On The Kings Road
The west bound sled careens across the frozen land on the Kings Road.
Steam issues from the distended nostrils of the four vagrants puling it along. The cloud of frozen vapor obscures them from the sight of the driver sitting on top of the large box that is the coach compartment.
The driver, a large mutant swathed in furs from head to toe, calls to his team giving them encouragement. “On Dancer, hupp Bruno, gee up thar Tisha, at a gal Janey” he cries, chiding and encouraging them.
No whips are used to drive vagrants. They don’t take kindly to whipping and will savagely attack anyone who tries. Being an intelligent animal they do however respond to urging’s and encouragement.
Black smoke streams behind from a clay flue protruding from the roof of the coach. A coal fire burns in a small soap stone stove inside.
Only one of the Gorogorions, the male, sits beside the driver. The female having moved into the compartment to warm up.
The sky is a pale blue with a thin layer of sires clouds veiling the cool winter sun. Widely spaced black leafless trees line the road helping the teamster to stay on track.
The countryside here is an expanse of flat fields, now covered in deep snow. Occasionally walled farmsteads appear along the side of the road. Smoke rising from several chimneys behind their timber fortifications. The smoke spreads out in a flat layer high in the frozen still air.
The hissing of the sleds runners across the snow, the rhythmic plodding of the vagrants feet, the sway of the coach and the warmth of the stove lulls the passengers into state of drowsiness. Occasionally a lane will head off the road, north or south for a distance to a large Freehold usually a stone fortification with a mote, a draw bridge and high crenellated walls behind which sits a stone castle or timber manor house. Now the motes are frozen, the drawbridges are up and the lords and lady’s have gone south or west to the sea for the winter, leaving their servants to mind the farm until spring.
Jack doses between Cloie and Gwen with his head on Gwen’s shoulder and her head against his.
Georgio sits close to Cloie on the other side. They snuggle and whisper together occasionally giggling at some word or gesture.
The Gorogorion female sits in the farthest corner of the farthest bench from the stove. Her gray skin shiny with perspiration. The sour odor of Gorogorion sweat hangs thick in the small warm space.
The businessman’s wife sits close to one of the hide covered windows with her nose poking through a gap in the hide where she is holding it open. Mercifully the three older of her children are asleep on a pile of straw behind the bench she is sitting on. The youngest child seems to be permanently attached to her small right breast. It fusses and sucks, fusses and sucks fitfully.
The dwarves sit in a small circle near the stove talking low in there guttural language. Occasionally one will hum a short piece of a tune, sometime the others join in a few bars or they argue about the merits of the hummers rendition of the tune.
“No, no, Grim, that’s not how it goes” one will say and hum the tune in a different key.
“Nah, that’s not it Brogg, it goes like this” another will say and hum the tune even differently.
Occasionally their mutated brother stirs and opening its great mouth combine all their voices into a haunting melody.
“You see Grim, That’s the way its supposed to go” Brogg or Olf will remark.
“Bah!” Grim retorts “I still think he’s a beat off.”
All this time the dower businessman sits with a large leather bound volume on his lap scratching down figures with quill and ink and occasionally uttering an oath as the coach bounces over some rough spot in the snow covered road.
About midday the coach comes to a halt. The driver climbs down from his high seat and opens the left side door.
“A-right folks, piss stop” he calls “we only got-a short time hyar so get-er done folks.” He points across the road to a small stone structure.
The businessman’s wife wakes her brood and hustles them of to privy.
The dwarves carry their brother off the road and find trees to water. Jack and Georgio walk around to the other side of the coach and write their names in the snow. Georgio only gets as far as Geor, Jack writes Jac.
“I guess you win” Jack quips. Both men are laughing when they come back around the sled.
The sisters wait outside the privy for the children to come out.
The Gorogorions urinate on the runners of the coach and both climb onto the high seat.
The business man continues to work in his ledger without pause until the teamster yells to all to get on board.
“Oh! Wait! He cries and closing the book rushes out to the privy.
The teamster grumbles something about “dammed city folk” as he climbs to his place on the high bench.
Soon all are back in the warmth of the coach and they continue their westward journey.
The Codswallow river runs deep and wide under a thick layer of ice until it drops in a series of long falls and cataracts from the edge of the high plateau.
The road comes to the river near the first of the falls and turns south along the edge of the gorge. It follows the edge for a short distance and then winds its way down the side of the gorge to the plains below. The decent is treacherous in the snow and ice.
The teamster stops the coach before it starts down and dismounts. He opens the door and says in his strange manner of speaking, “a-rite folks, we be a-stopin hyar fer a bit ta hook da lead team to da back o da coach soes they ken hold us back a-goin down the gorge. S-best ya get out n walk down.”
“What about my babies the businessman’s” wife complains “they won’t be able to walk all the way down to the plains”
“Thars enough o yous folks ta carry the young’ns down,” the large mutant growls.
“If’n I was yous I’d get me grips an packs out too. If’n da coach gets squarely n goes over da side it’ll take yer goods wid-it. I be putin da fire out too. Don wan-da coach a-burnin up if’n we flip.”
The passengers dismount the coach taking their luggage with them and bundling up in their warmest clothes.
The sisters walk to the rear of the coach where they have three large trunks strapped to the tailgate.
Jack and Georgio follow the girls.
“Could you help us with these trunks?” Gwen asks.
“Maybe you should leave them” Jack suggests “they are to heavy to carry for miles down the gorge.”
“We won’t have to carry them” Cloie says “they will slide on the snow so we can just drag them along.”
“Oh, sure, I didn’t think of that” Jack admits.
Georgio begins unfastening the straps holding the trunks. He and Jack get the large trunks down and drag them to the side of the road and wait with the other passengers while the teamster hooks two of the vagrants to a rear hitch.
Wearing heavy leather gloves the driver carries the small stove out and dumps the fire over the side of the canyon. Replacing the stove he closes the door and climbs to his seat at the top of the box. The male Gorogorion remains seated while his mate crawls across the top of the coach and sits at the back where she can calm the rear team.
The driver gently urges the teams forward.
The passengers walk slowly down hill behind the coach “what about my children” the wife complains. “they can’t keep up on this ice”
Gwen picks up the small mutant child, places him on the top of her trunk. “Hold on to this strap she tells him” indicating a strap that holds the trunk closed. She walks along pulling the trunk behind her by the handle.
Cloie does the same with one of the twins.
Jack puts his pack on his back, sets the other twin on the last trunk with the same instructions and follows Cloie down the steep, slippery, winding road.
The businessman carrying his ledger falls in behind Jack. His wife carrying the infant in a shawl across her front under her heavy fir lined, hooded parka struggles along behind her husband with a large carpet bag in each hand.
Georgio, walks along beside the woman with his pack on his back
“I can take those bags for you” he suggests to the woman.
“Oh no, thank you I can manage them” she replies.
“It is no trouble I assure you madam, I have nothing to carry but my pack so my hands are free.”
“Well, all right then, you can carry this one” she says meekly as she hands him the bag in her right hand.
“What is your name my dear woman” Georgio asks politely “I cant just keep calling you madam.”
“Millie” the woman replies meekly with downcast eyes “Millie Groso”
And what do they call your husband Millie? He asks.
“His name is Molto, Molto Groso” she says. Then she giggles quietly and whispers conspiratorially “In our hometown they call him Flaco.”
Georgio clears his throat thinking that perhaps she shouldn’t be telling him such a secret. “Well Mrs. Groso, I am Georgio Portelli of Southern Catatonia at your service. Shall we catch up with the others?”
They move on down the road.
The children are having a wonderful time riding on the trunks. They laugh and giggle calling back and forth to each other.
The dwarves struggle along on their short legs. Dragging the singer along sitting on its litter with a pile of their baggage.
Suddenly the coach hits an icy spot and slides sideways down the road. The rear vagrants scream as they are dragged toward the precipice. At the last minute the teamster grabs the brake lever and halls back on it. The teeth of the drag brake skid along the icy surface of the road but the ice is to hard and it doesn’t dig in. The rear vagrants slip over the edge screaming. Their traces brake and they fall into the gorge.
The rear of the sled slides over the edge balances for a time slipping down the road then the front tips up and the sled slides backward over the edge.
The two Gorogorions squeal as they are thrown from the top of the coach into the chasm.
The driver leaps for safety but gets tangled in the harnesses and is dragged over the edge with the front team.
The screaming and crashing goes on for several minutes, then there is only the roar of the rushing water below.
It all happens so fast that none of the passengers at first understand what had happened.
Jack is the first to react. Letting go of the trunk handle he rushes to the edge of the ravine and peers over the edge. On the rocks five hundred feet below he can see the broken wreckage of the coach and the bodies of two vagrants and one Gorogorion; the rest having been swept away down stream.
He turns to the others. “Stay back” he says, “there’s nothing we can do for them.”
For once the children are silent.
The adults, in shock look at one another dumbly.
“Wh, what do we do now” Molto Groso asks in his whining voice. “We booked passage to Granite Ford. I paid three gold coins for this trip and now they have stranded us. I’ll have words for the coach company manager you can bet on that!”
The others are in incensed.
“There are seven lives lost down there, The drivers actions saved all our lives and all you can think of is the gold you paid for this ride. What kind of man are you?” Gwenifer asks exasperated.
Gerogio shakes his head, “We have more pressing problems than this mans avarice” he says. “We must get down to the valley below before night comes upon us or we will no doubt freeze here.”
“We can’t walk all the way to Granite Ford” Molto complains.
“No, but we can get to the valley and out of this snow. The valley appears to be snow-less and should be warmer” Jack replies.
“But what about the children” Molto cries “they will never make it.”
“The children will be fine” Millie replies “they can ride the trunks all the way down.”
“And then what” Molto argues. “What happens when we are out of the snow? They will have to walk. They can’t walk all the way to Granite Ford”
“They won’t have to walk all the way to Granite Ford” Millie insists “we only have to get to the Boars Tooth Inn and we can carry them that far if needs be.”
“Lets get going, you two can argue on the way” Jack declares as he takes hold of the trunk and sets off down the road.
The sisters, Georgio, Millie and the dwarves follow in his wake.
Molto Groso watches them with his mouth open as if to voice another argument but looking around at his surroundings he rushes to catch up with the rest. He slips, falls on his buttocks and slides down the road on his back. He comes to rest against a large rock at the cliffs edge. As he tries to get to his feet the rock falls into the gorge. He scuttles on hands and knees to the middle of the road where he sits with his knees pulled up to his chest. His eyes are wide and he shivers with fear.
“Are you alright dear” Millie asks sweetly.
“Yah, yah I’m fine” Molto replies grumpily as he tries getting to his feet. The flat leather soles of his expensive shoes slip on the ice and he sits back down.
Millie extends her hand to help him rise. He slaps it away and grumbles “I can get up on my own “ He slips again and falls to his knees.
Jack and Georgio grab him under each arm and hall him to his feet.
He shakes them off and walks unsteadily away slipping a few times but managing to keep his feet under him.
“Don’t think to badly of my husband” Millie says “he is really a good man but he’s just under a lot of pressure right now.
“What does your husband do” Georgio enquires.
“He is the head tax assessor for King Bilious of the lake” she replies.
“I am afraid I don’t know where that is” Gerogio says.
“It is a large kingdom in the southeast of the Realm that includes Blaine Lake. The upper Dweezel River drainage and the north south trade road. He is responsible for the collection of tolls on the trade road, Ferry taxes and all other fees and taxes in the area.” She responds.
“That sounds like a enormous responsibility” Georgio replies “he must be away from home a lot.”
“Oh, not really, you see he has minions who actually travel around collecting the taxes. They bring all the collections to him and he has to tally them and see that there is no cheating, theft, or fraud. He is also responsible for dividing the revenue between King Bilious and the High King.” Millie explains.
“I see” Georgio” says nodding his head. “So, why are you traveling to Granite Ford then?”
“Every two years the High King has all the assessors come to Granite Ford to justify their figures. If there are discrepancies and they can’t justify them they could end up in the kings dungeon.” she explains.
“Oh, now I understand why he is so jumpy and irritable” Georgio smiles. “I will take that into account from now on.”
The travelers continue walking down the ice covered road. After several slips falls and slides They decide to walk in single file along the inside edge of the road next to the mountainsides where snow has piled up and it is not so slippery.
After three hours they reach the bottom of the pass. Its warmer here, only a thin skiff of snow covers the ground. Up ahead they see a timbered enclosure with smoke rising from chimney’s behind a wall of pointed poles. Above the closed gate is a sign that reads “Togar Station.”
“This must be a way station where the sled’s are exchanged for a wheeled coaches for the rest of the journey,” Jack announces.
He walks up to the wall near the closed double gate. There is a bell cord hanging from a pulley. He pulls the cord and a loud clanging can be heard behind the wall.
After a short wait a small port opens at eye level.
A wizened old mans face peers out from the hole, “Yes, Who are you and what do you want?” the old man asks.
“We are passengers from the westbound sled” Jack replies.
“Sled? what sled? I don’t see any sled,” the old man grouses, “What have you done with my sled? It should have been here hours ago. Where’s Grounak the teamster. What have you done with him and the vagrants. If you have harmed my vagrants I’ll have your hide! By this time the man is yelling, spittle flying from his mouth.”
Wait, wait old man, calm down. Jack pleads “let us in and we will tell you everything. We have walked for hours and are in need of rest and warmth.
The old man squints his rheumy old eyes at the passengers huddled around the gate.
“Well, Okay” he says after a long inspection. I guess you aren’t a gang of brigands after all, Come on in.
The small port closes and after several bars are drawn and chains unlocked the stockade gate slowly creaks open.
“Come in , come in,” the old man says, “don’t just stand out there, come in.”
The travelers file in through the gate.
The enclosure is much larger than it appears from the outside.
It encompasses more than an acre. On the right side is a long low dwelling where smoke is issuing from the chimney. Around the walls are stables store rooms a smithy and a privy. Two, coaches sit near the left wall. One coach sits on blocks, the front wheels removed the other appears to be waiting for the vagrants to be hooked up and passengers to be loaded. Black smoke streams from the forge in the smithy, The ringing of the smith’s hammer rebounds off the walls.
“I supposed you are all tired and hungry” the old man says. “Go on into the station and my wife, Effie will get you some hot mud and rounds. Go on, go on” he says, with a shooing motion of his hands.
“I have to lock the gate. I’ll be in to hear you story in a moment.
Leave your luggage on the porch and I’ll have the stable boy prepare your coach.”
The passengers file into the station. The room they enter is large, warm, clean and sparsely furnished.
On the opposite side from the door is a counter. Along two walls are benches with small tables. In the left wall is a door to the living quarters.
In the center of the room are two long pews with seating on both sides.
The travelers spread out around the room falling exhausted onto the benches.
Presently the door in the left wall opens and a small round woman with a cherubic face, her gray hair tied in a bun at the back of her head enters wiping her hands on an apron tied around her abundant waste.
“Oh my dears, you must be exhausted and frozen from your excursions. Gordon, that’s my husband, told me that you just arrived on foot from the road down the gorge” she says ringing her hands. “You just sit there and get warm and I’ll have hot mud and fresh rounds for you and warm milk and honey buns for the children in a moment.” She turns and retreats through the door.
The front door to the station opens and Gordon, the station master enters.
“Now what’s this all about? Where are my vagrants and their driver? Were you attacked on the road? The questions tumble from the mans mouth as well as his answers. “No I guess not, you would have all been killed if robbers had attacked you. Well? Isn’t any one going to tell me what happened?” He growls.
Jack begins telling the story of what happened on the icy road. The others fill in when he misses a point. Soon the station master has a complete picture of the accident.
Gordon, shakes his head and slumps down on a bench. “My poor sweet vagrants” the man moans. “And two innocent Gorogorions, what a tragedy” he cries. “And poor Grounak, he has a wife and two young-ns. What will become of them now.” He blows his nose on a dirty old rag that he pulls from a rear pocket in his warn and patched canvas overalls. He sniffs and goes on. “That’s the second sled we’ve lost this winter. We have to do something about that road down the gorge.” He takes a ragged breath.
“Well “ he says getting up from the bench. We’ll have you folks back on your way in a few minutes. You just stay here and get warmed while the Stable hands load your luggage and get the vagrants harnessed up.
