|Justine Tukenmaken||Amahte's lover, daughter of Mayor of Mizzen||F 17|
|Ohakmaputash Tukenmaken||Mayor of Mizzen||M 52|
|Nima Edi||Warlord of Magabe||M 37|
|Minati Hapuseneb||Merchant of Magabe||M 45|
|Rakkat||Calipanti Diamond Merchant of Magabe||M 52|
|Katina||Merchant of Magabe||F 37|
|Crondite Opplebalm||Shipwrecked Treasure-Hunter||M 32|
|Cleopatra Amashintra||Assassin of Mizzen Town, alias Grellian Ptumash||F 29|
8th April 2478
In the late afternoon, Loose Lips approaches Magabe. The harbor is formed by a natural bay, and enhanced with a 200-m long breakwater. The breakwater is made of close-fitting, deeply-weathered sandstone blocks. In places, it has been repaired, but the repairs themselves are in worse state than the original blocks. Cement and rock fragments crumble out of gaping cavities in the walls. In one place, the breakwater has collapsed to the level of the sea, and waves lap through into the harbor.
The harbor is five hundred meters long from north to south and two hundred meters wide. A hill on the south-west side rises up from the water with thirty-meter sandstone cliffs. Atop the hill is a circular fort twenty meters high and forty meters in diameter, made of large, sandstone blocks. In places the tower walls have been repaired, once again with a mixture of cement and stones. Sentries are watching from its battlements.
Sallina and Hocus stand at the prow of the boat examining the fort through their telescopes.
"The sentries have black skin," Hocus says, "They look like they are sapiens, but they are tall."
"Yes, they are," Sallina says, "The men who live in the hills on the other side of the desert are all black-skinned. They are tall and handsome and strong."
Hocus lowers his telescope. He looks at Sallina and smiles for a moment. He raises his telescope again. Around the fort, at a distance of two or three hundred meters, is a wall of mud bricks, cement, and rocks. This wall is three meters high where it runs along the top of the cliffs.
He turns his telescope upon the settlement beside the harbor. The sandy, barren hills he saw from his thruster earlier in the afternoon are one or two kilometers inland. Across a square kilometer between the shore and the hills are a hundred or more single-story houses with domed roofs, all made of mud bricks. In among these are a few larger two-story houses set in walled gardens. These larger houses have flat roofs with canopies on top. There are chairs and tables beneath the canopies, and plants. The smaller houses have gardens within low walls of mud bricks on their north sides, which is the right side from Hocus's perspective.
At the shore, there are three wood docks for rowboats, but no piers sufficient to receive even Loose Lips. There is a concentration of buildings in one place fifty meters back from the top of the sandy beach. Several two-story buildings with chairs outside, stalls, and a street running between them suggest the center of the settlement.
In the harbor are two ships besides Loose Lips. One is a three-master, anchored forty hards from shore. It is unloading timber onto a barge. The other is a two-master that is at rest in the water thirty meters from shore.
"Drop anchor!" Heraklese calls.
The two anchors splash into the water, one fore and one aft. Hocus looks at the beach thirty meters away. A dozen people are standing there, but three of them seem to be the most important, because they are the ones wearing the nicest clothes. On the left is a tall, thin, woman in a bright orange dress embroidered with green thread. A boy stands beside her and holds a parasol over her head, even though the shadow of the parasol lands upon the beach in front of her. The woman's skin is jet black. The sun is behind her, over the hills. Another boy stands beside her with a pouch held to his chest. Farther along the beach from her is a fat man with a smile on his face and his hands clasped in front of him. A few people stand behind him, but they do not talk to him. Instead they talk among themselves. He is wearing a full-length robe of red and green. On his head is a red hat. On the right is a third person of importance, tall and strangely-shaped in a plain white robe. His face is like that of a dog. He is a calipanti: half animal, half human.
"Oh dear," Sallina says. "Heraklese is not going to like this place."
8th April 2478
"My full name is Menati Hapuseneb," the fat man says. "I am from Sax."
Hocus, Sallina, Heraklese, and Martha are sitting under a cloth awning outside Cammy's Place, a large two-story building facing Magabe's main street. Inside the building are a dozen tables. There are some sailors in there drinking beer. Martha guesses the sailors are from the two other ships in the harbor. She watches people walking by on the street. Many of them stop and stare at the visitors. The people seem to be made up in equal parts of olive-skinned sapiens, black-skinned sapiens, and multicolored calipanti.
"And the other guy, the calipanti," Heraklese says. He is speaking Weilandic, which he can do well enough. (You may recall he was taught to speak Weilandic a year ago by his friend the barmaid in the Delia Arms.) On the table in front of him is a notebook. He holds a pencil in his hand. "What's his full name."
"He is just Rakkat."
Heraklese nods. "And he sells diamonds only?"
Menati shrugs. "I am sure he sells other things, but he is the favorite trader for the calipanti miners. They like to sell to him more than me." He smiles. "They are racist. Do you know what that means?"
Heraklese nods. "I do."
Sallina smiles and covers her mouth with her hand. Hocus snorts. Heraklese looks up from his notebook. He frowns at Hocus and at Sallina and shakes his head. "Forgive my colleagues, they are without a scrap of compassion."
"But I think they love you," Menati says, "Where do you come from? Where is your home port?"
"Dakka, Belgorash," Heraklese says.
Menati leans forward. "From Belgorash?" He rubs his hands together. "What did you bring from there for us. Fruit? Belgorash is famous for its fruit. Peaches? They are my favorite."
Heraklese looks at Hocus and Martha. Sallina raises one eyebrow. Heraklese spins his pencil about his hand. "No peaches. Just water. We're here to buy diamonds. We don't know anything about peaches."
"You come from Dakka and you don't know anything about peaches," Menati says. He shakes his head. "It is a pity. You have the best fruit in the world growing near you, and you know nothing about it." He laughs. "That would be like me saying that I knew nothing about diamonds, here next to the diamond mines." He points to the hills to the west.
Heraklese frowns. "I don't come from Dakka. I come from Issikoss. We grow olives there. I don't even like peaches. They're too sweet for me."
Menati nods. He picks up his small coffee cup and sips from it. When he puts it down, he looks at the brown residue in the cup. He is smiling.
Heraklese holds his pencil above his notebook. "And the tall woman, Katina, what is her full name?"
Menati looks up from his cup. "Her second name is Muna. I don't know if that's her tribal name." He clasps his hands and leans upon the table. "You should go see them, of course, but I can help you with anything you need to buy. There are plenty of sapien miners, and I get my diamonds from them. You have water, yes? You brought water, I heard you say?"
"Yes," Heraklese says.
"I will buy your water."
Heraklese looks at Hocus. Hocus nods. Minati watches this exchange and smiles.
"We'll see," Heraklese says. "We only have twenty-five tons. What's the price of water here?"
"I'll pay you two guineas a ton."
A guinea is a ten-gram gold piece, worth a hundred Olympian dollars on Clarus.
"We'd like to meet Nima Edi, the Chief," Martha says.
"Oh," Menati says. He sits back in his chair and touches the side of his nose. "Most women like to meet him."
"I would like to meet him."
"Alone or with your friends?"
Martha smiles. "With my friends, please."
Menati leans forwards, "You watch out for your heart, pretty lady. Nima is a heart-breaker."
Hocus clears his throat. "Can you arrange the meeting?"
Menati nods. "Yes, I think I can. Nima and I have an... understanding." He smiles. "But not a public one. Do you understand?"
"I think so," Hocus says.
"I will speak to Nima. If he agrees, he will send for you."
"Thank you," Hocus says.
"If I do this for you," Menati says, "What can I expect from you in return?"
"What do you suggest?"
Menati opens his arms and smiles. "Why it's obvious. I would like to be your representative here. I would like to handle your trade."
Hocus looks at Heraklese and Sallina. They say nothing. "Well," he says. How about we come to you first. If you can't get us what we need, we'll try one of the others."
"I am satisfied with that. That's very fair and generous." Menati stands up. "So, I will go about my work." He winks at Martha. "Wish me luck."
Menati turns and makes his way between the tables to the street. His large bottom knocks a chair over at the last. He turns and rights it himself.
The next morning, Jessica cooks eggs for breakfast and the crew sits around the table in the dormitory eating their eggs and drinking coffee. The night was cold, but the day will soon be hot. In the meantime, it is comfortable in the shade of the dorm room with a cool breeze drifting through the port windows.
Heraklese spreads some jam on the last fragment of one of Jessica's breakfast rolls. "It's one year today since I was rescued me from the Calipanti."
Bonita leans over and kisses his cheek. "Congratulations."
Sallina's voice comes from the deck above. "Row-boat approaching."
The crew put their napkins down and go up top to see who's coming. It's a rowboat containing four men in ring armor with bucklers on their backs, bows, and swords. They wear metal helmets. They are facing Loose Lips. They are being rowed by two strange-looking people who Jessica assumes are calipanti. One of the armored men has the tail of some kind of animal, maybe a deer, sticking out of his helmet.
When the boat pulls up, the man with the tail on his helmet climbs up the side. He has trouble grabbing the shrouds while standing on the rowboat, and when he leans on the ship, he is surprised that the rowboat moves away behind him. He puts one foot in the water before he gets the other foot one one of the ropes. He climbs up, leaning out from the boat and pulling on the shrouds, so that he sways back and forth. When he gets to the top, Garibaldi helps him over the rail.
The man is tall and muscular. His skin is black and his trimmed beard is tightly-curled. His big eyes look from one crew member to another.
"I bring a message from Nima Edi," he says in Satian.
Jessica and Stanley are the only members of the crew who speak Satian. Jessica steps forward and smiles at their visitor. "I will translate for the captain. He does not speak Satian."
The visitor moves his hand and grunts, which Heraklese understands to mean that Jessica should continue. The man stares at Jessica's neck and face.
Heraklese listens to Jessica. He exchanges a few words with his companions. "Thank him for bringing the message and ask him what it is."
"The Prince invites the captain of this ship and two companions to come to his Hall for supper tonight at sun-down."
After a short discussion, Heraklese says, "We are honored by Nima Edi's invitation. I will come with two others at sun-down. Where shall we go?"
The man points to the fort on the hill. "Go to the gates on the north side."
After the armed men have returned to shore and the calipanti have dragged the boat up, Menati walks down the beach and persuades the calipanti to put the boat in the water again. They row Menati towards Loose Lips.
The crew watch him approach. Heraklese crosses his arms. "He's here to claim his reward."
Jessica looks up at her captain. "He did what we asked him to do, didn't he?"
When Jessica says "we", Heraklese understands her to mean "Global Mediations Incorporated", by whom she is employed. The GMI board of directors are keeping no secrets from the rest of the crew. They hold their discussions openly in the captain's cabin. Off-duty crew members are always welcome to participate, and Jessica rarely misses a discussion, even late at night.
Heraklese nods. "It sure looks that way. I wonder what he told Nima Edi about us."
