23. Short stories from the harbour

- 12:01 am

„In the harbour, they know….”

by HerrFenrisWolf

A salty and humid breeze flew over Trabas and woke him from his drunken sleep. His limbs felt heavy and he shivered in the damp clothes which had absorbed quite some water overnight. The inebriation of the night clang to him for a short while before releasing him to the hangover of the morning after. As he opened his eyes he was blinded by the light of the sun. He realised that it had gotten more tiring compared to the nights of his youth which got more and more distant every year. But Trabas raised to his feet and took a look around. As he did so he became dizzy and he was forced to vomit over the battlements of the harbour tower into the sea. As he was finished he wiped his mouth, straightened his clothes and thanked the gods that neither vomit nor the seagull crap had defiled his outfit.

The golden goblet that they had circled yesterday lay to his feet. He remembered how one after the other they had given a toast with the goblet risen towards the royal palace. Trabas picked up the goblet from the floor – a goblet far too valuable to exist in the guardroom of this harbour tower, but that was how things went in the harbour. Sometimes something went overboard at the pier, got lost differently, or was given to the militia as a symbol for a discreet relation. Now, this trinket filled with freshwater poured from a barrel next to the man who hoped for some relief.

On the way downwards he seemed to feel the motion of the sea. Trabas needed some time to get control of the tide in his head. He stumbled down the stairs and into an atmosphere of used-up air, man-sweat, beer-farts and old straw. He almost threw up again. „Everything fine on deck?“, he asked his tipplers jestingly. The militiamen sitting there looked just as deranged as he did. Neither the swords on their belts nor the tunics on their bodies could hide their hangovers. In this fashion, they wouldn’t have stood a chance in any muster. Every officer with some decency left would’ve sent them running some rounds around the harbour until they sweat out if their arses. Thank gods, those officers all had better things to do.

„Nothing worth reporting.“, mumbled the senior militiaman. He was a little bit younger then Trabas and studied a piece of parchment with squinted eyes. “The report from last night?“, asked the old man and put the goblet on a desk nearby. “All ships which we should protect are still there, and nothing vanished that wasn’t supposed to vanish. Another night of exemplary duty in the name of king and county.” “Hipp, Hipp, Hooray!”, someone cawed half-heartedly from a corner of the room before farting loudly. The whole gang laughed. „Something a simple townsman should know?“ asked Trabas. The militiaman on duty rustled with the report and scanned the pages. “Nothing extraordinary for these days. The usual bar fights between the newcomers. Soldiers of the king versus sellswords from the provinces. Trabas nodded knowingly. Vanguard had been the main port of transhipment for the troops of the king since the early days, but today the city burst with soldiers. Every nobleman able to pay them recruited troops. Volunteers from all over the realm gathered. Even the trading guilds recruited mercenaries. It was said, that he who contributed to the triumph of the realm could earn title, land and privileges. On top of all that there was the standing army of the crown. Everyone gathered in Vanguard before moving

to the front. This was the reason why the militia didn’t care much for their guard details in the harbour at the moment. All hands were busy to keep control over the biggest army since Varant. “Ok, so the same as every day. The honourable gentlemen will do their duty as it is commanded and I’ll go home.” Trabas turned away to go. “One moment old man” the guard on duty stopped him. “Something is happening in front of the harbour master’s office. Go there and have a look.” “By Inno’s beard, you know that today is my day off, I’d rather kick a snapper than visiting my boss. Even more so, as my wife hasn’t seen me since yesterday morning, so I’m into enough trouble already.” But the guard didn’t give way. “It’s the payment for the booze we destroyed together. If everything is fine, then it’s super. If it’s not, we shouldn’t arrive there looking as we do now. Get us some time to tidy up old man.“

Trabas nodded and left the tower. He was quite sure, he’d see the same scene inside the other harbour towers, which were shelter and bonfire at the same time for all cogs, hulks and crayers of the realm. As he left the tower the salty breeze and the hustle caught onto the old sea bear. Everything coming from land or sea went through the harbour. You could see sailors and rouged harlots, dandies, merchants of all weight classes and armed men. There was an ambience of gabbling and shouting. “… so the glorious royal army dropped back a little bit so that the ailing attack of the Orcs in Nordmar loses its momentum in the void…”, a herald proclaimed the latest news from the front. “True sons of the desert. It’s time to return to the bosom of your father. The hour of our reincarnation draws nearer.”, murmured a cloaked Varantian from the top of a box to the crew of a schooner from Bakaresh. “He’ll still shout in an hour when the militia has a clear head”, thought Trabas and went on. He remembered an old saying: “In the harbour, they know why the king is scratching his ass.” It meant that every truth, however simple and plain, would find its way to the harbour as everything else did. Of course, it would dress in a cloak of rumours that would have a different colour depending on who was telling the story.

