I was eighteen when Pliny died, in the Year of Feasts.
Just two years prior I had been added to the chief’s council, Pliny taking me to one of their meetings and addressing Segni.
“Your honor,” Pliny said, bowing low, “I come to you today with a petition that will succeed only in strengthening the continued success of the ship.”
“Yes?” Segni said, lounging in his chair and chewing on a strawberry. He had decreed the last year that the chief be provided with triple rations, such that he not be distracted by hunger or lack of energy when making decisions. And since that decision, his face had grown slightly more round, and his shirts slightly tighter.
“Within your council, you have representation from the doctors, from the historians, from the cooks,” said Pliny, “But what you do not have is representation from the farmers, from those who provide your food. It would be wise, chief, to include them in order to predict crop yields and set the desired crops for the year.”
“I do agree,” Said Segni, “Such as strawberries, which have been smaller this month than usual.”
“Exactly, your honor. Exactly. So it is with you acceptance that I propose to appoint a gardening relations, to make your wishes more clear in the fields.”
“Oh?” Said Segni, and cast his eyes on me, “Sure, go on then. I’m sure Horatius will fetch him from the gardeners.”
“Your honor,” Interrupted Pliny before I could speak, “Actually, I have elected Horatius to fill this role.”
Segni’s eyes widened and he coughed, a cough that spread into laughter as bits of fruit flew from his mouth.
“Him?” He said, struggling to catch his breath, “Him? Oh Pliny, what a joke, he can hardly keep his place in the fields, let alone the council. I nominate Skip.”
Beside Pliny I gritted my teeth, keeping my gaze straight. Word had started circulating the ship after I won my bet with Skip about my methods of farming. Few seemed to mention the success I’d seen, focusing rather on how I’d thrown out seeds, or changed from the methods of the past, and had simply been lucky.
“Oh, but that is precisely why we need him, chief.” Said Pliny with a smile, “You see, I would hesitate before pulling Skip from the fields to attend meetings, in case the crops falter in his absence. And Skip is smarter than most the gardeners- no, we need someone that the average gardener can relate to, someone who they see as an equal or else they will not listen to him. Plus with Horatius your yields will not be disrupted, and he will have less time to cause issues in the fields if he is in meetings. Furthermore, he is able to represent the porters aft er the time he spent in their ranks. Chief, I advise Horatius not because he is the best, but rather because his skills are replaceable, and he will not be missed in his absence.”
“Hmm.” Said Segni, narrowing his eyes at me, “I suppose that is true. But will you keep your word and tell my wishes to the other gardeners? What if they do not listen to you, what then?”
“Your honor,” I said, bowing lower than Pliny, “All my life I have faced adversary and dissent. I will relay you word even if it means damage to my reputation, which is already marred, or loss of the few friends that I have. I am but your servant, and have no other ties.”
Segni eyes gleamed as I bowed a second time, and he nodded.
“Then I consent,” He said, his arms stretching wide, “Servant.”
Council meetings occurred once per week, consisting of Segni relating his wishes to his leadership team.
“Today is the anniversary of my father’s death and my coronation,” Segni said, smiling, a year after I had been on the council, “And as such, I call for a celebration.”
“A feast, you honor?” Asked Elliot, who was on the council after quickly rising through the ranks as chef.
“Not a feast, Elliot. Feasts! A year of them, to signify the bountiful years to come.”
Pliny cleared his throat and I spoke, keeping my voice level.
“We cannot accommodate that much food from our gardens, Segni. With the limited water supply, we cannot afford such waste.”
“Dare call it waste again and you will be a porter again!” Segni shouted, pointing a finger at me,” I have decreed it, and thus shall it be. I will have extra workers delivered to the fields.”
“From where?” Asked Elliott, shaking his head.
“From where they are idle in other departments,” Said Segis, “But in the far future, we will need more workers. Which is why I am commanding that each family strive to become larger as well, so that we can grow as a society.”
“But the water,” I said, “Even with more workers, we will not have the water to grow.”
“We haven’t tried it yet, so we don’t know,”countered Segni, “”But until then we will dedicate one hundred percent of the fields to growing food. Elliott, the feasts will start next week.”
“But what about the herbs!” Cried a doctor representative, “We cannot apply medicine without our herbs!”
“Last I checked, you had a year’s supply.” Said Segni, “And I said we were having a year of feasts. They’ll last.”
“But that’s for emergencies,” Protested the doctor, “Emergencies only!”
“And this is one. Is the honoring of your chief not a top priority? Is not the remembrance of his father an emergency in itself?
“But-” Said the doctor, but Segni raised his eyebrows. “Do you wish to be a porter, doctor? Do you really wish to speak against me?”
So the meeting concluded, and the feasts began the next week.
The first was successful, as was the second, and even the third. But by the fourth, chefs were cutting rations from the other meals to ensure there was enough to cover for the feast. Water was lower than it had ever been, the reservoirs often dry, rows of plants that required greater amounts dying off.
And with the frenzied production and cooking, there were more burns, cuts, and other injuries, causing the doctors to fly through their supplies faster than typical. Stored herbs were not as potent as fresh ones either, so they found themselves using more to treat smaller injuries.
It was halfway through the Year of Feasts when Pliny cut himself falling down a flight of stairs, the bloody laceration stretching from his shoulder to forearm. Typically, on a younger man, the cut would have healed quickly. And even at Pliny’s age, with the help of doctors, it was nothing to be concerned about.
If there was medicine to treat it.
“Horatius,” Gasped Pliny, coughing on his bed, green pus oozing from an arm that had steadily lost function, “Horatius, I want you to know, I regret those years ago not declaring you historian. I regret not standing up to the chief.”
“You still taught me,” I said, wiping the sweat off his forehead with a rag, “You did everything you could, Pliny. I can never thank you enough for that.”
“No, I didn’t.” He said, “You can see the state of the ship. It is not enough to know the stories as historian, Horatius. You must *use* them too. And I should have prevented this, I should have seen it coming more clearly.”
“You did,” I answered, my eyes watering as his turned glassy, “And you took measures against it.”
“There are other measures,” Said Pliny, “Actions that I was too much of a coward to do. And other things, darker things that I could have done. I put you on the council to bring you closer to Segni, to intervene when you can, so promise me something, Horatius. Promise me that if the time comes, you’ll take action. Promise me that the stories remember me one day as the man who prevented the disaster of the ship, not the one who caused it. Promise me that.”
“I promise, Pliny,” I said, as Clea started sobbing again at the edge of the bed from where she held his hand.
“Stories are just stories,” Pliny mumbled, the spirit fleeing his body, “Stories cannot feed people. Stories cannot give water. But one who knows the stories can, and he must.”
I cried that day, tears falling down my cheeks as the doctors collected Pliny’s body. More of them than when my own father passed away in his sleep the year before.
And staring outside the window of my room, long after sleeping hours had began, I saw a familiar face on the other side of the ship. One who had grown older with me, who now had her hand against the glass, and watched as I broke out in sobs once more.
When dawn was still several hours away, and sleep still impossible, I made my way to the room that Pliny had showed me. And as I opened the books, and began to study, I remembered his final words.
Promise me that if the time comes, you’ll take action
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