In which Lord Mariusz relates his first encounter with the infamous Blackbird

This is a 1200 word tale in the backstory of Castle Hattan.  References to ‘the Rajah’ pop up every time Hugo or Mariusz turns up in my books.  Regular readers may even have wondered about the identity of the foreign gentleman in Dylan’s Yuletide Journey on the website last Christmas. ‘Blackbird’ is a main character in Victor’s Story – still a WIP, but scheduled for the next 12-18 months at the latest.  Here’s how Mariusz met him.  As usual, Mariusz tells his own tale.

Wozna bottles 001He was lazing around on the wharves at Co-Runner when I first saw him, floppy hair over one eye, brindled hair a mess.  I can’t stand long-haired layabouts. Saku has long hair, but he keeps it out of his eyes; he often looks like an absent-minded professor, but that’s what he is, so that’s ok. This guy? Pfft!

I’d been off the ship from Hattan for about three days, going over some business with our new plant there.  It was a big venture for me, brewing Wozna Cola in another land, having them bottle it and ship it overland to their other sea coast.  It was a hot land, though, and initial sales at Co-runner had been good, so who was to say the investment wasn’t worth it? I couldn’t afford to have some layabout steal my secrets, though, and that’s just what this one looked like.  A secret-stealer.

I sent some boys out to look for him one night, to see him off, but they reported that he was nowhere to be seen.  One found out he’d been on the midnight coach out of town, with a ticket for Catalan country by way of the center.  It annoyed me that he’d gone, but it had no influence on my trip to Catalania.  None at all. Of course not.

Barca was nice.  I liked the castle, all fortified and ruined at the same time.  The Catalan people lived outside it, on the slopes and the fertile coastal plain bordering it. They had an easy life, and valued their painters as much as we like our musicians.  I fell into conversation with a group of them one evening on the Ramblas, a long thin market place that was more ribbon-shaped than square.  I produced a few bottles of Wozna and before you knew it they were singing my praises, painting my portrait, and making sure their favorite watering hole ordered the product from Co-Runner.  I love these strange places across the big water – so hot-blooded and intense with life. One of them had come west from Marsay, and told me to go there, and to keep going to Nappolli if I liked.  I liked.  This was turning into quite a trip, but I still had plenty of time before I needed to turn back.

It was Nappolli where I saw him again. He was sitting in front of a cafe, toying with a small glass of yellow liquid.  I went inside and lifted out the last few samples I’d got.

“We no take from Catalania,” was the barman’s response.

I couldn’t get him to change his mind, so I put them back in my sample case and sat at the only table left, out in the warm evening air that smelled of flowers and ships, and seaweed and people.

I was halfway through a nice dish of tomatoes and peppers, spiced with something herbal I didn’t recognize, and served on a bed of arugula, when the brindled layabout came and joined me.  He didn’t even ask, just joined me.

“These peasants don’t recognize a good brew when they see one,” he opened.

I nodded and bent my head to my food.  He didn’t get the message.

“I have traveled far,” he said, and I wondered whether he was going to tell me my fortune.  He had a touch of the gypsy about him.

“But I am still many thousand miles from my home,” he continued.  Despite myself, I was interested.  I’d never been this far.  How much further was there?  He spoke well, though.  Hardly an accent. Well, a good accent, someone well-bred, educated.

“Name’s Mariusz of Hattan,” I introduced myself.

“Rajah of Nilgiri,” he said, offering a hand to shake, “but I go by the name of Blackbird.”

“I have other names too,” I said, acknowledging that names were just labels.

“But you are mostly known for your product, the Wozna Cola.”

“Among other things,” I said, but that wasn’t true.  Well, it might be, but not here.

“I travel around, especially this coast, but sometimes to the northern countries.  I could help you with your distribution.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“It’s just business.”

I thought about it.  This pipsqueak had turned up, sat at my table, and told me he wanted to be my distributor. That’s a strange way of doing business.  It happened that I would need a distributor if we were going to expand in the east.  Co-Runner were not distributors. Well, not exporters.

“Tell me about yourself.  Where’s Nilgiri?”

The tale he told sounded fantastic, even to me. It was like something out of a fairytale.  A hot southern land, heredity Rajdoms covering thousands of square miles, millions of people, riches beyond count. Herbs, spices, traded with the rest of the world. As we talked I produced a couple of Woznas, much to the disgust of the barman, so I ordered a couple of lime chasers, which went really well with the Wozna.  He told me about his castle, the hills of the Nilgiri, the riches, the food, the females.

Now, I know better than to take the word of a vagabond I meet in a bar on a hot evening in a strange port. But we ended up agreeing I would take a trip to his land when I had time, but within the next twelve months.  It would take a ship nearly three weeks to get there from Co-Runner, if it went through what he called “the canal”.  He gave me three addresses where I could reach him to let him know my movements so he could meet me somewhere. He warned me of the times when there would be bad weather, which in his world was hot and wet.  In my world bad weather is cold and snowy or cold and stormy. Or both. Hot and anything sounded interesting. Heck, the whole thing sounded interesting.  We parted as friends. Kinda.

Back in Co-Runner I got some of my people to check him out. They asked in the port; they asked around the city.  I knew Rajah or Blackbird had been around the port, and I didn’t put it past him to have done a little bribery, so I made sure that my boys asked people straight off ships that were newly docked.  Things checked out.  I went back to Hattan on schedule, checked a little more. Did plenty of other business and came to this as a little puzzle on the side.  And eventually I took three guys with me to visit the fabulous palace of the Rajah of Nilgiri.  Two heavies and my lawyer.

And that is how I came to be lying on some silk cushions spread around a stone-built pool in the middle of the Rajah’s palace one day, signing an agreement to let him brew Wozna Cola under license.  My first franchise agreement.  And the start of a beautiful friendship. Well, maybe not beautiful.  Never dull, though.

(c) Princelings Publications 2013

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Don’t forget to enter our Giveaway – the prizes include copies of all my books plus some of our reviewed books during the AtoZ and earlier this year.  And the Traveler in Black and White, Lord Mariusz’s own tale, is at half price on Smashwords with the coupon code NY74H

Rajah of Nilgiri

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