Title: Steady as she goes
Zaman Jaraei - October 3, 2011 05:25 PM (GMT)
Zaman Jaraei wasn't much of a philosopher, but he had his theories. One such theory was that days were places. They had their moods, their culture. It wasn't an accurate philosophy, but in his small worldview, it made sense. Days were like places. And today? Well—today was an Escovan kind of day.
The air was thick with cold moisture. The pouring rain had long since abated, and in it's place there was a light drizzle, barely perceptible unless one actively felt for it. Like a mist, it shrouded the streets and alleys, leaving trails of moisture on cold windows and crumbling walls. It settled into his hair and beard, leaving little droplets of water glistening in the faint light of midday. There was also a slight wind blowing in from the coast. It brought with it the smell of pine and mud, of a city washed clean. Zaman found himself breathing in deep, tasting the air around him.
He loved Escovan days.
He also loved his job—especially this part: the part where he got paid to wander the Refugee Quarter. Unlike the others, he felt comfortable here. Ever since he'd been sent to the big island, he'd always felt like an outcast, a minority. In other words, he felt like a refugee. He was peripherally aware the no refugee would compare their experience in Escova with that of one Yar Zaman Jaraei, but he didn't quite care what they thought. In his mind, he kind of belonged here. This Quarter was the in-between. Not quite Escova, but not quite foreign either. Like Zaman. Kind of. At times, the craggy coastal islands off of Sathyr felt like a world away.
Of course days could be like people too. There were Ambrose days—hard, serious. There were Ophelia days—bright, sunny. There were even the Isyllt days—vast, slow. And then there were Galia days. Those were the stormy ones filled with changing weather patterns. Rain, sleet, snow. Thunder and lightning. But they were beautiful and Zaman liked them. A lot.
His pulled at the fabric of his shirt, trying to pluck it away from the moisture that bound it to his chest. The misty air had managed to seep into the cloth of his shirt, forcing it tightly against his chest and stomach. It was bothersome and heavy—as if he were wearing the skin of a drowned goat. The hilt of sword—the spot where his hand rested lazily—was also slick with moisture. It was slung from his belt, the scabbard also dripping moisture as he moved.
But even a wet shirt and slippery blade couldn't dull his good mood. “So, Welkin!” he exclaimed, clapping the boy on the back and sending a spray of moisture shooting from the boy's shirt. “It's been a while, hasn't it? It's been what—weeks? A month?” They were in the thick of the Refugee market now—a haphazard arrangement of shaky stalls and seedy looking men and women leaning into walls. The ground was wet, the dirt now churned into thick mud. Zaman seemed to walked precisely, nimbly, almost as if he knew the secret spots where the mud was shallow.
He grinned down at the recruit. It had been a while since he'd been assigned the Welkin boy for patrol duty. Walks with him were always fun. They were also educational—mostly for the boy though. They bonded, got into fights. Zaman grinned and chatted. The boy glowered and complained. Fun fun fun.
This was going to be a great day.
Welkin Njordson - October 3, 2011 08:50 PM (GMT)
Welkin almost stumbled into a mud hole when Zaman smacked him on the back. He sighed heavily.
"Not long enough," he muttered. He cast anxious glances in all directions. Despite technically being a refugee, he never felt comfortable around them. Especially since it seemed all his visits to the Quarter always ended terribly.
Zaman Jaraei - October 6, 2011 04:53 PM (GMT)
This boy and his mood.
“Aw, come now,” Zaman proclaimed, spreading a hand out to show the wealth of the world before them. The Refugee Quarter, with all its various idiosyncrasies, was a great place—if you could get over all that crime and smell and poverty. Aside from that, it was great. Best place in Escova at times. So much culture. So many people in all their clothes and moods. It was like being in a different world.
Still smiling, he continued. “Aren't you glad to be out here with your best friend?” He jabbed a thumb into his chest, indicating just who Zaman suspected Welkin's best friend to be.
Welkin Njordson - October 6, 2011 08:00 PM (GMT)
Welkin did not see wealth. He saw discord, distrust, and discomfort. No one looked at him with a friendly face. The expressions ranged from outright hostility to indifference. The last two times he had come into the Refugee Quarter, he'd had to pull his weapons. Zaman was there for one of those instances. How could he think Welkin would be comfortable there?
