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Grey Falcon part 3

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Old 06-20-2013, 09:44 AM
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Default Grey Falcon part 3

This is the third part of - The Lights of Kara Tau - this being the first chapter of the Grey Falcon.

The Kiloon is a meeting house at the select end of the quays in the upper quarter, but set slightly apart from its neighbours. Like the majority of buildings of Kara Tau, it was white, but the Kiloon for some reason appeared whiter than all the others. Its frontage was skirted by a low straw roof overhanging a wide wooden veranda with cane seats and tables, all fenced in by a gleaming balustrade.
Ash and Josepher proceeded up the two steps to the platform and strode in through the main door. Inside was cooler, quieter, and gentler on the eyes with a delicate fragrance of scented wood and a hint of spiced food simmering somewhere out of sight. Here was a subtle opulence, a confidence, a deep-rooted strength and an elusive something Ash couldn’t quite pin down, but like a fine dust it permeated everything.
There was money here, the very air whispered it; he could sense it and felt he need only stretch out his hands to touch it. From its cleanliness and simplicity, to the care taken over the smallest detail, where nothing was overlooked or out of place, the Kiloon subtly reflected the affluence of the port. Its location on the waterfront was ideal for merchants to dine, exchange business and socialise while waiting for their ships to arrive or depart upon the tides.
They were welcomed as though they were regular visitors, respected members, shown to a table, served a light meal and bathed in the gentle breeze offered by a broad punkah swaying imperceptibly above. They ate a fine meal and talked on haphazard things.
Josepher leant forward over the table. “Captain, do you realise you’ve acquired a tail?” he said. “A scruffy little boy from the Lower Quarter; one of the many unfortunates that roam our streets.”
“I’ve noticed. He picked me out the moment I stepped ashore.”
“He’s marked you. So be wary, or he’ll trick you out of something before the day has ended.”
“I’ve an eye on him,” he said. “But,” and sighed heavily, “you’ll find them in every port: we get accustomed to them and they to us.”
“They give the port a bad name,” said Josepher and marked the papers as receipt for the goods. Then, they raised a cup of wine to finalise the contract. “Now, when you need to discuss matters of cargo,” he said, and leant forward again as if passing on a confidence. “The man you’ll need to talk to is that man behind me at the table in the corner; the thin-faced man with the crooked eye. His name is Modic and everything that moves through the port goes through him. There isn’t a scrap here that he can’t account for. He’s your man to see for your new cargo. It’ll save you searching through these streets and all those in-between men that will be itching to scratch a profit out of you.”
Ash watched Modic as he dealt with his clientele. He appeared very adept at his work. This thin-faced man with a crooked eye who spoke through a cultivated smile – or was it an insincere grin? Ash couldn’t decide, for it appeared Modic genuinely faked liking his clients.
“But have a care in your dealings with this man,” continued Josepher; “I’ve found him to be as slippery as his hair he oils to his head. Outwardly, he allots goods to ships with a display of honesty and fair play, but the deals have already been concluded before his day has begun. Behind that façade, he plays many characters: to his masters, he’s a fawning cur that bustles about at their every whim, always trying to please and yet not worthy to be part of their society: and to those seeking an honest fare home, he contemptuously dispenses his favours and revels in his self-promoted position. Be wary, my friend. Be very wary.”
“And who is the gross man being fussed over so much, the one to my right?” asked Ash. “Every now and again he sets his eyes in our direction as though he has some interest in us.”
