MELNOR’S TOWER

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Chapter 22: JUNCTION

Down at the docks, Parry began checking out the Ships, their Captains and their loads. He had friends all through town and knew most of the people on the docks because most of them had been working on the bridges when he was giving rides to the bridges. So far, there was no regular trade across them but most of the Captains were interested in seeing their trade increase. Of course, there was the occasional Master that was afraid that the competition would hurt their business, but all of them, without exception, found the fact that he made barrels quite interesting and asked to see some of his product.

One barrel per ship was his limit at this time. He made sure that he shipped some type of product that would show the barrel off at its best. Some of his barrels were tighter than they should be and he would not ship a liquid in these for fear that they would swell up and damage them. These barrels he used for powdered dry goods. The slightly looser ones, he used for liquid and didn’t seal them until they were fully expanded tight. The barrels that were a loose fit, and he didn’t have many of them, he used for shipping larger items. The first barrel went for free to whoever took the product inside. He told the Captains that he would keep ownership in further trades and marked all of his barrels, but if they wanted more, they would have to trade for them. Fortunately, he was able to build them quick enough to keep up with most of the demand. When they wanted the barrels faster than he could build them, he simply raised the price and delivered as quickly as he could. Business was good.

The ships arrived the next spring as soon as the first thaws began and stayed only as long as it took to make decent trades. It was time to make a trip to Junction again. He had trades; barrels to carry most of it in and he would be ready to leave as soon as the peak of spring shipping slackened.

On the road, Parry had the best horses that he could find and a larger wagon than last time. He added some of the special things that he thought that would bring the best trades. Some of the wood that he carried he hadn’t seen anywhere else and once again, he carried spices, only this time, he carried spices from the islands, newly sealed in small casks that he had built for that specific task. The smaller casks would open easier. Hopefully, the spices would keep better in casks than in cloth bags.

Still cool, the morning displayed a dew covered green backdrop that sparkled. The road was reasonably dry and a true wagon path was beginning to develop along the far side of the river. It skirted a few rocky areas and punctured into the woods where a few trees had been cleared leaving an otherwise clear trail into a grassy plateau. This flat top of grass presented the traveler with an absolutely straight and clear path to the low lying hills that lead along the direction that Parry had planned to take anyway. The last time that he had passed this way, his smaller wagon had easily passed through the two trees at the head of the pass and it had taken many days before his last trip, to scout out the route that he was taking with a bigger wagon. Apparently, he was not the only trader passing this way any longer.

By the time, he made it over the nearby hills and into the next valley that adjoined the river, the dew had disappeared and the day had begun to show its true nature. Clouds passed over but showed no intention of staying long enough to shade the early spring day. It promised to be warm enough to be comfortable. The trip this time took less time but it seemed to take longer because he was enjoying the trip and wasn’t so busy looking for a trail. The beginning of the trail had been blazed and he remembered the landmarks for the rest of the trip. He came up on the flat, rolling land that the farm and Junction were planted on and was able to see the joining of three lands.

From out of the hills, he left most of the mountains behind. To his left, the forest covered the hills and short mountains and to his right and to the west, the forest blended into larger older mountains. The Path that he came from was really the easiest path and that is why the river had followed it. In front of him, on the other side of the lower foothills were the flat, grassy, high plains. A long easy slope swept past a few shallow, dead end canyons until it left him on the edge of the farmland owned by Jack and his family.

The farm, by now was familiar to him. More fencing than he remembered was in place and he noticed a few new horses. It seemed that they had made a few good trades after he had left. The wood pile was low again and their food crops were well developed for the season, so he walked the horse and wagon up to the barn, unhitched the mare and turned her into an empty paddock so that she could graze on the plentiful fresh, green, early spring grass.

Lona met Parry at the door as he came walking up the path between the barn and the house. Stepping out to greet him, she put her arm in his and walked him into the house. “Mom! Dad! Look what the cat drug in!”

The two of them and her brother turned to greet him. “Welcome, Parry. You know where the plates are. Serve yourself some dinner and pull up a chair.” Deidra indicated the spare chair sitting against the wall as she smiled easily at him. John rose partially as Lona and Parry joined them.

Turning to Parry, John asked, “I would guess that you are here to trade again. We had a strong trading session this spring and your spices were a great hit. It turns out that some of the spices and herbs were very valuable to the wagon folk. Have you more of the same?”

Nodding yes, Parry served himself and joined them at the dinner table. “I’ve made barrels like you taught me and I’ve brought more of what I had last time and new stuff from the Islands.”

John nodded. “We will look at the goods after dinner. How much trouble did you have making your barrels?”