Just then Effie comes in carrying a tray of warm fresh rounds and honey buns in one hand and a large carafe of hot mud in the other. She sets the tray and pitcher on a table. “Help yourself to the pastry folks and I be back with mugs for the mud and milk for the little ones” she says over her shoulder as she goes back through the door.
The passengers waste no time digging in, with moans of appreciation as they bite into a round or honey bun.
The station masters wife comes back with a tray of mugs and pitcher of sweetened warm milk. “Tisk, tisk” she clucks “what a tragedy.” Poor Grounak, he was such a kind man. Never a harsh word, always thinking of his passengers. Always kind to vagrants.” She sniffs and buries her face in her hands sobbing.
Gwen stands up and puts her arm around the old woman. “There, there Effie she says. “He died a hero. He saved all of our lives when he had us get out of the coach.”
“Oh, I know” Effie replies. It is no less than I would have expected from such a fine man.” She sniffs and blows her nose on her apron. “Its his wife and young-ns that I’m worried about. What will they do now? The hovel that they live in belongs to Lord Grumbly and the old skinflint will turn them out if they can’t pay the rent. I can give the poor woman some small employment around the station but I won’t be able to pay her enough to feed, clothe and house her little ones. I just don’t know what the poor woman will do,” Effie sobs into her hands.
“That’s a shame” Cloie cries “We should do something for the poor woman.”
“Bah” Molto grumbles. “It is none of our affair.
“What do you mean not our affair, he saved our lives,” Jack replies.
“Bah again” Molto says, “He was just no doubt following procedure that’s all.”
“Oh no” Effie cries. “There is no procedure for what he did. Grounak always put his passengers safety first. The last driver to go off the road took all his passengers with him.
“I still don’t think his families welfare is our responsibility,” Molto replies. “He and his wife knew that the job was dangerous. They should have put something aside for just such an occasion. I have made arrangements for my wife and family if something happened to me.” Molto folds his arms across his chest.
The passengers squirm uncomfortably in their seats.
After a few moments Jack gets to his feet. “The man saved your family Mr. Groso and the rest of us. You don’t have to help if you don’t want to but as for me I will help.” He reaches inside his traveling cloak and withdraws a small purse. He walks to the counter, opens the purse and deposits a small pile of bits of copper and silver. On top of the pile he places a large gold coin.
Georgio follows this act with another pile of coins and metal bits. In turn, the other passengers file past the counter dropping bits of silver, copper and small pieces of gold on the pile.
Molto sits with a stony face, his arms still crossed on his chest.
Millie stares at him frowning, waiting for him to make a move. After a long silence she reaches into a small hand bag and withdraws two squares of solid gold. She stands, shakily walks to the counter and deposits them one at a time on the growing pile of coins.
“Millie!” Molto yells “what are you doing? You saved for two years for that gold so you could shop in Granite Ford and now you just give it away to these, these mutants!
“Yes, I saved for two years and the gold is mine to do with as I wish. If the driver had not put us off the sled we would all be at the bottom of the gorge now and what good would gold do us there. For years I have defended you against people who say that you are cheep, and miserly. Now I know you as you really are and I am ashamed.” She drops into her seat and putting her face in her hands begins to weep.
“Millie, I,” Molto begins but the words stick in his throat. He looks around the room at the faces staring at him and he deflates. “Oh all right” he grumbles “maybe you are right. Maybe I have been miserly but it was all so you and the children could have the best of everything.”
“But don’t you see Molto,” Millie pleads, “we don’t need the best of everything we need a father and husband that is warm and loving, not a cash cow. What good is wealth without love and compassion. I need a husband that I can be proud of not one I have to defend. She puts her face in her hands and weeps some more.
Molto sits on his bench starring at the floor for a time, then apparently coming to a decision he reaches inside his great coat and withdraws a small gold bar. He stands, walks to the counter and deposits it on the now large pile of coins. He looks at the pile, makes a quick calculation and declares “that should keep the woman and her children in comfort for many years.
The others smile at him. Jack stops him on his way to his seat and offers him his hand. He takes the proffered hand with a limp grip.
Millie jumps to her feet and throws her arms around her husband. He stands with his hands at his side for a heartbeat then tentatively he puts his arms around her and then hugs her to him. “I’m sorry Millie, I didn’t understand” he confesses, a tear running down his cheek. I’ll try to do better from now on.
Effie leaves the room and in a few moments returns with a small plain woman in faded and patched blouse and skirt with a tattered shawl around her shoulders and bare feet. The woman’s eyes are red and her face is swollen from crying.
She keeps her eyes averted and her head down as she shuffles into the room being pulled along by Effie.
“This is Grounaks wife, Phoebe” Effie says as they enter.
Gwen, Cloie, and Millie go to the woman and embrace her.
Jack scoops up the coins and deposits them on a square of cloth laying on the counter. He ties the corners together to form a small bundle and takes it to Phoebe.
“We are very sorry for your loss” he says “I know that this little gift won’t bring back your husband but it will help you and your children to survive.”
He places the package in her hands.
The poor woman falls to her knees. “Oh, m-lords! Oh, m-lords! She cries, I d-know how ter thank-y, s-more th-n kind o you’s.” Phoebe breaks down covers her face and bawls.
Georgio helps the woman to her feet and embraces her. “Now, now” Gerogio says “It is we who give thanks to Grounak for saving our lives. Use the money wisely.”
“Oh, aye, I will, I will, thank-y m-lords” she cries.
The front door to the station opens and the station master announces that the luggage is loaded and the coach is ready to depart.
The travelers file out of the station house and with a warm feeling of having done a good deed, they climb onboard the coach.
The station master opens the gates and the coach, on its solid wooden wheels, rumbles from the yard and turns west on the Kings Road. Steam from the nostrils of the vagrants turning red in the glow of the setting sun.
The Boars Tooth
The Codswallow River turns north, leaves the road and meanders across the broad central valley irrigating farms and powering mills built along its banks. It then turns southwest to where it eventually joins the Dweezel River near the coast.
The Kings Road continues west for several miles then turns south.
After several more miles the road comes to the deep, slow moving Dweezel River flowing northwest toward the sea.
Where the road comes to the Dweezel River, sits The Boars Tooth Inn and the Dweezel River Ferry.
Late in the evening the coach pulls up in front of The Boars Tooth.
The inn is a long three story stone structure with several chimney’s streaming smoke into the sky. The inn’s foundations extend into the river with a wide ferry dock and several boat slips in the rear. Above the door to the inn hangs the tusk of a giant Boar that is longer than a mans arm. There is no sign but it is obvious that this is the Boars Tooth.
The teamster opens the door to the coach and calls, “a-right folks, hyar we are, the Boars Tooth, everbody out.”
The travelers climb from the coach groaning, stretching, and rubbing their sore bottoms.
“Its about time” Jack says. “That was a long, rough trip.”
“Yep, tis a long-n a-right” the driver replies, “we usual stop a-couple-o times but since we was late a-start-n, I figered I’d make a dash fer-t so’s y-folks-d get dinner.” G-wan in I’ll get a stable boy tr unload yer luggage.
The passengers file into the inn through the heavy oak door bound in iron with long iron hinges. The door opens into a large foyer with a fireplace and counter to one side. Behind the counter is a buxom woman in a flower patterned low cut blouse, and a full blue skirt. She has a mop of unruly red hair that hangs in a cascade of curls down her back. Her face is round with rosy cheeks. She would have been pretty but for the scar that runs vertically from her forehead through her right eye to her upper lip. The eye is gone and in its place she has a light green gemstone the same color as her left eye. The scar causes her lip to be turned up in a perpetual snarl.
“Well, you finally got here,” the woman says in a whisky baritone.
Thought you might have run into brigands along the road or something.
You did come on the coach didn’t you?” She asks.
“Oh, yes we did” Gwen answers stepping up to the counter. “Are we to late for the evening meal?”
“Nah!” the woman replies “round here we feed at any time, there’s a lot o fisher folk and rivermen here what’s eats at all hours. You missed the last ferry though and the place is fill’n up. Lets see, how many of you are there. She counts the group. Some of you are going to have to double up.
“My sister and I can share a room” Gwen says.
“That‘ll work” the woman says and looks over her shoulder at a large board with numbered keys hanging on pegs. “I’ll put you in number ten upper. Just put your mark here” She turns a large ledger around to Gwen and hands her a quill.
Gwen signs the book for herself and Cloie. “Can you have our luggage sent up to our room?” she asks.
“Oh sure, I’ll get the boys to bring your stuff up. That will be two silvers and two coppers” the woman says handing Gwen a large iron key.
Gwen lays the coins on the counter and thanks the woman.
Then Gwen and Cloie disappear through a door on the left into the inn.
“Who’s next?” the woman asks.
Molto and Millie step up to the counter.
“A family eh” the woman grumbles. “How many kids” she asks.
“four” Molto replies.
Well, I don’t have any rooms with that many beds but I can put you in fifteen. It has a large bed and I’ll have the boys bring you some fresh straw for the kiddies to sleep on.
“That will do fine” Molto replies.
“That’ll be three silvers then” the woman says.
“Three silvers?” Molto says “Isn’t that a little high for one room?”
“Yep” the woman replies “take it or not, its no concern of mine.”
There’s plenty of room in the stables if you like and it’ll only cost you a copper each.
“Molto!” Millie cries. “Pay the woman!”
Molto tosses the coins on the counter and grumbling, he signs the registry.
The outer door opens and two sandy haired boys that look like twins, begin dragging luggage into the foyer. The first items are two of Cloie and Gwen’s three trunks and the Groso’s two carpet bags.
The one eyed woman hands Molto the room key. “Top of the stairs, turn to the left, down the hall on the right” she says.
Molto takes their bags, Millie gathers the children around her and they exit through the inner door.
“Sandy! Jeff! After you get the rest of the luggage in here, take those trunks up to ten upper and come right back here,” the one eyed woman orders.
“Next!” the woman cries.
The dwarves step up to the counter.
“Next!” She cries again.
Olf clears his throat loudly.
“What? Oh there you are” the woman chuckles looking over the edge of the counter. Sorry, didn’t mean no offense, we don’t get to many of you little folk in these parts, us being so far from the mountains and all. How many of you are there and oh my, what is that” she points to the singer.
“That, Madam is the finest voice in all the realm” Grim replies.
“Voice?” The woman repeats. “What do you mean voice?” She asks.
“We are entertainers. we have preformed for some of the greatest houses in the realm and we are on our way to entertain at the court of the High King.”
“You Don’t say, Hmmm” the woman ruminates. Perhaps we can make a deal. Would you be willing to entertain our patrons tonight for the price of your room and board?”
“Certainly, that is our business” Grim replies.
“Fine” the red head says. “You can have the garret on the top floor. That is where we usually put little folk.
“We are not little folk if you don’t mind” Grim says forcefully. We are Dwarves and damn proud of it.”
“Oh begging your pardon sir dwarf, I meant no disrespect” She apologizes.
Olf tugs on Grim’s sleeve. “What about Lump?” Olf asks “we won’t be able to get him up two flights of stairs.”
“Oh yes” Grim replies. Turning to the woman he says. “We need a lower, our brother Lump can’t climb stairs or ladders.
She peers over the counter at Lump.
“Yes, I see” she replies. “Let me look” she turns to the key board. “Yes, I have one lower left, number nine. Here you are” she hands Grim the key. “Through that door, turn right and follow the hall to the end, last door on the left, she instructs. “Its not a big room and only has one single bed but you fellows don’t take up much room.
“Thank you Ma’am” Grim says. The three dwarves take a deep bow.
Grim and Olf pile their instruments on the litter with Lump, Grogg picks up their bags and they troop off through the door.
“Next?” the woman calls.
Georgio steps up to the Counter. “A room if you please my dear woman” he requests.
“Dear woman is it? Are you trying to hit on me, Slick?” the woman asks with a crooked smile.
“Oh no my… I mean, no madam” Gerogio stammers.
“Damn!” the redhead breaths “and I thought I was going to get lucky. Haw, haw, haw” she laughs lustily. I ain’t no madam, haven’t run a brothel since before you were born. The only rooms I have left are in the garret. The rooms are large with two beds but the ceiling is a bit low so watch your head.” She takes a key from the board and hands it to Georgio. “That will be one silver for the bed and board” she says.
Georgio hands her a coin, signs the register and takes the key.
It is then that the woman notices Jack standing behind Georgio.
“Oooh, hello there tall dark and beautiful. What’s your name honey?
“Ah J-Jack” he replies.
“A likely story” she laughs. “I don’t have any rooms left but I do have a nice warm bed for you lover boy. That is if you don’t mind some company in the middle of the night” she winks her good eye at him.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll take the other bed in the garret. I am very tired and would not like to be disturbed.”
The woman looks from Jack to Georgio “yes, I see” she says. “Friends eh? Right! That’ll be one silver” She says holding out her hand palm up.
Jack lays a silver chip in her hand and as she takes it she slides her fingers against his palm.
“If you need … anything… in the night just ask for Jade, I’ll be happy to serve you.”
“Uh, yeah, uh, sure, I’ll remember that, uh, Jade.” Jack stammers signing the register and pushing a smiling Gerogio through the door ahead of him.
Behind them they hear Jade’s raucous laughter as the door slowly swings closed.
“You sure have a way with the ladies” Georgio says with a chuckle as they climb the narrow stone stairs to the second floor. They turn left at the top of the stairs and walk down the hall toward the end where a ladder leads up to the attic rooms.
Sandy and Jeff are leaving the sisters room. As they pass Jack and Georgio they are discussing the girls. “Did you ever see such beauty?” Sandy asks.
“Never” Jeff replies “they must be elves or fairies.”
“Nah, elves and fairies are skinny and flat chested. Did you ever hear of elves or fairies with such large breasts?” Sandy asks dreamily.
The two boys don’t even notice Jack and Georgio standing at the ladder smiling at them.
“First one down the stairs gets to bring up the last trunk” Sandy challenges as they break into a run down the hall to the stairs.
“Looks like the girls have made some new conquests,” Georgio says.
“Well at least the boys have good taste” Jack replies. They both laugh heartily as they climb the stairs to their attic room.
The room is clean and the beds smell of fresh straw stuffed into a clean tick. A clean wool blanket is folded on the foot of each bed. The roof of the room is low and both Jack and Georgio hit their heads on the rafters several times.
The only place where they can stand erect is in the dormers on each side of the room. One of the dormers faces west the other one faces east. Through the west dormer window the view of the river is distorted by thick rippled glass that looks like the surface of a pond that a stone has been dropped into.
“Look at this” Jack says taping the glass with his knuckle. “Real glass!” he marvels.
“Yes, the panes look like they are made from the bottoms of old bottles. Georgio replies. “They must be antiques from the ‘scrap age.”
“Do you think so?” Jack replies. “I have heard that an alchemist in the west has figured out how to make glass again. Jack answers. I was told by a professor at Cold-palace that they melt bits of old glass together with clean sand and when it is molten they get a large lump of the glass on the end of a pole and spin it until it is a flat circle. They continue to spin until the glass hardens. Then they break off pieces near the outer edge to use for windows in the finer homes. The closer to the center of the circle, the more distorted the glass is. These window pains look to be the very center of that circle. If you look close you can see the place where the pole was cut from the glass.” Jack says, peering closely at the window pane.
“But the bottom of a bottle looks the same, No?” Georgio Replies.
“Well uh, yes, I guess so, I haven’t seen many glass bottles though” Jack says.
“My father has many glass bottles that date back to before the great disaster” Gerogio says.
“Oh, how is that?” Jack asks.
“When my grandfather Guido was a boy he liked to explore the foundations of our ancestral home. One day he delved deeper into the bowels of the castle than anyone had ever been before. As the story goes, he was crawling along a tunnel and fell through the roof of an ancient wine cellar. The wine had been there for untold centuries before my grandpapa stumbled upon it. Of course the wine was undrinkable but great-grandpapa Georgio, after whom I was named, was an astute man and realized the value of the bottles. He had them removed, emptied, and cleaned. Ever since then we have bottled our best vintages in them. Over the years some of the bottles have gotten broken in drunken accidents or from other causes.
On the west side of the great hall of the castle is a tall arch into which, my father, Alfonzo had the bottoms of the bottles and other pieces cemented. The bottles are of several colors. In the afternoon the light that comes through is stained by the colorful bottle bits and falls on the throne. Papa arranges the time when he holds court so that the colored light is at its brightest. He wears a cloak of small polished metal squares that reflect the light making it appear that he is glowing and twinkling. The peasants are awed by their colorful king and obey him without question. In short, I have seen many bottle bottoms,” Georgio says.