Some golden guardsman had an eye on some prisoners heading for the penal colony at the inner quay. The corresponding judge couldn’t be seen anywhere. The clanging of heavy plates drew Trabas‘ attention towards a cog fastened at the innermost point of the docking ring. Some royal honour guards had lined up there. Their presence indicated to the harbour adept that ore from Khorinis was unloaded there. The crown didn’t do things by halves concerning this special matter at the capital. The honour guard was sworn in to the throne and was the embodiment of the incorruptible will of the king. In distinction to the order of the fighters of Innos the honour guard really only knew one lord. No trickster being of sound mind would even dream of enriching himself with this ore.

Trabas closed in on the harbour master’s office. And indeed there was a group of angry faces in front of the master’s doorstep. Trabas was quite astonished to see that even more honour guards were the reason for the queue. They blocked the entrance to the office for everyone. “Don’t they let you in?”, he asked some moneybags needlessly “My hulk should’ve been loaded an hour ago. We transport live sulfur from Geldern to Barakesh. These goods bear no delay. Every minute we spend here is another minute in which the air makes them sourer.” Trabas had been to the sea many times and had loaded and unloaded many things, but he had no clue of these things. But he understood that the man lost gold in every moment he was standing there.

Standing on the stairs to the office a clerk recognized him and shouted: “He Trabas, you’re right on time. Come on in, the master needs you.” He gave a signal to the guards and before Trabas realised

what was happening he sat in the office of his boss and his brother in law. He sat on the very sport where normally the petitioners would sit. His boss sat across the desk and on his right sat the officer of the honour guard Cobryn. Twisting his moustache Cobryn looked at Trabas like a hawk: “Is he reliable?” “My most reliable man and family on top. My sister married him.” The officer inhaled quite loudly through mouth and nose to signal that he had smelled the smell of alcohol on Trabas’ breath. “Well, ahem…”, the harbour master was very ashamed: “… today is his free day and despite everything, he is still here. A more dutiful…”, Cobryn waved him off. “Let it go. I believe you harbour master. Trabas is your name? Alright then, look at this”, the officer put a coloured band with pressed wax on it in front of Trabas. “Do you know this sigil?” Trabas looked at the material. It was woven quite badly or made from some remains. The picture on the sigil was rough and in red finish. A coat of arms wasn’t visible but there was writing going around the sigil: “Ore baron Gomez”

„I haven’t heard of such a baron in my entire life my lord.”, said Trabas and Cobryn nodded. “That’s how it should stay, gosh darn it, because there is no ore baron Gomez. Such things only ignite the rumours and the people see smoke where there is no fire. Especially in war times, the realm doesn’t need any of this. This joke came with the cog from Khorinis to Vanguard. Technically the magistrate of the harbour city is responsible for preventing something like this to happen. But in the provinces, they take their duties a little bit easy. The throne is far away. From this day forward all of you from the harbour master’s office are responsible for checking every single chest of ore coming from Khorinis for this flim-flam. And if you find any, you’ll remove it before the dockworkers unload it.”

Trabas became a little lightheaded, as he tried to imagine checking every single chest on every single cog from Khorinis. “But…”, he started. „No but.“, intervened the guard. „You‘re responsible for that. None of this fake sigils leaves the harbour or you’ll be taught a lesson and you’ll have a chance to get to the bottom of that at the origin.” This ended the conversation.

Outside the building, Trabas readied himself for the upcoming work. He would have to postpone his free day. As he stared to the cog and couldn’t motivate himself to go there and start the drudgery the guard on duty from the tower approached him. “I’ve been wondering where you could possibly be. No revolt in the harbour?”, he asked. „No, only more slave work.” “Snapper dung”, cursed the militiaman and offered Trabas a freshly opened bottle of booze. “Why not?”, thought Trabas, took a deep gulp out of the bottle and asked his friend: “Are there some news from Khorinis?” The militiaman smiled. “That’s where they’ve exiled the general to. They say he has escaped the power of the king and now conspires with pirates and demons to return and get his revenge.” “You don’t say?”, smirked Trabas: “Have you ever heard of an ore baron named Gomez?”