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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Negotiations and Love Songs: Part 5

Trade Federation: Laying Down the Law

“Well, Dyved’s pretty self-sufficient,” said Khyrisse, “and trade’s purely a matter of luxury to them. That’s good in that it makes an economic alliance not threatening to their notorious, uh, independence.”

“Stubbornness,” translated Ebreth, grinning.

“You think I was born in Shikintu or something?” Her eyes twinkled at him in her dressing-table mirror. “So it’s a real coup to have them in our federation. On the other hand, their attitude about trade means we’re, well, not profiting very much from their being here.”

“I thought there was a big market for elven luxury goods.”

“There is, but you can get high quality elven goods in half the major cities of Ataniel, Ebreth. Diaspora and all that. And Dyved imports practically nothing; they barely even use a currency economy. They’re a feather in our cap, but they’re not contributing much else.”

“Huh,” said Ebreth. He wouldn’t have figured Dyved as deadweight. Economic strategies weren’t really his strong suit. “They’re not hurting us, though, are they? I like them politically. A strong neutral on your side does nothing but stabilize you.”

“Oh, I want them in,” Khyrisse said. “They’re just not exactly powering our economy, here.” She brushed her hair out in long strokes. He liked it that way, loose and rippling, an amber color in the soft light. “I wish I knew why Queen Cailin keeps blowing me off.”

“Maybe she’s still mad about us kacking her undead father,” Ebreth offered.

“I doubt it. I think I’ll write Nikita a letter.” She put the brush down with a sigh. “You know, I’ve been putting this off... but there’s more and more people living here, and we’re starting to get some real trade routes. Much as I’d like to ignore it until I’ve got the federation and the coach lines completely set up... I’m really going to need a code of laws.”

“Don’t look at me,” said Ebreth Tor. “I’m from the Montas Archipelago.”

“I’m from Cynystra,” Khyrisse admitted with a puff of a sigh. “Do you figure if we work together we can find kind of a happy medium? I don’t want to go regulating people’s private lives, but I do want to maintain some basic order. Right now the only laws on the books are there’s no extradition and if you piss the Director off you’re out on your ear. We’re starting to get a little large for that.”

“Maybe you should hire a police chief, or something,” suggested Ebreth.

“Mabye.” Khyrisse thought about that. “It’d have to be somebody supportive of a minimum of laws enforced very strongly. I don’t really care about prostitution or gambling or whatever, but I want to come down hard on assault and theft.” Her eyes flicked back and forth like she was trying to decide whether to look at Ebreth or not, but in the end she did. “I don’t care about the drug trade, as long as the Parises keep it quiet and civilized, which I trust they will,” she said, “and for my own citizens, I’d rather pay for rehab than put a junkie in jail. But I don’t want the slave trade here.”

“Advice?” said Ebreth.


“Illegal’s not enough,” he said. “You’re never going to catch anyone in the process of actually selling, and that’s the only thing you could arrest them for. You want slavery unrecognized. That way anyone who brings slaves here runs the risk of losing them every time. It’s not worth it. They’ll stay in Rimbor.”

Khyrisse nodded animatedly. “That makes sense...! If there’s legally no such thing as slavery in New Trade at all, then whenever I caught people with slaves, I could essentially free them.”

“The downside is that people with personal slaves won’t be able to travel here with them, and they’re likely to get pissed off.”

“Boo hoo for them,” Khyrisse said. “My--main worry here is actually... I’m not sure I’d notice enough underground activity for this to be effective as a deterrent, Ebreth.”

“I would,” he said. “And anyone who would try it knows it damn well, too.”

“Then I’m doubly glad you’re here,” she smiled, and twined her arms around his neck.

Valentine’s Day

Kayla looked up with her usual quick bright smile. “Eren,” she said, warmly. “How’s Riklandir?”

“The sun came up last week.” Flicker sat on the barstool closest to her and put a knotted blue scarf on the counter. “I brought you something.”

She questioned him with one eyebrow, and unwound the knot deftly. The scarf fell open around the Norse riviere, beaten gold and amber, and she did catch her breath. “Eren,” she said, “you shouldn’t have!...”

“I missed you,” he said quietly, and put his hand on hers on the necklace. “I mean, I missed you a lot.”

Kayla tilted her head off to the left and pushed a bit of her hair behind her ear with her knuckle, smiling a little. “Wednesday’s my night off.”


“That sounds wonderful.” She looked at him, her eyes twinkling. “Will you be around for a little while this time?”

