Chapter Three

The governor's palace faced the harbour, in accordance with the importance of that installation. At the back a wide meeting-place was located, delimited at the other side by the unconquered wall section.

When Khiray went round the palace he noticed what Brokvorth the Wolf had mentioned. At the backside of the building a wooden frame had been erected, directly below the balcony from which the governors held their speeches. Five corpses were hanging from the structure.

That was Perlish and his gang? Khiray recognized none of the Furrys. The ravens had begun to do their work. The execution seemed to have taken place several days ago; it was time to bury the hanged. They started to issue a foul, penetrant stench. Khiray wrinkled his nose, due to the ugly sight and smell as well as to the fact of the execution itself. Perlish had been notorious, an outcast and robber. But in the time of old Chinnap he only had to expect the dungeons.

Khiray had the unpleasant feeling that governor Galbren was not as much interested in justice as in an obvious sign. A threat.

Shaking his head, he followed the others to the gate in the wall. No one but him had stopped at the gallows even for a second. The citizens seemed to have become accustomed to the hanging felons.

Beyond the gate the day-labourers' quarter began. The huts here looked poor, and probably one would sink into the mud over both paws if it had rained. Nevertheless a row of beautiful oaks formed an avenue up to the gate. Even here the Furryfolk had its pride.

Children had climbed into the trees to evade the pushing people. Khiray could not see through the crowd of Furrys at first. The strangers who walked the street to the gate were surrounded by gapers.

Khiray stopped and waited. Some minutes passed until the crowd reached him. Automatically he put a hand on his money pouch: where many Furrys were, there were many thieves. Fleetingly he mused what Galbren's punishment for a pickpocket might be. Cutting off a hand, like they used to do many hundred years before?

Then he forgot his thoughts and his pouch too, almost. The crowd parted around him, an he got a look at the strangers.

Strangers? Yes, and even more exotic than he had expected. They weren't only wanderers from some other city. They were no bears, only seldom seen in any town. They were not even Oo'men. Khiray had no name for the strangers.

They had the upper body of Foxes. Down to the waist they resembled Khiray's own race, even if the ears were maybe a little bigger and the breasts of the females more... pronounced. They had more hair on the head, too, almost like the Oo'men; fair and curled in an interesting contrast to the fiery red to reddish golden fur. But from the waist down... They had four legs. The whole lower body seemed to belong to an animal fox, only much bigger to fit the rest of the anatomy.

Khiray studied the strangers, confused. Four legs and two arms... six limbs? Whatever god had created those beings, they had to have a strange sense of humor. The upper body sat in a place where the neck of the lower body should have been. Both halves formed a curious right angle.

"Foxtaurs", somebody at his side said. Khiray looked and saw Brokvorth, leaning on a staff.

"Do you know the strangers?"

The old Wolf nodded. "They are not here for the first time, even if most people would not remember them. Every fifteen, twenty years they come to the town. They sell their goods and buy herbs and medicine they cannot make themselves. Then they disappear again."

"Where do they come from?" Khiray turned his gaze again towards the strangers -- the Foxtaurs. He saw now that the odd combination was not as dumb as he had thought. While the chest was narrow with real foxes, the Foxtaurs had broad chests and strong front legs in their lower bodies. Of course, they had to carry more than a little head. This anatomical detail made the joint look much more harmonious.

"From beyond the mountains, they say", Brokvorth answered. "No Furry has ever been there. Some tried, no one ever returned. Only the Foxtaurs know the ways."

Khiray nodded. Although the biggest of the strangers stood only to his chin, every one of them, even the smallest Foxtaur, was more massive than him. The double body added much weight to their shape.

Not that one of them looked fat or portly. All were muscular, but at the same time lean and wiry. Elegant, in a way difficult to grasp for Khiray's mind.

Six strangers had come to Sookandil, two of them female. Every one of them carried a frame of straps on his or her lower body, with bags attached to it. Although they were loaded heavily, they moved with grace, almost like dancers. Khiray surprised himself with the though that they were beautiful. In some other way than the Furrys he knew, but beautiful nevertheless.

The Foxtaurs seemed a little nervous, as if they were not accustomed to such crowds of Furrys. They threw glances right and left, although the Furryfolk kept their respectful distance.

Khiray followed them through the gate. Then he stopped, and the crowd drifted past him. He was sure to see the strangers again many times in the course of the next days.

