In which a storm besets the Breath-of-Kyne; the Captain delves into the Black Keirgo on curious business; the storm abates, for now
Captain’s Log—Freddas, 5th Last Seed, 2E 806
I will, before further enumerating the events of yesterday’s layover in Senchal, detail today’s likewise remarkable happenings.
We kept a westward bearing through the night, but found the winds unfavorable—warm and furious, they came blustering south-southeast from Hammerfell. Ya’zin-dar woke me in the night, relating that Za’nir had us working to windward at twenty-four degrees.
The cat was restless, I saw, jittering intermittently as he boasted proudly that the watch-cats were as sober and sharp as moth priests. His eyes, a cheesy yellow, were red-rimmed, shimmering coolly in the half-light of my quarters, and any sudden groaning of the boards seemed to make him flinch reflexively. I wondered how much sleep he had been getting, and asked him as much.
At my inquiring, Ya’zin-dar giggled, something passing imperceptibly across his face.
“This one does not need much,” he began, soberly, “Life has not so many hours to spend them snoozing.”
What then, did he spend his nights working on?
He regarded me with passive eyes. “Maybe one day Ya’zin-dar will show the Captain,” he said blandly; then, “This one will take the watch this night.”
I told him to go take a cat nap.
The day broke cloudy, foreboding rain. The wind was against us again, and progress was slow. The cloud cover was such that Za’nir couldn’t take a sight, but estimated that we were some thirty-five leagues off the western coast of Elsweyr. For so long as the wind kept up like this, we’d continue being blown further out. At around midday, the rains began, and the wind picked up with it, laying into us at fifty-three knots. I only prayed that we wouldn’t be caught in a storm, but I think that was a foregone conclusion.
“Khenarthi is not with us!” Ra’jhera cried to me hoarsely from the mizzen, shielding his face from the driving rain. The bosun’s gang was scrambling wildly to drop the sails. It’d be a poor choice to reef in this weather.
The rain quickly became positively diluvian, and on its coattails arrived the tempest itself, as unwanted as a wet fart: whooping lightnings, roiling seas, and (all according, it seems, to some fundamental law of the Earth Bones intended to vex sailors from the beginning of creation), leaky holds.
At the time of this writing, the storm yet persists, and a constant patter of droplets tap out their cadences upon the boards. Waves are mighty, as should be expected, but it seems as though we are preyed upon by a mere late summer squall. If luck holds—and we have had luck, and wind, on our side, Ra’jhera be damned—it should dissipate in the night. Such storms are wont to wreak themselves upon the world briefly, then scatter and break as swiftly as they came. Little more than a tantrum, a fierce tantrum, aye, but a tantrum. Kyne’s little rages.
Or so I hope.
But as I have promised to do, I will henceforth relate Senchal’s episode. What better way to weather a storm?
It was a simple thing, divining the way to the Black Keirgo. Its infamy is earned honestly, and its name (incorporated, in increasingly artful variations, into sailor’s oaths and mercenary curses) one might use as a yardstick for one’s iniquities.
Imagine yourself to be a corsair, a cutpurse, a sellsword, a highwayman, or whatever roguery you fancy. Perhaps, say, you ply skooma dens; perhaps you’ve purloined the pearls off a highborn ladies throat; perhaps, you’ve pilfered the proverbial candy from a babe; perhaps, even, you’ve killed a man (or mer), or many. Even then, you might scoff at the suggestion of finding oneself in the Black Keirgo’s furtive labyrinths.
“Why yes, I must profess, I am a rogue. But there’s dens of thieves and there’s dens of spiders, and, between you and me, I’ve always been an arachnophobe.”
(One must, of course, excuse the verbiage of this hypothetic rogue; the average prole one encounters would spit and guffaw before flashing a set of gold-studded teeth and mumbling some unutterable curse. Sextus Silanus, is, of course, a more eloquent scoundrel.)