They spend the day selling their water to Menati. He gives them $250 a ton for it because he says it's better quality than usual. "Good for drinking." But he won't buy their barrels from them. He will trade them empty barrels for their new ones. Garibaldi and Heraklese go to Menati's warehouse. It is one of the large buildings in the center of town. There are hundreds of barrels of water in the cool interior of the building, and hundreds of empty barrels also. "I don't buy barrels. What can I do with them?" Menati says, "I know yours are nice new ones, but they are worth nothing to me. I can't put anything in the barrels. What do you want me to put in them? Sand? So bring your barrels and take some barrels. You can pick which ones you want. A barrel is a barrel. They last for ten years. All my barrels are okay. But I won't buy yours."
Hocus and Martha watch the sailors raise the barrels one by one from the hold and roll them into the water, where they bob up and down, tied together into a line by ropes, and pulled to shore by some of Menati's men on the beach. The sailors have done this before. Hocus and Martha do nothing to interfere.
Menati pays for the water in rough diamonds. Sallina and Menati sit in the captain's cabin with Hocus and Heraklese for half an hour looking at a selection of diamonds Menati has in his pocket. They look at the rainbow sparkling of the diamonds under a black cloth. (Diamonds sparkle in the planet's maeon wind, as we describe elsewhere, and it is this sparkling that is amplified in luminous stones to make bright light.) The black cloth belongs to Sallina. Once, while she is looking at a diamond in the darkness under the cloth. Menati wishes to do the same. He reaches up to the black cloth hanging over a luminous stone from the ceiling. Perhaps he thinks it is another cloth for examining diamonds. Perhaps he knows its true purpose. Either way, Heraklese reaches out and stops him pulling the cloth off.
"Don't remove that one, please," Heraklese says.
Menati looks at Heraklese and the cloth. He smiles. "My apologies."
Menati has no tools with him, but he knows how to use Sallina's loupe, tweezers, scrapers, and weighing scales. He offers her four rough diamonds as payment for the water. Sallina leans towards Heraklese and whispers in his ear. "I think these are worth around ninety guineas."
Heraklese scribbles in his notebook. The agreed price of the water is sixty-two and a half guineas. If Sallina is right, they will be able to sell these diamonds for ninety guineas.
"Okay," he says. "It's a deal." He reaches out his hand. Menati shakes it.
Martha, Hocus, and Heraklese arrive at the wooden gate in the mud wall at sun-down. They are unarmed. They wear no armor either. Ten guards, mostly black-skinned, but some olive-skinned, all wearing ring armor and carrying swords and spears, escort them between two-story buildings towards the fort. The guards walk out of step with one another, with a gentle swinging stride, keeping to no formation among themselves. When they reach the large, heavy, oak doors of the fort, Martha reaches out and runs her fingers their outer surfaces. The wood is smooth and pitted. It is reinforced with plates and bolts of black cast iron. The iron, also, is pitted and smooth, and still warm from the heat of the sun.
The guards lead them through a large entrance room and into a hall with a high, flat ceiling and a long, wide table at the center. Around the walls are the heads of gazelles, cheetah, and many other animals, all of which Martha assumes to be inhabitants of the desert. Some of them have lost much of their hair, and many of them have cracked skins. But the eyes are glass and the frames by which they hang are made of carved wood. Between the animal heads are brightly-colored tapestries with geometric designs, weapons hanging from hooks: spears, shields covered with animal fur, and wood carvings of men and women. There is a shelf along one wall, covered by a long, black velvet cloth. Martha cannot see what is on the shelf.
The ten guards move to the walls of the hall. A young man with black skin stands beside the table. He wears a clean, white robe. A tall man in a blue robe embroidered with green, blue, and gold thread enters through a door at the back of the hall. His head is bare, showing close-cut curly black hair. His skin is black also. He smiles and walks towards them. On his hip is a scimitar in a jeweled sheath. When he is a few steps away he greets them in Satian. His voice is deep.
The young man says in Weilandic, "The Prince welcomes you to his home and to Magabe."
Heraklese answers. "Please thank the Prince. We are glad to be here."
"Please introduce yourself to the Prince," the young man says.
"I am Heraklese Polychronakos, captain of Loose Lips. This is Hocus Pokus, sailor on the ship. And this is Martha Howard, a writer."
The young man translates Nima's answer. "You are a writer? What do you write about?"
"I write about people." Martha says, "I am sure your story is an interesting one, so I wanted to meet you and learn about you, so I could write about you in the magazine I work for."
Nima laughs and says something to the young man. The young man turns to the three visitors and bows slightly. "I am Mahat Alkaloon, the Prince's secretary and accountant."
Nima invites them to sit down, which they do. He sits at the end of the table. Mahat walks around the table and sits opposite them. Whenever Nima speaks, Mahat translates.
"How was your journey here?" Nima says. He sits a little sideways on his chair, which one hand upon his knee, his back straight, and his head turned towards his visitors. The elbow of his other arm rests upon the table, with the hand raised.
"The sailing was good," Heraklese says, "But we were attacked by pirates."
"Did you fight them?"
"Yes we did."
"And you won?"
Heraklese nods. "We did win."
"Do you fight beside your crew?" Nima says. He leans forward.
"What is your favorite weapon?"
"I like the straight, double-edges sword, with a tip that will pierce armor if necessary."
Nima smiles. "Ah, yes, the strong sword. Good. That is very good." He nods. He points with his raised hand at Hocus. "And you, do you fight? What weapon do you like?"
"I like the straight sword also."
"Ah, you too. I see. And you madame. Do you fight also? What do you do when the men are fighting?"
"I fight also."
Nima puts his hand upon the table. "Ah, you are fighting also? And what is the weapon you like to fight with?"
"I'm afraid I have the same preference as my companions. I have a very fine sword."
Nima looks at Heraklese. "It is true? She fights with the sword?"
Heraklese nods. "She fights very well. Far better than Hocus or me."
Nima smiles and stares at Martha while nodding his head slowly. Martha says, "Do you have any women in your guard?"
Nima leans back and shakes his head. "No. No women." He slaps the table with his hand. "But it would be good to have women soldiers. Very good. Where can I find them? Where do you come from?"
"I come from far away, thousands of kilometers to the west. But you won't find many women soldiers there either."
"It is a pity," Nima says.
"What type of sword do you prefer?" Martha says.
Nima leans over the table, staring at Martha. "I use the biggest and longest sword I can carry." He sits back and smiles. Martha smiles too.
Nima claps his hands. Servants, all sapien, olive-skinned and black, and both men and women, enter carrying platters with roast meat, bread, spiced lentils, pickled vegetables, and yoghurt. There is also wine in glass cups.
Nima concentrates upon his food. He eats with his right hand, leaving his left hand on the table. When he drinks, he picks up his glass with his left hand. Hocus, Martha, and Heraklese eat with their hands too. The food is good, and they are happy to concentrate upon eating it. Nima is taking food from the same platters as them, and everyone at the table passes platters around when asked, even the Prince himself.
When his guests have finished eating, Nima claps his hands. Servants clear away the platters and bring out chilled cordial in glasses. Crushed ice floats in the water. Nima smiles at them as they pick up the cold glasses and drink. The servants put bowls of sorbet in front of each diner, and spoons to eat it with. The sorbet is of two flavors: vanilla and lemon.
"What a treat," Martha says, "Thank you very much, Prince Nima."
As they are eating their sorbet and drinking their cordial, six scantily-clad women, four black-skinned, one olive-skinned, and one half leopard calipanti, enter the room. Three men with drums, a flute, and a string instrument follow them and set up in a corner. They start to play a rhythmic, repeating melody. The women dance.
"What brings you to Magabe?" Mahat asks. Behind him, two women gyrate their bellies. They have jewels in their navels.
"We are here to buy diamonds," Heraklese says.
"Good. What value of diamonds do you intend to buy? Do you mind me asking?"
Heraklese looks at Hocus for a moment. "Five thousand guineas worth. Does the Prince sell diamonds directly? Are you involved in the trade?"
"Oh no," Mahat says. "We don't sell the diamonds. That's been tried before. It does not work well. The Prince owns the mines, but he sells permits to the miners each day. Whatever diamonds they find, they keep and sell."
Nima speaks to Mahat. Mahat smiles and answers. Nima laughs.
"The Prince is telling me to stop talking," Mahat says, "He says I should let you enjoy your drinks and the dancing."
"Yes," Nima says (with Mahat translating), "He can talk forever about his clever plans. And they are clever. But for now enjoy." He points to their drinks and the dancers.
The dancers continue their performance, moving slowly around the table a few times. At the end, they dance around Nima, waving their bellies in front of him. He smiles and watches them, but makes no move to touch them. They dance out of the room. The musicians stop playing and follow them out. The servants enter and clear away the dessert dishes and refill the cordial glasses.
"If you don't mind answering a few questions," Martha says, "Perhaps you could tell me about the previous ruler of Magabe."
"Ah," Nima says, "Rasheen the Warlord. I attacked him in the middle of the night and my men drove his into the sea. I killed Rasheen myself." He raises the hand upon his knee and points at the covered shelf on the wall. He opens his mouth to speak, but changes his mind. He lowers his hand and smiles. "He is gone now."
"When was that?" Martha says. She is writing in a small notebook.
Nima stares at the notebook. She lifts it up and shows it to him. Nima nods. "It was four years ago, maybe five years." He raises his hand and sweeps the air in front of him. "All this land is now mine by right of battle." He leans forwards. "And now it is a nation!"
Nima sits back and puts his hand upon his knee again. He points at the table with his other hand. "This land is a land of free men. Do you know what I mean by that? There are no slaves. Every man here is a free man. Every woman is a free woman. The miners sell their diamonds. They pay me," he points to himself, "to use my mines. We have free trade. I am building a nation. I am not a warlord. I am a head of state." He sits straighter and sticks out his chest. "I am respectable. You can judge for yourselves. Go among my people. You will see. We may find more diamonds. People will come here. They are welcome. People can leave."
"Can people leave?" Martha says.
Nima laughs. "Of course! They are free. They can leave. Why would they leave? This is a good place." He opens his eyes wide and raises one hand. "You can get diamonds out of the ground!"
Martha nods and writes in her notebook.
Nima looks up at the windows of the hall. "One day, I will go to other nations and I will visit them. I will be a visiting head of state, and their leaders will show me the great things in their nations, and I will be glad to see those things. One day they will see that I am a head of state like them." He looks at Martha. He points at her. "You will help me with your writing."
Martha looks up from her notebook. "I'll write about what I see. I hope that will help you."
Nima nods. He watches them. Martha is writing in her notebook. Hocus and Heraklese sip their drinks. When Martha finishes, Nima says, "I have a question for you. All of you."
"Yes?" Heraklese says.
"Let me tell you something that happened to me." He sits back. One hand is still upon his knee. The other rests upon the table. His cordial is sitting un-touched in front of him. "Two days ago, I was standing upon the top of the fort. The sun was setting. I looked up at the sky. There were two straight clouds. Have you seen them? They are like lines drawn with a straight edge. They move across the sky. Have you seen them?"
"Yes," Hocus says.
"I did once," Heraklese says, "When I was a boy."
"I see them here in the desert," Nima says, "Over my nation, more than I have ever seen them before. This time, there were two moving from the north to the south. When they were above me, very high up, they made a circle together and pointed to the setting sun."
