Telbarisk was still on the beach, lounging in the afternoon shade under the cliff, when Anladet approached from the road. She was just a barely discernible line, recognizable only by her distinctive walk and her dark hair whipping in the breeze. As she got closer, he noticed she hugged herself, she rubbed her arms, and she kept trying to tamp down her hair. Instead of staying where he was and inviting her to sit, he stood and waited for her, kicking the sand with his toes.
She still said nothing as she stood next to him. “I’m glad you brought me here; it was very peaceful.”
Anla smiled and nodded, but still said nothing. “Anla. How was your afternoon?” he tried.
“Interesting,” she said. “I found out a lot of information about the chalice.”
“Really? How did you come across it?”
“There was a library in the old town.” She toed the rock for a few moments. He waited. “We have a problem, Tel.”
“The book says that it’s not just ‘drink from the chalice and don’t move outside of one mile’. There’s more to it. By the end of the year, each member must prove that they hold love for each of the others or make a significant sacrifice for them, or…”
“Or what, Anla?”
“Or we all die.”
Tel looked out to the sea while gathering his thoughts. “Have you told Raulin and Alpine?”
“No. I came straight to you after I found out.”
“And what do you feel about telling them?”
She pressed her lips together for a moment. “Al often feels left out and resents it when he isn’t told things. Raulin’s job is to suss out information and he treats it like currency. Despite their wants, I think the needs of the group outweigh it and we shouldn’t say anything.”
Telbarisk had been prepared to listen to her wisdom and follow her course of action. It was a relief that she agreed with him. “You cannot force someone to love another. And I believe that if they know, they will either trick themselves into thinking they are brothers by not bickering or that by doing something small they have met the parameters. We say back home ‘you can plant a seed and water it, but it will not grow in sand’.”
The waves continued to crash, some creating dazzling plumes against the cliff side. Tel almost didn’t hear her ask, “So, what do we do?”
He shook his head after a few moments. “I’ll have to think on this. I feel they would grow suspicious if we started trying to make them like each other.”
“For now. We do have until the weather warms again to create a plan.”
“But Raulin drifts further away from us each day. If we don’t do something soon, I feel he will continue to be cold and distant. He will love no one and no one will love him.”
“What he’s doing now is not in his nature. He is trying to be someone he’s not because he feels, for some reason, that he’s failed. The advice he’s always bucked against has turned to wisdom and he’s taking to his wholeheartedly.” He turned from the sea to face her. “I don’t see this lasting long, however. He’s never been a man you could break. He bends and weaves around problems instead of snapping.”
“You counsel patience, then?”
“I do, as well as forgiveness. I understand he caused you pain. I do not approve of his words and actions by any means. But, in this case, forgiveness has been the best defense against his barbs. He has tried to hurt me and it has failed, because no matter what he says, I forgive him and love him unconditionally. He seems to have given up.”
“You’re right, Tel. I counsel forgiveness whenever possible. I will try.”
“We should also get the lay of the land, as well. Perhaps we should each speak to our quarter guests this evening and see how they feel about each other. I don’t think any other combination will be quite so difficult to get to neutral.”
* * *
Anla was packing her things for an early departure when she heard someone stomp up the stairs, then open the door to her room. She gauged his demeanor, then smiled. “Hi, Al. How was your day?”
“Excellent, even though you weren’t there. I met an older couple who didn’t mind having a husband who’s wife had taken ill tagging along. We went to the museum, we ate at The Scurvy Dog, we toured some of the older homes that still had damage from the last pirate attack…Oh! We saw a mock battle between pirates and a to’ken crew! It was amazing!”
“Real to’ken?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think so. They looked like people wearing their hair back under tan scarves. Even still, it was so thrilling to watch! They had a small pirate ship anchored near the wharf and the to’ken snuck up and boarded the ship. They used magic against them, throwing potions and disappearing while the pirates were climbing ropes and jumping and swashbuckling and doing gymnastics.”
“Well, I’m sorry to have missed it, Al, but I’m glad you had a good time. Was Raulin with you?”
“No. I’m glad, too; he would have spoiled it.”
He might have been even though he didn’t see Raulin, she thought, then realized he had most likely been watching her and Tel. That was an unsettling thought. It meant he knew where she had been and that she immediately spoke with Telbarisk afterward.
“I’m not sure, Al. I think he might have enjoyed some of those things.”
Al sat on the bed and shook his head. “No, Anla, he wouldn’t have. The museum would have been boring because he’s already seen hundreds of them, the food would have been bland or dry, and he would have made dozens of comments under his breath about how to’ken wouldn’t do that because he’s met them. Supposedly. He’s a blowhard and snob. What’s worse is he’s a liar, so I have no idea when he brags if he even has a right to his conceit.”
“You think he’s conceited?” she asked, surprised.
“Do you not listen to what he says? It’s always things like ‘well, I’ve been to Arvonne and it’s terrible!’ or ‘the food is much better in the city than in this small town’.”
“Well, it is better…”
“He doesn’t have to say that, though! People put a lot of effort into cooking food. Just because they’ve never had the training…Oh, never mind. I don’t know why you’re defending him.”
