Laws of Man

Title: Laws of Man
Time Period: June 16, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: An oath-keeper and a law-keeper trade words at the Albatross.

It's two or three in the afternoon. A few people are sitting at a table, chatting over some half-eaten food. Idris is out wiping the other tables - perhaps it would be called 'cleaning', but the rag he's using isn't exactly the cleanest thing. A raven sits on the bar, glancing around at the door and the customers, keeping an eye on everything. As Idris wipes, however, he also sings.

"There is a place in town where everybody goes,
And everyone in town… can smell it with their nose,
It's not exactly delicate although it's called a rose,
For that is the place in town where exhibition grows!"

It's not a great tune, nor is he a great singer, but he sings confidently, not caring who hears him or that he's disrupting the conversation at that table a little.

Song? This early in the day? Duncan’s course was leading him towards the Wandering Albatross, but melody - however coarsely fashioned - serves as additional incentive, particularly when it is in an unfamiliar voice. The younger Rowntree brother has joined in his fair share of choruses, some quite raucous, though all have been far into the evening and deep into his cups. This particular tune, in this particular tenor, is unknown to him.

He steps inside, brow furrowing briefly as the quality of the illumination changes - no bar worth its stock will compete with the day for brightness. His ears discern Idris’ position before his eyes do, but the latter is needed to make much use of the former. Duncan doesn’t approach directly however. Instead he moves to the bar, taking a seat and tapping his knuckles, twice, against the wooden countertop. No idle gesture, the sound is very clear - meant to grab attention.

"The duck can tell a doctor,
what goes around in France.
The knight can tell the squire,
how to wield his lance.
But the ladies of the Rose-"

The raven focuses its eyes on Duncan as he walks in, and as he approaches the bar, Idris abruptly stops singing, picking the rag up, and walking back from the table, without really looking in Duncan's direction, although the raven tilts its head to one side at that sharp rap of knuckles. He vaults over the countertop, and lands on the other side, turns around and focuses his gaze back on Duncan, staring at him openly with a slight smile. "Hello there. What can I get you?"

Duncan’s own gaze is a blue double to the raven’s own dark, impassive stare. Together they form a triangle of perception, with Duncan’s eyes upon Idris, and the raven’s eyes upon Duncan - the final line is unfinished, though, as bird and bartender make the militiaman a common object.

“Porter,” is his request, appropriate for the hour which would make heavy drinking unwise.

“Your name? I don’t know you.” And Duncan ought to know everyone, is the implication.

Idris tilts his head a bit to one side, and the raven tilts it's head to the other side, and they both stare at Duncan for a moment.

"The humans have named me Idris Mac Lir." The raven jumps off the counter, shifting into a calico cat as it does so, and Idris busies himself carefully filling up a mug with porter - not quite to the top, but almost - before setting it in front of Duncan without splashing a drop. He looks back to Duncan with the same slight smile, then leans on the counter.

"If you'd be so generous as to inform me of your name? I'm a little new in town." His tone isn't quite so humble as his words.

Man and bird - wait, now a cat - one and the same; if Duncan didn’t know already, he susses it without further delay. More mages. Just what he needs.

“Duncan,” the man so named replies, with a brevity sibling to that of his previous question. Not only ought Duncan to know everyone, but everyone ought to know him. Big fish like their small ponds. He draws the glass towards himself, guarding it with a hand but not yet drinking.

“Never heard a man speak so queer of his parents,” Duncan observes, willfully and somewhat obtusely interpreting Idris’ bizarre statement vis a vis ‘the humans’. The openness of his tone invites explanation, while its flatness suggests that the explanation better be good.

"Ah, yes, Duncan. I've been told it's best not to get you angry." Not that Idris /sounds/ particularly worried about it, but he looks over Duncan again, furrowing his eyebrows just a little. He spreads his hands out.

"My parents? I was found on the shore as a child. The people of the town raised me well enough, but they aren't really my species, so there's a limit to my compassion for them." He pauses, looking into Duncan's eyes.

"Which may sound cold, but is just as well for you. If I cared about them as equals, I imagine I'd be quite mad about Shackshore getting burnt down." He watches Duncan, toying with an empty glass sitting on the table with his left hand.

Duncan gives a small huff - so this is how his reputation precedes him? Good. He looks at least a little gratified. “Aye, ‘tis true that angering he who keeps the law does few any good- the lawful included,“ he says.

Shackshore- ah of course. Duncan is not so heartless nor is his list of expeditions so long as to have him forget that name. He meets Idris’ gaze with a steady look of his own. Whatever it may mean to Idrs, the all-too-human Duncan doesn’t back down from a stare. “Fortunate, then, that we’ve the both of us better sense than let anger get in the way of life and duty.”

At length Duncan takes a draw from his drink. There is a brief pause of satisfaction, then: “If you’re not a man, what are you?” All sorts of inhuman washes up on these shores, it seems.