“Two months minimum,” Flicker promised, raising his right hand.

“Good.” She picked the multi-strand necklace up in both hands. “It’s beautiful, Eren.”

“I know,” he said. “It reminded me of you.”

*** ROSES ARE RED, said the card attached to the dozen longstems. VIOLETS ARE BLUE. YOUR SECRET ADMIRER, MARTY HU. “Give me strength,” sighed Rani.

Family Values

“Hi Skitch,” said Ebreth. “Is that a valentine from Lorrini?”

“Yeah.” He looked pissy.

“Something wrong?”

“How come you don’t marry Khyrisse?”

“What?” Ebreth had been expecting just about anything else.

“How come you don’t marry her?” he demanded again. “I bet she’d say yes.”

“Because I’m a criminal, kid!” Ebreth said. “There are people who want to kill me in every coastal country south of the Shadow Mountains. Now why in the hell would I want to turn somebody I like into Mrs. Ebreth Tor?”

Skitch paused a really long moment. “You--could take her name,” he said. “You could be Ebreth Starshadow.”

Ebreth suppressed his sputter of laughter as well as he could, which wasn’t very well. “Kid,” he said, “that does not suit me.”

“Then pick something else!” he cried. “Who cares about stupid names?”

“Skitch,” said Ebreth, leaning across the table at him, “your mother does not want to get married. Believe me.”

“That’s just because her last husband was a butthead,” said Skitch.

“Maybe,” he said, “but it’s still true. She doesn’t want to get married, Skitch.”

“I think the one who’s scared is you,” Skitch sulked.

“We’re together now,” said Ebreth, a little too quietly. “That’s what matters.”

Trade Federation: Fealty

Khyrisse could barely believe she wasn’t dreaming. “I--thought Riklanders didn’t believe in organized trade,” she told Jan Lifesgrip, her voice carefully neutral. The Viking traders had pretty much shrugged Trade off entirely, and were the last group she’d been expecting to hear from.

“Well, not per se,” said the shaggy-haired merchant. “The Second Age of Man is supposed to be one of cooperation, trade, and prosperity, though. Who are we to argue with fate?”

“You are of course welcome to set up shop in New Trade, then,” she hedged, “but our economic federation is--not one between individual merchants, but between guilds and political entities.”

“Like the fylker of Riklandir,” Lifesgrip agreed. He produced a slightly crumpled scroll and handed it to her. There were twenty or thirty names printed on it, about half with signatures beside them and the other half with seals impressed. “These are the pledges of the lord of each fylke.”

“But,” Khyrisse stammered, staring at the page, “but they’re not here!”

“You don’t know much about Riklandir, do you, Starshadow?” He grinned at her. “As long as each fylke gets exactly the same deal, they don’t need to be here.”

“How can I possibly negotiate binding contracts with all the autonomous counties of Riklandir through one ambassador?”

“You already have.” He pointed to the top of the scroll.

We the lords of the Riklandic fylker swear our economic fealty to Khyrisse Starshadow lord of New Trade. February 814, First Year Of Balder.

Khyrisse stared at it for a full minute and a half. “No terms?” she finally said.

“Oh, you can handle the terms.” Lifesgrip waved his hand, standing back up.

“I can handle the--” she said, dizzily.

“Ragnarokkr says you’re a woman of honor,” the ambassador said over his shoulder, as if it explained everything, and shut the door behind him.

How Fragile We Are

Ebreth Tor was having a dissociative flashback, and there was nothing the most powerful elven wizard left on Ataniel could really do about it.

She’d done her best to arrange the house to avoid the things that seemed to trigger them most often: put carpets on the floors, screens on the fireplaces, insulation in the roof to keep the rain from pattering. She was trying to give up cursing in Impish. For Yule, she’d given him a blue silk robe she’d enchanted with a sigil of hope, serving the dual purpose of easing his nightmares a bit and providing something comfortable he could wear to bed. Ebreth almost never disrobed entirely anymore. Khyrisse guessed they’d played the only game of Marco Polo they ever would, for he couldn’t bear being unable to see. But however many precautions they took he still seemed to suffer one or two debilitating attacks a week, and Khyrisse had no better idea how to help than she had the first time. They usually played out by themselves inside of five minutes. Lacking psionic powers, waiting was about all Khyrisse could do.

