Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 17

When Nimianne and Darah emerged from below Tewer almost choked. They wore very little, and they looked healthy again, even playful. They each had a strip of thin white cloth bound over their breasts, and wore only loincloths besides, though these reached below their knees unlike the extremely short version he wore. Their hair had been carefully arranged, they wore thin silver bracelets and anklets, and earrings sparkled in the sunlight. They each bore a silver platter, and they set them on the deck and sat down, beckoning for him to join them.

He'd never had such a meal. They had obviously worked hard, and there were four types of sweetbreads, salt pork cooked until crispy, some kind of sweet yam mush, and chopped up dried fruit. To make it even more special, they served him, fed him, and looked at him with such glowing eyes that he became certain it had to be a dream. When they finished, Nimianne started climbing up to the fighting top to keep watch, and Darah took away the dishes, leaving Tewer with nothing to do. He watched Nimianne climb, noticing the curve of her hips as he hadn't the day before, and he wondered why it seemed so different. He sat next to the tiller, puzzled, when suddenly the little ship rocked slightly. His head shot up, and he jumped to his feet, and felt a slight puff of wind. He saw a few clouds far to the West, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Wind!

He and Darah got the sails up as the breeze began to build, and at last the Martlet began to make headway. The little ship began to race along as the wind freshened, and he called Nimianne back down from the crow's nest, as the wind seemed to be getting ever stronger. She got down without mishap, and both girls went below to change, as the heat had vanished with the wind. Clouds slowly covered the western horizon, and some of them looked awfully black. When Darah and Nimianne came back up, he gave them the tiller and climbed up to the top himself, scanning the horizon and staring long and hard at the clouds to the West. He had never been far from Whaelhreow, and knew nothing about the weather in the open sea, but it looked like a storm, and he had little idea of how to ride one out. He scanned the horizon again, and to his surprise saw a smudge of green off the larboard bow. An island!

He descended to the deck as the ship heeled a little, and took the tiller again. He turned towards the island and hoped they'd make it before the storm caught up with them.

"There's an island over there," he said, "I'm going to try and make it there before the storm hits. Even if there is no good harbor, if we can get behind the island we'll be able to anchor and ride it out better. Pray to your Three if you like, it's going to be close!"

The swells grew as the ship outran them, and soon Tewer could see the island growing above the horizon, looking more and more inviting as the sky darkened. It started to rain, and the girls wanted to go below, but Tewer wouldn't let them.

"See those empty barrels?" He pointed to five small firkins that had once held water. "We can use those to float if we sink. If you're below and we suddenly hit a rock or are capsized by the wind, I'll never get you out again. I've got ropes tied around the barrels, so we can hold onto them no matter what. We're not giving up, even if my ship is lost!"

The girls nodded, their coiffures ruined by by the soaking, their clothes clinging to them, and their eyes frightened instead of glowing. He hoped he'd survive to have such another meal, and see them once again happy and eager to please.

The island grew to fill the northeastern sky, and Tewer saw exactly what he'd hoped for. A long arm of a mountain jutted out on the eastern side of the island, and behind it he saw another, with water between. He aimed for it, and though the ship seemed to be racing along, they seemed never to get any closer. At last they came alongside the cliffs of the nearer part of the island, and Tewer turned away, giving them a wide berth just in case those rocks lay below the water as well. When they had passed that promontory he could see a wide cove between two arms of the mountain, and he turned towards it, letting some slack into the sails as they turned broadside to the wind. The ship heeled, and he let out more slack, and then the ship sped into the cove, losing speed as the cliffs blocked the wind, but not losing it fast enough. They approached the shore much too quickly, and Tewer turned his ship again, but that had him heading towards the cliffs. He tried to turn again as the ship approached the cliffs, but then the ship shuddered and stopped suddenly, throwing them all to the deck.

He'd hit a shoal!

He looked back to make sure the boat had remained attached to the Martlet, and then instructed the girls to haul the boat alongside just in case. He rushed below and crawled into the bilges, checking everywhere for a leak. He crawled back out of the slimy water with a sigh of relief. It must've been a sand shoal. The ship wouldn't sink, at least not yet.

He got back out onto the deck and found Darah and Nimianne holding the boat alongside the shoreward side with the rope.

"We're not sinking," he shouted over the rain, "she's not hurt. I'm not sure whether this storm will pull her loose or leave her here, so I'm going to put down the anchor. Go below and gather up some food and blankets, put them in the waterproof rucksacks. I'll get some weapons and things. We'll go ashore just in case."

"Where is this?" Nimianne looked at the island in fear, and Tewer didn't blame her.

"I don't know," he yelled, "I'm pretty sure it's not Buland. It doesn't look big enough, and I think we didn't go far enough south. You told me there are a few islands on the chart listed as 'uninhabited' on the map, and also a couple of islands that belong to Ascalon. I think we're on one or the other."

The girls hurried below and he went forward and released the anchor. He ran to the armory and gathered up his sword and spear and several other weapons, including a half-dozen boarding pikes, and wrapped them all up in an oilcloth blanket he found folded up in a small cupboard. He carried them out and tossed them down into his old boat, hoping they wouldn't be damaged. He went below and grabbed the two rucksacks that lay already full, and these he carried more gently down into his boat. When he climbed back up the side, Nimianne and Darah had a third rucksack, and he took it and laid it beside the other two. Both girls climbed down on their own, and he sculled his boat through the light surf to the beach in only a few moments. He dragged the boat as far forward as he could, then pulled the tow rope as far up the shore as it would reach, and made it fast to the stump of a tree. A forest loomed beyond the beach, and he couldn't see anything in the gloom beneath the trees. He turned back and unloaded the boat, then dragged it another ten feet further up the sand and went back to the stump, retying the rope. He saw Darah running away, and he turned towards her, and saw Nimianne already standing under a ledge, out of the rain. It took two trips to bring all the gear to the same place where the girls huddled, and he drew out Krasten's spear and two others.

"I'm going to see if I can find some shelter," he shouted as the rain and wind howled ever louder, "stay here, and remember what I taught you if anybody comes."

They nodded as they took their spears with shivering hands, but at least they no longer had the rain coming right down on them.

Tewer ran along the base of the cliff, then turned back. He wore only his loincloth, and he couldn't run through the woods barefoot. He sighed in relief when he found his boots among the things the girls had packed, and he took a couple of minutes to draw them over his wet feet before he went back towards the woods, spear in hand.

He kept close to the cliff face, hoping for a cave, and only about a hundred yards into the trees he found a place that would do. It wasn't a cave, exactly, just a hollow scooped out from below the cliff, and two trees had fallen to make it almost completely enclosed at the back, with about ten feet of roof and a wall on one side that would be hard to get through. The trees were huge, like nothing he'd seen, the larger of them bigger around that he was tall.

He ran back and brought the girls and equipment, and while he made the second trip the girls changed out of their wet clothes and had laid out blankets on the highest part of their little campsite. They had a cookstone out already, and the water boiled soon after he came back with the other two rucksacks. They drank some kind of tea and Tewer felt much better as it warmed him. Then he grinned at them and stood up.

"Well, I've got to change my clothes," he said, "and you're welcome to watch. I hope you brought me something to wear."

"We did," said Nimianne, laughing, "but don't worry, we won't peep."

"Won't bother me, if you do," said Tewer, taking a step back and untying his loincloth. They both turned away, and he dried himself off and put on another loincloth and the tunic they'd brought for him. He sat back down with a sigh, and he looked around their little campsite with some satisfaction.

"It's a good spot, for now," he said, "but how are we ever going to get the Marlet off that sandbank?"

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