The Unseeing Eyes
Book I ,Chapter 2
Sailors withdrew from the flailing whirlwind of claws, teeth, and tail dashing around Coral Maiden’s deck. They had all been aware – some of them far too well for their comfort – that one of the fabled lizard people was on board the ship. The stub traveling with it had been assuring them during the whole journey that the creature was utterly harmless, but watching it attempt to catch a seagull almost as soon as it got out on the deck did little to convince them of the truth of the stub’s words.
“What on earth are you doing?” Bhollom huffed as he hung on to Neej-Nash’s back. He had jumped on her in an attempt to pin her down, but it was beginning to dawn on him that he had seriously miscalculated either his weight or Neej-Nash’s strength.
“Hungry!” she hissed as she smashed against the ship’s bulwark, her jaws snapping at empty air as the seagull finally made its escape. Defeated, Neej-Nash slumped down against the boards, staring longingly after the bird as it flew away from her reach.
Bhollom slid slowly off Neej-Nash’s back and fell onto the deck, his face white as a corpse’s. The saurian turned towards her companion and licked her lips.
“It gets away. Rags’ fault,” she said.
“You… You almost threw me over the…” Bhollom mumbled between panicked gasps. Hitting Neej-Nash’s back as she came to a sudden stop had knocked the breath out him. Bhollom had hoped fresh air would have made her feel better after a week spent curled up in the ship’s hold, but this was ridiculous.
Neej-Nash shrugged and got up to her feet. She turned her around, her slender, forked tongue flicking out of her mouth several times, as she scanned her surroundings. There were many people about on the deck. The bigger ones smelled like humans, and the smaller ones smelled like Bhollom. All of them seemed to keep their distance to her. Not satisfied with the picture the vague scents created in her mind, she narrowed her eyes in concentration. Chasing after the seagull had distracted her from her usual routine of making a mental map of the immediate around her.
In the back of her mind, Neej-Nash felt a familiar, comforting tingle as a small magical charge began to take form. As the sensation grew stronger, she directed it to flow along her tongue. The tingle reached the tip of her tongue, and she shot it out of her mouth.
An image of the deck of the Coral Maiden burst out in Neej-Nash’s mind. She could make out the edges of the deck, the masts rising up towards the sky, the sailors carrying boxes of cargo up on the deck and climbing up to fix the sails, the tiny man slowly standing up behind her.
“You can’t just…“ Bhollom began as he turned towards Neej-Nash, but fell silent as he noticed the saurian turning her head around and flicking her faintly sparkling tongue. He had learned to let Neej-Nash take her time while figuring out what was around her. He felt a tinge of guilt as he remembered the times when they had just met. Back then he hadn’t known exactly how Neej-Nash functioned, and Bhollom felt sorry for all the times he had caused her to helplessly trip and stumble on stools or people.
After a minute or two, Neej-Nash turned to face Bhollom. The frills on the sides of her head were hanging relaxed and light-colored, and on her face Bhollom saw the closest thing to a smile the saurian’s facial muscles could project.
“Rags says something?” she asked.
Bhollom shook his head with a faint smile on his lips. Suddenly, he snapped his head upwards, giving Neej-Nash a jolt and causing her purple-sparkling tongue to repeatedly slip out. Bhollom wasn’t certain is she could make it out, but he scrunched his face into the most exaggeratedly stern expression he could.
“Two things!” he yelled, drawing the attention of nearby sailors. “Thing the first! No chasing seagulls! If you’re hungry, there’s bread in your bag.”
Neej-Nash’s frills slumped down.
“This no likes bread,” she declared, seemingly aware of the sailors’ eyes on her. “Bird better.”
“Irrelevant! Proper people don’t behave like that.”
Bhollom grinned as Neej-Nash’s frills jolted upwards and changed into a slight orange hue. He knew he had pushed the right button.
“Stupid rule. This eats if this hungry,” Neej-Nash hissed. She didn’t like it when her seeing-eye stub began to lord his knowledge of “manners” and “etiquette” over her. Sure, she was paying him to teach her about the big world she didn’t know just as much as she was to help her get around, but that didn’t give him the right to lecture her. It wasn’t her fault simple things like eating were governed by such needlessly complicated rules among the soft-skinned. Normally she probably would’ve started a big argument with Bhollom, but she was too hungry right now. She’d make the stub regret this later.
“That’s not how it works. Thing the second!” Bhollom yelled, but suddenly looked down at his feet and lowered his to a grumble. “Do you have to call me Rags?”
“But Rags’ name hard to say,” Neej-Nash groaned as she lifted her chin and let her head flop backwards.
Bhollom looked pleadingly up at Neej-Nash until he realized the futility of trying to appeal to her with facial expressions.
“Just give it a try, please,” he sighed.
