Raulin awoke to the sounds of a soft conversation between two men. One was low and steady. Telbarisk. The other was higher pitched and almost whiny, grating on his ears. Raulin sighed and opened his eyes, sitting up as quickly as he could. At least most of his concussion seemed gone.

“How are you feeling?” Telbarisk asked him.

“Better. My head aches, but it’s not as bad as last night.” He lifted his arm flat in front of himself, then tried to lift it higher. The pain was too much and he let it drop “My arm is still poorly suited to what I need to do.”

“Will you be fine, do you think?”

“I don’t think I’ll have any permanent issues, but I do worry about scarring and infection. Did they bring breakfast or lunch yet?”

“No,” Anladet answered. She sat underneath the barred window, leaning against several barrels that were stacked there. “No one has been by.”

He grunted, not surprised by the news. He turned his attention to the man who laid next to Anladet, his hands laced behind his head. “Al, was it? I wanted to thank you for taking care of Telbarisk.”

When he said nothing, Raulin continued. “He filled me in on what you did. That was quite impressive. From what I understand of Uvarnic law, it is very difficult to turn a defensive plea into an offensive one. You did it, however, and you saved my friend’s life.”

Raulin scooted forward and held his arm out to shake. Al lifted his head to peek at him, then lowered it again. He let his arm fall and took a deep breath. “Telbarisk says that, should we escape, he will continue to travel with you two. I hope you will continue to treat him as well as you have and enjoy each others company.”

“Why? Do you think we won’t?” Al asked.

“No, I’m just saying that you’ve been kind so far and…”

“It sounds like you were saying we would stop being kind to him. And we’re not going to escape. We will work things through the system and deal with whatever punishments come our way. Despite what you said last night, I think that, when things calm down, people will be more rational. They’ll see we were roped in with a trirec and that we’ve never met you before. It’s likely I can use Telbarisk’s inexperience to explain his actions and remove any charges against him.”

Raulin looked over at Anla, who was frowning. She caught his eye and gave him a tiny nod before she spoke. “Al. When we were talking earlier, it sounded like you were warming to the idea of an escape.”

“I’m not sure why you thought that, but no. I’m not interested. We’ll stay here and try our luck. You’re sure no one’s come in so far? I would like to speak to the sergeant.”

“What for?” Raulin asked. “The sergeant won’t be able to release you. If anything, he’ll just beat you to take out some of his frustrations.”

“Was I speaking to you?” Al snapped.

“Al,” Anladet said, her voice a hiss. “If you don’t like him, then fine, you don’t like him. But be polite. We all have to share this tiny space for the next few days.”

“It’s all right, Anladet. I’ve met his type many times before. He doesn’t like my line of work, therefore he doesn’t like me despite, not knowing anything about me.”

“I know enough,” Al said, finally sitting up. “We were invited here by the count and were given every courtesy imaginable. He was a good man. You killed someone I liked last night.”

“It wasn’t personal. It was a job, just like any other.”

“You killed someone! That’s not the same as shucking corn or marrying people! You break the law and expect me to treat you with courtesy? Why should I?”

Raulin bit off a retort involving how to teach him courtesy with a knife. “There is an order to everything we do. We choose our contracts carefully so that they won’t cause chaos. I am just the tool used to create change in the world, someone who can potentially make Gheny a better place.”

“Oh, is that how you sleep at night? Some vague hope that what evil you are spreading into the world will actually end in good?”

And that was a cut too deep for Raulin to try to side-step. “Hypocrite.”

“What, me? I’m a hypocrite? How?”

“Show me a man who’s never eavesdropped or stolen something and I’ll show you a liar. At some point in your life you’ve done both, whether you meant to or not. The same with homicide. How many little permutations in your day unfurl into someone’s death? Take a different road on a stroll and you might wind up causing a cart to overturn in order to miss you, maiming the driver and killing his passenger. Deciding to go to a ball when you have a cold, causing an elderly man to catch it, then watch as it escalates to pneumonia, then his death. Have a chance encounter with a trirec, causing him to be caught and later executed.”

“I can’t believe you’re not only equating bad luck with a deliberate murder, but trying to shift the blame of your capture onto us!”

