Raulin began the next day with his exercises, his morning tea, and breakfast of rice and eggs with sausage. He bathed, dressed, shaved, and found Isken in his corner office near the regular quarters.
Isken Fren was the dorong-hi-leus. While he did answer the gate, greet potential contractees, and deliver messages and parcels inside the compound, his title meant “master of contracts”. His small office was filled with piles of papers stuffed into wooden bookcases, chairs and his desk. He also had dozens of pay slips clipped to a thin chain and a safe behind his desk to keep the payments, which were due in full and upfront.
Raulin knocked lightly before taking the seat in front of Isken’s desk. “Raulin, it is good to see you,” he said, putting down the pages he was organizing. “I expect you’ll be taking a few of these off my hands.”
“That was the plan. A full docket, if it works out that way.”
Isken passed him a heavy board with metallic grips on either side. “There are so few of us that are able to do that, you know.”
“It’s because I buy spells from piscarins wholesale,” he said. “They usually throw in a free location spell if you buy ten.”
Isken laughed. “That’s a wonderful bargain! I’ll have to look into it myself.”
“Me being so tall also helps. I’m able to get the hard-to-reach items on the top shelves better than most.”
“Yes, I’m sure it’s because you’re so tall,” he said and gave him a conspiratory look. “Try these first.”
Raulin took the bundle of papers and clipped them on the left side of the board. He began leafing through the papers, starting with the most recent, and putting those he weeded out back on the desk. Many had stipulations and expiration dates that immediately disqualified them. He pulled a page out and handed it to Isken. “They’ll be after their money soon. That expired three days ago.”
Isken looked at the page, holding it up in front of him, then tipping his head. “Ah, I often forget that Ghenians write the month first, especially when the numbers swap easily. I thought this was for July sixth, not June seventh.”
“Easy enough mistake. I’ll pull anything else out that’s gone by.”
“Thank you, Raulin! I do appreciate a man with a fine eye and a generous hand.”
The bell in the front rang and Isken left to speak to person while Raulin continued. Some of the contracts people took out were ridiculous. Kill this man on this particular night with this particular knife while you scream this particular phrase. Steal a statue that’s mounted to the ground. There were no less than eight contracts for King Taneus and another dozen for members of his immediate family, the Rachents. Even if they had a trirec skilled enough to kill the king, the organization would never allow it. They thought carefully about the ramifications of high profile assassinations.
Still, amongst papers filled with angry scribbles and possibly cultist rituals, Raulin managed to find about thirty contracts that were viable. He removed the assassinations and was left with twenty, then chose four of the discarded ones carefully. Normally he didn’t pay attention to the ‘reasons’ portion for the contract; they were either left blank or filled with dramatic embellishments on what the person had done to the contractee, what a vile character they were, and several colorful phrases about the person’s mother. This time, thought, it was important for Raulin to be picky and choose people the world might not be so sad to lose.
Isken returned after a half hour and placed the fresh contract under a paperweight on top of a bookshelf. “Did you find any others?”
“I did,” Raulin said, handing him the contracts he found. “The full moon was a week ago and the Spring Festival was done at the end of May.”
“Oh,” he said, looking them over quickly. “Is it a miartha thing to be so confusing about things?”
“I suppose,” he replied. He was going to respond more in depth when Stavro, an older trivren with an unfortunately childish Merakian name, entered the office. The two trirecs straightened their backs and put their arms to their sides in deference to the older ex-trirec. He nodded to Isken and Raulin as he sat down in the remaining seat in the corner.
Stavro was something of an anomaly. He was old by Merakian standards, which were longer than your average trirec. For a trivren to have white hair was almost unheard of. His braided hair almost reached his knees, meaning he hadn’t had the need to cut his hair in a very long time.
His face was covered in what Merakian’s called ‘elder’s blight’. The older one got, the thicker, redder, and spongier the skin on the face became. It had consumed Stavro’s so that his black, right eye was squashed up by his skin, making it appear that he was sneering constantly. Raulin looked back at his paperwork quickly.
“I was curious as to how your docket list was going, Kemor,” he said.
“It’s going well, master,” Raulin said, handing the board to the trivren.
The man rifled through, his fingers dancing over the corners. Blue, red, and green marks flitted past. The man frowned when he got to the end. “Such a low number of assassinations. Four? Why so few?”
He thought about his words carefully. “Master, while I was adrift after the shipwreck, I thought long and hard about my place with Arvarikor. I think it’s not boasting to say that I do well.”
“I will agree with that statement. You’ve finished a full docket three times in a row. You are certainly prolific.”
“Thank you, master. I figured that, since I’m in a place where I can gain access more easily than most of my brothers and sisters, that I should let them handle the contracts that don’t rely on blending in as much.”
“That sounds like a decision a trivren would make.”
“This is true, master. I understand.”
“Do you?” he asked, his tone quickly sharpening. “It’s quite the assumption to make, to think we wouldn’t allocate our people as we thought best. Don’t you think we would have other trirecs take the contracts if it worked best overall?”
