“It’s not the first time they’ve been away from me,” Sinbad said gravely. “I’ll make it up to them later.”
“For that we need to have a later,” Alibaba said grimly. “I don’t know how, we’ve been watching the port, the caravan routes, the messenger pigeons – the Kou Empire’s pulling something. The whole palace is stirred like an anthill.”
Masrur frowned, and Ja’far nodded. Whatever was amiss, Abhmad could have sent a message to the Sindrian delegation, if he’d wanted to. Evidently, he hadn’t. Which meant Alibaba was likely right, and the Kou Empire was behind this. Though how-?
“Magical communications, possibly,” Sinbad mused. “Or someone sneaking through on a flying carpet.”
Aladdin twitched at that one. Interesting.
Sinbad seemed to ignore it. “So what’s going on?”
“Outside of the palace sending servants out to buy all the red silk in town?” Alibaba lifted a hand, voice taking on an oddly familiar distracted note as he ticked off fingers. “Already sent word out for people to ship that into port if they can, Fikri could make a profit and it lets us get some friendly ships in if things go wrong…. The goldsmiths are getting orders for new festival-wear. There’s a demand for rock eels and eumera snapper. The spice merchants are getting cleaned out of saffron and spikenard, the perfumers are almost wiped out of rose attar, and some poor kitchen maid is searching the whole market for oranges.” Alibaba gave Sinbad a rightfully suspicious look. “If there’s an orange anywhere in the next two nations, this time of year, I haven’t heard about it. It sounds like a palace celebration. But the timing’s all wrong.”
Red silk, oranges, and gold jewelry. Ja’far tried not to wince, even as Masrur’s frown deepened.
Sinbad… blinked. “Ouch. That poor young lady.”
“I know,” Alibaba said impatiently, “that’s why I think it’s the Kou, classic put your lienee over a barrel by demanding the impossible-”
“No, no,” Sinbad waved it off, “though yes, that poor girl is going to have a hard time, maybe someone can slip her some preserves to bring in as a substitute… well. There’s no easy way to say this.” A hint of a grin played over his face. “Alibaba, you’re about to become a brother-in-law.”
Prepared by many, many years of past experience, Ja’far had Alibaba by the shoulders before the young man could actually try to strangle his king. Barely. Alibaba was fast.
Sorry. If anyone strangles him, it’s going to be me.