“That is an amazing story” Jack says “ How did your grandfather get out of the hole.
“There were crates of bottles in the cellar so he stacked them up and climbed out” Georgio replies. When he told great grandpapa about the stash the king had crews of miners dig a tunnel under the castle to the cellar.”
“I have only seen four glass bottles in all my life” Jack says shaking his head.
If you ever find yourself in the state of Catatonia, you must come to our castle and I will show you hundreds of bottles. We will drink the wine from them together.” Georgio replies.
“I will look forward to that day but now we should change our clothes and go down to supper” Jack replies.
“Yes, I agree” Georgio says “I am hungry and perhaps this inn will have some wine that does not taste of cheese.”
Jack smiles to himself thinking of Blossoms feet at the Kings Cudgel but he says nothing.
Seagard and Freedrich.
Georgio and Jack step through the swinging batwing doors into the dining area. The room is noisy and smells of fish, smoke, wine, beer and sweaty bodies. Along the wall are booths and in the middle of the room are two rows of trestle tables with benches on each side. Most of the tables and booths occupied.
Looking around the room, Jack sees Gwen and Cloie sitting in a booth with two well dressed men.
He nudges Georgio with his elbow. “Looks like someone is beating your time,” he nods toward the booth.
Georgio shrugs, “It is nothing, they are free women and can dine with whom they like.
Just then a pretty young girl approaches them. She is tall and slender with long black curls held back in a ponytail with a silver clasp. Her eyes are large and a startling color of blue. She is dressed as most girls of her station, in an off the shoulder cream colored muslin blouse and blue muslin skirt.
She looks Jack over with interest. “Would you gentlemen like to eat?” she asks.
“Yes” Jack and Georgio answer together.
The girl looks around the room for a moment, then pointing to a booth in a corner she says, you can take that booth or find a place at one of the tables.
“We’ll take the booth” Jack replies.
“What’s for supper?“ Georgio asks.
“Fish stew, baked fish or fish kabobs and bread pudding for dessert.”
“I’ll have the fish stew” Jack replies.
“Baked fish” Georgio says.
“Beer or wine” the girl asks.
“Beer, wine,” they answer together.
“All right, have a seat and someone will bring your meal to you” the girl says with a bright smile.
Jack and Gerogio start in the direction of their table. But Georgio’s eye is caught by Gwen waving at them. He touches Jack’s arm and nods in Gwen’s direction. “Lets go see what she wants” he says.
They thread their way through the diners and approach Gwen’s booth.
Good evening dear ladies Georgio says with a small bow.
“Hi” Jack says.
“Hi guys” Gwen says brightly.
“Hi” Cloie repeats.
Jack, Georgio, may I introduce our new benefactors, Earl Seagard Brancone and his son Freedrich. May I present Prince Georgio Portelli of Catatonia and Jack.
The Earl and his son rise and offer their hands, Jack and Georgio shake hands with the men.
The Earl is a short heavy man with a receding hair line, beady eyes, a large red nose and florid face. He is dressed well but not richly. His son is small and weak looking with shaggy unkempt brown hair, bad acne and a lazy eye. His clothing is of good manufacture but worn and well used.
“Catatonia” the Earl says, “I don’t think I am familiar with that kingdom.
Is it part of the realm?”
“No, we are a very small kingdom far to the south of the great desert. My home is on the shores of The Warm Sea, Georgio replies.
“You are far from home” the Earl observes. What brings you so far north in winter?”
“I am on a mission for my father, King Alfonzo, to open trade with your realm. I am on my way to Granite Ford to meet with your trade commissioner” Georgio replies.
“Trade?” Seagard asks suspiciously. “Do you have any proof of your mission”
“Of course. I have letters of introduction and other documents in my luggage” Georgio replies a bit flustered.
“What’s this all about?” Jack asks. “It is not customary for lower gentry to interrogate foreign dignitaries.”
Seagard ignores Jack’s question. “Letters of introduction are not proof of anything and documents can be forged.”
Jack touches Gerogio’s arm. “Our Supper is being served. Lets go to our booth, I’m hungry. He turns to leave with his hand on Georgio’s elbow.
“Not so fast” Seagard barks.
Jack turns on him. “You have no right to order us around Earl Brancone” If you really are an Earl“.
Brancone’s eyes narrow as he peers at Jack. “If I were you I’d watch how I speak to officials of the King.”
“If I were you I’d be careful of how I talk to members of the High Kings family” Jack replies hotly.
“Bah,” Brancone barks. “I know of no one in the Kings family named Jack. I know everyone at court and I have never seen you there. For all I know you are a foreign agent as well.”
Foreign agents?! Is that what you think we are?! Jack asks loudly.
Diners nearby put down their spoons and tankards and turn to see what the commotion is all about.
“Yes, that is exactly what I think. Can you prove who you are?’
“I am Crown Prince Adrian Jaconia of North Morovenda. Jack yells.
“Can you prove it?” the Earl replies slyly.
“Yes I can!” Jack holds his right fist in the face of the Earl. Do you recognize this ring he says.
The man takes a step back, afraid of being punched and studies the ring with squinted eyes. “Oh,” he says after a moment. “I beg your pardon Prince Adrian. I had no way of knowing who you were. Please accept my deepest apologies your Highness. But, why are you traveling with this, this foreigner?”
“What gives you the right to question innocent travelers or even foreigners for that matter”
“The right? I am a member of the Kings Secret Police“ Brancone replies.
“Bull shit!” Jack barks. “I have never even heard of the Kings Secret Police”
“Of course not, it is a secret,” Brancon replies with a grin.
“Can you prove who you are?” Jack asks.
“Of course I can, I have documents right here” Brancone reaches inside of his waste coat, removes a small envelope and hands it to Jack.
Jack takes the envelope, looks at it and notices that there is no seal. He opens the envelope and removes a slip of parchment and reads the words scrawled on it. “This is to introduce Earl Seagard Brancone, Officer of the Kings Secret Police.” There is a scribbled illegible signature at the bottom of the page.
He returns the parchment to the envelope and hands it back to Brancone.
“This is not proof of anything” he says. “Documents can be forged you know.”
Brancone snatches the envelope from Jack’s hand. His face flushing, he stuffs it back into his waste coat. “Didn’t you see the signature at the bottom?”
“I didn’t recognize that scribbling as the King’s signature.” Jack replies smoothly.
“Of course, that is not the King’s signature, it is that of the Kings legal council, Count Cazador De Ambulancia.”
“No wonder I couldn’t read it” Jack smiles “Never heard of him.”
Brancone stammers and sputters for a bit then, “Come Freedrich” he growls. As he turns to leave he says, “you haven’t seen the last of us. I will be watching you and your foreigner friend.”
“Good evening to you too” Jack says brightly.
Georgio makes an exaggerated bow.
“Well, it appears that your friends have left you” Jack says to the girls.
“Oh” Jack, you ruined it” Gwen whines.
“Ruined what? You don’t mean you were interested in those two creeps.” Jack responds.
“Well no, not that way” Cloie says. “But the Earl said that he has a boat tied up at the docks in the rear of the inn and he offered to take us by boat to Granite Ford. That would have been a lot more comfortable than that bouncy old coach.”
“Yeah, and I wonder what the fare would have been” Jack says.
“Oh Jack you’re so cruel” Gwen cries.
“I’m sorry Gwen. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings but I’ll bet those two are a couple of con men or worse.”
“Did you see their boat” Georgio asks.
“Well no, but they said it was moored out back” Cloie replies.
“I’m sorry I ruined your boat trip” Jack says but maybe if we leave you alone they will come back. I’m hungry and our supper is getting cold. He turns to leave when Gwen says. “Why don’t you bring your supper over here and sit with us.”
“We can do that” Georgio says smiling.
“Sure, we can do that” Jack agrees.
Jack and Georgio retrieve their trenchers and drinks and come back to the girls booth.
Gerogio slides in beside Cloie, she snuggles up to him and gives him a little kisses on the cheek.
Jack sits on Gwen’s side of the booth. She watches him as he begins to eat.
After a few heart beats she asks. “Prince Adrian Jackonia? Why didn’t you tell us you are a prince, Jack or should I say Your Highness.”
Jack sets down his spoon, takes a swig of his beer, sets down the mug and lets out a sigh. “Please call me Jack, that is what my friends call me. No one else is supposed to know I am abroad” he mumbles.
“Why not” Cloie asks.
“Well, because I am on a secret mission that, if I am successful will join the Kingdoms of North and South Morovenda into one kingdom. If not, I will be disgraced and can never go home.”
They sit quietly as Jack and Georgio continue eating.
When Jack finishes his stew, sopping up the last of the broth with a piece of heavy black bread, he takes another sip of beer.
Gwen asks, “What about Brancone? Why do you think he is not what he says?”
“Oh, I am sure that he is lying” Jack says. “For one thing, I am sure that there is no secret police in the realm. There is no reason for such an office. For another thing I have spent much of my life around the court’s of the realm and have never seen or heard of any Earl named Brancone. Then there is the mater of his documents. Any letter or documents that originate from any official of the realm will bare the seal of the King. There was no seal on that document. Also, I know the Kings legal council personally and his name is Manny Feldman. The final clue was the ring.”
“What do you mean about the ring” Georgio asks.
Jack removes the ring and hands it to Georgio. “Look closely at the ring and tell me what you see.”
“It is a very expensive looking ring” Georgio replies “and very old.”
“Look closely” Jack says, “look past the diamonds and precious metals.”
“There are numbers and words inscribed around the face” Georgio says. I recognize some of the letters but not the words. Do the numbers denote a date or something like that?”
“Give the ring to Gwen and Cloie to inspect.” Georgio hands the ring to Cloie. She inspects it and hands it to Gwen.
Gwen looks the ring over closely, “If that is a date” she says “it is before the disaster”
She hands the ring back to Jack.
“Exactly” Jack says, “This ring was given to me by my great, great aunt, the High Queen, when I became of age. It is very ancient and as you say is an artifact of the old civilization. The language is English. As you no doubt know, English is one of the bases from which modern standard is derived.
It took me a year of research to find out what the words mean.”
“Well?” The other three ask.
“The words around the edge say, Super Bowl Champions. The date is 2023. In the center it says Green Bay.”
“So, what’s that mean?” Georgio asks.
“That, I don’t know for sure” Jack replies “I suppose that it has something to do with a very large bowl and someone who’s champion was named Green Bay. It may have been a prize won in an eating tournament. Whatever the ring was for, it doesn’t have anything to do with whether I am a prince or not.
Your friend, Brancone had no idea what the ring meant but was impressed by the ring itself and didn’t want to take a chance of drawing attention to himself by offending a relative of the High King.”
“Why do you think he tried to pick an argument with us?” Georgio asks.
“I am not sure. Maybe he was trying to scare us off so they could monopolize the girls or worse.
“What do you think he is up to?”
“I am not sure but I do have some ideas and if I am right you girls were and maybe still are in danger.”
“Danger?” Both girls cry.
“What do you mean?” Cloie asks.
“You say he has a boat at the dock behind the inn?”
“Yes, that is what he told us” Gwen replies.
“I’d like to take a look at that boat” Jack says. “Did he tell you the name of the boat?”
“No, he just said it was docked behind the inn.” Gwen replied.
“I want you girls to stay close to us this evening and lock your door when you go to your room. If you have to leave the dining room one of us should go with you.”
“Do you think they might be a slavers?” Georgio asks.
“That is exactly what I am thinking.” Jack replies.
“Oh my” Gwen says, “do you think he was trying capture us?”
“I think that, if you had gotten on their boat you would have ended up in a brothel or sold to eastern traders to live out your life in some Bedouins harem” Jack replies.
“Oh my” Cloie says, hugging herself “that is frightening.”
“So, what are we going to do now?” Georgio asks.
“I guess we will have to keep an eye on those two gentelmen and find out which boat is theirs. Then we’ll try to get a look inside that boat.”
The evening progresses slowly. The dwarves play their music and the singer sings its strange songs.
Cloie and Gwen do not dance which helps Jack and Georgio to relax. Brancone and Freedrich come in to the dining room a few times but each time they looked over at Jack’s table to find Jack and Georgio starring at them. They turn around and leave again.
About midnight Jack stands up, stretches and says in a loud voice, “I think it is time we went to our rooms.”
Georgio and the sisters rise and follow Jack out of the dining room.
As they walk down the hall Jack whispers, “I think you girls should stay in our room tonight.”
“Oh, Jack I never thought you would ask,” Gwen giggles.
“Its not what you think Gwen. Georgio and I will stay in your room.”
“Oh,” Gwen pouts. “Why are you going to do that.”
“If I am not mistaken, your room will be visited by a couple of secret police men tonight and I want to be there if they do. Do you wear a night gown to bed?” he saks.
“Well that depends” Gwen replies “on who I go to bed with.”
“We will stop by your room and you can pick one out that will fit Georgio.”
“What?” Georgio asks. “ What do you have in mind Jack. I knew that you weren’t all that interested in the girls but this is a bit weird don’t you think.”
“Lets get in the room and I’ll explain my plan.”
The trio duck in to the girls room.
A short time later a man and woman exit the room and climb the ladder to the garret.
A pair of beedy eyes follow them from a darkened doorway. The door closes and the eyes disapear.
In the girls room Georgio lies on one of the beds in the negligee.
“how do I look?” Georgio whispers. “Are you sure that this plan will work?”
“You look lovely and no, I’m not sure it will work” Jack says “but its the only plan I have, now be quiet.”
“All right, here goes, I am leaving now.” Jack opens the door and as he leaves the room he turns back “Yes dear, a hot cup of mud and a round, is that all my love? I will return as soon as I can.”
The door to the room down the hall clicks shut as Jack passes by.
Jack dissapeers down the stairs to the dining room.
The door down the hall opens, Freedrich and Seagard slip out and rush to the girls room. Outside the door the two men stop to listen.
“One sister is better than none” Brancone says. “Lets get her and git out of here.” Brancone pulls a small vile from his vest pocket, un-stoppers it and pours a small amount of odoriferous fluid into a small piece of cloth. They open the door and enter the room. There is the sound of a short struggle.
After a bit the door opens slowly and the two men emerge carring a body wrapped in blankets. They shuffle down the hall and out a back door of the inn.
Jack follows but not too close.
The men rush down a flight of stone stairs and across the quay to a large boat with a single mast tied to the dock along with several others.
Jack waits in the sahdows and watches. The men disappear into the hold of the boat.
Then Jack follows drawing his two shot derringer from his sash. As he climbs onto the deck he can hear the two men arguing.
“that is a man you dolt” Brancone shouts.
“Well how was I supposed to know it was a man? It was dark in the room and he is dressed in a nightgown. It was your idea to snatch him. Now what do we do with him?”
“Tie him up tight and we will sell him along with the women. Now lets go back and get that serving girl.”
After a short time the men climb out of the hold, slide the hatch cover in place and head back to the inn.
Jack slips out from behind the cabin in the stern of the boat, opens the hatch, climbs down the ladder into the hold and slides the hatch cover back in place. He takes a candle from his sash and striking flint on steel, blows tinder into flame and lights the candle.
By the light of the candle Jack finds Georgio trussed up like a lamb to be slaughtered.
He unties his friend and slapps him on both cheeks. “Georgio!” he says “Georgio!” he repeats, slapping him a little harder.
Georgio groans, “Wh, what!, stop hitting me” he says holding up his arms to fend off another blow. “Where are we” he asks shaking his head to clear it.
“We are in the hold of the slavers boat.”
A sound to his right causes Jack to spin around with the little pistol at the ready. He holds the candle high and see’s several bodies lying in the gloom. Each one is bundled in blankets, tied and gagged.
Jack hands Georgio the pistol and pulling one of his fighting knives from his high top moccasin, he approaches one of the bodies. He cuts the ropes off one captive, and removes the blanket, a pretty young girl emerges. Her eyes wide she scoots away from him.
“No, No please sir, don’t hurt me please, sir” she cries.
“Its all right” Jack replies “no one is going to hurt you, we are here to set you free.”
He leaves the girl and sets to letting the rest of the captives free.
When they are all untied Jack hears shuffling foot steps approaching along the dock.
“Be quiet, someone approaches” he whispers and snuffs out the candle. The captives still their mumbling.
