Zosa didn’t recognize the Morkai from the bar, nor did he remember him from the wharf. Nevertheless, leaning on his staff in the opening to the hallway, there the creature was, wrapped up in black shadows.
“Magic, you say?” Zosa began slowly, holding his hands flat, palms facing the floor, taking a step. ”Have you come to ply your trade with me? Perhaps some bargain you wish to strike with me?”
“Oddly enough, that’s exactly right,” the Morkai said.
Zosa smiled openly. ”Well, if it’s business, you’re in the right place regardless of the … manner of your arrival.” Zosa’s eyes darted towards the door, just as well secured as it had been when he came in. ”May I trouble you for your name, traveler?”
“I am called Fichiki Siri,” the Morkai smiled, inclining his head slightly. ”You, unless I am very sadly mistaken, are Tomas Zosa, correct?”
“Yes, sir,” Zosa said, holding his ground but remaining open. He felt Zushi’s hand on his shoulder and felt the smooth wooden handle of her biggest kitchen knife, apparently held under her armpit, nudge him in the back. Good girl, he thought to himself. The man’s staff won’t do him a bit of good in these tight quarters, magician or no. “This is my wife, Zushi … pray tell, what brings you to our home in the dark of the eve?”
“Shall I say my feet?” Siri smiled wickedly. ”Shall I tell you I simply followed you up the creaky stairs for a spot of your wife’s delicious casserole and the warmth of your company?”
A bead of sweat rolled down Zosa’s temple — whatever Siri’s play was, he was in no hurry for it. ”There are easier ways to gain a seat on our couch and a share of our meal, friend Siri.”
“Are there?” Siri chuckled. ”Given the way that dwarf glared over at the two bruisers down stairs anytime someone even accidentally bumped you, I’d wager it’s harder than wrestling a wild azeure. No, good merchant, I believe we all are where we have to be.”
“Wh-wh-where are my manners?” Zushi said suddenly. ”Can I take your … cloak, sir? Would you like to take a seat, or perhaps something to quench your thirst?”
Again he inclined his head graciously, saying, “A thousand thanks, my lady, but I hope not to trouble you for that long. With any luck, I should conclude my filthy business and be on my merry way soon enough. My thirst is unlikely to be sated by anything here.”
That bit confused Zosa. He dropped his hands slowly and felt Zushi slide the handle of the knife into his palm. Tired of the tension, he asked, “Well, what can we do for you tonight, Ter Siri?”
“I have come to take something from you, Tomas Galeri Zosa,” he said, suddenly producing a shiny silver shimmer and flipping the coin in the air. ”Unfortunately, I don’t believe you’ll be too pleased with what I offer in exchange.”
“All things come with negotiation,” Zosa said, hiding his reaction at hearing his son’s name and quoting The Tome of Trade. ”Let’s hear your offer.”
Siri began, “Well, I …”
From behind him a door opened and a young voice barked out, “Are we going to eat or … hey, who in hells are you?”
“Boy, go back in your room,” Zosa said loudly. ”The nice Morkai has come to do some business with me tonight, and we’ll need a few more moments.”
The teenager, taller than his father but sharing similar facial features, made a disgusted sound. His lanky frame poked out from beneath a haphazard tunic of no particular style, which of course he’d agonized over endlessly so it had just the right sense of indifference. He slammed the door shut and could be heard plopping down on a bed.
“The wonders of fatherhood, eh, merchant?” Siri smiled.
Zosa smiled with his mouth but worried with his eyes. The stranger hadn’t even shown the slightest hint of concern at the surprise behind him, which was bad. Either this Fichiki Siri was completely besotted with Fancies or he was a brigand of some ability in the violent arts. Dozens of years ago, Zosa had served a term with a mercenary army in Zaradoc, but he was never much of a fighter.
“You were about to propose your bargain to us, my good Morkai,” Zosa said, some strain creeping into his voice.
“I can’t imagine you considering this a bargain,” Siri laughed, “but if we must get down to business, this is as good a time as any …”