Despite Argrave’s concerns, Rowe caused no significant disturbance. By the time Argrave had arrived at the inn they were staying, Rowe had already elected to rent a room and spend the night. Galamon decided to spend some time to be sure he caused no trouble and attend to his own blood-related needs. Like that, Argrave and Anneliese retired to their dormitory, ready to sleep.

As Argrave sat in his bed, holding the spellbook that contained the [Electric Eel] spell, Anneliese walked over. Argrave looked up at her.

“Something you need?”

She crossed her arms. “Do you have a…” she paused, and then rephrased her question. “Are you tired?”

“Always,” Argrave nodded. “What do you need? Happy to help.”

“I’d like to talk.” She stared at him seriously.

“How fortunate. I’m good at that.” Argrave gestured to his bed. “Sit, if you want.”

Anneliese hesitated for a moment, but then did so. Argrave looked down at her as she gathered herself. She was visibly nervous, as though she was preparing to give a speech in front of a great crowd. Argrave furrowed his brows in confusion, waiting for her to speak.

“As you said, you are good at talking,” she finally began. “In fact, your ability to manipulate with conversation is enviable.”

“Hah. Not a positive trait, usually.” Argrave scratched the back of his neck. “I have a crutch. I know a lot of people more than they would expect me to. It’s hardly fair for them.”

“I disagree.” She shook her head. “At our first meeting, you compared our two situations. My empathic nature, and your vast knowledge of many people and things… they have some similarities. But on my end, despite being able to understand people well, I have never been able to manipulate well.”

“But one hand washes the other,” Argrave countered. “In this short time, you’ve already been a tremendous help. I do the talking; you do the discerning.” Argrave held his hands out as though they were scales. “Partnership for the centuries. I’m the Watson to your Hol—well, you wouldn’t get that one.”

“I have been thinking about how you dealt with Elaine,” she continued. “I believe you used a phrase to describe it. ‘To receive trust, one must show trust.’” Her amber eyes locked on Argrave’s face. “And it worked, by my estimation. Elaine came around.”

“If you’re trying to make my cheeks turn cherry-pie red, you’re on the right track,” Argrave shook his head. “Like I said, I know her. I have a crutch. Anyone could have done what I did. I’m nothing.”

“Despite your occasional shows of arrogance, you are rather terrible at accepting praise… or taking credit,” Anneliese noted. “No matter. I digress.” She placed her hands on her knees. “To the point, then. Lacking manipulation skills myself, I have decided to shamelessly steal yours. I will show you my trust to receive yours.”

Argrave nodded, things falling into place. “The first move to open the puzzle box that is me, I see.” Argrave put his hand to his chin. “I don’t think you understand the finer points of manipulation. Generally, you don’t make people aware of what you’re doing.”

“Back when we were on Veiden, despite my grandmother’s admonishment and my mention of my familial situation, you did not ask me questions. You restrained your curiosity. I assumed that you, perhaps, already knew of my family. It would not be beyond you.”

“I don’t,” Argrave shook his head.

“That is good,” she nodded and smiled. “I have something to offer, then. My own situation. Perhaps… indeed, it may well be a pointless thing to bring before you. But I wish to share it, if you are open to hearing it.”

“I can’t deny I’m interested,” Argrave nodded.

“Then I shall begin,” she nodded resolutely.

Argrave waited patiently. Anneliese rubbed her hands together, staring at the ground.

“I apologize. I have never shared this,” she said quietly. “My name, as you may have noticed, is unusual amongst Veidimen. I was given a name from Berendar, because I was born in Berendar.”

“I heard people mention that,” Argrave nodded.

“My mother was married to my tribe’s best hunter,” she began. “They established a contract before Veid to only love with each other. It is a common practice.” She finally turned to Argrave. “That man, though, is not my father. Instead, my father was the tribe’s chieftain.

