11-16

“What?” Anla asked in a hoarse whisper. “Betrayed? Raulin, what happened?”

“You, Wizard?” he asked, turning to him. “My money is on you.”

“Did what? I just gave you the Unease. It should have worn off by now.”

“I’m not talking about your magic. I was caught by the director and somehow the Cumber knew I was coming, knew my name, even knew I was Noh Amairian.”

“Well…he is the director of the Cumber…” Al began.

“He specifically said, ‘Your people gave you up’.”

“What if he meant another trirec told him? Wouldn’t they more likely be ‘your people’ than us?”

Raulin gave a mirthless laugh. “A trirec tip off the Cumber? It would be like a wolf bathing a rabbit.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Al said, “but I didn’t say anything. I mean, sure, if you were jailed in New Wextif, I might be able to take some additional courses at Amandorlam or study in the King’s Library, but what’s the point if I’m tethered? And what happens if you’re found guilty, tried, and even executed before the year is up? I couldn’t pretend to be a lawyer here. I got away with it in Carvek because it’s a hick town too far away from Quisset. New Wextif would know immediately that I’m not a lawyer and then I’d be jailed. And there goes reading back copies of Kiesh the Black and Arvonnese alley novels.”

Al was nothing if not honest. Besides, this would be a perfect opportunity for him to bask in Raulin’s misfortune, which he wasn’t doing. “Tel? Did you say something to someone on the streets?”

His eyebrows furrowed. “No, Raulin. I always said I was here with friends when I talked to people. The only time they saw me with you was when you needed me to sit for a job and during the things involving Kazithu.”

He turned and didn’t, couldn’t, even ask her. “No,” Anla said, shaking her head. “None of us hamstrung you, Raulin. I swear it. Al and Tel are telling the truth and so am I.”

“Since none of you are willing to admit it, I’m going to have to make some changes. There will be no more jobs. There will be no more rewards, no more payments. You three will sit in the hotel all day, unless I tell you to stay somewhere else.”

“No, Raulin, please don’t…” Anla began.

“I can’t trust you! After all this!” He clenches his fists to stop them from shaking. “You pressed me for more. ‘Share your jobs, Raulin. Trust us, Raulin, let us help.’ And what do you do but run to the Cumber and ruin my one remaining advantage! I used to be able to do my jobs with ease because no one expected a Noh Amairian trirec. Now…” He sighed, exhausted from the night’s events.

Anla began to speak, but Tel put his hand on her arm and shook his head. Instead, Al spoke. “This is what you deserve after you betrayed me, telling me that you needed my help back in Iascond when you were just playing me for a fool.”

“So it was you,” he said, ready to rip his throat out.

He snorted, not realizing his immediate danger. “There’s a difference between schadenfreude and treachery. I’m just glad to see you in a position where you can finally understand what it feels like to be hurt like that. I didn’t do it. I don’t even know how I would get into contact with the Cumber. I suppose I’d go to a police station, but why would they pass my petition along? The only one of us who could have done it was Anla, since she’s the best connected.”

“Al,” she hissed. “I didn’t do it.”

“No, I’m not saying you did. I just mean that you’d be most likely, but you didn’t. Why would you?”

Raulin looked at Tel and crooked his finger. “Pack your things. We’re leaving as soon as I finish my affairs in New Wextif.”

“Where are you going?” Anla asked, but his answer was a slammed door.

It was past midnight and Raulin knew he wouldn’t get to see the agent for north New Wextif tonight. He broke into an accessory shop, took yellow and orange ribbons, and left a generous five silver to make up for the inconvenience. He tied those around a flagpole at the designated spot and returned to walk back to the hotel with Telbarisk.

The grivven had been silent on the way to the meeting spot and remained so for most of the walk back until he turned to Raulin and said, “If you need to speak to someone, I’ll be available.”

Raulin sighed bitterly. “And why would I speak to you?”

“Because you know none of us betrayed you.”

“I don’t know that, actually. It seems very likely that one of you did. You, Anla, and Al were the only ones to know I was going to the Cumber. How else can it be explained?”

