“I think there may be something very wrong with the people in this town,” said Alquis. “Maybe it’s the politeness — I can’t quite put my finger on it. We’re outsiders, even if the town sees a lot of pilgrims, they should be,” he paused, looking for a word. “I don’t know, less friendly. Less helpful. I wouldn’t say they should be hostile towards us, just more reserved. Less open.”

He fiddled with a set of pipes in his hands. Esther, who lounged on a pile of cushions nearby, turned lazily in Alquis’s direction and said: “I don’t mind that they’re nice.” She rolled on her side and let her arm flop out in front of her.

“Something happened here,” said Alquis. “Something big — something bad. It happened recently, and no one’s anxious to talk about it. Whatever it was, it must have affected the whole town. It’s like when you make some kind of mistake, and everyone knows it, but no one wants to say anything about it because everyone just wants the problem to–” he drew out the last word, “disappear.”

“Are we still talking about the townsfolk?” asked Esther.

“Yes, why?”

“It started to sound like you were talking about a personal experience or something. You know, something you did, not something someone else did. You know?”

Alquis set down the pipes before the urge to throw them at Esther could overwhelm him. “You haven’t actually paid attention to the people here, have you?”

“Sure I have, they’re just nice — and you’re over-analytical.”

“You don’t think the Order sent us out here for a reason?”

“Oh,” she said, stretching, and she yawned. She turned on her side so she could face Alquis. “I’m sure they have their reasons — you always have your reasons. I’m just not sure they’re good reasons.” She added: “Or even necessary.” She yawned again.

Alquis leaned forward, and said spoke in a low tone. “This morning, I went to get a hot meal from that eatery just in town, and one of the locals approached me with a couple of relics for sale. I doubt he was from the temple, and I’m sure they were genuine.”

Esther covered her mouth with her hand and gasped melodramatically, opening her eyes wide to enhance the effect. Alquis glared at her, and she lowered her hand. A long moment passed, where neither spoke.

She rolled on her back. “So, did you buy the relics?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“No, I had nothing to give him in exchange, and he was asking a lot for them.”

“You could have made a deal, or something. Made a promise, I don’t know.”

“I could have given him you.”

She snorted loudly. “Ha! I doubt he could handle me.” She rolled back on her side to look Alquis in the eyes. “You could have just killed him and taken them.”

“I don’t think the locals would have been happy about that.”

“Well, if he’d stolen the relics from a temple, you could have offered to return them to their rightful place. There might even be a reward!”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Esther shrugged. “I don’t know. Not everyone can be as clever as I am.”

“I think the word you’re looking for is opportunistic.”

“Whichever,” she said.