Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 27

When Tewer woke, he lay in the big bed in the largest cabin of his ship. From the feel of the swells they were out at sea, no longer in the little cove, and he wondered what had happened. He wore nothing under the covers, and he felt a powerful urge to use the chamberpot, so he looked around, saw no one, and moved clumsily and painfully into the little private garderobe. When he reached the bed again he noticed all the open windows. The fresh breeze gave him a little more vigor, but his head ached abominably, so he wrapped the loincloth that lay by his bed around his waist and climbed back in, laying atop the covers.

After a few minutes the throbbing in his head subsided a little, but he decided against any more exertion. He lay there a bit bemused, trying to remember exactly what had happened. He could recall only a few flashes, such as a quarrel slamming into the top of a man's head, and stabbing his spear into Rask's heart. It all seemed a jumble, but of one thing he felt sure; he and the girls were safe, or at least safe enough.

Nimianne came into the room, wearing a very brief loincloth and a skimpy halter. She saw him awake and smiled at once, coming over to feel his forehead.

"Oh, thank Three," she said, "and also Saints Marjehre and Jilias. We read your symptoms from one of their books when the healing potion didn't do enough. How do you feel?"

"I hurt a lot," said Tewer in a raspy voice, "especially in the head."

"Concussion," said Nimianne, nodding sagely, "but I think we're past the worst of it. Here, have some water." She picked up a flask he hadn't noticed and helped him drink. "You've been in bed for two days," she said, "but I think you'll mend. You have better color already."

"You killed the last pirate, right?" Tewer felt much better for the water, but his head still throbbed from lifting it enough to drink.

"Yes," said Nimianne, "I had just one quarrel left. And Darah stabbed Rask in the back! She never thought she'd be able to do it."

"So where are we now?"

"Still by the island," said Nimianne, "your boat got crushed when we drifted into the side of the cove. We used one of the sweeps to push us away from it, and then I got one of the jibs up and we used it to inch out of the cove. We've been sailing back and forth with just the jibs, trying to learn how it works a little better. The island is only a mile or so away from us."

"My girls," said Tewer proudly, "slayers and sailors too! What did you do with all the bodies?"

"Rolled them overboard," said Nimianne with a shudder, "but we kept their weapons. We just left the ones on the shore."

"I promised to bury Krasten's brother," said Tewer, "so I'll have to swim ashore when I feel better and do that. The rest of them can rot."

"First you need to get better," said Nimianne, "I'll bring you some food. You haven't eaten anything in the last couple of days. Do you feel hungry?"

"Not really," Tewer said, "but I'll eat anyway."

They spent three more days cruising back and forth while Tewer recovered. He swam ashore on the fourth day and buried Gaevan, who he had always known as Floke, and then they sailed away, northwards toward Ascalon.

Tewer found himself growing ever more nervous as they sped northward. He had no idea what to expect in Ascalon, whether they would accept him and allow him to live there, or pay him his money and send him on his way. They might even imprison or kill him, if they had the same kind of honor as Captain Rask.

That night as they furled the sails, both girls began to look sad. They had seen land to the north before sunset, and knew that they would reach Ascalon the next day. After he had rigged the sea-anchor, Tewer joined them in their cabin, only to find them crying.

"What's the matter," he said, exasperated more than usual, because of his own nervousness, "don't you want to reach Ascalon?"

"No," said Nimianne, "because I might never see you again." That hit Tewer like a blow to the stomach. Nimianne and Darah saw his expression, looked at each other, and started wailing.

"Why not?" Tewer choked as he said it. "I'm rich. I'll have a nice house and all that. You could visit me, even if they won't let you be my women." To his surprise, that made them cry worse than before. "You don't want to be my women? Is that why you're crying?"

"No," said Nimianne, laughing even as she cried, "we do. We're just afraid they won't let us." She hiccoughed and shook her head. "I'm a princess. A Sarke's daughter. They might kill you before they'd let you have me."

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

"There are only three ranks in Whaelhreow," sobbed Darah, "but there are fifty or more in the outside world. Nimianne is third or fourth from the top, just below emperors and kings. My family is noble too, a few ranks lower. They don't usually let us belong to those who come from lower ranks, and we don't know where you'll fit in."

