Raulin Kemor stretched against the railing of the port beam, holding his hands tightly around the wood while pulling his body back. “That appears to be a brutish storm,” he said to the captain.
The man he addressed stood behind him and to the right, his hands in his coat pockets. Not once in the four and a half weeks of the journey across the Gamik Sea had the captain spoken to him, save the normal curt pleasantries expected in his position. Captain Lagres did his job well, but he was obviously wary of Raulin, as were most of the ship’s crew.
It was probably the mask. It made most people wary.
When Raulin looked back briefly, he saw the captain opening his mouth a few times, his eyes locking with Raulin’s before dropping again. He lit his pipe and relaxed as his gaze moved out beyond the port of the ship at the horizon.
Raulin had been fine with the isolation up to a point. He’d read every book he’d brought with him five times over, gazed at the stars and plotted what he could, and even began whittling a replica of the Spirowan out of driftwood. He couldn’t take it any more. He was starved for action and interaction. He craved a simple conversation. The storm seemed like a good enough ice breaker.
It was quite a distance away, but it stretched on for miles. In the front, the clouds were a calm gray, lightly brushed to the sides and moving slowly. Deep within, blotting out the underside and staining the background, were dark clouds a foreboding shade of charcoal. Lightning flashed in tiny bolts and pops of light in the storm. A typical sights on the sea, though something about it made Raulin uneasy.
After watching it for a few minutes, the captain finally responded. “Aye. I’ve seen few as large in my journeys.”
Raulin almost sighed in relief. “What’s the expression you Westerners use again?” he asked. “Kabidon is fighting with his sister?”
“Aye,” he answered. He moved closer, to stand next to the railing. “My older brother is a priest of Kabidon. If you are interested in our religion, I could tell you all about Askilla and Rayik, if you wanted, sir.”
Raulin already knew the mythology behind the High Twelve in and out, but feigning ignorance would extend the conversation. “Please, I am interested.”
The captain took the pipe out of his mouth and cleared his throat. “Long, long ago, there was only Askilla and Rayik to rule the world and beyond. They were the opposites in everything; light and dark, male and female, sky and ground, hot and cold. For aeons things were in harmony. But, at some point, they made the decision to explore farther, to do more with their lives. The more they discovered and governed in the heavens, the harder it was for them to handle. They decided to split themselves apart into six pieces, each with their own minds, though linked in perspective. They became our pantheon.
“Rayik became the twin gods Kabidon and Magrithon, their sisters Queyella, Iondika, Uvarna, and their brother Kriskin. Akilla divided and became their balances. Beliforn and Aliorna, twins themselves, married Kabidon and Magrithon to cover the heavens, Man’s creations, and his place among them. Queyella, dark and mysterious, is offset by the knowledge and assuredness of Cyurinin. While Miktos seeks to bring men together, his wife Uvarna culls the unjust from the good, law abiding citizens. Skethik is the lord of war and aggression; his wife, Iondika, is the repetition and patience involved with skill. And finally, Kriskin rules over death, but his wife, Zayine, is the goddess of life and bounty.”
“It seems like he taught you well. Thank you for honoring me with his teachings.”
“My pleasure. My brother feels it’s his sworn duty to bring the light of the gods to everyone. I’m sure he’ll be grateful the next time he sees me.” He puffed on his pipe a few times as his crew took up an Aroukean sea chanty, some thinly veiled song that likened the land to their wives and the sea to their mistresses. Raulin knew Aroukean, but their style of singing clipped the words and relied heavily on slang, making it difficult to follow.
Raulin watched the horizon again. The captain leaned next to him, pensive as he stared with him. “Enjoying your voyage so far, sir?”
“Oh, yes. Very much so. The crew has been pleasant, I’ve had no incidences, and I’ll even admit that your cook is one of the finest seafaring chefs I’ve ever had on the seas. It’s amazing what he can do with such simple fare. However, and no offense offered, I’m not a sailor and I will be happy to see land again.”
The captain smiled at this. “None taken, sir. I understand traveling the seas are a requirement for some and a retirement for others. The less seafaring men there are, the more sea there is for me.”
“That’s a great way of looking at things. I like an optimistic man, especially a captain.”
The man nodded his head once in deference. “I find it’s a healthy way of looking at the world. Helps a man find his place.”
There was a lull as the two men looked south again. Raulin could sense the captain wanted to say something, but hesitated several times before he finally asked, “Mind if I ask what your business in Gheny is?”
“I think you can guess what my business is. Or what it will be, when I find it.” The captain’s spine straightened a little. “I should point out that I have no business on the Spirowan. There’s nothing you need to fear.”
The captain let out a long breath. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you seem like a friendly sort of fellow. I’ve never heard of a trirec being so congenial.”
It was Raulin’s turn to give the captain a nod of deference. “Well, not every man is the same. Some gravitate towards social things while others prefer a bookish life. I will admit that many of my brethren are rather tight-lipped.” He shrugged. “I happen to be of a different breed.”
The captain looked hesitant again and puffed on his pipe for a few moments. “I’ve always wanted to meet a trirec, to see what they’re like. Would you mind if I asked a few questions, since I have the opportunity?”
