|"She ceased her noise as her necklace turned into a... hissing viper..."|
Shiloq the land-trader reclined upon a couch of fine silk pillows, examining his rings. How beautifully they sparkled in the light of twenty bronze lamps! His wife, Shatiya, entered his apartment. How divine she looked, arrayed in a silk wrap and fur slippers! Large earrings of pure gold set with jet adorned her ears. A collar of gold set with jet and rubies encircled her bronze throat. Her ethereal appearance was marred somewhat, however, by the eloquent frown on her delicate face.
"Why is my angel so downcast?" Shiloq murmured as Shatiya cast herself onto the pillows next to him.
"Oh-the-delight-of-my-eyes-and-the-king-of-my-house," she replied, lauding him Calormene-style in a voice that did not mean a word of it, "Your angel weeps because she must dress in rags in spite of your toils."
Shiloq leered at his wife greedily and stroked the soft skin of her bare arm, pausing to run his oily fingers over the gold bands on it just below the shoulder. "Does my goddess desire that her lowly minion strive the more, to adorn her suitable to her inimitable stature?"
Shatiya shrugged away from his pawing, greasy hands petulantly. "Nothing like that, husband!" she rolled her eyes. "I only wish the little farmer's brat would lift the horrid embargo she's put on since the old Lord died. I do so need a new dress," she pouted, but turned and began stroking Shiloq's face coquettishly, "as this one will be a week old tomorrow." Her articulate eyes plainly challenged the merchant, What are you going to do about my problem?
"Do not fret, beloved," Shiloq said with a wicked smile as a plan formed in his mind. "One person, such as this farm-lady who now resides in the castle, cannot have her eyes everywhere, and our brotherhood is numerous. Tomorrow, I can arrange events so that some of our people divert the attention of the authorities, the market will be ours within the first hour of the prohibition's expiration, and my dulcet pet shall have all that her incorruptible heart desires. Does this please you, my adulation?"
In reply, Shatiya took his face in her hands and kissed it. "Truly Shiloq is most cunning among merchants!" she cried.
Shiloq grinned proudly, "One cannot be a land agent without one's cunning, my jewel." He extended his arm without rising and daintily struck a silver chime next to his couch. A servant bowed into his presence from some dark corner of the room, where several more awaited any command from their master. "Fetch us wine, for we rule the marketplace come the morning!" he ordered raucously, already drunk with visions of the success of his plan.
The servant wordlessly crossed to the small stand on which stood a gold pitcher full of strong wine from the wild lands south of Calormen. The servant filled two crystal goblets stemmed with jewels and brought them near his master's hand on a silver platter.
Shiloq never got his wine.
As he was reaching for it, a strong, deep voice warned, "Shiloq, your time has come."
Instantly, his numerous gold rings transformed into hideous worms and maggots. Shatiya shrieked as the earrings she wore transformed into enormous beetles and dropped to her shoulders, where they crawled disgustingly down her dress. She ceased her noise as her necklace turned into a black- and red-banded, hissing viper. Servants rushed in with bows to report the circumstances: every piece of finery in Shiloq's possession had turned into some nasty insect or other crawling creature. All of his gold, which he had so cleverly extorted from all the farmers, turned into a teeming mass of ants and scuttled away, and all the merchandise he planned to sell altered in like manner and either killed the men standing near it or crept, slithered, and crawled away.
"Aaiieee!" Shiloq screamed, "It is a curse come upon us! Our time has come! We must leave at once!"
He stormed out of the apartment amid the wails and shouts of his brotherhood, and began ordering the servants and clansmen to load the wagons with what was left.
"But Brother Shiloq!" one of the men who had escaped unscathed called out to the terrified merchant as the said land-agent scraped the slimy worms from his fingers and screamed for a handmaiden to assist his wife, who had fainted just before the viper slithered away. "We will lose our place in the market, and what about our clients!"
"May this curse be upon them!" Shiloq retorted. "Who knows but it will worsen if we remain! Load the wagons with what you can! Let us leave before the very lamps turn to vermin!"
The instant the words left his mouth, Shiloq regretted them. He turned, horrified, and saw that the twenty bronze lamps were now twenty fat, smelly, repugnant rats with little flames on their tails. Shiloq lifted the skirts of his robe as the rats ran from the apartment between his ankles. "WE LEAVE NOW!" he bellowed.
One hour later, the buildings once occupied by the riotous clan of Shiloq stood bare and silent in the dawning light.
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