In retrospect, I realize the great folly of our errand. To walk into the greatest slum in all Tamriel, armed with little more than a fruit knife, a milquetoast Khajiiti pilot, and a name must have smacked of absurdity. But, as Yahzin-dar, who seems to be ever brimming with Khajiiti aphorisms, says—
“Gzalzi vaberzarita maaszi”.
Absurdity has become necessity
Vanity, foolhardiness, brazen self-assurance—I know not what drove me. But some Divine (I like to imagine that it was Mara) was indubitably keeping watch over we two loons as I questioned some hawker (I think an herbalist of some sort), “Which way to the Black Keirgo” without the least bit of awareness. The turbaned vendor regarded us with a kind of startled bemusement, but, in the end, did point us in the right direction.
No monument or landmark demarcates the beginning of the quarter. One continues through the thronged bazaars that mark the rest of the city, though perhaps the environs assume a more squalid aspect (in comparison with Senchal proper, at the very least), the cobbled courts filthier; derelict corpses moldering in the alleyways; the shanty houses more desiccated; the nightsoil more a major key than one leitmotif of many; the shopkeeps more scrutinizing and suspicious, very often brandishing gleaming talwars.
Then, without premeditation, one has reached the Black Keirgo, and one knows it, without scruple. No threshold is passed, no line crossed. It merely becomes, like some fungal canker sprouting from an already well-warted toe.
Za’nir, whose eyes went as wide as a cat’s were reasonably capable, seemed to blanch, fur notwithstanding. And, I profess, I myself was of a like mind. It was only then that the gravity of our situation began to coalesce.
We ventured further, cautious, perhaps, of making a sound. Few roamed these alleys. We glimpsed (or, thought we glimpsed), out of the corner of our eyes, shadowy figures darting between the low and dimly-lit ways. A thick canopy of banded cloth, intended to provide shade, hung over it all, lending the scene a preternatural gloom; how one can surmise the hour of the day I can scarce imagine. Wretches wracked with sugar stupors eyed us faintly through heavy-lidded eyes; grey-blue skooma smoke fingered its way through the twilight from curtained windows, lit softly with orange light. Oil lamps dangled treacherously from above, long extinguished—a fire could consume the place with an ill-timed gust of wind. Hushed words carried from the alleys and the mudbrick huts, far-off tracings of music, but otherwise a silence reigned as thick as cream.
“Is the Captain certain that this is the Black Keirgo?” Za’nir asked, nearly wordlessly.
In truth, I didn’t. One imagines at the conjuring of the Keirgo’s name something more…outrageous. Wicked. Disreputable. Nefarious. What have you. I even heard a kitten mewling off somewhere, and some muffled laughter.
We would soon happen upon the perversity we sought.
The canopied laneway then convulsed and twisted hard to the right. Upon turning the corner, we were nearly blinded by an eruption of furious light—daylight, that is. The Keirgo opened onto a broad plaza, dominated by the crumbling façade of an old imperial administration building or entrepôt from Reman’s time, hoary with creepers. Two suitably imperious palms flanked the aching doorway, their feathered boughs joining in the centerpiece of some frieze obscured by lianas—likely a depiction of Alessia, as was common in those days.
The court was empty, save for the odd mendicant shuffling their way hurriedly into some moaning portal. And, of course, the requisite beggars and corpses. One of them, no larger than a housecat, was sprawled wildly across the flagstones, the blood appearing to be freshly spilt. Carrion birds perched, heads twisting curiously at their quarry, upon the caved-in eaves.
Za’nir grimaced at the sight.
Situated at each of the cardinal points (save for the north, where two smaller portcullises flanked the building) were great archways, likewise hewn in the imperial style, stained with humidity and smoke from old cookfires; we had emerged from the east.
I asked the pilot which way we should go, and, regarding me with empty eyes, he shrugged nervously.
“Za’nir cannot pilot in waters such as these.”
