Chapter 3: Mypos or Bust
Timeline: Day after landing
They put plank to port the previous morning but Nick had yet to step off of the Steamhawke. A good portion of the crew went ashore the night before, to a bar or a brothel or a shop. A week or more out was enough to make people appreciate the feel of a road or grass beneath their feet. He was still getting used to seeing the clouds from below and not at eye-level. He truly preferred to be up there than down here.
Nicholai woke to snoring, and not his own. The sun was hardly over the crest of buildings that made up Mypos, dusty grey in the still morning. Then came the sounds of the morning catch, nets and water; traders and marketmen called to one another, the shuffle of feet and boots, all those little noises. And one by one, crew woke and scrubbed and hurried about. He went to the kitchen and tore himself a bit of bread and spread it with butter. He would have made food for everyone but the night before so many people had gone that he thought it a waste.
With his bit of bread, Nick went back to the crew's quarters. He hadn't finished the book from the passenger yet. It was an intriguing read: a love story between classes, with many obstacles. Stale though the concept was, Nicholai spent hours soaking up every detail. And not just because he was struggling with some of the larger words.
Huddled up on his hanging cot, Nicholai nibbled at the bread and licked melting butter from his hands, careful not the soil the pages. Soon he heard a sound from the other side of the quarters. He leaned to one side, looking for the source of the sound.
"What're you lookin' for?" He asked the skinny cabin girl.
Laudine jumped a little when she heard Nick speak. The rest of the ship was quiet with pretty much everyone else gone, and it had looked like the cook was too into the book to notice her. So she'd thought it be pretty safe to take a look around the crew's quarters and see if anyone had anything that would be of use to her.
After Laudine had heard that women couldn't walk freely on their own in Elladia, she had felt a little discouraged. She'd been hoping to start her search for her father here, but for a while it had sounded like that would be impossible. Laudine really didn't feel like telling anyone on the ship about her father, at least not yet. And she wasn't even sure she ever planned to tell anyone really. It had seemed like she might have to, though, because it sounded like no one in Elladia would be willing to talk to a young, unchaperoned girl.
And that was when the idea had hit her. No one in Elladia knew her, so no one in Elladia knew she was a girl. And no one had to. That was when Laudine had started rummaging through the rest of the crew's possessions, looking for anything that would help her look more like a boy. How much trouble she could get into for doing this didn't cross her mind. All she was thinking about was her goal, until Nick spoke up.
"I..." She looked up at the man, clearly at a loss for words. Laudine hadn't thought to come up with a good lie she could tell people if she was caught, and the only thing she could think of now was the truth. And the truth might not be the best thing to tell someone when it involved stealing, even if it was stealing from pirates. "I just...need some things," she finally said, "So people don't know I'm a girl. They said it was alright for me to borrow some of their things." She didn't specify who 'they' were since she had no clue whose things she was going through at the moment.
He looked at her for a long moment. "You're a bad liar," he told her truthfully. Nicholai turned down the corner of his page and set it down on the hammock. Laudine's face turned an indignant shade of red when Nick saw through her lie. Although, to be honest, it hadn't been that good of one. Normally, she liked to think she could do better, but not a lot of thought had gone into that story.
"You can borrow somethin' of mine," he said, bending down to the small trunk that held his personal belongings. "Just don't 'spect anythin' to be real clean." A bit of sifting found a shirt that would hang loosely on her skinny frame and a patterned bandana. She was already slight, with only the hint of a woman's shape, and there was dirt on her face and hands. No one should give her a second look on the street.
"Here," he said, tossing the articles to her. He hesitated a moment before shutting the lid to the trunk and decided to take out an old cap for himself. With it on, his thick dark hair was pressed to his brow and did a good job of hiding his left eye.
Laudine clumsily caught the clothing that he tossed her and took a good look at them. She was actually kind of surprised that he was offering them to her.
"Thanks..." she said as she watched him take out the cap as well. Laudine slowly moved a little closer to him. She'd been wondering about the ship's cook for a while now. There had been a few other people like him around the port, and all of them usually seemed to be living on the streets. Not that she knew much about them, of course. She remembered asking her mother about them once, and all her mom had said was that they were "tainted" and Laudine should stay away from them. The girl never gotten a satisfactory answer.
"So what are you?" she asked now, thinking about that short conversation she and her mother had. It was a rude question, but it was clear from the way it came out that Laudine had no intention of offending him. It was one of those questions children asked out of pure curiosity, not even knowing they may have said anything wrong at all.
