Story for the Day: Taking an Ear
Though Danaco threatens his crew with taking a toe or a finger for poor conduct, he hardly ever acts on his promises; he does not need to, really: the threat of being slashed by the captain's sword is far worse than what any physical punishment can offer.
The movement around the table slowed. Everyone carefully putting the tiles back into the wrapping cloth stopped to look, eyes flared in horror, mouths gaped and bowels gave way, and apprehension governed the deck.
“It weren’t us, captain, promise! Us’n just picked it up this way!” Feiza cried, his hands trembling. “It musta gotten chipped in the mixin’!”
Danaco silently took the tile from Feiza and held it up to the moonlight. His gaze tapered. “I believe you mean it was chipped from your mixing.”
Feiza hung his head and put his hands in his lap. “…Mebbe,” said he meekly, his shoulders withering. “Us’n mighta skimmed it on the table-like.”
The captain approached with a look of terrific serenity, and Feiza’s knees began to clamour.
“You know what happens now, of course,” said Danaco.
Feiza swallowed. “…Aye.”
“Magochiro? Or perhaps I should have Peppone do it from the other end of the ship. I should love to see his knife cut a slice from your ear in two directions.”
“Us’ll do it, cap’n,” said Feiza, looking deplorably, taking his knife from his pocket. “Us’n’ll do it.”
With eyes downcast and aspect repentant, he stood from the table and trundled toward the prow of the ship, regretting that he had ever tried to secret away the one of moons in the seem of his sleeve. He should have stopped and left the tiles where they were when he was caught sleighting them the first time, but he had done is so well in hiding a second one in his other sleeve that he thought he ought to try once more. Insolence, however, had its price, and he was fortunate that the captain felt a portion of an ear worth anything at all.
“A goodly piece from the lobe will do for contrition,” said the captain, “to match the chip missing from the tile.”
“Aye, sor,” Feiza moaned. “Gotta get my ring out first. Just let us make our peace with the Gods.”
It was all done in a moment: the earring was removed, a few sighs were heaved out, the reproach of “This is my gettin’ from bein’ a japer,” a wince, a flick of the knife, a muffled cry, and the business was over. Feiza returned to the main deck, his ear shorter than it was a minute before, his aspect disquieted, his hand a sanguinary hue.
“Here, sor,” Feiza sighed, passing the slice of his lobe to the captain. “There that is, by way of a sorry.”
“Yes,” said Danaco, wiping the wedge of flesh with a cloth. “You shall be long sorry for a week at least. Here,” giving him the cloth, “take that for the bleeding.”
“And if you trail any blood on my deck, I will make a hole in your other lobe and hang you on the bowsprit by it.”
“Tie that off, and you may go sit down.”
Feiza sat down at the end of the table, a wreck of dread and unquietness, and Peppone eyed the captain with fervent admiration.
“The captain said what he meant,” said Peppone, marveling at him, holding his throwing knife close to his heart.
“Oh, aye,” said Brogan. “Captain don’t say anythin’ he don’t mean. Nearly all of us got somethin’ missin’ from either losin’ at bets, fightin’, or makin’ a wreck o’ the ship.”
Peppone glanced at Moppet. “Is that how your eye--?”
“Naw,” Moppet beamed, his eye goggling. “Aw came loike this. It’s maw feature.” He flicked his eye and it made a clink. “See?”
Peppone turned and eyed Feiza, who was sitting beside Rannig and staring at the table, tying the cloth around his head to cover his ear and regretting his descion to play Machanabi at all. “He’s brave to have done it himself,” Peppone observed, “not that I wouldn’t have done it for him.”
“Woulda been far worse if Mago’d done it,” said Mr Malley, with a pointed look. “’E makes a sport outta it, ‘e does, but better ‘e does it than the captain, mark me.”
“If the captain has to take out his sword,” said Heigan quietly, “it means a limb or death for someone.”
“Well, that’s what you get from a guildlord,” said Ujaro. “There are far worse punishments than notched ears for insubordination in the guilds.”
“Ujaro knows ‘cause he carried ‘em out,” Brogan proudly proclaimed.
“Some of them.”
“He’s dismembered a few people, “ said Panza.
“Only after I killed them,” said Ujaro defensively. “And I only did it for revenge.”
Peppone was going to agree that revenge made death and dismemberment perfectly acceptable, and that he certainly understood what punishment by the guilds comprised, being on the ship due to his own misfortune in having ruined a missive and exposed himself as an agent, a crime worthy of a punishment he was not looking forward to, when the captain neared. The table was silent, every countenance still, every aspect shrouded, every eye low.
“Well,” Danaco announced, in a cheerful tone, “shall we have tea?”
The table moved in a gradual bustle: the machanabi tiles were bid goodbye to and carefully conveyed back to the gallery—not by Feiza—the baize was wiped down, and the cards and cups were brought out. Rannig performed his office as tea-monger, bringing the kettle and milk to those who wanted them, and once the tea was poured and the sugar passed round, he sat beside Feiza, to help him retie the cloth around his head.
“Sure’n it’s a bit tight, lad,” Feiza coughed, choking under the giant’s grasp.
“Gotta do it tight,” said Rannig. “Otherwise ye’ll bleed to death. Bartleby told me.”
“Ain’t gotta die from a cut lobe, lad. Just gonna sting a bit.”
“Better put some warsh onnit,” said Brogan, passing him some cider. “Don’t know how clean yer knife was.”
“Plenty clean, it was,” Feiza humphed, “plenty clean, an’ no mistake.”
“If ye don’t clean a wound properly, ye’ll get an infection, and then yer ear’ll rot and fall off,” said Rannig, with a helpful look.
Feiza begrudgingly took the cloth from his head, dipped it in the cider, and put it on his ear. He sibilated and tapped his foot. “Hurts more when the scrumpy’s on it.”
“Those are your nerve receptors reminding you of what a fibbing figdetfingers you are,” said Bartleby, stirring his tea. “You thought you were going to get away with a lie to the captain about not having chipped that tile—Ha! Even if he had believed your dismal attempt at artifice, your guilty conscience gave you away. You lie worse than a crapulated corprolite on the marine floor.”
Rannig hid his snickers in his hands and whispering laughingly into Feiza’s ear, “Bartleby called you a sea-scumber.”
“Aye, thanks fer that,” Feiza grumbled. “Pass us the tea, lad.”