Between bites, Parry answered, “I had a bit of trouble cutting the pieces evenly and to a uniform shape and then getting them to fit together.”

”How did you solve the problem?”

Setting his bread down, “The problem was in the tools that I had built to keep the staves uniform.”

“I warned you about that.”

“I remember, but I had not counted on the level of accuracy that you had emphasized. As usual, my teacher knows what is needed.” Turning to Diedra he complemented, “This is a most wonderful meal.”

Puffing up with pride, she replied, “It is only some of the spices that you brought us on your last trip. It was Lona that cooked the dinner.”

Lona looked pleased, and returned to him a smile. “Some of the spices need to be used very sparingly. This dish is one of the gentle variations that you taste. You must have been traveling for a week to be so starving!”

“No Lona. It only takes a few days to get here and the path is now fairly well marked. I don’t waste much time hunting for the correct path any more. As a better path is worn, you will get more visitors and better trade from the north.”

Smiling shyly, she said, “That would be a good thing. It gets fairly lonely between the fall and winter trade sessions.”

Turning fully towards her, he countered, “I suppose that having more people stopping by will make life a little more entertaining and give you a few more luxuries. This is going to be a very good place to trade for quite some time. I suppose that I’ll have to come by more often. Is there any place that I might stay when I visit?”

Although the question was not specifically directed towards Lona, she seemed to take the question as if it were directed in her interest. Turning to her father, “Dad, could Parry stay in the workshop? If you partition off a section, it could be used as a visitors room instead of using the barn for just a workshop.”

John and Diedra looked at each other and Parry. They could see that Lona had more than a casual interest and separately concluded that her idea had merit. The shop could actually be fitted out as an entire home if it was necessary as the shop was the size of a full home and not fully in use. Granted, it was not as large as the primary residence because the main house had expanded over the years. John, in looking at his wife, determined in the way that couples often communicate that he would be bowing to his daughter’s wishes. She in turn gave him her acquiescence.

“Parry, if you will give me a hand while you are here, we can put a partition across the back that will give you an area for privacy. There is plenty of room left for my work and storage.”

“Sir, you don’t have to do this.”

“You are correct, but it is not a bad idea either. I may need the room for other purposes if trade increases further. I suspect that the small collection of houses that they call Junction may grow quite a bit.” Parry nodded thoughtfully.

Parry, the young cooper was beginning to build a reputation with his barrels alone and soon found little reason for traveling at all for he was constructing as many barrels as fast as he could. Soon, before the snows hit, he would have to make one more trip but he was going to need help.

Back in town, he found just the two men he was looking for. “Barrett, Garrett, can I speak with you?” Grimley was nearby but not essential for this conversation.

The two Princes stopped and turned to greet him. Barrett said, “Master Cooper, how can we help you?”

“Parry stopped at the form of address given him and when he had assimilated that they really were talking to him, he answered. “I am going west with a load of barrels and I need somebody to accompany me.”

Barrett asked, “Do you need protection?”

“I don’t think so. Mostly, I need help.” Parry was respectful, as these two men were not only large, but apparently, very respected.

“Help loading and carrying, I suppose?” Asked Barrett.

“No. I wouldn’t ask for help for just that. I need two types of help. I plan to drive the larger wagon. In the passes, there are tight turns that I’ll need help driving the wagon around, but I could get anyone to help me do that. What I need is someone that is recognized as from Oman and can bring information back to your father.”

“You could do this,” Interrupted Garrett.

“But not with the faithfulness or authority that one of you could bring. My sense of importance on this matter is high. I don’t know why, or how, but it is important. Call it a hunch from M’Lady.”

Garrett turned to his brother and laughed, “I’ll take this one. I haven’t seen the mountains in a while and maybe I’ll see some pretty girls.”

“If you find a second pretty girl, save her for me, O. K.?” He teased his twin. Nodding, they walked on. Garret looked over his shoulder and called back, “Let me know when and where you will be leaving from. I will join you on the path after I pack.” This was directed to Parry.

The brothers walked off, heavily in discussion. Garrett asked his twin Barrett, “What do you plan on doing while I’m gone?”

“We have an invitation to go hunting with Dale. I was going to tell you, but we were interrupted. I suppose that Dale and I will make ourselves rich while you are off vacationing.”

They joked back and forth about how this separation would change their lives. Always before, they had traveled together. They knew with no doubt that they would go through life, thick and thin, always together. They were sure that that was their destiny. Their only question was who would take rule from their father or would he outlive them all? They both expected Garrett, the older by minutes would be preeminent, but one could never be sure.