Thus, a ventured guess, I elected the southern route. I hoped to assuage the cat with some dictum—“’Tis always been my lucky point on the compass,” or something along those lines—but none came to me. Perhaps, however, it was not such an unfortunate deduction, for it led us right into the jaws of the Keirgo, for all the good it did us.
We came upon a warren of brothels. Not that the more…accommodating quarters of the city were not rife with whores plying their trade. But these were of a different ilk. Once more, the musty haze of skooma vapors hung in the air, making visibility (and, I might note, concentration) difficult. The smoke had induced both mine and Za’nir’s eyes to tears; my mind was beginning to become muddled, as is the way with skooma, from the fumes alone.
This is not, of course, taking into account the rank odor of shit, sweat, piss, sex, and other lovely bouquets which words do not give me recourse to describe.
The mudbrick halls were crowded closely together, and draped in scarlet fabrics. Here, unlike in the bazaars, one encountered Khajiiti whores, who, not bound by the laws of decorum or culture, bared all for the grasping eyes of onlookers. They presented themselves with licentious gestures from the windows, calling out invitations in thick Ta’agra. They rushed at us, presenting bowls of sugared cream, and cursing at us when we would not take of it.
Whores of other races, of course, were in evidence—I even saw a Niben woman, clad in naught but serried garlands of flowers, hurl a lewd suggestion our way.
Some wore chains. Bound at the neck to some Pahmer-raht muscle, who regarded us with curious eyes, a nude Dark Elf woman gnawed eagerly at a hunk of bread. An unmistakably Nordic woman, brawny and veiled in turquoise silks, haunches already livid with marks, was further whipped by a stoic Redguard. Kittens and whelps alike rushed up to us, clawing at our feet before being chastised by their bare-breasted mothers.
We did not bandy words, Za’nir and I, as we navigated this pandemonium. I doubt, even if we had wished to share our thoughts, we could have heard one another above the din of wailing pipes, laughing patrons, and ecstatic moans.
None so much as cast us a second glance, though we must have appeared flagrantly nonplussed. I could surmise that Za’nir was not accustomed to such sights, though he had earned his stripes as a sailor just as any other. I myself was not familiar with such ground—“Well, yes, I must profess, I am a rogue…”
By degrees we spied a portly man, puffing coolly away at his pipe, who might have been a Breton or a Colovian by the look of him (ruddy cheeked, silver hair cut trimly, a pointed goatee). Not expecting much, I hailed him in the Imperial tongue, asking whether he knew of this “Ma’zaka” (I know now that my principal supposition was correct). An empty look reigned over his plush features, and listlessly he gestured towards a grimy alley bereft of light. I shared a dubious look with Za’nir, but it did not appear to be any more nor any less inhospitable than anything we had already seen in the Keirgo, and, leaving the man behind, we dove in.
It was a downwards sloping laneway, terminating in a single door bathed in vermillion luminescence from a dangling lantern. The doorman was a broad, tiger-striped Cathay-raht, thick-muscled biceps bound in silver rings. His gaze was fierce, and we fairly quailed beneath it. With a goading look, I motioned for Za’nir to speak; cautiously, he stepped before me and queried the hulking cat in a soft voice, thick with the purrs and lilting hisses which define the Khajiiti tongue.
The two exchanged brief words, and at the mention of “Ma’zaka” the Khajiit barked a feral laugh ripe with ridicule. I could only assume that the fool of a Breton had given us wrong directions, and Za’nir only confirmed my deduction.
“He says that we have come to the wrong place; we must seek out the lane called Unwashed Paw. He says that it is where Ma’zaka dwells. He says Ma’zaka is known to him, but only for the rumor that he is a sugar fiend and the son of a nightsoil collector. It is said he is a spider.”
“Are you certain that we can trust him?” I asked, casting a bold glance at the doorman.
“Za’nir is not certain of anything in this place.”
But it was all the tell we had to go on of this “Ma’zaka”, and, knowing Ab’soud, it sounded like one of his minions.
So we went.
We were impelled to wade once more through the drudgery of the brothels, and in the process I was very nearly bitten by a viper nestled menacingly between a pair of Orcish breasts. Upon emerging into the blonde sunlight of the imperial court, I was certain that I myself was under the effects of skooma torpor. My stomach churned, and the world seemed to me to spin beneath my feet; mist clouded the edges of my vision, and, if I stood still for more than a few moments, I succumbed to a wicked sort of vertigo.
The doorman had instructed Za’nir that the Unwashed Paw lay to the west, but beyond that he was not certain. We delved into more alleyways lined with skooma dens. In one, a wild-eyed Khajiit threatened us with a knife, and we lost ourselves in blind lanes trying to outrun him. By turns, after that, we then found ourselves in another sprawling, open-air court, pitched with multicolored tents and thronged with filthy Khajiit, garbage fires blazing in the corners. By then, my shirt was drenched with sweat from the close heat of the Keirgo; the effect of the brilliant sun, the smoking fires, the skooma, and the wretched humidity nearly induced me to fainting. I steadied myself on a mudbrick wall, on the verge of retching, while Za’nir interrogated a Khajiiti female sitting cross-legged on a dusty carpet with her swaddled kitten.
The sun was still high and furious, but I now thought our errand to be little more than errant folly. The notion of carting the sugar back through this madness before we struck port I contemplated ruefully. I knew that I would bear the stench of this place for days to come, no matter how ardently I washed my clothes.
As I scrutinized a particularly monstrous ant skitter across the rammed earth of the ground, Za’nir lightly pawed my shoulders. I whirled about to meet his gaze, perhaps a bit too swiftly. The world spun, and, dazed, I was impelled to steady myself against the wall once more. Knitting my brows, I asked the pilot what the matter was.
“We have found the Unwashed Paw.”
I found myself agreeing with the doorman’s assessment of the place: a mire of exceeding wretchedness. As if taunting me, a renewed plume of piss and garlic wafted in the air, causing bile to rise in my throat.
“But,” he continued slowly, “Ma’zaka does not live here anymore.”
I prayed then that the Eight would smite that wretched wound of a place into the mud. But, I simply nodded, eyes downcast into the dust.
However, suddenly, the Khajiit with whom Za’nir had spoken darted up, babe still clinging to her breast, and came to us, nervously glancing around her. She exchanged some soft, conspiratorial words with the pilot before rushing back to resume her place. Za’nir flashed me a fanged grin, before setting off towards the opposite end of the court, where a red-canopied alley thrust deeper into the bowels of the Keirgo. Stomach still swimming, I stumbled after him.
“We are lucky,” he said, as we came under the awnings of the red-hued alley, “Ma’zaka is close by.”
I remember thinking: Shit never has far to fall. Or perhaps I merely imagined the thought. I don’t suppose I could have thought of much more than the pounding in my temples, nor uttered anything beyond a moan.
I put my faith in my pilot. He is, after all, possessed of the gift of navigation. And, following a length of time that seemed nearly endless, we finally arrived at a studded wooden door set into a crumbling wall of mudbrick, painted a vibrant orange. I think it was the color that roused me above all else, even before Za’nir shook me to my awareness.
We seemed to be far away from the court of the Unwashed Paw, despite his assurances. Beyond that, our environs were mostly featureless, in line with what I have already described in the Keirgo. I thanked the Eight that we hadn’t yet been knifed to death while Za’nir rapped at the door with the great brass ring set in its center.
After some time, a tabby pushed open the door, a sight which will to me never cease to be incredulous—it was an Alfiq. Or perhaps a Dagi? I’m not sure.
The creature offered a few words in Ta’agra to the pilot, which he returned in his characteristic soft rasp. He shared a knowing look with me.
“He says that any litter-mate of Ab’soud’s is his as well.”
I realized that I was standing in the presence of Ma’zaka, and nearly suppressed a guffaw. But, knowing it would be indecorous, I accepted the compliment gracefully—or as gracefully as I was able, considering.
