Historal Fantasy Adventure - Fouth book in the Swords & Stones series (61,370 words).
Trouble in Rome sees the group finding land to set up their own port.
Then an easy trip to work on stones up north turns bad and ends in the massacre of a whole tribe of Barbarians.
A visit to Tunis highlights a problem with rats and finally their desert friend takes them on a camel journey to his home where they discover the Home of the Moon and Sara gets to finally race her camel.
“You said we could race chariots for a week,” Sara yelled as the boat touched the timbers of the wharf. “Race you to our wagon,” she said to Ava. They were both gone, Cana bounding into the darkness after them.
“He was supposed to wait for me,” Karli said, baby Petra in the sling around her neck.
“Unload tomorrow, everyone home now. Great job all,” Cal said, the captain and boat crew happy to make for their families too.
“I’ll stay and walk with you,” Cal said to Karli.
“We’ll have supper ready when you get there,” Helga said as the others followed Sara.
“I’ll carry Petra if you want a rest,” Cal said.
“I’d like you to hold her,” Karli said, drawing the growing baby from her sling and handing her over.
“She’s going to be a well travelled girl,” he said, holding her to his chest. She was so beautiful, delicate and refined, always smiling when you looked into her eyes.
They made it a slow walk to their warehouse, silently enjoying being here and together.
“What took you so long, we’re waiting to go out to supper, Maree’s coming too,” Sara said as they came through the rear gate.
“I thought we were having supper here,” Cal said.
“We haven’t got enough fresh supplies,” Helga said.
“Our clothes are not good for going out like that.”
“We can change quick, we’ve got good ones in the wagon,” Nerrina said.
“Agree, it’s easier,” Karli said.
“Change quick then.”
It was an evening of women competing to tell stories about chasing pirates and their new base in Tunis. Cal was allowed to hold Petra most of the time as Ameena was more interested in telling her side of every event.
“You’re quiet,” Daniel said. He was seated alongside Cal, Maximus sitting on his lap.
“A lot of things to think about. It’s been a huge step.”
“We always thought you’d end up owning a town, but we thought it would be up north where you always go. Never dreamed it would be way across the ocean.”
“Or so expensive. We took two eighty gold and came back with nothing.”
“By the quality of the stock I’ve seen, you’ll easily make a return. That grain is first class. I’ve got orders for heaps more, and those dates, I never knew they could be got like that, so soft and moist. Keep that coming and you’ll have no trouble.”
“We haven’t got the boats to shift the stock that’s coming in. Before we left it was up to one small boat load every day and growing.”
“You’ve got new boats being built.”
“Yes, but not ready yet.”
“Hire some. Hire boats and crews from others until yours are ready.” The two men were looking at each other, Maximus’ tiny hand gently touching Petra. “I can see by your face that you don’t like the idea, but at least think about it. It could save you a lot of worry.”
“I’ll look into it, we have to do something.”
“You talk to your boss wife, she’ll agree,” he said.
“What are you laughing about?” Sara yelled from the other table at Daniel.
Neither could think of a suitable reply, so they stayed silent.
“You were quiet tonight,” Miena said once they were all snuggled in their home wagon for the first time in weeks.
“Just thinking of all the things that need to be sorted,” Cal said.
“I’ll stay here with you tomorrow if you like while the rest go out to the farm to race. We’ll sort things out together,” Miena said.
“That’s a great idea. We’ll need all day to get used to our horses again,” Sara said.
“You will work things out well,” Nerrina said, certainty in her voice.
“Time for cuddling now,” Sara said. “Me first.”
All but Miena went at first light. One horse and a wagon to the farm to collect more horses to bring back so they could take all the chariots. Miena arranged for Maree to join Cal and her in the courtyard for a private discussion.
“You were rather down last night,” Maree started, looking at Cal.
“He’s had a lot of worries,” Miena said.
“Hard decisions,” Cal said.
“Unpleasant ones too,” Maree said.
“I worry we’ve become as bad as the bandits and pirates we hate.”
“But they’re just killing for the money,” Maree said.
“So are we.”
No one had a quick answer.
“You do it for more than money. You give people a better life,” Maree said eventually.
“We do too,” Miena said, her face softening with relief.
“I know, but it still seems that we’ve become as bad as them,” Cal said.
