Author Topic: Historical - Manuel, the Lost Moses  (Read 183 times)

Offline Jukie

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Historical - Manuel, the Lost Moses
« on: August 14, 2019, 02:35:48 AM »
Hi there  :wave:
I would be very grateful for any feedback and criticism

Chapter 1

Duarte Fernandes
The smell of wet wood mingled with that of stagnant harbour water and seagulls, cawing and squirking, settled on the yard arms and the masts. The heat crept onto the ship boys’ brows, and dampened their shirts under their arms, and it ran down their temples as they carried the cargo on board on their heads or shoulders. The wind flapped Duarte’s blue waist coast open, and revealed a medallion of St. Francis, patron saint of sailors. He hooked his arms through the ratlines of the lower shrouds of the main course. He was like the bellowing, whip-yielding ringmaster in charge of the smooth running of every act, from the procession of scarified freaks from Africa to the feeding of the exquisitely dressed trained animals, all for the benefit of the circus owners. Duarte’d sent a ship’s boy earlier to fetch a stick from the rain tree planted in front of Fort Kochi, and he plucked off its green twigs, each minute leaf shaped like a tiny green feather. It was for the next good-for-nothing boy who dropped a crate or a bundle on the gangplank. They were loading the last of the provisions and the passengers’ personal luggage. Four pack donkeys approached, the first lead by a handler and the rest were tied one behind the other. They were flanked by a soldier who guarded the merchandise against the ever-present thieves with their shifty eyes at the harbour. If the head wind turned, they could sail the next day.   

At nine hundred tons, the São João was the biggest ship afloat. Her above decks were divided into the forecastle deck on the prow, the main deck and the poop-, sterncastle-, and quarter decks on the stern. The passengers’ quarters were at the stern on the main deck, and the officers’ quarters and conference cabin were above that on the quarter deck. Also on the quarter deck were the whipstaff to steer by, the compass and traverse board. On the sterncastle deck was the captain’s cabin and the poop deck above was reserved for the use of the officers to navigate from. She had four masts, and the white, red and gold Portuguese flag fluttered from the halyard on the foremast. Her hull was long, and she was straight and flat with her beakhead set low where those of other ships were curved and ornate. Before he boarded her in Portugal last year, an old man who’d been sitting on the dock at the harbour told Duarte between mouthfuls of bread and cheese that he’d been part of the construction team that built the São João in 1534. He said that she was at the attack on Tunis the next year. Duarte didn’t usually believe old men who sat on the dock all day but the São João carried no less than three-hundred and sixty-six guns, which were more than a cargo ship needed – even one that sailed pirate seas. Named in honour of the king of Portugal, the São João embodied a few ugly aspects of the empire – her empty hull was filled with greed, the plain wooden banisters were splintered with frugalness, and impulsivity was to blame for the galleon’s poor disguise as a merchant ship. Duarte took off his hat, wiped his forehead, put it on again, and went down the hatch to the gun deck. It’d been swept clean in preparation of the slaves that were to occupy the entire deck. The next set of ladders lead him down to the hold. Rolls of silk lay across the neat stacks of material and against the partition were towers of cloth packets that contained pepper berries. Because of the war in Malabar, they’d loaded only 7500 quintais of pepper. The hull was supposed to be filled with it, but they managed only to fill a little over half of it. He went back to the main deck and climbed down the fore hatch of the forecastle deck. He passed the port to the galley, the sailmaker’s quarters, the carpenter’s station, and went into the forecastle. Each sailor had settled at a berth and a few chests were already secured to the rungs in the deck. Duarte checked that each berth had its own blanket and he reminded himself to tell them that if any of them toadeaters complained they never got a blanket, they’d be the first to get keelhauled. He dashed up the ladders again to the main deck, pushed past the deckhands on the gangplank, and gave instructions to the sailors about which cargo to carry onto the ship next. An Indian manservant made his way past an ox cart that waited to be unloaded, and his bare feet pattered on the stone-paved wharf, “Sahib,” he said, “the memsahib has sent more baggage and she is asking you to load it on board.”

Duarte narrowed his small eyes and flicked the stick against his leg, feeling the smart through his thin white stocking. Everyone knew that he could calculate the exact amount of cargo a hull could take to the grão. “Tell her that there’s no more space for personal baggage aboard the ship.”

The servant smiled, revealing crooked teeth between the gaps in his gums, “She said you would be saying that,” he produced a gold real from the folds of his turban and concealed it in the first he held out to Duarte.

Duarte’s eye twitched. The hull of a merchant ship was the one place the nobility could not bribe the poor to get what they wanted. “Who’s your memsahib?”

The servant remained as he was, grinning, “Dona Brites de Ataide.”

Duarte took hold of him in the nape of his oily neck and his top lip twisted in repugnance – the Indian’s pores oozed undigested curry, garlic, and cumin, and he steered him between barrels of rice and dried peas and sacks of flour packed in piles, “Tell her that there is no more space-,”

“Por favor, sahib – I’ll load it myself,” the man dug his cracked heels into the paved stone. “I can’t be going back with it,” Duarte hit the servant’s impertinent bare back with the stick and pushed him with his free hand. The servant fell and grazed his thin, bent knees and his palms. The real rolled away and landed on its face outside his reach. 

Duarte readjusted his cocked hat before he stomped onto the deck and the deckhands who carried kegs of rum parted in front of him like waves. In the hold, he frowned when he found bundles of personal belongings among the packets of pepper. “You,” he pointed the stick to an old sailor, “you whoresons should know better than to dump the baggage in here.”

“Aye, señhor,” the old man with the sky-blue eyes and the dirt-encrusted pores bent to retrieve the bundles. The muscles on his back slithered under the glistening tanned hide.

Duarte climbed the ladders to the galley, poked his head through the port and felt the blood rise to his skull when he saw the wood in a messy heap in the corner. Water slopped around the brim of one of the barrels in the pantry and a sailor shimmied another filled with beans across the deck. “Alvaro!” he shouted, his voice strained.

The quarter-master squeezed his stomach between the barrels, wiped his hands on a cloth, and followed Duarte’s eyes to the pile of wood, “Oh, I’ll get a boy to pack it neatly. How’re you doing with the loading?” It was their third voyage together – an outstanding amount considering the fatality rate in their line of work.

A burst of air flowed between Duarte’s lips, “The china’s been loaded as ballast in the bilge and all the silk and material’s in the hold,” he tossed his hat onto the table and grabbed frustrated fistfuls of dark hair, wet with sweat. “I’ve loaded a few ships before in my life but never like this.”

Alvaro flung the cloth across his shoulder and folded his arms, “I heard them say that a ship this richly laden has not left India since its discovery.”

Duarte stopped tugging his hair, “Who’re “they”?”

Alvaro shrugged, “Everybody.”

“Blasted sailors!” Duarte grabbed his hat and stormed up the ladders, three rungs at a time, “They’ll be the death of all of us.” He climbed the ladders to the quarter- and leaned on the rails that overlooked the main deck. “All hands on deck,” his voice rasped at the back of his throat. The wind tried to steal his words, kidnap them, carry them away inland. 

“All hands on deck!” the command was repeated to those below. As all crews, they were a haphazard bunch of ship’s boys, seamen, a few specialised crew and officers hand-picked by destiny from all four corners of the earth. Once their contracts were met, they earned enough to replace their clothes and spend a few nights out in town before they wandered about the docks again, lost and forlorn without a rèis in their pockets. Most were dressed in shirts with their sleeves rolled up, waistcoats unbuttoned and hose. They were slaves not very different from the ones they’d be loading the next day – if all went well. Sailors sold themselves into life-long servitude of the sea. She was a harsh mistress and her demand for servants was insatiable. Unlike black slaves, sailors were worthless and easily replaceable.

Offline ml89

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Re: Historical - Manuel, the Lost Moses
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2019, 09:11:48 AM »
I'm not an editor, but I tried to tackle the first couple of paragraphs.  :)

Quote
The smell of wet wood mingled with that of stagnant harbour water and seagulls, cawing and squirking, settled on the yard arms and the masts. The heat crept onto the ship boys’ brows, and dampened their shirts under their arms, and it ran down their temples as they carried the cargo on board on their heads or shoulders. This does a great job of setting a scene, though I think it suffers from overly long sentences. Maybe cut out some commas and try for a few smaller sentences to break it up? A paragraph break here might also help so it doesn't open with a wall of text, though that might come down to personal preference.The wind flapped Duarte’s blue waist coast open, and revealed a medallion of St. Francis, patron saint of sailors. He hooked his arms through the ratlines of the lower shrouds of the main course. He was like the bellowing, whip-yielding ringmaster in charge of the smooth running of every act, from the procession of scarified freaks from Africa to the feeding of the exquisitely dressed trained animals, all for the benefit of the circus owners. Duarte’d hadsent a ship’s boy earlier I would move the 'when' to the start of the sentence.to fetch a stick from the rain tree planted in front of Fort Kochi, and he plucked off its green twigs, each minute leaf shaped like a tiny green feather. It was for the next good-for-nothing boy who dropped a crate or a bundle on the gangplank. They were loading the last of the provisions and the passengers’ personal luggage. Four pack donkeys approached, the first lead by a handler and the rest were tied one behind the other. They were flanked by a soldier who guarded the merchandise against the ever-present thieves with their shifty eyes ever-present shifty-eyed thieves?at the harbour. If the head wind turned, they could sail the next day.   

At nine hundred tons, the São João was the biggest ship afloat. Her above decks were divided into the forecastle deck on the prow, the main deck and the poop-, sterncastle-, and quarter decks on the stern. The passengers’ quarters were at the stern on the main deck, and the officers’ quarters and conference cabin were above that on the quarter deck. Also on the quarter deck were the whipstaff to steer by, the compass and traverse board. On the sterncastle deck was the captain’s cabin and the poop deck above was reserved for the use of the officers to navigate from. awkward, would rephrase She had four masts, and the white, red and gold Portuguese flag fluttered from the halyard on the foremast. Her hull was long, and she was straight and flat, with her beakhead set low where those of other ships were curved and ornate. Before he boarded her in Portugal last year, an old man who’d been sitting on the dock at the harbour told Duarte between mouthfuls of bread and cheese that he’d been part of the construction team that built the São João in 1534. He'd said that she was at the attack on Tunis the next year. Duarte didn’t usually believe old men who sat on the dock all day, but the São João carried no less than three-hundred and sixty-six guns, which were more than a cargo ship needed – even one that sailed pirate seas. Named in honour of the king of Portugal, the São João embodied a few ugly aspects of the empire – her empty hull was filled with greed, the plain wooden banisters were splintered with frugalness, and impulsivity was to blame for the galleon’s poor disguise as a merchant ship. another paragraph break here perhaps?Duarte took off his hat, wiped his forehead, put it on again, and went down the hatch to the gun deck. It’d had been swept clean in preparation offor the slaves thatwho were to occupy the entire deck. The next set of ladders leadled him down to the hold. Rolls of silk lay across the neat stacks of material, and against the partition were towers of cloth packets that containedof pepper berries. Because of the war in Malabar, they’d loaded only 7500 quintais of pepper. The hull was supposed to be filled with it, but they'd managed only to fill a little over half of it. (I would cut the sentence down for simplicity so it doesn't get overly convoluted.)He went back to the main deck and climbed down the fore hatch of the forecastle deck. He passed the port to the galley, the sailmaker’s quarters, the carpenter’s station, and went into the forecastle. Each sailor had settled at a berth. and a few chests were already secured to the rungs in the deck. Duarte checked that each berth had its own blanket. and he reminded himself to tell them that if any of them toadeaters complained they never got a blanket, they’d be the first to get keelhauled. He dashed up the ladders again to the main deck, pushed past the deckhands on the gangplank, and gave instructions to the sailors about which cargo to carry onto the ship next. An Indian manservant made his way past an ox cart that waited to be unloaded, and his bare feet pattering on the stone-paved wharf, “Sahib,” he said, “the memsahib has sent more baggage and she is asking you to load it on board.”

This is very vividly written– you have a gift for description! Some of my edits come down to personal preference, but I do think that these paragraphs would benefit from being broken up into multiple paragraphs. This lets the reader kind of tour the ship as an opening, and I like to think of it kind of like how a movie would let us see it– not all at once, but sloping and curving into the scenery in a series of smaller, detailed paragraphs. I think some of the sentences would also benefit from the same– you can break up all of the long, comma-heavy sentences with some brief sentences in between.

Hope this helps! Good luck with your story!

Offline Jukie

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Re: Historical - Manuel, the Lost Moses
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2019, 10:09:35 AM »
Thank you so much, marilow, your comments and suggestions have definitely been helpful - it sounds much cleaner after your edit. You're good at this  ;D