Friday Fiction: Of Merchant and Magic part 2

 

Master Tycho has settled in to his rooms in the merchants’ quarter in Guill. Now, time has come for business…

Chapter 2: To Market

 

Bread soaked in milk with wine, smallbeer, and a piece of fried meat with the sharp local mustard filled Tycho’s stomach just enough the next morning. The market would not begin for another day, but he wanted to look around, and to see where his booth would be.

His first surprise came when he reached the main warehouse to speak with the market master. “Ah, good that you are here, Meester Tycho Rhonarida,” one of the mages on duty said. “Here is your receipt from Lord Valrep. His transport mage removed the lord’s share last night.” The shaggy-haired man frowned, murmuring “waste of magic,” under his breath.

Tycho neither blinked nor raised his eyebrows when he saw the tally. He wanted to wince, but that might not be wise, either. “Very well.” Three of the fine-tanned hides and two of the fleece-tanned hides, plus the two largest rough tanned skins. He should not have tempted the gods by assuming that nobles did not bother leather merchants.

After making sure that the seals on the hides-by-weight remained accurate, he left the warehouse. The market master’s office was in the stone building on the opposite side of the great warehouse from the market scales, and a cluster of men in what Tycho thought of as merchants’ attire had gathered at the side of the grey building. He drifted that way, careful to avoid some piles of dung that had not been swept up for the tanners yet. “I don’t see— Oh, there.”

“Where? Ah, beside the fine cloth.”

“If spices are to be here, then…hmm. I see it now.”

A section of the wall, a clothyard by a clothyard, had been painted rough black. A chalked map showed the market, with like goods clustered as usual, although as he studied the map, Tycho noted that one drinks seller had a booth in each section, except for the fabrics and weavings quarter. He smiled to himself. Spiced wine on white cambric was grounds for murder, or so his wife and his mother had both warned him on occasion. He found his section, across from one of the saddlers and between a leather clothing maker and a glover. Normally the Guill market did not attract so many trades, but this was the last major market for the year. The next would be the farming fair, and then winter’s rains would begin and no one could travel safely.

“That’s not fair dealings!” The words stopped all motion around the great square. The traders and merchants all turned to see who had spoken the words. “Bread costs a half vlaat per ten-weight. Ye’r cheating, you are!”

“And this is not bread, may Great Gember strike me and all my works.” The woman with the enormous basket under her arm pointed to a fat man in mismatched tunic and trews. “This is apple-spice-loaf, half a vlaat per two weight.”

“Bread’s bread ye cheatin’ wench. I claim ten weight and witnesses!” One of the merchants tapped on the market master’s door and leaned inside, then got out of the way as a large man with an ornate merchant’s staff emerged. He reminded Tycho of one of the wild northern oxen, as broad as they were long and far more dangerous than they looked.

“What’s this?”

The fat man pointed at the baker’s woman. “I call unfair dealins’. She said bread’s not bread and wants two and a half vlaat for a ten weight. Bread’s a half vlaat for ten. I claim damages!”

The woman managed to curtsey as the market master approached, the iron cap on his staff making the stones ring. Several of the merchants trailed along to witness, Tycho among them. He’d not done much business here, and it never hurt a man to learn how the market master weighed matters. The fat man sort of bowed, his loose dark green cap sliding and almost falling to the ground. Several of the men snorted. The woman pulled the white cloth away from her goods, showing them to the market master. “Apple spice loaf, Meester Loraam. Half to sell, half for the inn at the Three Blooms.” Tycho caught a glimpse of round, light brown loaves as big as his fist, with a dimple on the top and a sort of shiny glaze. Not every-day bread, even he could tell that.

Meester Loraam leaned forward and sniffed. He stood. “Apples and spices, not living bread, leb-bread. What the price?”

“Half-vlaat for two weight, Meester Loraam.”

The market master nodded. “Top price for fine baking is one vlaat per weigh, so your price is within bounds.”

“Nay! Bread is bread, all know that, ask Gember’s priest. Just price is ten weight per vlaat that man might live.” The man’s face had turned red. He pointed to the basket, his hand shaking. “Them’s loaves, that makes them bread, bread’s ten per vlaat.”

Meester Loraam turned to look at the man. “Where come ye from?”

“I come from Dinklefeld, that way,” he pointed to the south and east. “I’ve been here three day, know the bread laws I do.”

“Then you are excused your confusion this time, stranger. The lords of Guill set a difference between fine breads and leb-breads. Leb-breads are ten per vlaat, as you say. But fine breads are like fine goods, and trade for the cost plus a decent living for the baker. You may go, miss.” She curtsied again and hurried to make her delivery. “If you seek leb-bread, the sign of the Folded Roll has what you seek.”

“But bread’s bread?” the stranger sounded more confused than angry. Tycho wondered if Meester Loraam’s size had something to do with it.

“Not by law here. Man can live without apple-stuffed spice bread, or ground nut loaf with winter spices.”

One of the witnesses called, “Man can, but I can’t!” He patted his ample stomach, bringing laughter all around. Even the fat stranger smiled a little.

“I’m going that way, visitor, if you want to see where the leb-bread is sold,” the fabric seller offered.

“The matter is decided.” With that, everyone returned to their business. Tycho decided that Meester Loraam would be easy to work with and dangerous to cross, a good combination in a market master.

***

 

“Platport?”

“Aye. And I am told Marshburt as well, but my eyes have only seen the false coins of Platport,” Tycho said.

Meester Loraam, one of the goldworkers, and a small-weights mage all frowned. But they did not challenge his words or the false coins, now spread on a table along with true coins, so that all might know. Loraam made horns with his left hand and spat through them. “Bad ces to them that made these.” The gathered merchants and journeymen rumbled with agreement. “Hillnbend trafeld’s closer to the trade ports from the south.”

