Unlife Is A Journey
Haven't read the Liaden books, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller? Then most of this will be nonsense to you. I disclaim all ownership of the Liaden or Buffy universe or characters.
Buffy shifted her weight from foot to foot, and tried not to sigh. The delegation from the Kolak Clan had entered the first checkpoint a few minutes ago, but disarming them was apparently taking a while. She reminded herself that this was an important meeting, the signing of a magically binding treaty that would force the Kolak to return to their home dimension and never come back. Still, the waiting was boring. She glanced around the ruined Scottish castle Xander had picked for the meeting, noting the half-hidden bow teams on a couple of the towers. Buffy knew there was also a team out in the forest, ready to cut off the Kolak retreat if they tried anything, and she smiled at Xander’s careful planning.
Dawn wandered over from talking to Willow, one eyebrow raised. “Looking forward to this being over?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Buffy, thinking of the last six months of running battles with the Kalok, through Vienna and Amsterdam and Prague, all the old cities of Europe full of secret skirmishes and half-hiddden pitched battles. “Time to stop this war, so we can return to our normal level of peril.”
“Extremely high?” Dawn said wryly.
“Pretty much,” and Buffy was about to elaborate on her plans for a holiday in Greece when the radio at her waist buzzed.
“Kalok on the way,” said Jenna’s voice, crackling with static.
Buffy waved Willow over from studying a patch of white flowers, and together the three of them stood in a line facing the half-collapsed gatehouse.
“Are the wards still up?” Buffy asked, and Willow nodded.
“Nothing with harmful intent is coming in that gate.” Willow paused. “Well, not unless they take down the wards, and I’ll know if that happens.”
“Thanks for the, you know, comfort there Will.”
Further conversation was cut off by the entrance of two Kolak, striding through the gatehouse and across the grass-riddled flagstones. These two were slightly larger than most Kolak, almost eight feet, and their tough, purple-black skin was stretched over muscles like steel cables. Their faces looked mostly human, save the pointed teeth and flat nose. They wore loincloths and belts, covered with pouches and empty sheaths. Buffy tensed as they came closer, fighting the urge to draw the shortsword at her belt and slam it through the weak spot between their fourth and fifth vertebrae.
The two demons stopped about ten feet away, and bowed awkwardly.
“I am Huntmaster Jaynar the Counter,” the larger one said awkwardly. “This is my second, Tolner Eyebite. We are here to make accord, on the terms negotiated by Zander One-Eye.”
Buffy nodded stiffly, unable to give the two monsters any more respect than that. “I’m Buffy Summers. Let’s get this over with. Willow, the paper.”
Willow pulled out what would have been an ordinary sheet of printed text, except for the orange glow around its edges. Buffy signed it as representative for the Council, bracing it against Dawn’s back, and then held the document out towards the Kolak. The Huntmaster took the document and the pen, and signed, bracing it against Eyebite’s shoulder. The orange glow flared brighter for a moment, and vanished.
Jaynar handed the treaty back, and bowed again. “The accord is sound. It is custom in the Kolak clan to seal accords with worthy opponents with a gift. Tolner carries it for me.” The subordinate stepped forward, extracting something from a pouch and holding it out in one hand. Buffy quirked an eyebrow at the thing, a simple polihed stone orb about the size of her own fist.
“What is it?” she asked, Dawn leaning over her shoulder to look at it as she took it from the junior Kolak’s unsteady hands. She would not normally have trusted a Kolak, but the power of the treaty and Willow’s wards made her take the chance. Willow was frowning at the orb, and she opened her mouth to say something as Jaynar spoke three harsh syllables.
Buffy was vaguely aware of Willow shouting something, of the Kolaks being thrown backwards against a wall, but her vision was fading. The world was blurred, the edges of things falling apart as Buffy felt herself pulled downwards into something cold and empty.
Jen Sin yos’Phelium ran a finger around the edge of his coffee cup, this being a socially acceptable alternative to drinking the awful liquid. He had never developed a taste for coffee, and had ordered it only because Lakfort Port had never heard of the strange liquid called ‘tea’, and certainly had none of it to serve. Jen Sin sighed a little and leaned bac in his chair, watching the world go by outside the little café. Jitneys carrying goods to and fro, Terrans moving about on errands of great importance—
And across the street, two short, gold-skinned men were arguing with a burly official outside the Port office. Jen Sin blinked at seeing two of his own race here on decidedly Terran Lakfort, which saw outworld Terrans rarely and Liadens – well, Jen Sin would have said not at all, but obviously that would have been incorrect. He watched the argument for a few moments before it belatedly occurred to him that the Liadens probably did not speak Ichen, the local dialect of Terran. It further occurred to him that he, Jen Sin, spoke Ichen, and that offering assistance would allow him to leave the awful coffee behind.
It might even be mildly entertaining.
Decision made, Jen Sin stood up from his table and stretched, feeling the comforting weight of his pilot’s jacket across his shoulders, and the small gun in its sleeve pocket. He left a few bits to pay for the untouched coffee, and hurried down the street to the argument. He could hear the voices as soon as he left the café, two threads of indignant Liaden and a voice bellowing away in the short sibilants of Ichen. As he grew closer, Jen Sin saw that the official was none other than the dayside portmaster himself, resplendent in the purple-and-black Port uniform. The two Liadens were dressed well but not extravagantly, and Jen Sin pegged them as traders.
