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Opening Atlantis

Harry Turtledove - Author

ePub eBook | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781101212868 | 528 pages | 04 Dec 2007 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
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Summary of Opening Atlantis Summary of Opening Atlantis Reviews for Opening Atlantis An Excerpt from Opening Atlantis
Atlantis lies between Europe and the East Coast of Terranova. For many years, this land of opportunity lured dreamers from around the globe with its natural resources, offering a new beginning for those willing to brave the wonders of the unexplored territory.

It is a new world indeed: ripe for discovery, for plunder, and eventually for colonizationóbut will its settlers destroy the very wonders they had journeyed to Atlantis to find?

Edward Radcliffe steered the St. George toward Le Croisic. Soon he would take the fishing boat out into the Atlantic after cod. Before he did, though, he needed salt, or his cargo would spoil before he brought it back to England. The marshes of Guérande, in southern Brittany, yielded the best salt in this part of the world. That was what he wanted. Edward Radcliffe, though far from rich, had never been one to settle for anything less than the best.

He was nearly fifty, a big bull of a man, with broad shoulders, weathered red skin, and a thick shock of hair going from yellow toward white because of the sun at least as much as because of the years. Two of his sons, Richard and Henry, were part of the little cog's crew. They showed what Edward had looked like before the years began to challenge him.

Le Croisic stood on a spit of land that stuck out three miles into the sea from the marshes. As always, ships from every land in the western part of the world crowded the waters around the port. They all had different lines and rigging. A lubber couldn't have told one from another—but then, Edward Radcliffe neither knew nor cared about the various breeds of sheep.

He was, however, no lubber. When he saw a Basque boat, he didn't think it came from Ireland. The French built different from the Dutch, and the English differently from either. Endless variations on each theme . . . "You know what?" he called from his place at the tiller.

A couple of the fishermen nodded. More of the crew laughed at him. "We've got to take you into town and get you drunk, Father," Henry said. "You're thinking too much. You need to salt down your brain."

Everybody laughed at that, even Edward. "Sharper than a viper's fang to have a snot-nosed brat," he said. With a chilly wind driving them on from the northwest, everybody's nose—including his own—was dripping snot. Henry stuck out his tongue. Like Richard, he was even bigger than their father, and at the high spring of his strength rather than at the beginning of its autumn.

"We need to go into town," Richard said, more than half to himself. He would have been a lubber if he could. He didn't love the sea the way Edward and Henry did. But he was a fisherman's son, and so he sailed with them.

The St. George squeezed into a place at the quays jut ahead of a Basque boat. The Basques, dark, blocky fellows with eyebrows that ran straight across their foreheads with no break above the nose, shouted what sounded like abuse in their peculiar language. People said the Devil himself couldn't learn it. Edward didn't know about that, but he knew he couldn't—and, besides English, he could get along in Dutch and French and, not quite so well, Breton.

"First things first," he declared. "We get the salt. We bring it back to the boat. Then we worry about everything else.

Nobody told him no, which only showed how much the crew respected him. The fishermen were men—they wanted to gamble and drink and whore before they sailed off into the wild wet wasteland of the Atlantic. They'd already had a rough passage around Cap Finistère—Land's End, the same name as the westernmost tip of Cornwall—to get here. They'd earned relief. And they would get it . . . once they did what needed doing.

Master Jean Abrgall sold the best salt in Le Croisic. The flower of salt, he called it—none of the gray, ordinary stuff mixed in. "Hello, you old thief," Radcliffe greeted him in Breton when the fishermen came up to him. Abrgall spoke perfect French, too, but he preferred the tongue he'd spoken since he was a baby.

"Yr mat, gast Saoz," he replied in that tongue. Cheers, whore of an Englishman, it meant—something like that, anyhow. Radcliffe bowed, as if at a compliment. Abrgall gave him a thin smile: the equivalent of another man's guffaw. He went on, "So the sea serpents didn't bite you and the mermaids didn't drag you under, eh?"

"Not yet," Radcliffe said. "What have you got for me, and how much will you gouge me for it?"

"Not so much, and it'll cost you more than you want," the salt merchant answered. "Come have a glass of wine with me, and we'll talk about it."

"You want to get me drunk so you can cheat me easier," Edward Radcliffe said. Unperturbed, Abrgall nodded. Radcliffe went on, "Well, seems only fair to give you a chance. How's your family?"

