Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 49

Hugh made his way back to the ship. Near the dock, Theoson was standing in the middle of a crowd of people. Hugh prepared for the worst, ready to pull him out of whatever he had gotten himself into.

“Poverty is its own virtue,” Theoson boomed as he gestured toward the crowd. “For it is in poverty that everything which is virtuous becomes a necessity, and everything that is not virtuous is impossible.”

“Is it really virtue then?” asked a man standing next to him. “Can it be virtue if you are forced to do it? If you are not making choices, if you are merely a victim of your circumstance, are you truly virtuous, or are you just a fool who is shackled to his lowly lot in life, trying desperately to justify –”

“You ignorant fool,” Theoson interrupted. “If you have chosen poverty, you have made your choice!”

Many in the crowd cheered.

“And how many chose poverty?” asked the man who appeared to be his opponent. “How many do you convince to give away all they have? How many bright, successful individuals have walked away from wealth to lead a life of poverty?”

“Besides myself?” Theoson asked, smiling.

“Of course,” the man said, nodding once.

“Just one, but such is the rarity of virtue among the rich. I wish nothing more than for everyone to have so much money that they could see that no amount of it could make them happy. The poor know this instinctively, because they have none of it. Yet they are happy, because true happiness does not come from empty pleasure, but from the knowledge that you have lived virtuously, and that is a happiness that can never be taken from you. No tax collector, no money lender, no thief, no greedy spouse or spoiled child can steal the happiness of a virtuous life.”

Many in the crowd cheered, while some booed. Theoson’s opponent motioned with his hands for people to calm down. He cleared his throat once the crowd quieted. “No one denies that a virtuous life is an admirable thing, but how can you say that happiness relies upon virtue when so many vile people die happy.”

Theoson shook his head. “Oh, I believe they died happy, for it was in death that for the first time they did what nature prescribed of them. Of course a rich man dies happy, but a virtuous man lives happy. Besides, I would say you judge a man not by whether he is happy when he dies, but rather whether those around him are happy when he dies. If they are glad he has died, how good of a man could he have been? A man whose passing causes not only those who knew him well, but all those who knew him only in passing to mourn it as a true loss, that is the kind of man who lived well.”

Everyone was quiet for a bit. After a few moments, Theoson turned to face his opponent and said, “I will curse you the way I curse all of my critics: May your children grow up in luxury.” With that, he motioned to Hugh and made his way to the ship.

“Who was that?” Hugh asked.

“Just some insignificant fellow,” said Theoson. “My reputation precedes me here.”

They waited on board the ship for a while until the sailors were all back on board. They loaded up with citrus fruits, which were placed next to the dirt below deck.

They sailed all of that afternoon and into the night. The next morning, when Hugh awoke, they were still sailing. They spent all day and night on the water, just within sight of the shore. They ate dried meats and the last of the bread for dinner. Again, they sailed through the night.

The next morning was even more sailing, but around when the sun was at its highest point in the sky, they were within sight of the next port. They arrived quickly on a swift wind, and docked.

It was a small fishing village, dominated by its largest building: a tall, alabaster white lighthouse. As they were docking, crowds formed at the shore.

Hugh could hardly understand them. He understood every word they said, but they used words from several languages, and they never spoke in complete sentences. It was mostly numbers, the word “fish,” the names of several types of fish, and various items which the sailors had brought for trade.

“Stay close,” said Theoson. “We won’t be here long. Nothing to see in this place.”

“What language are they speaking?” Hugh asked.

“Some sort of business language that is common among sea traders. I don’t think it has a name, and no one really ‘speaks’ it, they just shout items and amounts in every language they know until something is recognized, or even just hold up an item and use hand signals to point to what they want and to indicate the number.”

“So we’re here for… fish?”

Theoson nodded. “From here on out, that’s one of the main things we’ll be eating. The ship has no kitchen, so it’s pretty much salted fish until Polity.”

Several dozen large fish were carried on board, as well as baskets full of finger sized fish.

Many of the villagers seemed to find excuses to brush pack Hugh, to get near him, to simply touch him randomly. Hugh saw a child point at him briefly before his mother held his arm down and shushed him.

Hugh held up a gold coin and the crowd around him grew dense. He saw a man with many large, flat fish hanging from a rod. He gave the man the coin and took the rod, which had five fish on it. Hugh returned to the ship.

“You gave that guy more money for five fish than most of them earn in a few years,” said a sailor as he got on board.

“Oh,” said Hugh.

“They’re going to think you’re either generous or stupid,” said the sailor.

“Well… it was a stupid error,” Hugh said. “But it was a kind error.”

Another sailor brought on a closed jar and Hugh asked what it was. The sailor put it down and opened it. “Bitumen.”

“What’s that?” Hugh asked.

“Sticky black tar that we need for the ship. We smear it on the boards below deck to keep it waterproof and to prevent rot. It bubbles up from the ground here, which is why almost everyone in town is a fisherman. There are no farms here, no cattle grazing, only what the people can get from the sea and through trade.”

Before too long, they set sail again. They sailed on for the rest of the day and into the night.