The boat rocks as someone climbs up the gang plank. The hatch lid slides back and Freedrich climbs backward down the ladder supporting a trused up body as Seagard handles the other end.
They set the body against a bulk head and turn to go.
Not so fast slaver! Jack shouts.
From inside his vest Seagard starts to draw a long flintlock pistol. He never gets a chance to use it.
Jacks fighting knife slices through the front of the mans elbow and the pistol drops from nerveless fingers to the deck while blood pumps from the severed artery.
Freedrich spins to attack Jack with a short sword when the blade of Gerogio’s dager slices through the mans jugular and he falls gurgling his life out on the deck.
Seagard tries to climb the ladder with his one good arm but is pulled back down by his former captives. The prisoners, all women, attack him savagely kicking, scratching and biting. Saegard tries to draw a knife from his sash but one of the women takes it from him and buries it in his groin. She turns the blade and slices off his manhood. His chilling screems turn to a gurgle when the knife slices across his throat.
It is all over in a few seconds. The women, breathing hard, stand in shock of what they had done, some are weeping but most are silent.
“All right its all over ladies, lets go up on deck” Jack says. We can sort you out in the open air.
“Let’s see who this one is” Georgio says approaching the bundle still tied near the bulkhead.
He squats down and cuts the ropes binding the bundle. He pulls back the blanket and by the faint glow coming through the open hatch, sees the pretty serving girl that he and Jack had talked to in the dining room.
“Wake up my lovely” Georgio says, lightly slapping the girl on each cheek.
The girl takes a deep breath, her eyes fly open wide and she strikes out at Georgio. He blocks the blows and talking softly calms the frighten girl.
He helps her to her feet and follows her up the ladder to the deck.
Jack and the ex captives are talking softly as Georgio and the girl reach them.
“So, what now” Georgio asks “what do we do with the bodies and what about the captives.
We will take the women into the inn and see if we can get them taken care of.
“Oh yes” the serving girl says “Jade will be happy to feed and take care of them and when she finds out that you saved us from slavers my mother will want to reward you both.”
She looks Georgio up and down “Well maybe.”
“Jade is your mother?” both men ask in surprise.
Oh yes, didn’t you know? The girl replies.
N.. no” Jack stamers “I didn’t know.” What is your name.
“Alisa” the girl answers.
Georgio smiles, wondering what reward Jade would bestow on Jack and himself.
“What about the slavers” Georgio asks.
“Leave them for now” Jack replies “we will see if there are any turtle heads about. We can turn the bodies over to them. If not we can get someone to throw them into the river and the dragon fish can feed on their carcasses.”
“There are none of the Kings road patrol at the inn tonight” Alisa says. I will have Sandy and Jeff take care of the corpses.
“Right, then, lets get inside. I want to check on Gwen and Cloie and get some sleep” Jack says.
“One moment” Georgio says. He climbs back down into the hold of the boat and in a few minutes is back on the deck.
“What was that about” Jack asks.
“Well I thought that these women might need some funds to get them back to their homes and where better to aquire them than from their captors.” Georgio smiles holding up two plump purses.
“Good idea” Jack replies “we can go through their belongings in their room and see if there is anything of value in there. When it is light we will go through the boat.”
“Let’s hurry in side, I want to get my cloths back” Georgio says.
The women look him over and begin to chuckle.
“It’s a disguise” Gerogio says grumpily and stomps down the gang plank.
The women follow him while Jack takes up the rear.
When they enter the inn Alisa tells the women to go into the dining room and order food and drink for themselves.
She leads Jack and Georgio down the hall to the left and knocks on a large ornately carved door.
There is no answer so she knocks again, harder this time.
A muffled voice responds from the other side of the door, ”I’m coming, you don’t have to beat down my door. The door swings inward and Jade is standing in the doorway in a green silk floor length negligee. The material clings to her ample breasts and accentuates the curves of her well rounded body.
“What is it Alisa? Can’t you take care of things for even a little while so I can get some…. Oooh, you brought me a present, two presents. Such a sweet girl you are.”
“No, mom these men aren’t presents for you, they just saved my life.
“What’s that?” What do you mean saved your life.”
“Let us come in and I will tell you all about it.
Jade stands to one side and the trio enter her room.
They talk for several minutes each telling his or her part in the tale.
When they are done Jade thinks for a while and says “I don’t know how to thank you gentlemen. Well I do but you haven’t taken the bate so far and your friend dressed as he is I guess you want something else.
“This is a disguise damn it! All I want right now is a good nights sleep” Georgio says.
“My only concern at the moment is for those unfortunate women” Jack replies. Can you look after them and see that they are returned to their homes?”
“Of course young sir, I will take good care of them. And you will always be welcome at the Boars Tooth free of charge. Anything you want is yours for the asking. I don’t know what I would have done if my poor little Alisa had been abducted. Off to your beds now and we can talk more over breakfast.”
Jack and Georgio head off to the garret to check on Gwen and Cloie.
Georgio knocks lightly on the door.
“Who is it? Gwen’s voice comes through the door.
“It’s Georgio and Jack” Georgio whispers.
There is the sound of the inner bolt being thrown back and the door opens slightly. Gwen peers out at them with sleepy eyes.
“Oh, I am so glad you are back,” she says as she opens the door to allow them to enter.
She closes the door behind them and slips the long dagger she is holding into the waste band of her plane cotton nightgown.
“Don’t hurt yourself with that Gore-rat sticker” Jack remarks when he sees the dagger.
“Don’t worry Jack, Cloie and I are proficient in the use of weapons be it knives, swords or firearms. Do you think we would travel this land alone otherwise?”
“Well no, I guess I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Tell us what happened” Cloie insists.
They fill the girls in on the nights activities.
“You were definitely right about those two,” Gwen says when they finish their story. “You two saved our lives and we are in your debt.”
“Think nothing of it,” Jack says, “it was the right thing to do and besides I hate slavers. They should all die as Brancone did, with their manhood cut off and their throat cut.”
“My, my, Jack, I didn’t know you were such a violent person.” Gwen chides him.
He looks at her for a moment and she smiles sweetly.
Jack silently curses his mission. He would like nothing more than to take this beautiful woman in his arm’s and make love to her.
“By the way Georgio, you look very fetching in my negligee” Cloie says with a laugh.
“Oh yeah, I forgot. Where are my clothes?”
“Over on that stool,” she points to a corner of the room.
Georgio crosses to the stool and bundles his clothing in his arms.
“Well I’m ready for some sleep,” he says “you girls my as well stay here. Jack and I can sleep in your room for tonight.”
“Yes” Jack agrees “we will see you at breakfast and we can discuss what we do from here. You may get your boat ride after all.”
Jack turns to leave but Gwen takes him by the arm, turns him around to face her. Standing on tip toes, she kisses him long and hard on the lips.
When she pulls away Jack’s face is flushed and he is trembling.
“That’s not fair” he mumbles and exit’s the room.
Gwen watches him go with a quizzical look on her face.
“That is either the stupidest man or the strongest man I have ever known,” Georgio says shaking his head as he follows Jack from the room.
A New Mission
Early the next morning there is a persistent knocking at Jack and Georgio’s door. Jack rolls over on the bed and covers his head with the pillow.
Georgio grogily rises from his bed, stagers to the door and opens it a crack. Peering blurrily through the opening he sees Cloie dressed for travel in a soft blue knitted sweater, grey wool trousers and calf high snake skin boots.
“You had better hurry and get dressed or you will miss the ferry,” Cloie says through the gap in the door.
Jack sits up on the edge of his bed. “I’m not taking the ferry,” he says, running his hands through his hair. “We will meet you in the dining room in a few minutes and discuss what I have in mind.”
“All right Jack but hurry, because if we are going on the ferry we will need our trunks,” Cloie replies.
Before she turns to leave, she gives Georgio a kiss on the end of his nose.
“That is a verry nice girl” Georgio says as he closes the door.
Jack and Georgio enter the dining room a few moments later and spot the girls sitting at the same booth they used the evening before. They start to cross the room to join them but are surrounded by half a dosen young and mostly pretty women. The girls touch them and kiss their hands and cheeks thanking them profusely for freeing them.
The two men break away from the crowd as gently as possible and make their way to where Gwen and Cloie are waiting for them.
Georgio slides into the booth next to Cloie. She puts her arm through his and gives him a kiss on the cheek.
Jack sits on Gwen’s side of the booth.
“You have quite a following,” Gwen teases.
“They are just grateful” he replies.
Jack looks around the dining room to see who is present.
He notices the Dwarves sitting at a table sipping mulled wine from steaming mugs. A group of river men in their collorful clothing sit at a table near the fireplace with foaming tankards of beer in their hands. The Groso’s are no where to be seen. The freed women are sitting at a table near by. There are a scattering of others, fisher folk, laborers, tradesmen and farmers, etc. sitting at tables in groups of two and three.
Alisa comes to the booth. “What would you gentlemen like for breakfast?”
Jack looks questioningly at Gwen.
“Oh, we have already eaten,” Gwen says “and had several mugs of mud” I don’t want anything.”
“Nor I,” Cloie says.
“What’s for breakfast?” Georgio asks.
“Kippers, acorn mush or boiled fish,” Alisa replies.
Georgio groans, doesn’t anyone in this country eat eggs and Gor-rat ham and tubers for breakfast?”
“Oh, that sounds awful” Alisa says smiling. “there is always mud and rounds” she adds.
“All right,” Georgio relents, “mud and rounds it is.”
Jack? She asks.
“Mud and rounds” Jack replies, “bring a pitcher of mud and a tray of rounds.”
“It’ll be right up,” Alisa says as she turns and walks away.
Jade comes into the dining room and makes a bee line for Jack’s group.
She pulls a chair up to the end of the table and sits down looking them over.
“Now I understand why you have been avoiding me Jack,” she says, looking over Gwen and Cloie approvingly. “You have good taste,”
Gwen smiles at him enjoying his discomfort.
“Who are your little friends?” Jade asks.
Oh exuse me, Jack says. This is Gwen and Cloie Pulcher.
“Pleased to meet you officially, Gwen and Cloie.”
“Now that that is taken care of, lets get down to business,” Jade says leaning close.
“According to the laws of salvage and conquest you now own a slave boat Jack. What do you plan to do with it?”
“Well, I have been thinking of going into the slave trade,” Jack replies nonchalantly.
“What!?” Jade shouts standing up and toppling her chair.
The other three stare at him open mouthed.
“Wait! Before you cut off my manhood and slit my throat, listen to what I have to say,” Jack goes on. “As I said last night, I hate slavers and would like to wipe their kind from the face of the realm. I have been thinking that perhaps the best way to catch a slaver is to pose as a slaver, gain their trust, slit their throats and capture or sink their boats.”
The realm has no river patrol to deal with them so the trade goes on unabated.
“My oh my, young man you are a bold one. Do you have any idea how dangerous an undertaking you are proposing?” Jade replies.
“Yes I understand how dangerous it is but something has to be done about the slave trade and right now no one is doing anything. With the right boat and the right crew we can make a diference.”
Georgio whistles. “I have to hand it to you Jack, you do think big but what about your mission to join North and South Morovenda?”
“With luck I can accomplish that mission and do something important for the realm as well. I can’t just turn my back and let this appalling trade in human life continue unchallenged. The way I see it, we can float down the river and let it be known that we are in the business of buying flesh for the slave market. Once we have the cargo safely transferred, we can kill the slavers and sink or capture their boats.”
“That sounds awful risky if you ask me,” Jade replies.
“Yes it is very risky, but if our boat is modified for the purpose and if we have a crew that is dedicated to the task I think we can pull it off.”
The only problem I have with the whole thing is that I have no knowledge of boats or how to sail them.” Jack admits.
“Well, yes that does put you at a definite disadvantage” Jade says. “I’ll talk to a few people and maybe I can get you a crew. Modifying the boat is another matter, that will take a considerable amount of gold and some time. It will also have to be done in secret. I know most of the ship wrights on the river. Let me see what I can do on that account.” She rises from he seat and leaves them alone. She walks to the table where the river men are enjoying their draughts and whispers into the ear of a very unsavory looking sailor. The man stands up and followes her out of the dining room.
Georgio, Gwen, and Cloie are starring at Jack.
“Are you sure you know what you are getting into?” Georgio asks.
“No, not really,” Jack replies “but what else can I do.”
“You could just leave here and continue your mission to unite your kingdoms,” Gwen says.
Just then, Alisa arrives with a large pitcher of mud, two mugs and a tray of rounds. She pours some mud in each mug and departs.
“Ah, thank you” Jack says as he takes a round from the tray, brakes it in half, dips one end of a half into his mug and sucks the softened round into his mouth
“I thought about that all night” He continues after swallowing. “At first I thought that we could just take the boat and drift down the river all the way to Granite Ford. It would be a great way to travel, just drifting along but I kept seeing those women tied in the hold of that boat. It wasn’t until this morning that I came up with my plan such as it is.”
Georgio is sipping his mud and nibbling on a round when Alisa returns to the table with a large pewter plate and sets it down in front of him. On the plate is a pile of scrambled eggs, several thick slice of Gore-rat bacon and blue tubers chopped up fine and fried crisply. “Sorry, no ham” Alisa apologizes.
“Oh Alisa, my lovely, you are a sorceress.” Georgio cries.
“No, the cook is the magician. I just deliver the stuff,” she replies, smiling.
“That looks awful,” Cloie says “how can you eat bird embrio’s. The bacon and tubers look good though.”
“Back away from my plate,” Georgio says “I’m going to enjoy this. I haven’t had eggs since I left my home.” He digs in and devowers the breakfast with exclamations of delight.”
When he finishes his food, he pushes the plate away and sits back in his seat, patting his stomach. “Now that was a proper breakfast,” he sighs.
Jack refills his mug and picks up another round. “You people should hurry and get on the ferry or you will miss your connection to the coach,” he says.
“To late for that” Gwen says “the ferry left already.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I made you miss your ferry,” He replies.
“That’s not a problem,” Cloie says “there is a ferry leaving every two hours during the day. We can catch one whenever we want. Besides, I still like the idea of a boat trip rather than that bouncy old coach.”
“No, No, I can’t let you put yourselves in danger because of my hair brained scheme.”
“Look Jack” Gwen puts in. “If it wasn’t for you and Georgio, we would be on that boat right now and bound for a worse fate than what you offer. At least if we go with you we will have a chance to strike back at those slaver bastards.”
Jack looks at Georgio. “What about you, don’t you have a trade mission to negotiate?
“Yes, but you can deliver me to Granite Ford and introduce me to your great, great uncle, the High King.
“We could all die in this endever you know,” Jack insists, “Or be captured and enslaved ourselves.”
We could have died at the gorge, Georgio says.
“And last night we could have been enslaved,” Cloie adds.
“Is there no way I can talk you out of this madness?” Jack asks.
“No!” the three reply together.
Jack smiles at his friends “I was hoping you would see it that way.”
He lifts his mug in a salute to them.
“Besides, you don’t know how to sail and I do,” Georgio says.
“Of course. I was raised on the coast and we Catatonian’s are a sea faring people. I learned to sail when I was a child.
“Why didn’t you come north on a ship then” Cloie asks.
“Your northern seas are far to treacherous in the winter so my father insisted that I take the overland route. If I stay in your land until spring I will return home by ship.”
“If you live through this adventure of mine “ Jack says morosely.
“Adventure of ours” Georgio corrects him.
Jack and Georgio finish the last of the rounds and mud. Then Jack suggests that they go to the docks and inspect their boat.
They exit the back of the inn and walk along the dock until they come to their new boat. Jack is impressed by the size of the craft. It is larger than any of the others moored at the docks. On its bow in gold script is the name “SunFlower”
“Nice name” Georgio says following Jack. “It should strike fear in the hearts of any river pirate or slaver we come across.
Jack chuckles, “Yeah, maybe we should change the name anyway, incase we come across someone who knew Brancone and this boat.”
The boat is bright yellow with a splash of flowers painted on each side of the bow. The rails are red and the deck is stone scrubbed hardwood.
On further inspection Jack notices that the paint is pealing along the water line and the paint job appears to have been hastily done. Under the pealing yellow paint several other layers of paint can be seen. One, green another red another blue.
“It would appear that Brancone had the boat painted many times. I would suspect that was so it wouldn’t be recognized when it returned to the same ports to take more slaves“ Jack says over his sholder.
