The Unseeing Eyes
Book I, Chapter 3
Neej-Nash was not happy. The rumbling of her stomach was growing ever louder, her left side hurt from getting hit by the carriage, she was still furious about the bald man insulting her, and Bhollom had been leading her along the endless streets and alleys for an eternity. A loud bell somewhere had rung twice while they walked. Neej-Nash had noticed (and Bhollom had later confirmed) that the soft-skins liked to signify the time of day by making some kind of a loud noise. She wasn’t sure exactly how often the signal was given, but she was more than certain that wandering around from one noise to another while hungry was far too long.
They entered yet another narrow alley. Neej-Nash stepped aside and pressed herself against a cool stone wall to let one of the soft-skin females carrying her offspring squeeze past her. She noticed the woman walked away much faster than she had approached her. They did this often, Neej-Nash thought, wondering if there was some kind of significance to the behavior. Perhaps it was a sign of respect? She made a mental note to ask Bhollom about it.
Neej-Nash realized the stub’s scent was getting weaker, and she hurried after the waning trail. As she flicked out her tongue to engage her magical echolocation, she tapped the wall on her right lightly. Her fingers left an arcane imprint on the wall, which shone like a beacon in her mind. She had placed similar signs all along the way in an effort to keep track of their path, but they had walked so long with seemingly no destination that most of them were either too far her to sense anymore or had blurred into one faint glow in the general direction they had come from.
Bhollom had kept walking for a while until he realized Neej-Nash was no longer with him. He turned around to backtrack his steps when the saurian burst out from behind a corner. Her tongue slipped back behind her teeth as she walked briskly towards Bhollom, waving from side to side. She knelt down in front of Bhollom until her face was less than an inch from his and snapped her jaws loudly. Bhollom didn’t need to interpret her emotive frills to know she was reaching the end of her patience.
“Too long!” Neej-Nash grunted.
Bhollom swallowed audibly. He knew she wouldn’t actually hurt him, but he was still not quite comfortable with the two vicious rows of curved, serrated teeth.
“Rags says it knows place,” Neej-Nash said and her heavily scarred eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Does it lie?”
Bhollom stepped slowly backwards as Neej-Nash licked her lips.
“Of course not,” he stuttered. “My poor mother didn’t raise a liar.”
Neej-Nash got up to her feet. Bhollom felt far less intimidated with the teeth further away from him, and he cleared his throat to regain his composure.
“And honestly, I’m a little hurt. Have I ever given you any reason to doubt me?” he said, shaking his finger at Neej-Nash.
The saurian snorted and exaggeratedly crossed her arms to express her irritation. The soft-skins, she had noticed, couldn’t have recognized frill gestures to save their lives.
“So Rags knows where it goes? Gets there soon?” she asked, with what sounded to Bhollom like a surprising amount of sarcasm in her voice.
Bhollom scratched his head. Obviously his memory of the city wasn’t as good as he had thought. He knew the general area where he was leading his, but the particulars were lost on him. He turned on his heels and shrugged. He didn’t exactly know where he was going, but he’d be damned if he admitted it to Neej-Nash now. He was hungry and in a sour mood too, and the saurian’s attitude had really rubbed him the wrong way.
“Of course I do,” he said as he began to stride down the alley. “In fact…”
As he emerged from the alley to the larger street connected to, he noticed a round, weathered wooden sign hanging above a door on the other side of the street. A simple carving of a sea serpent run through by a harpoon adorned the sign. A triumphant smile spread across Bhollom’s face as he turned to Neej-Nash who had followed him out of the alley. The Serpent and the Skewer Inn. Just as he remembered it.
“…We have arrived!”
He crossed his arms and looked up at Neej-Nash who was turning her head around to make sure this street didn’t have more rude men riding their carriages.
“See? I told you I knew where I was going,” he said, grinning.
“No,” Neej-Nash said as she continued to take in her surroundings, “Rags knows this does not see.”
