The Unseeing Eyes
Book I, Chapter 4
A curious little creature rubbed itself against the hem of Neej-Nash’s robe. She extended her finger and lightly scratched the animal’s head. It began to make a quiet purring sound and pushed its head harder onto Neej-Nash’s claw. She found the creature fascinating. Though its natural scent was obscured by many others, it still vaguely resembled that of the beasts that lurked in the hills of Neej-Nash’s arid homeland. The beasts were large, though, much larger than these ones she had noticed in practically every soft-skin settlement she had been to, and she wondered why they would be so abundant in such an environment. She knew the soft-skins grew some animals for food - a peculiar yet ingenious practice, she thought. Perhaps this was one of those animals? They certainly would be easy to catch if all of them were this friendly.
Bhollom appeared from behind a corner. Upon spotting his companion crouched next to a wall down the street, he strode up to her and grabbed her arm.
“What are you doing? You’ll get lost if you…”
The little animal hissed loudly at the tiny man who had interrupted its bonding time with the nice reptile creature and dashed away from between his legs. Neej-Nash flicked her tongue, but the animal’s scent trail had already disappeared. Slightly disappointed, she let out a quiet moan.
Bhollom looked up at the saurian, surprised to see her display affection for something non-sapient.
“You like cats?” he asked.
“Cat?” Neej-Nash repeated the word.
“Yes, they’re called cats,” Bhollom said, pulling at Neej-Nash’s arm. She repeated the word ‘cat’ a couple times as she got up to her feet.
“Funny things,” she said as she begun to follow Bhollom down the street. “This no meets one before.”
“Really? You’ve never seen a cat?”
Neej-Nash’s frills folded down against her neck momentarily.
“No, this no sees.”
Bhollom rolled his eyes. Sure, Neej-Nash didn’t have a perfect hang of the language, but he still wished she would get past taking each word so literally.
“You don’t have cats in your home?” he re-phrased his question.
Neej-Nash’s frills folded down again.
“No small cat but is big one. Bad things. Eat shareen.”
She turned her face to Bhollom and touched the scar tissue over her eyes.
Bhollom didn’t quite know how to respond, so he resorted to nodding.
“Well, you shouldn’t have to worry about that with these ones. They’re usually quite nice,” he said. “Come one, Whisker is waiting.”
The two emerged to a small circular square, hidden in the middle of Westerport’s older buildings. The middle of the plaza was slightly lower than its edges, which formed a sort of a sidewalk around its center. A fountain stood in the middle, with a female figure, carved from stone, frozen in place with a jug in her hands. Water had probably once out of it, but by now the lady’s jug had run dry. The fountain was obviously very old, with its surface cracked, and large tufts of weeds had pushed their way up through the stones of the square floor. Four narrow alleys lead away from the plaza, and between each was a door. Bhollom couldn’t help being impressed by the old square’s perfect, if decaying, symmetry.
Next to one of the doors, Whiskers was leaning against a wall, whistling to himself with a covered basket held in his hand. He called out to Bhollom as he saw him emerge from the shady alley, shadowed by Neej-Nash.
“There you are! What kept your friend?”
Bhollom grinned and glanced over his shoulder at Neej-Nash.
“She was playing with alley cats.”
“Ho!” Whiskers laughed with his large stomach shaking, “Wouldn’t have figured her for cat lover.”
Neej-Nash blinked several times and her emotive frills fanned out.
“I figure that counts as a smile,” Bhollom said to Whiskers, shrugging.
“Cat is nice,” Neej-Nash said and flicked her tongue. “Is it good?”
Whiskers’ smile turned into a grimace.
“Good? By gods, you don’t eat them, do you?”
Neej-Nash tilted her head to the side, confused by Whiskers’ reaction.
“It no eats cat?” she asked. “Why is cat here?”
“Oh dear girl, they’re not for eating!” said the old man, shaking his head. “They’re pets. You know what a pet is?”
Neej-Nash blinked slowly.
“They’re useful to have around. They eat rats.”
Neej-Nash’s eyes widened together with her frills.
Bhollom suddenly fell into a coughing fit and kicked Neej-Nash in the shin.
“Sorry about that, almost swallowed a fly,” he said, shooting an awkward smile at Whiskers. “She meant I’m useful to have around as well. Right, ma’am?”
