Coffee Break Read – The Bargain Carnival

The Bargain Carnival was always on the final day of the Fair and was a time when, in theory, traders would sell off their remaining goods for a song. Many people kept back their cheapest lines especially for Carnival day, but there were always some excellent genuine bargains to be had and it was an essential place to be if you were a discerning buyer.
The day was beautiful, a jewel of Temsevaran summertime and the thin red sunlight was strong enough to make a shimmer of mist rise from the flat-topped roofs of the brightly painted houses, as Durban made his way towards the plaza. He chose a back street knowing that the main roads would already be jammed solid with people jostling at the barriers to have the first pick of the bargains on offer. Even so, the way he chose had already drawn quite a crowd. Those that knew him smiled and let him pass but others resisted blocking his way with knees and elbows.
“Let me through,” he appealed. “My wife is having a baby – our first child.”
No one stopped to consider why that should be any reason to let him into the plaza, the crowd just drew apart as if by magic and helpful hands guided him to the front whilst congratulations and good wishes were offered. They were very simple folk, the good people of Alfor. As he ducked under the barrier he was challenged by a fierce looking young Zoukai who did not know him. Durban smiled winningly.
“I am the bird doctor,” he explained. The young man stared at him, then spat in the dust.
“So? What’s that to me?”
“Your end of run bonus, I suspect. You see one of the singing birds has feather cramps and if it is not treated immediately that will spread like wildfire. Before you know it – wumph.” He threw up his arms expressively.
The Zoukai struggled with that for a moment.
“Wumph?” he repeated in a doubtful tone.
“Yes, wumph,” Durban’s voice took on a ring of confidential urgency. “All two thousand of CaravansiNedriq’s precious singing birds would go ‘wumph’. And that would be the last you’d hear about your end-of-run bonus, I can tell you.”
He fixed the younger man with a penetrating amber glare. The Zoukai’s confusion seemed to clear at the mention of Nedriq’s name.
“Of course – the bird doctor. Well, you better go in then.”
Durban treated him to his sunniest smile and headed quickly to the nearest caravan, which as he already knew, belonged to Caravansi Nedriq.
He had plenty of time to select what he wanted from the choice wares on offer. Most of his purchases were special commissions from those who knew that he would be the first into the plaza. At noon the bells rang out across Alfor and the human tide descended, sweeping away all in its path. But by that time Durban Chola was settled comfortably in a wagon being served wine by the slave girl Shemille. With him was the Caravansi Alexa’s recently appointed Zoukai captain, Shevek.
“Ah. The liquid gemstone of Alfor wine,” Durban declaimed reverently, sniffing at the dark red beverage before he sipped. “I will miss it sorely, I always do – the tragedy is it travels so badly. The world needs to come to Alfor, for the wine cannot go to the world.”
Shevek looked unimpressed.
“Oh it travels well enough – unless you tell the vintner that you intend to sell it elsewhere, then it sours.”
“Is that so?” Durban asked with interest. “Then perhaps the barrels have ears and the wine becomes homesick at the thought of leaving Alfor.”
“And perhaps the vintners prefer to keep their monopoly intact.”
Durban let it pass. Zoukai were an unimaginative breed by nature.
“Whatever, this wine is good and the wine I shall drink on the road tomorrow will be poor by comparison.”

From The Fated Sky, part one of Transgressor Trilogy, a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook

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