THOMASON TRACTS More dispatches from our undercover reporter Polly CrackerWe made good time down the coast of West Africa and apart from a few native canoes which approached the ship selling fresh fruit and other luxuries we encountered no other vessels, though Captain Cose did have the cannons run out and the ready ammunition lockers on the top deck filled, just in case as Meloncelli told me later as I was washing up that it wasn't unknown for ships to be attacked this close to the coast as everyone knew that ships sailing down would be full of trade goods. He also told me that he had overheard some of the passengers asking the Captain about Bombay and the Association but the Captain had ordered him out before he could overhear more, Melconcelli added that the Captain seemed annoyed and Webber who was lurking in a dark corner looked ready to murder someone "I was glad to get out of there, to be honest, some things are too dangerous to know" he shot me a meaningful look before adding in a concerned tone "You no tell anyone whata you hear? could get us both inna trouble, capiche? he then grabbed me tightly by the arm until I nodded. He let me go and smiled sadly "I talk too much sometimes" We continued to have a fair wind that kept the sails full and the Peony fair flew across the crystal blue waters until the Captain ordered that sail be taken in, it seemed we were about to reach Mbey.The weather remained clear and humid as we sailed closer to the shore, the Captain ordered the cannons manned and for old Toby to get into the crows nest and to keep an eye out. The Passengers were asked to remain between decks as the Captain ordered Webber to start steering four degrees starboard. Suddenly we heard a shout from Tom, it seemed he had spotted a mast poking up from behind the rapidly approaching rocky outcrops. The Captain ordered the remaining sails reefed, the men to ready stations and if Tom could make out any flags or anything else to help identify the ship. Tom soon shouted out that he could see a red ensign, could this be a friendly ship then? The ship slowed but we still had a lot of speed to bleed off and we wouldn't be able to hide much longer. Webber steered the slowing ship around the headland and we saw the harbour of Mbey for the first time. Mbey was large bay scooped out of the rocky coast a large sandy beach sloped down to meet the water, and a few jetties big enough for skiffs and rowboats snaked out from the sand, a few flat-roofed buildings could be seen at the edge of the beach and Tom pointed inland and shouted out that the could see smoke and thatched roofs about a quarter of a mile in. Activity could be seen on the other ship now as it's crew finally spotted the Peony, the cannon were being run out and cries of alarm and command could be heard over the buzzing of insects and cawing of strange gaily coloured birds. The Captain ordered the red ensign and the flag of Kings Lynn to be run out and for a signal to be sent "Long live Parliament" I looked up from my position next to the ammunition bin and I could just make out Grace painted in gold across the other ships stern as she turned broadside onto us.After a tense moment or two where both ships faced off against each other Captain Cose ordered the gun ports closed and the cannons run in, I can tell you I let out an explosive breath that I didn't even know I had been holding. I hadn't been in a naval battle yet but the others talked and well just one look at one eyed Stumpy was proof enough of how dangerous they could be.So it was with some relief when I heard the Captain call for the remaining sails to be furled and the anchor to be dropped this was done in silence, the only voice to be heard was Davids as he called out the depth from his position on the bow. When all was ready the Captain ordered the ship's boat lowered and crewed and for the Passengers to join him. The Passengers came up from their bunks, heavily armed and with grim determined looks, I thought they could have seen off any boarding party that tried to take our ship. They walked over to the Captain and after a brief talk seemed to agree with him and they climbed over the rail and down into the boat below. The Captain quickly spoke to Master Webber and then he to was gone into the boat. The boat was rowed across to the Grace and I could just hear them calling up for permission to come aboard.This next part has been pieced together from what Polly Cracker overheard later onCraven told me that it was pretty tense on the boat as they neared the wooden bulk of the Grace as armed men could be seen waiting for them. Craven said they were feeling pretty naked but then that one of the Passengers stood up causing the boat to wallow somewhat alarmingly but before anyone could ask what the fuck he was doing he had called out to someone on the ship and after a pause a voice called back "It's alright gentlemen, they're friends of a sort." The passenger who had stood up I think he was the one called Doctor Death or something sat back down with a smile and seeing the expressions on his friend's faces and our own calmly said "Oh sorry did I