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© 2017 - Paul E. Horsman

Red Rune Books, Netherlands

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, peoples, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, peoples, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Book cover and map designed by Deranged Doctor Design

For more info:

There is a list of names at the back of the book.

Paul E. Horsman’s books:

Zilverspoor Uitgeverij (Dutch Editions):

Rhidauna – Schaduw van de Revenaunt #1

Zihaen – Schaduw van de Revenaunt #2

Ordelanden – Schaduw van de Revenaunt #3

Red Rune Books (Dutch Edition)

De Shardheld Sage

Red Rune Books (English Editions):

The Lioness of Kell

The Road to Kalbakar – Wyrms of Pasandir #1

The Pirates of Brisa – Wyrms of Pasandir #2

The Bokkaners of the North – Wyrms of Pasandir #3

Building a Trade Empire – Wyrms of Pasandir #4

High Merchant (2017) – Wyrms of Pasandir #5

Trade Magnate (2018) – Wyrms of Pasandir #6

The Jinn of Ozzoon (2018) - Wyrms of Pasandir #7

Shardfall – The Shardheld Saga #1

Runemaster – The Shardheld Saga #2

Shardheld – The Shardheld Saga #3

The Shardheld Saga, trilogy

Rhidauna –The Shadow of the Revenaunt #1

Zihaen – The Shadow of the Revenaunt #2

Ordelanden – The Shadow of the Revenaunt #3

Vavaun – The Shadows of the Revenaunt

The Weal of Four Nations is the political union of Kell, Vanhaar, Unwaar and the Chorwaynie Archipelago

Kells: The tall, bronze-brown people of the Radhaijan Plains in Kell; famed for the fighting prowess of their warriors and the quality of their ordnance.

Vanhaari: The warlock people of Vanhaar, masters of magic and learning. They are of small stature and possess curious complexions, ranging from a rare, eerily pale white to dark gray.

Chorwaynies: The coppery-brown coastal people of the Chorwaynie Archipelago. A nation of sharp merchants and privateers.

Jentakan: The golden-brown inland people of the Chorwaynie Archipelago. Fishers and sailors, their painted fabrics are priceless works of art.

Unwaari: The Singers of Aera; priests and mages, living in Unwaar. They are Vanhaar’s brother people, though far more religious.

The People of Malgarth, the small continent to the east:

Garthans: The High Kingdom of Malgarth. A rural people of pinkish-white to beige complexions.

The Five Tradeports (Brisa, Reveul, Lismer, Dibloon and Veurdel): Hotbeds of piracy and crime. Populated by Garthans and renegades of all the peoples in the region.

Thali: The dark-brown people of the frozen south of Malgarth; inventors and technicians, who develop wonders like steam engines, airships and other contraptions.

Both Kells and Vanhaari have settlements on Malgarth: Tar Kell, the cave city, and the former warlock town New Winsproke.

Other lands:

Nanstalgarod (the Hellesands) is a lost land full of magnificent ruins, totally covered by the desert.

Hizmyr, fabled kingdom past the desert lands; olive-skinned people in a land of great riches and a tyrannical Guild

Qoor, a mighty empire in the far north of the continent; its people are distantly related to the Vanhaari, but of green complexions.

Sashuni, one of the kingdoms that make up Qoor


The WYRMS OF PASANDIR - Series returns the reader to the colorful world of Lioness of Kell, twenty-five years later, when the Lioness Maud has become the Queen of the Kell, and the Warlock Basil has settled down as the Spellstor, ruler of Vanhaar.

#1 – The Road to Kalbakar introduces Eskandar, a young one-handed ship’s boy serving in the old navy sloop Tipred, and Teodar, the voice in his head.

Eskandar meets Kellani, the daughter of Lioness Maud, and together they beat off a monster attack on the sloop.

No longer able to hide his magic, Eskandar goes ashore with Kellani, and teams up with Naudin, the son of the Warlock Basil.

Together, they discover a dangerous lich has escaped his crypt and is at large somewhere. They meet Jem, the bodiless granddaughter of the lich, and Lord Amaj, a warrior boy with connections to Eskandar’s past.

Eskandar learns the roots of his secret history lie at Kalbakar Keep, a castle occupied by a mad monk cult...

#2 – The Pirates of Brisa tells Eskandar that Teodar and the Sleeping God Bodrus are being threatened by pirates, man-eating jinn, and their boss, the mighty lich lord. Eskandar has learned he is the last wyrmcaller, whatever that may be, and Defender of Divine Bodrus.

When the pirates start abducting kids from the orphanage Eskandar once lived in, he knows what to do. Together with Kellani, Naudin and his other friends, he defeats the pirates and rescues the orphan teens, among them a quiet fifteen-year-old girl named Shaw.

Now Teodar tells him he has to collect an army of kid warriors and fight the pirates of Brisa...

#3 – The Bokkaners of the North sees Eskandar victorious, with the Brisan pirates defeated and their powerful ship in his hands. Just as he thinks to have some peace and quiet, Teodar sends him north, where another bunch of pirates roams.

Teodar knows of a stronghold at the foot of the Pasandir Peaks, Smalkand Keep.

This proves to be a rich former merchants’ headquarters, and a veritable treasure room of gold and trade goods.

After Eskandar has secured the keep and the surrounding region, he travels further north, to the mighty kingdom of Hizmyr.

Before he leaves, he agrees to his purser Shaw’s plan to build a trade empire that can finance Eskandar’s many plans for restoring the Peaks...

#4 – Building a Trade Empire starts the tale of Shaw, the young purser who dreams of building a mighty trade empire.

She is the one who sells Eskandar’s spoils of war, and as she follows the wyrmcaller north to find the old traders keep of Smalkand, she starts building her plans.

When the wyrmcaller Eskandar goes north in pursuit of his enemies, she obtains his blessing to realize her dream. Together with Nate, her business partner, she journeys back to Seatome, the capital of Lord Basil’s Vanhaar.

Here, with the gold found in Smalkand’s strongroom, and a load of valuable loot from a pirate vessel they had captured, she hires her first warehouse and makes ready to conquer the mercantile world...


The big warship Drakon of Ilzhar disappeared from sight in the seaward channel, taking the Wyrmcaller Eskandar on his long-awaited journey to the unknown northern lands.

Purser Shaw turned aside to Amaj and the other chief guys of Kalbakar Keep. ‘He’s gone.’

She was a slip of a girl, fifteen years of age, with the gray skin of the Vanhaari. Her left eye was the only lazy thing about her, and to correct its squint, she wore a black eye patch over her good right one. It gave her thin face a ferocious look, and helped her shed her natural diffidence.

She slapped her hands and looked at the big youngster standing beside her. Lord Amaj was marshal of Kalbakar Keep now Eskandar had sailed.

