While the days were still hot, or at least comfortably warm, the nights were cool to the point that Anla was pulled from sleep several times. She and Sakilei slept far from the fire, which even as embers was usually enough to keep her asleep and happy with her group.
She missed them. She missed them more than she had realized she would. She missed the ever-present stability and dependability of Telbarisk, she missed the passion and quirkiness of Al. She missed Raulin, though, with a slight ache in her chest her soul had previously reserved only for her family. She missed the way his words and his look would latch onto her, causing her to think about them minutes or hours later. She missed the little jokes they had that she couldn’t share with him then. She missed the way he called her “mezzem” with a mixture of respect and playfulness. She realized it wasn’t the fire she was missing; it was the warmth.
Sometime in the early morning she awoke to someone saying “Elf” over and over. She turned to see Ripole nudging Sakilei with his boot, getting more forceful until he sat up. “I lost my money. Do that thing again.”
Sakilei rubbed his eyes, then sat up. “Where did you lose it?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking you, now would I?”
“I mean, around here, around your camp, on the road?”
“Start here,” he said. By this point Anla had stirred and was looking at Ripole, yawning. “Good morning, little lady.”
She nodded and was startled when Sakilei banged two rocks together loudly. She looked at him and saw him concentrating on something. He stood up and moved closer and closer to the place where she had ditched the purse last night, close to a bush that Ripole had strolled by after he had propositioned Anla the night before. “Here,” he said, holding it up, putting the loose coins back in for the gentleman.
“Hmph,” Ripole said, snatching it from Sakilei’s hand and taking off without another word.
“What was that?” she asked Sakilei when he returned to his bedroll, which he started to roll up.
“I have my own names for things. I call that ‘kawsguh‘. Certain things have a sound that will return to you. If you know what metal sounds like, you can make a sound and that sound will change when it comes back to your ear. Then, you will know where the metal is, even if you cannot see it.”
“Oh!” she said, pulling the paper from her knapsack. “They called that ‘echoing’.”
“A Ghenian word,” he spat.
“I only have the Ghenian words for some of the things we can do. I read them in a book that said what baerds can do.”
“Let me see,” he said and she handed him the paper. He scanned the page, snorting at a few items. “I think this was written by a fool. Some of these are impossible, even if you’re very talented. ‘Cause earthquakes’? ‘Melt iron’?”
“I only wrote down what the book said. I’ve been trying to figure out which ones are true and which ones aren’t.” She began to help with the break-down of their camp. “Would you teach me?”
“Why?” he asked.
“I want to know what I’m capable of.”
“The Man With the Coin won’t allow it. It would be suspicious.”
“It would make me more valuable at the auction,” she offered.
He snorted, but stopped to take off his knit cap and scratch his head. She noticed his cropped black hair was peppered with gray. “What do you know?”
“Mesmerization, influence, projection, amplification, nullification, seeking, isolation…”
“Husk,” he said, and she stopped speaking. “Describe what you know.”
She went over the list again, this time giving a quick synopsis as to what each was. She finished with, “I’ve been working lately on tone, which is when you listen to the words someone says and try to figure out what emotion is tied to what they’re saying. I can tell when someone’s lying, for instance, and I’ve started to understand ‘sadness’, ‘anger’, ‘joy’, and a few others. Those are a bit harder.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “How is it that you lied to me in the bar?”
By this point, Sakilei was in the center of camp, restarting the fire. He asked her to fetch him the pots and pans he had stacked on a rock outside the boundaries of the circle. When she returned he said, “I didn’t lie to you. Not that I remember, anyway, and not until I started to use rewhing on you, the sweet sound that makes one do what you want. I don’t know if one person cannot use our magic if they are already under a spell or if rewhing makes you forget about your magic.”
She broke into Elvish and whispered, “Can you use the controlling magic on the hunters?”
He rolled his eyes at her. “Of course not. This would be against my binding. You can’t, either. I had to take away the dangerous magics. And your tongue is terrible.”
“I haven’t seen my people in five years,” she said. “I’ve been in Hanala since my parents were killed.” She told him briefly about the vacation, the trial, their hanging, and living on the streets. She didn’t mention meeting Al, Tel, and Raulin, nor who they were exactly.
“Why didn’t you go home?” he asked, setting lashers of meat on the hot pan above the fire.
“It’s south of here, but I don’t know where exactly. I was twelve the last time I was with my tribe.”
He thought for a few moments. “You are just barely a full-grown in their eyes, yes?”
“My seventeenth birthday was two days ago.”
“That’s too bad; they don’t force children to work as trackers. If the Man With the Coin thought you were too much of a hassle, he might have abandoned you. Then again, he also might have killed you and cut off your ears for the trophy-reward. They do that, too.”
“What are you two conspiring about?” Casquio asked as he opened the flap to his tent. “I don’t want you speaking that gobbledygook to each other.”
“We were talking about magic, sir,” Anla said. “I asked Sakilei to teach me the kinds I might be missing.”
“Absolutely not,” he said, putting on his stained Boss of the Plains hat.
“It would be good to add at auction that she’s also a master baerd. She’d fetch a record price at that point. I bet Marshoz would be very envious. He may even buy her from you.”
“Wouldn’t I like to see him eat that,” Casquio said. “Well, we have a few weeks before we make it to the city. You can teach her some things, but they have to be innocuous. And you aren’t allowed to speak Elvish.”