Hugh spent most of his time helping on deck while Theoson talked to him. He told Hugh about his ideas on how the world worked, why people did what they did, what it means to be a good person, and all the sort of subjects that educated men pride themselves on being able to talk about at length.

Theoson was deeply concerned with virtue. He went on and on about how one must constantly be training oneself, physically and mentally. Hugh had his doubts as to whether physical training had anything to do with virtue, but Theoson was convinced that one must be physically capable of helping others before one can actually help others. It seemed to exclude those who were weak, which Hugh did not find to be a virtuous stance.

Theoson did not hold any Diva dear to him. He respected them all, but he did not hold one above the others as a personal favorite, like so many did. Instead, he idolized Thoracles, a human hero. Or rather, a part human, part god.

Thoracles apparently acted with honor in all things, but he suffered from a type of madness that was a punishment from the Divas who saw him as a threat. As a result, he would at times hurt innocent people without realizing what he was doing. However, he always labored to make sure he compensated his victims as best he could, and he accomplished many great feats to atone for his crimes. He even conquered Death itself and brought someone back to the land of the living. For this, he was ultimately killed by the Divas, who saw him as dangerous to the natural order.

It all seemed counter-productive to Hugh. Theoson spoke of doing all he could to live like the Divas, who wanted for nothing. Yet, he ignored the fact that those who even began to approach the greatness of the Divas were ultimately struck down. It was as if Theoson had a death wish, if Hugh understood the situation correctly.

But Hugh knew he was safe, because Theoson did not live like the Divas, he lived like a beggar. Still, Hugh humored him and listened with growing distaste to all Theoson had to say.

After three days at sea, they came to the Ruby Isles. They looked black. Everything everywhere on the islands was black, as far as Hugh could see.

They sailed around one of the islands and came to a small port with a single dock. When they were tied up, Hugh helped them unload the soil, which was carried off by workers. Even at the shore, there was almost nothing there but black ground and the dock itself.

What Hugh noticed when he set foot on the land was how hard it was. It was solid rock.

“You’re standing on one of the biggest rubies in the world,” said Theoson.

“Really?” Hugh asked.

“These islands are composed almost completely of solid ruby. It’s a very hard gem, and the quality of the ruby here is very low, so they don’t bother mining it. But the flower that grows here… it’s pure magic, really.”

For the several tons of dirt, a man in black robes handed the ship’s captain a small glass vial. The captain also gave him an empty glass vial which looked similar. In the vial given to the captain was less than a pinch of red powder.

“That’s worth a soldier’s yearly pay, right there,” said Theoson. “That will be used to treat pain for hundreds of people.”

Hugh walked up to the captain and peered into the vial: just some red powder, the hue of fresh blood, not much bigger than a pea.

Hugh looked the captain in the eye. “Is there any way I can bring back some ruby for someone I know? They use gemstones.”

“You’d have to ask him,” pointing to the back in the black robes.

Hugh asked him and a worker was sent off to get a mining pick. It was given to Hugh, and he was led to a location nearby. Hugh was shown where to strike, and he gave it a proper swing.

Black and dark red rock flew in every direction, causing some of the curious onlookers to turn and retreat a bit. The ground around him was covered in fragments of rubies, mostly covered with a brownish material, with deep red coloring where the ruby was exposed. He began picking them up one by one.

After he had a large handful, he turned to leave.

“You did about a day’s work in one swing,” said the man in the black robes.

“I didn’t even give it all I had,” said Hugh, handing him the pick. “I didn’t want to break this. Thank you.”

They got back on the boat and sailed onward to Polity. They would need to sail three days straight, at least.

During the first night, Hugh woke up an instant before he face slammed into the wall of the stall he slept in. He struggled to his feet and fell over, then stumbled again after trying to stand once more. He walked hunched over, half crawling with his hands on each step as he went up onto the main deck, only to be sprayed by sea water.

There was a flash of lightning, following almost instantly by a sharp clap of thunder. Hugh saw Theoson helping the sailors bring down the sails. Waves tossed the boat about, causing it to list almost to the point of tipping over a couple times. Hugh watched someone fall over the deck, but he was too afraid to go near to edge to do anything.

Hugh huddled under one of the two masts, clutching it tight. When the sails were down, Theoson went over to Hugh and held onto him. He tried to say something to Hugh, but he was only able to understand a few words over the noise of the storm and the creaking of the boat. He thought he heard the word “hold.”

As Hugh looked around, he saw most of the sailors just simply holding on to something, though the captain maintained his post at the control of the rudder. Waves continued to crest over the sides, bringing water up onto the deck which washed from one side of the ship to the other.

Through it all, Theoson let go of Hugh and unsteadily made his way below deck. After a short while, he returned rolling a barrel. Theoson looked him in the eye and kept shouting, “Don’t let go of this barrel,” until Hugh nodded and held it firm.

There was a loud creaking, then a snap, and Hugh couldn’t see where it came from. The ship listed to one side, but this time it didn’t right itself, it just tipped over. Hugh was smacked in the face by some rigging and he tasted blood in his mouth, all the while holding firm to the mast and barrel, Theoson holding onto him.

As the ship continued to slowly capsize, they were hanging by the mast, until a sudden lurch caused them to be dunked into the sea, beneath the boat.

To be continued…

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