“Arr, That’d be true enough sar” a rough deep voice above him says.
Jack looks up to see the sailer that Jade had left the inn with.
He is dressed in a bright orange blousy silk shirt with a deep “V” neck exposing his broad chest which is covered with black curly hair.
Over the shirt he has a yellow vest. His calf length trousers are sky blue and are held up by a kelly green sash. His lower legs are sheathed in brightly colored argyle knee socks and on his feet are red slippers with the toes curled up to a point and a silver bell sewn to the tips. On the mans head is a orange and yellow knitted wool cap with a tassel that hangs down the left side of his face.
Behind his sash are a brace of long Flint lock pistols, and a wicked looking curved knife.
The man is stocky and powerfully built with wide shoulders, thick arms, large strong hands and powerful legs. He is as black as pitch, his face is almost completle obscured by a thick curly black beard. His mouth is large and almost toothless above which is a large flat pockmarked nose with a gold ring through the end and a diamond stud on the side of each nostril. His face shows the signs of a hard outdoor life, excessive drinking and many barroom brawls. His eyes are large with black pupils and the whites are bloodshot. From under his cap his hair hangs unkempt in long dreadlocks. His ears are pierced with several gold and silver rings along the outer edges.
Jade appears beside the man. “This here’s Billy Black” she announces “one of the best pilots on the river, and a more honest sailor you’ll not find anywhere. We have been inspecting the boat and he is very impressed. Come aboard and we will give you a tour.”
Jack and Georgio walk up the gang blank followed by Gwen and Cloie.
Jack is surprised by Billy’s short stature. The top of the man’s head only comes to Jacks arm pit.
“I see you ain’t had dealings with river-men much” Billy growls in a low sonorous voice. “You look a might flummoxed that I be built so close to the deck, eh? Well, all us river-men are built low. Keeps us from a-fallen over the rails in a bad blow and makes it easier for us to fight below decks.
You did the river a service lad, by slitting that old pirate Broncone’s gullet. He was a bad one and a slaver to boot. Anything I can do to help you would be my pleasure, arr that it would, Sar.”
“Has Jade told you about my plans?” Jack asks.
“Arr, that she has Cap’n, an I’d be proud to cast my lot with you.” I know a few honest lads that would be happy to crew this here scow. She’s a fine craft and to fair for the likes of that Brancone bastard.”
“Well, lets take a look at her then and see what we have to work with.” Jack says motioning for Billy to lead the way.
“Arr Cap’n” Billy replies and leads them toward the stern.
As they follow Billy he points out the strengths and dificiencies of the craft.
“Arr she’s a fine boat, Sar, with a wide beam and a flat bottom. Good for drifting over the shallows. She has a heavy led weighted centerboard for sailing in deep water. Her hold is large and deep with hammocks in the bow for the crew to sleep.”
“How many will it take to crew her” Jack asks.
“At least three men what knows how to sail her, sar, she being Gaf rigged and all but if there’s fighting to be done I’d say six at least. You’ll need a couple of strong lads to row her when the wind dies or to haul on the cordell when goin against the current in a calm. Its no work for gentry” he says looking askance at Gerogio and the girls. “You thinking of crewing her with these here folk?
“Well, not exactly, but they are coming with us.” Jack answers as he follows Billy down the ladder into the hold.
You might want to think on that a bit mate. That dandy might do but them women’ll be in the way comes to fight’n.
“That dandy, as you call him, is a deep water sailer so he can crew with the best and the girls can handle themselves” Jack replies. “I hope” he thinks to himself.
“We’ll see when it comes to cut’n of arms an stick’n gizzards. As to deep water sailing this be river sailing. It ain’t the same as deep water Billy grumbles.
In the middle of the hold just forward of the hatch is a narrow sealed structure that comes up from the bilge through the hold to the overhead.
What’s this, Jack asks.
“Center board trunk” Billy replies.
Jack looks at Georgio questioningly’
“That is where the centerboard is stored when it is not diployed” Georgio says.
“Right you are bucko, you might do yet dandy” Billy chortles and continues the tour.
“Forward here is the sleeping quarters fer the crew,” Billy says, as he turns and walks toward the bow.
In the dim light Jack can see hammocks rolled up and tied to the hull, three to a side.
The hold ends in a flat bulkhead athwart the bow.
“What is behind this wall?” he asks Billy.
“Sail locker Sar and that‘s a bulkhead,” Billy replies.
Jack walks to the bulkhead and runs his hand over the surface to see if he can find a latch but finds nothing.
“Is there be a door on deck that accesses this uh, locker?”
“Arr there is and that would be a hatch Sar” Billy replies.
“Lets go to the back of the hold and see what we find” Jack says.
“Arr” we’ll go aft Sar,” Billy turns and they slowly walk to the rear of the hold.
Just aft of the hatch, the mast pierces the upper deck and is set in a hole in the deck of the hold. It is held in place by a bronze flange that is bolted to the deck and the mast.
The hold is commodious with plenty of room for cargo and supplies.
In the center of the hold is a hatch that is level with the deck that has a recessed ring to pull it up.
“what’s under that door” Jack asks.
“The bilge Georgio” replies, and that door is called a hatch.
“I thought this boat had a flat bottom”
“It dose, but since it has a chined hull there is a small amount of room between this deck and the outer hull” Georgio explains.
“What’s down there” Jack asks.
Water usually, there’s always some water that seeps into any hull and since the bilge is the lowest part of the boat that is where it settles. Sometimes there is also ballast.
“What’s ballast,” Jack asks.
Ballast is weight, stones and such, that is placed at the bottom of a boat to stabilize it.
Jack looks to Billy for conformation.
“He be right Sar, sure as salt, the boy knows his boats.
“How do you get the water out of the bilge?” Jack asks.
“A bilge pump” Georgio and Billy say together.
“You are having me on” Jack says, is there really something called a bilge pump?”
“Oh, arr Cap’n there’s one aft, a fine double bellows pump it is. It’ll bale her out quick as a wink. Billy replies.
“Open the hatch and lets take a look in the bilge then” Jack says.
Billy reaches down, grasps the ring and lifts the hatch.
A powerful stench rises from the bilge.
“Oh my what is that smell” Gwen asks holding her nose.
“Bilge water” Billy says with a grin.
“I have seen enough of the bilge” Jack says “close the uh, hatch.”
“Arr Sar” Billy closes the hatch. “I’ll get one of the new men to bail her out and you can inspect it later.”
“We are going up on deck to get some air” Gwen says, and starts up the ladder with Cloie following.
The men continue walking aft.
Stacked on either side are bails, boxes, casks and clay jars.
“Have you looked into this cargo” Jack asks.
Nay, Cap’n ain’t had the time.
When you get your crew together have them hall this stuff up to the deck and we can go through it later.
Further back near another bulkhead with a low door in it is a box like apparatus with a pivot on top and long handle pined in the middle to the pivot. The handle is connected to two bronze rods that disappear into the box. A canvass tube runs from the box to the hull where it is connected to a flange.
“This hire is the bilge pump Cap’n,” Billy says pointing to the box.
He pushes down on one end of the handle, the rod on his side moves down while the other one goes up.
If you listen close you can hear water flowing from the bilge. Put your ear against the hull.
Jack leans against the outer wall with his ear pressed against it.
Billy and Georgio pump the handles.
“Yes, I can hear the water running into the river.”
“Arr Cap’n, she works like a mermaids dream.” Billy smiles and pats the pump affectionately.
“Let’s see what’s behind this door.” Jack opens the door and pokes his head into the small compartment. It’s two dark in here to see anything. Is there a candle around here.
“Arr Cap’n but you may want to be careful with fire in there.”
“Why’s that?” Jack asks.
“That’s the armory” Billy says.
“Get the candle” Jack orders.
“Arr Cap’n.” Billy goes to the mast and takes a candle from a holder. With flint and steel he strikes a spark into some tinder, blows the tinder into flame, lights the candle and brings it aft. Take care there Cap’n, you don’t want to end your voyage afore you set sail.”
Jack takes the candle and ducking his head, enters through the low door.
He’s amazed by what he finds. A dozen muskets are racked along the left wall, well oiled and shining in the flickering light. Above the muskets are flintlock pistols hanging on pegs. Also hanging from straps on the pegs are shooting bags and cartridge boxes. On the aft bulkhead on pegs are several swords of different types from flat bladed cutlasses to thin bladed rapiers. A crate in the corner is filled with knives of all types. Leaning against the right corner are three battle axes. Along the wall to his right are stacks of casks. He walks over to the casks and notices that they are lashed to the bulkhead and deck. One of the small barrels on top of the stack is open. He raises the candle to see into the cask and finds it is filled with gun flints.
The barrels under the flints are marked with two X’s.
“What’s in these marked Barrels” Jack asks.
“That’d be powder, Sar”
“Powder? You mean gun powder”
“Arr that I do, Sar”
Jack backs away from the casks.
To the right of the casks are three heavy cross bows.
Lying on the floor are the barrels of two small bronze cannons but the mounts are missing. There are several crates stacked near the door. Jack lifts the lid on one and finds canvas bags.
“What’s in these bags?” he asks.
“That’d be shot for the muskets” Billy answers
Jack exit’s the armory and closes the door. “Get a lock put on this door” he tells Billy.
“Well now, that will save us a lot of time and gold” Jack says.
Jack looks around the hold. He walks along the sides mumbling to himself.
He turns to Billy. “Can we cut holes in the sides about here Jack asks pointing to a spot about chest high.
“Well, I suppose we can but what do you want to be cut’n holes in the hull for?”
“Gun ports?” Georgio cries.
“Exactly” Jack says.
Arr, now I sees where your coarse be plotted. Billy says. But that is a dangerous thing to do.
“Oh, why is that?” Jack asks.
Well, if you heal over to far in a tack you’ll scuttle her and send her to the bottom before you could abandon ship. You’d be well served to talk it over with the shipwright.
“I like the idea of gun ports though” Jack says “lets get topside and inspect the rest of the boat. If Jade can find a good shipwright we can discuss whatever modifications we decide on with him.
“Ah, begin your pardon, Sar’s, it’d be a her you’ll be talking to about your modifications.
“A woman?” Georgio asks.
“Yep, Maisy Kelly, best shipwright on this part of the river and the prettiest. Jade has already sent for her.”
They climb the ladder to the deck. “Lets check out the cabin” Jack suggests.
Do you know if Brancone had a crew sailing with them? Jack asks as they walk aft.
“Oh, arr Cap’n, that he did.” four of the scurvyest bilge rats whatever pissed in the Dweezle.
“What became of them.”
Well Sar, when they got wind of what you and your mate done to the Brancone’s they tried slipping out in the night.”
“Do you mean they found another boat to crew on?” Georgio asks.
“Nay Sar, Three of them was found floating in the river face down this morning down stream by Burtons mill. The other, some how got tangled in the rigging and got himself hung from the yard arm of the Green Porpoise. No one knows how it happened,” he says with a grin. “Scum of that sort gives us river men a bad name you know.”
“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about the old crew telling any of their cohorts what happened” Jack says.
“Well Sar, it won’t take long for the word to get passed on down river. Every scum bag slaver and river pirate’ll know before long.
“I was hoping to keep the killing of the Brancone’s quiet” Jack says thoughtfully.
“Nay, its better this away” Billy says “we can let the scuttle but out that you killed him to take over is slave trade. It’s a common enough thing,”
“I hadn’t thought of that” Jack says “it might be a good at that.”
They reach the cabin. There is a ladder running up both sides of the cabin to the poop deck where the tiller is mounted above the stern. There are three small port holes running down each side and two across the back of the cabin and one port on each side of the entrance.
Jack opens the door and ducks in to the low room. He and Georgio have to remain stooped over but Billy can stand upright.
“Now I know why you river men are built so close to the deck “Gorgio remarks.
Arr Sar, there ain’t much head room on river boats, there ain’t.
That’s something we will have to have changed if we are to live in here. Jack says.
The cabins overhead is low but the room is large; there is plenty of space to move around.
There are four bunks, two stacked on each side.
At the rear is a desk with river charts laying on it.
There are storage compartments built under the lower bunks and floor to sealing lockers at each end.
Jack walks around the desk and opens the top drawer. He rifles through the papers, pulls a ledger out and opens it on the desktop. The book contains lists of the names and gender of slaves, where they were captured, where they were sold and how much they were sold for. Some of the entries don’t have a sale price or place. After the name it just says lost in transit.
“The bastard even kept records” Jack mumbles.
He opens a deep drawer on the right, pulls out a loaded and primed pistol and sets it next to the ledger. “I think this drawer has a false bottom he says and pulls out several papers laying them on the book.
He taps the bottom of the drawer with his knuckle then he reaches his hand in up to his elbow. There is a click and he removes the false bottom. He sets that on the desk. He reaches back into the drawer and pulls out a canvas bag that is obviously very heavy. He sets the bag down, unties the string that holds it closed and looks inside. He lets out a long whistle. “the slave trade must be a very lucrative business” he says as he reaches into the bag and brings out a hand full of gold coins. “There is enough in here to purchase every boat moored at the Boars Tooth and maybe the inn itself. I think we have our seed money here.”
“Arr skipper, there’s enough of that blaggard’s gold to pay for the refit and hire the best crew on the river.”
“We’ll have to have enough left over to buy cargo,” Jack says. As he puts the bag back. Replaces the false bottom and the pistol.
Jack opens the left hand drawer and finds another pistol and another false bottom. He places the pistol on the desk and closes the drawer without comment.
They go through the lockers and storage compartments dumping the contents on the floor. It is mostly clothing and personal items taken from the slaves by the father and son slaver team. In one of the compartments they find several small flags.
“What are these for” Jack asks Georgio.
“They are signal flags. Each one or combination of flags is used to send messages,” Georgio replies.
Arr that’s right, Sar. For instance that black ensign with the crossed red hands is used by slavers to let it be known that the boat has human cargo to sell. The white one with the black hand means that the slaver is in the market to buy slaves.”
“What is this black one with the red dragon on it?” Jack holds up the flag.
“That’d be a river pirates ensign” Billy replies.
“That reminds me” Jack says “we need to decide on a new name and a new paint scheme for the Sunflower.”
“What? Do you mean you don’t like the name Sunflower?” Georgio smiles.
“Well, since we are out to kill slavers and pirates Sunflower some how just doesn’t convey the proper gravitas,” Jack replies, “the yellow paint and the sprig of flowers on the bow makes it look like a ladies afternoon tea barge. I kind of like the name Red Dragon”
Nay Cap’n, that would tell the whole river that you are a pirate and you wouldn’t be allowed to enter any legal port. Also you would be an instant target for any of the kings patrol boats that you might encounter.”
“I thought there were no patrol boats on the river.” Georgio says.
“A regular patrol, no,” Billy says “but about once or twice a year the King sends a flotilla up river to clean out as many pirates and slavers as they can find. No sense advertising ill intent, says I.”
“You are probably right,” Jack relents “I still like the name though.”
“What about the River Dragon then,” Georgio suggests “That is just a fish but it still carries that sense of strength and ferocity.”
“I like it,” Jack says “what about you Billy?”
“Arr Cap’n, that’ll be a fine name and we can do a little fishing along the way to complete the disguise.” Billy smiles showing all four of his remaining rotten teeth.
“Right, then, The River Dragon it is,” Jack says. “Lets get all this other stuff out on the deck and the girls can go through it and see if they want any of it. The rest they can give to the peasants.
Each one takes a large bundle and deposit it on the deck in front of the cabin.
“Where are the girls?” Georgio asks.
“Jade is gone too, maybe they went back into the inn” Jack replies.
“Have you had a chance to check out the rigging?” Jack asks Billy.
Arr that I have and it is in fine shape Cap’n. As evil as her crew was they still took good care of the old Sunflower. She’s ready to sail at a moments notice, Sar.
“Lets go into the inn then, I could use a beer. This inspecting is thirsty work.
Come along Billy, I buy you a beer” Jack says, slapping Billy on the back.
“Arr cap’n that’ll be appreciated, that it will but I’ll just have a cup of mud if you don‘t mind Sar.”
“Don’t be too appreciative Billy, he won’t have to pay for any of it,” Georgio laughs.
When they enter the dining room they see Gwen, Cloie and Jade in a huddle with the freed slave women.
Gwen spots the three men and motions for them to come over to their table.
When they arrive Jade stands up and asks, “what can I get for you gentlemen?”
