Long Berth

Friendly Counsel

“...and we will have enough fuel to help the Sweetwaters move the equipment to Waking, but we will need to prepare for refueling costs there.”

Everyone was listening, she supposed, even if their body language said otherwise.  She smiled to herself, and continued. It was late, and even Shale was disinterested.  But it was the duty of the matriarch to lead by example, so Momma Rabbit paused for a moment to let the others realize their minds had been drifting.  It was subtle, but as a skilled fishmonger drove their fish to the net, so she rounded up their attention once more.

Children would be children. And children indeed were the royal attendees of this summit.  Lessons passed down from mother to mother in the Rabbit family always seemed to become useful in surprising ways, she mused. 

The rest of the regents were gathered around the map of The Lands Bravado, listening with at least half an ear to her update on current events.  It was challenging enough getting the regency of the Tribes Disparate in the same room for quorum, much less keeping their attention throughout.  They would have to wait until the Summit to get the entirety of the thirteen regents in one place. For the handful she had here today, this was a necessary meeting.  An army marches on its stomach, her mother always said. “The DJs needed fuel to continue playing their part in all this.” Momma Rabbit pressed now.

At the mention of this, Shale looked up.  It was the one thing the Queen didn’t seem to understand, but Shale was in his element in this moment.  He was the most interested in these council meetings, where strength of arms did not matter as much as strength of will.  Let the Queen pursue her wars, but Shale would lead from the council chambers. Momma Rabbit smiled to herself and at him.

“We can get the RRC to fund the expedition. The Antlers have been protecting the Ox’s move south, and they can’t afford us to redirect our forces somewhere else.”  she answered in response to Shale’s unspoken question. The regent of the Ox Killers glared at her mention, but stayed quiet for now.

The Texican regent put his boots up on the table and offered a different suggestion. Her kindly eyes darkened at this willful display of bad manners.

“Maybe the Conglomerate can make an offer too.” Sam said with a drawl. “The Ja Cintos have enough connections there.  The Minister don’t like dealing with the Railroad any more than necessary. We’re all here for the Queen first, not the Commission.”  The regent of the Ja Cinto Militia surely meant well, but Momma Rabbit sighed internally at his aggressive tone.

“Sam, you know as well as I do the contracts we’ve signed.” Momma Rabbit countered. She tsked at him and brushed his feet off the table.  He sheepishly apologized, as she wiped the dirt off the map. He was a good lad, if he could only remember his manners.

“Fuck the contracts.”  The Torchlight regent’s gravely voice was barely a whisper, but when they spoke, the primitive filter on their mask made it impossible to sense any real emotion.  The Lascarian could be expected to provoke the fight further.

Another argument. This night was not getting any closer to being finished. 

The other regents acted predictably. The Ox Killers had a grudge, and their regent banged his fist on the table in support of the Torchlight’s suggestion.  The Ja Cintos would eventually back her if she could make her case, and maybe the Long Berths. The DJs of the Sweetwaters needed the work to keep the clan happy, so they would be on board when it came time for a vote.

“We trusted the sun-dwellers’ promises before. It cost us everything. Why should we continue to support them?”  the Lightbearer, for someone with such a name, spent so much of his time focused on the darkness of the past. It was frustrating. She smoothed her skirts as the others chimed in. The Torchlight regent was unnerving, but they are family too, she reminded herself.

“I say just let them deal with the Firebrands on their own. We have our own issues to solve. The storm always passes.” The Long Berth captain spoke.  They had their own problems with the Junkerpunks, to be sure.

“The Great Wheel will turn our way again, my friends. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow.” Words of wisdom spoke from the greasy road captain, younger than his wisdom suggested. The DJ could be counted to come to her support. Momma Rabbit smiled fondly at the Sweetwater regent. They understood the need for allies in these times.  And he was always so careful to avoid leaving the coat of dust and grime, that perpetually seemed to follow him, on her nice table.

“This was the Queen’s will, long may she reign.” she reminded them. “Her vision is what brought us all together.”

For now.”  The Ox Killer regent spoke softly, but everyone heard his words.

