6-9

“She seemed nice,” Anladet said.

“Talented, too,” Raulin added. “It’s always good to know people of a certain profession in different areas, especially if they are discreet, amenable, and, most importantly, adept.”

“It’s handy, I’m sure, for when you get into tight quarters. Which I assume happens often.” When Al walked over and sat with them, she continued, holding up the vial of medicine. “If we give this now, someone’s going to have to stay up and give him his last dose early in the morning.”

“I can do that,” Raulin said. “I slept late today so I won’t be tired.”  He turned to address Al.  “In your opinion, how is he looking?”

“Hard to tell.  This is a crucial junction; either his body accepts the medicine and begins to heal or it does nothing and we’re left waiting until it’s too late.”

Raulin clicked his tongue a few times. “There was a healer in town that was deemed a bit daft by the shopkeeper we spoke with.  Should we maybe try to locate her just in case…?”

“Amandorlam lists healers as one of those groups we have to look out for, people that erode the public’s trust in magic by peddling false cures.  I would advise not to waste your money and time.”

“And you can’t help.”

“I can give him enough to stimulate his healing, perhaps one to five percent of what I can do, but any more and I risk helping the pox bloom inside him.”

“So, we wait then,” Raulin said bitterly.

“It’s all we can do.  How is your shoulder?  I asked Alistad to look after it.  I saw her speaking to you while I was brewing the medicine, so I hope she attended it.”

Raulin blinked a few times.  “You asked her?  I thought Anla did.”

“No, but I should have,” she said, a small smile on her face.

“Thank you, Wizard.  I appreciate the concern.”

Al waved his hand in dismissal and pulled out a book to read.

While the afternoon and evening were tense with anticipation, at least Al and Raulin weren’t picking at each other.  In fact, Al’s casual demeanor helped reduce Raulin’s fears and he found himself calmer than he expected.  They conversed quietly over dinner, speaking not of Tichen or Arvonne but of experiences each had related to this or that.  If Anla wasn’t so worried over Tel’s health, she would have found the time pleasant.

Al went to bed shortly after the sun set.  Anla sat up with Raulin for a few more hours, but knew it was time to retire when she began stifling yawns.  “Wake us if anything changes,” she said as she covered herself with her wool cloak.

Raulin was, again, left with his thoughts and no way to guide them to better paths. He couldn’t plan ahead for his two jobs in Iascond until he had more information. And he felt it was pointless to review his last job; there were too many factors outside his control. Besides, he had completed his task and had escaped. That was the only thing that truly mattered to Arvarikor.

He dwelt on where he was and who he was with. He had realized a long time ago that the real reason why Arvarikor had prohibited working in pairs, teams, or with outside help was that it gave an unfair advantage and they liked their playing field level. At any time a trirec could potentially go up against another trirec to the death. It was better not to make attachments and to stick to the code of conduct.

It was one of the rules he had constantly bucked against. He wasn’t as strongly against a solo career as Isken was, but he found many reasons for wanting to break it. They had trained him to be erudite and social, to mingle and make connections. They wanted him to use people to get what he wanted, either an easier in to a location or the information he needed. And then he was supposed to forget them and disappear.

He had done it over and over again, and it had never gotten easier. He was clearly not the type of man who could throw his feelings aside. If it hadn’t been for his mentor Afren telling him that he his feelings were normal, he would have thought himself a bad trirec long ago.

And so here he was with three allies. One of them was one of those friendships he had made that they had wanted him to forget. Another was someone he had good synergy with, someone who would make a great partner, if they had trained him how to do that. And, well, then there was the wizard.

What was he going to do? He knew he couldn’t be cold and distant to them. But he couldn’t be open to them, either. His only choice was to find an in between that worked, being pleasant but still holding them at arm’s length.

It would work for Al. Telbarisk, well, he had a sneaky way of getting people to reveal their secrets by patiently waiting for them to spill them. He would have to be careful.

Anladet was a different story. He glanced over at her, the warm glow of the fire painting her skin in golds and oranges, as beautiful as the day he first saw her. She would be the hardest to deal with. Already he could feel that light giddiness when she laughed with him, the bettering of his mood just by her meeting his eyes and smiling. He knew it was only a matter of time before he fell for her and he couldn’t have that. He wouldn’t be able to remove himself once he did.

But all those points were tangible, corporeal things. He would have to deal with them, but they were things in his control to influence. His major concern was how they had all arrived together. If there were higher powers in play, then Raulin was going to be gravely concerned, especially after the dream and the shipwreck. It meant great changes were being foisted upon him and he absolutely wanted nothing do to with them.

The night was lonely, but it passed by quickly enough. The gray light of dawn indicated it was about eight hours past the nighttime dose. He squeezed the outside of Telbarisk’s lips so his mouth opened and poured the rest down. Raulin moved his face close to his and said, “You are not meant to die here. You were meant to help your people. Get better so that one day you can return to them.”

