Among the Lilitu, Balvoc was treated as a prisoner. He was confined day and night to the Seller’s Quarter, which was not at all the same as the Merchant’s Quarter. In the Merchant’s Quarter, shana flowed freely for all trade goods and was filled with finely crafted Arkono weavings and woodwork, unique Uvil metalwork, and trinkets from mysterious lands that the Lilitu would not speak of.
Balvoc was in Seller’s Quarter, however. A small, walled section of the city filled with warehouses and dust. There was no water there and any food that traveler’s brought with them was confiscated immediately upon arrival. The Lilitu claimed that foreign foods carried disease with them, and would not allow them within the city.
Balvoc had seen a few unaware merchants broken by this practice, having brought barrels of salted beef and pork with them, or fruits and vegetable, in hopes of turning a profit, but instead lost their livelihood. Once per day a few Lilitu brought barrels of water and salted fish to sell to any in the Seller’s Quarter, at extortionate prices, and then left. None of the Lilitu ever came to peruse their wares, none were interested in anything the foreign merchants had to offer. The Merchant’s Quarter was exclusively for the Lilitu and no foreigners were allowed inside. Only those that had been to the Lilitu capital of Hvare knew that you did not trade with the Lilitu, the Lilitu traded with you.
But, Balvoc was not a trader. The mighty Svet was a guard for the merchant Sin-sim, a fat and putrid man that understood the ways of the Lilitu better than most. He never tried to sell anything to the Lilitu, and only bought what he could sell himself in the north. Hidden compartments in his wagon helped him to sneak food and water into the quarter, but he always bought some from the Lilitu, just enough so that they would not be suspicious. When they came to sell their goods, he would slip a few shana their way to see some of their exotic goods, buy what he could from them and leave. Sin-sim never stayed for more than a week and was quick to leave the Lilitu lands as fast as he could.
Balvoc stood idly by the wagon that held Sin-sim’s goods, his thick arms folded across his barrel-chest while he could do nothing but sweat. The stink of the city made him want to vomit. Those who lived in the great cities were weak. His eyes followed the LIlitu merchants and their guards as they left the Seller’s Quarter.
No, not weak. At least, not the Lilitu. Individually, they could be overcome, but the Lilitu were numerous, and he could not name a place he had traveled where he had not seen at least a dozen of their kind. Here in their capital, Havre, they were too many to count. In other cities they bobbed their heads and smiled and leeched coin from every man, woman, and child. Here, they did not bother. They had power and used it. The Lilitu merely forced every merchant to bleed out their coin and then sent them on their way into the desert. They had no need to pretend they were small and weak. Here, among the Lilitu, Balvoc was weak.
Sin-sim smiled an oily smile as he sauntered towards the wagon, as much as a tubby man such as himself could saunter. His jowls swayed with each lumbering step, the fat of his face nearly hiding his crooked teeth. “Horse! Oi, horse, look here!”
Balvoc turned to regard the man, unable to keep the murder from his eyes. “What is it, filth?”
The chubby Anshedar chuckled, “Oh, well that is no way to speak to me, horse,” he cocked his round head and continued in a sing-song voice, “or do I need to have another finger sent for to remind you of your place?”
The Svet clenched his fists as he growled, glowering at the man and unable to speak. Sin-sim was a vile man, even as the Anshedar went. He had learned of Balvoc’s prowess in battle and recruited him by holding his wife prisoner. Balvoc had refused at first, and Sin-sim began to cut fingers from her hand. Every misstep cost another. By his count, his lovely Maruda only had six left. Sin-sim kept Maruda and used Balvoc because he believed that the Svet would be far more motivated by the life of his beloved than ever the clink of coins.
“No,” Balvoc managed to choke out. After a moment he spoke again, as deferential as he could, “What is it that you have, Sin-sim?”
The Anshedar pulled a purse from his belt and trickled its contents out onto his palm. A dozen multi-hued gems poured out into his broad hand. “Opals!” He giggled, an odd sound for his grated voice. “Enough to make the whole of the journey worth them time.”
He shook his head, “How could you afford them? How much did you pay?”
Sin-sim grunted, “Well, pay is a loose term, mind you. Perhaps ‘picked’ is a better one.” A mischievous grin crossed his face, “And, as such, we best be on our way, eh?” He poured the gems back into his purse and carefully tied it to his belt.
The Svet stepped backwards, his hindquarters jostling the wagon. “You will get us killed!”
“Careful, fool. There is merchandise in that wagon. You will know it loose and it will come off of your wife’s hands!”
He snarled, grabbing Sin-sim by the throat, “You will get us killed. No one steals from the Lilitu! No one! And if you die, then my wife dies.” The fat merchant’s feet lifted off of the ground, “If she dies I will hunt down your corpse in the Netherworlds and the tortures you faced there will be petty next to those that I inflict on you!”
Just as Sin-sim’s face began to turn purple, Balvoc threw the man to the ground.
The fat man struggled to his feet, his face still purple, now with rage, “That, Balvoc, will cost your whore-wife, her hand!”