Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 16

They slept that night on deck, for the heat grew oppressive in the still air. It cooled off in the night, but they rose with the sun, hoping desperately for a breath of wind. None came, and before the sun had finished rising above the horizon, the heat became stifling. Darah and Nimianne soon began to look like wilted flowers, but Tewer did better, as he wore nothing but a loincloth. The two girls finally changed into their practicing clothes, but they still seemed to be suffering.

"You could always just wear a loincloth," suggested Tewer, "that would make it a bit easier." He hauled a bucket up from the sea and doused himself with the fairly cold water, feeling a respite he knew would last only a few minutes.

"Would you please bring up a bucket for me, Tewer?" Nimianne stood and almost fell down. She looked extremely unwell, and her hands shook.

"I don't understand it," said Darah, "we're used to heat far worse than this! Why do I feel it so?" She looked at Tewer with a trembling lip. "Can I have one too?"

Tewer brought up a bucket and poured it over Nimianne's head, then another over Darah's. Their clothes clung to them, leaving little to the imagination, and Tewer enjoyed the sight very much as they lay back down. Their trembling limbs and drawn faces detracted from the experience, however. They seemed almost to have fevers!

He crouched down next to Darah and looked at her face carefully.

"You look feverish," he said, "I'm going to touch your head." She didn't object, and he put his palm on her forehead and almost snatched it back. "You're burning up!" He swiveled his body around until he knelt next to Nimianne and felt her head as well. She seemed even worse off than Darah.

"Swamp fever," he said, "you've got it. Does either of you know how to cure it?"

"In the stores," said Darah, "there are healing potions that will cure fever. They should be in blue bottles. Bring up any blue bottles and we'll read them for you."

"You need to get warm," Tewer said, realizing that they had begun shivering, "let me carry you down first. I'll get the bottles afterwards." He picked up Darah, and realized how sick she was from her lack of protest. She didn't flinch, or pull away, or anything. He carried her down into the captain's cabin and realized he had a problem. He couldn't leave them in their wet clothes. He sighed and sat Darah down on a chair, and then quickly removed her clothing. She protested listlessly, but he paid her no mind. He dried her off with the softest towel he'd ever felt, and then put her into the bed, covering her with only a sheet for the moment. He returned to the deck and stripped off Nimianne's clothing right there. She made no protest, nor even seemed to notice that he lifted her from the deck to do it. He carried her naked down into the cabin where he dried her off as well and laid her beside Darah. He couldn't help but look as he saw them laying nude, side by side, and he felt a little of the wonder of it, but it just wasn't the same as he'd begun to imagine. They needed help, not leers. He covered them with a sheet and a blanket, and then looked through the cabinet with many little bottles. He collected up all those with blue glass or blue labels and brought them over to the bed. Nimianne seemed lost in a dead faint, but Darah looked up as he entered. He showed her one bottle after the other, and she finally dragged her hand out from under the blanket and pointed at one. It wasn't the kind with the silver stopper that Rudigar had asked for; it had a lead seal instead of a stopper. He had ten of them, so he set aside two and put all the other potions back. He lifted up Nimianne first, trying to get her to drink, and she finally managed a few swallows. He straddled her and pulled Darah up, giving her another potion.

"How long?" Tewer asked as he laid her back against her pillow.

"Several hours," whispered Darah faintly, "it makes you sleep, and after a little while the fever breaks, and then you sleep some more. Once we cool off, we might sleep all night. Could be tomorrow. Thanks..." She drifted off.

Tewer pulled the covers up to their chins and went back out on deck. He hurriedly climbed to the fighting top and looked around the horizon, then rushed back down to check on the fever victims. He opened the windows, letting some air into the sweltering cabin, and touched both of their brows. They felt noticeably cooler, and a few minutes later, seemed to be perfectly normal. Their sleep turned deeper, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He went back up on deck and sat beneath the awning he'd rigged, wishing he knew how to read. It struck him as just one more instance of his terrible ignorance, and now that they had left the island of his birth, he knew almost nothing. He could sail the small ship, but he didn't know how to handle one of the big ones, so he couldn't even work as a sailor. He knew nothing of the outside world but what Rudigar and the two girls had told him. For the first time in a long time he felt sad enough to start crying. What if they had died? Swamp fever killed lots of people in Whaelhreow every year, many he knew well, including Krasten. A fear that had long lain dormant came out to choke him, and he realized that he must be dependent on Nimianne and Darah from now on; they had depended on him, and would until they reached Ascalon, but from that point on his life lay in their hands. He was nothing but an unknown whore's son from Whaelhreow. He had no father, no family, no friends but the two girls. Any hope of even living a day after they landed in Ascalon resided in his shipmates.