‘Amaj,’ she said briskly. ‘I want to discuss the trading business Nate and I are setting up. Department heads only, in my office.’

‘Now?’ Amaj said, and his face showed her sudden assertiveness startled him.

‘Now.’ Shaw pressed her lips together. ‘There’s much to do; I don’t want to waste any more time. All right?’

Amaj grinned. ‘All right, before you bite off my nose.’ He turned to the others. ‘Department heads, purser wants a word with us.’

Captain Wylmer smiled. ‘She’s put enough money in our pockets already; let’s hear her plans.’

The purser’s office at the back of the second warehouse cave was small, and offered barely enough room to seat all of them.

Shaw sat behind her little desk, pressed against the wall, with the others on chairs filling up the rest of the space.

‘My trade plans,’ she said and felt her brow contract into a scowl as she tried to read their blurred faces. Automatically, her hand went to the black patch and she cursed as she tried to focus her bad eye.

‘Eskandar said I could go ahead,’ she added. ‘He didn’t ask any particulars before he left.’

‘He didn’t,’ Captain Wylmer said pleasantly. He sat across from her, with his hands folded over his ample stomach like a well-fed seventeen-year-old deity. ‘Knowing you, I found that rather careless of the boss.’

‘He sailed,’ Shaw said quickly. ‘Too late to call him back now. Instead, I’ll tell you.’ She tapped the table, as if to underscore her words. ‘I’m done with meekness. From now on, I’m Shaw Harwans of the Pasandir Trading Company.’

‘What’s that?’ Lord Amaj said with a puzzled frown on his broad face. A warrior at sixteen, he was a lord’s son, with the vague undertone of red in his gray skin that marked the born Peak man. ‘Never heard of those fellows. Where do they come in?’

Shaw grinned. ‘They are already in,’ she said. ‘Nate and I are the Pasandir Trading Co. Here in Smalkand we have our main warehouse and stocks.’ She frowned. ‘But we’re far away from our markets in the south. We need a second place in one of the Weal’s main ports.’

‘And money,’ Wylmer said, as he leaned forward. ‘You won’t get far without a heap of fat golden libers.’

Shaw nodded. ‘I have some reserves.’ From the loot they had captured, she’d put aside part of the ship’s share. ‘It’s a few thousand libers; not a heap, but enough to get started.’

Wylmer sat back. ‘That’s a promising begin.’

‘The trade goods in Marigold’s hold should fetch us more,’ Shaw went on. ‘With that money I want to set up a base in Seatome.’ She looked at Imooga. ‘Then could we install one of those spare generators?’

‘Sure,’ the young engineer said. ‘You can have my ice machine prototype as well. I know how it works and I don’t need it.’

‘That would be great!’ Shaw said, as she suppressed an urge to clap her hands in glee. ‘If you know how they work, can we build them? I mean lots of them?’

For a fleeting moment, Imooga seemed to retire into herself. She was a Thali, the engineering people of the icy wastes, to whom technology was both their honor and their way of life. Then she gave a formal nod.

‘I could build one. We’d need a workshop, technicians and another engineer. Are we going commercial?’

Shaw didn’t need to think on that one. ‘Yes – if you can produce.’

‘I’ll give you a letter to post,’ Imooga said. ‘Ulaataq and I talked it over before he sailed with Eskandar. If we’re going to sell those devices in numbers, we need more engineers. I’ll call in a few of our friends. You hand this letter to the first Thali airship that’s going home, and pay them a liber for their trouble.’

‘That would be awesome,’ Shaw said softly. She hesitated. ‘How’s the portal thing going?’

‘I almost got it licked,’ Imooga said carefully. ‘The biggest problem was to overcome my own prejudices. Before he left, Eskandar explained what he did when he ported and showed it in my head. Creepy, but very enlightening! Then I had discussed it with Martha and Tymon; they have remarkably clear minds and after a while I suddenly understood how magic is simply doing technology with your thoughts instead of a machine. That made it easier to translate the magic Eskandar had shown me into a mechanical solution.’ She clasped her hands to her chest. ‘I might be able to rig a portal to Seatome soon. Keep your fingers crossed, gal.’

‘Be sure I will,’ Shaw said and she felt a hot glow of excitement spreading through her body. A teleportal! Instant travel between Seatome and Smalkand would make everything so much easier!

‘When you’re going to Seatome, were you planning to travel with the cargo?’ Airship Pilot Tangrid asked. ‘My crew needs flying time, so we can pop you over if you’re in a hurry.’

‘Oh, that’s great!’ Shaw said. ‘That would give us time to find a warehouse before Marigold comes in.’

She looked at Miyra. ‘When could you sail?’

‘I’m short-handed,’ the big Garthan said bluntly. She was the other captain present, in command of the steam cutter Marigold. Then she grinned. ‘Don’t worry; I can sail when you want me to. Perhaps I’ll find more hands in Seatome.’

‘Sail, then,’ Shaw said, slapping the table. ‘How soon will you be there?’

‘Day after tomorrow,’ Miyra said. ‘Weather and pirates permitting.’

‘Two days to find a suitable warehouse,’ Shaw said, biting her lip. ‘I must not tarry.’ Everything was coming to a head now, and even quicker than she had hoped.

‘Give us an hour,’ Tangrid said. ‘We have to wheel the girl out of her snuggly bed first.’ The airship had her berth in a large cavernous space over the cave entrance that once must have housed the keep’s wyrms and it took careful preparations to get her inflated and ready for flight. The pilot came to his feet. ‘If you don’t need me here anymore, I’ll get my crew together.’

‘There she goes,’ Shaw said. She stood on the beach with Mage Keena and Wylmer, watching Marigold disappear over the bay into the seaward passage. Behind them on the field, the big, shark-like bulk of the Pewbara airship softly tugged at her mooring lines as if she, too, was eager to leave.

Shaw straightened her new yellow merchant’s jacket the women of nearby Pashwend Keep had made for her little crew, with the letters PTC in blue on the lapels.

‘A handsome uniform,’ Wylmer said. ‘You’ve been planning this a long time, haven’t you?’

Shaw nodded, pleased with the compliment. ‘From the moment we first met Proprietor Darquine I knew I wanted something like her MCTC. Only the money part made it uncertain, but the pirate loot Marigold carries resolved that.’

She turned and watched Nate come trotting across the field and for a moment his fine figure distracted her.

‘We can leave,’ he said, eagerly. ‘Our baggage is aboard.’

‘Done, then!’ She felt her face glow with excitement. ‘Let’s go.’

‘Good luck,’ Captain Wylmer said. They all shook hands solemnly, and Shaw followed Nate and Keena up the rope ladder into Pewbara.

The weather was clear and calm. Pewbara followed the coastal route south, circumventing the treacherous winds between the Peaks. Below them, the natural sea wall of Kell’s Radhaijan Plateau gradually sloped down.

