The little bell above the door tinkled merrily, and Estefan Giacamo von Sarvos slipped his book onto the shelf below the desk with one hand, smoothed his doublet with the other, and stood up straight with an expression of earnest enthusiasm on his face. His composure took a slight knock when he saw who had come in, but he did not let it show.

Two figures in heavy velvet robes glided into the shop. They wore full-face masks of pale ivory carved in the manner of fanciful demons, but that was hardly unusual for Sarvos. What made the shopkeeper a little uneasy were the voluminous hoods, the thick belts emblazoned with the many-rayed sun, and the strong smell of peculiar spices that accompanied them.

Internally, he cursed his brother for suggesting that they invest some of their excess profits in employing a street magician to place an enchantment on the shop. It always brought in the oddest customers.

The first figure through the door had a spear, and from beneath her robe there was the suggestion of leather armour. Presumably she could shed the cumbersome vestments quickly if a fight broke out - or perhaps she was simply trained to fight in heavy, smothering black cloth. She held the door open for the woman who followed her, and Estefan immediately recognised one of the necromantia - the Axou wizards. Her staff was heavy, weighted down with intricate dragonbone decorations, hung with delicate weltsilver bells that jingled slightly as she walked.

The door closed behind them. Estefan swallowed. The room seemed darker, almost - all that heavy black velvet.

"Good evening," said the woman, her voice muffled by her mask. Her companion ignored Estefan, and floated over to examine the pots of herbs laid out on one of the tables, lifting the lids and sniffing the contents with black-gloved fingers.

"Good evening ma'am, how can we help you today?"

The customer reached up and pulled down her mask. It slipped free to reveal a surprisingly young woman, her face beaded with sweat. She looked tired. Unsurprising - it had been a warm afternoon and the robes did not appear to breathe much.

"We are interested in buying some herbs," she said.

Estefan launched into his patter.

"Then you have come to the right place. We have just received an excellent shipment of bladeroot from Volodmartz, and some very fine mazzarine from the Spice Gardens at Feroz - indeed if you are interested in more mundane herbs and spices we also have ..."

The woman cut her off. Her companion had stopped looking over the herbs and slid over to stand behind her. Even though she was shorter than Estefan, with her cowl raised and her long staff, she seemed to loom very largely in the enclosed space of the shop.

"Yes, it certainly looks like you have excellent quality merchandise," said the young woman who had not spared even a glance for the pots of herbs since she came in. "But we are not looking to buy medicinal herbs at this time. We are after something a little more ... exotic."

The two Axou - one masked, the other bare-faced, stared at Estefan. The young woman raised her eyebrow suggestively.

Estefan's mind raced. What did they know? Who had they been speaking to? Were they what they seemed to be, or was this a baroque militia scheme to catch him out? He favoured them with a weak smile, and crossed the shop to switch the sign over to "Closed" and drop the latch. Then he returned to the counter and leant forward conspiratorially. The two women turned slightly to watch him, in a way that was frankly quite unsettling.

"Well ... I have recently receive a shipment of ... ah ... special herbs from Kallavesa if you are interested? And I also have something more meaty if that is to your taste, if you know what I mean?"

The young woman blinked at him, and frowned slightly. She seemed to have no idea what he was talking about. Had he misunderstood? What sort of trouble was he in now?

"You misunderstand. We are looking to purchase ..." here she leaned forward herself, the gentle whisper of velvet-on-velvet loud in the gloomy shop. "... liao."

He almost laughed. "Liao? Just liao? Not true liao? But that's not ill- I mean that's fine. Liao? Really?"

"Yes. Have we misunderstood? Is this not a business where one can purchase herbs? Liao is a herbal preparation is it not?"

"Well yes, and I guess I have a few doses, but really you should probably just -" he had been about to say "go to a priest" when the still-masked figure reached into her robe and pulled out quite an impressively clinking pouch and handed it to her companion. She put it down on the counter purposefully.

"- take a seat and I will see how much we can provide you with today." he finished smoothly. The young woman smiled and inclined her head, but his two guests made no move to sit down.

"How much are you looking to buy?"

The young woman casually opened the money pouch and Estefan saw that it appeared to contain quite a few Thrones. She took out several of the coins and weighed them in her hand.

"How much have you got?" she asked.


The Black-sailed Vessels of Axos

The Axos port of the Towers of Kantor is now open to Imperial fleets, and the Axou have completed work on an extensive embassy there now staffed by Imperial civil servants. You can learn more about the port here.