"Well I'm a ship captain," said Tewer, "and I have a lot of money. So that should be worth something."

"It is," said Nimianne, "but maybe not enough."

"So you're crying because of maybe?"

"Yes," said Nimianne.

He chuckled and shook his head as they glared at him. He opened his mouth but Darah held up her hand.

"Don't say you don't understand," she said.

And then they all laughed.

He sat down between them and put his arms around their shoulders.

"Let's worry about that later," he said soothingly, "for now, we'll arrive, we'll let them think what they will, and then when everyone has forgotten about us, we'll see what happens. You may not want me after all, since you'll be back among noble men."

"I never met one so noble as you, Tewer," said Nimianne, "no matter your birth."

"Yes, well you haven't met many men anyway, from what you tell me," said Tewer, "so don't be hasty. I don't want to ruin your lives, you know. I would do anything for you both."

"There might be a way," said Nimianne, "we could just take our Third Birth vows a few months late."

"Nimi," said Darah, "that might make it worse."

"I know," said Nimianne, "but at least if we never see him again we would've done it!"

"And if they kill him?"

"What do you think, Tewer?" Nimianne clung to him, suddenly, her breath hot on his neck. "Love us! Love us now! Then we'll be your women, no matter what they say!"

"You said that would ruin you," said Tewer.

"I don't care. I want you, and nobody else!"

"So do I," said Darah, "she's right. It's the only way."

"I don't understand," said Tewer, "why will it be a good thing to ruin you?"

"Please, Tewer," said Nimianne, kissing his neck.

"It's the only way," Darah repeated, pulling his hand down to her breast.

Tewer felt as if it might burst, or even explode. He didn't know what to do, and the heat rose so quickly he felt feverish.

"Wait!" He shouted and stood up, pacing the room. He turned back to them and shook his head. "You have to explain," he said, "I really don't understand. You want to be ruined now? You want your lives destroyed? You're the ones that told me that would happen!"

"I may be the only way we can be with you," said Nimianne, "and that's more important than anything else."

"I can't do it," Tewer said, "I can't hurt you! You tell me you want me to hurt you, and I'm supposed to think that's right? I wouldn't hurt either of you for anything. I'd jump overboard first!" He ran out onto the deck, his heart pounding, his face hot, and he looked at the chilly water longingly. They followed him onto the deck, but gasped in relief when they saw him still aboard.

"I'm sorry, Tewer," said Nimianne, "you're right. We weren't being fair."

"I think this must be the first time in history," said Darah, "that a man said no to two women. It just shows you, Nimi. He's good."

"He is," said Nimianne, sobbing again. "And that's what hurts so much!"

Tewer looked at the moons reflected on the black water, and shook his head.

"How about this," he said, "if they don't like the idea, we escape. We'll just sail away."

"Yes," said Nimianne, and then she gasped. "No!"

"What?"

"What about saying our vows, here, now?"

Darah jumped enthusiastically.

"You mean marry him? Here? Yes! We know the words, it's an emergency!"

"Doesn't matter," said Nimianne, "you can witness my oath to him, and I'll witness yours. The church may not encourage polygamy but of course it's not forbidden. My father has twelve wives."

"And my father has four," Darah sounded excited, but then she gasped. "What about his oath?" Darah suddenly deflated. "They wouldn't accept his, because he isn't Tranic. We need a priest to witness the oath of anyone who hasn't taken the Second Birth Vows, to verify it in the Spirit World."

"Oh!" Nimianne sank to the deck and started crying again. "It's just not fair!"

"You should trust in your Talvasi," said Tewer, feeling suddenly as if somebody else spoke through him, "they didn't put us together for nothing. I say it's Lady Luck, but I trust in her too. We've been lucky, and will keep being lucky. You'll see."

The girls insisted that he sleep with them that night, and they got into the big bed, one on either side of him. They fell asleep at once, but Tewer remained wakeful. He had no idea what would happen in Ascalon. It had the name of a cruel enemy in his homeland, but he had to hope it would prove to be friendly. He had been so ignorant, and still was, but he felt strange, fluttery warmth that made him believe that his hope would be fulfilled.


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