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Excerpt: A Fairy Tale
"The Story of Tali'a Ma," a fairy tale from The Price of Thorns
The Price of Thorns comes out November 14, and we’re all getting excited here! So there’s going to be a lot of content about it leading up to the launch, hopefully getting you guys all excited too.
Today for Excerpt week, have a short fairy tale I wrote as a supplement to The Price of Thorns (it is included in the book, but it’s an appendix). It’s supposed to teach you that finding yourself in changed circumstances isn’t necessarily bad, and that vengeance ultimately just harms you.
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The Story of Tali’a Ma
Once long ago on the island of Kotala, there was a prosperous merchant named Tali’a Ma. He bought spices from surrounding islands and sold spice and perfume to the nobility of Kotala. Thanks to his charming and canny nature, he built his trade up to surpass all others on Kotala, and even became known as far as The Sun Kingdom. He was known to be shrewd but fair, funny yet honest, and in general a remarkable man as well as a skilled merchant.
As is the way of human nature, the other merchants on Kotala became jealous of him, and his greatest rival, a powerful man named Bodrin Da, paid a steep price to engage the services of a djinn. It is very difficult to find a djinn, and more difficult still to survive an encounter, but Bodrin Da was a man of significant will.
When he had paid his price (it was a terrible price and let that be all that is said of it), he asked the djinn to remove his enemy, “the infernal Tali’a Ma,” as he called him. But the djinn cautioned him that his price had not bought unlimited favors.
A better merchant, you may think, would have negotiated the service before paying the price, but so great was Bodrin Da’s jealousy and hatred that he had failed to do this. So he had no choice but to listen to the djinn’s pronouncement: “I may turn him into an animal. Thus will his business fall to his second, the less intelligent Algiri, as if he were dead.”
“Very well,” said Bodrin Da. “Then turn him into a cat, for cats are despised on Kotala. If he were to be a mouse, he might escape into my storehouses and do mischief; if he became a dog or a horse he might win favor with some lord and thus rescue his business. But if he is a cat, no lord will take him in, and I may drown him and be rid of him forever.”
“So it shall be done,” spoke the djinn. “He will be transformed in the moment the sun next rises. But mind you attend and catch him just after the transformation, when he will be most confused, else you may never be sure which cat is him.”
“I shall,” Bodrin Da promised. And he intended to do that very thing, wicked man that he was. He waited outside Tali’a Ma’s chambers all night with eyes on the sunrise. But he fell asleep and so when Tali’a Ma woke as a cat and jumped out the window in his fright, he ran past his enemy, neither of them aware of the other.
Now Tali’a Ma was clever and soon understood his predicament. The djinn’s magic had given him the form of a cat, but he retained his human voice. However, he soon found that nobody would listen to a talking cat: he was chased away from homes with brooms and sticks.
But Tali’a Ma was resourceful even when he had nothing. He had started his trade from nothing and so now he started over again. The other cats mistrusted him, but Tali’a Ma knew the ways of the marketplace and could open doors that were closed to cats, and so he went into the market in the dead of night when there were only mice there and he ate his fill of fish heads and offal. Then he brought a fish head back to the other cats and said, “If you follow me, there will be this and more every night, and you will never feel the tightness of your ribs around empty bellies.”
The cats murmured among themselves that he had only brought one fish head, but they observed that he had a full belly and therefore must know where there were more. So they agreed to follow him, and he led them to the marketplace and the tables where fish were cleaned and gutted, and there all the cats fed as they never had before.
Now, it was also the custom of the cats to fight with the sea-birds for a share of what the humans had left behind. But now that the cats were eating the offal at the marketplace before it was thrown to the garbage heap, there was no more fighting between bird and cat. So Tali’a Ma went to the birds and said, “Birds, now you may eat in peace. In return I ask only a small favor, that if I sit here as you eat, you tell me of the ships you see arriving from distant lands.”
The birds, who liked to talk anyway, agreed that this was fair, and from then on the sea-birds brought him information about ships that came and went, and the cats brought him information about how people moved through the city.
By now, Bodrin Da had become the foremost merchant in Kotala and he had declared that all cats must be put to death. But Tali’a Ma, who could read the proclamations posted on the streets, warned the cats to keep to the shadows and not to trust any humans, and thus kept his faithful alive.
Tali’a Ma had greater plans than merely remaining alive. He and his cats began to steal from Bodrin Da’s warehouses. A bag of spice here, a bottle of oil there, things they stored in an empty house that the cats told Tali’a Ma of. At this time, Tali’a Ma befriended a monkey who could use a pen, and with the monkey’s help he crafted letters to Bodrin Da’s rivals. He told them when Bodrin Da’s ships were near and what they were carrying, and he signed the letters, “The Shadow of Kotala.”
He gave the best information to his old friend Algiri and began to send him separate letters about how to manage the trade. And soon, Algiri had recovered many of his losses and began to again rival Bodrin Da for supremacy in Kotala.
All the while Tali’a Ma observed and used his information to great effect, so much so that Bodrin Da became furious with this “Shadow of Kotala” who evaded all his informants and slaves. He grew so desperate at the loss of his trade that he summoned the djinn once again. “Find the Shadow of Kotala and bring him to me!” he commanded.
He had once again brought the djinn’s terrible price, which cost him not in gold but in his soul, and so the djinn obliged. He brought every cat in Kotala to Bodrin Da’s chamber and said, “There; I have brought the Shadow of Kotala to you.”
Bodrin Da was lost in the sea of cats. “Tell me which one he is!” he shrieked. “I will kill him myself!”
But the djinn said, “You no longer have the power to command me, and I find your insolence less entertaining than it was.” And with that, he turned the wicked merchant into a mouse.
The cats set upon Bodrin Da immediately and devoured him so thoroughly that there was not a scrap of hide left. And thus assured of the death of his greatest enemy, Tali’a Ma revealed himself to Algiri, and became known as the Cat Merchant of Kotala. And if you visit Kotala today you will find cats on every street, for they are held in high regard by the Kotalans.
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