Bhollom facial muscles tightened as he wondered whether he should be amazed or annoyed at how effectively Neej-Nash had defused his gloating.
“Right,” he sighed, grabbed Neej-Nash’s sleeve, and began walking to the door.
The din of conversation in the tavern ceased as the two entered. Bhollom tried to avoid eye contact with the patrons as he began to make his way through the old wooden benches and tables that cluttered the floor towards the counter where an older, rotund man with an admirable mustache gaped at the odd couple. The silence was soon replaced by hushed voices as the crowd began to whisper amongst itself. Bhollom hated these situations. Although he knew that few of the people drinking and eating in the inn had probably even noticed him and were instead concentrated on Neej-Nash, the attention was still unwelcome.
Not that Bhollom couldn’t understand why Neej-Nash left people agape in her wake. It wasn’t often the reptile folk were seen to travel away from their desert homelands in central Ohvah Orsah, and many regarded them with wild superstitions. Some even claimed they ate people. As much as Bhollom didn’t want to believe the rumors, the memory of Neej-Nash’s jaws snapping close in front of him slithered back into his mind.
Bhollom excused himself as he pushed past a particularly mean-looking large man nursing a tankard of ale.
“Who let a lizard in?” the man grunted unnecessarily loudly. Bhollom froze in place, let out a quiet whimper, and closed his eyes tight.
Yet the enraged hiss and panicked screams never came. Bhollom opened one of his eyes and peevishly peered over his shoulder.
Neej-Nash calmly walked past the man. Bhollom sighed in relief. She hadn’t heard the man.
Neej-Nash hadn’t noticed Bhollom stopping and she walked right into stub, almost losing her balance. As she struggled to stay upright, her bag slipped off her shoulder and fell to the floor. The saurian apologized to the people around her in her broken speech and turned her face to Bhollom.
“This drops bag,” she hissed as she bent over to pick it up.
Only now Bhollom noticed her frills, burning a bright red.
Neej-Nash’s tail smashed squarely between the large man’s eyes. He crashed backwards onto a table behind him, spilling jugs of ale and water all over. His eyes rolled back into his head and his tongue lolled out of his mouth as he lie on the table unconscious.
Neej-Nash threw her bag back onto her shoulder and turned towards the men scrambling up to their feet behind her.
“This apple-geese,” she said. “This no see it there.”
Bhollom rushed in to put himself between Neej-Nash and the men, who were now rolling up their sleeves and pounding their fists into their palms. Bhollom tried to explain how she couldn’t see and didn’t do it on purpose, but his words did little to placate the pugnacious bunch. The stub closed his eyes, waiting for the first punch to fly, when he heard a loud bang from the counter.
“Enough!” The mustached innkeeper held a heavy ladle in his hand, his voice booming in the cramped room. He stepped out from behind the counter and marched across the floor.
“You people!” he yelled as he dumped a jug of water on the unconscious man, waking him from his stupor. “You want to fight, do it elsewhere!”
The men muttered reluctant apologies to the innkeeper, slowly sitting back down into their chairs and throwing toxic glares at Neej-Nash. The fat man turned his eyes to her too, his face red.
“And as for you,” he huffed, “you can get-“
The old man eyes widened in surprise and he looked down at his feet. A stub was smiling at him, but not just any stub. There was something oddly familiar in the long dark hair, the broad nose, and high cheekbones.
“Bless my bones,” he whispered. “Is that young master Bhollom?”
“Hello, Whiskers,” Bhollom repeated, his smile growing wider and wider until both he and the old man broke out in a laugh and embraced each other. Neej-Nash’s tongue was a purple-sparkling blur as she tried to discern whether the funny-smelling man was attacking Bhollom.
“My dear boy! How many years has it been?” Whiskers laughed with his hands on Bhollom’s shoulders. His expression suddenly soured as he looked up to Neej-Nash.
