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June 27, 2022

The Rubiyaat of Ozzie 15

By Alexandra Queen

Episode 15 - Running Errands

In the morning I was still alive, bath or no bath, and not feeling sick yet. Riordan insisted on having a meal delivered to the room that had eggs and potatoes with strange spices and sweet breads and cured meats and that cost him as much as I paid a month to rent my cot in the shack on the docks. I offended him by picking at it and then eating my travel rations instead. He and Minerva seemed to enjoy it, though, and by the time they were done, my clothes had been delivered. Minerva turned her back while I slipped the breeches on under my robe, then the tunic. Then she and Riordan came over and fussed over the tailoring and the fit, much to my embarrassment. They were certainly nice clothes, similar to Minerva's; good leather breeches, a serviceable tunic and then a heavier duty leather vest with serviceable pockets. The boots, though, were the masterpiece.

"Where did you find these so fast?" They went up my calf, strong leather but not too stiff, fine thick soles, cushiony on the inside, seams so fine I was sure it would keep out the wet, oiled to be waterproof, and they fit me!

"Waymeet is close to the orc tribes on the plains. Lot of shoppers, lot of mercenaries… they keep some larger sizes in stock."

"Huh!" I was impressed. I looked and smelled like a dandy, but I was a comfortable dandy! "Those the robes?"

Minerva nodded, holding one up. "We will wear them when we leave town for the west." All I could make out were yards of nondescript black.

"You know how to ride a horse?" Riordan asked.

"What? No!"

"You'll love it."

"I don't…"

He cut me off. "Now, let's go run the lady on her errand, huh?" I turned to look at Minerva for help and found that she had disappeared into one of the black robes and was now fixing a head covering with a long swath she used to cover the lower half of her face. The image of foreigner was complete. She gave me a wink and gestured at the door.

"Everybody covers their faces there?"

"Everybody covers their heads, to keep off the sun," she explained quietly as they headed out the door, leaving me to trail reluctantly behind, wrapping my chain under my nice new cloak. "In the eastern part of the country, where the people travel from water hole to water hole and the winds whip the sands, it is custom to cover everything. In the Heights, it is somewhat more the custom for men to keep their faces bare, but women outside the home must be completely veiled from head to toe."

"What? Isn't that uncomfortable?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact." I could tell that she smiled by the way her eyes crinkled. "The face is completely covered but for holes that the eyes may see out of."

"Why would you do that? Obviously your women aren't ugly, or anything."

"To protect virtue and modesty. And to shield them from being coveted. Should Noksheoth or one of his powerful servants take a liking to a maiden, it would be unwise to refuse them. So women are kept hidden."

"That's horrible!"

"Is it? In the home of my childhood, I lived in peaceful, beautiful rooms away from every care or trouble. Our private garden was my playground, full of delicate, scented flowers, fruits, a fountain that sang sweetly and was cool to place my feet in, with golden fish that would come to the surface at the sound of my voice. There were captive birds with colorful plumage that sang and begged for treats. I had no wants or cares but to study what arts and sciences were at my disposal and to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. Whenever my mother and my sisters and I left our little paradise to view the world, we were protected behind the veils of anonymity, like a barrier between us and the degradations of the world."

"So you liked it?" Riordan looked a bit puzzled.

"I did not say that. I merely questioned your judgment of 'horrible' as being, perhaps, unjustly absolute. There are indeed things about the Heights which are horrible, Master Seawolf, but I am not so certain that is one of them."

Riordan and I got in a brief, whispered argument down at the stables when he wanted to rent horses to carry us about on our errand. I didn't want to spend the money and I'm not saying I'm afraid of horses, mind you, since not many of em are that much bigger than me, but I had absolutely no use for them. Since it wasn't an issue I was willing to clobber Danny over, it was an argument that I lost. I was all geared up to sulk and walk, but then I got teamed up on and Minerva suggested that we share a horse so she could teach me the basics of how to ride. I sputtered something about her being a lady and people talking, but Riordan killed that protest, too. "How is anyone going to know she's a woman?"

All I could really see of Minerva were her eyes sparkling in a bit of mischief and her eyebrows arched in question. It was a good point. If I didn't know any better, I'd have assumed she was a man from the west. "Well, wouldn't a westerner be able to tell?"

"I am not wearing a woman's clothing."

Well. I could tell. "Ah…" I said, convinced to their point of view for dastardly reasons. "No." I couldn't live with myself if I took advantage of the situation just to cop a feel, no matter how tempting.

"Great, we'll get a horse your size," Riordan clapped me on the shoulder, ignoring me completely.

"Don't worry, Osgun, you will learn quickly and it will facilitate our journey on the road. I assume that Master Seawolf will rent one of the northern heavy warhorses that will not tire under your weight. You needn't let their size and strength concern you; in my experience they are much more docile than the spirited mounts of my homeland. When I first traveled here, I found myself with a bay gelding who was as swift as the wind over the desert sands and as fierce as any snake that basked there. He required a delicate touch indeed. Any but the lightest touch of reprimand drew such growling and pinning of ears as you have never seen. Once, at a hitching post, a traveler slapped him roughly on the flank to persuade him to move, and move he did, but only to position himself so as to kick the man squarely in the thigh." She laughed quietly. "We were lucky the injury was not more serious than a bruise. As it was, we left there quickly." None of that endeared to me the idea of getting to know horses better.

I don't remember a lot of the ride to the City Hall, or much of what the interior of Waymeet looked like. I do remember trying to figure out how to stay on the horse without grabbing onto Minerva and how soft she was against my lap. I couldn't even tell you if the ride was too short or too long, but we did eventually reach the Hall without any major catastrophes.

"I always hate to see another good man lost like that," Riordan hung back to tell me after we had dismounted (or managed a controlled fall in some cases) and tied the horses. I paused from trying to clear my head to squint at him.

"What?"

"Never mind, Ozzie, you poor sap."

Next week - Justice is Done
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2002-11-04
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