A toddler darted past Amberlyn with a lurching unsteady gait, paused to recover his balance and then ran again. She spun about to grab him before he could get into anything. "Josaerin!"
The bell hanging from the doorknob rang as a customer entered.
Josaerin made a beeline for the door before it could close.
"Don't let him get out!" Amberlyn shouted at the customer and lunged after her son.
The customer swept Josaerin into his arms and the toddler giggled as the mon poked the tip of his nose playfully with the end of his pipe stem.
Amberlyn took him from the mon's arms. "You're new, aren't you?"
"Ieuan Cardew." He extended his hand to her in greeting. "Got in a few weeks ago, but my employer has kept me too busy to explore until today." Ieuan waved a slender finger at Josaerin's nose, making baby noises at him for a moment, before noting the difference between the child's fair skin and brownish blond hair, and that of his dark, coppery-skinned, black-haired mother. "He's yours?"
"Yes." Amberlyn turned a skeptical eye on Ieuan.
"Must look like his daddy then. Mind if I have a talk with the mister? My employer has a long list of things we need."
"My husband is away."
"Well when he comes back then?" Ieuan chuckled when Josaerin grabbed his waving finger and stuck it in his mouth.
"Nasty! Josaerin, that's nasty." Amberlyn snatched the Ieuan's finger from her son's mouth.
"Your husband will be back when? I really wish to speak with him."
"He's in Red Wolf. There's a war up there." Amberlyn shifted the toddler on her hip.
Lildh, Amberlyn's senior assistant, stepped through the door of the hallway leading to the back rooms and brushed a strand of nutmeg hair back. "Oh, there he is!"
"Just put him in the playpen, Lily."
Amberlyn's assistant lifted the boy from her, carried Josaerin behind the counter and plunked him into a playpen that had a cloth lid over the top with braids of spellcord across it.
"Cute little tyke." Ieuan waved at Josaerin and the toddler waved back giggling. "Now, what was I saying when I was so pleasantly distracted? Oh, yes. Bulk buys that I wanted to discuss with your husband."
"Your employer will have to do business with me, if he's looking for bulk purchases. I assume you're talking dark arcanes? I'm the only one who sells them."
"Then we're dealing with you." Ieuan gave her his most charming smile and watched her thaw toward him.
"You're a mage?"
"Dabbler. Bio-alchemist by trade."
"There are a lot of Gormondi here these days."
Ieuan tucked his pipe in the pocket. "That's to be expected. What with the arrival of Prince Richard Gryphonheart imminent."
"True." Amberlyn doubted that she would ever be comfortable with the custom of child betrothals and the youthful consummation between them, which the nobility demanded at the onset of puberty. That situation seemed to be worsening since the destruction of the Hilloran League two years ago. The Minnorian Empress had extinguished several royal families when she conquered that region.
Ieuan sighed. "That's what has brought us all here. The alliance means trading relations, establishing routes, and other matters."
He unshouldered his satchels. "In addition to buying bulk items that cannot be found in Gormondi, we wish to demonstrate our own wares. Allow me to show you some samples."