We emerged from the street into a sparsely decorated manse, dimly-lit with blue candles. Richly ornamented divans were situated at various intervals; Ma’zaka leapt upon one of them, (verdant silk shot with gold, if I recall correctly) and curled himself lazily into a ball, his shining green eyes still watching us. I supposed that this was our invitation to be seated. A female, perhaps a servant of some kind, wrapped in a bright yellow budi, brought us a tooled silver kettle steaming with tea alongside a tray of moon sugar candies.
Za’nir regarded the surroundings with a petulant, even disgusted air.
After pouring myself and the pilot a cup, I decided, my spirits having fairly rejuvenated, to open negotiations. How strange it was, talking business with a bloody tabby cat!
I told him that we had little time in Senchal and were here upon urgent business at Ab’soud’s behest. I said that Ab’soud desired ten jars of the finest sugar he had available, though was careful not to reveal my intentions in Anvil. I saw that Za’nir did not translate—I wonder where the cat had learned the Imperial tongue. I suppose the same place as Ab’soud and all the rest of them.
A translation from Ta’agra, however, was still in demand.
“Ma’zaka says that he and Ab’soud were old friends in Morrowind…and that he would give the Captain a…just, this one thinks that is the word, price for what you desire.” At this, something inexorable passed over Za’nir’s face. I suspected what it might be, and I myself was not exempt from the surprise of it.
Ab’soud lived in Morrowind?
Which, of course, was met with the subsequent thought—Ab’soud was a slave?
That is not to say that no cat or lizard walks free in the land of ash, but it is certainly the first image that comes to mind when one considers the condition of beastfolk in Morrowind. It puzzles me still, and Ma’zaka offered no explanation, even if he did notice the looks etched on our faces.
Further, I was perplexed at what exactly the cat insinuated with that choice of wording—what did “just” imply? We were purchasing uncommon sugar, to be sure, but in Elsweyr sugar is as plentiful as water. I hoped that, knowing me to be Niben, he would not try to gouge me.
I asked him for a quote.
“Ma’zaka says that…five thousand of your golden septim coins should suffice.”
I regarded the cat coolly, endeavoring to get a read on him. It was not outrageous, in truth; I knew that I could lower it, if I wished, though fatigued from the day’s events, I was not of a mind to haggle.
“Ma’zaka adds that the Captain shall gain one hundred times that in the Anvil markets.”
At this I started, staring at him with incredulous eyes. How had the cat known?
A mischievous look overtook Ma’zaka’s feline features, or as far as I could tell. He hissed something to Za’nir before scrutinizing me once more, triumphantly.
Za’nir looked to me nervously, “Ma’zaka says that he is no kitten playing at yarn. He says he asks very little of the Captain.”
Ab’soud chooses his friends well. In the end, the agreed price was paid, following another round of rather tedious deliberation which I am loath to record. The sugar, he said, was would be carted to our ship by two hulking Cathay-rahts, who I was dubious even in the Black Keirgo would be threatened, before the appointed hour. Strangely, a mute Redguard woman, whose name I never learned, was procured to guide us out of the Keirgo and back to the ship. Her face was disfigured, and she bore the brand of…slavery?
I found myself very much wanting to leave.
Before we departed, Ma’zaka was sure to package for me a bag of moon sugar caramels.
He said, through Za’nir, regarding me curiously—
“Be sure, Captain, to give Ma’zaka’s regards to his litter-mate in Leyawiin.”
I told him that it would be so, and we departed, emerging from the Keirgo accompanied by the Redguard just as the afternoon began to rouge, and without further incident.
I am still curious as to how we two came to no bodily harm—indeed, for a den of cutthroats, I’d say that we emerged from our ordeal remarkably unscathed, at least in a physical sense. Perhaps, by some caprice of fortune, we narrowly missed Rogue Alley or Murder Way—though I doubt that, even had we been noticed as objects of closer scrutiny by some odious force, we could have presented any possible threat. More likely, recognizing us for what we were, these hidden, mustachioed (or rather, whiskered) evildoers scoffed and bent their murderous intent upon other, less unwieldy quarries.
