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Jethri’s next morning was full, the late hour of his arrival back at Elthoria translating into the necessity of apologetically answering via in-ship mail two celebratory invitations for the previous evening from interested bed partners, and then following up with a ship-side breakfast, where he believed that his mother and his master trader was not only well-pleased, but actually relieved to have news of Trader pen’Akla’s whereabouts. Their plans for the day, made rather tipsily last evening, met with her enthusiastic approval.

“Surely such a day on-port will benefit both traders, and improve the partnership. Merely, I ask that your plans include your arrival at Balent’i Chernubianda at the local time thirteen bells. I have bespoken a table. You and Trader pen’Akla will do me the honor of being among my guests.”

“The Galaxy of Desserts?”

Jethri raised an eyebrow. His mother bestowed upon him a gaze of wide delight. He held his breath.

“Your command of the Liaden language continues to impress, my son. Precisely the Galaxy of Desserts. I, who have been here previously as you have not, attest to the excellence of their desserts, as befits a bakery that grew into a Trade Bar.” She paused to sip her tea before continuing, meditatively.

“Frenol has a tradition, I believe. Practical Al’s began as a hardware shop, am I correct?”

Jethri didn’t bite his lip. Not quite.

“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured, as properly serious as he knew how. “Practical Al’s Hardware and Supply.”

“Indeed. A tradition.” She put her cup aside.

“You should know, I think, that I have enjoyed our several recent conversations involving the upcoming trading season in the deep arm. You have given me much to think upon.” She moved a hand. “But, there, you have plans! Go and fulfill them all! And do not fail to bring Trader pen’Akla with you to my table at the thirteenth bell.”

* * *

By the time Jethri relayed the master trader’s gracious invitation to Tan Sim, he’d thought it over five ways by fifty, as Uncle Paitor might have had it, and could see nothing but the signs of some secret agenda…which he also reported to his partner.

“She is no doubt up to something, my friend,” he confessed, as they entered the textile hall. “And ahead of us, too, whatever it is!”

Tan Sim accorded him a small bow.

“If not actual mischief—which we must suppose it is not—then we may recall that she is a master trader. Therefore, I assume with you, my Jeth Ree, that she is up to something, and it is our sweet duty to be amazed by what she will reveal.” He glanced up at Jethri, eyes glinting. “All will be made known in a few hours, and so our choice is clear. Do we spend those hours in a quake over what our parts may be in the master trader’s plan? Or do we gird ourselves and do the proper work of traders on port?”

“Phrased thus,” Jethri murmured, “the choice is clear. Onward!”

* * *

The trading on the day was gratifying to both. Though they returned to the topic of the master trader’s intentions several times, they had reached no conclusions by the time they checked their persons for presentability as they risked not-quite making the appointment on time.

The lack of a line at the entrance to the Galaxy of Desserts was the only thing between their being tardy and on time—it also helped that Master Trader ven’Deelin had achieved a private room on the first floor. They were escorted to the door, finding a server with floating tea cart barely ahead of them.

Jethri slid smoothly between door and cart, Tan Sim a half-step behind, going right as Jethri went left, in order to allow service to arrive.

“Our thanks,” Master ven’Deelin said to the server who hesitated upon the threshold. “Please place the tray at table center. We shall do very well for ourselves.”

“Ma’am.” The server bowed, floated the tray forward and made the transfer.

“The main meal will arrive on the half-bell,” she murmured, “unless there are new instructions.”

“Again, my thanks, but no. Allow the meal to arrive on the half-bell. These our colleagues have been at the markets all day, and will be wishful of their dinners.”

“Ma’am.” The server bowed again and departed with the empty tray. The door closed behind her.

Standing quietly out of the way, Jethri had been admiring the quiet elegance of the room, so different from last evening’s venue. There would be no extraneous sounds here, nor eager ears hoping to capture secrets.

“Now, did I not say, Rantel, that they would be with us, at precisely thirteen bells?” Master Trader ven’Deelin turned to the gentle sitting at her right hand, and Jethri recognized Master Trader Rantel pin’Aker Clan Midys, his dark brown hair shining in the room’s lights, the lines on his pleasant face giving evidence that he was senior in age as well as in rank.

