With the exception of the Sorrowful Sea lapping at the shores, a mountainous hinterland, a tiny river, more or less breathable air and solid ground all conspire to make Tunna as unlike Neu Ungren as possible. Despite this it appears that the best efforts of the expat community have been devoted to minimizing, as much as possible, these significant differences through a combination of preposterously dense zoning, a complete disregard for urban sanitation and a building style whose ramshackle and temporary nature suggested, despite all evidence to the contrary, an architect who believed the building might at any moment disappear a swamp. And, if Tunna is distillation of Neu Ungren then the Grassello Canal is a distillation of Tunna with its seven precariously balanced stories looming over the narrow street, each shorter and more sloped than the last.
Tomasso’s debarkation had been rather unhurried. Sorrigio had informed him of the two Mastelli contacts in town: Giordano Ahoney (a useless functionary) and Titus Vero (the unofficial and more useful contact and successful pawnbroker). On request he also produced a token for Tomasso’s services entitling the bearer to one pay docket care of Sorrigio Mastelli. Tomasso was now free to explore the town and set about arranging rooms for the party at the Canal, the expat inn, a more likely retreat than its competitor and local haunt: the Red River. The common room, bustling with people, he moves over to talk with the inkeep, obviously an expat with an accent of the new city who introduces himself as Fat Frank. Rooms arranged, Tomasso returns to the common room in time for the communal meal of fish soup served for guests and dinner patrons. A fantastic dish differentiating itself from stews of his youth by both containing gobbets of actual fish and by its spicy flavors. Obviously the Canal prides itself on its fare to a degree rare in Neu Ungren establishments of the same price range.
Before long it is time to return to the Mastelli warehouse and free the rest of the party from their shipping containers. The neighborhood between the Canal and the docks is unusually quiet and there is a conspicuous absence of bystanders. The tense atmosphere matches what Frank had told him earlier about an ugly feeling and reports of violence directed towards the expat community. Clearly the ring of concerned citizens he had seen around the Canal earlier are a wise precaution on the innkeep’s part. For all the precaution, nothing untoward occurs and Tomasso safely releases his compatriots from the warehouse. It is only on heading back to the canal that they hear cries from several streets over: pleas of help and the sounds of a fracas! Matthias suggests this might be a possible avenue for getting more insight into the local situation and the group proceeds to the scene of the rumpus.
They are greeted by a strange tableau. A storefront, whose battered sign can still be seen to read “Jimines Import/Export”, hangs above a shattered door flanked by several local toughs. Inside, several more men of the same persuasion are conducting an inventory audit with extreme prejudice. The proprietor, identifiable by his location under the boot of the gang leader has clearly lost the engagement and is trying to regain some high ground through the shrill repeated delivery of herbivore-related sexual invective while his son and wife look on. On seeing the group arrive the leader, a feral man of local Tunna extraction, removes his boot from the proprietor’s throat and moves over to the doorway. He introduces himself as Alvaro Arojo Irenez Sant Michael y Crystobal, a volunteer canvassing donations in the neighborhood for the glorious war effort of Nikolai Sarkad. Don Jimines here had apparently been disinclined to donate to the cause and is being taught a lesson in the rewards of charitable giving. The siblings look at each other. Apparently news of their father’s death is not yet common knowledge in Tunna. It appears that Vida’s presence has tipped the balance of somewhat and, sensing that Don Alvaro does not seem interested in armed confrontation, Matthias proffers a small contribution to the war effort. The skud in hand and the message clearly delivered, Alvaro bows, bids farewell to the proprietor’s wife and, on being invited to fuck off, departs with a flashing grin that reveals two vicious looking metallic canines.
