An Excerpt from my Efforts…

The sounds of the dock overwhelmed Rayne and Shadow as they disembarked from the skiff and made their way to the dockmaster. The captain was already ahead of them, preparing to barter for trade for the shipment he had brought in and discuss the potential of more trade going back. The dockmaster ran the harbour, taking anchor-tax, bribes and keeping a web of informants and handymen so that he was the best-informed in port. If you wanted to do anything when you arrived, you would have to go through the dockmaster to do it.
The dockmaster eyed the panther suspiciously, but Shadow was still looking glum and listless from the journey. The dockmaster was tall and robust, reddened sea-faring cheeks and rum-stained nose. His dockmaster robe was rimed with dirt, the last few inches trailing in the ground where his stature didn’t match that of the robe’s. He was, for the most part, bald on top, with a  greying band of hair around his ears and back of his head. He still grew a plait down the back, now thin and whitened, and barely reaching shoulder-length. He had an equally grey beard, which had grown to his collar bone in a big square of bristles, and he combed his large, fattened fingers through it frequently. There was a large gold ring on his right little finger, with the ship-in-sail crest of the Freys on it.
“So that’s two crates of the Gava liquor, fourteen of perishables and two passengers,” the dockmaster said, ticking off the list in his ledger. “Not a big catch if your arks me.”
“Nobody did ask you,” the captain responded. “Trade’s a bit tight everywhere but here if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Yeah, I’d noticed,” the dockmaster drawled, not noticing the acid in the captain’s voice. “Big fuss up at the palace ‘bout it, so I ‘eard. But then there’s always some big fuss or ovver nowadays.”
“You’re telling me,” the captain shook his head. “First, we come out of port and straight into a storm, and lose two crates of liquor – which would have got me a pretty neina or two at market if you ask me – then some of the crew see a kraken –”
“Kraken you say?” the dockmaster hissed appreciatively.
The captain nodded, his mouth tugged down in a concerned curve.
“Where?” the dockmaster asked, glancing to Rayne and the big cat, and leaning in conspiratorially.
“Not a day out of port,” the captain replied, shrugging. “I don’t believe in all that superstition, but half the men do. It’s going to take me a lot of work to convince them to heave to again.”
“A day out of port, you say,” the dockmaster ran his fingers through his beard and rocked back on his heels.
“Sou-sou’west of here,” the captain confirmed with a sharp nod. He took a deep breath and folded his arms, making it clear he had already had enough of idle talk – he had traded enough news to keep the dockmaster happy, and wanted a good price for his time. “The crates?”
“Well,” the dockmaster sighed. He had a habit of dragging out his words so as to make him sound thoughtful, so it came out more like we-e-e-e-e-ll. Rayne rolled her eyes. She could be waiting forever. She glanced at the sky, the sun was tilting towards the horizon, it was already past high-sun and it wouldn’t be long before the appointed meeting time.
As the captain and the dockmaster thrashed out their bargains, she looked around the dock. They were towards the western end of the docking – with two ships between them and the high sea wall. Fisherboys were sitting on the wall, casting their lines out to the rock pools, bare feet dangling. Feral cats sat at the end of the pier watching, waiting for the boys to haul in a catch to steal. The pier itself followed the curve of the land – a wide sweeping arch from east to west, curving out long arms into the ocean, following the natural rock formations and creating an impenetrable sea wall. Wooden jetties stuck out from the stone pier, serving as landing points for the skiffs of larger ships that couldn’t come close enough and as docking points for the smaller boats which could venture into the shallower waters. Schools of fish darted around the jetties, and tendrils of seaweed climbed the pier walls, heaving and waving in the ride and fall of the water against the side – its steady slap-slap barely audible above the noise of the pier.
Over the years, the citizens of Aquene had spilled from its walls, creeping ever closer to the water as overcrowding built ramshackle districts of traders and thieves. The Freycrest District, the district that held sway over the harbour, was overseen by the Freys – allegedly a family of noble descent, though no one knew how true this was. The buildings of Freycrest loomed over the pier – the upper floors seeming to tilt from the lower floors, the buildings leaning on one another for support and doors with strange gaps where they didn’t fit the frames. It was mostly warehouses along the pier front. Doors on both floors were flung open to the sea air, ropes and pulleys directing the wares from one point to another.
The pier itself was wide enough for two horse and carts to pass by, with a narrow strop for people on foot to crowd into. But no one respected the rules of the road – oxen pulled carts down the centre, and people hurried along dangerously close to the edge of the pier before darting across in the passage of other people rolling barrels, or horses and riders. Everywhere Rayne looked, there were people, diving back and forth, shouting and catcalling and insulting.
There was a tavern at the end of the pier, pushed rudely against the sea wall. It looked like it had been built as an afterthought, shouldering its way in to the warehouses with stubbornness. Drunkards leant against its pockmarked walls, and a whore stuck her head out of an upper window to peer furiously at the men below and yell profanities.
Rayne turned her attention back to the captain and the dockmaster – coins were exchanging hands, and the dockmaster was beckoning to a rumpled-looking boy wearing the footprint-and-waves crest of a dockrunner on his chest.
“This’un will help you organise for the goods to come ashore, and for an extra mut or two ‘e’ll find you a place to stay,” the dockmaster said, clapping a massive hand on the boy’s narrow shoulders.
The captain thanked him and turned away, the dockrunner in tow. The dockmaster looked at Rayne with some reluctance. Even though Shadow had slumped to the ground, her head buried in her paws, he was still wary of the black cat. The flash of silver in Rayne’s palm caught his attention, and his eyes instantly softened. A neina found its way to his pocket.
“I need passage into the city, before nightfall, and the name of a ship leaving tonight before high-moon,” she said in a low voice.
The dockmaster glanced around. “There’s a curfew at the city gates. You won’t get in and out after three-moon.”
Rayne shrugged, twirling another neina between her fingers. “I guess I shall have to find someone else to get me through the Hero’s Gate.”
The dockmaster snatched the silver coin from her hand. “I’ll see to it. Find yersel’ in the Land’s End tavern on Old Wharf Road by seven-sun. Arks for the gypsy Karil.”
“Gratitude,” Rayne smiled. She began to walk away, and then turned back. She flicked two bronze mut at him. “Make sure there’s ale waiting for me at the tavern. I’ll be there by six-sun and I expect the gypsy to be waiting.”


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