1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 05

“Pray continue,” Gervais returned in that language.

“We have medicines to defeat some of the more common sickness, if we’re careful about food and water we’ll avoid most of the ick, and as we’re not headed to Bombay or the wetter regions of India, there’s less risk of mosquito-born infections like malaria.”

Monique watched Gervais grasping for some argument. “Less is not –”

“Aren’t you always telling me that risk is what makes life worth living?” she snapped.

Gervais threw his hands wide. “Oh, but it does!” He shot a dark glance at his daughter. “It’s right up there with the joy of haggling for a good price for one’s skills. A joy you killed, thank you very much.”

Realizing, at last, that her father’s antics had — mostly — been a tactic, she tossed her curls. “Papa!”

Don Francisco Nasi snorted. The Totmans chuckled.

Given time and a few choice words, Gervais could charm the hardest heart. It was a gift, and a curse. She saw that he’d already worked his magic on the Totmans, and likely Nasi as well, though the man was a much harder read.

Realizing the room had gone quiet, she turned to the up-timers. “And how were you two brought into this?”

Priscilla took her husband’s hand in hers. “I have always wanted to travel to India. Too many movies, I suppose. I’ve always loved the idea of seeing it. I had thought, well, there was no chance it would happen since the Ring of Fire, but then we got the offer.”

Her husband nodded. “As to why we got picked: we’re both trained medics, with some advanced medical and pharmacological training. That included a fairly intensive course in obstetrics from Dr. Adams. We’ll be along to keep everyone as healthy as we can, while maybe seeing if we can’t improve conditions for the locals.”

Nasi cleared his throat. “And they will consult on securing our wounded soldiers a steady supply of opium.”

Monique noticed that something about the unfamiliar word made both up-timers uncomfortable.

“What?” Monique asked.

“Laudanum,” Nasi tried to clarify.

“Oh,” Monique said, still not sure what the substance was.

“What is it about the stones of immortality that makes you uncomfortable, Madame Totman?” Gervais asked, simultaneously informing his daughter what they were discussing. It was a substance used for treatment of some ailments, and as a powerful painkiller. It was good for putting careless men to bed early, too.

Priscilla shrugged and glanced at her husband, who tried to explain. “We up-timers are…conflicted about certain drugs.” He grinned. “Aw, hell, we’re entirely messed up about ’em. I blame Ronnie Raygun’s wife, she had a very successful ad campaign aimed at making Americans think all drugs are bad.”

Monique’s continuing confusion must have been apparent, as Priscilla added: “A president when we were both really just kids, back up-time: his wife was a part of a propaganda campaign in what was called, ‘The War On Drugs.’ When Don Francisco says, ‘secure a supply of opium,’ we flash over to an image of a man with an egg in one hand, saying: ‘This is your brain,’ then the egg frying in oil and the motto, ‘This is your brain on drugs.’ ”

“Ah,” Monique said, parsing all the unfamiliar terms.

Even Nasi looked as if he’d learned something new.

Rodney Totman’s laughter was loud, even in the large space: “Fancy being a drug kingpin, honey?”

She joined her husband, those white teeth flashing.

Monique liked the way Priscilla looked at her husband, it gave her hope for the institution of marriage.

“Forgive me being blunt, but I foresee some issues,” Gervais said, setting his wine aside.

Nasi gestured for him to continue.

“Muslims, like many devoutly religious folk, have particular views on the body and its administration. Those views may render Monsieur and Madame Totman’s undoubted medical skills a commodity without a buyer. Unless you wish to call on my talents for games of confidence, it seems that aside from their skills, we have very little to sell the Mughals in exchange for their opium and saltpeter.”

Nasi nodded. “We have some specialists arriving from Magdeburg in the next few days who will provide additional technical expertise we believe the Mughals will be interested in: several young men trained in railroad construction and engineering. They’ve just been released from service on detached duty, and will provide additional security for the trade mission.”

