Fyskar: Ch 9

The sun seeped through the seams of the shuttered window and door as Eoin awoke the next morning. He lazily observed the sleeping couple wrapped around each other. Drifting to the realization he had taken them into his dreams and memories, he glanced about the space, free of the peripheral blinders he had worn for months. He released his hold on Fearchar and Seonaid, though he savoured the myriad textures that ran beneath his bare fingers as he did so. Eoin hoped they had not experienced some of his darker memories.

He eased himself from under the warm blankets and stretched in the chill. The leather cloak was warm, but it was heavy, and he had not shed it in ages. He could float away with how light he felt. Glancing around the room, he contemplated a three-foot-long tub propped in a corner. He smiled, anticipating being clean. Sponge baths had gotten him so far in quick furtive moments, but a thorough scrub would be lovely.

Eoin dug through his pack and produced a small bundle of chew sticks of about a hands-width in height. Taking one and a cup of water to which he added rose water and a drop of mint oil, the physician allowed the stick to soften. The doctor procured his pots and jars and cleaning cloths from his pack while he waited on his stick. When it had finished softening, he frayed the end of it and proceeded to clean his teeth with abandon, revelling in the sensation that he could take his time.

Finished with brushing his teeth, Eoin dragged the metal tub over to the fireplace. He had watched Seonaid pull the tub out to the fireplace countless times to bathe and to wash clothing in since he had been a guest in their house. The doctor went and found the massive kettle she kept at the top of her rafters and lugged it to the fireplace.

The bucket was the last thing he’d have to go find. Regardless of his hunting, Eoin could not place it. He glanced back at the sleeping couple. Seonaid was still asleep, but Fearchar regarded him with half-closed lids. 

Bucket? Eoin asked.

Outside, right. Fearchar signalled back quietly around his wife’s form.

Eoin sighed. Well, he was going to have to emerge into the snow anyway, so it was a good enough time. He dragged on his boots and Fearchar’s waxed canvas cloak and gritted his teeth. He dashed out into the tall white powder, his hobnails slipping on the sill stone, sending his heart into his throat. The slam of cold wrapped around his bones and blew the air from his lungs. His eyes stung and watered. Between quickly freezing lashes, he spotted the lip of the metal peeking out at level with the snow. He tugged, breaking it free of the sleet-covered drift, and dragged it into the house. The latch stalled at the door, ice chunks catching in the jam. Eoin closed his eyes, internally cursing at the weather.

Door cleared and closed, he carefully ladled the fluff into the warming kettle. Once the bucket was empty, he retrieved another load, warier of inadvertent ice fall. He poured the hot water into the tub and filled the kettle with the second bucket of snow, and went back for one more load. This one he left near the hearth to heat alongside the kettle.

Digging through his duffel, Eoin extracted several washcloths, a couple of small bottles of liquids, and a carefully wrapped crock. Kneeling, he used the tepid water from the bucket to rinse his hair.

Pulling the cork from one of his bottles, a heady floral scent rippled through the room. Jasmine and rose with spicy notes of citrus and cinnamon, foreign to the Isle, but Eoin enjoyed the fragrance. He relaxed under the smell and poured a small amount of the oily mixture into his hands. He rubbed the mix into his tresses and wrapped it into a bun on the top of his head.

Eoin, turning back to the warmth of the tub, wrinkled his nose in thought. He took in a deep breath, knowing the undershirt that fell to his knees was going to have to come off if he wanted a proper clean. He dearly wished to be clean for once in too many months. It was going to leave him cold, though. He missed his deep baths.

Pouring the second batch of his kettle water into the tub, he stepped into the bath. His bangles clicked together as he found his balance on the slick surface of the tub. It was almost scalding in comparison to the coolness of the room.

Squatting down, he pulled the tails of his shirt up until his legs were covered with water before throwing out his sense of modesty and tugged his undergarment off. The tub was too small to relax in, but it would suffice.

He took his washcloths and his crock. Inside was a thick white paste that he used to rub across his body. This one, too, held exotic scents that wafted through the room, warm and alluring. He breathed in the smell, his heart slowing with the comfort of the familiar.

Eoin washed until he was practically pink. He checked his skin for lesions. Carefully, he rubbed beneath the torc, bracers, and bangles, working the cloth under them until he was able to pull the cloth through. He buffed his skin with another cloth soaked in an oil that left his skin gleaming and soft. The smell was a deep note to the tang and floral of the other soaps. While his skin dried, he took one last cloth to buff and dry the wealth of gold and gems across his body.

“Wha’s in it?” Fearchar eventually interrupted the pale man from his ritual.

