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It started small, people doing a double-take when Dulilm was introduced, sometimes laughing a little. Dulilm shrugged it off the first few times--tourists were astonishingly frivolous sometimes. But their tokens and credits were good, and people in the tourist business simply did not make fun of them. At least not in public. Dulilm didn't do it at all. She was not good at being one person in public and another in private.Author's Notes
So she shrugged it off, and smiled as she guided them to their seats at her restaurant, The Smiling Sea Serpent. But it rankled. She was the widow of a war sailor, a renowned restaurateur, and a respectable businesswoman. She wasn't used to being laughed at.
But it happened again and again. Ship's captains smiled, red-cheeked, though they, at least, offered respect in their words and actions. They started leaving her name out of introductions, however. Calling her the war widow of Avro instead of using her given name. No one called her that any more--they had been barely out of childhood when they wed, and he had died soon after. She was surprised so many people even remembered his name.
It did make things go smoother with the tourists, at least until they had reason to greet her by name and realized they didn't know it. "Dulilm? Really?" One tall, skinny girl looked down at her with astonishment.
"Yes, really. All my life." Dulilm had glowered at the young tourist, and her parents had apologized for what they called their offspring's social awkwardness. "We're hoping this trip helps her grow into her potential," the mother confided in Dulilm.
The parents were very polite and ordered expensive dishes. They left lovely engraved wood tip cards and took home several boxes of the fancy goblets Dulilm used for her sea-monster themed drinks and desserts. Dulilm couldn't tell if they wanted to make some recompense for the embarrassment their daughter had caused or if they truly wanted enough fancy glass goblets with embedded sea monster parts to serve an entire wedding party.
But not all such encounters ended so well. After the third couple heard her name, looked at the menu, and decided that they didn't want to trust their continuing health to eating sea monster parts picked out by Dulilm, she called Tagliim, her head chef, to come out and take over the hosting duties for a while.
She considered which ships were in the harbor and carefully picked out a bottle. She knew many of the captains well--after a close call with a sea monster, heading in to the Smiling Serpent to eat one of the monster's relatives had soon become a tradition once the word of her new menu got out.
Kassal had been one of the first to introduce her as Avro's widow, roughly two tendays before, and she had just returned to port. Dulilm smiled when she saw the other woman, silhouetted by the sunset, trying to chisel a drill barnacle out of her ship's hull. "Now, that's proper work for a war sailor!" She pitched her voice loud and sympathetic.
Kassal set aside her chisel and hammer. "Dulilm, how are you?"
"Still sailing. Running a restaurant is thirsty work, you know? And that looks like thirsty work too."
The shorter woman sighed. "It sure is. But it's got to be done."
"Don't you have staff for that?"
"The mate's wife is having her baby soon, and the crew needs time off."
Dulilm nodded. "So you don't have anyone to boss around except that thing? Why not take an evening off yourself?"
"Someone has to stay with the ship."
"So, it looks like you've killed it--why don't we celebrate that and let your crew dig the shell out and repair the hull tomorrow?" Dulilm leaned in to peer at the shell. "Or maybe Megruu would dig it out for you, so Neteilyu can make some foolishness out of it for the tourist trade. That's an uncommonly pretty barnacle you've got there."
"How is Megruu doing?" Megruu had been one of her crew, before a trapjaw took both of his feet.
"He's doing well, all things considered. He's taken up wood carving and joined his mother's business of selling fripperies to tourists. How's your son?"
The two women watched the two sentry ships as they chatted about their families and friends, both living and lost, and shared the contents of the bottle, though Dulilm was careful not to drink much. She wanted a clear head. After a long while, Kassal looked up at the first stars. "The dinner rush started some time ago. Shouldn't you be at your restaurant, running things?"
Dulilm gave a particularly dramatic sigh. "I have good people, they can manage a night without me. Maybe better than with me right now."
"Oh? Is something wrong?"
