Alonso Tarquinius raised the hatchet above his head and brought it down with all his strength against the staves of the beer barrel. Once, twice, a third time. Smashing it open and allowing the dark liquid inside to froth over the deck and over his shoes, and cascade over the side of the ship into the wine-dark waves beneath. The sailors watched in silence as the offering was made, then raised their voices in a paean to the god of gentle winds and fortunate passage, lead by the priest.

Alonso joined in, mumbling in places, quiet during the verse, loud and enthusiastic during the chorus. He idly wondered where he should put the hatchet. He could feel the eyes of the Sarvosan dockworkers on his ship. He wondered how many of them spoke Asavean; how many of them understood what had just happened; how many would care.

"Gentle Bahlo has kept you safe in her bosom," said the priest self-importantly once the song was over. "You have reached your destination due to her good-graces, and the protection of the Black Bull! Be thankful young man!"

Alonso smiled and nodded, and ignored the fat little man until he went away. He turned to look out to sea, towards the warship the Plenum had sent to accompany the two trading vessels. He'd been glad of its protection when the lookout spotted the orc ship as they rounded the coast into the Bay of Catazar. Maybe the Black Bull really was looking out for him. He snorted and shook his head.

He was aware of the captain suddenly at his side, turned to give the woman his full attention.

"We are ready to begin unloading," she said calmly. "We will need to pay the labourers who carry the stone to the warehouses; here in the League they are free guilders and expect it. Also, there are dock fees. Many dock fees.

"If you are happy my brother and I will see to it all." She gestured with a jerk of her head to the other trading vessel, where another paen was just coming to an end. "We will have your things brought to you - to the embassy yes? Where the ambassador is?"

She seemed bored. Alonso gave her his approval, and made his way down the gangplank to the docks.

The city was big enough, he mused, but it lacked the sophistication of Nemoria. The ships lacked grace. The entire place was ... someone knocked into him, nearly knocked him flat. He bridled, but they didn't stop walking. His outraged "Do you know who I am..." died in his throat.

He was not used to going about alone, but Lady Madrianna and his father had been quite clear in their separate ways that he could not take slaves with him. He knew it was true; he had studied the ways of the Empire during his training. It was why the warship had to stay so far out to sea, to avoid the Imperial lawmakers taking the rowers away.

Perhaps the ambassador could arrange a bodyguard. Perhaps one of the exotic League folk would be appropriate - he had read of their cicisbeo in a particularly lurid account from the eighth century and could not deny himself a glimmer of interest in the idea.

He continued along the dock, and at the top of the stone steps looked back. The dockworkers were already unloading the first of the many blocks of white granite from the hold, using an ingenious crane and a lot of swearing. He smiled, his anger forgotten. The docks and the people working them were loud and dirty, but they were industrious. Perhaps it would not be as hard as he was expecting - he would speak to the ambassador about the best way to present the pleasing aspect of the Tarquins, the Plenum and the Lady of the Blue Stones.

About three feet from him a drunk started urinating loudly off the dock while whistling discordantly. He winced. On second thoughts perhaps it was not going to be easy dealing with these barbarians after all.

Overview

Two trading vessels from Asavea, laden down with blocks of white granite, have arrived on the docks at Sarvos. In addition to the stone, they bring Alonso Tarquinius, an Asavean nobleman and agent of Lady Madrianna of the Blue Stones - the powerful trade advisor to the Asavean Plenum. He has spent the last week or so acclimating himself to the cold, staying at the Asavean embassy as a guest of the ambassador from Asavea.

He has expressed an intention to visit Anvil - he is interested specifically in meeting the Imperial Ambassador to Asavea to discuss matters on behalf of the Lady of the Blue Stones, and the powerful Tarquinius noble family - a potent force in the Asavean plenum. He has also expressed an interest in seeing Anvil and perhaps speaking to representatives of the Imperial Synod, among other matters.

He has not come alone, and not without some controversy. While the trading vessels docked at Sarvos are the property of the Tarquinius family, their crews are apparently free men and women - or what accounts for such in the archipelago. However, they were escorted by an Asavean warship, a galley sent by the Plenum to guard the precious cargo. The ship has anchored perhaps half a mile out to sea. While a few of the sailors have come ashore to buy supplies and to take advantage of the diversions of the City of Jewels, the vessel itself stays well away from the Imperial shores.

According to the rumours, this is because below decks it is full of slaves. Pitiful, unlucky sods chained to the oars who live most of their short and unhappy lives in darkness and water up to their ankles. Obviously the Asaveans know better than to insult the Empire by trying to bring a ship full of slaves to an Imperial dock, but likewise they have no intention of allowing a cargo as valuable as that carried by these trading vessels to make the journey from the far west to the Empire (and back) without a significant escort.

Significance

Young Tarquinius will be visiting Anvil for most of the coming festival, but will be available only during the evenings due to pressing business during the day. He is as likely as not to at least start out in the company of the Imperial Ambassador to Asavea, should anyone wish to speak to him about this or any other topic.

A state of peace exists between the Asavean Archipelago and the Empire, so Alonso Tarquinius is protected by - and expected to abide by - all the laws of the Empire. He also represents a significant political faction in Asavean politics - and his experiences in Anvil could sway the opinion of the Plenum for or against the Empire.

Resolution

Alonso Tarquinius visited Anvil during the Summer Solstice. His visit was marred by curses from Imperial citizens and it is unclear what this will mean for future Imperial-Asavean relations.