"I brought twelve bales. They are marked with my name."
"Very good, sir. We will hold them for your disposal. You may claim them at any time after mid-day." The man wrote rapidly on his tablet.
Musa thanked him, then turned to see how his shipboard acquaintance was progressing. He had questions to ask about gold and silver coins.
He watched the older merchant complete his conversation with an official, and, as he started to leave the wharf, quickly caught up with him. At Musa's approach, the other held up a hand.
"I know," he said. "Why did I tell you to make a generous offering, then put a smaller coin in the bowl myself? That is what you want to know?"
"Precisely," Musa replied. "I'm not a poor man, but I'm not a wealthy holiday seeker, either. This voyage has to pay."
The other smiled. "Exactly why I advised you as I did. Come into this wineshop, and I'll tell you the story."
Over the drinks, the older man explained himself. An experienced trader, he had been operating between the mainland and Norlar for many years. It had been a profitable business, for the island had been dependent upon the mainland for many staple items, and had in return furnished many items of exquisite craftsmanship, as well as the produce of its extensive fisheries and pearl beds.
Then, the prophet, Sira Nal, had come with his preachings of a great sea god, Kondaro, ruler of the Eastern Sea. Tonda told of the unbelief that had confronted the prophet, and of the positive proof that Sira Nal had offered, when he had gathered a group of converts, collected enough money to purchase a ship, and made a highly successful voyage to the distant lands to the east. Upon his return, Sira Nal had found a ready market for the strange and wonderful products he had brought. He also had found many more converts for his new religion.
His original group, now a priesthood, were the only men who could give protection and guidance to a ship in a voyage past the sea demons who frequented the Eastern Sea, and they demanded large offerings to compensate for their services. Of course, a few adventurous shipowners had attempted to duplicate Sira Nal's feat without the aid of a priest, but no living man had seen their ships or crews again.
The profits from the rich, new trade, plus the alms of the traders visiting Tanagor, had rapidly filled the coffers of Kondaro. A great temple had been built, and the priests had become more and more powerful, until now, not too many years after the first voyage of Sira Nal, they virtually ruled the island.
For some years, Tonda, a conservative man and a firm believer in his own ancestral gods, had paid little attention to this strange, new religion. Upon arrival at Tanagor, to be sure, he had sometimes placed small offerings in the votive bowl, but more often, he had merely strode past the Slave of Kondaro, and gone upon his affairs.
At last, however, attracted by the great profits in the new, oversea trade, he had decided to arrange for a voyage in one of the great ships. Then, the efficiency of the priestly bookkeeping methods had become apparent. The Great God had become incensed at Tonda's impiety during his many previous trips across the channel, and a curse had been placed upon him and upon his goods. Of course, if Tonda wished to do penance, and to make votive offerings, amounting to about two thousand caldor, it might be that the Great God would relent and allow his passage, but only with new goods. His former possessions had been destroyed by the angry Kondaro in his wrath at Tonda's attempts to place them in one of the sacred ships. Empty-handed, Tonda had returned to the mainland.
"But why did you return with more goods?" inquired Musa.
Tonda smiled. "The wrath of Kondaro extends only to the Great Sea. And, even though I cannot go farther east, trade here in Tanagor is quite profitable." He paused, smiling, as he sipped his drink.
"I think the priests like having a few penitents around to explain things to newcomers, and to furnish examples of the power of Kondaro."
Musa smiled in response. "But my ten caldor make me and my goods acceptable?"
Tonda looked around quickly, then turned a horrified face toward his protege.
"Never say such things," he cautioned in a low tone of voice. "Don't even think them. Your piety makes you acceptable, so long as you continue in a way pleasing to the great Kondaro. The money means nothing. It is only the spirit of sacrifice that counts."
"I see." Musa's face was solemn. "And how else may I be sure I will remain acceptable?"
Tonda nodded approvingly. "I thought you were a man of good sense and prudence." He launched into a description of the technicalities of the worship of Kondaro, the god of the Eastern Sea.
At length, Musa left his tutor, and repaired to an inn, where he secured lodging for the night.
The following morning, in obedience to the advice given him by Tonda, Musa took his way toward the Temple of the Sea. As he threaded through the crowds already gathering in the streets, he took note of the types of merchandise displayed in the booths, and hawked by the street peddlers. Suddenly, one of these roving sellers approached him. In his hands he held a number of ornaments.
"Good day to you, oh Traveler," he cried. "Surely, it is a fortunate morning for both of us." With a deft gesture, he threw one of the trinkets, a cunningly contrived amulet, about Musa's neck.
Musa would have brushed the man aside, but the chain of the amulet had tangled about his neck and he was forced to pause while removing it.
"I told myself when I saw you," the man continued, "ah, Banasel, here is one who should be favored by the gods. Now, how can such a one venture upon the Eastern Sea without a sacred amulet?"
Musa had slipped the chain over his head. He paused, holding the ornament in his hand. "How, then, are you to know where I am going?"
"Oh, Illustrious Traveler," exclaimed the man, "how can I fail to know these things when it is given to me to vend these amulets of great fortune?"