Neej-Nash heard what she had come to interpret as sadness in Bhollom’s voice. She flicked her tongue and noticed the stub was hanging his head. She turned her face to the tiny creature in front of her and let out a long hissing sigh. Sometimes she still felt sorry for him.
“Dhollon,” she said.
Bhollom’s eyes flew open. He had not expected Neej-Nash to actually try it.
“Try again,” he said, grabbing her arm and staring her straight in the eye. The saurian startled, but Bhollom was too excited to care. “Like I taught you. Put your lips together!”
Neej-Nash tried to purse her narrow lips like so many times before, but the sounds just didn’t come out right.
Bhollom sighed sharply and closed his eyes, but somewhere inside he was a bit happier. At least she had tried. Rags would do for now.
Neej-Nash’s hunger had finally gotten the better of her and she sat on a cargo crate gnawing on a piece of dry, stale bread as the Coral Maiden glided to Westerport’s harbor. Heavy ropes were thrown overboard and attached to large metal rings to keep the ship in place, and two gangplanks lowered to let people and cargo off the ship.
Bhollom showered the captain in praise for letting him and Neej-Nash travel on his marvelous vessel, and apologized profusely for the scene she had caused on the deck. The captain, a massive man with a stomach that was rivaled in size only by his beard, responded with a laugh.
“Always happy to have one from the Cliff on board,” he said, slamming his hand on Bhollom’s back and sending him stumbling forward. Bhollom couldn’t help but feel an immense admiration for the grizzled old man. It was not often these days that he was recognized as a citizen of his proud ancestral home.
“Just get off my ship before you sink her,” the captain continued. But before Bhollom could answer, he laid one of massive hands on the stub’s shoulder.
Bhollom dug a small purse from his pocket.
“Yes, yes, like we agreed,” he said as he dug out five gold coins and placed them into the captain’s other hand. “Half upon sailing, half upon arrival.”
“An honest man pays an honest price,” the captain said with his eyes smiling and patted Bhollom on the shoulder as he slipped the coins into his breast pocket.
As the captain turned to yell orders to his men, Bhollom limped to Neej-Nash, who was waiting by the brow. Neej-Nash tilted her head to the side as her tongue lapped at the air.
Bhollom blushed as he remembered his tantrum towards the box earlier, and told Neej-Nash a cargo create had fallen on his foot. He pulled on her sleeve, and the two began shuffling down the gangplank.
Just the pier was difficult for Neej-Nash to comprehend. There was so much space around her, yet it was filled with people. Some of them were bigger and some smaller, some smelled like Bhollom, some like humans, and were something completely different altogether. There were crates, boxes, and baskets. What seemed like a table smelled an awful lot like spoiled fish. Something bumped into Neej-Nash and grunted. It was awfully loud. She felt her head frills stiffen as blood rushed away from them.
Bhollom turned to see Neej-Nash swaying in place with what he almost thought to be fear in her eyes. Her head was spinning from side to side and her tongue was darting in and out her mouth. Her frills were wide open and completely white. Bhollom rushed to his employer and grabbed her hand. She tried to pull it away until she heard his voice.
“It’s me, Bhollom,” he yelled over the din. “Follow me.”
Neej-Nash felt her choler rise as Bhollom began to pull her through the crowd, but she soon accepted his guidance as she lost the sense of her surroundings in the throng of bodies and crates.
Bhollom pulled his companion through the people, but moving forward was difficult. The saurian’s naturally slightly awkward gait, combined with her tail swinging from side to side, made the crowd even less reluctant to let then pass. Eventually, after much struggling, they managed to break free from the push of bodies as the pier turned into a large cobbled street, framed by houses of wood and stone. Most of the buildings were inns or shops, with an occasional residential house casting the shadow of its overhang on the sailors, merchants, and various residents of Westerport.
Bhollom quickly scanned the sides of the buildings and spotted an alley leading into the shadows between two houses. He broke into a run, dragging Neej-Nash behind him, and dashed towards the side street. As they disappeared between the buildings, Bhollom let go of Neej-Nash’s hand. She immediately slumped against a wall, panting heavily.
Bhollom scratched his head, watching Neej-Nash as she slowly opened her eyes. After she had caught her breath, she began her routine of making clear of her surroundings.
“It got a bit too busy over there, hm?” Bhollom asked, trying to sound as carefree as possible. Getting no response from Neej-Nash, he leaned against the wall opposite from her and dug out his purse.
“It should get less overwhelming in the streets,” he said as pulled open the small leather bag. The sight of its contents pulled the sides of his mouth towards the ground.
Two gold and three silver coins.
“What is?” Bhollom heard Neej-Nash ask. He glanced up at the saurian who was back up on her feet and looming above her. Bhollom sighed and pocketed the purse.
“We’re broke,” he said, “without lodging, without food, and stuck in a strange city.”
Neej-Nash blinked slowly. Bhollom smiled to himself and spread his arms.
