Avo sei concra, Raulin had decided that morning, a phrase that translated to “wounded bird”. It was is favored position, one that he had already acted in Carvek and in Iascond at the bookstore. There was something about being underestimated that he enjoyed, playing meek to disarm and never letting his true motivations show. People were more likely to help or befriend someone that didn’t threaten them. And, should a problem arise, Raulin always knew what he was capable of.
His arm was mending, but still in a sling. It wasn’t much more to complete the appearance than to don a pair of spectacles (since he’d always noticed that intellectuals had glasses and they were oddly considered unthreatening) and dress in a manner that made him look a little on the youthful side.
After his change in clothing, he ate breakfast while watching the entrance to the estate. It was eight in the morning by the tolling of the bells in Aliorna’s chapel just a few neighborhoods over, a tinkling sort of sound that made him smirk at memories from a decade ago. He’d say they were from his youth, but he still often felt like he was living it.
Not much long after the music played, one of the women in the blue dresses and pinned back hair arrived. He decided to call her “Willow” because she was tall and very thin, her arms bent and sticking out like tree branches. She gave a small nod to the two men guarding the gate, who let her pass without much fanfare.
“Haubret” came next. She was named after a woman Raulin had known in his childhood, the type of woman with a stature that would have pleased any husband who was a farmer: big-boned, heavy, and tall. Too bad the real Haubret had been a noble, a placid woman prone to spells of melancholy. This Haubret seemed to take after her in that aspect, too, since she stared at the ground and barely said anything to the guards.
The last woman came running down the road and only slowed herself once she reached the gate. She fixed her auburn hair and smiled at the guards, dimples popping on her round face. The guards seemed to cheer up at her arrival and the three spoke for a few minutes. She may have been flirting with them, or at least holding a conversation that was far from formal. If Raulin had to pick one based just on their arrivals, he would choose “Burgundy”.
He was prepared to sit until one left, which he had expected to be until eight like the previous night, but he was surprised to see Burgundy leave around lunch. Making sure the guards hadn’t noticed him, he followed a block behind her until she entered into a library of Cyurinin with a basket. He waited a few minutes before going inside and sat kitty-corner from her at a table.
She had neatly stacked a few books and was eating her lunch of roasted fingerling potatoes, vegetables, and sliced roast beef. He settled down and pretended to read from his book, instead glancing at the titles of hers. Raulin almost let out a pained sigh and rolled his eyes; they were all Arvonnese alley novels.
He forced a smile and asked, “How’s that one?”
She continued to cut her meat for a few moments, then suddenly looked at him. “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were talking to me. Um, which one?”
“That one,” he said, pointing to the top book. “Another Season in Eri Ranvel.”
She lifted it, and ran her finger across an iconic gray-green cover with blue stamped words in a distinct font. It looked almost exactly like the one Raulin had read in Baradan with the hopes of connecting to the wizard. “This is one of my favorites. The prose is so beautiful and the characters just jump off the page.”
“I just finished Scattered at Sea not too long ago,” he admitted.
“Really?” she asked, her eyes widening. “You like alley novels?”
“I do,” he said, frowning. “Why, is that strange?”
“No! No, I’ve just…never met a man who read them.”
She leaned forward. “Don’t feel bad about that one bit. That just makes you better than all the blockheads out there who think women like brutish men who can’t feel anything other than anger and hunger.” She smiled, her dimples forming, and went back to eating her meal.
“And you don’t?” Raulin asked.
“Not in the slightest. They try, though, and expect me to enjoy the attention.”
“What about men who aren’t blockheads trying?”
“Rarer than this meat,” she said, holding up a bite. “Why, do you know one?” She gave him a devilish smile and he found that he might actually enjoy this tryst.
He was about to suggest himself when the man who sat a few seats down from them slammed his book down loudly on the table. “That’s it,” he said. “I can’t stand people who eat and talk in a library. What if you get grease on the pages? I’m coming back with the priest.”
The man left and Raulin raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips into an “O”. The woman giggled quietly at his mocking look. “I know Sapsin. Don’t worry, we won’t get kicked out.”
The man and the priest returned a few moments later. “Hello, Iyessa. I don’t suppose you could quiet down…” he began, then noticed Raulin. He stared at him for a few moments, then cleared his throat. “Sorry there, sir. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Raulin stood and shook the priest’s hand. “Chayen,” he said. “I’m sorry if we were too loud for the other people reading. Perhaps there’s an alcove or a room where we can read and talk and eat in peace? That is, of course, if the lady here is interested and agrees.”
She grinned and nodded her head enthusiastically, picking up her books and meal. The man at the table rolled his eyes, but sat down and picked up his book with a snap of his arms. Sapsin led them not far to an alcove with a small table and two chairs. “Do you need anything, Mr. Chayen?”
“Oh, no thank you. I will most certainly find you and ask if I have any questions.” Sapsin lingered for a few moments, then tore himself away.
Raulin waited for Iyessa to settle into her seat before asking for her name again. “And you’re Chayen. It sounds Arvonnese.”
He shook his head. “I supposedly have some blood on my father’s side, but most of my family is from Arouk.”
She tilted her head for a moment. “Take off your glasses.”
“All right, but things get blurry for me,” he said, pulling off his spectacles. He blinked a few times to pretend he was disoriented.
“You look like him,” Iyessa said.
She tapped one of her books. “Caudin. You look like how I imagine he would look.”