“He may well have. That’s Obesar – not a man you’d wish to know,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t be taken in by his airs and graces; he’s a rogue through and through with a heart that’s darker than any you’ll find in the Lower Quarter. He has amassed a great wealth acquired by dubious means, or so rumour will have it, although no one can or dares try to prove anything against him. A very powerful man; very powerful. He’s accumulated a large fleet of merchant ships through some grip he holds over the port. He’s definitely one to beware of, for if he has an eye on your ship, he’ll take it by whatever means he can. If your stay here is longer than expected, make sure you hold some moneys back to pay the port taxes.”
“Do not worry on that; we’ll be gone as quickly as we can,” said Ash with a smile, but even so, behind his smile there was slight anxiety from Josepher’s words. They talked while Ash retrieved the documents and they drank a final toast to conclude their meeting.
“Captain, the meal is on me,” said Josepher with great sincerity. “It’s been a pleasure to have done business with you,” and shook Ash’s hand enthusiastically.
“Likewise,” said Ash.
“I wish only for your safe return to your home port.” They both stood, and Josepher made a leisurely departure. Ash watched him go, but as he turned, he caught Obesar’s eyes scrutinising him with a fixed stare, like a predator sizing up his prey. For a moment, Ash hesitated, then broke the connection and walked across to where Modic sat, deep in his books and his thoughts. He was alone. “You are Modic?” Ash asked.
“I am, sir, do you require me?” he said suddenly brightening. Ash introduced himself and explained his requirements. “Ah,” sighed Modic with affected exaggeration, “if you had but arrived earlier this morning, you would have eased my dilemma, but alas, it was not to be. You see, I had difficulty in placing a consignment for the east,” he said, and with a sign of seemingly genuine concern, he continued. “But there is so much moving through the port, that I’m sure by tomorrow I can place you with a suitable client. I observed your remarkable craft arriving this afternoon.”
“It seems many have,” said Ash.
“Very original, I must say. A most wonderful spectacle, such a fascinating vessel,” and nimbly retrieving his quill, dipped its nib deftly in the ink. “Now, let me make a note here. Today is the sixty-eighth day of the first quarter, and it’s the Grey Falcon, eastward – yes,” and while his feathered quill shuffled across his parchment he mumbled with mutterings of meticulous approval. “There, all is done. Now I shall circulate this and then we must wait and see what tomorrow brings.”
Ash thanked him with a respectful nod and walked slowly out onto the quay. There, Red was waiting for him sitting cross-legged on the edge of a jetty.
“I see by your look you’ve had no luck, Capt’n,” said Red, and adjusted the kerchief about his forehead.
Ash shook his head and looked up at the sky. “Tomorrow I’ve been told, maybe.”
“So, nothing definite?” he said, and got to his feet.
“No, let’s get back to the ship,” said Ash. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the young boy, his tail, as Josepher put it, studying him from the safety of the crowd. Ash turned to get a finer look, but the boy had gone. Ash gave a smile as they climbed down to the boat secured beneath the jetty, where Tinker and Grebek were waiting.
“By your face, Capt’n,” said Tinker leisurely tipping his wide-brimmed straw hat to the back of his head, “we’ve come away empty.”
“Yes,” said Ash. “But we’ve still got a day in hand.”
“No,” said Tinker, “there’s only one day remaining. And that’s the cheat of it calling this the first day; we didn’t arrive until after noon this day. We’ve lost half a day, and have you seen how expensive it is here? Red and I’ve been going over the cost of supplies for the homeward journey and with the money we have, we’ll be short twelve days by my figuring. That’s a long while to go without.”
Grebek said nothing, but stared thoughtfully at the ships stationed along the quay as their boat moved slowly out into open water and the sun dropped behind the hills into a blood-red sunset.

