The slip, the soap, the splash, and Max was in a moat. He’d seen the stone canal walls and draw bridge on his way down. He was rather glad it wasn’t one of those dry moats with just sharp spikes in the bottom. He surfaced into dusk light. He was also glad of the rapid flow of water that was pulling him quickly toward the distant bend. If he was going to be here a week, the last thing he needed was stagnant swampy water to start it in. The smooth vertical walls around him were a two meters from the water, much too far to hook even if he launched himself as high out of the water as he could.
Around the bend, he found all the water bounced off a submerged wall and moved into a wider canal system. He tread water to stay warm, and after a few arched foot bridges, he moved into the shadow of a boat that seemed to have windows with curtains. Getting to some woods might be out of the question, but either there were clothes behind the curtains, or the curtains themselves could be used. He snagged a rope and pulled himself from the water and over the short side railing.
Inside he found a low ceiling and some clothes folded neatly in a built-in drawer. He felt funny with the sailor’s bib that hung square around his neck, so he moved the shirt to make it drape on his back like a peculiarly short cloak. When he pulled his legs into a pair of pants, he was dismayed that the legs stopped just past his knees. Since neither the shirt nor pants were otherwise tight, Max tried to shrug off their clownish feeling. He would have to find other clothes when he could. He poked his head out cautiously.
Lights with burning fluid of some kind were beginning to be lit. He noticed quite a few pedestrians making their way past stores and over one of the bridges he’d seen upstream. He moved in that direction. He was still haunted by all those freckles he’d seen. Perhaps he’d either see her again, or at least someone else with that many freckles.
He got up to where he could just see the profile of the castle. He became excited, it looked like the same one.
A heavy large hand clamped on his shoulder. “Hey, Sailor. Where are you going?”
Max looked at the source. A man just his height, but twice as thick in every direction. Kindly eyes, but with a steel of menace, locked steady with his. Max smiled in marvel at all the wrinkles and minor scars that wound around that face to the dark hair beginning to gray at the temples. Max almost reached up to inspect the wide leather brim of the man’s hat. Animal skin used for such an ornamental purpose had such a ring of perversity, he wasn’t sure if he should be fascinated or horrified. The sharp contrast of red and black on the clothing the man wore and the metal decoration with a royal look to it, set on one side of his chest, made him appear to be a local authority figure.
“I said, where do you think you’re going? Sailors aren’t allowed in the castle commons. That means you stay on the brown tiles, not the tan ones.”
Max looked down at his feet. They had just stepped onto some tan ones that blocked exit of the medium brown stone side path that he’d been on. Max pulled back and bowed slightly in apology. He could feel the man’s gaze all the way back half a block to the last intersection. He moved with purpose onto the new path, away from the canal. He would have to secure different clothing. He was quite sure his usual streaking would be even less welcome than the sailor suit he had on now.
He moved into a curving alley and relaxed once he’d gone around a bend. The alley looked well stocked with odor producing items and rather ready for a refuse wagon to roll through. After pausing at a few heaps to see if there was anything there, he smelled something that wasn’t foul. He moved toward it, and found it was coming from a door left open. Heat and noise were billowing out of a busy kitchen. From the doorway, Max could see a growing pile of dishes by a wooden tub and harried wait staff running by. Occasionally one of them would add to the pile and be off. Max saw a large black pot with a spout and a lever that looked like it could pivot on a mini crane-arm and go out over the tub and spill its contents. Max had read about manual dish washing in a book once. He was excited to try out what he’d only heard about and seen a picture of. He entered and looked in the pot. It was empty. He knew he would need hot water and soap to start the process. The picture he’d seen in the book showed a faucet, but here there wasn’t any normal plumbing coming from the wall. He spotted a device with a lever that the pot could pivot over and receive from. He pushed on the mini crane and it squealed.
Max jumped back to the doorway, ready to run.
Nobody noticed. He moved cautiously to back to the crane, pushed it into place, operated the device’s lever, and found water gushing out of it. He tested the temperature, stone cold like his bare feet. When it was full, he pulled it back into place over the hearth. He looked at the glowing coals there, but the warmth he could feel would certainly not do the trick. He didn’t see anything readily available to add to it, just a bucket of black rocks.
A flicker of movement out of his eye caused him to freeze. Another dish was added to the pile. The waiter moved on without blinking.
Max moved into the pantry. What could he find that would make that water hot in a hurry?
When another waiter brought a platter of plates in a while later, he paused. A guy in a sailor’s suit was stirring some smoking stuff into a sauce pan, but there was no fire under the pan. Then, the guy added something from an uncorked bottle the waiter had seen in the pantry once upon a time, and things really started fizzing. The sailor put the smoking pan’s lid on upside-down, stuck a brick on it, and placed it into a kettle with a ladle through the handle, and then the both of them were lowered into the hopper for making hot water, a curious arrangement of long spoons and ladles reaching like spokes held the kettle in place. The sailor stood back from the roiling smoke, hands on hips.
The waiter shook his head and turned to leave. An explosion flattened him to the floor like a demon with hot fire that burned through his shirt and knocked him deaf.