Chapter seven

And that more or less ended the serious conversation for the afternoon. Tor and Pak and Aid stayed through the afternoon and to dinner, and into the night, eatin’ and drinkin’ and helpin’ with the cooking and washin’ dishes and even, as the night wore on and we all got more comfortable, laughin’ a little. Aid settled in so comfortably that by the end a’ the night he’d practically disappeared, ears and tail and all. Pak and Mom got on well, as expected, and, somewhat to my surprise, Tor and Dad got along almost as well. A weird thing happened, where Dad’s prejudice and Tor’s bitterness sorta cancelled each other out and they were left talkin’ about silver slingers and werewolf legislation like it was the weather. It was so odd I mostly didn’t join in, just listened.

There was an awkward moment when the party broke up, when Mom and Dad made the assumption that I was stayin’ the night with them and the other three assumed I was going back down to the river, and I had to say I was going back to the river without sayin’ that it was to make sure no one attacked them on the way, but it was, as I say, only a moment, then my parents realized and said good-night and we left. Walkin’ in the dark was easier and we got back without anything happenin’ and stayed up into the morning, and went to bed with only a few dark hours to spare. I left early on Sunday, early for stayin’ up most a’ the night, I mean, so about two o’clock in the afternoon, and headed back to the library.

Chrian weren’t there but Cor was—he was usually in the library. Fortunately I saw him first and slipped behind a bookshelf before he saw me, and managed to find a hidden corner. I didn’t want him fiddlin’ around all afternoon, checkin’ to see whether I was gone yet, specially since I weren’t studyin’ for class.

I’d been carryin’ the book a’ runes around in my pocket since Suora gave it to me, but I hadn’t had a chance to look at it yet, what with work and school and hatin’ my life. I pulled it out now and laid it out, lookin’ only slightly worse for bein’ crammed into my coat all the time, and started studyin’. It was rough goin’. It weren’t like studyin’ a written language—this was a language that was clearly never meant to be spoken at all, and the meanings of the runes were written in the old high tongue which made it harder. Not the ancient tongue—that I wouldn’t a’ been able to read at all.

There were thousands a’ basic runes, and hundreds a’ thousands a’ variations on them, but the book only covered what it called the founding four hundred and seventy-seven, and a ream a’ variations. A dot could change the meaning of a word, a pen stroke in the right place could make a word a sentence, and a second stroke could negate the sentence or, if reversed, reinforce it. I tried to remember the rune the Gambler had written, and decipher it, but either I couldn’t remember it right or I was missin’ somethin’ in the rules a’ translation cause nothin’ I came up with made any sense. I kept at it, though, till well past dinner time, till I got a sense a’ how it was organized, then headed back to the dorm, still avoiding Cor, called my parents—strictly a courtesy call; I never let them demand that I call them to tell them I was safe—and went up to my room.

Chrian was there, sittin’ upright and cross-legged on his bed, readin’ a letter from home. He folded it up and dropped it on his desk when I came in.

“Don’t let me interrupt,” I said.

“You’re not,” he replied quickly. “I was done.”

I threw my coat over my chair and myself onto my bed.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Somethin’s botherin’ you.”

“How can you tell?” Chrian blurted, startled. I grinned.

“It’s a talent I have,” I replied. “Yeh don’t have to tell me if yeh don’t want to, a’ course.”

Chrian shrugged, hesitant and uncomfortable, and asked if I’d eaten.

“Ain’t hungry,” I replied. “You?”

He shook his head.

“Not hungry either.”

“Must be pretty serious,” I remarked and sat up. “It ain’t somethin’ from home, is it? Your parents ain’t in trouble or anything.”

“No,” Chrian replied. “They’re fine—they’re doing better, actually, now that—”

“Now that yeh’re outta the house and they only have to feed two,” I finished for him. “Yeah, it was like that for my parents too. Course they never said it, and I’ve been pullin’ my own weight in the family much as I could since I was old enough to work, but still, it makes a difference. So, it’s a school thing, then.”

“Eastwick wants to see me,” he said. “After class, tomorrow.”

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