"They are well, God be praised." Abrgall crossed himself. So did the fisherman.

They drank. They ate a little salt cod—maybe some of Radcliffe's, but more likely from a Breton fisherman. Both men knew about what the Englishman would end up paying, but how you got there was part of the game. They swore at each other in several languages. Abrgall called Radcliffe something in what had to be Basque. "What does that mean?" Radcliffe asked.

"Beats me," Abrgall admitted. "I never could make sense of that God-cursed tongue. But it sounds good, doesn't it?"

Once the bargain was sealed with a handclasp, Radcliffe paid the salt merchant. He and his men lugged crates of shining white crystals back to the St. George. Dealing with Jean, you knew the quality would be there all the way to the bottom of each crate. Some dealers would put the cheap gray salt below, hiding it with a layer of the pure flowers. You learned the hard way not to spend your coin with people like that. Some fishermen never learned, and so the bastards stayed in business.

"All right," Edward said when the hauling job was done. He was hot and sweaty, as they were. Every little cut and scrape all over his body stung; if you worked around salt, that would happen to you. "Now we've done the work. Now we can have a day of fun. Go back into town and drink and wench as you please. I'll stay with the boat—she's mine, after all."

"No, you go, Father," Henry said. "You're entitled to enjoy yourself once in a while. I'll stay. I don't mind."

On such chances, worlds turn.

Edward and Richard Radcliffe walked into a dive called the Salicornes. Along with a grape vine, the place had a bunch of the stuff hanging above the door. In English, it was called samphire or glasswort; in springtime, its burgeoning growth turned the salt marshes purple. The locals ate boiled fresh samphire in season, and pickled it to eat when it wasn't fresh. As far as Edward was concerned, the locals were welcome to it.

When he and his son went in, the most ridiculous argument he'd ever heard had almost reached the knife-drawing stage. Some Breton fishermen and some Basques were quarreling over what year it was. They were doing it in French, which neither side spoke well—but neither spoke the other side's birthspeech at all.

"It's 1451!" the Basques shouted.

"No, by the Virgin—1452!" the Bretons yelled back. "Were you at sea so long, your wits got soaked in salt and you lost a year?"

Picking his way through the chaos, Edward asked the tapman, "Can I get myself a mug of red wine? And what are you having, son?"

"Red wine will do for me, too," Richard replied.

"Here you go, friends," said the fellow behind the counter, dipping two mugs full. He wanted nothing to do with the shouting fishermen.

But the Radcliffes couldn't stay out of the quarrel so easily. "Here are strangers who care nothing for any of us," one of the Basques said. "They will tell the truth and shame the Devil. It's 1451, not so?"

Edward's hand dropped to near his gutting knife, too: not on it, but near. "Well, now, friend, I don't mean to give offense, but I do believe it's a year later than you think."

The square-jawed Basque looked as if that knife had gone into his guts. The Bretons whooped and cheered. "Come drink with us, truthful man!" they cried. "Come eat with us, too!"

"Bide a moment," Edward said. He set another coin on the counter and pointed to the Basque fishermen. "Give these lads a round of whatever they fancy, and as much bread and cheese and salt meat as the silver will buy besides. I have no quarrel with them, and I want none." He meant that; Basques were even worse than Frenchmen for remembering feuds forever.

His gesture satisfied this table full of them, anyway. They rose one by one and bowed, each with a hand over his heart. Edward and—after a nudge from him—Richard bowed back. Then they could go over to the Bretons without seeming to be on their side.

"Drink up!" said the man who'd been loudest in inviting them to come. "If you bought for those Basque buggers, we'll buy for you. Do you know Breton, or just French?"

"I can have a go in your tongue," Edward answered, and Richard nodded.

"They can! They can!" the fishermen whooped in their own tongue. Also in Breton, the talky one said, "Good to meet you, by all the saints. I'm François Kersauzon. Will you be giving me your names?"

"Kersauzon, is it? I've heard of you, friend," Edward said, and introduced himself and Richard. "If anyone's done better in our backbreaking business, I don't know who he'd be."

"I've been lucky," Kersauzon said. Sun and salt had feathered his coppery hair with gold strands. He was slimmer than either Radcliffe, but had a fisherman's broad shoulders and scarred, callused hands.

"Lucky? I'll say! More cod and bigger cod than anybody else brings back," Edward said. "I'm jealous. I won't try to tell you any different."