I’d like a beer Jack answers.
“Billy?” Jade asks.
“A cup of mud if you don’t mind Jade m’love.”
She looks at Georgio.
“A goblet of wine if you would be so kind madam.”
I ain’t no madam or a dear woman neither. I’m Jade, plain and simple,” she retorts.
“I beg your pardon my…. uh Jade,” Georgio replies sheepishly.
“Bah! Gentry! Always so proper. If you two hope to pull this off you will have to loose those fancy ways of yours.” Jade leaves them and goes to get their drinks.
“No Beer?” Jack asks Billy.
“Nay sar, never drink on the job or aboard ship and I hold my crew to the same rules. Even ashore I avoid spirits. There’s a demon in them what gets a hold of me and won’t let go. If I takes a drink I’ll not stop till I end up in the bilge with the rats.”
“It’s a wise man that knows his limits,” Georgio responds.
Jack turns to Gwen. “What are you women plotting, all gathered around this table with your heads together.”
These ladies need a way to get back to their homes, those who still have homes. Those that don’t have a place to return to want to help you wipe out the salvers.
Billy groans loudly.
“How many want to join us.” Jack asks
“All of them would like to help but only three have no homes to go back to.
We were thinking that you could take the three that still have homes back up river and drop them off at their towns or farms, Gwen says brightly and Billy could train the others to sail and fight as we go.
Billy groans louder putting his face in his hands.
What say you Billy?” Jack asks.
The women watch Billy expectantly.
“Nay Cap’n I don’t like it, women passengers are one thing but crew? Nay it won’t work. I can get four stout hardies that already know how to sail, know the river and can handle the fighting. We don’t have to waste time training them. What if we get into a fight before they are trained? Besides women are always second guessing orders and there is no time for arguing in a storm or if you fetch up against a strainer or sandbar.
“We decided to change the name of the boat to the River Dragon.”
But Jack, we like the name Sunflower. Do you really want to name the boat after a fish.?”
“Well, uh, yes I do.”
“You aren’t going to change the paint job too are you?
“Well uh yes I am”
“But it is such a pretty color and the flowers are so cute. We were thinking that we could put matching curtains in the cabin.
“I rest my case” Billy growls.
“Gwen, this is a fighting ship not some high ladies pleasure barge,” Jack says. “That yellow paint would not look so pretty splashed with blood and gore.”
“But the Sunflower is already known as a slaver. Won’t that help you fool other slavers,? Gwen asks quietly.
“Well you do have a point there” Jack replies “at any rate we can’t have the paint job changed until we get refit so we’ll see what happens on the way down river.
“We should take these women home,” Jack continues. “What I propose is this; Billy find two of the best honest crewmen you can find to ship with us from here. While we are underway we can try training the women. If they work out we can keep them if not we can find a place for them some where on shore.”
Arr Cap’n but it aint going to be easy to find crewmen that’ll be willing to ship with a boat load of females.
“Well, do your best. Tell them that I will pay double wages and a full share of the any spoils. We have a couple days yet before we will be able leave. And Billy, if you are set against this I’ll understand and there’s no hard feelings. If you want to quit us, make your decision before we leave. Once we are under way I’ll consider it mutiny if you quit.”
Arr that’s fair enough Cap’n but I already made my decision. I’ll pilot the Sunflower as second mate if you please as long as you’ll have me.”
“Thank you Billy, I was hoping you would see it that way. We need your help and I trust that you will do your best.”
“What wages do you think is fair?” Jack asks.
“A seconds pay and a full share suits me,” Billy replies.
“I’ll pay you double a seconds wages and a full share” Jack says.
Jade shows up with the drinks and sets them on the table.
“I sent a mesaage down river to Maisy Kelly the shipwright. I should hear something from her by tomorrow morning. She may not be able to come up here if she is busy with another project though,” Jade says.
“Why don’t we take the Sunflower to her,” Gwen suggests, “we can use the time to start training the girls.”
Jack looks at Billy questioningly, “Billy?”
“Arr Cap’n, I’ll talk with some of the local boys tonight. If I can’t find a crew here I know some good men down at May’s Port. If we don’t founder before we get there. Either way we’ll have to go there to get refit.”
“I have confidense in you Billy,” Jack says, “I know that with you and Georgio sailing the Sunflower we will make it.”
“Now as to the women,” Jack clears his throat. “Which of you are the ones that want to sail with us as crew.”
Three of the women raise their hands.
Two are stout, broad shouldered and thick armed. They are not pretty but look healthy and strong. It is obvious that they are hybrid plow girls and used to hard work. The other is small thin and plain with a frightened look in her eyes.
Jack addresses the small one first. “What is your name?”
“Maryann” The girl replies, looking at the table.
“Where are you from?”
The girl bursts in to tears, covering her face with her hands.
Jack waits for her to calm down.
In a few moments the girl takes a deep shuddering breath and begins to talk quietly.
“I am from a small farming village on the east bank of the river just down stream from Falls City. One night the village was raided by Brancone, his crew and other men. They set fire to the hovels, killed all the old folks and captured the young ones as we fled the flames. My father tried to fight them off but was beaten to death with a club by Brancone while being held by two of his men. My mother was raped in front of us and then they cut her throat. The other adult women were treated the same. When all the adults were killed and the village burned to the ground, they tied us up and put us in the hold of that boat. They didn’t feed us and only gave us a drink of water twice a day. Some of us they sold to other traders. They sold my brother and sister and some others to a brown skinned bearded man who wore dark robes and a towel around his head. All along the river they raided and bought and sold slaves. I have no family left and all I can think of is getting revenge on all those who buy and sell people.” She looked down and began to sob again.
Everyone was very quiet. One of the other women put her arm around Maryann and the girl burried her face against the woman’s breast sobbing quietly.
Jack let out a long sigh shaking his head.
Jack looked at one of the plow girls.
“What is your name” he asks her.
“Jewel,” she replies, “this my sister Rose,” she continues, indicating the girl next to her. Our story is much the same as Maryann’s. They came in the middle of the night, burned our farm, killed all the stock and our parents. We tried to fight them but they beat us to the ground with clubs, shackled us and dragged us to their boat. Rose and I are strong and willing to work hard to get back at the scum that sell slaves.
“Where was your farm?” Jack asks her.
Our farm was on the west bank of the river far from any other farms or towns.
Jack asked the other women the same questions and listened to their stories.
All three had lived in larger towns. One was snatched from the street on her way home from a shop where she was employed. Another was stolen from her bedroom in the middle of the night. The last one tells of sitting on the bank of the river with her lover when they were attacked and she was taken. She did not know what happened to her boyfriend but supposed he was killed.
“I just want to go home.” she sobed.
“We will take you home” Jack said, “or If you prefer we can pay your passage on a coach if one serves your town.”
“We are river people” the last girl says “the only way home is on the river.”
If you like we can put you on one of the river ferries that service the towns along the river.
“No thank you milord, we have discussed it and we will feel much safer with you and your crew of pirate killers, than on the river alone.”
“It may be days or weeks before we will be able to get underway” Jack tells them. What will you do in the mean time?”
Jade says, that we can stay here and help out, cleaning rooms and washing dishes and such.
“That is not acceptable,” Jack says. “I didn’t rescue you from slavery so that you could work for your bed and board at the Boars Tooth. If you want to stay here that is fine but you will be paying guests.”
“We have no way to pay for room and board.”
“Oh yes you do. Georgio, do you have the purses that you took from the Brancones.?”
“yes, I put them in our room.”
“Go get them.”
Georgio gets up and leaves the diningroom.
The people at the table sit quietly sipping their beverages.
A few moments later Georgio returns. “Here you are,” he says and drops the two purses on the table.
Jack picks up one of the purses and dumps the contents on the table.
“This is your’s to use as you see fit,” Jack says, pushing the pile of copper, silver and gold across the table to the women.
The women are wide eyed, having never seen so much wealth in one pile.
Jack takes three gold coins from the pile of coins and slides it over to where Jade is standing. “This should take care of their room and board for at least seven days.”
“Oh yes,” Jade says eagerly “and much more.”
“Good, now that is taken care of,” Jack says. “Cloie can help divide the rest of the coins between you. If you feel you want something to do to be helpful, that’s up to you” He continues. “In fact we could use some help sorting out some of the plunder on the deck of the River Dragon.
Gwen you are in charge of the that job. Jewel, Rose and Maryann you are now members of the crew so when you are done here report to Gwen on the deck of the Sunflower.”
“What do you want to do with the stuff on the boat,” Gwen asks.
Just go through it and whatever you decide is not useful to us give to Jade. She can give it to some poor families in the village.
“Oh aye,” Jade says. “There is an order of munks that have a stall in the square where they give aid to the poor. They will be thrilled to accept your donations.”
“Good,” Jack says. “How long will it take us to have the boat ready to get underway, Billy?”
“We will need to pump the bilge and get all that extra plunder offloaded, Then I’ll need to find a couple of good men to add to the crew. With luck we can be under way first thing in the morning.”
“That sounds good” Jack replies. “What if you can’t find the crewmen? Do you think we can sail with the women crewing the boat?”
“I’d not like to try it with an untrained crew Cap’n. Drifting down stream is dangerous at the best of times. The river is running low at this time of year and that makes her even more dangerous. There’s submerged obstacles that a boat can get over in high water but when the water’s low, will tear the bottom out of a her. When you’r drifting you need strong men to pole her to make enough headway so the tiller will bite and to push her away from obsticals. I don’t think that the women will have the strength or the river knowledge to do that.”
“I think you would be surprised how strong these plow girls are” Jack says. “Well, do what you can to get a crew together and we will make the final decision in the morning. Are there any other questions?”
No one speaks up.
“Fine then, lets get to work.”
“Georgio, come with me and bring the other purse” he stands up and Georgio follows him from the room.
They go out the back door, down the dock and board the River Dragon.
Jack goes directly to the cabin. Once inside he walks around the desk, opens the left hand drawer. He reaches in, releases a latch and removes the false bottom.
“Wow!” He exclaims. He reaches back into the drawer and removes a heavy gold bar. “There are three more of these in here” and another bag. He pulls a small bag from the drawer and open’s it. He looks up at Georgio, dips his hand into the bag and opens it to show Georgio the contents. In his hand are several gold rings set with precious gems and a silver chain with a emerald pendant the size of a pigeons egg.
“Madon!” Georgio exclaimes. “with this emerald alone we can have a fleet of boats like this one built to order.”
“We will need to find somewhere to put this stuff and the purse that you have plus the bag of coin that is in the other drawer, while the Dragon is being refit.” Jack says. Do you think we can trust Jade with it?”
“That is a good question” Georgio replies. “I think the woman is honest but that much gold and gems is a great temptation.”
“I agree. Maybe if she doesn’t know what it is,” Jack suggests.
“Yes, but how will you do that.” Georgio asks.
“I remember a small sea chest in one of those lockers. If we put the gold and coins in it we can lock it up and perhaps Jade has a safe place to put it. The chest is on the deck so we should get it before the girls arrive.
“Aye Capitan,” Georgio replies smiling. He leaves the cabin and returns shortly with the chest in hand. They put the gold bars and bag of jewelry in the chest. “How much do you suppose we will need for the refiting of the Dragon,” Jack asks.
“I would think that the emerald alone will be enough to have the work done and a few gold coins should buy the loyality of a crew.”
“Buy loyality?” Jack asks.
“But of course,” Georgio replies. “Seamen and I suppose, rivermen are a pragmatic lot. If you pay them well enough they will die for you. If you cheat them they will kill you. It is very simple,” Georgio laughs.
“What about Billy Black? Do you trust him? Jack asks.
“Ah, that one is a puzzle. He is as hard as flint but an honest sailer. I believe he will give his all for his ship and his crew. If you give him the respect that is his due he will serve you fathfully.”
“Yes, I think you are right about him. I hope so because we are putting our lives in his hands.
I will need your help dealing with these sailers. I am not fermilier with the customs and traditions of shipboard life. I don’t know anything about boats.
“You don’t have to know much Jack. There is a chain of comand abord ship. You let your first officer know what you want done, he communicates with the second and he gives orders to the crew. There is however, a decorum that should be observed aboard ship. When addressing your oficers before the crew. You don’t address Billy as Billy or me Georgio, it is mister Black or Mister Portelli. When addressing a crew member you use their rank and last name, such as Seaman Jones, etc. It is considered a sign of respect. You will be addressed as; Sar, or Captain (Cap’n) by the crew. Officers will address you as; Sar, Captain (Cap‘n) or in my case Captian, the familiarity Skipper is acceptable when away from the crew. Remember one thing Jack, on land you are a Prince, aboard ship you are a King and should act accordingly.”
“Thanks Geor… I mean, Mister Portelli,” Jack corrects himself, I am relying on your help.
Georgio laughs. “You will get the hang of it in a short time, Captain Jack.”
“Captain Jack, Captain Jack, I kind of like the sound of that,” Jack says with a broad smile.
Jack puts the emerald and several gold coins into his purse and returns it to the pocket behind his sash.
“Lets get this chest to the inn and see if Jade has a safe place for it,” Jack says. “I also need to send a message to the High King and let him know what we are doing so if we do run into a patrol they won’t automatically blow us out of the water. I will need to get documents from him as well to prove that our mission is sanctioned by The King.”
“That will make us privetiers, no? Georgio smiles.
“Yes, I suppose it would,” Jack says.
Jade is at the front counter when Jack and Georgio enter the inn.
Jack opens the door to the foryer and sticks his head in. “Can I have a moment of your time Jade?” he asks.
“Certainly sweetie,” she replies, “you can have as much of my time as you want.” She comes around the end of the counter and follows Jack through the door.
“Do you have a safe place where we can put this chest?” Jack asks indicating the small sea chest.
“What do you have there, pirate treasure?”
“Uh no, just some documents and things that might be important to the King,” he lies.
“Documents? Papers? Jack, you are a terrible liar” Jade chides him. “I do beleive you don’t trust me Jack, honey. Well I don’t blame you but have no fear, dearie. If I were you I wouldn’t be very trusting with that much treasure either.”
“How did you know it was,” Jack looks around, “treasure.”
“Well, hells bells Jack, papers wouldn’t have to be locked up in a chest now would they?”
“No, I suppose not” Jack admits.
“Come along boys, I have a safe place for your plunder.” Jade walks down the hall to her room, reaches into her blouse and pulls a large key on a thong from her bussom. She unlocks the heavy door to her room and entering, holds the door for the men. She closes the door behind them and crosses the room to the opposite wall.
“Would you mind turning away for a moment?’ she requests.
They turn their heads.
Jade pushes on three stones in the wal in a triangular pattern. The stones recede into the wall and a stone door about three feet by three feet slides in and to the left exposing a large cavity.
“Okay you can look now” she says.
Jack is impressed. “That looks safe enough.”
In the enclosure are several bags and boxes.
“Just find a spot in there. You can move some of that stuff if you need to.”
Jack and Georgio move some papers aside and slide the chest into the wall safe.
Jade pushes on two different stones and the door closes leaving no sign of a door.
“While we are in my room is there anything else I can do for you boys?”
Jade asks lasciviously.
“Uh, yes there is,” Jack replies.
Oh? Jade asks raising her good eyebrow. “What might that be darling.”
“I need to get a letter to the High King and to my father in North Morovenda. Do you know of any trustworthy messengers that can accomplish that in a reasonable period of time?”
As it happens you are in luck. A coach just came in and on it was Cremno the RPS man. He is enroute to Granite Ford and will be getting on the next Ferry that crosses the river. You have berhaps an hour to get your letters written. He will be back through here in five or six days and can take the letter to Morovenda at that time.” Jade replies.
“That will do,” Jack says, “is he in the dining room?”
“Yes, is there anything else?”
“Um well, if you have parchment and a quill that I can use, that would help,“ Jack replies. “Oh and some sealing wax would be good.”
Jade goes to a desk and opens a drawer. She removes a sheet of vellum and set’s it on the desktop.
“There’s ink in that vile and you can use the quill on the desk. She removes a red wax candle from the drawer. Will this do”
“Oh, yes, thanks Jade. I have one more request though.”
“Yes, you can write your letters at my desk. I have things to attend to so I’ll leave you here, just lock up when you are done.” She hands Jack the key and leaves the room.
“I think I go also” Georgio says “I would like a sip of wine.”