Nima leans forward. "I think to myself: what does this mean? Is it a sign from the Gods above? I think it might be." He raises one finger. "But, I am reading a book. It is called The Wonders of the World, and in this book it says that clouds like this, which are straight like an arrow and move against the wind, they are made by dragons flying high in the sky."
He stares at them. Mahat finishes translating and takes a sip of his cordial. Nima continues.
"What do you think, my friends. Are the clouds made by dragons?"
Martha nods. "I think they are."
"Most likely," Hocus says.
Nima rubs his chin. "It could still be a sign from the heavens. A sign that I must change direction. I was going one way, and now I must go another. What do you say?"
"Perhaps," Martha says. "I don't know."
Nima picks up his cordial. He holds the glass to his lips and begins to drink. He drinks until the entire glass is drained of fluid, leaving only crushed ice behind. He puts the glass down.
"Are you married?" Martha says.
Nima smiles. "I have three wives and seven children. My oldest son is eight years old. He is tall and strong. He will be like his father one day."
Martha writes in her notebook. "The publication I work for is the Adventuring Wizard. My readers are particularly interested in adventuring wizards." She waits for Mahat to translate. Nima asks a question and Mahat answers.
"The Prince is interested in wizards also," Mahat says.
Martha squeezes her pencil. She takes a breath. "The newspapers in Plantinak are full of a story about a wizard called Ahmate." She looks at Nima. "He was the captain of a pirate ship. He abandoned his ship with his crew after a battle with a Plantinak frigate. He was last seen rowing to shore a few hundred kilometers north of here. I was wondering if you had heard any news of him. I was wondering if he had come south through here with his men."
"Well, well," Nima says, "Ahmate. The great wizard Ahmate. Yes, I have seen him." Nima puts his hand upon his chest. "Ahmate is my friend. He came here to see me, and he was my guest."
"When did he leave?" Martha says.
Nima raises a finger and moves it from side to side. "No, I will not tell you. I will not tell you where or when." He lowers his hand and sits back. "He is my friend. I keep his secrets." Nima smiles.
"I understand," Martha says. "But I can say that he is still alive, is that true?"
"Oh, yes. He was still alive when he left Magabe, and I expect he is still alive now." Nima raises both hands, palm-up. "Who can kill such a one as he? You should go look for him." He leans upon the table and winks at Martha. "He will like you. And when you find him, tell him something from me."
Martha stares at Nima's wide, sharp face. "What shall I tell him?"
"You tell him I am sorry."
"Yes. You tell him that. Nima Edi is sorry."
"Okay," Martha says, "I'll tell him."
Heraklese holds his cordial glass in one hand. He looks from Nima to Martha. Neither of them say anything more on the subject of Ahmate. Hocus looks up at the shelf covered with a cloth. Nima looks up there too. He smiles at Hocus. Heraklese hears the sound of children whispering from behind one of the doors at the back of the hall. Nima does not appear to be distressed that Martha asked about Ahmate. Is she going to ask about Justine?
The crushed ice in Heraklese's glass is melting. He raises the glass to drink the ice-water, but stops himself. Why did he drink the cordial in the first place? He must have been nervous. He puts the glass down. When he was with the Calipanti, he suffered badly from stomach ailments until he insisted upon drinking only cold tea.
"You wanted to hear more about the mining operations and our permits," Mahat says.
Heraklese nods. "Yes, I do indeed. And to learn about the local diamonds, if you don't mind."
Mahat smiles. "I would like that."
"Of course, we would be happy to pay you for your time and knowledge."
Mahat speaks with Nima. Nima laughs and waves his hand. Mahat turns back to Heraklese. "The Prince says I should accept payment from you for my time, but I told him I could not accept your money because I work for the Prince, and accepting pay from another person would be unethical. He says I take my scruples too far. I will argue with him about it later. The people here, although brave and well-intentioned, are not well-educated in the sacrifices one has to make to run a robust economy."
"As you wish," Heraklese says, "But I do agree with you."
Mahat pushes his chair back and stands up. "I'll meet you at Cammy's place tomorrow morning at three bells if that suits you."
Heraklese stands up. "That suits me well. I may bring my colleague Sallina, who's our diamond buyer. You'll like her."
Mahat smiles. "Good."
"And we'll buy the coffee," Heraklese says.
Mahat raises his hand. "No, I cannot accept any gifts. I will pay for my coffee."
Nima stands up and walks towards them. Hocus and Martha rise to meet him. For a moment, Heraklese thinks that Nima will shake their hands or hug them, because he opens his arms and smiles at them. But the Prince stops five paces from the three companions and folds his arms.
"My friends," he says, "It has been a pleasure to dine with you. I hope you enjoy your stay here. If you have problems with the law or with broken contracts, come here to me. In our small town, I am the judge and the court." He raises one finger. "One day we will have judges and all the business of a proper nation, but for now we are small. So come to me if you are in difficulty doing your trade. I want you to come back again and buy more diamonds."
"Thank you," Heraklese says, "You are most generous. I'm sure we will have no trouble. We have been delighted so far with the traders we have met."
"Well, I bid you goodnight," Nima says, "I must go to my children. They are waiting for me to tell them a story."
"Good night," Martha says.
Ten guards escort them back to the beach. Martha is able to exchange a few words with one of them in Weilandic. The young man smiles and laughs. The other guards talk among themselves. They carry torches to light their way. Martha, Hocus, and Heraklese row back to Loos Lips. The guards walk away with their torches and Heraklese looks up at the night sky. There are some clouds to the east, but over the desert the air is dry and clear. Stars shine brightly. The milky-way shows pink and green. It is beautiful, but it reminds him of his long, lonely nights in the desert, shivering outside, tied to a stake with a chain, his hands shackled behind him.
Heraklese's oar slips out of the water.
"Easy captain," Martha says.
The following is taken from Jessica Hingham's diary.
April 10th 2478: Sunny and warm, sitting on deck with Sallina. Sallina, Hocus, Martha, and Heraklese met with Mahat Alkaloon this morning. He filled them in about the mining operation. There are a bunch of old mines in the hills to the west, an hour's walk from the town, and one big new mine. The miners buy permits each day. Old mine permits are one guinea, new mine permits are five guineas. Mahat sells close to three hundred old-mine permits and thirty new-mine permits every day. The income from permits is almost two hundred thousand guineas a year. (Don't think I'm doing all this math myself. I have Sallina here doing it for me.) If the miners are willing to pay that much for the permits, they must be selling their diamonds to traders for at least four hundred thousand guineas a year.
Of the one thousand people living in Magabe, more than half are women. Nobody can quite understand why. These rough, remote places are usually populated by men and prostitutes. Sallina says women slaves come here because they are free and equal to the men under the law. Sallina things Nima Edi has fifty soldiers working for him. There's also an engineer named Telhanapta (Sallina's not sure she remembered that one right) who has been improving the mines.
They met with Menati, the fat diamond trader, at Cammy's at six bells. They bumped into him at three bells in the same place, when they met Mahat, and Mahat recommended that we trade with Katina, the tall, beautiful dark-skinned lady, instead of Menati. We find out from Menati that Katina is Nima Edi's cousin, so that maybe Menati was pushing Katina for his boss. Anyway, Menati takes them to his warehouse after they ask about Amahte. He says he knows nothing and says they learned nothing from him. He says he is suspicious. He wants us to trade with the other diamond merchants as well, so nobody things we have a special relationship with him. He thinks we're going to cause trouble. He does not believe we're real diamond traders. There's something wrong with us. (Clever fellow, says I, that's Hocus the Destroyer you're talking to, and Sallina Franks the Sailor of the Seven Seas.) He says he had no time to arrange the meeting with Nima Edi, the meeting happened by itself. But he took credit for it anyway. Sallina's not sure why Menati told her that. She's scratching her chin now and wondering about him.
Oh, I'm wrong: she's thinking about her son. It's his birthday tomorrow. Anyway, the exciting thing is that Stanley and I have a job to do tonight. Mahat would not gossip about his master. Martha did not find out anything about Amahte or Justine. So the captain wants us to go into town tonight and listen to the gossip, see if we can learn anything. We're the only people on the boat who speak Satian, Stanley and I.
Back from the Drakma Tavern. We started in Cammy's Place then moved on to the real sailor's watering hole. There are some unsavory characters in there. There were a few men who looked like they might be pirates, and a couple of wiry women sailors, but the rest were locals, and they were the unsavory ones. But nobody bothered us. I'm ashamed to admit it, but we took Garibaldi with us for protection. He brought his woodcutter's axe with him. He's such a funny fellow. But we do feel safe with him. He never gets worked up. And he's over forty now, and has been through a lot, and he's still alive, but I can't quite figure out why. What good is a woodcutter's axe against a man in armor with a spear? Well, we heard nothing much of interest. We played dice and darts. It was exciting, though. I told the captain we should try again tomorrow.
April 11th 2478: Big conference in the morning in the captain's cabin. Sallina, Heraklese, Hocus, and Martha met with Katina in the afternoon. Another big conference. Katina was charming. She is indeed Nima's cousin. She spoke highly of Menati (the fat one). Said she and he often discuss the pricing of rough diamonds. A rough diamond is one that's not been cut or polished. I did a strange thing today. I went into town in the morning and told a cute little boy that I'd give him ten shillings for a live rat in a sack. I gave him a sack. This afternoon, I went ashore and he had a big one in the bag, wiggling around, biting the cloth. I brought it on board. Imagine that! I brought a rat on board. Well, Hocus wants it. That's part of the plan to rescue Justine. Hocus is going to possess the rat's mind and make it carry something into the citadel. Nobody was happy about the rat. He's in the captain's cabin with it now, trying to figure out how to make a good cage.
April 12th 2478: What a night last night. Stanley and I went to the Drakma again. This time it was more lively. There were six guys in there who looked like pirates, and they were! We were playing darts with them. Garibaldi was not with us. It was just me and Stanley. They were pirates from the crew of the Shark, Amahte's boat. We could hardly believe our luck. We get talking to them, and they tell us the whole story: how they came south overland, how their captain distributed the treasure, "fair and square." Most of them showed up here, with Amahte and Justine. They guy I was talking to, his name was Garrek, was so drunk he couldn't get the history straight, but it was over a month ago.
In walks a big guy and sits at a table in the corner. He makes the two wiry women sailors move so he can sit there. He buys them a beer, I think, to get them to accept the deal. He's one of Nima's men. In come a few others and sit with him. They crouch over the table and talk in whispers. Garrek leans forward and breaths on me and grabs my wrist. He whispers in my ear an extraordinary story. My heart is beating so fast because his breath is foul and I don't know if he's going to try to kiss me and what Stanley will do because Stanley has is hand on the hilt of his sword under the table. "You see that," Garrek says, and he's drooling on the table, "that's mutiny there, that is. The boss is Makoon, the prince's chief enforcer." He spits on me by accident when he says enforcer, the vile fellow, and his teeth were all black, but that's what we we're there for. "The captain caught that little slut of his bouncing around with the prince, and that was the end of it for the captain. Off he went, left us here."
