Homecoming, part three

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The afternoon was cooler than their stay in Ira. Harbend had to pull his coat on again, but it wasn't cold enough to merit his buttoning it up. They'd arrived in northern Chach a short time earlier, and Escha was probably already halfway back to Khanati by now. Harbend wished the mage a happy homecoming. A strange friend, but a true one in his own way. A friend with secrets as well. He'd never have guessed the mage knew De Vhatic. The language itself was anathema for anyone with the gift.

Harbend smiled. I seem to be good at gathering strange friends lately.

He wondered if he was as strange and outlandish in their eyes as well. He laughed at the thought, and a mixture of relief and happiness filled him as he walked to the harbor. He was still laughing when he arrived there, and more than one person he met on his way shot him the odd glance. Harbend hardly noticed, and accompanied by the sound of his feet he turned right at a pier and crossed the narrow beach until the occasional wave reached his boots.

Harbend gazed across the water. Almost back now. Only a short fare on a ship across the Narrow Sea. It should only take a day or two, and usually the trip was safe, but with the raiders present you were never safe anywhere on the seas.

Harbend sighed and walked away from the shore. There wasn't any choosing left now. Tomorrow they'd cross the waters and travel a few days until they reached the magical roads making Keen so powerful.

Maybe Arthur was right about his project for the Sea of Grass after all. Roads built power, not armies. Harbend hadn't looked at it that way, but Arthur was adamant. He refused to believe in troops being anything but a tool for destruction. Harbend wasn't prepared to go as far. Troops were needed to protect what you built, but he did believe Arthur to be right in that the use of soldiers were destructive.

It had been a long journey, and very different from the sedate, sluggish march from Braka they'd expected. Now Harbend only longed to be back in Verd. He'd have liked to avoid any kind of travel for a very, very long time, but that was unlikely to happen. Anyway, dreams were for free and Harbend intended to enjoy this one for as long as possible.

Dusk had fallen when he entered the tavern, and he ordered only a light meal in anticipation for the dinner they would have later that evening. Thoughts of coming home swirled in his mind, and thoughts of debts as well. He owed Arthur more than just wealth, and Arthur had made it clear he needed to find something, but what he hadn't said yet.

Harbend chose a table as far away from the fireplace as possible.

I'm still used to the cold. Why shouldn't I be. Yesterday we were walking the streets of Belgera.

He sighed. Had it only been a day? What would happen to the caravan caught in Belgera?

He ate in silence, wondering. Neritan had been all but forthcoming with information when she told him he needed to leave Belgera together with Arthur.

Harbend grinned at the memory of how they'd convinced Arthur to show up in a timely fashion. Captain Laiden must have spent most of his impressive resources of bad will to make Arthur obey so fast. There definitely was more to the captain than he showed, desertion with his entire command from the Inquisition being the least, and when they were back in Verd Harbend would make sure to find out what it was, one way or another. If there was time, of course. Harbend still had something of a promise to Arthur to keep, even if he hadn't told him yet.

There would be time to worry about the caravan later, but now there was nothing he could do, and when he reached Verd he'd have to rely on couriers for information. Well, he could probably send one here with enough money to use the jump towers later. Now he could only sleep for a while. It was, after all, not that much different from the worries he had when he sent a ship with cargo to distant Khi.

Harbend finished his meal and left the tavern for their room. He wanted to take a nap before Arthur arrived. The day had been longer than he expected. Time distortion from jumping east to west, Escha had explained earlier.

Harbend climbed the stairs and went directly for his bed. Not bothering with his clothes he lay down and slept until the door opened and Arthur entered.

"Sleeping already?" he said before he closed the door.

"Not really. I was waiting for you," Harbend answered as he sat up and faced Arthur.

Arthur looked back. "Something happened?"

"A lot has happened, but that is not the reason. We need to talk about what is going to happen." Harbend combed the sleep out of his hair with his fingers.

"What do you mean?"

"We are a few eightdays from Verd. I cannot hide you there."

"I don't plan to hide in Verd," Arthur answered with a thin smile. The prospect of passivity apparently still ired him.

"Are you going back home?" Harbend asked in an attempt to lead the conversation in a direction where he could get an opportunity to pay his debt.

"I've given that possibility a thought, yes."

"And?"

Arthur didn't answer, and Harbend found himself hanging on the next word to come.

Arthur grinned mischievously. "There are still tales to be told and even more to be heard."

Harbend stared at Arthur. "So, you are going to live here as a taleweaver?"

"Yes. I believe that's at least one reason I'm here. If possible I hope to stay here."

"You do know that you need to exchange tales with others first?" Now when it was out in the open it was easier for Harbend to proceed with his questions.

"No, but I suspected as much. Well, I'm used to long journeys. One more or less won't make much of a difference. I'll start when I'm ready I guess." Arthur smiled, but it was a tired smile.

"I see. I shall think about how I can help you."

Harbend made his decision then. He'd wait with telling Arthur about it until later, but the decision was made, and in a way that was a relief. There would be another journey, but this time he'd be the one following Arthur's steps. No money made the next time they took to the roads, but Arthur had saved his family and received a dagger in his stomach in return.

Harbend sighed slowly, and when he noticed Arthur giving him a suspicious look he turned the sigh into a deep yawn. It was easier than he would have thought and a while later he fell asleep.

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