Shaved Sagehorn

This week’s interlude is a bit longer than usual in order to answer a question left in the comments of Sunshine Pods: “…does Talmeri’s do mail order?”

The short answer is regrettably not. The long answer explaining the reasons is below.


 

I arrive at the tea shop early, asking Lorwyn as I come in the back, “Did you get the shaved sagehorn tea working then? I want to do some tastes before serving it—”

I stop as I take in my surroundings. Blink.

Entire rows of tea blends are blocked off by pallets I wasn’t expecting. Somehow in their midst there is space for a workstation in such remarkable disarray it can only mean one thing.

“What project has Talmeri gotten us into now?” I ask, aghast as I take it all in. I’ll be lucky if I can squeeze to the front of the shop at all, let alone do any useful work back here.

“I think you should let her tell you,” Lorwyn says, and her tone freezes my blood.

“You sound… very calm,” I say.

Lorwyn turns to face me. She is smiling like a doll—a smile committed to its brittle façade, never once wavering. “Oh, I’m very calm,” she says, “because this is your problem. You will fix this.”

Spirits. “Hypothetically, if I can’t resolve this to your satisfaction?”

Still smiling, she says, “I will set it all on fire and no one will ever trace it back to me.”

Aha. “Why don’t I speak with Talmeri?”

“Why don’t you.”


 

“Miyara, you’re here!” Talmeri bustles out of her office. “Did Lorwyn tell you what we’ll be starting today?”

“I just saw the state of the back,” I say. “I do hope we can restore order there before today’s customers need us to find anything with speed. But Lorwyn thought I should hear the details from you?”

My hints fly over her head; Talmeri is too alight with excitement. “Today we’re launching Talmeri’s Teas and Tisanes’ mail order service! People can send a message via the message guild, and we’ll send them back with a package of the tea of their choice in any size. I’m sure our customers will be so excited.”

My eyes fall on the cardstock she’s laid out on the counter. It’s not the thickness of court paper, but it’s substantially nicer than we typically use in the shop. “Oh, is that an order template you’ve drawn up?”

“Yes! I’ve seen your calligraphy. I thought you could write them out by hand for that personal Talmeri’s touch.”

Aha. A valiant attempt to use flattery to get me to do extra work for her for no additional compensation.

“How long have you been planning this?” I ask.

“Well, I’ve wanted to do something like this for some time, and now I’m finally getting it together!”

“And you didn’t think to discuss it with me?”

Finally, that gives her pause. Her eyes narrow. “It’s my business, Miyara. I don’t need permission.”

“Of course not, but I’ll be the one primarily responsible for implementing it, won’t I, since I’m the one on site consistently? I agree it’s an enchanting idea, but I do have some concerns about the logistics of this.” Before she can stop me, I begin, “There are the mailing supplies, first of all.”

She waves this off. “I got a good deal to get them in bulk.”

That explains the pallets. “I’m guessing that money comes from the allotment you use to pick out new ingredients, though, so that will cut into our ability to take risks on the kinds of new ingredients our customers expect from us, or else—”

“That’s fine, we’ll just cut from—”

“—to keep stock on hand that we know sells reliably,” I finish. “And while I haven’t seen the packaging materials, if you were able to get such a good deal on a bulk supply, I worry they may not convey the personal, craft touch that’s the cornerstone of the Talmeri’s brand.”

“Hmm,” Talmeri says. She appears to be actually thinking about what I’ve said, which is a step in the right direction. “I’d been thinking of the personal delivery as that touch, but you have a point. We could do a trial run with a special introductory sampler using some of our cheaper teas, to match the packaging with the contents. Whet their interest, and promise better to come?”

“That is an option,” I say, “though it may only send the signal that despite our promises all we deliver is cheap product.”

“Well, we don’t have to start large-scale all at once, I suppose,” she allows. “We’ll start small, just a special service for our most loyal customers”—I have no doubt by this she means her wealthy acquaintances—”and we can build up interest in the exclusive service.”

“With respect, grace, while that might very well be lucrative in the short term, it undercuts the value of this tea shop as a place that is actively not exclusive. I fear rather than garnering interest in the service it will chase customers away. But actually, my biggest concern is time.”

“Time? Oh, it won’t take that long, you’ll be able to fit it in with your other responsibilities easily enough.”

“I assure you I will not,” I say firmly. “We’ll be interrupted in the midst of shaping the atmosphere for the customers in the store, sacrificing their experience every time a messenger comes in the door. If the service is slow to get going, it will certainly be less disruptive, but that means we’ll effectively be paying to store shipping materials in bulk when that space could be better used for tea that sells. If the service does become successful, we’ll need to be prepared to have an additional employee on hand every day to deal with managing this entirely new line of service.”

“An entire extra shift? You’re blowing the potential workload out of proportion, Miyara. Even if you were right, though, Lorwyn could simply take care of it in the back.”

Lorwyn knew this would happen. 

“Lorwyn,” I say, “is in the back right now.”

“Yes, I know—”

“And she’s smiling.”

Talmeri freezes. “Lorwyn is what?”

“Smiling,” I repeat. “An expression that did not crack in the entire course of our conversation.”

“I… see.” Talmeri swallows. “Did she—”

“I am given to understand she may know a way to set very specifically targeted fires without leaving any origin traces.”

Talmeri nods, slowly. “Yes. Yes, I imagine she could.”

I make a mental note to ask Lorwyn later if this is, in fact, something she has done before, or if Talmeri merely recognizes the signs of having pushed Lorwyn too far.

“You’ve made some interesting points,” Talmeri says carefully. “Perhaps we should discuss this venture another time.”

“That may be for the best,” I say. “Would you like me to write out some special display signs for the store on this lovely paper, or shall I see what I can do for the back?” Where an explosion-ready Lorwyn waits, I don’t add.

“Better work on restoring order,” she says quickly. “I don’t know how it became such a disaster back there, but it wouldn’t do for that to interfere with today’s customers.”

“Quite,” I say.


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