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Sako Pizi had always been fascinated by ships and the sea. He loved to accompany his father to the waterfront to purchase spices and exotic fruits for the inn. The wind was always blowing, the gulls flew and dove, and there were ships of all types and sizes. The waterfront smelled of salt air, tar, spice, stale beer, and tobacco smoke.
The sailors were easy to spot. They were deeply tanned men who spoke with strange accents and walked with rolling gaits. There were Vakgennir and redheads from Encaster, Tayans, Agresians and men from Jonos, and sometimes Chain Islanders. Some had angled eyes and didn't speak Buxan, and some had the blue eyes and blonde hair that marked them as Clavs — people whose parents or grandparents had been captured on the large equatorial continent and sold as slaves in the Kingdom of Agresia or the Tayan Empire.
Despite his interest, Sako never expected to go on a sea voyage himself. His parents owned the Wayfarer Inn in the city of Dalaria, and there was no reason to believe life would ever change.
"Children, I want you to pack your things. We're going on a journey."
"Where are we going, Da?" Sako asked.
"It's a surprise," said Danno, Sako's father. "After lunch, you're to stay upstairs until your mother or I call for you."
"But Da, what about the Festival?" Tara wanted to know. She was a year younger than Sako.
"There won't be a Festival this year, sweetheart. I'm sorry. But how would you like to go on a ship?"
Tara frowned. "Sako's the one who likes ships. But there is going to be a Festival — I saw all the carts. And the Imperial Cavalry." The arrival of a troop of Tayan Cavalry marked the beginning of the annual Dalarian Festival, a weeklong celebration of the founding of the city-state. The troopers were there to collect tribute from the Prince of Dalaria.
For centuries, Dalaria was an independent city, proud of her shipping and seafaring heritage. She was also wealthy, staving off Tayan expansion by paying tribute. However, in the fifteenth year of the Thirty Years War between the Tayan Empire and the Kingdom of Agresia, the Empire needed a windfall. Emperor Astreg IV decided that Dalarian independence would come to an end.
That spring's tribute caravan included nearly twice as many troops as usual and a man who was to be the new governor. The annexation of that proud city was announced in all the public squares; the reason stated was concern over a possible Agresian invasion. Unfortunately, Taya could not protect Dalaria without that city's help.
A new tax rate, nearly double what the tribute had been, was announced. Also, all able bodied landsmen between the ages of sixteen and thirty were now conscripted into the Tayan Army, and must be prepared to march the following day. The war with Agresia was heating up, and Taya needed equal effort from all of its citizens. Dalarian ships were now property of the Crown; their former owners would be compensated at a later date.
All sailors were now in the Navy, and most would continue to serve on their current ships. Also, the people of Dalaria would no longer be offended by the presence of drunks, beggars, criminals and debtors, as these undesirables would be sold into slavery according to Tayan law.
A public auction was announced for one week from the Festival for those who wished to purchase these new slaves, and the remainder would be sold in Gateway. Merchants, shippers and proprietors of other businesses would have to see the new governor for licenses to continue in their current occupations. It was rumored that those without sufficient liquid funds for the new governor would be refused and sent either into the army or slavery depending on their age and sex. But Danno didn't have the time to explain any of this to his children.
"We're not going to the Festival, I said. Now run along and do as you were told."
Tara was very disappointed but Sako was excited. A ship! They were going to sea! Who needed a Festival?
"Come on Tara, it'll be fun! I bet I can pack faster than you!"
Tara stuck her tongue out. "Not if you fold your clothes neatly."
"Sako, you will fold your clothes neatly."
"Aw, D —"
"Go upstairs children. Now. The Cavalry troopers will be here soon and I have to meet them in the taproom."
It was nearly dinnertime before their mother came for them.
"Sako, why isn't your dog packed?" Sako had a toy dog that he still clutched in his sleep.
"I don't need him. I'm too old now."
"Well, he's going," Safa said firmly. "You can pack him or you'll have to carry him."
Sako quickly stuffed the dog into the chest.
The walk downstairs and through the taproom was strange. The only customers were Imperial troopers, more than Sako had ever seen. Every single one was passed out drunk, yet Sako and Tara had heard nothing since their arrival. They should have gotten rowdier as they drank and not passed out for hours. Sako didn't have time to ask as Safa herded them outside. There was a horse cart with most of their belongings already loaded. The children loaded their chest and climbed up. Sako saw his father shake hands with one of their employees and then with Ster Brini, who owned the Red Dog Tavern down the street. Danno climbed up and drove the cart away.
The streets were strangely quiet. Sako saw a coach and four on the next street, galloping for the waterfront. The wharves were jammed with carts and coaches. There were goods piled on the docks by most of the ships, but no stevedores. The only sailors present were on the ships, and every ship was taking on passengers.
"Da, what's going on?"