“They are struck speechless,” Master pin’Aker observed gently.

Jethri felt his face heat even as he belatedly bowed respect to the masters. From the side of his eye, he saw Tan Sim perform a similar courtesy. When they had straightened, Tan Sim spoke, with a lightness that perfectly played off of Master pin’Aker’s remark.

“But who would not be speechless in the presence of two such luminaries of trade?” he asked. “Master ven’Deelin, I am honored to be made a part of your arrangements. Master pin’Aker, I had hardly dared hope for another meeting so soon after our last.”

It being Jethri’s turn, he placed his hand over his heart, producing an effect of wide-eyed candor. “In my case, ma’am, I was speechless in truth, having run the length of the station when the time took me unaware.”

“Well.” Master ven’Deelin looked to the other master. “Rantel, what ought we to do with these scamps?”

“Surely, we ought to feed them,” Master pin’Aker said. “To confess to having run the length of the station! That is no inconsiderable effort, Norn.”

“Now, that is very true.” Master Trader ven’Deelin reached for the teapot. “Sit. Sit, both! And have your tea. Trader pen’Akla, by me, if you will. Jethri, my son, allow my good friend Rantel to support you.”

Thus the tea was poured, and sampled, as Jethri considered the melant’i of the meeting. The masters had set the tone as casual, therefore, it was not a business meeting, nor was it merely a meeting of associates. Which only left a dozen or so other things it might be, melant’i being what it was.

Jethri’s own melant’i was stretched in odd ways, here, he realized. Master ven’Deelin being the host, he was at present her son and potentially her second. However, he was in an equal partnership with Tan Sim, whose practical experience far surpassed his own, but who cruelly lacked funding, which Jethri could supply—and none of that even began to factor in the presence of Master pin’Aker, Master ven’Deelin’s old friend, assuredly, but also an ally in who knew what schemes of trade or politics?

It was enough to make a Trader’s head ache.

Happily for his head, and possibly his melant’i, the masters took the conversational lead during the meal. The exigencies of travel each had overcome in order to raise Frenol at the appropriate time got them through the opening tea. During the meal, they chose to draw their juniors out about their day in the markets. Not that they inquired after the various trade opportunities they had encountered; that would have been too much like business. Rather, they asked about the people they had seen, the look of the station, and in particular, so it seemed to Jethri, the fashions.

And so it was about the fashions that he spoke, when there came a lull in the conversation that was not, he judged, wholly about giving the dessert its due.

“Do you think, sir, that the Seybol fashions will find favor on Frenol, when they arrive?”

Jethri bowed slightly to Barskalee’s trader, offering him the conversational lead, if he wished it.

The trader did not lift his eyes from his dessert plate, which held one last bite.

“Indulge me, Trader. I fear that question hovers on the edge of business, and first I must decide if I am going to attempt to bribe the chef for this recipe.” He forked the last bit into his mouth, and sighed. “Is it not fine?”

“It is, indeed,” Master Trader ven’Deelin agreed. “Perhaps you will accept me as a partner in the matter of the bribe? I assure you, for this, I will go deep into my reserves!”

They all laughed lightly, and the juniors, understanding that the masters were ready to move into the meat of the evening, exchanged a politely bland glance that neither had the slightest difficulty interpreting as abject panic.

The sad empty dessert plates were cleared, and the tray arrived again, this time bearing several bottles of wine Jethri recognized as being from Elthoria’s own cellar.

“Excellent,” Master ven’Deelin murmured. “There is no need to attend us while we tarry over the wine. We will call, should there be need.”

The server bowed and departed. The door closed, and Jethri took a deep, quiet breath.

“Rantel, will you pour?” Master Trader ven’Deelin asked. “The sto’Helit first.”

“Of course.” The master trader rose and approached the wine tray. There came the sharp pop of a cork being drawn, the clink of glass against glass. He served Master Trader ven’Deelin first, then Jethri, which, he reminded himself, was not an error, since the second in precedence was in charge of the pour, then Tan Sim, and carried his glass with him back to the table.

“The sto’Helit,” he murmured, lifting the glass and turning it so that the pale liquid shimmered against the light. “How many are left?”

“Only six now in the cellar. I hoped to recall us to happy endings, rather than bad beginnings.”

