Chapter 8

Lo’ranan turned away from the door and was surprised to see Anastasia walking toward him from the attached apothecary. She called out, but in front of the building a crowd had gathered to inquire about Trago, and her voice was drowned out by the noise. He jogged to meet her and, still not being able to hear one another above the growing din, led her away from the crowd to the fountain in the middle of the circle.

“Ana, what brings you here?” Lo’ranan asked, still struggling to be heard over the cacophony.

Anastasia opened her hand and revealed a glass bottle containing amber liquid.

“Medicine for mama,” she replied loudly. “Ugh! You’d think those foolish people would have more sense than to make a din with a man so sick inside!” she continued. Setting the vial down on the edge of the fountain, she moved to go back to the crowd to clear them off.

As if on cue, one of the assistants – a large, well built man – emerged from the building and began to disperse the gatherers. At first many resisted, shouting questions about what happened and how Trago came to be injured, but once the impatient orderly took one of them by the scruff of the neck and tossed him down the street, the rest shuffled off themselves.

“Humph!” said Anastasia, returning to sit next to Lo’ranan, who had taken a seat on the edge of the fountain himself. “Serves them right. I swear, the people of this town have no manners.”

“I think the coarse shepherdess should teach them,” said Lo’ranan with a smile.

“Lo’ranan!” Anastasia leaned away and shot an angry look at him. “This isn’t a time for joking! Someone is hurt in there!”

Lo’ranan was visibly taken aback by her chastisement.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I only wanted to lighten the mood.”

“Well maybe when people are suffering the mood deserves to be a bit heavier,” said Anastasia hotly. “Why don’t you have some sympathy for Trago’s pain?”

Lo’ranan’s face flushed red.

“Hey, don’t accuse me of not caring. I was the one who put aside my labors to bring him here – I could have left him to die in the woods and I didn’t.”

“Oh good,” said Anastasia with a roll of her eyes. “You chose not to keep walking past when you happened on a dying man. Most people would have just let him lie.”

Lo’ranan stood up, incensed.

“That’s uncalled for. I did all I could do, excuse me if I don’t see the point in sitting around moping about what happens next.”

“It’s not moping,” Anastasia retorted. “It’s having compassion, and you ought to know the difference.”

“Compassion for what?” said Lo’ranan. “For one more deluded citizen of this forsaken kingdom? For yet another broken person who has to endure it? For one more life that’s struggling because of him?”

He jabbed a finger at the statue of the prince in the center of the fountain.

“There are many suffering in our land, Ana. But I don’t have to carry their burdens, or add them to my own.” Lo’ranan shook his head for emphasis. “I won’t do it.”

“You don’t have to-”

“He’s right, you know.”

Anastasia’s retort was cut off by a new voice.

Together she and Lo’ranan turned to see a man clothed in traveler’s garb who, aside from his loose, torn clothes and a crudely fashioned wooden pipe, was altogether remarkable in appearance. He was tall in stature, standing above most of the men in Xiphos. High cheekbones framed his face, though you could not tell from the front, as his skin was so dark that his face seemed to be altogether in shadow, save for his bold green eyes.

Yet for all this, the most unique feature about the man was his hair. It was brilliant red, and each strand shot straight up from where it was lodged in his scalp. It was kept short – only a few inches – but looking at it one almost got the feeling that no matter how long it became, it would still remain pointed directly toward the sky.

Lo’ranan saw Adalia draw back and fall silent, so he addressed the stranger instead.

“I’m glad you agree,” he nodded. “But what is it I’m right about, exactly, master…?”

The dark stranger puffed momentarily on his pipe.

“Doyle. And for properly placing the blame,” said the man simply. “The blame for this country’s… malaise.”

“You’re saying…”

“It’s his fault, yes,” said Doyle, finishing Lo’ranan’s thought.

Lo’ranan stared at him for a minute, surprised that another shared his opinion. The man paid no mind. He just stared right back, toying with his pipe.

“Okay, so, I know why I think that – but why do you think that?” Lo’ranan said at last, unable to come up with anything else.

“It’s simple,” replied the stranger. “He chose cowardice and deserted his people. It’s no surprise that because of him they have lost their will.”

Anastasia, who had been quiet since the man first spoke, broke her silence with a fury.

“I will not stand around to hear this,” she said loudly. “You both disgust me. You,” she said, pointing at the man, “because the words that flow from your mouth are even more poisonous than the soot which ushers forth from it. And you,” she turned to Lo’ranan, “because of all people you should know better.”

Without another word, she turned on her heels and marched briskly away, down the Southern road.

“Spirited,” muttered the man solemnly. “I’m sure she’ll be a handful.”

Lo’ranan blushed.

“That’s my concern, not yours. Besides, maybe you should keep your opinions to yourself.”

Doyle nodded and puffed once more on his pipe.

“Indeed.”

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