Mongrel: Tardi Refuses to be Distracted ...


Low Tide Washing the Reefarium's Strand

Shad distracts Tardi from his worries generated by the monster, by interesting him in the Stormy tattoos. 

Today, Tardi explored an area of the island not overseen by windows. North-facing, the whole quadrant of the building remained shuttered for storms and every time between them. Not enough people to run the place, probably. Tardi hadn’t met Cele this morning and Shad was glum. 

Serves him right. Shad should be suffering indigestion on top of the guilt. Tardi’s problem was the monster. When he so blithely stepped into Callum’s mud bath, the monster pulled back so sharply that Tardi felt every aspect of the disengagement. But when Trinnet on board the boat grew sea-sick, and then vomited, the monster hijacked all of Trinnet’s sensations and Tardi also grew sea-sick and then vomited.

Tardi began his study on the lower of the two decks encircling the whole building. The sandy-bottomed shallows adjacent to a narrow sliver of sand troubled with the purest reef blue water he ever saw, and it was low tide, he saw by the marks of past water levels on a jetty pylon round to the left.

Not a blade of a water-weed fluttered to show him the currents. No sea urchins waved their myriads of delicate little hands between their spikes which they used to wedge in under the rocks, to scrape at yummy seaweed with their parrot beaks. And not one school of little fish darted in the shallows. In short, no evidence of life in the water that he could see.

Further round the building to the right, he’d glimpsed Cele’s creations, her dolphinate as she had christened them, too strange yet for describing with words, though she said the -ate part in the word meant -like. 

What would they be eating? More to the point, how unlike a human could a dolphin be? And how unlike a dolphin could a human be? True, they were both placental mammals. They both had big brains. And were both warm-blooded. They both liked to play. Any other comparison? 

How like a tree was he? The deck made him conscious of it in him. His toe roots started to try and cross the gaps between the boards. He jumped down onto the minuscule strand and sloshed into the water. 

Toward mid-morning, Shad soft-footed from the shadows surrounding the stair to the upper deck. Tardi almost always knew when Shad arrived on the scene.

“Found you,” Shad said. 

 “Callum is still quite young for dealing with the crap a bastard like Trinnet will surely dole out,” Tardi said. 

“On the attack right away," Shad said. "Same age I was when I begun learning my trade studying you.”

Woah, Tar-boy. Keep you cool or the monster will come running. But still Tardi's temper made him say, “As if I knew anything about that.”

“I mean, when I started my training for the shadowing,” Shad said. “That part’s the least of your worries. Trin’s a cranky bastard but good at training up half-feathered youths.”

“What’s the worst of my worries?” Tardi said.

“Is the Great Bastard back in you yet?”

“Only to have me feel every ache and pain Trinnet is suffering. Sea-sickness, bone-paining from sleeping on the ground, and now dog-tired. Cranky. I expect the monster is goading him,” Tardi said.

“Or the boy is, if Trin is slowing,” Shad said. 

“It’s funny how when the bastard first started in me, I had so many people to worry about - Steve, Rowan, my father, Poul - that I couldn’t concentrate on it. Now I’m trying to find more things to keep my mind on, not wanting to give him all my thoughts.”

Shad grinned. “We could get started on the levels.”

“Water levels? I’ve been reading them on the underside of the building. At high tide and when the sea-doors are open, we’ll be like we’re floating, with it coming deck-level,” Tardi said. And he’d been going to say, that isn’t a safe margin when actually Shad was his equal at worrying. Why hassle him ahead of time? They had to be gone by the time that storm blew up.

“Levels in three-dot history,” Shad said. “Every dot represents a trey of stories told while the teller tattoos you with a trey of motifs. A world of pain you never suspected.”

“Sounds interesting,” Tardi said. 

Shad laughed. “What I said, Cuz.”

“But is now the right time?” Tardi said. “I’m expecting lots of interruptions.”

“Interruptions make it bearable in my opinion. Soon as you fell asleep, Trinnet shook me awake. His hand over my mouth. Quick, the Tree-Hair is out of it. He had me face down over a table and his needling kit out quick as, and filling in the shaman’s staff he outlined previous. Or you went down to talk with Cele. I knew the game by then and draped myself over the table. That day Trinnet blacked-in Hole-in-the-Day.” 

Tardi laughed. “I’m onto what you are doing name-dropping these mysterious objects and tickling my curiosity.”

“It’s fresh in me. And we’re going to have to cheat. We have a good place here to do it, but no opportunity for the needler, that’s me, to learn the designs from the one who went before. You maturing for seven months between bouts is also out of the question. Mature enough already, I reckon.”

“We’ll be lucky if we get seven days,” Tardi said. “The weather …” he shrugged. “Sorry. Meant not to worry you.”

“We won’t be here in seven days.”

“You’ve seen that? I mean with your second-sight?”

Shad nodded. “Storm of a man spraying his grief over all and sundry is what’ll dampen us.” 

Tardi studied Shad. A flush high on his cheekbones. Shy suddenly. “Go on.”

Shad shook his head. “No more on that.” 

“You’re blushing. A woman involved, is there?” Tardi said, laughing. 

“I wasn’t going to worry you …,” Shad started.

Tardi laughed more. “If she can cope with a tree-hair, there’ll be no worries by me.” Here’s hoping. “Besides, she might take to you.” Well, he said that to tease.

“She won’t.” Shad stricken-looking suddenly. 

Tardi narrowed his eyes. “You’re worrying about something more. Only woman I know who might turn up is Zebe. Will you be okay with her?”

“Yes. We should get begun,” Shad said.

Preventing more thought on that subject …

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