If Telbarisk heard him, he made no indication.

Raulin slept through breakfast, another fare of fruits picked clean of their meat after removing the bruised flesh. He heard light talking between Al and Anla, but ignored it for a little more sleep. Around noon he awoke and ate the leftover food hungrily.

He was staring ahead, listening to Anla talk about some story from Hanala when he saw slight movement out of the corner of his eyes. He looked down to see Telbarisk blinking, a look of bewilderment on his face.

Raulin scooted over and looked over his friend. “Tel! You woke up!”  He put his hand over his forehead, feeling the temperature.  It was warm, but not hot.  Better.  He was better.

Telbarisk looked around wildly as Al and Anla hurried over. “Shaylasan…” he breathed.

“What does that mean?” Al asked.

“’Falseness, a fake existence. He could be speaking of a dream or that he’s confused why he’s here.” He looked down at his friend. “Souskway, Ankoswita.”

Tel blinked a few times and focused his gaze on Raulin. “I was there,” he said softly.

“I know. You were calling out for her.”

Tel sighed and nodded. “What have I missed?”

“What do you remember?” Raulin asked as Telbarisk sat up.

“I remember being home, but that can’t be right.” He closed his eyes. “In the woods, I was warm. I couldn’t feel anything besides the heat. And I don’t remember anything after that.”

“You passed out on the road to Iascond shortly after we left Tryna, about two days ago. A woman kindly sent her son to the city and an apprentice made her way out to care for you. She diagnosed you yesterday and gave us medicine.”

Tel nodded again and his eyes flickered to the woods. “I need to…”

Raulin waved his hand as Tel stood and relieved himself beyond the edge of the camp. “How are you feeling?” Raulin asked him when he returned.

“Weak, itchy.”

“Ah, she said not to itch the pox or you’ll get scars.” He pulled one of the salves Alistad had left. “The priestess said to apply this instead.”

He sniffed the clay jar and rubbed a little on his arm. He sighed and smiled. “It feels good.”

Tel turned to speak to the other two but stopped when he saw their faces. His eyebrows furrowed for a moment. “They know?”

“I felt it was important to tell them. I had to make sure their loyalties were pure.”

“It’s true then?” Al asked. “You’re a prince?”

Tel sat down. “Raulin tells me it’s not the same thing. My brother is the ruler of our lands and it is expected of me to give everything to him. Princes here are not expected to do much, other than behave, marry well, and walk in parades. If I only did those things, it would shame my family and myself.”

“So, you took the fall for your brother,” Al said. “He killed someone and he blamed it on you. Why didn’t you say that?”

“There is no difference between the man who took the life and the man who took the blame.”

“Yes, there is!” Al exclaimed. “You didn’t actually kill him! And the other man you killed was in self-defense! Telbarisk, you aren’t a bad person!”

“Was he a bad person before you made those distinctions?” Raulin asked.

“Not bad, but…look, Tichen says…”

“Wizard, let’s leave Tichen out of it. From now on, if I hear you spout one morsel of his oh so infinite wisdom, I will find creative ways to make you swallow your tongue.”

“You can’t possibly have read everything the man wrote.”

“I have. From A Long Way to Wisdom to Your Furthest Thought. It’s essential trirec reading.”

Al snorted and was about to retort when Telbarisk looked at Anla and said, “I had hoped that had ended.”

“Oh, definitely not. Sometimes I think they’re actually beavers. If they don’t gnaw on something continuously, their teeth will grow into their brains.”

“Fine,” Raulin said. “For Telbarisk’s well being, I will quell my need to argue.”

Al said nothing, which was better than something.

“We will need to return to Tryna, to resupply,” Raulin said. “Alistad got here very quickly from Iascond, but I suspect she may have ridden through the night. It will be two days at best, and since Telbarisk is still sick, we won’t be at our best. Therefore, food for a few days.”

“We also have another problem,” Al added. “Alistad mentioned that there is an outbreak in Iascond of the black measles. She suggested we keep Tel away from compromising places, like cities. Especially cities with many sick people.”

“Good point. We should take our time reaching the city then. I’d prefer he not enter, but I don’t see any way around that.”

“We tested something, the three of us, before you rejoined,” Anla said. “It doesn’t have to be the group within a mile of the fourth; we could spread out farther from each other. One person, then another a mile away, then another a mile from him…”

“We can spread out farther than we’ve been traveling?”

“Yes, but I think it would be difficult to do so with precision. Even on a road, there are deviations that could throw the whole thing off. However, we could have Tel stay outside Iascond, someone can stay a half-mile from him and be able to run errands up to a half-mile farther, and Raulin and someone else can stay in the city.”

“It’s a hell of a lot better than dragging Telbarisk into that mess. It’s a great idea. We just need to see if he can actually get to Iascond first.”

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