THE PRICE OF DEMAND - FIRST DRAFT
by Gordon S. McLeod
The tower rose to an imposing 15 meters, except where it didn’t. The square stone structure was surrounded by scaffolding, workmen climbing up and down a solid interior staircase or being raised on crude lifts, hoisted by the power of their fellows at the top.
Waldon Sias stood at the base of the tower, huge arms wrenching a gear that wound a rope, raising several of the men in his team higher to the unfinished portion of the tower’s top level.
“Oi, here we are!” one of them called, and started unloading stone heavy stone bricks onto the scaffolding while Sias tied the ropes off.
“I want that southern wall built up by mid-day, mind!” His deep, gruff voice carried the casual assurance that came from leading teams such as this for years. None of his men would dare foul up this project; not here, not on his watch.
A shadow to his right announced the arrival of another, and the quiet footfalls told him who; Dolet. Altman Dolet was a young man, but several years before had come into some money and had been eager to put it to use. Dolet was no woodsman or tracker to move silently, but he was lightly built and tread softly out of habit.
“Your men are making good progress, I see.”
“Aye. They’ll ‘ave the rest of ‘er up by sunfall, you can be sure of that. They know they’ll be answerin’ to me if they don’t.”
Dolet made no reply, instead pulling a pair of large leather and brass goggles down over his eyes from where they’d rested on his head. He stood there, still and silent, head canted up to inspect the work in detail. Waldon had a similar pair himself, and knew they’d provide a fine view of the smallest details, even from the far side of the large clearing; the lenses were stacked one in front of the next 5 deep over each eye, with small levers on each side of the head allowing individual adjustment or removal of each lens. An expensive set such as those that Dolet wore would allow comfortable viewing at any range from 5 centimeters to 5 kilometers, line of sight allowing.
“I’m glad to hear of it. I’ll need you to begin working on the foundry in three day’s time, and—” His words cut off as he started, stepping back involuntarily, hands raising as if in protest.
Waldon’s eyes snapped from him to the tower’s top, where a tall, over-stacked mass of rock was teetering. The worker who’d called down to him caught sight of the unstable pile from the corner of his eye and rushed to try and stabilize it, but even Waldon’s unaided sight recognized the mis-step he took. He stumbled, fell into the stack of bricks, and down, down they all came, landing in a mangled heap not 3 meters from where they stood.
The sounds of construction slowed and stopped, a hush falling until Waldon’s bellow rang out, “Medic! Man down, north east tower site! MEDIC!”
A loud commotion broke out then as men rushed to the scene, gathering and staring. The man lay in a broken pile, but his chest rose and fell; he lived. His arm pumped blood from not one, but three compound fractures. He had landed with his left arm in the perfect position to have his elbow slammed downward by a heavy stone brick while both fore— and lower arm were held up by others, and both the thick bone of the forearm and the two of the lower arm shone white where their broken ends had pierced flesh and skin.
He lay silent, unconscious or so deeply in shock he had not felt the injury yet. Given the height from which he’d fallen, it was a wonder he was alive at all, but from the amount of blood pouring from his arm, Waldon wondered with dread whether he’d stay that way for long.
The foreman stepped back to clear the way for the arriving medics, men and women in long, soft leather robes. The lead medic took one look at him and gestured for her assistants forward with a stretcher, then stepped in to help them clear bricks from his body.
As the bricks came away, Walden saw the man had broken more than 3 bones. Several ribs and one leg were the worst of the rest. His face grew ashen, and a hand dipped into his pocket.
Dolet stood stricken as they watched the medics cart the man away. Waldon pulled a four-leafed clover from the pocket and slowly walked to the blood-stained pile of bricks where the man had landed. He glanced once at Dolet the scientist; he knew the man didn’t care for what he thought of as silly superstitions, but they’d served him well in his life so far. He carefully placed the clover on the spot and backed away. Dolet eyed him, but said nothing.