It didn’t help that the deeper she got the less she could fathom anyone deliberately doing to him the things they had. She knew it was stupid--what, would it be less wrong to hurt someone who wasn’t attractive?--but there was enough of her elven heritage left in Khyrisse for her still to find pulling the wings off a butterfly more disturbing than stepping on a cockroach, and there was no point in denying it. Vas would have said destroying a thing of beauty was a sin. Khyrisse just found it incomprehensible. She caressed his shoulder uselessly as his body made small, tight convulsions against the coffee table, his head bowed to its surface in a heartbreaking posture of defeat. He did not register her presence. Sometimes he would hear her when she spoke--Khyrisse wasn’t sure if she preferred it that way, since he would invariably beg her for a quick death and she still had no good answer to that--but he never seemed to feel her touch, lost in the moment of his memories. She always touched him anyway. Mabye it was for her own sake. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, and tried not to imagine what he could possibly be reliving. “It won’t be long now.”

Don’t Mess With Belle: Willing Sacrifices

She had said her “thank you’s” and departed. Zzenith would be disappointed that she hadn’t asked after him, Praxis suspected. He was actually a bit surprised that he had succeeded. The Emperor of Diaria was acknowledged as the most powerful psionicist in Ataniel. But it had worked.

“You think that’s that?” Inez asked.

“Possibly. She was telling the truth, and that was a very nasty psi-trap the Emperor put her in. Sometimes it astounds me that Diarians consider themselves more civilized than others.”

“But you’re not sure Belle won’t end up killing people?”

“Nothing is impossible, as Dancer taught me.” He sighed. “I hope she doesn’t. It seemed as though she’d put the past behind her, in a way. Until they dredged it up to press her into service. I just get a bad feeling about things.”

“Do you remember what you told me, when you decided to trust Talakan all those years ago?”

“I don’t recall,” he lied.

“You said there was no way to stop some people from being evil, from doing evil things. The best you could do was not let them decide what kind of person you would become, and deal with the bad ones when the time came. Torturing a woman to blackmail her into killing for you, that’s wrong. You stopped that. Now it’s up to Belle what she’ll do with the chance you’ve given her, and if need be, up to the Emperor to stop her.”

“I love you, Inez.”

“I know.”

At The Speed Of Gossip

“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?” said Vas.

Rhynwa blinked. “Who are my choices?”

“Ebreth and Schneider,” said Vas, then added, helpfully, “once each.”

“Who went second?”


“Then give me Schneider.”


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Does Khyrisse know you’re doing this?” said Flicker.


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Khyrisse is pregnant?”

“Yes, Garal,” said Vas, patiently. “Who do you think the father is?”

“Ebreth,” guessed the halfling.

“You’re in.”

“Why, who else could it have been?”

“Okay, sit down...”


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“The odds are exactly 50% in favor of either case.”

“Well, yes.”

“How are you planning on resolving bets on a pool that hinges on two statistically identical circumstances?”

“Just pick one, Paris!”


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Only if you tell me all the gory details.” Tila dragged her chair over and sat on it backwards.


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Five hundred gold on myself.”

Vas blinked. “You’re--in the running?”

“That’s flarkin’ right I am.”

“This changes everything,” Vastarin sighed, shaking his head.


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“I think the Ebreth,” said Tarrin, thoughtfully. “In Diaria the womens only ovulate when they are with the true love.”

“More than I ever wanted to know,” Vas said, “don’t tell me any more.”


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Oh, Khyrisse,” sighed Max, shaking his head.


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Which one does she want it to be?” said Rani.

“Probably Ebreth.”

“Then I’ll go with Schneider. It’s the way of the world.”


“She did it with the DONKEY?” howled Tila.

“I was pretty surprised myself.”

“Cool. Change my bet to that.”


“Are you in for the pool on the father of Khyrisse’s baby?”

“Simpler much is reproduction meiosis by.”

“We’re reasonably sure that’s not the mechanism involved.”


*squeak* *chitter* “I understand!” *scrub whiskers*

“I think I’m going to take that as an abstention.”

“Thank you!”


“Are you in for the paternity pool, Khyrisse?”

“Am I in for what?”

“We’re laying bets on the paternity of the baby. Thus far we’ve got eleven on Ebreth, seven on Schneider, two on Asinus, and one on immaculate conception.”

“I never slept with Asinus!”

“Really?” he said. “Well, don’t tell Tila. She put up a lot of money.”



Ebreth Tor got up without warning and delivered his vote forcefully to the bridge of Vas’ nose.

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