"You never saw them Foxtaurs, didn't you?" Brokvorth asked who had remained at his side.

"No", Khiray admitted. "People don't speak much of them, too."

Brokvorth shrugged. "Events come and go. The Foxtaurs stay among themselves, behave unobtrusively and disappear again. After so many years they are forgotten."

At the foot of the wall the strangers had begun to unload their packages and to erect a small booth. Khiray mused whether he should buy some of their goods. If they only came to Sookandil that infrequently, maybe their products would gain value soon. Even in the Oo'men cities he had never heard of Foxtaurs. He could start a business with Saskeeld...

Leaving Brokvorth behind, he pushed through the crowd and inspected what the Foxtaurs wanted to sell. The first goods piled up on the leather racks.

Talismans. Figurines. Statuettes. Carvings. Pouches with herbs. He sighed deeply. That was not exactly the kind of things easy to sell. Cloths, embroideries, weaveworks. All of this the Furryfolk produced too. Admittedly, it was fine work, and the carvings were done with care and love, executed perfectly in every detail. But in a time of high taxes the Foxtaurs would have a hard time selling their goods. They were, after all, only curiosities with little market value.

He didn't know how the Foxtaurs lived in their home country, but they probably didn't have a high technical or magical standard. They wore no clothing, not even jackets or loincloths (which had looked rather strange, anyway...); one had a neckerchief, another a headband. Khiray saw trinkets fixed at their ears, wrist bangles, leather strings with drilled stones or bags round their necks. The stones were pretty, but essentially worthless -- Khiray knew very well about the worth of precious stones, gold or silver --, and rare metals weren't among the components of the finery. Likewise, their goods presented themselves to the wary customer. Slowly he shook his head. Maybe the rich merchants would buy something from them to show it off in their houses. His own ideas of a trade with the Oo'men he might as well forget...

"May I help you?"

Khiray looked up from the goods. One of the female Foxtaurs -- the younger one, if he estimated her age correctly -- stood in front of him.

"I am still considering", he answered without obligation. The Foxtauress was pretty, at least down to the waist, and she offered a nice smile, if somewhat insecure. This journey was probably her first to take part in, and the presence of that many strange Furrys troubled her a little. Khiray, for his part, was a merchant. It would not have occurred to him in a dream to show more interest, or to be tempted by a pretty face to purchase an item he didn't really want.

On the other hand, the carvings at least were promising. They would sell for a fair price in Drun'kaal. Handmade craftswork always made some gold. Unfortunately, they would not travel to the capital... at least not in the near future. With their current route, Khiray couldn't see how to trade the items with a profit.

Well, to ask wouldn't hurt. "How much for the carvings?"

The Foxtauress offered him some pieces at once. The price was laughably cheap. Khiray wondered if the Foxtaurs fixed the prices at that level because they feared not to sell a thing -- or if they simply didn't know that the prices had risen during the last decade. But he didn't say anything, eyeing the goods with a blank face. He was not interested in spoiling the deal by giving away information.

A medium sized figurine attracted his attention. It portrayed a Foxtauress resembling his vis-a-vis to a hair. The artist had taken pains to represent the fur exactly, and although the size of the statuette made some stylizing necessary, the identity was unmistakable.

"That's you", he determined. The Foxtauress smiled shyly.

Khiray turned the figurine around to look out for a signature. Most of the better-known artists in the Armygan left special signs in hidden places, in this case maybe under the belly or the tail. Signed works had a higher value with collectors.

The figure bore no sign; moreover, it had been executed very correctly in every anatomical detail. To the last. Quickly Khiray turned the statuette around again. He had no scruples about erotic artistry, and this item was not even meant to be erotic. In fact he knew an Oo'men collector in Hanmur who payed quite a lot of money for Furryfolk erotica -- no position, no exaggeration, no state of ecstasy being too exotic for him --, and whenever Khiray found an appropriate offer in Sookandil, he bought it for that Oo'men.

But in this case the figure was no product of fantasy: the model stood right in front of him. Inexplicable shyness seized him, as if he had entered her privacy by accident. "I'll buy that one", he murmured.

At the sight of Khiray's well-filled pouch the Foxtauress raised her eyebrows. "May I interest you in a dream knife?"

"A what?" Khiray hesitated. It didn't become a merchant to admit lack of knowledge. But the young four-legger would not take advantage of his ignorance, as far as he could tell. The Foxtaurs didn't look like shrewd hagglers to him.

