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Corsairs and Free Haven


Diana Wynne Jones unaccountably missed these two elements of Fantasyland, without which no Tour with a swashbuckling theme is complete ...


Blue Band CORSAIRS. These are of two kinds.

     1. Bad Corsairs. They resemble ordinary PIRATES, only more numerous and worse. They rove the seas in fleets as well as individual ships, and are usually affiliated with the FANATIC CALIPHATES, who employ them particularly as slave raiders. If you are captured by bad Corsairs, you will soon find yourself in the Caliphates, following a disagreeable voyage.

     2. GOOD Corsairs. These are quite different, and not encountered on all Tours. When ashore they occupy themselves almost entirely with drinking, swearing, gambling, fighting, and general carousing. At sea, however, they are briskly professional, and possess excellent SHIPS. These are usually fast, relatively small GALLEYS, which they row themselves, save for a handful of captives whom they always set free before battle. They sing lustily [OMT] as they row into action. On some Tours they will instead use nimble barks [OMT], sailing vessels rather more modern in design and rig than other Ships. Occasionally the Management even allows Good Corsairs a few cannons, which they will employ to some effect, though battles still invariably end with grappling and boarding. When cannons are not available, the Corsairs are the only Good warriors who are permitted by the Rules to use crossbows. The only people who can match them at sea are BARBARY VIKINGS, but the two enjoy a wary mutual respect and seldom fight one another.

     Good Corsairs are the only seafarers in Fantasyland with any inkling of naval strategy or organized tactics. This makes them troublesome in the early stages of the Tour. At the outset they are frequently at war with a Good KING, due to a misunderstanding (perhaps over smuggling) probably fomented by an Evil COUNSELLOR. Being essentially Good themselves, however, they would rather plunder victims whose wealth was dubiously gained in the first place, and regularly capture ships belonging to MERCHANT FEUDALISTS or - especially - the FANATIC CALIPHATES. Most Good Corsairs have been enslaved in the Caliphates at some time, and pass up no opportunity for revenge. In the third brochure they will emerge as formidable allies. They will be latecomers to the WAR, but once they join in they will quickly sweep the Enemy from the seas.

     When you are captured at sea - as you invariably will be, at some point in your Tour - you may be so fortunate as for your captors to be Good Corsairs. This will always happen if they are featured in the Tour, and is easily arranged. Embark in a Ship whose master is exceptionally dishonest and cruel to the cabin boys, and they will soon overhaul and capture it. On some Tours they will instead rescue you from ordinary bad Pirates.

     Your fate upon capture depends on your gender. If male, you will be put to an oar. This appears to be a form of physical conditioning for new recruits; you will quickly be freed and admitted to the ship's company, just in time for your first battle. Soon you will become a seasoned sea-warrior. If you are female, your captor will dress you in silks and jewels; rather than demanding your intimate favors he will take them for granted. Do not hold back. Your captor will be more than presentable, and underneath his rough and boistrous exterior he has a heart of gold.

     Good Corsairs enjoy the company of women, and hold them in remarkably high esteem. Indeed, some are women themselves, who drink, swear, gamble, fight, and generally carouse as energetically as their male counterparts. (Female captives, however, are not automatically signed up as Corsairs; you have to volunteer.) If you are male and your captor is a female Corsair, she will be good looking and will quickly have her way with you, a pleasing interlude for both parties.

     With surprising frequency, a young Good Corsair will turn out to be a LOST HEIR. We may infer that the Corsairs serve as a sort of naval academy for prospective Good Kings. Regrettably, however, no current Good King seems to have been through their training program, since none has a very effective fleet.

     The Good Corsairs' own organization is simple and practical. They are ruled by an Admiral and Council of Captains, who in spite of frequent noisy disputes show a unity and efficiency never seen in any other COUNCIL in Fantasyland. They also provide the government, such as it is, of the FREE HAVEN from which the Corsairs operate. At some point you will get to meet the Admiral. This is the ablest of all the Captains, chosen by the rest to head the Council and command the fleet in battle. The Official Management Term for this person may be Captain-General, Grand Master Mariner, or in the case of an older Admiral, occasionally Doge. If male, he will be one of two types (see below for the occasional female Admiral).

