“When I told you that we could share our Dreams, I meant share, Beloved. I knew exactly everything that was happening, and I also knew the words Lillabeth would use to describe her Dream. That’s been going on since my very first Dream. If you want, we can go back to Dahlaine’s cave, and you’ll find out that Ashad and Yaltar can tell you exactly the same story, and they’ll use the same words that Lillabeth and I used. It’s not really something that we’re doing ourselves, Beloved. Our jewels take care of that part. Didn’t you know that?”
“No,” Zelana replied, “actually, I didn’t. I think you might have forgotten to tell me about it.”
“Oh, maybe I did at that.” Then Eleria smiled. “Everything’s all right now, though. You might want to tell your brothers about it as well. It’s not nice to keep secrets from your family, you know. Your sister just tried to do that, and look how angry that made you.”
It was early autumn in the Land of Malavi, arid the little clumps of birch trees had turned golden, while the tall grass was now a pale yellow, sure signs that winter was not far away. Since Ekial had run off to some place to the east of Malavi, Ariga was obliged to take over his friend’s duties, and he wasn’t the least bit happy about that. The annual cattle-drive was no particular problem. Ariga had been involved in those drives for years now, so he knew what had to be done. It was the prospect of being obliged to deal with the Trogite cattle-buyers in the coastal village that irritated him. Always before, he’d gone off with his friends to celebrate at the end of the drive, but this time he wouldn’t be able to do that.
That just didn’t seem fair to Ariga.
The village on the coast was a shabby sort of place with rickety buildings where assorted Trogites desperately tried to swindle the Malavi herdsmen with watered-down beer and scruffy-looking prostitutes. There were piers jutting out into the harbor and each pier had a little shack on its shoreward side where the cattle-buyer waited, obviously hoping that he could cheat the Malavi herdsmen out of a few pennies.
Ariga swung down from his horse to one side of the pier where Ekial usually did business and went on up to the canvas door of the Trogite shack.
“Is anybody in there?” he called.
“Come in, come in,” somebody inside called eagerly.
Ariga braced himself and went on in.
The Trogite was a scrawny-looking man with one eye that seemed to be looking off to one side while the other one appeared to be looking at the ceiling. He was dressed in fancy clothes that weren’t very clean, and he didn’t smell too good. “Welcome! Welcome!” he greeted Ariga. Then he squinted slightly. “I don’t believe we’ve ever met before,” he said.
“My name is Ariga, and I am of the Clan of Prince Ekial.”
“Is the prince ill?”
“He’s busy right now,” Ariga replied curtly. “I drove our herd here this time. Let’s get down to business, shall we? I’ve got five thousand prime cows. I’m sure that you know what price the elders have set for this year, so we won’t have to argue about that.”
“I think maybe we should get to know each other a little better,” the Trogite said, his off-center eyes narrowing slightly.
“Why? I’m selling, and you’re buying. That’s the only thing that matters.”
“I have a cask of very fine ale, Ariga. Why don’t we have a few tankards before we get down to business?”
Ariga was tempted, but this was the one thing Ekial had warned all his friends about. “Don’t ever accept a drink of anything—even water—from a Trogite cattle-buyer,” was the first rule. “I’m not really all that thirsty,” Ariga said. “Let’s get this over with, shall we? I have other things to take care of today.”
“Well—” the wall-eyed Trogite said, “I think maybe the Malavi elders overlooked a few things when they set the price for this year. We’ve already bought more cows than we’ll probably be able to sell when we sail on back to the empire, so I won’t be able to pay you the full price your elders demanded this year. The market goes up, and it goes down. You know how that is.”
“It’s been nice talking with you,” Ariga said, turning abruptly and starting toward the door.
“Where are you going?” the Trogite almost screamed.
“Anyplace but here. I don’t think we’ll be able to do business this year, and I don’t really have time to dicker with you—particularly since my price just went up.”
“You can’t do that!” the Trogite protested.
“I just did. And I’ll keep on doing it every time you try to play these silly games. Have a nice day.” Ariga pushed the canvas flap aside and went on back outside.
“Come back!” the Trogite screamed from his doorway.
“No. I’m not going to waste any more time with you. Maybe next year—or possibly the year after that.”
“But I’ve hired all these ships to carry your cows back to the empire!”
“That’s your problem, not mine.” Ariga went back to where his horse was waiting, mounted, and rode on down to the next pier and a different Trogite cattle-buyer. He was fairly sure that word of what he’d just done would get around among the Trogites rather quickly, so the next time he and his friends drove a herd of cows down to the coast, the cattle-buyers would know enough not to try to play games with him.
He was a bit surprised to find that he’d actually enjoyed himself when he’d jerked the wall-eyed Trogite up short. This was turning out very well.
Ekial returned to the lands of the clan a few weeks after Ariga had trounced the wall-eyed Trogite, and Ariga was very happy to see his friend again. “What took you so long?” he asked.
“I had to watch a war,” Ekial replied. “Then some friends and I had to go to a place called Castano to hire enough ships to carry our men and their horses on up to the north end of a place called ‘The Land of Dhrall.’ From what I saw during that war I mentioned, we shouldn’t have too many problems, and the pay’s very good. How did the cattle-drive go this year?”
“No problems,” Ariga replied. “I had to jerk that wall-eyed Trogite cattle-buyer up short, though.” With a chuckle he described the encounter to Ekial.
“He thinks he’s the cleverest man in the whole wide world, and he always tries to cheat—particularly when he has dealings with somebody for the first time. Did you find a dealer willing to pay the right price?”