This is chapter seven of my series Lost Colony. Most readers should start with chapter one, but if you want to scroll down to the steamy parts, be my guest!
This is a work of (science) fiction. All characters are over age eighteen. Thanks for reading!
"Would you like some more crab?"
In answer, Bogg only rolled back on his haunches, regarding Sparr with a muzzle flecked with shell fragments. The two were camped along the edge of the massive, brackish lake that Sparr had first seen at Racas the previous night. After making camp near an abandoned building, he had liberated the creature from its pack. As soon as he did so, Bogg had lumbered off to dig for crabs in the muck. After gorging himself on more of the crustaceans than Sparr had believed possible, Bogg waddled back to camp to lay in a near coma. A damp Kaybe evening crept over them.
"I'll take that as a 'no'," Sparr said. The animal, in its gluttonous rampage, had flung more of the crabs onto the shore than it could eat. Sparr gathered them up, steamed them, and had his own feast. Their sweet flesh was a welcome reprieve from dried fish.
Before settling into sleep, Sparr reviewed his situation. Although he was still troubled by the pointless violence of his encounter with the fence, the outcome had been favorable. In addition to his now-heavy pouch of tokens, he had a bedroll, spare shoes, and an oiled jacket well suited for travel in the damp conditions. And there was the pistol. On Earth the thing would be in a museum. It was a single-shot pistol, but one with a punch. Sparr couldn't tell if the charge was explosive, but the gauge suggested a weapon intended for taking out heavy targets. In addition to the chambered round, he had two more. And he still had the lighter-gauge pistol from his survival pack. Provided he didn't drop his guard, Sparr was well prepared for a fight.
More troubling was his path. He still had no idea what happened aboard the Odysseus. His solo ejection suggested some sort of disaster. Yet, he now saw signs that the Alliance crew had survived and were at work exploring the planet. To contact them and rejoin the crew had been his initial choice. Sparr would get the equipment needed for cataloging species, gain a measure of security, and rejoin his friends. But there was risk involved. The military drone that had attacked the caravan at Shong certainly hadn't been sent to rescue him. He would have to learn what they were up to before showing his hand.
For two more days Sparr followed the way southeast toward Santi. The road turned away from the lake into a stretch of gently rolling hills planted in vines and fruit trees. More and more travelers appeared, and were no longer as guarded as those Sparr had seen before. Most regarded him openly, and a few even offered cautious greetings. He spotted one caravan, garishly decorated with Origin symbols, plodding in the opposite direction. Idly Sparr wondered what they would hear of the drone attack when they reached Shong.
Nights were safer as well. The second evening he made out the sharp yelps of dusk hounds. Sparr had camped against an indentation in a rocky outcrop. While less defensible than he would have preferred, he would have a clear shot if the animals chose to attack. Less than fifteen minutes later he heard them again, this time uncomfortably close. Sparr readied his pistol, but before the animals made their appearance Bogg sat up. The creature had sniffed out and consumed a steady diet of tiny berries over the course of the day, his hunt for the potently sweet fruit sometimes taking him hundreds of meters from the road. When they finally made camp the animal collapsed into a happy stupor, snoring sonorously. Now awake, Bogg sniffed the air, wrinkled his nose, then let out a reverberating, deep growl. He rose, paced the edge of the camp several times, and let out another growl. The hounds never appeared.
Around noon the third day, Sparr came upon another town. Caibo sat trapped by the sea on its eastern side, and a steep ridge to the west. A narrow strip of land led to an island thick with structures, and the home to two massive docks. In addition to the road which Sparr had been traveling, another route headed west.
"Your beast was trained by Barro, I see." This comment came from a fellow traveler, a man of average height with brown skin, black hair, and small, inquisitive eyes. The two had stopped at a narrow, timber bridge, waiting for several wagons to pass.
Sparr was caught off guard. He stalled. "Why, yes. Ahhhh, how could you tell?"
The man smiled knowingly. "The ear notch. See there." He indicated Bogg's left ear. "Two notches. Barro's trademark."
"Oh. You're right. Very good." Sparr didn't want to appear ignorant about his own animal.
"Also," the man continued, "you wouldn't be bringing him into Caibo if he wasn't well trained."
"Either way," Sparr said, "I probably won't take him to the sausage vendor's shop."
"Ha! No, that wouldn't be advisable." The man was pushing an elongated cart loaded with coils of a thick, bristly rope.
