“A what?” The man asked.
“A bintinn. While all mediations end when the parties agree on the terms, I’ve found not everyone lives up to their end of the bargain. A bintinn is just a little insurance that you both behave after we’ve concluded here.”
“But what is it?”
This fisherman isn’t nearly as dumb as he looks. “After you come to an agreement, I will seal it with magic. Should either of you ever break it, there will be consequences. And,” I said loudly, holding up my finger so he wouldn’t interrupt me, “before you ask, it varies. It can be as simple as letting me know if one of you breaks, or causes someone else to break, the terms—don’t ask, I won’t tell you how. Or it could be immediate death.”
He gasped, as did a few who were nearby enough to be eavesdropping. The woman stared at the table.
“I decide each case on its merits and how likely I think it is you actually agree. If this comes to a peaceful solution that you both are enthusiastic about, then you won’t have anything to worry about. But if I get the sense you’d murder each other in your sleep tonight, then the bintinn will be appropriately set.”
“I-I’ve never seen a meedi do that,” he said.
I cringed. I hated being called a meedi, slang for mediator. It was too close to greedy or beady, as in beady-eyed. I didn’t consider myself either of those.
“I have,” the woman said, a visible shiver passing through her.
“Well, you both know you can leave at any time. And I won’t do the bintinn until you’ve agreed to the terms. So, shall we get on with it? Your names?” I tilted my head and raised my eyebrows at the fisherman.
“Nice to meet you, Johanesi Gertian.” I turned to the woman.
“A pleasure, Steffan Highcourt,” I let my gaze linger on her, so she knew she wasn’t getting away with the false name, false garb, or false sex. “We’ll use first names to help improve our familiarity. Johanesi, I’d like to hear your side of the story first. Starting when you first met Steffan.”
Johanesi told his tale, and as I thought, Steffan had arrived that day. After a drink, the two had struck up a conversation which led to them playing a game of Bragker, using the local rules that low was high and high was low. Even before the last hand, he suspected Steffan was cheating since “he” won nearly every hand. Johanesi said his cards in the last round were nearly perfect, and he should have won. Instead, Steffan took every bit of coin he had.
“If you thought the hand was so good, why did you fold?” I asked Johanesi.
“I, I don’t know. Something ‘bout the look in his eye.” He turned his head toward me. “Made me nervous.”
“That’s what bluffing is all about. You can be upset about it, but do not blame me if you lost your courage,” Steffan leaned back, anticipating Johanesi’s reaction.
But it didn’t come. The man kept looking at me, though his fist balled up tight.
“There’s no need for provocation, Steffan. If you do it again, I’ll leave you to whatever justice the crowd here thinks you deserve.” That elicited some chatter in the locals. I fingered my staff while staring at them, which quieted them down. “And we both know you bare some blame for this situation.”
I had to be careful not to expose her completely. Kenuport was in the outer reaches of the empire, where the law was often interpreted in favor of the locals, if enforced at all. She’d have no protection if Johanesi walked away from negotiations. Other than her not-so-good magic and me. And I hadn’t decided whether she was worth the effort I was already making.
“Do you disagree with any of his story up until the last hand?”
I noticed she didn’t argue about the suggestion she’d been cheating. Hopefully, I’d gotten through to her.
A few more rounds of ale had Johanesi agreeing to accept the results of the game, minus the last hand. Steffan took a bit longer—the ale didn’t seem to have the desired effects—but came round to it in the end. Thankfully, Johanesi had been counting his ever-reducing pile of coins and knew exactly how much was played.
“Your pouch, please.” I said to Steffan with an outstretched hand.
She pulled it out of her coat, plopping it with force onto my fingers.
I counted out Johanesi’s coins on the table, then pushed a smaller one, a gull, off to the side. I pulled another gull out of the pouch and placed it next to the other. “Your losses on the last hand, returned to you Johanesi, minus a one gull fee for mediation.” I placed the pouch on the table. “And one gull from you, Steffan, for mediation.”
The crowd leaned closer, sitting or standing in silence, as they awaited the final agreement. I saw eagerness in their eyes. I guessed they were more in need of entertainment than I was, and were hoping it would all go wrong.
Johanesi reached out and grabbed his coins, shoving them back into a small pouch he’d pulled out of a pocket. Steffan lifted his pouch and tucked it back into his coat.
“And that concludes negotiations.” I picked up the two gulls and stood to pay the Barman.
“Hoi, what ‘bout that thing, bintinn?” One onlooker yelled at me.
“What about it?”
“Arncha going to do it?” A chorus of nods and mumbles followed.
I looked back at the table. Johanesi’s face was white, which was impressive considering his dark tan from being on the sea. Sweat rolled down his temples, too. I held back my smile. At least half the effect of the bintinn was psychological. Steffan’s blank face gave away nothing of what she felt inside.
“It’s already done. By accepting the coins, they agreed to the terms.”
“But what are the terms?” Johanesi’s eyes were wide again.
Perhaps I scared him too much. I decided to put him out of his misery, and confront Steffan on his real reason for visiting Kenuport.
- Episode 1: Chamber of Power
- Episode 2: Chamber of Power
- Episode 8: Chamber of Power
- Episode 3: Chamber of Power
- Episode 4: Chamber of Power