Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 28

The sun rose, and Tewer raised the sails with a thrill of excitement. The girls looked sorrowful still, but the strange feeling from the night before stayed with him, bolstering his spirits and making him smile at the strangest things. The sparkle of the light on the water, the snap of the canvas, the feeling of his ship moving with the swells, and the eager way Martlet cut through the water kept his grin in place through the morning.

The girls had donned formal attire, gowns and himations, they explained, and he did as well. They had altered the beautiful jazeraint so that it fit him, and he wondered how he looked in such finery. They had also combed his hair for him, and found a pair of boots that fit him, though he saw no point at all in wearing shoes on board ship.

The Martlet raced along swiftly, the breeze strong and blowing them northeasterly, and he finally managed to get Nimianne and Darah smiling again. They spotted a sail as the mass of green land loomed ahead, and for the first time Tewer turned towards that sail, expecting it to be a patrol ship of Ascalon.

They neared the other ship, and before long Tewer could see the pennant flying from the highest of three masts: it was the gold and green of Ascalon. He took in the jibs, and shorted the mainsail, and soon he could see the other ship perfectly well as it turned to match his course.

"Ahoy the Martlet," cried a man from the much larger ship, "where are you bound?"

"Asgalun," shouted Tewer, "I have the Princess Nimianne Zandreya of Archegor aboard." That caused a hubbub on the other ship, and another voice shouted out.

"Where is your crew?"

"All dead," yelled Tewer, "pirates! Are we on the right course? I don't know these waters."

"Follow us in," said a very tall man on the other ship, "welcome to Ascalon, Princess Nimianne! Welcome to Ascalon, Martlet."

The big ship picked up speed, and Tewer raised his jibs and mainsail until the Martlet looked about to pass the bigger ship, but then she put on even more sail, and Tewer could only just keep up.

"She's a beauty," he said, "do you know what kind of ship she is?"

Nimianne and Darah didn't know, and they clung together fearfully.

"Please, Nimi, Darah," said Tewer, "you're too brave to let fear rule you. You fought pirates, saved my life and my ship. Why are you so afraid?"

"I suppose we don't trust the Talvasi," said Nimianne, "to do as they're told." She laughed.

"That's it, isn't it," said Darah, "we want them to do something very specific, but fear they have other plans."

"Well, I'm not afraid," said Tewer, "nervous, yes, but not afraid. I feel good, and I can't even tell you why. Something has changed, and I like it."

"It's because you have two beautiful women after you," said Darah, grinning at him, "nothing makes a man feel good like women chasing him."

"Is that so?" Tewer grinned back, and winked. "I thought women didn't chase men. I thought you said it always had to be the other way around."

"Well, there's an old expression," said Darah, "a man chases a woman until she catches him."

"I don't understand that at all," said Tewer, and they all laughed.

The land ahead began to be more than a green blur. Tewer saw green on both sides, as well as before, green mountains, rising high above the sea. Ahead the mass of land loomed ever larger, until it seemed to fill the sky. They kept on between the island on the right, and the long cape on the left. The girls told him that the eastern island was called On Castu, and had very few inhabitants, while the cape to the West was the Zamdizyat, the Sandy Point.

At last they came to a large bay, and there gleamed a city such as Tewer had never imagined. A great tower rose from a bluff that jutted out into the sea, and to its right lay a vast harbor, and the mounting land behind the port seemed to be covered with houses of white and roofs of brown, red, and blue. Many ships rode at anchor, and galleys twice the size of the tolverns of Whaelhreow patrolled the harbor like swift sharks. To the left of the great tower another tower arose, and to its left lay another harbor, walled on the left but thick with large, beautiful buildings on the right. In the center of the bay he saw a round building with cavernous openings all around, and as he watched one of the patrolling galleys came out of its berth and started out into the bay.

A smaller boat with many oars came alongside as the large escort ship turned back with shouts and waves, and a man stood up and shouted to Tewer:

"Permission to come aboard, sir?"

