The hotel where Al and Raulin took their room at was near the northwestern gate, which happened to be a rougher neighborhood in Iascond. It was still a nice place, with traveler’s suites of a spacious room that had separate beds and a private bathroom. The price was a compromise; at three silver a night, they still had accommodations that pleased them both without hurting their reserves too badly.
Al was folding his clothes neatly into his chipped but sturdy bureau when Raulin broached the subject that had concerned him earlier. “Now. Let’s start by where you made your mistake.”
Al turned, his face a study of puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
“With Mr. Auslen.”
“Oh,” he said, returning to his folding. “When was that?”
“Sometime after we had our last discussion and now, which should narrow down who you were speaking with and what you said.”
“Was it Chian? I didn’t say much to him.”
“Then it wasn’t him.”
Al closed the last drawer and turned. “Alistad? What did I…?”
“I thought it was odd that she entrusted you to cure the medicine for Tel. Then I asked Anla and she said you confirmed her diagnosis by saying your sister had had Brigon’s.”
“She did, though. That didn’t give anything away.”
“No, but I believe the part when you told her you were a wizard gave away the fact that you were a wizard.”
Al sat on the bed and faced Raulin. “She wasn’t going to say anything.”
“You don’t know that. The only people you can trust to keep their lips sealed are those who have a vested interest in secrecy, namely myself, Anla, and Tel. To everyone else you must be Mr. Auslen.” He watched Al’s face, noting that he didn’t appear to agree. “For what it’s worth, I agree that Alistad wouldn’t say anything. She seems to take her duties seriously and doesn’t have any motivation for telling anyone you’re a wizard. She’s in the ‘safe’ category.
“But what about all those other people we’ll come across in our travels? The waiter serving your wine or the man shining your shoes. What about the innkeeper downstairs? None of them make enough money that their morals would interfere with making more. A man walks up to them, slides a coin their way, and asks a simple question. It seems a bit strange, but what’s the problem with telling someone a little tidbit of information? They’re making money and this new person got what he wanted. It’s like giving directions to a lost gentleman.”
Raulin watched Al for a moment as he processed this. “You still don’t believe me. Trust me when I say I use that technique frequently. It saves me a lot of time when I need to gather notes on someone. If I can get it for free, then that’s great, but I often makes small donations to many a man’s liquor funds instead.”
“I believe you,” Al said. “I just don’t see why anyone would care.”
“Well,” he said, leaning his hands on his knees, “explain to me the laws that govern wizards.”
Al opened his mouth to speak, then closed it to think about it further. “I see your point. I haven’t been registering in cities nor wearing my stole in public.”
“And it wouldn’t be smart to do that. If I recall, you can be summoned by the governing agent anywhere for whatever reason at any time indefinitely. That would seriously put a cramp in our plans. Mr. Auslen also has all that background we created so the group dynamic makes sense. Remind me to buy Telbarisk a ledger the next time I can.”
“I see your point. What do I need to do?”
“No, Wizard, I want you to tell me what you want to do.”
Al furrowed his eyebrows. “I’m not an actor. I don’t do well on stage.”
“Perhaps your audience was too big. I’ve been told by actor friends of mine that they always practice new roles and characters on friends first. If you can convince one person, you can convince everyone. So, try me.”
“What do I say?”
“That’s up to your discretion, Wizard.”
“I never did well during acting classes, Raulin. They had me try dozens of different people from different places and with different backgrounds. The only reason I passed is because I did all the work and showed up to every class.”
“Instructors always teach people how to be someone else. Take on these mannerisms, say these lines, use this accent. What I want you to do is become someone else. Don’t pretend to be Mr. Auslen; be Mr. Auslen.”
“And how should I do that? I’ve never been someone else.”
“That’s not true. You were once a child with hopes and dreams and a different name. Then you went to school, presumably gained knowledge, and a different name: Alpine Gray. How were you before you became a wizard?”
Al shrugged. “I was a kid.”
“There must have been differences between how you acted then and now. Something changes you when you go through an institute like Amandorlam.”
“I can’t really think of any differences.”
Raulin paused. While he usually didn’t get along with Al, he had to admit that he was lacking the irritating air of superiority almost every wizard he’d met had. Perhaps he was right; perhaps there had been no fundamental shift in personality that made him a wizard. He had kept on being himself, undertaking the mantle without feeling the weight. Or throwing it around.
It might be wise to start with the basics. “Are you able to tell the difference between people’s gaits, maybe even mimic them?”
Al looked up in thought before smiling. “Yes. Actually, when I stole the chalice, I was pretending to be a thief.”
“How did you pretend to be a thief?” Raulin asked.
“I walked like one.”
“This I have got to see. Go ahead.”
Al stood and walked across the room with the same creep-step he had used in Berlont’s shop. When he reached Raulin’s bureau, he hunched over the top, sweeping his gaze dramatically across the room, before snatching a silver piece. He did his creep-step back to the bed and tossed Raulin the coin. “Just like that.”
It took everything in Raulin’s power not to burst out laughing. Things were maybe not great but definitely better between the two of them, at least for the moment. Laughing at Al right then might sour things more than a little. He took a quiet breath in and out before speaking. “Just out of curiosity, when did you see a thief walk like that?”
“That’s what Persisco looked like in Twenty Nights in Kinto. I saw it once when I was in Amandorlam.”
Raulin pinched his lips. “I see. It was a theatrical performance. That makes some sense then.”
“You don’t walk like that when your stealing?”
“No, Wizard. I have honestly never walked like that. Sometimes I need to steal things in broad daylight, with people nearby. Tiptoeing like that would surely forecast my intentions, not to mention get a few odd looks from the bystanders. Even if I were stealing at night, I wouldn’t walk like that. It would take far too long.”
“But…then why did Persisco walk like that?”
“Because it was a play and there were people watching. They need to announce their motions in front of an audience, display them so they know what’s going on. Real thievery is about stealing as quickly, as quietly, and as subtly as possible. It doesn’t make for good theater.”
“Oh,” Al said, moving his hands over his knees.
“Bright side of this lesson is that you can see how Persisco walks and how that’s different from most people. You can also mimic it. What you need to do is apply that to Mr. Auslen. Think about him and how he would walk.”
Al stood and thought for a moment before taking on a limping gait.
“Mr. Auslen has a bad leg?” Raulin asked.
“Yes? I don’t know. Perhaps he used to be a guard to the king before he was stabbed defending his sovereign.”
“While I appreciate your creativity, let’s start simply. He is…how old?”
“Fifty? You don’t look fifty. How old are you?”
“Mr. Auslen is twenty-nine years old. He’s five feet, six inches? Ghenian, descended from immigrants from Br’vani. He was educated at Amandorlam for the basic portion. All the same as you thus far?”
“I’m five feet, five inches. I can pretend to be taller.”
Raulin laughed. “All right, Mr. Auslen is a little taller than you are. He walks like you and talks like you, even wears the same clothes and shoes most of the time- we really should get you at least one set of merchant’s clothing. So, Mr. Auslen is essentially Alpine Gray at this point. Now we fill in the gaps.
“First, he needs a full name. He needs a background, where he’s been and done since his graduation from Amandorlam. He needs a story as to how he met his wife, whatever name you’d like to give her, and when they married. And he needs anchors to his profession: his company name, what he specializes in, where his headquarters are, things like that. I’m going to check on our agent and see what the climate of Iascond is. You think about those questions. When I return, I expect you to be Mr. Auslen.”
“But…” Al began to protest, but Raulin was already at the door.
“It would be nice if he wasn’t too fascinated by the works of Tichen,” he said before leaving Alpine alone with Mr. Auslen.