Chapter 18:

The Art of the Deal

The Songstress of Avalon

“You damn faker! What are you doing, following me around?!”

Ignacio snapped at me before I could even make him an offer. Attempts to calm the man down were met with even more threats and insults. Fed up, I seized him by the shoulders and began to shake him around.

“Sell me the jewel, you stubborn old man!”

“The jewel?!” his eyes glimmered with recognition; he shrugged me off, put some distance between us and held the wooden box close to his chest. “I’ll never sell to you!”

I regained my composure, something that I shouldn’t have lost in the first place, and held up two fingers. “I’ll give you 250,000 gold coins.”

“That’s barely more than what I paid for it!” Ignacio snarled his reply.

“Then I’ll double it!”

“Your money is tainted!”

Arisa watched this scene unfold with a bemused expression on her face. However, we were mostly ignored by the other bazaar-goers, for such aggressive haggling was just part and parcel of the Grand Bazaar. It wasn’t until I held up all ten fingers (regrettably, I had to let go of Arisa’s hand to do this), that the people around us started to take notice.

“1,000,000 gold coins!”

“We’ve got a big spender over here!”

“1,000,000? What is he trying to buy?”

Ignacio’s eyes twitched at the sight of my raised fingers, which signified an eye-watering sum of money. I knew that the man was seriously considering my offer, even though to him I must have seemed like a devil trying to coerce him into giving into temptation.

However his answer was still an adamant, if not admirable, “I refuse!”

In reality, there was nothing stopping me from just robbing this man. Hadn’t I already been plenty reasonable, having offered to make him richer than his wildest dreams? It wasn’t as though I wanted the jewel for selfish reasons either – it was all for the sake of sending Arisa and I home.

Even though she never said anything about wanting to go home...

I was beginning to see red, solely because of this man’s stubbornness. Surtur, resting on its interdimensional laurels, was beckoning to me. I would have to lead him into an alleyway first, of course, but if the prospect of being a millionaire couldn’t convince him to part with the jewel, then I imagined that a flaming sword would.

“After all, Ayato, you’re not a hero anymore.”

Rakshasa’s voice echoed in my mind; the demon had probably been loath to lend its power to a man like me, who was so determined to do the right thing all the time. But Rakshasa did have a point. I wasn’t the hero anymore. If I used the kind of murky tactics that had been used against me during the entire quest, then what right did anyone have to complain?

I wasn’t the hero anymore, I was…

“The ambassador, huh?”

“What are you talking about now?” Ignacio continued to clutch the wooden box protectively against his chest. “I can’t be bought and sold, you know!”

“Ayato…?” Arisa looked puzzled when I slid my hand into my breast pocket.

Ignacio, on the other hand, looked terrified. It was clear by his eyes, which had grown even wider than when I offered him a million gold coins, and his gaping mouth that he thought I was going to pull out a weapon. He maintained this idiotic expression even as I held my card out to him.

“W-w-what…?” he took it with a trembling hand.

“This is my card,” I said. “Ayatsuji Ayato, the Avispan ambassador to the Kingdom of Amalfi. If you change your mind, you can contact me here.”

The propriety of my reaction must have caught Ignacio off-guard because, for once, the first thing out of his mouth wasn’t an insult. In fact, he appeared to have been rendered speechless. After accepting my card, he began to stagger away when Misane’s voice could suddenly be heard.

“Wait up!”

She appeared holding a white and blue cloak in her hands. I could tell by the way its edges cascaded down her arms that it wasn't one of hers. It was clearly made for somebody much bigger. Much like I had done with my card just minutes earlier, she held it out to Ignacio.

“This belonged to my brother,” Misane revealed. “I’ll trade you it for the jewel.”

“Hm…” Ignacio considered the offer thoughtfully, but quickly agreed when I said I would include half a million gold coins. “Wait, where’s the jewel…?”

“Aha!” Arisa held the wooden box in her hand. “You actually dropped it just now. I picked it up for you.”

“Ah, thank you, little miss.”

Ignacio’s enmity towards me seemed not to extend to Arisa; it was quite strange that he accepted her explanation so readily. The box hadn’t been in his pocket, but in his hands, so he would have noticed if he had dropped it. I had experienced for myself Arisa’s pickpocketing skills, so there was no doubt in my mind that she had somehow taken the box from him.

The fact that she was able to pilfer it from the man’s hands without him noticing, though, was truly fearsome. Not that I condoned stealing, of course. I shot her a knowing look as she handed the box to me, and she responded by sticking out her tongue. I could see, in the corner of my eye, Ignacio taking Arturo’s cloak from Misane.

“That was an anniversary present for my wife,” Ignacio looked at me soberly, as I began to write a promissory note which entitled to him to 500,000 gold coins at the expense of the Kingdom of Amalfi. “But she’ll understand. She loved the Hero too.”

“The Hero is standing right in front of you,” I handed him the note.

“The only hero in this realm,” he spat, “is Arturo Artois. Every other ‘hero’ is but a cheap imitation.”

And with that acidic remark, he was gone.

I hoped his wife wouldn’t understand, and that he’d be in the doghouse for a week. Upon opening the wooden box and holding the jewel in my hands though, these petty feelings quickly disappeared.

“That was quick thinking,” I said to Misane. “But why’d you bring your brother’s cloak to the bazaar? Don’t tell me it was some kind of security blanket for you?”

“Don’t talk nonsense!” Misane flushed red. “That wasn’t my brother’s cloak. I bought it from some second-hand salesman near the inn.”

“Y-y-you mean to say you scammed him?!”

“I was doing business,” she shrugged. “Maybe I have a future as a merchant? What do you think, Ari?”

“You sure showed him, Misa!” Arisa clapped.

One of them could steal something straight from a man’s hands without him noticing; the other had the audacity and the ability to trade a worthless item for a valuable one. Rather than honest merchants, they had the makings of talented crooks – and if they ever teamed up, then well, I had it on good authority that there was a sucker born every minute.

“If the Thieves’ Guild tries to recruit you, you better say no,” I instructed.

“Forget about all that,” Arisa grinned. “You shouldn’t be so uptight. We got the jewel, didn’t we? And you know what that means…”

“Oh? Did Ayato promise you something?” Misane asked, curiously.

“Just a sweet potato, a Pericles’ apple, a…” Arisa proceeded to name the various foodstuffs being sold in the stalls around us.

I was down half a million gold coins, so what was another couple of hundred? Stifling a sigh, I dug into my pocket for my wallet but it, like the two girls, had already disappeared.

“When did they…? Well, whatever,” I ventured off to find them – a sweet potato or a Pericles’ apple didn’t sound too bad right about now.

Steward McOy