Chapter 7: Ale

"The sales and accounting are finished. Let's go, m'dear," Doctor Newbury said to Shanku a good week later. She smiled from her position in the shrouds and quickly came down. Shanku had patiently stayed on the ship and helped the men as she waited for Doctor Newbury to keep his promise. They walked down the gangplank and into the beautiful city.

Slowly. To Shanku's surprise, the ground began to pitch and buck like a ship in a storm. Doctor Newbury explained that obtaining sea legs often came with the price of difficulty back on land for the first day or so. With a groan, Shanku resigned herself to focus intently on her stride so she wouldn't topple over or into anybody or anything.

All through the market the streets were lined with stalls and vendors selling all sorts of wonderful things. Beads, necklaces, flowers, perfumes, clothes, knives, herbs of all sorts, eels and snails for sale, and some of the strangest fruits and vegetables Shanku had ever seen, including a giant squash being sold by a tiny gnome. Aside from the gnomes, the people she saw were the natives of Mruha. Tanned and dark haired, always smiling and dressed in bright, flowing clothes, and sometimes also in flowers, wood, or grasses.

Doctor Newbury had a time reigning in his companion. She was constantly darting through the street and looking at every shiny thing that distracted her. He didn't have trouble by the fish stall and got a chuckle out of her grimace.

"Bleh, fish!" she stuck her tongue out.

"You're now officially a sailor," he laughed.

"Ooo!" Shanku darted off once again to a pet store. She sat down on the cage of a fox next to a parrot and goat.

Doctor Newbury shook his head as Shanku and the parrot began to have a conversation.

"Come, my dear. We need to have you fitted," he gently reminded her. Shanku said farewell to the parrot and followed him to the tailor.

The tailor was a fair-skinned Arnthian like those aboard the Meriweather, excluding Marley. He wore a vest over his buttoned shirt and tight breeches over high-heeled leather boots.

"Tut tut!" he clicked his tongue and ushered Shanku onto a stool with a flip of his hand. The tailor grabbed one of his shirts cut for Kurach that was waiting to be fitted. Shanku stepped through the large hole in the back and slipped her arms into the long sleeves. The tailor quickly sized up the length of her arms and pinned them in place. He pulled the tail of the shirt to a comfortable length, pinned it as well, and had her step out.

The tailor put the shirt on his sewing table and brought a pair of trousers out, also cut for a Kurach child. He bid her go behind a screen and try them on. Shanku obliged. She took off her old pair and tried on the new. Shanku frowned and hobbled out from behind the screen, gripping the sides firmly. The tailor nodded knowingly, pinched her trousers up at the top, placed a pin on either side where he needed to tighten it, and then rolled up the legs to where they would come down to a proper length on her. He sent her behind the screen once more to change back into her old pair before putting the new trousers on his sewing table with the shirt.

"Just a few moments!" he called and began to stitch madly at her new clothes.

Shanku scratched her head. He actually likes to sew? What's the matter with him? Her memories of having to sew in Wynfall were not pleasant ones and she couldn't imagine anybody who chose to make a living at doing it.

"Now that one there is a simple cloth. I remember watching Mother weave it from the wool she spun from our sheep. This one is a fine material made from the sheep living in the bush who eat purple flowers. And this one..." Doctor Newbury lead Shanku around the room and pointed out the different fabrics and discussed their origins while the tailor worked.

"And finished!" The tailor exclaimed excitedly and ushered Shanku again to the screen. "Come, cub, put these on! Here is a belt for your trousers and I will give you a pin to keep your blouse from falling off the back after you come out."

Shanku went behind the screen once again. She pulled off her ragged tunic and breeches and put on the new cotton shirt and trousers. She tucked the shirt tail down in her trousers and was thankful of the split in the back of the shirt and top of the trousers for her tail. She slipped her belt through the thick loops on her trousers and fastened it snugly so there wouldn't be so much pressure on the top of her tail. She stepped from behind the screen a final time and the tailor went to her quickly.

"This is one of my finest inventions for your kind, little lady. You hook it through one side and then the other and fasten underneath, and there you are!" The tailor showed her how to hook the ends through button holes at the top of her shirt and clip them together. To her relief, it didn't irrituate the delicate shoulder feathers protruding above her wings.

