“Permission to come aboard, Yadhish,” called a familiar voice.
Yadhish Ejihn, captain of the skyship Devayani, looked up from his inspection of the port-side crystal banks. Though the night was not truly dark, only the moon Rrísi was up, giving everything a faint blue-green tinge. “Permission granted,” he replied automatically, watching the three hooded figures approach, and then, “Mosár, you old dog! How have you been?”
“Maru-Hathim Mosár reporting for duty,” the lion answered, throwing back his hood and performing an open-handed salute. Then he reached out with both hands and gripped Ejihn’s right hand in his. “By the Devah, it’s good to see you again.”
“And you, brother,” Ejihn replied, looking Mosár over with a worried glance. The lion looked unwell, as though he’d been battling a long illness, or perhaps something more sinister. He’d heard the rumors of drug use, but until now he’d dismissed them as idle tales spread by that scoundrel Dasahar. Mosár’s eyes were clear, however, and his grip seemed as strong as he remembered it, so he put his suspicions aside for now. “Is this your son? I hear he’s quite the scholar.”
Mosár chuckled, and the younger lion ducked his head. “Yes, this is my boy Mathur. Show your captain proper respect, boy.”
Mathur straightened and awkwardly saluted Ejihn. “It is an honor to meet you, sir,” he said earnestly. “My father has told me many stories of your adventures.”
Ejihn snorted and gave Mosár a wry look. “Not all of them, I hope?” Mosár stared at him blandly, but made no reply. Ejihn noted once again the patchy fur and the deep lines etched on his face, and resolved to speak to his friend alone sometime soon. He turned back to Mathur. “Glad to have you aboard. I’m sure we can put you to work somewhere.”
“I have some medical training, Yadhish,” Mathur said hesitantly.
“Excellent!” exclaimed Ejihn. “We have no healer aboard, there wasn’t time to find one. You remember Kapil?” This was directed at Mosár, who nodded. “He’s traveling in Háthiyar. Got some family there, I hear. Don’t know any other healers so well that I could roust them out of bed in the middle of the night to go on an adventure.” He winked at Mathur. “I’ll get someone to show you the infirmary. If you can bandage wounds and doctor us after three days of Haripreet’s cooking you should do well enough.”
Mathur’s eyes went wide. “Th-thank you sir,” he stuttered. “B-but there will be a healer here in just a few hours. At least I think so.” He looked to his father for confirmation. “Kailua will come, won’t she, Father?”
His father nodded. “I think she will. And you’ll be lucky to have her, Ejihn. She’s not just a healer, she’s a sir’hibas. A good one too, if I’m any judge.” His smile was more than a little bitter.
“A sir’hibas!” Ejihn let out a low whistle. “You do keep interesting company, Mosár. Well, Mathur, you can act as her assistant. Can’t expect a sir’hibas to do the running and fetching.” He looked past the two lions. “And this is?” The third jánah, who had been waiting quietly a few paces behind the the others, stepped forward.
“I am Tushai, Master Mathur’s servant. I am ready to do whatever you require, Yadhish.” He bowed respectfully.
Ejihn looked him over curiously. “Ever been on a skyship before, Tushai?”
The red panda wrinkled his nose. “Yes, very recently. But the circumstances were quite different. I am sure this will be a much more enjoyable experience.”
Ejihn sensed there was a story behind this, but it was not the time to ask. “Very well,” he said. “You can go with Mathur for now and see what needs doing. RAKESH!”
The abrupt bellow made both Mathur and Tushai start, though Mosár remained as placid as ever. A pot-bellied raccoon, barefoot and dressed in rough work clothes, scurried over and saluted. “Sir?”
“Take these two to the infirmary. Might as well give them a quick tour along the way. But make sure it’s quick, Rakesh — no time for your long-winded stories tonight.”
Rakesh put on an injured air. “Sir! Of course not sir.” He beckoned to the two young jánah. “Come on then, the captain says there’s no time to lose.” He headed back the way he had come, talking a mile a minute, with Mathur and Tushai hurrying to keep up. Ejihn and Mosár watched them go, and then looked at each other for a long moment. They were a curious pair — the lion towered over the wolf, but he seemed somehow fragile. The wolf, on the other hand, exuded confidence and strength.
Finally Yadhish Ejihn fished in a small pocket and produced a crystal ring, which he handed to the lion. “I think you owe me an explanation, Mosár. My cabin?” The lion nodded gravely, and the two headed for the stern.
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