At the mention of "best friend", Welkin glanced around for Isa, but the other boy wasn't there. It took a moment for him to realize Zaman was speaking about himself.
Welkin snorted a laugh. "Right. Best friend. So what's our purpose here, Best Friend? Just scouting, or am I going to have to carry around everything you buy?"
Zaman Jaraei - October 9, 2011 04:08 AM (GMT)
“Just scouting,” Zaman said, serious as he ever was.
There was a lot of scouting that needed to be done. Lots of looking and watching. Lots of justice that needed to be upheld. Typical, everyday soldier stuff.
He clapsed his arms behind his back, walking with the confidence and nonchalance of someone who was actually comfortable with where he was. He wasn't really looking for injustice, but he wasn't avoiding it either. Coincidentally, Zaman also didn't notice the way people shifted and moved away from him as he walked. They were just being polite, he reasoned.
Refugees were so polite.
Smiling at a particularly attractive woman as she swept past in a whiff of air and heavy perfume, Zaman found himself speaking to Welkin again. “So how have you been, little buddy? Met any girls yet?”
Welkin Njordson - October 9, 2011 04:14 AM (GMT)
Welkin blushed. His first thoughts circled around the princess, but he damn well knew better than to mention her. Even Isa hadn't believed him about that.
"No. No girls," he answered. "What about you?"
Zaman Jaraei - October 13, 2011 05:04 AM (GMT)
Zaman felt his brow knot slightly.
Side-stepping a particularly nasty puddle—Zaman couldn't tell he if it was mud or something that only looked like mud—he glanced at the boy next to him.
"Me? What about me?"
Welkin Njordson - October 13, 2011 11:26 AM (GMT)
Welkin sighed. "Are you seeing anyone? You asked me about girls so now I'm asking too."
Zaman Jaraei - October 13, 2011 04:02 PM (GMT)
Zaman mulled it over for a bit. His pale fingers rose to rub the stubble of his chin, even as he continued to pick his way through the crowded marketplace.
“I always meet girls,” he said casually. He turned into a nearby alley and began walking through the dark, almost tunnel-like space. Clothing hung from wires overhead, blocking out the pale sky. Dyes and colour dripped down from these still wet garments, pooling in the cracks and crevices of the street in a riot of colour and smell.
This alley, Washerman's Way, was about the only place in the Quarter that didn't smell like something terrible had crawled into it and died.
Still preoccupied with the question, Zaman looked back at the boy. “Hey. You're a scout, right?”
Welkin Njordson - October 13, 2011 10:44 PM (GMT)
Welkin tried hard not to make any more faces at Zaman's comments. He was frustratingly vague.
"Yeah, I'm a scout," Welkin said. He jabbed a thumb at the bow and arrows strapped to his back.
Zaman Jaraei - October 13, 2011 10:58 PM (GMT)
A heartbeat later, Zaman actually got to the point. "Do you know Sargent Baryk?” It was phrased simply enough: straight-forward, no hidden meaning. Casual. It was casual.
Welkin Njordson - October 13, 2011 11:02 PM (GMT)
Welkin tensed, but turned the tiny motion into a large rolling of his shoulders, as if he needed to stretch his muscles. "Yes. She's often been in charge of me. She showed me a lot of what I needed to know when I first joined."
Zaman Jaraei - October 14, 2011 02:57 AM (GMT)
He didn't see Galia as much of the wise and patient teacher type. How many times had she come close to killing the boy, he wondered. How many times had she rolled those pretty blue eyes of hers, waiting for the day to be over?
“What do you think of her?” he asked, still keeping with the casual theme he'd adopted.
Welkin Njordson - October 14, 2011 03:46 PM (GMT)
Welkin wasn't sure he liked this conversation. "I like her," he said. "Why do you ask?"
Zaman Jaraei - October 15, 2011 12:36 AM (GMT)
They made their way out of the alley and into the street beyond. This place was one of the few areas in the Quarter that still retained much of its old Escovan heritage. The tell tale architectural flourishes were still there. Heavily modified, but definitely Escovan.
Zaman paused at the intersection for a little break. “I like this place,” he announced, his hands on his hips.
