20-1

It took the group a full week to reach Miscomme, the port city at the tip of the Sharkan peninsula. Every day the weather grew a little bit warmer, the seas a little bit greener, the skies a little bit clearer.

Things had bounced back to normalcy between Anla and Raulin and Tel quickly. However, things were still estranged between Anla and Al. He was having a hard time grasping at an acceptable decision regarding Analussia.

He kept attacking the dilemma like one of the trees he hacked down every day; chopping at it until he could remove the branches, hoping to get at the main trunk at some point. He had determined that this was a matter of scope; he couldn’t equate killing one person to killing over a hundred. That was one limb off the tree, but there was still a lot to go.

Al considered her youth, the circumstances surrounding the crime, the restrictions she had given, and her lack of magical training against the calculation of the act, her knowledge of the law under the tutelage of her father, and the inherent sense of morality she should have. Another limb.

Then he questioned her actions since then. She was remorseful. She had shown exemplary restraint since that point, scraping by on the streets and using her magic only in self-defense instead of using her magic for personal gain. She felt guilty. She clearly regretted doing it and had admitted to regretting it once she realized the gravity of the situation. The pruning was going well.

And finally, he looked at the ramifications of her existence within the law. She hadn’t surrendered in the three years since she had committed the offense. What would that have looked like? A swift trial and a hanging, he thought, but his stomach curdled at the thought of what would happen if someone was savvy enough to sell a half-elf to the wrong people.

It was then Al had quite a bit to think about on the stability of the law, corruption, and whether anarchy should reign in the wake of legal failure (though maybe that was a bit extreme). There were also a few days of existential quandary over whether man really needed laws or he would always revert to his basic instincts, that the law was really a cracked dam groaning against a reservoir with a storm on the horizon.

Al’s dreams had been strange since Ashven and the one he had in their first night in Miscomme was no different. It was something about Uvarna tossing him across the ocean to retrieve the chalice, which had melted into a crown that he wore. He had to give it back to the king, though, after he had felled a giant tree. There was a sense of urgency about it, the beginning portions of justice and morality needing an answer. Unheard were the words “chop, chop”.

Anla awoke shortly after he did and he took the opportunity to speak about his thoughts. “I’ve been dwelling on what you told us in Analussia.”

“I’ve noticed,” she said, yawning.

“What I’ve decided is that it’s not my decision. I don’t condone it and I will never support you doing anything else like it, but since it’s in the past for you, it’s not something I want to be involved with. It’s too significant and massive for me to be a lynch pin. I’m going to let it be.”

“To correct you, it’s not in the past for me; I think about it all the time. I’m still not sure what I want to do about it myself. But, thank you. I know that you’ve taken a lot of time to consider this and you didn’t fall back on the laws as the only way to respond.”

“I feel like I know too much to do that.”

He watched as she opened the curtains to their wide window overlooking the Gamik Sea. It was gray and stormy, the beaches dyed a deeper shade of tan by the rain. She turned and saw something on the desk and bit her lip, smiling genuinely. Her eyes trailed across the paper as she read the note, nibbling on the sweet left on top. When she finished, she laughed softly.

“Another token from Raulin, I assume?”

“Mhmm.”

“It must be nice to be courted.”

She looked up from re-reading the note. “If it doesn’t work out between us, I’ll tell Raulin you’re next in line.”

“I meant that you seem happy with the arrangement. Are you? You seemed to have forgiven Raulin for what happened in Mount Kalista.”

Her smiled dropped a little. “I like Raulin, Al. He’s shown me he’s sorry about what happened and I forgave him. I won’t forget it, but holding on to it isn’t going to help anyone. And I also forgave you for what you did, or didn’t do, with the baerd hunters.”

“That’s true. I was just…well, those women I’d see in my office would probably go back to their husbands. I don’t want you to think you have to…”

“I know I don’t,” she said. “And don’t judge those women for that. How many of them had the means to get away? It was the same for us street kids; we put up with a lot of abuse so that we could live another day.”

He sighed. “This went the wrong way. What I mean, really, is that you’re happy. I haven’t seen you smile much since…lately. And I’m pleased to see you in good spirits. That’s what I meant.”

“Thank you, Al.”

They went downstairs to breakfast. The hotel was enormous, five floors with at least thirty rooms across. The first floor had several lounges, a ballroom, and a grand dining hall filled with dozens of four-seat tables with white cloths and blue napkins in rings. It was quite busy, but Telbarisk always made tasks like finding him and Raulin in a crowded room easy.

“Wizard!” Raulin said. “Glad to see you down so early despite having done your morning exercises.”

Al paused, sighed, then turned back towards the stairs.

“Poor Al,” Anla said, sitting down and placing the napkin in her lap.

“I warned him it was going to be hard work and that he was going to have to do it every day. He was good about it when you two were camped outside the retreat, yes?” he asked Tel.

“He said it gave him structure and he enjoyed it.”

“I just don’t want him getting what they called ‘the skinny bear’ in Merak. We’d get wet caned for it.”

“And what’s that?” Anla asked.

“It’s when you pour a bucket of water over the child before switching him so it stings more.”

“No, I mean the ‘skinny bear’ thing. Did they really do that to you?”

“Yes, though it wasn’t for that. I kept forgetting that I was supposed to have no training before I became a student at Arvarikor. Whenever a teacher would compliment me on horseback riding or fencing or learning languages, I would tell them how long I’d trained for. Immediate wet caning. It was several weeks of daily caning until one of the older kids took pity on me and told me to say I had natural talent.