He sat there thinking for several hours, rising every so often to climb to the top and check the horizon. When he came down the fifth time he heard a faint voice calling, and he hurried to the captain's cabin to find Nimianne calling weakly.

"Oh there you are," she said, "I need help, Tewer."

"What can I do?" He knelt beside the bed and she flushed, her dark skin turning a little rosy at the cheeks.

"I need to...use the chamberpot," she said, "it's in there." She pointed a trembling hand at a wall. Tewer didn't see a door, but he went to the wall and found that it opened easily. Inside stood the finest chamberpot he'd ever seen, with a smooth seat and decorations all around. He tried to pick it up, but it wouldn't move. "No," Nimianne said, "I have to go to it."

"Oh," said Tewer, and he stood there awkwardly for a moment.

"Please help me," she said desperately, and he nodded. Taking her hand, he drew back the covers and helped her to her feet. She couldn't even stand, so he picked her up and set her down on the chamberpot, stepping back and turning away to give her a semblance of privacy. She said a word he didn't understand, followed by a faint whooshing sound, and then she cleared her throat. "I'm finished," she said, "can you help me back to bed?"

"Yes," Tewer said, and helped her to her feet. Picking her up again, he laid her back in the bed and drew the blanket to her chin.

"Thank you Tewer," said Nimianne, her cheeks still flaming.

"I'll do...it's not...whatever you need, Nimianne, just call. I'll check back in every little while."

"Thanks," she said, drifting back off to sleep.

About an hour later Tewer brought in some water and made them drink it, remembering that fevers sweated water out of a person, and then an hour after that he had to help Darah use the chamberpot. He gave them more water at sundown, and ate cold yams for his dinner, feeling terribly lonely. He'd been alone for all of the years since Krasten died, and it had rarely bothered him at all, but on that small ship, in the middle of the vast sea, with nobody to talk to, he felt alone in a new and awful way. He checked on the sleeping girls many times, and finally curled up on the floor of their cabin, but sleep remained far away. They both got up in the night to use the chamberpot again, but neither asked him for help, so he pretended to be asleep. He started awake in the morning and saw both of them staring at him, the covers up to their chins, and he smiled in relief.

"I'm so glad," he said, "I never felt so lonely before! I'm so glad you didn't die."

"Thank you, Tewer," said Nimianne, "you saved our lives. And you didn't..." She flushed.

"Didn't what?"

"You could've done whatever you wanted," said Nimianne, "and you didn't."

"I did what I wanted," said Tewer, "I did what I could to help."

"She means you could've touched our breasts, or done anything, really," said Darah, "and you didn't."

"So?"

"Not many boys are so noble," said Nimianne, "even after they've taken the Third Birth oaths."

"Not a boy," said Darah, "a man. He's a man, my lady."

"So he is," said Nimianne, "a good man."

"The best," said Darah.

That made Tewer flush a little, and he stammered a bit but said nothing.

"We're going to make some new clothes," said Nimianne, "that won't be so hot. We'll bring you up breakfast in a little while. The best we can manage. You deserve it."

"Thanks," said Tewer, closing the door behind him. What did she mean, touch their breasts? Even as he thought about it he felt an itch in his palm to do just that. He didn't know anybody did things like that, and felt a bit irritated that he'd missed such an opportunity. He thought about what Floke had called 'touching' them, and the idea of doing that while they lay helpless made him feel sick. He couldn't do such a thing to the best friends he'd ever had. And if he had done anything to them, they might not be so admiring, and the look in their eyes had made him feel good. Inches taller! And Nimianne had said, 'not many boys are so noble.' Noble? Him? He felt his chest puffing out of its own accord, and he almost ran up the rigging to the top. He scanned the horizon, seeing nothing but blue, and he felt a strange bubble of happiness well up from inside. He didn't even know what he'd done that anybody could call noble, but he'd done it, and that was all that mattered.


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