“Where are you and Dale going on your foray?”

“We’ll head up to the Deep Wood near the borders of the ‘Woodkind’. There are rare woods and spices to be found if you know where to look and Dale says that she knows more than a few of them.”

“Do you plan to trade your find with one of the trading ships?”

“Actually, Dale asked me the same thing. I said that Parry would give us ‘Fair Exchange’ for the whole lot and still make a profit. With the ships, we would have to spend time on many deals and fight a different Captain on every deal.”

Barrett looked at his brother and prompted, “Is Parry that important a trader yet?”

Shaking his head in puzzlement, Garrett hedged, “Parry has not quite got the wide range of reputation with all of the trading ships, only because he hasn’t traded with all of them yet but he gives a fair trade and he hasn’t been caught taking advantage of anyone yet.”

“How close have you been watching him Garrett?”

“I haven’t been paying too much attention, but others, that I have been talking to have been watching him like a hawk. Usually, the Ship Captains trade between themselves and then open trade to the locals after they have made their primary deals but when Parry is in town, they trade with him first. They look to him to trade their small quantities of spices and specialty items. I don’t know how he is able to afford the purchase prices, but one way or another, he leaves town with a full wagon and returns with a full wagon of different things. This town is much richer with him than without him.”

Barrett nodded, “That is saying a lot. Good hunting!”

“Bring us back some pretty girls.” Barrett smiled.

Garrett returned his smile. Neither of them was looking seriously for a wife or even a companion. Princes had more than a fair pick of the ladies of the kingdom and for a good distance outside the kingdom, but having a selection and being interested were two different things. Mind, neither young man was shy or celibate, but when you have the best available, your choices are of necessity, more selective. No further words were needed, between them.

SHIPS AT SEA

Melnor approached packing as if he was never coming back. He could not take everything but many times when he had taken a short trip he had found himself without many resources and other times, he had simply not returned. As a top level Magician, he was no stranger to travel and knew precisely what he would need if there were not too many surprises.

Armad had packed all too often and traveled worldwide in the past but conditions here were totally different. At home, where he had lived before, you packed for convenience so that you would not have to buy clothes at your destination. Food, tools and even alternative transportation were easy to obtain if you had the wherewithal to purchase it. In this land, clothes were of fairly minor importance. A few sets of clothes of thick cloth would last for years. Repairs were made and nobody cared if it showed. Tools and food were another matter. The tools of your trade had to be with you at all times and plans for food had to be made for days if not weeks ahead at a time unless you were prepared to simply hunt or forage for it on your own. Even camping in a modern world was easier.

In town, life was greatly simplified when ships were in port because everybody had their trade supplies easily at hand. He missed the grocery stores.

At any rate, packing for this trip was greatly simplified in that he had no tools except those in his mind and resources to purchase goods with. These resources he kept close at hand at all times, anyway. Packing amounted to simply stuffing his clothes in a bag and grabbing his portable wealth. All other arrangements were made with the Captain so that if he owed a debt, the Captain could collect here at his home port. This gave him the bargaining advantage that he might need in other ports. On this trip, he and the Captain were of necessity, partners.

The day of departure came and went with both of them aboard. It surprised Armad that Melnor actually enjoyed the sea. For some reason, he had guessed Melnor did not wish to travel because he did not like sailing. He found that the Magician had a very extensive knowledge of the operation, construction and maintenance of the ship itself. Armad discussed with Melnor the improvements that he wished to make to this ship and possibly others and how it would change the nature of trade.

In their first port, he was just a passenger because their first stop was Oman. The second port was to be, one of the islands to the East. Melnor was well received in Oman by both traders and the wealthy. As his companion, Melnor gave introductions. Since they had a good ways to travel, they did not spend a lot of time in Oman and soon began the long trip east.

Morning at sea was relatively calm; it made leaving port was easy, but tedious. Captain Jones would not let him unfurl the Jib until they were well free of the shore for fear that mishandling such a large sheet that none of his men were familiar with, would lead to disaster. When finally, he did allow it, the inland breeze was blowing steadily and the ship was on a port tack.

“Unfurl the Jib! Set to Port!” The commands were carried out swiftly. The jib opened up on the port side and made itself felt as the ship pulled ahead at a slightly quicker speed.

Captain Jones nodded as if this was almost exactly what he expected. They traveled on this tack for a long time while Captain Jones played with the Jib and its tension settings. He watched how it affected the tack of the ship, the tension of the sails behind it and the speed of the ship as it increased and decreased as he tightened and loosened the Jib. From the beginning of the trip and periodically based on a mechanical timer, Armad took readings from his new navigation tools. By late afternoon, he called the men to attention as he arranged a change in direction.