"We're leaving, I told you." Danno guided the cart carefully around a stack of crates but was blocked by a row of barrels. A sailor in a fancy shirt was standing atop a barrel in the middle of the line.
"Are you the innkeeper?" he asked.
"Captain told me to watch for youse. Leave the cart here; I'll have some guys come get your things. Wavecutter's the second one on the right."
"Thank you. Children, go with your mum and stay with her, out of the way of the sailors." Safa was already climbing down, but Tara hesitated.
"That's not our flag," she said. She was looking at the palace. Sako could see she was right. The Dalarian flag was burgundy with a green vertical stripe diagonally crossed by a white stripe. But the flag at the palace was Tayan: plain white with a black cross that reached all four edges.
"That's right," said Danno. "The Empire rules here now. That's why everyone's leaving. Hurry up."
They walked to the ship and climbed up the gangplank. Sako wasn't excited anymore. There were three men lying on the dock near the ship. All wore the tall boots and uniforms of Imperials. There were two more floating in the water. Sako was pretty sure they weren't just drunk. The Empire was known to be very harsh with those who dared kill her soldiers. Thank Stess they were leaving. But where are we going?
Aboard The Wavecutter
Most of the people leaving Dalaria were headed for the free colony on Kimbula, a large tropical island far to the east of Jonos.
Danno Pizi, onetime owner of the finest inn in Dalaria, chose a different path. Years earlier, he had been instrumental in saving the life of a notorious pirate captain. He called in the favor, and obtained passage for himself and his family and all of their portable wealth at no charge. The captain, having been present for the announcements, had already made arrangements with the families of the leading shipwrights and ships' chandlers of the city. He promised that each of the families could once again be prosperous and comfortable in their chosen professions, if they did not mind dealing exclusively with pirates. They would not be able to leave once they arrived at their destination, a secret pirate port called Port Buxaca, but their businesses would not be taxed and their safety was guaranteed. The Zindi and Alsi families quickly agreed to the terms offered. The Alsis also paid the passage for some of their best workers and their families on the premise that a shipwright is only as good as the craftsmen who do the actual building and repairs.
The voyage was uneventful, an unusual occurrence for a pirate ship under normal circumstances. But the holds were already full of plundered cargo which had been reserved for certain brokers in Dalaria, and the captain had no desire to endanger his valuable passengers. The presence of children on board also helped curb the raiders' natural aggressiveness. There were four: a girl and three boys. Seven-year-old Tara Pizi followed her older brother Sako everywhere, which didn't bother the boy much. At nine, he was in stature somewhere between Arno Zindi and Sturo Alsi, both eight. The four could often be found near the bowsprit, trying to be the first to see their new home, much to the annoyance of those sailors who needed to relieve themselves. Other times they would pester the man on wheel watch for stories of sea adventures and far away places. Young Sturo was quick to show off his knowledge of shipbuilding, while Arno countered with his equipment and outfitting explanations. Despite the pacific voyage, it didn't take long for the children to discover what kind of ship they sailed on. It fired their imaginations.
It was Old Jaka, a fierce elderly pirate, who most enjoyed having the children aboard. Whenever he was on wheel watch he regaled the children nonstop with tales of those who roved the Buxacan Sea for plunder. Though the rest of the crew and even the captain walked softly around Old Jaka, he always had a smile or kind word for the little ones. None of his stories mentioned the bloodshed, death and maimings he must have witnessed or been a part of, and many were actually true, at least for the most part. While not a braggart, his stories had grown somewhat between their first telling and their four hundredth. He'd seen a lot; in a profession where most died young, he'd survived over forty years.
One evening after dinner, Sako innocently questioned the old buccaneer, "Jaka, what made you decide to be a pirate?" It was the first time any of them had been brave enough to ask him to acknowledge his profession. The old man's smile faded as he considered how to answer.
A glance at the earnest young faces showed only curiosity. As children are often smarter than adults give them credit for, he knew they'd sense any evasions. "Well boy, we prefer the term 'sailor of enterprise'. And it's more like it chose me rather than me it."
"How could piracy choose you?" Sturo asked. "Father says that anyone can be anything they want."
"Lad, that's true for one born to wealth," Old Jaka replied without bitterness. "Mayhap you or Master Pizi still have a choice. But a poor fisherman's son like me has little choice but the sea."
"So why aren't you a fisherman?" Sturo persisted. "Uncle Arno says it's an honorable profession."
"For the money, silly!" answered Arno. "Fishermen are always poor. Everyone knows that."
"Oh no," replied the old man. "I'd've been glad to stay on my da's boat. Woulda been mine someday. But I was pressed into the Agresian Navy near on forty years ago for one o' the wars with the Tayan Empire." He shifted his grip on the wheel to dig out his pipe and pouch.
"What does 'pressed' mean?" asked Tara.
The children waited patiently for Jaka to get his pipe lit.
