Stories of Adelwreth

The Hooked Anchor

A low, deep mumble and an aroma of coffee and tea filled the air. Ladies with fans and men with big problems gathered here. The Hooked Anchor Coffee House was on the corner of First Street and Peasant’s Way. It faced the road with the Market Square bustling behind it. 

“It is terrible times indeed,” said a man sipping coffee. His wife, Kelly sat next to him, mostly uninterested in the conversation. She was looking at the intricate patterns on the walls.

“Not only that,” said another man, “but we lost at least fifty tons last year alone.” Large chandeliers swayed gently in the breeze. Soft piano music murmured in the background. Stairs with dark wood bannisters led up to the second level. Here people sat in booths with curtains that could close if one so desired.

“Perhaps if there was some patrol of sorts?” suggested another.

The red velvet carpet seemed brand new with its golden patterns at the edges. It was kept in pristine condition. Men in black suits waited on the guests like a host of butlers and servants. 

“We pay good money, sir,” said a fat man with white curly hair. “We expect to get what we pay for.”

The men argued and made suggestions and exclaimed and hushed; their problem was greatest of all.

“It’s not just piracy,” said a thin man with spectacles. “It’s storms, perils, damages—sudden and unforeseen events. Some of them can handle pirates, and I am sure that the loss of those fifty tons wasn’t exclusively due to storms.” He paused for effect. “And however I am inclined to understand that the route is at this time most dangerous, the agreements have to be fulfilled.”

“Many captains have already refrained from taking the route,” said one of the others. “They do their business elsewhere.”

Kelly saw a waiter spilling coffee on one of the guests. He was so clumsy. This establishment was nothing in comparison to the Fifth Street Hotel, or even Uptown, for that matter. Mr Gustov Gelnov would have seen that accident happening an hour ahead of time. He would have changed the man’s working hours; changed his appointed position perhaps—maybe even employ him as a cleaner. Heavens no, she thought. How will the carpets stay clean then? He might spill water or leftovers on those.

She watched the man return with another cup of coffee, a change of suit and a couple of cleaners to clean the spill.

Well, at least they make up for it.

“This is damaging our economy,” said the fat white-haired man. “We have been granted autonomy right up to independence, almost. How now if the joint administration fails to secure safe trade routes?”

“I concur. It is most terrible times indeed,” said Carl.

James Mason and his wife, Maggy entered at the far end of the coffee house. She was happy as always, giggling at every smart word Jimmy smirkingly whispered to her. They were probably headed to the Adelwreth Harbor Midnight Fare, as was their custom. To think that that man in his suit and tie started out as a street urchin. Kelly smacked her lips and lit one of her long, narrow cigarettes. It tasted vile—the way she liked it.

James and Maggy made their way over to the table where they all sat. The waiters brought them chairs, and James held one for Maggy. She chuckled at something he said and sat down with her room-alightening smile. It sickened her. 

“Carl, how do you do on this fine day?” James started and shook Carl’s hand. “Earl, Connely, Paxten.” He deepened his voice. “Governor.”

“Soon-to-be retired Governor, I might add,” the fat, white-haired man chuckled, shaking Jimmy’s hand.

Here it comes—more politics, more deliberating, more debating, less action, less action. 

The man on whom the coffee was spilt had changed his suit and accepted the apology of the waiter who had now brought him something complementary. The man seemed happy about it—ecstatic even. Why, if someone were to spill coffee on her green dress, she would ensure that that person loses his or her employment. Nothing would make her feel better—only the satisfaction of retribution.

“I hear you have applied for the position, James,” Carl said. They were still speaking cordially as if the terrible times had somehow dwindled away.

“Ah yes, well, I have written letters. Whether or not they will be heard is another story entirely,” answered James, unfolding a napkin onto his lap and checking in with Maggy.

Kelly eyed her own husband with disdain and drew in another breath of the bitter-tasting cigarette. The smoke travelled up in the air, and a gentle breeze blew it slightly deeper into the establishment.