At the same time, black-sailed merchants from Axos are visiting ports in the Empire in significant numbers for the first time in decades. On the Bay of Catazar they favour the ports of the Brass Coast, the League, and Urizen over those of Highguard - but there are also reports of adventurous Axou captains braving the Semmerlak and visiting Varushka and Dawn. They bring with them shipments of beggar's lye, orichalcum, peculiar spices, fine dark cloth, rich wines, unfamiliar delicacies, seductive narcotics, and oddly beautiful art objects carved from ivory and bone. In return they seem particularly interested in purchasing fine metalwork, luxurious Imperial food and drink, measures of dragonbone and ingots of green iron. Oh, and liao. But more of that later.

Several of their ships also bear dour and gloomy Skouran passengers, in groups of two or three. They sell beautifully cut gemstones; high-grade gold, silver, and iron; breathtaking jewellery; and fine tempest jade. In return show a great deal of interest in the fruits of the forests of the Empire, as well as large amounts of preserved foodstuffs - especially citrus fruit for some reason which appears to be a mild delicacy among them. Only a few have travelled with the Axou so far, and they are extremely closed-mouthed about their business.

A thirst for liao

One trade good the Axou seem very keen to acquire is liao. They are evasive when asked why they want it, but they cannot conceal the fact that there is a market for the substance in the citadels of Axos. As a consequence, demand for liao has spiked - at least temporarily. Any character with a congregation who chooses to sell their liao in the coming season will receive 20 rings (1 crown) rather than the usual 12 rings. It is very likely that this price increase will be temporary - as it currently stands the price is likely to drop back to normal levels by Spring if nothing else changes.

The Imperial Synod may choose to use a statement of principle to encourage, or discourage, this trade. If the statement passes with a greater majority, it might influence the outcome of this opportunity. Similarly, the Imperial Senate may pass a Senate motion to amend the law regarding the trade of liao to the Axou - in this case the price will remain at the current level.

If the Senate or the Synod does intervene, the price of liao will be made clear at the start of downtime.

The Pleasure of Princes

The Empire recognises the importance of extant
and future trade in strategic materials with our allies
in Jarm and welcomes any overtures to strengthen
existing agreements or form new ones.

During the Autumn Equinox 380YE, the Imperial Senate formally recognised the importance of trade with the Principalities of Jarm, and expressed interest in strengthening trade between the two nations. Word has come that the House of Princes has finally gotten around to removing the last of the trade sanctions against the Empire, and has issued a statement of their own that echoes that of the Senate encouraging closer ties with the Empire.

While governments make such statements all the time, this has had a positive effect on trade with the Jarmish ports. Jarmish traders are enthusiastically looking for opportunities to secure more Imperial custom, and each of the three Jarmish ports is providing a little extra wealth to Imperial traders who visit in the coming months.

  • The northern port of Kavor will supply an additional ingot of green iron in the coming season.
  • The southern port of Vezak will supply an additional crystal mana to each visiting ship.
  • The eastern port of Rigia will provide an additional measure of dragonbone.

This increase in potential prosperity is contingent upon the Empire finishing the Winter Solstice still on good terms with the Principalities of Jarm. There may be further opportunities thanks to this blossoming of positive international feeling - there has been a rumour of Jarmish interest in the Tassato Mana Exchange for example. Oswi Twiceburned is the Imperial title of Ambassador to Jarm and may know more.

Stone Hearts of the Suranni

The Suranni port of Robec has long been closed to merchant vessels from the Empire, with some limited trade between the two powers confined to the less profitable overland routes. While the frosty relations with the Iron Confederacy thawed a little following their annexation of Kalino, many of the powerful Ducal Houses remain highly suspicious of the Empire and unconvinced of its good intentions. Indeed, there are reports from southern Feroz that the Suranni have begun work on a significant fortification in Kalino, overlooking one of the main routes through the southern Lasambrian Hills to the heartland of the Iron Confederacy.

Yet for all its veneer of unity, it is composed of several Ducal Houses who regularly vie for supremacy. There are reports that one or more of the Dukes of the eastern confederacy is interested in potentially extending a guarded hand of friendship to Imperial traders. The Marquis Flavien du Libellue, a seasoned diplomat and traveller by Iron Confederacy standards, has been appointed by this faction to handle negotiations with the Empire. The 'Dragonfly Marquis' has spent the past season navigating the interests of the feuding Houses and the stern priesthood of Surann to build a deal that he can now offer to the Empire. There are few publicly known details, but indications are that the port of Robec may be opened to Imperial traders in return for a significant bribe of some sort. It is likely that the Imperial Ambassador to the Iron Confederacy, Starac Sijed Orzel of House Orzel in Dawn, will be the first to learn the details of the proposal.