Eoin flinched, having forgotten where he was. He glanced at the couple lying under the warm covers and thought. Myrrh, camphor, basil, frankincense, musk, oud, jasmine, rose, beeswax- he rattled off ingredients as he pointed between the bottles and the crock.

Fearchar blinked blankly. “Aye, my fault, Ah got none a’ that.” The handyman lay his head back down.

Eoin shrugged and finished his ablutions. He glanced back at his clothes on the hook and wrinkled his nose. If he was going to be clean, he was going to be clean. He got up from the hearth, went to his duffel, and pulled out clothes.

He set aside a stack of fine linen under shirts and wool knit stockings and dug deeper. From the tube, he produced a pair of white breeches, but not quite made the way Fearchar was used to seeing the mainlanders wear. They rode at the top of the ankle with small iridescent white buttons and embroidered cuffs, leaving his bangles exposed. Then they ballooned out from there. Eoin drew them up around his hips and tightened a drawstring. Around this, he tied a wide, long red cloth belt. He replaced his clean clothes into his duffel and set a pile off to the side he planned to wash.

Pulling back on the waxed cloak and boots, he took the tub and its contents out and dumped it off over the refuse pile at the side of the house. He returned and set another bucket of snow to melt in the kettle, then hung the canvas back on the peg at the door.

This time, when he settled, he set aside a small box of black powder from his apothecary cabinet, a little heating pot, measuring spoon, and cups.

His hair fell to curtain his actions from Fearchar. In frustration, Eoin pulled his wet locks back up and twisted it, shoving a silver stick through it to hold the bundle up. He returned to measuring out his powder before setting these off to the side of the fireplace.

Eoin went to his duffel and produced a folded red rug elegantly decorated with a yellow mandala and blue notes. A water ring from the tub darkened the stone at the hearth where he laid out the textile. He settled himself upon the wool tufts and enjoyed the heat seeping into his naked skin. Flexing his fingers and his wrists, he worked the stretch up through his arms, reached to the ceiling, arched his back and opened up his chest. He closed his eyes and breathed in as he slipped into one pose that flowed into another.

Fearchar watched, mesmerized at the contortions before him. Eoin’s lithe figure flexed and bowed as he continued to breathe through the movements. The redhead wasn’t sure how much time slipped through his fingers. Eventually, the pale man returned to a deeply cross-legged position, his arms extended to his kneecaps.

About five breaths into the settled position, the water in the kettle hit a boil. The doc smiled gently as he opened his eyes and came back to himself. He poured the hot water into his tiny pot and added his black powder, stirred it, and allowed it to steep. The aroma, warm and comforting, permeating the house.

Seonaid woke to the smell, keenly interested in why it was causing her stomach to growl. She sat up, and Fearchar scooted his way from the middle of the bed to the edge with her. Eoin pulled the stick from his hip-length hair and shook it out, sitting next to the fire to help it dry.

“Why does my house smell strange? Braw good, but strange, Eoin.” The handyman’s wife looked pointedly at the pot before noting his odd clothing choice. “You really do have body markings.” She stared. The red bands against his pale skin around his forearms lay clear in the light of the fireplace.

He glanced at her quizzically, handing her a hot cup of a brown liquid the black powder had created. She breathed in the earthy smell. He handed a second cup to Fearchar, who peered at it sceptically. The doctor shrugged.

Eoin blew on the liquid in his cup and tested the temperature. He sighed. It had been months since he had last tasted the magnificence that was qahva. The man relished in the warm, bitter tang and knew that he was about to have a pounding headache from not having drunk it in months but couldn’t care less.

The last man of the Fyskar looked up in surprise, realizing that even though he was, for all essential purposes, home, it was no longer what he remembered. He now had comforts that were not from the Isle, and he missed those comforts terribly. Eoin looked down at his tiny cup, confused by this revelation.

Fearchar tested the liquid and found it more bitter than his ales, yet fascinating. Seonaid joined him in the same judgment. They eventually emerged from the bed and moved the frames to the wall to make space in the room.

Seonaid pulled on her petticoat, stays, and a shawl, forgoing her sleeves and overjacket, while Fearchar wrapped his great kilt around his waist. He popped his head outside to see what damage the storm had wrought and closed the door swiftly before too many heaping flakes made their way into the entryway. “Snowin’ ‘gain. If this keeps up, gettin’ ta’ the village’ll be right out.”

Eoin contentedly sat at the hearth while the other occupants of the house went about their morning routines. Eventually, the man tested the fringes of his hair and decided they were dry enough. He pulled on a long loose white shirt and an equally long loose red vest and made himself at home back onto his rug.

“So, you escaped the Isle and even England on a ship and went where?” Seonaid passed bowls of fish porridge to Eoin and her husband.

