Part Five

"I'm sorry." Crayl slipped up to Kall-Su the next day down in the nearly deserted tap room, his long face somber and a little guilty. "My old master can be -- acerbic. Healing has never been my strong suit, so I swear it never occurred to me that I could be of help to you."

"It doesn't matter." Kall reached past him for the crock of honey the bar maid had sat on the breakfast buffet.

"Ah -- I believe it does. You hold grudges, I think. I just wanted to let you know."

Kall continued to ignore him. Crayl let out a belabored sigh. "He'll do it. Selephio. He's the best among us at singing a mind back to health. We didn't have to tell him even what ailed you. He senses that sort of thing. It comes to him, he says when the music is upon him. He could tell you what ills every listener in the room has when he has the power full upon him. He says Lily has the healing gift too."

"Then I don't need him."

"It took him a lifetime to horn his skill. Lily can't help you like he can."

"I do not wish to be in his debt. I dislike him."

Crayl blinked at him, stupefied. "You would turn down his help -- because you don't care for him?"

Kall shrugged and went to a table.

"That's -- that's just foolish."

"What's foolish?" Thizura came down the steps, a spring to his step, his lute over his shoulder. He paused by the breakfast buffet and picked up a muffin, then sat down across from Kall..

"Nothing." Crayl glared at him.

"Has Lily abandoned you again, Kall-Su?" Thizura grinned at him. "She doesn't deserve you."

"Don't you have something to do, Thizura? Somewhere to perform? Somebody to seduce?" Crayl inquired.

"Well, yes, now that mention it. And I'm trying, but you're interrupting me."

Crayl stared at him, Kall-Su did. The little harper pouted, then shrugged, pocketing his muffin and hopping up. He sauntered from the tap room with a lazy smile.

"Well, don't accuse me of not knowing when I'm not wanted." He tossed over his shoulder, then he was gone and Crayl bent down to fix Kall with his gaze again.

"If you get over your pique, come see me. I'll tell Lily."

Kall opened his mouth to tell him not to bother, but Crayl was already walking out the door. Lily wouldn't hold the same view of it as he did. To Lily, honor was not a priority. She had no use for it when it came down to plain practicality. It was a failing that women seemed to possess, having little or no regards for a man's sense of honor.

"You not serious?" Lily said, in her soft, calm voice. Her great dark eyes held a hint of disbelief. She made Kall-Su feel somewhat foolish. She never raised her voice or resorted to argument or scorn to do it. All she had to do was let her silence's stretch, let her eloquent eyes convey her disappointment, trial her tapered nails in circles over the back of her hand in a reserved token of frustration. It always caught him off guard, her subtle methods of pressing her points. The few women who he was used to hearing argue -- and there were relatively few who would dare to do it in his presence -- tended to be a bit more vocally and sometimes physically, volatile. Yoko could raise the dead with her tirades and Arshes Nei tended to litter fields with them.

Lily just quietly and mournfully looked at him, her warm shoulder pressed next to his on the bench they shared. They were sitting at an outside table, under a colorful canopy, the smells of roasting pork and seasoned vegetables swimming through the air. There was a violinist weaving through the tables of fair goers, casting an alluring melody over the evening air.

"Its not like there's anything to it." He said in defense. "I hold little faith in this talent. Nothing so imprecise can ever be of great use."

She picked at her plate, without uttering a word. Her hair fell over her face, so that only the tip of her nose and her lips were visible.

"This business of wishing for a thing and having some spirit attracted by the lure of the music fulfill it is just --- just not possible."

"You would know, I suppose." She said meekly, not evidencing the least bit of sarcasm. He searched for it in her tone and came away more miffed that it wasn't there, than he would have had it been.

He sat chewing the inside of his lip while she shifted the contents of her plate. The violinist came up behind them, and Kall glared him away.

"I did not claim to know everything about it. It's merely that I don't trust the grandeur of their claims."

"It didn't sound very grand to me." She said softly. "They don't even always accept payment for what they do. I would think a grandiose sorcerer would at least want a little gold. My last master -- well the one before Him -- he wasn't a very good wizard, but he always requested payment. You got paid, didn't you?"

"I did not!!" His eyes blazed in indignation that she put him on the level of a hedge witch.

"Oh. Well where did you get all your gold and your city and all of that?" Again, she held no note of accusation in her voice, merely concerned curiosity, as if she'd entertained a wrong notion and dearly wanted him to correct it.

"Spoils of war." He started, then frowned, because of course the war in question had been a sorcerous one and all he'd gained had been due to sorcery, so one had to admit that in point of fact everything he owned had in fact been the result of him using his magic.

She pushed back her hair to look at him. A blush stained his cheeks and he swallowed a gulp of wine to cover it. Thank the gods they hardly ever disagreed, for her talent of routing him would be envied by a great deal of his enemies.

"I detest that old man." He finally admitted, and he hated, absolutely loathed, the plaintive whine he heard in his tone. "There is a limit to the insults I will tolerate."

"Oh, my love, he's a cranky old man. You tolerate worse from that silver haired serpent of Yoko's."

"That is entirely different." He declared.

She sighed, brushing his hand with her fingers. "I know. I've no right to pressure you. Forgive me."

She looked at him expectantly. He took a breath and surrendered.

"All right. I'll go. What harm in it, after all? The only thing to loose is my patience."

She leaned forward and kissed him in a serious manner, embarrassing in such a public place. She pressed her thigh against his under the table invitingly. "But not tonight, humm?" she breathed against his mouth.

As enticing a thought as it was, his conviction was watery enough not to let a night go by where he might reconsider it and change his mind.

"Better to do it now. It might never happen, otherwise."

The old minstrel was playing for a group of avid youngsters, his craggy face lit by the flickering flames of a small bonfire. He saw Kall-Su and Lily as soon as they walked through the darkness and stood at the edge of his young audience. He finished the song and sat his lute aside. With a groan and a creaking of old knees he rose and another harper took his place.

"Swallowed your pride, have you boy?"

"Don't call me that." Kall said coldly, lifting his chin. "I am most assuredly not."

"Hah. I've seen lads out of the nursery hardly looking older than you. Besides, how do you know how old I really am? Hummm?"

"I'm sure I don't care."

Selephio laughed. Lily frowned at the both of them.

"I've decided what I want." The old man said.

Kall blinked at him. "I thought you did not accept payment?"

"From the likes of you? For the scope of what I might do for you? Oh, I think payment will be most necessary."

"In advance, I assume?" Kall inquired with an arched brow.

"No. What I want can't be accomplished that quickly. Or maybe it can, depends on how long it takes for my wishsinging to work, doesn't it?"

"What do you want?"

"A hall."

"A hall?"

"A bard's hall. A school. A haven. A place to gather, a place to shelter our kind who have always wondered. Build it in your cold, dreary city and bring a little life to the gray place. But cede it to us as a guild hall and for as long as you live, protect it."

For a moment, all Kall could do was stare. The hall itself was not so grand a request, but the vow of lifelong protection --? That might be considerably longer than Selephio guessed. Or it might not be. The old man seemed privy to a great many secrets. A talent that harpers possessed, he thought.

"Is that all?" he almost laughed.

Selephio shrugged, a slight smile crossing his lips. "Its enough, I believe."

"You think your talents can earn it?"

"All we can do is try and see. Stranger things have happened, haven't they?"

Interlude's End