The boy, having been knocked down when he offered resistance, now receives his father’s attentions and praises. Vida inspects the boy and pronounces the injury to be minor. Meanwhile, the wife introduces herself as Anna Jimines and thanks the group for arriving in time. She explains that Don Alvaro, known to be a cruel and not particularly tactful sort, is a local gangster setting himself up against the Podesta. The Podesta, Branato Marcellotti, is an Espiere creature of sorts. According to his nephew, Tomasso, Branato has a well earned reputation for being a duplicitous slime-merchant who would not stoop to selling his grandmother if it would personally profit him. Normally he can be expected to keep a modicum of order in Tunna and ensure the trade flows and he is not without resources, having a cadre of Espiere marines at his disposal. However, in the matter of Don Alvaro and his organization, the Podesta has yet to lift a finger. Her husband, Anna says, may have been specifically targeted for avoiding trade with Aramviso so as not to pay the swinging customs duties of the Sarkad regime. Matthias inquires about the political situation and Anna responds saying that while the South may be embroiled in internal struggle, the border between Sarkad and Emirate territory is currently stable. Don Jimines then comes over and offers his thanks. He and Matthias fall to talking and it’s agreed that that he should invite the local notables together for a dinner meeting the following night to discuss what can be done. Also Don Jimines indicates that he is in the party’s debt and should they wish he would be happy to convey them to Al-Thasdun. Seeing little else to be done the party leaves the Jimines family in the shattered remains of their foyer and proceed back to the inn. On the way through the common room they pause to watch an impressive belly dancing performance by a Southern woman accompanied by an accordion playing chimp. After the show Vida introduces himself and discovers that her name is Leila, the chimp’s Albert, and that they will be staying in town for at least a few more days. They retire, some to their first proper rest since they left Neu Ungren.
The next morning everyone is woken up to a terrific din of “Breakfast” coming from the common room. Mo the Engineer is prostrate from the voyage and decides to remain in the room devising some form of ear-plug. Sleep now impossible they stumble down to discover half of Tunna has arrived for the morning fare consisting of some amazing crepes and a delicious jam from fruits unknown. Limit two crepes per person. The meal having restored some humanity after the stupor of sleep, the discussion turns to future plans. Brief note is made of the fact that no one seems to know where Szilvia has gone off to but this is accepted as the normal state of affairs. Shuh is convinced that Don Alvaro’s organization is either wholly or at least receiving subsidies from Janos as an effort to assert increased Sarkad control in Tunna. Shuh also indicates that he would like to get to Aramviso as soon as possible. He has contacts there among the nobles who will shelter him while he begins gathering information. Apparently there are several local families of importance including the Foccini, Evora, Tranbuscatti and Ahmad who run regular trips to Al-Thasdun but not a regular traffic to Aramaviso. The Jimines family could also count themselves among this group once but seem to have fallen somewhat from past heights.
There follows a curious discussion between Matthias, Vida and Tomasso whose reasoning pattern can be summed up as follows:
1. We need to get on a ship
2. Ships can carry cargo as well as people
3. The southern rebels will pay huge money for weapons
4. Let’s assume for the moment that we can avoid customs and revenue
So, in an perfect demonstration of the cart before horse approach, Tomasso goes out to discover how many crates of weapons he can convince to fall off the back of a wagon. Feelers are put out and it’s determined that a sizeable quantity of 5 crates could be made to tumble at appropriate times for the price of 16 Skud per accident. After concluding that this purchase can be transacted at a future time of convenience he turns to securing method for actually conveying these goods. The broker informs him that there are currently two ships on the market, both coastal skiffs. The first can be had for 20 Skud and is a serviceable and sturdy, if not youthful, craft. The latter, for the bargain price of 7 Skud, will be ready to put to sea “any day now” but on inspection, that day appears to be a great way off.
