Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Fifty

The story began at 9:06 pm September 21, 2006

When the provisioning party got close to the city, the leader came up to Sebastian with the young man by his side.

"Look here, you!" he said gruffly, "Pancho here says that he'll look after you if we don't tie you up. We'll put you and him driving the middle wagon. Don't try anything, or I'll come down on you like flies on..."

The rumble of an ox going in the opposite direction covered the indelicate term the man used.

Pancho and Sebastian climbed up on the cart and they moved on.

The closer they got to the city, the more crowded the road became, the noisier and more aromatic the traffic grew.

Sebastian was speechless. Pancho pointed out some of the sights.

"That over there, that's a bad inn, kid. That's where the big guy lost his clothes and had to just wear what they found for him. He fair tore the place apart that morning!"

Sebastian smiled wryly. He had little love for the brutish abductor.

Pancho whistled at a couple of women on the side of the road. They wore the strangest clothes Sebastian had ever seen: short skirts almost to their knees and tall boots, shirts that were apparently too small, because they didn't close properly over their bosoms, and the most outlandish hats! He grinned at them, thinking of how appalled his more restrained sister and mother would be.

One of the women seemed to have something wrong with her eyes, and the other had a mouth of a color Sebastian had never seen on a person. Pancho laughed at his amazement. "Haven't you never seen a courtesan, boy?"

Sebastian's eyes grew big and he looked around the side of the wagon at the rapidly disappearing women.

Soon, they were driving past large furnaces, and the sound of hammers on iron drowned out all the other noises. The smell of the slag was intense.

And then the cattle yards, where the sound and smell of beasts being slaughtered made Sebastian and Pancho gag.

The roads were filthy -- the offal of the pack animals, the animals being led to slaughter and the debris of hundreds of days of traffic made passage difficult. Sebastian was glad that he was not walking.

Already he felt lost. They had taken so many twists and turns coming in, sometimes seeming to nearly curve back to edge of the city before plunging again into the mad, fascinating crowds.

The buildings were wide and tall. They cantilevered out, each level a little further toward the street than the one below, until the sky seemed to disappear. It was like driving through a very tall, dimly lit tunnel.

Suddenly, the cobbled streets gave way to a wooden wharf. Sebastian, who had never seen anything bigger than a rowboat, gasped at the size and number of ships and all the activity.

Pancho grinned, "Impressive, isn't it? I remember my first time too! It was truly --"

He cursed as a large barrel came swinging off a ship's hoist, the guide rope on the end trailing through the air. A loud splash announced the reason for the barrel's escape.

The barrel slammed into the side of the wagon, pushing it sideways several feet and knocking the boards apart where it impacted.

Sebastian was knocked to one side and fell out of the wagon. Pancho struggled to control the horse, and finally managed to calm it down several ships away.

Sebastian lost sight of him for a moment...

"Trying to get away, were you?" he rasped, reaching for his whip.

Sebastian turned pale.

"Where's Pancho?" The man walked ahead, pushing Sebastian along roughly in front. He reached the wagon and assessed the damage.

"Bah!" he spat on the ground. "Looks like we lost some of our stuff."

Pancho came around the other side of the wagon, looking grim. "That cursed Lady Mary!" he exclaimed, "They nearly got us last year, too! Why don't they replace that faulty hoist?"

The big man laughed, "Or the faulty crew!" He let go of Sebastian, who rubbed his bruised arm resentfully.

"Here, boy! Start unloading the wagon."

Sebastian grabbed the first box and looked around. He couldn't see where he was to put anything.

Pancho turned him around and gave him a shove toward the closest boat.

It was a sad little barque, with a rusty anchor chain and a flimsy-looking plank. The rigging was not frayed -- exactly -- but even Sebastian's inexperienced eye could tell it was not as well maintained as many of the others.

He gingerly started up the plank, which buckled and bowed at his every step.

The men on board crowded around to watch him, and the men on the wharf and other ships nearby hooted and hollered.

His cheeks and ears burned, but he made his way on deck and stood, waiting for someone to tell him what to do next. A man in a funny hat growled, "Put it in the hatch boy, are you stoopid?"

Sebastian tried to find a "hatch." But Pancho was right behind him. "Here, kid, this way," he said adding, "give the kid a break Red, he's never been on a boat before."

Pancho led Sebastian into the hold and showed him where to put the boxes. Then he took him on a quick tour belowdecks and gave him names for a few other places.

By evening, the supplies were stowed and the crew was assembled on deck. The gulls and ospreys overhead were calling the dinner hour as Sebastian was given the choice: stay and be part of the crew or leave and try to make his way home.

The choice sounded hollow. He doubted he could find his way out of the city, let alone home without help. He knew no one... He quickly signed his name in the book and stood back.

His adventure was about to begin.