“This is a nice little place you’ve found yourselves,” Collins said as they entered Jolene’s inn.
Tomas nodded. “We certainly like it.”
“Not that we have much to compare it to…” Kari said as she sat at the bar.
Tomas smiled. “I suppose that’s true.” To the young man behind the bar, he said, “Vin, right?”
When he nodded, Tomas continued. “Is there anything left from dinner? We missed the meal, but we’re plenty hungry.”
“Let me check.” Vin looked at Collins. “Anything for you?”
“No thank you,” Collins said.
Vin nodded briefly and disappeared through the kitchen door.
In a sudden gesture, Collins brought the heel of his hand to his forehead, making an audible smack. “How could I forget?! We could have fed you back at the academy!”
“Opposite the wing I showed your landlady is another that’s all accommodations. It’s rare that all the rooms are ever full. Which actually gives me an idea: if you’re interested in my help, it may not be the most efficient for you to continue to stay here. We have accommodations at the academy, which I’m sure I could convince the Mabwana to let you use free of charge.
“Hm, perhaps I’d need Alo’s input to convince them this is serious…
“In any event, I’ll need a day or two to set that up. That is—assuming you’re on board.”
Kari and Tomas exchanged a glance.
“Thank you, Collins,” he began, “but we’re not sure of anything yet. Everything you’re saying sounds good even though I have a whole heap of questions.”
Collins brightened up a bit at that.
“We just need to talk before doing anything else,” Tomas finished.
Collins nodded thoughtfully. Vin returned with two plates, each loaded with meat, potatoes, and some greens Tomas didn’t recognize. Kari and Tomas dug in.
After a quiet moment, Collins said, “It’s a big world out there. I do understand. Take your time. I’ll be back once the Mabwana decide how we can help you. I’m certain they’ll see the importance of your case; don’t you worry. In the meantime, I’ll be able to find you here?”
Tomas glanced at Kari as he shrugged and nodded. “We don’t really have anywhere else to go. Perhaps we’d go exploring, but we’d always come back here. And we’ll keep whoever’s at the bar informed too.”
“Splendid!” Collins stood up from his stool. “I’ll be back as soon as possible with the good news. This really is a lovely little spot you’ve found; I daresay I’d be back even if I didn’t have you to draw me.” With a nod of thanks to Vin, he stepped away, leaving Kari and Tomas to finish their meals.
They did so in silence. It was not the terse silence that brews between two people trapped together with nothing in common; it was the tranquil silence of friends who know they have each other. Once their plates were empty, they thanked Vin and headed up to their room.
“So what do you think?” Tomas asked Kari when they were settled on their beds.
“Do we have an option?”
“There’s always an option, but your point stands. Have we already learned anything that’ll tell us a good place to go?”
“Where’d they say the Wheat comes from? That’s an option.”
Tomas nodded. “Villesav. But when we got there, we’d be in the same situation as we were before meeting Collins—and further from Home too.”
Kari nodded, her brow furrowed. It was quiet for a moment, then she said, “Do you trust him?”
Tomas thought about that. “I think I want to, Kari. You saw how he talked about the redcapes. And he brought us right in that guarded door without a second thought.”
“Those weren’t exactly guards, Tom.”
“True, true.” He shrugged. “I think it’d be foolish not to at least ask him more questions. He’s certainly better informed than Jolene…”
“That’s part of what scares me.” A big, sudden yawn siezed her.
“Puts me on edge too, Ri. We have time, though, before Collins will be back, so let’s think on it and see how we feel. Hmm, it’ll be kinda nice to be making progress passively, won’t it?”
Kari was already under her blankets. “Mmhmmm,” she said, beginning to drift off.
Tomas smiled fondly. “Good night, Kari.”
The only answer was heavy, peaceful breathing.
Still smiling, Tomas began to root around in his pack for his notebook. It took a few more minutes of searching after finding it to fish out a pencil. Settling back onto his bed, notebook resting on his bent knees, he began to write down the things that had happened since entering Vacen.
Part 2: What Next?
It’s not up yet, but the next part will be linked down here. →