Sleso [sle ˈso] was one of the most successful, or notorious, businesssmen of 23rd century Nyandai.
The business of the Nyanese states— Nyandai and its neighbor Čwam— was trade, specifically sea trade. Nyanese navigators ranged from Belesao to Neinuoi, in small fast sailing ships that for the most part hugged the coast, but took shortcuts across the deep sea. Manufacturers made what the captains needed: ships, sails, dried meat (nyatar), wood and iron, astronomical instruments. To finance expeditions, there were the kritsilwar or investment pools. There were those who specialized in providing people: the theram or ‘leg man’ would find sailors for you; the weyram or ‘arm man’ would procure mercenaries; the lairam or ‘girl man’ provided girls for entertainment.
Sleso grew up in the slums of Krantet, capital of Nyandai, in the 2250s. By the time he was ten he was serving as a lookout and runner for a gang, and he was soon a full member. Short, slight, bright, and over-talkative, he could never be a muscleman, and that was the way up in the gang.
So he became a tsyurram, a loan shark. He borrowed his starting capital from another tsyurram with a two-month loan, and quickly made a number of six-week loans. He liked to say that he’d loan to anyone— beggars, women, children. Other tsyurram didn’t like to deal in small amounts, as it was a hassle; but Sleso found that these repaid him more reliably than the bigger fish. He soon had his own runners to help keep track of hundreds of loans, and musclemen to enforce repayment. He hired many women, finding them more reliable and less combustible than men.
A gang leader, Saurrom, attempted to extort a share of his profits; Sleso simply sent him a letter full of secrets— information about Saurrom’s people and activities that could cause a good deal of trouble if leaked to competitors or the authorities. Sleso knew everyone, and he and his runners heard plenty from their clients.
Saurrom was furious, but he also sensed an opportunity. He summoned Sleso, had him witness the torture of a wayward underling, and then made him an offer: use his network to spy for Saurrom. Sleso agreed.
Sleso continued to make loans— it was the expansiveness of his clients receiving money that made them talk— and funneled useful information to Saurrom. Saurrom’s gang increased in power and territory— and finally his rivals combined against him in a massive gang war. Sleso was on their hit list, but he had already skipped town.
Around 2280 he resurfaced in Worso, Čwam’s second city, starting up a lending service for the sea trade. An expedition was pricey and risky, and it was normal to pool resources via the kritsilwar; but these did not make loans. Sleso did, and made resources available to manufacturers as well.
It wasn’t unheard-of for captains to make use of backstreet tsyurram, but Sleso’s operation was respectable: it was his name, in fact, that was entered as partner in the pool, which insured that he would get his share if the enterprise succeeded, and gave him certain legal rights if it failed, such as a claim on liquidated assets.
This was a good deal riskier than Sleso’s previous business. He was a good judge of character and only loaned to those he judged could mount a successful expedition, but storms and pirates could and did beset the prudent as well as the imprudent. On the other hand the rewards were greater, and his fortunes steadily rose. He maintained sumptuous offices in the Hill District and married a merchant’s daughter, Faitheʔ.
Though he never undertook a trading voyage himself, he understood the geopolitical situation: it was a 7000 km trip to the Bé countries, and the first port reached— i.e. the westernmost— had a huge advantage. This was why the Nyanese states and not Uytai dominated trade, and why Nyandai was richer than Čwam. (The same dynamic applied in the north, and fueled the creation of Beic states in northwestern Arcél.)
Mariners wouldn’t stop at some half-built jetty; they needed a full-fledged port, offering trade, repair, supply, and recreation. But the process could be helped along. Sleso followed the progress of Gondre, a small town west of Krantet, and began to make investments to help it along— financing warehouses, drydocks, manufacturers, even a casino.
By the late 2290s, everyone wanted in on Gondre, and Sleso shifted to the real estate business. He had bought up huge amounts of empty land, and now sold it at high profits to the newcomers. Fast-talking as ever, he had a way of telling stories about the vacant lots— this one would be shipyard, that one would be conveniently close to the water mill that would be built over there— that made the fictitious businesses seem real. Buyers would pay a premium so as not to lose out on the projected bonanza. And many of the stories came true as Gondre buzzed and boomed.
Sleso moved back to Krantet; his shady past was forgotten, and he was given a noble title and named to the city council (ħolso). He was said to be the richest man in Nyandai.
And then, why not repeat the process? In the 2300s Sleso started selling land in what he called “the best natural harbor of the peninsula”— a bay on the west coast in a region only recently claimed from Itsenic petty fishermen and hunters. He had no need to buy the land himself; he had asked for the land when he received his title. He named it Gredgar ‘west bay’, built the first piers and houses himself, and began to work his magic on seamen, manufacturers, and investors.
For awhile it looked like he would succeed. A town appeared out of nothing; investors flocked to buy in. But it was a harder sell— Gondre had already been a working port, and it was just close enough to Krantet for investors to come see it themselves. Sleso had to invest a good deal of his own money to start up enterprises in Gredgar, and he was obliged to guarantee profits to investors. He soon found himself desperately seeking new investors on increasingly implausible terms in order to meet his obligations to the old. The Gondre bubble started to go sour too; a series of bankruptcies sent the economy into a deep recession.
And then came war with Čwam, whose resentment over Nyandai’s greater wealth had finally boiled over. In a brutal four-year war, Čwam entirely defeated Nyandai and occupied Krantet (2312).
Gondre was nearly destroyed by the Čwamese; there was no hope for Gredgar, which became a ghost town. Sleso waved credentials showing that he was a Čwamese citizen— a souvenir of his years in Worso. The Čwamese authorities nullified them and threw him in jail, though they allowed him to buy his way out with a large portion of his remaining cash.
But Sleso’s troubles were only beginning. Hundreds of influential people had lost fortunes, and they all wanted his hide. There wasn’t a court system per se, but they could and did appeal to the Krantet ħolso or to the occupying Čwamese. The council confiscated his assets and had him publicly flogged. His wife returned without him to Worso.
He escaped to Pheʔ, and then to Ɣardze in Siad βo. He wasn’t a young man any more; he didn’t have the patience to start over as a tsyurram. He tried to set up a lending service, but nothing came of it— the city was no commercial emporium, and what enterprises there were had been dragged down in the Nyanese crash. In desperation he resorted to his methods from Gredgar: essentially a Ponzi scheme, where early investors were paid exorbitant returns out of later investments. The stated end of these investments was to make Ɣardze into a major port, but he didn’t bother to actually build anything. Once he had cash in hand, he skipped town.
At this point he disappears from the historical record. There were reports of a shipwreck, or of the revenge of any number of ruined investors, but these are just speculation. Another tradition suggests that he retired to a quiet city and lived off the gold he brought from Ɣardze.
The westward movement of Uyram civilization ended with Sleso. Gondre eventually recovered, but Gredgar did not. The crashes helped discredit the idea, though there were other factors as well— the Čwamese invasion; the fact that Itsenic people were in the way.
More positively, Sleso’s lending operations paved the way for more sophisticated institutions— banks, insurance consortiums. In centuries to come, the chief asset of Nyandai would not be ships and their physical infrastructure, but its control over money.