“And yet we could not have achieved the second, had we not had the first.” Master pin’Aker murmured.

“Very true.”

Master ven’Deelin raised her glass, glancing round the table.

Jethri obediently lifted his glass, and Tan Sim his.

“I suggest that we drink, then, to unlikely beginnings and triumphant results.”

They touched glasses, all, and drank to the sentiment. It was a quiet wine, the sto’Helit. Jethri savored it, paying attention to what his taste buds were telling him. A fine wine, light, and slightly acerbic. He would know it again.

He held onto his glass a moment longer, but it appeared that Master pin’Aker would not be capping the toast, verifying that they had, in fact, crossed the threshold from pleasure into business.

Master Trader ven’Deelin placed her glass gently on the table, and allowed herself to leisurely consider the two junior members of the party.

“I am pleased to hear that your day on-port was both profitable and pleasant,” she said. “Truly is it said that successful trade is one fourth marketing, one fourth skill, and one half connections.

“You will be gratified to know that Master pin’Aker and I have also spent a fruitful day together.” She inclined her head in what was clearly a cue to the other master.

“Indeed. A day spent with my good friend Norn is always a fine one—how could it be otherwise?” He tipped his glass to her gallantly, before turning his attention upon the breath-caught juniors.

“The theme of our day was the care of trade, which it often is, when masters meet. And so we come to you, Traders.” He sipped and smiled before murmuring again, as if it were a refrain in a favorite song.

“And so we come to you.”

“I believe we shall come first to Trader ven’Deelin,” he said, setting his glass down with a flourish. He held his hand, palm up, toward Jethri.

“I wish to inspect your trade ring, sir.”

Jethri felt a chill, but he flattered himself that he allowed none of the alarm he felt to reach his face. Carefully, he had the ring off, and gently placed it on Master pin’Aker’s palm. Golden fingers folded over the token, hiding it from sight. Jethri put his hands together on the tabletop, and tried to give the impression that he did not feel entirely naked.


Master pin’Aker raised his hand, showing what he held between thumb and forefinger: a silver ring with three channels at the head, each holding a baguette cut stone. Neither the ring nor the stones were costly, nor even new. Yet, they were worth the whole of Jethri’s future, representing his journey from ’prentice to full trader. The ring was designed so that the stones were replaceable. It had come to him with each channel holding a stone of crystal-clear quartz, which had been placed by Master ven’Deelin, each representing a port at which he had participated in trade. The next stones were topaz, signifying the manner of his trading, and the next after those garnet, which spoke to his acumen. From garnet, the stones progressed to amethyst, which referenced such traderly virtues as boldness, subtlety, and creativity.

“I see here,” Master pin’Aker said to the table at large. “One topaz and two garnet. Do you see them, also, Norn?”

Trader ven’Deelin admitted that she did, indeed, see two garnet and one topaz. Jethri breathed deep, riding down his rising temper. It wasn’t as if he were the sole judge of when to replace a stone, after all! There were the guild rules to guide him, and his own master trader to inform him of any oversteps.

No, he told himself, look at the two of them! He thought Master ven’Deelin was up to something, and Tan Sim had agreed—only Master pin’Aker was in on it, too.

“Trader ven’Deelin,” Master pin’Aker turned back to him. “How do you explain this ring?”

Jethri spread his hands.

“Master, how else could I explain it, except to say that it maps my progress from ’prentice to full trader. I have taken part in trade on at least three ports, my style of trade has become refined to that level of—”

“Bah!” Master pin’Aker waved his unencumbered hand at Jethri, who took that as an order to desist, and turned again to Master ven’Deelin.

“I wonder, Norn, if you have heard the full tale of this trader’s endeavors at Tradedesk?”

Master Trader ven’Deelin spread her hands.

“I have had a report from Trader Jethri himself, as he attended the event at Tradedesk as Elthoria’s representative. In that, he was successful, having brought back with him several interesting contacts. The trader tells me that he became involved in a public challenge, and felt he had acquitted himself well there. Understand, my friend, Trader Jethri makes a habit of glossing his successes, possibly because he does not wish to put the rest of us to the blush. I believe, though this, I confess, is my own conjecture, rather than something I was told, that he was made a graceful welcome…”

Jethri felt his cheeks warm, for in fact he had enjoyed several graceful welcomes, the most demonstrative by Samay pin’Aker, the master’s niece. Grandma Ricky had made him welcome, too, in her way, and a number of his useful new contacts were due to her kind attention to a fledgling trader.

