For those with limited spoons or time, this piece runs to 1,842 words. Birgenes and Saprista have appeared before in Choices and Consequences and Correcting Assumptions.
“So, what was this place?” Saprista held her lantern high as she asked the question.
“It seems to have been a house,” Birgenes was directing his more focused beam at details. “The upper floors have gone, of course. Wood just doesn’t last over that amount of time in these conditions.”
“I wouldn’t have trusted my weight to it if it had,” replied Saprista. “Are you sure it’s a house? It’s seems awfully big.”
“Those stone lintels are all plain. If this had been an official building, a nobleman’s manor or even a palace they would have been carved with designs. You’re right though, it is large.” He grinned at her, “I’m hoping that it means the owner was rich.”
“You only have to be rich to build a place like this,” Saprista pointed out. “You don’t have to stay rich once you’ve got it. Besides, with the floors collapsed, anything of value or interest is going to be on the bottom level. I’ll find somewhere to tie off the ropes.”
Half an hour later, having lowered themselves carefully down to what had been the ground level of the house, they took stock of their surroundings again.
“Water’s been through here,” Saprista remarked, “but we are above the water table.”
“And no footprints in the silt and sand deposits,” added Benares. “We should be alone down here.”
“On the other hand,” Saprista bent over and picked up a shard from the floor and held it up the light from her torch to see it better, “anything fragile got broken when the floors fell, if not before.” In her hand was a piece of green painted and glaze porcelain. “I would have liked to have seen this in one piece.”
“It’s Bitrano ware,” Birgenes was already looking around their feet. “If we collect more pieces, you can get your potter friend to copy it for you.”
“And you’ll have another set of pot pieces for your collection.”
“Well, that too,” he admitted, laughing.
Later, pot pieces and a few other small items of interest and value stowed in their backpacks, they examined the set of doors they’d found leading into a section of the house bounded by corridors on all four sides. “I doubt it was a living space,” commented Birgenes.
“Metal bound doors with the hinges on the inside. Someone meant business.” Saprista was casting a business like eye over entire set up. “Not ostentatiously tall, but tall enough for a big man to get through. They were built to secure something. How secure they are now will depend on how thick the metal is and how well the wood inside has withstood the passing years.” She flexed her muscles, as if in preparation.
“Let me have a look at the lock first,” Birgenes said with a restraining hand on her arm, his touch light enough it only gave the idea of holding her back. “Even if it’s rusted solid, I may be able to cut the bolt and that would save you from a set of bruises.”
“True,” she smiled at her dark skinned companion, “and it’s not as if we have to keep an eye out for an irate home owner or the Spartoli.”
“Please, after all the times I’ve had to explain why it’s perfectly unexceptionable and above board for me to be carrying around a set of lock picks and sundry other housebreaking tools? I always keep an eye out for the Spartoli.” He shone the beam of light from his lantern into the crack between the two doors. “I can see the bolt and I should be able to get my thinnest metal saw in there, assuming the lock isn’t trapped, of course.”
“If I have to haul you back up that three storey drop because you’ve gotten yourself poisoned or something, you don’t get to complain about how I do it,” Saprista warned as she moved back down to the corridor intersection and what she hoped would be a safe distance.
“Agreed,” replied Birgenes as he carefully took a small, thin saw blade from his leather wrap of tools, “although I’m more worried about having to cut the hinges as well.”
A levered-off architrave and a good hour of metal sawing later, the door was open in the sense that its corroded in place hinges and locking bar had been cut and then it had been manoeuvred and manhandled out of the way. While they waited for the opened room to air out, Saprista and Birgenes occupied themselves with little things they would be better off doing while they had the time: Birgenes cleaned his metal saws and Saprista repacked her backpack for a better balance. Finally, Saprista tested the air by opening up her lantern and, after attaching it to the ring on the end of Birgenes’ ten foot pole, putting it into the room while the two of them stood outside the door. When the colour and size of the lantern flame didn’t change, Saprista pulled the pole back out to reclaim her lantern, and then the two of them entered the room.
After looking around, Birgenes remarked, “This is either a storeroom or a strongroom.”
“Strongroom from the door,” Saprista gave her opinion. “Not that it kept the water out. I doubt this is how the owner left it.” The light from the lanterns showed chests and amphorae piled higgledy piggledy, like children’s toys, and a few smashed tables. “Anything perishable died long ago, but,” she strode over to one of the piles of debris and took a closer look, “You’ll like this – I think some of these amphorae are still in one piece with their seals intact.”