His posture stiffened at that question. Of course she would ask, she was hardly more than a child. But she should not have been on a pirate ship if she was that sheltered, as much as he thought she was. That question said a lot. Had her parents told her boogeyman stories of the Tainted with their cracked skin and violent ways? Did she give them coppers in the street when they begged, or did she look at them curiously. Always from a distance.
Nick cleared his throat and disposed of those thoughts. She was only a girl. "I'm the cook," he said, turning to glance at her. And then he stood and slipped his coat on, and went towards the door.
"C'mon," he said, and then added, "I need cigarettes."
She frowned at him as avoided her question. Avoiding never worked well with her. If anything, it just made her more determined to get her answer. "Of course you're the cook," she told him. That was obvious. Laudine would have to be stupid to miss that much. When he told her to follow him, Laudine hesitated for a moment. She wasn't afraid of him, she told herself. It was just an unexpected invitation.
Finally, she decided to quickly slip on the shirt he'd given her and attempted to hide most of her hair with the bandana as she followed Nick out. "But you're different," she continued, "So why are you different?"
He stopped in the corridor so abruptly that Laudine almost ran into his back. What could he say to her? He didn't want to lie but the truth was not an option. No one on board knew and he was going to keep it that way, keep the truth hidden back where only he knew it. It was no one's business.
Turning around, he lowered his good eye to hers. "You mean this," he said, pushing his hair back from his forehead, exposing his left eye. The cracks in his skin ran down into his beard and crawled upwards into his hairline, glistening black. That eye was gone entirely, leaving only the socket. He lowered his hand and said, "It's a scar, from dextrocite exposure."
Laudine jumped when Nick showed her his eye, or lack of one. It hadn't been what she had been expecting. She really didn't know what she was expecting him to do response, but it definitely hadn't been to show her an empty eye socket. Her jaw had dropped when she saw it, and Laudine found that she felt repulsed but at the same time wanted a closer look. It wasn't every day you saw an empty eye socket.
It had been a while since someone had so blatantly gawked at his face like she did. Normally it bothered him more than he could say. But with Laudine looking at it, there in the hall, he found a strange sense of ease. He would never be comfortable with it, though perhaps he could get past it and this was a step towards that.
"...Oh..." was all she could say. Nothing else was really coming to mind at the moment, and she just kept staring at the spot where she knew the socket was. "...Is...that the stuff on the ship?" she asked him, a little nervous. Laudine didn't know everything about how ships worked. She didn't really know anything. It hadn't been a big part of her education. There had been sailors at the port, though, and she'd overheard a few of them talking about the dexta-whatsit that Nick had mentioned.
"The very same," he said as he led the way up to the deck, into sunlight. The port bustled with all walks of life, a slurry of languages assaulted his ears. It was strangely humid down here, and noisy, an adjustment to the stillness of the sky and the common backdrop of clouds and clear sky. After the stuffy heat of the ship, though, the open air was a welcome reprieve. He breathed it in like a cold drink.
All his pay was in one pocket, enough and more to buy tobacco and paper. After that perhaps a tavern. Nicholai rounded on Laudine, tilted his head to one side, "You're convincing as a boy. Why'd you want'a go out, if I might ask?"
It was Laudine's turn to hesitate with her answer now. She was getting the feeling that she was on a foolish mission again, and didn't want to tell anyone about it. It was anybody else's business why she was on the ship, except to be the cabin girl. But then, he had answered her question, so Laudine figured she should give him some form of answer in return. "I'm just looking for someone," she said.
"Here?" The city was vast and the whole of the island vaster still. What hope did a girl have of finding someone, anyone, in such a huge place? It was like looking for one particular bit of dirt in a forest. Of course he didn't say that; she looked wary enough of the task, and hesitant with his asking. Nicholai nodded slightly and turned back around to face the city.
He took off walking and she could follow him or not. Nick knew nothing of Mypos so he was just as lost as she was. However, his mission was simpler. He need only find a shop of some kind and barter between languages, as he assumed he would need to. His trouble was to conceal his face; in the light of day it was difficult and he had grown lax with the task while on the ship. On the Steamhawke people knew him and at least tolerated his presence. This foreign place was different. He never knew how his affliction would be received.
Laudine caught up to him and appeared at his side, wide eyes fixed on the strange surroundings. She had thought that she would run off on her own once they'd gotten off the ship, but that idea had disappeared from her mind as soon as Laudine actually saw the city. The mission she was on seemed more intimidating now that she was actually looking at the city. This didn't change her mind about anything, though. There had to be someone here who could help her, and if there wasn't she would just check at the next place the ship came to. For now, though, it did make her feel a bit better to stick by Nick's side until she had her bearings.