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Burcancy: Reprise (1413)
by Phil

Esht Gronvan, Minister of Trade for Burcany, shifted his lean frame awkwardly in the Mirish chair. Not for the first time, he reflected on how uncomfortable elegance could be. But he felt it important to present an appearance of sophistication, even if the reality was quite the contrary. Of course, "Minister of Trade" was presumption even in itself. Minister in a government whose very existence was tenuous, responsible for trade which barely existed. Well, he was here to address that latter, anyway. Now, if only those jungle-cursed Taltherani would stop playing these infuriating games.

There was a brief knock at the door, and his deputy entered the room. "They've moved the audience again," Porban reported. Beneath his dark hair, the young man's face betrayed his frustration, an echo of his superior's.

"Vesht take them!" expostulated Gronvan. "What ever happened to the Taltherani reputation for consideration and fair dealing? First our overtures get no answer, then we get an obtuse message indicating we need to meet them on neutral ground -- as if we were adversaries! -- and now that we're here they don't seem to want to meet us!"

Porban nodded. "Now they want us to rendevous in a place down on the waterfront. Doesn't sound like a good area, either, from what little I've learned about the city. What happened to meeting us in a formal chamber in the palace?"

Gronvan shook his head. "They insult us. Perhaps they think to drive a better bargain thus. I'll have none of it, though. If they don't treat us with some respect... well, there are other nations around Midsea which would be quite happy to market East Torphan's resources, even if they don't have access to all the markets we'd like to reach."

He reflected a moment. "Well, we're here; we might as well talk to them. So, when do we meet them?"

______

"You're late," the shadowy figure at the table grunted.

"Well, you've hardly picked an easy-to-find spot," retorted Gronvan. "Now, where is Master Merchant Cendan? We don't want to spend longer in this Vesht-forsaken corner of the city than we have to."

"He's not here," the man at the table stated. He was dimly visible now, as their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the bar, a large figure with dusky skin and heavy features. "A Master Merchant has much more pressing matters at hand than the likes of you."

"What!" Gronvan sputtered. "Sir, we are a governmental trade delegation. We do honor to your employer by visiting him. I demand the respect due us!"

The man behind the table was unmoved. "Nonetheless, it is I you must deal with, if at all. My master has delegated me full authority in this matter."

"This is preposterous!" Porban protested.

"As you will," the man answered evenly. "But if you want the benefit of Taltherani trade, you'll take advantage of the opportunity afforded you, and be grateful of the chance."

This was going from bad to worse, Gronvan reflected. And then another thought struck him. "But you're not even Taltherani!" he said.

The man paused at this, but then quickly replied, "You don't think that Taltherani do all their overseas arrangements themselves, do you? They must hire locals, who know they lay of the land, as it were."

"But I thought the Taltherani prided themselves on their knowledge of the cultures they did business with. And besides... you're not Mirish, either, are you?"

"It matters not," the other said sharply. "Now, here are the terms to which you must agree if you are to do business with the Master Merchant."

Gronvan and Porban listened, increasingly appalled, has the man outlined a series of strict restrictions and harsh pricing guidelines. Before he had even finished, Gronvan had made his choice. Taltheran would not be trading with East Torphan.

______

It was early the following year, as Gronvan prepared for yet another council meeting about worries of Cedonian expansion, when he received word that he had visitors. "They say they are a trade delegation from Taltheran, headed by Master Merchants Obrigal and Kiorim," his aid stated.

Gronvan was astonished. They dared! "Send them away!" he almost shouted. "I'll not have any further dealings with those disrespectful forest slugs!"

The aid shrank back from his outburst, and Gronvan calmed down a bit. "No, I'll not receive them," Gronvan said in a more deliberate tone. "Tell them Taltheran has had its chance at East Torphan trade, and such insult as we received will not be easily forgotten."

The aid bowed and left with a palpable sense of relief at her escape. Gronvan, although spare in frame, was a tall and imposing figure, with a deep voice which made bones rattle when he was angered.

Gronvan seethed the rest of the day. Returning with failure from his attempt to make a trading partnerhip with Taltheran last year had been both personally humiliating and also a severe blow to Burcany's fledgling economy. The treatment he had received still rankled.

The next morning, Porban was waiting as Gronvan left his morning repast. "Gronvan, about that Taltherani delegation," he began.

"I don't even want to think about them," Gronvan cut him off. He felt refreshed this morning, and wanted to leave yesterday's foul mood behind.

"Let us rather think of the alternatives we've been discussing," he continued. "Now, there's word that Milankur is taking a renewed interest in trade, and there's always the Videssians, Vesht take them."

"But sir,", Porban interrupted, as his short legs struggled to keep up with the Minister's long stride through the palace corridors, "sir, I think there might be something about the Taltheranis, I think we need to at least listen to them."

Gronvan stopped so abruptly that Porban overshot and had to take a couple steps back to address his superior. "What could the Taltherani possibly have to say that would answer for their behavior last year?" Gronvan demanded.

Just as abruptly, Gronvan was striding off again, and Porban scrambled to catch up as he explained. "But that's just it, sir. They say that never happened. Or at least, that it wasn't them. They say Master Merchant Cendan was in Mir, but he left MIr two moons before we arrived. And they say that no message from Burcany ever arrived in Taltheran in the first place -- the Merchant's Council would have known, they say."

He had Gronvan's attention now. The Minister replied, "But what proof have they? Easy enough to say it didn't happen, but we know it did! We were there! Pah!"

Porban looked a little disconcerted. "True, they can't prove it didn't happen. But they insist they had nothing to do with it. Sir, I think you should at least listen to them. They are completely the opposite of what we encountered in Mir."

Gronvan reflected. He had a lot of respect for his subordinate's judgement. "Well, if you're so sure, perhaps there's no harm in at least granting them an audience," he said. "See to it."

Porban bowed and departed. As Gronvan continued on down the hall, though, another thought occured to him. If the Taltherani were truly not behind last year's debacle... who was?