30 January 2007

Sahm's Tale, Part 5

Yelling above decks caused Sahm to stir. He opened his eyes in the darkness and looked around in vain. The rocking of the ship was less pronounced, though he could still feel the waves beneath its keel and hear the creaking of the masts echo through the hull. His mouth was bitter and sour-tasting, and his head ached. He swung his legs out of the hammock and lowered himself gingerly to the floor. Taking a tentative step in the direction of the door (or so he hoped), Sahm's head swam and he slipped, falling noisily to the ground. He cursed himself, scrabbling through a wet patch that stank of vomit – his own, though he didn't remember throwing up in his humble, closet-like cabin – and crawled to the door.

Outside, the light of the morning sun was just peeking over the eastern waves. The wind had dissipated, the storm passed. The ship's crew went about their business, as if he wasn't even there. A couple of sailors glanced his way, their eyes yellow in the dim light, but they made no comment, nor did Sahm expect them to. He made his way to the bow of the ship, pausing to let a group of sailors pass by. One of them muttered something, but Sahm ignored it. He'd heard worse from his own people, let alone from this mongrel breed of men from the north. Their insults washed over him like a gentle rain.

Once at the bow, he removed his head-wrapping. The stained length of cloth was haphazardly wound, anyway, thanks in part due to the restless sleep he'd endured the previous evening. His dark hair, freed from the wrapping, fell to his shoulders in a lanky mass. Sahm faced the sun, knelt on the weathered planks, and made his prayers to the sky. He prayed for forgiveness, for he had many sins for which to atone. He prayed that his family be spared humiliation for the things he had done. Most of all, he prayed for her, that she be forgiven for their mutual transgressions. His prayers finished, he rose wearily to his feet and wrapped his head with his turban. Securing the end of the wrapping, he placed his hands upon the ship's rail and stared at the horizon.

He had not always been a religious man. The faith had taken him by surprise. Lonely men seldom forsook their gods, and Sahm was no exception. He had seen amazing things in his time as a caravan guard. Likewise, his single taste of massed warfare had reinforced the fact that he'd rather believe in something than to die a faithless infidel. Even if the crows picked out his corpse's eyes, and the ants burrowed into his guts, Sahm knew that his true essence would fly amongst the clouds, one divine wind amongst many. He could think of few things finer than that.

"Four more days," came a gruff voice from behind. Sahm recognized the voice immediately, and turned to nod to the speaker. Kliner was the ship's captain. He was a savvy merchant who had been sailing the oceans since Sahm was a little boy. The man was older than he looked. Underweight, was Kliner, with short brown hair, a pair of mischievous hazel eyes, and a face that somehow resisted the weathering effects that the elements ultimately brought to bear on men of the seas. "The storm blew us a wee bit off course, and now the wind has fallen to little more than a breeze."

Sahm nodded that he understood, and tried to hide his disappointment. He'd expected to arrive at his destination tomorrow. Four more days on this wretched boat; he didn't know if he could manage it.

Kliner smiled, as if he knew exactly what Sahm was thinking. "Don't fret none," he said. "Keep to drinking water, and you'll be fine. The boys may not like ya, but I doubt they'll let ya die on their ship. 'Fraid of ghosts, they are." It seemed that the heathen prospect of his ghost eternally walking the decks of the ship had kept the crew from taking their assaults beyond mere insults. Sahm was glad for that, suddenly. He also felt that Kliner, being an honorable man, had likely been keeping an eye out for him. "Get yourself a drink, maybe try and keep some bread down." Kliner winked, then walked off towards the stern of the ship. Several of the men nodded to him deferentially as he passed.

Graven, the Halfling, was amongst the sailors that Kliner had passed. He looked up at his captain with wide eyes, as if he were hoping to be noticed. Kliner walked by, offering little more than a curt nod to the diminutive crewman, but it was enough. Graven smiled to himself after Kliner had passed, but his mirth faded when noticed that Sahm was looking at him. His eyes narrowed as he returned Sahm's gaze, and then he went back to work.

Halflings. Sahm's father had once said that the gods had created the little folk so that men could feel like giants amongst them. Sahm was not so sure. If the Halflings of the north were anything like those of the deserts, then Sahm could only hope that he could stay out of their way.

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