Tyri ran, splashing through the streets, grateful for the break in the rain, silently praying that it lasted just five more minutes. Just five, that was all he needed to reach the Hall of Magic.
He looked up as thunder cracked loud enough it felt like the ground shook, even though he was running as fast as he could—
And he only barely saw, too late, the man who came running out of the alleyway.
They collided painfully, and Tyri went down hard, cracking his head on the cobblestones. His vision went blurry, the world fuzzing out and he scrambled frantically for his glasses, terrified—
Only to hear the dreaded crunching of glass as the other man stepped on his glasses.
“Damn it,” the man said.
Then, just because Tyri’s world hadn’t completely fallen apart, the rain resumed.
It didn’t even have the grace to start out slowly; the sky simply seemed to tear open and dump rain that fell so hard it stung where it struck his skin.
Tyri just sat there in the rapidly increasing mud and puddles, trying not to cry.
“Hey—come on—” the stranger yanked Tyri up right against his side and threw something over him. After a moment, Tyri realized it was the man’s cloak, and that it was over both of them. It was also completely repelling the water, in a way that only magic could manage.
Weather spelled clothing was expensive, and a cloak large enough to cover two people—Tyri didn’t pay that much in a year to rent his little one room apartment.
He tried to speak, but they were moving too quickly and his head was killing him, between hitting it and not being able to see, and not eating so Vess would have more food and being too nervous to sleep well—
Tyri did begin to cry then, as the loss of his glasses really sunk in. He could not see without his glasses, he could not afford new glasses, and without work he would never have the money and without—
How was he supposed to home and tell his baby sister that his clumsiness was going to leave them homeless and starving and he had no way now of making it better?
“Come on,” the stranger said, voice warm, bright, and it just made everything worse because he couldn’t be mad at a voice like that, even if he had wanted. “Just here, now.”
Tyri cried out as he struck what he realized too late were stairs and pitched forward—but he was caught at the last minute, dragged close again. “Are you alright?”
“I can’t see,” Tyri bit out. “My glasses—my vision is terrible.”
“Of course,” the stranger said, sounding genuinely contrite. “My apologies, I really cannot believe I was so clumsy.”
Tyri yelped in surprise as he was abruptly swept up off his feet, flailing briefly before finally managing to throw his arms around the stranger’s neck. So close, the cloak still mostly, awkwardly around him, he was struck by hints of the stranger’s cologne—night jasmine, anise, musk.
It occurred to him then, that a man was carrying him like he was some idiot girl. Tyri wasn’t big, but he wasn’t exactly small either. But he could tell this man was definitely on the massive side of things.
Then they were inside the house or whatever it was, and the stranger was given orders to grayish blobs, never pausing in his stride as he spoke. The blobs replied, but Tyri was too disoriented to really listen to what was being said.
Finally they came to a stop, and he was slowly lowered to his feet. “Where am I?” he asked.
“My house,” the stranger replied, seemingly unaware that his reply was completely unhelpful.
Tyri tried to point this out, but only wound up yelping again as he was suddenly assaulted. “I say—my clothes—that—watch that hand!—” He stood, red-faced, naked, cold, damp, and humiliated, wishing quite fervently that he was dead.
“Ah, thank you,” the stranger said to a blob that came close enough Tyri could almost get a definite shape. Then the stranger thrust something into Tyri’s hands. It was, he realized after a moment of fumbling and feeling, a robe. It was made of extremely soft, very high quality wool. So soft, like nothing he had ever felt.
It was taken from him in the next moment, and then Tyri was being manhandled into it, then half-led, half-dragged across the room and pushed down onto what proved to be a sofa.
“Here, have some tea. It’s got whiskey,” the stranger said, and gently put a mug in his hands.
Tyri held fast, terrified of dropping it. “Thank you,” he said, and took a sip, not certain what else he could do under the circumstances. It was hot, the whiskey burning pleasantly. “I’m really sorry, but—who are you? I’m sorry about all this.”
“Oh! Apologies! My name is Rathe. I’m a mage. I apologize profusely for crashing into you like, and then I stepped on your glasses, I’m so sorry. But never fear, I’ve sent for the man who does my reading glasses. He’ll get you squared away.”
“You needn’t bother,” Tyri said. “I was running and not paying attention. It was as much my fault as yours, if it was yours at all.”
Rathe laughed. “Oh, it was my fault entirely. Certainly, I stepped on the glasses and I will see you receive a new pair. How is the toddy?”
“Uh—wonderful,” Tyri said, flushing, not certain why. “Um. I’m Tyri, a runescribe master.”
“Tyri,” Rathe repeated. “That’s a nomadic name. Star Clan, I believe.”
