10th day of the 10th moon in the year 4512 of the Noruz reckoning
Relana spends most of the day at the tailor’s. The tailor chats as he fusses over Relana’s garments. “The High Tower Grille? Well, that’s where they say all the big deals are negotiated. The Shipwrights usually have a few contracts under discussion. Otherwise, the local Claacos butchers and military representatives are always trading for horses, weapons, and goods from the other cities of Aval and abroad. None of the really big shots go there, it’s mostly underlings working out the basic terms and then fine-tuning the details. Mind you when I say underlings I don’t mean these people aren’t important, I just mean the really big shots like Duke Hecther or the head of the Shipwrights don’t go there even though they’re surely making the final decisions. Some of my best customers’ husbands go there nearly every day to haggle over something or other.” The tailor gives Relana the names of some Claacos butcher negotiators whose wives frequent his shop.
After getting her dress finished, Relana heads over to the High Tower Grille and chats with a few other pedestrians along the way to find any news. The two biggest items are the inaugural voyage of the new Sea Falcon claimed to be the fastest ship in Jaraah and the upcoming Winter Solstice Ball sponsored by Duke Hecther on the last night of the year. Lord Drafus of Bandar is in the city to pick up the ship. The ship is late, and many in Kahnul wonder why the fastest ship in the world is being sold to another kingdom. The Winter Solstice Ball is an annual affair and the local ladies all get dressed up for it.
At the High Tower Grille, the maitre d’, apparently not recognizing Relana from yesterday, takes a short bow and asks, “Good evening madam, how should I announce you?” Relana scans the room and sees a mix of chubby bourgeois men, military officers, bookish types, and bored ladies. One character in particular looks out of place. He’s enormous, hideous, and dressed as if he just recently emerged from the northernmost wastes. He’s seated with two others engrossed in conversation.
“There is no need to announce me. I’m with her.” Relana points at one of the bored ladies who looks about her age group, not too close to the gentleman who seems somewhat out of place. She smiles at the Maitre’ D and attempts to extricate herself without too much undue attention.
The maitre d’ tuts, “Ah, Madam Breya, my, you’ve kept her waiting long. One of the waiters will be by shortly in case you need anything.” Relana heads over to Madam Breya and gives her a warm smile. Undaunted by Madam Breya’s suspicious demeanor, Relana gets her to open up. Madam Breya is the wife of a horse broker from Jiroft. She’s been traveling with her husband as a tourist, but so far the buffoon has been doing nothing but talking business with those military-types and never takes her anywhere. She’s stuck lounging at the High Tower Grille while he takes his clients to ‘business dinners’. Madam Breya quickly launches into all the ways her husband is inattentive and about all her other problems with her social station, family relations, and peers. Relana commiserates while looking for a graceful way to exit. After a while, Relana sees a large, good-looking man enter. Despite his young age and urban appearance, he carries a walking stick, or is it a quarterstaff? He scans the room and joins the table with the enormous brute.
Bortheus arrives at the dry dock. Curious, he heads over to the captain’s cabin. Enril is already there working. Another man dressed a bit foppishly is just standing there. Bortheus introduces himself. The man replies that he is a guild ‘observer’ and gives polite, but useless answers to all of Bortheus’s clarifying questions. Enril ignores the conversation. Bortheus glances over at the scrap pile, and is pretty sure a few pieces are missing from last night.
“Great…” thinks Bortheus, “it’s very clear I’m not getting any farther with Enril.” Bortheus make a pass through the rest of the ship just to gauge the amount of activity going on, and see if it feels like it’s enough given the delays.
It’s clear to Bortheus there’s more to this story, and these stupid merchants are a missing piece. Who are they and why did they want passage? They’re not local, but maybe they know the guild, and maybe they’re not ready to travel? But that doesn’t make any sense; the merchants are supposed to be in such a hurry they needed passage on the ship instead of going overland. If they are, maybe they could be local allies in figuring out these delays and stopping them somehow. (Idiots though, they could have been overland by now, practically!) Maybe the merchants want to be on our ship for some other reason? Because the hurry story doesn’t square with the delays. Bortheus heads off to try to find out where the merchants are. He proceeds carefully, aware that the merchants could possibly be agents of the Yazd pirates, in which case these delays would be very much in their interest. Lord Drafus would make an idiot mistake like taking the enemy aboard as passengers. Bortheus is sure he’ll get tasked with keeping a close eye on them anyway.
