20-5

Al followed the first mate back to the brig. He knocked on the door to Raulin’s room and opened it a few moments later. “Sir?”

“Yes?”

“It seems we’ve incarcerated you in error. On behalf of the Kervin Company and the crew of the Constance on the Sea, I’d like to offer you your freedom and an apology. We’ll reimburse your ticket and we have upgraded you to a suite. If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask a crew member.”

“Oh…okay?” He stumbled out of the room. “The, um, books…”

“Will be returned to the library, sir. Don’t worry yourself about them.”

“Thank you.”

Al walked in step as he followed Raulin. “I know you worked hard at this, Wizard. Thank you.”

“Well, what else was I supposed to do?”

“Read? Practice with your ax? Talk with people? Watch the sun set? Meet the love of your life? Speak with gods?”

“I suppose I did miss a lot working so hard.”

“I was trying to tell you that. I appreciated your effort, but throwing yourself so hard into a situation means you ignore all the stuff going on around you. Don’t ever sacrifice your moments. That’s when you stop living and start dying.”

Al thought about what he said as they up levels. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“I’m having my moment,” he said.

“It’s pouring out, Raulin,” Al warned as the trirec walked towards the deck.

“Clothes dry, Al. I’ve been locked in a room for about twenty days. I want to see the sky.”

He left the wizard in the cozy den of the second deck and walked to the railing. His brown tunic and gray pants were soaked to black in less than three seconds, but he hardly cared. He breathed deeply and let the droplets form rivers over his arms, down his back, across his hands. Raulin stood there, leaning against the railing, staring out at the water. Al felt there was a sort of dignity to the occasion, a man whose only reaction to the injustice that had been laid upon him was to enjoy a storm. He hadn’t spit, screamed, threatened, shoved, or even made a motion that could be perceived as sarcastic. He’d nodded his thanks at the first mate and moved on. And Al had to admire that a little.

* * *

Jeurd continued to press Anla for time alone with gifts of whatever he could find. Apparently, he had taken to asking his loyal servant, Mayen, to buy jewelry, trinkets, and other favors from other passengers, which caused the rumors to fly once again about them.

Anla had less than no interest in the earl. This caused her a little guilt, but she realized that he had no good qualities other than money, which wasn’t something she needed from a man nor did she feel it was fair to have a relationship with him just for that. She couldn’t hold a conversation with him without it growing boring or insulting, he wasn’t good looking, he had poor social graces, and he knew no one to introduce her to. She didn’t owe him anything.

But, she was polite, so she didn’t say ‘no’ to strolls or meals with him. She guessed that he might have interpreted this as more than a friendly situation (and their past didn’t help dissuade him) to the point that Mayen felt the need to intervene.

He found her on the top deck with many others as they watched the ship come into port. “Miss,” he said to grab her attention. “We need to have another discussion.”

“About what?” she asked innocently, but she knew.

“I felt it might be coincidental that you happened to arrive in Miscomme at the same time as my master, and you happened to take the same ship as he for Acripla. However, after your arrangements with my lord, I’ve come to suspect you may have planned it that way. It was common knowledge in certain circles that my master was headed to meet a woman who is sure to be his bride soon. Perhaps you felt it was worthwhile to try once more for a position with him in a situation that was more in your control.”

“My, you think highly of my ability to plot,” she said, though she was secretly annoyed by this. She had agreed to take the money and leave him alone years ago. If circumstances had been different, she wouldn’t have said one more word to him aboard this ship.

“You’ve demonstrated in the past that you’re not a stupid woman. I can only assume that you’re the type to use her looks, charm, and wits to her advantage. Why you haven’t married well before now confuses me.”

“Because I turned seventeen only a few months ago,” she said with a slight smile.

Mayen blanched at this and was silent for a few contemplative moments. “Um, yes. Well, based on my master’s affections towards you and that interesting bit of information, I’d like to increase what was originally offered. I will give you twenty gold not to approach the earl at least until he’s married. Once the troths are concluded, you may feel free to do what you wish.”

Anla gave a coy look and pretended to think long and hard about this offer, but she had made her decision quickly. The whole thing was an insult. Yes, she was a commoner and therefore the best she could ever hope for from a nobleman was charity or to share his bed, but Mayen didn’t have to be so crass about it, especially that part at the end. The almost four hundred gold in her pocket afforded her things she had long thought too expensive for a homeless girl, like pride. “I’m not interested in your money.”

He blinked in surprise. “Ah, well, yes. Perhaps the offer was too low. You are a shrewd woman who knows her worth, of course. Does forty gold sound like a more reasonable offer?”

“My,” she said, giving him a crooked smile. “You’d think he was close to proposing to me.”

“Fifty gold?”

She laughed. “After all that he’s given me? Seems a trifle.”

He licked his lips. “One hundred gold.”

