Chapter 17: SPICE ISLANDS
A brisk spring with ships making call brought a continuous flow of goods into the port. Spices picked by the farmers, their children and Melnor brought good prices and gave the pickers credit or a bit of silver. Also, fine woods began to find their way from the other side of the Gorge. Messengers began using the bridges. Some tradesmen left only to be replaced by new ones looking to make their fortune. Some made more than they expected and others only found hard work as they were found unfit by Armad and Blackie for the learning of the specialized handling of stone and metal. The grocery took care of its self with the help of Fallon and Patch. Armad kept making deals with the ship captains as his own ships were being built.
“Cappy, I’m finishing up my first ship. Would you like to come join me as I commission it?” This, being the first of his ships would be captained by an experienced man. Captain Jones had agreed to work with him for future considerations and a little advantage today.
“I will join you in good time. Who else will be there?”
“Melnor will be going with me on the maiden voyage, Grimley, both of his charges, Parry and Patch of course.”
“How many of them will be going with you?”
“Just Melnor. I’ve borrowed a prize crew from the other captains and they will share in our profits in return.”
Hours later, the breeze picked up, the sun warmed the day and everybody gathered on the pier. Armad strode up to the captain of his lead ship. “Captain Sir; I give to you this ship to steer in fair and foul weather. May she give you good profit and a comfortable home on the sea. I ask that you join me in asking for the blessings of M’Lady.”
The heavyset captain stepped forward to join him forward on the rail. Melnor stepped forward and touched each of them on the shoulder, having them all sit along the rail. As they all settled in, he raised his voice in song. The tune was that of a sea ditty without the words or indeed, much emphasis on rhythm. Apparently, he wasn’t much of a singer. As all joined in, first one and then the next one began their own communion with M‘Lady.
Few men sailed these seas for long without that communion, for without her ‘blessing’ there was no warning of the dangers from under or over the surface. Indeed, her guidance was just as important to these sailors as they did not use the stars for navigation, only the sun, the land and their faith.
Melnor stopped his song and spoke aloud for all the witnesses not on ship to hear. “Armad joins us at last and M’Lady gives us her blessing. Armad, you may instruct your Captain to set sail.”
Armad raised his voice in command. “Captain! Have your men set sail for departure! We sail for the Islands!”
The jib rose, filled and began to pull the ship away from the dock. Gradually, the tiller began to have effect on the ship’s motion and the captain had a feel with the tiller now at his command. Drifting slowly into the open, he then called for the mainsail to be pulled up. Seconds later, it filled and after it was pulled taught, the foam at the aft began to build. By the time they left the protected range of the bay, Armad checked out the foam and commented to Melnor, “If I had skis, I could have a good time behind this boat.”
“What,” asked Melnor, “Are skis?”
“Never mind. I will explain it to you some time. It is something from my home that I used to enjoy.”
In full sail, the wind took them well out past the hard surf and into the sun-drenched rollers. Armad had the sail trimmed for stability so that their forward movement was steady but didn’t heel the boat over hard. This first ship of his construction was larger than the sport boats that he was used to competing with. It was in fact, quite a bit larger and a bit of a tub but it was exactly what was needed for the job that he had in mind for it. As a mode of transportation, it should be steady in storm and efficient in low winds, voluminous enough to carry intermediate loads but not so large that it would be unprofitable to take on small loads. The boat had a simple enough rig. Only a few men would be needed to operate the ship in an emergency saving on manpower, food for any given trip and maximizing the profits. The only thing that it would not do was fight.
Armad knew the nautical history of his world and knew that the most efficient hauling ships always failed when warships interfered. In this world of magic, the weapons of war were different. They weren’t heavy; they embodied the skills of the magician in one form or another. Often, either you had the best magician or you lost. If he brought gunpowder into this world it would be ages before anyone else could best him. Contrariwise, gunpowder by itself was pretty weak compared to a good magician and in order to keep any gain that it gave him, he would have to employ constantly more efficient ways of deploying the force that gunpowder embodied.
History also told him the best path for advancing his fellow citizens was not through weaponry. He was disinclined to introduce anything like weapons to these people. Magic was too much of a wild card and giving them something as simple to make as gunpowder could easily backfire. So it was that this beautiful day found him traveling on the water with the many close friends that he had made.
Tacking across the wind, the ship followed the commands of her new captain as prompted by the designer and owner. This captain had been ‘given’ this ship because he had the necessary experience to handle the crew and had Armad’s trust. Captain Jones was instructed to take the ship out for a day cruise so that Armad and his construction team could see how it handled. Two of the men would accompany the captain on the trip he would begin tomorrow to find some of the islands that were reputed to trade in rare spices and other oddities. They would help with repairs, if any were needed.
Armad knew from his history that spices and fruits would bring the biggest return on space and thus the bigger profits that would allow him the most independence.
Tacking again across the wind and into the sun, Captain Jones asked Armad, “Tell me once again, how we are going to find these islands?”
“As you know, I’ve talked to all of the captains that come into the port and asked them to ask others for instructions on how to get to the islands. There are over twenty islands out there that trade with each other with one or another specialized trade item. Finding the islands may not be your hardest job.”
“What could be harder than finding a small spot of land out in the middle of nowhere?”
Armad said, “I think that you might find that simple communication may be more difficult than you expect. If they don’t speak an entirely different language, they may sound so different speaking your common language that you may not understand them.”
“What do you mean; speak another language?” Asked, the captain.
“Spreken ze doitch?” Prompted Armad.
”What did you say?”
“Parlez vous François?”
“Huh?” Said a confused captain.
”I just asked you in two different languages if you spoke either of them. I probably mangled both of them but, they aren’t my native language. This is one of the problems that you face. Another problem that you will likely have is figuring out just what everything is worth and getting a good trade. Just get as wide a variety as you can. Bring it all home and we will see what we like. I have quite a few ideas about what we can sell and eventually we will be able to sell almost anything. It will only be a question of how much, to who and how soon that different things will sell.”
“You have a lot of faith in your ability to sell things to anybody, don’t you?” Asked Jones.
Armad looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I know the value of things and have learned not to under estimate the needs of people. I have a far wider experience with people than you would understand. My education is also much deeper and wider than you would expect. Both of these things give me an extreme confidence and confidence is a hard thing to combat. It makes me a very good salesman.”
They spent the day climbing the rigging and scouring the decks for flaws, problems, anomalies or changes from when they set it up. This was a good crew and they not only had the ship rigged the way they were taught but it was pulled in tighter than he would have credited. That evening saw them tired and satisfied with the ship’s capability and the following morning saw the ship sail off towards its future in trading with Captain Jones at the helm.