Chapter 01: As Good a Time as Any

Look

 

What has become of us?

We, whose rough hands formed

All things of industry.

We who brought down the beast

And made of him a meal.

We who clothed and fed the body,

Who nurtured the growing

Things on our blood.

We who mined, smelted and

Forged the very iron that binds us.

The blood and sweat

That keeps them strong;

Smug, bold, and imperial.

Much of the world goes unseen,

Unnoticed like the

Tangled floor of a forest,

Untouched by the buried imagination,

Overlooked in the

Restless search for ore.

 

                                    –Julian The Bastard

 

 

Noon crept upon the Viceroy, climbed the low wall and poured itself over the lethargic midday drinking crowd gathered in the courtyard.  While never pleasant here this deep in summer, today was a sultry bitch.  If Julian McAllister had not counted himself a master complainer, with standards to maintain, it would be well worth remarking on.

Spearing a round of cheese with a delicate stiletto, he afforded himself a vague feeling of satisfaction.  Loosening his belt and patting his swollen belly, he let out a long, low belch and examined the great table laid waste before him; noting the stains and crumbs with nodding approval.  While far too drunk to be called at peace this suited him well enough.

The axe head paving stones that interlocked beneath him were weathered and cracked.  Delicate knot work patterns rendered dull, intermittent lines worn by rain and caked with dust.  He could still recall the day they were set, holding one in his lap on the back steps, entranced by the minute detail of the stone work.  He had just turned eight, the memory was an old one that intruded now and again throughout his life; unbidden and without purpose.

After his mother’s death some twenty years ago, the local Christians took up residence, bent on saving the colony from the abandoned shell of its most sinful and debaucherous house.  Thoughts of burning it to the ground itched in his mind but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.  It would have been taken badly in any case.  Back to see his childhood home for the first time in a decade, he was glad to find his mother’s brothel free of infestation.

            Angry voices nearby roused him from his blunted introspections.  Glancing upward, his eyes found a merchant who had come to argue with another patron over timetables or some such.  A pint had been thrown in his face and he was shoved to the ground before taking point that rogues were best undisturbed once the drinking and wenching commenced.

            On his forehead he bore the snake and rail, a brand denoting him guilty of profiteering on another’s misery, most likely food or medicine.  While these were lawless parts by common standards the locals most assuredly had their rules; that mark could get you killed here.  Julian stared right through the little man as he passed, their eyes briefly meeting.  Anywhere else he might have sneered at him but this was home ground and he refused the bother.

It would have been a lie to say he had no interest in a fight, the need for a good cathartic brawl weighed heavy on him but, as a professional, he held no interest in the terror of worms.  Your quarry needed a fair shot at beating you savagely for any sport to come of it.

            The big guy who tossed the drink was another story; a smuggler by the look of him, gaudy and overdressed for the heat.  Julian disliked him at once.  It was not the man’s treatment of the merchant, clearly vermin, so much as his manner.  A bully, Julian could smell it on him.  Smacking a man around because you despised him is one thing, for cheap laughs quite another.

            “Yarr, pig-fucker!” The voice might have been jovial if a touch less drunk and unsteady.  Deacon sat down heavily across from his captain and began rummaging, turned a clay wine pot to find it empty and tossed it aside.  Julian closed his eyes and smiled as it shattered.  Since a young lad, the captain had been a great connoisseur of the sounds things made when breaking.  A good storefront window being his hands-down favorite, but satisfaction could be found in anything’s destruction by a person with the right sensibilities.  It really is the little things.

            Finding the remaining spirits, Deacon set himself to task.  “White wine after a bloodbath?” he sighed, “Fucking savage.”

            The captain shrugged indifferently.  “Had I any manners at all I might have ended up a proper gentleman and missed your fine company.  A sad wretch I’d be.”

            “As well teach a wolf to take his lamb with mint sauce as add subtlety to your mix.”  Deacon finished off the wine and sent the empty vessel to join its brother in the hereafter.  “Is he alright?” he then asked, indicating Billy who lay slumped over the table, decidedly unconscious.

            “Thus far,” Julian said, dropping his arm after confirming a pulse.

