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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chapter 13 Epilouge

Dysen’s eyes flicked between the message and the messenger. “Well, Kade, we’ve worked together before. Tell me, can I trust this new employer of yours?”
            “I think, Consul, it is a bit late to ask that question. You’ve been involved in this longer than I have.”
            “True, true.” Dysen sighed. “I suppose this message doesn’t require a response.”
            “No. I was just to make sure you received it.”
“Very well then. You are dismissed.”
After Kade left the room, Dysen rested his head in his hands. This was moving faster than he had intended, and now he had doubts. His sources said Edo and the group he had rescued was in Griffin, but as of yet no one had responded to the letter he had sent out. This was bad. If Ohicink wasn’t under Sojan control when the S’vaeli arrived…he shook his head, pushing the thought away. If the S’vaeli were moving forward with their plan, then he would too.
            “Agel!”
            The boy hurried into the room. “Yes, sir?”
            “Run after the man who just left. Ask him if still has connections with the Council of Seers.”
            “Yes, sir. And if he does?”
            “Then tell him I have a business proposition for him.”
           



                  

            


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Chapter 13


Tap, tap tap.
Silay groaned and rolled over in bed, glaring at the door. Maybe whoever was knocking would go away.
Tap, tap, tap.
No such luck. Her second hope, that Riya might get the door, was immediately dashed when the magician pointedly rolled over and pulled the covers over her head.
Tap, tap, TAP. The knocking was more urgent now.
“I’m coming!” Silay climbed out of her bed and paused, surprised by the feeling of cloth swirling around her feet. She looked down. Oh, yes. Someone had lent her a nightdress. And while she couldn’t remember the last time she had slept in clean clothes, it did present a problem. “Ummm...actually, I’ll be a few moments. I have to get dressed.”
“That’s fine.” The voice was Jarlen’s. “You and Riya just need to meet downstairs as soon as you can.”
“I’m not sure Riya is ready to get up yet.”
“Tell her I’ll order a cup of tea for her.” Jarlen’s footsteps were muffled by the door as he walked away.
Silay turned to the lump of sheets on Riya’s bed. “Did you hear that?”
There was a muffled reply.
“What did you say?”
Riya’s head appeared briefly. “I said ‘no’!”. She disappeared back into the covers.
“Riya!” Silay’s voice was exasperated.
Riya rolled over to face Silay. “Do you know how long it’s been since I was able to get a good night’s sleep?”
“We’re all tired. You said so yourself last night. But this isn’t over yet.” Silay grinned. “Besides, Jarlen knows how you are in the morning. He wouldn’t have woken you up if he didn’t have a reason.”
“Fine,” Riya sighed. “You get ready and go down. I’ll be right there.”
“All right.”
Silay looked around the room. The clothes she and Riya had been travelling in had joined the inn’s pile of clothes to be washed, which was fine. The problem was their replacements. Silay had been too tired to notice it the night before, but it seemed the women in Griffin wore dresses. Not that Silay hadn’t worn a dress before. She had, many times. She just preferred the loose-cut trousers that most women in Dargosa wore. They were much more practical.
Sighing, Silay climbed out of the nightdress. She pulled on the undershirt that had been left for her, and pulled the dress on over that. Thankfully, it was the kind that laced in the front, so she didn’t have to bother Riya for help.
With unpracticed hands, Silay laced the dress, then frowned. Even with the laces pulled tight, the dress was too loose. She put her hands on her waist, and was startled to find them closer together than she remembered them being. She must have lost weight while travelling.  
Shrugging, Silay headed for the door. “Don’t forget to get up!” She shouted cheerfully over her shoulder. She just managed to dodge the pillow Riya threw at her in response.
***
                  Downstairs in the tavern, Jarlen was sitting at a round table with three stools. Next to him was a cup of tea. Silay sat next to him and nodded at the cup. “Is that for me?”
Jarlen shook his head. “No, for Riya.”
Silay looked around the wood-paneled room. Talis was sitting at another table, hunched over in a way that made Silay think he didn’t want to be bothered. Besides that, the room was empty. Not surprising, given how few people there had been on the road. “Is there a server somewhere?”
