2.) “Moregone is missing.”
“Who?” Jonder Maze looked up from his papers, quill pen dripping. He was dressed in three layers of robes, all of them frayed because he was too cheap to pay for heating.
“The Eleventh Principality,” I said.
“How does an entire principality disappear and how come I have not heard of it?” He slid the quill into the ink and shook off the excess absently.
“Have you done business with Moregone?” I asked.
He stared at the tip of his pen as if the answer was there. “No, I don’t believe I have.”
“Well, there is your answer. Moregone is a…modest…realm, which does not call attention to itself. Its people are quiet and hardworking.”
“Sounds stupendously boring,” Jonder Maze said, shaking his head.
“But safe,” I answered. “They have not been in a war in their history.”
“Must not have anything anyone wants,” the merchant answered, shrugging. “Why do you bring up this benighted realm?”
I had been standing in front of his desk, and even so I could barely see over the piles of manuscripts. I leaned forward, lifted a stack, and laid it to one side. Then I pulled the chair up to the gap and sat down. I could barely see Jonder Maze’s eyes.
“I don’t believe a missing principality is something we should ignore. What if the Tenth Principality was to disappear? What about the Fifth?” Jonder Maze was the richest man in the Fifth Principality, though he would have been a minor merchant in the First.
“I believe I would know if I was missing,” he said.
“You may not know this, Jonder, but I have a summer home in Moregone. I quite like the place. They grow the most magnificent artichokes and have a hundred ways of serving it.”
For the first time, I had Jonder Maze’s full attention.
“They are the only source of artichokes in all the Principalities, sir.”
“This is quite alarming!” the merchant cried. “We must mount an expedition immediately.”
“Such is my intention. Prince Cambral has pledged half of the necessary funds, and I am looking for a second benefactor.”
I’d decided, after much thought, that being in debt to another Prince was not something I should enter into lightly. Prince Cambral was already in my debt, so his patronage was not troublesome. No, I’d much rather owe a rich man than royalty. They tended to see the practical side of things.
With noticeable effort, Jonder calmed down. Realizing he’d been too eager, he sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. I looked up. There was nothing there but soot and spiderwebs.
“I, of course, will need to get seventy percent of all profits,” he said.
“Agreed,” I answered immediately. When all was settled, I knew that I could talk both the Prince and Jonder Maze into accepting fifty percent—since it was likely it would be fifty percent of not much. Then again, I had enriched both men more than once and they could afford to take a small loss.
I had found the one person in all the Principalities who cared if artichokes disappeared. I didn’t even have to lie about red obsidian. Prince Mackey of the Third Principalities was quite fond of apples, but I wasn’t sure if crabapples were high up his list.