Burdens Of The Dead – Snippet 20


The admiral took a deep breath. He was an old man, and there was much in the way of punishment that the Venetian senate could mete out to him. On the other hand less than they could do to a young and ambitious captain. And Lemnossa could see the scars of combat on the Genoese vessels. They’d lost comrades, been lucky, and come crawling to an old enemy. “You can sail under our flag,” he said gruffly, wondering why he did this.

By the look on the face of the Genoese captain he did too. But the admiral had a fleet full of refugees, and still had a Baitini prisoner below decks. “We may need extra strength. There has been some hint of trouble. We’ll reprovision, water the vessels and sail. The merchants and the whores are going to be very unhappy with us, Captain. A good part of the fleet will stay at outside the port. Unsettled times. We can part company once we’re in Byzantine waters.”

“Thank you, m’lord. We’ve…we’ve got a fair number of wounded aboard. And some damage.” The captain swallowed. “We could pass some of your ships through Byzantium under our flag. It’d would save you a great deal in tariffs.”

“That way our respective masters who are far away and safe might just be more understanding,” said the admiral. “Is there any other help we can render? — seeing as we’re both probably going to have to explain our actions. Me to the Senate, and you to your duke.”

“And his council,” said the captain, sourly. “Well. They’ll be angry enough about the loss the ships and cargoes. My thanks, M’lord, we’ve got a chirurgeon, and work on the ships may have to wait until we have a safe port. We’ve done what we can, and just hope we have no more storms or encounters with these…pirates.”

The admiral noted the pause. “Ah, so you think not, then?”

“There were too many of them, and their vessels were too alike. In Crimea the Mongols pay tribute to the north. We’ve been trying to make a treaty with the voivode of Odessa to allow us to trade up the Dnieper…” He realized that he’d said too much and shut up.

“But no deal, eh?”

“No. Not even vessels into Odessa,” said Captain Di Tharra.

The admiral knew the Council of Ten in Venice were very pleased that they had a spy in the city of Odessa. It hadn’t seemed that valuable to Lemnossa before. Well, he’d been wrong. And he wondered if Venice heard from their man, and how?

*   *   *

The two fleets proceeded together. Two days later they sighted CapeSinope — a triumph of good luck over navigation, the admiral knew, but he was willing to take the credit for it. It helped to have the sailors believe in his ability. The Genoese vessels had struck their colors and now flew the Winged Lion of Venice. The admiral didn’t ask how come they had such a flag. He had a Genoese red cross in his flag locker too.

Lemnossa had the remaining Baitini prisoner brought up to him. The man had apparently been very sea-sick. He still looked ghostly-pale. “Do you want to go ashore?” the admiral asked, as if the prisoner was one of his captains, and this was just a casual question.

The prisoner tried to gather spittle.

“Now, now. I made you a perfectly reasonable offer. We let your companion go when he accepted it. And, as we have not been attacked, he kept his side of the bargain. We did explain you would be…dealt with if he failed us. He must be fond of you.”

“You lie, unbeliever.”

The admiral shrugged. “We will let you go when we leave port. All you have to do is as your friend did: tell them we make sail for Theodosia, and then the shipyards in the Dnieper.” It was unlikely that this minor foot soldier would even know where those places were.

“Why are you telling me this?” demanded the Baitini, suspicious, his voice harsh.

The admiral raised his eyebrows. You really didn’t have to be very clever to take orders to murder. In fact, being clever was probably a disadvantage. “It should be very obvious even to you. We’re not. If you tell your people that, we let you go. And we will free the crew of the boat that carried you, if you keep your word.” The admiral knew just what value the Baitini would place on those fishermen’s lives. He gambled however that the Baitini would not know that he knew. “They helped you. It would be fair and honorable.”

The assassin took a second or two to grasp all this. “Very well. You will let them go?”

“What use are they to me? They will complain to the sultan if they get home, but I will be far away. I’m not coming back. This is my last convoy.”

“I will do this,” said the assassin with his best attempt at looking sincere.

The admiral wondered if he’d taken to religious murder because he was a failure at selling unsound horses. But he said nothing, and had him taken below.

“What was that about?” asked his captain, when the man was back in the tiny cabin they’d kept him in. It would take a while to clean it, after the Baitini had gone, they both knew.

“Well, he’ll run to his masters here in Sinope, and tell them what he knows — which is nothing more than they know — we’re here, we did not take a heading out across the Black Sea. At the very least, he’ll end up having his companion killed as a traitor. At best they won’t be expecting us to a dog-leg to sea — towards the north. When and if they work that out — they obviously have some way of communication with the pirates, they may conclude we really are heading for their lairs and boatyards. It’s an outside chance, and they may wish to send vessels back to defend them. Whatever. We lose nothing, and we sow a great deal of distrust about the value of their information. Eventually that’ll help us.”

“You should be directing the Council of Ten, M’lord.”

The admiral smiled. “If they don’t take my head, if we get back in one piece, I hope I’ll be allowed to join them one day. It might be less tricky than this. Anyway, how goes the re-watering?”

“Fast, M’lord. We’ll be ready to sail by tomorrow. The bey doesn’t like the way we’re doing things, though.”

“Then I shouldn’t be surprised if I am summonsed to an audience. Probably tomorrow. It would be today but I must be ignored for a suitable amount of time. And I expect some of the Baitini will try to kill me. So I would like you to know what I have planned.”

“We should be ready to sail tonight,” said the captain firmly.

The admiral smiled. “While I don’t believe you, let us do so. We can cope with less water for a day or two. I’m a little behind on confessions and penances, and I’d like the opportunity to sin a few more times before my final reckoning is made.”