It is Paviara. I am so happy.
Until I realize that she doesn’t recognize me. Not at all. There is no sign in her face that she knows me from a dead boar.
She wonders why I am staring at her. “Is there something wrong, sir?” she asks.
“Don’t you recognize me?” And when she looks puzzled, I say, “It’s Tollon.”
“Tollon,” she says doubtfully. “Tollon.” And then a change comes over her. She looks confused and in pain. She starts crying, and falls to her knees in front of me.
I go to help her, only a sharp voice cuts me off. “Leave her be. We will take care of her.” It’s a hooded figure, presumably a senior priest, who speaks. Comes along with two young female priests. They take Paviara up and away. She’s still sobbing the whole time.
The hooded priest throws back her hood, to disclose the angry visage of Honorable Alencar. And then she doesrecognize me, and her features soften. She shakes her head. “Tollon of Velgard, I might have known. Come with me.” She beckons, and I follow her into a small room. It’s a library. At a gesture, the male priest in the room leaves, and Honorable Alencar invites me to sit down. She gets right to the point. “How do you know that girl?”
“We were lovers once upon a time, learned lady.”
Honorable Alescar gets a tired look on her face. “That would do it.” She shakes her head again. “I figured you would show up here some day, Tollon. I couldn’t understand why else Thessar would send me here, or why he did this to me.” She holds up her hand. It used to have four fingers after she chopped one off. Now it has six. She offers me a wry smile. “They’re both that way. I have to have my gloves custom-made. Small sacrifice when one has already agreed to serve a god for the rest of one’s life. And I’m Mother Alesca now, not learned lady. I retired from teaching when I became a priestess. Officially I’m a demigod, because Thessar specifically sent me here. In theory it means I can order the execution of anyone in Auspulia, just on my say-so.” She chuckles. “It’s a bit more drastic than the whippings I could impose as a teacher. They obey me so readily that I haven’t ordered the death of anyone yet. Nor do I mean to.”
“What is Paviara doing here?”
She nods. “Well, to start, up until now, we didn’t even know her name. Who is she?”
“A poor relation of Earl Haulloran’s. She worked in the Palace Kitchen.”
“And you were lovers,” Mother Alesca reiterates. “Well, we rescued her from some of the king’s soldiers, who had mistreated her just as you might expect. Certainly her mind is broken. She doesn’t remember her name or her past.” She gives me a piercing look. “Your appearance may have dredged up some memories. We will have to talk to her, see what this has done to her. Did you mistreat her?”
“No.” I try to think about how to explain what I know, but the thought of what’s happened to Paviara just shocks me. What did she do wrong? Nothing. And it’s all but destroyed her. She didn’t deserve this. “Lady Gwella used magic to tamper with Paviara back some time ago, and I think damaged her mind. She didn’t like Paviara. She didn’t like me, either. But when I last saw her, Paviara still knew who she was. I’ve been out of the country for several tendays now, so I can’t explain how she ended up in the hands of soldiers.”
“Oh.” Mother Alesca thinks for a moment. “Just what are you doing here, Tollon?”
That’s another question that could have many explanations. So I offer the one that will mean the most to the woman in front of me. “Maybe getting ready to fight a god again.”
“Gods can take care of themselves, Tollon,” she tells me. “Humans aren’t so fortunate. Remember that.”