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The stretch of sand between The Smiling Serpent and the Jiggling Sea Jelly was a great place to sell Neteilyu's wares. Her deathfin-hide tent was temporary; the tourists loved the feeling of visiting a rustic, uncivilized life. It was all illusion, of course. Her licenses were all in order, and her house, moored as it was on land-supports most of the year, was ship-shape in the event of a storm.
But for the tourists, she kept her long hair braided with shells, and wore dreamskate-leather clothes, cunningly cut to allow the ring leech scars (which turned paper-thin and quite see-through in the tanning process) to show skin only where she wanted to show skin. She looked quite the barbarian artist - but the image of barbarian artist allowed her to charge twice what she had when she wore respectable clothes.
She was setting up her newest lamp, the base a fanciful construction of dreamskate tails, miscellaneous shells, driftwood, and a leaping deathfin carved of green dragonwood, when Dulilm walked up. "So, you've found a use for dreamskate stingers?"
There were always uses for dreamskate stingers in Neteilyu's business. But they'd become very popular since The Smiling Serpent had taken to feeding people monster steaks, monster marinades, and monster stews. She shrugged, keeping her voice casual, "A few."
"I could supply you with more." Dulilm bent over to examine the carving. "Is that your work?"
Neteilyu smiled. "My son's. He's getting very good, don't you think?" She waved toward the back of the tent, where her son sat in one of her fanciful chairs, his ugly scars from the amputations where a huge trapjaw had crushed his legs conspicuously visible. Having a wounded veteran of the unceasing war against the sea monsters as her carver also allowed her to raise her prices substantially; Megruu had been embarrassed, but was convinced to try it by the prices she promised him. What had really convinced him it was worth it to sit in a silly-looking chair, wearing a monster-hide loincloth, with his scars showing, however, was the hero-worship from the tourists, who not only loved his work, but wanted to hear his stories in all their gory, painful detail.
Dulilm nodded. "It's a shame he was injured."
Neteilyu nodded, automatically. But inside, she was fiercely glad for his injury. His father had been killed by a monster; she'd cried when he'd chosen his father's trade. Now she had his company, every day, and a grandchild on the way.
Carefully, she set the slow box with its candle into the base of the lamp, trickling a bit of honey into the joins to hold it securely, and then she reached for the leather lampshade, made from a ludicrous piece of dreamskate leather, more ring-leach scars than decent leather. She'd cut the edge to resemble sea-foam.
She spared a moment to wish, yet again, that she could bring her daughter into the family business full time as well. The girl was only thirteen, but already could blow glass into amazing, water-like swirls. But the tourists didn't associate glass-blowing with Duurludirj culture.
Dulilm laughed at seeing the assembled lamp. "Oh, that- that's perfect. Exactly what our ancestors would have wanted in their houses during a storm."
Neteilyu had to admit it was an incredibly frivolous lamp. It stood just as tall as a normal person, tall enough to convince a giant tourist that it was designed for a Duurludirj home, but it was top-heavy in design, so the base was a solid cone of concrete. The lampshade would rip in any high wind; she'd have to use a different lampshade on windy nights, until it sold. "This lamp alone," she smiled proudly, "Will pay for all the necessary fees so Megruu and I can raise his firstborn."
Dulilm grinned. "Thank the Goddess for tourists."
"Yes, indeed." Neteilyu was eager to hear Dulilm's proposal about selling her dreamskate stingers. It was much more pleasant to make art than to go scavenging, much less shopping for monster parts. But she didn't want to sound eager. Dulilm would raise her prices, for sure.
"About those stingers," Dulilm said.
"You got a license to sell them?"
Dulilm rolled her eyes. "I had to get a license to deal in monster parts just to buy the snagtooth steaks."
"So you have teeth for sale, too?"
"I'm selling those direct to the tourists, but we are building up a bit of inventory. I could possibly spare a few."
"Selling them - just as souvenirs?" Neteilyu felt inspiration growing in the back of her head, as surely as she had when she'd started including Megruu's then-rough monster carvings in her work.
"We're calling them toothpicks."
Neteilyu laughed. "You might want to keep a few, at that! But," she turned to start setting up another frivolous lamp, letting her braids fall to obscure the expression on her face. The shells clinked against each other. "I hear that the Jiggling Sea Jelly is drawing away a lot of your after-dinner drink business, still."
"That's true." Dulilm looked sour. She'd been fighting for business since the Jiggling Sea Jelly was established on the other end of Pebble Beach. Her current menu featuring monster meals was her counter-move to the Sea Jelly featuring nude Duurludirj dancers. "Though it also cuts down on drunks breaking things."
"What if you sold your drinks in souvenir glasses, fanciful swirly glass things with genuine monster parts embedded in the glass?"
Dulilm brightened. "You're thinking of that daughter of yours, aren't you?"
Neteilyu nodded. "I bet you could charge two or three times as much per drink."
"And discount refills slightly too, on account of less dish washing to do." Dulilm was distracted enough by the new idea to allow herself to sound very pleased.
Neteilyu smiled. "I'd have to propose it to Nefessa, of course. And she'd need start-up costs to go into a big production like that."
"Wait a minute there. My business has been down ever since that woman from Affanumuur set up her dance-hall in competition to my restaurant. I'm looking for an income-stream, not a liability."
"Oh, it will be - and I venture to guess you'll be far less likely to draw the attention of licensing officials to your books if you're mostly gaining equipment in return for the inedible parts of your monster dinners. It's less likely to look, to them, like a second business." The second lamp in place, Neteilyu opened her cold box and pulled out two bottled drinks, inviting Dulilm to have a seat.
Dulilm chose a driftwood chair that was nearly authentic; Neteilyu chose one of the more decorative ones, and they set to working out a preliminary agreement. They stopped, briefly, so Neteilyu could sell the lamp, for an amount that inspired Dulilm to pantomime a heart attack behind the tourist's back.
It was very satisfying, even if it did prompt Dulilm to point out that Neteilyu could certainly afford to loan her daughter the money for the license fees she would need.
This story was written in response to prompts from the May 2010 Muse Fusion. The prompts I used were parasites and beach combing. Another prompt that inspired me was timepieces--I was imagining Neteilyu making sun dials from dreamskate stingers--but somehow that image didn't quite make it into the text.
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