In making these enquiries, however, Tomasso happens upon a rumor that a third vessel might be available for purchase. The terms are rather unusual : an auction five days hence at the Red River inn, only discerning individuals of means need apply. The boat in question is the Black Widow, a smuggling vessel of great renown captained by a woman of the same name. It appears the Widow is looking to exit her line of work and is selling the boat to buoy up her retirement savings. Overjoyed, Tomasso returns to the inn to relay the good news. He suggests to Matthias that this could be a golden opportunity to purchase not just a vessel perfect for the transport of uncustomed wares but also the local knowledge of coves and contacts that could set such an enterprise on sure footing. They decide that Tomasso should try to arrange a meeting with the Widow prior to the auction to discuss such a transaction. After working a significant number of local contacts he is “invited” to show up at a nondescript tenement. Entering the well appointed apartment he is greeted by a woman in her fifties, obviously once incredibly beautiful but now bearing the marks of three decades of salt, wind and more than one purple storm. The conversation begins with small talk and old sailor’s tales. The woman gives her name as Francesca and Tomasso introduces himself with his real name which gains him a quick knowing glance. Pleasantries concluded, Francesca outlines the non-negotiable offer: 200 Skud for the business or 300 for everything plus her accompaniment on the first voyage. The package will include the vessel, knowledge of all the secret coves that she has used in Tunna, Al-Thasdun and Aramviso’s vicinity, an explanation of the best routes and acceptable places to shelter from storms, letters of introduction to individuals who have previously conducted business with her as well as a list of likely candidates for bribery and any of her former crew that decide they wish to continue with the venture. The only proviso is that the purchaser must rename the vessel and can, in no way represent themselves as the Black Widow’s successor. The offer is available for 48 hours.
Meanwhile, Matthias and Vida have returned to the Jimines residence for the agreed upon dinner. An impressive amount of work has been accomplished to remove all traces of last night’s surprise audit. There are less notables there then Don Jimines represented but an agreeable conversation is struck up. Throughout the course of the evening several items become apparent. First, according to all present, Don Jimines is a man of his word and will stand by his promises to the bitterest of ends. He would, it is suggested, make an excellent generalissimo (cough: figurehead) for the city or any political organization or right thinking gentleman that might yet be formed for the betterment of commerce and the protection of the city. The second current of discussion is that a substantial sum of money, at least 100 Skud but perhaps significantly more, could be made available in the case of Don Alvaro’s timely demise. It is thought that his girlfriend, Rebecca Santos, a city woman whose tastes did not extend to hiding in mountain caves, could be a useful lever in negotiating Alvaro into a vulnerable position. The dinner concludes with no firm commitments and Matthias, still under the assumed name of Lazlo, yet to reveal his identity.
Returning to the inn, Matthias, Tomasso, Vida and Shuh fall into discussion about the proposed purchase of Black Widow LLC. Shuh is entirely in favor of the arrangement since it will provide him a reliable and discreet method of getting to Aramviso. Matthias takes Shuh aside and conveys his discomfort with parting with such sums without Tomasso swearing fealty. Shuh responds by indicating that the Neu Ungrenite is unlikely to swear to anything but should be made to sign a contract outlining the terms of the arrangement. They return and the party falls to negotiating satisfactory terms and after some amicable discussion Shuh draws up the following contract:
Tomasso, hereafter referred to as the captain, will be granted the rights of captain of the vessel formerly known as the Black Widow and now provisionally named Trade’s Increase herafter referred to as the ship, and sole discretion about the sailing, manifest, crewing and any transactions in respect to the necessary taxes and customs to be levied on any delivered merchandise. Ownership of the vessel and its operations, hereafter referred to as the venture, shall remain with Matthias and Szilvia Sarkad, hereafter referred to as the owners. 70% of total proceeds from the venture, minus maintenance for the vessel and all other operating costs shall be granted to the owners who will be responsible for paying an appropriate share of this profit to other individuals as are required to be employed in the sailing of the ship, hereafter referred to as the crew. The remaining 30% of proceeds to accrue to the captain but this division will occur only after the owners have received back the initial sum of their investment of 200 Skud in initial profits. At any point during the lifetime of the contract the venture can be purchased entire from the owners by the captain for double the sum of the original investment. At the termination of the contract, should the owners be unwilling to renegotiate a new contract the captain shall have first right of purchase. The contract is binding for 5 years or the lifetime of the ship.
