Augustus and Heratio awoke the next morning and watched as the crew of the Scarlet Wind left the camp, with bundles of tanned pelts strapped to their backs.  Breakfast was served and consumed.  They washed, then refreshed themselves into clean linens, and sat beneath a canopy as a flash downpour quickly swept through the area.

It was lunchtime when the crew of the Scarlet Wind returned.  They weren't as encumbered as their first trek since the plan was to make two trips through the day, so they were required to conserve strength and energy.  All carried less cargo except for two individuals, one who was carrying twice the cargo as everyone else, and the other carrying no cargo, but having Castor riding on his back.  The sight of which almost had Heratio on the ground in a laughing fit.

"Well aren't you an old looking child?!"  Heratio managed to spit out in between his fits of laughter. "Maybe master Augustus can ask for the same service on the way down!"

"It was the rain.  It came out of nowhere.  I slipped and ended up hurting my ankle." Castor rolled his eyes. Surely at some point, while he was being carried he had resigned and prepared himself for this eventual torment. 

"This poor guy.  You're a better man than me.  I would have left him!" His laughter beginning to die down, Heratio led the kind soul willing to carry Castor into Augustus' hut and helped to lie him down in bed.  Another man followed and placed a chest that was strapped to his back on the ground next to Castor.

"The stuff I asked you to bring is in here?" Augustus asked without even waiting for a response and opening the chest.  None the less Castor nodded. After some rummaging through the chest Augustus produced two smaller boxes.  The box with the letters, and the legal box. "Rest here for the rest of the day.  I'll have someone bring you your meals."

"Thank you.  I swear the rain was so sudden…"  Castor just looked defeated, trailing off in a mumble.

“This is an unfortunate situation, I was hoping to have you help me take care of something.  But these things can’t be helped.”

Augustus and Heratio left Castor to his thoughts and went about distributing the letters.  Augustus made it a point to talk to each member of the crew of the Killian separately, making conversation about their families before handing over the letters.  He also mentioned he expected there to be bonus pay once the goods were sold.

The next few days were much of the same, the crew of the Scarlet Wind would make two round trips to the shore, one in the morning, returning to the basecamp in time for lunch, and then another trip in the afternoon, returning in time for dinner.  They would bring down tanned pelts, kisum and dried foods, and then bring back tools, camping supplies, and whatever trade goods were on the boat to the basecamp to make room in the ship's storage.  Augustus, Heratio, and Castor were exempt from that labour.

The crew of the Killian would eat a quick breakfast then head off to the village.  They would oversee the mining operation during the day, returning for dinner.  Augustus only went to observe it himself once. To get to the mining operation you needed to crawl through a low roofed cave until the space opened up.  Once there you navigated by torchlight.  The workers toiled in near-complete darkness, since if there was too much smoke from the fires the cave would need to be evacuated.  When Augustus left that cave he thanked the gods that he didn’t need to go back in there.

During the dinners, everyone ate together in a lively discussion, and Augustus would use this time each day to inquire about the Aluheyan people and the culture of the island.  It surprised him to learn that the Aluheyan tribe was just one of nine tribes on the island.  Each of the tribes was approximately the same size as the pre-plague Aluheyan tribe, except one which was larger.  How much larger was vague, as the Aluheyan language didn’t handle large numbers and relative scale well.  And despite being on the island for two years, none of the crew of the Killian had seen the other tribes themselves.  The Aluheyan tribe would only meet the other tribes occasionally to exchange daughters of a certain age for marriage in a ritual.

The captains, Augustus, and Castor would meet in Augustus’ tent to discuss logistics as Heratio guarded the entrance after dinner.  It was quickly decided that a contingent would need to stay at the camp, to continue the mining and spice extraction operations while the other two ships returned to Venocia.  Marcus volunteered to stay and named a few of the men he felt would be happy to stay with him.  Yander volunteered some men from the Scarlet Wind, although he didn’t think they would be too happy about it.  During the day, the captains would go about informing those men that they were selected to stay.

The night before they were due to leave, they finally decided on the list of people to stay.  “Alright, I think I should address everyone in the morning.  Could both of you tell all your men to appear for breakfast, so that we can give them a small presentation of what we have decided?”  Neither captain objected to Augustus’ request. “Good, I’ll see you both at breakfast.”

And with that, the two captains left, and Heratio stepped in from guarding the entrance.  Augustus turned to Castor, “Have you prepared the letter?”

“Yes.” Castor, who had at this point recovered, walked over to the desk and produced a sealed envelope.  “And your magistrate robe is in that chest.”

