Stowaways [17 Hispis 3285]
Which lead, inevitably, to interrupting my discussion of enchantment plans with Phaniet, sitting on the emo couch in the library.
Kantele:"Sythyry, I regret to inform you that your stepdaughter has been conspiring against you."
Grinwipey:"Sythyry, I regret to inform you that your secretary is a blunkwad who shunders profligate prebs in her spare time. Under the sickens and wipes!"
Me:"I don't understand either of you. Actually, I think I have a better idea of what Grinwipey means than Kantele, which is pretty alarming."
Kantele:"I think the perpetrators had better explain themselves!"
Yerenthax, fierce in her bloodstained pink armor, shoved two youths forward: a Cani boy with golden retriever styling and an Orren girl with bright, bright eyes, both dressed after the fashion of the skybridge cities.
Me:"Who are those?"
Dorze:"I'm Dorze." He curtsied and wagged his tail politely and looked generally apologetic.
Lost-Eyes:"And I'm Lost-Eyes." She curtsied too, but looked defiant.
Kantele:"They should be tossed out of Strayway. With bound Heal the Awful Wound spells so they don't stay dead when they land." She was snarling in a way that one does not usually associate with social secretaries in their nineties.
Me:"Why? What are they doing on Strayway in the first place? I didn't invite them."
Kantele:"Exactly. You did not invite them. They are stowaways! They must be sent on their way as quickly as possible!"
Lost-Eyes:"We're not stowaways! The Zi Ri wizard said it was all right!"
Me:"I did?" As the only Zi Ri and the only wizard on board, I was understandably confused.
Lost-Eyes:"No! The other one! Sazandigraa!"
Me:"Why is my ever-so-generous cousin sending stowaways onto my skyboat?"
Kantele:"Lithia and Grinwipey and Windigar and Inconnu did it!"
Grinwipey:"Don't get your tail stuck down Shax Shay Shaz' wax-way-waz, Kantele!"
Me:"Now I am hopelessly confused."
But the explanation was very simple.
And by "Very Simple" I mean...
Everybody:talk talk talk interrupt talk exclaim talk proclaim talk yell TALK!
Me:"Perhaps, um, Dorze could explain himself?" After somewhere between 7+12 and 712 variations on that request, he was permitted to do so, or close enough.
Dorze: something about how Lithia and Sazandigraa ...
Me:"Maybe start by telling me who you are, aside from being a Cani boy name Dorze, and, from the beginning, how you came to be asking Lithia and Sazandigraa for passage on Strayway?"
Dorze:"From the very beginning, if it pleases you, m'lord. My family was never well-off. My mother and father and some others died in a house fire when I was nine. Who was left was only one uncle, but he'd gotten the kids out, so he had seven of us. He couldn't take care of us all, so he sold some of us off. He sold me to Kzip La Hish."
Lithia:"And that's bad enough! We should be helping him get free!"
Kantele:"You will rescue Dorze, but you will not rescue Blenny?"
Kantele:"Blenny is indentured to Sythyry. For that matter, your mother was indentured to zir, too, before you were born."
Me:"And Este is, and Umbers, and ... what did we decide about Arfaen?"
Kantele:"No, Este has been free for two years. And I have been free for forty-two. Arfaen is not indentured at this point. She may take a contract when we get back to Vheshrame, if Sythyry needs better legal standing to keep Quendry with us."
Lithia:"That's different. That's just a legal maneuver."
Me:"Rather in the same way that a contract of marriage or apprenticeship is a legal maneuver. Anyhow, Dorze? Pray continue."
Dorze:"Well, Lost-Eyes and I knew each other a lot, her mother and La Hish work together a lot, and Lost-Eyes was over a great deal. We ... well ..."
Lithia:"They fell in love, mother, despite being different species. Just what Castle Wrong and Strayway are all about, in case you had forgotten."
(I haven't actually forgotten. And I'm not actually her mother, she just calls me that when she wants me to be responsible for her or some such.
