So, she spoke Krarug’s language. Uluki was full of surprises. Julen tried to imagine the immense orc and diminutive fairy engaged in conversation -- it was difficult not to envision Uluki being blown back against a wall by the sheer force of Krarug’s breath. “Krarug is out front, sparring with another warrior. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to meet all of you.”
Perhaps it was just because Julen harbored a similar secret, but Rollick’s slip didn’t escape him. There were few enough things that Uluki could have done which her husband would be reluctant to mention. Actually, Julen had already assumed that Uluki was magical -- that’s what fairies were, wasn’t it? But now he saw the dangerous situation that her nature put her in. If he’d made the assumption of magic, others would too. It was best that Aorle had brought her here, where she could be safe and momentarily out of sight.
Uluki’s question regarding Aorle confirmed Julen’s suspicions. Of course, anyone would want to know about the man offering them shelter. But something in the way that Uluki chose her words sounded like she was trying to determine if Aorle could be trusted to show compassion and good judgment in the face of a risky revelation. Julen wanted to assure her that, yes, he most certainly could be.
“Since I’ve been with Aorle, I’ve watched him show great kindness. Even towards those who other men might judge to be undeserving of such consideration.” Julen thought of Effie, with her abrasive manner; and Krarug, who Julen himself had unfairly assumed was an enemy; and that poor prostitute they met in the shanty town. “When other men claim the ability to see into the hearts of those they meet, it’s usually an excuse to indulge in their own petty prejudices, to persecute those that they dislike or fear. But Aorle really does see your heart -- it’s all he sees. How you look, where you’re from, none of that matters. If your heart is good, he’ll be good to you.”
Julen glanced sideways at Rosemary, who was once again fussing over the baby. And he decided to risk giving Uluki a hint. “I know that if someone has a secret...something which isn’t their fault, something which they’ve never used to do intentional wrong...he will be most understanding.” That was as specific as Julen dared to be in front of his wife. Later, when he and the fairy had more privacy, he could explain in greater detail.
As it turned out, Julen didn’t have a chance to see if Uluki picked up on the allusion to her magic. Because at that moment, Krarug entered the room, herding five people along in front of him. “There,” he grunted, pointing at Julen. Then, without another word of explanation, the orc turned and departed, leaving the group behind.
There were five of them, all dirty and dressed in the tattered remains of what might have once been clothing. The oldest of them was a man who looked to be in his sixties, his body bent over like a tree branch weighed down by heavy rain, and the youngest was a little girl clutching a headless rag doll. However, neither the oldest nor youngest spoke. Instead, a boy of about fourteen, strong in appearance despite the leanness of his physique, addressed Julen. “You the one who said he had work?”
“Yes,” Julen confirmed. “I’m Julen. Welcome to Lightsword Hall.”
“I’m Ian. That’s my grandpa and my mom.” Ian gestured at the old man and the woman standing beside him. “Grandpa’s past doing any work, and mom’s too sick, but we couldn’t leave them alone. They won’t get in anyone’s way. And me and my brother, we work real good.” This time, Ian pointed to a boy of about ten.
Julen waited, until he realized he was waiting for Aorle to start telling him what needed to be done. Except that Aorle wasn’t here. So Julen would just have to do his best in his friend’s absence. Turning toward his allies, Julen began making suggestions. “Let’s get them settled in first. Rollick, could you take this family to an empty room?” Since Rollick had just come from that part of the mill, Julen assumed the warrior was more familiar with it than he was. “Uluki, maybe you could see if we can do anything to make the mother feel better? There’s clean water in the barrels for them to drink. We already have some food on hand, but it wouldn't hurt to see about getting more.”
Obviously, Julen would have been surprised to learn that Uluki was supposed to be in charge while Aorle away.
“Ian,” Julen called, beckoning the boy over. “Are you a brave lad?”
“Mister, I ain’t scared of nothin’!”
“Good. Just what I wanted to hear. I have an important mission for you. There’s a bakery on the south side of the downtown area, owned by a woman named Effie. I want you to go there and ask if Railtus’s order is ready yet. If it is, bring it back to us here -- if it’s not, I still have some credit with her, so bring back whatever she’s willing to let me buy with that.”
Ian looked disappointed. “That’s it? What’s so scary about talking to some lady baker?”
“Ask me that again after you’ve met Effie.” Shaking his head, Julen gave Ian a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Well, go on, and good luck.”
As he watched the boy depart, Julen got the sense he still wasn’t alone. Since his companions were all busy elsewhere, this puzzled him, until he looked down and saw the little girl standing beside him. “Well hello,” Julen greeted, offering his hand to her. “Let’s get you back to your family.”
“They’re not my family.” The girl sounded indignant that Julen could even think such a thing. “I just met them on the way here. You’re the one I need to talk to. That’s what Kaydee said. Talk to Julen, Julen will help.”
“Kaydee? Who’s Kaydee?”
“Kaydee is my friend. She made this for me.” The girl held up her headless rag doll. “Only, it looked nicer when she first made it.”
Julen, who was familiar with the rambling habits of small children, remained patient. “Do I know Kaydee?”
“She said that she’s your friend, too. She said that she helped you last night and now you’d come help her.”
Abruptly, Julen understood. The girl in the tattered white dress. Remembering the bruises on her face, Julen experienced a surge of panic and urgency. Someone was going to try and hurt her again. He hadn’t been able to protect her before, but by the gods, this time he would. “Where is she? Can you take me to her?”
Nodding, the girl finally accepted his hand, and began pulling him along.
“Julen?” Despite the chaos surrounding the refugee’s arrival, Rosemary still noticed her husband being led away by a little girl. “Julen, what is it? Where are you going?”
“Just a quick errand in the shanty town. I’ll be back in no time.” Briefly ignoring the constant tug on his hand, Julen kissed Rosemary’s cheek. Then he allowed himself to be dragged out of the mill.
If Rosemary hadn’t still been holding the baby, she might have grabbed him, or tried to follow. But as it was, she watched him go with worried eyes.