Monday, December 31, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 21

Episode 21 - "An Enterprise Island"
by Camille LaGuire

Sabatine Island was vaguely star-shaped.  Four points jutted out into the sea, one in each of the cardinal directions.  Some called it the Compass of the Ocean because of this.

Philipston, it's capital, nestled in the corner between the north and west points.  It was a large city, to anyone from Acton, but not much to those from more civilized areas.  It rose up in layers from the harbor, not steeply, but in pleasant tiers, laying itself out for the view of visitors.

Overall a lovely, clean, prosperous place, except that it was entirely founded upon forced servitude.

"This is an enterprise island," said Trent.  "That means it is not a territory, or a province, or even a colony.  It is a business.  The usual concept of rights and law does not exist here.  Think of it as private property.  As soon as we set foot on the dock, we are the guests of her majesty, as embodied in the person of her royal governor.  Everything we do is at his sufferance."

"What does that mean to us?" asked Mary.

"It means that everyone here who is free, is here to make money.  They're ruled only by their charters and contracts, and by a structure of allegiances.  What you are dealing with is a pack of bullies, who don't have to answer to anyone other than bigger bullies they want to curry favor with.  On the other hand, you can buy and sell them as easily as the slaves.  Easier."

Philipston had an actual hotel, not like the glorified inn they stayed at in Parkiol.  Mary had never seen anything like it.  It took up a whole block, and did not have any of the crowd and bustle of an inn.  Not that Mary cared one way or the other.  She wanted to get searching, but Trent advised them to go to Government House and register to do business on the island first.

"It may not be necessary, but it will be easier if you do," he said, as he left them to go on about his own business.

The hotel was not far from Government House, which sprawled above the town, a fortress in heavy, dull stone.  But close did not mean quick.  The offices were busy, and they had to wait.  Lady Ashton lifted an eyebrow at a pair of men who were sitting on a bench just outside the door.  Apparently that was enough to intimidate them into giving up their seats, and the ladies got to sit, while Sherman attempted to do the work.

The sun was incredibly bright.  Perhaps that's why everything was painted in colors.  Not like Acton, where everything was green or brown by nature, or if it was painted, it was white.  Here, white would blind you.  Mary reveled in color when she could, but this place was so rich, it seemed excessive even to her.  Which only went to show how much influence the Plain folk had back home.  They were sturdy people whose ancestors had been deported for heresy.  A lot of the stubborn Actonian character came from them.  Mary laughed.

"What is it?" said Lady Ashton.

"I was just thinking how the Plain folk back home would react to so much color. I think the strongest would faint dead away.  I might myself."

"It is a bit much, isn't it?"

"But I like color.  The more the better, usually."  She thought for a moment.  There were banners being hung all over the building next to them, which extended for blocks, and posts of heavy flowers by every window perfumed the air. "Maybe it seems like putting parsley on a rotten fish.  With all those banners and garlands they're hanging, it's like they're overdoing it to cover what's rotten."

"Don't look in that direction," said Lady Ashton.  "Look this way."  She pointed away from the Government House, down a street to the side, where flowers cascaded naturally down an incline beside the road.  They were orange and red.  Mary adored orange.

"That is lovely."

"See, there is beauty under the rot, as well as on top of it."  Lady Ashton fanned herself and sighed.  "I wish I'd brought my sketchpad."

"But you couldn't catch the colors with a pencil, could you?"

"Color isn't all there is to see."

Mary had seen Lady Ashton work with her pencils and chalks, and listened to her talk about it.  She knew the woman could see things of shadow and light that you wouldn't normally notice.  And Mary was so restless.

"I'll go back to the hotel and get your pad for you."

"No.  We'll probably be done soon."

"Can't sit still," said Mary.  She jumped up.  "I'll be back quick.  And if you're done, I'll probably meet you on the way back here."

She peeked in at Sherman, and it appeared that all of those who had been there ahead of them were still waiting as well.  It would be a while.

But Mary didn't go to the hotel.

She went to the offices of the slave market.  She shouldn't go by herself, she knew.  Not that she was worried about being mistreated.  No she was worried about seeing too much of the misery hidden under the garlands. 

But the man who gave her directions said the office wasn't inside the market grounds and it wasn't a sale day anyway.  Besides, Mary couldn't bring herself to wait.

Available after 8am EST, onThursday, January 3

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
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