New Beginnings... Part 7
J.C. back again, now that we have returned to our regularly scheduled content. Tomorrow morning, Shade (our rescued stray kitty) will be on her way to her newly found home in California. For those who need to catch up, do a search for “New Beginnings” here at NobleDead.org to find previous installments in this series. Once again, grab your favored beverage and let’s get to it…
Chapter 3, Scene 1
Tryskiäna felt exhausted after Vàtz ran-off and left her alone to deal with his younger cousin. This time she whispered at Pìnt, “What is wrong with you, aside from being…?”
No, she did not say “mute”; that would have been heartless as well as untrue.
Those who had been with Vàtz since before the Fire & Flood Porter Service—mainly Bolo and Ewariatō—confirmed that Pìnt had once been able to speak. Vàtz had never said more than that, and the others were reluctant to do so. Something had happened even before the original “pier boys” team. The one time when Tryskiäna had asked directly, Vàtz had been less than polite.
Meaning a typical, utter, and complete… vàtz!
Tryskiäna truly wanted to help Pìnt, but even this was not why she stayed at the FFPS. What she knew and could do did not matter to anyone else in the city. She spoke two languages fluently, a third passably, and smatterings of others beside Belaskian. She knew enough politics and finance to have easily worked and excelled in her uncle's bank. And while most girls are indeed more intellectual astute than boys, it availed her nothing in knowing so.
Who would hire a thirteen-going-on-fourteen year old girl who looked eleven?
Few if any—if she could have found them—except for that… Vàtz!
And even fewer if they knew anything about her. But once she had demonstrated what she could do for his business, he had been more than eager to hire her. He stalled only once, no doubt wondering why someone with her skills would seek employment in scraggly outfit like this one. Even that was not why she tolerated his indignities and questionable business practices. There was more than one reason why, but at the top of that list…
Tryskiäna had nowhere else to go, obviously.
She envisioned a life that she wanted versus the one that awaited when she turned fifteen, or sixteen at the extreme. She would be dragged into the world of her father, especially if her mother had anything to say matter. Mother always had something to say about everything.
All of this left Tryskiäna so panicked and desperate that she would stay in even this place for now. She had not counted on there being something more that would keep her here.
Pìnt's big brown eyes blinked at her from his round, blank, wet face.
Any depression and panic Tryskiäna suffered was sliced with sudden guilt.
“I am… am sorry,” she whispered, and then more clearly, “Let us get you cleaned up. Stay here, and I will return momentarily.”
She headed for the front door, but once there, paused, frowned, and turned.
“I mean it, Pìnt,” she added. “Stay here until I return… yes?”
Pìnt stared at her, blinked twice more, and look all around the FFPS, as if noticing his surroundings for the first time ever. He was not a half-wit, but sometimes he seemed not quite all there—or rather all here.
Tryskiäna knew better. “Pìnt!”
He flinched, turned back to stare at her, and with a ridiculous grin that scrunched his eyes, he nodded.
Tryskiäna sighed. Pìnt was not deceitful except with those who were deceitful with him. He did have a rather simplistic—or perhaps explicit—interpretation of the truth. Still uncertain, Tryskiäna stepped out of the FFPS in search of hot water and soap.
Chapter 3, Scene 2
Vàtz jogged around the corner onto the busy waterfront. Too many people, carts, cargo, and so on hurried all ways. He dodged two near-do-well merchants shouting at each other, ducked a cargo net slung between two deckhands, and raced on toward the waterfront's midpoint. He didn't looked back, as Kat knew to keep up and to keep the stragglers moving.
When he reached the head of the first double-deck dock, he slowed in looking about. He couldn't see much with so many people and cargo everywhere. Glancing back along the nearest warehouses, he didn't spot Bolo and so hurried on. He stalled again at the second and then third double-decked docks, but still no sign of Bolo's team anywhere.
By the bits of ships' masts Vàtz did see, three of those monstrous ones were in port. That rarely happened, but all three had their sails furled, so he wasn't sure which were loading, unloading, or just waiting. The wind was down, so none of the mast flags showed their markings. Hopefully one was the Bull, and that's where Bolo had gone.
“Move it!” Vàtz shouted, with barely a glance at Kat, and he took off again.
There was one more thing to worry about.
The Haroun as a small two-masted ship with a captain regular to Bela. Fas'sud always harbored his vessel at the waterfront's northernmost low docks. That meant right below the warehouse managed by “Thumbless.” The captain might prefer the FFPS to handle his goods, but if left waiting too long or in a big hurry—
Vàtz glanced over his shoulder. “Faster, before—“
“Oh, Just watch where you're going—and stepping!” Kat shouted back.
