7-7

Raulin left the next morning when Al was still sleeping. He had four stops to make, including a late breakfast at a patisserie he had overheard served amazing lemon pastries. The anonymous tip proved to be correct and he ate three before he felt too uncomfortable to even think about a fourth. He considered bringing one back for the wizard, but knew it would get crushed in the meantime.

He then found a barber and requested the man cut off as much from the length as possible while still allowing Raulin to tie his hair back in a sailor’s tail. While this had nothing to do with the upcoming theft, it was important for honor’s sake. A trirec was expected to cut his hair when he had been captured as a form of public humiliation. With his poor track record, Raulin got haircuts frequently.  It didn’t bother him most of the time, but having those trirecs laugh at him back at Hanala had been a little annoying.

The third stop was to a bookbinder, who sold him a particular book tailored to his specifications.

His last part in the plan, after changing into his costume, was a quick nod to a young lady, who returned a curtsy he could read pages into. From it he assumed she was still unhappy with their last transaction, but would still do this because she would rather do a little bit of drama instead of her normal job. He returned a quick, ironic bow stating he didn’t care how she felt and was amused she thought he would. Before he could see her retort, he turned back down the alley and to the bookshop on the corner.

If Al had decided to walk the streets at that moment, he would have overlooked the bespectacled man that entered the cramped little bookstore.  He looked like Raulin, sure, with dark blue eyes and medium brown hair, but he didn’t have the swagger that Raulin did nor the easy sense of confidence displayed in small gestures.  With a bowler hat instead of a mask and his knapsack clutched tightly to his chest, he would have fooled the wizard easily into thinking he could have had gone to Amandorlam or some other Ghenian school and that he was not, in fact, a man on a mission to steal a valuable book.

The wizard was easy to fool.  He rarely paid attention to peripheral things.  The owner of the bookstore, however, should have developed an eye for at least the worst attempts at theft.  Raulin had chosen a character so seemingly preoccupied with not stumbling over himself or his tongue that no one would suspect that he was about to filch a book worth several hundred gold.  He startled when the bells on the door chimed and looked back and forth around the store quickly.  He shuffled over to a stack of books and stood there, hugging his knapsack tightly.

The shop was quiet, though he could still hear a man in the back reading to himself. Raulin cleared his throat, first with some hesitation at such a noise, then louder when the man continued to read. He heard a book being overturned, followed by footsteps on a creaky, wooden floor.

“Ah, hello, sir. I believe you came in yesterday,” the bookkeeper said. He looked better suited to a life as a bartender or a chef, with a paunchy stomach and boughs that could clobber a drunk into sobriety, but the childish wonder in his eyes spoke of someone who loved to read of far off places and nonexistent races. Or perhaps he was man who liked to learn and had had too much brandy with lunch.

“Y-yes, sir. Goodman,” he said with a soft, hesitant tone. “I was wondering if…if you wouldn’t mind looking at those books I mentioned.”

“Sure I would, sir. Just let me grab my catalog from the back.”

He continued to stand, his shoulders hunched forward and his feet pointed inward, until the light through the door was blocked. He turned quickly and held one finger up, then returned to his position as the bookkeeper came back. “I marked my page just in case you returned. May I see the book?”

The man opened his knapsack and rifled through, pretending to not see the item he had picked up from the bookbinder earlier. He smiled weakly and began slowly pulling out the other books he had stuffed in there, on loan from the local library. “I know I packed it. I made very sure…” he began before the door to the shop burst open and a sobbing lady came in.

“Ma’am?” the bookkeeper asked, taking in the flurry of the woman.

The man adjusted his spectacles as he took a few startled steps back, almost tripping over a pile of books.

The woman pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped the tears from her eyes. “He sold them!”

“Who, ma’am? What did he sell?”

“My husband! He sold my father’s books!”

“And you think he sold them to me?” he asked.

She nodded her head and dabbed her eyes again. “He’s been rowing up Bourbon Creek since they laid off the rail workers last year. Instead of looking for another job he…”

“I heard about the laying off. I’m sorry. Let me go get my ledgers and I’ll see if any of the books match. Sir?” the owner said to the man. “Do you mind waiting a few minutes?”

The man gave an erratic shake of his head before the owner walked quickly to his back room. The woman continued to sob and wiped her nose with her handkerchief. The man stepped back and tripped over a stack of books, then immediately began to re-stack them in what appeared to be humiliated silence.

“When do you think he sold them, ma’am?” the bookkeeper said as he returned with several books. “Do you remember the titles?”

“They were prized and valuable books.  My father, he collected rare books, and Aulist knew that.  I inherited them when he died and I only saw this morning that they were gone.  I don’t know!  A week ago? A month ago?”

The man clutching his knapsack watched the dramatic scene for a few minutes before he suddenly headed for the door.