Startled, Tyri said, “Yes—how did you–?”
Rathe laughed again, and Tyri suddenly wished then that he could see. Someone who smelled so exotic, and had such a beautiful laugh…
It made his gut twist, though he couldn’t say exactly why.
“I travelled extensively in my younger days,” Rathe said.
“Younger days? You don’t sound even the slightest bit old,” Tyri said.
Laughing again, Rathe replied, “Thirty three. So what is your age? Not a day over twenty, I would wager.”
“Twenty four,” Tyri said sourly. He looked young, he knew, but not that young.
“My apologies,” Rather said, his grin apparent in his voice. “Now, then. The glasses master will be here shortly. Would you like some food in the meantime? I’ll have it brought,” he added, and rose, shouting for someone, giving Tyri no chance to reply.
Tyri hid a sigh in another swallow of the toddy, and wondered what in the hell he was going to do, now that he was missing the chance to apply for the newly opened runescribe position with Wizard Daleus.
It really did seem that he was going to have no choice but to accept Forri’s despicable offer, if he didn’t want to wind up on the streets.
Thinking about it ruined any desire for the food being brought, and made him want to drink the toddy down simply for the brief oblivion that the whiskey might bring.
“Now I know I can be a bit much for even my mother to take, but surely my company is not so bad as to look that wretched,” Rathe said with a laugh.
Tyri flushed, winced. “No—of course not! I’m so sorry! I appreciate all you’ve done for me, of course. I simply was worrying—” He broke off as Rathe laughed and laughed.
An arm fell across his shoulders, tugging him closer, causing the toddy to splash a bit on his robe. “No need to worry, we will set all to rights. I am certain you will feel much better once you can see again, hmm? So where were you going, my fine new friend, when I so rudely knocked you about?”
“Uh—to apply for a job,” Tyri said, trying not to notice again that exotic scent, night jasmine and anise, a hint of musk. He knew it only because his aunt and uncle had sold costly perfumes when they travelled, alongside telling fortunes.
He’d always hated to see how easily they manipulated customers, how easily his parents—the whole troupe—did the same. He had not been terribly sorry when they had kicked him out for being completely useless. The Clans did not hold with High Magic and all the ‘nonsense’ that went with it, like runescribing.
Really, though, they had just hated that he was so blind, had been for practically his entire life it seemed. He couldn’t do anything without his glasses, which meant he couldn’t really perform, couldn’t thieve, couldn’t do much more that sit around and do the things usually left to the elderly and crippled.
Tyri just wished they had not decided to get rid of his sister too, simply because Vess was mute. Like she deserved to be punished for something that wasn’t her fault—
He broke away from the thoughts, tired of them. What was done, was done.
“You are looking gloomy again,” Rathe said, startling him from his thoughts. “I do not like unhappy guests. I think your toddy needs refreshed—” He broke off as a bell rang through the house, then clapped Tyri on the back so hard more of the toddy splashed out of his cup again. “That will be the glasses master. Liste! Another toddy! And hurry up with that dinner! Show in Borin—ah, Borin, there you are. Thank you, Liste. The toddy, please. Borin, Borin, I am sorry to call you from your home and in such foul weather but you see…”
Tyri listened, rather awed, as Rathe rambled on and on, with only a brief interjection here and there from Borin.
Then Rathe sat down next to him again, and he saw Borin settle in front of him—but that would mean he was sitting on what, a table? A footstool?
“My, my,” Borin said, clucking his tongue. “You cannot see at all, can you, poor dear? Brace yourself, I am going to touch your face.”
Grateful for the warning, Tyri nodded.
Calloused but gentle fingers touched his face, thumbs resting over his eyelids, and he felt the soft thrum of low level magic as Borin ‘read’ his eyes.
Then Borin withdrew, and said, “Poor thing. I can have a new pair ready by morning, best I can do.”
“That’s fine,” Rathe replied. “Add it to my account, I’ll pay everything end of month.”
“Of course,” Borin replied. “How are the new lenses?”
They lapsed into conversation, leaving Tyri to wallow in his own worries and fears. How was he going to get home? Vess would be expecting him soon, and Mrs. Tillery would not watch her all night—and he would have to go home empty handed and blind and how was he going to find his way anywhere to retrieve his glasses and he shouldn’t let Rathe pay for them but what choice did he have?
He was stirred from his thoughts by someone pressing a fresh, full mug into his hands. “You are certainly pretty when gloomy, but I bet you would be prettier if I got you to smile,” Rathe said, and the words should have bothered Tyri, too reminiscent of the things that Forri said, but when Rathe said them they didn’t make his skin crawl.
