Artist : Joe Slucher
Author : Shona Kinsella
The morning sun weighed heavily on the back of Nasarin’s neck and he scowled, shielding his eyes from the glare. A headache beat dully at the base of his skull and his stomach churned in time with it. He had woken late and in a foul mood and nothing had happened since to improve his outlook.
He charged forwards, through the people going about their business, not hesitating to push past anyone who didn’t make way for him quickly enough. The others at the guild would be displeased with his late arrival; what was acceptable for the older members like Ambrose, would be deemed a heinous crime for Nasarin. They were already displeased that he had intervened to save the young woman and her child, the day of the almost-eruption. He had been called before the Grand Master to be chastised like a wayward child. He was almost glad that Master Horik had retired and was not present to see him shamed so.
Apparently, the guild felt that his priorities were not in the right place. That his strength would have been better used at the Guild House, protecting their precious belongings from the mob who were trying to escape imminent death. The fact that none of the crowd fleeing down the street that day had so much as glanced at the Guild House apparently meant little.
Nearby, a trader dropped a large metal pot which bonged loudly and made Nasarin jump. His headache spiked and lights flashed before his eyes. He paused for a moment, swaying slightly. Someone brushed against him as they passed and he fought the urge to scream – he hated to be touched when he had one of these headaches; they seemed to set all of his nerves alight. He squeezed his eyes tight shut and took three deep breaths, before setting off once more. He still felt awful but at least the need to scream had passed.
Just ahead, a vaguely familiar young woman turned into the street. He was still trying to figure out why he recognised her, when she collapsed. People crowded round her instantly. Nasarin stood, shifting from one foot to the other with indecision. Should he see if the woman needed help or continue on his way to the Guild House? No doubt, the old guard would consider it a grave affront if he stopped when he was already late. That thought alone was almost enough to make him go over and offer to carry the stricken woman to see a healer, but she appeared to be well cared for, so he continued on his way, still puzzling over where he had seen her before.
It came to him as he stepped into his office at the Guild House; she was the woman who had walked into him the day of the almost-eruption. She had knocked the box containing the Teleruse from his hands. He stopped just inside the door, feeling light-headed for a moment.
Had she been ill that day? Or had her illness been caused somehow by her brief contact with the Teleruse? Part of the reason that the merchants were forbidden from removing the stones from the Guild Hall was the unfortunate effects that they could have on those not properly trained in handling them. But surely not from such fleeting contact. The woman hadn’t touched the stones – hadn’t even seen them in fact. And the box shielded much of their power.
Nasarin desperately searched his memory. Had the box opened when it fell, even a crack? He didn’t think so, but he couldn’t be positive. So much else had happened that day, he had barely remembered bumping into the woman at all until he saw her again this morning.
He stumbled across his office and sank into the chair at his desk. If the Teleruse had caused this, he would have to come clean with the council. It could mean the end of his time in the guild. He wouldn’t work in town again. He would have to leave, travel someplace far away where no-one knew him. Perhaps even take a ship to the continent, leave their chain of islands altogether. What would his wife say?
A knock sounded at the door and Nasarin almost leaped out of his chair. He cursed as his knee thudded off the underside of the desk.
‘What is it?’ he snapped, rubbing his knee, heat already building in the injured joint.
Orlo stepped into the room, head hanging. ‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ he said, darting glances at Nasarin but not looking at him properly. ‘Ambrose wishes to see you, sir.’
Nasarin let out a frustrated sigh. ‘Very well. I’ll be along to see him shortly.’
Orlo looked up in alarm. ‘I’m sorry, sir, he said he wanted to see you right away. He was most insistent.’
Nasarin considered digging his heels in and making the old man wait but no doubt that would only inflame the situation. He got to his feet with a grimace, favouring the sore knee until he was sure it would hold his weight.
‘Lead the way, then,’ he said, gesturing to Orlo to proceed from the room.
He followed the scribe through the ornate corridors of the Guild House, paying little attention to the many overt displays of wealth. When his father brought him here as a boy, he used to wander these corridors for hours, in awe of the beauty of the place; now he felt it was little more than a gilded cage. Somewhere that he no longer had any desire to be but could not choose to leave.
Orlo glanced over his shoulder nervously as they approached Ambrose’s office in the centre of the Guild House, where the old man spent his days and many of his nights.
‘You may return to your work,’ Nasarin said.
Orlo flashed him a grateful smile and took off, heading in the direction of the large hall at the back of the building, where the scribes worked when they were not required by their masters.
Nasarin approached the large, intricately decorated door to Ambrose’s office and paused, straightening his clothing, before knocking.
His headache, which had retreated with mystery of the woman in the street, had returned full-force and was pulsing in time with his heartbeat.
Ambrose’s personal secretary opened the door a crack and slipped out.
