Anla said nothing for so long Al thought she might not have heard him.  “Well?”

“Well, what, Al?  I realized it yesterday, so I’m not surprised.”

He kept waiting for her to explode like he wanted to.  “But…don’t you know what that means?  It means anyone could be a trirec.”

“I was thinking it means Raulin is Noh Amairian.”

Al slowed down his pace again. “You think he’s…”

“Noh Amairian, Al. He’s human like you are.”

“He’s not Br’vani!” Al said, scoffing.

“Shh.  It’s dark out and people will take notice.  No, I don’t think he’s Br’vani.  His skin’s too light and his eyes are blue, not brown.  I don’t know of any other races he could be.  He has to be human.  Though, I have a theory on where he’s from.  Do you remember how upset he got when you said ‘Walpin match’?”

“Yes. You think he’s Walpin?”

“It would make sense. Walpi is right next to the Merak border. They intermarry with Merakians all the time. If his order decided they wanted to train a Noh Amairian, it would be the best place to find and take an orphan. I’ve heard they take Westerner slaves and that you can find them in settlements close to the Noh Amair border.”

“But trirecs are always Merakian. It’s an absolute that assures people of security.”

“Well, how difficult must it be for certain contracts? If you see a Merakian on the streets of Gheny, you’re going to assume he’s a trirec. They don’t have many immigrants here.”

“There are a few cities with Merakians, especially in Eerie and Quisset.”

“Not a lot, though, and very rarely in the rest of the country. I’ve never met a Merakian and I know a lot of people in Hanala.”

“So, twenty-odd years ago, they decided to take a Walpin child, train him, and let him loose in Noh Amair and Gheny. He waltzes into places that Merakians can’t because he’s Walpin and no one suspects he’s a trirec.” Al wiped his face.  “This is awful.”

“it doesn’t really affect you, though.”

“It does!  Anla, how can you be okay with this?  One of the assurances people have is that, when they see a Merakian, they know he’s almost assuredly a trirec.  But, if you have a Noh Amairian walking around, stabbing people and stealing things, how are you going to catch them?”

“Like any other criminal? That’s all he is, a human breaking into shops in the dead of night and stealing things.  Look, I know you’re unhappy about being tied to someone with a record he has to keep perpetuating.  We need to get through this year, though, and anything that makes that easier is fine by me.  If that means we don’t have to slink in the dark to avoid people recognizing his origin, if it means he can have easier access to places because no one would suspect a human of being a trirec, then we’re going to get through his contracts faster and with much less mess.”

Al was about to retort when the nausea took over.  They both stopped and bolted back a few feet. “Al, I think you should go. You know Alistad better than I do. Here’s some money, if you need to persuade people. I’ll be right down this alley waiting.”

Al had been in the Unease since before he saw Raulin’s mask flash in the window of the house. He hadn’t had any time to think about what happened, to really let things sink in and absorb into his mind. He knew he had killed a man. He knew it was his fault. He just couldn’t get past the thought that someone else had done it, that the thoughtful care he had put into his actions for all of his adult life had splintered and broke.

For the time being, it was much easier for him to focus on Raulin’s heritage.  A human trirec!  Why wasn’t Anla going hysterical at that?  Did Tel know?  Why did he feel crazed for thinking it was important?  It was!  It was definitely important!  This would tear the fabric of Ghenian society apart!  Unless…was he the only one?  If he was, that would make Al’s original plans to report Raulin to the authorities the moment the spell was up easier.  If he could convince them. Perhaps he could befriend an officer or guard shortly before…

The Zayine temple was sprawling and had seen a lot of activity, judging by the abandoned carts and still-burning pile of clothes in the side courtyard.  He almost banged on the front door before he saw the poorly lit plaque that pointed to a side door for emergencies. The door was at the bottom of a stone stairwell, a dim oil lamp hanging from a chain on the side. Al took the brass knocker and banged twice.

A small window in the door opened a minute later and a balding man peered out. “You don’t look sick,” he said.

“I’m not hear because of the measles. I need to see Alistad.”

“Alistad? The apprentice?”

“Yes. She treated my friend about a week ago. We need her services again.”

“She’s had a long day; she’s taking her third-year practical exams for the rest of the week. Is it dire?”

“Yes. Please tell her that Raulin needs her help.”

“All right. I can’t make her go, but I’ll rouse her and ask. Don’t be upset with her if she says ‘no’.”

Al paced back and forth in the little stone landing for ten minutes when he finally heard voices on the other side of the door. The window opened again and Alistad’s face peered out. “Al? Is Raulin okay?”

“No. He has serious lacerations and has suffered from blood loss.”

She nodded, closed the window, then opened the door. She held a basket over her arm and invited him inside the poorly lit storeroom. “How did he appear? What are his symptoms? Where are the lacerations and how severe are they? Approximately when did they occur?”

“Hard to tell with his mask on and a head-to-toe outfit. He was in a knife fight at…well, sometime shortly after sunset. He was faint and staggering. I think he had cuts before the bad ones.”

“Bad ones?” she asked. She had been pulling jars, vials, packets, and bags into her basket, but stopped to look at him.

“I don’t know, Alistad. Don’t ask me to explain, because I don’t know why, but he had to obey some code and sliced his forearms up.” He drew a line over each of his arms three times. “He seemed well before then, so I’m guessing the cuts were deep. He bled a lot from them.”

She nodded and pulled a few more items. She stopped and thought for a moment. “Do you have a fire? Access to clean water? Linens?”

