good will as more important than a prosperous voyage. Two thousand Lyran credits.'

'Absurd,' snorted Garthkint. 'I cannot do business with you. Either you are insanely rapacious or you have been pitifully misguided as to the value of your wares. I am well-known for my charity; I will assume that the latter is the case. I trust you will not be too downcast when I tell you that five hundred of these muddy, undersized out- of-round objects are worth no more than two hundred credits.'

'If you are serious,' said Alen with marked amazement, 'we would not dream pf imposing on you. At the figure you mention, we might as well not sell at all but return with our wares to Cepheus and give these gems to children in the streets for marbles. Good gem trader, excuse us for taking up so much of your time and many thanks for your warm hospitality in the matter of the wine.' He switched to Cephean and said:

'We're dickering now. Two thousand and two hundred. Get up; we're going to start to walk out.'

'What if he lets us go?' grumbled blackbeard, but he did heave himself to his feet and turn to the door as Alen rose.

'My trader echoes my regrets,' the Herald said in Lyran.


'Well, stay a moment,' said Garthkint. 'I am well-known for my soft heart toward strangers. A charitable man might go as high as five hundred and absorb the inevitable loss. If you should return some day with a passable lot of real gems, it would be worth my while for you to remember who treated you with such benevolence and give me fair choice.'

'Noble Lyran,' said Alen, apparently almost overcome. 'I shall not easily forget your combination of acumen and charity. It is a lesson to traders. It is a lesson to me. I shall not insist on two thousand. I shall cut the throat of my trader's venture by reducing his price to eighteen hundred credits, though I wonder how I shall dare tell him of it.'

'What's going on now?' demanded blackbeard.

'Five hundred and eighteen hundred,' said Alen. 'We can sit down again.'

'Up, down—up, down,' muttered the trader.

They sat, and Alen said in Lyran: 'My trader unexpectedly indorses the reduction. He says, 'Better to lose some than all' —an old proverb in the Cephean tongue. And he forbids any further reduction.'

'Come, now,' wheedled the gem dealer. 'Let us be men of the world about this. One must give a little and take a little. Everybody knows he can't have his own way forever. I shall offer a good, round eight hundred credits and we'll close on it, eh? Pilquis, fetch us a pen and ink!' One of the burly guards was right there with an inkpot and a reed pen. Garthkint had a Customs form out of his tunic and was busily filling it in to specify the size, number and fire of gems to be released to him.

'What's it now?' asked blackbeard.

'Eight hundred.'

'Take it!'

'Garthkint,' said Alen regretfully, 'you heard the firmness and decision in my trader's voice? What can I do? I am only speaking for him. He is a hard man but perhaps I can talk him around later. I offer you the gems at a ruinous fifteen hundred credits.'

'Split the difference,' said Garthkint resignedly.

'Done at eleven-fifty,' said Alen.

That blackbeard understood. 'Well done!' he boomed at Alen and took a swig at Garthkint's winecup. 'Have him fill in 'Sack eighteen' on his paper. It's five hundred of that grade.'

The gem dealer counted out twenty-three fifty-credit notes and blackbeard signed and fingerprinted the release.

'Now,' said Garthkint, 'you will please remain here while I take a trip to the spaceport for my property.' Three or four of the guards were suddenly quite close.

'You will find,' said Alen dryly, 'that our standard of commercial morality is no lower than yours.'

The dealer smiled politely and left.

'Who will be the next?' asked Alen of the room at large.

'I'll look at your gems,' said another dealer, sitting at the table.

With the ice-breaking done, the transactions went quicker. Alen had disposed of a dozen lots by the time their first buyer returned.

'It's all right,' he said. 'We've been tricked before, but your gems are as represented. I congratulate you, Herald, on driving a hard, fair bargain.'

'That means,' said Alen regretfully, 'that I should have asked for more.'

The guards were once more lounging in corners and no longer seemed so menacing.

They had a mid-day meal and continued to dispose of their wares. At sunset Alen held a final auction to clean up the odd lots that remained over and was urged to stay to dinner.

The trader, counting a huge wad of the Lyran manpower-based notes, shook his head. 'We should be off before dawn, Herald,' he told Alen.

'Time is money, time is money.'

'They are very insistent.'

'And I am very stubborn. Thank them and let us be on our way before anything else is done to increase my overhead.'

Something did turn up—a city watchman with a bloody nose and split lip.

He demanded of the Herald: 'Are you responsible for the Cephean maniac known as Elwon?'

Garthkint glided up to mutter in Alen's ear: 'Beware how you answer!'

Alen needed no warning. His grounding included Lyran legal concepts—and on the backward little planet touched with many relics of feudalism; 'responsible' covered much territory.

'What has Chief Elwon done?' he parried.

'As you see,' the watchman glumly replied, pointing to his wounds.

'And the same to three others before we got him out of the wrecked wineshop and into the castle. Are you responsible for him?'

'Let me speak with my trader for a moment. Will you have some wine meantime?' He signaled and one of the guards brought a mug.

'Don't mind if I do. I can use it,' sighed the watchman.

'We are in trouble,' said Alen to blackboard. 'Chief Elwon is in the

'castle'—prison—for drunk and disorderly conduct. You as his master are considered responsible for his conduct under Lyran law. You must pay his fines or serve his penalties. Or you can 'disown' him, which is considered dishonorable but sometimes necessary. For paying his fine or serving his time you have a prior lien on his services, without pay—

but of course that's unenforceable off Lyra.'

Blackboard was sweating a little. 'Find out from the policeman how long all this is likely to take. I don't want to leave Elwon here and I do want us to get off as soon as possible. Keep him occupied, now, while I go about some business.'

The trader retreated to a corner of the darkening barnlike tavern, beckoning Garthkint and a guard with him as Alen returned to the watchman.

'Good keeper of the peace,' he said, 'will you have another?'

He would.

'My trader wishes to know what penalties are likely to be levied against the unfortunate Chief Elwon.'

'Going to leave him in the lurch, eh?' asked the watchman a little belligerently. 'A fine master you have!'

One of the dealers at the table indignantly corroborated him. 'If you foreigners aren't prepared to live up to your obligations, why did you come here in the first place? What happens to business if a master can send his man to steal and cheat and then say: 'Don't blame me—it was his doing!''

Alen patiently explained: 'On other planets, good Lyrans, the tie of master and man is not so strong that a man would obey if he were ordered to go and steal or cheat.'

They shook their heads and muttered. It was unheard-of.

'Good watchman,' pressed the Herald, 'my trader does not want to disown Chief Elwon. Can you tell me what recompense would be necessary—and how long it would take to manage the business?'

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