Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Friday, January 2, 2009

abandoned prose...

Sometimes you'll be writing a short story, and then see how the short story isn't working because it really needs more room to do correctly.

Dozens of caravan companies were on this cliff with us. Our gurads and their guards immediately got in friendly debate about the borders of the different groups.
The cliff was packed, on both sides. The side nearest the city – our side – was reserved for caravans. Our jumpers walled off the wagons with sturdy metals and heavy bolting screws. They didn’t let any of the caravan so much as touch a screw. I watched Ferdinand and Joachim with much interest. They could bind a wagon with iron in ten minutes, despite the great weight of the grating they used, pulled out from under the platform. They lashed their heavy ropes and chains to the top corners of the wagon walls, and the wagon axles. They lashed those ropes to the harpoons mounted on their mangonels. The horses and oxen had ot be driven, drugged, to the top of the platform, where they stepped onto the metal grating that would contain them. I knew the animals would experience injuries, and upon arrival I would likely have to purchase replacements for the animals that break legs, or worse. I watched the Gribaldi brothers wall off the animals, with the ostlers, in their metal cage. The ostlers, from inside, further doped the animals into a stupor, until the creatures collapsed to the ground. Then, the ostlers bound them with ropes to the grating. We fit all our animals and our four ostlers in a metal crate twenty feet by twenty feet. The lead ostler walked around after the Gribaldi brothers, shaking at the cage walls and testing their strength. He seemed pleased with the results. He and his men tied themselves down, next. They had the worst of it, with the animals.
The rest of us stood around, waiting. We were not traveling in luxury. The heavy equipment of the mangonels was reserved for the wagons and the animals. After all of the larger objects were secured and prepared for travel, the Gribaldi brothers handed out leather straps to all of us. We were encouraged to tie one side to our wrists in advance, and to remain close to the ramp. Then, they prepared their own crate of supplies, that would be used near Saravel to get all of us off the back of the Saurian.
“When the Great One comes,” said Ferdinand, to me, and – I assume – everyone else who received a strap, “the whole ground will tremble, and you won’t be able to run quickly. When the Great One’s back is in range, we will transport the caravan, with or without any of you. When the last man makes the trip, so will I. We will cut the lines behind us. Anyone who is not around will be stranded.”
I didn’t go far. I walked under the ramp, and saw all the ropes there. The Gribaldi brothers had enough mangonels and ropes for a caravan twice as large as ours. I calculated the expense in my head of all this wood in the desert mountains, and all this iron that would need to be replaced every year. They would only turn a profit if all of our spice made it to market, and they were paid their share of the profits. If even one of our wagons was lost, the Gribaldi brothers would probably be unable to replace their metals in time for the next season’s jump.
The profit wouldn’t be high, either.
I walked among the men. My father had told me that the best thing I could do, if I didn’t know what to do with myself, was to look confident and assertive and walk around among the men. Bulger and the wagon drivers were sitting in the dust, eating and drinking what they had recovered from the wagons before everything was bound down for the trip.
“Best eat while you can, sir,” said the Jon Bulger. “Won’t be long now. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow.”
I waved at him. “I’ll eat later. Did everyone lash down their spices? I don’t want to lose even one crate.”
Jon rolled his eyes. “Sir, we’ve all done this before. We know our business. Sit with us a while, and eat something. Walking around like that all the time makes you look nervous.”
“We’ll have plenty of time to relax on the Saurian,” I said. “Besides, I am nervous. I’ve never done anything like this before. You were nervous your first time, weren’t you?”
He shrugged. “It’s not so bad. A bit rough getting over, but the Jumpers and ostlers do all the work. We’re just along for the ride. I hope your jumpers know what they’re doing.”