The ship departed at the appointed hour and with the appointed cargoes, including those newly acquired, safely stowed in the hold.
That night, for the first time, I dined with the Khajiiti crew. It was a silent affair. A classic honey stew with meat which I could not identify. Wine, brandy, and sugar aplenty. Despite my goading, they would not laugh, would not bandy with me, though a few had an amused look in their eyes. By the end of the evening, I was fairly drunk, and Ya’zin-dar, with a wry grin, escorted me back to my cabin.
I fear an iron fist will not bode well with these Khajiit. But neither shall an outstretched palm.
How, by Azura, am I to earn these damned cats’ respect? I’m an able seaman, aren’t I? By the Eight, I was born with one toe in the water! I’ve plied the seas from Stros M’kai to Solstheim. Haven’t I?
But, you’ve never captained a ship full of cats, now have you Sextus?
Some part of me believes that my efforts will bear fruit. That at the very least they don’t look on me as if they’d rather drive a knife into my gut—at least, that the less subtle of their number don’t. The craftier ones…well…who can say?
It seems as though my foray into the iniquitous Black Keirgo, thus, terminated in bathos. Perhaps, in some secret place, I had wished it to be marked by momentous occasions. I realize, of course, that such desires derive from vanity above all else. What is it, I wonder, that impels these yearnings to quicken? We are certainly unconscious of them, I am sure. How many times, for instance, have I stood at the edge of a precipice or the bow of a ship, wrestling with the mute urge to throw myself into the empty air?
Some lives, I think, are bent to those who live them. Topal the Pilot, for instance, was one such mer. Others, such as myself are bent by life into premeditated shapes. We are caught in the web of events rather than weaving them of our own accord; we do not seize events, but rather they seize us. Or perhaps, in the chronicling, the truly hapless, upon which history has feasted, were the most unwitting of them all. Imagine, poor old Topal stumbling upon Cyrodiil like a drunkard in the night (so like myself!)
But it matters not, I think, truly whether events fall upon one or one falls upon them. What comes after…that, Sextus Severus Silanus, that is the rub.
But what is all this? The ruminations of a fool. A drunken one at that, and that stings doubly. Another bottle you’ve drained. Empty, empty, empty…pah! Naughty Sextus, this one says you must pace yourself.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Captain’s Log—Loredas, 6th First Seed, 2E 806
It is midday, and the skies, while still silvered with heavy clouds, bode rain.
The storm continued throughout the night, wracking us with particularly ferocious breakers in the hours after midnight. However, before dawn, a curious calm conquered the raging seas, and, briefly, the face of Magnus shone.
Za’nir scrambled above decks to take a sight while the skies were clear, and the crew hastened to inspect the damage. The pilot did not bear happy tidings—we had been blown twenty-four leagues southwest, out to sea.
We met in my quarters with the Ya’zin-dar, Ra’jhera, and J’Rasha (the Stewardess, whom I have not mentioned due to her seeming lackadaisical attitude and insolence; a sullen, quick Cathay, I think I shall have to have her disciplined if things persist), to discuss the best course, scrutinizing the painted heirloom of a map which my uncle gave to me as a young seaman. After a chorus of argument, it was eventually decided that we should plot a course towards the outer Summerset Isles, taking advantage of the Goldhorn Current instead of braving the wild seas off of Valenwood’s southeastern coasts.
Presently, we cleave to that course, despite contrary winds, under Za’nir’s watchful eye. I wonder if our “expedition” into the Black Keirgo together curried any favor with him; he remains as unreadable and placid as Lake Rumare in the spring. In any case, I have retired to my quarters to take my luncheon and record a few thoughts. And to escape this wretched humidity.
