One Thousand Years of Waste (Lore Drive Submission)
The deck wrenched under Gresel’s feet, jerking him to his knees. He scrambled to grab hold of the rail and pulled himself back up. Glancing back at the starboard side, he saw a stream of filthy men pouring across the gangplank, cutting down the sailors with chipped swords and brandishing flaming torches. Arrows zipped through the air, clattering against the deck around him, a few finding purchase in the wood. Men screamed as the pirates tore threw them.
Gresel shook his head and dashed towards the stern deck, away from the pirates. Were there lifeboats? He wasn’t sure. The captain of the ship was missing, and there were only a handful of weapons onboard. But those had already been taken by other sailors, who were now lying dead on the deck, trampled by the advancing marauders. Gresel noticed one of the pirates pull open the cargo hatch and toss his torch in, while another lifted theirs to set fire to the closest sail.
He felt a punch in his back, like a kick from a horse, and then pain. Hellfire in his bones, crippling pain brought him to his knees, screaming something he couldn’t hear. His vision was blocked with tears and the last rational part of his mind realized he had been shot by an arrow. He slumped against the rail and as he bled onto the wooden planks of the deck, his head turned to look out over the empty sea. There, to the south, he thought he could just barely see a city on the water, evening sun shining through its towers. Arcos.
Two months later...
The secretary knocked on the door. “Come in,” a voice said from the other side. The secretary pulled it open and gestured for Gaver to enter. He swallowed the lump in his throat and adjusted his cravat, then stepped in, portfolio in hand.
The office was small but sparse, taken up almost entirely by the darkly polished wooden desk, behind which, Lord Jerris sat. The noble was barrel-chested and heavy-browed, suggesting possible dwarven heritage, and dressed in an impressively embroidered old-fashioned tunic and cape one would only ever see a confident bourgois wearing. He glanced nonchalantly at Gaver and gestured to the chair across from him. Gaver quickly took the seat, stiffly bowing to Jerris and resisting the urge to shuffle the papers in his lap.
“Yes hello-” Jerris glanced at a piece of paper on his desk- “Gaver Altain, secretary treasurer of the Edificate Society.” He put down the paper and professionally folded his hands on the desk. “What were you hoping to discuss today?” His voice was heavy, like his lips were made of slag iron. It filled Gaver with rage.
Two months, leading up to this, he thought. “Yes, my lord. Well, as the treasurer of the Edificate Society, I have in recent months been attempting to better acquaint myself with trade and mercantile dealings, a field you are well entrenched in. More than any other member of the City Council. And I believe you know my father?”
“Captain Altain?” Jerris asked. “Of course, yes, we have had many productive and civil exchanges over the years. A good man, a good man.”
“Yes, he brought you to my attention in the first place. Anyways,” Gaver pulled out his portfolio and began rifling through the parchments inside. “I’ve been doing some independent research and some things came to my attention I was hoping we could discuss.”
Jerris furrowed his brow slightly. “Such as?”
“Well, my lord, a disastrous event occured two months ago, in the seas just north of Arcos, as I’m sure you remember. The vessel Quintere was utterly destroyed by a band of pirates, sunk and lost, wholesale.”
“Yes, I do remember that. Such a terrible loss. Twenty people died, I believe.”
“Thirty.” Gaver said. “My brother, Gresel, was on it.”
There was a moment of silence. “I see. I am sorry for your loss.” Gaver just nodded. “But what’s your point? Pirates often sink ships.”
“Exactly. In my research I started to look into that. Why would they sink ships? They have nothing to gain from that, except the attention of the navy. So I looked into all of the confirmed sinkings in the past five years.” He pulled out a couple of sheets of numbers. “They were hard to come by, since most didn’t happen in sight of the harbor, but I found that the navy confirmed fifteen sunken vessels in the sea around Arcos.” He closed his portfolio. “Over two hundred lives lost.”
Jerris simply looked at Gaver, unreadable.
“There was little in common between the victims, no single cargo, destination, or employer. So I looked into the raiders. Piracy is rampant around here, and has been for a thousand years. But a vast majority of pirate encounters don’t result in sinking. Because as I said before, they would have nothing to gain. Then I found this.” He pulled out one piece of parchment. “A report by the navy, from two years ago.” He handed it to Jerris.
The nobleman looked it over, eyes steady and surveying. “The pirates were employed.”
“Yes,” Gaver said. “The navy followed one of their ships to a tiny trading outpost to the west of Arcos. They found clear evidence of the pirates receiving vast shipments of gold from someone.”
