“We have come to an impasse. As you are well aware, the farther we move from the shore and into the mountains, the more often we have come across small falls, rapids or other discontinuities. We have found a way to overcome all, until now. A cascade which, though small, is surrounded by sheer cliffs, now stands between us and our goal. It is impossible to portage our craft and provisions around this wild water and no clear trail can be found.
“We are now setting up a small fort, where we plan to winter. Come Spring, we will either find an alternative route or call off our quest.
“At this time, all forward motion has come to an end.”
Reg read the note from his forward captain, Dwight Pashey, three times over.
This could be a disaster to the mission.
He glanced down at the note again.
It was sent less than two weeks ago. The last note took almost a month to arrive. The scout, Flint, who had brought him the note had returned up-river, wanting to arrive at the newly minted fort before the frost set in.
Nobody knew. Except for Reg.
It was very possible he could hang onto the note for two weeks before announcing it. Nobody would know the difference. In the meantime, he could use his knowledge for his own benefit.
Yes, for his benefit.
“Sir? Excuse me, but I thought you might like to know that I discovered that Reginald Carther has silently and secretly sold half of his stock in Trans-Continental.”
Max leaned forward.
“Are you sure?”
Benly nodded. “Yes sir. He tried to hide it, and I am positive even the most hawk-eyed observers would miss it, but I investigated and found the proof. It happened.”
“I have not heard any news about the expedition….”
“I investigated that as well. There was an unreliable witness who claims that Flint, a scout, was seen on the frontier, but it is unconfirmed. Beyond that, no news or even rumors.”
“Thank you, Benly.”
Max sat back in his leather chair.
What was Reg up to?
Although he preached patriotism and told everyone that he had an explorer’s soul, Reginald Carther was interested in money and only money. He would only sell shares of Trans-Continental if he thought it was going to crash.
He must have had a report. The scout, Flint, most likely was back from beyond the frontier and really was seen. Flint must have brought back bad news.
The mission had failed. There would be no new route to Westervannia.
“Send a note to the ambassador from Sudland that I want to restart negotiations for a trade route to Westland. Make sure it stays secret. Not only should nobody here in Easthaven know, but I really want to be sure that both Nordland and Westervannia do not catch even a whiff of this. Understand? If Nordland even suspects…”
“Yes, sir. I will deliver the message personally.”
“Thank you, Benly.”
“Mr. President, I need to speak with you immediately.”
“You have my full attention, Grivley.”
Secretary Grivley gave the President of Nordland a short bow.
“Last night, at the banquet given by the Ambassador from Westervannia, the Ambassador form Sudland was acting very smug. I mean much, much more than usual, sir.”
The president frowned at his Secretary of State.
“Oh? That can’t be good.”
“No, sir. Later, after he had a few too many drinks, I acted all friendly and got him to talk. I know him well, and how to get him to talk. He didn’t come right out and tell me, but he hinted that they were beginning negotiations with Easthaven over trade routes again. He is expecting news soon.”
The president shook his head. He had heard word that the Easthaven exploration for a new mountain route to Westervannia was going well. Perhaps that was just propaganda. Perhaps it had failed and they were hiding it from him. Purposefully.
Easthaven and Nordland were having a period of difficulty. Their treaties, particularly those that favored each other in their dealing with Westervannia, which were owned by Nordland, and across the sea to Otherland, which Easthaven monopolized, were the only things preventing all-out war.
If Easthaven opened a new trade route with Westervannia over the mountains, it would be bad, but not catastrophic. If, on the other hand, they made a new treaty with their old arch-enemies, Sudland, it could prove cataclysmic.
If a treaty were being made, once it was in the open, open warfare would not be far behind.
Which meant Easthaven must already be preparing.
And they would not be gentle. Nordland could expect a massive surprise attack.
The presidnet’s face turned red. His eyes narrowed.
Not while he was alive, by gum!
“Yes, Mr. President?”
“Tell Secretary Nevet to move all of our troops to the boarder with Easthaven and put all of our ships to sea. We will not be caught with our pants down!”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“Thousands Dead in Surprise Attack!”
“Easthaven Congress Swears Revenge!”
Reg ignored the headlines as he rushed to his apartments with the two notes, one from his broker and the other from Captain Dwight Pashey.
Sitting at his desk, the note from beyond the frontier landed on top.
“Good news all around! As the fort construction has proceeded at a remarkable pace, I have sent scouts in all directions.
“We have discovered a new route over the mountains! I hope to have a small party in Westervannia by late October. I personally will go across at snow-melt.
“I knew that this little cascade could not spell disaster for our endeavor! Our trust has been well rewarded.
“I hope my good news finds you well. Please share my news as soon as possible to stop those in Capital from making any rash moves.
“I feel that all-out war can yet be avoided!”
Reg dropped the note on his desk and opened the one from his broker.
The war had already caused a market crash, wiping out a large chunk of Reg’s fortune.
He dropped his head into his hands.
What strange turn of events had caused this calamity?
Written for Sue Vincent’s writephoto challenge. The beautiful photo at the top of the page is Sue’s. She also gave us a key word, Cascade. I know it is spoiling it to spell it out, but I used the idea of a cascade of events that lead to the ending catastrophe.