It's early morning and the courtyard is slowly coming alive with the creeping morning sun. The windows in the building surrounding it on the three sides are all still dark, but there are shadows of movement inside now and the residents awaken for the day. The morning light dances through the courtyard tree leaves, creating dancing shadows along the ground.
Layth, being an early riser, is already milling about in the courtyard. He seems mainly relaxed and simply enjoying the quiet before the others awaken and the bustle of the day begins. He seems to be muttering to himself now and then, though, and ticking off items on his fingers.
Several of the Fedor children are up and about early as well, feeding the shikk'ahns. The rooster of the bunch hops onto a nearby windowsill and greets the morning with a raucous crowing. The window itself is open, since the fresh air was supposed to help with Tasha's hangover.
Shortly after, Tasha's whip comes sailing out the window, narrowly avoiding the shikk'ahn male. It does, however, cause him to flee with all his might. "Oi, you, Dagh … curse … aggh," a voice yells from inside, a voice that rapidly drops to a whisper.
"Good morning to you too," Layth calls out from the courtyard. "No rest for the weary, I'm afraid. A thousand pardons, but we have a lot to do today. We have clothing to be fitted this morning, language lessons to begin, boarding a ship… " the Lapi counts off.
Tasha leans her head outside the window, the woman wrapped only in her bed sheet. "What, are you Cap'n Eyeshine in disguise? Al righ', I'm comin'." Tasha disappears back inside, probably to get dressed.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Layth calls out, and then pads over and leans in the window so he doesn't have to keep yelling. "You may wish to see Master Lightfoot about the headache I expect you're having. While I could help with sore muscles, I'm afraid I cannot help a sore head."
Tasha pauses inside, eyes Layth, and then shrugs literally shrugs out of the bedsheet. Then, she starts getting dressed. "I feel li' I go' punched by Dagh 'imself," she replies, pulling her tunic over her head. "Bu' that's a sailors life, an' I don' mind. Can' 'andle the drink, don' drink i'. S'what Eyeshine always says, bu' it's more, "No handle drink, no drink drink" you know 'is accent."
"But there's no need to punish yourself further when there is an apothecary around," Layth notes as he watches Tasha. "Particularly when you will need a clear mind today to learn a few phrases so you can function where we are going."
More and more of the household begins to stir. Somewhere, someone is cooking breakfast for the mob.
"I can function," Tasha insists after pulling on the second of her small clothes, and before she begins strapping her equipment harnesses on. "I've function wi' worse. Knowin' 'im, 'e'll 'ave another lemon on 'is mind."
The Lapi laughs at that. "You were singings its praises in the bath the other night," Layth points out. He then shrugs and says, "But, as you like. It is not my place to force anything on you. I'll see you at breakfast and after, come to think of it. Language lessons start half an hour after the meal ends. I'll be helping Lady Aisha with some basic phrases too. And the word 'no', I believe. Lest she accidentally sell my stud services and not mean to." He laughs again and shakes his head. "I wish you well."
It takes about an hour for everyone to finish waking up, having breakfast and trying on their new, extremely plain-looking but amazingly comfortable fashions. Calligenia goes to huddle with the elder Rath'ani, leaving the others to their own devices. For Aaron, this seems to involve a lot of time convincing Aisha that she really doesn't want to go shopping.
Tasha sits, kneeling and gnawing on the vegetarian fare. She complained a bit about not having any sort of new outfit, especially after the dance she had to go through to be measured. Of course, once the food was in front of her, she forgot all about it.
Layth was pretty quiet during breakfast. He mainly sat and fiddled with his new clothing, looking rather uncomfortable in it, albeit also looking very Amazonian in his off-white tunic, shorts, and sash. When the meal drew to an end, he negotiated the use of one of the rooms for language lessons and asked Aisha to attend. He also asked if Aaron wanted to and if he would be willing to help him should he mangle any of the phrases as it has been a long time for him to speak Olympian. "All right, Tasha, I'll see you in half an hour in the back storage room," he says to the gnawing Tasha. And with a smile to Aisha, he adds, "And, I do hope you will also attend, Lady Aisha. I want to start as early as possible in familiarizing you with the language so you won't need me should anything bad happen on the way."