“I am only trying to get you to think differently.”

“No, see here,” Al said, leaning forward with his finger pointed at Raulin . “There are levels of morality when it comes to actions in the way of the world. Tichen expressly lists them in Honor and Serenity. ‘A man may find himself filled with guilt, which is the gods’ way of instilling order deep within us. He should feel relieved to know that there are levels of morality and should feel only accompanying levels of guilt associated with each level. For instance, a man who slights another man should not feel the same guilt as a man who has taken the life of another.’”

“You’re using Tichen as an example on morality?” Raulin said, scoffing. “You do realize that man was a philanderer and an inveterate gambler? When he died, he left his wife alone and in debt. I never take advice from men who can’t lead their lives like their words.”

“I’ve never heard anyone say anything even slightly libelous against Tichen!”

“I suppose you should read different books then. Which brings me to my other point, Wizard. I have done many terrible things in my life, it’s true. I, however, have never impersonated a lawyer nor have I broken the law about practicing magic in the courtroom. Many would find that blasphemous against Uvarna and many would consider that worse than murder.”

Al turned to Anla. “Why did you tell him that?”

“She didn’t,” Raulin said before Anladet said anything. “Telbarisk said your name was Alpine. I know that law. You are either a wizard or are impersonating one. You were almost choked to death a half-week ago and yet you show little wear over it, so I’m almost positive that I’m right and you are a soft wizard who can heal. If that’s the case, you cannot be both wizard and lawyer. And you’ve also let me fester with some serious injuries and haven’t offered aid. ‘A man of strong moral character will always lend aid where he can and if he can, despite his personal leanings towards the situation and the people involved in it.’ Tichen, Honor and Serenity.”

The wizard said nothing in response. Raulin was sure he scored the point there, or at least laid the foundation in their relationship that he wasn’t to be bowled over in discussions on ethics. (He hadn’t spent countless hours in his youth studying boring philosophies for nothing.) He had established his intelligence and that he was in charge.  With any lucky, he would be left alone for the remainder of their time together by that ass of a wizard.

But Raulin wondered if fighting back was the wisest course of action. Telbarisk was not a leader, at least not yet in his life. He was content to follow kouriya. Anladet was not a leader. An excellent second-in-command, if his instincts were correct, but not one who enjoyed giving orders and being followed. Alpine was their de facto leader. Raulin was unsure if challenging the wizard had alienated him from the other two, hurting his position in the group.

Or had his lashing out been a stroke of wisdom?  Could he take leadership of the group? It would be far easier. Raulin knew what he was doing and had done this very thing many times.  His rash and impatient disposition on the job had led him to escape from the premises of far too many jobs.  While not great for his record, it had honed skills that many trirecs rarely used. He could, and would, get out of Carvek alive. And if he could offer aid to both a new and an old friend, he would do that, too.

Sometimes one needed to swallow their pride and dampen their spirits in order to achieve what they wanted. It was the first lesson Raulin had learned at Arvarikor. The wizard was annoying. And hypocritical. And childish. But, he had taken care of his good friend and seemed to be doing well by the woman. He could step back and let him lead, making suggestions instead of commands. Just so long as things went as planned.

“We have gotten off on the wrong foot, Wizard.  My name is Raulin Kemor.  Yes, I am a trirec.  Yes, I kill people and steal and spy for a living.  I won’t ever admit to being a noble man, but I am a man who has experience in escaping.  You are a learned man.  If you can think of this situation critically, and not emotionally, you’ll see that it’s much better to take the risk by escaping the court and leaving with me.

“It is not my call to make.  I can escape by myself.  However, because you have done well by my friend Telbarisk, I would like to extend to you, and your friends, the invitation of leaving with me. I hope you’ll reach the right decision.  For the moment, I am still tired and will take a nap.  Please discuss this and wake me if food comes.”

Worst case scenario, they would tell a guard that Raulin was planning on escaping, something he was sure they suspected anyway.  Best case scenario, he would have three other magicians to augment the escape with.  With Anladet alone it would be so easy.

The pot had been stirred.  It needed time before it became edible.

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