“Thank you,” she said once Casquio had left.
“I’m bored, that’s all.” She noted the rock-grinding sound to his words.
“Just the same, thank you.”
“Do you want to work on the kawsguh first?” He began to plate the cooked meat for the four bounty hunters, cutting the burnt and bad parts out for their portions.
“Actually, do you know the encapsulation spell?”
* * *
Since Telbarisk was far from the city, he walked without the strapped things Raulin had called “sandals”, his feet free to embrace the earth. The roads here had more rocks and they were dustier, but it was still better than the stones of the city roads that hardened his soles and occasionally cut his toes.
It helped him get a better sense of his surroundings and in turn made him more comfortable to where he was. And he needed a little bit of comfort in the wake of last night.
Raulin was in a foul mood that hadn’t abated after a night’s rest. He was a bottled storm of tension and anger, kicking things, slamming down plates, keeping away from he and Alpine. Shunning the wizard Tel had understood; he would say nothing, but he felt it showed poorly on his character that he was willing to abandon Anladet like that. Tel didn’t understand why Raulin didn’t speak with him, like he often did when he was troubled, until he realized after an angry flash of a look from the trirec that Raulin was angry with him, too. And it didn’t take long for Tel to piece together that Raulin had finally understood what kouriya meant and he was blaming him for her capture.
So, the three of them walked down the road that moved them east in silence, back to the large city where they didn’t want to go. They were several hundred paces apart, Raulin leading and not seeming to care whether the other two were actually following him.
Tel ached for his friend. He knew how Raulin felt about Anladet. He empathized being away from the one you loved, though he had the peace of knowing Kelouyan was safe and well-cared for by his family. Raulin still had to deal with the barbs of unspoken things, of words and actions that he should share with Anladet, but couldn’t. Losing that opportunity, perhaps permanently, was cutting him up inside.
As always, though, Tel was there for him. He was there for Alpine, too, because he knew that something strange was going on in the wizard’s mind. But mostly he wanted to help Raulin, who didn’t want help. He wanted pain and blood.
Tel walked in the middle of the road, avoiding the ruts left by the wagons and carts that still held rainwater from a few days ago. Raulin was ahead and had missed something that Telbarisk felt with his bare feet.
As he picked up his foot to move it to the next step, the balls of his foot slid on something smooth. Since he was in the practice of collecting small, yet interesting rocks, he bent down to pick it up on instinct.
It wasn’t a rock. It was a copper, one of the coins the Ghenians used to trade with instead of bartering. Raulin had always told him that any money abandoned was fair game and that he should pick it up, since even a copper every once in a while could add up to a silver.
His foot slipped again some hundred or so paces down the road. Another copper, which he picked up and placed in his bakinar with the other one. He’d put them in the knapsack later.
Another hundred paces and a third copper was on the ground. “Raulin?” he asked, projecting his voice enough to get his attention. Raulin turned and walked back towards him without his characteristic swagger.
“What?” he asked and Telbarisk held out his hand with the three coins.
“These have been in the road at almost the same distance apart. I thought maybe someone had lost a coin, but this seems deliberate.”
By this point Al had caught up with the two of them and looked into Tel’s palm. “Nice. Maybe you can buy us a loaf of bread next time we’re in a town.”
“Are you saying you think Anla is leaving us a trail?” Raulin asked.
“That’s a stupid plan,” Al said. “We know she’s on the road. There’s no need to tell us that.”
“Don’t. Call. Her. Stupid,” Raulin said through clenched teeth.
“Raulin, Alpine is right that the plan is not helpful, but you are also right that Anladet is not stupid. She’s very smart and wouldn’t waste any money she has telling us she is going in an obvious direction.”
“What’s her plan, then?”
“Maybe she’s trying to tell us something else.”
The three of them, quietly, impatiently, walked to where the next coin should be. Telbarisk easily sensed it, being an object of different material around its surroundings. Raulin snatched it up before he could, held it up to examine it, then gave it to Tel to hold on.
“This is the last one,” Tel said as they approached the fifth coin.
“Five coins,” Raulin muttered. “What’s the significance of that number?”
“Of the Twelve, five are considered the true ‘masters’ of the gods. That would be Kriskin, Kabidon, Mag-”
“Shut your mouth, Wizard. You said you didn’t want to help us. Have you changed your mind?”
Al glowered at him, but said nothing.
It was only when Raulin picked up the last coin that he understood what her plan had been. Telbarisk heard someone speaking, turned to see Raulin closing his eyes for a few moments. “She wanted to make sure we got the last coin, which had a message.”
“What did she say?” Tel asked.
“Not sure I understand it. ‘The Man With the Coin has my magic. Get the coin.’”
“You have to get the coin, Raulin. You know, the coin,” Al said mockingly. Raulin’s knife was at his throat so quickly that it took him a moment to register it. His smile dropped and he stepped back a step.
“Go,” Raulin said to him, pointing ahead in the road. “I don’t want to see your face or hear your voice until she is back with m…us.”
When Al was outside of even his earshot, Tel said, “We’ll find her, healthy and whole, Raulin. At least we have a clue as to what to do.”
Raulin shook his head. “It’s still far from a plan. I’m going to need your help to get her back.”
Telbarisk said nothing other than to put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.