"Plenty more where those came from, too," Kersauzon said easily. He wasn't drunk, no, but his tongue was loose in his mouth. One of his crewmen tried to shush him, but he didn't want to shush. "Don't fret over it, Jacques. Plenty more, yes. Is it the truth? Or is it even less than the truth? The Englishman gave the truth for us—we can give it for him."

"Kor ki du," Jacques answered. Edward hid a smile. Black dog shit—Jacques wasn't convinced.

Radcliffe grabbed a stool from another table and brought it over to the one where Kersauzon and his friends were sitting. His son did the same. The famous Breton raised his mug. "Your health!"

"!" Edward said, and drank with him. The crooked smiles some of the fishermen wore told him he didn't speak Breton all that well. They didn't bother him; he already knew it. But he won points for making the effort.

"Here," François Kersauzon said. "As you drink with us, so you can eat with us, too. Enjoy it!"

He cut a slice of the tavern's bread for Edward and another for Richard. Then, as Jacques squawked some more, he started sawing away at the most remarkable joint of meat the Englishman had ever seen. It looked like a smoked and salted goose's drumstick . . . except that it was larger than his own calf, large enough to stretch almost from one side of the table to the other.

It was dark meat, like goose. It tasted a lot like goose—but, Edward thought, not quite the same. He knew he might have been wrong. Goose he usually ate fresh, and the smoking and salting could well have changed the flavor. It was almost like eating goose ham.

"Good. Mighty good." He talked with his mouth full. Richard, busy eating, nodded. Edward went on, "So along with all your big, fat cod, you went and killed the roc out there, too?" He was only half joking. He'd always thought the roc was only a bird sailors told stories about. He'd always thought so, aye, but now he wondered. Wouldn't you need a bird the size of a roc to get a drumstick like this one?

Kersauzon and one of the other Bretons both said the same thing at the same time: "Honnnk!" They pitched their voices as deep as they could: almost deep enough to make the table vibrate. All the fishermen from Brittany, even sour Jacques, laughed like loons.

"Well, friend François, you know something I don't," Edward said.

Before he could go on, Jacques said, "Never thought I'd live to here a Saoz admit that."

"A Gallaou is worse," François Kersauzon said, an observation that surprised Radcliffe not at all. The Bretons lived right next door to the French, so of course they disliked them more than the English. The Channel kept Edward's countrymen far enough away to seem less menacing than their nearer neighbors.

"If it is the roc, where did you find it and how did you keep it from sinking you?" Edward persisted. "And if it's not, by our Lady, what is it?"

"Will you pay me to hear the story? Will you pay me a third of your catch this year to hear it?" Kersauzon asked. He might have drunk a good deal, but he wasn't too sloshed to be sly.

"That's outrageous!" Richard exclaimed.

The Breton shrugged. He gestured toward the enormous, inexplicable drumstick. "If you don't care to hear the story, no one will make you. But you can still eat your fill. We don't begrudge it."

"A third of my catch?" Edward said slowly, in Breton. Then he said it again, in French, to make sure he had it right. François nodded. The Englishman went on, "And in exchange for this, you promise me . . . ?"

"That you will hear my story, and that it will be true," Kersauzon answered.

"Past that, I promise nothing. How can I? Ours is a chancy trade. Things may go well, or they may not. Who can know ahead of time? A third of your catch may be worth nothing, too. God forbid it, but it may be so."

Richard Radcliffe set a hand on his father's arm. "Let's get out of here," he said in English. "He's run out a line and baited a hook, and he'll haul you in and cut your guts out and dry you in salt."

"Your father would be gamy, even in salt," Kersauzon said, also in English. Richard turned red.

"Tell me your story," Edward Radcliffe said. His son exclaimed in dismay. Edward held up a hand. "I will pay your price, friend François. Maybe I am a fool. It could be. Plenty of others have said so. And I will give you one small promise in return."

"Which is?" the Breton asked politely.

"If you lie, or if you cheat, I will hunt you down and kill you."

Several of the Bretons growled. Jacques reached for his knife in a way that warned he wasn't about to cut himself more of the strange smoked flesh that tasted so much like goose. François Kersauzon didn't flinch, or even blink. "A bargain," he said, and thrust out his right hand.

Edward clasped it. Kersauzon began to talk.


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