“Others don’t think that. I’m sure your crew don’t think that at all,” Maree said.
“They don’t,” Miena said. “They all think we did the best thing for those people.”
“Maybe we did. Maybe we did do good for some. It doesn’t stop me feeling it was partly wrong.”
“Give it time, you’ll come to see it clearer. The whole town is thrilled you removed the pirates, there’s no problems here,” Maree said.
“Tell me your news then,” Cal said to get the subject back to lighter topics.
“Shop doing great and factory running smoothly. You’ll need to get more chariots soon, we need some here and more for Darrius to take. Girls to Rome were a great success. Selene recognised them, and both her and Sara’s mother had a meeting and sorted out supply. They’ve agreed who will handle what. Those two girls brokered a great deal, you need to see them and thank them. I’ve said they can go back again to keep in contact and bring ideas back.”
“Let’s do that now,” Miena said.
It was a good idea. On the walk to the factory Cal saw one of their wagons and a mass of sailor’s kids getting ready to unload the freight they’d brought in last evening. When Miena and him walked into the factory, the ladies all started cheering. “You showed them.” “We’re so happy to get our revenge.”
They were barraged with compliments for a job well done. Both Miena and him hadn’t opened their mouths, still it continued.
“Save some of your enthusiasm for our brave young soldiers when they get back. They were the ones that did the great job,” Cal said.
“Tell us all about it.”
Miena saved him, starting a safe version of the trip, telling how Agrippa and the lads dispatched the pirates and then how they ended up controlling the town.
“The lads will start coming back for a visit soon, we need to keep them there to hold the town and protect our boats,” Cal said.
“We heard Titus is Mayor.”
“We’ve made him and his new wife Mayor of the town. He’s in charge of all our buying there too.”
“That’s his mother,” One lady said, pointing to a woman standing at the back.
“It’ll be hard for him to come back, so if you want to visit him and see his new wife, I’m happy for you to go on one of our boats anytime you want.”
“I still find it hard to believe a son of mine is Mayor of a whole town,” the woman said.
“Hard to believe, but true. His wife Zebba, is a very beautiful woman. Even he had his tongue hanging out,” Miena said, looking at Cal. The crowd laughed.
“We came to specially thank the two girls who went to Rome,” Cal said, getting the subject back to business. Two girls were pushed forward, coming to stand in front of them. “Maree has told me of the great job you did in arranging supplies between our two customers. I’ve told her to send you back anytime you want. I’d like you to keep everyone here in touch with what our customers want.” Both girls were grinning. “If you like, you can also go on the Ancona boat and see our shop there. And, if there are two others who you all think would be good at this work, I’d like you to think of taking them, one at a time, to learn too. Just two on a trip.”
“That’s a good idea,” Miena said.
“That’s a very good idea,” the boss lady said. “You want us to choose?”
“Yes, you know who would be best,” Miena said.
“Boatyard next,” Cal said to Miena.
They could see large boats well before they got to the yard. Three of them lined up in various stages of build, and then there was their war boat. Cal knew it was theirs by the high sides as the builder had said. The huge spike sticking from the front was another sign as was the carved wolf’s head poking out above it.
“Coming along very fast,” the boatyard man said when they came near.
“Looks good too,” Cal said. “I see you’ve got a good start on our others.”
“I’ve had the workers on long hours to get your orders done. No one’s complaining, good to be busy.”
“I need more of your advice. I’ve got a lot of freight to shift from Tunis and someone said I might be able to hire boats and crews to help.”
“You sure can. Tiburs is your man. He’s your biggest competitor but I know he’s got spare boats. He’ll charge you a percentage of the cargo so you’ll need to talk to him to see if it’s worth it to you.”
“Where will we find him?” Miena asked.
More walking. It was a long way, right the other side of town, along the wharf, a large warehouse with an office on one side, much older and not as well kept as theirs. The man was easy to find. He certainly knew Cal, even though Cal couldn’t remember having ever seen him, and he didn’t look like the sort of person he really wanted to be seen with.
“I’ve heard you’ve bought yourself a town,” Tiburs said, his voice gravelly and harsh.
“A town and a harbour, now I’m looking to see if there are any boats and crews I can hire.”
“Can’t get the new ones built quick enough ayh?”
“That and too much grain needing shifting.”
“Grain ayh? Like that new stuff you’ve been selling round here?”