Bhollom glared at Neej-Nash who hissed at him.
“Hm, right,” Whiskers muttered as he turned around and pushed a key into a lock on the door behind him. “Speaking of rats, watch your feet.”
He pushed the door open, and a couple of the vermin ran away, squeaking as they went. The three stepped inside into a storage room, not a very large one but very messy. Stacks of large crates cluttered the floor, reaching all the way to the roof. On shelves, blocked by the crates, were smaller boxes and baskets, filled with bottles and various food items in less-than-fresh states. What little space remained was taken up by heavy wooden barrels.
“Right,” said Whiskers, turning to Bhollom and Neej-Nash, “this is all yours.”
Bhollom looked questioningly at Neej-Nash, who also turned her face to him.
“You have your stomach’s full and had a good night’s rest, so let’s get you to do some work. This all,” Whiskers spread his arms side, “needs to be organized.”
Neej-Nash was wiggling her tongue, trying to figure out what exactly was in the room. Bhollom examined a nearby crate.
“These look heavy,” he said, scratching his beard.
“Oh they are,” Whiskers said and banged his palm twice on the crate, “which is precisely why they need to be put in their place. I’m getting too old to be carrying these things around, but you two together should have no problem.”
He turned to Neej-Nash and gave a pat on the shoulder.
“She seems pretty strong.”
Neej-Nash flashed her smile-equivalent as Whiskers.
Bhollom was shuffling his feet.
“Now don’t get me wrong, Whiskers, I’m more than happy to repay your kindness, but…”
He looked up at Neej-Nash who was already trying to pick up an ale barrel.
“She can’t see what she’s doing.”
Whiskers ruffled Bhollom’s hair.
“And that, my lad, is why I’m putting her here where you can supervise her,” he said. “Did you think I’d make her a bar maid? And let her knock out some more of my customers?”
He glanced at Neej-Nash’s tail, which was waving back and forth on the floor. Bhollom chuckled. The old man had a point.
“Right then,” Whiskers said and set his basket on a crate, “everything should be labeled, so you should have trouble knowing what’s what. There’s some refreshments in the basket for you if you get hungry.”
Bhollom smiled at his friend.
“Thank you, Whiskers.”
The old man slammed his hand on Bhollom’s back.
“Don’t thank me yet, lad, you might regret it after you’re done with this.”
He turned to the door, but before he could walk out, he remembered one more thing.
“Oh, and try to be back before dark. This isn’t the nicest area.”
Bhollom nodded and the innkeeper took his leave. The stub rolled up his sleeves and rubbed his hands together.
“Alright, Neej-Nash,” he said, flexing his arms, “let’s get to work.”
Bhollom managed to take one step forward before he was knocked to the ground as Neej-Nash spun around with a heavy crate in her arms.
“Rags say something?”
Bhollom laid on the lower frame of a bunk bed in the Serpent and the Skewer’s common room. He was pressing a piece of cloth soaked in cold water against his black, swollen right eye. The bunk beds, formed in two rows six beds deep, were empty for the time being, and Bhollom was more than happy for the moment of solitude. The throbbing in his head had grown unbearable in the noise of the inn’s pub area, and though the din was still quite loud, at least no one was screaming into his ear.
The storage room had been a nightmare. Sure, Neej-Nash had proven to be an extremely efficient manual laborer as long as someone was there to point out to her what to pick up and where to put it and they had so Whiskers’ great surprise managed to complete the task in a single day. But the deed was carried out at a price, and Bhollom had turned out to be the one to bear the brunt of it. He was bruised and scraped and his body ached all over from the endless collision with either Neej-Nash, her tail, or whatever she happened to be carrying. And to crown it all, Bhollom was now certain he had broken at least one toe on his right foot after Neej-Nash had slammed a barrel right on top of it.
Bhollom groaned as he turned over to his side. Despite the pain, a ghost of a smile crept onto his lips. He was happy he had been able to impress Whiskers by completing the task so quickly. As much as they perhaps had needed it, Bhollom hated asking for favors or alms, and the sooner they could earn their keep and be out of the innkeeper’s thinning hair the better.
