Puatola was born in 1428 to a prostitute in the port quarter of Gurdago. Such children were often bundled off to relatives or to temples, or sold for debts; but his mother was the madam of the brothel and raised him herself. By the time he was a teenager he was a fixture of the business: greeting clients, accepting payments and reservations, making drinks and meals, running errands for the girls and the customers.
A sea captain called Aḍaṭiri was a frequent visitor and got to know the boy well. When he was fourteen, Aḍaṭiri offered to buy the boy. Puatola later described listening in the next room as the captain and his mother discussed the transaction. She initially refused— he was too useful. But she had a price and he found it. “For this I can never forgive either of them,” Puatola remarked, not because he objected to being sold as a slave, but because the high price made it a long process to buy his freedom.
Aḍaṭiri was not an unkind master, but life on shipboard was a difficult adjustment after living at the brothel: cramped, smelly, unhealthy, and extremely male. Puatola was the captain’s personal servant and general cabin boy; this involved anything from climbing up the mast to help with the sails to cooking to washing the captain’s clothes. However, he could read and write, which put him above most of the sailors and gave him some more interesting duties.
When he was eighteen he became a full crew member, which entitled him to a share of the profits. Most slaves wasted their profits on drinks or luxuries, but Puatola applied all of his earnings to buying his freedom. This took six years (till 1452) and even so required a windfall: Aḍaṭiri ambushed a Soridrandik vessel, looted its cargo and sold its surviving crew. (Few Skourene captains had scruples against piracy if the opportunity presented itself; the best defense was a strong navy and personal connections; but Soridrand was a weak state and Aḍaṭiri had no Soridrandik contacts who might take offense.)
By this time Puatola had become the navigator’s chief assistant, and was familiar with most of the ports of the Xurnese sea. He worked for Aḍaṭiri another year, then joined another crew— only to lose his position when the ship was wrecked off Tandau. The authorities demanded a fee for rescuing him; but he had no resources, and so was put in prison for a year. Finally he managed to get a message to his mother, who sent a small sum, just enough to get him released.
He describes living on the streets in Baulu for a year, but there’s evidence that this was fabricated to add drama to his biography— there are reports of him carousing with friends and entertaining visiting Gurdagor, hardly a lifestyle compatible with homelessness.
He joined another crew as navigator, and did well enough that in 1460 he was able to join one of the ablest captains of Gurdago, Giutlep.
He’s known to have maintained at least two families, though he contributed little to maintaining either the women or his children.
Voyage to Arcél
It was Giutlep who culminated decades of Skourene exploration of the southern Arcélian coast by reaching Uytai in 1465. What we know of this pioneering expedition is largely due to Puatola, who wrote a memoir twenty years later.
By his account, this was Giutlep’s fourth crossing to Arcél and Puatola’s second. Previous expeditions had stopped at the Nyanese peninsula; as its west coast was colder and more undeveloped the farther south one went, the Skourenes didn’t expect much from it. But a Peligir ship had discovered an advanced kingdom, Nyandai, at the tip of the peninsula, and Giutlep guessed correctly that there must be even richer regions beyond— perhaps the fabulously wealthy kingdom of “Nyičegwamnam” described by the Nlatakans.
He therefore sailed straight east from Nyandai, then north, hitting the eastern Nyanese coast not far south of Phetai. He put in at Pheʔ, the largest city yet seen in Arcél, and later at Thestyet, then Uytai’s major port.
The Uytainese weren’t interested in most of Giutlep’s cargo— largely wine and cheap manufactures known to appeal to Nlatakans— but they were fascinated by the ship’s own equipment: clocks, compasses, and above all iron weapons. They were able to sell these for an eye-opening price in gold.
Giutlep was in no hurry to proclaim his discovery— he hoped to exploit his advantage as long as he could. He bought slaves in Thestyet in order to teach them Old Skourene, then returned to Kolatimand, where he quickly purchased iron and other manufactures, so as to make a quick and even more profitable return trip.
