“Ferdinand: Where should this music be, ‘I the air or the earth? It sounds no more: and sure, it waits upon
Some god o’ the island.”
-William Shakespeare, The Tempest
In which a voyage sets forth, and halts briefly at a most infamous port-of-call
Captain’s Log—Middas, 3rd Last Seed, 2E 806
We struck out from Leyawiin this morning with fortuitous winds, bearing south-southwest towards Senchal—I suspect we’ll make port there, on the morrow. Ab’soud was adamant that the sugar can be got there for the cheapest rates, if one is willing to countenance the fecund surroundings. The whores too, from what I’m told, so the men—or rather, the cats—should well appreciate a brief idyll before we settle into the long haul. Or so I hope.
I know they chafe, and I can sympathize with that sentiment. To toil beneath a Niben captain, an Imperial (as ironic as that appellative might sound these days), must recall… unsavory associations. Imagine, poor, lowly Sextus Silanus, mandating, voice deep with feigned authority, that a cat-man (more jaguar than a cat), spotted musculature rippling, eyes drawn and cold, swab the poop deck! Pah! What a farce!
They could claw my throat out without a moment’s delay.
I’ve lived amongst them—the Khajiit—for a spell. I’d even be so bold to claim that I’ve earned the esteem and friendship of more than a few of the more cordial specimens of their race.
But I don’t understand them. Not a bit, I’m afraid. Further, I’m dubious that I ever will. And how I came to captain a vessel in such a manner, crewed solely by Khajiiti seamen… Well, I cannot be certain whether or not it be some caprice of fate or some cruel plot by that wretched cankerwort Ab’soud. Perhaps he’s cackling even now.
Weather has been fair. Scarcely a cloud on the horizon, warm, vaporous. Positively paradisiac. We made good progress while the light and the wind still held; but the blusters abated shortly after sunset, and we now coast along lazily at a port tack, with a balmy westward breeze, the vast Quin’rawl Peninsula distant in the dark to starboard. I estimate that we’ll make Senchal by mid-morning, perhaps sooner if the wind picks up once more.
I’ve dined in my quarters. No stomach for sugar tonight, and the crew dined on sweet meats and some manner of mash, no doubt likewise saccharine.
I myself supped on some cold chicken, well adulterated with chili oil (a most succulent affair), and a smattering of cheese and dried fruits. Drowned it all with brandy, of course. Perhaps a touch too much.
I’ll test the waters with them on the morrow. Not that I dislike Khajiiti food. I’ve had my share of honey stew and moon-yam pudding…
Tomorrow. They’ll be up to the whiskers in whores and drink—well lubricated. We can share a round, as it were. By Azura, we’re all sailors—and I’ll be damned if we don’t have more in common, fur and tail notwithstanding, than we don’t. Tomorrow.
I’ll have to keep an eye on that Ya’zin-dar, though. Known as the “Clever-Cutter”. Ab’soud assures me of his fidelity but…An odd sort of fellow—wiry, skittish, dangerously fleet, a Suthay if there ever was one. Possible skooma fiend.
He also happens to be my first mate.
And with that, I say goodnight.
Captain’s Log—Turdas, 4th Last Seed, 2E 806
A riotous day.
We came into port at Senchal, precisely according to my predictions, at mid-morning.
Dawn broke scarlet and glowing like embers on the horizon—never a good augury. But the crew seemed unperturbed, groggily going about their tasks. We found, however, after clearing the silt from our eyes, that we had drifted out into open seas, whereas we had fallen into our beds with land in sight. Our pilot, Za’nir (an aloof fellow, with a coat of gleaming white flecked with grey, but a good enough sort), took a sight and related that it was nothing to worry ourselves over—we had drifted off course by a slim margin, and were separated from our object by the span of a mere twenty leagues. With another strong wind at our backs, we would be delayed by an hour or less. Thus, I quickly shrugged off the dawn’s portent altogether.
“This one thinks, Captain,” Za’nir offered coolly, squinting through the cross-staff, “that those Khajiit who kept the watch last night should not drink mannish firewater with their supper.”
I told him that I’d speak to Ya’zin-dar about it, and he nodded before trailing off in a mutter of Ta’agra.
I found Ya’zin-dar taking his breakfast while carefully eyeing a spritely Suthay-raht (or so I suppose—even now, the Khajiit and the elaborate moon-bound hierarchy that dictates their nature and birth confounds me) scaling the rigging. For a long moment, he did not turn to regard me, though I knew he was aware of my presence—our smell, like so many other things, disagrees with them.
Then, without warning, “Ra’jhera the Khajiit call ‘The Swift’. This one agrees, though Ya’zin-dar hopes it is not so when he is with his bed-mates.” He snickered through gold teeth while I followed his gaze to the foremast, where Ra’jhera (who I then remembered to be the bosun—those damnable names, all sound the same), whistled orders down to the hands and prepared to unfurl the foresail.