     Most often a male Admiral is in his late thirties or early forties. Tall and powerfully built [OMT], he drinks, swears, gambles, fights, and generally carouses on even a grander scale than other Corsairs. He is particularly given to consuming vast quantities of fine, costly wines [OMT] and the best beer. Do not be fooled. The Admiral is a brilliant strategist, as shown by the fact that he not only owns a costly chess set but plays a mean game of chess. A crisis will strike when he has drunk enough to fell three ordinary mortals; he will take one additional quaff [OMT], then issue a stream of precise orders to save the day. Occasionally, however, the Admiral will instead be a smallish man in his fifties, of sober and even scholarly bent. He may then hold the title of Doge, and his more warlike qualities are attested by the sheer fact of his having been chosen to lead the Corsairs.

     In either case the Admiral of the Corsairs is almost always Good. On the rare occasions when he is secretly Bad, you will be able to identify him by his failure to have an Admiral's Mistress, or because he treats her shabbily. He will in short order be unmasked, removed from office, and hanged from the nearest yardarm, whereupon a Good Admiral will be chosen in his place.

     Your most useful ally in dealing with the Corsairs is the Admiral's Mistress, a strikingly beautiful woman in her thirties. Try to make her acquaintance as soon as possible - on occasion she may appear at the beginning of the Tour, in the guise of the IMPERIOUS FEMALE. Expect her to be red-haired, in this case indicating not only POWER but a fiery temperament. However, she dresses and carries herself with understated elegance, in this respect differing from all other women among the Corsairs, who tend to the flamboyant. She is invariably Good, and usually was a Spirited PRINCESS, captured while en route to a forced marriage with a disagreeable PRINCE. Understandably she regards her current arrangement as a vast improvement. She is shrewd, knowledgeable, and wise, and the Admiral sensibly heeds her advice. Once she is on your side, the Admiral will soon come around.

     Occasionally she will be Admiral herself, though the Official Management Term in her case will be Lady of the Corsairs or Lady of the Haven. She will have been the previous Admiral's Mistress; he invariably died in victorious battle against enormous odds, whereupon she was chosen to take his place. This is not mere sentimentality; she is fully up to the job. While even more given to strategems than a male Admiral, when it comes to hand-strokes [OMT] she will fight as fiercely and skillfully as anyone. She will however use an elegant weapon such as a rapier, which she wields very gracefully, rather than the usual cutlass. The Corsairs all treat her with adoration, and gallantly refrain from drinking, swearing, gambling, fighting, and general carousing in her presence.

     Though Good Corsairs employ MAGIC USERS, especially to perform weather Magic, they tend to be more skeptical and sparing in the use of Magic than most people in Fantasyland. They understand that Murphy's Law is fully applicable to Magic - any spell that can go wrong, will go wrong - and prefer to depend on their own considerable seafaring and fighting skills.

     Certain LEGENDS surround the collective origin and future of Good Corsairs; these will be related to you by the Admiral's Mistress after you reach the Free Haven, as you inevitably will. The Corsairs, it seems, may have originated as a naval squadron of the VESTIGIAL EMPIRE in its glory days, which would explain their sophisticated tactics. They are destined one day to Rule the Waves, but the stuffy respectability this duty entails is generally deferred to the future.

     At the very CONCLUSION of the Tour, however, it may happen that the Admiral (if male) will marry his Mistress. (A female Admiral will marry a Good King.) The ceremony will feature a very impressive naval review; if the Corsairs have cannons these will all be fired in salute till everyone is deafened and half-blind from smoke. In this event you may presume that the Good Corsairs' free and easy days of drinking, swearing, gambling, fighting, and general carousing are at an end. They will doubtless soon be domesticated into a stiffly honor-bound, highly professional Navy. This, however, is only speculation. No Tour ever visits after this transformation has taken place.


FREE HAVEN. Always associated with Good CORSAIRS, for whom it serves as a base, this is a special variant of the CITY OF CANALS. It resembles the conventional version in its maze of waterways threading among wooden buildings, WHARVES, and BRIDGES, though the Official Management Terms in this case are sturdy and smelling of tar rather than rotten. The Free Haven also resembles any other City of Canals in its atmosphere of danger, but it is dangerous in a boisterously cheerful way. Though it is as active as any port in Fantasyland, the only way for a Tourist to get there is to be captured by Good Corsairs. (Bad Corsairs may also operate from a Haven, but is is not Free and definitely not cheerful. If your Tour takes you there, you probably will see only the SLAVE MARKET and its associated pens.)

