For reasons that Lute couldn't quite place, the riding crop, knotted skirts and black boots made Lady Sincerity seem extremely attractive to him. Bell and Harp were now heading onto the boat, with Bell continually glancing back in Lute's direction for one reason or another. This left Lute alone, drawing up to the figure of Sincerity from behind. He liked this situation - too much perhaps. Things could become very dangerous if he continued to look below her waist. Changing his focus somehow only brought him back to the riding crop. It didn't help.
"We're here as expected, my lady," he told her back.
She turned to face him, a small and incredibly teasing smile firmly on her face. She twirled the crop in her hand so that she could rest the tip against her shoulder. "You sign in like such a good boy, but you're supposed to do that when you're already on the vessel. Why would I see your friends moving on board when you're down here, I wonder?"
"I prefer to sign in personally," Lute explained. His instrument was still in his hands, so he chose a few strings that fit his mood nicely and began to pick out his notes in the hope of bringing about a smile.
It didn't work out as intended. Sincerity looked momentarily amused, then her eyes were drawn by something in the distance behind him. She brought her attention back to him. "You're a servant Lute; act like one. Get on the damned ship and report to Dress. She'll be in charge of your every breath until I find a use for you." Saying no more, Sincerity strode confidently past him, leaving Lute confused and with little option on how he might change things.
He didn't linger. He obviously wasn't wanted on the shore, so he followed the trail of his friends onto the ship that they had ended up with. The deck rocked back and forth beneath him, amplified by his every step and seemingly eager to throw his off. Adapting to the feeling seemed unlikely to happen, but Lute felt sure that he wasn't going to be spending all of his time throwing up over the side.
He found Dress far more quickly than he liked. She had her hair tied up, and she was wearing similar riding equipment to Sincerity. However, her skirts were of red silk, and her shorter stature made it all seem far less impressive.
"You look as cheerful as a thirsty mosquito, musician," she said as he approached, wearing a teasing smile so close to Sincerity's that it was practically identical. "Thankfully I have plenty of work that should prevent you from focussing on your colossal mental anguish. I think we should start you off with something relatively simple. The kitchens insist on having each food shipment tested for poison, just in case one of our fine noble ladies or gentlemen wish to cause eternal physical harm to any of the others. You are to collect the arrangements that the chef has organised and then I shall direct yourself and your friends as to which look the most toxic. If you do not do as I direct, or if you die out of negligence because of it, that will be ten lashes for each of you. After that, Lady Fortitude needs somebody to look after her six children while she enjoys the alcoholic and burning herb offerings we have given her in order to placate her. You are to keep them entertained while she does so. After that, Lord Virtue is insisting on ensuring that each and every noble on this voyage has a personal and extremely chivalrous greeting from him. You are to keep his cloak out of the mud on the bank while he does so. Are there any questions that you feel that you should ask before you begin?"
Lute offered her only a blank and empty look while he listened carefully to each word. After only a few of them, his mind began to wander, away to beautiful women that could be his during the night, pieces of music only half complete and days that were a mixture of freedom and absolute pleasure that came from his gluttonous appetites. Unfortunately, this meant that he hadn't really taken in a word that Dress had said to him. He placed a vacant smile on his face and said: "yes."
Silence ruled, while Dress' frown slowly deepened. He waited for her to step aside, or give him more work or possibly instruct him in somewhere new to be, but she only became more and more angry until, when she next spoke, fury was etched into her words.
"I see you haven't listened to a single word that I said, so I think it's about time we did give you some lashes to keep you focussed."
"You can't do that," said Lute with absolute confidence. "You might be one of the high tier, but you're still a servant, just like me. You can order as many lashes as you want, but there won't be a single stripe on my back unless it's a confirmed punishment by Lady Sincerity, and I find it very unlikely that that's going to happen. You have a very over inflated opinion of yourself, but you are not your mistress, and you never will be, so just get out of my way like a good little girl."
Dress' face became reddened and her gaze became so sharp and intense that he could swear that it was a murderous one. Thankfully, he was so completely right that she had no choice but to step aside and let him walk straight by. The look that she shot him as he passed was extremely vicious, but he was simply not interested.
Without her knowledge of the ship, he found himself lost for a little while in the attempt to find his cabin. The rock of the boat was still rather unsettling, but his feet were beginning to compensate for the fact that, whenever he took a step, the floor would end up in a completely different place to when he started.
The trick to finding his cabin, which would be his home for far longer than he had wished, ended up being the fact that Harp was outside of it, leaning on the safety railing that protected people from falling into the water. His head was leant over the side, his feet were planted as firmly as possible on the wooden floor, and he was making the noises that typically accompanied dry heaves.
Lute chose to help his friend by walking up close and patting him on the back. The noise of abject misery that followed was enough proof for Lute to know that he'd helped exactly as much as he had intended to. No words were shared; Lute left his friend there and went through the badly fitting wooden door behind him.
The tiny little room was even more cramped than their shared room back at the Manor. Each of their beds were attached to the walls. Bell was sitting on her own, which was the only one that had been folded down on it's support. The other two were still standing upwards, belted to the walls. Of the four, three of the walls were taken up in the thin bed attachments, while the last one had the door stuck there, looking dejected and almost unwanted against the backdrop of polished wood that surrounded them completely. Lute could see some bad situations coming from this.
"Please tell me you haven't done anything stupid already," begged Bell. Her voice was one of defeat.
"You have such faith in me," replied Lute, adding in an expression of false hurt. "Honestly, I'm not a complete idiot who goes about insulting everybody who I have a chance of insulting. I mean come on, we've spent almost our entire lives together and I've never made an enemy out of you, have I? Well, I guess you could say that I do it every month, but it's hardly my fault you get all bitchy."
"You're so polite, it's a wonder more people don't fall in love with you and fall at your feet," came the sarcastic response. "Yeah, I've had the unfortunate displeasure of having to spend every day with you, and most of the hours of those too. I'm not always happy about it, you know. I did have some things that I wanted to do with my life, servant or not. The way you're going you're going to drag us all down with you too. Couldn't you just have left us at the Manor? Why did you have to be the one that everybody wants to pay for?"
"Wow, you really are pissed off, aren't you?"
The idea that Bell was actually upset with him was a new one for Lute. Bell had always been rather stoic in listening to his stories and his explanations, then following wherever he lead. If something else was happening now, then something must have changed for one of them, if not both. Thankfully, he was rescued from having to face this by a knock on the door that he thanked all the stars in the sky for.
Sadly, as fate would have it, he was greeted with the wide smile of Dress. Dread overtook him quickly and, with a glance back at Bell, he could tell that she was thinking something very close, if not exactly the same.
"Well Lute, it seems that the Lady Sincerity has order thirty stripes on your back. Since you haven't brought any spare clothes, you had better take your shirt off here, so that it doesn't get torn and stained in blood. You can either come quietly, or I'm sure I can rally some of the young and slightly sadistic nobles together to drag you. However, they would be much less gentle; as I'm sure you know. Either way, no arguing. The Lady Sincerity has been very decisive."
Quick note please people.
The popularity of Lute has waned to almost nothing. To save space here, I've put up a blog on the subject that is more than worth a read.
Thanks in advance.