Vox Populi Forum
Feliks Kryski, considered the world’s best architect, and the Grand Chancellor at Large of Stockholm, and the Fuggar bankers wished to open a trade route to the lands of the mysterious Mughals. A stout crew was needed to undertake the voyage, and my compatriot Nemo McMoridin approached me to see if I were interested. A voyage of trade and discovery to an unknown land? Surely, it was the type of voyage that would make any true sailor’s heart beat faster in his chest. We gathered on the Isle of Salerno to outfit our crew.
We were to use the galleon “Alida” as our flagship. The Fuggars made another three two-deck galleons, “Abora,” “Abyssinian,” and “Honey-Dew,” available for cargo. My offer to add my speedy caravel, “Star Horizon,” to the fleet was met with silence. Perhaps this was an early sign that things would not go as planned? While limited in cargo space, Star Horizon’s speed and guns would have made her a valuable escort, or runner of dispatches and updates back to the Olde Worlde. The bankers think only in terms of money spent vs money earned, and the true complexities of an ocean-faring voyage escape them.
Jasc Bonadventure, Kit Wildemoon and I were charged with interviewing specialist officers for the long mission and negotiating with the Fuggars as to the cargo we would we bring. The mad Rolfe d’Ambray was part of the interviewing and negotiating team, and it could only be hoped the man could control his visions and impulses long enough for the rest of us to bring business through a satisfactory negation. Nemo McMoridan and others in his association were charged with impressing the regular sailors and making certain our fleet was seaworthy.
Immediately things took turns for the worse: Feliks Kryski seemed more like the type who would wish failure upon the venture, yet we were informed he would be travelling on Alida. At least our seeming Rival was close at hand where he could be watched?
The ports themselves were falling into chaos - not merely the normal teetering between order and disorder caused by ships, men and cargo of many lands bustling together in close quarters, but a deeper breakdown of order. Rumors abounded of strife in the city, and even within the Royal Court itself! Bonadventure and Wildemoon declined to comment, while d’Ambray grumbled darkly of innocent men executed and loyal servitors slandered.
This disorder explained the multiple attacks on our moored fleet. The Grognards, long quiet, attacked the docks and were repulsed. Two separate pyrate bands attempted raids on our vessels and storehouses and had to be beaten back.
Yet, the work of selecting out specialists and cargo continued apace. Still, surprises were in store.
Perhaps it was the Fuggars, or Kryski, who contacted the infamous and nefarious. The sullen and close-minded High Deacon Montaigne of the Anti-Baptists was added to our company, as well as the infamous and wily Ben Johnson. I had been involved in a scheme to try a false Johnson some time before - an ill-fated attempt that only served to unleash the dreaded pyrate Marco DaVinci upon the oceans. Johnson and DaVinci shared a calm confidence that hid their dangerous natures. The presence of these two men were a potential dark stain on the venture and I resolved to keep close watch on both.
However, Alexander Pope, called “The Imp,” also joined our band. I had heard much of the dwarf and found him as sensible and charming as the stories I’d heard indicated. Fearing that the man might be ridiculed for his stature, or accidentally injured in the holds with the common sailors, I personally made certain the philosopher and clown was quartered in one of Alida’s limited staterooms. Also aboard, the honorable Olaf Porse of Kleef. Porse was a friend of mine and Nemo McMoridan’s from the time we returned the Kleef flagship, “Thor” to her home berth, and I was glad to have him along. However, most of the members of the Vert Valliant in the expedition muttered darkly when his presence was revealed. Chip Wildemoon in particular. The Killer of Kit Marlowe said nothing, but added another brace of pistols and a set of throwing knives to his collection of arms. I can only hope I don’t find myself in a situation where I need to act to prevent two friends, and two good men from quarreling.
We filled our vessels to around six-tenths of our cargo capacity, to allow for extra room to return whatever treasures we might find and as a hedge against the possibility of ship damage at sea requiring us to transfer cargo between vessels in the event we had to scuttle on of our fleet. We also recruited companies of marines and cavalry to protect our ships at sea our cargo in ports and as a guard against any unforeseen attackers along the way.