In spite of himself, Musa was curious. He looked at the amulet. There was no question as to the superb workmanship, and his trading instincts took over.
"Why, this is a fair piece of work," he said. "Possibly I could spare a caldor or so."
The man before him struck his forehead.
"A caldor, he says! Why, the gold alone is worth ten."
Musa looked more closely at the ornament. The man was probably not exaggerating too much. Actually, he knew he could get an easy twenty-five balata for the bauble in Karth. A rapid calculation told him that here was a possible profit from the skies.
"Why, possibly it is worth five, at that," he said. "Look, I'll be generous. Shall we say six?"
"Oh, prince of givers! Thou paragon of generosity! After all, I, too, must live." The man smiled wryly. "However, you are a fine, upstanding young man, and one must make allowance. I had thought to ask twenty, but we'll make it ten. Just the price of the gold."
Musa smiled inwardly. The profit was secured, but maybe-- "Let's make it eight, and I'll give you my blessing with the money."
The man held out his hand. "Nine."
Musa shrugged. "Very well, most expert of vendors." He reached into his purse.
Banasel hesitated before accepting the money. He looked Musa over carefully, then nodded as if satisfied.
"Yes," he said softly, "I was right." He paused, then addressed himself directly to Musa.
"We must be very careful to whom we sell these enchanted amulets," he explained, "for they are talismans of the greatest of powers. The wearer of one of these need never fear the unjust wrath of man, beast, or demon, for he has powerful protectors at his call. Only wear this charm. Never let it out of your possession, and you will have nothing to fear during your voyage. Truly, you will be most favored."
He looked sharply at Musa again, took the money, glanced at it, and dropped it into a pouch.
"Do you really believe in the powers of your ornaments, then?" Musa asked skeptically.
Banasel's eyes widened, and he spread his arms. "To be sure," he said in a devout tone. "How can I believe else, when I have seen their miraculous workings so often?" He held up a hand. "Why, I could spend hours telling you of the powers these little ornaments possess, and of the miracles they have been responsible for. None have ever come to harm while wearing one of these enchanted talismans. None!" He spread his arms again.
Musa looked at him curiously. "I should like to hear your stories some day," he said politely.
He felt uncomfortable, as many people do when confronted by a confessed fanatic. His feelings were divided between surprise, a mild contempt, and an unease, born of wonder and uncertainty.
Obviously, the man was not especially favored. He was dressed like any street peddler. He had the slightly furtive, slightly brazen air of those who must avoid the anger, and sometimes the notice, of more powerful people, and yet, who must ply their trade. But he talked grandly of the immense powers of the baubles he vended, seeming to hold them in a sort of reverence. And, when he had spread his arms, there had been a short-lived hint of suppressed power. Musa shuddered a little.
"But I must go to the temple now, if I am to make arrangements for my voyage," he added apologetically. He turned away, then hurried down the street.
Banasel watched him go, a slight smile growing on his face.
"I don't blame you, Pal," he chuckled softly. "I'd feel the same way myself."
He glanced around noting a narrow alley. Casually, he walked into it, then looked around carefully. No one could observe him. He straightened, dropping the slightly disreputable, hangdog manner, then reached for his body shield controls.
Quickly, he cut out visibility, then actuated the levitator modulation and narrowed out of the alley, rose over the city, and headed toward the rugged mountains that formed the backbone of the island.
Lanko was waiting, and quickly lowered the base shield.
"Well," he asked, "how did it go?"
"I found him." Banasel walked over to the cabinets, and started sorting the goods he had been carrying. "Sold him a miniature communicator. Now, I hope he wears the thing."
"We'll have to keep a close watch on him," commented Lanko, "just in case he puts it in his luggage and forgets about it. Did you give him a good sales talk?"
"Sure. Told him to wear it always. I pawed the air, raved a little, and made him think I was crazy. But I've an idea he'll remember and grab the thing if he sees trouble coming." Banasel put the last ornament in its place, and started unhooking his personal equipment. Then, he turned.
"Look," he commented, "why bother with all this mystic business? We've got mentacoms. Why not just clamp onto him, and keep track of him that way? It'd be a lot simpler. Less chance of a slip, too."
"Yeah, sure it would." Lanko gave his companion a disgusted look. "But have you ever tried that little trick?"
"No. I never had the occasion, but I've seen guardsmen run remote surveillances, and even exert control when necessary. They didn't have any trouble. We could try it, anyway."
Lanko sat up. "We could try it," he admitted, "but I know what would happen. I did try it once, and I found out a lot of things--quick." He looked into space for a moment. "How old are you, Banasel?"
"Why, you know that. I'm forty-one."
Lanko nodded. "So am I," he said. "And our civilization is a few thousand years old. And our species is somewhat older than that. We were in basic Guard training, and later in specialist philosophical training together. It took ten years, remember?"
"Sure. I remember every minute of it."
"Of course you do. It was that kind of training. But how old do you think some of those young guardsmen we worked with were?"
"Why, most of 'em were kids, fresh from school."
