Zavi woke up. He was stiff and sore, lying face down on hard, wooden floor for undoubtedly longer than he would wish. When he tried to get up he found his hands and feet bound. Oh great. He remembered then. Being nice and polite to women is completely useless. If you know what’s good for you you will treat them mean all the time. Murq often said it and he was right.
Neelya regained her consciousness the same night Murq left the inn. Zavi took care of her as he was taught to do with witnesses of magic, no matter what gender, skin colour or age. No unnecessary cruelty, kill them with your kindness, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, do as you would like to be done by, blah blah blah. He brought her food and water, sometimes chatted with her, even sent a maid to change her sheets, wash her and empty her chamber pot. His attention was very welcome – it earned him even a gracious ‘thank you’. He never touched or kissed her, behaving all the time like a perfect nobleman. Neelya always greeted him with a radiant smile – maybe because he was handsome, maybe because, being half- Thavosi, he spoke her mother tongue fluently. Zavi told her he had saved her life fighting bravely in her defence and many other nice falsehoods. It was a white lie, wasn’t it? She kept smiling so he continued his made-up story in a gentle, quiet voice, a voice people compared so often to mulled wine or smooth silk or warm, spiced mead. Any story seemed probable and beautiful if somebody was telling it with such a voice. Neelya beamed, nodding all the time, but her eyes glittered dangerously. He should have known something was wrong.
When he knocked and entered her room the third day, with a tray laden with scrumptious breakfast (‘her last breakfast’ he thought, ‘it must be extra good’) , all of a sudden he felt blinding pain on the back of his head and then saw no more. He didn’t know how long he was out but when he became conscious again he found himself Neelya’s prisoner. Stupid, stupid girl – she wasn’t aware that her action couldn’t change anything. It could only make things worse. However, temporarily, she managed to make things worse for him. She started to shout. Typical.
She accused him of lying to her through his teeth, called him names he hasn’t heard from a very long time, gave him a whack or two with her own belt (a sturdy piece of leather) and then shouted some more. One sentence caught his attention: she said she was gifted, a gifted royal archer-guard or something like that, a high-born lady and the relative of the king so how he dared to abduct her and touch her at all with his filthy paws…
Gifted… that’s why she knew he had lied to him, unaffected by his charming voice…that’s why…
He couldn’t even start to explain the gravity of this piece of news, providing he would outshout her of course, when the door opened. A man in a long black cloak entered the room. Neelya, as surprised as Zavi, gaped at the newcomer in a most un-ladylike manner. The stranger’s eyes swept the room quickly, taking in the weird scene before him in a second and then he said :
– Untie him, girl. Right now.
His voice was raspy and strong. Neelya did as she was ordered without one word of protest. ‘That’s the power of a black cloak and the ordering charm’, thought Zavi, ‘I must purchase the cloak as soon as…’
– Stand up, young man. Are you master Zaviroc of Nar, an independent mage ?
– Yes, sir, that’s me.
– Tell me is this young woman your witness of magic ?
– Yes but…
– Girl, move to the corner over there and stand still.
Neelya positioned herself as she was told in complete silence, like an automaton. A funny expression was frozen on her flushed face, something between surprise, abhorrence and stubbornness.
– Master Zaviroc come nearer me and grab my cloak.
– No, please, let me explain, sir, please, just a few words…
– No time for that young man. Do you think I have a whole hour to deal with you? Do as you are told or you can join the girl.
– No, please, the circumstances changed, you have to listen to me…
– How did they change?
Zaviroc gathered his thoughts and said quickly with more swagger, emulating Murq as well as he could:
– I’ve just found out that my witness is gifted. I couldn’t lie to her for starters – she was able to recognize the falsehood in my voice. She is a future mage. I claim her as my apprentice and I intend to present her before the High Council for registration as soon as possible. Your mission is thereby aborted.
– I see…incredible coincidence but it happens. What’s her name ?
The cloaked man closed his eyes and concentrated hard. Then he said:
– Neelya, you are free.
Neelya returned to life with a horrible shriek, worth ten hags and twelve angry cats kept together in a very tight bag.
– YOU MONSTERS, YOU SCUM, LEAVE ME BE OR YOU’LL BE CURSING THE DAY YOU WERE BORN! HOW DARE YOU TO…
– Neelya, please…
– SHUT UP YOU LYING SON OF A MANGY DOG AND AN OVERSIZED BEDBUG, YOU FILTHY PIECE OF MOUSE DROPPINGS, YOU STINKY FISH MIXED WITH…
– Shut up, girl. – said the cloaked man almost lazily, seeing that Zavi was left speechless.
Neelya went quiet instantly although her eyes were still bulging and her mouth – moving. Zavi breathed with relief.
– Thank you, sir. I will be grateful if you’ll let my apprentice stay this way for a quarter of an hour or so until I explain the most important facts and some basic rules to her.
The cloaked man smiled thinly.
– As you wish. Good luck, master Zaviroc. You will need it with such an apprentice. Travel well and get home soon.
– Thank you, sir. Travel well.