“Who?” Rodney asked.

“John Ennis.”

“Ah, J.D. is good people. Met him while we were in basic training,” Rodney said.

“Just so,” Nasi said with a nod. “Along with him are three young men direct from the TacRail units; Maddox, Wiley, and Baldwin.”

“Bobby Maddox?” Mrs. Totman asked.

Nasi nodded.

“Remember him from our wedding, Rodney? He’s a parishioner.”

Monique had the impression Rodney didn’t, but the huge man nodded anyway.

“Railroads, eh? Can’t say I know too much about them, but that I thought they required a great many up-time technical wonders to push cargo along.”

“Pull,” Rodney corrected, “in the case of trains, but yes, they do require locomotives.” He looked expectantly at Nasi.

“We have that settled, short-term, as well as how we’ve chosen to fulfill one of the other requirements of court life…”

“The giving of bribes?” Gervais said as the other man drank.

Swallowing and lowering his glass, Nasi smiled without humor. “In my experience, the courts of eastern potentates prefer calling such, ‘the giving of presents.’ That said, if they choose to give the mission the full diplomatic treatment rendered to the Ottomans or English, the mission members can expect to come away from this trip with some substantial gifts from the court, merely for showing up.”

Gervais yawned, looking terribly uninterested. Monique recognized the expression as the surest sign her father’s greed was holding the reins of his mind.

* * *

“Landsmen’s legs,” Captain Strand said, watching the three young Grantville men walk up the gangplank to board Lønsom Vind.

The captain, Gervais, and Rodney Totman were standing on the poop deck of the Danish fluyt. Well, Gervais and Strand were standing; Rodney’s nausea had him leaning at the rail.

Seasickness made distilling the Dane’s words from his accent difficult, but Rodney persevered: “Yes, yes it will.”

“And at the end of the voyage, more uncertainty.”

“Yes, there is that.”

“You talk little. This is good. Unexpected, but good.” Strand pointed a thick finger at the young men, now making their way below decks. “Any of them going to prove useful?”

“At sea? Probably not. Why?”

Strand turned to face Rodney and shrugged. “Going to be a long time at sea. Each journey made, I have lost sailors, either to the sea upon transit of the Cape or to disease caught along the way. We might have a need for young men.”

“I think you will find your losses to illness minimized.”

“I thought it strange, the way you insisted on spraying every inch of the ship.” The captain snorted. “But getting rid of my ratter? Sure, he was a flea-bitten mutt, but he was loyal, and well-liked by the crew.”

“That’s just it, Captain: fleas are the carriers of many illnesses. Besides, all the rats should have been killed by the fumigation process. You did set a watch on the mooring lines to prevent more rodents coming aboard, as instructed?”

The Captain nodded, pulling a face. “Next you’ll have us eating dainties.”

Gervais smiled. “How did you know?”

Blonde brows shot up in surprise. “An attempt at humor, only.”

“Preserved fruits, Captain, are quite tasty.”

“Your men will likely be in better shape, medically, once we arrive in India than they are now,” Rodney added.

Rodney caught a glance Gervais sent at Captain Strand. Realizing too late how condescending that might have sounded, he opened his mouth to apologize.

But Strand just shrugged. “I would say it was hard to believe, but then I look at the size and shape of you and the other up-timer men, and I believe. Is there a bent back or malformed leg among you?”

“A few. Believe it or not, we had more health issues from being fat than from badly-healed limbs, rickets, and that sort of thing.”

Strand patted his belly. “How is showing one’s prosperity a problem?”

“When it leads to heart disease and diabetes.”

Strand put a hand on his chest, brows drawing together, “Disease of the heart? Fleas carry this disease as well?”

“Well, no…they carry…Let me see…how to explain…”

Gervais, chuckling, broke in, “Normally I would dread the boredom of a long sea voyage, but with you up-timers every conversation will provide five more things to talk about!”