As per Armad’s instruction, he called for the change in tack first. “Loose the Jib!” The Jib was loosened to flap in the breeze.

“All hands! Prepare for Starboard Tack!” Adjustments in position and attention were made.

“Starboard Tack!” The Wheel man spun to a starboard tack, the main sheets were loosened somewhat and as they reached the midpoint of the turn where typically the ship began to slow down both in its speed and in its turn rate, he called out his next order.

“Jib to starboard!” The large sheet was pulled off the center where it was loose to the starboard side. The wind filled the sheet as it ‘Popped!’ tight. The crew had been warned and still, the ship moved unexpectedly to a starboard position. A few of the sailors stumbled. Still, they pulled the Topsails into position, tied them off and followed up with the lower sails in turn. Swiftly, the ship resumed full sail, this time in a Starboard tack.

“That was much more impressive than I had expected. It makes this clumsy old ship feel young.”

Armad simply nodded. Captain Jones had used the new sail to near perfection. The ship and crew practiced with the jib, tacking often until they could do it quickly, efficiently and with a planned result and minimum of messing round with the mains.

When they were nearer the land, they would practice again to find out just how far and fast they were moving when they changed direction. Well at sea, it was hard to tell exactly how fast things were happening except by the slap of waves and that varied too much to be dependable. The crude tools for measuring speed just weren’t up to it.

It was several ‘tendays’ when they finally pulled into a cove where they had to use the small boats to go into shore.

The island, for that was what it was, for they had sailed three quarters around it to reach the cove, was lush and dark green. The season was the same here as it was at home, but it felt warmer and more peaceful.

Salt water waves came rolling all the way into the cove and left a damp low sloping pure white beach that was dotted with small clumps of trees. Upon arriving on the shore, Armad found the oasis at the peak of the cove was the final destination of a stream. The fish filled pool in the center of the oasis was fresh, not brine.

Captain Jones watched Armad’s delight as he found that the pond was stocked with fish that actually came to the surface as if they were looking for somebody to feed them. “The pond is kept healthy by the people that live on this island and others around here. We trade with them occasionally and this is their preferred point of trade.”

“Why would they want to trade on the beach?” Questioned Melnor.

Jones turned to Melnor and corrected him. “I don’t mean this beach. I mean this Island. This is the most accessible of the islands because of the nature of how they came into being.”

Armad had looked at the island and the way that the stone rose in some of the areas and asked, “These islands were borne of the bowels of the land from molten stone, weren’t they?”

Amazed once again with Armad’s range of knowledge he asked, “How did you know?”

“Some of the stone is special. I have seen it’s like before.” Turning back to Jones he asked, “Which way does the Island Chain run?”

No longer surprised that Armad seemed to know more than most other men, Jones answered him without stopping. “The chain runs north and south from this point. To the south are barren rocks, some of them still hot and growing. The northernmost islands are old and settled but mostly ringed by mountains with little easy access. This island is their vacation spot where they send trade items. If you wish, we can visit one or two of their other islands and meet the people.”

Armad nodded, “I’d like that. Do you have a per-arranged trade here?”

“Yes and no. We come here as part of an arrangement with trade materials that they request. They provide us with some regular materials, food and some unexpected things. Most of the time, we give the things to our children or friends because usually they aren’t worth anything. Some of the fruit is strange but it beats anything else we have for preventing scurvy and one of their favorite foods is near impossible to eat, but it tastes pretty good.”

Armad looked him in the eye. Anything that was a favorite of one group of people was bound to be important. “Describe to me this food.”

David Jones did better than that, he reached into his belt bag and pulled out a greenish stick and handed it to him. Melnor turned and looked at the stick and asked, “What is so special about that?”

Armad turned the stick over in his hand, pulled out a knife, shaved down into the center of it and cut out some of the stringy pulp. From that shaving, he cut a piece and stuck it in his mouth.

“What are you doing?” Prompted, a puzzled Melnor. Jones just watched.

“Here!” Armad handed the wizard a slice of the stick. “Bite down on it and chew, but don’t swallow the pulp.”

Doing so, Melnor soon had a surprised look on his face which promptly turned into a smile. “Sweet!”

“We now know what we want to trade for.” Turning to Jones he asked, “Will they provide live plants and can we get them back home alive?”

“I know Captains that grow stalks on board their ship all the time. This plant has a reputation of being one of the hardiest around. We just don’t know what to use it for. As a straight stick, it is too flexible and the strands of the bark are too short and heavy for sewing. If you keep it for a chew stick, it dries out pretty quickly after it is cut. It takes too long to transport, so for a trade item it has been pretty worthless.”