Raulin breathed in slowly through his nose. They hadn’t even know he was going to be in Hanala. “I understand there is more information about the organization than I know, master. I always defer to your wisdom. I had intended to let a trivren know of my choices before I took them officially.”
“Which ones are you thinking of passing on? Show me.”
Raulin scanned through the pile of discarded contracts, pulled one out, and handed it to the trivren. “Master, this one is a lucrative offer in Quisset. The target is a business man who owns a spacious manor. No extra requests are listed. This seems like an easy enough thing for any trirec to accomplish.”
Stavro eyed it quickly. “We don’t have many agents in Quisset. You’ll be journeying near there, I’m sure.” He put that contract at the bottom of his pile. “Take that and discard another.”
“Yes, master,” he said. Not only did his killing list increase but he now had to add Quisset on to his journey.
“Where was that contract from the Sun-Moon Guild?” he asked Isken, who pulled out a page with a mark of all three colors in the corner. “I think you should take this one as well. Maybe it would be good in the hands of someone who doesn’t want to kill anymore. Maybe you can accomplish something amazing with this.”
“And where was the one that was just made?”
Isken looked guilty for a moment, then retrieved the sheet from under the paperweight. He handed it to Raulin, who scanned it. “No, master. Not this one. I only refuse one kind of contract and that’s anyone with noble blood.”
The trivren frowned. “Why?”
“I find they’re too difficult to do quickly and they put a lot of pressure on your other work in that area. It would be problematic for me to do multiple jobs in one city if they are looking for a trirec who just killed a prominent member of society. I will be spending quite a bit of time in New Wextif, for example, so if I…”
“Oh, so the prolific Raulin Kemor finds things ‘difficult’ and ‘problematic’ now?” he said, leaning forward on his cane. “I thought you were a ghost that just spirited from job to job.”
He was going to argue further, but Isken cleared his throat before interrupting. “For what it’s worth, counts aren’t noble.”
Raulin looked over at the man. “Counts are equal to earls here in Gheny, no?”
“They are, but counts are always non-hereditary positions in Gheny held by the servility. Counts, Baronets, Lords of the Manor, and Knights of the Realm are non-peerage.”
“Yes,” he said, looking disappointed.
“It still might complicate things if I need to do any spying near Hanala…”
“Raulin Kemor,” Stavro said, his voice stern and with warning, “we have decided it would be in everyone’s best interest if you took this contract. Is there a problem with that?”
“Good,” Stavro said, rising. “I’d hate to see you caned due to your childish behavior.” He had a satisfied look on his face. “I’d like to see your final list before you leave.”
A good half minute after he left, Isken asked under his breath, “What did you do, piss in his bedroll?”
Raulin gave him a crooked smile. “No. Just had the misfortune of being me.” He told Isken of the shipwreck, his rescue, his time amongst the to’ken, and finally of the special treatment he had received.
“Oh, Raulin, I’m sorry to hear that,” Isken said, sounding genuine. “I’m glad you are still with us, even though the cost was great.”
“Thank you. Not everyone thinks as you do. I assume Stavro, perhaps some others, might have gone along with my expedited re-training last night, but they didn’t like it. I have a reputation for receiving special treatment. You remember what happened in Cuesto. I slip by because I take full dockets.”
“You are valuable, Raulin. There’s no doubt to that. I think they should let you do what you do best and leave you alone. It would work out well for all of us if the trivren stopped meddling. Like working together. Just think of what we could accomplish if we could band together to take on some of the harder contracts.”
This was the sort of heretical thinking that Raulin remembered Isken for. He was a man who saw the inner workings of the organization and noted improvements he’d like to make. The fact that he hadn’t been whipped for his mouth meant that he was either careful about who he spoke to or Raulin was the only one to know of his leanings.
“I’d take you with me up to Carvek. I know you wanted that contract.”
He shrugged guiltily. “Yes. It’s all right. They come and go.”
“You know why they don’t, though. I do agree with that rule. It’s best not to grow attached to someone you might have to kill later on.”
Isken sighed. “I still think we shouldn’t take guard jobs. It’s what soldiers are for.”
“Who better to protect a man from a trirec than another trirec?”
“True. I understand, but I don’t agree.” Isken stood up to leave for the midday meal. “I hate seeing people fight and kill each other when they could be brothers.”
“It’s how we are able to make more money. It is at the cost of a life, but I’ve never known Arvarikor to be upset about that. There are plenty of orphans waiting to be plucked for training.”
“They should be more careful about their assets!” he said, then looked quickly outside to see if anyone noticed before continuing more softly. “How many brothers have we lost because one had to fight another?”
“I know. I agree, Isken. It seems a great loss every time a seasoned and skillful trirec dies because he was guarding a man with a contract on his head.”
Isken nodded and stepped through the door, but hesitated. He turned back and met Raulin’s dark blue eyes with his own black ones, holding his attention. “One of the contracts you’re taking is poisoned as such. Be careful.”