"Oh dear," says I, "What's that got to do with that Makoon fellow?"
"Ah, well, my lovely, the little slut isn't satisfied with cheating on the captain, she cheats on the prince too." He leans back and laughs. His buddies laugh too. He leans forward and this time Stanley makes sure he's in the path of Garrek's breath (bless him). "But the prince, he's no softy like the captain. He has the boy she's bouncing with beheaded." Garrek nodded towards the table of Nima's men, and knocked his empty beer mug over. (I'm getting colorful here, I hope I'm not overdoing it.) "The boy was close with Makoon, adopted son sort of close. So what you see there is mutiny. I'd not stick around here any longer than you have to, my pretties. Things are going to get nasty."
"What about the girl?" I says.
"In the citadel," he says.
I didn't ask him any more questions. I thought I'd be satisfied with what we had. We left a minute later and practically ran home we were so excited. The crew stayed up late talking about it. Stanley was proud. So was I.
18th of April 2478
Heraklese and Martha make their way along the harbor shore. Waves lap against the sand. The moon has long since set. It is the cold hour before dawn. Heraklese points a flashlight upon the sand. Martha walks behind him, her hand on her sword pommel, watching the shadows at the top of the beach. Behind her, a hundred meters away, is the Dirty Rat, and on board is her lover Hocus Pocus the wizard. He is prostrate upon the captain's bed, his eyes closed, his body twitching, his fingers reaching up to stroke the air around his cheeks.
"There!" Heraklese says. He advances up the beach to a gray rock, holding a cloth sack in one hand. At the base of the rock is a large, gray rat. The rat moves one way and then another. It stares into the Heraklese's light and twitches its nose. Heraklese picks it up by the tail and puts it in the sack. "Got him."
"Let's get back," Martha says.
When they reach the captain's cabin, the rat is squirming in the sack and Hocus is rolling on the bed. Garibaldi and Sallina are there. Garibaldi stands beside a cage made of hardwood. Garibaldi opens the lid of the cage. Heraklese releases the rat from the sack. Sallina puts some cheese, bread, and a bowl of water in the cage. Garibaldi closes the lid.
Martha kneels beside Hocus and shakes him. "Wake up! We have the rat. Wake up!"
Hocus opens his eyes. He blinks. He relaxes and takes a deep breath. "I was not asleep."
"Whatever," Martha says, "In a trance."
Hocus sits up and rubs his eyes. "I'm tired."
Martha sits beside him and puts her arm around his shoulders. Sallina sets a cup of tea town on the table in front of him.
Heraklese sits on a bench nearby. "What happened?"
"I entered the compound and then the citadel. I snuck under the main doors."
"The rat squeezed under? Just like that?"
Hocus picks up his tea and nods. "Just like that. There were people around in the hall, but I made it to the stairs and I went down. There are some cells down there. A guy was keeping watch and he had a light. A burning torch. I scuttled across the corridor and squeezed into a cell."
He sips from his tea.
"Was she in there?" Heraklese says.
"Not that one. There are six cells. Each one has a small, barred opening in the floor, which passes through the all to the cliff outside."
Sallina stands beside Heraklese. "For fresh air?"
"I don't know. Maybe to let water and waste run out. But rats use them to enter and leave the cells. I could smell them."
Hocus scratches his cheek. Martha holds his hand down. "You're not a rat now."
"I think it's cute when he does that," Sallina said. "He's been doing it for days now."
"It makes me worry," Martha says. "I've heard stories about wizards who spend so much time possessing an animal that they can never be fully human again."
Sallina smiles. "As I said: cute."
"Good, good," Heraklese says. "Then what?"
"So the rats go in and out of the cells. There are six cells in all. I moved around on the cliff outside. There were other rats out there, and Ratty wasted a lot of time sniffing at them. I visited four of the cells. The other two I'll have to go back to. I was unable to climb up to the openings."
"Did you find her?"
Hocus shakes his head. He sips his tea. "No. I found two guys on separate beds in one cell, asleep. There was a woman crying in another cell. I had a good look at her in the light from the corridor, and I think it's the first woman we saw talking to Nima Edi on the top of the citadel, the one he was arguing with."
"Interesting," Heraklese says. "Could that be her?"
"It could be," Sallina says, "But the other one looks more like the picture."
The other woman Sallina is referring to is the one they have seen walking back and forth on the roof of the citadel every day in the afternoon for an hour. She is always guarded by at least two of Nima's men, but they stand at the center of the roof beside the door to the stairs.
"What was in the other cells?" Heraklese says.
"There were four people sitting in another one. All men, I think, no children. And the fourth one I checked was crowded. More than ten people, and smelly. There were a few other rats in there, and the prisoners were restless in their sleep. I did not look at everyone in there, but I don't think she was one of them."
Hocus sips his tea and stretches his legs. The others wait in silence. "Well, I'm going to go to sleep. I'll give you more details tomorrow. But for now I'm tired."
"We have some interesting gossip through Jessica and Stanley," Heraklese says.
Hocus looks up. "Oh? What?"
"They spent the evening talking to pirates in the Drakma Tavern, talking to Amahte's men. They said the rumor about town was that Nima Edi is ransoming Justine to the Pirate King."
"Pirate king?" Hocus says.
"Yes. They say the Pirate King has ruled Mizzen Island for over two hundred years."
"Really? And old guy, then."
"A time-traveller, that's what I think," Sallina says.
"Nice work by Jessica and Stanley," Hocus says.
Garibaldi looks up from the rat's cage, where the rat is eating his breakfast. "Don't forget the bit about the decorations in Justine's cell."
"Oh yes," Heraklese says, "You remember that Justine had an affair with a boy who was close to Makoon the Enforcer?"
"Not really, I've been distracted," Hocus says.
"Well, she did, or so they say. The boy's name was Joakim. The prince caught him and Joakim together and had Joakim's head cut off and Justine thrown in her cell."
Hocus frowns. Heraklese folds his arms. "So, apparently, Joakim's head is in a jar full of alcohol on a shelf in the corner of Justine's cell."
Hocus nods. "Okay." He lies down. "Well, with that happy thought, I'll go to sleep."
Heraklese stands up. "Not there you won't. That's the captain's bed. Get to the dormitories."
Hocus sits up. Martha helps him to his feet. Hocus frowns. "You are a hard man, captain."
That night Ratty the Rat, under the direction of Hocus Pocus the Wizard, climbs into one of the two cells he has been unable to reach. There are five men in there, and only one bed. On the night of the 19th, Ratty manages to climb up to the last of the six cells, the one outside which the sentry in the corridor sits all night with a flaming torch. There is a young woman sleeping inside. Ratty sits beside the opening in the wall. Upon his chest is a space bridge held in place by a harness sown by Jessica. Now it is Jessica's voice that comes through the bridge, in Satian.
Justine sits up and cries out. The man outside looks through the barred window in the cell door. Justine lies down again.
"Justine, I'm outside. I'm here on behalf of your father."
Justine was the lover of Amahte the Wizard for almost a year. She knows about space bridge and the possession of animals. She takes the bridge from Ratty and hides it under her mattress.
At noon on the 20th April, the crew and captain of Loose Lips gather in the captain's cabin for a conference. Only Garibaldi is absent. He's keeping watch on deck. Stephanix the demon sits absolutely still on the ship's treasure chest. Ratty is sleeping in his hardwood cage.
"So," Hocus says, "How are we going to do this?"
21st April 2478
At mid-day, Justine Tukenmaken, the daughter of the Mayor of Mizzen Island, sits upon her cot in the cell she has occupied for the past four weeks. Her hands are clasped upon her lap. She bites her lip and squeezes her eyes shut. She is frightened. She reaches up with one hand and adjusts the bun of her black hair behind her head. Hidden inside the bun is a small metal ring, a metal ring delivered to her by a rat that crawled into her cell. Inside the ring is a space bridge.
An hour passes. Justine sits in the same position. She hears footsteps on the stairs outside her cell door. The footsteps approach her cell. She hears the deep voice of Nima Edi, the chief of this little desert settlement, and her one-time lover.
"Open it," he says.
Her cell door opens. There are four men outside: three guards and Nima himself. Nima steps into the cell and closes the door behind him. He smiles at her. She tries to smile back, but she's not sure how her face looks to him. He turns and looks up at the corner of the cell above the door. There is a shelf there, and upon the shelf is something covered with one of Justine's shirts.
Nima reaches up and takes hold of the corner of the shirt. Justin closes here eyes and sobs. She hears him pull the shirt off the object on the shelf. She knows what is there on the shelf. She covered it herself. It is a glass jar containing the head of a poor boy called Joakim. The head is preserved in a chemical of some kind, the color of water. The jar is crudely made, so that the head appears distorted when seen from outside, and all the more grotesque because of it.
"Ah, I see your friend is as pretty as ever," Nima says.
She keeps her eyes closed. Nima laughs. "Very well, young woman, if you do not want to see him, I shall cover him up. There, you may open your pretty eyes. All you will see is your handsome friend Nima."
Justine opens her eyes. The shirt is covering the jar. Nima is wearing a yellow embroidered shirt and brown silk trousers. At his waist is a curving sword. He spreads his hands with their palms open. "You see?"
"Thank you," Justine says. "Why are you here?"
"I came to take you to the top of the tower. I will keep you company today. I thought you might be tired of being alone." He steps closer to her and kneels down. He takes her hands in his and opens them. He feels her palms. She watches him. He frowns. "You are nervous. Why are you nervous?"
She shakes her head.
"Perhaps I will not take you to the top of the tower today, if you are so nervous."
She looks up. She swallows.
He stands up and folds his arms. "You do not complain? Why not?"
She shakes her head.
"Why do you want to stay here in your cell, when the sun is shining outside?"
Nima points to the wall of the cell that faces the harbor. There is a small barred window in the wall. "You have been watching the harbor through the window. You watched this morning when one of the boats left." He moves towards her and grabs her wrists. She tries to pull away from him, but his strong hands squeeze her until it hurts. His mouth is close to her face. "Have you spoken to the captain of that ship? Have you received any message from them?"
Justine shakes her head. "No. I don't know what you are talking about."
Nima pushes her away and stands up. "You lie! They were here from Mizzen. I am certain of it. You are waiting for them to come for you. Hah! They are fools. I will be ready for them. I know they will come tonight or tomorrow. But I will be ready. Your father thinks he can bargain with me for your life, but he is a fool." Nima pounds his chest with one hand. "I am a ruler!"
Justine sobs. She wipes her eyes. "I don't want to go with you to the top of the tower."
Nima grabs her by one arm and lifts her from her cot. "You will come now."
She struggles briefly.
Nima smiles. "It will be good for you."
Nima leads Justine up the spiral staircase that leads all the way up the center of the tower to the roof. She does not resist him. Two guards go up ahead of them. As they near the top, Nima lets go of her arm. The guards open the door to the roof and sunlight shines down the stairs. Justine reaches up into her hair and takes out the metal ring. She kicks the top step and stumbles. Nima turns. She places the ring in the shadows beside the door and stands up. She runs her fingers through her hair and smiles at Nima. He smiles back.
"You are beautiful, Justine."