Noticed a peculiarity with J’Rasha. She insisted upon our resuming our course towards Anvil on the track we had previously taken, hugging the coasts of Valenwood. We had assumed such a course in order to save time—taking the Goldhorn does not by any means reduce one’s itinerary, and although it is perhaps the safer route, rounding Valenwood’s cape is swifter overall. Yet J’Rasha had argued with some earnestness to strike north instead of northwest.
While I myself, of all people, can sympathize with her desire for rapidity, I am forced to wonder…What is she in such a rush for? It was peculiar…even as I write this, I know that I cannot properly express my sentiments on the matter. The waiver of the voice, the glinting of the eye…it all strikes me as odd.
Day by day, I feel more a stranger on my own ship. As if I ever wasn’t.
Ya’zin-dar, I find, likewise returns to my thoughts. What did he mean when he said that he would show me one day? What does he spend his nights doing?
A captain’s status is predicated upon his relation to his mates. My first mate I scarcely understand—a rumored skooma fiend (though the more I observe the cat, the more I find this claim dubious), a wildcard, a jitterer. Did Ab’soud jest, as he is wont to do, when he sought to soothe my concerns? Ha-ha, funny cat you are—and as for Ab’soud’s relation to Morrowind…well, that is another nut in need of cracking, at another time.
My second mate, the pilot…well, he is not so unwieldy as the others. He carries out his damned duty at the very least, though he is as aloof as ever.
And my third, the stewardess…suspicious. There is an air about her. Perhaps she broke some particularly foul wind? I know not. But I do know I must regard her with both eyes open.
But these are half-formed thoughts, smattered onto the page between morsels of bread and sips of wine. By night, I shall let loose the rest, and perhaps then I shall have the whole.
To my own duties, then, I must return. After all, the Khajiit have little patience for books. They’ll think their Captain even more the child for occupying his days with his nose tucked between one. Sniffing my own words.
Pah! They smell of arse.
Captain’s Log—Sundas, 7th Last Seed, 2E 806
Little to report today. Thankfully, we seem to have emerged from the squalls and emerged in sparkling seas. High sunlight, blessed winds, cloudless skies, and full sails. The humidity persists despite the breeze, but that is the norm for such latitudes, after all. Za’nir relates that we are well on course to Summerset.
Took some Khajiiti fare Drazir, the cook, had prepared for luncheon. Though I am not unopposed to Khajiiti food, and, indeed, find a great deal of it pleasant, today’s plate, consisting of some curious rice dotted with crystallized fruits, jellied fish, and drenched in a bronze-colored honey sauce, was not at all to my liking. Need to preserve my own stores, though, so I grimaced through it, washing the film the fish left on tongue with generous gulps of Colovian wine. Colovians—I must say, if there is anything those beasts have on us, it is their exquisite vintages, and, though perhaps less refined, their stout ales. The quality of their drink, at least, explains their perpetual drunkenness.
A pain took hold of my stomach following, however, and since then I’ve thrown back cup after cup of water, trying to piss out the sugar. I could not countenance the thought of remaining shuttered in my dark quarters while my stomach roiled; fresh air, I find always assuages such pangs. Consequently, I have perched myself upon a coil of rigging near the stern, occupying myself with writing (it seems that I write more than I captain) and observing the comings and goings of the crew. Exposing myself to their scrutiny as well.
Thus far, I have garnered some curious glances, as well as some rather unpleasant ones (those often followed by a whispered jeer to a fellow), but few have deigned to speak to me. A nod, here or there, a deferential “Captain”, but little else. For the most part, a look, whether belonging to the first or the second camp, is shared before they sullenly continue with their labors.
I suppose, too, that they are intrigued by the sight of my journal. They scoff at writing as if it were the scratchings of a kitten, even if they don’t show it; I’ve heard as much from Ab’soud. And, after all, who can blame them? They suckle history from their mother’s teats.
I’ve observed little worth writing, unfortunately. The bosun’s gang seem to fall in line quickly behind Ra’jhera—he seems to brook no impudence, and they go about their duties more like monks than sailors, though when the bosun is out of view one can glimpse something of their mirth reemerge.