“Oh,” he said, laughing as he put on his glasses again. “I thought he was blond.”
“Sometimes he’s written as blond, since he was actually blond as a child, but often the author says his hair went darker as he got older. Towheaded, I believe it’s called.” She speared a potato, chewed, and swallowed before asking, “Which one is your favorite?”
“Caudin or Aubin?” he asked.
“No, which book?”
Here he had to struggle to remember all the snippets of drivel he had heard from the wizard over the last four months. He would have paid more attention if he had the slightest inkling that information would prove useful at some point. “Uh, probably…The Masquerade?”
“Oh,” she said, clapping her hands together. “That’s my favorite, too. That was the best solution to taking back the throne that I’ve seen in any of the books. I mean, that one had less romance between Riyadet and Caudin that I would have preferred to read, but Caudin sitting on the throne, ousting the chancellor…” She gave a fake shudder. “Gives me goosechill.”
Their ensuing conversation was like talking to a more pleasant Al. The wizard often affected a tone that was somewhere between excited and pompous when speaking about Arvonnese alley novels. Iyessa had her opinions, but she was so cheery about it that Raulin didn’t mind discussing a series of books that he absolutely loathed.
After some time she pulled out a pocket watch and stood quickly. “I need to get back to work,” she said, gathering her dishes and books into a small basket she had brought with her.
“Would you mind some company?”
Another dimpled smile. “I would love company, though I’m running late so I might be brusque in my pace.”
He smiled back. “I have long legs.”
Since she asked, he told her the made up background as to why he was in Kikiyan. He was a builder who worked for a prestigious company that traveled around Gheny, contracting for rich men and nobles. He did every job they had, from masonry to carpentry to furniture building, even glass fitting and gardening, though he admitted he was better at some things than others. Unfortunately, he had taken a fall from a ladder and was recuperating in Kikiyan while the company finished a “quick” job in Iascond. He was to meet up with them in a few days in New Wextif.
“Will you be healed by then?” she asked.
“It’s mostly healed. I’m just being cautious.”
“So. You have just a few days left here?”
“I’ll take the train to New Wextif on Wednesday, Thursday the latest. I don’t want to miss the connection with them; it’s easier if I travel with them, so I don’t have to go to the office and track the address down.”
She nodded, the estate within hundreds of feet. He felt the strong urge to push another meeting with Iyessa, but wouldn’t. Based on her tastes in men, being forceful would be a mistake. It would either have to be an “accidental” stumble upon or she would have to make the move.
“This is where I work,” she said as they passed by the corner of the wall of the estate, “the home of Cosilly, Earl of East Markwich.”
“Beautiful stonework,” he said, pointing to a mural relief of a marsh scene. “That looks like Yurid’s work, if I’m not mistaken.”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I could ask and get back to you.”
He smiled as he picked up the hint. “And when will you be able to get back to me?”
“At the library tomorrow. I’ll be there for lunch and you’ll be there, too.”
“Well, it just so happens that I’m free for lunch tomorrow and I enjoy reading.”
His only push was to take her hand and kiss the back of it, not the fingertips. She gave a wicked little smirk at this, knowing it was subtle code for romantic interest, but only said goodbye as she strolled past the two guards.
Raulin walked casually out of the neighborhood, then picked up his pace once out of sight until he reached the hotel. He ducked into a water closet to change quickly before making his way up to the suite.
Telbarisk was hunched over the table across from Sakilei. “Hi, Raulin. Sakilei is teaching me how to play Maccre.”
“I hope not for money,” he said, putting his knapsack down near the front door. “That’s a cheap way of making cash off a chump.”
Sakilei absently held up a sack of peanuts, which Raulin saw were being shelled and eaten by Telbarisk. “At this rate, he’ll eat all the ‘cash’ and then I’ll have to move on to coppers.”
“Thank you for watching over the wizard. How has he been today?”
“We’ve caught him standing and staring for a while.”
“Out the window?”
“No, at a wall.”
“That’s…progress, I suppose. He’s moving around on his own. Has he spoken to anyone?”
Telbarisk shook his head sadly.
Raulin walked into the room where Al was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the couch. “How are you doing?” he asked. He said nothing, but Raulin hadn’t been expecting him to. “It’s too bad you’re not talking. I met someone I think you’d like a lot. Her name is Iyessa and she loves Arvonnese alley novels. Her favorite is The Masquerade.”
He paused as he waited for him to acknowledge any part of that conversation. “I wish you would say something, Wizard. This is the one time you could talk my ear off about those books you love and I would be grateful for the knowledge. I’ll sit here as you list your favorite titles or who was the best love interest for Caudin and Aubin.”
There was no response.
“Do you mind if I read the books you have in your pack?” When Al said nothing, Raulin rifled through his bag and found the gray-green books. “I promise I won’t burn them.”
Raulin walked Al over to the couch and laid him down, covering him with the blanket Anla had nabbed from the davenport in the other room. He stuck his head out and asked Tel and Sakilei where Anla was. “She wanted to ‘take in the city’,” Tel said. “She said she’d be back for dinner.”
“If you two want to do the same, feel free. I’m guessing you’ve been cooped up all day, playing card games. My contract is stalled until tomorrow, so I can stay around here.”
The two took the offer and Raulin went back to settle on the bed and read, or skim, to be more precise. And he spent the next few hours trying to glean what kind of man would make Iyessa happy to be with, and maybe share an exciting adventure in sneaking a lover into a mansion.