Lords of Freedom is an exciting new novel including adventure, realistic action, surprising insights, and a touch of romance. Enjoy a new chapter every week. Prior chapters can be found here.
Lords of Freedom—Chapter 14—O’Rok
It was a pleasant morning in Thalick, and Mayor O’Rok breathed in deeply as he walked. His polished boots drummed a steady cadence on the cobblestone pathway, accented by an occasional tap of his ivory cane. He was middle-aged with a full head of hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and kindly brown eyes.
Passersby nodded or smiled as they passed, with a few reaching out to shake his hand. When a ball rolled into his path he stooped, tucking the cane under one arm and scooping up the ball. Turning, he spotted a group of boys charging toward him.
“Go long,” he called, waving the cane.
They skidded to a stop and wheeled back, waving and cheering.
Tucking the cane back under his arm, O’Rok hurled the ball, over their heads and back into the field where they’d been playing. Falling back into stride, he walked an entire block with the cane tucked under his arm, watching the boys in the field.
As he turned the next corner he extended the cane from the crook of his arm once again; it was a mere accessory, given to him by a foreign merchant many years ago. He liked it though and was rarely seen in public without it.
O’Rok looked over as a man, well-dressed and distinguished, fell into stride beside him. “Good day, Basil.”
“You know, it’s somewhat beneath you to engage with the common folk the way you do.”
Inwardly O’Rok sighed. Basil was among the many migrants from Merker of late: wealthy and privileged, bent on changing Thalick in various ways. Basil was somewhat of a ringleader, by far the most pushy and persistent.
“Folk are folk, here in Thalick. We have merchants and bankers who thrive in this city, but with no customers or clients, where would they be?” O’Rok flashed a smile, to lighten the rebuke.
“Yes, of course, but…well, to toss a ball back to a hoard of urchins? Really, O’Rok; surely you’re above that,” Basil said with a sniff.
“Those boys are the sons of said merchants, bankers, clients, or customers,” was O’Rok’s reply.
Basil sighed. “I suppose they are; I mean they must be, right?” He grinned, toning down his own reproach.
Shops and restaurants lined both sides of the street, with people bustling to and fro. On one corner a chunk of cobblestone had crumbled, creating a small hazard. The shop closest, a fabric vendor, had the area blocked off, forcing people to veer around it, into the street.
Basil frowned, as he and O’Rok moved along. “What is going on there?”
“Most likely the shopkeeper has ordered a replacement cobble from one of the masons. Once it’s ready, they’ll fix it up,” O’Rok replied.
“You mean the merchants?”
Basil sputtered a bit without really saying anything until they neared the city complex. There, spanning the street was a skeletal structure: the beginnings of a bridge.
“And this?” Basil demanded, pointing.
“This was the ingenious idea of the city tour guides. They’ve gotten together and hired some architects and builders to fashion a walkway over the road. Some tours are conducted on foot, others by carriage—either way there’s always a wait at this corner. If those on foot can walk over the carriage traffic below, everything, not just the tours, will run smoother.”
Basil narrowed his eyes. “Did you approve it—commission the construction through Thalick’s building agency?”
O’Rok laughed. “There’s no such thing here. People saw something that needed doing and got to work, simple as that—like the broken cobblestone.”
“In Merker, there were agencies for everything, to ensure things were constructed to a certain standard,” Basil said.
“In Thalick, it’s done like any other job. If a company does shoddy work, they won’t be in business long.”
“In Merker, taxes pay for repairs and such throughout the city. Experts analyze projects from every angle and accept bids for the work.”
“I see,” O’Rok said dismissively.
Basil frowned. “As I understand it, you could impose a tax like this with very little resistance—citizens pay a mere penance now; and another thing: you should look at taxing the foreign merchants sailing in and out.”
“Why?” O’Rok asked in surprise.
“To raise city revenue, of course; don’t you understand how best to run things here?”
O’Rok chuckled. “I know the citizens wouldn’t like the wares they buy to suddenly go up in price.”
“You misunderstand,” Basil said, growing impatient. “The foreign merchants are taxed, not the people of Thalick.”
O’Rok sighed. If people like Basil had their way, Thalick would turn into another Merker straightaway. People like him failed every time to see the irony of their good intentions.
“I’ll give your proposals some thought,” he said. “Thank you, Basil, for the insight.”
On that note, they parted company, and O’Rok headed across the street, past the skeletal bridge, to the city complex where his office was. The grounds were lush and well-kept, with benches here and there and a lavish fountain before the main entrance.
A group of tourists stood gathered at the fountain, marveling at the bubbling water and tiered pools, tossing coins and wishes into the bottom well. O’Rok stopped to introduce himself, inquiring as to how their visit was going.
“Good to meet you, Mayor,” the father said, shaking his hand. “Our stay here has been splendid. We’re thinking of making this an annual trip.”
O’Rok escorted the group to the top of a small tree-covered hill where they would have a view of Thalick’s beautiful harbor. As he was pointing out some of the more interesting ships one of the mothers scowled and looked away, gathering children behind her.
“Is there anything…less than ideal?” O’Rok asked tactfully.
“The pirates,” she snapped, meeting his eye.
Looking to the pier where a ship had recently docked O’Rok observed that a confrontation was brewing between the arriving crew and Shark’s gang.
It appeared that the newcomers were rival pirates who Shark was not going to tolerate. He was yelling and pointing back to the ship they had come from, but there was no retreat. Thirty men stormed from the ship and started pushing back Shark’s twenty until he roared and entered the fight.
O’Rok and the tourists looked on in horror as Shark slashed right and left with blurring speed and bloodied men fell all around him. Never had O’Rok seen such a ferocious attack. There was no fancy fencing, just great speed and power. Blood spurted and splattered from man after man as Shark overwhelmed every opponent. Six men were soon piled around him and he surged past them bowling down three more, jumping and hacking them before they could even get up. With fifteen of their thirty already on the ground the rest of the interlopers actually ran back to the ship and jerked up their boarding plank.
Yelling threats and insults, Shark and his men finished off every wounded man who had not made it back to the ship. Such a scene of gore and death was more than the tourists could stand and they scurried back off the hill. The movement caught Shark’s eye and he looked up at O’Rok who stood still as a statue, as he watched Shark dance around kicking dead men. Laughing like a madman Shark stared at O’Rok and raised his bloody sword in the air. O’Rok stared back, raised his cane in defiance, and sharply turned away, knowing that there was nothing he could do.
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