Far East

 

Chapter 18

The Far Eastern Traderoute

 

While I was being operated on – the doctor demanded the operation took place before we left harbour, thus setting us back a bit – a ragged and dirty man showed up on shore and demanded to be let on board. The lot on guard was somewhat new on The Fortuna, and they didn’t realize who this raggedyman was. Then Jean Luc came unto deck, and the Captain Velasques was let back on board his ship. He had travelled like the wind since he recievede Jean Lucs message that we were headed south-east, and only just made it. We sailed on the evening tide, half a day after ‘The Sophia’.

 

I have almost no recollection of the following days. I know that there was some trouble on board with some of the new men, one of whom was throwne overboard for his crimes.

 

A little week after we left shore, I woke up feeling more like myself. I woke up to a storm very much like the one that was blowing the night I was born – waves as high as houses, and a wind that demanded at least two men at the wheel. Fortuna moaned under the stress and fought to keep her nose up in the wind. I climbed out of bed and onto deck. The first thing I saw up in the open was Jean Luc being hit in the back of the head by a falling yard. He dropped right on his face. The Captain and I reached him simultanously, and we dragged him toward the ladder. Right at that time an enormous wave was about to crash down on us, and Hawk – who was only man on the wheel at the time – was loosing control. So the Captain and I uncerimonously threw Jean Luc down the ladder and raced to help Hawk regain control. We were heeling over. You landlubbers don’t know that in a storm as fierce as this the only way to survive is to keep steering head on into it. Should the waves hit us sideways we would be doomed. But that was what happened… The wave hit us sideways and we almost all washed overboard – 5 men did, actually. Everyone was holding on to dear life. Water washed into the cargo and men were sent to the pumps. We had no time to waste; we had to turn the ship around! The captain and I grabbed the wheel, and made a splitsecond decision to turn Fortuna around so that her arse was in the wind (that came out wrong…). The next wave hit us…washed over us, but didn’t tip us. We managed to turn her around once more, so that her nose was straight into the wind, while we fell and fell into a through of the sea. I must admit I found it all very exhilerating! After so many days lying pointlessly in a bed, this was life! This was what life was all about. I must also admit though, that the next thing I saw almost made me wet my pants; an enormous wave – the mother of all waves – hovered above us and would crash us to bits and pieces anytime. I think everyone sent their most fervent prayers to Manuon and Agwe (and Yemanja for good measure) at that moment. I backed up my prayer with a sacrifice – the dearest thing I possessed – and that must have caught the gods’ attention!” (I have tried to find out what this ‘dearest thing’ was – I think a biographer has the right to know what the dearest possesion of one’s subject is, but Fiona clamned up about it. ‘Just some trinket’ she said with a shrug. No one I have asked has been able to guess what it might have been. But to be sure it was something valuable enough – to Fiona at least – that it could calm down Manuon at his most angry! J.W). “The wave crashed down on us – it cost us yet another yard, but we suffered no other damage of consequence. The rest of the night the storm seemed to blow itselfe out and the morning dawned on a clear sky and water as still as a pond, and we tried to assess what damages we had obtained.

 

5 men had washed overboard – well, 4 men and a boy. Jean Luc was the only one seriously injured, the rest of us all had scratches and bruises, there were a few broken bones and such, but that was it. Two yards were down, the main sail was ripped, some stuff had washed overboard, but there was nothing we couldn’t repair or replace. And since the morning was so still, we had plenty of time and opportunity to do so. We had a little cerimony to honor the lost men and then we were back to work.

 

Jean Luc had hit his head real hard, and the doctor ordered him to stay in bed for a week at least. He had a splitting headache and he was dizzy and nauseous. I was made 1st mate in his stead until he was back on his feet again. He hated being sick, every bit as much as I had, but there was no way out. Doctor’s orders had to be followed! And truthe be told: I enjoyed a few more days as 1st mate!

 

In the afternoon a slight breeze blew up. We hoisted all sail to catch whatever little breeze would come our way. In the early evening we spotted sails in the horizon. We never moved close enough to see who it was, prefering to stay where the wind was, but I had a feeling it was The Sophia. We decided we were in a great hurry if we were to beat her to the Spicelands.