Master ven’Deelin had stopped speaking and Master pin’Aker was silent, Jethri realized suddenly. Possibly he was waiting for her to tell him more of Tradedesk, but she merely lifted her glass and sipped the sto’Helit.

“I see how it is,” Trader pin’Aker said, when she had put the glass aside once more. “You do not have the whole of it. In fact, this scamp of a Trader Jethri has withheld information from you. Well! You shall no longer reside in ignorance, for I will tell all!”


Jethri dared a glance at Tan Sim, who was wearing his blandest face, by which Jethri deduced that his partner was as dismayed and puzzled as he was himself. That, Jethri decided, was not reassuring.

Master pin’Aker had paused to refresh himself from his glass. After a moment, Jethri did the same. Whatever came of this discussion of all, it would not do to let so pleasing a vintage go unappreciated.

“Understand, Norn, that Tradedesk is a concept in process, born from a background rich in tradition, and a philosophy that allows traders to be peers. This philosophy makes Tradedesk an uniquity, for it aspires to be neither a Terran station nor a Liaden station, but a trade station.”

He paused, and accorded Master ven’Deelin a seated bow.

“I know that this will resonate with you, for you have undertaken a similar project.”

Master ven’Deelin making no reply to this—provocation, was it? Jethri wondered—he continued.

“Into this ongoing project born of long history, then, arrives Trader Jethri Gobelyn ven’Deelin. But, does he merely arrive, on tradeship, charter ship, or shuttle? Not he! Trader ven’Deelin is pleased to arrive aboard a Scout ship! Further, in a Scout ship which has the honor to list him as pilot-in-charge, with the redoubtable ter’Astin relegated to copilot!”

He held up a hand, though no one of his audience had any idea of interrupting, so far as Jethri could see.

“There is more,” he said, shifting mode abruptly, and continuing as one speaking in utmost confidence. “The philosophies that govern Tradedesk are not alone in being a work in process. The station itself is yet somewhat under construction, and it was near to beginning the transition to its new and permanent orbit, though Carresens’ flagship was not yet fully mated for that move. To phrase it as poetically as possible, the station dances with the winds of space, only a very, very little.”

He paused. Jethri was beginning to think that Master pin’Aker was enjoying himself.

“This situation with an unstable dock, it is one which might well give a Scout pause. Not so the pilot-in-charge of Keravath, bold Trader ven’Deelin, who live docks with nary a fumble.”

Master ven’Deelin drew a breath, and gazed at Jethri with wondering eyes.

“The Scout allowed me a few lessons at the board to lighten our travel,” she said with a strong air of quoting someone.

Actually, as Jethri knew, she was quoting him. It had been Scout ter’Astin’s whim to make him into a pilot and as such had seemed as off-topic in his report to the master trader as it had seemed in his life.

Still, he had docked at Tradedesk, and…

“I did note that Scout ter’Astin had awarded me a provisional Third Class, did I not, Mother?” That was slightly risky, in melant’i terms, but she allowed it.

“You did, my son; I recall it well. In fact, it was that admission which earned you piloting lessons on our own control deck. However, the difference between piloting lessons, and live docking amid construction, is, forgive me, considerable.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said meekly, as one receiving instruction.

“Hah,” said Master pin’Aker, taking up his tale again. “Allow me to inform you, Norn, that the trader’s piloting lessons gained him attention at Tradedesk, notably from Wynhael, which produced its usual examples of misconstrued melant’i, while Keravath glides smoothly into dock, its pilot bearing both a Terran and a Liaden name, an elegant bow to the philosophies which formed the station and the conference.”

Master pin’Aker paused for a sip, and the rest of the table followed suit. Tan Sim rose and stepped away, returning with the sto’Helit bottle, from which he refreshed their glasses.

“For myself, I was unfamiliar with Gobelyn, though I have since repaired my ignorance—but ven’Deelin? There was a name well-known to me. I directed my assistant—you recall Samay, Norn—to find who was this pilot-in-charge.”