"Who buys your rope?" Sparr asked.
"Oh, the ship captains can't get enough of it," he replied.
The wagons passed at last, allowing Sparr and the rope vendor to cross. For a time the two walked together, Bogg waddling along behind them. Sparr could just make out the hulks of several fat ships at the docks.
"They journey to Santi?"
The man gave him a surprised look. "Yes, of course. Oh," the man stopped. "Did you mean today, specifically?"
"Oh yes, today."
"I see. Well, in that case I suggest asking at the ships themselves. You might get a good rate on a cabin. That is, if any are left."
"Thank you," Sparr said. "And my apologies, but I've never come this way before."
The pair climbed until they reached a vantage point. "Here's your primer," the man said. He happily rested his cart while pointing out the town's landmarks. "The near-town is here," he said, waving his hand toward the strip of buildings and alleys set back from the sea. "The way of the Stone." Now he gestured toward the island, its only connection to land a narrow causeway. "Far-town. The way of the Wave. Travelers, merchants, thieves, and whores, all must pick a way."
"I seek safe transport to Santi," Sparr said. "Which way is best?"
The man nodded sagely. "Stone is less expensive, if your tokens are few. The way is slower though, and not without danger. A traveler either must join a caravan or face considerable peril. Even with your beast you may not be safe."
"I see," Sparr said. "And Wave?"
"Faster, but more expensive," the man replied. "Berths are few, and usually taken by those with more coin than time." He regarded Sparr as if trying to determine whether or not he was a man of means. "Find Captain Jance," he suggested. "Tell him Ario sent you. He'll give you a good rate. Or," the man said, raising his cart again, "he'll throw you over the side." He chuckled. "I jest. Good luck on your journey." With surprising agility, the man bounded ahead, half pushing his cart, half dragged by it.
Sparr followed the road's gentle switchbacks down to near-town. Here, solid buildings sat one beside the other in orderly rows. Stone footings supported evenly-cut timber walls. Some were narrow, some wide, but none dared to rise more than one level. Where Racas had been fetid and ramshackle, Caibo was tidy and predictable. Sparr passed through the near-town square, which was elongated to match the narrow layout of the town itself. Among other establishments, Sparr recognized the local temple of the Origin, and what might be a trading house, thronging with the strident calls of merchants. The square also served as a staging area for caravans, carrying goods either toward Santi, or west to the continental interior. He inquired at one.
"I seek passage to Santi," he told a woman who gave the appearance of authority.
"That's very well," she said, "but by Stone law you must ask the first caravan in the queue."
Shaking his head, Sparr walked to the next caravan. "Are you the next to depart to Santi?" he inquired of the matron.
The portly woman glanced toward the sky. "Yes," she said, flatly. "We will depart at first light tomorrow."
"How much for passage?"
"For you, eighty tokens. For your beast, another twenty." She sized-up Sparr as if estimating his appetite. "This does not include meals."
"I see," he said. "And how many days is the journey?"
"Eleven days. If we are shadowed by bandits we will have to proceed with more caution. In that case, as many as fourteen days."
"Thank you," Sparr said. "If I decide to seek passage I will be back before evening."
"This is of no consequence to me," the matron said, before turning back to her own thoughts.
Sparr shrugged and headed to the causeway, Bogg in tow. The rest of the town demonstrated the same, orderly construction. It was as if a single person, working from the same design, had built every home, shop, inn, and warehouse.
The far-town, in comparison, was a crazy patchwork of colors, architectural styles, and sizes. A squat customs house greeted travelers as they crossed the causeway, its front a series of bays for inspecting inbound and outbound shipments. Built half on top of it and half against the rising slope of the island's conical shape, a row of shanties had sprouted up, forged from scraps of wood, scavenged metal, and leather. None followed the aesthetic of its neighbor. Sparr found the same to be true as he navigated his way toward the docks. Stout warehouses built from thick timbers sandwiched stacks of narrow shops each barely large enough to hold a few goods and a sleepy shopkeeper. Everywhere Sparr saw signs of salvaged metal, glass, and bricks, the scattered inheritance of the planet's original colonists.
The docks themselves were only slightly more orderly. One low dock serviced smaller boats and skiffs, while the other, set higher over the water, served as a home to larger craft. Sparr approached one of these, addressing a youth.
"I seek Captain Jance."
