The Unseeing Eyes
Book I , Chapter 1
A salty spray splashed against Bhollom's face. He savored its fishy aroma, its taste as the water dripped off his short-trimmed beard and onto his lips. The tiny man drew a deep breath of sea air and sighed with satisfaction. Although the voyage had taken a week, he still felt the kind of exhilaration one would feel upon being on a ship for the first time. It really had been too long since the last time he had sailed anywhere.
Bhollom leaned against the railing at the Coral Maiden's bow and let his eyes wonder along the coastline of Ohvah Orsah just barely visible through the morning mist. The ship had not really taken out to the open ocean, and so Bhollom had spent much of his time staring at the small fishing towns and pristine forests it had passed along the way. But now there was something new that caught his attention. Through the shroud of fog, high up in the air, he spotted the faint flicker of a blue light towards which they were sailing. The famous cold flame of the Mayor's Tower in Westerport.
His eyes still fixed on the light, Bhollom scratched his broad nose. He had been to Westerport once or twice some years back, when things were different. It was a prosperous harbor city and a surprisingly peaceful one, at that. Mostly due to the iron grip the Kobresian king had on it, which Bhollom had always found strange. It was not even on the same continent, yet Westerport was more loyal to Kobresia than possibly any other city in the realm.
Bhollom shook his head to clear his mind. He would have plenty of time to ponder the political intricacies of the city one they reached it later in the day. For now, he wanted to just enjoy the smell of the sea and the wind in his hair while it lasted. Bhollom closed his eyes and, holding on to the rail, leaned backwards, his upper body dangling over the edge of the wooden box he was standing on. This, he thought happily as he took a deep breath. This was the life.
But instead of sea air, Bhollom inhaled a good amount sea water as an errant wave broke on the Coral Maiden's bow and splashed on him, sending him flying down onto the deck in a cursing, coughing, wet pile.
It really had been too long since the last time he had sailed anywhere.
Bhollom brushed away his long dark hair the wave had glued to his face as he pulled himself back on his feet. He kicked the box he had been standing on in annoyance. His soft leather boots offered little protection as Bhollom's toes connected with its iron-fortified edge with a loud crunch. His face twisted in a grimace of agony, and seconds later he was hopping around the deck on one leg accompanied by the raucous laughter of the sailors around him.
Still holding his foot, Bhollom turned to see one more sailor climb the stairs up to the forecastle deck and call to him.
“If yer done dancing, go get your friend,” he yelled over the sound of waves and wind and gestured towards the door leading under the deck. “The cap'n wants everybody up on the deck before we reach port.”
“Aye aye,” Bhollom answered and began limping across the deck.
By the time he had made his way into the bowels of the ship and navigated the dimly lit, narrow footpaths between crates of cargo and sailors dashing back and forth, the pain in his foot had subsided some and he was answering the greetings of 'hullo, stub' of the men scrambling by him. The sailors liked Bhollom's race for the expert seafarers many of them were. A good portion of the ship’s crew actually were stubs as well, but he did not much care for the nickname the bigger people had given them. Sure, they were much shorter than humans and sometimes as wide as they were tall, but calling them 'stubs' Bhollom felt was out of the line. Apart from their stature they were pretty much identical, after all, if only with generally proportionately larger ears. The name had become so common, though, that even stubs themselves now often called each other that, and Bhollom rarely bothered with his one man crusade against naming conventions.
At least he didn't react as strongly as certain someone when called by unflattering names, Bhollom thought as he pushed open the door to the ship's only passenger cabin.
The small room was lit only by two candles on a tiny table to the left of the door, next to which stood two stools. To the right, stretched between the walls, hung a hammock where Bhollom had been sleeping. Practically all other free space in the room was filled by an actual bed, bolted to the floor. On the bed was a squirming, hissing, moaning pile of sheets and from under them, over the edge of the bed, hung a brownish-green scaly tail.
“You should start getting up, ma'am,” Bhollom said, giving the tail a slight tap with his foot. It curled up, much to Bhollom's amusement. “We'll be in Westerport in a couple of hours and the captain wants us on the deck.”
The pile on the bed stopped moving.
“Tells it no,” a coarse, monotonous voice hissed from under the sheets. “This is sick. Tells it to goes away.”
Bhollom sat on one of the stools, grabbed a cup and jug from the table, and poured a cup of water.