‘He will see you now,’ the man said, giving Nasarin an apologetic look.
Nasarin straightened his back, pushed his shoulders down and marched into the room.
‘You wished to see me?’ he said, approaching the enormous slab of wood that Ambrose called a desk.
‘I’m glad to see you looking so well,’ Ambrose began, staring at Nasarin with rheumy eyes. ‘I feared for your wellbeing this morning.’
‘I apologise for my lateness,’ Nasarin said, standing at ease with his hands folded at his waist. ‘While I may appear well, I woke this morning with an awful headache and I am afraid it has slowed me down somewhat.’
‘Oh dear,’ Ambrose said, with an exaggerated look of pity on his face. ‘If you are unable to manage your usual responsibilities, I’m sure we could find something else for you to do. Perhaps you could assist the scribes for the day?’
‘Thank you for your concern but that will not be necessary.’ Nasarin gave a tight smile though his stomach churned.
Ambrose sat staring at Nasarin, as if waiting for him to speak.
‘Was there anything else?’ the young merchant asked.
‘Is there anything you wish to tell me?’ Ambrose asked.
Nasarin frowned. ‘Nothing that comes to mind.’
Ambrose studied him for a moment longer. ‘Very well then. You may leave. I do not wish to waste any more of your time than has already been lost today.’
What was that all about? Nasarin wondered when has was safely back in his office with the door closed. Does he know about the Teleruse? Surely not. If he knew that I took them from the building, he would have had me whipped and thrown out of the guild. But I haven’t done anything else wrong … so what was he getting at?
Finding no answer, Nasarin shook his head and got to work.
The rest of the day passed in a blur, the headache making it increasingly difficult for Nasarin to concentrate, until at last, he pushed the ledger he was working on across the desk and lay his forehead on the cool wood. Darkness had fallen some time ago and he had lit the small oil lamp on his desk creating a cocoon of light in the otherwise dark room. The rest of the building had fallen silent and Nasarin decided that he had stayed late enough to balance his late arrival.
Groaning, he pulled himself to his feet and stood swaying for a moment. He considered going straight home and climbing into his cold, empty bed but he could not risk the headache lingering for another day or two. He was sure that Ambrose did not know about the Teleruse, but the old man clearly suspected something and Nasarin would have to be at full-strength to figure out what it was. He had better visit Malik and pick up one of the healer’s foul powders.
Nasarin made his way outside and stood for a moment, breathing in the clean air and listening to the evening sounds of the town. Somewhere nearby, children were playing. He could hear them laughing and calling to each other and his heart ached with a pang of loneliness. He missed his boys. He even missed his wife, which surprised him more than he would care to admit. Their marriage was one of convenience rather than passion and he had never expected to feel anything other than duty towards her. She was a quiet, obedient woman, and most of the time, Nasarin felt that he barely knew her. She was however, a devoted mother and when he saw her at play with the boys, watching her reading to them and soothing them, he had begun to develop an affection for her that was not unwelcome. Perhaps when she and the boys arrived home, he would take a day away from the Guild House, spend some quality time with his family. With such pleasant thoughts filling his mind, he set off.
Malik’s home and place of work was only a few streets away and Nasarin reached it quickly. As much as he hated the powders that his friend would provide, he did look forward to the relief it would bring. He knocked the door, wincing at the sharp sound and the pain it sent lancing through his head. The door opened, and Malik stood before him, hair dishevelled, scrawny frame bent with fatigue.
‘Are you well, my friend?’ Nasarin asked. ‘You look as though you could use the services of a healer yourself.’
‘Ah, just a long day and a complicated case,’ Malik said, stepping back and gesturing for Nasarin to enter. ‘Is this a social visit?’
‘I’m afraid not,’ Nasarin said, stepping into the reception room at the front of the building. ‘I have another of those headaches. I was hoping you could prepare a powder for me.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. I had thought you were free of them, it’s been so long since the last.’
‘It would seem not.’
‘I’ll make one up,’ Malik said, turning away and heading through to the treatment room. ‘While I do, you can tell me about what happened the other day. I heard that you swung over the top of a fleeing crowd, fought your way through flames and falling debris and carried a young woman and her child to safety.’
Despite the headache, Nasarin laughed and it felt good. For a moment, some of the tightness left his body and the pain eased a little.
‘Nothing quite so dramatic, I’m afraid,’ he said, following his friend. ‘I only-,’ Nasarin stopped talking abruptly as he entered the room at the back of the building. Lying on a bed beneath the window in the rear wall, lay the young woman from this morning, still unconscious.
‘Don’t worry, you won’t disturb her,’ Malik said, following Nasarin’s gaze.
‘What’s wrong with her?’ the merchant asked, unable to stop staring at her.
‘I have no idea.’
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