“Strange company you keep these days,” he said.
Bhollom lifted Whiskers’ hand off himself and readjusted his vest.
“It’s a long story,” he said. “Well, not that long really, I’m her guide. I’m sorry for the scene, but she didn’t mean to cause any trouble. She’s blind, you see.”
He reached up and waved his hand before Neej-Nash’s face.
“Blind as a bat.”
“This is not bat,” Neej-Nash snapped.
Whiskers eyed her suspiciously.
“My my, is that so?” he muttered, examining the saurian’s scarred eyes. “Blind, you say?”
Finally Whiskers nodded and looked over his shoulder at the large man, who was rubbing his bloodied nose.
“Well, there you heard it boys. Can’t blame a blind lass for not seeing where her tail goes, now can we?”
The men behind him grumbled in reluctant approval. Whiskers turned back to Neej-Nash and furrowed his brow.
“But you’ll try to keep it out of honest people’s faces, hm?”
Neej-Nash wiggled her frills twice.
“That usually means ‘yes’,” Bhollom said.
Whiskers twirled his long mustache around his finger.
“See that you do. But enough standing around!”
He smashed his hand onto Bhollom’s shoulder.
“Come, you two,” he said, pulling Bhollom and Neej-Nash away towards the counter. “We have catching up to do! Are you hungry?”
Neej-Nash hissed in excitement and her tail waggled from side to side, bare missing the heads of the people sitting around her.
“Hey, you!” Whiskers yelled and took a step towards Neej-Nash, who quickly curled her tail around her as much as she could and grabbed its tip.
Whiskers glared at Neej-Nash until she was sat down at a stool by the counter, with her tail tucked between the stool’s legs. Bhollom climbed onto another seat beside her as Whiskers stepped behind the counter. He grabbed two wooden bowls and began to ladle some kind of a stew into them from a large pot hanging above a fire behind him.
“So tell me, lad,” he said as he set the bowls on the countertop. Neej-Nash immediately attacked hers, sticking her muzzle into the bowl and loudly gulping down mouthfuls of stew. Whiskers shook his head and turned to Bhollom.
“Why are playing a guide dog to a blind…” he twirled his hand in a circle a few times before turning his attention to Neej-Nash who had already almost emptied her bowl. “What do I call you?”
“This is Neej-Nash,” she said, taking a brief break form her feast.
“They call them saurians,” said Bhollom, who had also begun to eat.
“Rags says it funny,” Neej-Nash said before sticking her face back into the bowl.
Whiskers rolled his eyes.
“So why, master Bhollom?” he asked. “Why are here with… Her? It’s her, right?”
Bhollom nodded slowly. His appetite was gone all of a sudden. He slowly lowered his full spoon back into his bowl.
“I have nothing else to do.”
Whiskers narrowed his eyes.
“Nothing? But Mr. Mohlbad, bless his soul, he left his whole business, to you, did he not?” he asked, “Your father’s entire fortune!”
Bhollom chewed on his lip.
“It’s all gone, Whiskers. All gone. I couldn’t take care of it.”
“Couldn’t take care of it?” Whiskers exclaimed. “Nonsense! Why, after your father you’re the brightest-“
“Whiskers,” Bhollom interrupted the old man, “It’s gone.”
Whiskers shook his head slowly and scratched his mustache.
“Dear, oh dear…”
He looked at Neej-Nash who was licking her now empty bowl. With what would probably have been a bright smile on a face able to render it, she looked up to the old innkeeper and offered her bowl with her nicest “More, please!”.
Whiskers took her bowl and filled it again. He then leaned back down on the counter in front of Bhollom.
“So now you’re leading a blind, what’d you call it, saurian ladies around to pass the time, then?”
Bhollom shook his head and looked at Neej-Nash out of the corner of his eye.
“She’s paying me to be her guide. When she can afford to, anyway.”
Bhollom sighed deeply.