“Samay also became curious, having heard some talk here and there of a new ven’Deelin, and so, I gather, arranged to meet him. I ask not how, but meet him, she did, and found him well enough.”

Jethri recalled Samay’s contrived meeting at Keravath’s lock, and thought he would like to talk with her again.

“When it came time for the traditional Trade-Off to occur—it is a charity event to fund various trade and spacer-in-distress accounts—Samay and Trader Jethri were called upon to stand as arbitrators, being new blood so to speak, and pleasant enough to look at. They did well in their roles, for all that they knew nothing of the tradition, and all present were pleased. Then came the main event, in which a trader is called at random to stand before the room, and raise money for the charities by trading—whatever they may.

“Understand, this is rarely the surprise it is made to seem, unless random event favors a call to one who is new to the traditions. Such was Trader ven’Deelin, who had been played very nicely by Doricky DeNobli—what a pleasure it is to watch her work!

“Up Trader ven’Deelin went, onto the stage, wearing his fine coat, and this ring.”

He held Jethri’s ring up for all to see.

“This honest trader’s ring he wore—and another, that one might wonder to find on the hand of a honest trader, or, indeed, anyone! A Triluxian shank finished with a firegem.”

Master ven’Deelin gave a soft laugh. She reached across the table, and patted Jethri’s hand.

“Go on, Rantel,” she said.

“Certainly, I will go on! For I must tell you—with that piece of trumpery he ensorcelled a room of experienced traders, travelers, and merchants. For a moment, I thought Trader Auely might buy it from kindness to a new colleague, and to see the fund increased. One hundred bits, he called, and I thought the thing settled. Freely do I admit my error, for it had only just begun.

“Who should come to stand in the front lines, but our so-open and secretive rogue, Uncle—yes, well, you may stare! Down the room came the Uncle, I was there; I saw it with my own eyes—indeed, I could not look away, nor could any other in the room! He asks and is given leave to examine this ring—Triluxian, recall it, and a firegem! Inspection made, he doubles Trader Auely’s bid.”

Trader pin’Aker sighed, and sipped his wine, absently turning Jethri’s trade ring in his fingers.

“Well. It was a bidding war, for all it was quick, Auely called in Sabemis, she called in some others, but the Uncle grew tired of the game, and closed it. One cantra, four hundred bits for the ring. For Trader Jethri, in a side deal, there came a request for a breakfast meeting, and a prepaid consultation fee for one Standard hour.”

There was silence, as if they all had need of catching their breaths. It had been a performance on Master Trader pin’Aker’s side, Jethri thought. A performance the like of which had been celebrated at Tradedesk in the name of the great trader, and given what Grandma Ricky had not said, even greater rogue, Sternako.

Master ven’Deelin cleared her throat.

“It sounds a very triumph.”

“A triumph,” Master Trader pin’Aker repeated. “Yes, a triumph. Achieved by the trader who wore this!” He held Jethri’s trade ring high. “How do you account for that, Master Norn?”

She raised her eyebrows.

“Jethri has his skills,” she said mildly.

Master pin’Aker bent a stern gaze upon her. “Two garnets and a topaz. Do you agree with this, Master Trader?”

“Rantel, the child is my apprentice, and my son. We discussed each change of status as it was made, and if I thought him conservative, that is no fault in a young trader; nor did it approach deceit.”

“In fact, an honest advantage. Yes, I have read Trader Jethri’s records on file, and agree that more young traders ought embrace conservative action. Yet I sense that you are not astonished by this report that I make to you.”

“Not at all. I had always believed Jethri capable of greatness, even to the large amethyst.” She moved her hand subtly, calling attention to her own amethyst, worn only by Guild approved masters of trade.

“And that sooner rather than later, now that this Envidaria has been loosed upon us,” Master pin’Aker murmured, gazing at her. “Will you or shall I?”

“Jethri is my son,” Master ven’Deelin repeated calmly.

“So, so. It is plain. An objective master must address this pleasant understatement of melant’i. In addition, I adjure the young trader to be less modest in future and give to himself the same generosity he offers to his associates.”

He fixed Jethri with a stern eye.

