Raulin’s plan, in retrospect, had been rather romantic and dramatic, a fitting ending for one of Al’s alley novels, but not so much for his taste. He had planned to meet Katerin somewhere where a bunch of people were, then cold-shoulder her. Anla was going to run to him and kiss him, then a bunch of volunteers were going to come out of the woods and harass Katerin while she left in tears, humiliated. It had only been at the rough draft stage and hadn’t been his finest plan, anyway.

Instead, he tailed Peder and waited until he was alone after breakfast. The man was alone on one of the trails, heading to a class or service, perhaps, when Raulin caught up to him. “A moment of your time.”

Peder looked Raulin up and down quickly and squinted his eyes. “Leave me alone, goodman. I have nothing to say to you.”

“I promise no harm. I just want to talk.”

Peder had picked up the pace. “I’d rather not. She warned me about you.”

“Funny, she warned me about you, too. Violent temper, mad with jealousy, stay away at all costs. She then told me she was going to get rid of you and that I was to meet her in about an hour or so, where I was going to have the pleasure of giving her a green gown. Let me guess, she said something like I was a jealous ex-lover and that you were to avoid me in case I tried to fight you. Hmm,” he said, pretending to think, “that’s probably not devious enough for her. I bet she told you I was doddering your wife, too.”

“Why, are you?” he asked, his anger tempered with doubt. He slowed his step so that Raulin could catch up to him.

“No. I met her for the first time a few hours ago. We spoke about you and how much she loves you, how she was worried sick because you were with Katerin tonight and she didn’t know if you survived the earthquake.”

Peder scowled to himself. “If she loves me so much, then why is she coupling with every man she speaks with?”

“Let me give you a golden piece of advice when reviewing your past days here: Katerin was lying. She was always lying. Your wife never slept with anyone, no matter how many times Katerin told you she caught her in the act. Your wife didn’t steal anything from her. Your wife hasn’t gossiped or turned anyone against her. Everyone hates Katerin because she is a vile hag who ruins people’s lives for pleasure.”

“And how do you know all this?”

“Because she wrote the same theater for me and my wife last week. My wife tried to tell me, begged me to listen to her, but I was so enthralled by Katerin that I wouldn’t. Then the earthquake hit and I was sick with worry that Katerin had died. I raced back only to find her tapping the firkin with you. And then I spoke with your wife and found that her story and the one my wife told me matched with eerie coincidence.”

Peder had stopped in his tracks by this point. He blinked a few times, his eyebrows furrowed. “But, we were going to run away…”

“…to Lake Havershim?” The man’s eyes widened. “I had wondered if she changed the place or used the same one for every man. Guess I know now.”

“I think I need to sit,” he said. Not finding a nearby bench, he fell woozily to a squat, his hands laced behind his neck. “What possesses a woman to do something like that?”

Raulin crouched down next to him. “I’d say all women are a devious sex and truly evil, but my wife has forgiven me and is taking me back, so that’s hardly fair. Besides, I think most of them are actually the same as men, in regard to being good or evil, that is. Katerin just happens to be of the darker persuasion. I’d suggest you fix your mind on getting your wife to forgive you and forget about Katerin. I know I am.”

When he looked at Raulin, there were tears in his eyes. “She won’t take me back. Why would she? I’ve been a fool!”

“You owe it to her to try, and grovel, and make it up to her. And if you fail, at least you showed her you were sorry. Last I knew she was in the guard’s station, resting.”

Peder nodded, stood, then took off back towards the main building

Raulin followed more slowly, on his way to make his appointment with Katerin. He had a more taxing, but better plan in his mind. He knocked on her door and she opened it a crack. “Oh, Darrick!” she said, flinging herself into his arms. “He was brutal! I thought he was going to strike me, he was so angry!”

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him deeply. He kissed her back, surprised at how easy it was to slip back into that comfort with her. It was like a silk glove…around his neck.

“You’re all right then, my love?” He lifted her chin and moved her face left and right. “Yes, still beautiful,” he lied. At least he could admit that he had never found her as breathtaking as Anla. Katerin wasn’t even close.

She looked down, then up through her lashes with a small smile on her lips. Raulin didn’t think that Kazithu could give a better performance, but then again, he’d never watched his creveir friend with the intention of plucking his feather mattress. Karenin was extremely deliberate and perceptive, he realized, as her eyes watched him. He recalled countless times with her, especially in the beginning of their affair, that she would make a gesture, use a certain tone, say a phrase, and use that same look to see if he liked it or not. He was sure that by the end of that first afternoon with her, he had more hooks in him than the prized fish in a tiny pond.