"A dream knife." She pulled a second figure from a bag which didn't resemble a knife at all. It was a handspan high and formed like a staff, divided lengthwise into two halves. The front half was made of black wood, the back half of white bone -- ivory, as the Oo'men used to call it; only the tusks of big ocean animals provided that material. Other kinds of bones were not fit for carvings.

The figure represented some sort of Oo'men, judging it by the face, but it was stylized a lot. It seemed to consist only of circles and triangles and twisting forms. Arms were nowhere to find, only snakelike tentacles winding all over the shape. The legs were merged into a single massive column.

Its eyes were big round circles, the mouth only a narrow line. Khiray took the dream knife and turned it. The figure had two faces. The face on the white half was benevolent and seemed to smile. The face on the black half differed from the other one only in tiny details -- but it looked as if drunken with hate and anger.

"Why do you call it dream knife?"

The Foxtauress took the item from his hand, turned upper and lower half in opposite directions and revealed the blade. The upper half -- black and white with the two faces -- formed the handle, the lower half was the sheath.

Surprised, Khiray looked at the blade. It was thin -- very thin. "Does the steel withstand use?"

The Foxtauress shrugged. "It is Troll steel. Troll steel cuts stone."

Troll steel? Khiray took the knife again, picked up a big pebble from the ground and held the blade against the stone. "Shall I try that?" Nothing made merchants abandon their ridiculous statements faster than the threat to put them to the test. But the Foxtauress just looked at him innocently.

Disgruntled he pulled the blade through, carefully as not to cut himself. He knew he'd ruin the edge, but he didn't like to be fooled.

The blade grated across the stone with an ugly sound. He examined the ravaged edge...

Not a single nick. He could have had cut butter instead. His glance wandered off to the stone. A furrow was visible, not very deep, but he hadn't applied much force, either. Troll steel, by the gods! Better than Oo'men metals, ten times better!

"Do you have more of those?" he asked, trying to hide his excitement. His blood throbbed in his erect ears.

"All our weapons are made of Troll steel", the Foxtauress considered, "but we have only a few dream knives with us. They are expensive." The price she mentioned was ridiculously cheap nevertheless. "If you wish to buy weapons, we brought four Dekka'shin which we can sell, two hunting swords and some work knives."

"Troll steel?"

The Foxtauress nodded.

"I buy it."

His vis-a-vis opened her eyes wide. "Everything? The Dekka'shin? The swords? The knives?"

"All the weapons made of Troll steel. The dream knives, too." The figure was quite unwieldy as an item for daily use, but it was always possible to fasten a reasonable handle to the blade.

The Foxtauress looked at him, puzzled. "We thought the Armygan was a peaceful country." She gazed sideways to the gallows. "Then again... "

Khiray hurried to assure her, "The Armygan is peaceful indeed. But we need good steel for the hunt and for our work."

"And the dream carvings", she smiled.

"Well... " He shook his head. "I don't even know what dream carvings are."

She frowned. "Why do you buy dream knives, then? They are holy items. One should not desecrate them by removing the blade." As if she could read minds...

Khiray swallowed. "Okay... There are magicians in Drun'kaal who are in need of holy knives." Not exactly a lie. Not exactly the truth, either. "One day you'll have to tell me how those dream carvings are supposed to work. Our folk have nothing of the like. I'll go to the ship now and fetch some gold." The prices of the Foxtaurs were cheap, but he had not anticipated a bargain this big and had taken only money for a stroll to the bars with him.

He could feel the watchful eyes of the foxtauress in his back while he hurried down to the harbour.

* * *

"You don't believe it, Delley!"

"Indeed." The Rat grinned. "I don't believe it. You've been had big time."

Khiray shook his head firmly. "Even if it would be only Oo'men metal, the price'd be low. And I tried all of the weapons. I'll show you later. I took different stones, hardwood, leather, metal. Troll steel does not get blunt. These items are as hot as the tail of a... hot like Celdah pepper."

"Tail of a what?"

Khiray whispered into his ear, and Delley laughed. It had become later than expected. Khiray had fetched the gold and stored the bought weapons in his cabin on the ship. Later he had met Delley for their arranged stroll -- after the tinkers had left, totally unnerved.

They visited the third bar now. They had drunken little but left a piece of copper here and there for information. They knew everything about the current prices asked for and paid, and most of the rumors and stories in the community they had heard too.

