Togura lay dreaming wild, chaotic dreams. Waves went stumbling-tumbling through his memories, stirring up unfragmented images which bit, raged, swore, hummed, pulsed, sweated, stank, sang, sundered and bifurcated.
Ants clambered out of his navel.
He was giving birth.
While the ants swam through his fluids, feeding on his milk, Slerma ate Zona. The moon burnt blue. Guta pulled a hatched from his head then wrestled with a sea serpent, his sex striving.
"Shunk your cho," said Day Suet, running her eager little golls over Togura's body as he savoured the curves of her bum.
Her woollen chemise tore open and a wave rolled out of it, swamping him down to green anemone depths where turtles spun out lofty poetry in the accents of sea dragons. He swam downwards, breaking his way through mounds of salt beef, fighting through to the sun.
"Zaan," said the sun.
Its light washed over him, scoured away his skin, hollowed his bones, dragged his brain out through his nostrils then washed his guts in rosepetal water. He fell through a hollow tower, pursued by the music of a kloo, a kyrmbol and a skavamareen.
"Unlike yours," said someone, "my floors are not knee-deep in pigshit."
"Who said that?" said Togura.
And was so curious to discover the truth that he chased his question over the edge of Dead Man's Drop and fell screaming to the pinnacles below. They shattered his body, killing him.
The shock woke him.
Waking from his dreams, Togura blinked at the sun. He was lying on the deck of the ship; it was so crowded with refugee pirates that there was no hope whatosever of finding accomodation below.
"Zaan," said Togura, looking at the sun, then looked away, blinking at purple after-images.
Togura remembered that the Wordsmiths had given him the rank of wordmaster. He thought his chances of getting back to Sung were now remarkably good, yet it seemed that, having failed to find the index, he would be returning empty-handed. Perhaps he could at least bring back another language.
Yes. He could see what he should do. Invent a language, claim that it was spoken on one of the smaller islands of the Greater Teeth, and gain kudos for making a valuable contribution to the Wordsmiths' quest to discover or invent the Universal Language. He would call his invented language Pirate Pure. Togura thought he could assemble Pirate Pure easily enough, using Orfus pirate argot, bits and pieces of Savage as spoken on the Lezconcarnau Plains, and his own made-up words.
"Zaan," in Pirate Pure, could be a name for the sun.
The scheme was dishonest, but it was, really, no more daft than any of the other mad projects the Wordsmiths were engaged upon. As far as Togura could remember, one wordmaster, noting that all men swear, had been attempting to create a Universal Language made entirely from insults and obscenities, from the "rat-rapist" of Estar to the "lawyer's clerk" of Ashmolean bandits. Another had claimed that the Universal Language was the language of love, and, on the strength of that theory, had left to do practical research in foreign brothels.
Togura had also heard of a scholar who, thinking the Universal Language might in fact be the Eparget of the northern horse tribes of Tameran, had gone to the Collosnon Empire to research it. Perhaps his grasp of foreign etiquette had been faulty, for he had returned as a jar of pickled pieces. (More accurately, part of him had returned - even bulked out with some spare dogmeat, he had made a pretty slim coffin-corpse.)
In Togura's considered opinion, the Wordsmiths were a bunchy of ignorant nerks. But they did have the odex. Which gave them a source of income. And, if he could cut himself a slice of the income ... well, that would at least solve the purely practical problem of scraping a living for himself.
"Hi, Forester," said Drake, bragging along the deck with a little swagger; his face had taken a knuckling, so he had obviously been in a fight, but, from the look of him, it would appear he had won.
"What've you been fighting over?"
"A woman," said Drake. "A most beautiful bitch with red hair thick in her armpits. Her name's Ju-jai."
"Where is she?" said Togura, looking around.
"Not so eager," said Drake, laughing. "She's on the Greater Teeth. A scrumpy little bit, though. Hot meat, well worth kettling. How's yourself today? Feeling better?"
"Much," said Togura.
Drake sat himself down, and they began to talk. Drake boasted of the way he had first deflowered the virginal Ju-jai, some three years ago; Togura, for his part, narrated the intimate details of his sexual exploits with admiring women like Day Suet and the slim and elegant Zona.
"Have you children, then?" said Drake.
"Oh, a few bastards here and there," said Togura. "That's why I had to leave Sung. Jealous husbands, raging fathers, murderous boyfriends ..."
"Aye," said Drake. "I know the score."
At that moment, they were interrupted by a wounded man who had been slowly making the rounds of the deck, talking to each and every pirate. The man had his arm in a sling, a little dead blood staining the sling-cloth. He had black hair and a square-cut black beard; his clothes, now battle-stained, had once been elegant. His demeanour was proud, haughty, arrogant - yet his voice was friendly enough.
"How are you, boys?"
"Hearty, sir," said Drake.
"Except," said Togura, "we've been a precious long time away from women."
