Chapter Fifteen: Rumors
Jelana, who had been going on with her supper preparations, stopped in her tracks. “Missing?”
Hass nodded. “He was admitted through the gate yesterday morning, but he never left again. The whole city has been searched, and there is no sign of him.”
She frowned. “Who saw him last?”
“Some of the merchants think they may have seen him, but the last one to speak to him was Master Lorcan.”
Hass nodded again, clearly holding something back. Jelana searched her husband’s face. “What else?”
“The man is a magic-user.”
Jelana paled visibly. She had to hold on to the edge of the table to steady herself. “There is a magic-user loose in the city?” she asked faintly.
Hass moved to her side and put his arms around her. “He may not even be in the city. It is possible that he left without informing the guards. The Governors have ordered that the city be searched again, and in the meantime they have doubled the guards on duty.”
Jelana still didn’t look reassured. “I do not want the girls walking to school alone.”
Hass continued to soothe his wife, and Adesina hid her expression by bending over her needlework. She knew that the man was nowhere near the High City by now.
The entire city was buzzing with rumors of the missing Outsider. Gainor, Deasa, and Rina came to visit Adesina early the next morning, filled to the brim with gossip. They sat in Adesina’s room, looking out the window and letting their imaginations run wild.
“Do you think he is handsome?”
Deasa and Rina looked shocked at Gainor’s question. “Gainor!”
Gainor tossed her hair. “It is not impossible for magic-users to be handsome.”
Adesina could practically see the visions of romantic abductions dancing in Gainor’s eyes.
Deasa looked supremely scornful as she rolled her eyes. “I think there are bigger concerns than what the Outsider looks like.”
“Like what?” Adesina asked casually.
“Like if this is going to be the start of a war.”
Rina wore an expression of confusion. “I thought we were already at war.”
Deasa gave Rina a patronizing look. “The silent war does not count. I mean actual fighting instead of political maneuvering.”
The room went silent. Adesina looked between the girls. “Why would there be a war?”
Gainor was the one who answered. “Another magic-user came to the High City and went to speak with the Governors. He said that something must have happened to the missing man and asked for assistance in finding him.”
Adesina frowned. “So?”
“Well, an argument broke out between the magic-user and Governor Wadell…”
The other girls piped in. “The magic-user was angry that he did not get the degree of cooperation that he demanded.”
“Apparently the missing man is one of their leaders.”
“The magic-user left the High City and rode north at top speed.”
“The Governors are worried that he is going to come back with an army.”
Ravi’s tail twitched slightly at this last statement. Adesina looked over at him, but received no other sign that he was even paying attention.
She turned back to her friends. “What will the High City do if he does come back with an army?”
All three girls looked nervous. Deasa shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Well…we do not have an army of our own, and the city guard would not be enough to face them.”
Adesina waited for her to continue, but she fell silent. The young Shimat knew her chances of getting information would be best if she aimed her questions at Gainor. “What, then?”
The flippant girl tried to shrug it off as if it didn’t matter. “We have allies with armies. I am sure they would come to our aid.”
Adesina couldn’t believe her ears. “Are you saying that the High City has no means of protecting itself?”
“The High City has always been neutral. We believe that there are better ways to resolve conflict than fighting,” Rina explained.
The young Shimat thought it best to let the subject drop. It was obvious that her companions didn’t like talking about it and that they had little information of relevance.
It wasn’t hard to find something new to talk about. Rina’s parents had decided that she had enough schooling, and it was time for her to settle down and start her own family. They had already started their search for her husband. Gainor was giddy with wedding ideas, and Deasa was doing her best to shield Rina from the full force of Gainor’s schemes.
Adesina tried to not show the strength of her disapproval. “I cannot believe that you have no say in the matter.”
She didn’t mention the fact that Rina was too young or that giving up her education was ridiculous.
Rina gave a halfhearted smile. “I trust my parents. Father will make sure that my husband will be able to support me, and Mother will see that he is a good and honorable man.”
In Adesina’s opinion, it had nothing to do with trust. Rina was used to being told what to do. “Are all marriages arranged in the High City?”
Deasa shrugged carelessly. “Not necessarily. My parents said I may marry whomever I wish.”
Gainor’s expression was full of self-importance. “My mother says that my marriage is too significant to leave to chance. The Governor of the High City cannot be connected to just anyone. She and father have been searching for a husband for my sister for months and they still have not found anyone suitable.”
Deasa and Adesina exchanged exasperated glances and moved on. “Who are the prospective grooms?”
Rina hesitated before answering. “I do not know. Father and Mother will not tell me until the decision is final.”
Gainor forgot what she had been talking about before and leaned forward, almost bouncing in her seat. “I have heard rumors of who some of them are.”
This was news to all of them. Deasa measured Rina’s expression before asking, “Who are they?”
“Sable, Rina’s father’s apprentice; Master Degan, assistant to Master Ardley the tailor; and Master Quinlan, the blacksmith.”
Deasa nodded slowly. “A merchant, a tailor, and a blacksmith. All honorable professions.”
Gainor wasn’t interested in Deasa’s opinion. “Which do you want to marry, Rina?”
Rina looked as if she was afraid to answer. “Well, I do not know Master Degan or Master Quinlan very well. Sable is closest to my age…and he is rather handsome…”
Gainor immediately shook her head. “Oh, you do not want to marry him, Rina. He is an absolute beast. Terrible temper. He would only want to marry you because it would guarantee him your father’s business when he retires.”
