Al had taken the second watch and spent most of the night jumping at shadows and whispers.  He had known Raulin was a dangerous man, and delusional in his morals, but he had never felt that danger.  Raulin had laughed and quipped and argued.  He had even grown angry with Al, but it had all been understandable and human.  Al had never thought he’d turn against him, no matter how hard he pressed the man.

He absently rubbed the small nick on his neck.  “My turn,” Anla said softly.  He still startled.

“Maybe both our turns,” he said.

“You don’t think you’ll be able to sleep?”

He shrugged and turned it into a roll of his shoulders.  He wanted to have a long, deep conversation with her about Raulin, but felt it was wasted.  She liked him and anything he said against him was going to be met with resistance.  He retired and slept on the other side of Telbarisk, so that should Raulin return, he’d have to climb over the grivven to get at Al.

Much like the night after he punched the wall at Milxner’s, he laid awake and fretted potential sleep away.  He knew it was officially morning when there was a sharp wave of nausea and a skull-pounding headache. He grabbed his head and rolled over, almost hitting the side of the cave. It was still too dark to see clearly, but he heard Anla and Tel moan in pain.

He was about to cry out when it dissipated and he was left feeling like some of his clients had admitted after a touch wizardry session.

“Breakfast, then?” he asked, sitting up.

“We have some leftover soup, though it’s cold.  It’ll have to serve; we’re almost out of cheese and bread and I don’t know where the next town will be.”

Al held up a finger, which he realized she might not be able to see, and rummaged around his backpack. He scooted to the edge of the cave with the book he had retrieved. “This is over fifty years old, but hopefully is still accurate. There is a town a few miles north of the fork that has a medium sized dot attributed to it. Should be large enough to have a market of some kind.”

“Cold soup, then, and later today we’ll get some things…” She stopped and gritted her teeth to bear the sudden pain that hit him a fraction of a second later. Al actually couldn’t breath through this bout and turned his head and vomited.

“Damn him!” he said, wiping his mouth. “Can’t he exercise a little patience?”

“We’d best move, then, before he gets more insistent.”

They gathered their things quickly, stuffing their bedrolls hastily into their packs. Anla led them out of their camp on a different path from the day before, fearing that traveling due west would take too long. They made it back to the Sharkan-Ashven Trade Road with plenty of burrs, scratches, and bites to put them into a foul mood that only got worse as the day progressed.

At least they didn’t have to keep within a mile, something Al had realized back in Ammet Bronsto. He explained while they traveled. “The chalice links not one to the whole, but two members together. Here’s person A,” he said, holding up his thumb.  “One mile away is person B,” he said, wiggling his index finger.  “Now, if if you move person C,” he said, wiggling his pinkie finger, “you’re one mile from person B but two miles from person A.”

Anla didn’t sound surprised by the information. “We could potentially be one mile apart from each other, then; three miles between the farthest two.”

“Yes. We can stop for a break, so long as at least one of us keeps walking and stays one mile from Raulin. For a mile’s worth of time, that is.”

“What’s a mile?” asked Telbarisk.

“It’s a unit of measurement that’s worth five thousand, two hundred and eighty feet,” Al responded.

‘But, what does it look like? Is it as far as we can see ahead of us?”

Al looked ahead. The route was flat and curved to the left enough to create a line. “That’s about a sixteenth of a mile.”

“About?” Tel asked. “This is not a precise thing, then?”

“Well, no. I can give a guess, but I might be off by a few hundred feet.”

“We will get sick then, if we cannot tell exactly where one mile behind Raulin is.”

This stumped Al for a moment. Tel was right; they needed precision. “Can either of you locate him precisely?”

“We do not use things like miles and hours,” Tel said. “It can be close, or near, or far, or beyond a day’s travel, but that is not the same for each person. Cutting up land and time is a strange concept to me.”

“I could figure out where he is based on how loud the sound he leaves is,” Anla said, “but it wouldn’t be precise. My ear isn’t that sensitive.”

“So, we’re stuck following him like little poodles on a leash?” Al said bitterly. “He yanks and we yelp and get dragged along?”

“If we stay within a mile, we should be fine, Al. We’ll figure out something better.”

The day grew beyond tolerable, even for Anla and Al. Tel looked like he was melting, constantly wiping his brow of sweat and readjusting his chain to keep loose hair from his sticking to his face.

When they grew close to the fork, Anla suddenly sighed. “He’s not going north.”

“What? He was lying then?”

“Or he changed his mind.”

“He said he was going northwest to Ashven because he had contracts there. Suddenly he can change where he does his work? No, it’s just another thing he’s lied about.” Al’s confidence dropped for a moment before he realized Raulin was almost a mile away.