"I really don't know. But tonight alone I lost three customers as soon as they heard my name."
The captain looked down at the ground, and then took another drink. "You couldn't--I don't know--just not say your name?"
Dulilm slammed her glass down on the table, letting some of the expensive liquor slosh out. "I'm a businesswoman, Kassal. Who would trust a businesswoman who tried to hide their name?" She dramatically took a drink, for emphasis. "Besides, what in the wild seas is wrong with my name?"
"There's nothing wrong with your name." Kassal mumbled the words into her drink, not meeting Dulilm's eyes.
"Then what in wild time is going on?"
The war-captain's shoulders slumped, and then she stood resolutely. "I'll be back. The mate has a few of them."
"Them? What them?"
That didn't explain anything. Dulilm sat there, watching as the captain wove her way over the plank onto her boat. Once on board, her swaying became more purposeful. She would be more alert when she returned.
Dulilm capped the bottle. Kassal wouldn't want more, now that she'd stood up and found her balance uncertain. She took her responsibility as a warsailor seriously, and sea monsters sometimes came ashore. Dulilm braced herself to be scolded for bringing something strong enough to get the captain drunk while she was the only one on duty at her ship.
She stared out at the ocean, now dimly lit by the moons. The ocean was beautiful--it was always beautiful, just as it was always dangerous. She watched the waves, automatically staying alert for monsters, though most of her attention was on the beauty of the scene.
She still couldn't imagine what the mainland's cheap periodicals full of amateur fiction and news reports might have to do with her current problems. She considered the bottle--she could have more, if she wanted. But she found she didn't want more drink. She just wanted answers.
So she turned away from the pretty scene when she heard Kassal's feet on the deck. In one hand, the captain held a stack of papers, a little ragged around the edges. In the other she had a tray with steaming food. "I pulled us some food out of slow storage." She smiled. "It's only fish folds. But maybe they'll serve as an apology for these things." She laid the papers on the table.
Deliberately, Dulilm reached for a fish fold first, and took a bite. Good food deserved proper attention. The bread was light and fluffy, delicately brown on the outside. The filling was hot, flaky fish with seaweed and a savory sauce, traditional Duurludirj food. "This is quite good. My compliments to your chef." She felt more settled with a few bites in her stomach. "All right, show me."
Kassal opened the top rag to the center page. There was a big drawing there--no, a series of drawings. It was the story of a short, thin young woman with brown hair and big eyes, told as much in the drawings as in words. The woman was accident prone and most of the supposed humor of her story came from that and a noticeable lack of knowledge. She was rudely dismissive of scientists and bumbled her way through life, triumphing despite her obvious failings.
And her name was Dulilm.
Dulilm read page after page, her dismay growing. No wonder people who knew nothing of her but her name and her superficial resemblance to this--character--didn't trust that she wouldn't poison them with monster parts. "I have to demand they stop publishing these things."
"What, report them to the monitors?"
"They're killing my business."
Kassal nodded. "That's important. And clearly they didn't license the use of your name. But they probably didn't know anyone was using that name way off in Tifayomalo, where the story is from."
"So, maybe a trip to the licensing office first?" Dulilm mused aloud.
"Maybe. I don't know where to start, really."
"Someone will. Can I keep these?"
Kassal sighed. "If they were mine--but they're Mate Larsh's."
"I'll take good care of them. Tell Larsh he can come pick them up tomorrow night, and order anything on the menu for the rental." Kassal's first mate loved the food at The Serpent, but he was usually too broke to do more than order an appetizer. Kassai was still hesitating, so Dulilm dug a card out of her pocket and wrote a receipt. "You know he'll be happy to come by for a full meal."
Kassai took the receipt, and Dulilm headed back to the restaurant, gray rags in hand.
I have been plotting a longer Pebble Beach story, and realized that Dulilm, who was originally envisioned as a minor character, was going to get a spotlight in that story. That realization led to this story.