“Yes, Master pin’Aker,” he murmured. He took a breath and added, as softly as he might, junior trader to master. “May I reclaim my ring, sir?”

“In good time, Trader. First, there is a lesson in how to count.”

He placed the ring on the table, reached into the public pocket of his trade coat and brought out a small tapestry pouch, which he opened, spilling its contents to the table by the ring. Baguettes: yellow, red, purple, and crystal clear glittered in under soft room lights.

“So,” said Master pin’Aker, picking up Jethri’s ring once more. “Two garnet and a topaz. Recall that I have read your Guild records. Recall, also, that those records show that you are in a business partnership with a full trader, not as the junior partner, but an equal! That fact is not reflected here—” He thrust the ring toward Jethri—“here in the public record of your accomplishments!”

He withdrew his hand, fingers curled, and bent his head, as if recruiting himself to patience. A moment passed…two…three.

With a gentle sigh, Master pin’Aker raised his head and met Jethri’s eyes.

“We will rectify this,” he said quietly. “Attend me, Trader.”

Deftly, he removed the final topaz from Jethri’s ring, and put in its place a garnet.

Jethri took a deep breath. Well, now he was schooled, and three garnets was no bad thing to wear.

“My thanks,” he began, but Master pin’Aker showed him a palm.

“Be at peace, Trader, the lesson is only begun.”

Jethri swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

“Indeed. So, three garnets. You will say to yourself that this is no bad thing. Junior traders some years your senior wear three garnets and achieve good trading. However, of all the circumstances that might influence the colors shown on a trader’s ring, age is not one of them.

“We therefore allow ourselves a moment to honor the garnets.”

He showed the ring on his open palm around the table. Master ven’Deelin and Tan Sim both inclined their heads, as if greeting a colleague on-port.

“So,” Master pin’Aker said. “We continue with the rectification.”

He removed a garnet, and replaced it with an amethyst.

“This for the totality of your performance at Tradedesk. I include here your role with my niece as arbitrators of nonsense, your triumph with the Triluxian ring, and your other triumph with Grandma Ricky, who will treasure that earring, young Trader, mark me well, and the tales she will tell of your time together will do you no ill at all.”

Jethri inclined his head, but said nothing. Master Trader pin’Aker smiled at him, and replaced another garnet with an amethyst.

“The Envidaria—its pursuit, capture, and the manner of its distribution, which reflects the philosophies we find at Tradedesk. These actions, performed by one who holds a ten-year Combine key, make a forceful statement, which any trader—Liaden or Terran as they might be—ignores at their very great peril.”

He paused, holding the ring high so that entire table might admire it: two amethyst and a garnet. Jethri felt a little gone in the head, and raised his glass for a careful sip of wine.

“So.” Master Trader pin’Aker placed the ring on the table by the sparkling pool of stones, and turned aside.

“Trader pen’Akla.”

Tan Sim inclined his head. “Sir.”

“You will be interested to know that our negotiations with Rinork progressed swiftly and smoothly. Our qe’andra was pleased to offer us an analysis, but you and I need go no further than to understand that Genchi and your contract were acquired as a package by Clan Midys, and we may now set about rectifying several regrettable errors.”

Though Jethri would have said that he had been perfectly at ease, Tan Sim visibly relaxed. It was a startling breach of etiquette, Jethri thought, horrified on his friend’s behalf. Then, he thought again, realizing that Tan Sim felt himself in trusted company, that he dared reveal so much.

“My thanks, Master Trader,” Tan Sim whispered.

“Yes, by all means let us understand that you have said everything that is proper. Now, Trader, attend me, for with success comes change. I propose to bring you aboard Barskalee as associate trader. You will trade for the ship, and also for yourself, as you are already in partnership. Barskalee will grant you a mounted pod—two!—but these are mere details, which you and I will discuss in depth tomorrow, before the contracts are drawn up, unless you disagree in principle, tonight.”

“I have questions,” Tan Sim said quietly.

“Of course you do,” Master Trader pin’Aker said fondly. “Ask.”

“Yes, sir. I wonder if associate trader might be, in fact, junior trader?”

Master pin’Aker blinked. He turned to Master ven’Deelin.

“Do you mark Infreya’s hand just there, Norn?”

