Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 10

Waking before dawn, Tewer checked his telltales first, then stripped off his clothes and swam out of the cove, keeping to the shadows and the branches that drooped low over the water. The clear water of the dees forest held no dangerous creatures usually, but he kept a lookout just in case. Murder-worms could swim almost anywhere if they'd a hankering. He saw nothing dangerous, and swam back through the cold water, arriving at his ship...his ship…as the sun came up. He saw Darah standing on the deck wearing a somewhat shapeless shift, and he put his hand to his mouth as she started to call to him. She nodded, then blushed as he pulled himself out of the water. She turned her back as he dried himself off and dressed, then hissed angrily as he joined her on deck.

"Where have you been? We were terrified when you weren't here."

"I went to check for pursuit," said Tewer, "there was none."

"Can't you keep your breeks on? We're just young girls, we've never seen such things before!"

"Really? That's odd enough! Well, I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd be up yet. But you don't have to look if it bothers you."

"You have to swim naked?"

"Why would anyone swim in clothes?"

"Oh, never mind," she snapped, "here's a bit of breakfast for you. I used the cookstone, so it's only warm, but it'll help with the chill." She gave him a bowl of strange little brown cubes, but which proved to be delicious.

"Thanks," he said, "what are these?"

"Yams," she replied, "something very common in Chai'ia, but rare everywhere else. We have hundreds of them."

"They're very good," he said, wolfing them down.

"You really shouldn't talk with your mouth full," she said, "but then again, perhaps this is the first time anyone ever told you that."

"It is," he said, his mouth still full, "and I'll try that later, when I'm not so hungry. These really are good."

"I'm glad you like them," said Darah. "I have a question for you."

"Yes?"

"You said you wanted to teach us a little about weapons today. What should we wear?"

"Not those wraps," he said, "something easy to move in."

"We don't really have anything like that except our underclothes." She smiled suddenly. "I know, I know. What are underclothes? Well, since you don't know what you're seeing, I don't suppose it can be harmful."

"You can wear my clothes if you like," said Tewer, "but they really are too big, and might hamper you."

"We thought of that. We're going to make ourselves some clothes for this voyage, but we haven't had time yet, so for today we'll just wear our underclothes." She turned away, then stopped and turned her head back to him. "We're going to be changing our clothes, so please don't come into the cabin. We won't lock it anymore, in case of an emergency. That is my lady's order. But please don't come in until we open the doors."

"As you like," said Tewer, "though I must say I wouldn't mind in the slightest watching you change your clothes." He grinned as she blushed, but she smiled a little too. That seemed to him a good sign.

Both girls blushed when they emerged on the deck as the sun peeped over the edge of the mogote. He didn't know why, as they were wearing plenty of clothes. Both wore frilly white britches that came down to their knees, and strange little tight shirts that left arms, neck and midriff bare. Their figures were now plain, as they had never been before, but still, they were mostly covered. They had drawn up their hair with kerchiefs, so it would stay out of the way. Tewer found himself looking at a tendril of Nimianne's hair that had escaped the kerchief to rest lightly on her shoulder. It struck him as strangely beautiful, in a way he'd never imagined.

"Maybe these clothes weren't such a good idea," said Darah in a tremulous voice. Tewer turned to her and saw her cheeks turn almost rosy, a strange contrast to her dark skin.

"I have never seen anything so beautiful," said Tewer softly, "not even in my mind."

"It is honest admiration, at least," said Nimianne, "I believe I can endure it, if you can Darah." The other girl nodded. "Then the only question is, will it distract you, Captain?"

"It might," he grinned, "it might. But you still need to learn, so we'll just have to make do. Try not to skewer me if I do get distracted."

He handed each of them a spear he'd carried up from the armory, and cringed at the way they touched the shafts gingerly.

"You've got to grip it tight," he said, "but not too tight. If you hold it like that it will slip through your fingers instead of killing your enemy. Take it in both hands, like so," he demonstrated, "and then raise it up so that the point is low, and the chape is high." He showed them what he meant, and felt serious concern at how unsteadily the light spears moved in their diffident hands. "This is going to be harder than I thought. Right. Put the spears on the deck. Let's start with stance."

He wasn't a very good teacher as he'd had only one gruff, irritable example. He tried to teach them as he'd been taught, but it didn't work. When he tried to move Nimianne's legs into the proper position she squeaked and flinched, and when he'd put a hand on Darah's bum to move her hips to the side, she'd whirled on him as if he'd done something terrible.

"This isn't working," he said, "you are just going to have to be less worried about all the prop...properitties you told me about. How am I going to teach you anything if I can't touch you?" At the same time he couldn't help recall how soft they felt—he could scarcely believe how soft. He wanted to touch them again, whether he needed to or not.

"I think it's the clothes," said Nimianne, "they're so soft, and we usually wear them under other clothes. It makes me far more sensitive and jumpy."

"Then take them off, if it'll make you feel better," said Tewer with a grin. They both glared at him, but he just shrugged. "You've got to get over it. If I'm going to teach you the proper stances I'll have to move your bodies into the right places. You can't seem to copy me by looking, so what else can we do?"

"We'll try, Captain," said Nimianne.

"But be careful," said Darah, "don't touch us here or here." She gestured so he would know just where she meant. "Those are off limits."

"There's no reason to touch them," said Tewer, "at least, not for these exercises. If I come up with a reason for needing to touch you there, I'll let you know." Once more they glared at his grin, but they seemed a little pleased, too. He shrugged. There was no understanding them!

He started over, and they blushed when he touched their legs and hips, but stopped flinching. Soon he had them doing spear drills with no spear, and then he let them try it with the spears. They did much better, and he kept them at it for more than an hour. They were soaked with sweat when he finally allowed them to rest, and he became only too aware that their frilly 'underclothes' clung to them in many places, and the color of their flesh could not be entirely hidden by the thin cloth.

"Drill is important," he said, as they slumped to the deck, "because when you have to fight, you won't have time to think. The movements will just come back. You should do those drills for an hour every day. And tomorrow we'll start with daggers as well.

"I'm so tired," wailed Nimianne, "I never realized how hard it is! I used to laugh at the pages dropping their spears, but it hurts! My arms and shoulders hurt!"

"I can fix that," said Tewer, "but you'll have to let me touch your shoulders. Massage works very well on sore muscles, and if you want to bathe, you should work them over before you dive into the water."

"We know how to give a massage," said Darah, "you don't need to help with that!"

"Your arms and fingers are tired," said Tewer, "you might need help after all."

And they did.


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