Friday, February 3, 2012

The Penitent: Dry Land

The first mate gave Corrick the all-clear. “Our passengers have all disembarked,” he said.

“Thank you, Master Aiden,” he replied with a measure of relief. “Let them be a problem for the local bailiff, eh?”

“Aye Sir,” he laughed. He looked just as relieved.

“Well then, Master Aiden, if you would start the repair detail and run the inventory, I’ll meet up with the underwriters to clear the profits.” He raised his hand to block the sun while he glanced at the harbor town of Toulon to catch his bearings. The coffee house was astride the docks and already packed with money in the late morning. He would have to claw his way to his meeting. Sighing heavily, he left his jun-influenced boat for the first time in weeks and staggered on his sea-legs towards the buildings. 

“Captain Corrick? Have you a moment?” a voice asked as he passed by a fishmonger’s stall.

He turned. William leSaber approached him, his large raptor hooded and perched upon his gloved fist and a large canvas sack draped across his right shoulder. “Master leSaber, I expected you’d be halfway to home by now. Why are you haunting the shipyard?”

His stoic features melted into a puddle of confusion. “The truth of the matter is, I have no idea where I am or more importantly, where the harbormaster is. I want to ensure my sakret won’t be quarantined before I attempt to take him out of the city.”

“I had quite forgot you brought a tiercel-falcon with you,” the captain responded. “I’ll oversee the clearance with the harbormaster myself. Have you a place to stay? If you’re not in great haste, you are most welcome to join me on my errands and then home to the wife. I would be glad of the company,” he offered.

A rare smile grew above his chin in reply. “Thank you Captain. I am grateful for your time and as long as I am not an imposition, for your home as well.”

As the two carved a path through sailors and doxies, their attempt at conversation was abandoned. Their voices could not be exchanged with any accuracy over the raucous din of the busy harbor. Corrick decided he would explain his plans if his companion questioned them. The coffee house, although crowded, would be quiet enough to conduct business, and a small luncheon could be purchased from the housekeeper for a measure of coin.

“Messieurs Toussaint et Richard, cet homme est monsieur leSabre. Master leSabre, they are my underwriters for the voyage from Acre, masters Toussaint and Richard.” Corrick sat at the table after introductions were made and William followed suit.

Richard was a man of few words, and all of them were in the Provencal tongue. The conversation would be spearheaded by Toussaint, an extremely wealthy merchant with a penchant for dramatic apparel. Corrick had many dealings with him over the years and found him to be of strong moral character, despite the flamboyance. “I see monsieur that you are Saxon, yet you bear a name of Bretagne. This is an enigma, non?”

William displayed no change in demeanor. “Norman, by birth. Soldier by choice. Names are inconsequential.”

“Bienvenue en Provence. And your bird? This is not a native species either non?”

The crusader stroked the breast of the sakret, feeling its crop, “A gift, from a Bedouin sheik, after an uninvited stay.”

“Ah, you were imprisoned by the Saracens,” the underwriter spit. “Mes condoleances, monsieur. They are monsters deserving of eternal damnation. But the bird, I do not suppose you would be willing to part with her?”

He shook his head, his frozen features hard to read. “No, he stays with me.”

“C’est dommage ça. I am willing to pay a large sum, if you decide to change your mind.”

William made no comment, but Corrick felt the mood shift slightly, as if they were trespassing on a memory they could never possibly comprehend. As the housekeep brought small cups of coffee and some bowls of pheasant stew, the captain steered the conversation to business, providing a list of passengers and their duties paid. “The silks you were hoping for, unfortunately, were confiscated by Mongols long before they reached Jerusalem.”

“Ah, but you did not return empty. I see you managed more coffee and honey. This is acceptable with the fares collected,” Toussaint stated, scratching out sums with quill and ink onto a sheet of vellum. “We will attempt another supply of spices and silks within the month, non?”

“As it pleases you. That should be sufficient time to make repairs. I thank you,” Corrick said, receiving the checks and docket for the harbormaster. “You’ll be able to collect your goods from the arsenal on the morrow.”

“Bon d’accord,” he flashed a slippery smile and raised his coffee cup, “A votre santé!”

“Merci. Salute.”

“Maintenant, Monsieur Richard. Nous allons faire voir chez-les-putains.” The merchants rose, tipping their caps as they receded into the crowded house.

Corrick regarded his quiet friend, “You disapprove of my associates?” he queried.

“What? No Captain, you mistake my reaction,” the crusader said. He glanced about quickly, yet seemingly from habit instead of suspicion. “I am not a business man and so I seek not to pass advice regarding the nature of trade.”

“And yet there is something you do not like about Toussaint?” he probed.

“Toulon has been attacked many times by Saracens, so I understand the root cause of his distaste. His arrogance has blinded him, however, as the Saracens gave us more hospitable quarters than we ever gave them.” A dark cloud crossed his expression as if disgusted by the images in his mind. “Centuries of war, of death, of blood and sacrifice...It begs the question, who is truly the heathen to be forsaken by God?”

Corrick swallowed hard, forcing the last of his stew beyond the tightness that developed in his chest. He sought for something to say, to help his new-found friend work through what he had experienced, and discovered that he could not. How does one offer advice to chase away haunting demons unless one as seen their handiwork personally? Finally, the long moment passed as did the cloud that marred his countenance. A change of topic was long overdue. “Well, I assume you will be in haste to return home, but you may stay with us as long as you like. I own an apartment just inside the harbor walls.”

“My home is far afield. I think I will not see her again in my lifetime,” the crusader gave a fleeting smile. “Oh cast off that worried look my friend, for I assure you I am not missed.”

“I doubt that. My crew already misses you, the lazy lot. You made their jobs easier.”

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