because either you would have a blank when you tried to remember that time or you would want to kill. Do you secretly desire to use your magic to murder, Wizard?”
“No,” he said quietly.
“Then she has left you alone. Now, if we’re done with this conversation, and I know I am, we need to find this group when they make camp tonight. We’ll observe them from a distance and see if there’s a way to extract both Anla and the other half-elf without alerting the rest of the camp. They’re sure to have…”
“No,” Al said.
Raulin stopped short and turned around. “Did you just say ‘no’ to me, Wizard?”
“I did. I’m bowing out from this rescue.”
“Care to explain why before I smash your face and turn your mouth into a beak?”
“I think she needs to learn her lesson about her magic before I help her. A few days, a week at most, and I’ll help.”
Al began backing up as Raulin stalked towards him. “Raulin…”
Raulin shoved him against a tree. “She’s saved your life. You owe her.”
“This is the best thing for her.” He had to step on his tiptoes as Raulin grabbed his tunic and pushed him farther up the trunk.
“You think life hands people opportunities all the time,” he said through clenched teeth. “You think we’ll be able to save her whenever we feel like it. You forget what a group of men might do to an unarmed woman. I swear, Wizard, if one hair on her head is harmed because you decided to take your sweet, damn time, I will carve her screams into your chest so that…”
Telbarisk put a hand on Raulin’s shoulder. “This isn’t helping,” he said. “Give him time.”
Raulin opened his hand and Al dropped down to the ground. “If you’re not with me, you’re against me. I don’t want you to speak to me unless the words ‘I’ve changed my mind’ are uttered twenty feet away from me.”
Thinking he had calmed down and was joking, Al asked, “Why twenty feet?”
“There’s potential that I might miss if I’m throwing a knife at you at twenty. I wouldn’t try then. Otherwise, feel free to speak to me at thirty. Let’s see what happens.”
* * *
The bounty hunters stopped just before dusk, moving off the road to an area that, while wasn’t flat, had a good fringe of trees that blocked their site from the road. Sakilei was busy with setting up everyone’s tents and cooking dinner, so Anla was left alone. She almost joined him to help, but couldn’t figure out whether she’d feel more comfortable with him or in the company of one of the other men.
She thought the quartet would have rescued her already. Raulin should have realized something was wrong when she didn’t come back to their room. She could only assume he went to check on her and no one was forthcoming with information on where she had gone. He must have hunted around town the next morning, surely, and someone must have seen her walk away with a group of men. They would come for her.
Those was her thoughts on the situation until that evening, at least. She began to worry about their safety. What if Raulin had tried to save her, but the group had surprised him and Al and Telbarisk and hurt them, or worse, killed them? She had felt secure for a moment that the latter wasn’t true, since the book she had read in Calaba had said that she would have felt it, but she had been mesmerized for half a day. What if they had all died and she didn’t even know it? The thought physically hurt.
Why would Casquio (she refused to think to herself of him as the Man With the Coin) ask about the “vagabonds” she was with, though? False hope? It would be better for him to quash her dreams of escape from the beginning. No, they were still alive, she told herself. They would be coming as soon as they could. And they might need some help.
One of the men approached her casually, taking his time across the exposed roots and large rocks in the area. “Here,” he said, handing her a bowl of pea and ham soup. “Normally you fetch your own food, but I’m feeling kind tonight.”
“Thank you,” she said, taking the bowl and spoon. He invited himself to sit next to her. Though in traveling clothes, he still presented a polished aura. The cut and material of his shirt and pants were high quality, his bowler hat was clean, and his face had recently been shaved except for the swaths of hair along the sides of his face.
“What’s your name, little lady?”
“A pretty name for a pretty girl. I’m Ripole.”
“Sakilei called you ‘the gentleman’.”
“That’s my title as much as anything else, though I’d like to think I’m that way in personality as well. I’m in charge of securing us work, dealing with the public, purchasing rooms and entertainment, and eventually working with the auctioneers. But, that’s messy business talk.”
“I understand why I was captured and what you have planned for me.”
“You don’t seem worried about it.”
“I am,” she said carefully, putting down her meal. “I’ve never been one to dwell on the negative things that happen to me. At least I’m to be sold to someone that will have it in their best interests to keep me alive.”
“True,” he said, “but there’s no guarantee they will keep you alive and well-kept. I’d think about buying you myself, but you’re likely to fetch an incredible price. Of course, maybe I could help you escape and you could repay the kindness somehow.”
His voice told her that he had no intention of either buying her, nor of helping her escape. “I couldn’t leave the Man With the Coin,” she said with a touch of false adoration.
“No, but the Man With the Coin is always just any man with the coin. Do you savvy what I mean?”
She shook her head, though she highly suspected what he was going to tell her.
“One knife thrust and the seizing of a chain and I become the new Man With the Coin. And I’d be willing to do this, if someone gave me proper motivation.” He moved so that he was sitting next to her. “I’m sure you understand now what I mean.”
She tensed for a moment, then moved so that her leg was touching his. He smiled and said, “That’s my girl.”
He sighed when she ran her hand up his thigh, then groaned in annoyance when she took it away. “Perhaps not tonight, though?” she asked. “It would seem suspicious. I bet they’ll be watching me closely, at least in the beginning.”
“Yes,” he said reluctantly. He sat for a few minutes before making an annoyed noise in the back of his throat, then standing. Before he left, he said, “You’re a pretty thing and I like pretty things. We have a few weeks before we reach New Wextif. I won’t be satisfied with a couple of times right before we get there. I’d recommend sooner rather than later.”
“Thank you,” she said, swallowing the bile she felt rising in her throat. Once he was gone, though, she smirked and tossed his coin purse in the air.