Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 21

Nimianne took the reed from Darah and thrust it through the sash of her gown. Then she set the other reed to her lips and made sweet music, like the piping voice of a bird, come out of the pipe. Tewer stared rapt for several seconds, but then Darah began to move to the eerie, somehow haunting music. The strange notes flowed very differently from birdsong, and Darah's movements somehow fit with the sound.

She moved slowly at first, her arms moving as she stepped back and forth, and whirled in place, and then started moving more quickly, making bowing motions towards him and raising her arms to the sky many times. She whirled, leaped, and swayed to the music, and Tewer couldn't look away. Then Nimianne took several slow, mincing steps into the space between the fires, and suddenly Darah took both of the reeds, whirled several times, and took up the tune before three seconds had passed. The second reed sounded deeper, more mournful than the first, but Nimianne's dancing seemed even more rapid than Darah's. She moved with astonishing grace, and several times it seemed as if her arms and legs could bend like reeds themselves. The reed played for several minutes, and then finally gave a long, series of hoots, and Nimianne ended on her knees, her hands towards Tewer and her head bowed.

"That is dancing?" Tewer felt as breathless as he sounded. "And what are those reeds? How did you make such sweet sounds?"

"They're flutes," said Darah, "there are holes along the top that change each note. My flute is tenor, but Nimi's is soprano." She laughed. "I know, I know. Tenor is deeper, like a man's voice, but pretty high. Soprano is like a very high woman's voice."

"You mean when singing?" Darah nodded, and Tewer suddenly had a flash of memory, recalling a high, lilting voice singing to him, though he couldn't understand the words. He hummed the tune, and both of the girls looked at him with wonder.

"You have a good voice," said Darah, "you're a tenor, I'd say. What is that song?"

"I don't know," he said, "I just have a faint memory of somebody singing it to me, with a high voice, like you said."

"Sounds like a lullaby," said Nimianne, "maybe your mother wanted you after all. Maybe you were taken from her, Tewer. That's the kind of song a mother sings to her baby."

"Doesn't matter," said Tewer, covering the sudden terrible sadness that welled up inside, "done's done. Both the flutes and the dancing were...wondrous. Let's see the next!"

The Dance of Springtime Joy included lots of jumping and clapping and whirling, but Tewer liked it best when they put their hands on their hips and shook back and forth, raising a shoulder with each movement. The music sounded very different, quick and happy, and both girls grew breathless as they danced, but they smiled and laughed at the same time. Nimianne started the second dance, and they switched places again so quickly that Tewer almost missed it, and he began laughing himself, and clapping in time with the music. He'd never heard of anything more lovely, though he had listened to birdsong often, sometimes over Krasten's objections.

When they finished they took a little rest, sitting on broad leaves beside him.

"Beautiful," he said, "both the sound and the sight. So that is dancing! Beautiful!"

They thanked him, still out of breath, but after a few moments they showed him how to play the flutes, at least in theory, as he couldn't get so much as a chirp out of either.

"Why don't you kneel behind the log," suggested Darah, "and you can tap out the rhythm for the next dance that way and see what we're doing." Tewer did as she asked, and pounded the log several times, getting a couple of different sounds. Darah took the stick from him and tried several places too, and finally settled on two. She demonstrated the sounds she wanted him to make, and then started the rhythm: boom-bah, boom-bah, boom-bah-boom. She handed him the stick, and he tried it as well, getting it right immediately. The two girls smiled and congratulated his talent. They tripped back to the space between the fires, and stood there for a few moments while he drummed carefully.

Without a hint of warning they both leaped away from each other, arms above their heads, hands spread wide, and then they whirled and both hunched down to the ground. As the drumbeat rolled on, they grew, almost like smoke from a fire, swaying up until their arms coiled above their heads, and they stood on tiptoe, straining to reach the moons far above them. Then they leaped again, almost into each other but instead they ran to stand in front of the fires, Nimianne on the left and Darah on the right. They repeated many of the same movements, especially the leaps, and Tewer felt his heart swell with wonder. Their grace, the way they knew how to move together, almost crashing many times but somehow knowing just when to slip past each other, it all struck him as quite literally magical: a kind of witchcraft, to be sure. He felt unworthy to be watching them, his mind so narrow, his knowledge so scanty, and his homeland a place where nothing like this could ever happen. He felt a strange shivery warmth on his shoulders, first the right then the left, but when he looked there was nothing, and he had no idea what the feeling meant. He beat the log with a feeling of despair, and then it faded away to be replaced by a soaring happiness. Whether he deserved it or not, they both wanted to break their oaths with him, whatever that meant exactly. He supposed it meant what Floke had described to him as 'touching' them, but they had told him that things like that would ruin them forever, even if they wanted it. So he would just have to be strong, and keep them safe even from themselves. He didn't even care about the ransom any more. He just wanted to see them somewhere safe, even if it meant never seeing them again.