Shaw had pushed her eye patch to her forehead to see anything below. Now she and Nate sat at a window and watched the coastline flow past, unfolding several large villages, each with their own bay or craggy fjord, and a long way removed from anything resembling civilization.

‘Sheer loneliness,’ Shaw said.

‘No worse than Smalkand,’ Nate said.

‘Sure, but we’ve got Pewbara and the ships. How do these people get anywhere? They don’t have an airship tower, and the only vessels are fishing boats.’

‘Not that place,’ Nate said. ‘I see a ship and a shipyard as well.’

Shaw turned back to the window. They were approaching a small town, with a market square at the bayside, and a castle perched on a rock halfway the sheer side of the plateau. There was a ship, an old two-master leaving the bay. Then they were past and the town disappeared from view.

After that the land was empty, but for herds of wild sheep grazing the purplish shrublands.

‘There!’ Shaw said, punching Nate’s arm. ‘Hunting cats. They must be big, if we can see them that clearly.’

‘Didn’t Eskandar tell us about Radhaijan lions once? I seem to remember him saying how enormous they were,’ Nate said. ‘Big as oxen, or something.’

Shaw nodded and rested her head against Nate’s shoulder. She felt his arm against her back and nothing more.

‘This is your captain speaking,’ Tangrid’s voice crackled over the ship’s voicepipe, and Shaw sat up abruptly. ‘We have arrived at our destination. Thank you for journeying with Pewbara.’

‘Did I fall asleep?’ Shaw said. ‘How awful of me.’

Nate laughed and massaged his left arm. ‘I didn’t mind.’

Darn, Shaw thought. There I was, sitting beside him, and I slept. Idiot! Angrily she jumped to her feet. ‘Let’s go to the bridge.’

On the other side of the cabin, Keena opened an eye. ‘We’re there?’ She yawned and came to her feet. ‘Good.’ Keena wasn’t a talkative person. She was a newly discovered mage, and an acrobat by profession; an agile girl of sixteen, with a past even unhappier than most Clam Street orphans.

In the nose of the airship, Tangrid sat relaxed. Beside him, his co-pilot Averson had the con and steered the airship in a wide curve towards the aerodrome. To the right, Byroon the ballast-handler adjusted his floatgas- and water-bags for their landing.

‘Seatome Control. What ship?’ a lazy voice inquired over the ship’s voicepipe.

‘This is Pewbara from Smalkand, Control,’ Tangrid answered.

‘Heard of you. First visit, isn’t it? Welcome to Seatome, Captain. Mooring Tower Six.’

‘Six it is; thank you, Control.’

Tangrid gave a grim smile. ‘I know that guy,’ he said. ‘See those goats below? I know them, too, the hairy monsters. This was the Terrific Tangridis’ home base.’

Shaw nodded. She had heard of Tangrid’s past. His father and uncle had operated an air show, doing stunts with old airships. There had been a crash, or something terrible, and Tangrid was left alone, without money and with too much pride to beg. He’d been the aerodrome’s goatherd then, until Eskandar hired him.

As they spoke, Tangrid took over command and inched the giant airship towards the tower with the large number six nailed to its frame. As they came to a halt, Averson hurried outside to fasten the mooring lines.

‘And now you’re an airship captain,’ Shaw said.

Tangrid didn’t look up from his controls. ‘Almost,’ he said. ‘I really should see to that last certificate, to fly passengers.’

Shaw held up a hand. ‘We’re not passengers; we’re crew.’

‘Right you are,’ he said with a crooked grin. ‘Well, we’re moored. I’ll have the bags refilled before flying back, so we will be here a few hours, in case you change your mind.’

‘Don’t worry, I won’t,’ she said with a huge grin.

‘Of course not. Good luck, and make us all rich.’

Shaw patted his shoulder, yanked the eye patch over her good eye and hurried to join Nate and Keena at the door.

Outside, it rained, but Shaw didn’t even notice as she took the stairs without hesitation. Her stupid eye saw things vaguely, but she’d be darned if she let it slow her down.

At the foot of the tower, a gust of rain blinded her. She crashed into someone taller than she, and smelling of wet wool.

‘Ouch!’ she said and looked up in the face of a beefy, bushy-haired guy perhaps two years her senior.

‘Beg pardon!’ the boy said hastily. ‘I wasn’t looking. You’re crew of that airship? I was wondering if she had cargo to unload.’

‘I’m not really,’ Shaw said, guessing the boy wasn’t an aerodrome official. ‘And no, she isn’t carrying any cargo, only my friends and me.’

‘A pity,’ the boy said. ‘I’m looking for work.’ He looked closely at her and Nate. ‘PTC? I don’t recognize the uniform.’

‘We’re with the Pasandir Trading Company,’ Shaw said carefully.

The boy stared at her. ‘Pasandir? Not the wyrmcaller’s outfit, are you?’

‘We are,’ Shaw said with a big smile. ‘The merchant side of it.’

‘That’s great!’ he cried. ‘You’re the talk of the town, running around with wyrms and all that. Say, would you guys have room for an internship?’

Shaw looked at the boy. He seemed earnest enough with his homely, middling-gray face and sturdy built. ‘What do you do?’

He blushed darkly. ‘Nothing glamorous; I’m a mage, a mover mage.’

‘Explain,’ Shaw said. ‘What I know of magic isn’t worth a penny.’

‘Ah,’ the boy said. ‘A mover practices the wonderful art of... well, moving things. Like loading dung into carts without getting my hands dirty. Telekinesis, the instructors call it.’

Shaw felt her heart leap. ‘The PTC happens to have a free spot for a caravan mage,’ she said nonchalantly. ‘Regular pay, free food, and plenty of exercise. You must be able to move cargo around, mindspeak, and summon spelldrakes. Fighting robbers and earning prize money are optional.’

‘That means travel?’

‘Miles and miles,’ Shaw said brightly. ‘You’ve heard of the Pasandir Peaks?’

The boy grinned. ‘I’m a Starfyld foothillman; I was born in the shadow of the Peaks. Nobody knows the place; Starfyld is in the far north, near the Unwaari border. I’ve been at several hunting expeditions across the passes into the mountains.’

‘Better and better,’ Nate said. ‘The PTC has its headquarters on the west coast of the Peaks. Our keep used to be a trading post of the Nanstalgarodians; what’s now the Hellesands. We plan to revive their old trading route across the Peaks. The wyrmcaller wants that to bring his people together, and we want us to become as big as Proprietor Darquine’s Malgarth and Continental Trading Co.’

‘We have several irons in the fire,’ Shaw said. ‘Nate and I can handle most, but running a trade caravan isn’t our thing. We’ll be hiring people, we have the wagons and merchandise, and we even have maps, though they’re five centuries out of date.’