“Heratio, we are going to gather everyone for a meeting tomorrow during breakfast.  Before that, I need you to hand this letter over to Yander.  I would prefer it if he only had just enough time to read it before the meeting.  And you will tell him that he should read it immediately, then come back to stand guard for me.  During this meeting, I want you particularly aware and ready to protect me.”  Augustus handed Heratio the letter.

Augustus’ thoughts were of his father that night.  Remembering when they would play stixis and Giovanni would lecture on strategy.  One particular lesson came to mind, when you are losing you must gamble to win, look for some opening to gain an advantage and put all your weight into it.  But when you are winning, instead of going for the kill immediately, don’t.  Instead, search all avenues they could use to gain an advantage and dismantle each one.  Slowly circle them until there is no escape.  And only when the noose is tightened around their neck do you strike.

The next morning Augustus woke early.  He bathed then changed into his magistrate robe, a simple white robe with the crest of Venocia embroidered over the heart.  He then waited as Heratio, dressed in more armour than usual, left the tent.  Castor prepared the legal box.  Once Heratio returned, the three left the tent together.  Heratio had his hand perched on the hilt of his sword, eyes intensely aware of his surroundings.  The men were gathered, all ready to eat in the outdoor makeshift cafeteria.  To one side where all the men could see, Yander and Marcus stood.  The three joined them on the dirt stage where the presentation would take place.

Augustus raised his right hand with his palm open, and a silence fell over the audience.  “Good morning everyone.  It has been five days since I arrived here with the crew of the Scarlet Wind.  And now we are so close to departing, one last hike and then we are off, at least that is for most of us.  As I’m sure you’ve heard, some will be staying to oversee the operations here.  I know this is a terrible task, to be so separated from your families, doubly so, since some who are being asked to stay have already spent so long away from their families.  But I assure you, all will be well compensated, and for every greater hardship, a greater reward awaits.  I look now at your faces and I can see most of you nodding.  To see such unwavering trust in the Castellian family that we will pay our debts, and reward our employees, I know is a result of a reputation we have built over generations.  It warms my heart.

“I would like to thank Marcus Dayton for volunteering to stay.”  The crowd applauded but was caught off when Augustus raised his right hand again.  “I would like to, but I can’t.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Dayton said with an angry tone.

“Since I have arrived here I have been dismayed.  Unsettled by Marcus Dayton’s actions.  Actions for which he must be held to account.”

“Enough of this.  You have no authority here! Do not mistake the respect we show you for authority over us.  Unless you have a letter from your father, you do not have any right to give orders here.  Do you have that letter?”  Marcus regained his composure, but his eyes betrayed the fury that he was holding back.

It was true, Augustus knew, that just because you were a member of the Castellian family which owned those ships, and employed this crew, didn’t mean you could just give orders.  And Augustus also knew he didn’t have a letter from his father giving him authority.  The letter given to Yander instead was a letter Castor wrote to inform Yander what was about to take place.  Hopefully, Augustus thought to himself, Yander would realize who was about to win this confrontation, and act accordingly.

“Unfortunately, I do not have that letter,” said Augustus.  His face betraying no emotion.

“Of course you don’t.  I know your father.  I’ve eaten at his house and I taught his son Giovannus.  He would never put trust in you in these matters over his trust in my demonstrated and proven skills.”  The crowd was transfixed as if they were watching a theatre play.

“I don’t have that letter--” Augustus began to speak but was sharply interrupted.

“Enough!  I will hear no more of this.”  Marcus shouted with a rousing inflection.  “My men and I will be insulted if this goes any further!”  Augustus knew what he was doing, Marcus was trying to speak directly to his crew and incite their loyalty.  The loyalty that was built up over years and years, in close quarters, away from home.  It was a dangerous loyalty that Augustus had tried to neutralize over the past few days, using his infamy and charm, and most importantly, the promise of money.

Augustus looked at Heratio, “Silence him.”  In a flash of gleaming light reflected off his blade, Heratio unsheathed his sabre and put it to Marcus’ throat.

“If you speak again, it’ll be your last words,”  Heratio said grinning.  The crowd stood up from their seats.   The crew of the Killian shouting, some even throwing food up onto the dirt stage.

It was then time for Yander to speak.  Yander raised his hand the same way as Augustus, but the crew of the Killian wasn’t listening, at least not immediately.  Slowly, since none wanted to act so brazenly eventually they quieted down.  “Let master Augustus DeCastellian speak!  As a member of the Castellian family, he is only here as an observer, but he does have authority for other reasons!”