startle you? seeing how worried everyone seemed I thought it best to let my associate know who we were, Quentin Lambert is his name, he's a merchant from Norfolk. Must admit I'm surprised to see him here but his red hair is somewhat hard to forget" We hooked the boat onto the grace and the Passengers and the Captain went up. We were ordered to wait until they came back. And after half an hour they did look somewhat pissed off but alive and I didn't see any muskets pointing our way as we rowed off.Now wanting to do Mr. Thomason proud I asked around and the rumor was that the Grace was sailing under the flag of the Virginian company out of the colonies but that it was currently under contract to Parliament itself and had travelled here for the same reasons as ourselves. In fact, Meloncelli told me later on that there wasn't a slave to be had anywhere within fifty miles of Mbey and that we would have to wait until the next war party came back or one of the Muslim merchant caravans travelled through the area which could take weeks. I asked him why Parliament wanted slaves as weren't all Englishman free, were they making a new army? Meloncelli shook his head and laughed "They aren't Englishman remember Ha they are not even Scottish so it's okay for them to be slaves, no it's coin the men in Parliament want, the slaves will be sold in the New World for a healthy markup and the profits will go back to keep Parliaments soldiers loyal and the dockyards busy.When I was changing the Passengers slop buckets I heard two of them, the Doctor and the grim Imperial discussing someone called Saul who the Doctor had spoken to on the Grace. The Doctor was asking if the German had heard of him as he to had fought both men and witches on the continent. Whilst the Doctor seemed happy that his friend was on the Grace the Imperial seemed somehow impatient to meet him, but smelling the shit they noticed me and walked away deeper into the ship.A message came from the shore, the local chief was throwing a feast in honour of both crews, I heard Webber grumble that the man just wanted us to stay around so he could get our guns cheap knowing that we couldn't stay too long. The Captain would have to decide what the most profitable course was stay and sell here or sail down the coast for a few days and hope that there were slaves for sale in another town. I was picked to go along with the Captain the Passengers and some of the senior crew to the feast. I knew I would be waiting on the Captain but I was still excited to see a King even if he was only a pretend heathen one. Polly Cracker can again give a first-hand accountWe took the ships boat across the harbour just as the sun was setting, the night was still and humid and the Captain was in his best uniform, the long velvet coat and matching petticoat with all the lacy bits which take ages to clean especially if soaked in gravy, his baggy beeches with white stockings and his new leather baldric from which his best rapier hung, overall he looked very commanding. The Passengers seemed to have made an effort as well but their finery still looked a little ruffled and creased to me as if they hadn't had chance to wear them often. They were obviously heavily armed and in the case of the two Doctors slightly jittery as Doctor Norton kept looking around intently as if he expected someone to jump out and attack him whilst Bert the leader remained in his seat and barely moved a muscle just occasionally snorting if asked a question, he seemed to want to be far as far away from the other Doctor for some reason but that's rich folk for you. The few senior crew had also dragged out their best and it was a surprise to see Bradshaw the ships carpenter/surgeon in breeches. We pulled up alongside one of the jetties which was lined along one side by very lean and tall black men each one held aloft a flaming torch and I admit I was a little awed. The natives all wore similar clothes, a long loincloth which ended just below the knees, thick brass rings which went up to mid-shin from their bare feet. More rings were worn on their arms but these seemed to be made of jade and polished stone instead of brass and their heads were covered in a strange looking cap of bright colours which had a short crest which ran from the back to the middle of the cap and overall they looked truly terrifying. The ships boat bumped against the stone pillars of the jetty and a boy ran out of the line and gathered up the thrown rope to secure the boat. The Captain climbed out and he was swiftly followed by the senior crew and looking around he called out in his oddly accented English "My name is Captain Cose Waterman, Captain of the Peony and I have come to brake bread with the great Chieftain Ngoone Sobel" the black men remained silent and still like some sort of statue but just as the Captain was going to call out again a silky voice with a strange accent spoke from behind the nearest tribesman "Ah good Captain Waterman, It is so good to finally meet you at last" a small dusky hued man wearing a set of gaudy clothes in the Spanish style appeared and held out one hand to shake the Captains