Despite the burns, bruises, and aches from the explosion, Raulin couldn’t complain about his situation. Tel had managed to get him back to the inn without any problems. Anla had gotten him dinner, a nice, rare steak, and fed that to him while he laid prone in bed. And after that was done, Al offered to heal him with the Calm.
“Thank you, Wizard. I know that it’s taken you a lot to reach this point,” he managed to say. He was feeling quite soporific and was afraid the drool might impede his speech.
“This was easy to change,” Al said. “Everyone had said that I should heal you, even my school, even Tichen. The only thing stopping me was me.”
“Change is still a difficult thing.”
“Mmm. It’s worse for some more than others, I suppose. I take it by the burns and the loud noise that you had to kill your target?”
Raulin looked back for a moment. “How did you piece that together?”
“Timing, mostly. You needed to kill someone, then there was a boom in the distance. I’m guessing he worked with compounds that were volatile. We were shown in Amandorlam that magnesium burns fiercely white with just a flame. I’d always imagined that if someone could harness that in the right way, we could do a lot more with what we have.”
“That’s quite an imagination,” he said. “After today I wouldn’t recommend pursuing that path.”
Al lifted a hand and Raulin felt the air pass as he waved the thought off. “It’s for other men. That sort of thing never interested me.”
Raulin settled his head back down on his pillow and was starting to drift off when he heard Al say, “It’s been two weeks.”
He tensed. “Wizard, you should speak to someone before you take drastic measures. Perhaps there’s a doctor or another wizard around that might…”
“I want you to teach me how to fight.”
“What?” he asked. “Sorry, my hearing is still a little muffled.”
“I want you to teach me how to fight. How to hold my own in an attack. How to protect myself and others.”
“Maybe my hearing is fine, then. Why fighting?”
He removed his hands for a moment. “I’m not totally fine, but I’m getting there. I think that if I busy myself with some pursuits, I’ll occupy my mind enough to reach some place better. And I thought about what you three have to offer and what I could learn as we’re traveling. Tel agreed to teach me about his people and their philosophies, especially kouriya. Anla is going to teach me the Arvonnese language. So, I thought that you could teach me how to fight.”
“It’s not going to be easy. It’s a daily thing that you have to commit to.”
“I know. Well, I understand. I’m scrawny and us Br’vanese don’t value pugilism very much, so this is sort of a new thing for me. It will be a different thing.”
“It will be hard, Wizard. I won’t have much time to train you, so we’ll have to get up early. And I want you to train without the Unease.”
“I can’t,” he said quietly, sadly.
“What do you mean?”
“This…I didn’t access the Calm. And I haven’t been able to since…since the ledge.”
“Is it working?”
Al took a moment to lean in to look at Raulin’s back. “Some of your blisters popped and the rest went down. Here,” he said, thumbing his triceps, “there’s nothing. I’m positive you had some redness on the backs of your arms when I started. But, it’s also hard to tell in the light.”
“You are using your magic, then. I’m lucky in that I can heal quickly, but not that quickly.”
“But…it feels different.”
“You’ve been through a lot. Sometimes things feel different after traumatic events.”
“Like your family dying?”
Raulin took a pained breath and closed his eyes. “That’s what I was thinking about, yes. I guess I dealt with it by not being me for a while. I didn’t say it aloud, but by pretending to be some other boy whose parents were waiting in another city, one that we were traveling to, helped a bit. It took me a long time before I felt like me again, and that wasn’t a great time in my life, either.”
“Did you ever find out who killed your family?”
“Oh, I know who did it. There’s nothing I can do about it, though. There are far too many people involved and I can’t take that much time away from my career without Arvarikor getting upset with me. I’m not supposed to think about the past.”
“You could use your vacation time.”
“I could, but then I wouldn’t get a vacation.” He sighed loudly. “I can’t let it go, not entirely. It still makes me furious. But, I’d rather choose to move forward and enjoy what I have or what I can get. Seeing beautiful places, eating great food, learning about new things, and meeting new people, that’s what makes me forget for a little while.”
“I think I understand that,” said Al.
* * *
Al checked on Raulin the next morning. He was still masked, so he had likely zonked out after Al had finished the session. It wasn’t surprising that he was still asleep; that was pretty typical after a long amount of time with the Unease.
There was a small sense of relief over that. Al was still apprehensive about using his magic, since he could no longer sense his connection, and he felt like anything would be a waste of time. But Raulin had healed and Al somehow felt better about life than he had two weeks ago. Something must still be working, even if he was too numb or disjointed to feel it. Perhaps he was like Raulin had been, not quite Al but some version that was dealing with his own problems separately.
“Raulin,” Al said, putting his hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t recall a time he’d ever gotten this close to Raulin when he was sleeping. He’d gone through a few stages of wanting to unmask Raulin for different reasons and had tried more than once to see what his face looked like. At that moment, it was the slight sense of familiarity, but he no longer tried. It was Raulin’s choice to show him or not.
Raulin startled awake and turned. “Wizard?”
“I just wanted to check your wounds and see if you needed another session or not.”
He moved the blanket out of the way and started with his calves, moving up both legs to his legs below his small clothes. “This feels a bit…odd. Embarrassing.”