“The inn-keeper is in the kitchen. However, if you can wait a bit, I’d rather you not eat or drink this morning.”
Silay furrowed her brow. “Why?”
“Because I’ve gotten permission to use Griffin’s Apothecary, and I want to try drawing some of your blood today.”
“And that means I can’t eat or drink?”
“Yes.”
“One day, you are going to have to give me a better answer than that.”
Jarlen surprised Silay by smiling. “One day, maybe I will.”
Silay changed the subject. “Where is everyone else?”
“Edo is already up. He’ll meet us at the Apothecary. I wanted him, Talis, and Riya for help this morning. I figured we might as well let Amata sleep in.”
Silay scowled. “Unfair.”
“Like life.” Jarlen shrugged, and two fell silent for a moment.”
Silay looked at Jarlen. She had come to know him well over their time together, and something seemed off. It wasn’t like him, for example, to pass up on an opportunity to explain alchemy to her. “Is something wrong?”
“Hmmm?” Jarlen looked from his cup of tea.
“I don’t know. It just seems like something is bother you.”
Jarlen sighed. “It’s the situation with Sojan.” He met Silay’s eyes. “They’re right, you know.”
“No they’re not! They lied, and said we were working with Kahoz!”
Jarlen held up a hand to stop her rant. “Not about that, no. But about Ohicink. Someone can go about a thing the wrong way, but still be right about what needs to be done.”
Silay’s interest was immediately piqued. “What do you mean?”
“The S’vaeli Empire isn’t the only one growing. The Norati’s have been expanding too. Sooner or later, they are both going to want Ohicinkan territory.”
“More than sooner. We already think the S’vaeli are behind the plague.”
Jarlen nodded. “And was Sojan wrong about the problems the different ways of handling the news of plague created problems?”
Silay remembered the first time she and Riya had tried to enter Griffin. “No.”
“And that’s where Sojan is right. I don’t know that there has to be one city in charge, but unless all the cities in Ohicink start working together, we will eventually be conquered. Even worse, we might be conquered by more than one outside group. Cities and land would be divided, families separated, or even enslaved. That,” he concluded, “is what is bothering me.”  
“That’s--” Silay searched for the right words, but couldn’t find them. “A lot to worry about.”
Jarlen’s smile was small. “Yes, it is.”
“What’s a lot to worry about?” Riya’s voice startled both of them.
Silay turned to face her. “Sojan. And war. And the plague.”
“Oh, that”. Riya waved her hand as if dismissing the thoughts. “I can’t be bothered to worry about everything all the time. That’s why I stick to one thing at time a time. For example, I am wondering if that cup of tea is for me.”
Jarlen pushed the cup over to her. “I’m afraid it’s cooled off a bit while we were waiting for you.”
“It’s still tea.” Riya sat down at the table, shoving the skirt of her dress to the side. Silay noticed the gesture.
“Riya, have you ever even worn a dress before?”
“Not that I can remember. But when in Norata…” she shrugged, “or in this case, when in Griffin.”
                  Riya downed the cooled tea in a few gulps. “All right, then. What was so important you had to wake us from the first decent night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks?”
                  “The seers’ predictions for the plague are less severe now. But that could either mean that something has already changed or that something is likely to change in the future.” Jarlen’s voice was serious. “I, for one, do not believe in taking chances when it comes to diseases. I want to start looking for a cure as soon as possible.”
                  Riya sighed. “All right, let’s get started.”
***
The first thing Silay noticed about the Apothecary was that it was clean. Very clean, and very white. The next thing she noticed was Edo sitting on a stool at table. She nodded to him, and he returned the greeting. Jarlen strode into the building confidently, and marched straight to a back room. Talis stopped a few feet into the main room and leaned against the wall. Silay tried to catch his eye, but he looked away.
“Huh. Interesting.” Riya had stopped just inside and was staring at the entranceway.
Silay followed her gaze. “What is it?”
“There’s a spell in the entrance,” she replied. “I wonder what it does.”