But there was something else, too, that was pulling the sides of Bhollom’s mouth upwards. Neej-Nash had, for a reason Bhollom wasn’t quite sure of, been very excited about the job they had been given and she quite obviously had had a great time with it. The saurian’s child-like glee at rolling barrels of ale around had been infectious, Bhollom had to admit.
“I swear I’m not a guide, I’m a babysitter,” he whispered to himself as he turned onto his back again. His ribs did not agree with the weight he was putting on them.
He sighed and dropped the wet cloth off his eye onto the floor. He stared at the flickering shadows on the bottom of the bunk above him. Thinking of Neej-Nash had brought their eventual destination to his mind.
Kobresia. A name for a continent and city alike. The city of pearls, they called it. Bhollom had never been there. The trade routes of his father’s empire had even at its largest only concentrated on the western coast of Ohvah Orsah. According to the maps of the world he had seen, Kobresia was far, far to the east. The journey would be long, and they were making slow progress.
All the better, Bhollom thought.
The farther away he went from the Cliff, the more perspective he felt he got on the misfortune that had befallen his family. His father had been a wealthy man, leading his massive trade network from the stubs’ ancient home city. But even the richest and mightiest are nothing in the face of the elements and a storm had sunk a ship with both Bhollom’s parents on it. The control of his father’s empire had come to Bhollom, but he had been less cut out for business than he had thought. In the time of only a few years, it had all been gone. Bhollom was not quite sure how had managed to do it. On the many cold nights spent shivering in the alleys of the Cliff Bhollom had cursed his incurably gullible nature, but with time he had come to admit that perhaps he had gotten a bit drunk with his newfound, seemingly infinite wealth and freedom.
And then, though his pride would have never allowed him to admit it, Neej-Nash had saved him. The blind saurian offering to take Bhollom away from his misery, to the heart of the Kobresian kingdom, seemed like a blessing from the gods. While he had soon learned that traveling with Neej-Nash was not the easy ticket to salvation he had initially imagined, it had planted within him a seed of hope.
Yes. He would start anew. While he had nothing left, Kobresia was a whole new world, with new possibilities. He would make his own fortune, just like his father had in his youth.
Or at least the streets would be warmer.
The sight of Neej-Nash sticking her head into the doorway of the common room brought Bhollom back to reality. Slowly, he sat up on his bunk. Neej-Nash was flicking her tongue nervously.
“What is it?” Bhollom asked.
“Fat man want Rags,” Neej-Nash answered.
Bhollom raised one of his eyebrows. She sounded… Worried? Groaning in pain, Bhollom got up to his feet and limped over to Neej-Nash. He was just about to repeat his earlier question as he emerged from the common room to the small corridor connecting it to the tavern when he noticed the two sour-looking armored and armed men standing behind the saurian. On their shields were the Kobresian axes.
Without uttering a word, the two men grabbed both Bhollom and Neej-Nash and shoved them down the corridor, escorting them to the tavern. Whiskers was standing by the door, a concerned look on his face. The patrons were silent, their eyes fixed on the two other men standing by the counter. The larger man was wearing an armor of a similar design to the two guards, but instead of a shield and spear, a sword hung on his belt and an ornate helmet shaped to resemble the head of a bull rested on his arm. He had the same dark complexion and narrow slanted eyes of an elf as the mayor, and his short-trimmed hair pitch black. The shorter man Bhollom recognized. It was the balding squire from the mayor’s carriage, and judging from his expression as Bhollom entered the room, he remembered him as well.
“That’s him, captain! The stub!” he shrieked as the two guards guided Bhollom and Neej-Nash towards him.
Whiskers whispered into Bhollom’s ear as he walked past him: “By the gods, lad, swear to me they’re wrong.”
Before Bhollom could answer, the guard walking behind him shoved him forward again. Bhollom looked up to find the guard captain’s angular face looming above him. He was measuring Bhollom and Neej-Nash up with his eyes.
“They fit your description, a long-haired skinny stub and a saurian,” the captain said to the short man. “And you are sure these are them, sire?”
“Yes, yes! I saw them just yesterday!” he whined.
“Very well,” the captain said. He turned to look at Bhollom and pushed out his chest.
“I am Kheret, captain of Westerport City Guard,” he announced loudly. “You two are hereby under arrest under suspicion of murdering Khelerian, the Mayor-Mage of Westerport!”