Tears sprang to his eyes at the thought, and the dancers suddenly stopped, dropping to their knees and raising their arms to the sky, as if in supplication, and then crossed their arms over their chests. He stopped beating the log, and they rose and came to him, both sweating and smiling.

"Perfect, Tewer," said Nimianne, as they sat on either side of him, "you never missed a beat!"

"Don't be sad," said Darah, wiping a tear from his cheek.

"Not sad," said Tewer, "well a little. I just felt something strange, and it made me feel all warm and chilly at once. I can't explain it."

"Albinic Wights," said Nimianne, "they're little winged serpents that float in the Spirit World. Sounds like one adopted you."

"Well, it feels good, whatever it is," said Tewer. He still didn't understand the concept of the Spirit World, or any of the other Planes for that matter. The girls had tried to explain, but he just couldn't grasp the meaning. He shivered at the thought of little snakes floating around him all the time, and wondered what 'adopted' meant.

"We'd better change again," said Darah, "we can't paddle in these gowns."

"Yes," said Nimianne, "I hope you enjoyed the dancing, Tewer."

Tewer snorted.

"Wondrous," he said again, "I don't know how to say it right. I could watch you forever."

"That's more than good enough," said Nimianne, smiling and rising to her feet. She and Darah exchanged glances again, and hurried away, back towards the little campsite.

"Well, isn't that sweet," said a rough voice, and Tewer leapt to his feet, catching up Krasten's spear. He'd thought the island uninhabited, but that didn't mean he went around without a weapon to hand.

The owner of the voice stood about twenty feet away, just within the firelight. He wore a frayed brigandine and had a sword at his belt, but his breeches were torn and he had no shoes or even sandals. He had a bandage wrapped around his head, and his beard looked crusty with old blood.

Tewer knew him. He'd been aboard Rask's tolvern at the mouth of Riddler Channel. Tewer didn't know the name, but he knew the face. He put his spear into guard position and waited to see how the man moved.

"Bold little scrap, aren't you," said the pirate, "think you can keep them...and that ship...for yourself?"

"I have so far," said Tewer, "and I don't plan on giving them up."

"I wouldn't either," the man leered, "but you're too soft-hearted to rape them properly. I figured as much when you wanted to save that murder worm."

"They're worth 500 pounds of silver untouched," said Tewer, "and nothing if I rape them."

"That's a lot of money," the man nodded, "but you're still a stinking lickspittle of a catamite."

"You must be hurt bad," said Tewer, "trying to bait me. Krasten always said the weaker man goes for taunts. The stronger man doesn't need to insult anybody."

"You think you're stronger?"

"Come on and find out," said Tewer, "sure you're not afraid of a lickspittle catamite?"

"I only have to yell and the rest of the crew will come running."

"So yell," said Tewer.

Instead the man charged, favoring his left leg. He drew his sword on the run, and Tewer stepped to one side and reversed his spear, tripping the pirate and sending him sprawling to the sand.

"Curse you," the pirate shouted hoarsely, rolling away from Tewer's spear-point and getting to one knee. He blocked Tewer's next strike, but he couldn't attack in return. The spear had too much reach.

Tewer whirled the spear around and the man screamed as the chape smacked him hard on the temple. He dropped to one side and Tewer didn't hesitate, reversing the spear again and stabbing into the pirate's side. In a second it was over, and blood spread out into the sand as the man breathed his last.

"So much for the best day of my life," Tewer muttered, "we've got to get out of here!"

He dragged the corpse under the trees, hid it with many fallen leaves, and then covered the blood and the trail with sand. He scattered the fires and ran along the beach to towards the cabin, and then stopped to listen. He heard the strange call of the island's birds, but no answers to the man's shouts. He hurried up the switchbacks and looked down at the cabin. He didn't see anyone between him and the cabin, though it was hard to be sure in the light of the moons. Farther up the coast, however, he saw the glow of a fire reflecting from the rocks, and knew that Rask or some of his pirates had found the island.


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