[Vipul, Ship’s Doctor for the Consulate Ship Shreshthata, offered this account of the vessel’s loss and his captivity after the passage of the Pirates’ Amnesty. — Transcriber]
I took no part in the final battle of the C.S. Shreshthata, though not for lack of trying.
The fever that had been going around the ship in prior days, sending skyhand after skyhand and even two of the mates to my sickbay, had at last taken hold of me. Where I had skin, I sweated, and where my skin touched the new cotton sheets below and above me, it stuck and made the still-stiff cloth crackle.
For two days and two nights my assistant, a Dwarf named Amala, tended to me. She slept only when I did, which could not have been much; she draped new towels across my forehead to keep sweat from stinging my eyes, shaved my face for me, and kept me fed with rice and lentil soup.
And when the all-hands siren sounded through the C.S. Shreshthata, she stopped me from getting up.
“Doctor Vipul, you are sick. Stay where you are.”
“Amala, the skyhands…” I tried to blink away my blurred sight. “Hurt…my duty…”
“You will stay where you are.” Before I could muster a protest, she had tied my wrists to the railings of my sickbed with strips of cloth.
“Don’t need this,” I told Amala. I was not some scarred old man who would lash out if touched while sleeping. I had a fever, nothing more. “All hands…”
“You can’t heal anyone until you get healed yourself. Now stay there. I’m going topside…” I remember her turning, and her voice pitching up to near-Human levels. “What are you doing?”
She had caught me with my body contorted, trying to pin down the trailing end of my right-hand cloth tie with my left heel. “Uh, scratching an itch?”
“I don’t believe this.” With both hands she shoved me flat onto my back, and before I could get my breath again, she had a canvas surgery strap cinched across my chest.
“This is for your own good, Doctor Vipul,” she told me. “Now stay there.”
She grabbed my medical kit on her way out of the sickbay, leaving me alone.
I tried to get out from under the surgery strap, but it was designed to be twice as strong as needed to restrain a burly Dwarf skyhand bellowing with grievous pain while a mangled arm or leg was amputated.
As a Human with only ordinary military fitness and a fever on top of it, I was thoroughly stuck. And while the shouts of battle sounded above me, as if to punish my earlier lie to Amala, I felt an itch coming on, and in a most inconvenient place.
In time I gave up and closed my eyes. Perhaps I could not sleep, not while the itch tormented me, but at least I could rest.
As a boy I was often sick, never hale; perhaps that is why I became a doctor, and a ship’s doctor at that.
In any case, during my frequent sicknesses I had experienced those strange hallucinations that come with fevers: skywhales being chased around by bandars twice their size, fireworks that did not fade but became statues in the air, and others not germane to this report.
Never before in my life had I experienced a fever-dream of a gray langur wearing inventor’s goggles walking into the room.
Never before in my life had I experienced a fever-dream that smelled like this one.
It’s strange, isn’t it? The mind can conjure up the most surreal sights, and in the deepest throes of hallucination, it can even add sounds, but there’s never the smell to go with it.
This time, I smelled it all. Fur. Musk. Gear grease. The faint frizz of discharged aether-weapons.
I heard nothing of battle.
This fever-dream monkey was most insolent. It swung up onto my bed, not caring a whit that I already occupied it, and stomped right up my chest. I’d never had a fever-dream that felt so heavy, either.
And do you know what that insolent goggles-wearing monkey did? It stuck a finger in my face and poked the tip of my nose. In that moment I decided, fever dream or no, that I wouldn’t stand for it. I yelled at the thing, told it to get off. I may have used stronger language than that.
That monkey seemed to understand what I said. It hopped to the floor with a strange dignity and screeched once at me. I twisted my head to give it attention, whereupon it made an approximation of a rude gesture and left the sickbay by the door.
With nothing else of interest and my itch subsiding, I closed my eyes. Amala found it amusing when I described my fever-dreams to her, or at least she pretended to. I looked forward to telling her about the monkey with the goggles, if I remembered it.
Later — I do not know how long it was — a voice from beyond the sickbay brought me out of sleep.
“In here, my prince?” It sounded Human. High-pitched, like a young woman, or perhaps a few of the Shreshthata lads whose voices had not caught up to their legal manhood. But which of them would have talked like that?
Then I heard the footsteps. I turned my head just in time to see her.
