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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 38: Kondor 54
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Previous chapter: Chapter 37: Hastings 56
Had Joseph Wade Kondor been a superstitious man, he might have thought the universe had turned against him.
Barely a week had passed. Kondor was in the crow's nest when the disturbance caught his eye. He had seen one once before, but not from such a distance; still, once he turned his eye on it, he knew exactly what it was: a whirlpool.
He came down the rigging in a flash, calling as he descended, and racing to alert the pilot. Everything was wrong. The current would of course carry them directly into it; the wind was faint, and headed the same way. It would take skillful plotting and skillful sailing to avoid being sucked into the maelstrom.
The deck crew was quickly on full alert, and all three pilots and all three navigators were busily finding ways to maneuver away from the trouble–hard right rudder, lateen sails full right, mainsails full ahead–and thanks in large part to a well timed and unexpected gust of wind they managed to escape the pull.
Only a few days later, the engineers reported that there was a crack in the main mast. They could brace it and hope that they didn't overstress it before reaching Durnmist, or they could find a wooded island and hope there was a hardwood large enough and straight enough to replace it. That would take them several days and a lot of work; but they were ahead of schedule and had plenty of food and water, so Captain John decided it made more sense to replace the mast while they had the chance than to risk losing it when they needed it. Having the travel clock made a big difference, as they were able to pinpoint their position quite accurately and so found a suitable island in a good location on the charts.
While they were anchored, Kondor took the opportunity to stretch his legs and explore the island a bit. Removing and installing a mast was hard work, and everyone was needed to move the logs into position, even with the pulleys and lines run from the adjacent masts. Still, the ship's carpenters did most of the work, and Kondor paid little attention to it.
Once they were underway again, most of a week later, they decided to sail the angle rather than attempt to cut back directly to familiar waters. The island had been ideal, but for the fact that it was some distance out of the way. The course they chose would be shorter and likely faster, but it would also take them closer to a few islands about which they had little information before they would be back in the main channel.
Near one of these islands one of the deck hands sounded an alert; a sea monster of some sort appeared to be moving out from land toward them. There was quite a bustle of activity, and Kondor was again among those sent below. It turned out to have been a trick, a native boat dressed up to look like some kind of creature so as to scare foreigners away. Once the captain realized this, the alert was cancelled and things returned to normal. But it had given Kondor another scare.
He began to wonder whether these emeralds were really worth it. He had things he valued, things he would hate to lose: his M-16, his medical kit, the electronic text books, his pistol, and now his sextant. He had never let his concern about possessions upset him. This crate of rocks–pretty rocks, to be certain, but rocks nonetheless–had him concerned about whether the ship would finish its course and when it would reach Sardic. He gave some thought to dumping the entire batch into the ocean.
Still, he'd spent a lot of hours of labor and a fair amount of thought to get those rocks; and even if he decided he didn't want them, giving them to friends was a better idea than dumping them in the ocean. He might as well keep them, he thought, but not worry so much about them. If they were uncut, they still had value; having them cut and polished was really just a way to reduce their weight and increase their marketability. They were worth quite a bit as they were, and there were probably many worlds in which he could get them finished.
Having resolved this in his own mind, he was considerably less concerned a month later when a pirate ship opened fire on them. Fortunately, Donald had a sharp eye and recognized them at quite a distance, so they never got close enough for a good shot. Still, two weeks later when another group of pirates managed to catch up with them in a light, fast ship he retreated to his cabin and sat in front of his crate with his pistol ready, and wondered if this run of bad luck was just making up for the clear sailing they had enjoyed for so long or if his emeralds had some kind of curse on them. But he didn't use the words luck or curse when he considered this; he wasn't superstitious.
Finally they reached Durnmist, and Kondor felt like they had reached their goal. Even so, events thwarted him. At Tempest, the captain decided to put in for a week to get the new mast redone properly. A few days past Tristar they encountered another whirlpool; one of the pilots joked about it being the season for them. Then they were held up in Haven over some kind of customs problem. In all, it was still three months before they pulled into the harbor at Sardic. Here they would have a layover of about a fortnight, and Kondor could find a lapidary able to cut and polish his stones. He signed up for the next run before leaving the ship, and then disembarked, his crate of emeralds in his arms.
At the bottom of the gangplank, a voice stopped him.
"Pardon me, sir, I'm with customs. Could you please show us what you have in the crate?"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #89: Novel Confrontations. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: