“What is this?” Valkom’s traveling companion asked, squinting at her ticket. The reflection of the sun gave the paper a glare. It appeared to say Dame 'Canelle Dara Mila', which was very much not her name.
“Your travel papers, proper ones,” said Valkom with an all-knowing grin on his face.
The golden rays of the sun cast a hard shadow across his cheekbones. It was too bright of a sight for Canelle to look at directly. Or maybe it was his insensible optimism she was having a hard time facing,
“I told you I would acquire an honorary title for you.” He explained in a manner that was not explaining anything at all.
The young woman’s hesitation brewed in her chest. They had endured a lot together in the last couple of years, and despite the printed text on the piece of paper in her hand, she was not a noble and he was.
“Um, this isn’t my last name.”
A warm wind fluttered between them, blowing the smell of the river up into their nostrils, reminding them that the worst of the heat was yet to come. The city they were in was built on a swamp, a decision questioned every summer by both its residents and those of the neighboring regions.
“I know.” With one hand, he lifted his backpack over his shoulder, and Canelle’s suitcase in his non-dominant hand. “I made adjustments. They were necessary to grant you the title. If you don’t like the name, we can change it later. I was trying to save you time and omit the whole ceremony bit. Be honest, you would have hated that anyway.”
This was true. Canelle hated attention.
“I was able to find a work around by gifting you a small parcel of land that belonged to some clergyman that died without heirs. He passed centuries ago, no one will pay any mind.”
“Wait, what was the second half of that?” she exclaimed after a beat. But it was too late he was walking away from her. He did that a lot.
When she caught up to him, he continued in his manner of ‘explaining’, “I’ll be traveling as your humble secretary. At least till we get to Torelen.”
“This is a horrible idea,” she said, stopping at the edge of the dock. Suddenly getting on the boat felt real. Probably due to it being pretty real. “Why are we doing this? You know–we ought to go back.”
He turned back to her, with a critical, calculating brow. His mind scouring their brief history for the words that would get her on the damned boat.
“You’d honestly rather face Lior?”
Liorit… the love of her life that she so easily abandoned back in the city of Gaidos, after a complicated series of events.
Valkom hummed knowingly and stepped forward onto the boat. “I suspected so. Now, we can reevaluate once we’re in Torelen, but on this boat call me ‘Artie’.”
Canelle trotted behind awkwardly, upset at herself for letting him carry her things. It robbed her of the chance to chicken out and run all the way back to Gaidos.
“Aren’t you paying me? Even with an honorary title, wouldn’t it be suspicious of me to be able to afford a secretary?”
“Don’t worry, I’m paying you enough that you can afford me.” Another non-answer. Canelle was in for a great test of her patience if this is what the rest of their trip was going to consist of.
And to be completely fair, Lior, his dear best friend, had warned her of his tactics.
She took a deep determined breath, if Lior could do it, so could she.
Their tickets were punched, and they were directed to the proper deck. As they waddled along, it occurred to Canelle that her companion was leaving someone behind in Gaidos as well.
“Does Nikase know you’re doing this?” she blurted.
Lady Nikase was the woman Valkom had been seeing for the last two years. Why someone so wonderful would give Val the time of day boggled the young woman’s mind. If she were to assign a colored flag to his history with women, the color would be red.
He stopped walking, “Yes. Well rather no. I may have omitted the specifics. I told her I was leaving with you.” His nose wrinkled as he realized. “In retrospect that doesn’t sound great. I should write to her once we get there. Anyway, I trust that she trusts me.”
Canelle stared at him blankly. Valkom, known adulterer. The relationship he had built with Nikase was the longest he’d ever had, and uncannily sincere. She suspected his fear of the latter fact is what inspired this unhinged voyage.
Of course he would run away from the one good thing in his life. Canelle was doing the exact same thing by getting on this riverboat.
His sheepish, white, smile contrasted his swarthy skin in the blue shadow. “Alright, I trust that she trusts you.”
And it was in this way that Valkom and Canelle both ‘closed’ an arc of their lives and began a new one. ‘Closed’ in quotations because one cannot close a half-finished door.