Karenin walked backwards, opening the door with her back. He buried himself in her neck as she sighed, gripping his belt. “Oh, I missed you.”

He closed the door behind him and she whispered, “Here, against the wall.”

“No,” he said, kissing her collarbone. “I want to see you in that agate necklace and nothing else.”

“I’ll wait for you on the bed,” she purred.

He had taken her once on the bureaus, so he knew where they were even in the dimly lit room. He opened the first and saw lacy garments and corsets. He looked in the other dresser and saw one drawer chock full of adornments, in addition to the items she had laid out on the top. He pulled a large burlap sack from his pocket, popped it open, and began dumping all of her jewelry, scarves,and loose jewels in. There were clear of a hundred pieces. If he hadn’t seen the proof of it, he would have strongly suspected she was a thief with an interesting angle and not a noblewoman.

“Darrick?” she called. “What’s taking so long?”

“I can’t fit all your jewelry into the sack,” he answered back in the same sweet tone.

“Pardon?” she asked after a moment.

“Your jewelry. I’m stealing it, you stupid cow.”

He heard the whisper of a silk robe on bare skin feet from behind him. “What?”

“I. Am. Stealing. Your. Jewelry. Are you deaf as well as ugly?”

“My love, why are you doing this?”

He stopped, fully irritated. “Drop the act, it will save us more time.” He crammed the remaining necklaces into his pockets.

“I’ll…I’ll call the guard!”

“Go ahead,” he said with a snigger. “Do you think anyone here will lift a finger to help you? You’re a harridan, a shrew who abused the staff with every chance you got. They would rather see you gone then take your money and I’m going to help them with that.”

“Oh?” she said ,crossing her arms. “How will you do that when I call the constable in town?”

“You mean the one extremely busy at the moment helping people escape from shattered buildings? That one? Yes, I’m sure he’ll spare a moment for some missing jewelry.”

She shrugged. “I’ll just have Peder get them back. He’s stronger than you are.”

“That may be, but I am far more skilled and richer than he’ll ever be. Besides, I set him straight. He’s back with his wife.”

Her gaze darkened, but she wouldn’t admit defeat. “What do you hope to accomplish? You’ll leave here and I’ll get more jewelry when I move on to the next man.”

“You will not,” he said, the playfulness in his voice gone. “You have two choices: leave this place or stop your games.”

“And how will you enforce that? You have to leave for your…thing,” she said, waving her hand. “You’ll be gone in a few days and I’ll just start again.”

“You remember that part where I said I was rich? Sometimes I’m also lucky. I was in town earlier and I happened to see a trirec. He was displaced due to the earthquake and also out his possessions. I told him I’d pay him a great sum of money to tail you and make sure you don’t have any more trysts. If you happened to be sneaky enough to get around him, he is to persuade your new lovers by any means necessary.”

She laughed. “A trirec. I’m to believe that?”

“Try me.”

“Oh, I have. I found you lacking.”

“Better than sagging and wrinkled. I think you’ve helped me realize I like my women mature but young.”

“Like your wife?” she said, snickering. “She hates you. You have totally broken your vows and she’s lost her trust in you. At least I have you there.”

“Who, Olana?” he asked, laughing. “She’s not my wife. I’m not married. That’s not even her real name. And Darrick isn’t mine. ”

She stopped to consider this, her arms crossed. “Then I’ve cost you money. I still win.”

He pretended to think a moment. “You do have a point. I have an arrangement to send a stipend to that trirec, but he isn’t cheap and I’d rather not go a week. Hmm.” He turned and walked to her wardrobe, opening both. “Twelve dresses, I see. I’m going to have my trirec steal and burn one for every man you seduce. I wonder if you’ll last a day!”

Raulin ducked as she tossed a vase at his head. “I will ruin you!” she said through clenched teeth.

“Woman! Throwing the good décor when everything else is broken?” he said, laughing. “Yes, that does seem like something you’d do. But how will you ruin me? You don’t even know my real name. How will you ever find me?”

She sunk on the ground, rubbing her already damaged wrist. “I will end you.”

“No,” he said. “I don’t think you will.”

He passed by the guard’s station at the end of the hallway and poked his head in. “Hey! I stole Lady Karninth’s jewelry.” He jiggled it in front of the guard he’d seen earlier, who was looking a bit haggard from a long night.

“Okay. Have a nice day.”

“Where are the Carffeys? I think some of this is the wife’s.”

