“Here you go, Raulin. Got some purva and sauce for…aw, I’m sorry!” Al tipped the plate of food so that a good portion of the meal slid onto the ground.
This wasn’t the first battle in their war. After Raulin had burned the alley novel Al treasured, Al had retaliated by urinating extremely close to Raulin’s bedroll. Raulin had moved his bedroll, but also removed everything Al had in his backpack and scattered it across a nearby field. It had been Al’s turn, and it could have been much worse.
“No worries, Wizard,” he said, picking up what he could. “In Queyal they actually add dirt to their food as a seasoning. It gives it an unexpected flavor.”
“Oh, are we in Queyal?”
“No, we’re not.” He rose and slowly walked to a nearby stand of trees so that he could eat his dinner in peace. He didn’t need to; Al had finished his and went off to chop wood for the fire.
Anla sat next to Tel, who was picking at his dinner. She had done her best, but mixed pasta and flour gravy with some wild carrots didn’t make for an appetizing meal. Her’s was flavored with sausage and was decent, but not the best meal she had ever made.
This was the first time that day the two were alone and Anla was eager to speak to him. She had spent most of the day foraging by herself, reliving the embarrassment of her encounter with Raulin. She understood these were human reactions to the situation, but she couldn’t help but feel what she felt. It had taken even most of the morning for her to realize that Telbarisk didn’t care at all about her past choices. It had still taken her until dinner before she could talk to anyone without her face burning up.
He paused and turned to her. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m still upset with him, but I’m beginning to understand that there’s a reason for it.”
“I confess it’s been on my mind all day,” he said. “I have some thoughts about it. Would you like to hear them?”
“Please. If there’s any way to fix this, I’d like to know.”
“Raulin was himself up until his return. In fact, I asked Alpine and he said that Raulin was acting nicer than usual until he interrupted the encounter.”
“He seemed normal when I spoke with him a few days ago.”
“It only makes sense then that the issue that caused the change happened last night. Raulin may have felt he failed, since it was Alpine that wound up killing the man. That doesn’t explain why he’s angry with you and I, though.”
“Do you think he’s just lashing out?”
“He’s not a man to do something unless he can do it with some precision. When he was at Nourabrikot, he didn’t barge into the palace and insult my brother. He bided his time, understood who was an ally, and managed to give my brother subtle barbs and backhanded compliments. He told me it’s called ‘political fencing’, that a successful exchange leaves a man bleeding from dozens of places without feeling the pain.”
“What you’re saying is, if he wants to hurt someone, he’ll find out the most efficient way?”
“Precisely. Watch when he comes back to his bedroll. He’ll try to pick at me. He still hasn’t figured out what’s going to upset me, so he’s making attempts at finding a weak spot.”
“He’s not lashing out then. What else do you think might have caused it?”
“I’ve run through a few possibilities. Besides feelings of personal failure, I thought it might have been too many bad things associated with us. We caught him and stopped his escape from the count’s place, I got sick and waylaid us for a few days, and now Alpine interceded where he wasn’t wanted.”
“You said he wasn’t someone to hold grudges, except for some things in childhood. He said the same to me.”
“I did and I still think so, though I could be wrong. I knew him for almost a year. During that time I saw him slighted many times, some more severe than others. He never really showed that it bothered him for very long. I once saw him lose a spar with a fellow trirec, get mocked by some people, then buy them drinks later. If he had any long-term plan for revenge, I never heard about it.”
“He wasn’t ‘fencing’ with those people?”
“I don’t think so. He said he didn’t bother with your average person, just those with clout.”
“I wonder if he would count us as having clout.”
“We might in his world, but there’s no advantage to him manipulating us. He’s stuck with us, he knows that, and he’s made his peace with that.”
“Something else, then.”
“Yes. I know what he said to you and Alpine was personal, but I don’t think that’s the intention. He doesn’t mean to hurt you, he means to push you away and that’s the best way how.”
“Why, though? What happened?”
“I don’t know. But, there were some things that Alpine said that made me realize a few things. He said that once he announced he had killed the man, the two trirecs stopped fighting. They stood around talking about things levelly, in Merakian, and then proceeded with some sort of ritual. Alpine made it seem like Raulin trusted the other trirec, like he knew him. And I know that would cut me deeply, if I had to do the same.”
“What was the name Al gave for the trirec? Was it…Isken?”
“Afren, I believe.”
“Oh!” Anla said, tenting her hands over her mouth. “Oh, Tel, I remember who that is now. That’s the name of his teacher, the man he said was like a second father to him.”
Tel breathed out deeply. “That makes sense. He was forced to slay his mentor. I wonder if there was any way to stop that from happening.”
“Poor Raulin,” she said. “It still doesn’t put him in my good graces, but at least I understand what happened to him. What should we do?”
“I wouldn’t recommend we do anything right now. Either he’s going to heal from that in his own time, or he won’t, or he’ll realize that our friendship is worth more to him than he thinks it is at this moment. It will be up to him.”
Raulin walked slowly back to his bedroll near the fire, taking occasional breaks to catch his breath. Tel and Anla stopped talking to watch him, then went back to murmuring when he met their gazes. His journey from standing to sitting took a painful minute, and was even longer for him to finally lay down. “You two couldn’t be more obvious in watching me. Does this satisfy your need to finally feel superior to me?”
“No,” Telbarisk said immediately. “It’s satisfying to see you not faint or have your legs give out.”
Raulin changed the subject. “How is Kelouyan, do you think? I hope she didn’t become pregnant before you left. That would be tragic.”
Anla let out an angry and pained breath, but Tel’s tone didn’t waiver. “If that’s the case then people will take care of her and our child.”
“Must be difficult wondering if you have a child waiting for you.”
“It isn’t. You forget I can ride the weather. She stops and gazes at the sky sometimes and I can feel her in the rain.”
“She misses you. If I had someone like her I would have never left her.”
“Sometimes you have to look beyond your wants to make the world the best for your loved ones.”
Anla looked at Tel, who by all rights should be tense and frowning. Instead, he looked wistful and had a small smile on his face. She placed her hand on his arm and gave him a look. He looked back and smiled in full.
“We leave in the morning,” Raulin said.
“Is that wise?” Telbarisk asked. “You are still weak.”
“I’ll be fine. I have a few errands to run before my next job.”
“…in Miachin,” Anla said.
He stared at her. “How do you know that?”
“‘Toss a rock high and be expected to fly’. I looked at your notebook. It’s not like it was a very hard code for me to crack.”
She thought he would begin to barb her like he had Telbarisk, but instead slowly turned away. “We leave in the morning.”