Weekend Wind Down – Spiced Up

Jaz finished working out and, having freshened up after, was disturbed to find someone had apparently stolen his wardrobe – three guesses who – and replaced it with rough, bag-like items of clothing made from plant fibres and animal hair, skin, bone and such like. Part of him was tempted to just walk butt naked into the common room of the ship and demand the return of his proper clothes. It was the kind of response this deserved. But, what the hell. It would only mean another argument with Blondie – which Jaz would inevitably lose on some technicality and the result would be the same.
Teeth gritted, he made himself the sincere promise that as soon as this with Avilon was done he would walk away and never have anything more to do with Durban Chola. He fought his way into the clothing, fingers stumbling, clumsy from ignorance, over the strange fastenings.
The final effect, observed in the mirror, was – interesting. The animal origin of some of the fabrics was something most in the Coalition would have found pretty disgusting, but Jaz had been raised in a place where wearing leather was an accepted necessity and you didn’t ask what animal the skin came from either. Despite the rough fabric and hand-stitching the outfit looked as if it belonged on him.
That would be Chola’s doing. He would have worked from Jaz’s measurements to ensure the final result looked natural. The man was one of the best people he knew at judging to perfection how to dress for any given occasion. At first, Jaz thought him some kind of shallow, artsy, fashionista. But he came to realise it was nothing so trivial or one dimensional. Blondie wasn’t so much fashion conscious as appearance aware: it was all about disguise and not at all about fashion. The blond man knew exactly how to create a look in any setting, to blend in or stand out as he chose and could always create exactly the impression he wanted.
When Jaz finally emerged from his cabin and went into the common room, Chola was also dressed in local style, but much more elegant and perhaps overdone, including a long brown coat with lots of gold wire and orange glittery stones sewn onto it. Jaz half- expected there to be a silent gloat in the blond man’s eyes, that he’d complied without protest. But there was nothing more sinister than critical appraisal, lurking behind a smile of approval – like an artist looking over a nearly finished sculpture.
“I’ll sort those lacings for you in a bit,” he said. “You’ll need to learn how to tie a double bow. But all in all, I think you’ll do as my mute bodyguard.”
“Mute bodyguard?”
“Yes. Not an unknown role here. Some gentlemen of business prefer not to have personal servants in close attendance who might be able to share privileged trade information. And since you can’t speak the language it works. You just have to remember you can’t speak. And on no account remove that hat – the scalp-port would be an instant give away.”
There were times Chola went well beyond careful to the point of being patronising.
“Yeah. I figured,” Jaz said, restraining himself.
“And you really must drink this.”
A mug of tea that smelt like over-spiced mud and shit. Jaz pushed it away as he sat down.
“I’ll pass.”
The blond man shook his head.
“You don’t understand me, Jaz. You must drink it. This contains much of the local biology and biochemistry. It’s a recipe Gernie developed years ago, though I have to say I prefer the flavour of Pan’s – she manages to cover a lot of the bad taste with spices. If you’re going to get ill or have allergies to the prevalent microbes of this world, I’d rather we found out here in Keran where I can nurse you through it, than out in the wide world where it could hit when we could be in some very bad place.”
The thing about Chola – the most annoying and irritating thing about him – was that he was always right. Well, almost always. Jaz drank the tea. It tasted like it smelt – spiced up shit and mud. Bearing in mind what Chola said it contained, Jaz figured the taste probably was pretty close to the reality. Meanwhile, of course, the blond man carried on talking. He loved to talk.
“I did think of trying to pass you off as Zoukai, you would look really good all decked out in their embroidered gear, you wouldn’t even need a hair extension, your hair is naturally long enough to braid and it would allow you to wear as much weaponry as you could cram in. But if anyone saw you on a pony – the illusion wouldn’t last long.”
Zoukai – that was in the third lecture. They were the brotherhood of riders who guarded the trade caravans. Named after some local bird of prey. Jaz was surprised he actually remembered.
“I’m going to be wearing my belt anyway, Blondie. I’ll have all the weaponry I need on that.” It was a cutting edge, military-grade, armaments belt with built-in kinetic shielding and any number of other useful features.
“True. And anyway Zoukai tend to stick with the caravans not go for private hire. But you will still have to learn to ride.”
Jaz finished the tea and forced himself to swallow the dregs before putting the mug back on the table.
“It can’t be that hard – if the locals here can master it, I’m sure I can be as good.”
Chola looked at him with something that could only be deliberately ill-concealed amusement.
“I’m sure you will be – given time.”

From Haruspex:A Walking Shadow a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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