"Marvelous!" he clapped his hands. "You look a right proper sailor now."

Doctor Newbury thanked him and paid him for his time.

"Are you sure I cannot interest the little lady in a fine dress as well?" the tailor asked gleefully.

Shanku shook her head quickly and darted out the door. Doctor Newbury chuckled and followed her.

"Come now, to find a chest," Doctor Newbury said.

Shanku nodded and clutched her old clothes to her chest. Her ears dropped sadly as she thought back to the summer afternoons she and her mother had spent together as she worked on Shanku's tunic. Her heart was heavy and she missed her family terribly. Not even all the shiny things in Mruha could distract her from that.

Doctor Newbury lead her to the chest maker. Inside were all sizes and shapes of wooden and metal boxes for keeping luggage and stowing treasures.

"Go pick one you like, my dear," Doctor Newbury said and nudged her to the many shelves before going to visit with the shop keeper.

Shanku looked around the shop. Some were simple square boxes, some had rounded tops. Some were broad at the bottom and narrow at the top, some were narrow at the top and bottom and broad in the middle. Shanku scratched her head. Which one?

"Hi!" A boy said and strode up next to her. "Pickin' a chest?"

Shanku nodded.

"I like this one here," he pointed to a purplish one with a shiny grey metal binding it together. "It's made of walnut. Smells pretty good too."

"Yeah," Shanku agreed after sniffing it. She opened the lid, folded her old clothes, and placed them inside. They fit snugly with a bit of room to spare. "I like it!"

"Good choice," the boy nodded. "Hey Grandpa, got one!"

The boy strode over to the counter where an elderly man with balding white hair stood. Wrinkles creased all over his face when he grinned, and he began to write in his ledger. Doctor Newbury paid him for the chest and he left the store with Shanku.

Shanku clutched the wooden box to her chest happily. "Thank you!"

Doctor Newbury nodded happily.

Now finished with their shopping it was time to enjoy the novelties of the time. They stepped into a toy store filled with all sorts of delights. Glass marbles, wooden tops that would spin, wooden pull-along ducks on a string, dolls, and lifelike animals suspended by strings form the ceiling. A fine lady showed them around the room and tried to interest Shanku in a lacy fan.

Shanku wasn't one much for fans, but she did enjoy looking at all the toys. To her surprise, Doctor Newbury bought something for himself. A carved statue of a horse, painted up brilliantly in red hues.

"It reminds me of the old dun I rode as a boy," he said wistfully. Shanku grinned and followed him outside.

They came to a restaurant in the middle of the market. Doctor Newbury sat down at one of the intricately carved tables outside. Shanku looked around at the thatched building where the chef was rushing around the kitchen in a flurry. He was a very heavyset man with a thick black mustache. He wore loose, lightly-colored billowing pants, simple shoes that were more like slippers, and a grassy necklace. Shanku had noticed many of the natives wore grass clothing. She wondered where she might find some for her own as it looked wonderfully swishy.

The cook poured two bowls of his soup and delievered it to Doctor Newbury and Shanku. Shanku was quite eager to have something aside from fish and hard tack. It was chicken and broth boiled up with some of the local vegetables. Shanku thought it was divine.

"Enjoying your day?" Doctor Newbury asked after they had finished their meal.

"Quite!" Shanku beamed. She noticed a movement in the distance. There were stages set up on the outskirts of town and there she finally saw the native Kurach. They were just as tanned as the men here and some had white wings with black tips. Others had wings of reds, blues, greens, and yellows. Rather similar to some of the birds she had seen flying around.

"Hey, look!" Shanku exclaimed and pointed.

"Ah, yes," he nodded. "The tropical Kurach are mostly performers here."

"C'mon, let's watch!" Shanku said giddily and ran off to one of the stages.

She stopped before one with a white-winged Kurach dancing on stage. She had a pink flower behind one ear and a red dress split high to the hip. She danced with a red ribbon that she twirled all about her and through the air. Behind her were two Kurach, one playing a small set of drums between his feet, and another playing panpipes.

Doctor Newbury shifted uncomfortably. "May we go now?"

"What's the matter?" Shanku asked innocently.

"The ladies here have forgotten their underclothing," Doctor Newbury said quietly in her ear and kept his eyes averted from the stage.