After making some inquiries, Bortheus learns that merchants doing any meaningful business hang out at the High Tower Grille. He heads over there in the late afternoon to find the merchant Salvar and his two companions. After exchanging formalities with the aloof maitre d’, Bortheus enters the High Tower Grille and quickly spots Horth, Salvar’s bodyguard, and then notices Beadle, Salvar’s accountant, and Salvar himself all seated together by themselves. Horth leisurely scans the room and nudges Salvar when he sees Bortheus enter. Salvar looks up from his conversation with Beadle, and Bortheus catches the briefest flash of annoyance before Salvar pastes on his general-purpose friendly smile. Salvar stands and waves Bortheus over. He now appears happy to see Bortheus.
Horth stares intently as Bortheus approaches the table. His maniacal eyes under his dense uni-brow linger on Bortheus’s walking stick. Bortheus says, “We’re sorry the ship is so delayed – we need to get underway as urgently as you do – and I just wanted to check in to see if we can help in any way with your situation.”
Salvar thanks Bortheus profusely for his concern. He laments, “If I had only known there would be these delays, I could have set out by coach and been well on my way home. Don’t worry about me, though. The expenses are really trivial and I am making great contacts with these southern merchants. From what I hear, the ship should be done shortly, so we should all soon be on our way.” Somewhat surprised by Salvar’s confidence in the ship’s imminent completion, Bortheus probes. Salvar, a little ruffled, responds, “Why, I thought you would have known… I mean, it’s obvious the delay is coordinated by the guild. I, uh, just assumed Lord Drafus withheld some of the customary incentive payments. I mean, uh, there have been no delays until now, and there are no unexpected material shortages, so, uh, this must be the explanation.” Beadle, who usually doesn’t speak to anyone but Salvar, adds, “These incentive payments are not something we Bandarans are used to, but are pretty typical for big jobs done by the Carpenters. We were pretty surprised by them when Salvar ordered his first new wagons. I wouldn’t know the details for a job like this, but would assume the basic idea is the same; extra payments for on-time delivery. Perhaps your Lord Drafus kept the incentive payment for himself, or perhaps your Bandar navy is trying to save a few coppers.”
Bortheus thinks to himself, “well, that figures, of course those corrupt carpenters want bribes. As if we’re not paying them enough already, for crying out loud. This is new information, and as far as I know it will be new information to Evor.” Bortheus continues the conversation without indicating any suspicion regarding Beadle’s strange behavior. “Right… right, yes, I think our goal is just to get moving, us and you, as fast as possible. I’m glad to hear you’re doing OK with our extra time, but we really want to end the delays and get on our way. I’m not authorized to speak for the Bandaran navy, of course, or Lord Drafus, but I’m sure the Navy paid enough money for this ship, I don’t think they’d be trying to scrimp on the coppers at the risk of delaying their strategy. We just want to get going. Maybe Lord Drafus made payments and they weren’t seen as enough, I don’t know. It does seem like we have a definite clash of cultures here.” Fired up by that last point, Bortheus lets loose a bit: “I just hate how shadowy these things are. Why can’t these Kahnulians just tell us up front how much money they want for the ship?”
Salvar replies, “Well, wagons are chump change compared to a ship, especially one as advanced as the Sea Falcon, but I would expect the ‘on-time’ incentive to be about 10% of the contract price. If not paid, I would expect the delay to be about 2 months.”
Beadle somewhat hastily interjects, “No, no, no. That’s, um, wagons. My, um, cousin worked on a ship deal once and the delay was no more than 2 weeks… ship delays are shorter because, um, having crews on standby is very expensive so buyers are willing to pay a lot more to avoid even a few days of delay.” Salvar follows-up, “Oh right, yes, most likely no more than two weeks delay.” Bortheus thanks Salvar and Beadle for their information and heads back to consult with Evor.
