The rain glistened from leaves, tiny crystals refracting rainbows. The road was still muddy and full of water in the wagon-wheel ruts. Puddles dotted the way and caused them to worm their way around or take large, Telbarisk-length steps to avoid them.
Homes and small farms began to line the route with more frequency after several hours of travel and a quick lunch. “How much longer until the houses are close enough together that there isn’t any forest left?” Raulin asked Telbarisk.
“Not much time. We will come to a large wall before the sun touches the horizon.”
“Then we should set up our first camp here,” he said, pointing in general to the woods. “You choose, Tel, since you’re going to be wherever it is for at least a few days.”
“Not here,” he said and continued walking, taking the lead for the first time since they began their journey..
A half-hour of travel passed. “Tel, we’re getting close to Iascond,” Al said.
Telbarisk stopped, then smiled. “Here,” he said, pointing at a small strip of forest. “Here is where I will stay.”
The three paused for a few moments. “I think that’s someone’s property,” Al said. “You can’t stay there; that’s breaking the law.”
“Kouriya?” Raulin asked him. Tel nodded. “This is where he’s staying, then. I’m sure that he can work something out with the owners if they don’t want him there. It’s only a crime if it’s reported.”
There was another short pause when the four of them reached the edge of a gate and stared in.
“Well, at least there shouldn’t be any issues about landowners being upset about Tel staying here,” Anla said.
“It’s a graveyard,” Al pointed out. “He can’t stay at a graveyard; there are diseases in rotting flesh!”
“The wizard makes a good point,” Raulin said to Tel. “Are you sure you want to stay here?”
“I’ve listened and this is where I will stay.”
Raulin nodded slowly and turned to Al. “Is there anything he can do to ward off illness?”
“I already told him there was,” he said. “He needs to stay near a fire, cook his food thoroughly, and rub his skin with ash. He hasn’t been doing any of these, however.”
“Tel? Do you promise to do as he says? Otherwise, I think I’m going to move you somewhere else.”
“I need to be here, though,” he said.
“I know, but you will be by yourself for a good portion of the day. I’m concerned that you will fall ill after Anla leaves and she won’t find you until that night.”
Telbarisk tensed. “It is important that I stay here. I will do as he says.”
“It’s settled then, unless the lady has any objections, which wouldn’t surprise me.”
“With company I think I’ll be all right,” Anla said. “I’m not like one of those Tektornians, with their obsessions with the dead. I don’t believe they rise up on the full moon, to seek out vengeance.”
“I have Kambersol Convictions: Volume the Fifth, if you want to read more about them,” Al said, slinging his pack off and rifling through its contents. “It goes into some of the lore of Tektorn. There was a particularly good story about spring-heeled jacks that I particularly liked. Another one about the Wick Tellet monster that…”
“I think she’s fine, Wizard,” Raulin said. “Why don’t you go over those recommendations again?”
They set down their gear while Al lectured Telbarisk. “Are you fine, Anla? You didn’t mention death as a fear, but it is one most men have. If you don’t want to stay here, you don’t have to.”
“No, I believe I’ll be all right,” she said. “Honestly. It’s a good chance to get to know Telbarisk.”
“If you say so,” he said, though he was still dubious.
Once Tel was set up and supplied, the remaining three left to figure out Anladet’s day base. “Did you have anything in mind, any preferences?” Raulin asked.
“I was thinking this might be a good opportunity to earn a little money, so perhaps near a park or a busy area?” Al loudly scoffed and she ignored him. “I wouldn’t mind staying at an inn.”
“Did you think we were going to put you up in a rat-infested hole? We have enough money to get you a good place.”
“I thought we were saving money.”
Raulin pulled the pouch from his belt and opened it to show her the strings of beads. “This is how I’m paid. I can exchange these with my order for money. This, right here, is worth several hundred gold. So don’t worry about money for right now and just enjoy a short vacation where you don’t have to do anything.”
“Remind me again why we have to pay you money to guard us?” Al asked.
“Wizard. I wouldn’t want to lie to my order. They find things out.” After he saw Al scowl, he said, “Fine. My operating costs for one year will eat all of this up.”
“You spend two hundred gold on ‘operating costs’? What, do you buy every lady you see jewelry and shoes?”
“Bribes, medicine and doctor’s visits, clothing, meals, travel, tickets to events, and, yes, sometimes jewelry for ladies. And maybe a short vacation after I’m done. Genale isn’t cheap.”
“So why don’t you just not vacation this year and pay for your guarding fee?”
“Well, that’s not fun,” Raulin said. “I don’t like that idea at all.”
“And I don’t like paying you money to do what you were going to do anyway.”
“’A man’s worth is valued in his work, and a man’s work should be worth a value.’”
