Lixand caught his breath. One didn’t just cavalierly climb up one of the Arkan Gods’ statues! He hitched up his empty knife belt and strode forward. He was a grown man and could handle this.
As he stepped past the priest on the floor, careful not to step on his outstretched gloves, or trailing hair, he drew breath to call his mother down.
The priest’s hand somehow flashed out and caught at his closest ankle, just as he was putting his weight on it and it would have sent most people flat on their back with the wind knocked out of their lungs. Lixand spun, somersaulting in the move made famous by the Yeoli, landed on his feet in a half crouch, hands out in front, wildly confused but ready for a fight.
As he’d spun, the priest had also rolled on the ground and now stood, between Lixand and the fessas God’s statue – and incidentally his mother, head bowed, hands hidden in his red sleeves. “Offer no interference to the Zak priestess,” he rumbled.
Lixand straightened. “What? Priestess? She shouldn’t be up there! Shouldn’t she be over on the Goddess’s side and maybe being a little more respectful?” Her eyes opened and she grinned down at him. “And she’s my MOTHER!”
“Ah.” The Arkan turned sideways and looked up at Mata. “He says he’s your child.”
“And he so is!” She uncoiled and with a pat to the side of Mikas’s stone cheek, she slid\down to the God’s knee and jumped, tumbling, to land over the priest’s head and fling her arms around him. “Lixandi-mi! Now that you’re here we can plan… We…Zak… have been hired by the Temple and the Empire.”
Alfalaria sat into the slung-chair as gracefully as she could, wrapping her arm around the rope, unable to hide her hands because she was still carrying the Haian baby and didn’t trust the knotted sling not to let go. An Arkan ship, an Arkan ship! I’m safe, I’m safe. We’re saved!
The chair swung from the small-boat where she’d been sent across from the Dixabelle, up over a line of Dimae’s Hunting dogs painted along under the rail.
I don’t care that she’s the strangest looking ship I’ve ever seen! She’s red and gold and magically fast… and oh dear, I smell so bad. The Dixabelle smells so bad.
A boathook from the highest bridge… it looked like a winged boat suspended between two masts… reached out and a dozen willing hands pulled her in, to step down as if she were a great Aitza.
The Captain, in deep conversation with his officers, broke off and turned to her and she sank into her best courtesy, without letting go the baby. Her skirt was all rags anyway, soaked with urine and vomit and baby feces. The child was barely whimpering, steadily whining, hungry and thirsty as she was.
“You speak their tongue, Serina?” The Captain bowed. “I am Captain Filarias, welcome home.”
“This one does, Honourable Captain,” she said, in the best language her mama had taught her, startled by the sudden welling up of tears. “This one is named Alfalaria Isen, fessa. This one’s profound gratitude is expressed to the Honourable. Apologies to the Captain but this baby was given to my care and desperately needs tending.”
“You’re welcome,” the Captain said, equal to equal. “I’ll have the babe tended, while the Serina gets cleaned up. I have replacement clothing for those rags, but they are boys’ shirts and loincloths, which will have to do rather than have you standing in that filth. We need to tell that Fehinnan what is going to happen to him now.”
“Yes, Captain.” She finally gave the baby, who had messed on her all day, over to a very stern looking solas.
“Not to worry, Serina.” He winked. “I’ve got a ten of sisters and know how to tend a youngster,” and stepped back to let a sailor show her to a privacy screen where she could drink and wash and change.
“Here you be, Serina,” he said. “Drinking water, wash bucket, rinse bucket, Haian salve for any hurts you might have.” He looked up. “Jallyboat’s coming o’er with that stinkin’ slaver, best be quick, Serina.” He touched his cap and pulled the canvas screen shut. She could see his shadow through it, guarding her privacy.
She drank three cups of water straight down, pulled the nasty rags off her body and poured a full bucket of … oh Selestialis it’s hot and it’s soapy! … over her body. The rinse was just as quick and she lashed her hair back into a short tail before dragging the shirt, loincloth and gloves on over her wet skin, just as the bosun hailed --
“Captain Leweston, Fehinnan, to see the Captain!”