“All the cargoes have been listed, all the port fees and taxes paid in full. Merhdad is a merchant in good standing.” Sabhmad paused; even below, Alibaba could see him gulp. “Some of the taxes may have been paid with interest for being late, sea trade is never timely….” He managed to stand straight, even as Abhmad’s head swiveled to stare at him. “I have the receipts.”
Amon, I know you think it’s a casual use of your power, Alibaba thought, studying the carefully stone-faced ambassadors. Whatever they’d been expecting out of an execution, it hadn’t been this. But you have no idea how grateful I am I’m not sweating.
“You fool! What are you thinking?” Abhmad’s face worked, as he looked their brother over from head to toe. “Is that ink on your hands?”
Sabhmad swallowed. “M-maybe?”
Whipping her attention back to Alibaba, Kougyoku drew in a breath that only hissed a little. “You bribed him?!?”
Alibaba made his eyes wide. “Princess! I am shocked. Do you mean to say that honest port fees are seen in the Kou Empire as bribes?” He gasped. “It’s a wonder you haven’t had more smuggling.”
Her face had gone from ice-white to slightly pink. He could see her shoulders tense, starting to fume.
Don’t give her time to react. “Now for the second terms; piracy and murder!”
One step forward. This is my battlefield!
“Dockmaster Shahidi made a full report, and I stand by it,” Alibaba declared, face cold as a duel. “Vessels under my command, and in my merchant association, have indeed attacked and burned ships of other nations. Ships bearing away citizens of Balbadd, and those who sail with us, into captivity, slavery, and death!”
There was a rumble from those who’d carried in their cargo, somehow more ominous than any roar from the crowds outside. In it he could hear hate, and the rage of a people who’d watched their kingdom destroyed from within… and somehow, the clink of Morgiana’s chains.