The stranger laughed.
"Youth," he said, "is a wonderful thing. Now listen, boys - there'll be a ration of hardtack and water at sunset. Not much - but we'll be on short commons till we reach Runcorn."
"Runcorn?" said Togura. "Where's that?"
"It's a city on the coast to the north," said the stranger. "Where do you come from, boy?"
"Sung," said Togura.
"Ah. One of our bowmen. I thought we lost you all in the fighting."
"I'm hard to kill," said Togura manfully.
"Good," said the stranger, with a touch of amusement in his voice. "That's what I like to see."
"Excuse me," said Togura, "but when do we reach Runcorn?"
"That," said the stranger, again amused, "depends on the wind. But it'll be some time within our lifetimes, that I guarantee. Any other quetions?"
"No, sir," said Drake, speaking for both of them before Togura could ask any of the hundreds of supplementary questions boiling in his head.
The stranger nodded and moved on down the deck to a little group of gambling pirates, who laid down their cards to attend to him.
"He's a happy fellow," said Togura.
"Man, that's his style," said Drake. "Since we lost, he's probably bleeding to death inside. But he wouldn't let us see that, no way."
"Who is he then?"
"Elkor Alish, of course."
"Who?" said Togura.
"Have you just fallen out of an egg or something?" said Drake. "Who do you think he is?"
"Well, a sea captain, I suppose," said Togura.
"What?" said Drake. "Like Jon Arabin?"
"Who's Jon Arabin?"
"Man, your head's got as many holes as a pirate's wet-dream! You'll be forgetting your own name next!"
Togura, who sometimes found it hard to keep track of his aliases, could hardly disagree. He shrugged off the criticism and tried again for an answer:
"Well then, who is this Elkor Alish?"
"You really don't know? Okay then, Elkor Alish used to be the ruler of Chi'ash-lan. He made himself famous by working a law so every woman had to serve out a year in the public brothels from when she was blooded."
"Blooded?" said Togura.
"You know," said Drake. "From when her months began."
"Oh," said Togura.
He was puzzled, as he hadn't a clue what Drake was talking about. Blooded? Months? It meant nothing to him. But he didn't want to appear more ignorant than he had already, so didn't question further.
"Anyway," said Drake. "For a while he got really rich."
At this point, Drake's story - which was, incidentally, pure invention - was interrupted as Draven came strolling along. He was rattling some dice in his fist.
"I can hear your dice talking," said Drake. "And I can already hear them telling lies. Don't roll with him, friend Forester, for he'll have you rolling for your spleen unless you're careful."
"Sure," said Togura. "I know how far I can trust him. He threw me overboard once."
"I did no such thing!" protested Draven. "That's slander! We settled it out already, remember? You misremembered."
"Our friend Forester is a bit shaky in the head," said Drake. "He'll butterfinger his own name unless he's careful."
"Yes, but," said Togura, "I was thrown overboard. To the sea serpents! You remember, Drake. You were there. Draven chucked me over, isn't that so?"
"Why, no," said Drake, blandly. "You were such a brave little sword-cock you insisted on challenging the sea serpents, hand to hand. You were that keen on jumping we couldn't restrain you."
"That's a lie!" said Togura.
"Such heat and fury," said Draven, laughing. "Stoke you up on a cold day, and we'd be warm in no time."
"You don't know what you put me through," said Togura bitterly. "You don't know what I suffered."
"We all suffer," said Draven. "Why, I've done my share of suffering myself. Like when the torture-rats bit off my nose in Gendormargensis."
"Your lower nose, I suppose," said Drake. "For your snout's still as big and ugly as ever."
"No, no," said Draven. "It's not my snorter I'm talking about, it's my sniffer. Let me tell you ..."
And he was off again, launched on one of his tales of the terrors of Tameran and the evils of the dralkosh Yen Olass Ampadara, she of the blood-red teeth, the man-demolishing stare, the stone-shattering laughter.
At sunset, hardtack and water were handed out, with the ration-handlers putting a daub of red pain on the left hand of every man (or the left cheek of amputees) so none could claim rations twice. The next day, it was some indigo paint on the right hand, and the day after that it was some black on the forehead.
Elkor Alish proclaimed stern laws against gambling for food and water, and enforced them by making everyone eat and drink under the eyes of hand-picked manhandlers. The first two people caught infringing the regulations were thrown overboard and left to drown, after which there was no further disobedience.
By a combination of fair dealing, ruthless discipline and punctilious organisation, Elkor Alish eventually brought his ships safely to Runcorn with its multitudinous refugees in reasonably good shape.
Togura, who had waited eagerly for his first sight of this new city, found, to his disappointment, that he had been here before. Runcorn was the place where he and the Lezconcarnau villagers had first taken ship for Androlmarphos. A deserted, depopulated place with no women to speak of - and certainly no whores, as far as he could see.