TRADE SECRETAll 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 Seeker had returned."Where are the others?" someone called out. The Seeker just shook his head and they all knew. He was the only one to have returned safe home from all these many months deep in the southern badlands.Struck 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 lost forever.Grey with thirst and fatigue, The Seeker 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 Seeker 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 dung.""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 Seeker.endTrade Secret was published inBewildering StoriesIssue 470, March 2012.