Marcus’ basecamp consisted of a few large tents, surrounded by about ten makeshift constructed huts. Augustus surmised those huts were where the native boys were living. A few of them were outside, running around in loincloths. Their skin stood out with their deep brown tans. They were more slender than Augustus expected, to the point that they looked malnourished. And Their facial features were foreign, so he struggled to guess their ages but estimated they were between thirteen to sixteen years.
As the hiking party approached, the boys looked up at them, then shouted something incomprehensible. A few ran into the huts and tents, and others ran over and started walking by the hikers, playfully saying incomprehensible things. One of the boys tugged on Yander’s shirt, then ran off when Yander swatted him away casually. Another boy held a stick hitting trees as he hopped between logs in a balancing act, laughing as he did so.
In response to the ruckus, it seemed, Marcus exited his tent along with several crewmen of the Killian. Marcus was an older gentleman, with a full head of graying black hair. He wore the lightest of linens as a shirt and tanned light pants. His half-buttoned shirt revealed his ample body hair covering his chest and arms looking like he was wearing a sweater. Marcus first had a look of surprise, but then he just smiled warmly and held out his arms in greeting. “Welcome! So you’ve arrived.” Marcus darted his eyes around trying to identify who among the guests held authority, eventually landing his eyes on Yander. He directed his speech towards Yander and said, “I’m Marcus Dayton. As I’m sure you already know, I’m the captain of the Killian. Should I assume you are the captain of these men?”
“Indeed I am. I’m Yander DeMerio, captain of the Scarlet Wind. I greet you warmly.” They exchanged a ceremonial hug.
“Then let us discuss our business in private. Come with me to my tent.” Marcus still with his hand on Yander’s shoulder, pointed over towards a tent.
“Certainly, but there is another person I’d like to have join us.” Yander looked back amongst the group he arrived with, to spot Augustus. “Augustus! Over here!”
He ran towards Yander merrily. Once they were together Yander began the introductions. “I present Augustus DeCastellian, son of Giovanni DeCastellian,” Yander said solemnly and gave a bow towards the Castellian.
“Gracious! It is always an honour to serve the Castellian family.” Marcus gave a bow towards Augustus as well. “I am the captain of Killian, Marcus Dayton. A long time vassal to your father. May the gods bless our meeting.”
While Marcus continued bowing, Yander spoke. “Marcus has invited me to discuss business details in his tent and I felt it would be appropriate to include you, Master Augustus. Do either of you have any objections.”
“I have no objections to a member of the Castellian family joining us, of course,” said Marcus as he stood up with a warm smile.
“I will gladly join you two. But first, if you will excuse me, I need to change out of these clothes into something more appropriate,” Augustus said while gesturing toward his current outfit. The clothing he wore was more elegant than what the rest of them had on, but not elegant enough for a member of the Castellian family conducting business.
One of the crew members of the Scarlet Wind ran over with a box and handed it to Augustus, then Augustus went into Marcus’ tent to change while Yander and Marcus waited just outside in awkward silence. Eventually, Augustus emerged wearing the pristine red and yellow robe he was wearing earlier, on top of which he wore a red and yellow sash embroidered with the crest of the Castellian family. In contrast, Marcus’ clothing was stained with sweat and dirt.
“Alright then, let’s get started. Heratio, please guard the entrance.” Augustus nodded to Heratio, then gestured the other two into the tent. Once inside they sat down at a table, Augustus and Yander on one side and Marcus on the other. “First tell us about what trade goods you plan for us to take back to Venocia.”
Marcus thought for a bit then stood up. He went over to his firebox and threw some sticks on the tinders inside it. “I’m going to make some tea,” he said as he took a pot and filled it with water from his water jug, then placed the pot over the firebox. “That way you’ll be able to see, and taste, it directly. The people here, the natives of this island, call themselves the Aluheyan people. They call this island Washuweyha. They showed us a new spice made from the bark of a common tree here that they call kisum. I’ll make the tea out of it, so you’ll see.”
Augustus nodded. “I also heard there were some ores that would be valuable.”
“Yes, we managed to get some ores that look like they can be cut into a blue-tinted gem. But we only found a few. There’s an area I would like to dig looking for more, but we don’t have the right tools. We made some primitive tools, but they broke too easily.”
“We brought some mining tools with us,” said Yander.
“Great! I’ll tell my men to distribute them immediately.” Marcus peered out of the tent for a second to check. “For now it looks like they’re busy helping your men set up camp. I’ll make sure the tools are distributed by the end of the day.” Marcus then stepped back from the entrance of the tent and reclaimed his chair at the table.
“We have also been stockpiling tanned pelts. The lower deck of the Killian is already packed with them and there are more pelts here and in the village too.”
