Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 11

Both girls seemed very uncomfortable as he kneaded their sore muscles, but Nimianne relaxed a little as the pain eased. Darah's shoulders remained tight, so instead of working them hard he tried to be gentle, and eventually she too managed to relax a little. When he was finished they grew agitated when they realized what he meant by bathing—he expected them to swim around naked, and they couldn't get back onto the ship themselves. They needed his help. Tewer had already thought of that, and laughed at their fears.

"I'll stay below while you bathe," he said, "and I won't come up unless I hear you call me. You can lay your clothes out on my boat, and dry yourselves off and dress there, and when you're finished, call me and I'll help you up onto deck."

"You'd do that?" Darah seemed a bit suspicious. "Maybe we should just bath in our underclothes."

"That wouldn't bother me," Tewer grinned, "sweat makes them cling pretty tight, no doubt the water would do it even more." Both of them blushed, and he shook his head. "It's no great thing," he said, "after all, we need to work together. All our lives depend on it. It won't help me survive if you are always suspicious. So you can trust me this once, and see what I do. And then the next time will be easier. Now go get some clothes and something to dry yourselves with, and I'll go below and look over my armory."

"You're very wise for someone with so little education," said Nimianne, "you surprise me very often."

"No more than ordinary sense," said Tewer.

"It seems extraordinary to me," said Nimianne, "you're right, in any case. We have to trust you, so we might as well do it with a good grace. Thank you for this kindness among so many."

Tewer shrugged and waved his hand, but he liked the look in her eyes very well.

"You'd best hurry," he said, "the water's cold, and it's better to get in while the muscles are already loose. If you let them tighten again you'll get cramps."

"We will," said Nimianne. Tewer went to the armory, and felt very pleased to be there. He looked at and touched every single weapon he found, and tested the weight of several. He enjoyed himself more than he could remember, and it seemed only moments passed before the girls were calling to him. He laid down a perfectly balanced scimitar and ran back out on deck, only to find that the girls weren't dressed and ready, but still in the water, their arms up on the side of his boat. He frowned at them, but they were grinning.

"Are you sure to didn't peek?" Darah didn't seem suspicious, but strangely playful.

"I didn't," he said, "I've been looking at all my new weapons. I told you I wouldn't."

"Even with such temptation at hand?" Nimianne giggled, making Tewer frown even more. He'd never heard a laugh quite like it, and it struck him as slightly insane.

"I said I wouldn't," he shook his head, "and I meant it. You have reason to trust me, I think, but now I begin to wonder about all your fears of me seeing you naked. I don't understand why you're laughing like that."

Both girls giggled, and Tewer reasoned that they might both be mad after all.

"You can go back down," said Nimianne, "we'll be ready for you in a few minutes."

He went below and heard them shriek with laughter. They splashed and laughed and he decided they truly must be mad, or maybe all women were mad.

"I don't understand," he told the weapons, but none of them answered.

He didn't enjoy himself at all as he tried to puzzle it out, and he got nowhere. He had no idea how the girls ought to act, other than what they told him. Calling him onto deck while they were naked, but their bodies hidden, seemed to be completely at odds with their code, or the code of their homeland anyway. Maybe they were rebelling against the rules, or something like that. Darah called out again, and this time they were ready, completely dressed in those clinging gowns, which clung still more to their recently wet bodies, and he pulled them up onto deck with ease. Neither weighed very much, and he wondered if they'd be able to put on any muscle. He could still feel their soft shoulders and softer skin. His own body held nothing but lean muscle and sinew, and his skin felt not unlike rough bark.

They were still smiling as they got back on deck, then Darah turned serious.

"We need to eat," she said, "I suppose I'll be the cook, since our supplies are all from Chai'ia. I'll let you roast any fish you catch, but I'll cook the rest."

Tewer nodded.

"I'll help," said Nimianne, "I don't know how to do much of anything, but I'll do what I can."

"I need to sleep a little," said Tewer, "since I'm going to be up a lot tonight. Can you take the watch instead, Nimianne? Do you think you can climb up to the top?"

Nimianne looked up and her face paled.

"I'll try," she said, "it's coming down I'm worried about."

"Don't worry," said Tewer, "you stop whenever you need, take your time." He turned to Darah. "Save me some, I won't sleep long. I don't like to eat right before I sleep."

"Of course," said Darah.

He watched Nimianne climb up to the crow's nest, and she smiled down at him as she reached it, then sat down to watch. Tewer went to his new cabin, got into his new bed, and couldn't sleep a wink. The mattress was softer than he could bear. He threw blankets and pillows onto the floor, and slept.

He woke to find both girls shaking him, their faces full of fear.

"Thank Three you're awake," said Nimianne, "somebody is coming this way. I saw them!"

"How many?"

"Only two," she replied, "they're in a boat like yours, and they have spears."

"Get your own spears," said Tewer, "I'll take a look."

He caught up his spear and stole silently onto the deck, peering cautiously before he emerged. He couldn't see them in the hidden cove, so he first checked behind the little ship, and then sighed in relief. They might not find it at all. The girls brought their spears out onto the deck and he waved them down.

"Stay behind the rails," he whispered, "I'm going to ambush them if they come in here." He got into his boat, loosed the painter and paddled silently to the trees on the right of the channel. He had Krasten's axe and a dagger as well as his spear, and he could see pretty well. He eased to the front of his boat, Krasten's axe in his left hand and spear in his right, both resting on his shoulders. The sun hung low behind the mogote, keeping the whole cove twilit, but that didn't bother Tewer. He had hunted for years in the twilight, and when the boat emerged into the cove, he could see the two dark shapes more than clearly enough. He stabbed the first through the neck with his spear, and without withdrawing it, grabbed the gunwale of the other boat and brought his axe down on the second man's head, then a second time. Both lay still and silent, but when Tewer pulled his spear free the first man gave a choking, gurgling cry, then silence once more reigned. Tewer pulled the other boat into the cove and set it drifting towards the ship, then paddled out through the channel silently, his ears straining. Darkness fell as he listened and watched, but nothing moved, and he heard only water lapping the trees and shores all around. He paddled quickly back to the ship, and hissed out a greeting to the girls. He tied up his boat and his teeth flashed in the darkness.

"Two more," he said proudly, "I have killed four now. Not many can say as much."

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