A Shandorian Journey, Part Five

The Healer nodded, and motioned to Ziller to lead on. The Germhacht man frowned, but he showed them to the main mine building and began, with lots of long words that Tam didn’t understand, to explain about the machinery than raised and lowered the metal cage and about how the miners got the ore with different tools and sometimes even with explosives.

“That doesn’t seem right,” Tam whispered to Tava, who was standing beside him. “Can’t they just mine with their hands like ordinary folk?”

Tava shrugged. “Foreigners. They’re always coming up with complicated ways to do simple things.”

They all went down in the cage then, in two trips. It seemed a long way down inside the mountain. Tam put a hand to the rough stone and remembered the tunnels in Alarna, and the sewers in Germhacht. He didn’t think he’d ever been this far underground. The air felt strange and heavy. Surely people weren’t meant to go under the Land. Old things, maybe, things out of stories that were more than human, they probably wouldn’t mind these tunnels. But Tam didn’t feel at home here.

Palma took samples of ore from several spots, but they didn’t linger underground. They went to inspect the other buildings near the mine, built along the stream that ran down the mountainside. Inside, the sulfur smell Palma had pointed out was even stronger, and it became evident why they needed the stream. Using wheels and pulleys, the water turned several machines that ground the ore into powder. Men shoveled the powder into big vats, where it was heated and then did something involving oddly-shaped glass tubes. “Distilling,” Ziller called it. Tam had heard that word before, but only to mean making strong liquor.

Palma become more intensely interested than before, and took samples of the ore-powder, the water from the stream, and the soil beside the vats. When she moved to take a sample from the distilling tubes, though, Ziller objected. “This substance is extremely valuable,” he insisted.

“Also extremely toxic?” Palma tapped one of the tubes. The silvery liquid inside did look a great deal like the liquid inside the thermometer.

“Only if improperly used,” Ziller said. “As I told you, we have scientific authority on our side.”

Palma sniffed, and used a vial with a rubber bulb on one end to sample the liquid without touching it. She stowed the vial with the others in her little bandolier.

“And your authorization papers?” the Healer reminded.

Looking increasingly disgruntled, Ziller took them to one of the smaller huts upslope, which seemed to be an office. It was filled with desks and papers, and the better-dressed men worked here. One wrote in a ledger, and another stamped papers with Germhacht words in red ink.

Ziller spent a few moments going through files, all in neat folders with labels, and finally pulled out a several-page-long document and laid it out for their perusal. The first page was written in Germhacht, and even when it changed over to plain Trade Common the writing was so small and flourish-y that Tam could barely read it. He let Palma and the Healer pore over it, and looked instead at the last page where there were at least a dozen signatures, and a raised seal with a coat of arms. The seal belonged to the Ministry of Geological Industries, and all the signatures but one were Germhacht names, mostly belonging to ministers with long titles. The last name was Hural Clan Color Finders, and there were no other Shandorian names at all.

“What’s a High Chancellor?” Tam asked. He thought he’d heard that word before.

“The ruler of Germhacht, of course,” Ziller said. “He presides over all our branches of government. His signature here proves the legitimacy of our corporation, at the highest levels.”

“But if he’s signing these papers, shouldn’t the Queen and Amryn be signing them too, from our end?” Tam asked.

The Healer looked up from his perusal of the papers. “Indeed they should be. This document purports to give great rights to the Bruhman corporation, rights that should not be lightly given, and about which the Amryn in particular should certainly have the final word.”

“I didn’t sell the Land!” Hural burst out. “I told them that no Shandorian would ever sell so much as a handful of Land, that it went against all our ways. I told them they’d have to rent the use of it. Some folk rent out summer homes to foreigners, and no one objects. How is this any different?”

The Healer looked grim, and he felt angry, but very quietly so. “You sold them the use of this Land in perpetuity, with no limitations, and no provision for a way to cancel the bargain. And for this both the clan and you personally are receiving a portion of the profits from the minerals extracted from the Land.”

“It’s not even a very good cut of the profits,” Palma said, looking up from the document. “Ten percent? Not much of a negotiator, are you?”

Once again, before Hural could say anything, Ziller jumped in. “You’ll find that, given our expenses and overhead, and considering that the Color Finders have nothing invested in this venture, and are simply allowing us to set up a very minimal production facility here, it is in fact a very generous bargain. One which has greatly benefitted the clan. They have been able to purchase modern tools and equipment that they have could never before afford.”

“If, in the process of making money and gaining modern conveniences,” the Healer said, “you have poisoned the children of the Color Finders, those benefits suddenly seem thin indeed.” He was looking at Hural, not Ziller. Hural didn’t meet his eyes.

“We haven’t poisoned anyone!”  Ziller insisted.

Palma patted her bandolier of vials. “We’ll find out soon enough. You’re a man of science, aren’t you, Mr. Ziller? Let the evidence speak. I’ll be running tests on these.”

“Look here,” Ziller said, flustered, “no matter what you find, or think you find, this is a binding contract.” He stabbed a finger down at the raised seal on the last page of the document. “You can’t just throw it aside. If you try to break it we can take legal recourse.”

“There is no recourse in Shandor for those who try to bend the Land to wrongful purposes,” the Healer said. “As clan chieftain, Hural had no right to sign this document. If the Queen and the Amryn find this contract illegal and, moreover, harmful to the Land, then the contract will be void.”

Ziller spluttered, but the Healer ignored him and met Tam’s eyes. “Palma and I will test the earth and water to see if the runoff from this mine is harming the people of the clan. Tam, it falls to you to discover whether the mine and distilleries are harming the Land.”

“I . . .” Tam opened his hands. “I wouldn’t know about the Land, not from inside, not like . . . well, you know. That’s not my gift.”

The Healer nodded. “But we know whose gift it is, and you know how to find him, yes?”

Tam sighed. “If he’ll listen. I’ll try.”

Hashta’s flutes and drums were still bounding about somewhere nearby, but Tam’s efforts to get his attention were no more successful than they had been at breakfast. After a good long try, he sighed and opened his eyes and determined to give it another go later.

The rest of that day was tedious. The Healer and Palma took the vials she had collected, borrowed some equipment from Teo, and got busy doing scientific tests which involved heating the vials over candles, adding water, adding other substances, and pouring carefully. Palma wouldn’t let Tam even try to help, so he ended up being set, along with Tava, to copy out all the portions of the Bruhman company contract that were written in Trade Common. He wasn’t particularly suited to this work, either, and he spent a much longer time squinting at the cramped handwriting than either Jon or Djaren would have. He tried not to make too many awkward blots as he copied out the words on a clean sheet of paper.

Tava wasn’t much help, either, as she’d had less schooling than Tam. While she could write her name and do sums and read “well enough to get by,” as she put it, the Germhacht way of making letters puzzled her worse than it did Tam, so he ended up doing all the copying. By the time it was too dark to see without candles, he’d only done about a page. Palma and the Healer hadn’t finished their work, either. Palma rattled off a lot of things he didn’t understand, and the Healer assured him that, while it seemed likely that the run-off water from the mine was getting in the clan’s drinking supply, they still had to do some more tests.

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