history, travel, Uncategorized, writing

Travel East, Travel West

I’m still working on my 2nd to last edit of City of Ages and it continues to proceed at glacial speeds. I had to come up with a spreadsheet to motivate my butt because I tend to lose interest and enthusiasm as I’m plugging along. For some reason, tracking how many pages I’ve completed per day, or words I’ve pumped out really makes this whole novel thing concrete.

Today is the day of the week where I share a little snippet of my work in progress, thus, a WIPpet. It is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. My WIPpet needs to have something to do with today’s date. And so …

Today in 1595, Cornelis de Houtman’s fleet of ships set sail to Asia by traveling through the Cape of Good Hope. Just who is this gentleman, you might ask? It turns out that Cornelis ended up discovering a new sea route from Europe to Indonesia, an achievement that began the Dutch spice trade. This was a big deal since at the time the Portuguese held a monopoly on it. The voyage itself, though, was none too fun. Insufficiently supplied, scurvy set in after a few weeks. By the time they made it to Madagascar seventy sailors were dead. Further on, quarrels ensued and pirates attacked the vessels. De Houtman and his men decided to wreak vengeance on the locals for the pirate attacks, raping and savaging to their heart’s content. The voyage continued on, establishing trade relations to subvert the Portuguese. By the time the ships returned home only 87 of the original 249 crew remained alive.

Sailing was quite the dangerous enterprise back in the day, making modern-day cruise ship disasters seem ridiculously tame in comparison.

Anyhow, this snippet is ship-related, and focuses on landing just 50 miles from Jerusalem:

Docking had been more troublesome in Jaffa than anywhere else. Richende had watched from the deck as three dusky-skinned, robed port authorities inspected their papers and letters with suspicion. They clustered together to confer using fast Arabic and abrupt gesticulations for entirely too long. At last they called Justus over and demanded an entry fee so large that Justus’s eyes bulged. His voice became both deeper and louder as he spent nearly an hour negotiating and arguing in a broken mishmash of Latin, Frankish, Greek, and Arabic. Finally, Richende, hungry, impatient, and drooping with exhaustion, called to him.

                Justus came after a moment, long legs striding up the gangplank in a manner that betrayed the frustration he had been dealing with over the past hour. When he spoke to her, however, his voice held no rancor.

“My lady?”

          “Dear Commander, your efforts to reduce the port fees are duly noted, and greatly appreciated. But in this instance I’m begging you to relent to their demands.”



          He gave an irascible grunt, his lips twisting into a frown. “I truly believe that another hour or so will profit us much.”

          Cristina, who had been watching the whole exchange near Richende, gasped and shot her mistress an exaggeratedly alarmed look. Richende ignored her.

          “Thank you, dear Justus. But no. Please.”            

Justus made a gesture of frustrated surrender and walked back into the office to follow her wishes. Once he had his fee in hand, the head portmaster’s mood brightened, and at once he became the soul of hospitality. He greeted Richende at the end of the gangplank, eyes gleaming, his smile solicitous.

Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them.Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:





6 thoughts on “Travel East, Travel West”

  1. Fascinating historical background, Xina! I love the stuff I learn on your site. 🙂

    Great snippet, but a couple of things struck me that you might want look at again:

    – … demanded an entry fee so large that Justus’s eyes bulged. –> Since this is from his pov, and I can’t imagine myself ever feeling my eyes bulging, maybe another reaction might be better?

    – Justus came after a moment, long legs striding up the gangplank in a manner that betrayed the frustration he had been dealing with over the past hour. –> This description sounds to me like it comes from the author rather than the pov character.

    – He gave an irascible grunt, his lips twisting into a frown. –> I don’t know what an irascible grunt is and frowns usually have to do with foreheads, not lips.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Ruth! The scene was actually from Richende’s pov, which is why it seemed strange. I think it would have been more apparent with more of the scene here.

      Also, I looked up the definition to “frown” after reading your comment and I was mortified to find out that it DOESN’T involve lips! It’s one of those times when I assumed I knew the word’s definition but apparently I was wrong! Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Money can make the wrong kind of people like you. I wouldn’t trust that port master with a butter knife!

    I do want to say that the “eyes bulged” part felt a bit comedy extreme take/cartoony to me. It doesn’t really fit thew piece, in my opinion. It is probably damage from watching too many cartoons with (and without) the kids. 😉

    1. Haha, yes, watching cartoons will do that to a person! Thanks for the input, though. I agree that bulging eyes is a bit comical. I’ll take another look at the scene. Thanks!

  3. I love the bits of history you give us. The raping and savaging – so ofen a part of things, and it always seems like the invaders were really just looking for an excuse to do as they pleased…Not a part of history worth celebrating, for sure.

    thought we were in Richende’s POV, not Justus’, as Ruth thought. So there may be a bit of confusion on that point.

    I have a thought about the language that might bring this scene to more vivid life. If Richende can hear them well enough to identify the languages, she could probably understand at least some of what’s being said. By weaving bits of the negotiation through the scene as dialogue, then maybe shifting into languages she can recognize but not understand, you could give a richer sense of what was being said, and how…

    Also, I had an image of the men arguing on the dock. It took me out of the scene a little when you had Justus go into the office. It made me think of Deadliest Catch and figuring out payments based on crab counts…=)

    And I’m totally with Gloria. Having gotten a great payoff once, that port master’s greed is bound to get the better of hin!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! Great stuff here! I love the idea of putting snippets of the argument in here – I’ll take another look at this with that in mind.

      And thanks for the input about the argument and where it takes place. I did originally have it in an office but you’re right, it does seem a bit confusing. I’ll be sure to fix it.

      Haha, I haven’t seen Deadliest Catch but apparently such arguments are timeless. 🙂

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