The peevish look on her face dropped when she realized she and Mayen had been having completely different conversations. While she had been playing coy with him to stop herself from losing her temper, he had been trying to prevent her from marrying Jeurd and breaking his vow. At any cost, it seemed. She doubted Mayen would believe her if she said she didn’t want the money; he’d keep thinking she didn’t want that little and increasing the amount. And if she were angry at him or Jeurd, and the type for revenge, she might continue. But she wasn’t. “I accept.”

Mayen blew out a deep breath and gave her a weak smile. “Good, good. I’ll bring your money to you this evening. This means you are to cut off all contact with the eri-earl, here on this ship and in Acripla, until he is married. After that point, you are free to make whatever arrangements he would like. No strolls, no dinners, no accepting gifts, no letters, no visitations of any kind. I will make excuses for you.”

She gave him a tight smile and a curtsy before saying, “Of course.”

“He’s quite taken with you, miss. You might want to call on him in a few months time.”

“I’ll consider it,” she said as he walked away.

“What was that about?”

She turned and saw Raulin standing nearby, leaning against the wall with his arms and legs crossed.

“I apparently became a lot richer for doing something I wasn’t planning on doing in the first place.” He joined her, leaning over the railing next to her as she recanted the conversation to him. “I feel a little bad about taking his money. I didn’t intend for that to happen.”

“Perhaps if he had more of a spine, he could have identified the killer and you wouldn’t have had to sleep with him, thus saving the confusion.”

“Still…I find it distasteful to be bribed not to sleep with a man, then be encouraged to accept some sort of arrangement to do that after he’s married. His poor wife.”

“His poor wife will probably find someone to sleep with behind his back, especially with a husband like that.”

“And what if she loves him?” Despite having his mask on, the tip of his head was all he needed to convey his skepticism. “It could happen. I’m not going to be the reason why some poor girl is heartbroken.”

“I think I feel the same, actually. I’ve always told myself that seducing women was fine because their husbands strayed just like they did. But, I don’t know that and it seems a bit delusional to keep that up.”

“Are you going to give it up, then?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think I can. I’ve made my promise to you, and I’ll keep that, but when I take my next docket in Noh Amair, I’ll continue what I was doing. I will be a lot more careful, not just with that but overall. I’m tired of being caught.”

“Yes,” she said, turning towards him, “I do believe I’m ahead there. Two to one.”

“Ah, but I technically saved you from Carvek.”

“I do believe that one was mutual.”

“All right. Point for you and point for me. It’s time for me to be careful about things.”

She turned back. “Speaking of careful, what can we expect for Tektorn and Acripla?”

“It’s an interesting land. They hold a strong love for Kriskin and you can see it in how they live. A bit more daring, a lot less concerned with their reputations. You might like it there; I know I do.”

“And what do you find so appealing about Acripla?”

“Just wait.”

The ferry pulled into harbor a few hours later that evening. The wharf was full of people from every walk of life, from prostitutes dangling their bare feet off the pier to ladies in exquisite dresses, purses and fans looped around their gloved hands. There was an abundance of lace, linen, and silk amongst that crowd, likely to battle the mugginess that choked the air even that late in the day. Apparently spring came early here. People aboard began waving as people on shore returned the greetings.

The four of them disembarked, Raulin leading. Anla began to notice people pointing at him before he left the pier. This wasn’t a new occurrence; ruder people had done that frequently in the past everywhere they had gone. What was different was the positivity. They were actually smiling at him.

Anla wasn’t sure she had gauged their response correctly until she saw a few young women of higher standing point to him with their fans, then open them to obscure half their faces. He nodded his head at them and they immediately turned towards their friends and giggled.

“You’re popular,” she said blinking.

“A welcome change. I noticed this the last time I passed through, about three years ago.”

“Why?”

“Do you remember when we had that run-in with your sister and brother-in-law?”

“Yes. They seemed to have a lot of respect for you.”

“Remember what they called me?”

“’Knight of Kriskin’.”

“Yes. Pilgrims came from Tektorn some century or two ago. There was a schism; the land became more progressive while the Pilgrims wished to remain conservative in their identities. With no land,” he stopped to nod to another woman who was holding up a fan, “they began to roam Gheny. They say they are a different people, but they hold on to some things. They believe in Kriskin. And they love anyone or anything to do with death.”

“And by being an assassin, they love you.”

“’Love’ might be a strong word. They see me as some semi-mystical figure, something a bit elevated.” He gave a quick, two-fingered brushing salute to three young men who were holding up their forearms in front of their faces. “Admiration. I’m intriguing to them. Somewhat like why Al loves his novels so much.”

“They see you like I see Kiesh the Black?” Al asked.

“Like that.”

“Seems like a good thing for you,” she said, though she didn’t feel great about the situation.

“Good for my esteem, sure, but it’s not easier, just harder.”

“How so?”

“Different rules,” he said.

Before he could explain, a group of young adults in fashionable, but not expensive clothing approached him. “Dine with us!” the most daring of the men said. “We know of a great place!”

“I’ll explain later,” Raulin said as one of the women put her arm around his waist and gently led him to the group.

Yes, Anladet thought she wasn’t going to feel great about Tektorn at all.

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