"What could possibly go bad… nevermind, I'll be there," the Abu Dhabian Lapi promises. Even Aaron nods his head.
The Vartan waves a hand vaguely to Layth in response to his question. The gesture looks like an 'okay,' but it may also be a 'go away: eating,' or 'need more food.' Half an hour later or so, Tasha shows up. "Oi, 'ere I am," she announces.
Layth is still fiddling with his outfit when Tasha enters the storeroom. "Ah, good, glad you made it. Lady Aisha and Master Lightfoot should be here shortly and then we'll begin. A thousand pardons for asking, but, ah … how long can you focus on a single task?" he says.
"Depends on if it's shiny or not," Aaron quips as he and Aisha arrive. Since the doe had the most alterations to make to her outfit, Aisha is once more dressed in her usual fashionable style, ears dripping with jewelry.
Tasha gives Layth a wry look, brow up, eyes narrowed. "Think I'm no' up to the task, do you? Well I can focus as well as anyone, I can, an' I won' … " The Vartan tries to swat Aaron without looking, but misses for the lack of aim. When she turns around to get a better shot she pauses suddenly when she sees Aisha.
Aisha finds a crate to sit on, crossing her legs and managing to pose elegantly despite the surroundings. "Is something wrong, Tasha?" she asks the Vartan, and checks to see if her skirt needs to be smoothed down more.
"I think you can be easily distracted, is all," Layth comments with a small smile. He then pads over and gooses her while she's turned and looking at Aisha. And he's then moved away before he can be easily identified as the gooser and sits on the edge of a crate.
Aaron's ears shoot up in surprise as he catches Layth's little action, and he quickly scoots over to the far side of the room, in case Tasha blames him for it.
"OI WHA-" Tasha jumps when goosed and then whips around and eyes Aaron first, then Layth, before glaring at them both. "I was jus' … I … I'm sittin' down, now." She flicks her tail indignantly, and walks towards a seat. Once down, she winks at Aisha and says, "You're lookin' righ' shiny today!"
"Thank you, Tasha," Aisha says politely. "I thought I should dress well in case someone changes their mind about showing me the shops." She doesn't glance at Aaron, but since she could just ask Layth and he'd go along, it's pretty obvious whom she's referring to.
"I'd take you to the shops, Aisha," Tasha offers.
Layth has a purely innocent look on his face. He pushes his lop-ears back over his shoulder and says, "Good. Everyone is ready. Now, this will likely be slow and somewhat boring, so please forgive me. I want to focus on pronunciation as much as the basic phrases this time. The last thing we want to have happen is for a bad pronunciation to … Tasha, please pay attention."
"That's… very… generous of you to offer, Tasha," Aisha says, again very politely.
Tasha rolls her eyes, then her head, so that she's facing Layth. "I'm payin' attention," she complains. "I was jus' showin' Aisha 'ow much I li' 'er outfi'."
Layth rubs the bridge of his nose briefly. "Is everything all right today, Lady Aisha?" he asks. "Many in the household would be willing to go with you. Why do you wish only Master Lightfoot to be the guide?"
"Because, he has money," Aisha says with an innocent smile.
Tasha's ear flicks, then she shrugs. "She's go' me there," she admits.
"Ah, right. I'm not," Layth starts to say, then waves his hand dismissively. "It is not my concern, forgive me for asking. Now, as I was saying, pronunciation. It's important. Some Olympian words change meaning drastically if you mispronounce them."
"A bi' li' Vartan, s'why a lo' o' the beakless don' give 'i a go," remarks Tasha.
