At the city gates, with a short but touching good-bye, Vladislava let the chargas go. Kangassk had to hold back tears as he watched the clever beasts run away, back to their human “father”. During the short journey, the chargas were everything one would look for in a true friend. If they had stayed true to their contract, they would have left the travellers long ago, in Shamarkash. Instead, they chose to see their human companions to the city; they cared.
With the chargas gone, the heavy backpacks were on the travellers’ shoulders again. Sereg took Vlada’s, despite her protests, and now carried it by one strap like it weighed nothing at all. No one offered Kangassk the same help, so he had to carry his backpack on his own shoulders, scolding himself for packing so much junk, most of which he had never needed during the journey.
Handel met the travellers with indifference. It was a small city: three rings of houses around the spacious market square in the centre, and a tall rampart for protection. This settlement had grown around an ancient marketplace and the market had been the centre of things there ever since.
The newest traders - Astrakh’s team - walked the streets of their first trading city with immense pride. They felt victorious and, no doubt, already imagined themselves telling the story of their epic adventure to their relatives back home. Put into a story, the group of ragged bandits become a fearsome horde, their evil mage turned into a bloodthirsty monster, and the good mages that stood against him were so heroic the storytellers themselves froze in awe! All the story lacked now were proper listeners.
Nemaan hobbled alongside Kangassk, the mage’s cheeks crimson red with shame. In daylight, there could be no more doubts about the origins of his robe: indeed, it was a pretty dress. Kan could have gloated at the defeated and humiliated enemy but he didn’t; shame was too familiar a feeling for the Kuldaganian freak...
“Vlada, can we let him go now?” he asked, his hand on the young mage’s shoulder.
“Yeah, sure…” she answered, distracted, her attention being somewhere else at the time.
Kangassk led Nemaan aside and handed him the thin purse he carried in his pocket since leaving Aren-Castell.
“Here, buy yourself some clothes and food… It’s not much but should do,” he told the mage shyly. “Go. You’re free now.”
Nemaan raised his hands and rubbed his wrists where the invisible handcuffs still were. He didn’t feel being free. But Kangassk’s gift did touch his feelings.
“Thanks, man,” he said and added after a brief pause: “You know, I didn’t lie about your potential. I can see such things without any magic. I’ve had the gift since I was little… Farewell.”
He turned into a shady alley several steps away and ran. Judging by the confidence with which he navigated the streets, that guy knew Handel very well, maybe even had a hideout there. That meant he would be fine.
“There you are, Kangassk,” said Vladislava as she came by. “Sereg went with the traders, I asked him to introduce the kids to the Traders’ Guild. Let’s chat a bit while he’s at it… So, what’s your surname? Sorry, it must've slipped from my memory.”
“I’m Del-Emer, just like everyone in Aren-Castell,” Kangassk shrugged. “My mother’s decision. She wanted to help me blend in.”
“Kangassk Del-Emer,” Vlada repeated, “sounds beautiful.”
“You know where Nemaan got me back then?” Kan decided to confess. “He guessed my name and my surname. I immediately thought ‘Wow! A real mage!’ and fell into his trap like a fool… Tell me, why didn’t you just learn my surname with your magic as well? We’re not in the No Man’s Land anymore.”
“It’s a very simple spell, Nuntius, that he used,” Vlada leaned against the wall and crossed her arms on her chest. “I don’t like it. It allows you to learn something the other person might not want to tell you. It’s like reading someone’s letters without permission, not nice, don’t you think? Especially when it’s so easy just to ask. See, I asked and you answered. No need for magic tricks.”
Kangassk gave her an ironic half-smile. He felt even more like a fool now but the feeling was good.