He gave the room number and Raulin made his way to it. They answered the door looking serious and with red-rimmed eyes. He was sure they were having a long conversation that he didn’t need to be a part of, so he held up the bag for her to search immediately. She was grateful to him for returning her locket and bracelet and kissed him on the cheek.

And with that, he changed into his arong-miil, his mask, and put Anla’s cloak on and hooded his head.

Lady Karninth had only taken a short while to recuperate and began again within a few hours. Raulin watched as she plied her skills, flirting like she was playing an instrument, deftly and without abandon. He let the man make his choice instead of intervening, a mistake he didn’t make twice. He scared the piss out of him by catching him post-coitus, ducking out from a tree. He was thoroughly convinced to leave the lady in less than five minutes. Raulin ripped her gray dress at the hem, left the scrap on her empty bed, and tossed the rest into the hot spring. He heard her shrieks that night from the woods where he had made his camp.

It took two days to break her completely and only three dresses. He admitted he’d cheated a little; those last two men hadn’t slept with her, but only because he’d scared them off before anything could happen. She slunk away with her bags stuffed haphazardly right before lunch.

He wanted to make absolutely sure she would quit Mount Kalista, so he gathered the quartet, letting them bid farewell to the new friends they had made, and left down the mountain.

The town had not been spared as the Shrine had, though the latter was closer to the vent. In his feverish race to make it up the mountain, he hadn’t seen the devastation. The inn they had stayed at, for instance, had half-slid into the street looking like the frozen moment when the dirty water of a washtub was splashed onto the grass. The rooms they had stayed in were crumbled. Anla and Al would have perished under the roof of their room if they had slept there another hour and by their solemn faces, they knew it.

He continued to survey the streets. His look under his mask was one of apathetic remorse, something he had learned quickly to affect in the poorer quarters of cities or else be without all his coin in no time. The weather had continued to be dry and the town was still covered in plaster and ash, as were most of the townsfolk. The Caudet-red dress worn by Lady Karninth stood out vividly against the dismal canvas.

“I’ll be back shortly,” he told the group, taking off after her.

Raulin reached for his mask, intending to take it off and antagonize Katerin further, but stopped. He wasn’t going to lie to himself and say that Darrick gloating over her departure was going to help anything other than his esteem. She was leaving and that was what he had set out to accomplish. But, damn did he want her to hurt.

He did, however, feel it was worthwhile that she know the consequences if she changed her mind. So, he found an alleyway across from the post office (only slightly disheveled, being on the opposite end of town) and waited until a carriage arrived. Katerin emerged from the building. He was pleased to see she had to share it and load her own luggage, her hands and neck unadorned and making her appear like a poor girl with a pretty dress. He stepped out and leaned casually against the wall, twisting the sharpened end of his knife into his pointer finger. She saw him, her eyes widening before she entered the vehicle. She stared out the window as the driver cracked the whip and the team drove off, perhaps wondering if he was going to follow her. He didn’t. It would be warning enough to anyone who was smart enough not to cross a trirec.

It took him a little while to find his group again. Anla was talking with a woman while Tel and Al helped a few other men lift debris out of the road. “Are we ready to go?” he asked.

Al stopped. He spoke with a man, holding up one finger, then approached the trirec. “Raulin…” he began.

He drew a deep breath, having an inkling of where this was going. “Yes, Wizard?”

“We know you have to go to your next contract. And we know you don’t want to be anywhere cold. But, we were talking…”

“About what, Wizard?”

“About where we can best spend our time. We know you want to finish your remaining, what, six contracts so that you can vacation for a few weeks before you have to leave Gheny. We want you do have as much time as possible. But, we’ve also followed you since Carvek. Wherever you needed to go, we went. And we’ll continue to do that. We’ll help you see everything out. But, we want to help the people of Mount Kalista, at least until they have semblance of normalcy.”

“Define ‘semblance of normalcy’.”

“Businesses starting to open, all the essential services running, everyone accounted for. Raulin, there are still people missing here. They need help.”

He gave it a moment, to pretend like he was considering. “All right, Wizard. We might have some problems, since the people here didn’t seem to like my presence very much, but I will stay and help.”

He grinned. “Thank you.”

“Three days,” he said.

The smile dropped. “Three weeks.”

“One week.”

“Two weeks.”

“Deal,” he said, then laughed lightly. “Anla was right; your bartering skills are getting better. Let’s go up to your camp and fetch the extra wood you chopped, then find a central place to store our things before we begin.”

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  • James Forlong

    August 1, 2019 at 6:28 pm Reply

    This is good.

    • Forest Green

      August 2, 2019 at 2:01 pm Reply

      Thanks! Wait until you see what I have in store…

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