Despite the circumstances, Raulin was feeling rather pleased with the turn of events. He had known when he had awoken that he was going to need their help to escape. He had assumed they were going to be a hindrance. Instead, he found himself with three magic users, including a cross-switching wizard. Oh, the things he could plan with just him. But a kiluid and a woman who could silence and warp sound? It was going to be too easy.
He laid down and stared at the ceiling, running through scenarios and plans. The wizard and Anla had struck up a conversation about a number of things, winding from one topic to another. Raulin continued to strategize, but occasionally found himself pulled in by their conversation.
“Did you have any choice in your name?” Anla asked Al.
“My last name, no. It’s the same as everyone else in my class. My first name, yes. I was given a list of names to choose from and there weren’t many I liked. I thought ‘Alpine’ suited me the best and was also one I could shorten, so that people didn’t need to know I was a wizard immediately. I almost picked ‘Timber’, if you can imagine that.”
“Timber isn’t a terrible name, unless you’re a fighter. I can only imagine what the crowd would yell whenever he’d get knocked out.”
He laughed lightly. “I suppose I could have lived up to that name easily. What about you? I assume your family’s traditions are the same and your father named you at birth.”
“Yes. My father named my sisters, my brother, and I, but my mother had some input. She wanted a name that could translate well enough into her language . My name, for example, means ‘beautiful girl’ in father’s tongue, but close to ‘babbling brook girl’ in my mother’s. ‘Ahnee-dehm.’”
Raulin chose not to correct her. The definition of “Anladet” was actually “splendid to behold”, something more awe-inspiring than beauty, like a magnificent sunset or a perfect flower. Her father was probably a man a generation or two removed from the country and didn’t speak the tongue well enough to know the distinction.
“Have you been to Arvonne?” he asked her, to which she shook her head. “I’d like to go someday. It sounds so wonderful. I’ve seen paintings of some of the landmarks and natural wonders. The Emvil Bailey, Em Uin é Lirand, the Mist Forest, the Srielt Mountains in the north, the Tepenstri Coast. It would be nice to get a fresh, high quality glass of some Caudet.”
Raulin sat up quickly, then relaxed. He felt both Al and Anladet turn their heads to watch him. “The peasant wine?”
“Caudet. It’s low quality wine that the peasants drink in Arvonne.”
“No, I said ‘Caudet‘. That’s some of the best wine they have. They import it here to Gheny and serve it in the better half of the bars. I usually have to pay three to five silver for a glass.”
“Really?” Raulin asked, amused.
“Why, do you know better? Have you even been to Arvonne?”
“Wizard, I’ve been all over Merak, Noh Amair, Gheny, even to Ervaskin. Arvonne has been one of many and I recall certain things from each place. I’m certain that they make Caudet with inferior grapes and mix in the wine that aged poorly.”
Raulin expected Al to argue with him. Instead, in a quiet, yearning voice he asked, “Is Arvonne as beautiful as they say?”
That country was the last thing he wanted to discuss. But, for the sake of the peace, he did. “I think my tastes may differ. I prefer warmer climates with lush scenery and warm waters, like Genale and the Empire. But, I suppose those places you mentioned are nice.”
“You’ve been to them? All of them?”
“Yes, all of them. And the beaches of Nor Ipral, the Biashka baths, the capital, many other cities and towns. I travel a lot. I could tell you more about the wonders of Kinto. Whenever I get an interlude, I travel there. I’ve been there for about eight months or…”
“Kinto is beautiful, from what I hear, but I’m just drawn to Arvonne.” He continued to gush in his soft voice. “The people sound lovely, too. Hardworking, pleasant, able to relax and enjoy the finer things in life while also giving so much attention to their festivals.”
“You’ve met many, I’m sure. Have you been to any festivals?”
“I don’t like Arvonne and I avoid it at all costs.”
Raulin felt his throat tighten. “Because the people aren’t nice. They are selfish and stupid and would prefer to stab you in the back, but will try the front if it’s easier. They’re wasteful and bloodthirsty. If I could never go to Arvonne again, I’d die happy.”
Al had lost the dreamy tone. “So, what, you skirt into the country, kill a few people, and think that you know everything about a place and it’s people? You’re dealing with the worst, people who have reasons for being killed, not the best or even the average.”