‘It sounds good,’ the boy said. ‘You said regular pay?’

‘Basic wages are six pennies a day, plus one percent of all sales. We provide uniforms, arms and food.’

‘That’s what I sought,’ the boy said eagerly. ‘Where can I sign?’

‘You don’t,’ Shaw said. ‘Joining the wyrmcaller is a matter of honor, not of contracts.’ She offered her hand. ‘I’m Shaw, and my sidekick is Nate. The other girl is Keena; she’s a newly-discovered mage, unspecialized.’

‘Happy to meet you.’ The boy shook hands enthusiastically. ‘The name is Callogan of Starfyld. Never met an unspecialized mage before. You don’t know what you can do yet?’

Keena shrugged. ‘Nobody ever taught me anything. Thought I was goin’ mad, but then the wyrmcaller told me what was happening. His guys gave me a few tricks to get a grip on it, and that helped. By training I’m an acrobat.’ She gave a small smile. ‘And other, less lawful things.’

‘I can show you how I port,’ Callogan said. ‘Perhaps you’ll pick it up.’ He sighed and pulled a printed sheet from his pocket. ‘I’m afraid I have something to sign. The Magic Institute wants a written agreement for internships.’ He licked his pencil. ‘Pasandir Trading Co,’ he wrote. ‘What’s the address?’

‘Headquarters at Smalkand Keep, the Pasandir Peaks,’ Nate said.

‘In case of a nongovernmental position, name the organization’s Weal sponsor. I don’t know if you...’

Shaw laughed. ‘Darquine of Piright,’ she said. ‘She owes me that one.’

Callogan looked up. ‘The proprietor herself?’ he said. ‘Oh boy, right.’ Then he handed the form to Shaw. ‘Would you sign this?’

‘Sure,’ she said, and wrote in her careful handwriting, Shaw Harwans, managing director.

‘You’re the boss?’ he said, surprised. ‘Aren’t you a bit...?’

‘We’re all young in the Peaks,’ Shaw said bluntly. ‘Our legal ages are lower.’

‘Ah,’ Callogan said. ‘I heard the wyrmcaller was my age, but I found it difficult to believe.’

Shaw blinked. ‘He is,’ she said. It was strange to imagine, but Eskandar was only seventeen beneath his immense power. ‘The three of us are here to open a new warehouse. We expect our first shipment in two days.’

‘You want to hire something or buy?’ Callogan asked.

‘Depends on the price,’ Shaw said. ‘Why? Would you know of something?’

Callogan wiped away a trickle of water running into his collar. ‘I said I did some moving on the side, unloading tramp ships; just to get the feel of it. Most of my friends think it low work for a mage.’ He chuckled. ‘Being a mover isn’t very glamorous, but it paid.’ They stepped aside for three grazing goats and walked across the wet field.

‘But what I was going to say; I heard things that aren’t commonly known. There is a large warehouse on Old Wharf Quay going for sale; forfeited property, to be sold by the Port Authority. It’s going cheap, as these things do.’

‘Going cheap?’ Shaw said. ‘I like the word, but their cheap won’t be mine. Is that the Port Captain’s office?’

‘Yes. You know where it is?’

‘We were born here,’ Shaw said. ‘It won’t be a secret that most of us in the Wyrmcaller’s service came from the Clam Street Orphanage.’

‘I’m not,’ Callogan said soberly. ‘So you’ll find your way around the city probably better than me; I admit I didn’t frequent all areas.’

Nate grinned. ‘She never did the seedy places either; not like Keena and me. Thieves and fences, pickpockets and racketeers; we’ve been there.’

‘Then I’ll not boast of my tramp ships,’ Callogan said.

Shaw thought of the letter in her pocket. ‘Before we go anywhere we need an airship bound for Thali.’

‘Tower Two,’ Callogan said, pointing. ‘They didn’t need a mover either, they’re about to depart. With a bit of luck...’

‘Run!’ Shaw said.

Out of breath, they arrived at the tower further down the field. It was a WyDir vessel, and a Thali crewman was outside, undoing the mooring line.

‘Sorry miss, too late; we’re sailing,’ he said.

Shaw ran up the wooden ladder. ‘We got a letter,’ she said, panting. ‘From Imooga, our engineer, for her folks in Thali-the-City.’

The crewman put out a hand. ‘I’ll take it.’

Shaw gave him the letter and the gold liber coin, and the man put both away. ‘Consider it done.’

Shaw smiled. ‘My thanks; may your flight be smooth as fresh snow.’ Her father always told her to pick up local greetings; that showed you cared about people.

Now it got her an answering smile. ‘And may the Great Grandmother watch over yours,’ the crewman said and disappeared inside. Immediately, the airship lifted.

‘That’s done,’ Shaw said, as she rejoined the others.


The port captain’s office was situated in a pre-war building over a cartographer’s shop near the waterfront.

At the top of the stairs was a large room. Inside, a double row of busy clerks greeted them politely, and one of them stepped away from his standing desk to take them into the big man’s office.

As they entered his room, a stout, older naval officer turned away from the window. ‘Ms. Shaw,’ he said, to her surprise. ‘You come from the lord wyrmcaller, ma’am? How can I serve you?’

Shaw wasn’t about to show his politeness tickled her. ‘We are here to trade, Port Captain,’ she said, all businesslike. ‘One of our ships will arrive shortly with a large shipment of foreign goods. We want to open a base in Seatome, to better serve the Weal.’ She smiled slightly. ‘I caught a whisper of a forfeited warehouse coming up for sale.’

‘That is correct,’ the port captain said slowly. ‘I was going to post the announcement, so you beat me to it. Old Wharf is a fine building in what used to be a first-class location – until certain criminal elements took it over. Pirates, I’m sorry to say. We have recently cleaned the place out.’ Here he paused and gave an old-fashioned half-bow. ‘Actually the death of the pawnbroker Llynsing provided the information we needed. So we owe the lord wyrmcaller a favor in this.’

Llynsing! Shaw knew the name belonged to the baddest fence in town. Then she remembered Nate telling her how the crook had died at Eskandar’s feet that same night a jinni had tried to steal away the Clammers. The wyrmcaller had arrived in time to save the orphans, including Nate. So now something else good came from that night!

‘Happy to be of service,’ she said firmly. ‘How large is the property?’

The port captain laid a finger along his nose. ‘Old Wharf is a large warehouse with two adjoining town houses. It is at the outer edge of the harbor district, in the shadow of the city walls. The main building has two storage halls, a workroom and a receiving-hall with loading bays. Upstairs are several offices, a cafeteria and a restroom. Included are the quay, which is part of the Seatome harbor front, and a pier with two cranes, and berths for at least three medium sized vessels. The property goes for the special price of five thousand libers.’ He smiled. ‘If you wish, we could include the use of Mariner Tower. That’s the corner tower of the wall, with room for military stores and a small garrison. It’s free of charge, provided you’ll bear the cost of maintenance.’