“Many things have answers that we will never know,” he said. “Why do the stars shine in the sky? Why are there deserts and lush lands? Why are we here?”

“Save the corner-priest wisdom for another day, unless you can figure out a solution.”

When they returned to the hotel, he told Telbarisk to join Al and Anla and slept alone that night. He had a lot of thinking to do and he didn’t want anyone to bother him.

The next day he dragged Telbarisk out again and made it to Breakhorse Hill, where his orange and yellow ribbons had been replaced with a green one requesting a meeting. Perhaps they were heeding the yellow ribbon he’d left and wanted to be very cautious. Still, it was odd that they wouldn’t want to get the bead-to-coin exchange done quickly.

The address was a few blocks away and was set for this evening. Raulin had nothing to do for eight hours but take in the sights, eat, and shop. He did all of those, but mostly his down time was spent thinking more about what had happened last night.

What had stopped him from choking the wizard outright is the sliver of doubt he entertained about the matter. Had the director been telling the truth? He’d learned some interrogation techniques in Arvarikor that saved your hands from breaking on your target’s face, namely to be friendly, isolate, and make whatever promises you think your prisoner wants to hear. The viscount had done just that in his recruitment. He had invited Raulin to his office after some banter, told him his people had given him up, and offered him a comfortable future.

Raulin’s gut was telling him that the director had been telling the truth, though. He hadn’t pressed hard on the fact, just mentioning it as an aside. And it was a valuable piece of information to give away for free, warning him that he was being back-stabbed.

Which brought him again to who his people were. To be fair, he considered Merakians, Arvarikor, and Noh Amairians as well, but couldn’t understand how it could be anyone but Al, Anla, or Tel. Arvarikor knew he was in New Wextif, yes, but to have the dates pinned down was impossible. The fake time line he had given them had assumed he’d be looking into the Cumber in a few months.

So, it was back to his three companions. He didn’t suspect Tel, which is why he was taking him as his tether. If Tel had told someone from the Cumber about Raulin, it would have been accidentally and not maliciously, perhaps someone asking him questions on the street that he innocently answered. If Tel had turned on him, his whole world would be upside-down.

The wizard had the motivation and the desire to really rake Raulin over the coals. He wouldn’t understand the consequences; he’d just hurt him as much as he could. But did ratting someone out go against his morals? Those were unbendable, so long as they were explicit. Raulin had no doubt that, given the opportunity, Al would turn him in. But when they were still attached for another nine months? Doubtful. And the stupid blighter didn’t have the backbone for treachery. Raulin was sure he’d read enough about it one of his novels to hate it, too.

Anla, however, was the only one other than him that knew that a quick sentencing and death would mean freedom for the other three. She had the access, as Al had pointed out, and could have run messages through the Mesh to the Cumber. But, she had no motive. He was sure she was still irked at least a little about the night of the libertine ball, but since then things seemed well between them. She enjoyed eating dinner with him and loved to learn about cuisine. She had appreciated the work and the freedom that came with it. It baffled his mind to think it was her.

And so he spent the day running scenarios and possibilities through his mind until it was twilight. No closer to an answer, he formulated his plan as he walked back to Breakhorse Hill. What if he spoke to Al and Anla separately and told them he’d pay fifty gold if they could come up with hard proof that the other had betrayed him? He’d promise to drop all the restrictions as well. Or perhaps he didn’t need to offer gold to Anla; she’d do it just to have her freedom back.

The building seemed nondescript of some drab-colored brick and tiled roof. The meeting was on the second floor, up a flight of stairs and into an office. He’d seen a few agents hold small rooms as a place to work on contracts or an easier place to be found.

The door was open, so he didn’t bother knocking. It was dark save a lamp lit in the corner. The agent was sitting next to it and he beckoned Raulin over.

A flash of white struck his mind and he jerked down. It didn’t save him from being hit, but he wasn’t knocked out, like he would have been. He whirled, his knives drawn, stalking the circle around him for enemies. He turned right, trying to put his back to the wall for a better vantage against his opponent.

It would have worked if there had been only one. He wound up walking right past another man with a club, who struck him directly on the head. He barely remembered the black overtaking him as he fell unconscious.

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