Our cargo included valuable raw materials: Bavarian and New Worlde timber, electrum from France and the New Worlde, and iron ingots from Serbia. There were items of military value to trade: horses from Ansbach, a double-load of light arms - muskets, pikes, and blades suitable to outfit irregular troops - and heavy armaments from France, India, the Infidels or Japan. We took exotic and rare luxuries: jade jewelry from Burma, herbal medicines from Japan, fearsome lions and tigers from India and the New Worlde, and sweet sugarcane rum from Alexandria. We packed a suitable selection of practical items: ax-heads, blankets, darts, silver plate, wire, and other suitable “colonial” trade goods. We made certain to bring along “insurance”: spare sails, rigging, provisions, water casks, salted pork and ale for the long voyage. Finally, we brought along a selection of Bibles, and other printed books from the Netherlands. Between the Holy Books and High Deacon Montaigne, the souls of the Mughals were to be saved, whether they wanted it or not!
Our specialists seemed a motley lot. Caron was a fine French man - a tailor of military uniforms who specialized in brass buttons. There was Stewart, a Scotch dentist; whose own teeth are falling out (Bonadventure declared the man must be the best dentist in France, for his competitors took no care with his own teeth), Van Dijk, the Dutch harpooner, with fourteen kills to his credit, and a man with the most impeccable goatee I had ever witnessed. Garcia, was a blind and aged Spanish Explorer who claimed to have travelled with Marco Polo, while Olsen of Kleef was a renowned figurehead painter. I had seen the man’s work myself on the resplendent golden roaring mane and maw of the galleon “Lion’s Pounce.” It was rumored Olsen had been fined by the Church for his lewd drawings. I was already an admirer of his works.
The crew were most excited by Muller, a Bavarian, was a vaunted brew-master reputed to turn water into…well, malted ale, if not wine. Ivanov was a Russian operatic tenor who wanted to experience what he had merely sung about. Ivanov was an odd choice for the mission but we felt that a skilled musician might be good for the crew’s morale, and so he, too, to protect his delicate voice was given the privacy of one of the staterooms.
The were several non-European men amongst the crew. Alhambra was a freed slave who had been sent by a friend of the Valliant, Moab ibn Bakr. Alhambra, a Moor, was a vaunted wrestler of lions, so his unique skills would be useful on this unusual trip. Quecha was tall, dark, lean and bore fearsome facial scars and paint. Quecha was one of the savage Incago - a native tracker brought back from the New Worlde. Finally, there was Melaku, and Ethiopian. A skilled slave auctioneer, he had vowed to never again see men serve in bondage.
And so, we prepared to set sail for the east. Chip Wildemoon, Alain Gignot, and Jean LeBeouf had made certain the ships were in sailing trim. Monsignor Maurice Nassau blessed the fleet (drawing scoffs from High Deacon Montaigne), while others of the Vert Valliant worked to quarter crew and cargo. I heard Alida’s owner, the Viceroy of Japan, Moridin, had come aboard and promptly claimed the Captain’s cabin for himself.
Before we cast off lines, there was one final set of meeting with the Fuggar bankers. One final set of negotiations to ameliorate debt. Jasc Bonadventure bribed the loan clerks to alter the interest rate on our contracts. Alain purchased and prepared a duplicate set of ledgers, while Chip Wildemoon produced credentials and diplomas for the officers of low birth (to my surprise it seems that the Bonadventures and the Wildemoons are noble families, and that my shipmates are recognized, if far down the list of, the lines of Royal Succession!). On paper, at least, we were all gentleman of means, lands, and/or commissions with French military companies.
Nemo brought our contracts before the Magistrate for approval. He failed to even get inside the court. I, on the other hand, engaged in one more round of negotiations with our suppliers only to find an obstinate refusal to even meet for discussion.
Which left Monsignor Maurice to ride through the town, loudly proclaiming the start of the “Grandest Adventure,” and the “Fabled Expedition to Find the Fearsome Mughals.”
The fleet set to sea, sent off by a buzzing crowd. Pennants waved in the wind and fists were thrown aloft (I was able to arrange my own farewell celebration before the docks grew too crowded for any slim modicum of privacy), as cheers, huzzahs and well-wishes echoed across the water. One would have to had look closely to notice the small contingent of black-clad men who stood in stony silence in a line abreast at the end of the quay - the Fuggars weren’t to cheer our departure. It remained to be be seen if they would cheer our return.
The prevailing winds blew from the east, and our sails were lateen-rigged to beat against the wind. The voyage out was to be slow, yet to wait for the trade winds to turn meant a wait for the weathering season. In the midsummer’s heat insects thrived and much of the crew were taken with a fever. Chip suggested that Alhambra, the tamer of lions might be familiar with the bites and stings of these creatures. He was, and the Moor was able to create a salve to soothe the welts.
Eventually we made our first landfall. The island was uncharted, but had a small population of what seemed to be exiles. The marooned men were deaf and dumb. Jasc suggested we have Garcia attempt to communicate, and perhaps gain some insights as to who left them stranded. The blind talking to to deaf? The infuriating exiles stabbed the Spaniard. For their kindness we left them stranded when we set back to sea.