 

Without revealing too much of the traderoute I can say this much; there is a passage between the Almouhadh and the Türkmenic lands that has to be passed in the darkest of night – preferably under a new moon – or there will be danger of catching the attention of hostile locals. We were now two days before the new moon and there was no way we could make it till then. And we could not afford to wait until the next new moon… What to do? We decided to hurry as much as we could, so that we could be there as early in the lunar cycle as possible. To make our passage easier we painted all our spare sails black, so that they would not give us away in the night. Everything on board that was light was painted dark in the following days. Everything that might jingle or make other kinds of noises was stilled. The crew was ordered to work in complete silence in the night, giving and receiving orders silently. It was my idea to color the sails black – a plan that I’m rather proud of, truthe be told!

 

In the evening of the new moon we reached the Tyndariis harbour. Tyndariis is a magnificent place – overly religious in my opinion, being the capital of the Patriarch and the olde faith. It is a big rock island completely covered in buildings, houses and streets from shore to shore. It is a giant city in the middle of the ocean – a beautiful and scary place both. This was where the Patriarck lived, where the inquisition had its headquarters and they happily burned everyone not following their edition of the true faith. Charming!

 

A delegation lead by Father Ignacio – a very slimy and wannabe-elegant official – received us. Too caught up in my clevage he promptly accepted our story of being a ryendor merchant on the way to do trade in Asmara down the Almohadh coast. He recommended a Tyndarii marine-store dealer, which captain Velasques would go and make some deals with for provisions from here to Asmara, while I, accompanied by Hawk and George Hallwell, would look up the Mandean merchant Salmus Hormü, which was a recommended black market dealer, to buy provisions for the rest of the journey.

 

We headed towards the Mandean quarter, stopped at a taverna on the way and had some food. We chatted with the innkeeper, who could tell us how to find Hormü’s house (a big red one on the top of the street). The main piece of gossip was that the cardinal Adolfo was looking for a place to build his new palace. As he had three misstresses and only two cityhouses, he had decided that nothing less than a proper mansion was due him – after all that was what all the other important cardinals had... After having sat around for a little longer than was absolutely necessary we said our goodbuys and headed upwards. Being a city build on a cliff many of the Tyndarii streets are actually stairways.

 

When we reached the Mandean quarter there was great commotion. On cardinal Adolfo’s order the quarter was being searched by the cityguard. They were to discover evidence of blackmarket- and other shady dealings. The common opinion of this was that it seemed the cardinal had found a place to build his mansion, there was just a lot of people living there that had to be removed – the Mandean quarter… Hormü was pointed out to us. He stood at the side looking anxiously at the searchparties breaking down doors and throwing furniture out of windows. I offered my help – I would relieve him of any blackmarket provisions he might possess that would otherwise be confiscated and pay him a decent price for it too. He replied that if I could get my hands on his secret accountbooks, then he would give me the deal of my life. I thought about this for about as long as it takes to blink ones eyes in the rain, and agreed. To anoy the Patriarchs soldiers is always a pleasure!

 

Hormü explained were to find his accounts (well hidden down in the basement). Looking at the soldiers at work in his house – throwing furniture and stuff out of the windows of the first and second floor – we took a wild guess and figured that they hadn’t made it to the basement yet. We had not time to loose and set off immidiately. Hawk figured out how to get to the back of the house without running into too many soldiers. We hid behind a church near Hormüs house, when the Captain joined us. We told him the plan, and he and George started distracting the guards at the back of Hormüs house. To them it would seem that a huge and brutal guy (George) was beating up on a kid (the Captain). Well did I know that George wouldn’t stand a chance if the Captain fought back. While the guards were busy with them, Hawk and I broke into the house - we had to break down the door, since it was locked and we didn’t have the key… I can make things dissapear out of people’s pockets, but I never learned the magical gift of opening locked doors. We found the accounts where Hormü said they would be, uncovered them and ran like Hell out of that house! Meanwhile the guards had arrested George for disorderly behavior, more guards had joined the others, and we left the place in the last possible second. No one was ever the wiser!

 

Hormü really did give us the provisiondeal of our lives! 65 days worth of provision for the price of 50! We told him where we were going, and he asked that if we went to Punjaab (the socalled Dolphin City) and could get our hands on some flowerpods of an exotic flower named the poppy, he would give us a good price for it. He didn’t look much like a gardening man in my eyes, but maybe he had clientele that was. We said we’d look for it. Some of the boys were sent to get George out of prison, and we were getting good to go. The Captain promoted George to boatswain – he had certainly proved his worth and that he could keep his head cool and follow orders in stressed situations. Good man!