They walk out onto the roof. The two guards close the door and stand beside it. Nima and Justine walk to the battlements and look out across the sea to the east. They say nothing, but it appears to Justine that Nima is looking for something. She looks up at the sky out of the corner of her eyes. She is looking for something too.
"There!" Nima says. He points out across the sea. "Do you see it?"
Justine squints at the water. "What?"
"The boat, Foose Reeps it is called. It is there on the water, waiting to come back for you."
Justine stares at the sea, but she cannot see the boat. "I don't see anything, Nima."
Nima nods. "Perhaps you know nothing about it. But I will be ready." He turns to her. "Do you hate me, Justine?"
Ten minutes later, Nima is holding Justine against the battlements. His hands are on her shoulders. He is talking to her urgently, but she is closing her eyes. Tears run down her cheeks. Help me, Rah, she says. Please help me. I want to go hom. I will sacrifice at your temple every day for a year if you will grant me my wish.
"Chief!" one of the guards calls, "Up above!"
Nima lets go of Justine and turns around. Twenty meters above the roof of the tower is a bench, hovering in mid-air, and descending slowly. Upon it sit a man in leather armor, a woman in chain armor, six heavy-looking sacks, and what appears to be a small demon.
"Go down and get twenty men!" Nima says.
The guard pulls on the door, but it won't open. The other guard does not help him. Instead, he rubs his face and stares up at the bench. He does not appear to understand what is happening. The first guard shakes the door and pull upon it again.
He turns to Nima. "It won't open!"
Justine smiles. The door won't open because the ring she left there has bound it shut. She clenches her teeth and starts running. She runs across the roof, away from Nima. If she can get away from him, the people on the bench might be able to pick her up and take her away.
Nima shouts at the guard. "Call down below there!" He points to the south side of the roof. "Call for twenty men!" He runs after Justine and catches her before she reaches the battlements on the west side. He grabs her and puts his sword to her throat.
"Stay still," he says in her ear.
Justine lets her body go limp. He turns her around. The bench is ten meters up. The demon jumps from it and falls. Justine expects it to crumble or shatter on the slate roof, but its knees bend and it comes to a stop. For a moment it crouches there, then it leaps to the south side of the roof, where the guard is about to shout for help. The guard hears the demon behind him and jumps aside. The demon lands against the battlements and jumps at him again. He tries to fend the monster off with his shield, but he is pressed backwards. He strikes it with his sword, but the blade rings upon the demon's sand-colored body without any apparent effect.
The bench comes lower. The woman is controlling the thruster that holds up the bench. Justine has done this herself, for Amahte on his flying bench. The woman is not the wizard. The man in leather armor is the wizard. He moves his fingers and stares a part of the roof. Justine follows his gaze. He is staring at one of the two wooden trap doors. He blinks and looks up.
Nima calls out. "Come any closer and I'll kill her!"
Justine sobs. The man and woman on the bench ignore Nima's warnings. It is as if they don't even understand what he is saying. Justine wants to shout out to them, to tell them that he is serious, that he is a brutal man, and he will kill anyone he wishes, but she dares not. If she angers him, he may cut her face or break her bones.
The wizard stares straight at them. He moves his head and says a word. He is casting a spell. Justine closes her eyes. Nothing happens. She opens them. A blinding flash in the air is the last thing she sees.
"Damn you wizard!" Nima says, "I say I'll kill her!"
The blade bites into her neck. She squeals. The blade is drawing blood. She can feel it dripping down her chest.
The guard on the south side of the roof screams. He says no words, he simply screams. He is wounded. Nima thrusts Justine away from him. She staggers for a moment. She cannot see, but she is free. There is a hissing sound around her, and she cannot move. She topples sideways, and expects to fall upon her back on the roof, but something stops her. She is bound in something that encloses every part of her body like a cast. She struggles, but she cannot break the cast. She cannot hear and she cannot see. The wizard has blinded her and paralyzed her. Why has he done this? What will become of her?
She opens her eyes. Here eyelashes brush against the invisible cast and make her blink. She sees the light of the sun. She is no longer blind. She sees vague shapes moving on the roof. A smaller shape jumps back and forth. A larger shape turns and lunges and swings its arms. Nima Edi is fighting the demon. She sees the bench as a dark blob against the sun. Someone jumps from the bench and runs towards the confused guard. The two fight one another.
Justine feels faint. She can hardly breath in this invisible cast. She watches Nima run for the structure in the center of the roof, and bound to the top of it. The demon jumps up after him. The two struggle on the roof and then stay still. She cannot distinguish between them. They are joined together into one blob of color in the sunlight. Someone is rushing towards her. It is the woman in armor. Justine tries to speak, but the world spins around her. She closes her eyes. She feels as if she is falling away from herself, into the deep, cool earth. I trust in you Rah. I trust in you.
21st of April 2478
The good ship Loose Lips sets sail three hours after noon, leaving Magabe and the west coast of the Satian Sea behind her. The wind is nine kilometers per hour out of the north-west. According to the ship's charts, there is no land for two hundred kilometers to the east. They sail through the night. Hocus descends into his study in the hold for a few hours to prepare two spells: Flash and Vacuum Thruster. Justine talks until late with the crew. Eventually, she crawls into a hammock they have hung for her and falls fast asleep.
The next morning, Bonita's dead reckoning puts them one hundred kilometers south-west of Mizzen Island. The sky is dark with clouds, and it rains steadily. The wind is blowing in gusts out of the west. They pass several shoals and a rocky island with a single tree growing upon it. They have entered the Diablo Archipelago. Although the tide in the Satian Sea is slight, the currents flowing in the narrow channels of the archipelago can be vigorous.
Bonita is at the helm. Upon her orders, only the triangular main sail is unfurled. It rumbles at its ropes with every change in the wind. Hocus's flying bench is tied down to the stern with its thruster mechanism straining at its ropes. Jessica stands on the shrouds half-way up the mast, looking out through the rain ahead of them. The ship rolls as it pushes its way through the choppy waves.
She sees land ahead. A large island, barren and rocky at the shore, but wooded inland. "Land ho!" she says, in the traditional sailor's declaration of such a sighting. She looks down. There is water directly beneath her. The mast rights itself, and now she looks down upon Heraklese and Hocus.
"A thousand meters ahead, we're approaching the north coast."
The rain slackens. The black cliffs and rock slides of its coast become visible to those on deck. Jessica climbs down from the mast. Bonita steers the boat around the north side of the island.
"Look!" Martha says. She lowers her binoculars and points. "There's a man up on the cliff."
And indeed there is. He dances and waves at the boat from the top of the cliff to starboard. Through her binoculars, Martha sees tattered clothes, white skin, and a blond beard and long hair.
"He seems very keen to attract our attention," Hocus says.
"Perhaps we should indicate to him that he has done so," Stanley says.
"I think he's shipwrecked here or something," Martha says. "He wants us to help him get off the island."
"You think so?" Jessica says. "I thought maybe he was performing the native greeting dance in the traditional costume of the region."
Hocus rubs his chin. "Let's take a trip on the flying bench."
"Oh goody!" Jessica says, "I'll come."
Martha puts her hand upon Jessica's chest. "No you won't. I'm going. You can't be too careful when it comes to natives in traditional costume."
A few minutes later, Hocus and Martha lift off the stern and rise into the wet, blustery air. They ascend to the level of the cliff-top. The man is staring at them with one hand on his head and the other shielding his eyes from the rain.
"He looks clean, even though his clothes are tattered," Martha says.
The bench lurches one way and another. It drops five meters towards the cliff and rises again. Hocus shakes his head and pumps a lever on the thruster mechanism above them. "I don't want to try and land on the cliff-top. Let's try inland."
They move inland, forty meters above damp scrub and ferns with lichen-covered rocks protruding. The man in tattered clothes follows them. He is barefoot, and makes his way by jumping from rock to rock, or running through ferns. He falls frequently when he jumps. He stumbles in the ferns.
Hocus puts the bench down in a patch of some low-lying green plant with white flowers that he does not recognize. He and Martha sit on the bench and await the arrival of the stranger. As they watch, the stranger collapses into a thorny bush. He gets up and keeps coming.
"That must have hurt," Hocus says.
"No wonder his clothes are tattered," Martha says.
The man arrives in front of them. He is smiling and panting. "Hello!" he says, in Weilandic. "Do you speak Weilandic?"
"We do," Hocus says.
"Well, I'm glad to meet you." He stands up straight for a moment, but then bends over again to breath deeply. "You wouldn't, by any chance, consider taking me off this island would you?"
Martha looks at Hocus. "I think we'll consider it."
The stranger nods. "Good." He stands up and runs his hand through his long, fair hair. "Good. That's jolly decent of you. My name is Crondite Opplebalm. I was once first mate of the Mantis. When she went down somewhere near here, I was rescued by mermaids."
"Mermaids?" Martha says. "There are such things as mermaids?"
"I think so," Hocus says.
"I assure you there are," Crondite says. "I have lived with them for a year now."
"In the water?" Martha says.
"No, in a cave."
"And how was that?" Hocus says.
Crondite laughs. "Well, you know, it was fine for a while. Exciting even, but I'm a little tired of it at this point. Time to get back to civilization and all."
Martha and Hocus watch him from the bench. A gust of wind tips them backwards and makes them flinch.
"What have you been doing for a year?" Martha says.
"Ah, well," Crondite says. He folds his arms and stares at his feet. "Well, now, I doubt you would approve, really." He looks up. "I was sort of like a husband to all the women in the clan."
Hocus laughs. "And how did the men feel about that?"
"The mermen? They're usually out and about, hunting. I think they were glad that the mermaids had someone to..."
Martha smiles. "Play with?"
"If you like. To keep them amused, while they were away. Mermaids are um... I'm looking for the right word." He scratches his head and smiles. "Affectionate."
Hocus lets some air into the thruster so that the bench settles more securely to the ground. "But not so affectionate," he says, "that they might take you to some passing boat and wish you on your way."
Crondite takes a step forward and clasps his hands together. "Exactly right. I am, in a manner of speaking, their slave. They let me walk the island because they think I'm a poor swimmer."
"Are you?" Martha says.
"Compared to them, I am, but I'm pretty good by sapien standards."
"So you want to come with us," Martha says.
"Do you know where we're going?" Hocus says.
"No! I don't care. Anywhere but here."
Hocus and Martha stare at him. Martha looks at Hocus and he shrugs.
"Okay," Martha says, "We'll take you to Mizzen Island."
"Thank you!" He steps forward. His foot gets caught in the green plants and he falls forward to his knees. He grabs the bench and almost bangs his head on Martha's knee. He stands up. "I'm so sorry."
Martha laughs and moves over on the bench. "Here, sit down, Crondite. Have you ever flown before?"
Crondite's eyes widen. "No." He sits on the bench. "But it looks like marvelous fun."
Twenty minutes later, Loose Lips is a kilometer past the north-eastern tip of the island. Heraklese is at the helm. The flying bench is tied to the stern. All hands are on deck. Bonita is at the bow, watching the water. She is certain there are shoals nearby, but she cannot see them. The choppy waves make it hard to see the shallow water. Jessica is up on the mast watching the water also.