“Sir?” the shopkeeper said, looking past the woman.

“I’l…I’ll be back later. When things are quieter.” He pushed up his spectacles and left.

Raulin was leaning against the side of the alley ten minutes later when Tenia turned the corner and stopped short. “I didn’t think you were going to be here.”

“I said I would be,” he replied. He had already shucked off his spectacles and had a tiny, velvet pouch in his hand.

She walked brusquely to him and snatched the pouch from his held-out fingertips, spilling its contents into left palm. She gave him a smirk as she looked up into his eyes. “So you did decide to pay me for yesterday.”

“I already paid you for pressing the man, but I’m not giving you extra because you didn’t get him to shake his fruit. I’m giving you extra because your performance today was better than I expected. Real tears, a hard sell on your tale. Even I believed it for a moment.”

She stuffed the coins back into the purse. “Do you need me for anything else? Perhaps later on this evening? You’re cute; I may even give you a discount.”

“Tempting,” he said and stood straight, “but I have other game to catch. I know your neighborhood, so I’ll call on you if I need you again.”

“All right. I play a jealous wife real swell-like, if you want, but I don’t chintz my fellow girls.”

“Understood. I’ll see you around.”

They parted, Raulin taking the alley towards the next street. He consulted his notebook, sighed, and began hunting for this secret place he needed to stash the book. People got so wrapped up in the clandestine nature of the business that they forgot that their were practical solutions to receiving ill-gotten goods. Namely, mailboxes. Mailboxes worked just as well as hollowed out areas behind bricks he needed to stain blue with paint left in the nook.  Mailboxes were also things people couldn’t stumble upon and take, later causing the contractee to object to a job unfinished.  That only happens once before a trirec learns to hate ill-conceived dead drops.

At least he had the time to complete it   Once he was finished, he marked some key notes in his journal and began to enjoy the sights of Iascond.  Al wouldn’t expect him until later that evening and he didn’t want to upset him by returning in the middle of the day.  If only he had seen the events that had just played out he might realize how very unromantic these things really were.

His stroll was pleasant, but there was something unsettling Raulin, a slight nag at his peripheral, like he was being bitten by a mosquito and didn’t know it. He checked his tail and made sure no one was following him, ditching streets and zigzagging throughout the Rose Quarter until he was sure there was no one. He wasn’t surprised. He didn’t have the creeping feeling of being hunted, when his pulse and breathing would begin to race far before he knew he was prey. This was a weight, a burden accompanied with the annoying slipperiness of incomprehension. This was finally realizing there was a pebble in his shoe or a stinging cut on his hand.  This had something to do with a bigger, emotional problem.

As he walked past higher end shops decorated with planters, tiles, and shutters, he sifted through his issues. The most obvious was his in-or-out decision regarding his career. He was in, and it hadn’t changed despite the change in his  circumstances. He wasn’t going to dwell on it and it didn’t feel like it was that anyway. Was it survivor’s guilt from the shipwreck?  Some nagging piece of information he had forgotten?  Was he actually feeling upset that he had needed to cut his hair and hated being teased for his failures?

He sighed in frustration.  It was none of those things. He shrugged and would have forgotten it but he realized there was someone he could see about matters he couldn’t comprehend, if he could find her. There were no docks here, but he thought she wasn’t literal about that anyway.

He bought a lemon pastry from the patisserie from earlier, had it wrapped in paper, and put it in his knapsack before venturing back to the same park where he had spied on Tenia and Al’s conversation. He breathed in deeply and smiled when he saw Anladet sitting at a bench, her hands folded in her lap. She stood and began walking and Raulin ducked behind a tree to quickly put on his mask. His identity was a risk he might take with Al, but not with someone as clever as Anla.

He watched her and was pleased to see that she kept her character well. She strolled without a care, moving with an ethereal patience and grace. Her loose white blouse and dark blue skirt swished slowly as she stepped in a rhythm that would be out of place anywhere else but the woods. This was every piscarin he had ever come across in his travels save for the fact that she wasn’t one.

Or perhaps she was. He’d have to find out. “Are you still accepting clients?” he asked having walked close behind her.

Anla didn’t change her pace nor her countenance, but there was a happy twinkle in her eyes when she turned to face him. “The day is still bright and night is not upon us. It is always up to the spirits, of course.”

“Of course,” he said, letting her lead him back to the bench. “My name is Raulin and I had a few questions I was hoping the spirits could help me with.”

“Dumiha,” she responded, “and anyone else who wishes to join.”

“What does ‘Dumiha’ mean?”

She very carefully put her pouch in front of her. “It suggests I am able to connect people to the knowledge that they seek.”

“Fame, fortune, and love all at your beck and call, huh?” He looked around and his eyes rested briefly on a woman strolling with a friend.

“Perhaps she could be your key to one or all three,” Anla said, nodding to the same woman.

