So, the inner wobbliness continues, by which I mean my uncertainty about many things, most especially: do I make the journey a "thing" (perhaps too repetitive of MBT)? Or, do I expedite the journey for a change, give a sense of the passing vista, making note of important highlights, but cutting to the chase plotwise?
The urge is strong (as ever) to show the Half-Continent for its own sake, but I fear that my urge here is less geographic completeness and more a fear of getting into the meat and potatoes of why I even began this story in the first.
You can see with this week's offering that the former has been my current approach...
Plotting ahead is one thing, but I have found there are just some points in a story where I will not know what happens in it or lies ahead until I have actually written that scene and been through it with my characters and seen how they all react together thus revealing the next step/s.
PLEASE DO NOT PUBLISH OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION
Chapter 8 PART 2
The Sulk & Through
Slowly the Douse Fish got under way, treading with gradually gaining pace down channels marked among the collection of other vessels great and small by long heavy posts driven into the harbour bed, their scarlet painted tops pointing high out of the milky element. Ahead of her a pilot’s longboat of twelve oar somewhat redundantly – or so Economous thought – lead the way, its oarsmen straining to keep at speed.
Clear of the general crowding traffic of Middle Ground, the pilot boat signaled with the solemn waving of a large red burge. With a second, deeper shudder, the Douse Fish shook herself and quickly gathering a couple more knots, pointed north-east, setting for a course up the coast.
As the slowly turning long-boat was left behind, sea-birds Economous could identify as [………] terns and a few larger mollyawks squabbled and squawked as they flocked above the departing cromster. Diving and darting, they shot with a staccato of splashes into the roiling wake of the gastrin-vessel, each coming up with a wriggling flash of scaly silver in their long bills.
“They feed on fish,” remarked his fellow passenger, speaking at last, her voice having a soft musical lilt as one from the southern states of the Patricine. “And these in their turn come up from safer depths to feed on the effluent ejected from the pull below our feet,” by which she meant the gastrines arranged in a line about the treadle of the screw.
“Do they, indeed. I have ne’er seen a gastrine functioning before,” Economous said evenly then added in low and subtle irony. “Do you think the goodly captain would grant me a grand tour of the workings?”
The woman looked at him sharply then apprehending he was playing a jest, smiled wryly – an experssion that cracked her solemn mein like unexpected sun through winter storms. “I have it on good authority that he does,” she returned with equal satire. “Preceded by a grand luncheon of Pondeslee cheese, hart’s tongue and green-garnished spreadeagle – made from genuine eagle and not the usual whimbrels or craw-buzzards – all washed with the finest Equamine grass-wine.”
“After which he regales us with cheerful tales of all his near-misses and calamities turned to fortune,” Economous continued with a laugh, drawing an audible growl from Mister Patefract at his wheel. “Economous Musgrove, illuminator and sometime concometrist,” he offered introduction at last, touching a knuckle to the brim of his black tricorn. “At your service.”
“Some-time concometrist,” came the flat reply. The woman arched a brow once more and saying nothing else, retreated into herself again and stared out at their heading.
The conversation went still as smartly as it had begun.
The Douse Fish pressed on towards a mighty bastion rising out of the white water. Cauda Caputum it was called; a slope-sided, flat-topped stronghold of brick and stone, appearing squat despite its great size, the northern-most bastion of the arx maria – five mighty sea-fortresses that rung the waters of the city about. Passing Cauda Caputum upon the left – the ladeboard as it was properly called in maritime service – Economous could make out Fidelis Fidës off to their right in the haze of middle distance, the next arc in the ring. Enormous spandarions of sable and leuc chequey – black and white checks – flew above them both, the proud flag of Brandenbrass at sea.
Past the grim watch of these arx the sea seemed released and set willingly to an increasingly powerful wallowing heave of wave that lifted and dropped the cromster’s deck in a ponderous rolling motion. Though the two passengers were far enough back to avoid much of the caustic spindrift that sprayed up and out from the blunt bow, a stinging mist pervaded the air, making Economous’ eyes red and winking sore. All this alarmed him at first, yet the handful of crew tending the weatherdeck did not show any concern and so the young illuminator grit his teeth and made a good showing. His first time ever at sea, Economous was gratified to find he did not suffer the sea-ills as most lubbers were wont of suffering especially upon a maiden voyage.
