Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Voyage of the Minotaur - Chapter 12 Excerpt

He cried out in pain and was suddenly sitting in the corner of the supply closet where he had been when he had rubbed the White Visio on his eyeballs. His eyes were tired but that was not why they were watering so profusely. His nose hurt like hell, and he looked down to see a huge amount of blood running down onto his shirt front.

Getting up, he grabbed a white towel from a stack on a shelf nearby and pressed it to his face. It was quickly turning red. It was the only bit of color in the room of white and grey. Still holding the towel to his bleeding nose, he opened the supply closet door and peered out into the hall in both directions. There wasn’t a person in sight. He stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind him. He moved quickly away from his hiding place. He had to take the towel away from his nose in order to climb a ladder up to the next deck. The blood began to drip quickly again as he climbed.

On the next deck, he pinched his nose with the towel to try and slow the blood flow, but winced in pain. He looked around for a moment and then realized where he had to go. He stepped quickly along forward, but had to stop after a moment and lean against the wall because he was feeling lightheaded. He took a few deep breaths and continued on. At last he came to the cabin door he needed, and knocked. The door popped wide open and the broad body, big stomach, and round, rosy face of Father Ian appeared.

“Good to see you, Captain Dechantagne!” boomed Father Ian’s voice. “Don’t stand out in the hallway. Come in. Come in. Good gracious, what has happened to you?”

“I cut myself shaving,” said Terrence, pulling the towel away from his face. “I was hoping that you could help.”

“I should say you have!” Father Ian let out a long whistle. “Sit down. As a matter of fact, I have just the help you need right here. Sister Auni here is just the person to set you right again.”

In the corner of the room, unnoticed by Terrence until this moment was a very thin woman in the long white robes of a church acolyte. Her jet black hair was cut straight across her forehead, and hung down low in back. She had deep set grey eyes and prominent cheek bones. She stood up from her seat and was several inches taller than Terrence, though only about half as wide at the shoulder. When she spoke, it was in breathy tones.

“I’m very please to make your acquaintance, Captain Dechantagne,” she said. “May I take a look at your nose please?”

She placed long thin hands on either side of his face and tilted his head upward so that she could look at his injury.

“Razor slice,” she said. “I would expect to see an injury like this in a tavern brawl.”

“Sorry. No taverns available,” said Terrence.

“In the name of the Holy Father I see your pain,” she said. “In the name of the Holy Savior I heal your wounds.”

Terrence felt life flowing from her hands. Not only did his nose stop stinging, but the pain in the back of his head and in his shoulders that he hadn’t even noticed before went away. The residual stinging in his eyes also went away. He was sure that any redness caused by the White Opthalium was gone now. Sister Auni pulled her hands away from his face and smiled.

“I knew I came to the right place,” Terrence said.

“Of course you did, my boy,” said Father Ian. “Perfect timing, too. The sister and I had just finished our prayer session. You are just in time to see her back to her cabin.

“You couldn’t be in any safer hands,” he said to Sister Auni.

“Oh indeed,” she said. “I know that already.”

Shrugging, Terrence offered his arm to the acolyte and led her out of the room.

“Good night to both of you!” Father Ian called out in his thundering voice, and then he closed the cabin door behind them.

Walking through the narrow halls of the ship, Terrence usually found it difficult to escort a lady and had to walk in a sort of shuffling sidestep to make room, and if the woman was wearing an evening gown, it was pretty much impossible to walk side by side in any case. This was not so with Sister Auni. Not only did her clerical robes flow straight from her shoulders to the floor, her entire form was scarcely as wide as his two hands splayed out side by side. Her shoulders seemed almost too narrow to hold up her normal sized head.

“Sister Auni!” A young woman Terrence didn’t know came running down the hall toward them. “Sister Auni! Mrs. Duplessis is having her baby, and the doctor wants you there as quickly as possible.”

“Lead the way, child,” said the acolyte.

The three of them made their way through a series of hatches and corridors until they came to a closed cabin door. A group of several women and girls were standing outside in the hallway. The door was quickly opened and the young woman who had fetched her, led Sister Auni inside. As she turned to close the door after her, she looked into Terrence’s face.

“Thank you, Captain Dechantagne,” she said in her breathy voice. “But I think I shall go on from here alone. Have a pleasant evening, and watch out when you are shaving.”

Terrence stood thinking for a moment. Then he gradually noticed that he was being watched from all sides by the six or seven females around him. He felt as though he had stumbled onto a stage without a script, or stepped into the middle of some savage ritual whose codex he didn’t understand.

“Ladies,” he said, and slowly backed out of the hallway, and then turned and made his way up to the topside of the ship and out onto deck.

He was surprised to find that the sun had already set. It seemed that he no longer really had any concept of time. His stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in a while. He had porridge for breakfast, but wasn’t really sure if that was this morning’s breakfast or some day in the past. This was just about dinner time though, and he decided to take his sister up on her standing invitation to dine. So he stopped by his cabin to change into a clean shirt, then went and knocked on Iolanthe’s cabin door.

The salad had already been served when he arrived, and the wait staff were just setting out the main course of roasted chicken, creamed potatoes, and pea fritters, which was just fine as far as Terrence was concerned. The waiter set a very manly portion in front of him and the other staff member, a waitress in this case, poured him a large glass of sparkling white wine. He didn’t waste any time tucking in.

“So what have you been up to?” asked Iolanthe.

“Mmph,” he shrugged non-committaly, his mouth full of food. He looked around the table. Iolanthe, Lieutenant Staff, Wizard Labrith, and an empty chair faced him. On his side of the table, Terrence’s was the only one of the four chairs occupied. He swallowed his mouthful of chicken.

“Loosing some of our popularity, are we?”

Iolanthe wrinkled her nose, but didn’t answer.

“There seems to be a medical emergency that requires Mrs. Marjoram and Dr. Kelloran,” said Lieutenant Staff. “I believe they were all invited to dinner this evening.”

“Oh yes,” Terrence said. “Mrs. Duplessis is having her baby.”

Iolanthe blinked in surprise. She had evidently not expected for him to have any idea of what might be going on. She no doubt had assumed that he had sequestered himself away somewhere, which of course he had, but he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of knowing that.

“Yes, I’ve just come from there,” he said. “Sister Auni is there as well. I’m sure they will take very good care of the woman.”

He smiled to himself and took another large mouthful of chicken, then followed it with a pea fritter, mashed up peas dipped in batter and deep fried. He would have recognized the flavor of Mrs. Colbshallow’s batter, even if he hadn’t known that she did all of Iolanthe’s cooking.

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