Chapter 1: SHORE LEAVE
The tall gray cloaked man stood on the prow of the ship and felt the moist winds whip past him. The faintest wisp of red hair escaped from his cloak. The winds howled from the starboard seaward side sailing towards shore on a broad reach. The boat heeled over to port.
Melnor was not a sailor. The ship was large enough that his weight made little to no difference but it did allow him to stand up straight while on the rail. It gave him a feeling of stability while he gained as much height as he could. As large as the ship was, it was still not large enough to have a proper crow’s nest and he wanted to find the highest hill near a shoreline that he could. The point that he was expecting should be appearing soon.
They had been sailing for weeks in search for just the correct spot for the building of a tower. If Melnor could gather enough workers to the place he selected and under his direction, he would have his tower. He wanted to be able to watch the entire shoreline and well into the land for he needed a place to practice his art in peace.
“There!” He pointed out a hill. “Captain Jones is there a place to put into port anywhere near here?”
“Aye, Mage! There is a small river outlet just south of here.”
“How far inland will I have to travel to get to that hill over there?” He pointed over to the tallest rise on the shore. The hill was a short distance inland from the marshy shoreline.
The old salt began, “There is a lake just inside the shoreline and a small shelf of land backed up by a cliff. You can walk south a bit and then take a walk up the hill. I figure that if you don’t dally, you should be able to reach the area you are pointing at in about the span of a hand in sun movement.
Pulling up to the dock will take most of that time.”
“There is a dock here? Why would anyone trade this far north?”
The old man shuffled his feet in a manner that said that he wanted to keep his own counsel. With a little prodding, he finally admitted, “Sailors always need a place to pull into if the weather gets nasty or if they are too late in the season to dock into their home ports due to an early freeze. The lake here is protected from weather and rarely freezes over even in the worst of winters. Often times, sailors have had to spend the whole winter here. Many of the farmhouses and barns in the areas are the remains of sailors staying through the winter. There are a few farms out past the lake that were built by sailors that just gave up on the life at sea.”
“How did they get there?”
“Some of them jumped ship; others came up from the trade route to the south after leaving their ship in Oman and fulfilling their tour. Some of them are married and some are not. They buy supplies from any ships that stop in and they make good trades in crops and meat animals. A small trade route has been maintained by a few of them that hope for the town to develop into a larger town. So far, there are only a handful of farms, no town center and no trade center. If a ship needs to trade, they have to walk up to the farms and make a deal with them one a time.”
The man in gray nodded as the wind whipped around his hair. “Things will change. I am going to build a tower there and I will need to trade with them on a regular basis for food, supplies and possibly services. It could be helpful if you could see your way to visiting me from time to time.”
Captain Jones shifted his stance as he called out for his men to change the tack of the ship. “Sir, I don’t mean to be disappointing you, but there aren’t enough people there to give you much help in your building. As for services, they haven’t got enough spare time for anyone. This is hard country and the times they don’t spend planting and cutting firewood, they spend sleeping or hunting. Coming from sailors, most of the families aren’t very good farmers. They can’t read and most of them don’t follow M’Lady so they don’t have anyone to tell them how to learn new ways. One of my boys is out there and he was just plain stupid. He didn’t like to work on ship and he probably found farm work even harder so he probably starved.”
Melnor looked at the older man and asked, “What does an old sailor know about farming?”
Smiling, Jones waved at his first mate and had him turn into the lake inlet. “Sailors are rarely born aboard ship. First, it would take a woman being aboard a ship at the right time and second, the child would have to come back to sea or survive on ship because children die quicker at sea than on farms. Besides, they have to live somewhere. My first mate is the only man that I know of that was born on a ship and he is my only child just as I am his only parent remaining. I was born on a farm, and couldn’t stand being in one place. Most people I meet don’t know enough about planting to feed a dog.”
“Captain, what is your son’s name?”
“He is Davie.” The captain smiled as he spit out the splinter that he had been chewing on. He then smiled at the Mage and stomped back to the aft. “Hard to starboard! I want to bring her into the dock nice and careful. Master Melnor has business on shore and all but a light watch is allowed shore time for two days. We will leave three days hence!” He continued at the top of his most impressive voice while watching the shoreline pass them on the left and the right as they passed through the inlet. “Watch! Mind our depth! Fill out the Topsail and drop the main!”
Melnor watched the men work with precision and speed. Each of the sailors continued with their work but the spring in their step and the sharp snap of their wrists as they handled the lines spoke well for their hearing him. He knew his ship, and his men better. There wouldn’t be much profit in trading here, but the time would not be wasted. Some of the men would take walks or hunt, others would see to repairs on the ship that could not be done at sea. Everyone would catch some extra sleep and if a bit of trade could be found, they would eat a richer dinner than usual.
They all knew from experience that there would be no daughters to flirt with or bars to drink in but the dock alone made it more convenient than putting ashore a few men at a time in the long boat. That was about the end of the conveniences at this port other than protection from the weather and possibly passing a bit of time with retired sailors, working hard and pretending to be farmers, shore. The sailors turned farmers might not be good farmers but no man that was his own master with property would ever go to sea again except as a trader or if he could not eat any other way. A true sailor would have never settled on land in the first place.
Melnor came down off from the railing as they pulled into the lake after passing through the short entry from the sea. The sails fell slack as crossing the line where the high shore diverted the wind. The ship coasted into the lake and again picked up a lighter breeze that only filled the topsails.
The same land that reduced the winds on the lake was the same thing that made the port a good heavy weather port. A ship in a storm would be safe in this foul weather port.
A whistle blew as the ship hit the dock. Scant minutes later, the ship was tied up, sails furled and the smoking lamp was lit. All hands were free to tend to personal duties. The routines were well known and Melnor watched as some men went ashore and others went below. A few started on repairs while Captain Jones escorted him ashore and up the stream. As they walked away from the ship, he could hear a few men beginning to sing.
A few lines into the song, they a squeezebox joined in. Somewhere on the aft end of the boat, a hammer kept rhythm as the sailor went about his repair chores. The men stoning the deck, rails and sides of the boat also contributed to the rhythm. Just as the tight lines sang in the strong wind when the ship was under full sail, the men and boat often kept to their song of the sea while in port. A tone of bass added to the song by the inland breeze that vibrated the taught lines. The breeze and vibration was such that felt more than heard, a ship in port would often made such a song.
Men of all ages are called to sea for a variety of reasons. Their sailing partners and the ship herself, holds them to their bond. There was a bond, that none but sailors understood. Any other brotherhood was just as strong but forged in different metals. A good ship was a strong family and a good family made a strong home. Sailors did not leave their ship for lack of profits; they left their ship because they didn’t fit in or because of the riches of owning land or they met a woman with whom they could no longer live without. A true ‘salt’ found nothing on land except diversion. Once truly captured by the sea, men rarely left it because the salt and the brotherhood of the sea entered their blood and changed them. Sailors were more like children than most adults.
Yes, a sailor worked all day and sometimes all night but they played too. Like children, they enjoyed life by the minute and gave up the worrying of yesterday or tomorrow. Melnor found the sea invigorating, but he was not a sailor. He had a different purpose and a far-reaching goal.