“It keeps dust and dirt out.” Edo slid off the stool he had been sitting on and joined the two by the door. “It even pulls dirt off your clothes and skin when you walk in.”
Riya stretched her hand towards the entrance, and it seemed to Silay that she was pressing it against an invisible wall. Riya glanced back at Edo.
“What powers it? I don’t see a stone.”
“Look at the doorframe.”
Silay and Riya both investigated the frame. It was embedded with hundreds of tiny, spherical crystals. Riya gave a low whistled.
“These would have to be re-spelled every few days. That’s a lot of magic.”
“Which is why this isn’t a method used to clean clothes.” Edo smiled.
Silay also smiled at his joke, but frowned now that she saw his face up close. His eyes were red, with dark circles under them. “Did you sleep all right?”
Edo shrugged. “Not really.” Before Silay could follow up this remark, he changed the subject. “Let’s go see what Jarlen wants us to do.”
He turned and headed towards the room Jarlen had disappeared into. Silay shot a concerned look at Riya, but she just shrugged in reply. The set off after Edo, and the shuffling footsteps behind them told Silay that Talis was following. Silay sighed. First Jarlen, now Edo and Talis. The men in their group were all in strange moods this morning. She shook her head, clearing the thoughts. She had more important things to think about right now. Like when Jarlen was going to let her eat breakfast.
***
Jarlen was pulling glass jars out of a cabinet when Silay, Talis, and the two magicians entered the back room. Silay picked up a jar and inspected it. She had never seen glass so clear and flawless.
“Careful with that.” Jarlen had noticed her interest. “They’re very expensive.”
Silay set the jar down. “How did they get the glass so perfect?”
Jarlen smiled. “Magic. It does have some uses.” He turned to Edo and Riya. “That’s what I was hoping you two could help me with, actually.”
Edo raised an eyebrow. “With glass making?”
“No. With preparing these.” Jarlen gestured to the three jars he had set out. “I’ve sent word to the Healers asking for samples of plague infected blood, but there are some tests I can do on Silay’s blood in the meantime.”
He glanced at Silay, and she managed a weak smile. It had been one thing to offer her blood to help, but another thing entirely to hear Jarlen talk about it so...well, the only word was enthusiastically. Jarlen turned back to the magicians.
“I heard you talking about the door. I’d like you to spell these jars in a similar way, so nothing can get in or out of them unless it’s supposed to. Can you do that?”
Riya tapped a fingernail against a jar and a musical ting echoed through the room. “How long do you want the spell to last?”
“Two, maybe three hours?”
Riya glanced at Edo, who nodded. “Should be doable.”
Talis looked around at the group. “So, what am I here for? And when do I get to eat?”
Jarlen grinned. “You and I are also going to be donating blood to the cause.”
Talis’ eyes widened in fear. “Oh, no. No, no, no. I’m not letting someone do magic on my blood again.”
“What’s the matter? Sacred?” Silay smiled. It felt good to be braver than Talis.
“It’s fine for you!” Talis glared at her. “Magic doesn’t work on you!” His voice was nearing a level of panic.
“Talis.” Jarlen’s voice was suddenly serious, and he placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder, turning him to face him. “No one here is going to use your blood against you. I promise you that. But to test Silay’s, I’m going to need something to compare it to. I’m going to use my own blood, but you’re closer in age and from the same town as you. The more samples I can her blood to, the better.” He released Talis. “Besides, you owe us. We could have left you in prison in Sojan.”
Talis scowled. “Fine. But this better not hurt.”
“It won’t.” Jarlen let his serious attitude drop and grinned. “Much.”
                 


                  ***
                  While Riya and Edo began preparing the jars, Jarlen opened a drawer in the next cabinet and pulled out three packages wrapped in white linen, and three pairs of white linen gloves. Silay could have sworn the smell of magic in the room became stronger when he opened them.
                  Jarlen set the gloves and packets on a  table, then opened another drawer and pulled out a glass container filled with a clear liquid. Silay gave him an inquiring look.
