The following day is spent recovering from the wedding. Raiders, as well as most of Ari’s group, clean. The left over food is collected and the dishes washed using the water from the stream. Gahndri shouts orders, easily making the clean up faster. The tables and performance areas are taken away and the pylon is returned to its rightful place.
Raiders return to their normal day-to-day work. Horses are fed, cleaned, and the riding equipment is checked and repaired. A group gathers and head out to circle the camp, keeping eyes out for any possible threats. Tal and Indra spend the day in their tent, the only movement being a few raiders bringing food.
Ari’s the last to wake up in the shared tent. Kemp and Vesna are long gone and Crofton walks out as Ari’s eyes open. Sitting up, her head pounds at each movement. A loud crash from outside brings a pain-filled moan to her lips.
Standing, a wave of nausea rolls her stomach. She grips her bed tightly and notices a small table with a pitcher of water, four glasses, and a bowl of fruit. Thanking the gods the table is within arm’s reach, Ari eagerly grabs a glass and fills it to the brim. She drinks two full glasses of water and takes a piece of fruit. She eats it slowly, her throat working a little harder to swallow the solid food.
Glancing at the door of the tent, she realizes the sun is already setting. She’s slept the entire day away, though to be fair, she knew she wasn’t the only one. Resolving not to remain inside any longer, Ari stands, having a little trouble changing into fresh clothes, and heads out.
The sunlight, even as it sets, sends a fresh wave of pain through her head. She stumbles at first, but she soon acclimates and walks further into the camp. She spies Crofton talking with Guto before both men join others to move one of the large tables from the night before.
“Are you all right, Ariana?” a familiar voice says from behind.
Ari turns and sees Vico sitting in the shadow of a tent, his hands working a new knot. Joining him in the shade, Ari smiles, trying to hide the pain from her pounding head. “Fine. Haven’t slept through a day since I was little…or sick.” She watches his hands work at the knot. “Why aren’t you helping with the heavy lifting?”
“I helped earlier. Once Crofton and Guto finally decided to wake up, they relieved me for the rest of the day.”
“And you didn’t go right to bed?”
Vico’s hands pause and his eyes flash with a moment of high emotion, but he calms it and smiles at Ari. “My tent is currently occupied and my presence would be a little…awkward at the moment.”
A blush fills Ari’s cheeks. “Vesna’s feeling much better then?”
“Oh, yes. Much better.” He continues working on the knot. “I never thanked you properly, Ariana, for helping Vesna…when she was first attacked.”
“You don’t have to thank me. If we can’t help each other then there’s no point in being called friends.” She raises her eyes to his. “By the way, why do you call me Ariana? Ari’s fine.”
“Because Ariana is more fun to say and because it reflects your beauty,” Vico says bluntly.
Ari’s cheeks burn with a fresh blush and she turns her head away. “Subtlety isn’t a word you’re familiar with, is it.”
“Why be subtle about the truth? Besides, your reactions are the best.” Vico’s eyes rise suddenly and a smirk turns up one side of his mouth. “Looks like you’re being summoned.”
Ari follows his gaze and sees Radhri standing across from them. His eyes are on Ari and when he realizes she’s staring at him, he motions her to approach.
Releasing a sigh, Ari stands, steadying herself on the pole of the tent. “Can’t imagine what he wants to talk about. Hopefully nothing too loud.”
“I could go with you, if you’d like.”
“No, I can handle him on my own.” She considers a thought and fights another blush from her cheeks. “If you want to lie down, you’re more than welcome to rest in my tent. Since Kemp and Crofton are both busy and it looks like I’ll be too, you’ll have it to yourself.”
“Thank you. I might do that.”
Radhri waves his hand impatiently and Ari takes a deep breath before heading over to the Redland Raider’s Chief.
“Walk with me.” The friendly tone didn’t hide the command. Radhri leads Ari away from Vico and the men working.
“I’m glad our celebration was enjoyed not only by you, but by your companions as well. They’ve all seemed far more on edge than you. Which is odd since you’re the one who has men after her.”
“Well, I’ve always been able to handle stress better than a lot of people. I think it’s due to the unique environment I was brought up in.” Wanting to change the subject, Ari motions towards Tal and Indra’s tent. “Congratulations to you on gaining a new son.”
Pride fills Radhri’s body and his smile widens. “Indra is a good addition to my family. He’s strong, loyal and has the blood of a warrior, but also the calm quietness of a highly trained strategist. He’ll make a fine chief one day.” He laughs. “If Tal doesn’t take it first.”