"They didn't forget!" Shanku giggled. "It's just not comfortable with a tail or gets really complicated. It's easier not to wear any. And the breeze is quite nice on a day like this."

Doctor Newbury blushed deeply and sputtered. "For shame, Shanku!"

Shanku balanced her new chest on her arm and clapped with the crowd as the dancer finished and took a low bow.

"She's good," she said happily as she watched the dancer bow a few more times to the onlookers. Some threw coins to her.

"Indeed," said a man beside her.

Shanku looked up to see he was also a Kurach, but neither Sylvan nor one of the tropical ones. Long ears and tail, spots and bars on his wings, and a long face marked him as one from the prairie. Kind of.

"Are you from the plains?" Shanku asked with a grin. He was dressed a bit differently in loose clothes and a sash about his waist and neck, but he still bore a striking resemblance to her friend Anoki.

"Yes, but think 'shifting sand' rather than 'rolling grass'," he nodded.

"Your friend too?" Shanku asked when she noticed a man standing beside him dressed the same. His skin was very dark and made his bald head seem extra shiny.

"Yes," the man nodded. His voice was deeper than any Kurach or man Shanku had heard.

"I'm Shanku. I come from the forest," Shanku grinned. "Your markings are exactly like those my friends in L'aernth have," Shanku continued giddily.

"His clan was an import to my people's lands," the man said. "I am Junaid, and this is Zos."

"The stories say that many years ago, my clan lived in L'aernth," Zos said. "You've probably met my distant kinsmen."

"Maybe," Shanku looked at the spots on his primaries. "Why'd they leave L'aernth?"

"Wanderlust," Zos said simply.

"Oh..." Shanku said.

"You too?" Zos asked.

"Sadly," Shanku said and pulled her wings around her.

"Don't be ashamed," Zos said and put a hand on her shoulder. "When my clan first came to the desert, they found his people. It worked out very well for them both."

"His clan needed sustenance and my tribe was under attack from local brigands," Junaid explained. "At the time, we were just simple shepherds who followed our flocks, mostly chased from settlement to settlement by the raiders. In exchange for water and shelter from the sun, the Long Ears protected us and our flocks from raiders and predators. Since then, we were able to settle in a good grassland on the edge of the great desert. Our flocks flourished and so did we. We became reknowned as elite warriors, and the Long Ears were able to raise magnificent horses and camels."

"Wanderlust can be a good thing, little cub," Anoki nodded.

"Hmm..." Shanku smiled up at him. "But, did he say you almost died in the desert?"

"Indeed, his people would have died of want had they not come across us," Junaid said. "But my people would have been destroyed by the raiders had it not been for his people's Wanderlust."

"Is this why you two are here?" Doctor Newbury asked curiously. "Exploration?"

"We are here as ambassadors to establish a new trade route," Anoki explained. "Our livestock and goods for the things we need. There are some medicines and supplies hard to come by in our village. And yourselves?"

"I'm with Doctor Newbury," Shanku said simply. "For the time being."

"We're here on business," Doctor Newbury nodded. "Our trade ship has just finished selling its cargo. Perhaps one day our routes will cross and we will be carrying some of your goods as well."

"Hopefully. But we must be off now," Zos bowed with one arm over his chest. "'Twas nice meeting you."

"Likewise," Doctor Newbury nodded his head to them. "Best of luck to you, gentleman."

"And to you as well," Junaid replied as he and Zos made their way back to the inn where they were staying.

"Take care!" Shanku called after them.

Doctor Newbury nudged her. The sun was beginning to set and it was time for them to leave.

"I would have liked to have invited them back to the ship," Doctor Newbury said wistfully.

"For study?" Shanku asked.

"Indeed," nodded Doctor Newbury.

"Much writing to do tonight then?" Shanku teased as they approached the ship.

"Oh, very much!" Doctor Newbury exclaimed. "What a wonderful day! Meeting Bhadarukians!"

"Bhada-wha?" Shanku asked as she sat on the deck railing of the Meriweather.

"Bhadarukia is the country to the east of L'aernth and is divided from us by Mruha," Doctor Newbury explained.

"Ah," Shanku nodded. "Not so common to see them then?"

