Part 12: In Which We Are Posted to the Back of Beyond

Chapter 124: Paperwork

But where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don't bother, they're here.

~ Judy Collins,
"Send in the Clowns"

As we enjoyed an excellent breakfast, Furedu said, "I'm glad it was good because you'll need it today. There's a line of merchants in the courtyard waiting for you to authorize their travel." I managed not to groan aloud. That's what comes of acting as if I were an Emerald Magistrate.

Well, there was no need to rush breakfast, so I finished it and my tea first. I asked Toni if he had any plans, and he said, "Yes, to stand behind you in the office today." I sneaked a peek in the courtyard as we went to the office. This would take all day, easily. It did, too.

On our way up, Furedu asked what order he should send in the merchants. I considered that carefully. The merchants didn't matter, of course, but their patrons did. I supposed I could have tried to curry favor with one by favoring his merchants, although that was certain to annoy someone else. Or purposely annoy someone by disfavoring his merchants. I just couldn't bring myself to care enough to be that petty. So I told Furedu, "First in, first out." It was up to him to make that workable. Random was good enough. He instructed the guards what to do.

As we settled in, Furedu said, "Remember, they only need travel papers if they're crossing clan boundaries, or if they want papers for more than a year, or if they're a foreigner." I nodded, and he continued, "Do you want me to stay in here, or go?" I thought about it for a moment, and decided I wanted him near me, in case he had an important hint, as he often does.

It was a long, tedious day. Every single one asked for more than he needed. More time, larger area. It dawned on me that they expected me to accept bribes for these extras. I left them all disappointed. I am no base merchant, selling the Empire's travel papers for coin. Their reactions were somewhat amusing. Mostly surprise, and apparently some pleasure with my honesty. And a few wondering what game I was playing, mostly from those under the patronage of Scorpions.

The morning was easy. All the merchants had previous papers, which both told me it was pretty safe to grant them new ones, and also gave me guidance as to what they really needed until I got the hang of it. They all had patrons in Ryoko Owari, and I either had already met or at least knew of their patrons. More than half carried medical opium, but there was a wide variety of other trade goods.

As the day wore on, the line seemed to grow longer. It was a very long day, indeed, but better to finish it all today then to have to spend another day in the office.

Although long, the day held more than merely fulfilling my duties as I should. I also gained four merchants as vassals.

One was a freelance merchant, but he had what sounded like a good business plan. He's got a supplier of leather goods, especially saddles, crafted here in the city. He plans to ship them to a major port city, and he already planed on bringing back trade goods in exchange. He seemed experienced and sincere. He was somewhat evasive about his previous experience. It could have been that he was hiding that he had none, but from what he said and how he put his plan together, I think he did. Which means his past experience might have some trouble in it. Still, I thought he seemed like a good bet, and Furedu did, too.

I offered him my patronage, and he accepted. I think he was hoping for the opportunity. He quickly suggested that while river travel between here and the port city is reasonably safe, my investment might be better protected if I were to assign a few guards to protect his ship.

He's probably right, but I had no one to spare, and no way to hire anyone. I had to turn his request down. He seemed a little surprised, but accepted it easily enough. There was an awkward moment as he seemed to expect something, and I didn't know what, then Furedu said, "I will draw up the appropriate letter and have it delivered in the morning." Ah, of course.

I offered my patronage to three others, as well, though I had higher hopes from the first. Two of them worked for merchants and wanted to strike out on their own. The third was a shopkeeper looking for a different line of work. The first two accepted my patronage and made no other demands. The third asked me pay for repairs on his ship. I declined. I suggested he take the opportunity to prove himself to me, and he accepted that happily enough.

By evening, I finally ran out of merchants. I spent the evening alone, not even joining the rest for dinner. Instead, I ate a light meal in my room and had a long soak in the bath. It's after dinner now, and I feel refreshed. I may go downstairs shortly and see how the rest spent the day.



Supplemental Materials