“I’m fine,” he insisted. “I apologize for appearing gloomy. You—you don’t have to pay for my glasses.”
“Nonsense,” Rather said briskly. “Now, here is dinner. Soup, I thought, would be easiest on you.”
Tyri’s stomach growled as the scents struck him. Barley soup, he could smell the barley and ham, the herbs.
But it also reminded him that Vess was still waiting. “It smells wonderful, but my little sister—she’ll be waiting for me, I really must go.” He tried to set the mug down, but a hand fell heavily on his shoulder, another on his knee.
“Calm down,” Rathe commanded. “All will be well, I promise. Where does your sister live?”
“You’ve done enough,” Tyri said, shaking his head, drawing back.
“You still cannot see,” Rathe said, voice firm, hand firmer as it held him in place. “There is little sense in protesting, and please, I want to help. It really was my fault, I had no reason to be running that way except my own impatience. I get yelled at for it all the time, I promise. Now, then, where do you live?”
Tyri sighed, but was almost amused despite himself. “You don’t get ordered around a lot, do you?”
“No,” Rathe replied. “That would require I shut up long enough to listen to what people are telling me, and that I have any interest in orders other than my own. So where did you say…?”
Laughing, even if he shouldn’t be amused, because somehow Rather wasn’t an ass about it, Tyri gave in and said, “Blueridge Circle, house six. But Vess just won’t—”
“Liste! Liste! Where—there you are. Stop taking so long. Blueridge Circle, house six. A little girl, yes? Yes, a little girl, name of Vess. Bring her here, to see her brother. Go on, go on, don’t take all day about it. What? Oh, all right.”
Silence fell again, and Tyri sipped at his toddy, not certain what else to say or do—not that he could do anything, but still.
“So what job were you applying for?” Rathe asked.
Tyri shrugged. “I don’t really know. It was a job posted just yesterday, for a position with a wizard that I guess is rather well known? I’ve only been in the city a month.”
“Daleus,” Rathe said, voice going hard, cold
Recoiling, taken aback by his tone, Tyri said, “Um—I think—that sounds right. It was the first runescribing job I’ve heard about.” He shrugged again, withdrew, hunching. “I don’t now where else to look, not many people want an unknown runescribe. I doubt I would have gotten the job, but I had to try.”
“You said you’re a master runescribe?”
“Yes,” Tyri said. Runescribes were really nothing more than highly specialized secretaries for wizards—they could read and write runes as well as, if not better, than the mages who used them. It was the job of a runescribe to transcribe his master’s work, do research as necessary, take notes, communicate with other wizards’ scribes, and other such duties, leaving the wizard free to focus exclusively on his magic. That runescribes could not use magic was an asset, as it meant they could not steal, sabotage, or otherwise affect the work of their masters. Espionage happened, but it was much harder when the scribes could not use themselves what they learned.
“It’s rare that a nomad picks up such a skill,” Rathe said, as if thinking aloud. “But I guess with your vision—”
“Yes,” Tyri cut in, not wanting to hear it.
“So you’ve heard nothing of the wizards in the city?” Rathe asked. “Nothing at all?”
Tyri shrugged again, stroking his fingers absently along the rim of his mug. He took another sip of the toddy, then said, “Daleus is the name I hear the most, he’s an expert on curses and charms—mostly curses.” He grimaced at that, because he did not really favor curses, but he favored less letting his sister go hungry and so he had made himself ignore that element. “Uh—the only other name I really hear is a wizard that is always causing trouble, and who is not allowed in half the houses in the city. I heard the other day he’s been banned from the royal presence, but I think it was an exaggeration. That’s Wizard Rathelon….”
He trailed off as realization struck him, and flushed dark in embarrassment. “You’re—that’s you, isn’t it?”
Rathe laughed, that warm, pretty laugh that Tyri leaned toward even as he still wanted to recoil from his recounting of stupid gossip.
“Wizard Rathelon Rediburgh, at your service, master runescribe,” Rathe replied, and grasped Tyri’s chin, tilting his face up to kiss each of his cheeks softly in formal greeting. “I am the troublemaker, the one no one will associate with, for fear of what I might do to them. I am bossy, demanding, impatient, scattered, and generally obnoxious. I have been banned from the royal presence, but only because Prince Ceddi is mad at me for making a better dragon than him. I’ve never kept a runescribe for longer than a week.”
“Um—why?” Tyri asked, wondering why he was being told all of this, afraid to wonder too much and come up with an answer that was too good to be true.
“Because I’m terrifying,” Rathe said drolly. “They don’t like my assertive nature.”