“Alcohol,” he explained. “It kills germs.” Jarlen pulled a stool over to the table. “Alright, Talis. You’re first.” Jarlen gestured for him to sit.
“What!? Why am I first?”
Before Jarlen could answer, Silay stepped forward. “It’s fine. I’ll go first.”
Jarlen nodded and Silay took a seat. He picked up a strip of cloth and turned to her. “Hold out your left arm, please.”
Silay complied and watched in interest as Jarlen wrapped the cloth tightly around her upper arm. “Isn’t that what you do with bad wounds? To stop the bleeding?”
“A tourniquet?” Jarlen tied the cloth off. “Yes. In this case, it’s acting like a dam. It slows the blood flow so I can get the needle into your arm easier, then when I untie it, I’m able to fill the sample vial faster.”
Silay nodded. “That makes sense.”
“Now, rest your arm on the table. I don’t want to risk it moving for the next part.”
“The next part being when you stick a tiny metal tube into my arm?”
Jarlen smiled. “That’s the one. You may want to look away.”
Silay considered taking Jarlen’s advice, but found herself unable to look away as Jarlen located a vein and expertly inserted the needle.
“Well? Did it hurt?” Talis’ question broke her concentration.
She considered the question. “Ummm...maybe?” Silay continued to watch as Jarlen untied the tourniquet and pulled back the stopper inside the vial, filling it with blood. Her blood. “Mostly it just feels odd.”
“Good. It shouldn’t really hurt.” Jarlen grabbed a square cotton and placed it over the spot where the needle entered Silay’s arm. With a quick, decisive motion, he pulled the needle out, still holding the cotton in place. “Keep pressure on that bandage.”
Silay nodded and pressed down on the cotton. Only then did Jarlen take his hand off of it.  He looked over to where Riya and Edo were working.
“Have a jar ready yet?”
“Yep.” Edo carried one of the jars over to him, and Jarlen set the glass vial in it.
The alchemist turned to Talis and grinned. “Your turn.”
***
                  “All right.” Jarlen nodded at Silay. “I’ve got the needle in my vein, so I need you to untie the tourniquet.”
“Okay.” Silay swiftly unwound the strip of cloth she had helped Jarlen tie into place moment before.
He nodded in approval. “Good. Now, put on that other pair of gloves and get ready the bandage ready, just like I did with you and Talis.”
Silay pulled  on the gloves and picked up the cotton bandage. She waited until Jarlen had filled the vial before setting the bandage gently into place.
“Good.” Jarlen smiled. “Now, as I pull out the needle, keep adding pressure. Once I have the needle out of my arm, I’ll need you to wrap a strip of cloth around the bandage to hold it in place.”
Silay grinned. “Got it!”
Jarlen gave her a strange look. “Are you enjoying this?”
“Well, not the blood part so much. But it is interesting.”
“That it is.” He paused. “I’m about to pull the needle out. Ready in one...two...three!”
Jarlen pulled the needle from his arm and Silay pressed down on the bandage. She grabbed the linen strip and wrapped it around his arm while Edo brought over the last jar for Jarlen to place the vial in.
Riya stood up and stretched. “So, what now? I see Talis has already left in search of breakfast.”
Jarlen nodded. “Silay and I need to do the same. After that…” he shrugged. “Your time is your own. I’m going to come back here and start running some tests.”
“Do you need any help?” Silay offered.
“Unfortunately, it would take more time to teach you what to do than if I just do it myself. And right now, time is very important.”
“I understand.” Silay fought to keep the disappointment from her voice. She did understand, but it had felt nice, being useful, knowing what she was supposed to do for once. And she had meant what she had said earlier. She really did find Jarlen’s work interesting.
“Silay.” Jarlen put his hand on her shoulder. “This isn’t something I’m saying lightly; I truly want you to think about it. When all of this is over, if you want to, I would like you to become my apprentice. You have the mind for it.”
Silay stared at Jarlen. “Truly?”
“Truly.” He held up his hand before she could say anything else. “Don’t answer now. I really want you to consider this seriously.
“Thank you. I will.” Silay turned away quickly, hiding the tears forming in her eyes. She wondered if Jarlen realized that he had just offered her the one thing she had never thought she would have. A future.