"Not at all. Very few have left and even fewer have visited. Tales tell of great deserts and jungles full of all sorts of exotic creatures," Doctor Newbury said. "I hope to have a proper interview with a Bhadarukian someday."

The doctor bid the cub goodnight and went to his quarters. Shanku went down into the galley and curled up next to the potatoes.

"Oy, pup!"

Shanku looked around. "Templeton?"

"What are you doin' here by yerself, eh?" he asked as he came up from below decks.

"Doctor Newbury and I just came back from the city," Shanku explained and stood up.

"That's where I'm heading now," Templeton grinned.

"At this hour?" Shanku asked, bewildered.

"The day is far from over!" Templeton laughed. "Except for kids, I reckon you probably do need to be gettin' to bed."

"I'm plenty big enough to stay up with you," Shanku said matter-of-factly.

"Newbury would probably skin me alive if you came with me."

"What he doesn't know won't hurt us," Shanku grinned.

Templeton laughed and shook his head. He beckoned for Shanku to follow and Shanku soon found herself back in the city. She wondered just what could appeal to him at night when all the businesses were closed. Well, the shops. A few buildings were still open and lit. Templeton ducked into one and Shanku followed. The first thing she noted was just how loud it was inside. Promptly followed by the strange, sweetly sour smell.

"What is that?" Shanku asked and wrinkled her nose.

"Ale!" Templeton grinned.

Shanku looked up at him curiously, remembering the lengthy preachings of both Master Woodstock and Iris Birchfield regarding alcohol.

"Ah now, pup, don't give me that look," he said. "It's not as bad as some make it out to be."

"If you say so," Shanku shrugged.

Templeton sat down at a table and Shanku sat across from him. She looked around curiously. The wood was weathered and worn. Parts of ship gear adorned the wall, like old rigging, nets, and anchors. Mostly there were other sailors present and Arnthians behind the bar. The ladies who served various drinks and meals were distinctly locals. Unsurprisingly, Shanku didn't see the captain among the crowd. There was a stage not far from the bar were various performers were singing or dancing, some human and some Kurach.

One of the ladies came up to their table to take their order. Templeton ordered an ale but wouldn't let Shanku order anything stouter than a juice. She also asked for some of the cheese bread.

"Newbury really would skin me alive if he found out I let you have some at your age!" he said.

"What's the difference between my age and yours?" Shanku asked with a raised eyebrow. "We had wine all the time back in the Nyre, which is made from juice, you know."

"I'm supposed to be old enough to know better," Templeton grinned. "You're not."

Before long, the lady returned with their drinks and Shanku's snack. As Shanku nibbled on her cheesebread and Templeton sipped his ale, some more of their crew came to join them. Marley, O'Hare, and Clements sat with them, Patton, Ward, Kemp, and Arrington sat at the table nearby. Shanku saw Whitten off in at the bar by himself.

"How come he doesn't sit with us?" Shanku asked.

"After being stuck with the lot o' you for months, I'm wondering about doing that myself!" Kemp said.

"You're welcome to go join Whitten," Arrington teased.

"No thank ye, I need a break from Captain Surly," Kemp shuddered.

"Why is he so grumpy all the time?" Shanku asked.

"He wasn't always like that," Ward said. "Would you believe he once had a wife?"

"Hard to imagine anybody willingly being with that," Kemp replied.

"He was much different those days. More like the rest of us, although still a bit rough around the edges," Ward said.

"So what happened? Did she die?" Shanku asked and cocked her head to the side.

"Oh no, much worse," Ward shook his head. "Left him for a shore man."

There was a silence on the two tables and the sailors took a solemn drink.

"Huh?" Shanku asked as she pricked one ear forward and laid one ear back.

"It's hard for a sailor to find a wife. When we do, we're pretty happy about it. Takes a real woman to love a man always at sea. He came in after one trip to dote on her as all sailors do when they come home, to find some local clerk in his bed with her," Ward shook his head in disbelief. "A clerk! Twice the insult. Just some store hand. Not the owner of a shop, stable, or master of an estate."

"Well, may you all find ladies that like sailors," Shanku nodded. "And maybe sail with you like I do!"

"Oh, wouldn't that be a nightmare!" Arrington exclaimed.

Now Shanku was truly confused. "Why would you not want your wife on board?"