It was a puerile witticism, really; I had thought the Khajiit were renowned for their oral tradition. But, I returned with a remark of my own in good humor, hoping to curry some favor with my first mate.
“He’ll need all the stamina he can get when we lay anchor in Senchal, I daresay.”
“Fusozay var var,” Ya’zin-dar replied knowingly, fingering his curled tail.
I must confess that my grasp of the Ta’agra is, lamentably, slippery at best. I was unfamiliar with the expression.
“It is a traditional saying of the Khajiit,” he said, eying me as if I were a child, “It means, this one thinks…‘Enjoy life’.” He grinned again.
Or, lives, in their case. But I gave a curt nod in agreement.
A weighty silence grew between us then, and so I clove right to the heart of the matter, expressing mine and Za’nir’s concerns over the behavior of the night watch.
Ya’zin-dar shook his head. “The Captain wounds this one. Za’nir was awake nearly all night with this one and the watch, recounting Khajiiti stories. It was not ‘till Jode’s face was hiding that little Za’nir curled into his hammock, and the watch was changed. The watch-cats did not realize because there were many clouds, and because they are no salty sailors, not because they drank the man-water. This one saw, but did not tell Za’nir because he was sleeping. And this one did not tell the Captain because he was sleeping too. Man is mad when he is awoken, no?”
Ridiculous. “Certainly I do not enjoy being awoken in the night, but if the ship is driven off course and the pilot is abed, you can be sure that I expect a report. Is that clear?”
“Very well, Captain,” the cat replied, inspecting his nails.
“Good,” I continued, “And you? You did not take to your quarters last night?”
At that, he flashed a vulpine smile and purred, “Oh no, Ya’zin-dar lay awake waiting for the Captain allllll night.”
I was growing more and more irritated with his attitude, but I decided to put a lid on it. Best to cultivate a friendly relationship; after all, it was a jest made in good humor. However, I made a mental note to make our positions on the ship clear if such behavior persists in future. For the nonce, I merely snorted, then further probed him about the watch’s alleged indulgence in firewater.
“Fusozay var var,” he said, shrugging, his eyes vacant of comprehension.
But I wouldn’t let it go, and pressed him. The Khajiit scoffed at Za’nir’s protests, claiming that the watch had simply mixed sugar with too much bad wine, and, as a result, had cried out, falsely, that dreugh were assailing the ship. They were sent below decks posthaste, and the watch changed.
I cautioned that in future, should there be any change of course, he was to inform Za’nir or myself, regardless of whether we’re awake or no. Further, that the watch will no longer indulge, whatever the vice, whilst on duty.
Ya’zin-dar nodded, chuckled warmly, and, with an air of conspiracy, whispered, “The Captain preaches temperance, yet he takes the ship to Senchal. This one wonders…why?”
“To get it all out of your system,” I returned, turning to walk down deck, handily dodging a hulking cat, without doubt a Cathay-raht, carting a water barrel back to the hold, “There won’t be whores and wine for many moons after!” He nodded after me, before barking an order in Ta’agra at some skulking deckhand.
It was a trifle, in truth, the whole affair. Scarce harm had been done, and our course had been corrected within a moment’s breath. But it made me feel such a fool…Just like the dismal dawntide augury, it was by no means an auspicious beginning. Marinating in the bitter juices of embarrassment I took my breakfast and did some reading in my quarters.
Within the span of another hour or so, we had made Senchal. By then, the day was clear and humid. As we approached the eastern harbor (the city is home to three) and the vast collection of sun-caked stilt houses (bright as wildflowers and as multicolored) came into view, I began to recognize that it would be a hot day indeed.
The first smell that hits one is that of rotted fish—succeeded by shit, frying oil, and flaming rubbish. Even this early in the morning, the city was alive with a maddening cacophony of activity. Sailors from every nook and corner of Tamriel crowded the wharves, barking to one another in an impenetrable garble of Tamrielic tongues, creoles, and pidgins, unloading their cargoes, all stripped to the waist and gleaming with sweat. Still others jostled to enter the wineskins, trying to get an early start to their debauchery—raising my flask, I took a swig of brandy in a show of fellowship.
As we laid anchor, I spotted the first corpse, bobbing weightily in the lapping waters off the bow, heavily discolored and bloated—a Dark Elf, perhaps? The hilt of a dagger could be faintly discerned protruding from behind what had been the shoulder blades. While I filled out the docking papers, a pole boat piloted by a pair of fishercats in bright green smocks hooked the body with a spear and dragged it ashore.
I granted the crew the day for shore leave, but cautioned that the ship would be departing after nightfall. Before they scattered, I instructed Ya’zin-dar to accompany the quartermaster, the cook, and a handful of strong-arms to the bazaar in order to oversee the provisioning; the pilot, Za’nir, I ordered to come with me.
As the others lost themselves in the labyrinths of Senchal’s furtive marketplace, the pilot regarded me with raised eyebrows and an air of confusion.