She brushed her sleeve across her eyes and turned back to Jarlen. “I think you mentioned breakfast?”
***
Breakfast was a simple affair, eggs and toasts with jam, but to Silay it was a feast. Eating inside, at a proper table was not something she had ever thought to consider a luxury. Jarlen all but inhaled his breakfast before Silay was barely halfway done with hers. He stood up and dropped his napkin on the table the two of them had been sharing. “Well, back to the apothecary.” Before Silay could respond, he was out the door.
                  Edo approached the now empty chair. “Mind if I join you?”
                  Silay gestured for him to sit, and he did so. She waited for him to say something, but he he didn’t. Deciding he still didn’t feel like talking, she finished her meal in silence. She thought it should have been awkward, eating in silence like that, but was surprised to find it wasn’t. When Silay was done eating, Edo finally spoke.
                  “Would you go for a walk with me?”
                  “Sure.” Silay stood and picked up her and Jarlen’s plates. Edo walked over to the door, waiting for her. After Silay set the plates down on the bar tables, she joined Edo. “All right,” she smiled. “Let’s go.”
                  Edo returned the smile, but like the his earlier one, it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I didn’t really have anywhere in particular in mind. I just thought we could walk around the town and maybe...talk?”
                  “Fine with me!” She smiled again.
                  The two of them set off down the main street, heading away from the town hall where they had been last night. Again, Silay waited for Edo to say something, but when he didn’t, she decided it was time to start the conversation herself.
                  “Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?”
                  Edo paused before answering. “You’re a very strange person.”
                  “I--What?” That was not the reply she had been expecting.
                  Edo blinked. “Ummm...sorry. I think I meant to just think that, not say it out loud. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
                  Silay raised her eyebrows. “And that makes it better?”
                  “No! I didn’t mean it in a bad way. It’s just...it’s odd. Sometimes, you seem really young, naive. And other times you--”
                  “And other times I seem like, oh, I don’t know, like I’m the same age as you, which I am?”
                  Edo shrugged. “Like I said, I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Nor do I think it's bad. But it is odd.”
                  “I’m odd.”
                  “No! I’m saying that! Just that the way you act…”
                  Silay cut him off again. “I know you aren’t saying that. I’m answering your question. I am odd. That’s why my behavior is strange. I’m not upset with you.” She had intended the last part just to be kind, as Edo really did seem to regret what he had said, but as she spoke the words, she realized she really wasn’t upset with him. If anything, she was upset that he had pointed out something that she was too aware of herself.
                  Edo hadn’t said anything else, and Silay realized he was waiting for her to explain what she meant. She sighed.
                  “It’s the whole not having a future thing. It made me an outcast in Dargrosa.”
                  Edo nodded, and Silay continued.
                  “It was more than that though. Since my Fortune Day and before this...quest,” she almost said unquest, but remembered her decision about that last night, “the only people I had to talk to were my parents. And of course, I was their little girl to them. Not an adult. Which is why I am the way I am. I haven’t had a lot of experience talking to other people. Or even being around them. Which, I suppose, does make me strange.”
                  Edo grinned regretfully. “That probably wasn’t the best word to use.”
                  Silay smiled back. “No, probably not.”
                  A turn in the road brought them to a residential street, filled with small cottages with gardens in the front. “All, right.” Edo turned and walked backward, so he was facing Silay. “Another question for you.”
                  “Technically, the first was a statement, not a question. And stop walking like that before you run into something.”
                  “A first question, then.” Edo turned back around. “When we escaped Sojan, why did you have me go back for Talis?”
                  Silay thought before answering. She knew the simple answer. At the time of their escape, it had just seemed like the right thing to do. But why had it seemed right? She tried to put her thoughts into words. “It’s hard, growing up in Dargrosa. I mean,” she added hurriedly, “it’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong. I know how it seems to outsiders sometimes, that people are forced to do whatever their fortunes are, but that isn’t case at all. My mom’s a good example. Her destiny was to grow the best strawberries in the town. But she was gardening long before her Fortune Day. It’s something she loves. Her destiny just confirmed it for her. It’s like that for everyone. And no one is ever forced to do what their destiny says they supposed to do. Some people have ignored it, and a few years down the line, their fortunes’ change. And that’s all right. But for most people, it’s like my mom. They get to officially do what they love to do for the rest of their lives. And when everyone lives that way, it’s wonderful.”