I wonder what they would do if the kitchen were to serve up burnt food, she thought. That’s silly—they would just make it anew.

“We have a more pressing matter with the Vorgen at this time,” James continued. “The tensions are at an all-time high. They have some renewed vigour in their old religion. Well, the Eastern tribes at least. Vos is still trying on the side of peace.” James sighed. “And we have begun receiving reports of raids on the carts and carriages on the routes close to the border towns.”

“I honestly don’t understand them all’s views on all this here,” Maggy said. “We didn’t take them lands. Right? Sure, we had that war and whatnot in the past but as far as I know…” Maggy looked around the table for approval, but she wouldn’t give it. “They started that one too, and that wasn’t even about land.”

“So I’ve heard,” said the governor with more earnestness in his voice. “Apparently, the ‘Maw’ commands it,” he chuckled. “But, as a matter of fact, their numbers have grown beyond their capacity—this was bound to happen sooner or later.”

Land. What is so important about land that one cannot give up, or does not need, she thought. Now young men will have to go and die because old white-haired men do not think it wise to part with a patch of earth they themselves have never seen before.

“I have spoken to the governor of Delewreth about concessions,” James Mason continued. “But he refuses to give up the mines. They have started enlisting. The colonial powers support his decision and that just opens an entirely new can of worms.”

“Which brings us to another point, James,” said Earl. “Worms. If we do not find a way to secure the route, that is all that will be left of the produce that is exported. The merchants say it is too much of a risk.”

“Yes, we have lost at least fifty tons of tobacco exports last year alone,” added Paxten. James’ eyes widened.

Here the greatest minds, names and influences of all Adelwreth sat without an idea of what to do. She shrugged and drew in another puff of fumes. She looked at Maggy with her red curls, dimples, freckles and laughter. How could one be so happy all the time? She glared at Carl. At that moment, a waiter bumped into her cigarette and broke it in half. He immediately apologised and offered to bring her a replacement. She thought it over; then nodded. Carl didn’t notice. Carl just carried on blabbering about how terrible the time was, with his balding head and growing moustache.

The waiter returned, offered her the cigarette, lit it and carried on. She felt an odd sensation; a shiver ran down her spine. It felt good that the man replaced her cigarette—she even felt a smile creeping onto her face. Perhaps she would not make this man lose his employment.

She stood up and excused herself from the table. The men continued babbling about the risks and perils of their dilemma. She walked up to the waiter, feeling for her hair and necklace to make sure everything was in place.

“Excuse me,” she said, coming to a standstill in front of the waiter as he was helping another table. The customers’ yelps of disapproval were snuffed out by her dismissive glance.

“Why do you lot not take better preventative care?” she asked. The answer was extremely uninteresting. So many excuses. She rolled her eyes.

“Don’t you think it will be better for both the customers and the establishment if you did not need to…” She motioned her hands while finding the word. The smoke from her cigarette rolled into the air. “…need to reimburse almost everyone that comes in here. It is an absolute shame, I tell you, that Adelwreth must have a place like this with people like you working here.”

She didn’t wait for a reply. She merely sucked in the smoke and blew it out in her stride back toward the table.

“…expect them to undertake these kinds of journeys with the chance and likelihood that they will lose half of their shipping!” Earl was pounding frustratedly on the table. “If they spend a fortune on the other side of the world only to come here and make no profit, why would they bother?”

“It’s terrible… a time of terrible things!” cried Carl.

“If only there were some way that we could give them an incentive, Earl,” said James.

“The incentive is the export! Ha!” Connely said positively. “The wares they procure here pay for both trips.”

“There is no use if those wares are dumped into the ocean halfway to their destination,” pleaded Earl.

