Raulin had parted company with the strange man and spent some time strolling throughout the village. There wasn’t too much to be seen. Aside from the docks and the walkways that connected the house boats to the main village, there were only a few other clusters of buildings and the occasional art piece or garden. He gathered that everyone must sleep in their vessels at night and used the town only to trade and connect briefly.
There wasn’t much he could do other than observe. The fleeting eye contact from the to’ken seemed not wary or hostile, but derisive, as if he was an idiot for getting caught in a storm and needing rescue by a child. Those still in their shops sneered at him, even when he spoke Arvonnese politely. The spice merchant seemed the nicest, but she was old and spent most of the conversation squinting her eyes and leaning forward. Likely she thought he was the other human.
Two young to’ken shoved past him and took pinches of different spices from the large seashells the old woman held them in. She smiled a toothless grin and nodded. Each put down a coin that looked like rounded brown shell and took off without saying anything. Realizing he had no currency, in money and respect, Raulin headed back to the village center.
Raulin found Neshihon and every other to’ken in line waiting for their food already. When he apologized for being late, Neshihon shrugged. “Early or late, you will wait until I am finished before eating.”
Raulin saw that everyone in line had their own spoons, bowls, and cups. “Where do I get my own?”
Neshihon laughed. “You will use mine when I am finished. You do not own anything while you are here; you are owned. You eat and drink by my grace. Remember this.”
He had to wait an agonizing half-hour while Neshihon took his time, speaking with his friends on the edge of a dock. Finally, he washed his utensils in the sea and handed them to a starving Raulin.
The drink was beer. He would have to hope that there were no trirecs around to report him for breaking the alcohol taboo. Dinner was a white fish served in a sauce of mashed melon. He found the meal initially unpalatable and only ate to fill him stomach. It grew on him after half the bowl. The fruit that went with the meal wound up being far too much and he gave several pieces to the children that watched him with mirth.
Raulin was just finishing his meal when the human from earlier approached him. “A great mystery of the world has been solved today. I always wondered how a trirec ate food while still keeping his mask on.”
Raulin fitted and clicked the bottom third of his mask back into place. “It’s a handy way of getting around a certain problem.”
“And what is that?”
“A trirec is his mask. Without this on, I am but another man in the world, weak and without purpose. We wear our masks so that we may achieve great feats. However,” he said, tilting his head to one side, “I am still really a man. I bleed and I sleep and I get hungry. And in those times I can still be a great trirec and still eat with the push of two buttons.”
“Hardly. I will admit its mechanics are beyond my ability to understand, but it is a simple solution to a simple problem.”
The man sat next to him. “I’ve wanted to know about trirecs ever since I was a little boy.”
“You wouldn’t be the first.”
“Can you tell me some things about yourself? Your secrets are safe with me.”
And they likely were, at least for some time. Raulin thought briefly of the captain of the Spirowan and how he had made the same call. He hoped that Queyella had taken enough men this week. “The most asked question from people is about the training. It begins at age four and ends at fifteen, when we take our first life. We advance from noviceship to apprenticeship, then finally graduate to be on our own sometime in our late teen years or early twenties.”
There had been a few trirecs who had passed their final tests earlier than Raulin, but of all the living members of Arvarikor, he had entered the ranks the earliest. There were some accomplishments he bragged about, but not that one. He didn’t push himself to be the best because he wanted to bring glory to the organization or because he was ambitious; he had graduated as fast as possible because he hated the Arvarikor compound and loathed to return. A fast entry into the ranks was the only way to assure he wouldn’t have to return.
“How old are you, then?” The man didn’t shy away from the frank talk of death. In fact, he seemed obsessed.
“I will be…twenty-seven come July. So twelve years on my own.”
“How many men would you say you’ve slain?”
“I…don’t keep track. Quite a few, I’d imagine.” Sixty-seven.
“And you’ve stolen as well?”
“Yes. If you’ve heard of jewels Queen Nasarizar of Kenreis wore, the Green Fire of the Sea, I stole those.”
“I’m not a man to make up things to brag about. I have plenty to rest on.”
The man made an awed noise. “It seems like a truly wonderful life.”
Raulin thought of his thoughts on his last night on the ship. “I suppose it does.”