Jerris looked back over the document. “Mister Altain, I know the person who wrote this report. I was involved in the investigation, as part of the City Council. The case went cold, we don’t know the source of the money.”
Jerris handed back the document. “Do you now?”
Gaver fought to keep his voice steady. “Yes, my lord. I talked to the navy officers who followed the ship, I read the reports, and I even got access to certain parts of the investigation, thanks to my father. See, only a certain amount of gold passed through Arcos that year, so I could source where a lot of it had come from, including the vast amount eventually given to the pirates. It had flowed through a lot of back channels, but, well, the pirates were paid by the South Arcosian Merchant’s Guild.”
Jerris stared at him.
“Your merchant guild, my lord.”
Jerris didn’t move. His eyes stayed fixed on Gaver, whose breaths grew more and more laborious.
I did it, he thought. I figured it out, and I finally said it. I called him out.
After a few silent moments, Jerris, expressionless, reached over and rang a little bell on the corner of his desk. The secretary immediately stuck their head in.
“Yes, my lord?”
“Fell, write up a report detailing young mister Gaver’s illegal obtaining of classified City Council documents, including evidence in an unreleased navy investigation, and send it to my friend the constable. Poor Gaver Altain, driven to grief by his brother’s death, striking out and turning to crime, a truly sad tale.”
“At once, my lord.” The secretary disappeared. Jerris looked back at Gaver.
“What was that?” Gaver said, standing up, eyes wide in fear.
Jerris’ face remained steady. “The constable will collect your documents, including those you have right here in front of me. Since you’re currently operating officially as your society’s treasurer, the entire Edificate Society will be investigated for possible criminal action. Not to mention being tried for libel against a senior City Council member, nobleman and civil servant, poor old Lord Jerris.”
Gaver’s mouth hung open.
“Of course, the investigation will find you guilty, the Edificates will be broken up or imprisoned, your father’s good name stained, and you? I’d say you have a month before you’re on a ship south to the Mushroom Gulag.”
Gaver tried to speak, but nothing came out. Jerris watched him for a moment, reclining in his chair, then laughed. “Honestly, boy, I’m impressed. You almost won, finding out all of this on your own. You just made the mistake of bringing it to me. What did you hope to accomplish? Did you think I would throw myself at your feet and beg for mercy?”
“You- you killed my brother!”
“No, the pirates killed your brother.”
“You don’t even care! You’ll ruin innocent lives for your own preservation!”
“Oh Idol’s Wrath, boy!” He jabbed a finger at Gaver. “You decided to play the game, and you lost. The least you can do is face it like a real man. We all take gambles every day, I’ve just had more experience on how to place my bets.”
Gaver fell back into his chair, portfolio forgotten in front of him. “Why?” he said, almost whispered.
“If you had studied economy a little longer, I think you would understand. Sometimes it helps to have assets removed entirely, and without links to yourself. The market needs careful pruning, like a well-kept hedge.”
Gaver was burning with a pain. Hellfire in his stomach, his confusion was scorched away into the cinder of anger.
“My father trusted you!” He couldn’t hear himself scream. “He said you were a good man! A patriot! A man of Arcos!”
Jerris barely reacted, though any smile left fell away from his face. He stared off, past Gaver. “There are no more men of Arcos,” he growled, like a cat’s quiet warning. “This is a dead city, a rotten corpse hidden behind a pretty face. Everyone here is in for themselves, nothing more. At least I have the honor to admit it.” He turned to look back at Gaver. “There are no good men or women left here, just the last dregs of a thousand years of waste.”
“That doesn’t just excuse-”
“To the Idols with excuse!” He was standing now. “We’re a dead people! There hasn’t been honor in Arcos for a thousand years, maybe more. You want good men? Patriots? Look south. Look east. We call ourselves civilized, but we’re on the edge of the world, here, no matter about claims of ancient empire. It’s in those far-off realms, those hardy, enduring people that the future lies. Those who faced a thousand years of darkness and came out triumphant, leading the fire forwards, it is them that will forge the path of Candarion. They are realms of honest leaders, visions and prophecy, and yes, good men. Not scheming city councilors and sniveling young intellectuals riding off their father’s money. Not like here.” he sat back down again. “The world is changing, Gaver. It’s shifting. And we’ve been left behind.” He matched the young man’s gaze. There was pain in Jerris’ eyes. A hellfire.