Val & Hiro:
Val is in a foul mood and intends to wander about the market area for a while. He is aware of Hiro's presence and is grateful, despite the feeling he is dragging the swordsman into this tangled mess. The Kensai's stoic calm, forbidding as it may appear, is a reassurance to the young rogue right now. It is one of the things Val admire's most about Hiro, maybe even more than his skill with the blade.
After a bit of aimless wandering with the Kensai, Val manages to calm himself. It was pointless to remain angry with ibn Fadil over what has happened; the half-elf was only trying to help.
After giving Val some time to cool off, Hiro broaches the notion of watching the watchers, in hopes of seeing what kind of resources Victor had brought with him. Since Hiro for all his martial skill is not much for skulking, Val takes up the nearer position.
Over the course of the afternoon, they watch several men who are probably Victor's - they are not uniformed - wander in and out of the vicinity, pass gossip or play cards with nearby workers. Based on this, Val concludes that there are at least a half dozen men involved; they're not bad at it, but are clearly amateurs at this particular game. When Hiro eventually follows one, the course is a roundabout but not terribly complicated one back toward Victor's ship.
* * *
"What a number of friends the young woman seems to have," she remarks mildly, sharp black eyes scrutinizing him. "I'm not sure we've ever had such a fuss here; most of our days are spent fixing those who've had hammers dropped on their heads, or ran afoul of some unpleasantness in space. Straightforward work. What is it you'd like to know? I suppose I can spare a few minutes."
"Thank you, Sister," the half-elf says. "If this were my home, I would suggest that the lady hire a lawyer and begin a suit for divorce from her husband, but I have no idea if that is practicable here."
"Perhaps you could speak with her about that; I do not know the nature of their arrangement, what laws or gods it may involve. In any case, the lady has no funds," Mahal points out. "We care for those in need regardless, for such is our calling, however," her eyes twinkle slightly, "that has not been the creed of the lawyers I have known."
A smile quirks his lips. "Some of them *do* have friends and relatives," he protests mildly. "In any event, if Janik has lawyers, it must have courts of law, yes?" He waits for her confirmation before going on.
"Of course. This world is a place of business."
"So is Bral," he observes. "But things are much less, hmm, formal there. At any rate, if they have proper courts here, that is a start, at least. My other question -- but wait. Nyala told me they had told you something of the lady's situation. I have learned that the child's father should be returning here in about six weeks, if the gods are in a generous mood. Would you be willing to hold the lady for that long?"
Her wrinkled little face wrinkles further in thought. "Perhaps," she says eventually. "It may be six weeks yet in any case, and of course it is impossible to know how soon afterward she'll be ready for traveling. Does this man possess some resolution to her problem, then?"
"I do not know," he says with a sigh. "I think he does yet not know he is a father -- whether he will respond honorably to the situation, I cannot say." He thinks for a moment, frowning. "I do know know where he is from, but I do not think he has many resources. If Janik prefers to wash its hands of the matter, I suppose there is not much he can do. It is unjust," he adds sharply, "but perfectly proper, of course." Irritated with the whole situation, he glares at the healer for a moment, then remembers his manners and looks away.
Mahal, unoffended, twinkles at him. "Where will wants not, a way opens."
Baffled by her apparent unconcern, he stares at her while he tries to decide what to say next. "... I suppose I had better talk to the lady, if I may," he says at last.
"Bide a moment, and I will see if she wishes to speak with you." She is gone for a little while, then returns. "Very well."
"Welcome," Ginevra says upon their entrance, somewhat puzzled by his visit. "Is there news?"
"No," he says apologetically (and pretending that her visible pregnancy does not make him at all nervous). "I needed to ask you a few things about your circumstances." He pauses, hoping the sister will take her leave at this point.
"Call if you need anything, dear," she says. For her age, she moves quickly.
Still with a tone of apology for even risking distressing her, he asks, "Does your marriage contract say what he said it does, or does he only think that?"
She looks surprised. "What he... yes. Why?"
Even more gently, "Then why did you take that jewelry with you? Does the contract include terms for its severance?"
"Forgive me, but why is this of concern to you?"
He cocks his head, wondering which of them is missing the obvious. "As long as you are married to him, he has a substantial claim to your person. You need funds, or at least the possibility of funds, to attempt to obtain a divorce." He hesitates. "You did expect him to divorce you, did you not? And then you would be able to marry your, your friend?"
v"I fail to understand why you would involve yourself in this business," she replies with a touch of asperity. "But since you ask, I was planning no such thing. Divorce is not a custom practiced on our world. Were there provisions for such I would not have needed to act as I have. I will never be free to marry Teague. Does that sufficiently satisfy your curiosity?"