Darn! Too expensive. Five thousand eats up all my savings, she thought, chagrined. ‘Housing an international company like the PTC would mean a large stimulus to the harbor district. Not only we hire local staff, but we import many goods from places no other traders have access to. I know Proprietor Darquine wants me to settle in Towne. Instead, I choose Seatome, the place of my birth, the place where my parents died.’

‘You are from Seatome?’ The port captain studied her kindly. ‘Harwans. Of Harwans Ship Chandlery?’ He shook his head. ‘A terrible tragedy, that was. What do you say to a ten-year lease against two hundred fifty libers per year, and automatic ownership afterwards?’

‘That is an acceptable suggestion,’ Shaw said. Her mind jumped up and down in joy. More than acceptable!

‘Then perhaps you’d care to inspect Old Wharf. I will have the paperwork ready for your signature by tomorrow morning.’ The port captain smiled. ‘Normally, you would have needed a few more years to sign any deeds, but the Lord Spellstor waived this rule for the wyrmcaller’s officers.’ He opened a drawer and produced a key ring.

‘There it is.’ He hesitated. ‘Before you go in the main building, let me warn you it needs cleaning up. We removed the contraband and the bodies, but not the stains or any perishable goods. We offer the buildings as they are.’

‘No problem,’ Shaw said stoutly. ‘In the wyrmcaller’s service I’ve seen it all before. A pleasure doing business with you, Port Captain.’

This Old Wharf Quay must have been a grand place once, Shaw thought. She had shoved her eye patch up as she inspected the building. Seatome wasn’t known for its architecture, but these buildings looked different, warm and graceful beneath the grime and the bluewing droppings.

‘They’re beautiful,’ she said aloud.

‘Yeah,’ Nate said, staring narrow-eyed at the two steel derricks on the pier. ‘Rusty, though.’

‘What? Oh, those cranes.’ Shaw sighed. ‘When we’ve cleaned it up, this place will be a proper home for the PTC.’

For a moment she watched the play of the setting sun on the slim pillars lining the front, with the city wall as a grim, solid background. To the left, Mariner Tower watched; a big, square tower with loopholes and a large flagpole on top. Beyond it, sweet-scented honeysuckle turned the city wall in a living bulwark of pink-flowered greenery.

‘Yes!’ Exhilaration clutched at Shaw’s breast as she walked to the main door. To her surprise, the lock opened without a sound and the ever-intriguing smells of a big warehouse greeted her. With pounding heart, she stepped inside.

Nate got out his matches and began lighting the gas lamps. ‘We need mage lights, like we have in Smalkand,’ he said. ‘This isn’t efficient.’

‘Those stains!’ Callogan said, and his voice sounded uneasy.

‘Blood,’ Keena said with a careless wave. ‘That captain guy said there’s been a battle here.’

Shaw glanced at the large patches of dried blood, the dropped weapons and a plumed slouch hat. Then she turned her attention back to the tall shelves; many still stocked with old trade goods.

‘Ample space,’ she said.

‘Look, canned fish-bombs,’ Nate said, pointing at a cluster of swollen food tins.

‘Don’t touch them,’ Shaw said absently. ‘We will clean it all out, keep the good stuff and dump the rest.’ She walked into the second room.

‘Must have been quite a fight,’ Callogan said, goggling at the bloody trails everywhere.

‘They were pirates.’ Keena had picked up the hat and smoothed out the dents with her hand before donning it. ‘Those deserve ten deaths.’ She struck a pose. ‘Well?’

‘Fearsome,’ Shaw said, inspecting her friend.

Keena smiled. ‘Then I’ll keep it.’

Past the empty loading space, where incoming and outgoing goods would be sorted and packed, they walked through the repair workshop. Several workbenches waited for damaged goods, though the tools in their racks looked old and worn.

Then they climbed the wooden stairs to the entresol with the offices.

A clerks’ room with two standing desks, a cafeteria that could seat fifty, and a restroom, dirty but strangely modern with its flush toilets. Beyond that a boardroom with a large table and chairs, and at the end the manager’s office, wainscoted in redwood, with several paintings of dubious quality and a nice wooden desk.

‘Yes,’ Shaw said. ‘I like the place.’

‘I wonder who owned it,’ Callogan said. ‘It’s not at all a Vanhaari building.’

‘Whoever it was, they made a special place,’ Shaw said. She spread her arms wide. ‘Our place.’

‘Now we need people,’ Nate said as cheerfully as she felt. ‘Let’s go to the Labor Exchange.’

Callogan pulled a fat timepiece from his pocket. ‘It’s almost seven o’clock. Are those guys still open?’

Nate laughed. ‘They never close. Much of their business is done at night, when employers have time.’

The Labor Exchange was a tall, gloomy building smelling of sweat and cheap lamp oil. Shaw had never been inside before, but she had heard descriptions and she knew how its system worked.

They came into a large room, with a long counter behind which several clerks sat, each with five or six people waiting patiently for their turn.

Shaw walked up to the nearest clerk, a spare, elderly woman in a threadbare robe.

‘You kids blind?’ the woman snapped even before she could ask anything. ‘Stand at the back of the queue if you wanna register, girl.’

Shaw lifted her chin. ‘I am hiring.’ This must be unusual, for both the clerks and the waiting people stared at her.

‘Hiring?’ the woman said, and her voice rose in surprise. ‘You’re but a chit of a girl.’

‘I represent the Pasandir Trading Company,’ Shaw said. ‘I am setting up a warehouse at Old Wharf Quay and I need a crew.’

Her seriousness must have convinced the clerk, for her face changed. ‘A moment, ma’am,’ she said and slapped a large copper service bell.

A tall man in a dark suit came from behind a desk in the back and hurried over.

‘Trouble?’ he said, scowling.

‘This young lady wants to hire, sir,’ the woman said.

The head clerk turned his gaze to Shaw. ‘You do, do you? And who might you be?’

Again, Shaw introduced herself, and at the mention of the wyrmcaller, the head clerk smiled, forcing his downward-leading wrinkles into an upward curve they only just managed.

‘Now I see,’ he said. ‘The children’s army. Follow me, please.’

Children’s army! Shaw thought, irritated. Idiot!

The head clerk led them past the counter to his desk and offered chairs.

‘You are looking for what, exactly?’ he asked, his gnawed pencil poised over a blank sheet.

Shaw folded her hands in her lap. ‘We are opening a large shipping warehouse at Old Wharf Quay, and I need it manned. Let’s start with twenty workers, five guards, five merchants, a repairman and a ledger keeper, and if you can find someone, a person who can do the day-to-day running of the establishment. We want only young people. That means senior apprentices and junior journeymen, none older.’ That will mean another hundred libers for the first year, she thought.