“Good. With that many pelts, this venture at the least won’t be a loss. How much profit we make will depend on this kisum spice and how many ores we can mine before we leave,” said Augustus while nodding. A wave of relief fell over him knowing that this voyage wouldn’t be a financial disaster. He had too much riding on this.
Marcus smiled at Augustus’ reaction. “And how long do you think you’ll be staying?”
Augustus looked over to Yander to respond, he would have a better grasp on the logistics that would follow. “I’d say five days, we need to bring up the cargo from the Scarlet Wind and bring down the pelts and spice, and it’s quite the hike.”
“That should be enough time for us to mine enough ores to make this voyage of yours quite profitable. We don’t lack for labour. We will be able to get the people in the village to help us,” said Marcus. He stood up to check his pot of water and then started making the tea. He set down a filled cup in front of each of them then took the first sip. After seeing Marcus take the first sip, Augustus and Yander tried this new tea for the first time.
They were both pleased. Although neither of them thought it that great of a tea, it had a unique taste that was at the least a bit pleasing. It would be worth something. Unique always had value. “Excellent!” Augustus exclaimed. “I am certain this will sell in Venocia. You’ve done an excellent job here, my father will surely be pleased! But if you don’t mind me asking, why are the natives here so willing to lend us their labour? Juan, your first mate, told us about the nastiness and how they almost killed you.”
“I’m glad you say that your father, who I so greatly admire, will appreciate my efforts. Your father, Giovanni DeCastellian is who I have worked under directly for so many years. He funded my studies, hired me as a tutor for your eldest brother Giovannus for a time, and sent me up north to help set up trade routes. I still remember him embracing me after I told him of my successful negotiations. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he tastes the kisum himself! I have had the opportunity to eat at his manse on quite a few occasions so I know how fond he is of unique flavours.” Marcus’ eyes wandered as if he was about to transport himself to some dreamland.
“Yes, father spoke highly of you before I left Venocia. But, sorry I have to ask this again, why are the natives so willing to work for us given what I’ve heard from Juan?”
“Things got quite heated once people started dying from that plague,” Marcus said while leaning back to get comfortable for his long tale. “After all it appeared only a few weeks after we arrived. At first, I tried to keep my distance, but the more I thought of it, the more I realized I needed to act immediately. So I ignored their protests and kept trying to communicate with them. If we had retreated away, waiting for the plague to pass, I’m sure that their conception of us as the cause would have cemented. In their minds, they would have thought of us as some kind of demons, and then trade might have become impossible.
“I tried to convince them it wasn’t our fault, that we had no ill intentions. But at the time, my skills with their language were very crude. They just got angry. Eventually, they put a spear to my neck and walked me out of the village. Two paths lay before me. To give up and head back to Venocia with this mission being a failure, or to take action and turn adversity into an opportunity! I chose the latter, and my men got their bows ready. We killed a few from a distance, only enough for them to understand what we could do. If they had enough organization, I’m sure they could have overwhelmed us easily through their sheer numbers. But many of them, mainly their young and their old, had died from the plague, and even more still were bedridden.
“My men and I went into the village and picked out a few dozen of the young boys to separate from the village. We worked to turn them to our side, and now they are loyal to us. They will watch over the villagers from afar, with bows and arrows while they work.”
Augustus raised an eyebrow while taking another sip from the tea. “Why are they loyal? If they were so quick to turn against their people how can we possibly trust them?”
“I am a student of the way people think, of how they are guided by their motivations, and how they react to fear. The key with them was to separate them from the villagers. At first, they were afraid they would do what we told them to do merely out of fear. Once they were on their own, the balance of strength was so clearly on our side. We starved them, then ordered them to attack a couple of the villagers, and their fear compelled them to obey. After that, we gave them food and a clean comfy place to sleep.
“One thing I’ve learned in all my years is that people are so unwilling to see the world from any perspective where they would be viewed as evil. That’s why there end up being so many disputes where both parties are so adamant they are in the right. And yet we know there are so many criminals out there committing their crimes, that is because people want what they want, and will create a perspective so they can get what they want, while in their head being in the right. The boys had done an action they should have viewed as evil, but refusing to obey us in the future would lead to hardships and starvation and obeying would lead to comfort and food. It laid the groundwork for them to readily believe that we were only here to help.
“We told them we were there to improve how they lived. Showed them the technology we could give and showed them the glory of our gods. Most of them accepted it and even turned on those who didn’t. We got them to tie up the non-believers when they would point them out with string, then had the other boys beat them with whipping sticks. Our men would come in and provide care, putting ointment on their wounds, showing them kindness. Now, after over a year of internal cultural feedback, I guarantee their loyalty.”