“I think we can come to an agreement there. How many boats you needing?”
“Maybe two to start.”
“I’d be charging forty percent for boats and crews.”
“Make it a third,” Miena said. Tiburs head snapping to look at the woman interrupting him.
“Who are you girlie?”
“She’s my boss wife. She handles negotiations,” Cal said.
“I’ve heard you’re a strange lot. Well girlie, why should I only take a third when anyone else would pay me forty?”
“Send three boats. We load equally. Two come here for us, the other you send where the price is best,” Miena said.
“Would this be a once only thing or more regular?”
“If it worked well, it would be regular,” Cal said.
“It is a good plan girlie,” he said after a moment of thought. “When do you want to start?”
“You’ll need one of our boats to get you into the harbour, so it’ll be when our next boat gets back.”
“We can get into any harbour, why do we need your boat to be there?”
“Our soldiers have been ordered to keep the harbour for us alone,” Cal said.
“Let me think about it a day or so,” Tiburs said, their audience at an end.
“I don’t like him much, but he’ll take our deal,” Miena said once they were walking away.
“We’ll have to work ways to make sure he doesn’t cheat us.”
“I’ll talk with Maree. We’ll come up with a plan,” Miena said.
“What have you done? I’ve had four girls fighting to go on the next Rome boat,” Maree said when Cal and Miena walked back into their warehouse.
“Just two at a time and maybe every second trip,” Cal said.
“We wanted extras to learn in case anything happened, one of the originals with one new girl each trip,” Miena said.
“I do think it’s a good idea. What else have you done to upset my plans?”
“Seen a man called Tiburs about hiring boats. We’re still working out a way of keeping a tight check on him.”
“He’s a tough man, you might end up needing soldiers,” Maree said.
“We’ve used greed, I think it will work,” Miena said.
“We need a builder too,” Cal said, remembering.
“I know one of those,” Maree said.
“He means one to send to build our warehouse and fort in Tunis,” Miena said.
“My father will know,” Maree said. “You better go before your chariot crew get back and want to help.”
Wise suggestion. Miena and Cal walked to Leon’s office. He wasn’t there so they asked around, finding him eventually on a site directing his workers.
“We need a builder,” Miena said.
“Not for two months,” Leon said. “I’ve got an art gallery to finish and chariot track to layout.”
“We’ve got a fort to build in Tunis,” Cal said.
“You’ll need a crew that’s prepared to travel then.”
“Or one man who’s willing to show others what to do.”
“That’s easy. Ravilla, can you come here,” Leon said loudly towards the group of men working on the stones of a wall. “I use him when I can, but I think he might be just what you’re looking for.”
The man that came was reasonably young, but his face showed the lines of a man with troubles.
“These people might have an offer for you. I won’t stop you if you want to take it,” Leon said, turning to leave.
“We’re looking for a builder to go to Tunis to supervise the building of a fort and warehouse for us there. Would you be interested in discussing it further?” Cal asked, watching the lines drop from his face then leading him away from the others to explain the offer fully.
“Can I bring my family?” Was his only question before he accepted. His wife had recently died and he was struggling to bring up two young children, a boy and a girl. The offer of good wages, exciting work and a fresh start was exactly what he wanted.
“I’ll give you two gold now to help you settle things here, and we’ll arrange wages in local money when you get there. Until things are built, you’ll be living in a tent, I hope you can handle that,” Cal said.
“The children?” He asked.
“I think they’ll enjoy it there. It gets hot in the middle of the day, so you only work in the morning and late afternoon. There should be plenty of time to spend with them.”
“There’s good cheap food there so the children will eat well,” Miena said.
“You can leave on the next boat. Not sure exactly when it’ll be in, maybe this week, but it’ll be a real adventure for you and your children.”
“You can see us or Maree at our warehouse for more details. If you’re free tomorrow evening, you can bring your family to our warehouse near closing and we’ll have supper and a talk.”
“The others would love to entertain your children.” Miena said.
The whole warehouse was in loud discussion when they walked back in, the horse catching crew had returned and were telling stories to whoever would listen.
“You need to get our things from the boat, can you arrange that?” Cal asked when he got Sara in earshot.
“I need my helmet too,” she yelled, alerting the rest to the task.
“We could take Miena’s chariot, we’d all fit on that,” Ava said.