Relana coolly asks Mandame Breya, “Who’s that adorable young gentleman, and who are the other men that he’s joining? I’m tempted to go up and introduce myself to him… if it weren’t improper…”
“Improper, indeed!” Madame Breya eyes Relana a little disdainfully now. “I wouldn’t know who any ‘adorable young gentlemen’ are. The merchant he’s talking to is Salvar from Mazra. My husband spoke to him about possibly trading slag-bricks from Sob-Rooz directly for horses from Jiroft and cutting out all the Kahnul and Zobol middle-men.”
Relana circulates among the idle ladies, some solitary, some in small groups. There are only 8 of them. The handsome man with the walking stick leaves pretty quickly after a brief conversation with the three at the table. None of the ladies has ever seen the man before and speculate he’s just a lowly messenger. Salvar, on the other hand, is known to have been coming here for nearly two weeks. He’s never been seen before according to the regulars. Those whose husbands have looser tongues go on about potential deals with Salvar involving all manner of southern Aval goods. Coincidentally, all of the ladies complain about being forced to live on tighter budgets by their husbands. After a few hours of this socializing, a band shows up. There’s a tired looking half-elf with a violin, a squat human with a cello, and a second slender human warming up on the harpsichord. Relana approaches the half-elf to see if they’ll let her play with them. He reluctantly agrees on the conditions that Relana not expect any payment and that if they ask her to stop playing, she gracefully exit. They usually play Aval classics to this pretty conservative crowd, Relana knows a bunch. Also, there’s no singing. Business goes on at all hours and the patrons find too much singing distracting.
Relana attempts to blend in while playing – if the guy doesn’t seem to be that happy, and it is a conservative crowd – best not to rock the boat… She comments on Ringo’s starr, and the time after she left Aval, but wisely chooses not to say anything about her time in Aval. While playing, she attempts to keep an eye on Salvar, and see if anyone else attempts to chat with him. The band is decent. Relana keeps up easily. The band members chat sporadically during breaks. After about 45 minutes, Salvar and companions finish their dinner and leave. The half-elf warms up after Relana mentions Ringo’s Starr. He knows Jongo. He says, “Jongo doesn’t play any of the major cities. He thinks it’s a crime to pay the Brothers for protection since it’s the Brothers we need protection from. Good for him, but the rest of us still have to eat. Speaking of the Brothers, word is out they’re looking for a six foot monster elf with rabies. He’s supposed to have gruesome scars and may be traveling with his bastard daughter who is also a lute player. I don’t know what he did, but as Jongo says, we half-elves need to stick together. If you run across this pair, give them a heads up.” The violin player gives Relana 12 sp in tips. They thank each other. Pondering the half-elf’s warning, Relana slips out the back of the High Tower Grille, and stealthily makes her way back to the Grand Arms Inn.
Before turning in for the night, Relana informs Corvis of the tail from yesterday and the warning from the High Tower Grille half-elf. Alarmed, Corvis responds, “We need to leave Kahnul. As soon as Sorkin gets the owl totem, I’ll do the ritual. Enril offered his place since we’ll want some privacy. You should come for that, the spirits are comforted in their journey if they see the living honoring them. Then, we need to be out of the city. We’ll have to go to Yazd. These bastards seem to have a long reach. If they’re looking for us here, they must be looking for us in Zabol and the other major Aval cities. Maybe we’ll be safe…safe from them, I mean, in Yazd. There will be other dangers, though. You shouldn’t go around with your lute anymore, and we shouldn’t be seen together.” Though Relana and Corvis are whispering, Sorkin’s sharp ears overhear this conversation.
Evor remarks, “Hm, this is news to me. Unfortunately, after Lord Drafus replaced Lord Crommer as captain of the Sea Falcon and leader of our mission here, I did not get to speak with my counterpart, Lord Crommer’s adviser. Somehow, Lord Drafus had me running around on so many urgent errands requiring my personal attention, I just couldn’t find the time. I’m beginning to suspect Lord Drafus knows more about these delays and incentive payments than he’s shared.”