She was a young woman, perhaps fifteen, dressed in purple silk with multicolored threads forming flowers wherever it had pleased the tailor. Her earrings were gold and elaborate, as were the decorations on the leather belts placed seemingly at random across her body.
I did not give these details much attention after I noticed the broad sword in her hands.
“Right you are, my prince!” And all at once her mien shifted from playfulness to command. The monkey might have been her “prince,” yet she was not a princess. She was a queen.
And if this was a fever-dream, it was as credible as it was absurd, nonsensical but true.
“Hey.” She came closer. “Who are you?”
My throat was dry, but I found my voice. “Madam, I am Vipul, ship’s doctor of the C.S. Shreshthata…”
“Yeah, I don’t like that name.” The monkey screeched once, perhaps for emphasis. “What do you think of the Dragon’s Smile?”
Fever-dream or no, I did not like the look of her sword. “A lovely name, Madam.”
“You all right? You don’t look so good.”
“Just a fever, Madam.”
The tip of the sword pointed at a place on the surgery strap well away from my vital organs. “And what’s with this?”
“I tried to get out of bed, Madam, and my assistant was displeased…”
“Dwarf gal with a medicine bag?”
“She’s dead.” And when I said nothing right away, she added, “Sorry about that.”
Still I said nothing. What was there to say? This adolescent pirate queen had told me Amala, my assistant of two years, was dead, and she hadn’t even used a complete sentence to say she was sorry.
“So this is weird.”
“I can’t figure out what to do with you.”
I stayed silent. When a lady is deciding between ways to kill you, why give her ideas?
“Consulate. Pirates. You know how it is. Give no quarter, take no quarter.”
“But you didn’t fight, obviously.” She scratched her head, seemingly oblivious to Prince Monkey scampering out of the sickbay. “So are you a prisoner? I haven’t taken a prisoner before. That might be interesting…”
If the pirate queen wanted me to be her prisoner, well, the late Amala had done all the necessary work for her. Unfortunately, I could not imagine who would pay my ransom. The Consulate would not, out of principle. As for my family, I was a third son; my parents would mourn for me, but they would not ruin the futures of my brothers on my behalf.
Just as I had reached the conclusion that my life was forfeit one way or another, a lad’s yelp from topside interrupted the pirate queen’s inanities. She scowled.
“Yeah, don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back.”
While she was gone I prepared for death, whispered the relevant prayers, made the gestures — those I could make while strapped to the sickbed, at any rate. So absorbed was I in this task that I let her catch me in a moment of kneeling upside-down.
I made no sudden movements. “Madam?”
“You’re a doctor.”
“Ever treat a monkey bite?”
I thought back to my training in the clinics of Ghirapur. “Several times, Madam.”
“Don’t do anything stupid.” With one hand she unknotted my nearer wrist tie; with the other she uncinched the surgery strap. “Go topside. Walking pace. I’ll be two steps behind you.”
I cannot say I have a particular fondness for that monkey. It bit me once, that I can remember at least, and tried several more times.
On the other hand, in no small sense I owe it my life, so enmity too is out of the question.
From the capture of the C.S. Shreshthata to the acceptance of the Pirates’ Amnesty, I remained in the custody of the monkey prince and his queen. I was not treated harshly. I had plenty to eat and drink. I was never made to take part in any attacks on ships, and I never volunteered; after battles, I treated the wounded without regard to sides, and never accepted any share of the plunder.
In short, I upheld the oath I swore upon entering the service to the best of my ability.
Of course there must be an investigation into my conduct, but I look forward to the time when I may serve on another Consulate ship. Until then, I shall stay busy. At the time of my capture, the ship’s doctor of the C.S. Yash and I had a mutual interest; perhaps my absence has increased his longing in proportion to mine, or at least not snuffed it out. I shall learn of that in two days, when his ship returns to the supply base.
And when my mind is not on romance, I have an article to write. The Doctors’ Journal of Ghirapur already has a title picked out for me. “Novel Treatments for Monkey Bites on Human, Elf, and Dwarf Flesh” might not be the most popular work ever written in Kaladesh, but I hope it becomes an important text for its field, and I would like to dedicate it to him.
And if he refuses the dedication or has grown indifferent to me, I have in mind a monkey prince and his Human pirate queen.