“The Captain has need of Za’nir?” he asked.
In truth, I didn’t very well know why I had elected the pilot. But he struck me as trustworthy, and it would do well to have an interpreter and an additional blade in the case of an altercation. I told him as much.
“This one is no great fighter,” he replied frankly, “Za’nir is a sailor, not a warrior.”
“Even so,” I riposted, flashing him my most winning smile, “Every seaman knows how to handle themselves in a scuffle.”
The pilot turned away my enthusiasm with a blank look, his derision apparent.
“Za’nir is a cat, not a man.”
I gestured to a press of jostling folk congregating before a canopied lane lined with vendors, and we dove in.
Bedlam—absolute bedlam. Hawkers perched atop perfumed divans, bartering kwama eggs and skooma pipes and colored sands; mendicants, naked save for their greasy headscarves (to display the fur of the body is considered a grievous ill), shivering in their sugar stupors, pissing themselves or miming lewd gestures at passersby; great vats of bubbling j’aga oil, gleaming with frying jewels of sugar pasties; bristling posts of moon sugar caramels, colored like peacock feathers; liveried Imga pirate-barons, sheltering beneath silken parasols, paraded about on lacquered palanquins, contesting their bejeweled quatrains; hedge mages dazzling kittens with colored smokes and plumes of fire; whores of all denomination, hawking their goods or dancing about veiled in green silks; great clowders of dirty kittens darting and playing through the mess of it all.
All was framed by the black, spindly husks of the city’s old quarters, burned and left fallow after the great Flu struck nearly three hundred years ago.
It was beautiful, and ugly too. I’d visited the city before, but I hadn’t the courage to venture much further beyond the sailors’ wineskins and bordellos that lined the quayside, where, amongst a staggering variety of tongues, Nibenese was spoken.
It is a city of scoundrels, of rogues and thieves and corsairs and whores. It is shit and spices. Unique in all the world.
And I love it.
Za’nir, of course, was not so keen; I had felt a sneaking suspicion that he was not one for the pleasures of the flesh when I had first laid eyes on him back in Leyawiin. I had thought, in all my stunted judgment of Khajiiti character, him to haughty, an inwardly drawn foil to the more boisterous and bawdy leanings of the crew—but then again, as we say in Niben Bay, “The better the pilot, the tighter the arse.” Perhaps he secretly wanted to be a poet.
I saw my supposition realized in every scowl that played upon Za’nir’s grey-speckled visage.
In his manner, he did not voice complaint until he had grown weary of our wanderings.
“Upon what errand do you lead Za’nir?” he asked, voice betraying no tinge of emotion as I popped a caramel into my mouth.
So I drew up a stool at a small sugar vendor and ordered a pot of tea and a plate of cakes for us. I thought it wise to disclose all before we embarked upon our true purpose in Senchal. After all, we ventured to the heart of the infamous Black Keirgo.
Once again, the pilot maintained his sangfroid air, warming his paws with his steaming cup (I could scarce countenance the brew, hot and thick as the air was).
“Za’nir does not think it wise, Captain,” he began, regarding me with cool eyes, “It is a dangerous place, even for Khajiit. For men, this one does not want to imagine…”
I told him what Ab’soud had told me—that he had a friend (if they still lived) by the name of Ma’zaka (Ma’iq? Ma’zik? By the Eight, their names do tax the tongue) who would give us a good price on sugar. And not just any old sugar: heirloom, pure, fresh. Carted directly from the plantation and refined on-site. Ab’soud swore to me that if I acquired ten jars of the stuff, along with our other cargoes, I’d come back to Leyawiin with a haul to rival a treasure fleet. The Anvil markets were starved of that kind of product (Colovians are, after all, a race of straight-laced arse lickers); they’d go stark raving mad for the stuff. “Ab’soud will be the prince,” he had joked, manufacturing a false crown with a knobby crust of bread, “And Sextus will be…a count. Yes, a count.”
I thought a higher title would suit me better, but no matter.
Thus, our aspiration was to waltz right into the Black Keirgo, find this “Ma’zaka” (Ma’isha? Ma’jadr?), acquire ten jars of fine moon sugar, and somehow port them back to the ship before nightfall.
Za’nir eventually acquiesced. As we paid and the empty teak trays were carted away, I heard him faintly utter something in Ta’agra.
I assumed it meant, “At the first sign of trouble, I’m throwing you to the lions.”
And the pity’s that that that was not an altogether unimaginable notion.
(Here a few ill-formed letters and blotched ink mark my attempts to ward off sleep—failed, as per usual. Brandy should be categorized as a soporific rather than a stimulant)This article was published in Volume 1, Issue 3 of The Tel Mora Independent Press.
“Commission Painting Khajiit ESO Character” (top) | Illustration courtesy of Entar0178, DeviantArt
“khajiit fan art” (bottom) | Illustration courtesy of Nahelus, DeviantArt