“I already assumed Indra knew what he was getting into when he chose to marry her,” Ari says, smiling. “I think he likes Tal ordering him around.”
Radhri’s laughter grows and he slaps Ari on the back. She winces, but his laughter is contagious. “That poor boy definitely knew.”
Walking through the camp, Ari realizes they’re heading to Radhri’s tent. Once inside, Radhri dismisses the raiders cleaning. He sits and waits for Ari to do the same before beginning.
“You’ll be leaving tomorrow at dawn. Everything is prepared.”
“So quick to be rid of us?” Ari asks, hearing anger in her voice.
“My men have noticed strange things in the desert. Tracks that suddenly vanish with no trace, the bodies of animals torn or broken in odd fashions…but they seem to be only coming from one direction. The same direction we found your group.”
Ari’s heart thumps loudly in her chest. She knew the ones chasing them would eventually catch up, but she hoped they’d made a large enough distance between them to have at least a few more days.
“I see your mind working. As far as my men can tell, the ones making the tracks are on foot and still two days walk from here. By the time they arrive, you’ll be gone.”
“Abandoning you to fight them if they choose to attack.”
“Not abandoning us. We’ll be helping create more time between you and them. The longer we can stall them, the more successful you’ll be in reaching your destination.” Radhri crosses his arms over his chest. “You and yours are honorary members of the Redland Raiders. As long as my bloodline lives you’re to be given aid any way possible and that includes fighting on your behalf.”
“Is that why you’re sending Tal and Indra with us? To protect them from possibly being killed if there is an attack?”
“Tal was always meant to go with you,” Radhri says, a distant look passing over his face. “Even if I forbade her, she’d only sneak off. Indra’s no better. He would never think to stop her. Another thing she got from her mother, a distinct personality that refuses to be told what to do.”
Hesitating, Ari plays with the silk bracelet on her arm. “I’m sorry to ask, but what happened to Tal’s mother? Whenever you speak of her your eyes give away that she’s no longer alive.”
“Perceptive. Tal’s mother died several years ago. She was a protection mage. Her magic allowed her to create protective shells around herself and others. It’s the same magic she passed on to Tal.”
“How did she die?”
A shadow passes over Radhri’s face and his eyes darken. “A disease of the mind overtook her. A madness that destroyed her memories and her body, eventually forcing an end to her life.”
A vivid memory fills Ari. A discussion she overheard between her mother and Lyrrel years ago.
“How long before his madness deems him a candidate for release?”
“Another day at most. Don’t blame yourself, Meah. The madness comes to all Seers of Eraunel. The release is a kindness, not a curse.”
Ari returns from the memory. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“It’s another reason I wish for Tal to join you.”
“I don’t understand.”
Radhri leans close, lowering his voice as though afraid for someone outside the tent to overhear. “There hasn’t been any definitive proof, but Tal fears since she gained her magic from her mother, she may have gained the madness that killed her. It never appeared in her mother until after Tal’s birth and steadily grew worse as the years passed.”
“So you want her to come with us because?”
“I hope it will keep her mind off it. And maybe on your travels you will come across someone who may have a cure or a way to control the madness.”
The conversation between Meah and Lyrrel flashes again through Ari’s thoughts. She nods her head slowly. “I see, but…it may not be a pleasant solution whatever we find.”
A brief moment of anger fills Radhri’s eyes. “I know what you speak of. Death is not a solution. No matter what those from other cities say, I won’t accept it as Tal’s ultimate fate and I ask you to do the same.”
“You’d rather her live her days in madness than release her from the pain?”
“Don’t misunderstand me, Ari. What I ask is for you to keep Tal fighting. I’ve witnessed the madness at its worse. I understand it far better than anyone should.”
Shocked realization fills Ari. “You killed her. You killed Tal’s mother.”
A sad smile comes to Radhri’s lips. “I released her when the pain became too much for both of us.”
“Does Tal know?”
“She knows the madness is the reason her mother is gone, but I made sure she didn’t witness her mother’s death.” He pauses, thinking carefully before continuing. “I can’t say the same for Indra.”
“Indra saw you kill Tal’s mother?” Ari asks.
“He helped me. I wanted to show him what he may have to do himself one day if a cure isn’t found.”
“And how does he feel about that?”
“If it comes to it and a cure can’t be found…he won’t let her die alone.”