Georgio leaves the room and Jack sits down behind the desk to compose his letters. When Jack is satisfied with what he has written, he folds the letters, lights the candle and drips wax on them to seal the flap. Before the wax hardens he pushes his ring into it to leave its impression.
Sometime later he enters the the dining room and sees Georgio sitting with a man dressed in light blue wool trousers and waste length blue jacket with RPS embroideried on the left shoulder and across the back.
He aproaches them. “Are you the messenger, Cremno?” Jack asks.
“At your service,” the man in blue replies. But I prefer Post Man if you don’t mind.
I have an important letters for the High King. “Can you take it to him.?” Jack asks.
For the King, eh? I can see that he gets it along with the hundred or so others that I am carrying, Cremno replies.
“You have hundreds of letters for the King?” Jack asks.
Oh yes, it seems that whenever some one finds out that I am going to Granite Ford they want to send a letter to the King. I have a sack full of them, “Cremno replies. I dump them on the floor of the thrown room and some minion of the King goes through them. I don’t know if the King actually reads them or not but I deliver them none the less.”
“This letter is important and must be given directly to the King,” Jack pleads.
“They are all important,” Cremno replies “but the King decides which ones he reads, not me. Unless you are royality there isn’t much chance of that.
“I am the Kings nephew,” Jack says, “this letter has to get into his hands not that of some servant.”
“Kings nephew, eh,” Cremno says looking askance at Jack. “Well that would be special delivery then and it will cost a little more than standard postage.”
“How much,” Jack asks.
“Oh, one silver should be enough,” Cremno replies.
Jack pulls the small purse from his sash and digs out a silver chip. He hands it to Cremno along with the two letters.
Two letters is it? That will cost you more. Cremno says.
“Only one is for King Vernon the other is for Roderick of Morovenda but that one doesn’t have to be hand delivered,” Jack says.
“Even so it will be two coppers for the letter to Roderick of Mrovenda and it will take at least ten to fifteen working days to deliver it way up there in the north country. That is if the road is open.”
“That’s fine,” Jack says, “I will be expecting a reply from the High King. You can just leave it with Jade and I will pick it up here.”
“I can do that but it will cost you another copper”
“Hold on,” Jack says “if I have to pay for you to deliver a letter to the King why doesn’t the King pay for a letter sent to me?”
Oh, my naive young fellow, Cremno says shaking his head, “The King never pays postage, he owns the business. Someone has to pay for delivery. There are expenses you know and you can’t expect me to pay the return postage.
“All right, all right, I’ll leave the copper with Jade and she can pay you when you bring the letter.”
“In advance,” Cremno insists.
“How do I know that you will bring the letter back if I pay you in advance?” Jack argues.
“You cut me to the quick,” Cremno cries, putting his hand over his heart. “do you mean to say, you don’t trust the Royal Postal Service to deliver a letter?”
“I don’t know. I have never even heard of the Royal Postal Service until just now“.
Cremno looks at the letters. “This will never do,” he says.
“What do you mean?” Jack asks.
“There is no address and no return address. How am I supposed to know where the letter is going without an address.”
I told you that it is for King Vernon, I assume you know where the King lives.” Jack says frustrated.
“Look here lad,” Cremno picks up the large satchel that is sitting on the floor to his left and open’s it. “Look in here,” he tells Jack. “See all thoses letters in this bag. Most of them are for King Vernon. If I just add your letter to this bunch without an address on it, how will I know that your piece of mail is for the King or the baker or the candlestick maker.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought that it was this difficult to send a message to the King. At home we just give the message to a runner and he delivers it to who we tell him to,” Jack says.
“Oh yes, that works for one message going to one place but I have many messages going to and from many places so they have to be properly addressed.”
Cremno sighs. Well you are in luck. Cremno opens a pocket on the side of his bag and withdraws a small clay vile and a quill and sets them on the table. Then he reaches back into the pocket and pulls out a wooden block that has carvings on it and a thick square of leather that is stained with ink. He sets them on the table as well. He then pours a small amount of ink on the pad and with the block of wood he spreads the ink around. With the letter lying flat on the table he takes the wooden block and slams it down in the middle of the letter that Jack is sending to the High King. When he takes the wooden block away Jack is astonished to see words left behind. It reads; Special Delivery to King Vernon of Granite Ford, The Realm.
Cremno pushes the letter over to Jack. “Now in the upper left hand corner write your name and a return address.” Cremno says.
“Why do I nead to do that, my seal is on the letter, the King will know who sent it by that seal” Jack argues.
“Yes the king may know you sent the letter by the seal but he won’t know where to send the reply unless there is a return address on it.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense,“ Jack says. “What do I write?”
Just write your name and under that put at the Boars Tooth Inn care of Jade.”
Jack takes the Quill in hand and writes; Jack, at the Boars Tooth Inn. Care of Jade.
“Jack?” Cremno asks. “No prince something or other or Duke what’s it? I thought you were a realitive of the King and therefore a noble of some sort.”
“He is my great, great, uncle but I am on a special secret mission at the present,” Jack replies. “King Vernon will understand when he reads the letter.”
“Well, all right,” Cremno says suspiciously, let’s look at the other letter.
Jack hands it over.
“Tisk, tisk, as I suspected, no address.”
“Do you have a wooden block with King Roderick’s address on it” Jack asks.
“No, you will have to do that yourself.”
Jack takes the quill and writes, King Roderick of North Morovenda, the Citadel at Car-Lump-Dour, and slides it over to Cremno.
Cremno looks at it and slides it back.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asks.
“No return address,” Cremno replies a bit testily.
“But I don’t expect a reply,” Jack says, irritated “and I don’t even know where I will be by the time my father gets the message.”
“It doesn’t matter, you can’t post a letter without a return address.”
Cremno pulls a small light blue book from his bag and rifels through it.
“Ah ha,” he says. “It is writen right here in the postal carriers hand book. You see” he points to a passage in the book. “No mail will be delivered without correct postage.”
“No, no, that’s not it,” Cremno says. He turns the page. “Here here it is, no mail will be delivered without a propper address and return address.” He snaps the book closed before Jack has a chance to read it.
“All right,” Jack relents. He picks up the quill and scratches a return address in the upper left hand corner. It reads “Jack at the Boars Tooth Inn. Care of Jade.” and slides the letter back to Cremno.
Cremno inspects it. “Right,” he says after a bit, “that ought to do it.
He holds out his hand. “that will be two coppers.”
Jack drops two pieces of copper in Cremno’s hand.
Cremno pulls another wooden block from the pocket of his bag. He rubbs it on the ink covered leather pad then slams it down on the right hand corner of each letter.
What is that for?” Jack asks.
Cremno slides the letter over to Jack.
In the right hand corner is a circle containing the words “postage paid”
Just then, a man enters the dining room and announces, “Anyone taking the ferry across the river get on board we will be leaving shortly.”
Cremno gathers up his equipment, puts Jack’s letters into a side pocket in the bag and gets to his feet.
“Well gents, it has been nice talking to you but the mail must go through.”
With that, he follows the ferryman out the door.
Georgio and Jack look at each other for a moment, then they both start laughing.
“It’s good to know that bureaucrats are the same whereever you go,” Georgio says. “Do you think the message will get delivered?”
“We can only hope,” Jack replies. “lets go see how the girls are doing.”
As they approach the Sunflower they see Gwen, Cloie, two young men and a small boy taking things from the hold and piling them on the deck.
“Who are the new crewmen?” Jack asks as he walks up the gangplank.
Gwen, introduces the new crewmen. “This is Johnny Rose, Andy Jewel and Fred Marian,”
Jack looks the new crewmen over. They are dressed in the bright colers for which river men are known, with calf length striped trousers, colorful tunics belted at the waste and wool caps; all three are barefooted. He walks around them looking them up and down.
“Not bad” he says “they just might pass. Where did you get the cloths?”
“They were in the pile of stuff you left on the deck” Cloie replies. “There is enough so that the girls I mean, boys will have a couple of changes.”
“That is a good plan at least until one of the mail crewmen find out that they are really girls” Georgio says.
“Hopefully they will have prooved themselves to be capable crewmen by then,” Gwen replies.
That will work as long as they don’t remove their tunics Jack says.
Georgio turns to Maryann “how old are you child?”
“I have seen thirteen summers milord.”
Aboard ship you should address me as Sar or Mister Protelli.
“Yes milo… Sar” she corrects herself.
“Can you climb that rigging” he asks pointing to the top of the mast.
“I don’t know, Sar. I used to climb trees at home so I am willing to try.
“Good, then get aloft” Georgio orders.
“Excuse me, Sar?”
“Climb the rigging” he says.
“Oh, yes Sar” she turns to do as asked.
The correct response is, aye Sar, Georgio corrects her.
“Aye Sar,” she repeats. She looks at the rigging speculatively then shinnies to the top of the mast and climbs into the cage at the top.
“What do you see from up there,” Georgio asks.
“Everything Sar,” she replies.
“Can you see into the water?”
“Oh aye Sar, the water is not very clear but I can see rocks and logs sitting on the bottom Sar.
“She is a quick learner,” Georgio says to Jack.
“And agile,” Jack observes.
“Can you tell how deep the water is from up there,” Georgio asks.
“I’m not sure Sar. It lookds deep though,” She replies.
“All right you can come down now,” Georgio tells her.
“Aye Sar,” she climbs from the cage and shnnies back down to the deck.
“What did you think about that?” Georgio asks her, “did you like being up there?”
Oh, aye Sar, I always loved climbing trees at home. Tt was a good way to be alone. I feel safe up there and I like being able to see so far.
“Good,” Georgio says “you will be spending a lot of your time in the crows nest watching for submerged obstacles when we are on the river.”
“Oh Thank you, Sar, I’ll like that.”
“She’ll make a good riging rat” Georgio tells Jack. She’s light, quick and sharp eyed. We will have to get one of the experienced men to teach all the new recrutes how to tie knots and how to handle the sails and other ship board duties. With the right teachers we should be able to get them up to speed by the time we come back from May’s Port.
The two plow girls are waiting to see if they will be asked to do something like climb the rigging. Both of them are hesitant to do so. Having never had an opportunity to climb trees or anything higher than a hay stack, or ladder to the loft in their fathers barn. They are both very strong but not very agile.
Georgio walks around them inspecting their clothes and general apperance.
“Take off your caps” he orders them, “you too Maryann” he adds.
All three remove the wool caps from their heads. Maryann’s hair falls in curls to her shoulders. The others hair is cut square just below the ear lobes with bangs just touching their heavy eyebrows.
Shave their heads Georgio orders “Maryann’s too.”
“What?” Gwen asks. “You don’t mean that do you?”
“Of course I mean it,” he barks, “they are new recrutes and new men are always shave headed and besides they will look less female with shaved heads and when on duty they are to bind their breasts.
“What?” everyone asks including Jack.
“You won’t have to bind Maryann’s. Hers are not yet large enough to notice but the other two will give themselves away the first time they bend over and a seaman gets a look down their tunic.”
“Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that,” Jack mumbles.
“It won’t have to be for long” Georgio says “their disguise can’t last forever and once they have been discovered they can relax and let their breasts free.
“What about their sleeping arraignments?” Jack asks, “they will have to be quartered separately from the male members of the crew.”
“We have already thought of that,” Gwen replies. “There are the hammocks in the front…
“Bow” Georgio interrupts)
“Bow,“ she corrects herself, “of the hold on each side of that thick wall. “Centerboard trunk,” Georgio says)
“Centerboard trunk,” she repeats. “in the middle of the hold
“a mid ships” Georgio interrupts again.
“Would you please stop interrupting me, Georgio,” she cries.
“I was just trying to help” Georgio says with a broad smile.
“You can give me terminology lessons later” Georgy.
“Georgy?” Jack lifts an eyebrow. “That’s Mister Portelli,” he chuckles.
“Oh, you men can be so maddening at times she says stomping her foot on the deck “What I’m trying to say is…”
“I know” Jack interrupts her, “you think we should have two separate compartments built down there. I think that is a very good idea Gwen. “We will have the shipwright take care of it.
“Oh, all right” Gwen replies. “Where will Cloie and I sleep?”
“I was thinking that the cabin is large enough that we can have it divided into three compartments by having the bunks on each side closed in to make small apartments..
“State rooms” Georgio corrects him.
with an isle…
“Passage way” Georgio interupts.
“Would you stop that!” Gwen and Jack say as one.
“Sorry.” Georgio apologizes smiling sheepishly.
“A passageway between them and a small office at the ba… stern. We have to have the ceil… overhead lifted up anyway so that we don’t keep hitting our heads.”
“You are learning, Jack,” Georgio says smiling.
“I have some other modifications in mind,” Jack goes on, “but we can discuss them on the way to May’s Port.”
“Have you emptied the hold yet?” he asks.
“Almost,” Gwen says, “there are some large casks down there but they are too heavy to carry up the ladder to the deck.”
“We can rig the boom to hoist the casks from the hold,” Georgio replies.
“There should be some heavy line and blocks up forward in the sail locker.
“Lines? Blocks? Jack asks.
“That would be rope and pullies to you landsmen,” Georgio relpies.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so,” Gwen asks.
“Because, you need to learn the proper terminology if you are going to be a sailor,” Georgio replies.
“No, I don’t,” Gwen insists “I am a passenger on this boat.”
“Will you still be a passenger when we attack a slavers boat or are attacked by pirates, or need all hands to turn-to in a storm or grounding?”
“Well, we are willing to help,” Gwen replies “but why do we need to talk so strangely and what the hell does ‘turn-to’ mean anyway.”
“Sailing is a trade and as with all trades it has its own jargon,” Georgio explains. “Turn-to means to get to work.”
“If we are ever going to get this cargo unloaded we need to turn-to now” Jack says.
They get to work. Georgio shows the women how to rig the boom. Showing them how to tie the proper knots and double rig a set of blocks for more mechanical advantage. In a couple hours they have the hold emptied with all the cargo on deck. Then the plow girls move the barrels and boxes that Jack and Georgio decide are not necessary to the dock.
Gwen and Cloie take the excess clothing to the inn.
Some of the kegs are filled with layers of lard and salted meat; others are filled with fresh water. Several small crates are filled with swan shot for the swivel guns; others contain led bars. Another has molds to make ball for the muskets and one two-inch mold for cannon balls.
By supper time they have the deck cleared and what equipment they determine is necessary stowed back in the hold and tied down. The rest they leave on the dock.
The plow girls are sweaty and tired but happy to have learned something about their new trade and doing a good days work.
Maryann has sore fingers and blisters from tiying and untiying knots until Georgio is satisfied with the way she has the equipment secured.
They all adjourne to the inn for supper.
Jewel, Rosa and Maryann sit at a table with the other freed women while the others take seats at their customary booth.
Alisa approaches the booth. “Supper tonight is; Gore-rat stew, boiled blue and yellow tubers and fried acorn mush with fish gravy” she announces.
That sounds just lovely, Gwen and Cloie say. And a carafe of wine if you please.
“I’ll have the stew and tubers but no mush” Georgio replies. Doesn’t
anyone in the north eat pasta?” he asks.
“Eat what?” Alias asks.
“You know; tortellini, rigatoni, spaghetti.”
“Oh yes, in fact tomorrow is spaghetti night,” she replies, “but I didn’t know it was called pasta. I have never heard of the other two.”
“Of course tomorrow night is spaghetti night,” Georgio grouses, “we won’t be here for supper.”
“Maybe when you return from May’s Port you can tell the cook how to prepare those dishes and she will be glad to try and fix them for you. The cook is an Entergorian and is very skilled. I am sure that she will be delighted to learn some new recipes.”
“That is a wonderful idea,” Georgio says, “perhaps I will.”
“Bring me the works, I’m hungry” Jack says, “and bring a pitcher of beer,” he adds.
Alisa heads off to the kitchen.
“I can see that there are many things that the north lacks” Georgio says “and good food is one of them. Perhaps I will come back someday and open a good Catatonian restaurant. That would be very profitable, I think.”
Billy Black comes into the dining room and heads toward their booth with two stout young men in river-man garb following him.
“Evening Cap’n” he says.
“Good evening Mister Black” Jack replies, “Pull up a chair. Have you had supper?”
“Nay, not yet Sar. I found these two young men that would like to sign on to our crew,” He goes on, “I’ve sailed with them before and they are good lads and true.”
“That’s fine,” Jack replies, do they know our mission?