Khiray and Delley were no strangers here, and thus they needed less ber and copper to loosen the tongues of the townspeople.

Governor Galbren was looked upon with some distrust in the city; higher taxes were not the appropriate means to make a new government better liked. The reinforced guards too were not seen with pleasure by all. Most of the merchants approved Galbren's measures; there had been a lot of thievery and robbery in the last weeks of Chinnap's rule. And the majority of Sookandil's inhabitants even welcomed the execution. It seemed as if Perlish had been more dangerous and violent, than Khiray had thought.

All in all, Galbren's government seemed to be destined to become sure and strong. People would become accustomed to the taxes. And within the day-labourer's circles Galbren was looked upon as some kind of hero; many poor Furrys had found their place in the new strenghtened guard and brought good gold home now.

Khiray still wasn't sure what Galbren wanted. He didn't need the guards; he had the power in Sookandil, and no one was likely to question it, despite the disappearance of his elder brother Sarmeen. Galbren might skim off his part of the taxes, but the biggest part of the gold still went into financing the guards. And he employed more guards daily. That many robbers and thieves were not to be found in ten cities.

Outside the city limits there was a special camp for the training of the guards. Galbren himself had provided the exercises, and considering everything Khiray had heard it was more like the preparations for a war.

But even a regular army wouldn't be of much use to Galbren. Against whom should he wage war? Against the Oo'men? The Furryfolk had known the basic rules of the art of war a long time ago, in another country far away, but during the centuries of peace most of this knowledge had been lost. The Oo'men on the other hand were at war almost constantly in far-off lands, and the power of the empire of Dharwil beyond the Lakenda Mountains backed them. Galbren would have to transform every Furry in Sookandil -- man and woman, child and adult and old ones -- into warriors, just to storm against the walls of Saskeeld.

Did Galbren want to deprive other governors in the Armygan of their power and rule over ten or more cities? No. The Armygan was too big, too extensive. To be tyrant over several cities, Galbren would need many ships and fast couriers. The impassable forests, the pathless swamps and uncountable river arms cut off the cities from each other effectively.

And the Drunlord would not have watched Galbren's conquests without acting. The Drunlord owned fast ships with heat loops and catapults, he had magicians and warriors, armed and trained in accordance with the old war lore, and the number of foot soldiers at his dispose was quite impressive. The society in Drun'kaal might be decadent, but Drunlord Kooradah was an iron ruler.

Whatever aspect Khiray looked upon, Galbren could not put his guards to use.

And then there were the rumors about the black man. Galbren seemed to have gotten himself a secret advisor whom only few Furrys had seen so far. Khiray tried to remember if he had seen someone during his visit in the governor's palace, but couldn't. A man -- maybe Furry, maybe Oo'men -- in a black robe disguising his shape, the face hidden behind a veil. He had been seen in the training camp and in the palace. But no one knew his identity; even the guards weren't let into the secret.

"You do not look amused, to be sure", Delley remarked. "If someone here should make a face, it's me. My machine room is governed by the spirits of chaos."

"I thought of the rumors", Khiray murmured.

"Better think of the business", the Rat warned him.

"I do. Always." Khiray suddenly felt depressed. He had used the day to think of the trade, buying and selling, of wares, goods, interest and prices. Even their visits in the bars had been a means to that end.

But hadn't he become acquainted with strangers that very day, strangers who had traveled a long way from distant, unknown lands? The Foxtaurs had told him that Trolls were beings with green, leathery-scaly hides, heavy and portly, dwellers of the mountains who prospected for ores in great heights, seldomly coming down to the valleys. They had hinted at other strange creatures in their home country, creatures never seen in the Armygan. Khiray's dreams of distant, wonderful lands had been renewed...

..and despite this wonderful vision he had talked of profit and merchandise all day, a true son of his father.

Khiray felt as if his dreams were disappearing slowly in the misty realms of fantasy. He would never face a Troll. He would never look down from a mountain pass onto the lush green plains which were the home of the Foxtaurs. Never cross the empire Dharwil in one of those land ships on steel tracks which were called trains by the Oo'men.

A turmoil in the back areas of the bar interrupted his thoughts. The bar was dark, low, thick with the smoke of tobacco and lamp oil. The stench of cheap alcohol, stale beer and burnt food was at least as intense as the smell of the assorted Furrys. This was no expensive locality but a harbour tavern, a cheap and nasty pub for fishermen and workers with a brothel in a backroom and a distillery in the neighbourhood.