"That they were. But how many years--our years--had they spent in their schooling? How old were the civilizations they came from? And how old were their species?"
Lanko eyed him wryly.
Banasel looked thoughtfully across the room. "I never thought of it that way. Why, I suppose some of their forefathers were worrying about space travel before this planet was able to support life. And, come to think of it, I remember one of them making a casual remark about 'just a period ago,' when he was starting citizen training."
"That's what I mean." Lanko nodded emphatically. "'Just a period.' Only ten or twelve normal lifetimes for our kind of people. And his civilization's just as old compared to ours as he is compared to us--older, even.
"During that period he was so casual about, he was learning--practicing with his mind, so that the older citizens of the galaxy could make full contact with him without fear of injuring his mentality. He was learning concepts that he wouldn't dare even suggest to you or to me. Finally, after a few more periods, he'll begin to become mature. Do you think we could pick up all the knowledge and training back of his handling of technical equipment in a mere ten years of training?"
Banasel reached up, taking the small circlet from his head. He held it in his hand, looking at it with increased respect.
"You know," he admitted, "I really hadn't thought of it that way. They taught me to repair these things, among other pieces of equipment, and most of the construction is actually simple. They taught me a few uses for it, and I thought I understood it.
"Of course, I knew we were in contact with an advanced culture, and I knew that most of those guys we treated so casually had something that took a long time in the getting, but I didn't stop to think of the real stretch of time and study involved." He leaned back, replacing the mentacom on his head. "Somehow, they didn't make it apparent."
"Of course they didn't." Lanko spread his hands a little. "One doesn't deliberately give children a feeling of inferiority."
"Yeah. Will we ever learn?"
"Some. Some day. But we've got a long, lonely road to travel first." Lanko stood up and adjusted the communicator.
"Right now, though, we'd better keep tabs on Musa. In fact, we'd better follow him when he leaves here."
The temple of Kondaro, the sea god, had been built at the edge of a cliff, so that it overlooked the Eastern Sea. The huge, white dome furnished a landmark for mariners far out at sea, and dominated the waterfront of Norlar. Atop the dome, a torch provided a beacon to relieve the blackness of moonless nights. This was the home of the crimson priests, and the center of guidance for all who wished to sail eastward.
Musa stood for some time, admiring the temple, then walked between the carefully clipped hedges and up the long line of steps leading to the arched entrance.
Again, he stopped. Overhead, the curved ceiling of the main dome was lower than its outer dimensions would lead one to believe, but Musa hardly noticed that. He gazed about the main rotunda.
It was predominantly blue. The dome was a smooth, blue sky, and the smooth blueness continued down the walls. The white stone steps were terminated at the edges of a mosaic sea, which stretched to the far walls, broken only by a large statue of the sea god. Kondaro stood in the center of his temple, facing the entrance. One arm stretched out, the hand holding a torch, while the other arm cradled one of the great ships favored by the god. Beneath one foot was one of the batlike sea demons, its face mirroring ultimate despair. About the feet lapped conventionally sculptured waves, which melted into the mosaic, to be continued to the walls by the pattern of the tiles. At the far side of the rotunda, the double stairs, which led to bronze doors, were almost inconspicuous, seeming to be a vaguely appearing mirage on the horizon of a limitless sea.
The trader looked at the far side, then down, and hesitated, feeling as though he were about to walk on water. Then, he turned, remembering the pedestal nearby. A crimson bowl rested on this stand, and beside it was a slave in the crimson loincloth which marked the menials of Kondaro.
Musa stepped over to the pedestal, dropped a coin into the bowl, and walked toward the rear of the temple, making proper obeisance to the huge statue. A young priest approached him.
"I crave blessings for a voyage I propose to take," announced the trader.
The priest inclined his head.
"Very well, Traveler, follow me."
He led the way to a small office. An older priest sat at a large table, reading a tablet. Conveniently placed were writing materials, and on the table before him was another votive bowl. Musa dropped a coin into the bowl, and the priest looked up.
"I bring a voyager, O, Wise One," said the young priest.
"It is well," the older priest acknowledged in a deep voice. He turned to Musa. "Your name, Voyager?"
Musa gave his name, his age, the amount of his goods, and an account of his actions since his arrival in Tanagor. At the mention of Tonda, the priest nodded.
"The actions of Tonda have been most exemplary for the past several seasons," he remarked. "He is a good man, but he lacks the proper spirit of sacrifice." He concluded his writing.
"Well, then, Musa, you may go to those who sail ships with the blessing of Kondaro upon you. I shall only caution you as to the observance of the rites and laws for those who sail the Great Sea. Go now, in peace."
As Musa turned, the younger priest spoke. "I will lead you to one who will give you further guidance," he said.
Musa followed him to another small room, where he met still another priest. This man, he discovered, was a shrewd trader in his own right. He was familiar with goods and their values, and in addition to the rites he described, he presented definite advice as to what to take and what to leave behind. Fortunately, Musa discovered as he talked to this priest, he had picked very nearly as good a selection as he could wish.