The youth grunted, tossing his head in the general direction of the next ship. "He's on the Shai."
The Shai was perhaps the most awkwardly designed ship Sparr had ever seen. Though it had an identifiable bow and stern, the vessel was closer to being round than any sailing ship Sparr could recall. The single mast was set in the center of the ship, and topped with arms which suggested square sails. A massive tiller extended aft.
"Are you Captain Jance?"
"I am indeed." The man Sparr had addressed was seated on a crate, finishing his lunch. Round faced, nearly bald, and smiling warmly, he looked as contented a man as Sparr had seen on Kaybe.
"I seek passage to Santi. Ario recommended your ship."
Jance nodded slowly. "For a man who has never set foot aboard, he is an excellent judge of ships." He stomped the deck with a boot as if to emphasize its solidity. "The Shai is not the fastest afloat, but she's quite safe."
"May I inquire how long the journey takes?"
"The winds are favorable this time of year," Jance replied. "Five nights, six at most. Three hundred tokens, including your beast."
"Is that for a cabin?" Sparr had nowhere near three hundred tokens.
"Why yes! The topside cabin is... oh," he trailed off. "Perhaps you are looking to conserve your tokens?"
"I can offer you a hammock on the lower deck for half that price. You may still join the others for meals."
"When do you sail?"
Sparr stood topside as the Shai was first pushed from the dock, then nudged by smaller boats into the harbor. Once the craft was clear, Jance had the sails deployed. The ship eased into the bay to begin its journey south.
The ship under sail was just as awkward as it had looked while docked. The square sails were minimally adjustable, forcing the captain and crew to rely heavily upon the tiller for direction. Whenever the wind changed, the vessel would turn ponderously until the crew could wrestle it back onto course with the tiller. Even under steady winds, frequent minor adjustments were required. The vessel seemed rarely at peace.
Sparr was the only solo traveler aboard. When he answered the bell for dinner, he was seated at a small table and served a dish of lightly fried fish with a vegetable obviously related to seaweed. However, Sparr had no sooner taken a bite when a man at another table waved him over.
"Come please, join us," the man said, gesturing toward an empty seat at his table. "Let us not lack for companionship on this journey."
After several days of traveling on his own, Sparr was more than ready for some company. The fact that the man was traveling with two young women made the decision even easier. Carrying his plate, Sparr joined them. "I'm Alain."
"I'm Ost," the man said, grinning broadly. He was garbed in close-fitting black trousers topped by an astoundingly colorful jacket. Though finely sewn, the garment seemed a random collection of stripes, squares, triangles, and scores more geometric shapes patched together. No two pieces of fabric were precisely the same color. "These are my daughters, Aine and Sylva."
Sparr smiled. "Pleased to meet you," he said. That the two young women were the man's daughters was obvious. Father and daughters shared the same warm skin tone, deep brown eyes, and dark hair. But whereas Sylva's brown locks were carefully bound with colorful rings, Aine's flowed free, cascading around her shoulders.
Ost gestured for wine. "What fate calls you to Santi?"
"I seek a trading partner." Sparr had prepared himself for the question, taking inspiration from the boorish Lord Varn, who every evening during the pilgrimage had carried on about his ceramic business. "Amphorae, mostly."
"Mmm," Ost said, sitting back. "So, you follow the way of the Stone? Amphorae are born of clay."
Sparr was still trying to figure out the significance of Stone and Wave. "Not exactly," he said. "In my lands, the distinction isn't important."
"What?" Sylva said, clearly baffled. "There is no distinction of greater importance! The Wave is everything, guiding each decision." Like her father, Sylva's attire was as colorful as a stained glass window. Sparr took her to be in her early twenties.
"You'll forgive me," Sparr said. He cast his eyes hopefully around the table. "Perhaps one of you can explain."
"Of course!" Ost said. He leaned forward again, pouring wine for the four. "There are two diverging paths. Those that follow Stone are unyielding, guided by principles that neither vary, nor allow for deviation. They will rarely set foot aboard any ship, and mostly trade along land."
"What my father is saying," Sylva explained, "is that Stones are borrrrrrring!" She rolled her eyes dramatically.
"Stones are strong," Aine interjected. "Not guided solely by frivolity and whim."
Ost chuckled. "As you can see, my daughters have chosen different paths. What's a man to do?" Answering his own question, he took a large swig of wine.
Sparr turned his attention to Aine. Unlike her younger sister, she had attired herself in more subdued clothes. However, where Sylva was slim, Aine was busty. Her bodice plunged deep, revealing scoops of inviting female flesh. And unless Sparr was mistaken, she was enjoying his attention.
Just as Sparr was about to speak, the wind shifted, sending the ship into a spin. Ost, Aine, and Sylva each nonchalantly held their wine glasses against the table while Sparr practically knocked his over trying to catch it. "I see you are all comfortable at sea," he observed, wryly.
"We've made the journey three times just this year," Aine said. "My sister's husband lives on the island."
"We're not married yet!" Sylva scolded.
"You might as well be," Aine said. "We never see you when we're there."
"Wyl appreciates my charms," she said, smiling smugly.
Sparr didn't have to wonder which of Sylva's charms her fiancé appreciated. The girl's lips were particularly full and soft.
"We all have business there," Ost explained. "Sylva visits Wyl, while Aine and I seek to expand the business."
"Which I take has nothing to do with amphorae?" In fact, it would have been difficult for Sparr to sustain the facade of an amphorae merchant, but he had to play the part.
"No, sadly," Ost said. "We have timber holdings near Santi. Have you heard of eepay wood?"
The word was familiar but Sparr couldn't place it. "I'm not sure."
Ost sighed. "Yes, and therein our difficulty in growing the business. The timber is beautiful! More importantly, it is stiff and strong."
"Stiff and strong," Aine repeated, her eyes sweeping brazenly over Sparr. "Nothing is more important."
"Yes," Ost agreed, either missing the innuendo, or uncaring. "It's incredibly well suited to construction, once you learn how to work with it. We were in Caibo looking for distributors..."
Sparr did his best to remain attentive to Ost, but it was impossible to ignore Aine. The older daughter looked to be in her late twenties, was attractive, and confident. There was nothing shy in the way she looked Sparr over with hungry eyes. She struck him as someone who had no difficulty luring men to her bed. How long had it been since he had last lured a woman to his own bed?
"Let us tell stories," Ost said, breaking Sparr's reverie. "You've said that in your home there is no distinction between Wave and Stone. Is that right?"
"That's right," Sparr said.
"So tell us something else of your home that would surprise us. Something which is of importance."
"I'm afraid I'm not much of a story teller," Sparr said.
"Please Alain," Ost said, spreading his arms imploringly. "Will you disappoint us? Nights are long at sea. Our stories help us endure them."
"Looooooong nights," echoed Aine. Sylva elbowed her.
Sparr thought on it. In fact, the differences between Earth and Kaybe were fewer than he ever would have guessed prior to arriving, at least with respect to the natural world. But one thing did stand out. "The seasons," he said.
"What about them?" Sylva asked. "Everywhere has seasons."
"Not like here, not at all." Unlike Earth, Kaybe's axis was tilted only a few degrees from its star. "We're heading into the cool season, right?"
"Yes," Ost said.
"Will you put into storage your warm weather clothes? Put on warmer ones?"
Ost chuckled. "No, of course not. It doesn't get that much colder."
"Well, where I grew up we had completely different clothing for each season." Sparr looked at each of the three in turn. "When winter arrived we'd put away the light clothing in favor of warmer ones. Even then we'd have to put on extra-heavy clothing just to go outside."
Sparr went on, describing frozen streams and ponds, the annual migration of birds, scorching hot summer days, and dramatic foliage changes. Ost, Aine, and Sylva challenged and questioned him.
"So," Aine said, "the same creek you'd swim in during the summer would freeze solid in winter?"
"Yep," Sparr said. "And the difference in the length of days was much more pronounced than here. Summer days seemed like they would never end. In the winter they passed in a flash."
Ost ordered more wine. He and Sylva tried to explain some of the more esoteric differences between Stone and Wave. Aine spoke of her role in the family's timber business. Sparr soaked up the easy bond the three shared, not that different than that of his family back on Earth. They were the last in the dining room, still laughing and telling stories long after the other guests had gone to their cabins. But finally Sparr, seeing the fatigue in his companions' eyes, excused himself.
Below deck, Sparr checked on Bogg. The animal had settled quite happily into his corner of the cargo hold. Bogg enjoyed having his muzzle scratched, which Sparr did as he spoke soothingly to the beast. Like Sparr, he seemed to be adapting well to the ship's unpredictable movements.