Dorze:"Yes, we fell in love. La Hish didn't approve at all, she forbade me to see her any more."
Me:"Just out of curiosity -- and out of knowing how much legal trouble Lithia has gotten herself into -- what sort of provisions did you have for breaking your contract?"
Dorze:"A year's notice, plus repayment of whatever she had spent on me."
Lost-Eyes:"That was a lot! She had set him to work as a spell-scribe, copying spells into little wooden boxes. She'd bought him a pile of spells for him -- he owes her for all of them!"
I suppose that's fair. After all, he does own the spells (and it is physically impossible for him to give them back), and when he has bought off his indenture, he'll be able to go into business as a spell-scribe on his own with them.
Kantele:"How much is she charging you for them? Retail price, or what?"
Me:"Kantele, are you being sympathetic to his cause now?"
Kantele:"No, but I do want to know the details."
Dorze:"I don't know. I've never bought a spell in a shop."
Me:"Well, tell me the last couple spells, and how much she charged you."
Dorze:"There's Tapestry of Rippling Splendor for seven thousand lozens, and Magic Resistance of Iron for seventeen."
Me:"That's less than retail price, at least. It's rather high for spell-scribe rates. How much do you get paid for each copy?"
Me:"How does that compare to free spell-scribes?"
(Nobody knew, so we asked Zascalle, who said that ordinary non-indentured spell-scribes in the employ of a typical wizard get, by age-old custom, 43%. But wizards -- or other businessmen -- who do a lot of business in selling spells prefer indentured scribes. The wizards have to invest a goodly amount of money or time in each spell the scribes can write. A scribe can, in principle, learn a spell, and then decamp and set up a shop stall in another city selling it, and the investor's recourses are quite limited. Indentured scribes have more trouble escaping without paying their debts -- if only because foreign cities are likely to pay attention to indenture contracts.)
Lost-Eyes:"So you see, La Hish was a terrible, terrible mistress!"
Me:"She was rather exploitative. I've certainly known worse."
Lost-Eyes:"Well, Dorze started last year with five years left in his indenture if he worked as hard as he could, and ended the year with eight left!"
Kantele:"I've certainly known worse too."
Me:"Truly! Kantele's indenture ended forty-two years ago, and she still hasn't figured out that she can leave me."
Dorze: [Loyally, because he's a Cani] "Well, I did complain about it and she did promise to stop having me buy spells. The eight years is still about right."
Lost-Eyes:"And you trust her to keep her word? You could take her to court if she doens't, but what'll they say -- 'You signed the contract (or your uncle did for you), and she's being lawful and treating you well, so you live with it. The law's not on your side when you're indentured."
Lithia:"It's not! There's nothing fair about it!"
At about that point I noticed that Lithia was actually in Rassimel phase, but wearing an illusion that she was Orren. She doesn't usually do that.
And, for your reference and mine, here are some details of three contracts from Castle Wrong, prepared by Kantele for the purpose. Plus Dorze's contract.