* * * * *

On board the Grey Falcon, the crew’s spirits were dampened by the news that a cargo had not been readily forthcoming, yet they remained hopeful the next day would be more fruitful. As evening drew on and dark night closed about them, they lit the lanterns, sat about the deck and ate a hearty meal. They talked and laughed, and with the occasion of half the journey successfully completed, they sang and drank to their forthcoming journey and their return home.
But Ash’s concerns were growing, for they were strangers in a foreign land. Here they had no friends, and local traditions and procedures were strange to them. In their home port of Xianda and their regular haunts up and down the rivers or along the coast, they were known and respected. If they required work, Ash would only have to put out the word or walk the rounds, and before the day was old they would have a shipment and destination. Here, there were no rounds of the port he could make: he suddenly felt alone and vulnerable. At no time since the building of the Grey Falcon had they carried an empty hold, and there was pride in that. A pride also that his father had designed the ship and he, Jarron, Red, Tinker, Mie and Cookie had all been party to her building. As captain, the crew were his responsibility.
He looked across the water to the city, to the myriad flickering pinpricks of light issuing from the oil lamps and torches flowing down the slopes to the waterfront, like a vast black cloak studded with diamonds and spread wide across the dark hillside. Overhead, a sky full of stars drew fanciful patterns to compliment the design. The lights of Kara Tau were a sight to behold, but the city was all hemmed in and only made beautiful while accentuated by the darkness. Ash turned back to his own world; the world of reality, where four lighted oil lamps hung, two from the yard and two on the deck, casting slow, shifting shadows amid the low chatter. All seemed peaceful, unchanged, secure.
Alone on the stern deck, Ash looked out on the crew as they rested after their meal. He looked at Jarron, lifted the jug to his lips and drank slowly. He smiled to himself and remembered one very hot summer’s day as a lonely figure walked down the dusty track beneath the trees toward the river, where the first signs of the Grey Falcon were taking shape. This was the first time Ash had seen Jarron, his clothes worn to the threads, his pockets empty and in his eyes a haunted look. At a sign from Ash’s father, he had set himself to work. Jarron had been a mariner, but had abandoned the sea after the vessel he crewed was wrecked. Its crew had lacked a sharpness of duty and care in its maintenance and one evening, as their ship raced for a safe haven, they were overtaken by a sudden squall that rolled the ship: only two survived and the horror of that day continued to plague him with nightmares and tremors.
Jarron immersed himself in his work and slowly, over time, he mastered many of his fears and ‘became himself ’, as he put it. One thing had never changed, and that was his obsession to ensure everything was done right and all things were checked and rechecked before he let a matter be. But it was only at the last moment on the last day as the Grey Falcon was about to set out on her maiden voyage that Jarron decided where his life lay.
‘Red,’ Ash thought, ‘was another to turn up when hands were most needed. It was not long after Jarron’s arrival that he appeared and buried himself in work. We were glad of the help and were not inclined to ask too many questions; besides, he had a look about him that did not encourage personal enquiry. He rarely spoke, not even to give his name, and so we called him after the colour of his hair, which only brought a smile to his lips, and so the name remained. It was a long time before we had a drift as to his background and in the end it was Mie, a young woman in the village that brought it out of him. She was beautiful and kind and had a way about her; a strength and subtly that melted the ice within him. When the Grey Falcon was finally launched, they formed a bond that has never been in doubt and have remained steadfast partners ever since. It seems that he was the son of a notorious pirate and one night, when the militia came calling, his father escaped and Red and the family were forced to flee. Red had continued to run until the day he ran across us –’
There came a sharp sound of a sudden splash as Cookie, having cleared the residues of the meal, tossed them overboard. Ash watched him and shook his head. ‘Cookie, as one might guess, had been our family cook, and was persuaded to join the crew. His cooking is good to mediocre and most of the time, simple and filling. What his dishes lack in taste he makes up for with a flurry of hot spices, but he is never going to improve. Even now, his constant complaining about his apparent dislike of the sea and the concocting of any number of ailments that might take his fancy at the time, are at times wearisome.’
Ash’s eyes moved on and settled on the hat under which Tinker dwelt, for when tilted at an angle so that his face was no longer visible, as it was at that moment, meant he was engaged in a light nap.
‘I remember the day,’ thought Ash, ‘he came by, plying his dubious trade and asking if anything needed fixing. He was shown what was needed to be done and he said he could, with ease, do what was required. When he was done, Jarron told him in short and direct terms that it was not to his satisfaction. From that day, Tinker has applied himself under Jarron’s watchful eye and since then he has grown and his work trusted. But it’s in his keen eye for money, deals, bargains, and an uncanny understanding of the sly devils with their weaving of devious schemes as they try to eke an extra base coin from a contract that makes him so invaluable.’
What had kept them together for all those years Ash could not say: a sense of security, perhaps, or family, for that’s what they had become. It certainly was not money, not big money, although thanks to Tinker’s talents, they had never run short. For five years, now the crew had numbered six and that was sufficient for the Grey Falcon to make her way and steer her passage clear.
Then, Grebek caught Ash’s eye as he stood apart from the others, leaning idly on the rail and gazing out into the darkness toward the city. Grebek was an unfortunate but essential commodity: he was a pilot and this was his third voyage with the Grey Falcon. In that time, had shown himself to be a mildly disagreeable man, too secretive with his knowledge, preferring to keep his own company. A captain would be considered a fool if for a moment he harboured any thoughts that a pilot would become a permanent member of the crew. Like the majority of pilots, their services were easily bought by rival captains, and Grebek had an eye for the money. Their credentials were spurious; keeping their skills to themselves as they hid behind a mystique of maps and a plethora of strangely tinkered instruments.
‘Not a profession to be trusted where trust is required,’ Ash thought, and turning away, called to Jarron. “I’m going to catch some sleep. We’ve had a long journey and we all need to rest. I’ll see you in the morning and we’ll see if we can’t sort this cargo. We’ll make an early start; I don’t want to see the day getting away from us. There’s too little time left to us. Good night, Jarron.”
“Good night, Captain,” said Jarron, and said it loud enough for the crew so there was no mistaking his meaning.

Last edited by icedwaters; 06-20-2013 at 09:48 AM..
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