The boat noses forwards through the water with its main sail filling and reversing with the gusts. The ship lurches with every change.
"To port twenty degrees!" Bonita shouts. Sallina stands beside her, but she does not appear to be looking for shoals. She is watching Crondite, who is leaning over the starboard rail, peering ahead with the fingers of one hand in his mouth.
Heraklese turns the wheel. "Port twenty degrees!" He watches the compas mounted in front of the wheel. Compasses are not reliable from one week to the next. They can wander because of the occurrence of conjunctions, but from one minute to the next, they can measure your turns.
Heraklese hears a voice singing. It is a chorus of voices, singing in eerie harmony. The voices arrive over the waves and wash over the boat. "What's that?" he says.
Crondite turns from the rail. "It's the mermaids! They must have seen me leave the island. They are angry that you have taken me. They want me back."
Hocus walks forwards with Martha to look out across the waters. Ahead of them, perhaps forty meters from the bow, are a dozen heads raised above the waves, their mouths open in song. They have long, wet hair resting upon their bare shoulders and breasts. Martha examines them through her binoculars. Their skin is pale, almost gray like that of a dolphin. But other than that, they look like sapien women, perhaps with more padding than the average sapien woman.
"My gosh," Bonita says, "They really are mermaids. I can't believe it. I never did believe it."
"I don't see no fish tail," Hocus says. "They could be people swimming around."
As the boat moves forwards, so do the mermaids move backwards. And all the while, they sing together. Heraklese watches the heads bobbing in the water, and long hair. He wonders what their eyes must look like. Their voices chill him. He can make out no words in their song, only a slow, changing combination of long notes. He finds himself steering towards the center of the semi-circle of mermaids in front of the ship.
Garibaldi reaches out and turns the wheel slowly to port with his strong arms. Heraklese looks up. "Was I drifting?"
The mermaids sing on, and twice more Garibaldi corrects Heraklese's steering, each time turning Loose Lips back to port. The boat passes a shoal off to starboard. One of the mermaids rises higher out of the water. Her long red hair is swept back from her shoulders, exposing the pale skin of her chest. She calls out to the sailors in Weilandic.
"Sailors, do not take from us what is ours."
"You see," Crondite says, "She's talking about me."
"Buzz off!" Hocus says.
The mermaids vanish beneath the waves. The boat moves forwards. Garibaldi takes the helm. All eyes are on the water. There is another shoal off to port. The boat slows down.
"There's something wrapped around the rudder," Garibaldi says. Sallina, Martha, and Hocus clamber to the stern rail and look down. There are mermaids in the water. She can see them swimming, with what appear to be tails like those of dolphins. They are pulling on a rope that is tied around the rudder.
The mermaids move away from the boat. Their rope appears to be long, and it is certainly strong and thick. The boat moves backwards in the water and now starts to drift to port, towards the nearest shoal.
"This is bad," Hocus says. "Get a gaff or something to snag the rope!"
The ship has two gaffs, which are three meter poles with hooks on the end. Heraklese and Martha plunge the hooks into the water. After several tries, Martha gaffs the rope and pulls. She is not strong enough to raise it out of the water. The mermaids pull hard. Garibaldi and Heraklese pull together. The rope rises up out of the water. With a great pull, Garibaldi gets the rope over the side of the boat. Sallina raises her knife and chops through it in three strokes. The rope shoots off into the water.
"Well, that's that," Hocus says.
Stanley comes up on deck with several bows and quivers of arrows. "We might need these," he says. He watches the water off the stern. Martha and Heraklese work with the gaffs to remove the loop of rope around the rudder. The boat moves forward and Garibaldi can steer.
"They're back!" Stanley says.
Mermaids appear beneath the water. One brings up a loop of rope and approaches the rudder. Martha and Sallina fire into the water. On her third shot, Sallina strikes one of the pale bodies as it comes too close to the surface. She sees the arrow penetrate the mermaid's side, and red blood spills into the seawater. The mermaid shivers. Her head rises into the air and she screams and gasps for air before she goes under again. Two of her comrades grab her arms and pull her away beneath the waves.
Sallina puts her hand to her mouth. "Oh my gosh! I shot a mermaid."
"Well done," Hocus says.
"It's bad luck to shoot a mermaid," Sallina says, "Every sailor knows that."
"Pah!" Hocus says. "I say it's bad luck to tie a rope around Loose Lip's rudder."
A few minutes later, a mermaid rises above the waves before the boat and speaks in a clear voice. "Curse you, sailors, for you have sinned against the laws of the sea. You have drawn blood from one of the guardians of the kraken. You have angered the gods. You will be cursed in your life at sea. You will live in fear of a death brought upon you by your own sacrilege."
Hocus is making his way forward over the crowded deck. "Mumbo jumbo, that's all it is!" He stands still at the bow and says a word to himself. He stares at the mermaid. A few seconds later, a bright flash of light appears in front of her. They hear a bang.
"Shit!" the mermaid says, and sinks out of sight beneath the waves.
"That'll learn her," Hocus says, "Cursing us." He shakes his head. "Does she think we're a bunch of superstitious fools?"
He looks back at the faces of the crew, turned towards him. They stare at him, their eyes wide. None are smiling, except for one. Garibaldi is at the helm, and he nods.
The weather clears at mid-morning, and Loose Lips sails on. The crew spend their time sailing or listening to Crondite's stories about mermaids. They arrive at Mizzen Island in the late afternoon. Crondite thanks them profusely for their help. Sallina lends him five guineas to get himself sorted out. He says he will come back tomorrow to talk to them and thank them again, but for now he wants to try and contact his family.
25th April 2478
"And so I drink to the brave men and women who brought back my daughter. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. To the rescuers!" The speaker raises a blue glass cup over the table. He is standing, and when he raises his glass, some of the dark red liquid inside spills out and lands upon the brown polished table. The fifty or so people around the long table push back their chairs and raise their own cups. The cups are of many shapes, sizes, and materials. There are pewter mugs, gold cups, silver goblets, clear glass cups with long stems, and tankards of thick green glass. The drink is wine, and all the cups are full.
"To the rescuers!" the guests cry out, and clash their cups together, after which there is a spray of wine, which splashes upon the table and the half-empty food platters.
Among the guests are Heraklese, Bonita, Sallina, Garibaldi, Justine, and Stanley. The speaker is their host, the mayor of Mizzen Island, and Justine's father, Ohakmaputash Tukenmaken. He is tall and slender with gray hair and a gray and perfect goatee on his chin. His skin is dark and clear. His nose is long and straight between his high cheek-bones and big brown eyes. Justine sits at his left side. The likeness between them is obvious to Heraklese, who, as Captain of Loose Lips, has the seat of honor upon Ohakmaputash's right.
Heraklese smiles at the toast. He nods to the many smiling faces around him and swallows a mouth-full of wine. The food has been good, and the wine is good too. Two fo the faces around the table are calipanti. One has the horns of a bull. The other has dark feathers instead of hair upon her head. Heraklese smiles at these two also. And why not? He has come a long way in the past year. It was the sixth of April last year that Hocus and his companions walked up to his cage and bought him from that twisted, slave-trading, bastard Kalackin who−
"Are you all right Hicky?"
Bonita is holding his arm and whispering in his ear. He blinks and looks at her. He takes a breath. The guests are looking at him. They have sat down. Bonita sits down on his right. The mayor sits on his left. He is the only one standing. He looks from face to face around the table. They are waiting for him to speak.
Of course, he thinks, he's suppose to say something. He's supposed to accept their thanks on behalf of Global Mediation Incorporated. He is the face of the company. Hocus and Martha are back on Loose Lips, "guarding the gold."
Heraklese takes another deep breath. His head feels a little loose. He has drunk three glasses of the smooth red wine. Never mind. Take it one sentence at a time and make it brief.
"They way you all drink, anyone would think you were pirates," he says.
The guests laugh. Of course they are not all pirates. Most of them are town administrators and shop-owners. There's Jose Vasquez, Chief of Police, at the far end of the table, leaning on a woman half his age, with his eyes half-open and a gold cup in his hand.
"I don't want you all to get the wrong idea about me and my colleagues," Heraklese says. He raises one finger. "We were well-paid by Mr. Tukenmek.. Tukenmakinen." He swings his head around to look at the mayor. "Can't get my mouth around that one, old fellow. Sorry."
The guests laugh again. Heraklese smiles. He looks up. He has forgotten what he was talking about. No problem. Brevity is the secret to a good speech. Wise words from his own father, spoken through the bars of a jail cell.
"It's an honor to be here," Heraklese says, "Among such esteemed company as, for example..." He looks around the table. He was sure there were a few famous people here. He frowns. Well, there was at least one famous person. His eyes fix upon a dwarf woman with cascading red hair and a wiry old man. Oh yes. He was thinking of those two. Margaret Macloghanlogh and her husband Dan Milatos. She is the locksmith that Dreadmanifold suspects gave away a copy of his vault's key to The Professionals, and he is a legendary assassin of the Satian Sea, informally called The Ghost, and now training Grellian and Scythe to follow in his footsteps.
Dan smiles at Heraklese. Margaret frowns. Best not to mention either of them. Where is Scythe? There he is, whispering with a woman. Is it Grellian Ptumash? No it's not. Vango is not here, nor Don Bernadino. But there are many other pirate captains and first mates to whom Heraklese has been introduced this evening. It's a good thing to know the pirate captains. And a bad thing to offend them.
"All of you are esteemed, really," Heraklese says, "But I'm too scared of you to make jokes."
"Shame!" say some of the guests. "We can take a joke." One bearded old fellow with a red nose shouts, "You can only be made to walk the plank once in your life."
Heraklese laughs. "I'm too drunk to walk the plank."
"Ha ha!" the pirate captains say. "What shall we do with a drunken sailor? What shall we do with a drunken sailor?" Most of the guests join the song, and they sing it to the end, which takes a full minute and ends with more cheering and toasting and spilling of wine.
Sallina and Garibaldi are sitting beside a retired captain called Horatio Tawnish. He's an old man. His wife is middle-aged, with the eyes and smooth skin of the people from the far east. Sallina nods at Heraklese. She is not drunk.
"Thank you for the party," Heraklese says, "I'm glad to meet you all. I hope you won't try to sink us when you next meet us on the sea, and happy pirating to you all."
He sits down. Only a few of the guess actually heard his final lines, but everyone cheers when they see him take his seat.
"Nice speech," Bonita says.
"Yes," Heraklese says. "I think I did very well under the circumstances."
The mayor puts his hand upon Heraklese's wrist. "It's Tukenmaken."
"Tukenmaken, Tukenmaken," Heraklese says. "I've got it."
"I doubt I can say your surname either."
"Polychronakos," Heraklese says.
"Quite right," the mayor says.
26th April 2478
At mid-morning, Hocus Pocus the wizard walks into the center of Mizzen Town to the magic shop. This is his third visit to the shop, but his first without a companion. In his hand he holds a letter requesting an appointment. On his previous two visits, the door to the shop was locked.