“I’m not,” she said carefully. “I just think he’s had the experience that can give a valuable opinion on things. And as far as his dislike of Arvonne, I have a theory. I bet his parents were merchants and they were traveling from Walpi to Arvonne to sell things. They just happened to be in Eri Ranvel when the coup occurred and were killed in the fray. So, he hates Arvonne because he lost his family there.”
“That’s not an excuse for lying and killing and stealing.”
“No, it isn’t. It just gives a perspective on his life.”
“I don’t think any situation would change him; he’d be rotten with or without parents.” He began packing his clothing so they could leave quickly in the morning. He sighed and turned back towards her. “There are just some people who cannot learn decency. They thrive on…” He stopped when Raulin stuck his head in the door, nodded, and left without saying anything. “…they thrive on con artistry and deceit and tricks to survive. You cannot rinse them clean. They will always be dirty and low.”
She took a deep breath. “Given the opportunity, would you turn him in? Would you tell the police in New Wextif that a trirec is operating in the city if you could?”
“If we weren’t tied to him and I knew he wouldn’t escape and have his revenge on me, yes. It’s my civic duty to report a crime, or report if I have knowledge of a crime that will be committed. ‘A man should feel pride in himself when he protects his fellow countrymen by obeying the law- Tichen.’”
Anladet could suddenly appreciate Raulin’s dislike of Al’s quotations. “You think he has no worth, then?”
“All men have worth. He’s just not doing anything worthwhile right now.”
Well, at least there was a sliver of hope, she thought. She laid on the bed and held her hand above her head. She just sighed and put it down.
* * *
The door closed with a soft click. Tel heard the whisper of clothes and the fumbling of lighting an oil lamp before he saw the light fill the room. He sat in the corner, splitting his mind between what he could sense of the world and what was around him.
“You’re in late tonight,” he said to Raulin.
“I do not retire until all my charges are asleep, sir,” he replied.
“You call me ‘sir’ to drive distance between us. Is that where we’re at? You haven’t tried to anger me in a few days now; I assume you’ve just moved on to pretending like you succeeded and that we are no longer friends.”
“It’s for the best,” he said, sitting on the bed to take off his boots.
“It isn’t. But, if it’s what you want right now, it’s what we’ll do.”
Raulin took in a slow breath, then laid back on the bed.
“May I ask what our relationship is, then?”
“You are my employer and I am your guard, sir.”
“And as your employer, what kind of conversations are we allowed to have?”
“We can speak on your security concerns, your itinerary for tomorrow, what were the concerns I noted for today, whether you want me to have an inconspicuous or conspicuous presence, and, since you feel the need to split the group, where you would prefer I focus my attention.”
“Hmm. Did you note any concerns?”
“Besides your need to split up and potentially get a sunburn? No. Last night was more problematic, sir.”
“Oh? But I only walked around last night.”
“Yes. You weren’t the concern.”
“Ohhh,” Tel said. “I see. I can ask about what happened to the others from your perspective. What was the concern last night?”
“The threat changed when I was unable to tell what was going to happen to Anladet. I assumed you were fine. Besides the wizard’s inability to tell that a beer on the house means he’s expected to pay for others, he was fine, too. I followed Anladet to the ‘jail cell’ and kept my eye from a nearby rooftop. She wasn’t kept against her will and was freed when she raised enough money. She then proceeded to make more money in the pub across the way. This was difficult, since I was unable to get a good vantage point to observe and potentially extract her, should there be an issue. I stayed close and followed her when she left not too long after midnight. It was then she ran into a few problems. The first was the loud woman from the auction. She paid Anladet, but warned her not to tell fortunes while she was in Calaba. This was not as bad as the man propositioning her about ten minutes later. He got forceful and I had to make my appearance known.”
“And how did you feel about that? A beautiful, kind, competent woman, whom you happen to have strong feelings for, being accosted by a strange man who would have taken her to a place she didn’t want to go.”
“I felt like he was endangering one of my employers and I couldn’t let that happen.”
“You got to be a hero. She’s a very thoughtful person; I bet she was appreciative of your intervention.”
“She did thank me. I felt satisfied that I did my job well,” he said in a flat voice.
“Tell me you didn’t feel pleased that you had protected her, that you saved her from harm and kept her safe.”
There was a pause. “How is Kelouyan doing, sir?”
“She’s fine. Answer my command, if you can.”
He got up and turned off the lamp, but said nothing.
“I’ll consider that an answer then. Thank you for that enlightenment. Now, as a curiosity, if Alpine were in a predicament and you…”
“I’d let him get stabbed a few times before I intervened, but only non-vital areas such as his brain.”
“Here I thought you had been getting along with him.”
“Is that all, sir? I do believe we need to arise early to travel west for my next contract.”
“It is. Good night, Raulin. If you need to speak to someone, I’ll be available.”
“Stop saying that.”
“No,” he said, and got comfortable on the floor.
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Bio: My name is Forest Green. It's a pen name- don't worry, my parents don't hate me that much. I can taste freezer burn and cilantro tastes like soap to me. I've never had a cavity. I've pet a wild bear. I've seen the aurora borealis twice. I'm afraid of people chanting.