“Al, why is his honesty so important to you?” she snapped. “Sometimes men have very good reasons for lying.”

“Honesty means a man is trustworthy. When he is known to speak the truth consistently, he is likely to have integrity. Raulin has proven many times in the last few days that he is untrustworthy.”

“His lies helped get us out of a bad situation. And he did tell the truth about his plan. A few lies to many truths.”

“But I have only spoken the truth,” Al said.

“Except for claiming to be a lawyer.”

“That was to save Telbarisk.”

“And Raulin lied to save us from being captured.” She sighed. “I can tell you that I’ve known of many fine and upstanding citizens of Hanala who turned out to be crooks in the night. Priests, merchants, politicians. The only people I trusted were the ones I knew who lied all the time.”

“But you can tell, Anla. You can use your ability to tell when a man lies or tells the truth. I can’t. I have to rely to logic and sound reasoning to figure out whether he’s a good man. And once I know someone is untrustworthy, it makes our relationship easy: we don’t have one.”

“I can’t always.”

“What do you mean, ‘you can’t always’?”

“We talked about this when we first met. I read people. I can tell when a man is lying more by quirks than by my magic, though I’m getting better at the magic part. ”

“So, I could lie to you and you wouldn’t know?”

“Actually, you have been lying to me, to us, about your home and family,” she said, glaring at him. Al looked at Tel quickly, who was studying the ground. “I know that, but it’s because you have little tells. Like, when you speak of your recent past, you sort of jerk your left shoulder slightly and squint your eyes. You also won’t look me or anyone else in the eye when you lie, just like when you said you were a lawyer.

“The hardest part with using magic to find out if a man is lying is the nature of lying itself. There are straight-out lies, ones where he knows he’s lying. Ask a man who enters a tavern if it’s raining outside when it isn’t and if he lies and says it is, then he’s given a full lie. It makes a very soft grinding noise underneath the words Those lies are easy to catch.

“But the world isn’t full of easy, full lies. There are partial lies. There are lies we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that the world is better. There are lies by ignorance. There are lies by omission. There is uncorroborated gossip. Those are all kinds of lies. In fact, I’d say people speak lies more often than they tell the truth.”

“The world isn’t like that.”

“It is, Al. I’m sorry to tell you that. If you’re looking for honestly, look to Tel. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who hasn’t fully lied, though he has lied in other ways. And that’s fine. Tel will tell us when he’s ready to. Just like you’ll tell us when you’re ready to speak of your past.”

“You’re saying I should just ignore his dishonesty and just let him speak how he pleases? It’s disrespectful to constantly lie to people.”

“If you say so,” she said, moving ahead quickly. She stayed a good hundred feet in front of them until they broke for lunch, which was eaten quickly so they wouldn’t fall behind.

Al was fine with the solitude. Anla could stay away if she preferred. Telbarisk was poor company, but at least he didn’t have his ethics all mixed up like Anla did.

A passing merchant was willing to trade their coin for vegetables, a sackful of crackers, and a small wheel of sharp cheese. Al would have haggled, but he was afraid he would get caught in the middle of negotiations with the nausea. The merchant seemed uneasy about Telbarisk and had possibly asked for fair wages due to his intimidation.

“He’s stopped,” Tel mumbled sometime past sunset.

“You’re sure?” Al asked.

“Yes, he’s ahead but off the road.”

He called out to Anla, waving, and she turned back to meet them.

Telbarisk chose a well-enclosed clearing in the forest where large trees and bushes made a decent barrier. They set up camp and cooked the sausages Anla had bought from the same merchant. Telbarisk enjoyed the cheese and vegetables.

“The arrangement we have with Raulin is not good,” Anla said, wiping the grease off her chin. “Someone needs to speak with him tomorrow, before he moves in the morning. I fear a conversation between you and he wouldn’t go well, Al. Telbarisk? You’ve known him the longest. Would you like to do the honors?”

He laid on his back, his face dewy with sweat. “I think you would do best, Anla. He has stated he likes you and you are diplomatic.”

“You’re also not doing well with the weather. Perhaps we can get you some thinner clothes when we reach Iascond,” Al said, his disdain at the lie emphasized when he said the name of the city.

“I’ll head out before breakfast, then, and try to catch him before he starts moving.”

“What are you going to say?” Al asked.

“I’m going to politely ask him to rejoin us and hope he says ‘yes’.”

“I don’t want him with us.”

“That’s fine, but for the rest of the group who doesn’t want to live like today for the rest of the year, we do.”

Liked it? Take a second to support Forest Green on Patreon!

No Comments

Post a Comment