Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Roads of Bone, Chapter 6: Passage

I am doing a little experiment.  I am going to write a series of chapters in a fantasy world of my creation and see if it goes anywhere.  Since I have not prewritten this story and have no outline, it will probably end up a convoluted mess.  I do not know how often I will be able to update this or if it will ever finish.  This is the link to CHAPTER 1.  (I have also found that I have to go back and clean up very broken sentences in previous chapters.  This is why I need an editor.  I understand what I am writing, but I need to make sure other people do too.)

Chapter 6: Passage
            The Color Line River was frequented by three types of sailing craft.  The first group were called free rafters, those who owned there own boat delivering small amounts of materials, salvaging, fishing, and piracy (the last one was mostly limited to the Black Marsh as the river made escape from various law enforcement agents nearly impossible without the cover of foliage, and the southern fork which was more lawless).
            Small companies were the next group, these were groups of ships own by LLC's, or limited liability companies.  Essentially these were two or more boats that were owned by men and women who worked on land and had crews that were paid wages plus a share of the profits from whatever job the company committed to.  The advantage to being part of the collective owners was owning a small share in each boat.  Meaning if one boat sank they all lost a small amount, and whenever one did a job they all profited a small amount, rather than the Free rafters who would lose or gain everything on the gamble of a single ship.  The Maunder Empire is responsible for the protection of these craft and the trade interests they control, which brings up the last group.
            Group three is the Maunder Imperial Freshwater Navy.  Very fast boats whose tactics were to pull along side ships, lash on, and deploy numerous marines to take control of the ship.  Small fleets, or flotillas of these were deployed to the Black Marsh area to combat piracy, but were almost never seen on the Southern fork.  LLC's whose job it is to employ seasoned marines for security on those ships who are not in the regularly patrolled areas of the river exist, but are not expected to protect anyone who is not flying their standard.  Unless a free rafter or shipping LLC was flying a banner that meant they were already under contract with a particular marine company, if a pirate were to attack a shipment the marines would more often allow the pirates to simply pay them a cut of the looted vessel (or turn over living sailors to be impressed into mercenary service) rather than act to protect the victimized ship.
            There is a colloquial joke that the Red Clay portion of the river is caused by all the blood spilled just up stream by Bloody Field's raiders who have managed to capture a small ship run aground by passing too close to the shore.
            Orchard Town is up stream from most everything except the scantly populated mountains, and they shipped boatloads of excess harvest everywhere else.  It never seemed like the town was poor for passage elsewhere, at least to those who could pay as much as the number of apple bushels they took the place of.  Coming back was always odd though.  Going against the current required people to row, sails to be full, and the hold to not be stuffed with goods, so the only trade coming back was usually very high craft items from the larger city of Bone, which was home to far more craftsmen, who could make clockwork, lock work, musical instruments, books, softer clothing, bedding, art, lots and lots of shovels (the tool makers guild was subsidized because of a law too old to contextualize and too ingrained to ever repeal), and exotic animals or spices from the rest of the empire (very expensive and rarely fresh because it is always the material that didn't manage to sell in Bone itself and since the trade of it was controlled by the Empire you couldn't get it anywhere else without paying a smugglers' price).
            Malachite knew all of this, having traded with Orchard Town small but regular amounts in the past (coming back from Solace, his parties would stop off in Orchard Town for the last leg of the trip to be made down the river, shipping materials the south route with escort and the sending them back with pepper and beef for the trouble as payment, Hasenburg's ancient credit was taken as sacrosanct).  But since Malachite did not want to go home he found a much harder time negotiating, carrying two extra people instead of food was seen as more and more costly with each free rafter he talked to.  LLC's under contract to deliver quotas of material were already laying off extra rowers they had used to get to Orchard, and the mercenaries were small in number and only looking to head south to guard a bigger shipment.
            Malachite was already failing the first task he had been given by the wizard... But was keeping that fact from Pasgard as best he could.  "They are loading nothing but Cider, but it isn't spiced yet and the sweet air will make us sick in a day."  "I have worked with them, they charge too much to move cows, I can only imagine what they would milk us for."  "The crew was very rude to me."  "Boat has a worm eaten stern and the captain would not listen to my warning about it.  I wouldn't set foot on deck."  "The only women on board have brown teeth."  "No pillows in the bunks."  The man had more excuses than any lay about could dream up.