"Mm, did not know that. Now, I'm going to start with simple things. Like introducing yourself, saying yes and no, and basic structure of sentences. I want each of you to repeat after me, one at a time. I'll judge how well you get the pronunciation and I also expect Master Lightfoot to as well," Layth notes and hops off his seat and starts pacing. And for the next half an hour or so, it becomes a mind-numbing repetition of saying the same thing over and over.
As a sailor, Tasha's used to mind-numbing, boring and repetitive tasks. She repeats like a record, but her gaze wanders. Occasionally she'll look out a window, with a far away expression, look appreciatively at Aisha, or look Layth up and down. Aaron just gets glared at now and then.
Layth paces as he goes through phrases, unaware he's being looked at up and down during the proceedings. His step tends to be graceful, and his turns more like spins, as if he's dancing rather than walking. Probably to keep himself from being too bored as well. Finally he stops and leans against a crate. "Well … Lady Aisha and Tasha … you're not … ah, how do I say this politely. Please forgive me, but you're not awful. You do tend to sound, well, slurred, though."
"I don' know wha' you're talkin' abou'," Tasha insists. Her Rephidimite, low-class accent is apparent even in her pronunciation of Olympian.
"Well … like a bit ago. With the way you accent our words. Instead of saying 'May you direct me to the marketplace?' which is said like this: May you direct me to the market place? you said: May you fish me with a turnip tongue?, which means in standard, 'May you fish me with a turnip tongue'," Layth tries to explain politely and smiles at Tasha.
"Eh, I ge' i'," says Tasha. "Wouldn' wan' an ' get fished wit' a turnip tongue. What's a turnip tongue?"
Layth shrugs at that one. "I really have no idea, I'm afraid," the Lapi admits. "Now, proper address to the residents. If in doubt of their status as slave or citizen, always refer to them as Sir or Ma'am. Even half-blood Amazonians are formidable," he notes, then points at Aaron with his thumb … who seemingly has fallen asleep where he's sitting. "When they're awake, anyway."
Tasha eyes Aaron. "E's formidable, alrigh'," she agrees, somehow making 'formidable' sound like an insult. Looking back, Tasha repeats the two words. "'Ello, sir, 'ello ma'am, you're righ' shiny there ma'am, an' you're a righ' arse, sir. I go' it."
"No, no. Do not go around telling people they are an arse. You need to be polite. To them you are a monster. Some may have no qualms about trying to have you killed, at least from what I remember," Layth says and sighs with a head-shake. "Just … be polite and say as little as possible. Nothing, if you can get away with it."
"If I call 'em an arse in Vartan, will tha' work? Don' think any of 'em are goin' unnerstand Vartan," Tasha inquires.
Layth puts his hand over his face and just groans. "A thousand pardons, but are you trying to test me, Tasha?" he asks quietly.
Tasha blinks at then, and tilts her head. "Is … tha' a test, um, sir?" Her tail wags.
In spite of himself, Layth laughs. "I see how you've avoided trouble before," he admits and pushes himself back off the crate and resumes his pacing. "Now, at this point I'd like to know what you'd like to know?" he says and looks at Tasha and Aisha. Apparently Aisha is suffering from the same lack of interest as Aaron and has also dozed off for the time being.
"I'd li' to know more abou' Amazonia, 'course I've already asked an' I think I've been tol' all anyone's goin' to tell me. Guess I 'ave to see wit' my own eyes, aye." The woman straightens her head, then smiles. "'Ow abou', I'm no' a mon'ser, don' shoot me wit' your crossbow?"
"Ah, right. That would be said something like as follows … and do mind the pronunciation with this one. I am a visitor in your lands, please do not shoot me. You may also want to say I am a guest of clan Hydron, which is stating you are the guest of Lady Circerae's clan," Layth explains. "Also, staying with a Hydron representative while you're there may help, really. But I imagine you're going to want some 'private time'? Just be aware that you may not be getting any 'private time', if you understand my meaning. Amazonia is wary of outsiders."