“I was a vagrant, Whiskers,” he said. “I lived on the streets at the Cliff and stole food from rats. When I ran into her and she offered to pay me to take her to Kobresia, well, anything was better than what I was doing.”
Bhollom looked down at what he was wearing.
“I mean, look at me. She bought me clean clothes!”
Whiskers ran his eyes over Bhollom, his lips pursed tight.
“I thought you looked thinner,” he said slowly. “But why Kobresia? What does she want there?”
“She’s going to the Royal College. She lost her eyes when she was much younger. Her father’s a healer of some kind, I think, but he couldn’t save them. But he used to travel back in the day too, and apparently if there’s a way to heal her eyes it’s at the College, so he sent her there once she got older,” Bhollom said and shrugged. “Or that’s what she tells me.”
Whiskers straightened his back, stretching his arms.
“So that’s the story, then? A rich lady saves you off the street? She sure doesn’t look it.”
“That’s because she isn’t,” Bhollom said quickly, glancing at Neej-Nash. She was paying the two men no mind, too busy emptying her second bowl.
“I’m here to ask you favor, Whiskers. Do you have a storage room or something where we could sleep until we find some work around here?” Bhollom looked pleadingly up at the old man’s eyes. “We’re almost out of money after we paid for a ship here.”
“Ho! You really are hurting if that drained you,” Whiskers said in surprise.
“Are you kidding?” Bhollom huffed. “I paid ten gold for the trip from Bhernsmouth.”
“Ten?” Whiskers eyes widened again. “You’ve been had, lad. You can get here from Bhernsmouth for three.”
Bhollom stared at the old man with his mouth agape.
“B-but…” he stuttered.
Whiskers shook his head once more. Maybe it wasn’t so farfetched for the boy to have lost his father’s money after all.
“Tell you what,” he said, “I do want to help you, master Bhollom, I really do, but the business isn’t what it used to be. And after my dear boy went under the ground…”
“No! Maidan’s dead?” Bhollom yelled. “How?”
“Gone the way of your parents. Down he went, with the fishing boat he was working on,” Whiskers sighed with his gaze on the floor.
Bhollom leaned against the counter, staring at his cold stew. He wondered why he still loved the sea so much.
“Well, such is life, I suppose,” Whiskers finally said. “But, since he’s been gone, it’s been getting hard for me to run the inn. Starting to creak at the joints, this beauty.”
Whiskers patted his large stomach, and chuckled at Bhollom.
“I will help you, master Bhollom, and I won’t have Mr. Mohlbad’s son sleeping in a broom closet. But a bed for you is a bed someone could have paid for.”
Bhollom felt a stab of guilt at the old man’s words.
“Hear me out,” Whiskers said, noticing Bhollom’s reaction. “I have a storage house not far from here. Now, I can’t carry crates like I used to, but you two look like you could handle it. One of you, at least.”
He glanced at Neej-Nash, who had again emptied her bowl.
“So how about this? You can sleep on the beds in the common room. There’s no privacy…”
The old man winked at Bhollom, smiling behind his mustache at the look of utter horror that spread on the stub’s face.
“…But at least it’s warm. I’ll throw in a meal a day, too, and in exchange you will help me run the inn for a while. Do a good enough job and you just might earn a trip to the next city over, hm?”
Whiskers leaned back on the counter to face Bhollom.
“Just pick your captain better this time,” he said.
Bhollom felt his eyes moisten at the sight of the generous old man’s round, smiling face.
“I can’t thank you enough, Whiskers,” he whispered.
“Nonsense!” Whiskers brushed Bhollom off with a wave of his hand. “Your father helped me buy the inn back in the day. It’s the least I can do.”
“You won’t regret this, we will work to earn our keep,” Bhollom said. “Right, Neej-Nash?”
Neej-Nash turned to Bhollom. She then noticed his bowl of stew and licked her lips expectantly.
“Rags no eats that?”