“Arr Cap’n and they are keen to go along.” He motions the two boys forward.
This here is James Drum able riverman third class and this one is riverman Farris Blunt” he says, pointing to each of the new men “boys“, this here is Cap’n Jack, the new Captain of the Sunflower.
“Evening Sar,” both men say in turn.
“Welcome aboard gentlemen.” Jack says, “have you had supper yet?”
“Nay Sar,” Drum replies.
“Well, never let it be said that Captain Jack doesn’t feed his crew. Have a seat at one of the tables and order what you want.”
“Aye, thank you Sar,” Drum says with a small bow.
“No spirits now,” Billy admonishes them.
“Aye Sar.” The two new men turn and make their way to a table out of ear shot.
“Pull up a chair Mr. Black and dine with us.”
“Arr, Thank you Sar.”
Alisa and another girl bring trenchers of food, mugs and pitchers to the booth.
“Aren’t you the shop girl from the Sunflower?” Jack asks the new girl.
“Yes milord” she replies, “the inn is shorthanded right now and since I have experience serving customers, I hired on as a waitress.
“Are they paying you?”
“Oh yes sir, a copper a day,” she replies happily. “Since you have taken care of my room and board and with my share of the purse you took from that animal, Brancone, I will be almost wealthy by the time I leave here.”
“Well, you are an enterprising young woman,” Jack says. “I am glad to see that you are making the best of a bad situation.”
Billy orders stew and mud.
“Will you be ready to leave in the morning?” Jack asks him.
“Arr Cap’n, if you have the rest of the crew ready”
“There they are sitting at that table,” Jack indicates the plow girls and Maryann.
“The boy looks a bit small for a sailor,” Billy says. “I don’t think he’ll be much use but if you hired him. I suppose I can make him into a riverman.”
“That boy is a girl and I think she will work out fine,” Georgio says, “she is agile and smart. In just one day she has learned to secure cargo in the hold and can climb the rigging like a squirel.”
A girl, eh? What about the other two, they hook strong enough are they women too?” Billy asks.
“Yes, they are the two plow girls,” Jack replies, “they are strong and hard workers.”
“I taught them to rig the boom for lifting cargo from the hold today,” Georgio says. “What they lack in knowledge they make up for in strength and a willingness to learn. I think you will be pleasantly surprised how fast they learn.”
“We are going to shave their heads and bind their breasts to make them look more like men,” Gwen says.
“That ain’t necessary,” Billy replies, “my boys already know that they will be serving with women and they are willing, as long as the pay is as you promised.”
“That reminds me,” Jack says, “how much do I pay them?”
The going rate is one copper per day for an able riverman and two for a third class,” Billy says. “I promised them double that and of course a full share of any spoils for each.
“That will be fine ,“Jack says, “When do I pay them?”
“Its customary to hold payment until after the cruise is over. But you will win favor with them if you give them some pay at each port so they have spending cash.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” Jack says. “I’ll give them half pay for each day afloat and at each port where we will be spending more than a day. I will also pay their room and board while ashore.”
“That’ll be fine Sar,” Billy says. “We’ll need one more crewman but we can find good men in May’s Port. There are more river men there than here at Boars Tooth Village. Most of the sailors here are ferrymen and that ain’t the same as river men,”
“What’s the difference?” Georgio asks.
“Rivermen have experience on the river. They know the channels and sand bars and can read the rivers moods. They know when to set sail and when to break out the polls to fend off obstacles or when to row in calm water and they know the trails along the shore when it is necessary to hall on the Cordell to hall the boat up stream.”
Billy’s food arrives and he digs in with gusto.
When he is done, he takes a sip of mud, sits back and continues explaining. “River ferrymen are strong bruits no doubt but they just move them flat barges back and forth across the river in the same place. All they have to know is to poll into and out of port and row hard while the captain handles the tiller when crossing the river. The few ferry crossings that are on the Dweezle are at deep narrows. The Boars Tooth ferry is the widest place where ferries are used and it is only a one hour trip.” Billy takes another sip of his mud. “Now the ferrymen on Baleen Lake,” he continues, “are deep water men they sail stout sailing craft and have to know as much as a blue water sailor. They battle storms, high winds and dead calms but they still can’t run a river with its currents and shifting channels. Only rivermen know how to sail a river,” Billy states firmly then takes a last draw on his cup of mud and sets it on the table.
“Can your men handle firearms?” Jack asks him.
“Arr Cap’n. Jimmy Drum is a crack shot with a musket and Blunt is proficient with several weapons including swords and knives. I’de be comfortable with either man at my back in a brawl.”
“One of their duties will be to instruct the other crewmembers in the use of arms,” Jack says. “We will also have to train in the use of the swivle guns and become proficient in rapidly loading and firing them, but that will have to wait until after we leave May’s Port.
“Pardon me Sar” Billy interrupts, “but I think that if we are going to do ship to ship fighting we will need to hire a few marines to do the fighting while my sailors run the ship.”
“I agree,” Georgio says. “Just maneuvering the boat will take a minimum of four experienced oarsmen plus a tiller man. On a river it is even harder to manuver because of the current and obsticals.”
“I don’t know that we will have room for many more people on board the Dragon,” Jack argues. “Where would we house them?”
Well Sar, since we won’t be hauling much cargo we can have Maisy build more births in the hold.”
“We will also have to have some place to house the slaves we free until we can send them home,” Gwen adds.
“Hopefully the freed people won’t be aboard for very long,” Jack says. I suppose we could turn some of the hold into passenger space, except for the armory, stores, and crew quarters.”
“I think, the best way to handle the captives,” Georgio replies, “would be to put them ashore, give them some coin and send them on their way.”
“If we don’t sink the boat that they are on,” Cloie says, “we could give the boat to them and they can sail it home. Most of the captives that we free will probably be from communities along the river.”
“Unless they are experienced river sailors,” Billy adds, “they would likely sink or run aground. We would need to hire a crew for each boat and I don’t think even the Cap’n here has the purse for that.
“Well, I guess if we have too many freed people to put into quarters they could just stay on deck until we can get them to shore,” Jack replies. Either that or we need a larger boat.”
“Or a fleet,” Billy adds.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Georgio says, “It’s not a bad idea. We could crew the boats we don’t sink with freed slaves and a few seasoned sailors. Do you think that could work Mister Black?”
“You would still have to pay the crews,” Billy replies.
“Maybe not,” Jack says. “what If we give the boat to a trustworthy riverman and make him Captain; he could hire his own crew or train the freed folk.”
“Arr, I guess that might work.” Billy muses. “Most rivermen lust after their own boat and a captaincy would be a good incentive.”
“Would you take such a deal?” Jack asks Billy.
“Arr, that I would Sar,” he replies, “that I would.”
“Well I think that is enough business for tonight. We can discuss this further on our way to May’s Port,” Jack says. “Mister Black, take your men and the three recruits to the Sunflower. Get them setteled and set a watch. We will sign them on officially tomorrow before we set off down stream.”
“Arr Sar, I’ll be staying aboard tonight then. Just to make sure there are no umm, problems you might say, Sar.”
“Good idea. I have a talk with the crew tomorrow to set down some rules,” Jack replies.
Billy stands, gives them all a two fingered salute and leaves. He stops to have a word with the new crew members and they follow him out of the dining room.
“What I don’t understand is, who is buying these slaves?” Cloie asks after Billy has left. “Slavery is absolutely forbidden in the realm and punished severely, usually by hanging.
“That is true in the realm,” Jack says, “but there are many places outside the influence of King Vernon where slavery is practiced and humans are routinely bought and sold.”
“That is sad, but true,” Georgio puts in. “On the eastern steps and in the southeastern desert, there are many tribes that raid and trade for slaves amongst themselves. Whole societies are organized around the trade. There is a kingdom south of The Warm Sea where their religion stresses the taking or trading for slaves to serve their God. Some of the slaves are sacrificed to that diety. Our Navy has been fighting them for generations.
By Maryann’s description of the man who bought her brother and sister I would suspect that he was one of those people.”
“I had no idea that there was so much slavery in the world,” Gwen says. “I have never seen it in the realm.”
“What about your plow men and women,“ Georgio asks, “aren’t they slaves?”
“Oh no,” Jack replies, “they contract for pay and benefits and are free to work for whomever gives them the best deal. Most are educated and the smart ones often become farmers themselves. They are neither bought nor sold and can marry and raise families of their own. Plow women often get married to human farmers and as in the case of Jewel and Rose. They have children who help work the family farms until they marry. I believe that by hiring Jewel and Rose we may have opened a new trade for the mixed breed plow folk. Their full breed brethren are too large for shipboard work but our two hybrid plow girls are not much larger than normal humans but infinitely stronger.”
“I never realized that you had such a complex relationship between humans and plow folk here in the north” Georgio says.
“Don’t you have plow folk in the south” Gwen asks.
“Oh yes, but most are migrant workers,” Georgio says. “They are seldom educated and even less often have farms of their own. Some find permenant positions with land holders as formen or caretakers. Some even work on the docks as stevedores. Our weather is always mild so most travel the countryside living in camps and doing labor on farms, orchards and vineyards as needed. Humans and plow folk never intermarry. We in the south would consider that an abomination. We consider that the mingling of the races dilutes each.”
“That is a very narrow view,” Cloie says. “We feel that hybridizing actually improves the breed. Although, I admit that a normal female could never survive the birthing of a plow mans offspring. A plow woman can easily birth a normals child and usually bares twins. The results are like Jewel and Rose. They are strong yet not as large as the full breed plow folk. Therefore they can find occupations other than farm work. The river men are an example of the result of the interbreeding of rivermen and half plow women. They are stronger than normal’s but shorter than plowmen. The logging folk in the Gorogo Forest are another example of selective breeding. Of course some of the loggers are full breed plow men. They are the ones who pull the logs out of the woods and load the wagons but the toppers and fallers are generally hybrids. Of course the really large loaded logging wagons are pulled by teams of vagrants“.
“But, interbreeding of normals and mutants just results in more and sometimes terrible mutation,” Georgio replies.
Yes, I have to aggree that sometimes that is true,” Cloie says, “but in the case of the plow folk it has worked out for the benefit of the breed as a whole.”
Jack slides out of the booth and stretches.
“This is all very interesting but it has been a long day and we will be pulling out early in the morning. I am going to see if someone will run a bath for me and then get some sleep,” he says.
“Will you be sleeping on the boat or in the garret,” Georgio asks with a wink at Cloie.
Oh, uh, I think I’ll sleep on the boat, I might as well get used to it,” Jack replies. I’ll see you all at breakfast.”
He turns and walks to the door of the kitchen. After a short conversation with Alisa he leaves the dining room.
An hour later Jack is walking up the gang plank to the River Dragon.
“Halt, who goes there” the deep voice of Billy Black challenges holding up a lantern.
“Captain Jack. Permission to come aboard?” Jack requests using the words that Georgio has taught him.
“Permission granted Sar,” Billy replies, “I see that Mister Portelli has been teaching you shipboard decorum.”
“I am trying to learn but you will have to bear with me.”
“You are coming along fine, Sar. Will you be sleeping aboard tonight?”
“Yes, I might as well get used to sleeping on a boat”.
“She’ll rock you to sleep like your own mother, Sar. Will the others be sleeping aboard too?”
“I don’t think so. Mister Portelli and Cloie have something else planned.”
“What about the other sister, Sar?”
“I don’t know what her plans are. In fact, I would like you to keep her off the boat tonight.”
“Oh Sar? Is there a problem with her?”
“No, she’s fine but I don’t know if I could resist her advances tonight.”
“Sar? I don’t understand. Why you would want to resist such a beautiful woman, Sar.”
“It is a long story,” Jack sighs, “I’ll tell you this much. My primary mission requires me to remaine selibate for a full year.”
“A full year, Sar? I don’t think I could do that even if it meant getting my own command.”
“Could you do it for a kingdom?”
I don’t know Sar. Not being born a noble I never dreamed that big but I suspect it is the same as me getting a boat. That would make me a king on the water would it not?
“Aye, that it would, that it would,” Jack says with a smile. “If I sucum to a womans charmes before the year is out, a boat will be the only kingdom I’ll ever know.”
“There are worse things than being a boat captain Sar,” Billy replies defensively.
“I’m sorry Mister Black, I did not intend to demean your profecion but I have no experience being a boatman. Maybe by the time I am done on the river I will have changed my views.”
“Arr, maybe so Cap’n.”
That reminds me, I have been wanting to ask you something. All the other sailors that I have met say Aye, why do you say Arr?”
“Well Cap’n,” Billy says looking at the deck. That dates back to the days when I was a pirate.”
“A pirate! you were a pirate?” Jack asks incredulous.
“Arr Sar,” Billy replies, “when I was just a sprout my father ran off and left my poor old mother to fend for herself. She was very sickly with three youngns to care for. My two older brothers she apprenticed out to different trades and I was signed on to a boat as a cabin boy. I was much younger and smaller than Maryann at the time. It turned out that the boat was a pirate craft. I sailed with Cap’n Bull on the Bulls Head for three years before we was sunk by one of the King’s flotillas. I managed to float down river with some of the wrecage until I was found almost drowned by the captain of a lumber barge. I sailed with cap’n Horatio Black for another four years. He was kind to me and treated me like a son; I even took his name. Cap’n Black was also an ex-pirate and used the pirate term Arr instead of Aye. He was killed when the barge hit a submerged rock and split open from stem to stern. The load shifted and crushed him before sending him to the bottom.
Once again I survived by floating down stream on some lumber until I was fished out of the water by the boat, Lyons Joy. I signed on as crew and have been sailing the river for nigh-on-to forty years now. I still use the term Arr in honor of Cap’n Black. Besides it set’s me apart as an old salt among the younger sailors.” Billy chuckles.
“That is quite a story,” Jack says, if all goes well on this cruise there will be another Captain Black sailing the Dweezel River.”
“Arr Sar, that would truly shine Sar. It truly would,” Billy says with a small lump in his throat.
“Well, it is time I went to my bunk,” Jack says, “bring the lantern to light a lamp from it in the cabin.
“In the pre dawn, Jack enters the dining room of the of the Boars Tooth and finds his crew minus Jewel and Drum sitting at a long table.
I saw riverman Drum on gangway watch when I left the Sunflower, has he eaten yet? Jack asks.
No Sar, I will have Blunt relieve him when he has had his breakfast,” Billy replies.
“Are we ready to get underway Mister Black?”
The boat’s ready as she’ll get, Billy replies, “as soon as we get crew fed and the passengers trunks aboard we can sail, Sar.
“Do we have stores enough to get us to May’s Port?
“Arr Sar, we have salt meat and dried fish a plenty layed up in barrels. Jade has given us a basket of fruit and vegetables and some flower and salt. It is only two day’s drift to May’s port so we should have enough for supper tonight and breakfast tomorrow.”
Ugg, salted fish and salted meat” Georgio grouses. Are there any tomatoes or perhaps some garlic, maybe some herbs or cheese?”
I wouldn’t know about that Mister Portelli, Billy says, you could ask the inns cook for what you want.”
“Excellent idea,” Georgio says.
He rises from the table and enters the kitchen. A short time later he returns with a small basket of aromatic herbs, cheeses, tomatoes and braids of Garlic.
“Is there anything like a stove on the Dragon?” he asks as he sits back on the bench.
“There is a braisre, a kettle and I think I saw some other pots and maybe a skillet with some of the stuff I tied down in the hold Sar,” Maryann says brightly.
“Good girl” Georgio says, “I should be able to make us a good meal with what I have here then.”
“Good to who,” Cloie teases.
“You just wait until you taste tonights supper my young beauty, then you will understand what real food is supposed to taste like,“ Georgio retorts, “and since you have no duties to perform you can help me fix it.”
“Oh this should be interesting,” Gwen laughs, “I think the only cooking Cloie has ever done is to heat water for tea.”
“I can so cook,” Cloie replies defensively. “ I have made sandwiches for lunch several times.”
I am not sure that putting a couple of pieces of meat between slices of bread qualifies as cooking,” Gwen says.
“Cloie stares at Gwen for a few seconds. “I’d be happy to help you, Georgio, we’ll show them.”
“Well then, lets finish our breakfast and get under way,” Jack says. I can’t wait to see what you come up with for supper.”
“It will be a meal fit for a King,” Georgio boasts.
“I hope so because as you have told me, I am the King of the Sunflower.
End of book two