Surprised, he saw that some of the Foxtaurs were present. He hadn't seen them before; they must have been here before he and Delley had arrived. Indeed the strangers stood in the center of the tumult. Khiray rose, left a coin for the beer and pushed through the crowd before Delley could stop him.

The Foxtauress who had sold him the weapons and the figure tried to calm down a male comrade who obviously had had a little too much beer.

"...will show you!" Khiray heard just the last part of the sentence. A third Foxtaur was present. He wore a headband and was the most muscular and biggest of the group. His blazing eyes seemed to keep the Furrys at bay -- even the wolves in the room stood in a loose circle around the Foxtaurs, at a safe distance.

Khiray entered the circle. No one tried to hold him back. Maybe the half-drunken hoped for cheap entertainment in form of a brawl. "What had happened here?" Despite his youth he had some authority in Sookandil. He owned shoes -- he had money, and thus a higher social position than any one of the other Furrys in the bar.

No one, of course, would be sorry if the Foxtaurs beat him up.

The Foxtauress whom he knew seemed relieved to see him. The strangers were not accustomed with local customs and habits, and a mediator might be what they needed.

"Those animals don't want to pay!" somebody called from the distance, probably the barkeeper.

"Usury!" the drunken, excited Foxtaur exclaimed.

"We just wanted to drink a little", the Foxtauress began, "but my brother here didn't seem to pay attention to what he ordered..."

"No money! More rotgut! Drown you all!"

"Be silent, Dek!" the Foxtaur with the headband interfered. He gripped the drunken one's shoulders. "You bring down shame upon the tribe!"

Unnerved, the Foxtauress looked around. Furrys formed a wall of animosity and rejection. "And the prices are not like we had heard from the last travelers of our tribe. Dek lost patience."

"Yes, the prices have increased during the last years." Khiray wondered how cold he sounded. Wasn't the incident at least partly his fault? He should have pointed out to the Foxtaurs that they ought to take more money for their goods. Instead, he had sought profit...

Like a true merchant.

"What shall we do?" The eyes of the Foxtauress betrayed her desperation. "We haven't enough money with us..."

"I'll settle the matter", Khiray appeased her.

But Dek apparently didn't want to be appeased. He pulled free from his fellow-'taur, seized a chair at the leg and shattered it on a table. The Foxtaurs were probably even stronger than Khiray had estimated; no one destroyed the inventory of a brawl-hardened bar with that ease. Suddenly the young fox felt trapped. The rabble in the bar would not be on his side if Dek attacked him.

The crowd stepped back. Some Wolves and Foxes showed their teeth. Rabbits pushed backwards in a hurry, leaving the place of confrontation. A Rat mumbled, "Someone call the guards!" A Deer lowered his antlers nervously.

Dek roared and brandished with the leg left over from the chair. He rose on his hind legs, hit the ceiling with his head and lashed out angrily, aiming for a lamp. Fortunately he missed it; to bash burning oil lamps could easily cause a fire. Especially in a bar where the floor boards were almost as soaked in alcohol as the guests.

"We are not your enemies, Dek", Khiray stated firmly.

"You!" the Foxtaur cried out. Standing on his hind legs he was taller even than a deer. "You bought all our weapons for a fart of gold! And now we're standing here, paying as much for a drink as you gave for a good Dekka'shin? This city stinks!"

Khiray gave way. Damn all Hells, what was Delley doing? Probably the same thing Rats always used to do: saving his hide. "I gave the full price", he defended himself. "I didn't even bargain for it." A lame excuse, of course. The Foxtaurs were strangers, didn't know the prices. They had traveled a long way, journeyed endless kilometers, to make a good deal. In some sense of the word, he had cheated them. But they were to blame too. Why didn't they ask around first, before making a bargain? Knowledge was pure gold for merchants.

"Bargain!" Dek sneered. Hadn't the other Foxtaur held him back, he would have beaten Khiray with the leg. Against the resistance of this muscular four-legger, Dek couldn't move. But Khiray didn't have the impression that Dek just put on a show, snarling and threatening. Dek's anger went deeper than three or four glasses of liquor. His ears lay flat back, and the lips bared white teeth.