“I’ll let you,” Miena said.
The noise moved to the yard while chariots and horses were sorted.
“They seem to have got louder since they’ve been away,” Maree said as the warehouse returned to a quieter state.
“Too long on a boat,” Miena said.
“You’ll have to come to the farm tonight after you close to get all the stories, they should have worn themselves out more by then,” Cal said.
When the crew did come back, everyone was wearing helmets, even Karli.
“It was easier to wear them than carry,” Helga said.
“We’re wearing them to the farm now,” Sara yelled as they all scattered to sort out who was taking what chariot. Soon they were gone again, Ameena now holding the baby while Karli drove.
“At least they left my chariot for me,” Miena said.
“You can go if you want, I’ll bring the wagon out soon,” Cal said.
She did take his offer and was soon on her way after the others, while Cal went to the market for lunch and supper treats. There was a man waiting when he returned to the warehouse, Ravilla the builder they’d been talking too earlier. “I’ve been too excited to work. I’ve come to see more about the job.”
“Would your children like to come for a few hours in the country?” Cal asked. He looked puzzled. “You can all come and meet my wives and the children have a ride on the chariots. You fetch your children and I’ll get a wagon ready.”
Maree had been near and came close when he left. “He’ll be a good builder. You taking him for the interview?”
“That, and to see how we think he’ll handle the town.”
“You better get extra sweets,” Maree said.
She was right. By the time Cal returned from the market, Ravilla was back with his boy and girl, the boy seemed the oldest.
“Eight and six,” Ravilla said when he saw Cal trying to work it out.
“Out the back, I’ll get the wagon ready.”
Cal took the home wagon with all of them sitting on the front seat, the children thrilled at riding in a wagon. They were still excited when they got to the farm gate, and the noise of the rest at battle could be heard. Through the gate, Cal drove and parked at the usual spot near the stream, then took their guests towards the source of the noise. Battle stopped when they were finally spotted.
“This is Ravilla and his children, he’s looking to become our builder in Tunis.”
“Do his children want a ride?” Helga asked. The children stretching the arms holding them.
“We won’t take them fast,” Sara said. Ravilla let them go and the pair raced towards the waiting chariots, the twins taking the girl and Sara the boy. Battle resumed, but slightly slower than normal for a short time.
“I’ve sent two chariots to Tunis, so you’ll be able to play with them there too,” Cal said as they watched the actions, Ravilla never taking his eyes off his children. “You can have them with you all the time if you like.”
“They can work with me?”
“Yes, it’s our town and we set the rules so no one will stop you. The biggest problem you’ll have is learning the local language, apart from our soldiers and crew, the locals don’t speak Latin, so you’ll have to learn some words.”
“The children will most likely pick it up quick,” he said, eyes still glued to the chariots containing his offspring.
“There are plenty of children there for them to play with. They’ll be speaking like locals in weeks most likely.”
“How long will the job go for?”
“As long as you like, there’ll always be work there. We’ll always need things built and repaired. Bigger wharf and warehouse. Town walls. Civic things. If you want a new life, you can have it.”
“What if I don’t like it?”
“Next boat back here, no problems. No need to stay if you don’t want to.”
Chariots were starting to speed up. “Sweets in the wagon,” Cal yelled. It had the desired result with all chariots making a direct line for the wagon. Ravilla and him walked back in time to see the children being offered selections from the bag he’d brought. There was silence for a moment while mouths were full, then the questions started. Ravilla did well handling the girl’s questions, even managing to ask a few himself.
“He’s getting more comfortable with the job,” Miena whispered to Cal.
“Maree thinks he’ll be good too,” Cal whispered back.
“The children want to play on the chariots more,” Sara said.
“Not fast,” Cal said.
“The girl can go with Ameena, she drives slow,” Ava said.
This time Ravilla was less concerned when his children disappeared from sight. They could soon hear their excited yells. Cal was able to talk more about what they wanted and the conditions there, settling on him checking the warehouse for any tools and supplies he would need when they returned. All told, they stayed there a couple of hours. When his children finally returned, it was obvious they’d had a grand time.
“I’m taking them back to the warehouse now, and then I’ll come back with supper,” Cal told the women.
Maree and her family joined them at the farm for more racing and supper, with Daniel and Lucina telling all about the new plans for the town chariot race track while they ate.