Names and Melodrama

The first thing to do, he thought, would be to figure out his name. It was a ritual of sorts whenever he found himself in a new place. Somewhat born in vanity, but mostly inspired by curiosity. Few would admit they knew much of him. A lie of course, everyone knew him, and never less than intimately. He was, after all, waiting under their tongues and in their pockets.

But for now he yawned and dallied behind the cart. The smugglers around him, mostly youngish and skinny, were too concerned with the gate guards rifling through their wagons to note his nonchalance. This was fair; smuggling was a hanging offense in these parts and the guards were thorough. One of the young smugglers paled noticeably when the armored men hauled out the first of the casks.

He watched for a little as the guards puzzled over how to check the thing before one for them called for an axe. At that he leaned forward, hovering behind the girl’s ear. “It is at this point you might want to say something.” He whispered and she jumped. Her eyes narrowed a little, upset over being startled. But after a moment she nodded her sharp chin and stepped forward to interrupt.

The smuggler wove quite an impressive tale, a little too impressive as the guards started asking for details, caught up in the story. A few of the girl’s fellows exchanged looks. They needn’t have worried, good thieves avoided attention, better thieves knew how to use it.

The girl was grinning, the guards were smiling and most importantly the smugglers would taking the opportunity to hasten their wares through the stone gates. He pulled his cloak against the evening air and followed them in. The city was not a large one, though like most it had its share of upsides and undersides, which suited him just fine as long as they had a decent inn. The girl hung back, her cheeks red from excitement. She was curious. “How’d you know about the casks?” She asked as the mess of unwashed crowds surrounded them.

He made sure to keep a distance from the carts’ wheels as they kicked up dirt and broke toes. So close to a bath and a bed he was quite done with mud. His fingers were cold but he kept them from his pockets, rubbing his palms together instead. “Wasn’t much of a secret, was it?” He asked back.

“It was.” She said, just a small bit affronted. He raised an eyebrow at her. “Wasn’t it?” She looked confused and he realized she might be younger than he’d initially assumed. Hard living, something he’d never much had to contend with, aged people.

“For those that mattered at least.” He allowed and shot a look back towards the gate.

“But how did you know?” She pressed. Persistent and curious, he approved wholeheartedly. The girl wasn’t done, her dark eyes glittering. “You show up a day out of the city, travel with us, and apparently know what we do… you didn’t even give us your name.”

“Noticed that did you?” He grinned but kept his gaze forward, sweeping over the inhabitants of the dirty little city.

“Yah, what is it?” She asked, easily falling into his stride.

“You ask a lot of questions.” He told her, not annoyed by the inquisitive youth in the slightest.

“And you don’t answer any of them. What is your name?’

“That-“ He paused for effect and slipped his hand into the pocket of a merchant who’d gotten too close. “-Is an excellent question. Any ideas?” A few coins and a sealed letter disappeared up his sleeve. This was why one should never leave their own hands in their own pockets. You already knew what was in them.

“No.” She blinked at him. If she noticed his quick theft she made no comment.

“Me either. It can get frustrating sometimes.” He gave a mostly mock sigh and went back to scanning the crowds, purposefully ignoring the girl’s growing annoyance.

“How can you—“ She was cut off as one of her fellows jogged up and threw an arm around her shoulders from behind.

“Damn Alyce, got Ataro’s own tongue apparently. When they pulled out the wine…did not think that was going to work.” The newcomer’s eyes found him and the man’s eyes narrowed.

He just smiled at the smuggler and asked pleasantly. “Ataro?”

The man got more wary but the girl smiled a touch slyly. “You really aren’t from around here. Ataro the liar. The silver in your tongue and the shadow in your heart, everyone knows him.”

“Every one of the right people know him, if you take my meaning.” The older smuggler was now looking at him with open mistrust, which he found incredibly humorous.

“Of course they do.” He ignored the growing impulse to needle Alyce’s friend further and addressed her instead. “The shadow in your heart? Bit melodramatic isn’t it?”

“That’s Ataro for you.” She shrugged and her gaze refocused on him. “You still haven’t told me your name.”

Well that was irritating, not at the girl’s continued inquiring, he’d gotten used to that affect a very long time ago. But melodramatic? He just shrugged in response to her question. “I have not. I told you, I didn’t know it.” He said and the two smugglers narrowed their eyes in unison.

He took a step back. “And with that I have worn my welcome. Good luck Alyce, blessed of Ataro.” He smirked and made sure his exit was suitably untheatrical. Simply stepping away he let the crowd conceal as the mass of humanity rolled around him. He kept moving, entirely unworried about any of the smugglers attempts to find him. At least now he could move on to finding that inn, bath and bed he’d been looking forward to.

When he’d wandered through the stark utilitarian walls of Vrack, he’d been Dovev. A name never mentioned in polite society. Among the ice tipped long houses of the far north they’d sung his stories as the trickster Koli. The courtesans and spies called him Velius in Carlay’s high spire cities even as their scholar kings whispered offerings to the truth-seeker at alters, hoping to gain his secrets. And apparently here, in this little dirty city, he was Ataro the melodramatic. He sighed and tried not to let it bother him.


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