As Augustus had listened he had cemented his face, as if he were wearing a mask that refused to display any emotion. “To be honest with you, I find this all displeasing. It leaves a bitter taste on my tongue that does not pair well with this tea,” Augustus said as he drained the last of the tea from his cup in a big gulp. It had already chilled to room temperature.
“You think what I did was immoral?” Marcus' held a stoic expression that matched Augustus’.
“Yes, I do. But I also recognize how removed I am from where you were when you made those decisions,” said Augustus.
“When I told those boys that we would help the village I wasn’t lying. They live in makeshift huts, have almost no medicines, and their society's structure is horrendous. We will civilize them and improve their quality of life. Before we came here if there was disagreement between one of those boys and one of the elders of the village, the elders would have free reign to dole out their punishment. There was no legal system before we arrived. Do you know what they would do? They'd build a raft and place the offender on it and send them off to sea, telling them they weren't welcome anymore!"
Augustus let out an exasperated sigh and said, "let's not speak anymore of this." Then stood up. Once he did both the captains stood up in a hurry with Yander nodding in agreement.
"Yes, you need not worry too much about the details. In five days you'll be heading back to Venocia, a richer man than when you left and all these complications will be but a memory. And I will make sure when the next of your family's vessels arrives it will be even more profitable," said Marcus while gesturing his two guests through the tent’s entrance and then leading them out.
Once Augustus and Yander were outside, Heratio started walking in step. “Alright, let’s go see how our camp is coming along,” said Yander leading them towards where the men were erecting their tents.
“I’ll go start getting the mining equipment distributed among the villagers, and showing them how to use it,” Marcus said while heading off in a separate direction.
Once they were far enough away that Augustus was sure Marcus couldn’t hear Augustus spoke to Yander in a serious tone. “When you send the men back to get more supplies from the Scarlet Wind make sure to bring Castor. And make sure he brings the letters for the crew of the Killian, and also my legal chest.” He fell silent for a moment in thought then continued. “And, make sure our crew stays armed. The situation here seems tenuous.”
“Certainly. But, we need to finish setting up our camp before we send people back. Given the time and the tenuous situation, I don’t think we’ll be sending people back to the ship until morning. We wouldn’t want our men spending the night at the ship instead of keeping watch with us overnight.”
Yander then left them to execute his command duties. He directed supplies and helped to set up common areas. The first thing set up was Augustus’ tent. It was lavish accommodations, and the largest at the base camp, even including Marcus’ tent. With multiple rooms, it had a drawer for his clothes, a soft bed, a small kitchenette, and even a separate receiving room. On the floor, there were elegant rugs and there were tapestries of woven wool hung for decorations. The common room led into Heratio’s sleeping quarters, which led to Augustus’ sleeping quarters.
After touring his tent he changed back into his less elegant hiking clothes, and seeing the men still busy at work in the camp, Augustus decided to go for a walk, with Heratio by his side, to see the village and the surrounding area. They went down the obvious path until overwhelmed by a rotten smell and as they continued they passed under the hanging bodies Augustus had heard about. They were half rotten, with flesh torn away at parts by animals and almost caused Augustus to vomit. He quickened his pace to be through the worst of it, and Heratio pushed him forward as he gagged. “Just hold your breath and keep walking,” Heratio encouraged until the smell faded.
A few kilo-arms further they came up to the village. In total it was only a few times larger than the basecamp and the huts were no better made than the ones the boys were living in at the basecamp. They spied Marcus and a couple other of the Killian’s crew handing out the tools. The crew of the Killian led the natives out of the village as the conscripted boys haphazardly holding their bows followed at a distance.
When Augustus went forward hoping to look around the village Heratio placed his hand on his shoulder. "We're not gonna get any closer to the village. Not today at least." Heratio said firmly. "Let's head back, we don't want to be on the trail in the dark."
In agreement, Augustus turned around and doubled back on the same trail, with Heratio following. When they came back to the hanging bodies they left the trail, giving the odour a wide berth, until they once again rejoined the path.
"I'm sure I'll be fine with the crew of the Scarlet Wind. Once we get back to the camp, would you mind disposing of those bodies?" Augustus asked.
Heratio looked like he was weighing the amount of work, and whether he could safely leave Augustus' side in his head before responding. "Yeah, sure."
Augustus ate with the crew while Heratio went back. He took the dinner chat as his opportunity to tell the crew how the prospects for the mission were looking. It was happy news since a profitable venture would result in bonus pay. When the food was done the sun had set and the camp was enveloped in darkness. So they gathered around the campfires to drink. When Heratio returned all covered in dirt, he had his late dinner, then the two of them retired to Augustus' tent.
Augustus fell into bed exhausted, and although his mind was tipsy from the drink his thoughts still raced, leaving his sleep unsettled.