The encounter with the exiles left the fleet’s crews manic and argumentative. Who could raise their morale? We brought an opera singer for this exact purpose, so, of course, Nemo sent our tailor to talk with the men. Brass buttons are not a topic of conversations among sailors…. Fortunately, Jasc Bonadventure was able to dazzle the fleet with a dazzling display of his vaunted skills with the longbow. Even Olaf Porse was impressed when Bonadventure sent a shaft from the deck of the Alida through the very apple Olaf was eating in the crow’s nest of Abyssinian. Only Chip Wildemoon shook his head and called it a “missed shot.”
Yet soon enough, the crew’s elation passed and, as the voyage continued, a lethargy swept the fleet. I decided to send our Incago across each ship, and his intuition found activities to stave atrophy. It seemed order had been restored until one crewman, one of the quieter swabs, suddenly and violently lashed out, Van Dijk was cruelly beaten. It was not the last time one of the crew would succumb to pressure.
As the weather turned to winter the winds and waves beat harder into our ships. It was Muller, the brew-master, with his knowledge of cured woods who spotted and tarred the micro-fractures in Honey-Dew’s hull. We worked our way east, just offshore of the north coast of the lands of the Ottoman. The gray skies bore down on the crew. Stewart the Scot stopped the next crewman with a bulge in his belt from thrusting a dirk into another. The crew were mustered for a round of discipline following this action. Despite the cold, one of the discontent’s friends was pouring sweat. The man was taken aside and convinced to give up his pending scheme to foment unrest.
As the weeks passed it fell to Alhambra again to created another Infidel salve to ease the first symptoms of a palsy in the crew. Again, discontent grew. Muller was sent to to talk with the men. Alas, the brew-master was a trusting soul, lacking in the savvy required to quietly calm the men. Alain quelled the ill-feeling.
We passed Barastro - perhaps the last known port on our route, then headed towards the east. Disaster! Alida struck the remnants of another doomed ship caught fast in a floe of ice. Stewart the Scot was thrown overboard. We retrieved the poor man, but his half-frozen form never recovered from a chill illness. Moreover, the ties in the cargo hold were damaged, and much of our Prized Cargo was damaged.
We voyaged east through treacherous straights, bore sou/sou’east and found ourselves almost trapped between roiling ice and what the Monsignor called “X marks the spot.” Another lonely hulk lolled in the frozen sea. The men feared ghosts, but Nemo led a salvage party aboard. A fine treasure was aboard! Charts drawn up by Marco Da Vinci himself were found! The hoary pyrate may have travelled farther than any man of Europe, and his charts were of indeterminable value.
Of course, Feliks Kryski on Honey-Dew desired them. I know not what the discussions were between Nemo and Feliks, but Feliks was given the charts and Nemo promised the man would cause no more trouble.
The omnipresent ice was wearying, and the decision was made to return to Salerno to replenish supplies and replace much of the crew. The winds were in our favor and the return voyage was uneventful.
We set forth as quickly as possible to avoid any contact with the Fuggar bankers. The winds had turned, again, in our favor as we sailed from Salerno, travelling south into the pyrate waters west of the Infidel lands.
Pyrate waters means pyrate raiders. They were small and malnourished but desperate and driven. Jean LeBeouf broke his dagger as the pyrates tired to board Alida. Alain disarmed the pyrate leader, planted his boot in the man’s berries and humiliated the pyrate further by waving his plumed hat in the raider’s face. D’Ambray’s irregular sword-strokes, feign and seizing of foemen’s sword-arms aided in repulsing. Maurice whirled charasmatically through the fray (although he nearly broke his hand wen a hilt punch thudded into the mizzenmast rather than the intended stomach), grabbed three pyrate by the head and smashed their skulls together. He added insults to injury, mocking the fallen with his own doffed hat.
Wildemoon led raiders forward, juking and dodging, causing them to waste their shot. This freed up Jasc Bonadventure to attack from behind. Surprisingly, not all of Jasc’s arrows found their mark, but the raw charisma the man channels when he holds his bow heartened Alida’s crew. They cheered when Nemo led them forth with a display of heroic swordplay. I’d been attempting to draw a bead upon what seemed to be the pyrate officers, but was forced to hold my fire. Waving hats and feathers kept obscuring the field. Yet, with the success in battle of my companions, I was able to climb into the rigging, call down to the invaders and negotiate their terms of surrender.