“I believe I heard your name was ‘Raulin Kemor’. I was wondering what ‘Raulin’ meant, since it sounds similar to the Arvonnese word for ‘away’.”
“Yes, the ‘in’ and the end makes it sound like a male’s name. ‘Derrin’ means ‘boy’ in Merakian and ‘river-man’ in Arvonnese. I’ve always wondered if there were some loan words.”
“You speak the language well, though your accent is a little strange.”
“Well, I learned from someone who wasn’t a native. Perhaps that is why.”
“You speak it well, but it isn’t an accent I’ve heard. I’m from Cenne Juod, in the middle-eastern portion of Arvonne.”
“And your name? It seems odd that I’ve spoken so many secrets and I don’t even know the answer to that question.
“That is true. You may call me Aubin.”
It was hard for Raulin to contain his surprise, and ultimately his anger. The ruling family of Arvonne, the Alscaines, had set aside names for their children long ago. No one other than the firstborn son of the king would have the name Aubin. Anyone Arvonnese would never name their child that; it would have seemed disrespectful, as if they were professing their own children were good enough to be royalty.
It wasn’t his problem. Arvonne was not his home. So, instead of confronting the man about his name, he continued with the ruse and tried to keep his tone light.
“Your Majesty,” he said, “I had thought you dead. I’m so glad to see you alive and earning your way gainfully back to shore.”
Aubin looked neither guilty nor amused. “Let’s not dwell on my name too much.”
“Why not, Your Majesty?
“It’s a complicated matter. I don’t expect you to understand.”
“I understand enough,” he said, his composure cracking quickly. Why was this bothering him so much? “With your name you claim to be royalty. In fact, you’re too old to be the king and too young to be the prince, though even if you weren’t, they are both dead and you are very much alive. I can only assume you are mocking them, cheapening their traditions by naming yourself the current monarch of Arvonne. I hope your charade makes you happy.”
Aubin pushed himself away, though Raulin was unsure if it were defensive or because he was angry as well. “And why do you even care?” he sneered. “You yourself are not Arvonnese. You are not one of my people; you are Merakian! You grew up far from the destruction the coup caused. All you’ve known in life was your training and killing and stealing. You know nothing of what my people went through when our king was butchered.”
Raulin began to retort but was interrupted by Aubin. “Do you know why I was on a ship whose crew barely batted an eyelash when they dumped me and the others over? I was a prisoner. I helped lead a group of seditioners to overthrow the new government in its infancy. We were unprepared and were caught. Rather than keep us in the country, for fear of conspiracy behind bars, they shipped us to Gheny where we were going to be sold to various groups. The crew liked to taunt us about our futures. Working the railroad or in the mines in Gheny. Hunting elves. Portering for expeditions north to the Great Colds or south into the Viyaz Desert. They’d sit around and try to think of different ways we’d survive our time belowdeck only to die languishing in a dangerous job.
“I survived the cargo hold, being jetsam and marooned, to live now. So has my love for my country. And that’s why I name myself after my king. I honor him. I remember him. I am his vigil. That’s the only thing left of me that’s important.”
Raulin had a hard time determining if the man was deranged or poisoned with patriotism. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Aubin looked away in throught, then turned back to the trirec. “Thank you,” he said after a few minutes.
“I’d have sooner thought you’d throttle me than thank me,” Raulin said.
“No, I like to be reminded of why I’m alive. Sometimes I forget that I’m proud that I’m here, even though my lot in life is meager.”
“I apologize, then. My attitude was because I thought you were mocking the situation. I might not be Arvonnese, but I understand their recent history as dark.”
“You don’t know,” Aubin said. “You really don’t know how deeply in mourning we were, we still are. The Alscaines were our identity and our future. And they were a good ruling family, too! There was no need for it. No one was overthrowing a tyrant or a sickly, dying branch. It was cold-blooded murder for the gains of a few.” He sighed. “It was the saddest day in Arvonne’s life.”
“Thank you for your story, Aubin. I’m hoping to make my way to Gheny tomorrow. Is there a possibility that you could join us?”
He shook his head. “I am a man who has no past and no future. I will not go to Gheny as a slave nor can I go back to my home. I will stay here, happy and free. It is not a bad life.”
This Aubin was likely insane, but at least he had found something they both agreed on. “No, I don’t think it is.”