“Thank you captain Yander DeMerio.  Yes, you are correct.  As I was saying, I don’t have that letter, but I do have other authority.  As you can see, I am wearing the robe of a magistrate.”  Augustus brought up his arms and turned slightly to put his robe on display.  “That is because I am a magistrate.  An agent of the law of Venocia.  And here, as per Venocian law, as this is a basecamp of a ship that bears the Venocian flag, our laws extend to this soil.  And so I am authorized to punish those who break Venocian laws.”

One of the members of the Killian crew spoke up, “you’re just a kid!  How can you be a magistrate?!”

“I assure you, that although he is the lowest rank of a magistrate, he is registered with the Senate,”  Castor spoke after clearing his throat in between his fervent note-taking.

“I will vouch for the validity of master Augustus’ credentials, I have seen them myself,”  Yander said with a queasy look on his face.  The letter that Castor had made, and was given to Yander before this meeting, was stamped with the seal of the magistrate office.  A seal that should only be in the possession of a magistrate.

“Look at it this way.  If I am not a magistrate, all you would have to do once you return to Venocia is petition the office of the magistrates and declare your testimony that I presented myself, and used, the authority of a magistrate.  An investigation would ensue, and with the number of witnesses here, they would put me to death.  For me to lie here, about this, wouldn’t make sense.  And would leave me extremely vulnerable.”

“If we believe you, then what law are you enforcing?” Said the same man from the crowd.

“Venocia has been blessed with over four hundred years of peace.  But that was no accident.  They say the streets of Venocia overflow with riches, although that is an exaggeration to be sure, we do have riches that others covet.  And how did we get those riches?   It was not by military conquest, but instead through trade.  Trade that relies on trust and mutual benefit.  Thus, Venocia passed laws limiting any aggressive acts against any foreign powers.  Venocia must be particularly careful not to give any nation casus belli because they would surely act on it.”  Augustus turned to Marcus whose fury was written all over his face at this point.  It was clear he was using all of his will power on holding his tongue. “Will you deny, in front of this crowd, some of which were present at the incident, that you attacked and killed multiple of the Aluheyan people?  Will you deny that you also recruited some of them to help you oppress the Aluheyan people?  Will you deny that you forced the Aluheyan people to labour for you under threat of violence?  You may speak now.”

“They attacked me first!  And they wouldn’t constitute a foreign power!  We could crush them if we want to--”  Augustus lifted his palm over Marcus' face to indicate silence.

“The law is the law!  It makes no exception for them attacking you first.  Your duty, outside of directly defending your demise was to retreat.  You chose your greed over your duty to Venocia.  The Aluheyan people meet the definition of a foreign power.  Whether or not they could end up a threat to Venocia directly is irrelevant to the law as it is written.”  Augustus looked at the crowd to speak directly to them.  “Once word gets out of what transpired here, and it certainly would get out, the Castellian’s enemies in the Senate would use this incident to make my family pay a hefty fine.  And my father would view all of you as the source of that fine. He would not only withhold any bonus pay, but he would also withhold any other payments you were due, for failure to execute the mission responsibly.  And that would be within his rights.”

The members of Marcus’ crew were silent again.  “But, do not worry, your bonus pay is not forfeit yet.  In fact, you are quite fortunate.  As a magistrate, I can punish the perpetrator, and in doing so, also declare that the responsibility solely rests with the person who was punished.  Although a higher magistrate could in theory overturn my ruling and dole out more punishments to those involved.  It is much, much less likely than if no punishment was even given out.  I can pretty much guarantee, as long as no one petitions that the matter be reinvestigated, that the higher magistrates will consider the matter closed.  So none of you will have to be punished.”

“Master Augustus.” Castor tapped Augustus on the shoulder and said quietly.  “You should now give Marcus a chance to defend himself.”  Augustus nodded.

“Marcus Dayton, I will now allow you to defend yourself.  You may speak.”

“I can see what you are doing.  Your not so subtle threat, that if they don’t do what you say they will be punished.  But, my crew knows the influence I have with your father, and with your elder brother Giovannus.  He is the presumed heir and future head of the family.  They would not look kindly at my punishment.  I set up the trade routes to the north, a significant source of income for your family.  Trade routes that I am vital for maintaining.”

“Ah.  As you have been gone for so long you didn’t know.  My father, Giovanni, had a falling out with Giovannus.  He is no longer the presumed heir, and the future head of the family would be me.”  Augustus’ glare at Marcus intensified.

The crew of the Scarlet Wind nodded.  Marcus looked around at the crowd, and he dropped his head in defeat.  Yander spoke the crushing blow.  “It is common knowledge in Venocia, as of a year ago, that Giovannus and his father have had a falling out.  What Augustus says is true.”

