A Novel of Ethshar

The Vondish Ambassador

A Legend of Ethshar

Welcome to the second chapter of the first draft of The Vondish Ambassador, the tenth Ethshar novel. Everything beyond the second chapter has been removed in favor of the final text, now available in various formats. For more information see The Vondish Ambassador.

The Vondish Ambassador

by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Chapter Two

The Crooked Candle was not the best inn in Ethshar, nor the best inn in Shiphaven, nor even the best inn on Commission Street. It was, however, fairly close to Pier Two, and known for its generously-sized rooms. From the top floor one could even, if one leaned out the right window far enough, glimpse the sea to the north, and Shiphaven Market to the south.
      "I don't expect we'll stay here long," Emmis said, as he dropped the last of the smaller bags atop the largest of the trunks. "You'll want somewhere closer to the Palace, won't you?"
      "Will I?" Lar asked, apparently quite sincerely.
      Emmis blinked. "Well, I thought so," he said. "I mean, aren't you here as your country's representative to the overlord's government?"
      "Yes, I am," Lar agreed. "Among other things."
      "The government is in the Palace, and that's at least a mile from here, through some crowded streets and on the far side of the canal. I'd think you'd want somewhere closer. I don't know if you can afford a place in the New City, but something in Spicetown or the Old Merchants' Quarter ought to do."
      Lar smiled at him. "Emmis, friend," he said, "those names mean nothing to me. I don't know anything about your city. Lord Sterren tried to explain some basic facts, but we didn't talk about the names of streets. It was easier to let me come here and learn it for myself. You say it's a mile to the Palace?"
      "At least. You'd go across Shiphaven Market, then down Twixt Street to Canal Square and out Upper Canal Street, then turn right on Commerce Street and go south to one of the main streets in the Old Merchants' Quarter -- that's the part of the city southeast of Shiphaven..."
      "What's Shiphaven?"
      Emmis's mouth opened, then closed. He swallowed, took a deep breath, and started over.
      "This part of the city, at the west end of the waterfront, is called Shiphaven. It extends from the New Canal in the east to the city wall and the overlord's shipyards in the west. Everywhere you've gone since you got off your ship has been in Shiphaven."
      Lar nodded. "Do I really need to know this?"
      "I don't know," Emmis said. "I think it would be useful, certainly, but I don't know whether you need it."
      "People refer to these portions of the city often?"
      "Yes, of course!"
      "Very well, then. I'd never before been in a city large enough for such things to matter, but I saw from the ship just how large Ethshar of the Spices is. I'll believe you when you say this is important. You were telling me how to get to the Palace from here?"
      "Yes," Emmis said. "I was. You'd go through Shiphaven Market -- you saw that, I think -- and southeast along the full length of Twixt Street, which runs from Shiphaven Market to Canal Square."
      "Is Canal Square in Shiphaven?"
      Emmis hesitated, considering the question, then turned up an empty palm and said, "Yes." It really didn't seem worth explaining that Canal Square was almost where Westgate, Shiphaven, Spicetown, and the Old Merchants' Quarter met, when really, it was in Shiphaven. "It's not a square, though. It's triangular."
      "Of course. Go on."
      "From Canal Square you'd take Upper Canal Street east to the first corner, and turn south on Commerce Street," Emmis continued. "That goes into the part of the city called the Old Merchants' Quarter."
      "Is there a New Merchants' Quarter, then?"
      "Yes, but that's farther south, you don't go that far. You turn east off Commerce Street before you get there."
      "I see."
      "Then you have a choice, though. You can go east on Warehouse Street, or Cheap Street, or Bargain Street, or High Street. High Street isn't the shortest route, but it would probably be fastest; you certainly don't want to go any farther than High Street."
      Lar nodded. "How will I know when I see High Street? Are there signs, perhaps?"
      "No, of course not," Emmis said. "You just know. Or you could ask someone." He paused and thought for a moment. He had never really paid any attention to how he recognized the familiar streets, after living all his twenty-two years in the city, but obviously there must be landmarks of some sort. "Or... well, it's called High Street because it runs along a bit of high ground. As long as you're going uphill on Commerce Street, you aren't there yet. If Commerce Street starts to slope down, you're past it."
      "Ah! How reasonable. Say more."