She gasped. The Ox Killers could be so obstinate, but the challenge was clear.  His eyes glared at Shale, and she could see the Torchlight leader nodding too.

“The Queen is with us eternally, and especially right now. Whether you like it or not. Long live the Queen.” she replied.

The Ox Killer smiled viciously. His teeth were filthy. 

Long. Live. The. Queen.” he said with a smirk, drawing out each syllable in a mocking, frustrating way

Momma Rabbit puffed up, and struggled to maintain her composure.  She readied her best stern glare and prepared to rebuke the man.

Shale broke the tie before the argument could escalate.

“I understand your hesitation, but this helps the Tribes in the future.  The Queen has seen fit to choose each of you.” He looked pointedly at the Ox Killer regent, and continued. “But it appears that I am the deciding vote.”

Shale stood up, wearily, and pointed to the map in front of them.

“The further the RRC depends on the might of the Antler tribe and all of our combined strengths of the Tribes Disparate, the more prepared we are for our eventual rise. The world is changing, and we must be prepared for that new future. Let them build their railways. Let them focus on the ruins in the Bravado camp.  We have always been about our people, the common folk, and those that have been forgotten. It is through our differences we succeed, but it is through our Queen we triumph. Long may she reign.”

Prince Shale cast his gaze around the room, and each of the regents realized the truth of his words, one by one.  Even the Torchlights and the Ox Killers. No challenge would be accepted now.

Mother Rabbit beamed at Shale.  Another argument settled. The Tribes might fight, but they each meant well.

“Long live the queen!” The regents echoed, some more readily than others.

It was enough. United for now, their voices rang into the evening, and into a new future.

A Tribes Disparate Vignette by J. Loyd

Read more about the Houses of the Tribes Disparate here.

Uncharted Waters

The wind was a ghost’s whisper across the water. It fluttered along the boards of the hull and streamed backwards, a swallowtail behind the thirty foot copper-clad sloop. The fishhook moon smiled up at Kel from the black water flowing past to starboard. He gave a tremulous smile back at its reflection and twisted to look forward. 

“Down to twelve feet, captain,” Arnie hoarsely whispered from the bow. Kel could see the glint of her silver rings in the moonlight as she hauled up the depth line and prepared for the next toss. He tensed his fingers around his oar and readied for what he knew was coming.

“We’re at the neck now, friends,” the skipper’s call was barely audible above the soft splash of the depthline’s charge slipping back into the channel. “I don’t need to remind you what happens if we don’t do this fast, quiet, and smart.” A jabbing finger, sharp nailed and glittering stabbed at the night-cloaked shoreline. Here the trees loomed in towards the river like hulking bodyguards ready to shoulder them out of an Essex bar. The dark obscured what Kel knew lay under their scraggly branches - long low bunkers and a prodigious amount of men with guns and arrows who would not be pleased to see them slipping by in the dead of night without paying the levy.

“Arnica, report.” 

“Nine feet.” 

A low rumbling started along the rowing benches. It was the end of the burning season and the waterways were shrinking. Much lower and The Alligator would be in danger of wallowing in the mud like its namesake. Kel’s pulse hammered in his temples, half dehydration, half adrenaline. This was his first run into the Punkerport and the marshy stink of the polluted water made him yearn for the briny tang of the open sea once more. He narrowed his eyes as a sudden flash lit the darkness.


“We’re spotted!” he yelped as a projectile whistled overhead and continued into the water beyond with a splash.

“All hands pull!” the skipper growled, and The Alligator surged forward as the oar crew stretched their backs into the thrust. Arnie’s readings at the bow came as fast as she could throw the weight now.

“By the mark, Eight and a half. Eight now,” her voice was punctuated by the whistle-shriek of bullets, and the flashes on the shore were close enough in the narrowing channel that Kel could see the faces of the shooters in the flare of the discharge. He felt a trickle of sweat tracing its way between his heaving shoulder blades but he didn’t dare pause. 