"It's when you join a Navy, whether you want to or not. Agresia was short o' sailors, see, 'cause the war was mostly fought on land afore. So the press gangs was out in force. Back then I didn't know better: I was pulled off the docks and dragged to a ship of the line. That's a real big ship and they needs lotsa men to sail 'em. Not enough food, and what there was, was bad; long weeks at sea, regular beatin's and constant fightin' ... When that pig was holed and we was captured, most of us didn't care, so long as we were done with her. I spent a year in prison in Gateway till the war ended." Jaka took several puffs on his pipe. "Agresia didn't need me back with no warships left and my da's boat had been burnt. There weren't no work for a seaman and I was outta silver, facin' the auction block. Some mates from prison said it were better to hang than be a slave and I said they was right. So a buncha us slipped down harborside quiet-like and took us a Sevoolee merchantman. See, it chose me, not t'other way round." He puffed his pipe while the children mulled the story over.
"So how come you're not the captain?" asked Sako. "You've been one so long you must know more than anyone about being a pirate ... I mean sailor of enterprise!"
The old hand chuckled. "Don't work that way, lad. See, Cap'n needs to know 'bout navigatin' and keep track o' where you been and where to go. Never learnt my letters and my numbers ain't so good neither. Cap'n' hasta keep track o' how much swag there be and how to divvy it up, how much to give Cap'n Anford and know how to fight the whole battle. Man in front o' me is all the fight I know."
This sparked off a slew of questions, Sturo's being the loudest. "Who's Captain Anford? Why does he get a share?"
"Why, he be the greatest sailor of enterprise ever lived! We give him a share for what he's given us!"
"What's he given you?" asked Tara.
"Why is he the greatest who ever lived?" said Arno loudly.
"Well, for starters he's taken over a hundred prizes. He fought half the Jono Navy to a stand still; he's sacked every Agresian port there is, and Port Therma and even Gateway, once. I sailed with him four years and I were at Gateway. That was a fight! That's why all the hands give me room; they know better than to cross a man what sailed with Cap'n Anford!
"As to what he's given us, that be safety, plain and simple. Used to be, sailors of enterprise die in a fight or on a rope. Past coupla years he's made Port Buxaca into a safe place, a clean place where a child with a bag o' gold can walk from one side o' town to the other and nobody would touch him. No beggars, no thieves, no slaves. Place to keep our swag without fear o' poachin'. Hand gets tired o' rovin'; he can retire on what he's taken and never ever fear the rope. Cap'n says there be plenty o' treasure to go around, so he organized all the ships, made 'em Brothers in the Societies. Brothers of the Societies don't fight each other no more, neither. Waste o' time. If a ship of the same color flag as you gets in trouble, you help 'em out."
"Aren't we going to Port Buxaca? My father's no pirate!" exclaimed Sako.
"Not everyone is, lad. Man can choose his own life in Port Buxaca. I'm bettin' your da'll open another inn, even better than The Wayfarer, time he's done. We've smiths and potters and barkeeps — even farmers! Soon we'll have a shipwright. Man I know makes candles — richer now than he ever were in Port Sipa, let me tell you! And there's other seafaring trades. Kimbulan merchantmen be the only non-Society ships the Cap'n trusts in Swag Bay. They take our plunder and sell it in other ports, so our ships don't got to go where somebody knows 'em. In return, we don't touch Kimbulan ships ever."
"I thought Port Buxaca was just like Rumtown," said Arno. "Filthy and lawless, with ten thieves for every honest man."
"So it were, afore Cap'n Anford. He told the thieves, ship out or go swimming. And he made the other cap'ns join the Societies or sail for Rumtown. Now Rumtown ships steer clear o' Port Buxaca. Hand wantsa hurt people or steal; he joins a crew and does it somewheres else, never in Port Buxaca."
"So how many ships does Captain Anford control?"
"How many Societies are there?"
"There be two Societies: the Red Brotherhood and the Black Brotherhood, and there be fourteen ships in all. But Cap'n Anford don't control 'em — each cap'n sails where he will."
"That's all? I thought there were dozens of pirates roaming the Great Sea!"
"There may be, lad, but those're the only ones allowed in Port Buxaca."
"Which one are you?" asked Tara.
"Sorry lass, that's one story you won't get from Old Jaka." About that time Sturo's uncle found them, and sent them off to bed.
Some days later, one of the seamen ran up a flag, the likes of which the children had never seen in the harbor of Dalaria: bright red, depicting a dagger, point down. A cry of, "Swag Island, one point off the port bow!" from one of the lookouts sent the children running for the foredeck, except for Sako, who had spotted the captain near the starboard rail. Sako waited politely while the captain scanned the island ahead through his telescope before asking how long it would be before they were ashore.
"Tired of sea life, are you? Well, we're about four hours out."
Excerpted from "Buxacan Spicerunner"
Copyright © 2018 Warren Goodwin.
Excerpted by permission of IFWG Publishing International.
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