“Gainor,” Deasa reprimanded.
The damage was already done and Rina looked as if she was on the verge of tears. “What if Father chooses someone who will not love me?”
Deasa put a comforting arm around her trembling shoulders. “Your mother would not allow it. You said yourself that she would make sure your husband is a good and honorable man. And any good man could not help but love you.”
Rina didn’t look convinced, but kept her worries to herself. Jelana appeared at this point and insisted that Adrie needed her rest. The girls filed out of the room, promising to come the following day.
As soon as she was left alone, Adesina turned to Ravi. “Is there going to be a war?”
His eyes remained closed, but Adesina knew that he wasn’t asleep. “Ravi?” she called in a more insistent tone.
He opened his eyes reluctantly. “Why would I know such a thing?”
Adesina arched an eyebrow. “You have visions of the future. Also, you reacted when they mentioned an army from the north.”
Ravi closed his eyes again. “I do not know.”
She sighed irritably and laid back on her bed. Her relationship with Ravi had occasionally been rocky in the past, but the last few days made past troubles seem like the good old days. Most of the time he sat deep in though, as if immersed in another world. He rarely spoke, and when he did, it was in a short clipped voice. He didn’t act angry; instead it was more like he had completely disassociated himself.
Adesina would never admit it, but she was suffering from the loss of her only close friend. He seemed to instinctively understand her and know what to do in any situation. He was the only person in the entire city for which she didn’t have to play a part. She missed his wry comments, his cryptic advice, and his soothing music. And for the first time since she was a child, she felt truly lonely.
She thought that things would be easier once she was allowed out of the house. Her alleged illness, in addition to the missing Outsider, made Jelana extremely reluctant to let Adesina venture forth on her own. Fia wasn’t allowed out of the house at all unless she had an adult with her. Hass walked them to school every morning the following week. There were city guards that stood outside the gate during their lunch break, and then Hass was there after school was over to walk Fia home and Adesina to the shop.
Adesina found all of the extra precautions annoying. Everywhere she turned there was somebody watching her, making sure that she was safe. Aleron kept coming up with excuses to hang around her, which, in light of Ravi’s revelation, made her uncomfortable. She avoided him whenever possible, and sometimes spoke to him more sharply than what was merited.
Adesina felt a twinge of guilt when she saw that his feelings were hurt, but not enough to change her treatment of him. As his friend, it was more important to her to rid him of all false hopes than coddle his feelings.
Aleron wasn’t the only one anxious for Adesina’s safety. She also noticed Horas hovering out of the corner of her eye, trying to be inconspicuous. She was on the verge of confronting him about it when he approached her during their school lunch break.
“Adrie? Could I talk to you for a moment?”
Gainor stared at him in astonishment. He had never had the nerve to speak to Adesina in front of other people. She frowned up at him. “What do you want?”
He shifted anxiously from foot to foot. “Could I speak to you alone, Adrie?”
Adesina got to her feet and followed him over to a secluded section of the schoolyard. His words rushed out in one great breath. “I made something for you. I want you to be able to protect yourself.”
Horas reached in his schoolbag and pulled out a bundle of cloth. He handed it to Adesina, not looking her in the eye. She weighed it in her hand for a moment, debating whether or not to open it at all. Finally she pushed the rough cloth aside with the twitch of her hand, revealing a beautifully made dagger.
“See?” he said faintly, “I can make weapons.”
The handle was engraved to appear like overlapping leaves, and the metal was overlaid with enamel made with the powder of finely ground emeralds. It glimmered even in the shade where they stood. The sheath was silver, and etched in the rough pattern of the bark of a tree. Adesina grasped it by the handle to pull it out of the sheath and examine the blade, which was covered in elaborate scrollwork. The dagger fit in her hand as if it had been made specifically for her. As a warrior, Adesina could appreciate the sheer beauty of the weapon she held.
“Where did you get it?” she asked, concealing the wonder she felt looking at such a masterpiece.
“I told you, I made it for you.”
She re-sheathed the dagger and covered it with the cloth again. “You did not make this dagger.”
Horas twitched guiltily. “What do you mean? Of course I did.”
“Horas, this is the best dagger I have ever seen. It was made by a master smith—one who specializes in weapons, and has more years experience than you have been alive. Where did you get it?”
Caught in his lie, Horas looked torn between answering her insistent question and running away as fast as he could. “I…I found it…in an alley…”
Before Adesina could question him further, he followed his second inclination and darted away. With a sigh and a shake of the head, she tucked the dagger in the folds of her shawl and walked back over to where her friends were sitting.
Gainor was ready to pounce as soon as Adesina sat down. “What did he want?”
The Shimat rolled her eyes dramatically. “Nothing of use. He was worried for my safety.”
All three girls laughed. Deasa leaned forward, hugging her knees. “What could he do about it? Everywhere we go there are city guards to make sure that we are safe.”
“Besides” Gainor added, “there has been no sign of the Outsider since he disappeared weeks ago.”
“It has barely been two weeks,” Rina amended gently.
Gainor tossed her hair. “Even so. Mark my words, the Governors will call off all these extra precautions any day now.”
Adesina certainly hoped so. She was tired of all the extra attention she was receiving, both from those worried for her and those who suspected her involvement because she herself was an Outsider.