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It was harvest time in the Duchy of Bostia, in the nationless jungle to its north and west, and in the Kingdom of Skragland to its northeast. Harvest time, when the great merchantmen of the fleets of far Arpalonia’s many countries filled the freeport of New Bally so that it was said a man could walk the length and breadth of Bostia Bay by simply stepping from ship to ship. The streets and inns, the taverns and brothels of the freeport were flooded with boisterous gaiety and unrestrained laughter. Seamen of scores of nations from the two continents assailed the eyes with the riot of colors of their national costumes, and assaulted the ears with the babble of their tongues. The shopkeepers and innkeepers, the serving maids and whores, the brothel mistresses and gamblers as well, ignored the assaults on their senses and reveled in the money they made from men too long at sea. Even the City Guard stood back and let their visitors party hard, intervening only when life was threatened or property wantonly destroyed.
The silos and granaries and dockside sheds of New Bally were filled to overflowing at harvest time. Mountains of burlap sacks swollen with grain, vegetables, and fruit loomed near the docks, where farmers who reached the port too late to store their crops elsewhere hoped to sell them before the rains came and brought rot. Foreign traders climbed those mountains, prowled the peripheries of the silos and granaries, poked and probed the sacks and piles of grain and produce under the sheds, squeezed the fruit, rapped on the melons and gourds, seeking the best of the foodstuffs. Traders’ magicians oversaw the loading of the foodstuffs into the ships warded holds, where they would be protected from further ripening and the resultant rot during the sea voyage to their destinations.
At harvest time the craftsmen and artisans of the Kondive Islands, across the Turquoise Sea from the great trading port, brought their wares to New Bally to trade. They had jewelry of gold, silver, brass, and gemstones aplenty. Tapestries and rugs were rolled or hung or stacked high for leafing through.
Local merchants stalked up and down the docks, inspecting the goods bought by the merchantmen. Sandal- and zebra- and other exotic woods from the farthest reaches of Arpalonia were there for sculptors and cabinet makers. Myrrh and frankincense came from even farther reaches, for lovers and the pious. Iron farm implements from far northern Ewsarcan for the farmers. Weapons of hunting and warfare from near every nation that hunted or fought—which meant from near everywhere—for warriors and hunters. Some few shipmasters offered slaves privately to selected buyers; privately, for slavery was taboo in most nations, and the slave traders could find themselves turned upon by their seamen if the seamen knew the nature of the cargo these captains had borne in hidden holds accessible only through their cabins. Breeding bulls and hogs and horses were presented for sale to ranchers and herdsmen who wished to improve their stock. Lions and tigers and bears were sold for hunting or other, less speakable, sport. Camels and impala and elephants and serpents were offered to zoos or to private collectors, for more exotic purposes than the sellers cared to inquire about.
The annual orgy of trading among the merchants, tradesmen, artisans, farmers, and herders lasted one week, during which most seamen enjoyed a different kind of orgy in the inns and shops and taverns and brothels of the freeport. During that week, those who bought—and their employees and the seamen as well as local stevedores—spent several arduous days loading and shifting and moving and lading until the ships’ holds were filled, the stores stocked, the animals herded away, and—perhaps most important—the money counted. More than half of the magicians recently released from apprenticeship could expect to sign aboard a ship. Others found employment in New Bally, the Kondives, or elsewhere in the nearby kingdoms, duchies, and principalities.
When all the cargo was aboard, some shipmasters wanted to weigh anchor and sail on the first outgoing tide for their next port of call, but most gave their crews a last night of shore leave before heading out to sea; it might be a long time before the crews had another chance for drink and women, and too long a time without drink and women can breed sedition or mutiny. More of the masters wanted to stay another night than wanted to deport immediately, so the admiral commanding the dozen or so men-o’-war shielding the harbor from raiders did his best to persuade the impatient ones to wait for the morrow, so the merchantmen could sail altogether in convoy, protected by the warships and the offshore flotilla. He succeeded with most but close to fifty fat merchantmen sailed on the evening tide. Some of them made their destinations.
During the witching hours, that time of the late night when nearly all men, even those who set out to feast and drink and whore the night away, were dead asleep, a fleet of small coast-huggers crept around the headland and into the harbor. With muffled oars they glided to the ungainly ships that wallowed together, spars and tackle and gear creaking and groaning, waiting for their crews and the morning tide. Leaving the dozen shielding men-o’-war at peace for the moment, the first wave of coast-huggers reached the outermost of the anchored merchantmen, and small groups of small men, clad only in loincloths, armed only with long daggers, swung aboard.
Each merchantman had left a mate and two or three seamen aboard overnight as fire watch. It was those the small bands of small men slew swiftly and silently. The small bands went the width and breadth of the harbor, stepping from ship to ship. When they had secured all the fat merchantmen, a mage among them dispatched an imbaluris to the warlock attending the kamazai who was the General Commanding of the invasion force. The warlock reported to the general that the merchantmen were secured. On the kamazai’s order, larger groups of small men, uniformed and armed, crept aboard the outermost merchantmen and walked the length of the harbor across the ships. When four thousand of the ten thousand in the invasion force had reached the docks, their magician dispatched an imbaluris to the kamazai’s warlock.
The General Commanding gave another command. Hordes of small men then swarmed onto the men-o’-war and slew all aboard. Lost in the creaks and groans of the wallowing ships, the clashes of battle and screams of the wounded and dying went unheard on shore.
At the same time, four thousand small, uniformed soldiers left their landing beach on the headland and marched inland to encircle the two regiments of Bostian troops guarding the city’s landward approaches. On another command, the four thousand on the docks moved rapidly into the city, where they captured the Guard and the city officials, slaying all those who offered the slightest resistance. They took prisoner all foreign seamen and soldiers, slew all who failed to surrender quickly enough. On yet another command from the kamazai, two thousand of the troops who took the city departed it to reinforce those surrounding the Bostian forces. Soon afterward, white flags fluttered above the Bostian encampments.
The conquest was so well-designed that not one of the magical weapons carried by magicians and specially trained soldiers had to be used.
By dawn it was over. When the General Commanding came ashore, he was accompanied by the Dark Prince, the half bastard fourth son of Good King Honritu, liege lord of the mountain realm of Matilda.
“You will have your kingdom, my Lord Lackland,” the kamazai said to his companion. During the long years in which the sages and magicians had worked on deciphering the tomes the Dark Prince’s magic had wrought, the hated nickname had returned.
The Dark Prince’s lips twisted into a smile. Oh, how he hated that name, and he hated no less those who used it. “No small thanks to you, Kamazai,” he said. Then his smile straightened and his eyes glowed as he envisioned the arrogant Jokapcul warlord impaled at his command—impaled along with the other kamazai, and that unspeakable High Shoton. He looked forward to the day he would give that command.
The freeport of New Bally was secure in the hands of the Jokapcul invaders, as were the merchantmen and men-o’-war in her harbor. The bivouac of each thousand-man Bostian regiment sat under a white flag. The entire invasion had cost twenty-seven Jokapcul casualties; all wounded, none dead, few likely to die of their wounds.
The General Commanding issued an edict to the Bostian troops, the New Bally Guard, and the captured seamen and sea soldiers of a score or more nations: join us or die.
Without giving their captives a chance to make the decision, his soldiers then grabbed a hundred prisoners and hanged them in full sight of the others. The rest of the prisoners immediately declared allegiance. The Jokapcul executed one in ten of those, singling out the sea soldiers of a score of nations, especially Frangerian Marines, when they could find them. The remainder they held as slaves.