Bortheus remarks, “Yeah, you know, something’s peculiar about that Beadle. Twice he interrupted with his own version of a tale, and he didn’t seem his usual composed self. And isn’t it strange how sure Beadle seemed of the two-week delay as opposed to a longer delay? I didn’t want to say anything to him, but I think I’d better keep an eye on them. I see what you’re saying, and you know, the pieces do seem to fit, don’t they? Ten percent of the price of the Sea Falcon would be an awful lot of money. You said you were there when they counted the money out. Do you remember anything about incentive payments? Anything that might explain this better? Also, I ticked Enril off back there, and it seems Enril might have some knowledge of this. Maybe Enril’s not the real problem. Why don’t you let me go deal with Enril? I can apologize to him over the ‘misunderstanding’ – after all, I guess the ownership of the wood wasn’t clear anyway – and if necessary I can just tell him that you overruled me and sent me off to apologize for what I said before. If he’s truly missing an incentive payment, maybe it’ll come up. If he doesn’t want to talk to me after our argument, then no harm really done, right?”
Evor concurs, “It’s best to make peace with Enril. What are you thinking by way of peace offering? He actually called in a guild observer, so he’s probably really mad at you for accusing him of theft. I did go over the transaction records with Lord Drafus. The current balance is we owe 1000 gp. When we counted it with the guild, we all agreed there was 1000 gp in the chest payable upon completion, but obviously if there’s supposed to be an extra 10% on the 40kgp base, then there’s 4000 gp missing!” It is now well after working hours, so Bortheus ponders how he will patch things with Enril the next day.
“Peace offering?” Bortheus frowns. “You think we need a peace offering?” “Hmm.” Bortheus swallows… “might as well say what has to be said; this is about being a good bureaucratic professional and taking the fall to get the information we need.” Out loud to Evor, “Look, I hate this because I hate Enril’s behavior, and I hate these incentive payments and I hate the entire lot of this corrupt southern nonsense. But ... I say this only because I think it might be in our interest and I’m willing to do it … Enril really seemed to value that wood, and he did seem ashamed when I caught him taking it. Maybe he doesn’t have exactly easy access to scrap. Do you think we have a budget to give him some more wood, if it means solving the delays? I don’t know if he’d even want that, but maybe I could get him to take it not for its value, but just as a token of recognition that he was right and I was wrong.” Frowning: “Or whatever.”
“By the way, Evor … I wonder if Beadle’s insistence that ‘ship delays are exactly two weeks’ really means he’s in on something but it’s going to be ending in the next few days because he thinks we’re on his trail and he doesn’t want to be caught red-handed. I can’t think of any other explanation. How in the heck else does he know exactly how long Kahnulian ship delays are? I’m just thinking that means we might have already smoked the Claaco out of the cave, and this is all going to come to a head by the end of the week. If that’s true, the other option would be to just sit back, play dumb and wait. But personally, I’d rather get to the bottom of this, if only to be in some control of the situation if and when the guild claims there’s a huge amount of gold missing. If anyone else is in on a plot we’re not in on, they could have their own explanation planned. So far – sorry about this – what Lord Drafus and the guild have in common is they don’t like you and me. The more I think about it, the more I’d better go see Enril. Hmm. How much can I spend on a peace offering out of our budget?”
Evor muses, “Hm… it normally takes 4-6 weeks to go overland from Kahnul to Zobol and then by ship to Mazra. The Sea Falcon should be able to make the trip in two to three weeks. I think presenting a gift to Enril is warranted. If you were just apologizing, then maybe nothing more than a sincere statement would be necessary. However, we want to get information from Enril, and it certainly seems one can’t even get what’s due without an extra ‘gift’ here in Aval. Unfortunately, this nearly 2 week delay has eaten into my unexpected incidentals budget. I sincerely hope the total delay will not be two full months. If it is, Lord Drafus may have problems with monthly payroll. Luckily, we have a bare bones crew, so maybe Lord Drafus has enough of his own money to cover an extra month’s payroll if it becomes necessary. If you think you can get Enril to talk without an offering, go ahead and try. Otherwise, I’ll split the expense with you 50/50 up to 2 gp each and see about getting reimbursed when we’re back in Bandar, but no promises. I don’t think giving Enril scrap will work. Ownership is a gray area, but practically speaking, we’re not taking the scrap with us. We need to get back to Mazra as quickly as possible so the Sea Falcon can get fully outfitted with siege weapons and a full battle crew and start hunting pirates. We don’t want to take the time to load any scrap and don’t want the cargo slowing us down even if we can convince the Carpenters we own it.”