            “Well,” Deacon began as his back straightened.  Julian noted he was about to get bookish on him.  Even loaded to the gunwalls the man never took a minute off the job.  The captain waved him off.  They were both too far gone to get into this now.  He pulled himself forward and leaned on the table with a single arm, looking quite steady and sober from a distance he’d wager.

            “Do you remember Martha?”

            “No,” Deacon said, “but I remember Maria.”

            “Maria!” Julian cried-out, slapping the table with authority and causing Billy to slide off in a heap.  “Maria, yes, I’m convinced I saw her.”

            “You did,” Deacon informed him, glancing over the table at their companion.  “She owns this place now, has for nigh on a year I’m told.”

            “Bristol fashion, that practically puts it back in the family,” Julian said and they shared a chuckle.

            “Speak of the devil,” Deacon pointed over Julian’s shoulder.

            “And a double health to thee, young gents,” said the woman who approached.  “Welcome home, boys.  Would you be staying the night?  It looks as though you’ll not make it far otherwise.”  She snapped a loud and practiced thumb to finger and a young girl seemed to shoot straight up from the ground.  Maria instructed her to toss out whoever was in the best three rooms, refunding their money for the last two days, and to have Billy brought to bed straight away.

            “Please sit,” Julian begged her, attempting to pull out a chair for their host and losing his own.  After helping him back to his seat she smiled and obliged him.  “I cannot express how grateful I am to see the place back in respectable hands,” he confided.

            Maria cocked her head slightly in confusion then understood, waving a shopworn hand.  “The crossers?  Long gone them, didn’t last a year in the port quarter.  Took to raiding the taverns and tippin’ the booze, which didn’t sit well with the good folk round here.  Mob came, branded ‘em with crosses and made ‘em move outside the walls.”

            “Good riddance,” Deacon said, and three glasses rose as one.

            “Obnoxious as hell but I wouldn’t trade places with Curacao for a king’s ransom,” Maria went on.  “Lousy with jihadis the whole place.”

            “Everything they did and that’s what they get run out of town for?” Julian’s voice was slick with venom.

            “What matters is they’re gone,” Deacon said, hoping to bring the conversation elsewhere.  One of Julian’s rants on the god-folk was dangerously near and no good ever came of one.

“As I was about to say earlier, while the new ship will certainly be profitable in the long term, it’s costing us dearly in the interim.  It’ll take months before we’re competent with all the new gear and have her outfitted to our particular needs.  Almost everything will go into immediate repairs and essential upgrades.”  Deacon began enumerating on his fingers, “We may still have to–”

            “Life is cruel,” Julian said, still desperate to avoid work topics.

            “I just ran into Broden,” Deacon continued and Julian’s head nodded in recognition, “who was transferring a fifth of that medical cargo to Farrokh’s people.  I asked him what was going on and he just tossed up his hands, telling me to talk to you.  I’m the damned quartermaster, Jules.  And ship master besides, I’d really like to have an idea what’s going on from time to time.  If only to make me feel better.”

            “Quit hangin’ the jib, Killjoy.  It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up or wait on.”  Deacon opened his hands in waiting so Julian elaborated, “The Black Adder is in port.”  He paused for another belch, washing-out the taste of it with a swig of wine.  “They had a captive and I took him off their hands.”

            Deacon looked confused and indignant.  “We’re slavers now?”

            “Of course not,” Julian said, offended.  “Mr. Blackthorne is a free man who can do as he likes.  I have convinced him, however, into staying on for the time being.”  Deacon’s hands, still spread, now motioned inward for clarification.

“Guy Blackthorne, one of the most accomplished naval architects alive today,” Julian explained as if to a child.  “A valuable asset to any vessel.”

            “And you sent Broden to fetch his new competition, did you?  You are a bastard.”

            “I am,” Julian said, pleased with the recognition.  He then added with a snicker, “It was Broden that wised me to this guy.  Besides, we still have another three-eighty plus whatever we can get for the brigs.  Not really suited to make for corsairs but they’re solid haulers.”

          Julian hated talking trade when he was relaxing, let alone intoxicated, but talk of money had him excited.  The drone rumble of a heavy ship making for orbit filled the air, making the hair on his arms stand straight and curling one side of his mouth in a grin.  Even now tale of the daring raid spread across the twelve colonies of the Riftward Marches, growing grander by the telling; as he knew it would.

 

<home         next>


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