Hocus reaches the door. The sign above it says Miscellaneous Artifacts, 26 Belated Road, Mizzen Town. Above a slot in the door is a painted message, "If I am out, leave me a letter giving your Name, your Location, the Data, and Any Other Particulars Necessary, such as What You Want." Hocus knocks.
A man opens the door. He is a sapien of middle hight and middle years. His face is clean-shaven and tanned except upon the chin. His nose is straight and his skin is lined. Upon his head he wears a simple white cap, and over his body he wears a white robe. He smiles. His teeth are straight and white.
"Good morning," he says, "Come in."
He steps back from the door. Hocus enters and descends three steps to the shop floor. He peers into the dark corners. The man closes the door and shuts out the spring sunshine. There are no windows in the shop walls. The walls are stone. Light comes from several dim, luminous orbs in candle-sticks around the room. The man follows him down the steps, crosses the shop floor and sites behind a desk.
The shop is six paces square. There is a door behind the desk on the far wall. There are shelves upon the wall. Half the shelves are taken up by books. There are rolls of paper, ink, incense, wax, and glass beads in jars. There are rocks and minerals, polished and displayed. Hocus does not know of any particular reason why a wizard would want to buy such things, but then again, the sign did say "Miscellaneous Artifacts."
There are trays of bridge rings upon a table, and what appears to be a selection of maps rolled up and standing vertical in a large box. Even though the shop is small, it is not crowded.
"Who are you?" the man says.
Hocus gives his name and the name of his ship.
The man points to the chair on the other side of his desk. "Won't you sit down?" What can I do for you?"
Hocus sits down. "I'm looking for bridge rings, paper, thunder-eggs, and a few other things." He unfolds a piece of paper. "I have a list."
The man takes the list and reads it slowly. "I can't sell you thunder-eggs, but I can provide you with everything else."
"Why can't you sell me thunder-eggs?" Hocus says.
"It's against the law."
The man stares at the ceiling for a few seconds before he answers. "They are dangerous. One thunder-egg in a crowded place can kill a lot of innocent people."
"I'm not going to use it in a crowded place full of innocent people. I'm going to use it when my friends and I are fighting large numbers of people who are not at all innocent."
"Even people who are guilty don't necessarily deserve to die by thunder-egg."
"I could cast a spell that kills a crowd of innocent people at any time. What difference does it make if you sell me a thunder-egg or not?"
"If it does not make any difference," the man says, "why do you want to buy one?"
Hocus frowns. "I don't see that it's any of your business why I want to buy one."
The man smiles. "You are absolutely correct. And I don't mean to make it my business. I'm just explaining the law to you, since you asked."
"Okay. Could you sell me the equipment to make thunder-eggs?"
The man fingers his chin. Hocus notices again that the man's chin is less tanned than the rest of his face. Goatees are popular in Mizzen Town. Perhaps this fellow has just shaved on off.
"You mean a thaumaturgical forge, gold thread, and other parts to make spell capsules?"
"Certainly I could."
"So you could sell me the equipment to make my own thunder-eggs, but not the thunder-eggs themselves."
"That's just silly."
"I don't think so. If you have the skill to make a thunder-egg capsule, you also have the skill to cast the lightening spells, and you have the wisdom to know how to wield that power properly. If you can't make one yourself, you should not possess one made by anyone else." Hocus starts to say something, but the man holds up his hand. "I understand that you do not like the law. But the law is what it is. I cannot sell you thunder-eggs."
"Very well," Hocus says. "The other stuff on the list is more important."
"I can get all of it for you, but I don't have time to put it together right now. I will send a courier down to your ship tomorrow with everything that you have asked for. He will give you the price and you can pay with a Mizzen Bank check.
"Why can't I pay in cash?"
"I won't trust the courier with cash. This is an island infested with pirates and criminals. I will accept a check."
"Tell me the prices now, and I'll give you cash now, in your shop."
"I don't know the prices now. I have to examine my stock."
Hocus furrows his brows. "You don't know the prices and you insist upon payment by check."
"That's what I would prefer."
Hocus stands up. "I'll take my business elsewhere. I'll find someone who can tell me the price before I buy the goods, and who will accept cash."
"Very well," the man says. He stands up and walks to the door. "Very well. I apologize for the strict nature of my terms. But they remain as they are." He ascends the steps. Hocus follows him. When the man opens the door, Hocus walks through it.
"Goodbye," Hocus says.
"Good day to you," the man says. He is smiling. "It was a pleasure to discuss legal matters with you. I wish you luck finding what you need." He closes the door.
For a few seconds, Hocus stands in the street, frowning. He did not ask the man's name. But he's not going to knock on the door again to ask. He walks back down Belated Road, shaking his head.
The following paragraphs are excerpts from the Global Mediation Incorporated Journal, kept by Heraklese Polychronakos, secretary and accountant of the company, which tell of the migration of the orc Exiles from Tankum Island to Delia County in Plantinak.
9th April 2478. Jack and Wicklow in Plantinak with Jezel and Quahiri, staying in the guest quarters of the Duke's palace. Concern remains over role played by Nader Rafsanjanian in the attack upon their coach on 31st March. Conversation with Richard Manchester, Duke of Plantinak, suggests the Duke is going to do nothing about Nader for now. As court wizard, Nader supplies sails for ships like the Surprise, and ropes and balloons to protect the city from the dragon of Snake Island. Quahiri and Jezel have been trying pills of a drug called assios, and it has proved to be effective. One orc takes it and the other does not, they play on swings and merry-go-rounds in the palace playground, the one who takes the drug is okay, the other sick as in sea-sickness. Pills of a drug called assios are available from AAA summoning agency, to which Jack has a bridge. Pills are $20 each, but leaves to make tea are only $10. Meanwhile, the Duke is equipping two frigates with provisions to go down to Tankum and pick up the Exiles, who number roughly 100.
10th April 2478. Jack, Wicklow, Quahiri, and Jezel sail for Tankum on one frigate. Second frigate sails with them.
20th April 2478. Jack, Wicklow, Quahiri, and Jezel arrive Tankum. Journey of 9 days. Sailed past Mizzen Island, encountered storm on day 6 as entering Diablo Islands. Quahiri and Jezel settled upon a hooch recipe they like, which incorporates the bitter assios leaves. In the storm they felt pretty bad but they did not vomit more than once or twice, which is an improvement over the debilitating vomiting they suffered from on the journey north to Plantinak, so the hooch works and is what they prefer to pills.
22nd April 2478. Departure from Tankum. All orcs leave. Village now deserted. Two frigates carry fifty orcs each. Jack is on one frigate, Wicklow on the other. Bragash's family divided between the boats. All orcs taking assios hooch twice a day.
27th April 2478. Storm built up last night. We planned to set sail from Mizzen in Loose Lips today but now staying put. Hear from Wicklow on the Intrepid that many orcs are very sick despite hooch. Jack on the Loyal reports same by telegram to our Three Aces summoning account.
29th April 2478. Storm still blowing. Jack reports found one orc dead in the hold of the Loyal, a man who was Jezel's childhood friend, Yat. He had crawled down into the hold because he felt safer there, as several other orcs had attempted to do, it is a shared misconception of theirs. He became very ill without the hooch for twelve hours while others were looking for him, vomited a great deal, and died.
30th April 2478. Storm blown out. Are now two hours out of Mizzen, carrying Crondite Opplebalm to Rapmouth. News from the Loyal and the Intrepid is that orcs are recovering from storm, much grief over the death of Yat.
2nd May 2478. Loose Lips out of Diablo Island and sailing fair to Rapmouth. The Loyal and the Intrepid make Plantinak and drop anchor off a deserted patch of coastline with a good beach. Ferry orcs to beach with longboats with all their luggage and weapons. Plantinak army has pitched tents for the orcs in a field. Soldiers withdrawn to forest, out of sight. Jack and Wicklow sight Dreadmanifold and Stardiamond in the sky on wyverns. Plantinak sailors cry out in dismay thinking it is the dragon of Snake Island. Meeting of orcs and their lord for first time in a year or so. Morale of Exiles restored, in Jack's judgment. Dreadmanifold promises $300k for GMI, $1k per orc and $200k for setting up the arrangement in Delia. Orcs to spend a day or two in the tents recovering, then march over-land to Delia. Jack and Wicklow will go with them. Toast to the success on board Loose Lips.
4th May 2478. Arrive Rapmouth, plan to spend one day. Crondite proposes we work with him on a treasure hunt after our summer holiday. We like him, and give him our telegram address. He is complimentary about the way we run our ship, saying he has enjoyed the journey and the food. In particular, he wishes to taste Jessica's coq au vin once more. We agree over supper that Jessica's cooking has gone from fine to superb, and we are lucky to have her. As to Crondite, we note that he is forever tripping over things and knocking things off shelves, which is inconvenient in the close quarters of a ship. But he does not appear to injure himself in his accidents. We all agree he is charming and intelligent company. He demonstrated a remarkable ability to look at maps and re-create them from memory, which is how he claims to be able to re-create his treasure map.
12th May 2478. Arrive Plantinak. GMI reunited. Board meeting with signatures confirms transfer of Scythe's shares of company to Sallina Franks and Garibaldi Smith, as well as twelve percent to Jack Pulrusset.
From the personal journal of Crondite Opplebalm, entry dated 3rd May 2478, while on board Loose Lips sailing for Rapmouth from Mizzen.
I'm going to begin this new journal with a description of life aboard this remarkable little ship, instead of an attempt to describe my adventures, or rather captivity, among mermaids on an island in the Satian Sea. First, the food is good on this ship. If the chef were not married already, I would surely propose to her immediately, although what she would want with a clumsy fool like me, I can't say, and after I have been so sorely used by a gang of mermaids to boot. But it would be worth asking, just in case. She brought two chickens on board in Mizzen Island (yes, the pirate island, I have been there and survived without any difficulty, which I will describe later). She cooked them in wine sauce and we ate them on the second evening, all of us sitting in the captain's cabin. It's a squeeze to get in there, but we manage it with an extra table and lots of keeping your elbows close together and pass the salt to the right.
I will name my shipmates, because I am fond of them already. All are in their twenties except two. Sallina and Garibaldi are the best sailors on the ship, and the oldest. I'd guess them to be around forty-five. They set the tone of the crew, and the captain defers to them when he is in doubt. Jessica is the chef. Her husband (the lucky devil) is Stanley. Hocus and Martha Howard are a couple. He is a genuine wizard. I have seen him make bright flashes, create luminous stones, and talk to a demon in a strange rattling language. Heraklese is captain. He sleeps in the captain's cabin with Bonita. The rest of us sleep in the ship's dormitory in hammocks.
The ship is fifteen meters long and weighs fifty tonnes. She has one tall mast and a triangular sail. She has a top deck, a lower deck, and a hold. The front eight meters of the lower deck are the dormitory. The back five meters are the captain's cabin. In the middle, on either side of the corridor are the bathroom and kitchen. The hold contains cargo, and also two small rooms built by Garibaldi. One is a private bedroom, very small with a bed for which everyone has their own sheets but me, because I don't have a woman to use it with (not that I mind this at all, I have been far too busy in that regard for the past year). The other is Hocus's study, where he sits and prepares his spells. This is where I saw him make a luminous stone.