                  “But it wasn’t that way for you.”
                  “No. Nor was it that way for Talis. Not all destinies are straightforward like my mom’s is. When your destiny is vague, it’s hard to know what to do, and even harder when everyone else around you has a set goal they’re working towards. You don’t know where you belong, and that’s hard feeling in a town where everyone knows their place, and is the best person for their position.” Silay paused to gather her thoughts. “Talis’ destiny was...is to achieve greatness. But no one told him how to do that, or when or where it would happen. So in a lot of ways, he’s like me. Lost. Wandering around the world hoping to make something, anything, happen to tell him who he is and what he’s supposed to be.”
                  “You don’t seem very lost.”
                  “No, not anymore, I guess. Not like I was.” They walked in silence for a moment. “My turn to ask a question.”
                  “Go ahead.”
                  “Why did you ask me about Talis? Was that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
                  “That’s two questions.”
                  “Tough.”
                  Edo laughed. “All right. Fair enough. I asked you about Talis because you have every right to hate him, and yet you don’t. Which is related to what I wanted to talk to you about.” He paused, and Silay waited for him to continue. “I hated Riya.”
                  “I know. I was there when you met.”
                  “Before that, I mean.” Edo shook his head. “I hated her my whole life, without ever meeting her. It’s not right, or fair, but I did.”
                  “And now?”
                  “And now? It’s very hard to change something you’ve been doing your whole life, but I am trying. What we heard last night, that should have made it easier, but instead, it’s made it harder.”
                  “You spent your life blaming Riya, and your career serving the city she hurt. Last night, you found out that everything that happened was Sojan’s fault. Of course its hard.”
                  “It’s more that.” They reached the end of the street, and Edo looked both ways before choosing the path branching to the left. “My father was a member of the Sojan guard. He was on the wall that night.”
                  Silay didn’t say anything. Edo had already told her what had happened to most of the wall guards. She could fill in the blanks.
                  Suddenly, Edo turned, and pounded his fist into a tree. “My father gave his life to protect his city. And it betrayed him. It betrayed all of its citizens!” He pounded the tree again. “And I never noticed it. Never saw the secrets they were keeping. I wasted my life trying to help Sojan, to make it stronger, and it betrayed me! Everything I did, everything I felt, was all a lie!” He was sobbing now.
                  Silay watched helplessly as Edo sank to his knees. Hesitantly, she knelt on the ground next to him, and placed her hand on his back. She didn’t know what to say, so she didn’t say anything.
After a moment, he raised his head and wiped his eyes. “Sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” Silay debated her next words. “Unless you’re apologizing to the tree.” Edo laughed, and Silay smiled. She had been worried her joke might be ill-timed.
Edo stood and offered his hand to Silay. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. “Well, if I have nothing to apologize for, may I say thank you?”
“For what? I didn’t do anything.”
“You listened. And you didn’t try to fix my problems. That means a lot.”
“You are most welcome, then.”
They turned to walk back to the inn, when Edo spun around and grabbed Silay’s hand, holding it palm up.
“What on earth are doing?”
“I,” Edo bowed grandly over her hand, “am telling your fortune.”
“Oh, really?” Silay wished once again that she had mastered the one-eyebrow raise.
“Really. And what I see is this. Wherever you go, I believe that you will always find a friend.”
Silay laughed and pulled her hand out of Edo’s grasp. “And I think you’re a bit loopy from a lack of sleep.”
“I mean it.”
“All right, then.” Silay wasn’t sure what to say. How was a person supposed to respond to something like that? An idea popped into to her head. “You know how you said sometimes I seem childish?”
Before Edo could answer, Silay took off running, pausing only call back to a stunned Edo, “race you to the inn!”