The contract signed, Tomasso will return to Francesca in the morning to deliver the funds and oversee the handover. Before retiring for the evening, the party is again treated to a performance by Leila with accompanied by a more anxious and jarring performance by Albert on the accordion. If Leila is feeling any of the same apprehension she does not display this when Vida invites her for a drink after the dance. During their conversation, conducted in the Southern tongue familiar to both, he asks her what her current plans are. Leila indicates that she had been hoping to gain passage on a ship heading South but that she finds herself without the resources to do so and it’s unlikely that the proceeds from playing in the inn at Tunna will change this. Asked about her past she confides that she is an escaped slave, a harem girl whose master, a Kuzbakid supporter, was murdered by the Lion Cubs. She had some little savings and has managed to escape Al-Thasdun. Vida discovering that the passage would cost her in the neighborhood of 30 Skud promises to investigate how he might be able to help her intending to raise the matter with Matthias in the near future.
The following morning Tomasso returns to Francesca with the agreed sum and departs to view the newly purchased arrangement with several maps of safe coves and contact lists in his possession. They head down to a small boat and head out of the harbor and up the coast stopping at a cleft in the cliff that Tomasso could have sworn did not exist until they were actually within the channel. Inside the small cove, a staircase heading up the cliff towards a fishing village above, lay the vessel at anchor and so protected that the worst storm the sea could deliver would scarcely disturb the rigging. A beautiful sleek black craft, her timbers soaked with tar and her sails and rigging all black giving her a sleek and predatory air. Going aboard Francesca demonstrates the four concealed cargo compartments, two for large goods storage, one for a small chest and an ingenious compartment hidden in the paneling of the prow sufficient for a person to remain concealed with breathable air for time enough to pass close inspection. Inspection concluded, Francesca introduces the two crew that had chosen to try their hand with the new venture: a taciturn man of significant size called James and a small, talkative man going by Black with dark skin but black Magyr hair. Francesca then removes her possessions from the cabin, the nameplate from the ship and wishes Tomasso good fortune. With the former owner departed, the new captain appoints James as the first mate and requests Black find several new crew, intending to sail short-handed for the first few voyages.
Preparations are made for Shuh’s departure to Aramviso. Vida suggests that Matthias meet with Leila as a potential useful contact who might have better success plying her trade in the Sarkad capital. Matthias interviews the dancer and outlines a proposal where she can get free passage to and from Aramviso if she can provide him with letters describing the current state of affairs. Leila seems amenable to the offer but suggests that she would need a small seed fund to better situate herself in the city. Matthias agrees but cannot shake the feeling that there is more to her story that has been divulged so far. If nothing else, Leila appears far more worldly than her reported backround of a freshly escaped harem slave would allow.
No other business to conclude, the two passengers depart for Aramviso, boarding Trade’s Increase at single anchor in Tunna Bay. The weather is perfect and an ideal passage gives Tomasso a chance to appreciate her sailing qualities. An extraordinary craft, certainly the finest he has ever sailed, he stays on deck throughout almost the entire journey, unwilling to relinquish the helm, savoring in the exquisite pleasure of the moment. The joy is soon replaced, however, as on the second day Aramviso comes into view and the realization of the momentous journey ahead sinks in. The imposing, dark stone walls of the city rise up from the tall cliffs that line this section of the coast. A ludicrous position to place a city from the point of coastal trade but practically impregnable. At the very cliff’s edge the citadel, flying Sarkad colors and buttressed by a pointed star of internal walls further isolating it from the city proper, soars into the sky. A large and impressive cathedral at the other end of the walled city provides an elegant rebuttal to the citadel. And they were going to try to take that throne?
The passengers debark at the hidden cove, part of a stream bed ten miles to the east of Aramviso and located in one of the king’s hunting preserves. Bidding farewell to Shuh and Leila, Tomasso sets sail for Tunna. The winds unfavorable this time they spend four days beating up, tack upon tack but without further incident gain Tunna bay once more and dock the boat in its home at Deep Cove. Tomasso promises to arrange an ex-gratia payment from the owners to the crew for their services on this necessary but unprofitable first journey and orders them to make her ready for the trip to Al-Thasdun.