“Oh, so now you’re saying there are legitimate reasons for people to take out contracts on others?”
“No! I’m…that’s not what I meant. It’s just usually people who have dealings in that type of situation, those who take out contracts or have them taken out on them, are from the shadier parts of society.”
“Like the count I assassinated last night?” When Alpine didn’t answer, Raulin continued. “Wizard, I have killed some very upstanding people in my time. Fathers, brothers, family men, rulers incorruptible and magnanimous, philanthropists, popular and kind men of society, even women of that nature. Do you know why I killed them? Because I was hired by someone who saw them not as those qualities but as an obstacle to whatever ends they had in mind. I’ve met and dined with many victims. I’ve killed all kinds of people, so please don’t lecture me on my judge of character.”
Raulin felt that the wizard’s silence was an injured one. They had been doing so well, too, but there were some things he refused to talk about. Following it up with another lesson in ethics had been enough to put him in a sour mood.
The wizard stood after a few minutes and began cleaning the area of fish bones and barrel parts. He kept lifting the wood up and throwing them in the corner. “None of these will make a good cup.”
“Do you need a cup?” Telbarisk asked. He was holding his hand aloft in a claw.
“Why did you bring that? And how did you get it in here?”
Raulin kept looking back and forth between the wizard and Telbarisk’s hand, trying to figure out what they meant.
“You said it was my duty now to ‘keep tabs’ on it. I put it in my bakinar and the guards didn’t want to search me.”
Al beamed and said, “I forgive you.” He took whatever was in Tel’s hand and brought it over to the window. “Actually, I forgive you if you fill the chalice with rain. My arm’s not long enough.”
Telbarisk did so and Al sat back on the ground. “I’m going someday,” he said to Anladet. “You are more than welcome to come with me. Maybe next year, after our payment from the duke, we can go together and make a tour of it.”
“That sounds nice, Al,” she said.
“Yes, and you can drink all the Caudet you can find,” Raulin said. “I bet they’d pay you to drink it.”
“Listen, I’ve had plenty of wines and I can tell the difference between a good glass and a bad glass. Lie all you want about it; I’m still going to enjoy it.”
“You do what you like, Wizard. I won’t be there when you take your little tour of Arvonne and get sick from bad wine and bad food and bad company. I bet you won’t make it a week before you get homesick and run back to port.”
“I bet I make it the full time and enjoy every moment of it! We can go in spring, Anla, when they have the festival dances in Aistard where all the flowers bloom. We can taste magrid and pecan pie, and tour vineyards, then go north to the dairy country of Jemerie where they make incredible cheeses, then we can go to Tapenstri for…”
“Oh, do shut up, Wizard. Discuss your asinine plans some other time.” Raulin stood and walked over to where Telbarisk was standing, pulling off the bottom part of his mask.
“What are you doing?” Al asked.
“I was just curious as to what Tel was doing. How goes it?”
Telbarisk pulled the chalice back in. “It’s about half-way filled.”
“That is a neat trick, Tel,” he said, admiring the floating liquid before he pulled the chalice out of his hand, felt the goblet as he slipped his fingers between the stem, and downed the water in two gulps.
Anladet gasped. Al was stunned for one moment, before he ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. “No, no, no! Please don’t tell me that worked.” He stood up. “Did you have any blood on your fingers?”
“What?” Raulin asked, perplexed.
“Your fingers. Let me see them!”
“The glass wasn’t made of ice, then?”
“What? No! Let me see.” He pulled Raulin over to the window and held the trirec’s hand up, moving it back and forth. The chalice clattered to the ground, startling Raulin. “I can’t tell in this light!”
“When was the last time you checked your wound?” Anladet asked him.
He was about to answer when they all froze at a sound. Someone was opening the door. “Gods almighty, it reeks in here,” said a guard. “I’m putting your tray down on the ground. It’s up to you to divvy it up.”
Raulin reached down and grabbed the chalice off the floor, swiftly closed the distance between him and the guard, and whacked him in the temple with the cup. He grabbed a slice of bread, downed the watered wine in one of the cups, then said, “We have to go! Now!”