All at once the celebrations were forgotten. A gentle
hush fell soft like a silken scarf over the court of the
First Lord of the Great Western Desert. Glances were
exchanged in silence. The crowd parted to make way
for a lone figure coming slowly in from the
moonlight vastness of the shifting sands. The First
Lord’s Envoy had returned.
"Where are the others?" someone called out. The
Envoy just shook his head and they knew. He was the
only one to have returned safe home from all these
many months deep in the southern badlands.
In an instant with the realization they had lost their
men, new widows covered their heads and gathered
together in a sad little group. They said nothing.
There was nothing to say, nothing they could do to
bring back those whom they had loved and were now
Evey grey with thirst and fatigue, The Envoy
gestured away the usual courtesy of cool water and
sweet dates. For this loyal retainer, duty came first
and he must make his report.
"Come old friend sit close by me." In showing this
uncommon respect, the First Lord as always had his
finger firm on the pulse of the mood of the court. But
perhaps also he wished to be the first to hear. Then he
would decide what might be shared with others.
Gently, the First Lord said "You have brought back
no new riches but I have riches already. It is enough
that you are home safe."
"I have this My Lord." From deep within his cloak
the Envoy brought out a little earthenware jar sealed
all around with wax taken from the wild bees and
strips of cloth ripped from his own robes.
In the days that followed, the First Lord's wisest
advisers studied the strange flowing contents of this
jar that had cost so much to bring back. It was dark
brown in color, oily to the touch, floated on water
and smelled like bad eggs.
One spoke for them all when he said. "If we were
ever to run out of camel dung for our fires it might be
used for cooking. But, as you can see we are a
wealthy people with many camels and no shortage of
"Perhaps someday," said the First Lord and he made
plans to annex the home of the oil in the southern
badlands for he had seen something far-off in the
eyes of The Envoy.
Trade Secret was published in
Bewildering Stories, Issue 470