Raulin’s teachers would have told him to chide the man and walk away, to maintain the mystery and threat of the organization. It was considered punishable if they discovered he had spoken of their secrets. There was, however, a way around both that would please the order, should they hear about his loose tongue.
Should he, though? Was it better to give the captain the grapes or the grapefruit? Sometimes it was better to let men believe trirecs were phantoms with mysterious powers. It helped steer the fear the public had into a wary respect that meant a trirec wouldn’t be bothered on the street. However, there were times when it was better to make people comfortable around you. Raulin found that, when used with the right person and the right time, sharing information let you get something in return.
He turned to face the older man, one arm still braced on the railing while the other hung loose at his side. “Go right ahead,” he said.
“You’re certain? I’ve heard rumors about trirecs. If you’re caught staring at a trirec, for instance, he’ll find you in the middle of the night and slit your throat…”
Raulin laughed lightly, to which the captain responded in a similar but more guarded way. “You’re confusing us for bogeymen or spring-heeled jacks. I can assure you that many of your men have been staring at me for weeks and they’re all accounted for, I hope? Besides, why would I want to kill the captain of the ship I’m on? I want to get to Gheny and I’m not exactly sure of the competence of your first mate.”
“He’s good at what he does. I’ve worked with him for six years now. Though,” he said, smiling, “if you plan on killing me, he’s terrible at his job.”
Raulin laughed at his joke. “Good crew, then. I’m glad to hear it.”
“Yes, I’m pleased with my company,” he said. “I was curious about the masks you wear.”
“We are required to ritualistically scar our faces,” he said. “The mask hides our face so that people aren’t frightened of us. It makes walking the streets of cities easier, especially those in Noh Amair and Gheny who aren’t used to seeing it.”
In actuality, the only reason Raulin was wearing his mask on board was due to a gaff by the first mate of the ship. The trirec office in Arouk had sent a trirec down to book passage for Raulin and the first mate had correctly assumed that he was going to be a trirec as well. When he approached the first mate without his mask on, he had luckily caught the mistake in his open log before revealing his name. He’d asked the man about their fees and feigned disgust at the price, then left to put on his mask and return. He wasn’t about to kill the first mate to correct that mistake nor did he want to book passage on another ship. The Spirowan was a large galleon that had comfortable quarters available for passengers and was also sailing for Riyala in Genale. Another opportunity like that wasn’t going to come along for months, so Raulin dealt with the inconvenience.
It was the connection. He could show his face or he could be a trirec, but not both. The punishment for getting caught was severe enough not to risk it.
The captain peered at him, as if he could see Raulin’s skin through the mask. “Really? It sounds like a ghastly procedure. Why would anyone want to do that?”
“I will admit some of the trirecs do not make it through the procedure. Many fall ill to infection or blood fever before they can recover. The reason we go through it at all is because it allows us to be a conduit for magic. We can hide better, move faster, see clearer in the night. Things of that nature.”
“And what of your nature? Are you…are you a man?”
Raulin patted his chest as if he were confused. “I believe so. Why, do you know something I don’t?”
The captain laughed at this, a genuine guffaw with a hint of nervousness. “I’m sorry. It’s a stupid question. I’ve heard tales of trirecs being changelings or the sons of demons. It’s just nonsense.”
“Well, no, not entirely,” he said and the captain stopped laughing. “We take in any and all, so some of us are a bit otherworldly. In Merak there are lots of creatures other than humans. There are spirits who walk the streets chained to masters. There are men who can grow and shrink at will. There are those who are very tiny, no taller than your knee.”
“Why haven’t I seen one?”
“Well, they are more common in Merak. A trirec that was winged or had horns would be a bit conspicuous in the West.”
“Ah, yes, this is true. I suppose you could finger one of them as a trirec easily.”
“We are good at blending in besides. If any of my differently raced brothers made their way to Gheny, you wouldn’t see them.”
The captain seemed to believe this nonsense and stared out at the storm again. “This talk of tales and religion makes me yearn for my home. What of you, sir? Where do stay when you’re not working? Where is your family?”
He gave a dramatic sigh. “My parents sold me to the trirecs when I was four, to pay off their debts. They are my brothers now and Merak is my home.” He was surprised to find talking about his family brought no pain that time. Usually it was difficult, even after all those years.
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir. My family is a treasure to me. My parents are long gone, but I do visit my brother when I can. My wife and children are back home in Kitstuar. That’s on the western coast of Noh Amair.”
“In between Arvonne and Arouk, if I remember correctly.”
“Aye, sir. That is where it is. That is my home.” He sighed heavily with such emotion that Raulin looked over at him. “I don’t suppose those scars of yours makes your fingers nimble. Are you good with tying knots?”
“Alas, I’m terrible at it. I have clumsy fingers or else my family would have kept me. They were rug weavers.”
“Mmm. That’s too bad. I may need you later tonight, nimble fingers or not. Until then, I suggest you get as much sleep as you can. That storm may look far away, but I guarantee you we won’t outrun it. And when it hits, I’ll pray to Queyella, but I’ll still call for all hands on deck.”