"An' they'll be callin' me a monster," Tasha complains. Shrugging, she presses on. "Wha' does tha' firs' one you say mean? An' maybe will bring a rep' wit' me. I've been in strange ports, o'course, bu' nothin' as strange as your Amazonia."
"The first part means literally, 'I am a visitor in your lands, please do not shoot me.'" Layth explains and smiles at Tasha. "And yes, it will be very different. The cultural norms there are different from any other place I've ever traveled to. And as for you being a monster, well … you certainly have the musculature that would make them think that from what I saw last night. Do you do much dancing? Or is it just a lot of heavy lifting? Or is it from landing? You have very developed leg muscles."
Aaron jerks back awake for a moment. "Huh?" he asks, then gets his wits back. "Oh, Tasha… yeah, don't take offense. 'Monster' is the same as 'foreigner' in Amazonia."
"Welcome back to the land of the awake," Layth notes to Aaron.
"Hmm," Aaron says, then yawns. He nudges Aisha awake too. "I was listening!" she blurts out.
"I'm a Vartan. My father was a Jupani, an' my mother a Vartan. We're well built races, we are. 'Course, I lif' a lot. Plus, I 'ave to no' fall off the pteras if I go' to ride 'em." Tasha runs a hand back through her hair, currently unbraided. "I don' dance, bu' after wha' I saw in Abu Dhabi I thin' I wan' to. One o' them scarf dances, wit' the glittery scarves."
"Cultural norms, should probably touch on that," Aaron mutters. "You'll need to hear it too, Aisha."
"Glad to hear it, Lady Aisha. Will you repeat the last two phrases, please?" Layth asks her, smiling. He then glances to Tasha and notes, "Ah, veil dances? Those are enjoyable to do. I learned a few while working in Abu Dhabi."
"An' I'm gla' it's all o' us, Aaron. I don' li' people makin' fun of 'ow I look. An' I can even call 'em an arse," Tasha tells the Lapi man.
"Uh," Aisha struggles, then says, "I am a turnip, please do not poke me with a stick."
Layth looks at Aisha. He blinks, then smiles. "Ah, not quite, I'm afraid," he says and walks over and offers her a consoling pat on the shoulder. He glances at Aaron and asks him, "Can you fill them in on the current cultural expectations, Master Lightfoot? I have been gone a long time and I doubt my knowledge is very current in that respect. I can only speak in generalities."
The Vartan woman slowly repeats what Aisha says, sounding it out. "I … don' think tha's i'. 'Course, I coul' be wrong," she says.
"Well, I figured I should touch on taboos, since you're wondering about insults," Aaron says. "As Layth pointed out, Amazonia is different. In Rephidim and Abu Dhabi, you're used to lots of different cultures and peoples mingling together, under the dominance of one particular culture. Lapis follow the dominant culture, with one major exception, and it has to do with your lemon, Tasha."
Ears perked and brow raised, Tasha asks, "'Ow does my lemon upset the Lapi species?"
Layth returns to the crates and hops back up on one. He sits, letting Aaron do the explaining for now.
"Because Lapis never use birth control," Aaron points out, and Aisha cringes a bit at the topic. "It's a taboo, for good reason. If Lapis could give in to their sexual impulses without worrying about consequences, then they'd never get anything accomplished. In Rephidim, and just about everywhere else, they deal with this by going outside their species when they just can't hold it in any longer. But even so, Lapis have developed an entire range of very physical but non-sexual forms of contact.
"Now, in Abu Dhabi and Rephidim, you really won't see much from Lapis that's out of the ordinary, since those are fairly prudish cultures, and pretty much anything Lapis do would be seen as foreplay or some sort of flirting. In Amazonia, Lapis are the dominant culture. You're going to see things that are going to give you very mixed signals."