“So it’s the same as always.”
A loud gurgling noise came from under Neej-Nash’s robes.
“No food?” She asked and licked her lips hungrily. Her frills drooped down against her neck and darkened noticeably.
Bhollom patted Neej-Nash on her forearm.
“Don’t you worry, ma’am,” he said grinning, “Ol’ Bholly won’t stand for his employer to starve.”
The stub turned on his heels and marched out of the alley to the street, whistling as he went. Wondering how the small one’s mind worked, Neej-Nash waddled after him.
Something heavy crashed into Neej-Nash, sending her flying through the air. She crashed down onto the street, rolled over a few times, and came to rest on her side. She tried to make out what had hit her. Behind her was standing a man. He was pulling something big. That something was yelling at her. A carriage, with two people on it.
“Can’t you see where you’re going, moron,” the smaller person screamed in a high-pitched, nasal voice.
“My apologies, sire, she can’t,” Bhollom shouted to the short, balding man waving his fist at Neej-Nash. He rushed past the carriage and helped Neej-Nash up from the street. The man fell silent as he saw the saurian stand up and turn towards him.
“She’s blind,” Bhollom said, pointing up at the clouded scarred mess that was Neej-Nash’s eyes.
“What is?” Neej-Nash whispered. Her tongue was lapping out of her mouth, sparkling intensely. She could make out the man-drawn carriage and the small angry man, but she was certain there was someone else too.
Bhollom glanced at the people on the carriage. There was the yelling man, wearing a blue jacket with puffy sleeves and some kinds of brown pants. The man pulling the cart was wearing a ridiculously pompous red and yellow striped ceremonial outfit, which he was straightening after the collision. The third man, sitting quietly in the cart, was much taller than the other two. He was a slender, dark-skinned individual. On his narrow face, framed by long golden hair in a loose ponytail, shone two small and slanted eyes, like bright emeralds. He wore purple velvet robes, and Bhollom recognized the symbol covering the man’s chest as the crossed axes of the Kobresian kingdom.
“A man and an elf. Crown cronies,” Bhollom said to Neej-Nash. Too late he realized he had actually spoken out loud instead of whispering.
The shorter man seemed to gather himself upon hearing Bhollom’s words.
“Cronies?” he shrieked. “How dare you! Do you not know who you’re insulting?”
Bhollom scrunched his eyes close. He hated yelling, but he was more annoyed at himself for blurting out the common name for the king’s officials.
“No, sire, I do not. We have just arrived in the city,” he said, trying to find the words to defuse the situation. “If you could kindly tell us, we could apologize for our rudeness.”
A smug, unpleasant smile spread across the balding man’s face.
“Know then, peasant,” he spat, “that you have interrupted His Excellency, the Mayor-Mage of Westerport. On official business, no less!”
The man turned aside to give Bhollom full sight of the elf. Bhollom just now realized that he was indeed wearing the black silver-trimmed beret of the Mages’ Chamber.
The man, satisfied that his adversaries has taken in the full splendor of his master, leaned towards them in the carriage and eyed them suspiciously.
“And what business does a stub and his pet lizard have our fair city?” he said with undiluted contempt in his voice.
Bhollom panicked as he felt Neej-Nash tense beside him. He glanced up at her. Her frills were spread wide, colored a bright orange, and she was hissing.
“What’s this? Is your pet threatening the Mayor?” the man on the carriage asked.
Bhollom grabbed Neej-Nash’s arm as she was about to take a step forward, but she was interrupted by a deep, velvety voice.
“That’s enough,” the elf spoke for the first time, “We are in a hurry.”
The short man spun around on his heels.
“But of course, your Excellency! Your patience must be running thin,” he said in a much more amiable voice as he bowed deep. He turned back to face Bhollom and Neej-Nash, but Bhollom was already pushing her out of the way.
“Our apologies for… For delaying you, sire,” Bhollom huffed as he shoved Neej-Nash forward inches at a time. She made no effort to move on her own. “We beg your understanding, she really can’t see.”
The elf waved them aside with a nod. As the carriage began moving, the short man glared at them. Neej-Nash hissed at him until the carriage disappeared behind a corner.
Bhollom sighed in relief and patted Neej-Nash on her back. He pulled her hand away quickly as she snapped her jaws at him.
“Well, that could’ve gone down worse,” he said. “You kept your head, good job.”
Neej-Nash was lapping her magic-infused tongue furiously, trying to follow the scent of the carriage even though she knew it would be much too far by now. Bhollom felt a shiver run up his spine as he remembered the last time someone had called Neej-Nash a lizard. He had barely been able to wrench her off him before the guards arrived. He tugged on her sleeve sheepishly.
“Come on. Aren’t you hungry? I know a place.”
Neej-Nash’s eyes sparkled as she turned to Bhollom, her tongue hanging out of her mouth.