The man peered at her. ‘You would need trader apprentices for the warehouse, and merchant journeymen for sales. Can you promise them advancement?’

‘Absolutely,’ Shaw said. ‘We’re building a trade network. Capable employees can expect promotions, especially if they are willing to work abroad.’

‘We’ll put that in the notice,’ the man said. ‘Guards will be difficult.’ He tapped his teeth with his pen as he thought. ‘It’s not what I’m here for, but I could ask our contact at the Castle. They might have a few soldiers’ sons pining for a life of glory; the army isn’t recruiting much, these days. I can’t help you with a manager as we don’t do senior staff; we’re here for the poor.’ He gave her a tight smile. ‘I’m sure that once you’re successful, these gentlefolk will beat a pathway to your door.’

Shaw chuckled. ‘You could well be right. How much do I owe you?’ She paid up without haggling, knowing the Exchange’s rates were fixed.

‘I need those people tomorrow,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I’m expecting a ship, and need the place cleaned out first.’

The head clerk sucked in his cheeks. ‘A tight call, but I will do my best.’

‘Thank you,’ Shaw said in all sincerity. ‘I will await your applicants tomorrow.’

Back in the street, she sighed. ‘What a terrible place. That head clerk means well, though.’

‘Yes,’ Callogan said with a look of embarrassment on his broad face. ‘I barely knew it existed. Those people seemed quite desperate.’

‘When you go to the Labor Exchange, you are either very young, or you are desperate,’ Nate said. ‘New journeymen have to register there until they find a permanent job, so for them it’s no shame. Older people, though...’ He shrugged. ‘Once you get a job, you’re supposed to hold on to it.’

‘I see,’ Callogan said. ‘Only the young, the incompetent or the unlucky go to the Labor Exchange.’

‘That’s about it,’ Shaw said. ‘As long as they weren’t Clammers. Even the Exchange wouldn’t touch us. Let’s go back to the warehouse.’

Keena wheeled around. ‘Here, you!’ she said. ‘Trying to pick my pocket? I’ll break your nose!’

She pulled a girl of some fourteen years from the shadows. ‘Who are you? Not a Clammer, obviously.’

‘Clammers are gone,’ the girl said. ‘Dunno where, but they’re all vanished.’

‘They struck it rich,’ Nate said. ‘None of them need to steal anymore.’

‘Lucky sods,’ the girl said. ‘I do.’

‘Why?’ Shaw said. ‘Who forces you to?’

‘Hunger,’ the girl said. ‘What else?’ She grunted. ‘Not that I’m any good at it.’

‘You need food now?’ Nate asked.

The girl glanced at him through her long, unkempt hair. ‘Yeah. Might you have some?’

‘I just remembered we didn’t eat either, since breakfast,’ Nate said.

Shaw blinked. ‘I forget things like that,’ she admitted. ‘There should be a pastryman around the corner.’

There was, and shortly they were back outside with a large slice of hot, dripping pie.

‘Gods,’ the girl said as they walked on. ‘You’re just giving me this?’

‘Sure,’ Nate said. ‘You see, the three of us were Clammers. We know how it is.’

The girl stared at him, her mouth full and sauce leaking down her chin. Then she swallowed. ‘Clammers? You? Where did you all go?’

‘We joined the wyrmcaller,’ Nate said. ‘Heard of him?’

‘Who hasn’t,’ the girl said. ‘The kid with the wyrms. But I didn’t know he was hiring.’

‘He is,’ Shaw said. ‘If you’re willing to work. What are you good at?’

‘Needlework,’ the girl said. ‘Me mother was a seamstress, and she taught me how to sew clothes and things. She’s dead now.’ The girl touched Nate’s sleeve with a dirty finger. ‘I can make robes and jackets just as good.’

‘We can use a seamstress,’ Shaw said, thinking of uniforms. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Dowa,’ the girl said.

‘Any relatives?’

The girl uttered a blistering curse. ‘Only a cousin,’ she said fiercely. ‘I lived with my aunt until the gods called her, too. Then her son inherited the house and things. He wanted me to “care” for him.’ She spat. ‘No way. I’d rather die in the gutter.’

‘That’s no fun either,’ Shaw said. ‘But I guess I know what you mean. You can work for us. Three pennies a day plus food, clothes and bed, sewing uniforms and things for the people we’ll be hiring.’

‘You mean that?’ the girl said. ‘Three pennies daily for sewing? That’s more than my mother ever made.’

‘That’s what we usually pay,’ Shaw said. ‘Now let’s buy some groceries and stuff, and then we’ll go back to Old Wharf.’

Next morning, Shaw and Callogan went to the Port Admiralty building, to sign the lease. When they returned, Shaw found Nate standing in the center of a crowd of people, waving his hands and talking to several people at once.

‘Well,’ she said, and she felt excitement bubbling up in her chest. ‘That’s not bad at all.’

‘We’ve been pre-selecting them,’ Nate said, wiping his face. ‘There were a lot of oldsters, too. I told them no. Only one I kept for you. He’s a repairman, ex-navy. Lost a leg and an eye, but he said he’d repair everything that was ever made. I didn’t think any journeyman or -woman could say the same.’

‘We’ll take him,’ Shaw said. ‘Give him an apprentice to teach his craft to.’ She raised her voice to reach over the hubbub. ‘Applicants for the warehouse worker jobs first. We want journeymen or senior apprentices.’

She walked over to the porch and sat down. ‘The queue starts here. Hold your certificates ready, folks. We’re in a hurry.’

Shaw had never ever hired anyone before, but she’d been a keen observer all her life, and could distinguish the serious from the braggart and the active from the slouch. Most of the times, the recommendations on their certificate—or the lack thereof, confirmed her feeling, and the selection went fast. ‘Number twenty!’ she called and two candidates stepped forward.

‘Me!’ they both shouted.

Shaw took the first papers thrust under her nose and glanced through them. Good marks and some kind words from a local merchant, enough. She looked up at the applicant. ‘You’re hired. That was the last one, folks.’

‘Drat,’ the other boy said so dejectedly that Shaw gave him a sharp glance. Fifteen, sixteen years old; a tired-looking kid with scruffy, often-repaired clothes.

‘Show me your certificate,’ Shaw said. ‘Hey, guy; you’re a cook, not a trader.’

The boy sagged. ‘I know. But I hoped...’

‘We don’t need another trader,’ Shaw said. Then she grinned. ‘But it so happens we can use a cook. You make tea? Sandwiches? Prepare fifty meals?’

‘Tea and sandwiches,’ the boy said. ‘I’ll not lie; I can do meals, but not fifty, not with only two hands.’