Welkin Njordson - October 15, 2011 02:01 AM (GMT)
Welkin relaxed now that the subject of Galia had been dropped. He'd been a little scared there, for a moment.
He paused with Zaman at the intersection and glanced around. Unfortunately he didn't really notice the old-Escovan charm of the buildings. They did seem cleaner and more ornate than most buildings in the Quarter, but that didn't say much. Welkin spent his energy looking for suspicious behavior or funny looks.
"Yeah, it's nice," he said distractedly.
Zaman Jaraei - October 15, 2011 03:03 AM (GMT)
Zaman gave the boy a sidelong look.
“Something on your mind, friend?” His smile had eased back into something more neutral, but there were still something in his gaze; something scrutinizing. Yar Zaman Jaraei could have been studying the boy.
Welkin Njordson - October 15, 2011 03:12 AM (GMT)
Welkin didn't notice the look. "Just looking out for anyone who wants to kill us."
Zaman Jaraei - October 15, 2011 03:20 AM (GMT)
His smile was wry.
“Do people try to kill you here often?”
Welkin Njordson - October 15, 2011 03:27 AM (GMT)
Welkin thought for a moment. "Well, two out of three times. This is my third. My odds don't feel all that great."
Zaman Jaraei - October 15, 2011 06:34 AM (GMT)
At first it started as pursed lips. Then they trembled, flaring into a smile.
Then Zaman was laughing.
His laughter boomed through the little square, echoing off the limestone buildings. One arm went around Welkin's neck and shoulder, pulling the boy towards him in a brotherly sort of hug. “Are you talking about that time when that Refugee woman slapped you?” Zaman asked. He then jabbed the thumb of his free hand into his own chest. “Because I don't count that as a near-death experience.”
Lords of Escova.
This Welkin sure had an imagination on him.
Welkin Njordson - October 15, 2011 05:16 PM (GMT)
Welkin's frown grew steadily darker and a blush steadily more apparent the more Zaman's smile grew. When the man actually laughed at him, Welkin was ready to just turn and leave. Of course, Zaman gave him something of a brotherly hug, which was even more annoying.
"During the riot I ran into the man again," Welkin said. "He was going to kill me. I killed some of his companions and he ran off." He cast a glance around the square again. "I don't really want to run into him again."
Zaman Jaraei - October 16, 2011 11:03 PM (GMT)
Zaman tightened his arm around Welkin, leaning on the lanky frame of the scout. This was rich, he realized.
This was hilarious.
“Man, some people and the chips on their shoulders, yeah?” He shook his head. Zaman then extended a free hand out to illustrate something. His fingers pulled in and then exploded it out. He made sound effects to go with the movements. “All that pent up anger. One day you're telling them to take it inside, and then next...boom! They want you dead in a riot.”
Welkin Njordson - October 17, 2011 01:12 AM (GMT)
Welkin stood as still and stiff as he possibly could. His frown was one facial tic away from a glower. "Why do you find this so funny?" he snapped. "It's not."
Zaman Jaraei - October 17, 2011 01:58 AM (GMT)
Zaman finally pushed away.
"The question is, why don't you find it funny? Why don't you find anything funny?" If Welkin thought Zaman hadn't noted the little attitude problem the Refugee scout had, he was wrong. Zaman hadn't seen the boy smile properly once.
Then again, he figured a lot of that could be attributed to Galia. She could rip the smile of a man's face with a few carefully chosen words.
And if that didn't work, she had that knife of hers tucked away in a boot.
Welkin Njordson - October 17, 2011 02:12 AM (GMT)
Welkin stiffened, almost insulted. "I find things funny!" he objected. "Just not the thought of people trying to kill me, or even wanting to. I've spent most of my life with that feeling and I'm tired of it." He looked around again, at the mothers shepherding their children away, men haggling over food while glancing in the soldiers' direction, some people who just outright stared.
He dragged both hands down his face. Now that he thought of it, being a soldier didn't really alleviate the tension and anxiety he'd felt as a pirate.
Zaman Jaraei - October 17, 2011 02:18 AM (GMT)
His smile faded gradually.
Peering closely at Welkin, Zaman took a few seconds to study the boy. "You know I won't let you die around me, right? Or have we not established that?" Zaman felt like he was trustworthy enough. He had that face, people said. That nice, handsome face—a face that you could rely on to keep you alive. Broad, open, honest. He wondered if Welkin understood that.