Tyri snorted at that, and spoke before he thought. “Like carrying someone up the stairs, stripping him naked, and giving him whiskey, all before bothering to give your name?” He clapped a hand over his mouth as he realized what he’d just said, and lowered his head, ashamed. “My apologies.”
Rathe only laughed. “Precisely. You took it rather well.”
“I appreciate what you’ve done,” Tyri said. “Disconcerting or not, everyone else in this city would have left me alone in the street, blind, wet, and with no way of getting myself home. I—”
He broke off as the door opened, and he heard the familiar sound of Vess running toward him. His drink was taken away just in time, and he held her tight as Vess threw herself into his arms. He kissed her cheek. “Hi, Vess. I’m sorry I didn’t get you myself.”
She pulled back, and little hands covered his eyes.
“That’s right,” Tyri said, smiling. “They got broken. I’m waiting for new ones. This is Rathe, he was my knight.”
Rathe laughed. “I was also the dragon who broke them. My lady, it is an honor to meet you. Would you like something to eat? Liste! Lis—oh, there you are. And you brought everything, good man. Are the beds ready yet? Well, see to it then, and make certain there will be breakfast for three. Do we have suitable employment papers? Then see they’re fetched, at once. Thank you.”
He turned back to Vess and Tyri. “Now, pretty princess, do you know finger language? No? Well, that can certainly be taught! I learned it from these islanders…”
Tyri tried to listen, tried to focus, because he really should not drift off and leave Vess alone in a strange house with a man whom the entire city considered dangerous…
But even he could see how stupid that gossip was. A man that despicable, that dangerous, would not have helped him and then brought Vess here and offered to pay for his glasses…
And have such a warm, pleasant voice. Try as he might, Tyri could not keep his eyes open, lulled to sleep by Vess’ obvious comfort, too much whiskey, and the soothing sound of Rathe’s voice.
He woke up to sunlight on his face, and jerked up—then remembered where he was, though he didn’t remember being put in the bed he obviously lay in. “Vess?” he asked, and slumped in relief when her hands covered one of his.
Then she was pressing something into his hands—a glasses case, he realized. Tyri opened it, and carefully pulled out the glasses inside. He could tell, just by the feel of them, the weight, that they were finer, costlier, than all his other glasses combined.
Slowly Tyri slid them—then blinked, adjusting. They were…crystal clear, perfect, and he could see better than he’d ever seen before. Stupidly, it almost made him want to cry, to see things so well. He smiled at Vess, who returned it with her own sweet smile, and clapped.
He tousled her dark curls, then slid out of bed, looking around the luxuriously appointed room in wonder, maybe a little awe. Once they left, he doubted he’d ever see anything this fine ever again.
But that thought reminded him that he really should be going—he would not provide for Vess by hanging about in the homes of strangers, even kind ones.
His clothes were folded neatly on a chair, and he removed the nightrobe he’d been put in—flushing at realizing that would be twice now Rathe had stripped him—and hastily pulled them on. Then he turned back to Vess, and started to speak, but only wound up staring in surprise. “Wherever did you get that dress, Vessie?”
She beamed and stood up on the bed, twirling to show off her violet dress and white, lace-trimmed pinafore, the ribbon holding back most of her curls.
“You look like a princess,” Tyri said, even if he wanted to smack someone—Rathe, of course. He couldn’t afford to buy the dress for her, he doubted he’d ever be able to give her such beautiful clothes. “Come on, let’s go eat. Are you hungry?”
She nodded enthusiastically, and jumped off the bed, ran to him and grasped his hand in both of hers, beaming up at him, the happiest he had seen her—practically ever, really. Still holding fast to his hand, she dragged him from the room, down a beautiful set of winding marble stairs, past paintings and tapestries and furniture that made him reel at the luxury of it all.
“How do you know the way so well, Vessie?” he asked, amused.
She just smiled, and let go briefly to motion, and while he didn’t understand exactly it wasn’t hard to guess. “Charming a wizard, huh? Trying to wrap him around your finger?” he teased, and laughed when she stuck her tongue out at him.
Finally they reached a room that seemed to have mostly windows for walls, looking out over a virtual rainbow of flowers, morning sunshine spilling across a table and chairs in the middle of the room—
And the most stunning man he’d ever seen standing off to one side, obviously having been looking at the garden until the door opened. His hair was so pale a blonde it was nearly white, neatly braided back but with a few whispy strands falling in his face. He wasn’t beautiful, precisely, simply…stunning. Sharp and elegant, and wizard eyes that never really seemed to settle on one color. Pale lips that curved in a warm smile as he saw them. He was dressed in blue and green, well-fitted brown breeches, fine shoes with silver buckles.