Ya’zin-dar, though I already was aware, is fond of japes. Though he appears to command the loyalties of his subordinates—a fact of which I am envious—he will often set a group of them to cackling before, a sober look returning to his face, he returns to the task. I can only hope that he is a sharper wit in Ta’agra than in Imperial. He did come to me, once, to ask after my purpose in roosting on the deck. I told him honestly that I wanted to feel the sea breeze and keep watch over the crew.
At that, he barked out a laugh and whispered, “The Captain does not need to worry. This one is always watching.”
Another giddy laugh, and a strange look which I cannot well describe, my knowledge of Khajiiti physiognomy inadequate as it is. Then, he capered off on some errand.
The slippery devil. There are times, I feel, when he will utter something of great pith and moment, hinting at something unseen; just as easily, however, he will cackle like a monkey, and the façade of prophecy and portent dissolves in an instant.
It seems that, perhaps, my estimation of Za’nir is one shared by the rest of the crew. Rarely do I see him fraternize with his fellows, rather preferring to keep to himself, many times staring out across the sea at something unseen.
I wonder what it could be?
I recall Ya’zin-dar telling me that the pilot regaled the watch with Khajiiti stories; the first mate himself likewise seems to hold Za’nir in esteem, though, of course, I cannot be certain. A peculiar contrast. Perhaps they are as perplexed as I am. I wonder what it is about him? With his white coat, he certainly has an interesting look about him. And I cannot say that he is discourteous, especially when one considers the others. Rather he is…I do not know. As I’ve noted, aloof is the aptest word to describe it. Perhaps he passes his time inventing new tales, though somehow I doubt it.
J’Rasha, the stewardess, continues with her…erraticism. It is not that I believe, as is the common assumption amongst mannish races, that the Khajiit are laggards, lazy cats who would sooner nap away their days than raise a finger. It’s obvious that it isn’t so—Ra’jhera’s gang operates more like a well-disciplined century of the Imperial Legion than anything, and would find themselves more than welcome on the decks of any ship in Tamriel. And Ya’zin-dar, despite his eccentricities, knows full well how to set the crew in motion.
It is not J’Rasha’s laziness that strikes me as uncouth. I’ve witnessed many a moon-eyed greenhorn become an able seaman—though they did not happen to be stewards of a sailing ship either. Rather, it is the manner of her laziness. She has a kind of hauteur about her, a bravura…she taunts, all while acting out the well-worn patterns of stewardship. As I have admitted, I am not yet any great judge of Khajiiti character, but…no, I do not believe I am mistaken. Her underlings, though perhaps less bold, nevertheless share a kernel of her character, a kind of hostility, not merely towards me, but towards their fellows as well. And though I have not yet observed her sharing glances with Ya’zin-dar or the others (the previous evening in which we deliberated upon our change of course, their faces were as ever unreadable to me, their mannerisms revealing nothing), but…I must speak to him upon the subject. Perhaps he will betray what he knows.
As ever, I fear that I am too hasty to cast judgement. Scarcely a week has elapsed, and it seems that I have the whole crew profiled. Of course, I don’t believe that it has not been sufficient to grasp a full understanding, but…I feel that if there is any truism which I can with full certainty vouch, it is this—
“The sea scours men’s hearts clean.”
An aphorism from some poet of the First Empire, whose name escapes me (Polybius? Tetius? Lucencius?), which I unearthed from some dust-caked tome of my father’s library.
Whether cats are the same, well, experience implies that it is so. I did sail, once, with a cantankerous old Khajiit named Babsur. He was worth his salt, if I recall (I was only a young man at the time). But nevertheless, cantankerous.
But my hand grows tired, ink scarce, and I am loath to go below decks to fetch another pot.
The stomach pangs are mostly at end, the sky is wide, cast with crimson, and the winds remain fair.This article was published in Volume 1, Issue 4 of The Tel Mora Independent Press.
“Pirate Ship 05” | Illustration by MystiqueX, DeviantArt