Doing both wasn't easy on the run, but he hadn't forgotten his miss-step during breakfast. There were fewer flying wharf-rats about, now that so many people were on the move, tromping and smearing any poop into the boards. He reached the waterfront's northern end, didn't even look for Boddack, and raced past the last warehouse.
Vàtz rounded onto the down-ramp to the low docks and ran for the nearest one. Sure enough, there was the Haroun halfway down on the right. All of its sails on the two masts and bowsprit were tucked away, and there was no one close by to it, especially another porter team. Vàtz spotted Fas'sud coming out of the forward cabin onto deck.
“Greetin's again, captain,” he called out. “Looks like we got here in time.”
Or maybe not. He didn't see any of the Haroun's crew. That wasn't a good sign, if there was worthwhile cargo to unload.
Fas'sud halted halfway to his ship's rail and peered up the dock. By the look of him, he hadn't shaved in a few days. Most Suman men wore beards, but this one kept only a point on his chin that tapered away to a fringe of black along his jawline. Right now, his upper lip and cheeks were darkened with growth over his dark-skinned, narrow face. The captain must've hit a lot of bad weather in crossing the Brink, leaving him little time for his fussy grooming.
The Haroun, of Suman make, was strange compared to local vessels. She had long, up-swept sprits at both ends, the rear one half that of the bow. Narrow of hull at the waterline more than at the rail, she was riding high today. Either she was light on cargo or had already unloaded, and neither was profitable for the FFPS.
“Greetings, Master Vàtz,” Fas'sud returned with a slow nod.
The captain stepped lightly to the rail near his ship's ramp but didn’t disembark. Some would've expected a Suman merchant, seafaring or not, to be dressed up in something, well, foreign-looking. Not this one, unless he felt like it for a night in the city. His clothing wasn't much different than any local sailor let alone a captain.
“I did not bring much this time,” Fas'sud added. “A few special deliveries and little more.”
He raised his eyes toward the high waterfront, and his brow almost furrowed to a scowl.
Vàtz followed that gaze as it turned toward those three monster ships at the tallest docks. It was never good for smaller merchant vessels when they reach Langanied behind one of those hulks, let alone three at once. Little cargo was left over for smaller ships to haul out of Bela; and little profit as well for the run across the Brink.
“We can still help you load up, as always,” Vàtz assured. “And for the special deliveries, I'll see to those my—”
“Not for this trip,” Fas'sud interrupted. “I will take on some Trion… accessory goods… which will be brought by their own guards. Other goods of opportunity I will seek later. The first item for delivery will be picked up perhaps this morning.”
Vàtz heard Kat curse under her breath and cleared his throat to cover that. “Just the same, we'll help as needed. Have one of your crew stop by… my office… when…”
He stalled as the captain's dark eyes stared beyond him down the dock. He turned as Kat did the same, though the only thing they noticed was a too-tall, lanky young man with flattened dark hair. That one slowed more the closer he came. Big-eyed and gaunt, he stared and frowned at Vàtz and his team.
“Bean-pole?” Kat muttered. “Thought you didn't want work?”
The overly tall youth ignored her, and as he passed, his bulgy-eyed stare remained on Vàtz. Then he turned his full attention to the captain.
“Is this the Haroun,” he asked, “and you, Captain Fas'sud?”
“Yes to both,” Fas'sud answered. “And who are you?”
Vàtz was slightly curious about that, but Kat snagged his arm and yanked on it. And she kept jerking until she'd dragged him down the dock past the stranglers.
“What're we doing?” she growled at him. “If there's no coin in it, let's get on to something else.”
“Just wait,” he whispered. “Maybe I can line up something for later, when the captain takes on cargo.”
Kat grumbled with a puff. “Either way, we're done here. And don't you have something else to do?”
“And yet I do not see my payment,” Fas'sud said too loudly.
Vàtz's looked back, though he'd clearly missed the exchange. The lanky youth appeared to falter and fret. In a sudden blink, maybe he remembered something and pulled a folded paper envelope out of his shirt.
“If you can't make us some coin here,” Kat whispered, “then I've got other ways.”
Vàtz whirled back on her. “No you don't! You're done with that, remember?”
“Oh… really? What about tonight… and every first night of a new moon?”
“That's different!” he shot back too loudly, then lowered his voice as he leaned in on her. “That's how we find coin for the next moon, and you know it!”