      "You walk east on High Street until the third fork -- the first one is Cut Street going off to the south, and then Old Merchant Avenue goes off to the north, and then next after that is where Merchant Street cuts diagonally across High Street, and you turn northeast on Merchant Street, along the foot of the hill. You'll see the mansions and garden walls of the New City on your right, along Merchant Street, with the Old Merchants' Quarter on your left -- you can't miss it."
      "The New City is on the hill you mentioned?"
      "Yes. You might have seen it from the sea, before you came ashore."
      "I might have, yes. It's part of Ethshar of the Spices?"
      "It's right in the middle of Ethshar of the Spices!"
      "But it's called the New City?"
      "Yes! Because it's newer than the Old City, but most of the city is even newer."
      "Ah. So, I am on Merchant Street -- what then?"
      "Then you just walk down Merchant Street to Palace Square, and there's the Palace on the other side of the Grand Canal, across the bridge."
      Lar nodded. "Tell me something, Emmis," he said. "How do you remember all that?"
      Emmis's mouth opened, then closed. He stared at the foreigner in bafflement.
      "Never mind, then," Lar said, with a wave of his hand. "You know the city well?"
      "Parts of it," Emmis said. "Don't ask me to find my way through Fishertown or Newgate."
      "What if I wanted to find a warlock?"
      "Oh, Warlock Street is in the Wizards' Quarter. There are a few warlocks elsewhere, but that's the easiest place."
      "And where is the Wizards' Quarter?"
      Emmis sighed. He had just known the foreigner would want to see the Wizards' Quarter. "You follow the directions I gave you before, but instead of turning on Merchant Street you stay on High Street right through the New City, over the hill to Arena Street. You turn right on Arena Street and just keep going, past the Arena. If you get to Southgate you've gone too far. Once you're in the Wizards' Quarter just read the shop signs and notice boards until you find warlocks."
      "It's more than a mile?"
      "Three or four miles, I'd say. Arena Street is long."
      "All inside the city walls?"
      "Yes, of course."
      Lar shook his head in amazement. "A city this size is hard to believe!"
      "It's the largest in the World," Emmis said, with a touch of civic pride. Then his natural honesty compelled him to add, "Although some people say Ethshar of the Sands might be larger."
      "I think you were right. I won't stay in this... house? No, this inn. I won't stay in this inn for long. Can you find me a place between the Palace and the Wizards' Quarter?"
      "I think so," Emmis said warily.
      "I will be talking to several magicians."
      "I thought the Small Kingdoms had their own magicians."
      Lar grimaced. "Yours are better," he said. "Much better."
      "I thought the Small Kingdoms didn't like magicians."
      "That's why yours are better."
      "Oh." Emmis could hardly argue with that. "But then why do you want to talk to them?"
      Lar sighed. "Emmis," he said, "sometimes we must do things we don't like. But also, the Empire of Vond is not like the other Small Kingdoms. It was created by the Great Vond, who was a magician from Ethshar, and it is ruled now by Lord Sterren, who came from Ethshar. We have different ideas from our neighbors."
      "Oh," Emmis said. He chewed his lower lip to keep himself from frowning, hoping that he looked thoughtful rather than disapproving.
      He hadn't really known how the Empire of Vond had come about. A couple of years ago stories had started arriving of someone conquering a dozen or so of the Small Kingdoms and uniting them, but Emmis didn't remember any mention that the conqueror came from Ethshar.
      Ethsharites weren't supposed to meddle in the Small Kingdoms. Everyone knew that. When the first three overlords had created the Hegemony of the Three Ethshars after the Great War they had deliberately excluded certain other lands. The Baronies of Sardiron were excluded because they carried the lingering taint of the old Northern Empire; the northern coasts, Tintallion and Meroa and so on, were excluded because they were too cold and empty to be worth bothering with.
      And the Small Kingdoms had been excluded because they were a bunch of madmen and fools, always bickering among themselves, a source of nothing but trouble. The people of the Hegemony prided themselves on their common sense, and common sense was obviously in short supply in the Small Kingdoms. Emmis had seen that for himself in talking to sailors from the Small Kingdoms. He had heard Kushinese speak scathingly of Amessans, Amessans denounce Meyans, Tantasharites insult Londans, Imryllirionese abominate Morrians, and to him and the other Ethsharites all those various nationalities were indistinguishable. Oh, a Perelian might be a little paler than an Ashthasan, a Mergan might have a slightly different accent than a Weidamonite, but really, they were all barbarians alike compared to the good people of Ethshar. Their major redeeming feature was that they were so fragmented they were harmless, far more interested in squabbling among themselves than bothering Ethshar.
