A/N: Internet is back. Hopefully.
“Kou Empire Fan bills,” Sinbad nodded. He might be a king rather than an active merchant-adventurer these days, but he still kept an eye on the currency flows between nations. Rashid had drummed that into his head hard enough to leave marks, Djinn or no Djinn. “If Abhmad’s made a Kou Empire license a requirement for trade, it’s no wonder they’re here-”
“Balbadd’s not using anything else. Officially.” Ja’far’s shoulders were tense under his official robe; a bureaucrat about to shed hard-earned civility and go hunting. “The dock-master had the gall to tell us coinage of other nations would be confiscated. Oh, he didn’t say that, just offered us exchange rates for money that wouldn’t be worth anything….”
“I smiled at him,” Masrur said quietly.
“I’ll bet you did,” Sinbad grinned. After which, he was sure, the dock-master had found some reason to make Ja’far someone else’s problem. Anyone else’s. “The traders who come to us must be working around the currency somehow-”
Steel glinted between Ja’far’s clenched fingers. Sinbad tensed, before recognizing those weren’t at all the right shape to be Ja’far’s deadly rope-darts.
With a bow, Ja’far unfolded his fingers, displaying three polished nails; one steel, one iron, one bright copper. “It’s not easy to get anyone to talk. But if you say you’re willing to trade something small and not too expensive – say, a sky-blue ribbon for a cleaning maid’s hair – and keep it out of official sight….”
Startled, Sinbad picked one of the nails off Ja’far’s palm. Straight, new, and certainly not cheap. Steel would be the most expensive, used where two planks had to join and stay as long as possible. Iron was cheaper, used where someone might tolerate some rust, and it didn’t matter if wear eventually shattered it. The copper nail wasn’t cheap, though it’d be most valuable in the shipyard, nailing sheathing to hulls to keep them from fouling….
Most valuable in a shipyard, yes, Sinbad thought. But everyone knows that – so it’s worth something anywhere. “Someone,” he breathed, “is an absolute genius.” He paused, trying to consider that from an ordinary citizen’s point of view, instead of a rukh-led king’s. “Or desperate. But still, genius.” He glanced up at his companions. “And now they’re a target.”