“’The Skinny Bear’ was a fable they told in the region about a bear being excited to hibernate too early and not eating enough before he enters his cave. He awakens in the middle of winter to find there’s no food and he starves to death. Same with learning a skill and thinking you’re good enough and that you don’t need to practice any more. After a month or so of practicing a new technique or weapon, kids would start picking fights with each other to show off or develop a cocky attitude when practicing. He’s about on time.”

Anla was about to ask him more questions when the waiter came and took her order. She heard her name called from across the room just as the waiter was leaving her side. She twisted to her right and saw a young man with thinning, blond hair tied in a tail waving at her. He might have been an excellent example of a fop if he didn’t look so disheveled, and came across more as a fribble with the mannerisms to match.

“Oh, joy,” Raulin said.

The man was followed by a another man who, though plain and obviously in employment by the other, seemed both more handsome and in control than the first. He was serious, his dark eyes gazing over the three of them as if sizing up their worth. He raised an eyebrow at Raulin, who in turn gave him a little upward nod.

“Anla, it really is you!” the man said.

“Lord Cavrige,” she said, standing briefly to allow him to take her hand and kiss the back of it.

“I haven’t seen you in years! You ran away from me, stealing my heart.” Another man would have made that playful, however true it was, but he sounded achingly, and embarrassingly, in pain from it.

“I’m sorry. It wasn’t my choice,” she said, eyeing the man next to him. “I was drawn away quickly and couldn’t say goodbye to you.”

“Best not do that again!” he said, his laugh a high-pitched, nervous giggle as he placed his hands on his hips. “That was very naughty of you.”

“I apologize,” she said.

“I’m off to Acripla, to meet a woman who may become my wife. I’ll be taking tomorrow’s ferry.”

“Really?” she said. “We’ll be going to Acripla, too.”

As if he just realized there were other people at her table, he looked at both Raulin and Tel, then back at Anla. “Then I’m sure we’ll see more of each other. I hope,” he added, grinning at her, tucking his weak chin into his neck. He stood by awkwardly in the silence, then left for his table without saying goodbye.

“I take it you’ve met him before,” Anla said to Raulin.

“Well, I haven’t but Marin has. I think he was in New Wextif, attending some social event. He hasn’t changed a bit.”

“That seems like the same Jeurd I remember. And he still has his lackey, Mayin. He’s the one who paid me ten gold to disappear when Jeurd was getting too attached to me.”

“I don’t think he was pleased to see you. I’d say he was shooting daggers at you, but I know weapons and those weren’t sharp enough to be knives. Toothpicks, maybe. He’s warning you to stay away.”

Anla shrugged. “We’re going to be on the same cramped ship for the better part of a month. He can’t expect me to avoid him completely.”

“Don’t worry about him. If he threatens you, I’ll just show him an intimate view of the Great Ghenian Bay.” He paused. “But only if you can’t take care of him yourself.”

She nodded slightly in thanks. “His only concern is that Jeurd doesn’t do something stupid, like elope with a commoner. I very much doubt that will happen, at least with me.”

“Hmm, though what about the marriage part?”

She gave him an odd look. “I don’t care that he’s going to inherit his father’s earldom. Maybe it would have been nice when I was destitute, but I made the choice not to tie myself to him. After I saw my sister, I was glad I made that choice, though I doubt Jeurd would be as horrible as my brother-in-law is.”

“Yes, good point, I suppose.” The waiter delivered her plate of eggs and sausage. “Out of curiosity, what kind of man would you marry?” Tel regained interest in the conversation and leaned forward to hear her answer.

“Elven,” she said. She looked up from her plate. “I honestly hadn’t given it much thought since my parents died. I always assumed the man I’d marry would be an elf, or at least half-elven. You?” Her smiled dropped. “Sorry, I was just returning the conversation.”

“I’ve considered it. I can have dreams, too, though they’re usually mired in what kind of life I’d be leading and how I’d have to get there.”

“Your mentor did it. I’m sure you can, too, Raulin.”

He watched her for a few moments,then said, “I’m going to go secure our places on the ferry. I’d rather not risk that the time of year would stop people from booking all the cabins.”

As he left, Anla continued to eat, though a strange excitement filled her stomach. He thought of marriage? He’d always said he tried not to think of the future.

Tel insisted upon cutting all his fruit into tiny pieces whenever there was cutlery, so he was still eating. “Do you think Raulin would make a good husband?” she asked him.

“If he had the right type of women to share his life with, yes. If he was still a trirec, she’d have to deal with that, including him being away for long periods of time and the danger of being discovered by his order. I don’t see many women agreeing to that.”

“My mother had to go through that with my father. He’d be on the road for a few weeks at a time and we’d visit places and have to deal with the possibility that people could find out about my parents’ illegal relationship.”

“Even if he wasn’t a trirec, he’d still need someone who either understood his past or could accept him without knowing that part of him. I think he’d prefer the first, though.”

“Do you think he would tell her, though? He’s never been forthcoming with his secrets.”

“With the right people he is. If he found her, I think he’d share everything with her.”

She chewed on her sausage thoughtfully. “What country did he tell you he was from?”

“He didn’t. As I said, I had to figure out that he wasn’t Merakian. He admitted it to me, but never volunteered the information. I assume it’s Walpi, as you said a while ago.”

This surprised Anla. She had always assumed that Raulin had shared almost everything with Tel and kept it from everyone else.

There was a thought buzzing in her head, but she didn’t give it the attention it deserved. She ate her breakfast, sat with Al when he came downstairs, and spent her day speaking with different people. There was a celebration for the new year the next night, which was also Ap Livint’s Day, an ap of Kriskin who had created the calendar. She danced at the ball with Raulin, who was light on his feet and well-versed in the latest styles of dances.

And finally, on the morning of the first day of the year, they embarked for Tektorn. It would be some time before she thought more about her conversation with Telbarisk.

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