“Oh, don’t spout Tichen at me!” Al said.
“Ah! Ah!” Raulin said, laughing. “We’ve made progress then! I’ll refrain if you refrain.”
* * *
Despite the conversation, Anla took a cheap room in a modest hotel for young, working women located a block from the southwestern gate of Iascond. It was a large, boring rectangular building with many windows trimmed in white. It’s only interest were a few trees just past bloom that grew so close to the walls that they appeared to be leaning.
Each floor had over a dozen rooms and one washroom with plumbing. Therefore, the rate was inexpensive at a silver per night, which was discounted by fifteen coppers for paying upfront for a fullweek. The less money spent, the better, Anla thought. During the day she’d be in the city making money. At night she’d travel back to the graveyard to retire with Telbarisk, save for the one night Raulin needed her here. She wouldn’t be staying very much in her room, so it was more for pretenses than anything else.
“I’m estimating seven days maximum,” Raulin said outside the main lobby. “I have to establish contact with the city’s agent before I begin, which I’m hoping will be within twenty-four hours. One to three days for research, two days for implementation.”
“That’s only six days,” Al pointed out.
“Yes, I was taught math at some point in the last twenty-six years. I always try to leave some time for setbacks and surprises, but I don’t like counting them. It begs for disaster.” He turned to her. “I need you to check in daily for mail. I’ll send you a letter with some rambling cockamamie the night before the second job. I need you to stay here that night, should I need flexibility in travel.”
“How can I reach you two, should I need to?”
“We’ll walk by this building twice daily. Why don’t you hang a scarf outside your window if you need to get ahold of us.”
“Okay. Stay safe.” Her instinct was to hug the two of them, but instead she just smiled and walked inside.
“On to our hotel,” Raulin said. “Now, are you still interested in being frugal or can we split our rooms, Wizard?”
“I have a name, you know. It’s Alpine Gray. Al for short.” He paused. “Never mind. You can call me Alpine.”
“You shouldn’t be so concerned with these things, Wizard. It’s just a name.”
“What if I started calling you ‘Trirec’, huh?”
“Go right ahead if it makes you feel better, Wizard.”
“Okay, Trirec. Where are we going Trirec?”
“Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, in my opinion.” He pulled his journal from his pack and opened up to one of the pages at the end of his section on Gheny. Copying down the tedious information of where agents were placed and how to alert them had been irritating, especially in light of losing his other journal, but he had known how important the information was and had gritted his teeth and done it. “You and I need to buy a piece of chalk and make it to the corner of Market and Bull streets.”
“I have chalk.” He dove his hand into his backpack, rummaged for a few moments, then retrieved it. “Does it matter if its broken?”
“Don’t be so pessimistic, Wizard! It’s now two pieces of chalk.”
“Eventually it becomes chalk dust.”
“Yes, but even deserts were formed by larger stones.”
They continued walking until they found signs that pointed them to the right place. “I need you to go to that building right there,” Raulin said, pointing to a red brick office building, “and draw on the corner. At the top will be a bird with a line next to it. Below that, a half-circle faced up with a capped line about three-fourths of the way to the right. Below that, another half-circle faced down with a line halfway through, not capped.”
“What does it mean?” Al asked.
“It’s just a signal that a trirec is looking for an agent and what time we put it up and how long we’re willing to wait.”
“Why can’t you do it? I don’t know how to draw a bird.” He looked a little sheepish at that.
“I would, but its a bit conspicuous for a trirec. If I could take off my mask, I’d have no problem, but since I can’t, it’s up to you. And do your best with the bird; I’m sure the agent will get what you mean.”
Al rolled the piece of chalk in his fingers as he crossed the street. He realized that there was a window mere feet from the place Raulin had told him to draw the cipher and that there was a man inside writing with a quill on a desk. If he decided to look up, he’d see Al defacing the side of his business.
Al looked around at the people walking the street and back at Raulin, who made an encouraging wave with his hands. Al looked again to his left and right, then drew a blobby circle being attacked by angles, then the two half circles. He used his spit to erase some lines on the blobby circle and added more angles with lines jutting out to represent talons. When he was satisfied, he walked back to Raulin while wiping the chalk on his breeches.
“Very good,” Raulin said, leading Al left down the street. “Now, we wait a flash or a bash for our agent to show.”
“Do you mean he’s not going to show up immediately?”
“No! His job isn’t to wait around to see if someone draws something on the side of that building. He’s out doing…well, things, Wizard. Other things. He’s responsible for checking the building once per day, just in case. Hopefully we didn’t just miss our window.”
“What are we going to do while we wait?”
Raulin stopped and looked down the street. “We’re going to find our room. Then you and I are going to talk.”
“About Mr. Auslen and his big, fat mouth.”