“’The body is flesh, bone, muscle, and sinew’,” he recited. “When we care for a person, we are taught that they are made of pieces that make a whole. They are also a person with a soul and thoughts and memories and feelings. Being a practitioner of Touch wizardry is a balance between those two thoughts that meets basically with the phrase ‘don’t judge’.”
Raulin nodded and relaxed.
“I think you’re healing very well, if you want my opinion. Your skin is sensitive, but it’s pink, not red. And I don’t see any blisters. There’s nothing on your arms and legs. Your skin will need a little bit to recover, but you don’t need anything for it.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Want to head to breakfast? I am famished. My treat.”
“You’re welcome and you don’t have to.”
They left Declinst after breakfast, especially since the rumor mill was in full force of low conversation about the sound yesterday. Raulin couldn’t stop people from connecting him to the event, but it was better if that happened some time after he was gone.
There next destination was Mount Kalista, a town named after the nearby mountain a few days south of Declinst. Al’s crude map in his book showed there would be nothing between the two points and they didn’t press to make it to the next village or town, instead camping not far from a ravine with a large stream.
As promised, the next morning Al was awakened with a nudge from a boot. “Mmm?” he asked, rolling over to Raulin standing over him with a finger in front of his lips. He slipped on his loafers and followed him out of the camp, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Still interested?” Raulin asked.
“Yes,” Al said through a yawn. “We’re going to start with knives?”
“Knives? Oh, no. You said ‘fighting’. That means hand-to-hand combat.”
“But, if I get into a fight with someone who has a weapons, how am I supposed to deal with that?”
“You grab a weapon. In your case, you’ll be able to bash someone’s head in with enough force to stop the fight before it starts.”
“Are you saying I could take you in a fair fight?”
“Well, no, but…”
“You need to teach me how to use knives, then.”
“Are you planning on fighting me?” he asked with some amusement.
“No. I’m going by your standards. You said to be reasonable about my concerns. Be honest, what fraction of people do you think I might run into that would be skilled beyond needing a bashing.”
“Depends on what life you’re leading.”
“As a vizier…”
Raulin nodded his head slowly. “Good point. I still can’t teach you knife-brawling.”
“I can buy my own…”
“Well, that was one point, not having your own knives. The bigger problem is that Arvarikor has a unique style of fighting. If I show you how to fight, you’re going to be fighting like a trirec. And as a vizier you might run into a trirec at some point. They will recognize your technique. And that will be a world of pain when Arvarikor catches up to you.”
“I won’t say anything…”
“I think you wouldn’t, Wizard, but every man has his breaking point under torture. You’ll tell them eventually. And then you’ll have to stop fighting like a trirec or they will catch you again and break every bone in your body, including your vertebrae. No, no knives. That’s my final say on it.”
Al’s shoulders slumped. “What’s the point if I can’t use a weapon?”
“I didn’t say I can’t teach you a weapon; I just said it can’t be knives. If you had a sword, that would be great. I learned fencing as a child, the standard style.”
“How much do swords cost?”
“Well, there’s a lot of factors there. A cheap sword made by a novice blacksmith? Maybe a hundred gold. A good, balanced sword made by a seasoned blacksmith? Several hundred gold, maybe six or eight hundred. A beautiful sword with deitic blessings? I’m sure I saw price tags in that store in Tryna for almost two thousand gold. Riyani’s prices would be worth it, but maybe you should make sure you really want to study swordsmanship before you spend that kind of money.”
Al gave a pained breath and thought for a moment. “Riyani…,” he said, then ran back to camp. He returned a few minutes later with his ax. “Can you teach me how to use this as a weapon?”
Raulin looked between Al and the ax a few times. “I will teach you what I know, which I warn isn’t that much, if you answer me one question and don’t read into what I ask or why.”
“You said a lot of things when you were dealing with your magic backlash. Do you remember any of it?”
“Yes, but it’s sort of distant from me.”
“Do you remember what you said about your ax?”
Al’s eyebrows furrowed in thought. “No.”
“You said you needed to kill a king with that ax.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Wizard, I can’t have you plotting to assassinate kings. Trirecs won’t even touch any monarchies. It destabilizes things.”
“It’s strange,” Al said. “I was so sure that I had to do that when I said it, but I can’t think of why. You know me, Raulin. You know how I feel about what happened in Arvonne. I’d never kill a king knowingly.”
“All right. Here are my rules. We do this every day, rain or shine. If I think you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else, I will stop your training. If you’re acting strangely again, I will stop you. If you injure yourself, you heal and then we continue. You don’t lie to me about your pain.”
“Deal,” he said.
“Now, since you want to learn how to fight with an ax, you’re going to learn the ins and outs of how to swing it and get the best cut. I want you to swing this beauty and make music. And the only way to do that is to just go for it.”
“Every mid-day break, when I’m making lunch, you’re going to go into the woods and find a tree. Short and thin, preferably, dead is best. And you’re going to cut firewood for our camp. Whatever we don’t burn, you’re going to haul to the next campsite. If we get to a village, you’re going to sell it. It’s one of the most lucrative weapons to learn.”
“Haul firewood? On top of my pack?”
“And you’re going to get up at dawn and do exercises with me. At dinner, I’m going to teach you the forms for axes.”
He sighed. “Okay.”
“You’re still on board?”
“Yes,” he said without enthusiasm.
“Good. Now, I want you to run from here to that tree and back.”
“No, Wizard,” he said, grinning behind his mask. “One hundred times.”