     The Free Haven is ruled by the Council of Captains, who however confine their attention almost entirely to the Arsenal where the Corsairs' war fleet is kept. This is well guarded and efficiently run. The rest of the city is so free as to have almost no law whatever. The only crimes are murder by poison or ambush, forcible rape, or false accusation of the above. For the first two offenses the miscreant will be seized by the townfolk at large and haled before the Council of Captains, then hanged with dispatch after a swift but surprisingly fair trial. A false accuser will invariably be found out and hanged, though in the case of false rape charges the accuser may break down in tears and confess, whereupon she will be forgiven by both accusee and Council.

     Everything else is legal, including killing a rival openly. The THIEVES' GUILD is active, and finds ample employment as the whole city is carelessly rich with accumulated plunder. Your goods will be stolen, but you stand a good chance of winning them back at a GAMING table in a TAVERN within a day or two. Taverns in the Free Haven, it should be noted, are the equivalent of INNS elsewhere, and most of the city's business and social life is conducted in them. The barmaids wear gaudy finery [OMT], testifying to the general wealth. The Haven's female inhabitants are nearly all captives taken in raids, but they live much better than they did at home and so have no wish to be rescued. A few become Good Corsairs themselves.

     In spite of (or perhaps because of) its lawlessness and the population's enormous consumption of drink, the Free Haven has the most bustling economy of any place in Fantasyland. In addition to the Corsair war fleet it has an active merchant marine of Smugglers, and only the FANATIC CALIPHATES can match the variety and richness of BALES to be found on its Wharves. No one ever appears to sleep here. In the Taverns, ale and wine flow freely through the night [OMT], while starting at dawn the air rings with the sound of shipwrights' hammers [OMT]. Between the constant drinking and infernal racket of hammering, it is amazing that the inhabitants don't all suffer from severe headaches. Indeed, you may wake up with one your first morning here, but it will go away and never trouble you again, just as it never troubles any locals.

     Apart from Tavern-keeping, shipbuilding appears to be the principal occupation; indeed, the Free Haven is one of the few places in Fantasyland with active signs of industry. You will probably never visit any shipyard other than the warlike Arsenal, but all that hammering must indicate a thriving business. This is in contrast to other port CITIES, whose shipyards tend with few exceptions to be decayed [OMT] or half-abandoned [OMT]. All of which suggests the possibility that most of the Ships in Fantasyland are actually built here (the chief exception being those of the BARBARY VIKINGS). If so, this helps explain the Free Haven's advantage in both war and trade. We may assume that its shipyards reserve their best Ships for local customers, selling only inferior models abroad.

     As in everything else, unusual freedom of RELIGION prevails in the Free Haven. All GODS and GODDESSES are welcome, so long as they and their devotees do not get out of hand. Sea Gods and Goddesses naturally have more adherents than most, but even the Gods of the FANATIC CALIPHATES - the Haven's traditional enemies - have their worshippers, who will insist that the Caliphates' numerous and overbearing clergy have perverted the Faith [OMT]. However, the only deities with any official standing are Lady Fortune and the Trickster God. Worship consists of a toast at the start of each round of drinks, and is therefore constant and universal. In this regard the people of the Free Haven may be said to be as devout as anyone in Fantasyland.

     During your stay in the Free Haven you will sooner or later be summoned before the Council of Captains, whom you or a member of your Tour must persuade to join the WAR against the ENEMY. This will be opposed by an older Captain, who has not been to sea in years and has fallen under the DARK LORD'S influence. He will argue the strength of the Enemy and the risks of war. Your response should call attention to the Enemy's vast and ill-gotten [OMT] wealth. This will appeal to the other Captains, who rather like the idea of fighting on the side of Good, so long as it is profitable. At this point you will experience the sole hint of democracy anywhere in Fantasyland. Before the Free Haven goes to war, its citizens gather in the square to hear the Council of Captains debate the issue and ask their assent. This they will grant with a thunderous acclamation [OMT], after which they all set at once to making preparations. Have your gear packed; the war fleet will put to sea in very short order.


-- Rick Robinson


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