The Mad Ship

Page 108

The Chalcedean who captained his ship accepted the rare wines that Satrap Cosgo offered him, but disdained the young ruler's company. He pleaded the responsibility of his command, but Serilla saw the veiled contempt in the older man's eyes. The more Cosgo tried to impress him, the more the captain ignored him. Cosgo's attempts to mimic the Chalcedean's swagger and aggression were humiliating to watch. It pained Serilla to see Companions like Kekki encourage him in it, as if his juvenile pushiness were manly. Cosgo now took umbrage at everything that was not precisely as he ordered it. His behavior reminded Serilla of a spoiled child. Nothing pleased him. Cosgo had brought jesters and musicians with him, but their routines had grown stale. The Satrap grew ever more peckish with boredom. The slightest challenge to his will propelled him into cursing, stamping tantrums.

Serilla sighed. She wandered the room, then paused to toy with the tasseled edge of the embroidered tablecloth. Wearily she moved some of the sticky dishes out of the way. She sat down at the table and waited. She longed to return to the small closet that was her own chamber, but as Cosgo had summoned her on the pretext of seeking her advice, she could not leave until he dismissed her. If she woke him to ask his permission, he would surely refuse it.

She had tried to dissuade him from this journey. He had suspected her of wanting to travel alone. That was true; she would far rather be traveling to Bingtown alone, empowered to make decisions for a land she knew much better than he did. However, he was too jealous of his power to allow that. He, the reigning Satrap, would descend upon Bingtown in all his power and glory and cow them with his might. The Bingtown Traders would be brought to heel, and reminded that he ruled them all by the grace of Sa. They had no right to dispute that.

She had been confident that the Council of Nobles would dissuade him and had been sick with astonishment when they had supported the journey. His Chalcedean allies had encouraged him as well. There had been many nights of drinking with them before the preparation for the journey began. She had heard of their bragging and promises. They would support him. Let him show those Bingtown upstarts who ruled Jamaillia. His Chalcedean friends would back him up. He need not fear those festering rebels. If they dared to lift a hand against their rightful rulers, Duke Yadfin and his mercenaries would give them fresh reason to call their land the Cursed Shores. Even now, Serilla shook her head to herself when she thought of it. Could not Cosgo see that he could be used as bait in a trap?

If the Chalcedeans could provoke the Old Traders to kill him, they would have complete license to plunder and destroy all of Bingtown.

The wallowing mother ship carried, in addition to the Satrap, a selection of his Companions, a full complement of servants and six nobles he had ordered to attend him, with their smaller entourages. A lesser vessel, full of hopeful younger sons from noble houses, accompanied the Satrap's ship. These he had lured into the adventure with the prospect that, if their families invested in his expedition, their sons might be given grants of land in Bingtown. In vain had Serilla remonstrated with him about that. To arrive with these would-be settlers would insult the Traders. It was a plain sign that the Satrap had never taken their complaints about the New Traders seriously. He ignored her.

To make matters worse, ranging ahead of the sailing ships and flanking them were seven large galleys, fully armed with well-equipped Chalcedean mercenaries. Their announced purpose was to escort safely the Satrap's vessel through the pirate-infested waters of the Inside Passage. Only when they were underway did Serilla discover that they would provide a further show of the Satrap's power enroute. They intended to raid and pillage any pirate settlements the ranging galleys discovered on the journey north. Whatever wealth and slaves they carried off from these raids would be transported to Chalced in the young nobles' ship, to help offset the cost of the diplomatic mission. The younger sons would participate in the raids, to prove themselves worthy of favor.

The Satrap had been especially proud of this bit of accounting. Over and over, Serilla had had to listen to him enumerate the advantages. “One, Bingtown will be forced to admit that my patrol ships have discouraged the pirates. The slaves we take will be proof of that. Two, Bingtown will be impressed with the might of my allies, and hence will be less prone to oppose my will. Three, we will be reimbursing the treasury for the cost of this little expedition. Fourth, it will make of me a living legend. What other Satrap has ever gone forth like this, to take matters into his own hands and straighten things out? What other Satrap has ever been so bold?”

Serilla could not decide which danger was greater: that the Chalcedeans would take him to Chalced, hold him as a hostage and make him a puppet ruler, or that the nobility of Jamaillia would seize every scrap of power they could while the boy Satrap was gone. Probably both, she decided bitterly. There were times, like tonight, when she wondered if she would ever see Bingtown at all. They were completely in the power of the Chalcedean mercenaries operating the ships. There was nothing to stop them from taking Cosgo directly to Chalced. She hoped they would believe it was to their advantage to take him to Bingtown first. If they did, she swore that somehow she would escape there. Somehow.

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