 

As we were loading the provisions from Hormü father Ignacio turned up again… He was even slimier than at his last visit, had his attention turned solely on my breasts (he was practically drooling, the scumbag!). He seemed to forget all about checking our papers and whether our provisions were legal or blackmarket. He just signed the stuff and sanctioned everything. In turn he told us about three ships heading east with lots of provisions (they just might be on our route to the Far East…): an Epriotic barque named the Delphina, a Venuzian Flute named Il Cruzi and a Venuzian westindianman named St. Cristobal. We had competition! Fortunately we still hadn’t seen the Sophia anywhere, and she was the worst competition, since we shared a market. But too many ships heading the same way would eventually catch somebodys attention, and that was bad. Finally the slimeball left our deck. I don’t usually take advantage of being a woman (often there aren’t that many advantages as it is), but every once in a while it pays off.

 

We left on the tide with a course set towards the Almohadh coast. During that day I got three interesting offers: the Captain offered me a partnership when the Hyena was ready to sail – a small fleet with him captaining the Fortuna and me on the Hyena. He was to be topboss, which suited me fine. He is still the cleverest man I’ve ever met, and sailing with him is my honor. I agreed off course. Hawk told me about some navigational tricks he had learned from some book – tricks that had already proved their worth. He offered to teach me, and I gladly accepted. Finally the bedridden Jean Luc offered to teach me manners… Boy, did I blow up in his face! I certainly had all the manners I needed, thank you very much, and did not have any need rubbing shoulders with folk that thought themselves too good for me anyway! I was less than diplomatic I’m afraid… But I thought it through and figured he was right: In the last couple of months I had had more contact with the nobles and even with royalty, than I had ever had. Travelling with the Captain and Jean Luc just opened that kind of doors. And the Blackwell line had once been close with the Venduerline, and who know what the future would bring? So I returned to Jean Luc, apologized for my rude behavior, and accepted his kind offer. He graciously accepted my apology and set to work at once. I know that he was bored to tears with lying idle in bed, but I’m not sure it wasn’t even more frustrating for him to try and teach me noble manners! There is so much to learn! So many complicated rules and exceptions that it could drive anyone mad! But I tried, I really did. I wanted to please him, but I think I left him more exasperated than pleased. Well, at least now I know which piece of cuttlery goes with what kind of food. Just a damned feeling pretending to eat gooseliverpaté and elderberrieflowerjello when it was just the regular ships stew.

 

Fortuna sailed the best I have ever experienced. I guess she’s more a small sea ship than an oceangoer. We had 1 competitor behind us and 3 ahead of us with no more than three days headstart. We were in good shape.

 

At dawn the next day I was on the wheel, when we spotted a Türkmenic galley lying still in our path. I crossed north of her as any sensible trader would. In our monoculars we could now see two ships – the galley and a rebuild galeon – on either side of an Epriotic trader that just might have been the Delphina. The sight of her iced the blood in our veins. In her yards men were hanging cruzified! The Captain was ready to go and make war on the corsars right then and there, but I talked him out of it. They outmaned us and outgunned us big time! We wouldn’t stand a chance. At best we’d survive, but we would have lost many men in the process. Besides; if we were supposed to be a trader, we would never do such a thing. It would blow our cover and ruin our mission. We would have to save our revenge till later. So we crossed northeast of them with clenched teeth.

 

In the afternoon we arrived at Abbas Point. It was a busy harbour, and lo and behold; here was St. Cristobal anchored up – Remember, the Venuzian westindianman. The wind was good, and we were only a few days into the lunar cycle. Tonight would be a good time to pass through the passage. Several smalltraders came up to us and offered us fresh fruit and vegetables, which we bought some of. We were told that Achmed of the Red Hand was the master of Aabas Point. That sounded too much like a corsar name to me, and I was beginning to feel jittery. Soon a more official looking boat approached us. I went under deck, knowing a little about the almohadish view of women. Omar Astürk hailed us. He introduced himself as Achmed’s general, and he was a really scarylooking fellow! He spoke ryendor, and his sharp eyes took in everything; the number of crewmen, the number of cannons, the quality of our ship. Only a hint of manners prevented him from going down and inspecting our cargo! The Captain explained to him that we were headed for Epirus, but had encountered corsars on the way, and wanted to rest here a day, before we were back on our route. Astürk asked us come to shore and meet his master at sunset. It sounded a lot more like an order than a request. The Captain thanked him for his hospitality…

 

A really short conference between the officers later we readied our ship, put out the darkened sails so that they were ready and we stormed out of that harbour! This harbour just felt too much like a trap! The crew of St. Cristobal was hanging over the railing looking at us in awe and envy – don’t they just wish they could have done the same?! Moments after we were clear of the island, had a good wind in our sails and were headed towards the passage between Almohadh and Türkmenistan. Tonight we would prove our worth!