whilst he twirled his moustache with the other "I apologise for not meeting you earlier but affairs of state you understand?" he bowed slightly and gestured towards the beach "This way please" he then stops almost immediately and turns to the Captain "Oh I do beg your pardon I always expect everyone to know me down here" he gives a grin "My name is Senhor Tadakki Marcelo, the Portuguese consul for this region" he then continues heading towards the beach "Please follow me, we wouldn't want to keep the Chief waiting now would we?" he then strode off leaving the rest of us to sort ourselves out and to quickly follow, the tribesmen remained still and silent.The Consul led us to a trail that led up from the beach and as soon as we were close enough he started to point out some of the local features "Ah good of you to join me as you can see we have everything set up to make everything run as smoothly as possible, those huts there are the final holding cells for the merchandise each one can hold fifty slaves securely until they can be transported to the ships. Giulio stops and looks at the stone buildings with their tiny windows which even though barely more than a slit in the wall were still barred and whistled quietly "Fifty men in each? I have seen bigger cupboards" The Consul continued to talk about the effectiveness of the operation as if he was a stall holder at a village market. He leads them past stocks, posts which hung heavy with chain, some of the posts I saw gleamed wetly in the setting sun and various blockhouse and pens all which seemed empty. Senhor Marcelo then took a cobbled path which led off towards the right and after passing through a wooden stockade did his slight bow again and said "Welcome to Mbey gentleman" The village was fairly large, a stout wooden stockade surrounded it keeping it separate from the forest and the slave pens the gate was guarded by more silent statues in their strange caps these ones though held short spears and had large wooden clubs thrust through wide belts of leather instead of the torches. More men could be seen walking along the parapet above each one armed with a bow and a wicked looking dagger. Captain Cose called the Consul over and pointing to the armed men "What is the meaning of this? I was told this was a secure station and yet I am seeing a lot of armed men." the Consul smiled "Oh rest assured gentlemen it is, all of this is to honour you and the men from the Grace" he pauses before continuing "Well to be honest it's mostly to honour the crew of the Grace but since you are here..." the Consul leads us towards the middle of the settlement chatting all the time telling the Captain how it all works that the slave caravans arrive every so many weeks bringing in the tribes defeated enemies, the poor and the indebted all to be sold to the West to till the land and work the plantations in disease infested Caribbean. I was very interested in the settlement and was surprised how closely it resembled my home village back in Lincolnshire, well in general looks and feel at least. The walls of most of the buildings seemed to be made out of wattle and daub just like home and though the thatch was some kind of native jungle plant instead of straw it still looked similar enough. The streets were of packed earth and very narrow I could see pens for animals built close by to the homes as well. The few people we saw stayed in the shadows but I still saw flashes of colour from their robes as they watched as go past. The route was fairly winding and every few yards one of the statue men stood, silently watching us a short spear with a wicked looking point grounded at their sides, even though parts of it reminded me of home they only made the whole thing somehow unreal as when you added the people, heat, smells and the noise of the strange animals. I felt very far from home yet I was still fascinated by what I saw. After about ten, fifteen minutes we were near the middle of the village and suddenly one minute was in the close winding streets then in the next we found ourselves in a wide cleared space with a walled compound sat in the middle, sounds of music and laughter could be heard coming from the large center building and as the sun dipped beyond the horizon we were ushered in past the gates and the formidable men that guarded them, these men were tall and wiry not an ounce of fat on them and their jewelry was of a higher quality than any we had seen before, their arms and legs were covered in bands of gold and they had necklaces of precious stones hanging from their necks, various other trinkets seemed to hang off from the belt of their loincloths but the worst thing for us was that each one was not only armed with a fearsome looking sword but that they cradled in their arms a shiny new wheel lock musket. Seeing us all fall silent the Consul looks around and seeing what has caught our attention sighs "Yes I was going to mention that, that's the reason there are no slaves here currently is that the Grace sold a shipment of guns to the Chief mere days ago and as you can see they are of far finer quality than the wares you brought"