Kelly felt rather odd. For all its shortcomings, she rather liked this place. It had nice decorations, and you got what you paid for—even a few things extra if someone spilt something on you. She looked at the waiter who had spilt the coffee; he was going on about his business. She looked at the waiter she had scolded; he was serving others with a smile. She was certain she had insulted him enough, surely, to have left a mark.

“Carl…” she said absentmindedly.

Her husband did not respond and kept at the conversation.

“Carl,” she started raising her voice. He glanced at her with a “not now” look.  Sure, he had married her because her father was rich and she had beauty beyond beauty. He certainly hadn’t married her because he liked her. Unlike James and Maggy.

“Carl!” she yelled at him. Carl cowered and flinched as if expecting a slap. She had his attention now.

“Why, would you say, do people keep coming back to this… this… slum? The waiters aren’t any good… they spill, they burn, they break. This one even deprived me of one of my sticks!” she said pointing to the waiter that had broken her cigarette.

“Kelly,” Carl said softly, highly irritated. “Now is not the time. Can’t you see we are in the middle of something important!”

“Yes, Carl!” she yelled. The establishment became silent. “I can see very clearly that you lot are all sitting here, in this very terrible time, doing nothing but sharing your problems.” Her voice increased in pitch the louder she yelled.

“Kelly, please,” Carl begged, embarrassed.

“No, Carl!” Now that she had their attention, she lowered her voice. “You see, you sit here, talking and moaning and groaning, while the answer stares you in the face.” They all looked at her wide-eyed. “See, if your ships sink and get pirated and… and… get blown off course by a storm, they lose money.” She paused for effect, scowled at Maggy, and then continued. “So, let’s say you go to a captain, offer him a reimbursement should anything happen to his cargo, for a small fee.”

The men at the table looked at each other, considering the idea. After a few seconds, Carl said, “No, Kelly, no. No one in their right mind would think that is a good idea…”

“No, she’s right Carl,” interjected Maggy. “Y’all know that not every ship goes down.” Maggy paused for approval. Kelly thought about giving it, then dragged in the burnt aroma. “So a few ships comes in here, buys all ‘em stuff and heads out again. Export’s them incentive, right Connely?” She looked at Connely.

“I think you are on to something, Kelly,” said James and shared a loving glance with Maggy.

“And who would be doing the reimbursing, Kelly?” said Earl. “James, do you have enough Adels in your coffers to pay out a captain the whole content of his cargo hold?”

James shook his head. Earl looked around the table.

“Well, I do,” said Kelly softly. “Father has enough to reimburse at least five before we have to sell the estate.” She blew smoke into Carl’s face. “And if we get five payment fees for potential reimbursement, we can probably afford six. It gives the captains peace of mind. They spend more, sell more… our fees go up. The more ships travelling the routes, the safer the routes.” She put out the cigarette and shrugged. “We could even start offering this service to other ships on much safer routes.” 

The governor listened, nodding his head.

“Well, we will need to have good paperwork in order to ensure that the captains do not take unfair advantage of this arrangement.”


The group sat far into the night discussing the conditions and terms of this endeavour. After agreements had been reached, Kelly was appointed the person in charge of realising the plan. At long last, James Mason looked at his pocket watch and said, “Well, Mrs Mason, shall we?”

“We shall indeed, Mr Mason,” replied Maggy, and the two of them exited the now empty establishment towards the Adelwreth Harbor Midnight Fare. The governor excused himself and shuffled out. Connely finished his pot of tea and kicked Earl before they said their farewells.

“I love you, honey,” said Carl, swelling with pride.

“I know you do,” replied Kelly, stretching and twirling on the open carpet.

“So, where will you be setting up an office for this…”—he looked up to find the word— “underwriting scheme of yours?”

Kelly stopped beneath a grand chandelier and marvelled at the beauty of her own reflection in the brass thereof.

“Here,” she said softly. “Right here in this slum of an establishment,” she said and chuckled.

Carl smiled.

“Come on, let’s go home. It’s truly a wonderful time!”

Share this story:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *