Monday, August 27, 2012

Safe Passage

Written while listening to Female of the Species by Space.

. . . . . It seemed like only seconds had gone by before a loud banging on the door rousted Zurine Haizea from her nap. Startled awake, she leapt out of the swaying hammock set up in the corner of her temporary quarters, her lithe frame moving from prone to upright in an instant. By dint of willpower alone, she did not flail as she gained her balance on the gently rolling wooden floor; it would not do to flail about, even when no one could see her. A lady did not flail.
 . . . . . The banging on the heavy wooden door separating her quarters from everything else began again. “One moment, please,” she called out, taking care that her voice carried the appropriate unhurried, low pitch of a woman unconcerned with urgency. She raked her fingers through her hair, giving it an artful tousle around her face before she strode across the room and lifted the latch free. A short man in salt-stained linen stood before her, his fist still upraised as if to further abuse the already-beaten planking.
 . . . . . The expression on his face said it all, really. He had not been among those to see her get on the ship.
 . . . . . Zurine's smile was dazzling, white teeth framed by titian lips set into swarthy skin which was never-the-less as smooth as whipped caramel for all its sun-darkened color. Her sable hair formed gentle waves on either side of a face too strongly-featured to be called aught but handsome. All together, she knew what effect the features she had been graced with had on many men, and she was quite satisfied to use this set of tools as she would any other – ruthlessly. After a moment of the sailor's dumbstruck silence, she let her pleasure at startling the man subsume itself into a warm inner glow she kept to herself and a pleasantly expectant expression, the strong brows set above her citrine eyes coming together faintly. She almost regretted using the full measure of her looks against a man who likely did not see enough of women as it was. Almost. As the moment drew too long, impatience set in and she let subdued, melodious tones convey her displeasure at being woken from her nap: “What is it, mariner?”
 . . . . . That seemed to finally bring the man to some semblance of sense. His raised fist became a pitch-sticky hand to run through his sun-bleached hair – which only served to pull several strands of it out and spike the rest unattractively – and cleared his throat. “Beggin' y'r pardon, m'lady. Th' cap'n sent me...” He trailed off, his gaze dropping to her chest where a pale gold cambric blouse demurely covered all but a hint of cleavage. Not that his gaze had far to fall – he was nearly as short as she at five-foot-two. She cleared her throat delicately and his murky blue eyes snapped back up to her face. “Ah. That is... 'E wanted a word, 'e did. Sent me t' fetch y'r ladyship.”
 . . . . . “I will require a moment.” With that, she firmly shut the door in the sailor's face and turned back to her room. She needed something which carried just the right balance of femininity and expense while not looking precisely fragile... There. That was perfect. From the wooden armoire bolted to the wall of her temporary quarters, she removed a long black jacket, the dark gabardine wool embroidered with intricate gold thread at the cuffs and down the lapels. Two gold hoops from the locked box on her desk – similarly bolted to the wall – went into the tiny scarred openings on her earlobes, placed by tradition on her seventy-seventh day of life. A glimpse in the wavy silvered glass attached to the front of the armoire door showed her the effect she'd made, and she was satisfied.
 . . . . . The sailor had moved to the wall across from her door, propping up the polished planking of the hallway with his paltry shoulders. He had to be the lookout, to get so much sun like that and yet remain so scrawny. As she closed the door behind her gently, he snapped to attention and tugged on the bottom of his linen shirt.
 . . . . . “My moment,” Zurine said quietly, “is not quite up.” Aware of the curious eyes on her wool-covered back as she moved, she rapped her knuckles lightly against the door set some several feet down the hallway from her own. As if he'd been waiting for her – and knowing his hearing, he probably had – her companion opened his door before the echo of her last knock had even faded. No words were exchanged as he simply ducked his head a bit to clear the door lintel and stepped out of his temporary quarters, closing his door behind him as gently as Zurine had. With a gracious wave of her hand, Zurine indicated that the sailor should lead the way as Zigor Itzal fell in behind her, his capacious shoulders nearly brushing either side of the hallway and his dusky hairless head bowed slightly to keep from doing the same to the ceiling of the hallway. His presence was a familiar comfort, and the lightest of touches between her shoulder-blades – just below the fall of her hair – was all the communication necessary as they both followed the sailor to answer the captain's summons.

 . . . . . “As I'm sure you can see from the map, milady, our charted course has become more dangerous than originally plotted when you boarded and paid for passage. With the risks to my men, I'll be up front with you – I'm going to need more coin for this voyage.” The captain of the Lyssa's Tryst braced his weather-beaten hands on either side of the navigation map spread out on his desk and took a deep breath before trying to look the lady in the eye again. There was something deeply unsettling about her golden gaze, like she didn't blink quite often enough perhaps; he couldn't quite explain why it was so hard to meet her eyes. Years of similar post-boarding scams had taught him, though, that to own this fight, you had to look your mark in the eye with flinty resolve. The frozen citrine of her eyes knapped his flint, shoving his gaze away as easily as if the giant behind her had physically directed his ocular challenge elsewhere.
 . . . . . “It's the storms, milady. I'm sure you can understand...” Captain Garmon was proud of himself for keeping the tremor out of his voice even as his cheeks flushed in shame at being unable to hold her gaze.
 . . . . . With her slight frame, the rough-hewn chair across his desk dwarfed her, yet somehow seemed a primitive throne under the force of her presence. “What I understand, Captain,” she remarked quietly, “is that you are attempting to take advantage of me. Do you know why Mister Itzal travels with me, Captain Garmon?” Lazily, she lifted one hand and flicked her wrist so that two fingers caught his attention and bounced it up to the mountain standing behind her chair. Even though his neck was bent to avoid hitting his bald head on the planked ceiling above him, the colossus did not need to be able to stand tall to look intimidating; a narrowed look from eyes too ice-pale to be real was enough. Captain Garmon gulped as the petite woman settled her hand back on the chair's armrest and continued, “A lady alone is all too easy to victimize, her virtue and coin her only bargaining chips. With Mister Itzal at my side, I have rather improved my negotiating position. Don't you think?” The smile which graced her carmine lips held mirth, but there was nothing warm about it.
 . . . . . “The storms could drive us onto the ruins before we reach safe harbor, milady,” the Captain tried again, not looking at either of his passengers as he leaned over the map and pointed at the warning sketch of crumbling pillars just outside the Sanctum Harbor. “My men are taking a great risk to sail when such weather threatens.” A whisper of breeze was all the alert he got before the realization struck that he could not take his hand away from the map of Lion's Arch now. Quivering in the wood of his desk and piercing the stiff cuff of his broadcloth shirt was a finely-made dagger. From the way the light of the lanterns in his quarters gleamed off the blade, it was sharpened on each side and well-oiled.
 . . . . . “Then I would hope,” murmured the swarthy woman as she reclined in her chair, “that your helmsman is highly-skilled, yes? Don't jerk your hand about like that; you might accidentally get a bit of devourer venom on your skin. Now, we will be getting to Lion's Arch precisely in the condition – physically and monetarily – as agreed upon when we boarded, won't we?”
 . . . . . Captain Garmon froze – and not voluntarily – as the devourer venom which had brushed the inside of his wrist wormed its way into his bloodstream and took over his nervous system. A series of loud cracks had him looking up before his eyes froze too, gaze locked in terror at the leather-wrapped hands of the giant as he placed an open hand over a fist and cracked his knuckles, then switched hands and repeated the gesture.