Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 6 part 3.22

Posted by harmony0stars on December 13, 2010

As Glory wandered over the deck the morning after the storm, the few sailors out and about gaped after her with an expression better suited to stunned deer. Every time she turned around, someone was hurriedly going back to work. Unable to catch anyone’s eye, she stalked towards the door which led below deck. She was met there by two anxious sailors who blocked her way without openly denying her access.

All through the night the steady beat of a drum had led the oarsmen in their rowing. It still beat, and the oarsmen still rowed with no sign of tiring. Bowing and scraping, the nearest sailor yanked what appeared to be a piece of jerky from his mouth and begged her to wait on deck as his companion disappeared into the dark opening in search of Bho-Rehd. He stood there awkwardly until Glory finally walked away.

The rank smell which surrounded the ship seemed to coalesce at the gaping opening, breathing a fetid air into the cheerful morning light like the last breath of a dying man. Glory was just as happy not to plumb the depths of the ship in search of the missing priest. As she went towards the prow of the ship to wait, she saw the sailor resume his chewing on the black strip of meat while staring after her with a disheartening look of awe on his face. She could already tell that their reverence was going to make her stay uncomfortable.

At least the smell was bearable near the prow as the wind of their passing blew the stench away from her. Bho-Rehd’s voice reached her as he came up the stairs, cursing the sailor who stood by the door in their guttural language. From the gist of it, it seemed Bho-Rehd was furious that any of the crew would eat on deck. Bho-Rehd caught her eye and hurried out to greet her, his demeanor changing immediately to one of joy and accommodation. “Good morning, Princess.”

Glory flinched. “Don’t call me that, anything but that.” He looked momentarily nonplussed. “That’s what he called me,” she said, casting her gaze to the shore fearfully.

“Ah, of course. I am sorry, lady,” he replied, bowing deeply.

“Why is it that you didn’t want me to see the crewman eating?” she asked pointblank. “I can understand why you were annoyed with the captain yesterday. He should have been prepared to move quickly, but I don’t care if the crew eats so long as they do their jobs. Everyone has to eat sometime.”

Bho-Rehd blanched as if only just realizing she could understand his language. “It is… not that I care if they eat, lady. Only that I worry our diet might offend your companions, and therefore yourself.”

“I see,” she said, though she really didn’t. Apparently there was a reason why they’d been offered dried fruit and stale bread the previous night however. “Thank you for your forethought and the part you played in freeing me.”

The priest bowed deeply, his face darkening with pleasure. “We live to serve,” he said with pride.

“I… wonder if you would have any clothes I could change into?” she asked, gesturing to the stained rags she wore. The gems which were sewn into the fabric still glittered where the grime of the sewer had flaked away, but she might as well have been wearing sackcloth for as comfortable or clean as the fabric was. Even if the stones were salvageable, the silk would never be anything but an ugly dun gray. She‘d already dropped the foul slippers over the side of the ship and used the last dribbles in the water skin to wash some of the grime away from her toes. “Preferably something that will cover my arm.”

Bho-Rehd glanced at the offending limb. “I do not think we have anything worthy of you, lady, but it is wise to hide the mark of your divinity. And of course, you are very young,” he said wonderingly. “It amazes me that you were able to alter your shape at all, but it is after all a sign of your power and the faith your father has in your ability to succeed.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him what else her father had told him about her and why if he thought she was so powerful, her father had seen fit to send help, but she let it slide as he continued. “In the evening, we will put in at a small fishing village for supplies for your companions. We were not prepared for human visitors. Hopefully we will find some suitable garments for you there and shoes. In the meantime, I can offer you a spare pair of robes, if that is acceptable?”

“That’s fine,” she said with relief. “How soon will we reach Kadatheron?”

The priest smiled broadly, showing his dagger sharp teeth and nodding. “I thought that would be your destination. If you cannot find what you seek at the great library, there are very few other places you might look.” He considered a moment, then said, “At most, it will be a week. It depends on how many vessels ply the river. Most are rafts and small boats such as the peasantry use, and they are easily forced to the banks. The larger merchant ships are much trickier to get past. Though most are intimidated enough to give way, the trick is finding a portion of the river which is wide enough and deep enough to accommodate both vessels. Though the River Ai is usually quite wide, there are some areas where it narrows enough to force even our ship to make concessions.”

Glory couldn’t hide her disappointment, drumming the fingers of her good hand on the railing. “Well, it takes as long as it takes,” she said with a shrug.

She returned to her room as Bho-Rehd went in search of robes for her. A few minutes later, his men appeared at the door. One handed over a parcel of clothing along with a basin and water, while his companion carried more food. They both bowed deeply and backed away without a word, though she couldn‘t help but notice the larger of the two gave Phoenix a nasty glare as they left.

“Phoenix… it would probably be best if you went out on deck while we change,” Glory said as he reached for the food.

“Oh whatever,” he said, rolling his eyes. He popped a date in his mouth and stalked out the door.

“And get rid of those shoes!” she called after him. He ignored her as he kicked the door shut behind him.

She pulled various garments from the pile. Bho-Rehd might not like the fact that she had human companions, but he’d had the forethought to send more than enough clothes for all three of them. Milet scowled at the pile, grudgingly accepting the shirt and slacks Glory pushed into her hands. She splashed water from the basin onto her skin and pulled on new clothes, though she wrinkled her nose at them. The girl set about transferring small pouches to the new clothes but shoved the small pile of rags behind her as if to keep them for future use.

“Get rid of them,” Glory said.

Milet pouted. “But they’re mine!”

Glory could sympathize. When you had next to nothing, even rags took on significance as prized possessions. “You have new clothes, and those rags smell. If you don’t like what you’re wearing now, I’ll buy you better once we reach Kadatheron.” She stripped and hurriedly washed the dried muck from her skin, pulling on the slacks and robes despite the aroma they carried from below deck.

to Book 6, part 3, page 23

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