The physician ate gratefully, aware that today would be exhausting and he would need the energy. He was hoping the qahva was going to provide him with some fortification for the toll. Eat first, he encouraged.

It would be late into the afternoon before Eoin released the couple again. They wolfed down their meals and set aside the dishes. Fearchar and Seonaid finished the last of their little cups of bitter liquid. Eoin collected and laid the cups aside, planning on washing them near the end of the day when his story was finished.

He motioned them to the rug and moved away from the hearth’s edge. Sitting triangularly to them, Eoin laid his hands out and waited. This time, it would be their decision if they truly wanted to know him rather than pushing his memories at them.

Fearchar and Seonaid grabbed his hands and leapt into his void.

“I ended up in a port town where the Captain told me I could start over. He left me with a pouch of coin that would have gotten me through a full year of high living in London. One of the seamen, Daniel Black – good man, though a bit deep in his bottles, directed me to a man he knew in the port, Mr Emir. He also made sure I got a change of clothes for myself and the boys.

“The dress had sufficed in getting me to the Captain, but the used tunic and pants I had gotten from Black were threadbare at best. Mr Emir navigated us through the market and got the boys and me outfitted for a long trip. I ended up with a massive cloak, having found that I burned badly in the sun there. The boys we made sure had large hats and long clothes to cover their skin, lest they burn like I did that first day there. That was the last I saw of Captain and Daniel. I do hope they are still well.” Eoin smiled up at them, taking Fearchar and Seonaid through the warm memory of Morocco.

The incense that wafted through the streets and the spice of the markets was mesmerizing. The sun stood out brilliantly, casting rough shadows from the white and yellow stone of the building faces. The market blossomed with vibrant coloured shades covering tables of fruit and vegetables of such a variety that Fearchar and Seonaid had never seen before.

They found themselves cast from the market into a sandpit of such a size that they could not form a comprehensive thought of it. “Emir called this place the Sahara. He told me it goes for miles in all directions.” Eoin led them up a massive pile of sand that he told them was a dune. He pointed out camels being packed up for travel. A breath of wind blew the scene apart.

They arrived in a grassland village, the mud walls baked and cracked in the hot sun. The market was as large as the one they had left in Morocco, but the people were no longer a soft mahogany colour with sharp features. Their noses flared, and their eyebrows thickened.

The people of this area wandered the streets in varying shades of autumn grass and deep forest shadow. Fearchar and Seonaid stared in wonder. Growing up in their little villages on the Isle with no frame of reference for the rest of the world, the colours, the smells, the textures were overwhelming in their intensity.

“I found myself at the end of my journey with Mr Emir. He had seen fit to get me through the trade route. I could have returned with him back to Morocco. I had been able to care for an injured man on our way, and he felt my skills were valuable.

“However, it was in the market that I decided I wouldn’t be returning with him, kind though he was. That’s where I met Amina.” He took them to a much-loved memory. She sat in her stall, encased in a patterned white and blue wrap. Food layout on brilliant yellow and turquoise blankets around her. She, though, was not quite like the other people walking around her. The market woman had splotches of pinkish cream skin swirled in among her deep brown. “She said that the tree spirits of her tribe paint her in the night.” He knelt down next to her, motioning to buy a few fruits. The boys were enthralled with her spots. She grinned at the babes, entranced with their curiosity.

The twins were big enough to start crawling and making trouble. Callum and Albin pulled themselves up to her baskets of fruit and peered inside. They poked at the spiny fruit, utterly fixated. She laughed at their antics. The small woman motioned for Eoin to sit next to her while she showed how to get into one of the spiny fruits he paid for.. The lost man sat down next to her in the shade where she motioned for him to remove his hood. He lowered it, pointing out the wound at his throat, hoping that she understood him. She looked at him, concerned, and motioned for him to let her see it. Poking at the raised pink flesh along his neck near his torc, where his sunburn had faded, she found his voice.

“Eoin,” he told her, motioning to himself. 

“Amina,” she replied, gesturing to herself. 

“Callum, Albin.” Eoin pointed out the two boys.

They proceeded like this for the day as customers came through the market and bought her produce. The customers stared uneasily at Eoin and the two boys who had fallen asleep in his lap. He surely looked strange to them; he understood that much.

With the sun halfway set in the sky, she packed up her produce. Not sure what else to do with himself, Eoin helped her gather her remaining vegetables and tubers. As she hefted a massive basket onto her head, she looked at him questioningly, having asked him something he could not understand. He looked about himself and the ground they had occupied, unsure if he had left something undone.

