Alibaba saw the room go silent, even Cassim yanking back his fury to eye the door. He didn’t know all the sounds in Cassim’s warren, but something must not be right.
A few heartbeats, and someone tentatively knocked at the doorway.
“Enough with the uptown manners,” one of Cassim’s men grumbled. “Boss! Guy from Shahidi here to see you.”
The white-faced dock guard looked all too aware that he was a minnow swimming with a school of barracudas. None of whom were interested in eating him. Yet.
Alibaba cast a curious look at Cassim. Since when did Shahidi even admit the Fog Troupe existed?
Cassim gave him a considering frown back. New one on me. “You’re here. Speak your piece.”
“Dock-Master Shahidi’s compliments, um… sir….” Another almost-hidden gulp. “I was told to bring word to Boss Cassim, and Merhdad if possible?”
“We’re listening,” Alibaba stated, glad his hair was hidden under a soft Partevian mosaic-knit cap. Jahan had insisted; if they wanted to keep the government chasing rumors of Merhdad the Partevian, he had to at least look like he’d visited that kingdom long enough to pick up some clothes. “What is it?”
The guard nodded to him, and took a deep breath; steadier, this time, with the kind of anger Alibaba was all too familiar with; I know this is wrong, but there’s only so much I can do. “Some of the pirates decided to talk, in hopes of leniency. They had-” The guard shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe his own words. “They claimed they were official. That they had every right to be chasing smugglers in our waters. That… they were given sounding charts.”
The room went very still.
“You. Stay there.” Cassim turned on the logbook as if he’d like to shred it with a fine razor. “You said you went through the ship for documents….”
“I did,” Alibaba stated, pouncing on leather and flipping through pages. “I was reading the recent entries, figured that’s where they would have sold our people, didn’t have time to go through everything-”
Two-thirds back through the pages, a thin sheet of onionskin paper slithered free.
Cassim hissed. “Is that-?”
“Lord Nalci’s seal,” Alibaba said, almost numb as he picked up the finely-lettered chart. Technically, it was the Sea-General’s seal; or for outsiders, the Lord of the Seas at War. Foreign courts were impressed by that sort of name. Even if it was just a fancy title for the luckless noble guy stuck managing Balbadd’s few naval ships, when they had some; hiring privateers, when they had those, which fortunately didn’t happen very often; and who usually ended up spending most of his time with maps, a sextant, and a stiff drink, as he tried to keep some kind of eye on where Balbadd ships were in the world.