“Of all the rotten, stinkin’ luck …”
“Accidents happen, but this we really didn’t need. Let’s hope our luck improves.” Dolet gazed down upon the four-leafed clover thoughtfully. “I have to get back to other details. I’ll leave you to completing the tower.”
Waldon shook himself out of his daze. “A’right men, back to it! And don’t let me catch any ‘o you bein’ as careless as Claver there! If he thinks a rest in the medics’ tent’s gonna save his sorry hide for long, he’s got a long, hard lesson ahead! You, get tha’ …”
He lost himself in the task of getting the men back to work. They had a schedule to keep, and one less body to help keep it.
<> <> <>
Altman Dolet sat at his desk, head in his hands, pouring over settlement details. When he’d first dreamed up the idea of putting together a town in this place, it had seemed so simple. He’d live in his late Uncle’s ancestral home and put the word out, and just like that, people would trickle in and buildings would rise and in a few years, poof! A whole town would grow from the empty valley.
It seemed like a lifetime ago, a naive dream. Naturally it was a lot more involved than that. People needed a reason to move to a place. Reasons like safety. Reasons like opportunity. He found himself juggling responsibilities tied to giving people those reasons, like the guard tower that had so suddenly become a thorn in the fledgling community’s side.
He couldn’t even call it a community, not really. The whole population consisted of himself, his wife Kaylene, some assorted staff and the work crew of 20 men who truly lived in Holdswaine, Altman’s original home. They had temporary barracks set up for housing while they worked on the town’s first buildings. He hoped that in time, some of them might take a liking to the place and move their families out permanently, though after today’s accident he wasn’t as hopeful as he’d once been. It had not been the first accident, and after the third had occurred the past week, whispers of bad luck had started circulating.
“Ridiculous!” He sighed in frustration. “Nonsense superstition. Luck, indeed.” Altman had no use for luck, good or bad. He firmly believed that one made one’s own luck. But he also knew that the men believed in luck, and there was little to be gained from openly challenging their convictions. He had to show them, instead.
It was going to be expensive, but he didn’t see any choice in the matter. He had to be very careful when it came to money. In truth, he had a vast fortune, more than anyone but Kaylene suspected he had. But that fortune was the reason he was building the town. It was known he had some money, but as far as anyone knew it was money he’d inherited when he inherited his Uncle’s home, a family fortune. In truth, the money came from several rich mineral deposits he had identified upon his first arrival here.
His uncle Eldrid Tremaine had summoned him upon his graduation, and intended to pass on the discovery to Altman, but Altman had been an apt student of the science of minerals and recognized the valley’s potential quickly. Betrayal at the hands of his erstwhile friend Deman had convinced Altman that if he intended to take advantage of the valley’s riches, he would need to keep the secret safe.
To that end he had worked carefully and in secret over the last several years. He traded in small quantities of rare minerals on visits to larger cities, and encouraged the belief that the money had belonged to his Uncle.
He was always careful never to trade too much at any one time, lest someone think to wonder where he was getting it from. He had also found that trading smaller quantities let him command higher prices, which worked to both his financial and scientific advantage, as the value of the minerals to him lay primarily in their varied applications, not their value at trade.
He set brass quill to paper and began drafting a new work order. He had intended to move slower, but if the area gained a reputation for bad luck it’d do him little good.
“Another accident.” Gentle hands fell on his shoulders, the left adorned with a shining wedding band.
“Yes. Even Waldon’s starting to lose his nerve. We’re going to have to move forward faster than I’d like, I’m afraid.”
“If we get a crew in to build the road now, it’ll sure lift spirits, but it will also encourage traders and merchants to visit. What if someone learns of the electrite deposits, or the others? Once word gets out …”
“I know, my love. But we can’t afford to let this place gain a bad reputation. While it would certainly help us keep the secret, we’d never be able to attract anyone to mine the deposits, and I don’t intend to do it myself forever I can tell you! We need the road in a hurry, we need forest cleared by the river, and we need the river-way cleared to allow water-borne shipping up to the coast cities in the north.”