In the aftermath of the battle Viceroy Moridin strode on deck. Unseen since we first set forth from Salerno, Moridin was a glowering figure. He surveyed the crew as they fell into nervous silence, gave the rest of the fleet a long look through his telescope and rumbled it was time for him to properly tame this fleet.
Moridin charted a course southeast to Carthage, and set ashore to raid for supplies. Having fought off pyrates, we were to become raiders ourselves.
Our cavalry was put ashore. Unfortunately near enough a Turkish fortress where our horse were set upon by artillery. Where any sane leader would withdraw from the jaws of death, Rolfe d’Ambray spurred on the one-hundred. He was possessed with fury, the likes of which emboldened our horse into foolish bravery. Rolfe led the men on a charge, broadside to the Turk cannon. Eleven of our own fell to shelling on their open flank, but a sudden pivot and charge stunned the Turkish gunners. Monsignor Maurice, infected by d’Ambray’s brashness led his horse up to the Turkish line and dismounted! The Turks were rightly disheartened when faced with screaming Frenchmen mad enough to leap from the safety of their horses in pitched battle. The Infidels surrendered to foolishness. Or, at least to the Fool.
Replenished we set to sea. East first, then southeast, deeper into pyrate waters. Again, we were beset. They sailed out of the foggy night in silence. This second wave of pyrates was brawnier than the last, yet had black, sunken eyes, like their black, shriveled souls. Jasc, first to the rail, was taken aback by the inhuman silence of the attackers, He tried to swat their ancient, pitted cutlasses from their grasp as they clambered over, swinging again and again like the hero of Montpelier is wont.
Moridin strode forth, shattering the pyrate blades with his own broadsword. I leaned over the deck, firing all my pistols into the mass of foes clambering up the sides. My shots tore into flesh, but I lost my bag of powder over the side when I withdrew to reload.
Jean was disconcerted by the silence offence, and moved to awaken the marines while Alain reached over the rail, waving his hat in the faces of the climbing foe. He taunted those who, tickled to sneezing by the plume, or just those unable to see their next handhold, lost their grips and splashed into the black water. Rolfe, meanwhile, was in trouble. He was in danger of being strangled by the eerie attackers. Monsignor Maurice, unaccountably a fan and friend of the insane d’Ambray tried and failed to pull Rolfe free of the clinging hand as bone daggers whispered from sheath to fist. Fortunately for the twin fools, the Killer of Kit Marlowe flashed into the fray.
Chip Wildemoon screamed into the darkness, drawing the attention of the massed pyrates. Chip dodged and twisted as daggers spun across the deck and thudded into the mast and decking. He charged as the pyrates started to ready more weapons. Chips smashed through their line, closing with their Captain, grasping the antagonist’s sword-arm and levering him over. With their leader dispatched, the rest were quickly slain by the ship’s marines.
In the aftermath of the battle we took the time to work with Jean LeBeouf. Jean was a merchantman at heart, not a seasoned warrior. Jasc and Maurice worked with Jean until he had developed suitably heroic and charismatic sword skills, while Chip attempted to teach the secrets of Oriental Pummeling. He made little progress, but Moridin, who had learned much of the Asian fighting arts while in Japan was able to train Jean. Rolfe’s attempts to teach his own unusual techniques failed - for Jean was too sane by far to understand d’Ambray’s methods. My own attempts to improve Jean’s skills with firearms went nowhere. Jean is a learned man of letters, so it is surprising that Alain’s attempts to guide Jean in repartee came to naught. Yet Jasc taught Alain a quick lesson with a quip of “too much a dullard to learn, or too dull a teacher to teach?”
And so, we sailed on, southeast, following the coastline of the Turks. Double tragedy befell us all; Muller, the beloved brew-master, died of cholera, and the entire cargo of fresh ale he had been brewing was dumped overboard as contaminated. Moridin showed the most emotion I had seen from the man. The Captain was inconsolable. Mindful of the health of our few remaining specialists, Moridin moved Malaku the slaver into one of Alida’s staterooms. This incensed Ben Johnson. Jean appeased the actor by giving him the stateroom that had, until then, been occupied by Pope! Pope was moved into the smallest stateroom (“At my size, it’s a fine enough room!” he quipped), while I took the opportunity to move Olsen, the Kleef painter, into a stateroom in exchange for a private commission along the lines of his more ignoble works.
We rounded the southern tip of the Ottoman Empire and headed eastwards into calm seas. The late spring air was balmy when we came across a small island. We set ashore and encountered heathens. Thankfully, the heathens were not savage. We bartered with the primitives. Steel tools for food and water.