Probably not. His sense of humour seemed to be as dry as Galia's emotional capacity.
Welkin Njordson - October 17, 2011 02:24 AM (GMT)
Welkin stared in silence for a few tell-tale moments. "I believe you'll try," he finally said. "But I don't really trust my life to anyone."
Saying it aloud made it painfully true in his mind. He wouldn't even trust Isa or Galia with it. Trust only went so far in the world.
Zaman Jaraei - October 17, 2011 02:29 AM (GMT)
Zaman placed both hands on the boy's shoulder.
"Good. If I ever ask you to trust me with your life, run. Run fast."
And then he let go of the boy and turned to survey the little enclave again, his green eyes hovering over stalls and merchants. They seemed better dressed here. Better fed too. This place—Zaman wasn't sure there was a name for it—was the overlap between the Quarter and the city proper. Not poor, but not quite Escovan either.
Sometime later, he spoke again, his eyes still surveying the enclave with a mix of boredom and interest. "So what do you find funny, Welkin?"
Welkin Njordson - October 17, 2011 02:35 AM (GMT)
Welkin stared, deadpanned, at Zaman. "I'll remember that," he grumbled.
They continued surveying the area, and Welkin thought maybe they would just finish the circuit in silence, but such a gift was not to be his. Unfortunately Zaman's question caught him somewhat off guard. He supposed he should have expected it, given their conversation, but it still surprised him.
His answer was even worse. "Uhm. I...don't really know. Funny stories. Jokes. The usual funny things, I guess."
Zaman Jaraei - October 17, 2011 02:36 AM (GMT)
Zaman was still looking at something in the distance.
"Tell me a funny joke."
Welkin Njordson - October 17, 2011 02:37 AM (GMT)
Welkin blinked, and thought a few moments.
"Uh. Last night I dreamed I ate a cream puff, and when I woke up my pillow was gone." His delivery was terrible.
Zaman Jaraei - October 17, 2011 02:50 AM (GMT)
His lips quirked.
Turning his head slowly, his mouth an unstable line, Zaman found himself grinning all of a sudden. Then he was laughing. It bubbled up and out of his throat. It was good-natured and warm—not at all mocking.
He slapped Welkin on the back again.
"That...was the dumbest thing I've ever heard." And then he started laughing again. Uproariously.
Welkin Njordson - October 17, 2011 03:03 AM (GMT)
Welkin blushed, but his lips perked upwards in the slightest of smiles.
"Yeah, well...I'm not much good at telling jokes. But you're laughing so it must be funny one way or another. Probably not the way intended though."
Zaman Jaraei - October 21, 2011 12:17 AM (GMT)
It took him a moment to collect himself. But even then the smile lingered. It danced around his mouth, variously twitching and parting in the promise of a laugh.
“Okay, so you do have a sense of humour,” he conceded. It was a revelation almost; that his dour, unhappy little boy was capable of something as complex as a laugh. Not that Welkin was laughing, but hey, Zaman wasn't praying for a miracle.
He did, however, have his work cut out for him.
“Does this mean we're cool?"
Welkin Njordson - October 21, 2011 12:52 AM (GMT)
Welkin sighed. "Yes. We're fine." He gave Zaman a sharper look, though not quite a scowl. "Though, next time someone slaps me, maybe you could back me up? I don't really like aiming my arrows at civilians."
Zaman Jaraei - October 21, 2011 12:55 AM (GMT)
"Next time, you slap them right back, okay?" He lifted a hand, his palm held sideways like the blade of a knife. He arced it out, slapping clear air.
"Like that. Now you try it."
Welkin Njordson - October 21, 2011 12:56 AM (GMT)
Welkin blanched. "I can't slap a woman."
Zaman Jaraei - October 21, 2011 01:01 AM (GMT)
Zaman tilted his head to look at Welkin more closely.
“And what? I can? Is that why you want me on back up? So I can slap women for you?” The smile was still there, roving around his mouth.
Welkin Njordson - October 21, 2011 01:14 AM (GMT)
Welkin sharply shook his head, looking at the ground and swallowing. "No. No. But support of any kind. No slapping."