“Oh… as you say then,” Fas'sud pronounced sharply.
Vàtz twisted to looked, though he'd obviously missed something again.
“Not precisely as expected,” the captain went on, folding up a paper and re-inserting it into that envelop. “But it is acceptable.”
Vàtz was yanked around the other way again.
“And what about that hand?” Kat hissed at him.
Vàtz's eyes popped in panic, and he almost clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Shut up!” he hissed back. “Don't say… that… or somebody might hear.”
“Well, who's gonna hear about it most? Me—not you, out makin’ your deals.”
“What're you talking about?” and Vàtz peeked toward the ship.
Fas'sud handed a large, dark, orange-red box to the skinny messenger, who took it carefully in both hands. The messenger appeared a little surprised by its size, look, or something.
“I'm talking about that prissy little scribbler of yours!” Kat snapped.
Vàtz was confused but then—
“One last concern,” Fas'sud said to messenger. “The shipment you hold was costly… in lives. I will not change the agreed upon price at this time, but the difference will be added to future purchases of the same. Make certain Kriändul knows this.”
The messenger looked up from the box, perhaps as confused as Vàtz, who wanted to hear more and turned a little more.
Kat punched him in the back of the shoulder, and Vàtz almost yelped as he turned on her.
“What's your problem now?”
“You!” she answered too loudly. “And your priss of a bookkeeper!”
“Okay, all right, just keep it—”
“I don't give a squat about some severed hand,” Kat went on, with a finger-jab in his chest. “’Cept everyone but you will hear about it all day when dropping off coin… to Tryx! So you better get to what you promised her.”
“All right, enough… and…”
Aside from the waterfront's distant buzz, everything close-by was a little too quiet now. Vàtz looked about—and then up—and there was that tall guy in the long vest walking slowly by with the box in hand. Kat looked up at him as well.
“You need something… Bean-pole?”
The messenger scowled at her, looked away, and kept walking, but he looked back more than once. That left Vàtz suspicious, and then he spotted the two stragglers staring at him. Both were a bit wide-eyed, and one blinked a bit too often—thanks to Kat's loud little mouth.
He spun to find Captain Fas'sud watching him, brows slightly wrinkled in concern, puzzlement, disapproval, or who knew what. With a slow but deep exhale through his long nose, the captain went on.
“I will leave port within seven days. Before then, a heavy payment is due through Bela's main bank. If your porters can handle this quietly and securely…”
Vàtz almost blurted out “sure enough” but caught himself. More than one question came to mind.
Why didn't the captain make the pick up or have his crew do so?
Still, there was coin to be had.
“Sure enough,” Vàtz answered. “We'll take care of you, as always.”
Captain Fas'sud returned a slow nod before he returned to below.
That still left Vàtz wondering who nearby might've heard how much of Kat's hissing and spitting. The stragglers had heard, and if those two talked, how many would show up tomorrow once any rumors started?
Vàtz flinched before she jerked his sleeve. When he turned, Kat was pointing off toward the other piers, and he looked south. Either he hadn't noticed the open space, or a ship had disembarked from the next low dock. He had a clear view of the nearest double-decked dock farther on.
“Look for Ded,” Kat said, and pointed. “Right there, in black.”
Vàtz already spotted his hired protection.
Ded, Took, and Bolo stood with their stragglers near the main ramp of one huge ship. It had to be the Bull, since there was little other reason they would've all gone for it. Some of the crew and passengers appeared to be shouting at them from the ship's rail. Vàtz spotted something more.
Just down the dock, blocking the way as they inched in at the head of crowd, was another porter crew with bearers' poles in hand. He recognized at least two of Boddack's men, either from the warehouse or the foreman's private crews.
Ded slipped a hand behind his back.
Bolo raised a bearer's pole with one hand and waved the gang of stragglers back toward the ship.
Took pulled pulled that stupid curved saber out over his head.
“Ah, bou'ods,” Vàtz whispered, not that he knew what that meant, and shoved Kat toward the waterfront. “Run!”
“I'm going already,” she answered, shooing the stragglers ahead. “What's your problem? Anyone can see ours got there first, so Thumbless can take his team and—”
“It doesn't matter,” Vàtz cut in, and raced past her down the dock. “If there's a fight, someone'll call the city guards. Anyone arrested—and their business—gets banned by the portmaster for a quarter-moon!”
Until next time, likely in a week, thank you again for stopping by and following along. —J.C.