What Pegman Saw: The scent of nutmeg

Adhiarja was my guide up the mountain. The man reaches no higher than my shoulder but is lithe as a tumbler, an adequate shot with a bow and the best man with a knife I’ve seen.

I felt some trepidation as we left behind the circle of huts, the village fire pit, even the deer-pigs that furrow the sand with their ferocious curved tusks. All have become familiar over these weeks, while the forest remains as much of a mystery to me as it was the day I left Plymouth.

Still, my guide is a good man – patient with my clumsy footing, alert to danger when I blundered on oblivious. He saved my life more than once.

And on reaching the top – what wonders! The scent of the nutmeg trees was intoxicating, catching in my throat, clouding my eyes.

With God’s grace, my fortune lies here.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Indonesia.

When I saw our location, it reminded me of a book I read some while ago – Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton. It gives an insight into the European fight over the Indonesian island of Run (at that time the only place the priceless spice nutmeg grew) and England’s subsequent deal to relinquish the island to Holland in exchange for another island – Manhattan.

Notes

Adhiarja was well named – the Indonesian man’s name means ‘safety’.

Deer-pigs are also known as Babirusa and cave paintings show they have been native to the islands since at least the last Ice Age.

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32 thoughts on “What Pegman Saw: The scent of nutmeg

    1. Ah, thank you so much Penny! Glad you felt it had the right feel. He did originally say the man was a good shot but thought adequate had a more authentic feel. As you say, colonial arrogance. Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’re well – you still writing your WIP?

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      1. Yes, thanks, we’ve just come back from a lovely walk after having booked a week next month at a place overlooking Burgh Island in Devon. Can’t be bad… And you?

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      2. Been pootling with the novel – finally gone through the beta comments and acted on them, the MS is now with a proof reader. Hopefully out to agents later this year, so we’ll see what reception it gets. Pretty terrified by that idea – what if I’ve spent years of my life on a novel no one wants to publish or read? Any how, Burgh Island … Wonderful! Looks like a setting for an Agatha Christie novel 🙂

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      3. Ha! The place must have been sitting at the back of my head, filed under ‘Christie’ :). Fabulous place to visit. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.

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      4. I thought I’d responded to your mention of your novel but clearly I haven’t, sorry, so I want to reith at I’ve got fingers and toes crossed for you over its future success, as you know!

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  1. Great period feel — I really dove into the adventure it must have felt like to be exploring these new exotic places where everything is so different from home. I never realized that nutmeg trees had a specific smell; I’ll have to look into that for my own world building. Thanks for the tip!

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    1. Thank you so much Joy. Glad the feeling of otherness came through. For our forebears travelling to distant places must have felt even more exotic than it does for us now. We’ve probably read up about our destination, scene photos, watched documentaries. What did they have? Seafarers’ tales? Perhaps some sketches and the occasional dried out animal or plant specimen? I confess, I only know the trees have a strong scent because of the book I mention in the notes. The images stuck with me, of standing on an exotic mountainside, the air filled with the scent of nutmeg – amazing! The other thing I came away with was how extraordinary it is for us to take the contents of a spice rack for granted. Pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon – all were worth fortunes in the 16th and 17th centuries and I have a cupboard full of them. Thanks so much for reading

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      1. That’s a great point, to remember how little those explorers knew about where they were going before they got there. And yes, the spice trade is fascinating: I’ve been reading up on it as part of my world building research. (Yes, I am mapping out trade routes in my world, that’s how much of a geek I am, lol!) In Eneana, these spices also come from tropical islands, but the power balance is very different. The islanders (the people of Eka and Mena in this week’s story) rule the seas with their superior ships and sea-magic, and have become powerful and wealthy by dominating trade in spices and other luxury goods between the continents.

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      2. I like your twist on the spice trade. Nice to have the local people in charge of their own commodities instead of being dominated and overrun by competing foreign powers. I like the sound of Mena all the more now and can see why it’s so important to her to find the right match for her son. On his shoulders sits the future of a nation

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      3. Either that, or Mena will have to groom her daughter for leadership instead, and I’m picturing that she always wanted Eka to take that role (even though he is a man, and everyone knows that women have a closer relationship with the sea and make better captains, while men are only good for fighting and planting seeds…). I’m getting this feeling that Mena and her daughter disagree on many things. 🙂

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      4. Loving your ideas for their society, the strong female chain of command. Perhaps Eka would be better to stand aside for his sister – the greedy lad can’t have everything so he may have to decide what he wants most, the girl or the command.

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      5. I never thought of him as greedy, that’s interesting (I wonder if others in his culture would). I’m not sure where this story is going. Of course, now that I have so many pieces, across five flash fiction stories now, the temptation is to make it into a full-length short story or (sigh) longer. We’ll see…

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    1. I did change some colours and the header image, you’re right. Also realised after I’d ‘blue frogged’ the story that I used the photo thumbnail, not the usual pic from my blog (which I never usually do). Nice to hear from you – hope you’re well 🙂

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      1. Glad to hear you’re doing okay :). No Bridport Prize for me – I’ve long come to the conclusion that my writing doesn’t fit with big literary prizes. I’ve entered the odd thing in the past but I’m too narrative based, not clever enough or subtle enough, I think. How about you? Did you enter?

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      2. Oh! I did enter, yes. Very last minute. In so much as I was going to enter then I wasn’t then I was. Wasn’t. I purpose wrote a short around February. I hope it is more character focused than narrative biased. I could let you know what it’s called but not here. I really like your stories Lynn and would pay to read them. In fact I have. 😇

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      3. Very best of luck with it, Kelvin. I have a writer friend who had some success with the Bridport Prize, so it is within reach, just not for me. That’s fine, though – I realised a while ago I’ll never be a ‘literary’ writer. Far too ‘genre’. Your approach sounds perfect, TBH – more character than narrative is definitely the way to go. Be keeping my fingers crossed for you. And thank you for your kind words – I’m very happy anyone is willing to pay for my writing, in fact I have another bit of publishing news to share on the blog soon, probably next week. Thanks so much for your support and I’d love to read your story whenever you’re able to share – hopefully when you win the prize!

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  2. I echo what others said about a lovely period feel. And even though there’s arrogance in the POV’s assessment that his companion is “an adequate shot with a bow”, he has me cheering right along as he summits, feeling and breathing this lovely world you conjured.

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