Provide your customers with products they need and charge
a little bit to stimulate your market and before you know it
customers come to depend on you, I mean really need you.


Faraden caravans

The Faraden lords and ladies continue to send caravans into the Empire. They pass back and forth through the northern Lasambrian hills unmolested by the Jotun thanks to a binding treaty between the two. It has been decades since there have been so many Faraden in the Empire. Occasionally, this is less than ideal - they are unashamed heretics (they embrace a false virtue) and blasphemers (they deny Wisdom, Ambition, and Vigilance). But they are rich and they show every sign of enjoying the Prosperity that free trade with the Empire can bring. There has been talk of some problems back east - the merchants seem particularly keen to acquire iridescent gloaming. Yet for the most part, the Faraden are friendly, open, and entrepreneurial. There is some talk of how nice it would be if the Empire were to build caravan stops and trade enclaves for the use of the Faraden, and a great deal of approval of the Blood Red Roads project. It is possible that the current Ambassador to Faraden, Tal'Shar i Zabala i Erigo, may know more.

Deathly Smiles

The Sarcophan Delves continue to present a carefully neutral face toward the Empire, remaining open and welcoming to Imperial trade. They continue to make no demands of the Empire - neither reasonable or unreasonable - but they also continue to engage in open diplomatic relations with the Grendel whose vessels are now regular visitors to the wealthy southern port.

Whatever else they are, the Sarcophan people are pragmatic merchants and are known to value their neutrality. A recent treaty between the Senate and one of the Bedelaar-Huisbaas has seen work on a loading dock begin in the busy international trade port of Cargo in Urizen that, when completed, will allow the purchase of white granite by a chosen minister. It is likely that now there is a formal Ambassador to the Sarcophan Delves, Thanmir Hrafnar, they will look to secure further trade opportunities with the Empire.

Sumaah and the Imperial Crown

The Präster of the Sumaah Republic are still believed to be in possession of the Imperial Crown - the symbol of Imperial authority since the time of the First Empress. They also remain at war with the Empire - and the port of Zemeh remains closed to Imperial visitors. The skeletal staff at the Suumah embassy in Necropolis conduct what little business they have with a minimum of fuss. They have issued no further statement since Autumn. Reports from foreign traders suggest that their priests are active in Sarcophan, Jarm, and the Commonwealth quietly undermining Imperial efforts in these nations, especially any efforts by the Imperial Synod to spread "their version" of the Way.

While invited to the Symposium of Revelation by the Imperial Orc Cardinal of the Way, they have issued no formal response since their Autumn statement that there would be no possibility of any of their priests attending while it is a hotbed of heterodoxy, heresy, blasphemy, and idolatry.

The market's don't like instability,
and they don't like uncertainty.

Peter Mandelson

The Good of the Commonwealth

Relations with the Commonwealth continue to be chilly. The Senate's decision to endorse closer trade links with the Principalities of Jarm, and its reciprocation, have not gone unnoticed. Indeed, given the poor relations between those two great nations, it is entirely possible Jarmish emissaries have been rubbing the noses of their Commonwealth opposite numbers in it. The trade tariffs and bureaucratic hoops that captains visiting the Commonwealth have had to navigate in recent years have not yet been reinstated, however. It is possible the Commonwealth is waiting to see what this statement from the Senate means for their future relations before reacting.

Plain Sailing in Asavea

Trade with the Asavean Archipelago continues steadily. Most of their interest at the moment seems to be focused on the Temple of Balo and the Black Bull. Some trade opportunities are mentioned in that wind of fortune, contingent on the successful completion of one or both of the temples involved. For now, however, relations with the Archipelago, the Plenum, and the priests of Asavea, appears to be good.

Dragons and gold

The Thule orcs have expressed some cautious interest in establishing an embassy and opening trade routes with the northern Empire. More details can be found here.

If a merchant in England sends an article of English manufacture abroad which costs him a shilling at home, and imports something which sells for two, he makes a balance of one shilling in his favour; but this is not gained out of the foreign nation or the foreign merchant, for he also does the same by the articles he receives, and neither has the advantage upon the other.

Thomas Paine