Only at this point did he approach the senate of Gurdago, asking for an official monopoly. He was granted one, and made a third trip to Uytai; but in the meantime the Kolatimandiki— who knew what direction Giutlep had arrived from and could guess what a trove of gold bars and strangely marked coins meant— had made their own exploration.
The story made it back to Gurdago, causing a good deal of consternation. Giutlep’s rivals successfully petitioned the senate to revoke his monopoly, on the grounds that his first voyage— on which he had paid no taxes— violated the rules of maritime law.
Giutlep was briefly imprisoned; Puatola was hired by another captain, Monimul— he claims that he was kidnapped, though this is probably another fabrication, a counter to Giutlep’s claims of betrayal. He sailed at least twice to Uytai with Monimul.
Impressions of Uytai
What did a Gurdagor make of the new continent? For the most part, he was not impressed. The Nlatakans were savages; Uytai (or Ŋiṭegam as the Skourenes called it, from Nyičegwamnam) was populous but primitive, lacking iron metallurgy, sophisticated machinery, oceangoing ships, horses. They had no markets; state officials negotiated to buy their goods— though this system was found in Axunai as well. The religious trappings of the Uytainese monarchy seemed laughable, especially given the primitive architecture— many of the trade negotiations were conducted in crude adobe buildings. The people, with their bluish skin and flat noses, he considered ugly. He found peach wine disgusting.
Of course, he missed a lot. He never visited the capital, Srethun (or the former capital, Uykhrai, recently lost to the Krwŋese). He barely saw any of the nobles’ fine stone mansions. He dealt with petty officials in cheap buildings because there was as yet little ocean trade; the economic network of Uytai was along the rivers. He never learned more than a few words in Uyseʔ, so he knew nothing of Uytainese culture or philosophy. He never met the magicians. He didn’t even get a cup of tea, which hadn’t yet spread from Krwŋ to Uytai.
What did he like? He considered the Uytainese to be polite, industrious, very clean, and intelligent; he learned enough about the command economy to praise its efficient management of resources—”no one goes hungry, and lords do not dream of rebellion against the king”. He admired their workmanship with gold and dyed fabrics and marvelled at their facility with theʔthan, unarmed combat. He rather liked Uytainese food, and suggested importing the small notseh cattle back to Gurdago.
What he chiefly saw, however, was opportunity. A few Gurdagor battalions, or better yet a pan-Skourene force, could take over the whole empire. The Skourenes were under no illusions about their own lands— they were cold and marginal compared to Axunai. For that very reason they had bred a tough and wily people; but didn’t that people deserve a comfortable and rich empire of their own? It was theirs for the taking in Arcél.
After serving for a few years with Monimul, Puatola decided to go into business for himself. He bought a ship and became a trader. By his own account his success was not overwhelming, though he blames this not on his own deficiencies but on bad fate and the intrigues of Giutlep and Monimul against him.
His ship was too small for the most lucrative business— piracy or missions to Arcél. But more importantly, his skills were essentially those of a lieutenant: careful business practices, knowledge of the ports, the winds, the stars, and ships. He lacked charisma and boldness; the one time he attempted the crossing to Arcél his crew nearly mutinied and he was unable to calm their fears except by agreeing to return to the west.
Around 1480 he had had enough and retired in Gurdago. He began writing to supplement his savings, producing a manual of navigation, and in 1486 his account of his career and travel to Uytai.
His ideas on colonization attracted some notice, and he wrote much on the subject, proposing a detailed plan, including or leaving out various Skourene cities as they showed or lost interest. He spoke to the senate several times, as well as many foreign diplomats.
To his increasing frustration, nothing came of this. Puatola eventually denounced his own countrymen as squabbling, short-sighted cowards. His later writings are sometimes quoted by historians, as predicting the eventual failure of Skouras to unite against the Tžuro. However, his insight shouldn’t be exaggerated— it didn’t take a genius to deplore Skourene factionalism, and his dreams were unrealistic anyway. Intercontinental trade, though lucrative, was a sideshow, and hardly warranted the massive endeavor of a pan-Skourene colonization program.
He died in 1501.