Aden sagged in his chair, gray and worn. “Then we’ve already lost.”
“No!” Alibaba’s head snapped up, gold eyes bright with determination. “Balbadd’s not lost! We know what they’re after. That means we can stop them.”
Even Beniel looked at him askance. “You think we can stop people ready to take on Sinbad of Sindria.”
“Yes,” Alibaba insisted. “Because they’re not ready to take him on. If they were they’d sail right into Sindria and fight. But they’re not. They think they’re being sneaky.” He shook his head. “And if they were just dealing with Abhmad, they’d be right. But they’re not going to face Balbadd’s nobles anymore. They’re going to face her people. And we’re born to be sneaky.” He grinned at Aden, sudden as sunlight. “Or am I not talking to one of the best smugglers in the islands?”
Aden looked him slowly up and down. Crossed his arms, but didn’t pull farther away. “I’m still not hearing a plan.”
Alibaba thumped his elbows on the table. Stared at the map.
Sindukht weighed the heavy gazes around the table, and rose. “All right, you’ve been fidgeting like a rooster with a sore talon. Let me see your foot, Aden.”
“Nothing that makes you want to bite our heads off.” She gestured toward his sandals.
“Bahir already looked at it,” the captain grumped, letting her manhandle his foot as he watched Alibaba. “Damn carpenters. With how much nails cost, you’d think they’d keep track of the cursed things….”
Alibaba glanced up, startled.
Aden growled under his breath. “Don’t tell me you’ve never stepped on a nail.”
“I haven’t,” Alibaba said, half to himself. “In the slums, you’d burn the boards to get them back; they were worth it. In the palace – I almost stepped on a gold nail once, from someone’s haircombs….”
Jahan eyed the youngster. Because that sounded frighteningly like an idea.
“Gold nails!” Aden let out a bark of laughter, wriggling his toes against Sindukht’s stubborn grip. “Why not? You’ll find more of those in Balbadd than gold coins, these days. You want to start trade again, young prince? Well, good luck to you! It’s impossible! The Fan is insane, and they won’t let you use anything else-”
“That’s two problems,” Alibaba objected, with an odd precise edge to his posture that told Jahan the boy had to be remembering old court lessons. “And makes it two. The Fan is insane. They won’t let you use anything but the Fan in Balbadd.” He took a deep breath. “But everybody knows what a nail is worth.”