"Outside the species, is it," Tasha murmurs, having somehow managed to filter out the whole lecture so that she finds the one part that benefits her. By the slightly bored, head-on-hand, look, she doesn't even look like she's really listening.
Holding up a finger for emphasis, Aaron says, "First of all, you'll probably encounter a lot of nude or mostly nude Lapis of both sexes, and all ages. Nudity isn't a sexual signal, so Amazonians don't notice it, and they have thick fur anyway. Do not gawk, Tasha, or look offended, Aisha."
"This is important, Tasha," Layth comments and gives her a sidelong look.
"Amazonians are very physical, and don't have much of a concept of 'personal space'. You'll seem them hugging, kissing, and grooming each other in a very casual way. Again, don't act like this is something surprising."
Tasha slumps a bit against the hand she has her head propped on. "No gawking? I guess tha means no leerin'? No eyeballin'? None of the ol' up an' down?" She waves Layth off with a hand. "I'm listenin'," she insists. To prove it, she adds, "I guess if I'm naked they will gawk, righ'? An' I won' 'ave anyone try tha' with me, is it? Because I'm a foreigner."
"It's rather amusing that I'll have to get used to the personal space issues again as well. I've lived with Khatta for a long time," Layth comments.
"The biggest difference is that Amazonians aren't likely to flirt," Aaron says. "They aren't subtle. If they want something, they'll come out and ask. If they don't like what you're doing, they'll tell you so if they're friendly, or else kick you. And they will all believe that Dianus is the beacon of civilization in fact, the only beacon of civilization in a world full of monsters and barbarians."
After another moment, Aaron says, "Frankly, you might think so too when you first see it."
"Better than Rephidim? I'm a bi' skeptical," Tasha admits.
"They'll also assume you've both had children already," Aaron notes, with a grin. Aisha's ears go up in alarm, and she asks the obvious question of, "Why?"
"Both me an' Aisha, or both Aisha an' Layth," asks Tasha as she casts a glance at Aisha and Layth.
"If you haven't noticed, I'm male," Layth points out. "I can't bear a child."
"You can 'ave children by a woman," Tasha points out. "I jus' though' that's what 'e meant."
"Not children with each other, obviously," Aaron says to Tasha. "I meant that they'll think you're both already mothers. Does in Amazonia don't get the same sort of diet Lapis do in other parts of the world. They generally don't fully 'develop' until they're already pregnant. The exceptions are the warriors, who get lots of protein once they finish their training, and the Hydrons, who have more of a mixed heritage and generally eat better."
"I remember that from my clan in the mountains," Layth comments from where he's sitting. "But then, does also bore children early so development was quick, anyway, as living there was harsh and survival unlikely. It was necessary to ensure continuation of the clan. Occasionally, there were too many to support, so they culled." He smiles wryly, then adds, "I'm one of the culled ones. By all rights I should be dead."
"We better kill ya then." Tasha reaches over and pats Layth on the arm, grinning.
"A thousand pardons, but your breath last night nearly did," Layth retorts with a small grin.
"Aisha can pass for a Hydron without any problem though," the black-eared buck says. "The question may not arise for Tasha at all. And Layth's story points out why Amazonians are very serious when it comes to reproduction. Oh… and Tasha, try not to be… so… aggressive… "
"Question, Master Lightfoot. Does Dianus raid other towns to keep the blood pool well mixed to avoid inbreeding issues, or is that common mainly to the outlying tribes?" Layth inquires.
Tasha shakes Layth playfully, then leans back. "You mean I can' shake Layth li' I jus' di'? I though' Amazonians appreciate directness," the woman asks.
"The population is large enough that they don't have to resort to raiding other settlements," Aaron says. "The clans do raid each other though, on occasion. I'd guess Dianus and the clanholds have a combined population of nearly a million."
Tasha head shakes. "I 'ad no idea there were so many of 'em."