Idris continues to stare for a long moment, as if he could stare all day, then laughs and looks down and away.

"As far as I know, I'm no more - and no less - than what you humans would call 'a mage'. That said, the differences between our species are large enough that I don't think we're the same, even if we can still interbreed."

He glances back up at Duncan curiously. "So, do I pass your test?"

Duncan’s no illiterate. When it comes to some kinds of texts he’s actually quite the avid reader. But on the topic biological taxonomy and its criteria, he would needs admit considerable ignorance, born of equally considerable disinterest.

“Who fucks whom makes little matter to me, as long as it breaks no lawful vows,” Duncan says, “the law here protects men. By your reasoning, ought the law not see you as a man, but some other order of being? Be wary of your words, Mac Tir- I’m not likely to think you a god, but there are laws pertaining to cattle.”

"There's no reason for us to fight, in any sense of the word. You'd win, of course, but I'd do a lot of damage. And I don't have any interest in harming this town or it's people." He tilts his head a bit to one side. "Seems to me, though, you already treat men like cattle, slaving away for your ancient machines. It's because of my special talent inherent to my nature that your town is giving me this easy work, instead."

Duncan’s brows edge up just a little. “You mistake me, Mac Lir,” he says, observing the correction without commenting upon it, “I’m not clamoring for war with you. What I am outside these walls is a different matter than what I am inside. War is for elsewhere. Home is hearth- peace, and you part of it, I would hope.

“I ask a simple question- no test. You say you are not a man by some reasoning of your own. But to me you walk and speak like a man, and I judge you hunger and suffer like a man, and a dragon’s claw or brigand’s bullet would send you to your grave as swiftly as any other man. I’d keep you safe from those latter, and give you as fair a chance as any at those former, if you are indeed a man before the law.

“What I need to know is if I might expect honor from you, as I would from a man. And aye, labor too- and I do not think labor, however brutal, make chattel of a man that the law calls free. War is labor too, and always brutal, leading sometimes to slaughter. Yet soldiers are not cattle. They are men risk their lives for the good of their own people, just as those who work the machines keep us all safe by arming us.

“What I ask is simple - whether mage or man, are you one of us before the law? Or do you set yourself apart, thus demanding a law apart?"

"Good, because I'd really prefer not do die. But all animals can be killed in such manners, and all creatures hunger." Idris is silent for a moment, then laughs.

"I could have killed everyone at Shackshore, had I wished. Or bent them all to my will through forced promises. But I have no interest in things like that. Laws are chains forged to keep dogs from fighting each other, to keep some dogs in the lead of the pack - but I don't have any particular inclination to fight, or for power. I have power enough, and seeking wisdom is more beneficial. I've been serving people at this tavern without complaint, to keep your cute little dogs happy. It's an interesting diversion, for now." He vaults up to sit on the counter.

"Now, if people were watching closely, I'd gladly say I'd follow the law, because saying otherwise to an officer of the law in public would make him look bad if he didn't do something. But since they aren't, I see no particular reason to tell anything but the truth: I'll follow your law as long as it's constraints don't annoy me too much. If they do, I'll stop. Most humans are the same, really, even if they won't say it to your face." He leans in a bit closer.

"My skills are one-of-a-kind, and can help enforce the order you're apparently so fond of. I'll pretend I respect you in front of others, if that's something you care about. So why not just leave well enough alone, Duncan? Any kind of human can say he's an honorable man who's one of you."

“You’ll follow the law to the limits of your will?” Duncan snorts.

“In this you are indeed a man like any other,” he says “at most uncommon arrogant, and all too honest.” This doesn’t sound like censure. If anything, Duncan seems to appreciate both qualities.

“Respect is action, not disposition. There is no pretending. If you help the law, the law will help you. In that, we have an accord, Mac Lir. Let us be useful to one another.”

Duncan rises from his seat, leaving the glass almost untouched.

“Just be sure to recall- irreplaceable does not mean indispensable.”

"I like you too," responds Idris amicably, pushing himself over to the side of the same side as the counter as Duncan is on, and picking up the dirty rag again with one hand, and clapping Duncan on the shoulder with his other.

"Let's be useful to each other, then. I'm curious to see what you'll want to use my little skill for, if anything." He inclines his head solemnly.

"And I will do my best to remember, that in human society, no one is indispensable." He laughs, and heads back towards the tables.

Properly human or no, Idris does seem to have a extraordinary perspective. Duncan begins with a pensive gesture, rubbing his thumb against the line of his jaw, a measure of the time since he last put edge to cheek. When he’s clapped on the shoulder, there is a moment’s pause. How is he to take this?

He seems to follow Idris’ example. Duncan laughs, and there is nothing forced or false about it. It is canny if anything, as if he and the strange barkeep already shared an inside joke.

“Aye,” Duncan affirms, “since we left Eden it’s been that way.”

He turns on his heel towards the door, parting words delivered as he leaves.

“‘Til I’ve need of you- or you of me.”