I borrowed a line from Ferdinand, though I had truthfully not known about their other line of work when I hired them. “They are likely the most competent jumpers available this late in the season,” I said, “because people judge them because of their line of work the rest of the year.”
“Not one word, Mr. Bulger. Not even one.”
“Right, sir. I’m sure they’ll be fine, like you say.”
I walked away. I knew they would be grumbling about me behind my back. Let them grumble. Father always said the crew is supposed to hate you a little, just because you’re in charge.
We waited there half a day. The desert sun wasn’t as bad that high up the mountain, where the breeze was always cool. The journey here had been grueling. Two horses had died from the heat, and replacing a horse this close to the Saurian’s back was an unpleasent expense. There was no way to be sure our new horses would survive this trip uninjured, and we’d have to replace more horses on the other side. Naturally, I was to be blamed for driving the crew so hard that horses died. We had been moving too slow after we had to replace a couple broken axles. If we missed the Saurian, the whole trip was a bust, and the spice had to be sold at a loss in markets where it would not bring a great price.
I stand by my actions, even at the cost of the horses, especially considering how close we came to missing the Saurian.
For only half a day, I anxiously paced my caravan. Ferdinand found me pacing. He touched my shoulder and pointed at the other side of the cliff. The passengers and travelers were in motion, bustling around the cliff, near their mangonels.
“They can see the desert behind them. They know when the Great One is near before we feel him. In the dunes, you can see for miles on top of the cliff. Best gather the men near the mangonels, and check with the ostlers. Make sure they’re all lashed down good. Sometimes men get tired of waiting like that, and loosen their straps.”
“Right,” I said. My hands were trembling. I tried to will them to stop shaking. I couldn’t.
Jon Bulger was already over at the ostler’s crate, shouting at the ostlers to check their straps. I glared at him, and sent him back to the wagon drivers.
Tom Gish, lead ostler, unstrapped himself enough to reach a hand through the cage and place it on my shoulder. “Don’t worry much about that Jon Bulger,” said Tom Gish, “He’s still not sure about you, is all, and this part of the trip is a bit bumpier than waltzing down Cormorant Highway with perfumes and silks.”
“Mr. Gish, I would advise you to advise Mr. Bulger to remember who is in charge of this caravan.”
He laughed. “I will, sir. Your father is in charge, and he put us in your capable hands.”
I snorted at him. “Tell me, Mr. Gish, is there anything I can do for the ostlers while we’re on the Saurian? I know this part of the trip is bumpy.”
“Nothing to it, sir. We’ll be right fine. The Jumpers won’t let us starve or nothing. These jumpers are a bit funny-looking, but they seem to know their business.”
“Take care to strap yourself back down, Mr. Gish. I came here to make sure you were strapped in, not to encourage you to stand up again.”
He smiled and clapped his hands. “I think it’s fun, actually. Hope I don’t break anything. I broke a rib once. Hurt something awful everytime the big fellow took a step.”
I waited until Mr. Gish was strapped in. I joined the drivers and the guards near the mangonel that we would be riding down. Ferdinand and Joachim were unruffled. They loaded their mangonels. Together they cranked the giant bowstrings back, and gently adjusted the harpoons to shoot as straight as possible considering the circumstances.
They were nearly halfway through their mangonels when I felt the first tremor.
All the caravans cheered, all the travellers. The roasing shouts filled the sky, but they weren’t load enough to mute the heavy steps of the Saurian, whose each footfall sounded like a thunderclap in the sand dunes.
II rushed to the clump of men near the mangonel. We formed a line under Joachim’s guidance. Strongest looking men first, and weakest last. I was not a manual laborer, and I was nearly last. The captain of the caravan guard was behind me, in his old age. I knew for a fact he was stronger than he looked, and wiry under his clothes, but he never minded when people mistook him for a weak old man. Ferdinand clapped my shoulder. “We have a few minutes. I’d advise sitting down until the Great One comes. His foot steps only make the earth shake more. We are lucky he steps on the dunes far below. The sand mutes his powerful steps so that we, here on the rocks, do not feel the worst of it.”

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