“Tel still had his fire going. Water and linens, no.”

She asked him to fill a vase with the water from the pump in the corner of the room while she gathered her tools and a few more items. Al used the straps attached to put the vase on his back and left, leading her back to Anla. The three of them made it to the graveyard, easy to find only because the lights in the tavern still being lit.

“They are camped in a cemetery?” Alistad asked.

“At least Raulin won’t have to travel far, if things go south,” Al said.

“Al,” Anla hissed. “I think they’re camped in a place near a business that’s open late enough to guide us there.”

Tel was hunched over Raulin’s body, his fingers on the side of his throat. He looked up when they approached. “His heartbeat is faint.”

Alistad knelt next to Raulin. “I’ll need to take his mask off.”

“I think he’d rather die,” Anla said.

“I need to give him medicine and most will spill out if I can’t get it into his mouth.”

Anladet felt on either side of the mask’s jawline until she felt two slight depressions. She pressed them and the bottom part of the mask clicked and popped off.

“Thank you,” Alistad said. “Could I have a torch?”

The light improved over Raulin’s face when Tel handed Alistad a stick lit with burning linens on one end. “He’s pale. See his lips?” What she pointed out was correct; his lips had very little color to them. Neither did his skin.

“I’ve been putting pressure on them, like Al said to,” Telbarisk said. “And thank you for healing me. I’m glad to say that in person.”

“You’re welcome. It was you who fought to stay alive; I just helped. And thank you for holding pressure. It helped to stop the bleeding.”

She handed the torch to Tel, as she lifted Raulin’s arm. The cuts oozed a little blood, but she seemed pleased by the amount. “I will have to suture these. Then, I’ll need help checking on his other wounds. First, though, he needs warmth.”

Al retrieved everyone’s blankets while Anla rifled through Raulin’s knapsack for a change of clothes. Alistad washed her hands with lye soap while Telbarisk poured water from the jug. Al was on mixture duty again, sitting in front of the fire with a vial held between tongs.

She began on his left arm, deftly sewing the lines together. Occasionally she stopped and asked for water to wash the wounds. He stirred awake and she had Telbarisk hold him down. “I’d give him something, but he told me the last time I stitched him that he couldn’t ingest anything that would alter his mind.”

Raulin began to thrash against the efforts of the group. Anla leaned in close to his face. “Raulin,” she said. “You have to hold still. Alistad is stitching you up.”

“Anla,” he whispered and stopped fighting.

“I’m right here.” She put her hand gently on his shoulder.

She and Alistad stripped Raulin of his arong-miil and the apprentice saw to the care of his other cuts. They counted eighteen cuts above the waist, with a half-dozen needing stitching. Anla smirked when she saw Alistad’s face, more red than it usually was and remembered what Raulin had said about how the clergy felt around him.

“Thank you for coming out, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the forest, for Raulin.”

Alistad nodded as she concentrated on stitching a wound next to the one she already had on his shoulder.

“It’s above and beyond what most would do. How much money did Al give you?”

“None,” she said. “I came out because I was needed.”

“There are a lot of people who are in need in the middle of the night.”

“I go to them as well, or someone in my order will. You asked for me specifically.” She moved onto to the puncture in his chest.

“Was that all?”

She bit her lip as she tied the catgut. “I like your group. You’re polite and appreciative. It’s worth it to establish good clients by going above and beyond the standard of service.”

“It had nothing to do with Raulin?”

Alistad looked at his face for a few moments, then tore her gaze away. “We need to roll him to the side and I’ll need you to hold him in place for the last one.”

She finished suturing. Since he was stable, she examined the shoulder wound she had cared for previously. She frowned and looked up, as if she were considering something. “I cared for him a day over a week ago. This is healed beyond what I would expect, even if he had been diligent with the medicine.”

“What does that mean?” Anla asked.

“I’m not sure. He’s Merakian, so they could heal differently than humans.” She grabbed a shallow bowl and filled it with water. She lifted the back of Raulin’s head and forced him to drink water. “He needs to replenish his blood. Have him drink a lot of water over the next few days as well as take the tea I gave you.”

“I thought you’d be taking the jar back with you,” Al said.

“You can bring it back when you go through Iascond.”

Al thought about this for a moment. “Who says we’re going through Iascond?”

She began putting things back into her basket. “Last time we met you were farther down the road than this, away from Iascond. Now you are just a few miles from my temple. If you had gone through Iascond, you wouldn’t have been surprised about the measles outbreak; it was catastrophic to certain areas, mostly in the poorer districts. I overheard you speaking of Hanala and knew you must have gone the long loop around, for whatever your reasons.”

“You didn’t say anything,” Al said. “I’m sorry we lied to you.”

“It isn’t any business of mine. I’m here to heal and not to judge.” She looked down at her hands for a moment. “I would go around Iascond, if possible. Brouvrin, the man you spoke with, likes to gossip and while he was fetching me he told me that a prominent member of the city was assassinated, as well as his guard. I can only assume Raulin had something to do with that and that they will be looking for him. Iascond is rather well organized; word of a trirec walking about will reach the right ears quickly.”

“Thank you,” Al said, leading her out to the road. “We’ll look after him and take your advice. Would you like me to escort you back?”

“I’ll manage,” she said before standing with her basket. “This road and the path to the temple don’t see much crime.”

He gave her the two gold coins and wished her luck on her exams. He hoped they didn’t need to call on her again.

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