“Good morning,” Rathe said, and strode over to them. “You look much better this morning, I am glad. How are the glasses?” He took Tyri’s hands, held them, and for some reason that just made Tyri flush all the more.
“Perfect,” he blurted out, then realized how stupid that probably sounded. “Uh—thank you, for everything. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convince Vessie to take that dress off, you did not have to find her something to wear.”
Rathe laughed. “I have half a dozen nieces who constantly demand pretty dresses. There are spades of them in storage, I promise. She is most welcome to them, as she well knows.” He released Tyri’s hands and sketched Vess a bow, then started moving his fingers rapidly, obviously saying something to her.
Vess shook with silent laughter, then her own fingers moved, replying.
“Finger language,” Rathe explained. “I learned it from some islanders I visited years ago, in the east. It’s meant primarily for the deaf, but I thought your sister would find it useful.”
Tyri blinked, looking at how happy she was. “I—you’ve done far too much for us, my lord. I don’t—I could never repay all of this. You did not—”
Rathe laid a finger over his lips, and gave him a crooked smile. Then he turned back to Vessie and said, “I think cook was looking for you. She wanted someone to test her cakes, and tell her if they needed more cream. Why don’t you go see her?”
Vess nodded and darted off, leaving them alone.
Slowly Rathe’s finger slid away. Tyri could still feel it though, and fought an urge to lick his lips.
“As you already know, I don’t listen to anyone but myself, and I like to take charge and make decisions and I expect everyone to do as I say, when I say it,” Rathe said, and looked at him expectantly.
Tyri blinked, and said, “You are rather take charge, yes. But that’s the way it is in the Clan. I bet you know that.”
Rathe smiled faintly—hesitantly, Tyri realized. “So, it doesn’t bother you?”
“Only when I can’t see, and strangers are taking off my clothes without so much as a by your leave,” Tyri replied, then realized he was being rude again. “Sorry.”
“I don’t mind,” Rathe said, and he was driving Tyri crazy with that hesitance, because already he knew that wasn’t in character for Rathe.
Tyri peered up at him. “Is there—is something wrong? If you’re trying to figure out how to tell me to go—”
“Stay!” Rathe burst out, then looked irritated—at himself, Tyri realized. “I would like you to stay. I need a runescribe, and you’ve already shown more mettle than the last twenty I’ve tried to employ. I pay more than Daleus, you know, because I work with summoning. I’m not as glamorous and I am banned from at least three fourths of the ‘respectable’ homes in the city…”
“You…you want me to work for you?” Tyri asked, jaw dropping. “But—you don’t even know, well, anything about me, except that I’m blind and have a little sister and I was kicked out of my clan—”
And it was stupid, to be disappointed over a job offer, and he couldn’t say why he was disappointed exactly—
But no, that wasn’t true. He didn’t really know Rathe yet, but that kindness struck deep, and that beautiful voice deeper, and he treated Vess like she was special, the way she should be treated—
It was stupid and crazy and a hundred other things, but he already liked Rathe and he suspected it wouldn’t be hard to love him at all. But he couldn’t, because he needed the job more than he needed love, and it wasn’t like Rathe would see him that way anyway.
“I like children,” Rathe said. “They like me. Your portfolio was most impressive once it dried out. As I said, you have mettle. I know of no one else who would have handled being blind in a stranger’s house so well, and your sister adores you—that speaks better of you than anything else possibly could. If you want the job, and are willing to be associated with the city disgrace, it is yours. We’ll start with the usual trial basis, to see if you really do want it, of course.”
“I want it,” Tyri said, looking up at him, not caring how much of what he was thinking showed on his face, repeating softly, “I definitely want it.”
Rathe smiled then, soft and satisfied, something Tyri didn’t understand flashing in his eyes. “Good, because if you said no, I was going to order the house locked up until you acceded to my wishes. Eat, then we’ll get you settled, call the tailor, get a spare set of glasses made—”
“It’s necessary,” Rathe cut in, smirking. “We can’t have you unfit for the princess, now can we?”
Tyri rolled his eyes.
Rathe’s smirk turned into a smile, and he reached up, cupping Tyri’s chin in one hand. Then he kissed both his cheeks, firmly, even lingering, or maybe Tyri just thought so. But that something flashed through Rathe’s eyes again as he drew back, and something in his voice made Tyri shiver as he said, “Welcome, runescribe. I believe we’ll get alone famously.”
“Th-thank you, wizard. It—it is my hope that we will,” Tyri replied.
“Oh, we will,” Rathe said, making Tyri shiver again, then released his chin to grasp his wrist and drag him to the breakfast table.