Ibn Fadil reminds himself, firmly, that it would be foolish to pity the girl for her upbringing and then be annoyed with her for demonstrating it. All the same, his exercise of patience probably shows as he admits, "I would not take an interest in your problems, my lady, if Nyala had not already done so. As it is, I have spent some little effort in trying to think of a way to help you, without much result so far." He pauses to see how she takes this.
"Oh." She looks a bit taken aback. "Then I have mistaken you, and must apologize. I not know, however, that there is anything more to be done." For a moment she looks slightly bitter, then shrugs it away. "Perhaps he will grow bored of waiting and simply leave."
With a slight gesture, the half-elf dismisses any need for an apology (which is of course the only polite thing to do). "But what if he does not? My lady," he says, plainly hesitating to ask what could be construed as an impolite question, "I am unable to understand how it is that simply deserting your husband is ... preferable to divorcing him. My people consider divorce a last resort, but more --" another exquisitely courteous hesitation -- "honorable than some alternatives."
"It may or may not be *preferable*," she says more patiently. "Divorce is not *possible.* It is not done on our world, and was not considered when the arrangement was created. To change it, my father would have to be involved, for one, and I suppose someone from the company. If I had waited to get word to him and receive a reply, I would still be on Bral."
"I see," ibn Fadil says. "I hope you are not offended by this question, my lady, but would you feel compelled to inform a court here on Janik of this local custom of yours?"
"Lie?" She doesn't look offended, only puzzled. "To what end? I'm sure he brought a copy of the agreement."
"Ah. The agreement actually spells this out?"
"It does not include provisions for its dissolution. And I am not--what is the word... not empowered to change it. Else as I said, none of this would have been necessary."
"No, I mean, does it say 'this agreement may not be severed for any reason' or something like that?"
"Oh. I don't remember the exact wording, but the agreement was entered into for our lifetimes. And as I have said, even if it can be changed, *I* can't do so. I had no part in it."
"Your consent was not required? No, never mind," ibn Fadil says, rubbing at the slight headache that has appeared between his eyes. "My aunt's husband's brother used to say that any contract can be broken, but I think even he would back away from this one."
"Right," he says with a sigh. "So much for lawful options." He gives her a cautious look. "Would you happen to know any secrets he would not want revealed, to threaten him with? If you would even contemplate such a thing, my lady," he adds apologetically.
"Blackmail?" She looks quite scandalized.
"He seems to be a prideful man, and if it worked, it would make him go away," he says mildly. "Of course, if it did not work, it would probably make things worse for you," he muses.
"I will think on it," she says doubtfully. "Though I greatly mislike it, and I do not know if there is anything that would sway him from his course. He has already been far more tenacious than I expected of him."
"Unreasonably so," ibn Fadil agrees, shaking his head. "It is a very long journey ..." His thought trails off as he wonders if he has been underestimating the threat the man represents. "In any event, I am afraid I have no other ideas, my lady," he says. "I hope he *does* get bored and leave, and I am sorry to have questioned you so closely to so little avail." Giving her a slight bow, he takes his leave.
His visit has definitely been noticed; he is followed on his way out of the dockyards. Unable to think of any immediate avenues for further investigation, he returns to the square to find his juggling friend already spreading the word about the attack on Bral, concluding with an announcement that 3 Trees is offering a sizeable reward for Fang or for information leading to his or her capture. Confident that he has lost his follower among the crowds, he returns to the inn to collect Nyala before rendezvousing with the others.
* * *
As Pham is comforting and cajoling his fellow Hextorian, Emmett looks at the Elvish contemplator again, making eye contact and jerking his head to one side, hoping the man will take the hint to follow.
Able to speak more freely without interrupting Pham's conversation, Emmett starts talking again, but his voice maintains its earlier hushed tone. "Brother...? What's the contemplator temple's position on giving people sanctuary when they're in danger? I already asked Artificer Aram, "A nod of the head to Aram, "but I need as many options as possible, so...?" his voice trails off, the question in it obvious.
"Any who are sincere of purpose and wish to take up a life of contemplation are free to do so," the old elf replies. "To our previous lives, we are as the dead."
"Ah. Well, you see, I don't think she's looking to take up a lifetime's worth of contemplation. Is it possible for her to make, say, a couple of months of contemplation?"
