Saturday, September 11, 2010
The Dark and Forbidding Land - Chapter 4 Excerpt
Saba looked up to see a big man standing a few feet from him. Saba was six foot three and this fellow was just as tall, but with broader shoulders and a thick muscular chest. Though the man was a few years older than Saba, he was only a private.
“I’m Shrubb, Eamon Shrubb.”
“Nice to meet you, Shrubb.” Saba slowly stood up and stretched out a hand, which Shrubb took.
“What’s your Kafirite name, if you don’t mind my asking?” asked Shrubb. “Um… you are a Kafirite, aren’t you?”
“I’ve never seen so many zeets before.”
“I don’t much care for that word,” said Saba, icily. He was still thinking about Yuah and was predisposed to dislike anyone whom he thought might be aiming an insult even in her general direction.
“Quite right. Quite right. As I say, I’ve never met many zee… Zaeri. I don’t have anything against them though. I never understood that whole ‘killed Kafira’ thing anyway. I mean, didn’t she come back from the dead? That’s a big part of the church. How could she have come back from the dead if nobody killed her? All worked out for the best, as far as I can see.”
“Do you always talk this much?” asked Saba.
“No.” Shrubb looked pensive. “Quite uncharacteristic really.”
“Good. My first name is Saba. What would you say to some fish and chips?”
“I don’t generally talk to my food.”
Saba led the way across the dirty patches of snow that still covered the militia grounds, stepping over the low fencing, and out into the gravel street. Then they started down the hill on Seventh and One Half Avenue toward the docks. The street was lined on either side with workshops and warehouses. Most of the workshops had open fronts and one could peer in as one passed to watch men working at lathes, saws, and other pieces of equipment. Most of the warehouses on the other hand had their massive doors closed, as there was no ship in the port at the moment.
“So, you’re a new arrival, are you?” asked Saba.
“That’s right. Arrived two weeks ago on the Jaquesville.”
“No. Left home when I was just a lad. I was working on the docks in the city and heard about opportunity.”
At the bottom of the hill the road ended at the broad expanse of the dockyard. Though there was little work to be done here, there were several gangs of lizzie dock workers who were being trained by their human foremen so that they would be ready for the arrival of the next big transport. Saba kept up with the ship schedules from boredom as much as anything else, so he knew the next arrival was supposed to be the S.S. Windermere on or about the twenty ninth.
“So, you’ve been here since the beginning?” asked Shrubb.
“I was told you were the one to ask about things.”
“Who told you that?” wondered Saba.
“Oh, well. As long as you don’t ask him about anything, you’ll be fine.”
In the center of the dock yard, two food carts had been set up and several patrons were queued up to purchase their lunches. Mrs. Gopling sold some very nice smoky sausages from her stand and Mr. Kordeshack sold fish and chips from his. Just this week, the Finkler boy had begun setting up his own cart to sell tea and biscuits, but he had not as yet arrived this morning. When the ships came in, these three carts would be joined by another: Mr. Darwin selling locally made leather products. Saba and his new companion stepped into the fish and chips queue and waited their turn.
“What will you have?” asked Mr. Kordeshack, a man of middle years with thin hair but bushy side whiskers.
“How about cod?” replied Shrubb.
“Um... we haven’t any.”
“How about a lovely haddock?”
Mr. Kordeshack shrugged. “Only Birmisian fish.”
“What do you have today?” asked Saba.
“We have some Birmisian swordfish. If you’ve eaten swordfish before, it tastes very much the same, though they don’t look much alike when they’re swimming. We have fillets of some of these common small fish that people are calling ‘clubbies’. It’s very nice and flaky. Then we have Xiphactinus, which is a bit like tuna.”
“I’ll have the clubbie,” said Saba.
“Me too,” said Shrubb.
Mr. Kordeshack handed each of the militiamen a large cone made of newsprint and filled with crispy golden chips, topped with three small battered fish fillets. They found a pair of crates next to one of the dock building and sat down to enjoy their meals. Dozens of workers from the nearby shops were now making their way to the food carts for lunch. About half of them chose fish and chips and about half of them chose Mrs. Gopling’s sausages. The Finkler boy pushed his cart out next to the other two. It was covered with breads and small cakes.
“So… the lizzies,” said Shrubb. “Trouble?”
“Can be.” Saba took another bite of fish. He noticed that Shrubb was already down into the chips. “Fast eater.”
“Boarding house,” said Shrubb. “Never lived by yourself?”
“Um… no. I grew up in the Dechantagne house. My mother was the cook.”
“She’s a tidy looking lady,” opined the private.
“Um… yes, I suppose.”
“You fancy her,” said Shrubb, turning to look at Saba head on.
“No I don’t.”
“Sure you do. I’ve seen that look on many a young man’s face.”
“And you’re so old and wise then?” asked Saba.
Shrubb shrugged. “She’s a bit scary though, eh?”
“Not really,” said Saba.
“I told you you fancied her. What about the Mayor?”
“I don’t fancy him either.”