"Come aboard," Tewer said, gratified by the courtesy, even though the girls had warned him to expect it. The man helped Tewer lower his sails, and then they rigged a towline to the pilot boat. The oars of the pilot boat splashed into the water, and the Martlet rode along grandly, weaving through many ships to a large stone quay. Tewer and the pilot threw ropes to men waiting on the quay, and they pulled the Martlet in until her deck was almost level with the quay. They set a gangplank down and it looked like only a slight incline to get off the ship. Darah had prepared Tewer to pay the pilot's fee, and he felt a terrible pang at setting two of the silver 'staters' in the pilot's hand. He'd never had that much money before only a few days since, and now he had to pay it just for a few minutes of work!

He helped both of the girls up the gangplank, and then followed, where the governor of the port met them. The governor smiled and bowed to Nimianne first, and made several florid compliments about her which irritated Tewer, but he held his peace. The girls had warned him about the weird manners of their world. The governor stood about middle height, but looked twice the width of the Counter, far fatter than anyone Tewer had ever seen. He bowed slightly when noticed, and the governor must've noticed his expression, for he complimented the Martlet, which warmed Tewer's heart in spite of his irritation.

"Have no fear, Captain, that your ship will encounter any danger," the governor said as he led them along the quay, "the port guard will watch her most carefully. The Cid himself has been informed of your arrival, and we will not allow anything to happen to your Martlet while she is in our care."

"Thank you," said Tewer, "I'm glad to hear it."

The governor led them to a large house that stood next to the quay, and there he settled them in a beautifully decorated parlor. He bowed himself out, and soon returned with servants and a meal, which they laid out and then left behind.

"The Cid has sent a representative to escort you to the Ramanic Asnavar, the Palace of Peace," said the governor, "I will bring them as soon as they arrive." He bowed and left, and Tewer sighed in irritation.

"You're doing very well, Tewer," said Nimianne, "they're treating you like a nobleman because you seem like one. If you don't say too much, they'll never know."

"I don't want to trick them," said Tewer, "the Cid at least should know the truth. He's almost like a king, you said, so we shouldn't trick him."

"We won't," said Nimianne, "and when he asks you to tell him what happened, tell him everything."

"Won't he ask you?"

"He might," said Nimianne, "but even in some places that worship the Three Divines, women aren't given much respect. Oh, not as bad as Whaelhreow, but we aren't always treated as if we are able to be sensible."

"Well, you do cry an awful lot," teased Tewer, "so maybe they're right about that." Both girls looked startled, and then laughed.

"You're learning," said Darah, "and so quickly! It amazes me."

"I had good teachers," said Tewer.

They ate their light luncheon, which consisted of a many things which Tewer had never seen, and the girls instructed him on bowing to a Cid.

"They might take your sword and dagger," said Nimianne, "but they'll give them back, so don't object if they do. Since you're not known in Ascalon, even though they take you for a lord, they might disarm you."

"I wish we didn't have to go see this Cid," said Tewer, "sounds like a lot of trouble for one man."

"He rules over many lords and cities," said Nimianne, "and is greater than many kings, even though he has a lesser title. He's very important, Tewer."

"If you say so," Tewer said, "and you know more of it than I, that is certain."

The governor returned soon, and brought with him a young man with curly black hair who stood six inches taller than Tewer. He bowed slightly, and Tewer did as well.

"This is Vamiyar Kjoya, Hamir of the Ramanic Asnavar, and son of the Cid," said the governor, "he has come to escort you to the palace, your highness."

"My thanks, my lord," said Nimianne, nodding her head, "this is Captain Tewer MacKrasten, and my lady-in-waiting, Darah Gaddo." Vamiyar bowed to Darah, but seized Tewer's hand and shook it enthusiastically.

"What a pleasure to meet you, Captain," said the young heir to Ascalon, "our Augur says you saved the ladies from Captain Rask! I'd love to hear the tale, informally, if you have time later on."

"I would be glad to tell it," said Tewer a little stiffly.

"Then follow me," said Vamiyar, "my father is anxious to meet you all."

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