"It's just awkward," Arrington said uneasily. "You'll understand when you get older."

Shanku sighed exasperatedly. Her age certainly got in the way of her curiosity more often than she liked. "So how come you put up with me?"

"We don't have to answer to you, pipsqueak," Kemp teased. "A man can't handle taking orders from both captain and wife all day long."

Shanku gave him a sidewise glare and the sailors laughed. The crew sat together and laughed and talked for a long time. When Shanku started getting sleepy and nodding off, Templeton took her back to the ship.

When Shanku woke up the next morning, she found the ship was nearly deserted. She amused herself for a while before she became lonely. Shanku looked around and found only Dawson. He was leaning up against the railing in the shade of one of the masts. Oddly, his hair wasn't down to his shoulders anymore. He had started tying it back off his neck. Presumably due to the wind and humidity.

"Where's the crew?" Shanku asked as she plopped down on a barrel next to him.

"In their bunks," Dawson said without looking up.

"At noon?" Shanku asked in surprise. The sun was quite high in the sky.

"They've been 'working' long nights lately," Dawson chuckled mischievously.

"Bah, I'm ready to go back into town," Shanku sighed.

"Me too," Dawson said. "Wanna come with me tonight?"

"Can we go now?" Shanku asked excitedly and flared her wings behind her.

"Sure, why not? Whitten's coming on deck right now," Dawson stood and stretched.

"Woohoo!" Shanku cheered and glided off the ship. She perched on one of the pier posts. "Can we go see the dancers?"

"I had intentions on it," he said mysteriously.

"I gotta show you my favorite one!" Shanku chirped as they walked through the market. Dawson said nothing and looked at her curiously.

"There she is, Dawson!" Shanku pointed as they came to the outskirts of town.

"Ah, Scarlet," Dawson nodded.

"Do ya know her?" Shanku asked.

"She used to be a barmaid at one of the local taverns. She would dance on stage with the other girls sometimes. We suggested that she do it full time out here with the others," Dawson said as he watched her. "She's always been very good at it."

Dawson and Shanku stood with the crowd and watched until Scarlet's final performance for the afternoon.

"Thank you, everybody! Goodnight!" She blew a kiss to the crowd and hopped off the stage.

"Good evening," Dawson said from behind the corner of the stage.

"Oh!" Scarlet exclaimed and turned to see who was talking to her.

"Dawson!" She exclaimed.

"Hello again," he grinned.

"It's been too long!" she yipped and hugged him tightly on her tiptoes. He was a good half-head taller than she was.

"Could I buy you a drink for old times?" Dawson asked as he bowed to kiss her hand.

"Of course!" Scarlet laughed. She nodded to the little cub standing to herself. "Who's your friend?"

"Shanku Ravenwing, Miss Scarlet!" Shanku introduced herself and bowed low. "Stowaway extraodinaire!"

Scarlet laughed. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Stowaway."

Dawson offered his arm to Scarlet and she looped her arm through his. The three made their way back to the main street through the city as shop keepers and stall vendors put away their wares for the night. Lights from the various restaurants and taverns shined brightly on the street. Dawson lead them into one of the taverns.

"Ah, this is where we met," Scarlet grinned. A server came by to take their orders. Scarlet decided to strike up a conversation while they waited for their meal to come. "So, what brings you back?"

"Work, as usual!" Dawson laughed and gestured around him.

"Have you considered staying on land for a season? Perhaps a winter here in Mruha?" Scarlet asked as she sat up a bit straighter.

"Sea's m'life," Dawson shrugged. "But I wouldn't mind spending more time here. The island's very warm and beautiful."

"I prefer solid ground a bit further north m'self," Shanku said as she slumped on the table. "Sea's too wishy washy and it's doggone hot."

"Heh, little land lover," Dawson chuckled.

"Yep!" Shanku chirped.

"So, that's a 'maybe' then?" Scarlet teased.

"Maybe!" Dawson grinned.

Scarlet and Dawson talked through the evening and long into the night. Eventually Shanku got tired of waiting on Dawson to take her back to the ship before the other customers got too rowdy and headed out herself. Dawson and Scarlet promptly disappeared as well. He would eventually arrive back at the ship around dawn and Shanku wondered how much conversation they had to catch up on.