A slow shake of his head. "Such is not our purpose."
Emmett nods, absorbing this while reining in his urge to just blurt things out. "Would it be possible for her to simply stay here for a while, a few days or a week? No vows, not joining the order, but just using this as a place of sanctuary as she contemplates what to do next?"
The answer is a simple, "No."
"Oh well. It was worth asking. We'll find another way." Emmett turns to return, then obviously thinks better of it. "Is it all right if I wander around a bit? While I care about that man's welfare, I'm not really good with scenes like that - i get antsy and make things more complicated. You have my word that I won't speak to or disturb anyone, or if you're willing to accompany me and explain your sect's views on contemplation and life, if you'd prefer I not travel alone."
"Serenity is not easily attained," he nods. "I will certainly accompany you if you wish to learn of us, or you may contemplate the garden in solitude while your companions are occupied, as you prefer."
"Walk with me for a while, if it does not trouble you to do so." Emmett starts heading off, trusting the Contemplator to direct him if he starts on an inappropriate path. His good eye swings back and forth, taking in the serenity of the architecture, the graceful columns, the placement of the windows, wincing at the noise his feet make on the floor and listening for an echo, fearful of disturbing anyone.
"How many people choose this path every year? and I know that to your old life you are dead - so I will not ask why you chose it - but I do wonder for how long you've followed it?"
"I founded this temple six hundred years ago. Approximately," he adds with such grave manner that it's hard to tell if there is humor there. "Some few each year choose to devote themselves to this life."
"Once they enter the temple, they never leave? Not even to visit other worlds, or even go to about the town?"
"We travel as need arises. This is our choice, not part of the Rule."
"What is the Rule?" Emmett asks, taking another turn, trying to remember the route back to the front door, but taking any promising looking paths to a laundry, showers, or any other place that might be near their kitchen. Surely they must have something to drink here...
There is little unusual about the order; they own no personal property, live simply, abstain from sex and intoxicants, give freely of their medical knowledge to those in need regardless of the person, and follow a daily schedule of meditation, study, and physical labor. The kitchens are located in the other arc, at one end of the building, so they pass through the central garden. At every turn something beguiles the senses to pause.
They have water to drink.
Emmett takes several long swigs, trying to rehydrate after the day and keep his mind clear for tonight. "So," he says, "If anyone had a medical condition and needed your help, you'd let them in as you let in our friend back there?"
He stands up straighter and extends his hand to the elf. "Allow me to thank you, on behalf of those who have been helped by other such orders. The Brothers of Gond took me in in the same fashion. Your temple does a wonderful thing."
"It is the least we can do," is the self-deprecating reply, but he does shake Emmett's hand.
He then mentally scratches off the idea of using the temple against their knowledge in his plan, and tries to set aside the information he gained from his recent casing of the building. Hopefully Aram will be able to suggest another path.
The two make their way back to the room where Pham is working with the other Hextorian, and Emmett continues to ask questions and lay out Ginevra's situation to the aged elf. "Can you recommend any order that would be able to help her, give her sanctuary? You must know Janik's religions pretty well, after all."
"At times I have difficulty keeping track - they come and go so quickly." He thinks for a moment. "Is it simply a place to hide that is required, or someplace that will be willing to defy pursuit on her behalf? The city is large, and there are places aplenty to shelter."
"Well, she hasn't committed any crimes here - she's just leaving her husband. He has no official right to go after her, and no real legal authority here, so a place to hide might be good enough. However, he's a vindicative jerk from everything I've heard, and may try and attack her or drag her back anyway, so I think having somewhere that would defy him would be better. I'm just thinking religious institutions because I'm associated with one, and have faith in them. If you can recommend somewhere better that wouldn't charge any money...?"
He turns away for several long moments, in thought or perhaps prayer. "There is - or was some fifty years ago - a community of women devoted to Hera. They may be of help to you, if they are still in the city. It has been long since I passed that way."
Emmett rubs his chin, feeling the stubble there. "OK, can you direct me to them? That's definitely worth a shot..."
The elf searches his long memory. "They had a house on a street south of here, with apple trees on the lawn...."
The half man memorizes all of the directions, hoping it's enough. By this point, the two men have made it back to the patients room. Emmett leans closer to Alais and Aram, whispering "How's he doing?"
"I think we have learned all we can for the time being," is the soft reply. "We can but hope for the mending of his soul."
* * *
All too soon, evening draws on, and the Wonders of the Northern Woods are open for business....
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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson