Luccini, Summer 2403
“Not bad, this stuff,” declared the Cooper Artur Scharff. In one hand he clutched a tankard, in the other a flask he had tapped some of the wine into so that they could all have a taste. Only the carpenter Gerino had refused, for he was distracted by a bottle of port he had found.
“Not bad at all. If the other barrels are as good, we should be selling this, not drinking it. With the price this’d fetch, we could buy five times its weight of the kind of wine our boys’d be happy with.”
“You saying we’re cheap?” asked Geoberto. “’Cos I’ll have you know my palate is as sharp as any connoisseur’s when it comes to drink.”
“You long since burnt away any palate you ever had with strong liquors,” laughed Artur. “Did for your hair too!”
“That was practice, long and hard,” said Geoberto, “which makes me the perfect drinker.”
They were discussing their ill-gotten gains on Luccini’s southern outskirts, where a wide path led from the city down to the Almond Sands. The city had a fine harbour, with wharves a-plenty for ships of every size, but it was guarded by two stone artillery bastions, so the Sartosan pirates had disembarked from boats on the sands then marched up to assault the city from the landward side. Now that Luccini was taken, most of the vessels had moved to the city harbour, but a couple of ships and their boats, those belonging to Captain Garique, had for reasons only the captain himself really knew, remained at the sands. Which was why Garique’s crew were trudging back and forth from the beach, hauling their considerable share of the loot on the way down.
Not all of them, though, just the younkers and the foremast men. The sea artists and officers were busy drinking and talking. Artur was sniffing the wine, then allowing it to roll around in his mouth before swallowing. The others were either humouring him or had failed to notice.
Artur stroked one of the barrels and nodded in appreciation of the cooper’s skill.
“Seems to me,” he declared, “that we’ve already taken enough loot to satisfy the captains. We could disperse the fleet right now and there’d be no one a-complainin’, no bitterness nor disappointment and only praise for the admiral. And we took it easy.”
“Tell that to Oskar Furst,” said Gerino, who had started listening. Some of the port he had been sampling a moment before was dribbling down his black beard.
The admiral’s first mate, ironically named Furst, along with a number of Volker’s own crew, had died before the Sartosans even got off the beach, shot by a troop of Luccinan pistoleri left behind when the young king had marched off to war against the ogres.
“Someone was bound to be hurt,” said Artur. “You can’t expect to take a city like this without a little blood spilled. But think, if the king had been here with his army, however meagre it might be, there’d have been a lot more of us than Furst an’ a few of his lads piled at the garden’s gate.”
Geoberto laughed. “The pile’s big enough, what with all the Luccinans.”
“Their fault for arguing,” said the gunner, Isacco. “If they’d have had the sense to yield immediately, then everything would have turned out just the same, but they’d all be here to watch us.”
A pistol shot cracked from behind them, and they turned to look over the fence. One of Admiral Volker’s crewmen was responsible, from Furst’s watch, and was now stood over the man he had killed.
“Another fool arguing, no doubt,” said Isacco. “People should know when they’re beat, furl their sails and run before the wind.”
Isacco always had a sombre tone, a consequence of his somewhat pessimistic philosophy. It was said he had been a proper scallywag in his youth but had changed when a gun he was tending shivered and killed everyone around him, somehow leaving him with not a scratch, other than a missing toe.
“Maybe so,” said Geoberto, “But wouldn’t you complain a little if you were being robbed? There’s no need for real nastiness, just the show of it would suffice. We’re taking everything else they have. We could at least leave them with their lives.”
They watched as the shooter rolled the corpse over with his foot, perhaps to see if he was dead.
“Let the fellow grieve,” said Gerino. “Furst was well liked.”
Gerino took another swig from his bottle, and Artur drew some more wine from the tapped barrel.
“You said we should sell it, not drink it,” said Geoberto.
Artur looked up as the red fluid trickled into his flask. “Can’t sell this one, now it’s been tapped. There’s plenty more.”
“This is all our share, then?” asked Geoberto.
“It is. The captain made good choices when it came to laying claim to portions. We’ll get some carts to take this lot down to the beach.”
Gerino pointed down to where a little stream crossed the path. “[i]They[/i] didn’t wait for a cart.”
Peering down, they could all see two fellows struggling with a barrel just on the other side of the water.
“That’s but a little one, and it ain’t the same vintage. Still, I’ll see to it that they’re the last to try that. If they drop the barrel it’ll ruin the wine even if it don’t break right open.”
“That one’ll be for the captain to drink,” said Geoberto. “They’ll not drop it. Not just now anyway, what with him so close. He took a barrel for his cabin last time.”
“As was proper,” said Artur. “It’s in the articles.”
They could all see Captain Garique standing near the two with the barrel, with Tito Álvares by his side, toting his beast of a gun.
Garique had been supervising the removal of goods, utilising his unsheathed cutlass to point out which loot was to be carried next; ordering the tardy men to hurry up and those being careless to slow down. He was one of the oldest captains in the fleet, before that first mate to the admiral back when the admiral was only just elected captain himself. For some years he had been a captain in his own right, never once voted out, and well respected by his crew as a stickler for fairness (which was why it was only a small barrel he had taken for his own cabin). Bitter experience – the witnessing so much treachery, cheating and trickeries – had made him very suspicious of the other captains, even the admiral. Tito was often by his side, and thus Tito’s many-barrelled handgun, just in case a point needed making in no uncertain terms. It rarely did.
Garique’s share included much more than the wine. Several chests of precious metal and gems had been allotted to him, from which each of his crewmen expected their own shares.
As per the articles, the captain would receive four shares in the prize, the sea artists and officers two, the sailors one and the boy (being only half a man) half a share. Some of the chests were huge, so big that a single man could no hope to lift them.
Those who were not lugging the loot were guarding its transit. The larger chests had blunderbuss and handgun armed escorts, while watchful sentinels were dotted all along the route.
Luccini’s pistoliers had successfully scarpered after their brief assault, and so could conceivably return. As it was not known where exactly King Ferronso and his army were, no one could be sure he was not on his way home right now. Mostly, however, they were keeping an eye out for other Sartosans. Driven by greed and possessing of some flimsy excuse about gambling debts or compensation or some such, it was entirely possible that some other crews might choose to interrupt the loot’s journey to the sands.
“The fleet’ll not be splitting up now, Artur,” said Isacco. “This has been just a taster of what’s to come. They say the brute Boulderguts took everything from the cities and towns inland, which leaves the coast all to us. I say Luccini [i]was[/i] easy, and the next place will be easy too. The noble lords have taken their armies north. There’s nothing to stop us.”
“There might be plenty to stop us,” said Gerino. “I’ve been to Remas, and Portomaggiore and Alcente. They’re great powers. They can march an army away and still have an army at home if they choose to.”
“So where is next, then?” asked Geoberto.
Artur swallowed his biggest gulp yet. “You might be right about Alcente and Portomaggiore, Gerino,” he said, “but Remas has been wracked by rebellion and riots, and has sent armies north, south and west. If the Remans have anything more than Luccini had to defend their walls I’ll eat my hat.”
“And wash it down with wine?” grinned Geoberto.
“It’s all about surprise,” said Isacco. “Remas is too obvious. Rich, old, battered to buggery, it’s where everyone will be expecting us to go. We could take somewhere smaller next. Maybe Volker knows we can take Alcente or Portomaggiore? Maybe we only took Luccini first because it was the closest?”
“Or the admiral wanted to try us out,” suggested Artur. “Flash our pans to make sure we’re ready for a real fight?”