“Do you know any farmers?”

“No, Armad, I don’t. Why?”

“We, no, I am going to trade for some of these plants. After that trade, we are going to find out just what else they have.”

“Good! Here come our trading partners.”

Three men walked down the path along the stream bed. Each of them was ancient and tall. The tallest was over a head taller than the tallest of the crew. Granted, most of the sailors were still young men, but Armad was a fairly tall man and Melnor was even taller. Darkly tanned by the tropical sun, the men walked up, stopped and bowed. Captain Jones returned the bow to roughly the same level and to his surprise and Armad stepped to the fore, closed his hands in front of him and gave a bow lower than anyone else. He then held the bow for a pause longer and when he rose back up he reached out with his right hand and said, “My custom is to greet with an open hand clasped between equals.”

The center man reached out tentatively with his right hand and Armad clasped hands with him gently but firmly. In a soft, quiet, strangely accented voice asked, ’What then is the meaning of this greeting? We bow to show that one is not too proud to be taller than another.”

Armad nodded that he understood. “Our greeting has a similar purpose. In a land that spent a lot of time at war, giving another man your primary weapon hand is a gift of trust.”

“I suppose that returning that gift is accepting that trust. You seem to have much knowledge for one so young.”

Melnor mumbled, “You have no idea.”

One of the men nodded as if he understood this. Armad backed up from the man and smiled. “I come here to find out if you have things that I can trade for. I have brought things that I hope that you will be able and wish to use. If we can reach an agreement, then both of us will be winners.”

“Your goal seems to be the same as every visitor we receive. Your worth is dependent on how well you earn our trust.”

“Well said! You do realize that trust goes both ways?”

All three men nodded together. Armad offered, “We will show you our trade offerings if you will show us ours.”

Several days were spent living on shore and getting to know these people. Armad visited their farms and joined them in harvesting and preparing, both on land and in the shoals where they harvested fish, algae, pretty stones and shells. Knowing the things that he would eat or use and the difference between others and himself, he took note of the things that he wanted for himself and the things that he knew would improve the lives of the people he lived with. He found several, some which he would take back to them for farmers to grow and others that he would return here again and again in order that he have a continuous supply. All that remained was for him to determine what he would like to take first.

Blackie was supervising the construction in town and the woodworkers were finishing roofing both the Tavern for Lessa and the Blacksmith shop. At the Dry Dock it would be a while before the next stage could be taken. They had the walls built according to instruction but did not know if it was time to flood it yet. Lessa had already moved into her kitchen and was feeding all of the workers there instead of in her camp. The upper rooms were not ready yet, but it was getting close.

Blackie had found himself with a small problem. He had a lot of workers that had no work and if he just let them take the time off they would end up spending all of their money and then causing a lot of problems when they tried to take shortcuts. Since the carpenters were still working on the roofs, he figured that he would use the rest of the unemployed workers in digging out a basement under Lessa’s Tavern. The stone workers and the diggers put their creativity into the project. Blackie gave Lessa a full basement with hidden accesses and storage. Now that they were done, he had to find another job for them. Perhaps he could hire them out cheap to some of the farmers.

Any time now, Armad should be back from his trip and they would be able to go onto the next step in the dry dock project. The Blacksmith shop was done and the new Kiln was ready to fire up. Blackie and Cappy were sitting with Lessa in her kitchen when. “Cappy, what will we do with the men that will have no work in a few days?”

Cappy mulled over the question for a moment and they began discussing their options. “Some of the workers have already begun shipping out to other opportunities. These are mostly the less talented workers. Some of our better workers are already working on the side with the farmers, but they are running out of time and work, just as we are running out of projects. Once the dry dock is done, what will Armad have to do to get his ship building up and running? What men will he have to hire in order to build ships?”

“First, he will have to cut a lot of wood and then he will have to render it into planks, masts and crossbeams.”

“Do you have any idea what kind of wood you will need?”

Blackie sighed, “I am not a carpenter but I suppose that I can ask the Captains what kind of wood their ships are made of.”

“Do that, build some teams, offer firewood to the farmers in exchange for the trees that they will take for ship building, build a storage area for all that wood that you are going to cut and by the way, contact the other people that use wood like Parry. Find out what they have in the way of information and trades for you.”

“We are going to have to store the wood somewhere. Have you any suggestions?”

Cappy shrugged. “We will need to store the wood near the Dry dock and we will be needing storage buildings at the shipping docks if business picks up. Build your storage buildings there.”

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