      And Ethshar left them carefully alone, so as not to risk becoming a common foe they might unite against.
      At least, that's what the old men on the docks had told Emmis, and when he had asked his father, the old man had shrugged and said, "I suppose there's some truth to it."
      Yes, the Empire of Vond had united about a dozen of the Small Kingdoms a few years ago, but it was far off on the southern edge of the World, at the other end of the Small Kingdoms, and the conquests had stopped after a few months, so no one in Ethshar had paid very much attention to it -- but maybe they should have.
      This man, this ambassador -- why had he really come to Ethshar? Why did Vond need an ambassador? Emmis was fairly sure that most of the Small Kingdoms didn't bother with such things.
      And why was this Vondish ambassador so interested in magicians?
      "Should I look for an inn on Arena Street, or do you think you might want to rent a house, or even buy one?" Emmis asked. "How long do you expect to stay in Ethshar?"
      "I don't know," Lar replied. "Rent a house, perhaps?"
      Emmis nodded. "Then I'll start looking," he said. "And you can stay here until I find one."
      "That sounds good," Lar said. He took off his hat and tossed it on the bed. "That sounds very good."
      "How big a house do you want? Will you have a staff? Are more of your people coming?"
      Lar's mouth quirked.
      "No," he said. "Just me. You're my staff."
      "Oh." Emmis frowned. "Well, do you want others? A cook? A housekeeper? Will you be entertaining often?"
      Lar turned up an empty palm. "Emmis," he said, "I don't know these things. I have never been in Ethshar of the Spices before today. I have never been an ambassador until this journey. In the Small Kingdoms ambassadors are given rooms in the royal castle, and attended to by the castle staff. They do not have their own cooks or housekeepers. A secretary, perhaps, or an aide. But my regent tells me this is not how it is done here -- ambassadors do not live in the overlord's palace, but in the city. Very well. I did not bring a secretary or an aide. You are my aide. I am paying you very much money -- I am not a complete fool, I know that even here ten bits in silver a day is not reasonable. I am paying you so much so that you will figure these things out for me. I can spend... well, I have a certain amount of money, and no more. I will pay you what I have promised, and I can pay for some more than that, but I cannot be..." He paused, groping for a word, then rephrased. "But I must be reasonable," he said. "You must pay for much from the money I pay you."
      Emmis could hardly complain about that, since Lar was quite right that ten bits a day was outrageously generous, but it did call for an adjustment in his plans. He had been imagining himself as the head of a grand household high in the New City, but now it did not sound as if the ambassador's funds would stretch that far.
      Well, he would make do.
      "You don't know how long you'll stay?"
      Lar shook his head. "No. I have instructions from Lord Sterren that I must follow, and when that is done I can go home. I don't know how long that will be. Perhaps a month, perhaps a year, perhaps a life."
      "What is it he wants you to do?"
      Lar smiled crookedly. "I am not to tell. Perhaps when I know you more."
      "That makes it difficult for me to help you."
      "I know. For now, do what I say, and we will see what happens."
      Emmis turned up a palm. "All right. You want a place between the Palace and the Wizards' Quarter, appropriate for an ambassador but not too expensive. What else?"
      "You must make an introduction to the overlord. Lord Sterren does not want me to be secret, even if my instructions are." He sighed. "He didn't want me to try to be secret. He didn't think I could do it, here in Ethshar."
      Emmis looked at the gaudily-dressed foreigner, with his sun-darkened complexion and curious accent. He would certainly not pass as a native Ethsharite.
      "And he wanted me to be able to speak for the Empire of Vond, if need is, not just ask questions," Lar continued. "So I am an ambassador, not a spy."
      "You want an introduction to the overlord." Emmis frowned. "I'm just a laborer, sir; I've never met the overlord."
      "You are an ambassador's aide. That should be enough."
      "Maybe," Emmis replied. "Maybe."

Proceed to Chapter 3...


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