Karesh Ni: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

Tel Viv made several odd faces. She was wonderfully expressive, and she kept squinting and wrinkling her face, unsquinting and unwrinkling her eyes, and glaring at me like a new and unpleasant bug. I get that a lot, so she unintentionally put me at ease. Maybe it was intentional. I doubt it. She didn’t look someone executing a master plan. She looked like she’d been constipated all week, and things were starting to move unexpectedly.

“You’re a wheat merchant?” she demanded.

“I don’t handle it myself. I connect buyers and sellers,” I said.

She kept squinting. She needed a little more.

I continued. “The winter crop is already gone. I’m sure the Celephians have some in storage, but they’re going to fleece you. They might not,” I admitted.

Tel Viv interrupted, “Might not what? Have wheat in storage or fleece us?”

“Technically either, but let’s be honest. We both know Celephians. They’ll fleece you even if they don’t have any wheat in storage.”

“You don’t know that!” Tel Viv snorted at me.

Which was also technically true. “Okay,” I agreed.

She squinted again. I could see her deciding if she really wanted to defend the Celephians from charges of fleecing a customer.

“Let’s put that aside,” she said. “You’re not a wheat grower. Who do you know who is?”

“I won’t answer that directly, because you’ll try to go to my supplier and cut me out,” I replied. “But I did just show you a contract from the Truis.”
She sat back and crossed her arms. Her face closed.

I pushed. “We need to talk a little bit. I did just show you my last contract, but there are many suppliers in the world. I can talk to people. What do you need?”

She exhaled, but I think she thawed a little. I pushed farther.

“What’s your timeline? Are people starving in the streets? The winter crop is growing, so most merchants will have found buyers already. The first summer crop is harvested around midsummer. Is that doable?”

She sighed again but definitely thawed. “By midsummer, you mean solstice?”

“Depends on where, but yeah.”

“I’m not under an executioner’s axe. Midsummer would be fine. I could push to autumn if the price was right.”

My knowledge of the wheat trade wasn’t too deep, but I had picked up a little. “Autumn is a little far. You can get a commitment cheaper that far out, but it’s risky. Weather, drought, dust-storms, bugs, anything could throw you off. You save some money if everything works out in your favor, more if you pay up front.”

Tel Viv did a side-to-side nod. She didn’t like the thought but wasn’t reflexively arguing me. I smiled. We had a little connection.

“So you’re looking for something in summer or autumn?” I asked again, trying to get her talking.

“I’m looking for stable trading partners away from the Ashirai. I, we, are looking for bilateral relations.”

“Why away from the Ashirai?”

“Because the Empire is leaning on its connections to cut our partners. They don’t want anyone to deal with us but them. Your contacts in Kageran won’t help. Citi Kageran is a small place, and once the Ashirai got in, they just creep. They’re like pythons, throwing a coil at a time over their prey.”

“They’ll deal with you themselves?” I asked. That sounded odd.

“Their terms are unacceptable.”

“Okay. Does it have to be wheat?”

She looked at me like she didn’t understand the question. “What?”

“Down south, away from the Ashirai, there’s a lot of rice.”

“You can’t make bread with rice.”

“No, you eat it straight.”

And we talked.

She wanted food. The people of Whitefire traditionally ate bread, so while she thought in terms of wheat and medium grains, she was willing to talk about rice. More than anything else, she seemed intent on not-from-Ashirak. The empire galled her. Her jaw clenched, and she scowled when she talked about them. She spoke in terms of deep grievances she wouldn’t clarify, old grudges she wouldn’t explain.

She didn’t have as much time as she said. She needed something done, and she couldn’t do it herself. The Hierophant and other eparchs would be involved. But Eparch Tel Viv wanted to present a full plan by herself, and money wasn’t the biggest sticking point.

It was a sticking point. Money always was. But she was willing to pay to get someone talking to her.

She didn’t know it, but she was talking about Celephians. They cared nothing for Ashirai threats or pressure. Threatening Celephias across the seas was a bad, bad idea. The Celephians wanted money, Tel Viv had some, and things could be arranged. But Tel Viv didn’t trust them either, for good reason, and that put her in a bind.

I needed time. My immediate contract was to find Kyria, and Tel Viv pretty firmly told me she was dead. That would take some unravelling.

“So, what are your transport and storage arrangements?” I asked, fishing for a delay.

“We have a port,” she said so idly and flippantly she was bragging.

“From…down there?” I asked.

“Of course.”

“Can I see it?”


“And warehouses?” I added.

“Of course.”

“Can I see them too?”

“Will that take some time?” she asked.

“Days, at least.” It would take days, but I could pad a few days of spy work into there. “Maybe weeks.”

She nodded. “I’ll have someone show you around. For your stay, you are invited to take one of the guest rooms in the Sunset Basilica.”

“The Sunset Basilica?”

“This place.” She waved an arm around.

“Oh, I accept.”


“Am I still under arrest?”

“You mean bound and detained?”


Tel Viv thought. “No, but you’ll have an escort. You aren’t detained provided you don’t leave,” she said finally.

I sorta expected that. “Food, drink, a bed?”

“We will provide all.”

“Oh, wonderful. I accept,” I said again.


They took me to a very nice white room that did have bars on the doors, but the guards didn’t lock them. I had a window, but it didn’t open. But I also had a bed, sheeted in silk, and several small cabinets and shelves. Eparch Tel Viv spoke with the hospitallers outside while I looked around and came in when they were done.

“You’re not detained,” she repeated. “But you may be here a while. Tell someone if you need to leave, and if possible, you’ll be escorted.”

Again, what I expected. “The necessary?”

She looked at me blankly.

“Out house? Hanging garret?”

“Oh, the water house. That door.” She pointed at a flat wall.

I looked at her, the wall, and her again.

She walked over, put one finger on several glowing red spots and pushed. A line of yellow lights appeared in the outline of a door, and the wall swung inwards.

“Just press any stars in the shape of the Door.” And then she frowned.

But I wasn’t paying attention. Through the hidden door was a bathroom. It had a sink. It had a toilet. It had a shower.

In awe, I examined the shower tap. Two little chains hung from a white bevel supporting a short, metal rod. I pulled the little rod down, and water fell from the ceiling. I twisted it, and the water steamed. They had hot, running water.

“Do you know how to use a rain closet?” asked Tel Viv condescendingly, but she didn’t bother me at all.

“Oh yes, Eparch. I do.”

And she left.

The guards outside smiled and shut me in. They didn’t lock the door, but I had no intention of leaving.

I took the first hot shower I’d had in years, and it felt like heaven.

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