At the entrance side of the bar the door opened with a bang. Boots boomed on the wooden floor. Leather-armoured guards pushed through the crowd; Furrys retreating in a mixture of expectation and relief. Without hesitating a second, the four arriving guards pounced upon Dek with heavy truncheons. They attacked the Foxtaur from all sides and beat his upper body with short, controlled hits. The other Foxtaur tried to step in, but the only result was that he was assailed too. The crowd cheered enthusiastically. The drunks probably would have been equally raptured if the guards were about to lose the fight.

The guards showed no fear, neither of the Foxtaurs nor or Dek's chair leg, and they worked together as disciplined and experienced as long-term warriors. Their training seemed to be very effective. The Foxtaur with the headband was pushed into a corner until he had to duck under the hits, the hands vainly raised to shield his face. Dek was even worse off; while the guards soon left their second adversary alone, they kept on beating Dek until the bleeding Foxtaur lay on the ground.

The Foxtauress didn't dare to intervene in the fight against the guards. All of the armoured, armed watches were Wolves, and the Foxtaurs were no match for them.

"Stop that!" Khiray finally yelled when the four guards didn't stop beating their fallen opponent. "He's down already!" With some effort he could make himself heard even through the uproar. Years on the river had strengthened his voice. Who could command dock workers in the noisy Oo'men harbours, could call attention to himself even in loud bars.

The guards looked up. "The situation is under control", one of them finally said. He was the one wearing some sort of badge and rank insignia. "Let's get him to the dungeon."

"Wait a moment", Khiray protested. "He's done nothing yet!"

The captain (if this was his rank -- the young Fox couldn't read the guard's insignia) mustered him in astonishment. "He attacked you."

"He tried to", Khiray corrected. "He just tried. And he didn't succeed. Look." He spread his arms. The drunks yelled and whistled.

"Then there's the accusation of bill dodging", another guard said who was speaking with the barkeeper.

Khiray frowned. "I did already say that I'll settle the matter. I don't want those strangers to be punished doubly for an unfortunate bargain."

The captain shrugged. "It's your gold. Get them out of here." Two guards dragged Dek through the door and let him drop on the street. The other two escorted the Foxtaur with the headband and Dek's sister out of the bar, carefully, while continuously slapping their sticks into their palms -- watch out, don't make a wrong move!

Khiray paid the barkeeper. The bill wasn't all that high, it was a cheap place after all. Only the chair did cost some copper. The tumult subsided. The guests returned to their tables and startet to fight about who mixed up whose cards while everyone was watching the fight.

The Foxtaurs were helping Dek up when Khiray stepped out into the night. Dek didn't look too well, but he could almost stand on his own four legs again. Supported by the Foxtaur with the headband, he limped away without turning.

Khiray felt sorry for him. Dek was a little too hot-blooded for his own good.

The Foxtauress still stood nearby. She turned to Khiray and opened her mouth as if to say something... But what could she have said? Thank you? After he acquired their most valuable articles for a ridiculous price without even blinking? She had no reason to be thankful. But she could not well curse him after he took care of the bill and saved her brother from the guards.

"What's your name?" Khiray asked.

"Saljin", she answered, breathless. "Saljin of the Stones." Then she turned away and ran off, in a strange mixture of gallop and run.

"Very honorable", a voice behind Khiray said. "Very courageous. Very stupid."

"Shut up, Delley!" Khiray replied bluntly.

"He could have finished you off, and what would your father have said?"

"He had asked where a certain Rat had been in the meantime", Khiray grumbled.

"Beneath a table", Delley admitted. "Come on, the night's still young, and there are a lot of rumors to be heard."

Khiray looked at the Rat earnestly. "Did I do the right thing?"

"No. You should have waited for the guards."

"Not now. When I bought the weapons. Far below their price..."

"Oh, come on!" Delley made a gesture of contempt. "I still don't believe that this Troll steel can cut stone. Even if so, those suckers chose the price themselves! A dupe is born every hour, like they say. What kind of merchant would not take advantage of that dupe?"

"An honest one?" Khiray asked, not really joking.

Delley laughed bleatingly. "Now see! There are half a dozen more bars in Sookandil!"

They went on, and Khiray tried to forget the encounter. But he didn't sleep well that night, and his dreams were troubled. He dreamt of being a true merchant who makes his gold off the stupidity of dupes. And he awoke with bristled fur.

End of Chapter Three