“Five degrees to port!” Arnie shouted. The captain nodded, twitching the rudder to the right - his jaw stony, eyes staring down into the dark water, trying to keep the craft in the deepest part of the channel. The shore seemed to inch by in slow motion and the range was closing. An arrow skimmed over the gunwale and buried itself in the bare mast, missing Kel’s shoulder by a hair. 

“Heave to!” a cry from the shore came crisply across the water. “Surrender your cargo and we’ll let you live.”

“Think I’d trust the word of a Long Berth?” The skipper shot back, and the crackling of firearms increased, punctuated with a few choice insults from the fighters on the shore.

“By the mark, seven!” Arnie hollered and the rowers doubled their intensity. The keel wouldn’t clear much past six feet in depth. 

And then it happened - an awful grinding sound beneath their feet and their speed slowed. They were scraping the bottom now, and in this narrowest part of the waterway, the treeline was only a few yards away on each side.

A shout, and Kel looked up to see the skipper doubling over, a dark stain spreading across his sleeve which now hung limply at his side. A body pushed past him - Arnie diving to seize the rudder and shoving the skipper down into the cockpit. 

“Kel! We need you in the water! You too, Cleat!” 

He dropped his oar into the locks and turned towards the bow. The Baywalker next to him did the same, JP tattoo dark beneath the hollows of his eyes. The grinding on the hull was louder now, reverberating through their feet and throwing him off balance as he lunged towards the prow. Arnie was muttering to herself as they went, “Told him we was too heavy with this metal. Should have taken the plastics instead I said. Not been enough rain.”

The wood of the railing was silky beneath his feet, ground smooth by years of scraping and sanding and bare feet. Kel snagged a sheet as he went, wrapping the end of the rope twice around his hand and hoping the other end was tied to something solid. He didn’t have time to check before he jumped.

The water was warmer than he expected with the sun down for hours, and the force of his jump carried him down beneath the surface, his ankles sank into the soft mud at the bottom of the channel. Kel tugged at the rope above his head and heaved himself upwards, breaking into the warm night air as Cleat slammed into the water next to him. Immediately they both began to swim, pulling the rope taut and tugging the boat through the water. It was scraping less now, with their weight offloaded, but still dragged sluggishly behind. Kel’s free hand splayed wide, the translucent webbing between his fingers and toes scooping hard into the water. He kicked with all his might, feeling the resistance of the boat pulling him backwards with the current. The shouting on the shore intensified and arrows pierced the water near them, bobbing back to the surface harmlessly.

The sky above was suddenly illuminated. The Long Berthers had lit their arrows on fire, content to haul the scrap out of the bottom of the channel after they had all burned and died. His legs were starting to cramp up from the constant kicking. 

And then miraculously the boat was surging past them. They had cleared the bar. The rowers cheered as The Alligator once more sprang into crisp motion. The swimmers drifted back along the side, hauled along by the very rope they’d been tugging. A fire arrow thudded into the hull next to Kel’s head and he splashed water on it before it could light up the tarred wood above the copper cladding. Something beneath the water brushed against his legs and he shuddered.

“Get us up!”

Hands reached over the side and hauled them upwards, depositing them as soggy lumps in the center of the boat as something smooth and scaled broke the surface of the water they’d just left. The shore was retreating once more, the crack of firearms fading into the distance. Kel dashed back to his spot and picked up his oar, resuming his rowing until Arnie shouted “Rest!” long minutes later. Panting, he collapsed forward and chugged on the waterskin beneath his seat. When he finally had a chance to look around, he realized how far they’d come. A broad lake stretched into the darkness on either side, its surface choppy with a stiffening breeze. Beneath the dark waves faint glowing shapes moved and far, far ahead there were torchlights sparkling and distant across the water. He thought he could hear off-key singing. 

“The Punkerport.” Arnie affirmed, looking up from bandaging the skipper’s arm. 

“Is it always like this?” he asked incredulously. “Getting here, I mean.”

“Not always.” Arnie shook her head with a sharp, toothy grin. “Sometimes it’s worse.”

 “Welcome to Bravado, Kel.”

A Junkerpunks Vignette by A. Garcia