We continued southeast into unknown waters. Not for the first time, I again wished we had a copy of Da Vinci’s charts in Alida’s map room. Fie! Feliks Kryski was not a man to share what bounty he felt was his, even when co-operation could aid us all. We charted another large island, and circled to the south. A strait led eastwards with this new island to the north, and another landmass (Island? Continent? Unknown, as yet.) to the south. We dubbed the island Oregon with the intent to sail straight into the strait. Instead we set ashore to lay to rest Malaku, the slaver. The African had perished after a bout of dysentery.
The fleet emerged in the eastern seas into a maelstrom of whirling ice and looming bergs. The winds swirled in circular cyclonic patterns and the chill beat into the bones of the crew. Ice in late spring, so far south? Truly, the ocean was filled with tristesse de cristal - crystals of sadness. The question was raised: reverse course or test our wills and push on? Moridin chose to set sail to the south.
There was one man in the fleet who suffered not even the slightest hint of despair at the treacherous ice. The Russian, Ivanov, was elated and invigorated by the cold and found a kind of serene beauty in the frozen peaks of the bergs. He took to standing on the forecastle, singing jaunty songs of lusty piracy as the sailors worked the lines. One moment he was in sostenuto, standing astride Alida’s figurehead, arms over his head as his clear voice carried on the wind, the next, giving a wild cry choked off by the snapping of his neck. Alida had struck an underwater ledge from a seemingly far-off berg.
The men were disheartened once more. To quell rising discontent, Moridin called the fleet together and promised plunder. He forsook our Royal Charter for the promise of loot. Jasc told me later that Moridin had always styled himself a “Pyrate Captain.”
And so we veered back to the west, then south. Moridin had his bearings back and we knew we were travelling down the west coast of Yarmouk. These lands were on the charts of Leon Leonard L’eonce which Moridin had copies of. The lands were charted, but the people unknown. Were they like the Ottomans or Turks? Unknown. Moridin merely grunted, “We haven’t angered them yet, other than by existing and being French.”
Then our good Captain decided we should give them cause for anger. We found a sheltered cove, alighted with our cavalry and raided the Yarmouk fortress of Samarkand. The men were promised plunder, and Moridin was going to let them have it. Our horse, once again, faced cannon, I led the horse on a circuitous route through the valley. Our raid was almost - almost - in perfect stealth. Only one cannon was discharged before we set upon the startled foe. Nine of our troops were slain from shrapnel, But LeBeouf’s newly forged sword skills ended the battle quickly. He rode through the disordered gunners and cut down their leaders. Glory was ours!
Again we turned our sails south, then east as we rounded the tip of Yarmouk. A channel of warm water pushed us to the east, and in that water, a pod of whales. The creatures were swimming against the current, and, in their headlong rush, they risked damaging the fleet. Alain had dropped into a jolly-boat to examine the creatures. It was he who identified the bull, and he who realized the the creature’s hide was caked, not just with barnacles, but with gold! He rowed back through the roiling water, almost capsizing, and clambered aboard, crying out the news of the bounty to one and all. The ever excitable Rolfe d’Ambray almost ruined the catch, for he climbed into the rigging with a musket to fire down at the leviathan, lost his grip and fell, tangled into the ropes. In his struggles he knocked free several pullies. They crashed into the deck, along with Alida’s square sail and cross-rig. In a stroke of luck, only the fool was harmed by his folly.
Alida bobbed in the ocean, and curses were starting to rise to the lips of all when the sharp cracks of gunfire split the air. Monsignor Maurice was alone atop the stern castle, firing, reloading and firing again. His shots found the whale’s eyes, and the massive bull died, thrashing. The cows and juveniles showed instinctive fear of whatever force had slain their leader, and the dove deep, only to surface far towards the horizon.
Moridin gave the first and only smile I had seen on his grave face. There was gold enough for each officer and specialist to keep thousands of doubloons worth for themselves, and to keep each sailor content. There was blubber and oil worth thousands more. “Truly!” Moridin cried, “this is a prize worth the trip!”
Moments later the man’s face fell. Monsignor Maurice almost laughed as he informed Captain Moridin that the treasure we had taken was but a drop in a barrel of rum when compared to the fourteen millions of doubloons of debt out expedition had accrued….
Grumbling something about how “A godforsaken Armada would cost less than this venture! I’ll consider myself lucky Tony didn’t return with a slave instead of sails….”
Hugo Marque Lamarr
Another Rolick, We shall see how it ends? -- red (posted: 1/30/2019)