Sallina said there are two ways to run a ship. One way is to cram the crew into a small a space as possible and carry as much cargo as you can. Pay the sailors well, and let them spend their money when they are in port. You don't have to worry so much who you hire because the journeys are not supposed to be enjoyable, they are supposed to be fast. You don't have to manage the crew carefully, you just have to know how to sail. Most ships operate this way, and the captains make a good living.
Another way to run a ship is to regard sailing and travelling as the objective, not making money. The ship must make enough money to pay its expenses and allow the crew to save for their retirement and child-rearing. The captain runs the ship so as to promote the enjoyment of the journey. Sailors like this call themselves "journeymen". All journeymen read well, and most write well also. They love to read books. Their ships have good libraries, and at every port of call, the sailors are eager not for the bars and brothels by the docks, but for the bookstores, where they can trade and buy books for their upcoming journey. On this trip, entire afternoons would go by with the crew lounging and reading. They sail the ship slowly so they don't have to fuss with the rigging every minute.
Now, this life of a journeyman is not for you if you get the slightest bit seasick. I am okay usually, but I can't read and sail. That makes me ill.
Good food is another of a journeyman's passions. That's why Jessica went to chef's school before she came to see. Although the kitchen is small, Jessica has equipped it with the best copper-bottomed pots, knives, and cutlery. The stove is a remarkable contraption that uses red-hot stones made by Hocus, and spaces for charcoal. The crew eat two meals a day. They skip lunch so that the chef can work all day on the evening meal. Breakfast is generous. This morning I had eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, apple juice, cakes made in a pan, yoghurt, and honey. I have spent a year eating raw fish, so you might say anything would amaze my taste buds, but I swear to you that the food on this little ship is among the best food I have ever had.
Journeymen like to play games. Chess and backgammon are popular on most ships, but not on this particular ship. Here they have been playing a card game they call "bridge" which requires exactly four players, which they will sit and play for hours, and then talk about over supper. Sallina tells me there are more games to play than there are journeymen, and each ship will get caught up in a game for a few months, then move on to another.
I think the most remarkable and enticing aspect of the journeyman sailing life is their acceptance of love on board. Both women and men sail together. They undress in front of one another. They are not shy of their nudity, nor of their ailments. Every ship has a physician of some sort. Ours is Sallina. With the little room in the hold, the couples on board can enjoy some privacy. As the only single member of the crew, I might have felt left out, if it were not for my past year's experience. And Sallina agreed that the best way to hire sailors is to hire married sailors.
I told Sallina about my year with the mermaids and asked if there were journeymen boats where the rules of monogamy were flaunted. She said there were indeed "hedonist" ships, but she had never sailed with them, because they have a reputation for being angry ships also. Among monogamous mixed crews there is already enough jealousy and passion.
Most sailors like to fish, although I'd say the men are more keen than the women. Everyone likes to swim, and they will stop the boat whenever they feel like it and go swimming in the sea. They take showers if they don't get a chance to swim, usually with sea-water and then a rinse with rainwater. Sallina claimed that staying clean and keeping the boat clean are essential for stopping sickness, as is the allocation of enough space for each sailor to sleep. Journeymen grow their hair long, but they check one another for lice and they don't tolerate fleas or bed-bugs.
Journeymen captains have varying policies on hard drink. Sallina says there are some hard-drinking ships, but very few. Nobody drinks hard on this ship, but they have some fine wine and it tastes good after a year of seaweed liquor. She says some journeymen take other drugs, like hashish, but I have seen none of that on this ship either.
Sallina tells me that one thing she misses on this ship is music. None of the crew can play an instrument, although several have good singing voices, and they often sing songs together, and they can beat on barrels to keep a beat. On a larger ship, a captain will make sure of a fiddle, guitar, drums, and one or two other instruments.
Of course, there is another thing that journeymen enjoy: they like to sail. Altogether it looks to be a good life, assuming you don't suffer from seasickness. The crew now are excited by the prospect of a summer vacation.
Again we excerpt from the Global Mediation Incorporated Journal.
26th May 2478. Meeting between Dreadmanifold, Earl of Swamp Bottom, and entire board of Global Mediation Inc in on the Swamp Bottom Estate. The Earl has taken up residence in a large tent provided by the Duke of Plantinak, and the hundred Exiles have occupied Swamp Bottom Manor. This is the first meeting between Dreadmanifold and the entire board of GMI, and the first time Heraklese, Martha, Garibaldi, and Sallina have had the honor of his acquaintance in person. At this occasion, Martha obtained from the Earl a brief history of his life, which we record below.
2294: Dreadmanifold born in Kratanak Outlands, a collections of nations covering the high plains and hills within the Kratanak Mountains.
2315: Stardiamond born in the Southern Outlands.
2402: Elected general of the armed forces of Bootika, a nation in the Kratanak Outlands. The king himself is a sorcerer named Nastinklackel, and a descendant of Gelden, determined to learn how to make molecular bridges. He did not want to campaign, but he wanted empire. He has a daughter, Dreamstealer, of Dreadmanifold's age, and she and Dreadmanifold fall in love.
2441: Dreadmanifold and Dreamstealer announce their desire to marry. The king agrees to their union once he rules all the Kratanak Outlands.
2445: Dreadmanifold leads his army to final victory and the Bootika Empire covers the entire Kratanak Outlands.
2446: The king is now 306 years old, and fears Dreadmanifold will supplant his son, Tartanhand. Dreadmanifold's rivals encourage this fear, and the king delays the wedding of Dreamstealer and Dreadmanifold.
2456: After ten years of rising tension between General Dreadmanifold and King Nastinklackel, Dreadmanifold leaves the Bootika Empire. His choice is between civil war and exile. He chooses exile. Dreamstealer does not come with him. But Bragash (father of the current Bragash, chief of the Exiles), age 31, does come with him, or rather, is obliged to leave in order to avoid punishment by the king for his outspoken support of Dreadmanifold. And with Bragash go The Two Hundred and their families, whose children and grandchildren now make up the hundred remaining Exiles.
2461: The Two Hundred are in the employ of one ambitious duke after another in the Dukedoms of Weiland. Dreadmanifold settles in the Trukulent Mountains, where he finds a tribe of kobolds and brings them under his protection. Here he is far out of reach of King Nastinklackel. On a visit to Jamchelk, Dreadmanifold meets Stardiamond. She is renowned among the gods, and has special permission to travel between planets. She is a Claran Watcher.
2462: Dreadmanifold meets Galoopius Maximus. They cooperate on smuggling (or "trade barrier penetration" as Galoopius calls it). Galoopius provides supplies to D and carpenters. Dreadmanifold designs and builds his house with their help. His house forms the center of a kobold village.
2465: Dwarves complete The Cave at the kobold village. The locksmith is Margaret Macloghanlogh (often mis-pronounced Maclockandlock, according to Martha, who met Margaret in Mizzen).
2466: King Nastinklackel is assassinated by a sapien. His son takes the throne.
2469: Bragash dies at age 44, and his son, also named Bragash, aged 23, takes over as chief.
2470: Exiles employed by Duke Clodine of Anabrasius in the Dukedoms of Weiland. He uses them to dominate the neighboring dukedoms to the benefit of both their populations and his own, but to the great annoyance of their Dukes. The orcs live in their own barracks in the capital city Flavia.
2476: Weiland sends an army of two thousand to eject The Exiles (who now number only 100 with families) from Flavia. Faced with this army, Clodine orders the orcs to withdraw. He flies on a hippogriff to the south coast of the Dukedom of Gavel, on the Satian Sea, and commandeers ships to transport the orcs. (The ship owners later claimed their ships were stolen, but sailors in Mizzen state that transport was paid for.) They reach Tankum Island, where they make camp. They are attacked by pirates, whom they defeat and force to build a village of wooden houses. During construction, Bragash kills six of the pirates for wrong-doing. Among the pirates is one called Vango who becomes the pirate leader and eventually a friend to the orcs.
2477: Dreadmanifold hires GMI to watch the kobolds and send supplies to the Exiles. Dreadmanifold goes on a trip with Stardiamond to another planet through the Jamchelk Conjunction. Jack, Wicklow and Scythe are in the kobold village, and meet Stockandsteel, friend of Dreadmanifold, when he arrives to stay with his friend who is absent.
2478: Dreadmanifold, now 183 years old, becomes Earl of Swamp Bottom and moves to Delia, Magwash County, Plantinak. Here he plans to take up residence in Rocky Hill with Stardiamond, now 163 years old, taking the place of Lee-Wam. This gentleman is a native of Chiin, who gives his age as 81. He tells us about the mushrooms that were stolen by Cassandra Wentworth from his caves. They are Panaeolus Cambodginiensis, a potent hallucogenic species, much prized by dwarves. He believes Zebedia Smogg, his rival in various games, hired the children to steal the mushrooms, and sold them to a group of dwarves who visited Delia even while our representatives were staying in the Unicorn Tavern. Martha believes is Ha-Man-Chu. We met him ourselves yesterday. According to Martha, he is wanted by the watchers for association with daemons and illegal gating. We conclude that he has been banned from receiving longevity drugs. His half-orc daughter is three years old, and as a half-orc appears near-sapien. He has moved into his house in Delia with his wife, an orc woman, and the town has agreed to allow his daughter to attend the local schools, as part of a deal between Dreadmanifold, Duke Richard, and Magwash County.
Our representative in Delia, the resourceful Christopher Martin, revealed his understanding of the history of the groups of children operating in Delia. The Antidote Girls were started in 2468 by Zebedia Smogg. Avamintu Patanishi, the elf woman who lives in Delia, has another group working for her, the Night Walkers. Lee-Wam's group is the Guild of Frog-Poisoners, who's initiation is to steal a frog from a certain cave and make paralyzing poison from its skin. When we discussed this with Dreadmanifold, he revealed with enthusiasm that one of his privileges under his agreement with Lee-Wam is to start his own children's group, that might contain the children of his exiles, and also his own children when they arrive. He has also met with Avamintu and another elf called Lady Natasha, who keeps a menagerie outside Delia. He claims that Zebedia Smogg and Avamintu Patanishi have been playing these games with children's groups for over two hundred and fifty years, which convinces us that Zebedia Smogg is indeed a time-traveler. Lee-Wam, meanwhile, will continue to manage the Frog Poisoners, and Dreadmanifold will allow the use of the secret cave of the poison frogs. Lee-Wam will also continue to cultivate plants within the catacombs, and both he and Dreadmanifold will cooperate in arranging certain improvements of the catacombs that Dreadmanifold declined to describe to us. Dreadmanifold and Stardiamond plan to have children. Meanwhile, Stockandsteel remains in the kobold village to look after them and recover from his own exile from the Bootika Empire, where he fell out of favor with King Tartanhand. The Bootika Empire has collapsed to half its size. Parties of orc soldiers are fleeing the collaps, such as the fifty who invaded Swamp Bottom in February, subsequently driven out by the Duke of Plantinak's commandos.
All of this business with children amuses us, but seems frivolous, and we are inclined to remove ourselves from further work in Magwash County.