“Naw. She isn’t worth the tea,” he said, continuing to scan everyone in their vicinity.

“I’ve heard you say that before,” she said, speaking lowly. “What does it mean?”

“Perhaps some other time.” Though he knew the lay of the land, he still spoke lowly as well. “How are you and Tel doing?”

She opened her pouch, using exaggerated gestures to pull out the tiles. “We are both fine. How is our mutual acquaintance?”

“Fine as well. I think we’ve reached an understanding that involves him pretending to be someone he isn’t. In exchange, I’ve kept him a little busy.”

A ghost of a smile passed quickly across her face. “Doing what?”

“My first contract involved a book. I had him look in a bookstore for me and he found the book I asked for.”

“I thought you said outsiders couldn’t help.”

“They can’t. I didn’t say he found the book I needed.”

“Ah,” she said. “Careful he doesn’t find out.”

“I plan on never telling him. So, shall we begin?”

“Oh. I thought this was a pretense.” She raised her voice to her normal tone. “Ask what you will, sir, and we shall see if the spirits are with us today.”

“I’m missing something,” he said.

“Almost sounds like you’re cheating.”

He chuckled lightly. “Not a thing that I’ve been paid to find. Something intangible. There’s something that lies on the horizon that weights heavy upon me. Perhaps it is something I should know.”

“Hmm,” she said, holding out her hands. “Three coppers, unless you’d like a stronger connection.”

He fished the coin from his knapsack and placed six in her hands. “You sell yourself short. Hopefully the spirits appreciate money for expertise.”

“They usually do,” she said, drawing six tiles from her bag. She bunched her skirt to create a small well for them to land and tossed them lightly onto her leg. She spoke lowly. “Now, would you like a real reading or what I normally do?”

“Oh? What’s the difference?”

“I normally watch how a man reacts to what I say and adjust based on his gestures.”

“And if I don’t react?”

“I resort to the stones if a client is being difficult.”

“Let’s try that, then. I bet you may have talent you don’t know you have.”

She smiled quickly and looked down. He watched her face, her eyebrows furrowing quickly before smoothing out. “I am first drawn to pau,” she said. “It usually means ‘father’.”

“That wouldn’t have gone well for you. You have an advantage, though.”

“I do, so I will point out that its direct translation means ‘man’. It could be you or a friend or someone you are about to meet.”

“There are two tiles close to it. Does that mean something?”

“It does. These relate strongest to pau: weh and kuh. Interestingly enough, those have opposite meanings. Weh is a friend or ally and kuh means enemy. Of course, both have alternative meanings, like attraction and repulsion.”

“If you had to guess, what would you say that means?”

“I see this time with our acquaintance going well, then poorly.”

She pulled a tile that had stuck to pau off and put it back in the bag. “What was that?” he asked.

Anla pulled the tile back out and held it up. “Yaw. Summer, the sun, warmth. It suggests that things are good for you right now. It wasn’t something that I was going to mention, especially that tile, because people who are fine don’t often seek me out. “

“May I?” he asked, holding his hand out.

She hesitated before giving it to him. “Sorry. I’ve never actually had someone touch them before. It’s supposed to be a superstition that piscarins have.”

He held the tile up before handing it back “You did a beautiful job making these. What do the other three tiles say?”

She frowned and didn’t bother to pretend to be passe about the ordeal. “Ess,” she said, tapping on the tile, “for action. Ih for emotion. A for death. Death doesn’t always mean the end of life, but could be a finality to something not as important, like a partnership or friendship.”

Raulin shook his head slightly. “This sounds like you mean things will go poorly between the wizard and I, but I don’t think I’d get this nagging feeling over that. I do worry that whatever the real problem is will lead to death, however.”

Anla returned the tiles, shook the bag, and drew out three more. “Ess again,” she said. “This is something you do, not necessarily say. It involves eth, a trade of some kind, and kuh. It doesn’t go well. This is, of course, if you believe in my ability to pull rocks from a bag in an order that means anything.”

He looked up to see if she had a sly look on her face but failed to notice it, if there was one. “I do, actually. Is there any advice you’d give?”

“Is there something you should remember about your father? Perhaps that’s what the runes are saying.”

“I can remember everything up until he died. That’s ten years and he did a lot. I’d be thinking on that for a while.”

She put all the stones back in her pouch and cinched it, standing once she was done. “Anything else? I can’t be seen with one person for too long,” she said, winking.

“That’s all, mezzem. Do you need anything? I got you this.”

She smiled and accepted the lemon pastry. “No, thank you. Tel and I are good thus far, though he looks rather ghastly covered in ash. I’ll expect a note soon?”

He stood. “Not tomorrow, perhaps the following day. Definitely by the day after that. I’ll see you soon.”

“Farewell, sir,” she said louder. “May the spirits grant your wishes.”

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