Rough Chivalry

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Chapter 9

Darah proved to be an excellent storyteller, and Tewer listened with rapt attention. The world they came from was different in every way from his own. Literally the first time they had experienced violence of any kind had come from Captain Rask and his crew. They'd never seen a man die, and laughed bitterly about how they'd cried over the death of something called a swallow. They'd never been hungry, never been cold, never known want of any kind. Their biggest foe had always been boredom, and it had brought about their capture. Nimianne's father had twelve wives, and she was the youngest of four daughters of the eleventh. In a family with two dozen children, a daughter didn't amount to much, and her whole life had been spent in educating herself to become the wife of a man, very likely twice her age or more, that her father would choose for her. To avoid the boredom that so often assailed her, Nimianne had declared her intention of learning the arts of healing from the Sisters of Saints Marjehre and Jilias in Asgalun, the capital of Ascalon. Their voyage had been exciting at first, but turned dull after a few days, until the Whaelhreow tolverns began to close in.

Tewer learned that in the early morning hours they'd piled into the longboat the Martlet had towed all the way from Chai'ia, and Sir Rudigar had alone led the pirates away from them. Nimianne's guards had rowed steadily towards the shores of Ascalon, but two more tolverns had stumbled over their small craft and so the two girls found themselves captives.

"I had no idea pirates were so brutal," said Nimianne, adding to Darah's story, "in the stories we hear, they are often kind, romantic figures, especially towards women. These brutes simply tore off our jewelry and clothes without pity. Their captain realized we were more valuable whole, and tied us to the mast of his ship so that his crew could ogle us as they rowed. It was the worst humiliation I've ever suffered."

"Best not think of it, my lady," said Darah.

She told then of the rules of etiquette they lived by. There were so many they made Tewer's head swim. There were rules about sitting at a table, and whom could sit in whose presence. She explained the variations of rank that numbered far more than the simple three classes of Whaelhreow. She set out the rules of courtship, all the things required of a gentleman before he could even touch a lady's hand.

Tewer felt ever more bewildered, and eventually became impatient. They seemed to think that their way of life was the only right and proper way that existed, and that was death, in an emergency.

"Didn't anyone ever think about what would happen if all those protections were taken away?" He felt entirely incredulous, and his tone showed it. "You already know what happens. Pirates strip off your clothes and do whatever they want! You can't worry about all these things anymore—not if you want to live. You can go back to being ladies later, when you're safely back in your prisons. As for me, I have a ship, and that means I can go anywhere—free as a bird. I won't live in that kind of cage, that's certain."

They resented his opinion, but Nimianne again quelled Darah's cutting remarks.

"Tell us about your life, Captain, so that we may understand better."

So he did.

He told them about being a naked child in a crowd of other naked children fighting for scraps of food beneath the food stalls in Derngeard, the largest town of Whaelhreow. He shivered as he remembered how some of his friends had been offered food by smiling men and never returned. He recalled being so hungry that he went willingly with the unsmiling Krasten, fearing his fate, but then learning, to his shock, that Krasten would teach him how to hunt and make a living. He explained that women in Whaelhreow could only be the property of a man, and all of them whores...make that trulls...or at best kept women. He expounded on the few but iron laws of Whaelhreow, such as they were, and how he had been stuck in the lower class until he'd finally killed Kadron and Ulf just two days ago. He told them about his encounter at the Bloodstain on his fourteenth birthday, and at that their horror finally overflowed into tears.

"Crying again? What is it with the crying?"

"What a horrible experience. Is that all you know of women?"

"Not all," said Tewer, "but most of it I guess."

"I am feeling something new," said Nimianne, "I pity and admire you at once. I don't know what to call this feeling, but it is very odd."

"Why pity me?"

"Because you have been trapped. You said our world is a prison, and in many ways you're right. But you've been in prison too, trapped by the narrow little society in which you lived your whole life. You know nothing of the outside world! Do you know about religion? Do you know the Three Divines?"

"Of course," said Tewer, "Laome the Lady of Luck, Uor the Storminglord, and Guor the Father of Dreams."

"Three above," said Nimianne, "those aren't the Three Divines! Laome is a good power, for she lives in the Hell of Nodosus where the skeins of the Talvasi are trapped, and gives good luck as much as she can—but she is a rebel against her former lord, Dogai the Ruiner, not the mistress of Nodosus. Uor is a name given to Grwr the Storminglord, a demon from the Hot Hell who was once the avatar of the Hammer of the Netherworld, and while I've never heard of Guor, I guess the name refers to Gaueko, Lord of Madness, who rules the Dream Prison. The true Three, the Three Divines, are the Judge, the Rewarder and the Avenger, who rule the high heaven of Alvinyos and the Seven Archangels of the lower heaven of Calnos are their chief servants. Surely you have heard of them?" Tewer shook his head.

"What's a heaven?"

"Three help us," muttered Darah.

Nimianne launched into an explanation of how the world was far more than what Tewer saw around him, but he started yawning almost at once. The sun was nearly down, and he had scarcely slept the night before.

"You can explain later," he said, "I'm going to take a quick look around, make sure nobody is looking for us nearby, then sleep. Did you two sleep here during your voyage? In this cabin?"

"Yes," said Darah.

"Well, you can keep it," said Tewer with what he considered extreme magnanimity. "Though the captain ought to have the best cabin on his own ship. However I'm going to sleep on deck so I can hear anything that comes near us."

"Thank you, Captain," said Nimianne before Darah could protest his lack of gallantry. After all, it was likely another word he'd never heard of.

"Try not to make any noise," he said, "and don't make any light. Once the sun is down, just stay in bed. I know you're used to parties and staying up dancing all night, and singing and music, but we can't have any of that until we're well out to sea. Agreed?"

"Yes," said Darah, and Nimianne nodded.

Tewer left them and got into his boat, and instead of using the long sculling oar, pulled out a paddle and moved his craft slowly through the narrow channel between the dees trees. He used all his skill despite his weariness and made no splash, and no sound. He drew up under several low branches and looked every which way, then lay back and closed his eyes, listening. He heard nothing but wind through the trees and the murmur of water, and when he looked up saw no craft of any kind in any of the nearby channels. He paddled back stealthily, checking every direction he could, then passed again into the hidden cove. Tying his boat off again, he gathered up his blankets and made a bed of them on the afterdeck, not five feet from where he'd first seen Rudigar. He looked at the two branches he'd set as telltales across the channel, barely visible in the gathering gloom, nodded once with satisfaction, and slept.

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