Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 95

Tor sat for a moment, his pipe in his hand, looking at the shoreline as the ship tacked its way along the coast. The winds and currents had not cooperated this voyage, and he was concerned that the cargo he was supposed to deliver would be late. Too late. He sighed, and filled his pipe reflectively.

The sailors bustled around on deck, and he tried to keep out of their way, but it was stifling below, and he couldn't stand another minute of that talkative trader from the south. The sails riffled, and were instantly adjusted to get the most advantage from the shifting wind.

There wasn't much advantage to be got.

Tor considered his options. He could assume that his cargo was not going to get to its destination on time, meaning the client would likely find another source. For this shipment at a minimum, hopefully not for future shipments -- Tor's employer would be less than pleased if that happened.

He could attempt to sell the cargo to another merchant in the same town, at a reduced rate so their would be no loss on the merchandise. No gain, either, but at least Tor's employer wouldn't need to cut costs elsewhere, such as delivery personnel...

He could see if there were a buyer in the next town who would be willing to pay closer to full price. That would be the ideal way to work it, but what if the original merchant was waiting for the shipment? Tor didn't want to disappoint.

A fourth option, one that had occurred many times, was to take the merchandise and run with it. Tor didn't particularly like this employer. He was shifty -- the sources of merchandise and the types of clients were always suspect -- and he was mean. Tor wasn't inclined to steal, but this employer was just the sort who deserved it.

Tor shook his head. Idle daydreaming, of course. He would never deliberately take another man's livelihood, no matter how offensive the person. But it was fun to imagine... he snorted and smoke puffed out his nose and swirled around his head. Not a good sign for the winds.

And indeed, the winds had died again, the sails hung slack. Even the silks at the top of the mast were limp, forlorn and lifeless.

The captain paused as he strode past impatiently, and Tor smiled at him, squinting against the sun, "Not much to be done, eh?" he encouraged the grizzled sailor.

"There's less wind than a lady at a tea party," agreed the man. He scratched his belly absentmindedly and grunted apologetically, "Afraid we'll be late on that delivery of your'n."

"Well no matter," Tor said lightly, though his heart sank, "We can't change the weather, and the client will either understand or try another merchant."

The men gazed at the water lapping at the sides of the ship, looking in vain for any sign of actual movement.


A sailor came up, nodded at Tor and saluted lazily, "Sir, we can furl the mainsail and pull out the oars. The mate says we can get in close enough to anchor before nightfall." Then more hopefully, "It would be a chance to go ashore and get some fresh meat perhaps?"

The captain nodded and sat down on a small cask lashed to the rail, and the sailor sauntered off. It wasn't a good day for rushing around; now that the wind had died completely it was hot.

The captain pulled out his own pipe, and mused, "It's the strangest thing, this time of year was always the most reliable shipping season, neither stormy nor calm, a fair bit of breeze always pushing along the coast. But the last few years it's been worse and worse."

"Oh, yes, and all the farmers, from my own family to the west and all up and down the land say the same thing," affirmed Tor. "The seasons are being difficult -- storms at harvest, colder in the winter, warmer in the growing season. The rivers are running lower than anyone can remember."

They watched a gull following their wake hopefully for a while before it decided they weren't going to toss anything in the water. It flew off despondently toward shore.

The captain picked up the thread of their conversation again.

"I've a couple men on board who were shipwrecked last year on a strange little island far out in the middle of the sea. They said they'd just set out after a "raiding and refitting" stop somewhere mid-coast when they were driven out to sea by strong currents. They were making good time, when a huge storm came racing down on them too quick to batten all the hatches. Said they lost half the crew right then, and spent months on the island living on sand and grasses."

Tor's ear perked up at the mention of the raid and shipwreck, but he waited for the Captain to continue.

"Seems there were a couple of young rascals who survived, pretty good hands but a tendency to think too much," the captain spat on the deck, remembering the many young hands he had known like that. "They went missing a day or two before these fellows and the other survivors were able to hail a passing ship.

"Funniest thing, though they took bearings they haven't been able to find the island again. Whenever they get close to its location a fog bank rolls in and the winds slack off until they drift out of the fog again."

"How peculiar," mused Tor, considering whether Sebastian might have been part of the young duo. He shrugged, and knocked the ashes from his pipe out on the rail, watching them drift toward the water past the long oars that were slowly inching them toward shore.

The captain stood and shook his head, "Anyway, I guess the weather has been getting worse, not just inland and by the coast, but across the seas to the far lands as well. Folks everywhere are complaining, and supplies are getting more expensive when they can be found."

He looked quizzically at Tor, "You'll be lucky your cargo isn't perishable, I suppose?"

Tor looked up, surprised -- the captain wore a bland expression, but the voice had been suddenly hard.

Tor laughed disarmingly, "No, not perishable, and hardly useful but to the folks who know what do with it. I'm carrying books this time, some sort of special order for the merchants who supply the library of the king up north.

"I'm hoping the contents are such that they can't easily find another supplier, as I sure can't read that much!"

The captain laughed and wandered off. Books were of little use to anyone who did real work, and of little value to most.

Tor leaned back against the rail and considered whether the partial truth had convinced the captain... for among the books were also some rather more lucrative objects.

The shore was close now, oars were ported and the anchor chain rattled out decisively. The crew straggled onto the deck and finished securing lines. Finally, a party set out in a dingy to try to catch something more palatable than salted fish for supper. They ignored the silent man on deck, but were followed by the only other passenger, Tor's garrulous competitor.

Tor sighed, and again steeled himself for another evening of trite and trivial conversation.