Departure, part four

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Arthur smiled when he saw Harbend enter the dining cottage. This very cottage had become something of a daily refuge to Arthur.

He was still unused to taking part in his own business, but hopefully he was learning fast enough. Now he had to take care of the unpleasant business with Harbend as well, but Arthur had laid his plans carefully, and he'd caught Harbend in a trap. There would be protests, no doubts about that, but eventually the result would be what Arthur wanted.

"I hope you don't mind my ordering the courses," Arthur said as Harbend took his seat.

"Not at all," Harbend answered frowning.

Arthur suspected Harbend couldn't have cared less about the courses ordered, but an outworlder client being able to communicate anything that complex was reason to be worried, and Arthur needed Harbend to be off balance for the entire dinner. When the servant arrived to make sure both guests were ready Arthur spoke before Harbend had a chance.

"We would like to start with the cold dishes and a bottle of your best white wine," Arthur said in De Vhatic owing more to rehearsal than any real understanding.

The servant replied and Arthur waved her away. He hadn't grasped more than one single word of the reply, but Harbend didn't know that.

Arthur faced Harbend again. "Now, I think we should converse in English. My grasp of De Vhatic is basic at best." He savored the stunned silence that followed.

The dinner continued much in the same way with Arthur placing increasingly specific orders in De Vhatic, and during the courses they shared pleasantries with each other, both men carefully avoiding the topic they wanted to touch.

When at last a bottle of strong, sweet wine arrived together with chilled fruit and cheese they were both ready to breach the subject they had been thinking about all the time. Arthur allowed Harbend to open the real conversation. Counter strikes would be more effective than going on the offensive from the beginning.

"About the financing of the caravan. I have made all the preparations, and we need to be off in a couple of days." He waited for Arthur to say anything, but Arthur declined the offer. "There is still the matter of buying the real cargo as well as the means to carry the load. Not to mention hiring the escort."

"Ah, yes?"

"Eh, my resources are currently sadly lacking, and if you could join into the investment as previously agreed..."

Perfect! As Arthur had been informed Harbend was close to bankruptcy and now needed the money to proceed.

"That shouldn't pose any difficulties. As you understand I'll need to oversee the handling of my investment."

Harbend frowned slightly. "I fail to see any problems with that," he agreed carefully.

"Great. Then we're still in agreement. I'll make the money available for you before we leave."

The relief Harbend expressed was so great Arthur almost felt sorry for him.

"Wonderful! The core wagon train should be on the road in three days..." Harbend ground to a halt, understanding dawning in his face. "We? You cannot come! You have a sky ship home to catch within eightdays. The caravan will be on the roads for seasons."

Arthur decided to end the feinting there and then. "I'll not go back home without my money. If it stays, I stay where it is. I've deposited almost all of it with the de Felder money traders." Color rose in Harbend's face, but the merchant was a defeated man.

"It would take you several days to get your personal gear, and that will be too great a delay," Harbend said grasping desperately for a way out.

"My personal gear is already stored away. You may inspect it if you like, but I doubt that you'll find anything wrong with it." So easy, delivering the coup de grace. Harbend deflated in front of him. Then, slowly as if remembering something, Harbend started to grin.

"Why not, just one more tradition smashed to splinters. You are welcome to join the ride, partner." He laughed, more to himself than for Arthur's benefit. "But how did you know where to buy equipment for the road..." A startled expression grew in his face and he glared at Arthur with something like amused respect glimmering in his eyes. "You... you... you ill begotten son of nameless parents! It was you who had me followed!"

Arthur merely smiled and raised his glass in acknowledgment. Harbend laughed in response and filled his own.

"This should be very, very interesting," he said, still laughing. "You have to tell me how you did it. You have wrought more changes to us than any other outworlder trader I know of. Gods! More than all of them together."

Arthur sipped his wine, almost as sweet as the taste of victory.

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