Taking out the salvaged confusion of pages that was his numrelogue – kindly rebound by Binbrindle as best as could with viol gut – Economous wrestled the spray and heave of wave to draw the small common wonders of the sea: the blunt headlands that served as their sea-marks, their vinegar-washed foundations craggy with scores of scabrous rocks serving as home to birds and fat waddling creatures – seelows he believed they were called – lazily baking themselves in the summer heat and bellowing cantankerously with every twitch or fart of the neighbours; dark olive-drab weed-wrack hissing past the cromster’s hull; a constant opportunistic escort of whimbrel gulls and terns hovering over the vessel’s mucky wake; discarded casks of every dimension bobbing by in a nigh-continuous flotilla – puncheons, barrels, hogsheads, even a great butt knocking with a damp hollow gonging upon the iron-clad hull of the Douse Fish; and always the pressing sweet-yet-sour reek of the ocean.
Once or twice the young illuminator stood to get a better view of some bird or flotsam only to arouse ire from Mister Patefract.
“Sit ye down, sir!” the master’s growl would come from the tiller-post behind. “Yer ticket fee dun’t cover me a-swimming to fetch ye out o’ th’ wine and none of me mateys know how to paddle to git ye.”
Remaining always in he place, his fellow passenger regarded the entire unfolding scene with serene uninterest.
Despite her slight size, her master plied the Douse Fish with skill as she hopped her way from headland to headland up the north-western coast of the Grume, so that by mid morning the little vessel made the Gullet where the great Humour river poured into the sea. Two low towers were there, one – the Underend – rising from the muck of the estuarine marshlands of the Sough on the Humour’s western shore, the other – the Over End – lifted upon great foundation-stones out of the very midst of the mighty river’s mouth. Under the watch of these fortalice, the Douse Fish joined several score of other vessels collecting from all compasses of the southern seas and even from far off and more fabled ports, marshalled before the western side of the river-mouth in a loose line stretching out to sea. On their right – to the east and beyond the bastion of Over End – Economous could see as many vessels as were labouring to enter the Humour, coming out of the same, hurried on under the river’s heavy outward push out into wild and open water. He could only marvel at the bizarre and impossible places some of them might be bound for, and felt a sault of joy that he too was on adventure to an alien destination. Squatting upon his rough seat before the helm, Economous stared in wonder at the gathered craft: many many cromsters of a surprising variety of lengths; lines of barges both laden and empty in the draw of iron-clad sheers-drudges; great shallow-draughted prams wide and flat to hold vast cargoes.
Upon the west of these, closer to shore in the quieter waters kept by the governing shadow of the Under End tower, a makeshift fleet of packets waited – light, two-masted sailers, each with signalling burge flags flying, requesting a tow behind any willing gastriner through the contrary surge of the out-flowing river. There was a time before gastrine vessels when such as these would have had to haul themselves through the churning eddys in their own boats by oar and arm alone. Indeed in these more enlightened times some still might, for though it was proper maritime practice for a gastriner to answer a Request for Towage, it was not – unless in time of open war – an absolute law. For the sailers moored by the Gullet it was a genuine lot-cast as whether a haul would be offered them or not by the masters of the muscle-driven vessels so commonly in their own hurry.
The Douse Fish trod within hailing distance of one such vessel – close enough for Economous to read Emperorfly upon her prow plate – and its master immediately called with great shouts for the cromster to heave to and throw the sailer a cable.
With a curse of, “Pullets and cockerils!” for the delay, Mister Patefract proved himself in some stripe a noble fellow after all and, slowing to a dead crawl had the loose end of the heavy, much-prized rope rowed in the cromster’s sole jollyboat to the needy packet.
Under proper tread again, the Douse Mouse took the weight of the Emperorfly in her stride at first, further into the Gullet she began to struggle against the full and mighty weight of southward pushing flow. With all limbres to the screw, the cromster shuddered as the muscles inside her gastrine boxes strained against the inexorable flow of the dark primordial river pouring into the milky waters of the vinegar sea. Economous clung to the sole mast as Douse Mouse – surely about to shake herself to flinders under her master’s obstinate command – juddered and heaved beneath the young illuminator’s unsteady feet. With a final lurch, the effluent surge let them go and cromster pushed her way into calm of the river proper, pulling a grateful Emperorfly with her. Yet Barge-master Patefract was far from content. Without pause the sour fellow ordered his own towage cable cast loose rather than lose precious moments in its proper retrieval, and so released of the sailer’s weight drove the hard-working craft on.
“We’ll nay make it, we’ll nay make it,” he kept grumbling to himself, determined to make the fortified rivergate of the Spindle before close of day when the fortress watchmen retired for the evening.