Tea with Miss Lusk presented a welcomed change for Zeah. Each day seemed to be just like the day before it. Almost all of his time was spent organizing activities for the passengers, which would provide the necessities of life or a change of pace to prevent boredom or depression caused by long confinement on the ship. The first two days after their departure from the island of Enclep, he had been occupied seeing to the inventorying and storage of the supplies purchased there. The following day, he had to arrange for the priests onboard and Dr. Kelloran to deal with a fungus infection that had broken out on various parts of the bodies of a great many passengers and crew. The day after that had been washing day, which always kept him busy. It had ended with the death of Miss Kilmurray and the summary execution of Mr. Murty by Master Terrence. Zeah would have liked to have seen Murty tried for his crimes, but he was as loud in his laudation for Master Terrence as anyone who else on the ship. His daughter could have easily have been Murty’s next target, or Miss Lusk. The following day, Zeah had organized a memorial service for Miss Kilmurray. Two days after that, when Lieutenant Staff had completed his investigation, Murty’s body, which had been kept on ice, was dumped unceremoniously over the side.
It was surprising to Zeah, who had expected that there would be a somber mood among the passengers following the memorial, but the atmosphere on the Minotaur actually seemed to lighten. There had been a cloud hanging over the lives of everyone onboard since the murder of Miss Astley, though most had not realized at the time that the murder was one of a series. Now with the murderer dead, people were much freer with their smiles, their attitudes, and their actions. Zeah had originally planned a series of games and activities to slowly raise people’s spirits, but had changed his plans and instead scheduled a dance. It took place the evening of Pentuary ninth, ten days after leaving Enclep.
The danced proved to be a great success and everyone who was there seemed to have a wonderful time. Miss Dechantagne surprised everyone by attending. She wore a beautiful royal blue evening gown with large balloon sleeves and a white satin belt with embroidered blue and silver silk flowers. She had a bouquet of fresh flowers at her waist and atop her curled auburn hair. And the bare expanse of her shoulders and the choker of pearls she wore made her long, thin neck look even more so.
Everyone admired Miss Dechantagne’s beauty, but Zeah found Miss Lusk’s charms even richer. She had arrived in a buttercup yellow gown with butterfly sleeves. The skirt had little pleated waves of fabric falling straight on the sides, and was trimmed with vines of embroidery in gold and beads extending down each side of the front. It was ornamented on one side with a velvet panel, and on the other with two large velvet bows.
Zeah had not yet spoken to either of the two women, when Master Augie arrived with Dr. Kelloran. Lieutenant Dechantagne was dressed in a fine cutaway coat which exposed a red vest embroidered with a dragon motif. He had a new grey felt derby, which he must have purchased just before leaving Brech, with a red carnation in the band. Dr. Kelloran’s Thiss-green silk gown might not have stood out as much as those of yellow or royal blue, but it was equally fine in an understated way. Decorated with beads of jade and tiger-eye, it was wonderfully offset by her long white suede gloves.
Every passenger attending, especially the women, came in their finest clothes. It seemed less like a simple dance staged rather quickly aboard a crowded naval ship than the social event of the season. More than a few officers and sailors attended as well, and all of them wore their dress-whites. Notably absent was Lieutenant Staff, who was on duty that evening. Master Terrence was not in attendance either. Zeah thought that this was a shame, as seventy four unmarried women, and more than a few who were married, all seemed to be looking for him.
The two most talked about entrances were the wizard Suvir Kesi and Sorceress Zurfina, whom Zeah thought must have been meeting for the first time. Kesi wore traditional Mirsannan garb—a long brown robe, lined all along the open edge with ferret skins, and reaching to short, black boots. Beneath the open robe, he wore blue silk pantaloons and a yellow and red striped silk shirt. His ever present yellow fez with blue tassel made him visible from anywhere at the dance. Zurfina wore, or Zeah would have said ‘almost wore’, a black dress that was cut much like the togas worn by the ancient coastal cultures. It was loosely draped across her front, continuing to cover her breasts only through the use of magic or perhaps some kind of glue. Between her breasts, it fell to her naval and there were no sides at all above the waist. Below her waist, the dress went all the way to the floor, but there was a slit cut up one side that reached to her mid-thigh. It was the type of garment to be worn only by someone who had no care what other people thought. Zeah noticed that while many scandalized looks were aimed in the direction of the sorceress, almost no one at the dance mentioned her dress, or lack there-of. The story of her having turned a dressing maid to stone had lost nothing in the telling.
As it turned out, there was no need for Zurfina the Magnificent to be the subject of conversation. There was much to talk of. Earlier in the day, many aboard had watched a small fleet of seven ships, Enclepian Junks, sailing west toward the land that the Minotaur had so recently left. They were probably on their way back from the Mullien Islands to the feudal lands in southern Enclep, with holds full of spices and strange trade goods. Zeah was rather peeved because he had been busy at the time and had not been able to reach the deck before the square-rigged, double-ruddered, wooden sailing vessels had passed out of sight. He always seemed to miss the great sights. He had missed both the Freedonian dirigible and the school of giant whales which many passengers had noted before they had reached Enclep’s port. Despite not being able to participate in the gossip about the many strange things that had been observed from the deck of the Brech battleship, Zeah thoroughly enjoyed the dance. He danced the night away in the presence of Miss Lusk, missing only one piece, when for some unknown reason Zurfina had insisted upon his accompaniment on the dance floor.
“Mr. Korlann, you seem distracted,” said Zurfina, in her deep, sultry voice.
“I am always distracted,” said Zeah. He was in fact, trying very hard not to stare at the vast expanse of skin which the sorceress had left uncovered. Though the two star tattoos above her breasts, which were often seen by many, were now covered, a new one around her naval was now clearly visible.
“You aren’t afraid of me, are you Mr. Korlann?”