Now that Raulin had his docket for the year, he was expected to spend the next few days planning out all the intricacies.  He would start by tracing the map of eastern Gheny and plotting where each job was located.  He was told to allot an average of two weeks per contract, add travel time, then calculate the likelihood of other trirecs affecting his work, the weather being uncooperative, local festivals impeding his movement, and other things. The timing should be precise, down to the hour, and a full year of mitigated risks.

And painters should always sketch out their work before they begin their work.

Raulin was prolific, as Stavro had admitted. There weren’t many trirecs working who took a full docket and finished them in a year.  It might be a dozen out of the thousands working. The maximum was set at twenty-four in twelve months, which was an unlikely average to attain. It would take at least a week to gather enough information about the schedules of a household in order to find the most opportune time to slip in and do the deed.  Add a few more to get the right accessories, pay off the right people, and wait for the right time, and you had your two weeks.  Any faster would be foolhardy.

Well, foolhardy was where Raulin excelled.  He took stupid risks, got caught, wriggled out of the situation, and got hurt far more frequently than he wanted to, far more than other trirecs.  He had been caught or arrested over a dozen times in last eight years, a remarkable amount.  The only reasons he hadn’t been shipped back to Arvarikor and re-educated was that he had never broken the unmasking rule and that he broke records for speed.  He got jobs completed where others couldn’t.

Most in the organization thought Raulin was extremely ambitious and hoped to one day take on pupils or run a compound like the one he was at.  In fact, his payoff for finishing a few months early was finding a lovely little country and soaking himself in strong booze, good company, and amazing food. Without the weight of the mask on his face, he would almost forget everything he’d done over the previous year.

He planned to do it again, estimating nine and a half months at his normal pace. He’d head north, first to take care of this new contract in Carvek, then spend some time picking the pockets of the lords and ladies of Courmet and Shingden, swing up through Eerie and Quisset, back down around the Great Gheny Bay and parts south, and finally looping over to Genale, where he’d likely spend his vacation on the gray sandy beaches.

All of the information was copied down into a small journal that he had bought when he was in the market with Neshihon. His old one, bound in black leather with a clasp of sapphire, diamonds, and emeralds had been with his effects on the Spirowan. Out of all the clothes, mementos, and letters he’d lost, it was the one thing he actually missed.

While Raulin wrote out his travels, Isken was busy duplicating paperwork and sending out icons. When a contract was taken, the contractee was given a small, metal symbol of Arvarikor, a vertical line with three horizontal bars of decreasing length. If they chose to cancel the contract, they were required to send the icon back within twenty-four hours.

It would take time to reach some of the contractees in the deepest part of southern Gheny. Raulin would check-in with operatives that monitored areas, seeing if the contracts had been canceled and paying small fees if he wished for any additional information. He almost always did. It reduced his time with planning and had stopped him from making some grave mistakes in the past.

All the while Raulin wrote his plans down, he tried to phrase a way of asking Isken which contract was going to pit him against another trirec. In the end, he couldn’t. It was kind enough that he warned him, but since he was in charge of both contracts, he would need to be impartial. He could guess it was almost certainly one of the assassinations. Was it the one in Carvek? No, that was the only one he could probably rule out. Isken wouldn’t have wanted it so badly if he knew it would involve killing a trirec as well as a target.

He decided he had enough money to pay for dinner and a night out before he began his route the next day. He needed to get out of the compound. He was feeling an underscore of dread about this tour. Too much had gone wrong already, from the shipwreck to the situation with Stavro. He felt a sickly sort of indecisiveness about the future and thought leaving the place that pressed his neck to the ground would be best.

Raulin put his mask away in a knapsack as soon as he found a place to safely remove it. He wanted to return to the temple, to see the priestess again, but chided himself. He didn’t know her. He wanted to, but couldn’t. He envied the men and women who could practice a cool detachment from their lovers. He had always felt it was a weakness of his character that he had a poor head when it came to lust, always transforming it into something it couldn’t be. Like so many before, he would need to forget about the priestess and deal with the longing. It would fade in time.

Raulin’s dinner was good, at least. Hanala wasn’t reknown for their culinary arts, like the innovative meals in New Wextif or the masterful dishes of seafood in Riyala, but his supper was hearty and well-made. It was the first meal he’d had that wasn’t the bland fare they served at the compound, a strange bowl of fruit and fish, or from a barrel. He thoroughly enjoyed the small scallops in white gravy over a bed of wild rice. He sopped up his plate with a piece of fresh, crusty bread.

Afterwards, he mingled. Raulin went to a bar and signaled the bartender to make him the strongest water possible. He tipped the man well and the locals weren’t any the wiser that he wasn’t getting drunk with them. He was already pushing it by not wearing his mask; drinking when under a contract was another punishable offense.

Raulin wasn’t after anything specific, just exhanging conversation and getting a feel for the area. He’d been in Gheny, in Hanala, almost three years prior and was curious to see what had changed. Was the monarchy stable and how did the people feel about it? Had anyone explored anything new in the Cold Lands up north or the southern Viyaz Desert? And something that Raulin felt a mild interest in, how were the relations between Gheny and the elves of the Dreelands?