            Adding to this was shipping their equipment.  Pasgard had a cart loaded with bits'n bobs, and presumably a lot of physical money, paper slips and promises from the Caliphate would not have been the wise currency to bring on a trip like this.  Malachite would need his armor, greatsword, abus gun (which he never got enough chances to use, but relished those times he did, always a good opening to any battle), and while he had no attachment to the horse he owned he hated shopping for them when he needed one, forget the cost of boats, horses were damn expensive.  "I never got a squire."
            "What?" asked Pasgard.
            "A young man to help me with my equipment and clothing," he said.  "I was one for a while.  That was part of the trade missions I did."
            "I was something similar when I was young," said Pasgard.  "The Caliphate used to recruit or force young men into civil service, as sort of high ranking slave.  One of my brothers was taken when I was very little after my father had disappeared in the waste one day.  They told my mother that part of the money they gave her each week to help us live without my father meant that they needed her sons to serve the Caliph."
            "When did you get taken?" asked Malachite
            "I was still to young to know my age," said Pasgard, wistfully.  "They came to take my other brother, and they would have, but my mother cut off one of his fingers so he couldn't hold a sword properly."
            "Gods," said Malachite wincing.  "She could bear to see you go?  Was it so bad?"
            "From this side of it," said Pasgard.  "Looking back thru time.  No, it was not so bad.  My mother did not know what the service really was."
            "She just couldn't bear to see you go?" asked Malachite, feeling genuinely sorry for the old man, but also very curious.
            "She did not fear for us that way," said Pasgard.  "She had taken our father's disappearance well, always hoping he would one day walk out of the desert with palms filled with jewels, and a wagon full of silk.  She even pictured my brother coming back.
            "No, she was afraid of not knowing us if we came back.  They would force you to learn and practice the state religion," said Pasgard.  "Normally they just charged a tax on those who followed some other faith, it was to fund the upkeep of their temples, my family worshiped a number of gods and paid the tax.  But when taken you were made to follow the state's faith and then sent to fight for it.  My first brother died fighting beyond the desert."
            "You have all your fingers," said Malachite.  "Did they take your brother's lost finger as a protest and just not bother you again?"
            "They beheaded my mother for trying to stop the recruiters from doing their work," said Pasgard, as Malachite drew breath thru his teeth, his heart feeling heavy.  "They took me and the rest of my brothers to a training camp for boys destined to be soldiers, my brother with the missing finger was made... manager?  Not sure the equal word in your words.
            "My sisters were betrothed to a number of family's, and are house sold to pay their dowries,"  He paused.  "I don't remember the name of the goddess my mother wanted us to worship.
            "For the next few years I cleaned the guard houses, sharpened swords, and learned my prayers," Pasgard frowned.  "When I was old enough they sent me to the Eastern most Oasis and told me my job, I was to guard the pass.  That is what I use as my name when traveling.  Pass.  Guard.  Pasgard."
            "That is not your real name?"
            "I have never met someone out of the Caliphate that could say my real name," said Pasgard smirking.  "There is no letter for one of the sounds in it."
            Malachite was boggled from the sad story, and was just grasping to make the subject lighter somehow.  "How?  That is so odd to me."
            "Are you named after a gem?"
            "Yes," said Malachite, talking faster.  "But, West of the Caliphate people name their children after objects all of the time.  Why not just use the literal translation of your real name if you are going to go by something else."
            "My name means 'Messenger of God'," said the wizard.
            "Okay, I can see how that would sound pretentious," said Malachite.
            "Pray?  Ten?  What?" Pasgard looked confused, and his little book was out again.
            Malachite took a second to discern his question.  "Oh, 'pretentious'.  It means acting better or more important than who you are."
            Pasgard started chuckling, "I can imagine you hearing that word a lot."

            Malachite started laughing to too.  "Yeah, sometimes people I meet have to ask me for a good word to call me.  That one I go to a lot," said the swordsman.  "Go to that tea house to relax while waiting," he pointed to a corner restaurant.  "Read thru your little book a bit.  I will find us a ship eventually," even if I have to do something I loath.

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