Silabrek to Ælim (3/5)

I came up to the bridge and waited a turn to ask Angus what was at issue.  I was told to stay out of the way.  The crew busied with a multitude of pre-planned tasks, some of which were covering port-holes, taking down of sea-lanterns, and arranging weapons at convenient spots on the bulwarks.  The so-called sea-artist, whom I had learned was an expert in navigation and all things nautical, held long council with the captain and mates while obvious defensive preparations were made.

Late-afternoon I think it was, when preparations were in full swing, Angus called over to me with the customary, “I need your help, lad.”   This was a common thing to hear on his ship; Angus might call that out to a crewman several times an hour; usually, it seemed, when they were already working on something else.  I had been sitting out of the way, as so rudely instructed, while the crewmen continued their deadly-serious tasks.  I was bored and anxious.

Angus took me down into the ship, past my own quarters and those of the rope-monkeys on deck.  His eyes were better in the dim light, so I followed his lead to a door with a hastily-painted “sick bay” sign on it.  I had not seen this place before, and besides the mis-spelling of both words, I wondered why not.  Until I followed Angus inside.

Here, two crewmen sat on cots with a small crate and an oil lantern between them, betting copper pieces on a game of dice.  They glanced at me briefly, nodded at Angus, and otherwise resumed the slow exchange of coins back and forth.  Normally they would have been on deck duty.  For some reason their faces had been painted up with some yellow, waxy substance, and they were randomly bandaged with torn cloth.  I saw instantly that neither one was sick or injured.

Angus leaned against a bulkhead, arms crossed, and asked if I was inclined to assess that these two fellows were infected with a particularly gruesome type of hemorrhagic fever the captain knew by name.  That sickness I knew as one that had made a notable appearance some fifteen years ago, killing scores of people in major centers in Venson and causing a rage of panic that, to this day, kept the name of the illness alive in common parlance.

Both of the painted men agreed that they had it, and calmly expressed a number of their symptoms which were either entirely wrong for that fever, entirely at odds with their appearance, or were symptoms common to superstitious hypochondria relating to witches’ spells and phases of the moon.  Further to my disbelief, one of the men mentioned that this ailment he suffers felt to him like Mummy Rot.

If I had questions when I walked in the room, I had twice as many at that moment.  I was at a loss for anything to say to this theatre of absurdity.  Angus spoke to my blank, confused stare and the finger I had raised to interject with my reply – a reply I did not know how to begin.

In a very leading tone, staring at me and nodding regardless of what he was saying, Angus reminded no-one in particular that the Code of the Sea strictly forbade, under grave penalty, any ship from flying a false flag.  And that, were a ship to find itself with sick crewmen, only the ship’s surgeon could legitimately order a yellow Quarantine flag to be flown.  And, as I had been welcomed aboard, not killed or tossed overboard, and had treated crewmen for various ailments and was therefore the de facto ship’s surgeon, that Angus expected I would agree that these men were, in fact, exactly as plague-ridden as they very obviously tried to be.

I was naïve but not stupid.  In the heavy quiet following his words, three sets of expectant eyes on me, I bravely drew myself up to full height, looked Angus in the eye, and agreed entirely, going along with his plans without even the slightest hint of disobedience.  Angus left, clapping me on the shoulder.  I excused myself from the painted gamblers, who resumed looking sick, and slunk back up on deck.  What was going on here, exactly ?

{…more to come…}

 

 

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About d20horizons

D&D player.
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