"They appreciate directness from other Lapis, Tasha," Aaron warns. "Monsters have their place, and that place is usually the Coliseum. You'll get along much better if you're quiet, don't make sudden moves, and are entertaining."
Layth sways with the shaking and sighs as if he's suffering, albeit not very convincingly. He then blinks and nods to Aaron, saying, "That's impressive. How mixed of blood are they, then? You and Lady Circerae are obviously not full blood."
"More mixed than anywhere else in Amazonia, I'd wager," Lightfoot replies. "Dianus was originally an Olympian city, with Olympian Lapis in it. Those Lapis all stayed after it was conquered, and everyone else that wasn't killed was kicked out. It's probably why you don't see a lot of Lapis in northern Olympia the Khattas didn't trust them anymore."
"'Ow do I be entertain' if I can' flirt, can' talk, an' don' know what 'alf the bunnies are sayin'?" she asks, growling slightly.
"So, me going out on the Parthos streets with Aisha later would not be a good idea, then?" Layth inquires.
"Umm, don't growl?" Aaron suggests. "Be… demure. Do tricks if you know them. Act stupid."
"Dance?" Layth suggests.
"Oh, Parthos tolerates… actually, no, you're right Layth," Aaron says. "I could go out with her, but you'd draw unwelcome attention."
Layth sighs slightly at that. "Sorry, Lady Aisha. It appears I am an unfit escort here," he says.
Tasha considers the suggestions, then nods. "If I learn to dance I can be entertainin' wit'out feelin' like I wan' to 'it someone," she agrees.
"Down here in Elysia it would be okay," Aaron quickly points out. "It's mostly foreigners here."
"They'd see Aisha, assume she's vacationing, and you'd just be a sort of blur, Layth," Aaron offers, hoping to make Layth feel better.
"I'm no' bad wit' a bow, either. I'm actually able to draw a much larger bow than I use, an' shoot well at range, what wit' being Vartan an' all. I use my shortbow because it don' ge' in my way. I could shoot, an dance, and … does drinkin' count as entertainin'?" says Tasha.
"Well, I can teach you some dances, Tasha, when you have time. You'll have to be wary of your wings, though. Don't spread them as it might be taken as an intimidation move," Layth notes.
"Amazonian wines aren't very strong," Aaron notes to Tasha. "And bows… uh, that'd be amusing, yes, and non-threatening."
Layth just sort of shrugs to Aaron in a sort of 'I'm used to it' way.
"Alrigh', I can use a longbow if I can ge' one from the Cap'n. S'been a while since I las' shot one," the Vartan says. Tasha then nods to Layth. "You teach me, an' if it's any use, I'll go an' ge' somethin' to make i' special, I will. I'm sure I can fine somethin', or maybe I coul' get some 'ere, since I didn' ge' any new clothes." The woman frowns, very briefly, at not getting an outfit out of the deal.
"Anything you bought here would be overpriced," Layth points out. "Most of the dances I know are along the veil ones done in the Harem club. Will they be satisfactory to you?"
"I can ask them to make you something," Aaron says, and nudges Aisha. "You can describe something I'm sure."
Tasha nods. "I coul' fine some use for those sort o' dances, an' I've been thinkin' I coul' use more talents," she agrees, grinning.
"All right. I'll have to get some garb made for me to use. It loses the effect without the flowing fabric. If you wish to watch, Lady Aisha, you are most welcome to," Layth says.
"Why no' join us, Aisha?" Tasha offers.
"Well," Aisha says, sounding curious. "Alright. I'm bored anyway."
"Okay, I'll go talk to the seamstresses then," Aaron says, and slips out of the storeroom.
Layth pushes off the crates and says, "Well, seeing as how we've fallen away from language lessons, I presume we're done for the day. May the Gods smile on you for putting up with my boring lectures both of you. I am certain I will see you two in a bit for some dancing … which should prove more enjoyable than just sitting here practicing speaking." He then bows to both of them.