Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 8

Tewer went out on deck and shook his head. These ladies were strange creatures! He rummaged through his pack and found that he really had nothing to wear. The clothes he'd drawn over his bloody clothes were wet and mucky, and the girls had everything else. He'd tossed away his old tunic—too ripped and stained to survive. He removed his clothes and climbed down to his boat, washing them as best he could using the boat as a washing-board. He lay them on the rail of his ship...his ship...his ship...what a lovely sound that made...to dry, then dove into the water and swam for several minutes, feeling his muscles numb a little in the cold water. He drew himself back onto his boat, shivering, and then stretched his arms and legs, trying to get the blood back into them. He dried himself with a blanket, then went back down to the cabin where the girls were still clinging together with glum expressions. At least they weren't crying.

"I was wondering..." he began, but both of them cried out and turned away, their cheeks reddening. He blinked in wonder. "What's the matter now?"

"You're naked!" Darah sounded outraged again.

"So?"

"That's not decent!"

"What's decent? Only women are required to wear clothes, men are often naked."

"In front of women?"

"Anywhere. That's the law—not that law means much here, but that's the way it is."

"Our customs are different. It is extremely rude to appear naked."

"I'm sorry," he said, "but that brings me back to my point. I have no clothes. Are any of your clothes on board? Can I have my clothes back?"

"We paid for these clothes," said Nimianne glancing at him and blushing still more.

"So you did," said Tewer, "may I borrow them? I can just remain naked until my other clothes dry, if you prefer."

"Stop teasing him, my lady," said Darah, "please wait outside, Captain. I'll hand you out your clothes in a moment. Some of our things are here aboard."

Tewer stepped out onto the main deck, and a moment later a slender arm thrust through the door with his new breeches and tunic held tightly. He took them, and put them on, but didn't return to the cabin. They'd closed the doors, and there had to be a reason for that.

He went down into the main hold, and found the armory just as Rudigar had promised, and even more. There were armors! Four of them; three crisp new canvas brigandines and a jazeraint of such exquisite workmanship that he couldn't take his eyes from it. The outer layer of blue silk shone with silver filigree and figures of a white bird with no legs, and though he could not see them, he could feel the layers of mail beneath. It looked to be too large for him, but that didn't matter.

"I am wealthy," he said, "I have more than any man I've ever met."

He found himself wishing that he had more than he had, however; a pair of women wouldn't be a bad addition to his immense wealth, but after all, he'd made the bargain. He tried not to think about their beauty and concentrated instead on the silver and gold spired helmet that went with the jazeraint. There were many swords—some straight, some curved, and one with a double curve. There were daggers, war-hammers, axes with steel hafts, crossbows, strange crooked things he took to be bows unlike any he'd seen before. In all, enough to arm twenty men at least.

"I wasn't wrong," he said, "Captain Tewer is right. And I shall call myself MacKrasten. Captain Tewer MacKrasten."

He found four other cabins below, two below the big cabin, with single beds in each, and two forward of the hold, with three bunks in either. There was a small ceramic stove and oven in a tiny room at the prow, which he reckoned to be the kitchen. He found plenty of food, much of which he didn't recognize. There were even a few silver goblets in one of the cupboards. All his! He gathered up several biscuits in a kerchief, and munched on one as he looked around. He added three pieces of fruit, and then sighed at the recollection that the girls had his title to the ship. He returned to the aft cabin where he found the door locked. He knocked and it opened, and the two ladies had transformed.

They wore long, clinging gowns, with lacy shawls around their heads and necks, and they looked poised, cool, and a bit haughty. He felt immediately abashed, but then remembered he'd seen them less well dressed, and smiled at the memory as he entered.

"I left my title here," he said, picking it up from the table, "wouldn't want to lose it. And I brought some food." He laid it on the table.

"You deserve the title," said Nimianne, "we are grateful to you for your help, especially for helping Sir Rudigar, and no matter what happens next, we will always remember how much you helped us."

Tewer Nodded at their thanks, reasoning that they were weak, so didn't mind appearing so. He pulled a chair from the table and sat down. Both of the ladies looked startled, then settled down on the bed, each with a biscuit in one hand and a pear in the other. "I thought it might be easier," he said, "if you told me what you know how to do, so I don't expect you to do things you can't. We've got plenty of time to talk; there's enough food in the galley to feed us for a few weeks, I reckon. I can hunt and fish if need be, but the more we stay close, the less likely anyone will find us. So what can you do?"

"How do you mean?" Darah behaved more haughtily than Nimianne, perhaps because she felt more jealous of her lady's dignity than her own. Neither seemed very haughty when they finally attacked their food.

"You've said you don't know weapons, and you couldn't even climb aboard without help." Tewer shook his head at the insanity of it. "Can you hunt? Fish? Raise a sail? Handle the tiller? Throw an anchor? What are your skills?"

"Nothing like that," said Nimianne when she'd finished chewing, "we can sew and embroider, read and write, recite poetry and history, argue philosophy, calculate, dance, sing, play several musical instruments..."

"Nothing practical?" Tewer blanched, a bit aghast. He had no idea what most of it meant, but they all certainly seemed useless.

"Sewing is practical!"

"I suppose so," said Tewer, "but it won't help us very much on our voyage. Well, we have two weeks of idle time while we hide out. Perhaps you could learn to help me handle the ship so that we can make good time, and you'll be able to handle her if I fall sick or something."

"That's not something a great lady should do," protested Darah.

"These are extreme circumstances, Darah," said Nimianne, "our lives are at stake. I'll die before I allow myself to be captured again, so a little loss of dignity is not too heavy a price."

"Good," said Tewer, "and I think I ought to teach you something of fighting too. It might be important. But for today, I'm rather tired. Why don't you tell me about how you grew up, so that I have some idea of why I keep making Darah so angry."

"Do you really want to know?"

"I said so."

"How did you ever come to be," laughed Nimianne, "an honest boy on an island of thieves?"

"I'm no boy," said Tewer, "I killed two men, not two nights ago. I used their bodies as bait for the second biggest murder-worm the Collector ever bought, and I killed three other murder-worms besides. I am a hunter and a killer, not a boy."

"My apologies, Captain," said Nimianne, "I meant no disrespect." She sighed and laughed. "You're not the only one who offends without meaning to. We don't know enough about you either. Darah will start, if you will, as we grew up together, and she is by far the better story teller. But when she has done, please tell us about your life here."

"I will."


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