He inserted himself into the triangle of speakers, standing halfway between the two Liadens and the portmaster. Jen Sin bowed to the two, Youth to Elder; technically true, but a rather understated introduction. Jen Sin had lately embraced understatement. He rose from his bow, and spoke into the sudden silence in High Liaden, in the mode of Junior to Senior.
“Good day. I am a student of languages, and offer my services as a translator, to both resolve your dispute and extend my command of the local language.” There, that was nicely phrased, disclaiming any debt on either side.
The two Liadens stared at Jen Sin for a moment, and he imagined what they saw. A young man, perhaps twenty cycles of age, too tall and too dark-skinned to be a Liaden but speaking that tongue with ease. At last the older Liaden bowed in return, Elder to Child of Another House, and spoke in the same mode.
“Your offer of service is accepted. This Terran we attempt to treat with has no knowledge of the civilised tongue, and does not speak even Trade.”
Jen Sin bowed again, Acceptance of Service, with the gesture indicating interim contract. “I shall inform the portmaster of my role.” He turned to the portmaster and spoke in Ichen. “Honoured sir, these gentles have accepted my offer of translation, in order that all may be resolved amicably. I ask your permission to consult with my clients in their own language.
“Do as you like, young buck,
” the portmaster said gruffly. “But there’s nothing to be done but that they pay their dues.
Jen Sin turned back to the Liadens, sticking to Junior to Senior. “The honoured portmaster intimates that the dispute is over a due of some kind.”
“A due?” The younger trader erupted. “An eighth-cantra per pod for ‘certification of safety’ before we can offload, when our cargo was already checked for hazardous chemicals! An unannounced tax, that’s all it is, and all the while our crew sits idle on Serana!”
“Ah,” said Jen Sin. “A moment, trader.” Back to the portmaster, who seemed a trifle amused by Jen Sin’s rapid swivelling. “The trader informs me that his knowledge is unclear regarding the duty for certification of safety, and asserts that his cargo has already been inspected for hazardous materials.
“Well, and they’re two different things,
” said the portmaster. “The certification fee is for the Adepts, checking that there’s nothing to inflame the heart or disturb the peace. Must be paid on all trade goods entering Lakfort, ever since we opened up to trade. Even Liadens can’t weasel out of it.
Jen Sin considered how to translate this explanation without further enraging the traders. “Traders, the portmaster informs me that the fee is for an inspection by a branch of the government called the Adepts, who ensure that none of the goods threaten public safety. He also says that the duty is paid on all trade goods to be sold here on Lakfort, and that there is no discrimination against you or your ship.”
The younger trader opened his mouth again, but was silenced by the elder touching his shoulder. The older trader inclined his head to the portmaster, speaking through Jen Sin. “Inform the portmaster that we are grateful for this explanation, and will keep it in our minds when considering future journeys through this sector.”
Jen Sin relayed the message exactly, not wanting to spoil such a perfect mix of apology and rebuke. The portmaster merely nodded in response and went back inside the port office, apparently not concerned by a trade ship threatening to cut Lakfort from its route.
Jen Sin faced the Liadens again, struggling not to shrug in the Terran fashion. “The portmaster hears your words, trader.”
The elder trader sighed. “A matter of differing regulations, I would own. Your service was exemplary, young sir.” The elder trader bowed ironically, Employer to Employee. “My name is Versen el’Tabert Clan Aragon, Trader for the ship Serana.”
Jen Sin bowed in return. “I am Jen Sin yos’Phelium Clan Korval.” At this the younger trader went pale, and then flushed an interesting orange-bronze colour.
“Korval! Uncle, we cannot trust this halfbreed pup’s words for us! Think how he might have poisoned the port against us! Korval, the enemy of Liad!”
Not having an answer to this absurdity, Jen Sin ignored it for the moment. “I request the honour of your name, trader,” he said brightly, shifting into Adult-to-Adult. The trader drew himself up.
“I am Mur Ton al’Tikrit Clan Aragon, a’thodelm for Line al’Tikrit!” he said portentously.
“I thank you for your courtesy,” intoned Jen Sin. “And must lay your concern to rest. I translated the exact meaning of your words to the portmaster, and of his to you. I am of course desolate not to have resolved the matter in your favour, but my powers of persuasion are scant compared to the weight of port regulations.”
At this Mur Ton flushed anew, but Versen broke in before the younger one could speak. “We thank you for your service, Jen Sin yos’Phelium. Serana is in port for two more days, but I fear we will not be able to meet again.”
A courteous enough warning-away, Jen Sin allowed, and probably wise considering the suppressed anger in Mur Ton’s clenched fists and straight back. “I appreciate your difficulties, and wish you the best in your future endeavours,” Jen Sin said smoothly, and gave the bow of accepting instruction.
He rather thought Mur Ton did not get the gibe, but Versen did, exhaling slightly before bowing farewell and walking away, Mur Ton following after a final glare at Jen Sin. Well. What a stimulating morning, Jen Sin thought. And two more days to wait out, before the maintenance check on his own ship Eggling
was complete. He almost sighed, but his attention was caught by an intricately carved stick in a shop window, and he wandered over to look at it. Engaging the proprietor in conversation regarding the stick’s origin, he completely forgot about Mur Ton’s smouldering fury.
Buffy is coming in the next chapter, already half-written. And I'm still working on The Hunt! Action scenes are hard