“A standstill,” one man said, drunkenly gesturing with his mug. “They stay there, we stay here.”

“We could take ’em,” another said. “We give every man a weapon and the problem is handled.”

“Naw,” a third man said. “The problem is you can’t find ’em. They hide deep in the forests, places where we don’t go. Anybody who tries to root them out finds themselves turned around or dead. I say let them have it. We have plenty of wood and we don’t need the Cold Lands for anything.”

Noh Amair and Merak had no elves. Tired of warring, they had left the continent a long time ago for lands west. They had thrived in Liyand. Then, about four hundred years ago, it was settled by Noh Amairians, declaring their new land Gheny. The fighting began all over. There was nowhere for the elves to go, so they stayed and fought for their homes. The two sides had reached a pact of non-aggression that had been ongoing for a few decades, the longest time in history it had worked.

“I just came from Anistaf,” Raulin said. “There was a bad drought going on down there. Is Sharka suffering the same fate?”

The first man snorted and laughed. “If anything we have too much rain. We had that real bad storm a few weeks ago that flooded the lower parts of the city. Hit us square on the nose, that one. A few people died.”

“Sorry to hear that,” he said. He swayed a little, drawing his arm slowly into a solemn toast. He’d discovered years ago that you didn’t have to pretend to be the right level of drunk, just enough to show you weren’t sober. “To those we’ve lost.”

“Cheers,” the three men said.

“And the people in Ailetol. Lots of deaths ’cause of Mt. Eruska errupting.”

They lifted their glasses again and clinked. “Awfully strange weather going on. They say in Tektorn that strange weather brings strange creatures.”

“Well, there was that really tall fellow people were talking about,” the second man said. “I think he was a giant or some sort of freakish man.”

“There’s no such thing as giants,” the first man said. “No, I don’t care who told you.”

“I’d believe it,” said the third man. “Sailors have been spotting some kraken and a few massive leviathan.”

“See? Strange things,” the second man said. “Ghosts, too, and dire lupins.”

“Dire lupines,” the first man scoffed.

The conversation devolved into fairy tales and campfire stories. Raulin bought a round for everyone before leaving. He’d have to sift through their conversation at some other point and see what was valuable information.

He spent the rest of his evening walking along the sea, having been gripped again by a pensive mood. He was tired of all the thinking he’d done over the last few days, all the turmoil and heartbreak. He had to reach a decision about his future.

It wasn’t much of a choice, really. Either he’d continue doing what he was doing or he’d run away. What would he do? He was a man who had been orphaned at a young age. His life had been spoken for with some training towards an end profession, but that had ended with the death of his family. He didn’t have any skills, or at least the right skills, to run away from the life he had as a trirec

He sat on a wharf and watched the sun set.  He wouldn’t be having these thoughts if he hadn’t had that dream.  Whoever sent it, if it had been sent, certainly knew how to pique his interest.  He pictured the woman from the dream, her dark hair a cloud blocking the sun.  What had spellbound him the most was that connection they had.  The tone she had used, somewhat playful but concerned with his thoughts, was like a wonderful scent he couldn’t shake.

He loved that woman.  Not then, but even as he sat on the dock.  He knew it was stupid; he hadn’t even met her.  But once he had offered the thought up as a possibility, he knew it was true.  And once he realized that, he knew she would be his wife.

And that was the thought that allowed him to put the dream away.  He’d had loves in the past, women he had made love to, then left, or even a few he had seen for a few weeks or months.  But it always came down to the same problem: even if he told them he was a trirec, he could never ask a woman to marry him.  He could never ask someone to forgive him every time he had to seduce someone else, or wait ten months of the year for him, or learn to hide their children from Arvarikor.  It was far too much.

Raulin stood and made his third promise. He’d have to stop dwelling on that dream. He had nine to ten months of work ahead of him that he needed to focus on or else he’d make mistakes. He had fulfilled his promise to Queyella and he’d continue to take a reduced number of assassinations. With those done, he’d recommit to what he was doing.

He felt better as he walked back to the compound. While he wished to spend the night in a hotel away from the other trirecs, there were some things he knew he couldn’t push. It would be seen as subversive and would only give Stavro ammunition.

He slept the night in the same room on the grounds, the sounds of the city wafting in over the fence. His sleep could be qualified as good, with only one dream that woke him with no memory, just a feeling of making someone disappointed or upset. His morning ritual was the same as the previous two days. He helped Isken file contracts while he waited until noon for the first deadline. When his new clothing arrived and he received no notice, he packed everything in his large knapsack and left with only a goodbye to Isken.

After the expense of his bounty, new clothes and supplies, and his tribute to Queyella, his funds were dwindling to worrisome levels. He had left Arouk with over a thousand gold in beads. Now, he was down to just a few hundred. Instead of renting a carriage or buying a horse, Raulin hitched a ride for a few miles, but mostly walked north to Carvek.

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