Augustus looked out at the crowd, now confident that he had won.  The crew of the Killian had the same defeated look as Marcus.  Marcus looked up to speak, but Augustus signalled him to stay silent.

“Nothing you have said has any legal merit.  Will anyone in the audience speak on his behalf?”  Marcus looked out at the crowd desperate, but no one spoke.  “Then we are done here.  I sentence you to be hanged until dead.”

Marcus jerked and shouted, like a wild animal desperate to survive, but Heratio quickly kneed him in the groin.  Marcus fell to the ground and Heratio and Yander got on top of him, they beat him while he continued to struggle.  Eventually, he just stopped trying, with his breaths so deep and depleted.  They tied him with his arms behind his back.

Augustus watched the crowd.  No one made any moves, no shouts of protest.  He pointed out into the crowd, at a random group of souls from the Scarlet Wind’s crew. “Prepare the noose, we will hang him now!”

They went straight to work, getting the rope ready.  The audience parted as Heratio and Yander dragged Marcus through them, his legs kicking up a dust cloud in resistance.  The two of them sat him at a tree, hitting him whenever he got too feisty, as the men from the crowd swung the rope over a large branch and tied it off on a solid root peeking up from the dirt.  Heratio placed it around Marcus’ neck.

“Any last words?”  Heratio asked.

“I don’t want to die!” Marcus said, tears running down his bloody face.

“Do it,” Augustus said.  Heratio and Yander tightened the noose then went over to help heave the rope, and up went Marcus.  They tied off the slack and that was it, soon it would be over.

Augustus had never seen someone die before.  But even as the men in the crowd had to look away in disgust, Augustus kept his eyes open.  Augustus knew he had to have the resolve to watch what he ordered, staring with a blank expression.  What surprised him was how long it took.  Marcus could still take incredibly shallow breaths, but slowly his face turned purple, and his wild legs stopped moving as wildly.  The whole time Marcus was looking straight at Augustus.  His eyes could almost communicate telepathically saying please, I don’t want to die.

Everyone was silent as an eerie chill crept over the onlookers.  Yander stepped forward, "I'll now list off those who will be staying, although I believe you all already know who you are." First was Juan the first mate of the Killian, he would be in charge instead of Marcus this time.  One by one they came forward, none surprised as at some point either Yander or Marcus had taken them aside and told them they had to stay.

Augustus then addressed them. “To those that stay.  You must work to correct Marcus’ mistakes.  Free the children, to go back to the village, and give them gifts, or do what you deem necessary to repair the divide between Venocia and their society.  When we reach Venocia, I will instruct my father so send another ship immediately, and if when they arrive we are on peaceful terms with the natives, we will abandon this basecamp and all of you will come home.  I thank all of you for your loyal service.  You have my guarantee you will be well compensated for your service. ”  After that, the group split in two, the smaller group that stayed just sat there in a daze as everyone else headed down the trail to the two ships.

During the hike, Augustus, Castor and Heratio separated themselves from the group to have a conversation.  All speaking in hushed tones.  “I must say, Master Augustus, that was amazingly well done,” said Castor gleefully.

“Yes, well done. Though I wish you would have just told me to slit his throat rather than have him hanged.  My hand will be bruised up in the morning,” said Heratio, opening and closing his fist and wincing at the pain that caused.

“Thank you.  Sorry Heratio, but hanging was more powerful there.  By giving them ample time to act, but also incentivizing them against it, I made them complicit.  If we slit his throat that could build resentment that would boil over into mutiny.  I needed to minimize that possibility.”

“I did notice that you forgot to mention that they had the option of petitioning the magistrate’s office to overturn the ruling, which could result in you being put to death.  After all, such are the risks of carrying out a death penalty on a foreign shore where there are no checks on a magistrate’s power,” Castor added.

“I guess I did forget to mention that I would be killed if the ruling was overturned.  But I do remember mentioning that the ruling could be overturned.”  Augustus nodded.

“However, only in the context that if the ruling were overturned the punishment could be revised to include all those here as responsible.  That would only motivate them not to file a petition.”  Castor smiled proudly at his student.

“I guess you’re right.”

“A more tempered ruling, and safer for you, would have been to take him alive as a prisoner back to Venocia.  Why didn’t you?  He didn’t really have a legal defence,”  Castor said inquisitively.

“Why leave an ally of Giovannus alive when I could leave them dead?”  Augustus said.

When they reached the ships Augustus found Yander and made a request.  “On the way home, I’ve heard there’s a place to capture giant turtles that are supposed to be quite delicious.  How about we stop and try to capture a couple?”


Support "The Merchant Prince Book 1: Returning Home"

About the author


Bio: I like trains

Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In