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Messer Marco Polo
Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne
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So Marco Polo goes over and salutes him politely.
"I wonder if you mind my sitting down by you for a while," he says. "I perceive
you're from China."
The sea-captain waves him politely to his place.
"I'm from China." He smiles. "You guessed right."
"Is it long since you've been in China?"
"Well, that depends upon what you call long," says the captain. "If you mean
time, it's one thing. If you mean voyage, it's another. For you've got to take into
account," says he, "adverse winds, roundabout turns to avoid currents, possible
delays to have the ship scraped free from the parasite life that does be attaching
itself to the strakes, time spent in barter and trade. Other matters, too; the attacks
of pirates; cross-grained princes who don't want you to be leaving their ports with
a good cargo in your hold; sickness; loss of sails and masts; repairs to the ship. It
wasn't a short journey and it wasn't a long one."
"It will be a long ways to China, I'm thinking."
"I can tell you how long it is from China to here, and you can reverse that, and
you will get a fair idea of how long it is from here to China. I left Zeitoon with a
cargo of porcelain for Japan, and traded it for gold-dust, and from Japan I went to
Chamba to lay in a store of chessmen and pen-cases. And from Chamba I sailed
to Java, which is the greatest island in the world. Java is fifteen hundred miles
from Chamba, south and southeast, and it took me four months sailing, but a
sea-captain cannot pass Java by, for it is the chief place for black pepper,
nutmegs, spikenard, galingale, cubebs, doves, and all the spices that grow.
"And I stopped at various small islands from there, until I came to Basma, which
is the island of the unicorns. And there we trade in pygmies, which ignorant
people think are human folk. They are just a wee monkey, with all the hair
plucked out except the hair of the beard. There is great money in them.
"I stopped at Sumatra for cocoanuts and toddy, and just for water at Dragoian.
Dragoian is not a good city. It is filled with sorcerers who have tattooed faces. At
Lambri I put in for the sago you buy from the hairy men with tails.
"Son, never stop at the isle of Andaman. The men there have faces like dogs.
They are a cruel generation, and eat every one they can catch. I could tell you a