“I do not know the details, for it was the day of my… conception,” she said bitterly, as though the word bothered her. “…but while my mother's husband was away on a long hunt, the tribe’s chief raped my mother, Kressa.” She turned her head back to the ground. “In the months to come, the tribe came to know she was pregnant. My mother’s husband had been hunting such a long time that the whole tribe knew he was not the father.”

Argrave listened in silence, teeth clenched as his mind followed what probably ended up happening.

“Held in judgement of adultery by the very man who raped her, she was given a choice—acknowledge who the father was and join with him in matrimony or be exiled.” She looked at Argrave. “My mother chose exile.”

“Did she not say what happened?” Argrave inquired.

“She did. But the man was the chief, and power is power.” Anneliese’s eyes wandered, scanning the ceiling. “My mother’s husband believed her, though he was powerless to change the inevitable result. My mother was exiled. Her husband remained, forbidden from leaving as he provided much of the tribe’s food. Pregnant and penniless, she wandered through Berendar. A kind village couple showed mercy on her and allowed her to stay until she gave birth. She named me after one of the people there in return for their kindness.”

Argrave took a deep breath. There was much in his head, but he knew it would be best to stay silent and wait for her to finish.

“We spent seven years in that village,” Anneliese eventually continued. “My features… my mother, Kressa, has blonde hair and white eyes. I inherited all of my father’s features. In that village, I learned the curse of my empathy.” She placed her hand on her knees. “When my mother looked at me, there was always some hatred in that gaze. And there was fear, anger, sadness… she showed love and hate in equal measure. Much of it was physical.” Anneliese looked off to the side. “I cannot blame her. Not exactly.”

Yes you can, Argrave wished to say, but he stayed quiet.

“It was the worst when I asked her about it. ‘Why do you hate me? Why do you fear me?’ Often she did not realize herself she felt those emotions. Being confronted with them would inspire her wrath.” She started to blink quicker, and Argrave spotted a faint glisten in her eyes that Anneliese tried to hide. “That way, I learned to suppress what I expressed.”

Anneliese closed her eyes altogether, sitting in quiet silence. “Six years, it took for my mother’s husband to succeed in having the exile revoked. Not for lack of trying, mind you,” she added. “Our tribe was the last conquered by Dras. It fell because my mother's husband gave an offer to Patriarch Dras; reveal the truth to the world, and revoke Kressa’s exile. In return, he would betray his tribe.

“Kressa’s husband butchered his tribe’s chief in the battle to come. Without leadership, they fell to Dras quickly. When the exile was revoked, he left to retrieve Kressa. It took him months to find her, and months more to persuade her to return to Veiden.”

“So, I spent the remainder of my childhood in Veiden, unwelcome both by my peers and my parent. To Kressa and her husband, I was the fruit of the worst moment in their lives. To my peers, I was the strange girl on the fence between human customs and Veidimen customs. My ability to know when they lied or how they felt only earned their enmity. In time, though, I found my place. Though I earned no friends, if I remained useful, I was given esteem,” she finished. Her words did not sound sad or bitter, merely hollow.

“That is why I have endeavored to be the best spellcaster I can, and to learn as much of the world as I can. I know it was empty, and I know there was no love behind it, but the few times that my mother gave me praise was when I achieved acclaim as a spellcaster.”

Anneliese gazed at the floor vacantly for a time, then she finally turned to Argrave. “There you have it. I have never confided that with anyone. It is nothing special and perhaps entirely undeserving of the ceremony I gave it, but it is my past.”

Argrave stared at her for a long time, blinking in silence as his brain worked on what to say. Finally, he furrowed his brows, and then leaned forward, placing his hand on Anneliese’s shoulder. She was tense for a moment, but she relaxed in a second.

“I’m sorry you had to experience that,” Argrave said quietly as they sat there. “Having heard that, I can say this confidently; you’re one of the strongest people I know. Despite having endured all of that, you’re brilliant and open-minded. I don’t know how you managed. I don’t think I could have.”

“I doubt that.” She gazed at him. “As child to King Felipe, your experience could not have been any easier.”

Argrave pulled away his hand from Anneliese’s shoulder and turned his gaze away. The whiplash from that statement was somewhat overwhelming. It was a stark reminder that everything he was in this world was empty and hollow, and he was living a life that he had not earned. It was easy for him to play the role of Argrave, but if he stripped away the veil, nothing of substance stood beyond.

“Don’t worry overmuch,” Anneliese’s voice broke past the haze of Argrave’s thoughts. “I did not do this expecting reciprocation. I merely thought it would be something I might share to demonstrate that I trust you.”

Argrave turned his head to look at her. “Why do you trust me?”

“Because you want me to,” she returned. “I am not ignorant that you speak especially warmly to me and Galamon. Notions of complete trust, friendship, consideration—I am not saying you do not hold these thoughts towards us, but I doubt that you would voice them were you not trying to earn our faith. You spoke that way towards Elaine, too, when you decided that she needed to be… placated.”

Argrave straightened his back after being called out but did not deny it. “It’s natural for a leader to try and earn the trust of those following him,” he defended.

“I am not admonishing you,” she reassured. “I am only acknowledging—”

Three knocks came at the door, drawing them both from the conversation. Galamon would not knock, Argrave knew—he would enter without a word. Argrave stood, placing what spell matrixes he knew at the front of his mind. He was glad that the Blessing of Supersession had recovered.

Argrave peeked open the door. He had to look down. There, a brown-haired man wearing worn red and white clothing waited.

“I found Elias,” Stain greeted, a little out of breath.

“I hope you spoke to him as well,” Argrave returned, opening the door.

Stain walked inside. “Yeah, naturally, you pisser.” Stain only realized what he’d said after he said it and looked at Argrave warily, fearing retribution.

“Pisser, huh?” Argrave chuckled. “You’re not wrong. Well, good work. Who all was with him?”

“Ehm…” Stain hesitated, clearly taken aback by Argrave’s demeanor. “Well… don’t you think I’ve earned some of that money you were talking about?”

Argrave smiled, then reached into his pocket, pulling out a pink coin. “Suppose you’ve earned it.” Argrave tossed it, and Stain frantically tried to grasp at it.

Eventually Stain got his fingers on it, and he held it up to the moonlight coming in through the windows. “Gods, you just carry one of these around?”

“Now, who was there? Any names?” Argrave pressed.

“Well…” Stain gingerly wrapped the coin up in a cloth, and then stuffed it into his pockets. “A weirdo mage with purple eyes, Baron Abraham, and more knights than he probably needs.”

Argrave stepped forward. “Did you hear the name Helmuth?” he asked insistently.

“Yeah,” Stain confirmed. “Set up at meeting at some place called Karrel. I know where it is. Date’s tomorrow morning.” Stain popped his fingers. “Wish you’da told me you crippled this man’s sister. Would have been nice information to have. Could’ve ended sourly.”

“Helmuth?” Argrave said out loud as though it was unbelievable, entirely ignoring Stain. “Why is he…” Argrave paused and shook his head. “Damn it.”

“What, did you cripple his children or something?” Stain asked sarcastically. “He seemed reasonable, just had some spooky eyes. A lot of high-ranking mages have weird stuff like that.”

“It’s the eyes that are the problem.” Argrave took a deep breath and sighed. “That one can see a lot of things he shouldn’t.”

Galamon opened the door, entering. He looked at Stain somewhat perplexedly. Stain returned his gaze with a good deal of fear.

“Rowe is sleeping,” Galamon contributed. “But I heard what you were discussing.” When Galamon said that, Stain was even more afraid of him.

Argrave was ready to dismiss Rowe, but then a thought came to his head. “Might be we need to wake Rowe up early. He might come with us somewhere tomorrow morning.” Argrave smiled wide. Anneliese shook her head, and Galamon looked confused.


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About the author


  • Buried on a hill overlooking a little river with pinecones all around
  • Esquire

Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.

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