Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 110

written 24 December 2007

Tor and the Captain helped Ysbel down the gangplank the to the dock, which, she remarked, swayed more than the boat at sea. If it was possible, her normally pale skin was even more grass-colored than during the first storm they had experienced. They deposited her in a small cab waiting hopefully, and helpfully, just to one side and went to get Carlota.

Carlota was busily shifting boxes and bales and bundles, sorting and consulting the list in her hand, "These three," she pointed to a pile near her feet, "go with my employer in the cab."

A young, short deckhand grudgingly lifted them and started off, only to be called back to receive a floral shawl atop his load. The catcalls of the other sailors followed him to the dock, but a shiny coin from Ysbel quickly turned his sullen scowl to a more social expression.

"These," she pointed to a set of rather large boxes that had come from the hold, "Should be loaded first in the cart my father has hired." She cocked her head and looked around for a moment until her gaze fell on another pile a distance off. "Then the ones with red tags should go, followed by..."

She tapped the sheet and sucked on her teeth impatiently. Tor thought she might be overdoing the zealous shopgirl routine a bit.

Apparently the sailors and deckhands didn't, though, as they hung on her every word. She smiled coquettishly at a gangly man nearby, "Would you place the ones with blue tags closest to the rear of the cart please? Those are our... (cough) personal items." And she blushed sweetly.

The men hastened to do her bidding, and Tor nodded approvingly as he passed her with a load of his own. He smiled what he hoped was a fatherly grin, and barely managed to stay balanced on the plank as she smiled back.

That girl! Tor wasn't sure if he was giddy from the changing sway between land and boat, or the sun glinting off the water, but Carlota certainly seemed to be sparkling today. He shook his head as if to clear the cobwebs and rested a moment before going back for another load.

And another load. He didn't remember so many items in the little cart, but Carlota assured him that, between the items they had brought aboard, the others they had purchased at a port mid-way in the voyage, and the items she had acquired through skillful haggling with another merchant on board, this was the right amount.

Finally, the cart was loaded, and Tor paid the captain the rest of his fee from the little purse Ysbel had removed from her belt. Tor was just about to load Carlota on the buckboard when Ysbel leaned out of the cab's window.

"The girl shall ride with me so we can review the items as we go along. Thank you, master Tor. You may follow in your own time."

And with that, Carlota was hidden in the small black cab behind a prancing dappled gelding, trotting swiftly off toward the far edge of the port city. Tor could hear the crew of the ship sigh slightly as they turned, less enthusiastically, to their other tasks. He took up the reins and clicked the slower old mare that would pull the cart. She was slow, but she would be steady, he mused as her sturdy haunches shifted back and forth to keep her load moving.

As Tor maneuvered through the twisting streets with his load, he tried to keep an eye out for the cab, but it had moved too swiftly away. Carlota -- she had been pleasant enough when they were back in the library, her aunt's keen eye and sharp wit keeping them both in line. But on board, with her aunt indisposed, Carlota had revealed a less demure side -- a way with words, a memory for old chanties and tales that kept the crew in stitches. The incongruity of the situations she sang or spoke of, with her rather severe, sedate appearance and manners... Tor chuckled. Young she was, and sheltered in many ways, but shy or ill-informed, she was not.

He whistled one of her favorite jaunty airs as the sun rose high above the city, getting further from the dock, and seeing the buildings gradually improve in both size and facade. The inn Ysbel intended them to stay in was much grander than Tor was accustomed to, but it wasn't until he found himself outside its massive courtyard that he had misgivings. Seeing the cab with its distinctive horse parked near other carriages, he paused, and the gateman directed him to the service yard around back...

Carlota met him there, waiting impatiently, tapping her foot. She had the run of the place, as both her employer's "secretary" and the daughter of her employer's servant, she was able to see the entire inn. As Tor put the cart in a locked stall and saw to the horse's needs in another, she gave him a seemingly innocent running commentary on the journey through the city and the workings of the inn. She told him where he would sleep in the servant's lodgings near the stables, explained that there was an extra cot in Ysbel's room for herself, and elaborated on the grand hall they went through from the front entrance. Tor listened, grumbled as appropriate and nodded when he was done.

"Carlota, you have seen a lot since we left home," he said, keeping up the pretense in case hostile ears might be listening, "I don't mind telling you that these things are exciting even for someone as old as I am... but right now, child, I am tired. Where do you think I can find a bit of bread and a pint or two of something to calm my stomach?"

Carlota frowned and tossed her head. She didn't like being called a child, and in that unconscious little gesture, she convinced a passerby that she was a typical daughter... they -- and their precious cargo -- would be safe for the moment. Quickly, though she recovered her manners and said nonchalantly, "The kitchen is here in back, Father, I believe they would have some bread left over from the luncheon still. I know they have some nasty tasting bitter thing that is like what you drink at home, though it has a different name. They made a small meal for us when we came in." She smiled then, and nodded at the stableboy, "And they will have pie for a sweet after supper!"

Tor chuckled and they walked across the yard in the warm afternoon sun, toward a good meal and a change in the weather.