Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 18

Tewer felt very pleased with himself until it came time to sleep. He'd rigged several branches over the entrance to their camp, and realized they were all too tired to keep watch, so they decided to trust to luck. Then he noticed that there was only one set of blankets laid out.

"Where am I to sleep?" He looked around, and saw nothing else that might serve for a blanket. The storm had made it quite cold, and he thought that the one drawback to their almost cave was that it never saw the sun. It would probably be chilly on the hottest day of the year.

"We didn't bring enough blankets," said Darah, "so we'll just have to share them." Tewer blinked four or five times, and both girls laughed.

"We trust you, Tewer," said Nimianne, "you had us at your mercy, and naked, and you didn't do anything."

"Yes, well, don't trust me too much," said Tewer, and they laughed again.

"There's nothing else we can do," said Nimianne, "it's too cold and that cookstone doesn't put out enough heat."

"All right," said Tewer.

The two girls got undressed and Tewer saw they wore only the loincloths and breast-wraps they'd made only that morning. He took off his tunic as well, and lay down between them. They snuggled in close, tucking the blankets in behind them, and Tewer had never been so uncomfortable in his life. Their legs brushed against his, their bodies seemed warm enough, but so soft, and then they put their arms around his neck and he felt like he just might pop.

"I think you trust me too much," he said hoarsely.

"Just relax yourself," said Darah, "you're so stiff! We should kiss him goodnight, my lady." Both giggled, and they kissed his cheeks at the same time.

"I really don't understand," said Tewer.

They had no mercy, however, snuggling even closer, and soon they slept, still exhausted from their illness and the ordeal that followed. He lay there for about six eternities, trying to force himself to relax, but only after the wind ceased howling did Tewer drop off to sleep.

When Tewer woke he lay there alone, and the girls sat by the cookstone giggling. He sat up quickly and grabbed his tunic. Putting it on, he sat down next to them and breathed in the wonderful odor of honeyed yams.

Rain still drizzled outside, and he took off his tunic again and climbed up until he could see the water. There the Martlet remained, sitting slightly sideways on the invisible sandbar. He breathed a sigh of relief and climbed back down, donning his tunic again.

"She's still there," he said, sitting down again, "lucky!" He refrained from grabbing his crotch in thanks to Laome, as they didn't consider that properly pious.

"Do you think we'll be able to get her off the shoal?" Darah smiled at him as she stirred the yams in a frying pan.

"One way or another," said Tewer, "but we may be stuck here for a few days. The Green Moon will be full in another six days, and the Yellow and Red Moons will be in the sky at that time, so we should have a higher tide than normal. It looks like the water gets all the way up here during a three-moon tide, so it should lift us right off the bar."

"Six days," said Nimianne, "that's quite a delay."

"Yes," said Tewer, "but we can try to pull her off with the boat at high tide. We'll have to watch for it, but I think it'll be pretty much the same as back home. Should be about midnight this time of year."

"So we're going to be here all day anyway," said Nimianne with a sigh, "we should've brought some books!"

"Teach me to read," said Tewer, "that'll pass the time."

"You can't learn in one day!" Darah smiled at the very idea.

"Good," said Tewer, "we've got lots of time to waste. I need to climb up and look around before we start. I want to see if there are any towns or anything nearby."

They ate their breakfast silently, and Tewer felt very uncomfortable. Both of the girls seemed to be looking at him most of the time, but with a strange kind of measuring expression in their eyes. He finished quickly and picked up his spear.

"But it's still raining," Nimianne objected, "can't you wait for it to clear up?"

"No," said Tewer, "we need to know what's about. If we just sit here somebody might come and take my ship. Can't have that."

"Be careful," said Nimianne, and Darah nodded.

"I will," said Tewer, "you could always come with me if you want." He took off his tunic and laid it down. He supposed he probably looked ridiculous wearing only a loincloth and his boots, but he didn't care. The girls didn't seem to mind, to judge from their expressions. "Well, I think you're both too tired. You had a rough time of it."

"So did you," said Darah, "you had to take care of us."

"I wasn't sick," said Tewer, "but I've had swamp fever before, and even though you drank those potions, doesn't look like you're all healed yet. You both still have that tired-out look around the eyes. So just wait here, and I'll be back in a little while."

They instructed him to be careful, again, and Tewer nodded and loped out into the rain. Soon he stood on the beach, looking at his ship, and he felt a strange sense of relief. Much as he enjoyed looking at his lovely shipmates, he didn't always like the way they looked at him. He felt like they were constantly weighing him, judging him, and he didn't care for it. He'd lived alone for two years, and solitude had become an old friend, despite occasional bouts of loneliness. He remembered how lonely he'd felt during their illness and wondered how his attitude could change so quickly. He'd felt so relieved by their presence, and now he felt relieved by their absence. What did it mean? It just made no sense. He grinned as he realized that the girls weren't the only ones with strange fits of madness.

He turned around and looked up the mountain that rose high above, and at two rocky ridges that reached down to embrace the little cove. He spied something like a trail on the far side of the beach, and ran to it, following it up two switchbacks to the top of the cliffs. He saw another cove on the far side, this one about twice as large as the one that held his ship. It was hard to see in the rain, but there appeared to be a hut there, built on a pile of rocks above the beach. He thought he spied the remains of a ship, too. He couldn't see far out to sea, but far enough to feel assured that no other ships sailed nearby. Not that they could; the rain came down straight, without a breath of wind. A tolvern could be out there, rowing through the rain, but he thought he would hear the noise of it, even over the patter of raindrops.

He couldn't tell if smoke came from the hut, so he followed the trail down to the far beach and approached it stealthily. As he drew closer he could see that the door stood ajar, and no smoke came from the chimney of stacked rock. He ducked his head inside and glanced around quickly, but he could see nothing. Despite the overcast it remained too bright outside. He heard no movement, so he went inside and waited for his eyes to adjust, holding his spear at the ready.

It took a few minutes, but then he could see that what he'd thought of as a hut was in fact a very well-built cabin. The door opened away from the water, and he saw no windows, but the walls were thick and chinked with mud, and the chimney too had mud in the cracks between the many flat rocks. The single room held a table with a single chair, several barrels and chests, and a long bed. Upon the bed lay a very tall skeleton, in a position that made Tewer think he had crawled up onto the bed and then died. Several ribs looked broken, two of them badly, as did the right leg which lay on the floor next to the bed. He must've fallen and crawled back to his cabin and died there. Tewer went back outside and examined the wreck that lay halfway up the beach. It had been a very large ship, but it looked like a skeleton with broken ribs too. From the curvature of the walls of the cabin, it appeared the man had used planks from the ship to build it.

He went back inside, and nearly tripped on a rusted sword that lay just inside the door. He wondered that he had missed it the first time, and it gave him an idea. He gathered up the skeleton with the dusty blanket, and carried it to the trees, where he found several mounds with wooden planks at one end. He couldn't read the writing carved on them, but he knew they had to be graves. He laid the skeleton down and returned to the hut, where he found a shovel. He brought the shovel and the sword back to the little cemetery, and began to dig.

It took the better part of an hour, but when he finished Tewer looked on his work with satisfaction. The cemetery now had fourteen mounds, and the rusted sword formed the marker for the fourteenth.


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