Shaw looked at him. ‘Great answer. I want someone to handle the whole eats division. We have a cafeteria, and I want my people fed; there will be extra help for the meals.’

‘Then I can do it!’ the boy said desperately.

‘You’re in. Start by looking the place over and clean it up. If you’d manage a pot of tea at the same time, I’d be obliged.’

She turned to the others. ‘The warehouse workers can start with scrubbing the floors. You’ll find a lot of bloodstains inside.’ Shaw grinned, what with the eye patch and all wasn’t as soothing as she intended. ‘Those stains were not made by earlier workers we were dissatisfied with; it was a battle between the city guards and some criminals. Please try to get things customer-friendly.’

Then her free eye narrowed. There were at least another ten candidates for workers left. ‘You guys, I’m sorry we don’t have a full-time job left right now. If there are any who want to earn a bit extra, I could use temporary house cleaners; two pennies per day. Anyone interested?’

Some six hands went up.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘You start with the house to the left. I want it clean, sparkling and fit for the Lord Spellstor himself. When that’s done, there is the house to the right. Which of you can be head cleaner?’

‘Me,’ a sharp-faced girl said quickly. ‘Been cleaning house since I could crawl.’

‘You’re on,’ Shaw said. ‘If you need anything, let me know.’ She exchanged glances with Nate and turned to the still waiting candidates for the other jobs. ‘Warehouse guards next. Anyone here from the Castle?’

‘We all are,’ a haggard boy said. He stood at the head of a group of boys as scruffy as he, for while his clothes seemed made by a fine tailor, they looked as if he’d been sleeping outdoors in them. His long hair and well-bred gray face could use soap as well. ‘Lieutenant said you’d employ us as soldiers. Is that right?’

‘We’re building a trade network,’ Shaw said. ‘For the moment we need guys to guard the warehouse. We’ll supply uniforms, arms and training. You’ll be company troops, not Pasandir army, but the ranks and pay are the same. As we grow, so will your chances on action. Overseas duty, pirate hunting, it can be a part of your job.’

‘All right,’ the haggard boy said. ‘We’ll take it if you want us.’

‘What’s your name? Shaw said.

The boy pressed his lips together. ‘Yens Rowe-Yens.’

Shaw sat up. ‘You’re the...’

His nod was savage. ‘The colonel’s son. They sacked him for incompetence after the Clam Street fire. I had been training to join the army as an ensign, but his successor informed me that wouldn’t be a wise idea. So there I was. I’d gathered these guys, all soldiers’ sons, who had wanted to join the army with me, but the garrison ain’t hiring. At least not anyone of mine.’ He smiled grimly. ‘You’re our last hope, ma’am. Else we’re planning to leave town and seek work as mercenaries somewhere.’

Who the heck would hire kid mercenaries? Shaw thought. Except us, that is. ‘All right,’ she said. ‘You’re in. You’ll be squad leader. The Pasandir Army isn’t hot on officers; our top field commander is a sergeant, so for now you will be a corporal. Look over the area. Mariner Tower will be your barracks; you must clean it out yourselves. As soon as we’re up and running, give me a list of your needs, like bedding, etc. You make up a duty roster. One thing; though we are traders, the Peaks are at war with every pirate and jinni on the Wydemere. That business at Clam Street was a jinn affair; we don’t want a repeat here. That’s why I expect you to be alert at all times.’

The boy straightened. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ he snapped and saluted. Then he turned to the seven boys behind him. ‘We’re in, guys. Get your gear; we’ll sling our hammocks inside tonight.’

Shaw watched them march off. Old Rowe-Yens had been a pompous fool who never should have been made sergeant, let alone colonel. This guy may be his son, but he doesn’t look like his father at all. She shrugged. He’ll get a chance to prove himself.

‘Any ledger keepers here?’ she said, hurrying on to the next vacancy.

Two soberly clad individuals stepped forward, one male, the other female, and both in their twenties. Shaw gave a rueful grin. They won’t be youngsters. No kid would have mastered the art of keeping a merchant’s books. She looked at them; both dressed the same, both serious faces, and very much alike as they stood side by side.

‘Are you related?’ she asked on impulse.

‘No,’ the young man said, unperturbed. ‘Unless slaving for the same usurer means acquiring kinship. I’m Howwil and she’s Roza.’

‘We’ve been working side by side to each other for ten endless years,’ the young woman said. ‘Clerking and keeping books for Pomfrith Bankers of Sturgeon Street.’

Shaw had heard of Pomfrith, bankers of the very wealthy. If you were somebody, you did business with Pomfrith. ‘I know the name,’ she said.

‘You haven’t heard the latest? He’s dead,’ Howwil said.

‘Pomfrith?’ Shaw sat up straight. That must have spooked a lot of great people. Pomfrith knew much of many. ‘I hadn’t heard that.’

‘Last month,’ Roza said. ‘His heirs didn’t want the business, only the money. To their disappointment, once the customers’ deposits were returned, what remained was much less than they had expected.’

‘Pomfrith had many rich patrons and many rich vices,’ Howwil said. ‘These balanced, but it didn’t leave much. We settled with the clients, burned stacks of documents, tidied up the books, and were out of a job.’

‘But I’d think plenty of business houses would want to hire you?’ Shaw said.

‘I’m sure, but we’re not allowed to,’ Roza said with a thin smile. ‘Our contracts state we cannot accept a job with any Weal trading house for the next ten years.’

‘The joke being, there are no non-Weal trading houses,’ Howwil added.

‘But if the heirs won’t take over the business, then what use is that clause?’ Nate asked.

‘It is not the heirs,’ Roza said. ‘It’s a guild contract, to protect the customers.’

‘In short, we know too much,’ Howwil said.

‘Well,’ Shaw said. ‘The PTC is most definitely not a Weal trading house.’

‘That is what we hoped,’ Howwil said. ‘Nonetheless, we won’t discuss Pomfrith’s business, if you don’t mind.’

‘That’s all right with me,’ Shaw said. ‘I don’t think it had anything to do with us. Nate and I are starting up something we want to become as big as the MCTC. We have many trading contacts others haven’t and we can bring our customers unheard of luxuries. Would one of you mind moving to our main HQ in the Peaks? With the other here in Seatome, you could between you set up a system for all future business expansions, including a bank.’

‘The Peaks?’ Roza said. ‘You mean camping out? I’m not sure I could.’

Shaw laughed. ‘Certainly not! We’ve a grand place there. Only one thing you should keep in mind. We’re a young people’s show. Our flag captain is the oldest at 23. Can you handle that?’

Roza looked at Howwil. ‘I’m an old maid of 26, but I suppose I’ll cope. Why aren’t there any older people?’

‘I’ll explain our history later,’ Shaw said. ‘Everybody should hear it.’

‘All right, count me in,’ Howwil said. ‘Helping build a big trading company will be a challenge after Pomfrith’s eternal skullduggery.’

‘We’re straight,’ Shaw said. ‘Our boss is the disciple of Divine Bodrus, the Sleeping God. If there is one thing I know, it’s that a lot of gods and men are looking at us. We can’t afford anything dishonest.’

‘Good!’ Roza said. ‘I much prefer clean ledgers.’

‘They make our work easier,’ Howwil said.

‘What did Pomfrith pay you two?’ Shaw asked carefully.

‘One uni a day,’ Roza said. ‘Would that be too much for you?’

That’s thirty-seven libers per year; a lot of money. ‘We can match that,’ Shaw said. ‘We can raise it when things go well.’ She smiled at the two. ‘Welcome. Why don’t you have a look at the premises? It’s a mess, but we signed the lease only this morning.’

As the two clerks walked inside, Shaw rubbed her hands. Those guys are class! She glanced at Nate and gave him a thumb-up.

He winked back. ‘Ready for the salesguys?’

‘Yes!’ she said. There were eight candidates for five posts, three boys and five girls, dressed to kill and eager-eyed.

Now what? she thought. Then she chuckled. ‘Nate, get me eight different, but useless things from the stock.’

Nate ran, to return quickly with an armful of rubbish.

‘Great,’ Shaw said. ‘Put them away out of sight and set the candidates in a circle. Callogan, you look very much the ideal Gullible Customer. Take a seat in the circle. Oh, and may I have the loan of that impressive timepiece of yours?’ She grabbed one of the objects Nate had gathered and walked to the expectant candidates.

‘Folks, we only want the top sellers in town. Show me that’s you. I will hand you something from our stock. You get three minutes to sell it to our Gullible Customer. My partner Nate and I will judge your performance.’ She handed the object to an innocent-faced guy. ‘You’re first. You can start...’ She looked at Callogan’s fat timepiece. ‘NOW!’

The salesboy lifted the bottle of fish oil people used to burn in lamps and was almost impossible to sell in these days of gas lighting, and started a mighty convincing tale of its benefits in curing hair loss, itchy skin and other conflictions. It sounded wonderful, and Shaw made a mental note not to throw those bottles away just yet.

As the boy sat down, he looked at Shaw. ‘You know every word was true? My ma is a witch; she could give you even more arguments.’

Good, Shaw thought. That’s a plus.

The others all did well, and in the end Shaw chose five and wrote down the names of the other three in case they’d be expanding.

‘Now we have the people we wanted,’ Shaw said, feeling exhilarated.

‘Except for a manager,’ Nate said. He patted Callogan’s shoulder. ‘Great show. You did seem eager to buy those rotting fish-bomb tins.’

‘I would send them to the proctor at the Institute,’ Callogan said. ‘With a little extra, to have the whole lot explode right inside his foppish office. Splat-Bam! But I won’t, of course. Drat, I’m getting staid.’

‘Grown-up,’ Nate said. ‘That’s probably worse.’

As they walked through the second storeroom, they saw a tall, well-dressed fellow standing in the shadow of a lane of storage racks watching the workers scrub the blood away. He wasn’t a Vanhaari, or a Kell either; that left Chorwaynie. Shaw frowned. Darquine wouldn’t have sent a spy, would she? Nah, the proprietor knows she only has to ask and I’ll show her the whole place. All but the trade secrets.

‘Good day to you,’ she said quietly.

The boy, for he was still that, even if he was tall, spun around.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said. ‘I should have introduced myself, but you were so busy I thought to look over the warehouse first. Varan Lomillor, from Towne Fastness.’

He smiled. ‘My family is a competitor of the mighty MCTC, though there is no animosity between us and Darquine of Piright. Lomillor Enterprises is small, and my father plans to keep it that way. No sprawling trade empire for his three sons.’

‘How dull of him,’ Shaw said, grinning.

The boy signaled resignation. ‘We are a cautious family. My eldest brother is the heir and runs the Towne warehouse. My other brother is captain of our single merchant vessel, and I need to find my own way in the world.

‘So I came to Seatome, hoping for a golden opportunity. Alas, Seatome is not an adventuresome place, and I had almost given up, when the good port captain told me of you. The wyrmcaller setting up a trade empire? That intrigued me, and I came to see what was going on.’

He smiled. ‘I am agreeably surprised. You have a great location; a fine building and enough room to expand. There is a happy atmosphere and even those who weren’t hired left feeling you took them serious and appreciated. I wonder, are you up to strength now?’

Shaw looked up at him. He was a handsome chap, had she cared for that. He had easy good manners and seemed seriously interested. Only... could she trust him?

‘I’ll be blunt,’ she said. ‘I am looking for one more position to fill; we need a manager for this place. There are other affairs asking for my attention; we are starting up the old trade route through the Peaks, and I should be out breaking open new markets. I want a manager who is discreet, and loyal to us, to the Pasandir Trading Co., to the wyrmcaller and our new country. We have trade contacts no other merchant in the Weal knows about, and I want to keep it that way.’

‘Sounds intriguing,’ Varan said. ‘The Weal is more than ready for new merchandise.’

‘We have that,’ Shaw said. ‘For example a machine that makes ice, and icy cold rooms where you can keep products frozen for months.’

‘I could sell a thing like that,’ Varan said with raised eyebrows. ‘I could sell a lot of them.’

‘We cannot make a lot of them yet,’ Shaw said. ‘We’re working on it, though.’

‘Then we must set up a production line. I should need to see your engineers.’

‘You should visit our Smalkand warehouse. Besides the ice machines, our engineers work on a portal prototype, to quicken delivery, but I don’t know how far they are.’

Varan stared at Shaw. ‘What are you saying? That is the Weal’s biggest secret!’

‘We found several of the Weal’s greatest secrets had been discovered somewhere else as well,’ Nate said.

Varan looked flushed now. ‘I want to be in on that. And you bet I’ll keep it a secret! Gods, we’d blow MCTC out of the water with a few of those things!’

‘All right,’ Shaw said, happy with his eagerness. ‘You’re hired. There is one more thing, and that goes for all personnel. Our mindmages must give you a clean bill. We’re at war and we need to make sure every one of you is who they say they are and not a jinni.’

‘I have no secrets,’ Varan said. ‘I assume they’ll be discreet.’

Shaw thought of Tymon and chuckled. ‘Absolutely.’ She rubbed her hands. ‘We’re expecting a ship. Marigold brings a load of exclusive printed fabrics, fine hand-painted porcelain, spices and other valuables. And now I remember I still have some hands to find for her.’

‘How many?’ Varan asked.

‘They’re sailing her with a skeleton crew,’ Nate said. ‘We’re always short on sailors.’

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