A burly man, such a deep shade he must have stepped out of the night, came up to the woman with a loving smile. She spoke with him, and the man turned to Eoin, speaking slowly to the father. The ghost of a man flinched, shying away. Amina’s man approached him and clasped him about the shoulder with a hand that Eoin was confident could have crushed his skull if the man had thought of it.

Eoin turned from the man to the woman, confused. The man plucked one of the sleeping twins from Eoin’s arms, hefted him to his shoulder, and steered Eoin from the market to follow the woman.

“It would take me several months to understand that Tau and Amina were the head of their tribe. Amina and Tau were made aware I could communicate through touch, but they did not willingly try to seek the void, and I do not like forcing it upon people if possible. They thought me a lost godling or a spirit, even a witch’s consort of some kind and tried to treat me in such a differential way.

“We walked for several days until we left the grassland and entered a formidably vast wet forest. The leaves of these trees are massive. Vines, shrubs, it’s different from the forests of Scotland and England. It’s warm and damp. In it are these brilliantly coloured birds that sing the most beautiful music. Monkeys, frogs, snakes, these monstrous creatures called crocodiles, the forest was a foreign world turned on its head.” He showed them the wildlife of the rainforest. They had never seen such tall trees or felt such humidity. The creatures were as strange as the plant life. Fearchar was the first to realise that Eoin’s void was a reflection of this forest.

“It felt like I had stepped into a fairytale that I had never heard before. I feared that maybe I had already walked into The Forest, but I could not believe I had died to only live on without my voice or to not see my clan on the other side. I was terrified from the moment I had entered that marketplace to the time I entered their village.

“There were many people in this place.” The forest climbed around their shelters to protect from the sun. “The children were the first to approach me, as I was as foreign to the people as they were to me. Several of them had the beautiful spots like Amina; others varied in their shades of brown, blending with the forest around them. It was the ones that looked like me that surprised me the most,” he chuckled, showing them the twins looking at another pair of twins. The only difference was the build of their bodies and the texture of their hair. Fearchar and Seonaid looked up at him, confused. 

“But you are Fyskar. Are they too? You said you are the last of your clan.” Seonaid crouched to study the two pairs of twins playing with rocks on the ground.

Eoin shook his head, his smile slipping. “No, sadly not Fyskar. Some of them had family that looked like them. They had been ostracized from the villages, and Amina and Tau brought them to this village, giving them a safe place to start over. They told me they and the village medicine man came from a long way away, where they boarder a vast sea. They collected those tossed aside by their own people on their way to where they established Egret Nest.

“Those that looked like me, save for eyes the colour of the sky above the Sahara, their eyesight was poor, some completely blind. They do not have the same ability to communicate through touch as I do. I tried with so many of them to see if they could. I’m not sure what afflicts them, but it is apparently not a rare trait to crop up in the area. They suffer the sun worse than the boys and I do. Their burns can turn splotched and raised, sometimes growing too large, leaving them with a sickness that I cannot cure. Amina told me, when I finally started to learn one of their many languages, that her spots happen gradually while those like me are born pale already.”

He showed them his thatched wattle and daub hut and plot of land he had been allowed by the village. The building stood out against the rest of the village. A short hut occupied the forefront, and a minuscule hallway sent itself backwards to a rectangular building with a round protuberance at the end. “They allowed me to build as I wanted out on the edge. Wattle and daub in their way was easier than rock, so it went up quickly enough.”

A small flock of mixed game birds cawed back and forth around the house. Off to one side lay a small vegetable plot. Against the walls grew herbs and flowers. On the opposing side stood a large pen with a flock of brown and white speckled goats consisting of a buck and three does.

“Goats were a different beast to learn to work with. Like every other Fyskar’s flock and herd, my flock of wool sheep had been taken by the Daleroch. I was pleased to return to caring for a few four-legged beasts, even if it were the strange creatures. I could not harvest wool from them to my disappointment, but I had no one to spin and weave, so it was probably for the better.” The buck shoved its head through the fence and bleated appealingly. Eoin grabbed up a handful of dry grass at the edge of the fencing and offered it to the creature while gently rubbing its forehead. An easy smile skimmed his lips at the memory of the goats.

“The boys formed fast friendships with the other young children of the village. Amina tended to take them when she went to visit with the other mothers. Her own daughter had already left to join with another village. She hoped to dote on grandchildren, and Callum and Albin proved to be a good surrogate for her desire.

“I did end up with a pair of older lads, Ajuji and Kgomotso, from Tau’s recommendation, who took a fancy to my odd way of farming and mending and cooking and tolerated my handicap. We formed a makeshift sign language, those two and myself. Soon enough, with their conniving, I had secured myself a suitable enterprise in cultivating soft fruit and creating rather passable cranachan and black bun. They helped me bribe my way into good standing with the more sceptical villagers.”

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