“I do, and seeing it I say, Rantel, that the trader does due diligence, and seeks to protect himself.”

“So he does, and so would I do.” He turned back to Tan Sim, who had been sitting outwardly calm, except, Jethri thought, that his lips were pressed just too tightly together.

“Trader, I guarantee that you will have all the range and more that you enjoyed on Genchi. I intend for you to work for yourself, as well as for Barskalee. You will accept training, to learn what Barskalee can do, and so that you may assist me in understanding how ships such as Genchi and her sisters may best support Barskalee as Rostov’s Dust approaches and possibly engulfs many of our usual routes. It would not be appropriate to offer junior trader for the expertise these duties will require, thus I offer associate trader.” He paused. “I expect that you and your partner will wish to discuss your necessities in detail, so that we may write a balanced contract. A balanced contract is my goal, I assure you, as I assured Master ven’Deelin this noon, when we discussed the matter.” Another pause. “I hope this makes the matter clear to you, Trader.”

Tan Sim inclined his head.

“Master Trader, it does.”

“So. Have you other questions, Trader?”

“Master, I do. It heartens me that you speak of Genchi’s role in assisting Barskalee through the arrival of the Dust. Allow me to represent her to you as an able ship. She is in need of upgrades, but her heart is large. You speak of bringing me to Barskalee, and gladly will I learn all that she can teach me, but GenchiGenchi needs a trader worthy of her, sir. A bold trader, if I may say it, and creative, who will honor her for what she is, and know how best to build upon her worth.”

Master pin’Aker glanced to Master ven’Deelin, and Jethri saw some communication pass between them, though he was not privy to the code shared by two old friends.

“We are in complete agreement, Trader, and may I say that your vehemence has reminded me of a task which I have left undone.”

Once more, he took Jethri’s ring in hand, deftly replacing the last garnet with an amethyst.

“With his master’s agreement,” he said, his eyes on the stones, “Trader ven’Deelin will stand as Genchi’s lead trader.”

“I agree,” Master ven’Deelin murmured, and gave Jethri what he knew for her true-smile. “Ge’shada, my son. This is a coup.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Jethri managed, and offered his hand to Tan Sim.

“I’ll take care of her,” he said.

“I know it,” Tan Sim said, his grip hard and earnest. There were tears in his eyes, though he smiled. “Jeth Ree. You will be going to the South Axis Congress, after all!”

“Where better to send a man fully vested in the Liaden Trade Guild, who holds a ten-year Combine key, and who has also delivered the Envidaria to all trade-kind?” Master pin’Aker said gaily. He raised a finger.

“Now, Trader Jethri, attend me. As the master who has reviewed the record of your accomplishments, and witnessed you at trade, it is my honor to contact the Guild on your behalf. You should shortly receive from them an acknowledgment, listing your license number and codes, as well your responsibilities and privileges. Eventually, when you are on a port with a Guild office, you may claim your license card, but that is a formality. Have you questions?”

Jethri drew a careful breath.

“Not at the moment, I believe, Master. Thank you for…teaching me how to count. I will strive to be more accurate, in future.”

“Excellent. Here, now, Trader—your ring.”

Jethri blinked, and into that small hesitation leaned Master ven’Deelin, plucking the ring from Master pin’Aker’s fingers.

“Allow me,” she murmured. “Your hand, child.”

Jethri blinked again, scrambling for his scattered wits—barely an hour it had taken them to upend his life and Tan Sim’s, he thought rather wildly. Truly were the masters of trade said to be forces in the universe!

“Jethri?” Master ven’Deelin murmured.

He managed to extend his hand. The correct hand. She steadied it with hers, and slipped his ring onto the proper finger. When it was done, she paused a moment, his hand pressed between both of hers and she gazed full into his face.

“This is not the first time I have been proud on your behalf, my son, nor do I think it will be the last. You are, indeed, a marvel.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said then, feeling tears rising to his eyes. “For all that you have done for me.”

“Silver-tongue,” she murmured, and withdrew her hand.

“So!” Master pin’Aker said. “Tomorrow will be a full day for all of us. I suggest that we synchronize our schedules. Then, if my friend Norn is willing, I will open my bottle so that we may drink to the ascension of traders and the opportunities that await!”

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