|Reason||Abandoned, crippled child who couldn't take care of herself. Under a moderate amount of Ducal pressure, I agreed to accept her into my household.||Umbers left her native village and came to Vheshrame as a peniless, naive country bug. She quickly fell in with the worst that Vheshrame has to offer, including some relatives of Grinwipey, and found herself working jobs lacking in legal, moral, or financial value. When she escaped, she asked to be indentured to place herself firmly under my legal, moral, and financial protection.||When Kantele defied her parents as an adolescent, she was tossed onto the street with only the clothes on her back -- and those clothes scorched from an angry maternal Fire Flower. She took refuge in the early Castle Wrong. We discussed a number of options, including living at Castle Wrong the way most of the residents do. She decided that she'd take the one with the most value to her: getting an education, and paying for it by her indenture.||Sold for his own support, by his uncle.|
|Duration||Until terminated by mutual agreement. (Note that I can't simply evict her or toss her on the street. An abusive indenture-holder who was trying to get rid of her could make her miserable to force that agreement. Castle Wrong puts up with worse than Blenny, though.)||12 years: a typical term. After which, we hope Umbers no longers needs protection.||30 years. A very long term, but Kantele wanted (and got) a very expensive education and had no better way to pay for it.||Indefinite term at first. It was made definite a few years ago, as "Until his debt to La Hish is paid off." Except that she can, in effect, order him to increase his debt.|
|Requirements on the indentured:||Serve me to the best of her abilities. Since her troubles are both physical and mental -- she is not very smart, and she is stuck between land and water forms -- this is mostly housecleaning. Which means she works about as hard as non-indentured people like Inconnu and Mellilot and Tingula: she's at her duties several hours a day. She is rather in the gate district [Earth idiom: bottom of the totem pole] and probably gets assigned more latrine-scrubbing than the others. That's probably because she can't complain as effectively as the others, not because she's not free.||Serve me to the best of her abilities, with certain exclusions that she asked for and I was happy to accept. Umbers mostly helps take care of the children, on Strayway. Not as much as the parents -- Arfaen is a particularly attentive mother -- but quite a bit.||Be an assistant to my then-secretary by way of apprenticeship, and to take over as my secretary proper when my then-secretary became my then-not-a-secretary-anymore.||General obedience and working in her scribery.|
|Requirements on the indenturer:||Provide suitable ("and generous" in the words of the standard contract that we used) food, shelter, clothing, education, entertainment, spending money, and so forth. According to Zascalle, Blenny costs about half again as much as a live-in servant would. She was quite hard to educate; we needed to hire a special tutor to teach her to read, and even now her arithmetic is rather more surprising than accurate. "And generous" is left by law entirely up to my interpretation. I have some idea of what the usual range for indentures like hers is, and I try to be in about the top sixth, but not actually the top. The bottom third or so doesn't even seem suitable to me, much less generous.||Protection, plus room and board and clothing and spending money and such. I am specifically forbidden to employ her as a concubine or prostitute (I don't), and she is specifically allowed to have five nights out of every nine free to spend in whatever bed she wishes (she does). I am, naturally, allowed by Vheshrame law and custom to exert myself rather more forcefully to protect my property than I am to protect my friends. I don't much want to get into a fight with the Khtsoyis quarter of town -- less so after seeing Grinwipey wipe my cousin's grin off zir face -- but we hoped that they would not want to get into a fight with me either. (And they mostly didn't.)||Education, plus room and board and clothing and spending money and such. Not Vheshrame Academy, but she did have two years in a university in Daukrhame.||Providing suitable food, shelter, and so on. Dorze's education was rather focussed on the few topics that make for a good spell-scribe. He can concentrate quite well; he has a great deal of cley. He's not terribly good at magic himself: she found no particular reason to have him able to cast the spells he was copying.|
|Afterwards:||I expect Blenny to be my indentured servant as long as she lives, unless, by some miracle, she is able to take care of herself at some point and wants to.||No particular plans at this point. I don't think Umbers will stay in Castle Wrong, somehow. Which is fine. Unlike Blenny, Umbers can take care of herself; unlike Kantele, I am not training Umbers for a job I particularly need filled.||At the end of her indenture, Kantele took a four-month vacation, and then came back to Castle Wrong to continue to be my secretary. We renegotiated her contract. I'm paying her a lot more now, plus room and board. Not clothing when we were in Vheshrame, but on Strayway I'm providing clothing for everyone. She gets lots more vacation time than when she was indentured, too.||Unclear.|
Anyhow, indentures are one of the most formal legal and social instruments available. They're weaker than adoption, but stronger than simply hiring someone. They place some obligations on the indenture holder, and, potentially, lots of obligations on the indentured. They aren't exactly undignified, not quite like being a slave, but they certainly aren't dignified. And they're risky for the indenturee: law, custom, and balance of power favor the indenture holder. I am wimpy, and tend to treat my indentured servants the same way I treat everyone else who lives at Castle Wrong. This is not exactly unusual among indenture holders; but neither is it unusual for indenture holders to want to get every terch of value out of their contracts.