“If the internal resin coating was good enough and the seals are wax, then the contents might still be good.” Birgenes smiled. “It would be best if we got them home before we try opening them, though, I don’t want to wind up emptying an amphora of Thonburi pepper onto the floor here.”
“That’s right, we don’t want to go wasting a king’s ransom.” Saprista bent over a chest to get a better look. “Some of these smaller chests seem to be wood, I’m surprised they’re still intact.”
“Could have been lacquer ware of some type, or simply varnished, but I doubt they’d survive being handled. The contents, well…,” he trailed off.
“Would depend on what they were.” Saprista looked at the small chests speculatively. “There aren’t that many goods that would deserve this sort of security. Spices, some of the rarer dyes, precious metals or gems.”
“Also the merchant’s strong box,” Birgenes pointed at a large, solidly metal bound chest that sat on the floor towards the back of the room. “That’s either bolted to the floor, or it was so heavy, not even the flood that came through here could shift it. Let’s open that one first.”
Naturally and expectedly, all the metal parts of the chest were corroded into place. The wood, however, crumbled into soft splinters with very little prodding. Underneath the rotten wood were mounds covered in the results of leather rot and decay. Birgenes pulled out a pig bristle brush and carefully moved the dark debris aside. The first object he revealed was a misshapen greenish mass.
“Bronze or copper coins,” he commented quietly. “Probably Senlorain murcohs. Honestly, we’d be lucky to get an intact coin out of that, though we might make something by selling them as is to an antiquarian.”
“You always say that,” Saprist chided him gently. “How many lumps of those do you have sitting around your flat now?”
“Probably more than enough, but not enough to cave the floor in, yet,” he rejoined quietly. “Now this one,” silver appeared under the brush as it moved, “looks like it was a bag of decohna.”
“Enough to make our rents this month?” Saprista cocked a knowing eye at the number of coins, “Perhaps there’s more than one bag of those?”
“Oh, yes there is. At least two more bags, we’ve definitely made rent and probably housekeeping as well.” Birgenes kept the brush moving, “and here are more murcohs and those were probably Klavan tally markers – being soaked with water would have made the ivory split.” He worked past the stick like objects to the final corner of the top layer. “Now what’s here? This doesn’t look like coins.”
“Not gold,” said Saprista. “That’ll be on the bottom layer.”
“Stones,” said Birgenes cautiously, brushing away the dark detritus.
“Moonstones and bloodstones,” murmured Saprista appreciatively. “Good ones.” She reached in and picked up a bloodstone the size of the final section of her thumb. “All a nice size and they look like a really good colour.” She looked at Birgenes, “They might even be from one of the old worked out mines that are supposed to have had a better colour stone than anything they can dig up today.”
“Your cultural biases are showing,” Birgenes smiled at her. “I prefer the sunstones myself.”
“You would. I’ll get bags for these and the silver and then we can see what’s underneath them.”
The chest was empty and Birgenes and Saprista were looking at each at each other, awestruck, across their find while they decided what they could carry away with them and what they would have to come back for. “I thought the moonstones, bloodstones and sunstones were wonderful,” said Saprista helplessly, “but rubies, emeralds and sapphires as well? And we can’t leave the gold behind.”
“We should take as much of the silver as we can carry after we’ve packed those,” added Birgenes. “It’s more negotiable than the gems or the gold.” He got a calculating look on his face. “Even after we pay taxes, make a few religious donations and put something reasonable towards public works, after all we want to be regarded as lucky and not greedy, I think we might have enough to buy land in the country and build a house. Particularly if we can get back here and get everything else out.”
“Excuse me,” Saprista interrupted him, holding up a hand. “Did you say “we might have enough to buy land and build a house”?”
“Well, yes.” Birgenes looked at her. “Would you rather keep living in the city in an insula?”
“No, no.” She shook her head and waved her hand dismissively. “You said “we.” Are you offering me a marriage contract?”
“Umm, yes?” He looked uncertain. “Should I have spoken to one of your brothers first?”
“Of course not. Technically three of them aren’t free men so they have no authority over me and even before this I was worth more than the others.” She dismissed her brothers’ fraternal authority with another wave of her hand. “You just have a tendency to come at these things sort of sideways and unexpectedly. You do realise that I’m going to want a big ceremony, don’t you?”
“As big as your heart desires.” He looked at their find. “I’m sure we can afford as many petal scatterers and nut throwers as the neighbourhood can provide.”