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Before I can even say hi, Zelin says, “Interesting.” Interesting?? “Come with me.” So I do.

She takes me back to that narrow alley. Just inside, partly shielded by a pile of crates and a burn barrel, I see someone whose feet stick out into the alley. It’s Fenric. He’s sleeping.

“You have that dispel magic spell, don’t you?” she asks. “It’s a two-word spell.”

“No,” I say. “I did get a new two word spell, but I needed something to attack with. Um,” and I get down on my knees in front of the sleeping thief, “we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.” I start slapping him, alternating with poking.

“He’s coming around,” says Zelin after a minute.

“You don’t want to stop till he’s all the way awake,” I say. “Besides, this is fun.”

“Stop, stop,” says Fenric, finally raising his hands to get in my way.

“Okay, good,” says Zelin. “Let’s get this person up to my flat.”

So we do. Waking someone from a magical sleep, even a one-word sleep, by slapping them leaves them groggy for a while, but somehow we get the person and his legs to cooperate. Once we’re in her place and we have him between us on a bench, and once Zelin applies her usual first aid of blowing smoke in his face, Fenric comes all the way around.

“Don’t tell me,” I say, “let me guess. Barb.”

“What? Yeah,” he says. “She’s alive and kicking.”

“Where were you?” asks Zelin.

“I was under the window. Sort of trying to figure the best way up. She said her spell, I turned and saw her, and I fell asleep right there. You must’ve moved me a little before you woke me up.”

“Yes,” says Zelin, “I dragged you to a hiding spot.”

“You’re stronger than you look, elf maid.”

“You’re lighter than you look, gay human.”

“And you resisted better than you think,” I say, “because you actually did turn and see her, and you actually did remember.” He sort of smiles, shyly (him?), as if flattered. “So what do you remember?”

“Heard the word, saw her face, fell asleep.”

Zelin and I look at each other across Fenric. “All right,” Zelin says, “what do we know and what do we surmise?”

“I surmise,” says Fenric, “that it’s harder than heck to get you stoned. Can we make some tea? My mouth’s on the dry side.”

Zelin gets that little smile of hers. “It’s too early for wine?”

“Way too early,” I say. “You have fire in the stove?”

“All winter long,” she says, getting up. We leave Fen to rest a bit more, and I put water in the kettle and get it heating on the wood stove while she fills her tea ball with some complicated sort of tea. It has orange peels in it, among other things. The cat comes down from the loft and requests something, and Zelin finds a piece of dried meat to toss her. In a few minutes, we’re sitting on the biggest space of floor she has, under the bed in the loft, sipping hot tea and passing another of her many pipes. “So,” she says, holding it in, “what do we know?”

“Barb and Yanos both came back out of Valen,” I say, “and they’re up to something.”

“That last part is surmise,” says Fenric. He looks at the bowl. “This is very nice stuff, even for you, Z,” he judges.

“Don’t just look at it, smoke it,” she says. “All right, we know they look like they’re up to something. He’s hiding out. You talked to him, right?”

I take my hit, pass it back to Zelin, and nod. I hold up my finger for a moment, then say, “He told me the following. One: he got chased by goblins. I kind of believe that. Two: he was with you, Zelin, and you both got wounded, so he had to take care of you. I know that’s a lie, because while he showed me his wound, it didn’t look like an arrow, it looked like a sword stab, and you didn’t get wounded at all. Did you?”

“Indeed not,” says Zelin, giving her cat a space in her lap.

“Three, he said he doesn’t know where the Lapis Circlet is, and four, he doesn’t care about it anymore. I don’t believe Four, and so the trend seems to go against believing Three either.”

“In other words,” says Fenric, “you think he has the Circlet.”

“And Barb’s in with him on it.”

“Yes,” says Zelin, “this is what I feared as well. Yanos was always about the Circlet, and I never did know why; it’s not supposed to have any great powers, not ones that one could use easily. I’m sorry. Didn’t we know that?”

“He told us,” I say, “that it belonged to the Priestess of the Hill People or something.”

“That’s what they say.”

“Well, did it?”

She sort of shrugs and smiles her tiny smile. “I wouldn’t believe most of what people say about it.”

“Then why do we even want it?” Fenric asks.

“Oh,” I say, “this from you, who wanted to go down and grab the Lapis Circlet from Day One. What were you going to do with it? Even if there ever was a Priestess of the Hills to give it back to? Seduce her with it?”

“I was going to sell it,” he says, like mine was the stupidest question ever, which it possibly was.

“Well, you can still do that.”

“Sure,” says Fenric, “if that bastard Yanos hasn’t sold it yet.”

“Did he say anything else to you?” asks Zelin. “It seems as if your part in this cooperative effort was a trifle more productive than Master Fenric’s.”

“Miss Daisy is generally a trifle more productive than Master Fenric,” says Fenric.

“Yes, now you mention it. He said he was hiding out from us, meaning like you and me and Fen and Jan and Gurth, because there might be some unpleasant and embarrassing conversations. So assuming that’s a lie, he must be hiding from someone else. And I asked him if he thought we could still work together, and he said, basically, sure, baby, and naturally I know that’s a lie. Because I would be trying out my new spell on him way too soon.”

“What’s your new spell?” asks Zelin.

“I got the fire damage spell. I mean, keep it simple, right? Maybe next I should get the dispel spell. I will make sure to consult.” They smile. We all sip our tea. I work up the courage to say, “Do you think you can actually see someone’s soul if you’ve made love with them?”

“I don’t necessarily believe in such a thing as a soul,” says Zelin, “and I doubt our thief does. But yes, I think you can see into someone in that situation, and afterward, you understand them a little bit better, for better or worse.”

We sip some more. “Can I have a show of hands,” I ask, “as to whether one did or did not sleep with Yanos?”

They look at each other. All three of us have our hands up.