“I can't do that, ma'am,” he said. “The captain's orders. Besides, he was good enough to let us on his ship even when we couldn't pay what he asked for-“
“Then you goes away! And no calls this ‘mam’! This has real name!” the pile snapped and shifted violently, as if something was flailing around underneath it.
Bhollom sighed. He set the jug of water down on the table and leaned towards the bed.
“Neej-Nash,” he said in his most empathetic tone. “Just come out.”
The pile stopped, stayed still for some seconds, and then fell flat on the bed. A hand, scaled as the tail, reached out from under the sheets and peevishly pulled them back, revealing a narrow, reptilian face. Two small frills, much darker than the rest of the face, drooped down on both of its sides, roughly where Bhollom thought ears would be. But the most striking feature of the face was its eyes, a light cloudy blue with pure white pupils. Both were framed by thick scar tissue.
The creature was obviously blind.
A thin, dark tongue flickered out of the saurian's mouth and Bhollom thought he saw a purple sparkle or two around it before it disappeared back behind sharp teeth.
Neej-Nash turned her face towards Bhollom.
“This is sick, Rags,” she said, her voice as miserable as she could make it.
Bhollom rolled his eyes. Yet another nickname he didn't care for. His expression softened quickly, though, as he looked back at Neej-Nash. Although her face was largely expressionless, Bhollom had learned to read her moods based on her frills. He had never seen them hang this limp or dark.
“I know,” he said, trying to sound comforting. “Have some water, you'll feel better.”
Neej-Nash took the cup and sat up, letting the sheets drop off her. Bhollom marveled at how just some months ago he would have been terrified to death to be this close to something like Neej-Nash. Despite what he had learned of her and her race since they had met, he still thought she was built to be a natural killer. She was almost as tall as a man and, according to her, she was very short for her kin. Her limbs were lean but muscular, and both her arms and legs terminated in vicious claws, larger on her toes. Her mouth was lined with small, serrated teeth, perfect for tearing flesh. Even just a swing of her tail would be enough to break his neck, Bhollom thought. But watching her now, shivering while she clumsily tried to dip her tongue into the small cup, she seemed a lot less like an apex predator to Bhollom and more like a sick child.
“This no likes ship,” Neej-Nash said quietly, having finally drained the cup of water. Her sparkling tongue flicked out of her mouth again. “They is cold and wet and this get sick and it waves and this not know what way is up...”
“I know,” Bhollom said again. “And I apologize for making you get on one again.”
Neej-Nash looked questioningly in the direction of Bhollom's voice and her frills lightened in color and rose slightly upwards.
Bhollom rubbed his eyes and chuckled to himself.
“Apologize. It means you're sorry. I'm sorry you had to get on a ship again,” he said.
Neej-Nash lowered her head, quietly repeating the new word to herself. Bhollom shook his head and stood up. From the pile of sheets on the bed he pulled out a dark red robe of coarse cloth and threw it to Neej-Nash. She startled at the sudden feeling of something dropping on her. The bed creaked at its joints as she flung the cup across the room.
“Attack!” she hissed.
“It's just your clothes!” Bhollom yelled, trying to dodge Neej-Nash's thrashing tail. She grabbed the robe, shifting it furiously in her hands. She turned to the direction Bhollom's curses were coming from, her frills fully open and bright orange.
“No does that!” the furious saurian screamed.
Bhollom apologized again as Neej-Nash grumbled to herself and began to pull the robe over her head. He wasn't quite sure how she did it, but for a blind person she was so aware of her surroundings that he sometimes forgot she couldn't see. She had once tried to explain to Bhollom how she did it. Her limited skills in the Ohvan-Kobresian language, however, had left him even more confused than before the explanation.
Bhollom helped Neej-Nash find her balance as she got up from the bed and offered her the large leather satchel, containing her entire fortune.
“Come on then, let's get you up on the deck and remind the sailors of what's lurking in their ship, shall we?”
Neej-Nash let out a sound that was somewhere between a hiss and a moan as she hung the bag over her shoulder.
“You'll feel better if you get some air,” Bhollom said, picking up his own bag. “Besides, you might not like this, but we've cut weeks from our travel time. Think about how bored you would've gotten sitting in a carriage.”
Bhollom walked out the door and Neej-Nash begrudgingly shuffled after him.
“This likes bored more,” she muttered.