“Are the coins from Liambruu?” someone called. Tycho saw the man’s red cap and blue scarf, signs of a fine-cloth seller from Marshburt. “Seeing as how their credit word is broken.”

Meester Loraam turned back to Tycho, who spread his hands. “I do not know. It could also be a man thinking to be clever, like the mint-master’s wife’s brother in the County of Sinmartin.”

Several of the listening men nodded, and others bared their teeth and muttered to their neighbors. It had taken the offender several weeks to die if the stories were true, walled into a cell too small to stand and too narrow to sit, with air and water but only a little food. Even if the tales were only tales, no one tolerated counterfeiters.

“Howsoever it be, we have seen and are warned,” the market master stated, thumping the end of his staff against the cobbles, closing discussion with a thump and clang. “Has anyone else business for the good of the market?” No one spoke. The staff thumped again. At his nod Tycho swept the false coins into their pouch, and Meester Jos the spicer took back the true coin.

“Well met,” a light voice called. Meester Loraam turned and stepped to the side, making way for a slender man in a very expensive brocaded jacket, bright green hose, and crimson belt and boots. Tycho studied the leather. The man wore at least five vlaat on his feet and waist. “Well met,” he repeated, and Loraam and the other locals bowed low. Tycho caught the hint and bowed as well, stepping sideways as he did in order to get out of the lord’s way. His burley, crimson-clad guards carried pole arms as well as swords, and scowled, eyes glancing left and right as they eyed the merchants. Tycho knew the type well—they only wanted an excuse to beat up any man who looked as if he might consider defying their employer. Once he might have taken them on just to defend the honor of Rhonari, but Tycho had grown wiser as well as older.

Lord Valrep nodded, looking down his slightly crooked nose at the merchants. “Welcome to Guill. You have my permission to trade from the opening of the gates tomorrow until the closing of the gates on the Feast of Yoorst, eight days hence.” He took a dagger out of his belt and handed it to Loraam hilt first. “With this dagger I give justice rights for the days of the market.”

Loraam bowed. “With this dagger I take justice rights for the days of the market.” A sigh of relief rose from the two score of men and the handful of women attending the market meeting. Meester Loraam could make decisions based on his observations and testimony on-the-spot, so they would not have to wait until the next time Lord Valrep held court to have disputes resolved. Tycho and a few others well remembered the way the father of the current count of Sinmartin had abused his justice, keeping merchants waiting long after the fair ended. Apparently Lord Valrep was wiser, or just did not care to be bothered. That his transport mages had lifted his share from the warehouse suggested to Tycho that his lordship preferred not to deal with minor matters, like market disputes. Tycho preferred to avoid lords’ courts, so they stood even on the goddess Guilldun’s scales.

After a few more words about keeping the peace and a reminder to pay their temple fee, Lord Valrep left, stalking off like the white wading birds that visited Rhonari in high summer. His men glowered at the men and women again, then followed Valrep. When no one spoke, Meester Loraam thumped the hilt of the dagger twice on a sounding board built into the table, the signal that the meeting had closed. Everyone scattered, walking to their booths and shops to finish preparations for the next day, or heading for the plain, two-level building wedged in between the cloth-sellers’ hall and the town-priestess’s house. That was the place of exchange, where those with letters of trade and credit could have them registered, coin conversions certified, and other business done that did not involve the market directly. Tycho considered going by to look at the exchange weights and prices, but decided that he had time later. For now he needed to see about arranging his booth, since he had not brought journeymen to do the work for him this time.

The hired porters had left his goods stacked by bundle as requested. Tycho considered checking the seals, then shrugged to himself. The warehouse mage’s counter-seal seemed clear on the top bundle, the fine leathers, and Tycho decided that he’d only check every other stack this time. He broke the seal on the first bundle of whole-tanned hides, grunting as he lifted five and stacked them on the sturdy rack. They looked and smelled as they should, and he nodded. His wife had paid premium for the preservation and water-away spells, and it seemed that they had worked properly. He folded the rough wrapping cloth away, saving it for future use or trade. His shoulders and back reminded him that he’d be wise not to take any more wagers about carrying fish-barrels. Yes, well, but he’d been young, and that money had served him well. And it was not every man who could carry a half-full fish barrel the length of the great pier in Marshburt.

The cheapest hides went in the front of the large booth. Tycho had looked at the just-price list in the temple before the market meeting and while he was not delighted, he’d seen worse. Man could live without fine-tanned calfskin and fish-leather. And those he’d priced per the market this year, with a little room for bargaining. He did not have many fine-tanned hides left, since the trafeld had been so good, but hides with fleeces were in demand. He put a few out to show but kept most of them back, still wrapped. He had four small ones that his wife had managed to dye a pleasing blue. She’d turned a fifth into a vest for herself. He thought she’d looked rather strange, but kept such thoughts to himself. A wise husband selected his fights.

Speaking of which… he drank from his water skin and looked at the booth to his left. A woman of middle years wearing widow’s brown was directing two apprentices. “No, black goes there, brown in the center beside dark blue, then white. I’m keeping back the crimson for now.” She sold fine leather goods, gloves for herself and belts and caps for a second merchant, or so he’d heard. The embroidery on the gloves caught the morning light and Tycho calculated the price. He was glad his wife could not see them. The woman also had work-gloves and winter mitts like those used in the far north, and he wondered if they had come via trade or if her workshop had made them.

“And stay out!” A boy raced past, crouching as low as he could and still run, chased by an older boy wearing an apprentice’s apron. “This isn’t the temple pantry, and trade begins tomorrow, dung-heap reject.”

The glover’s widow shook her fist at the passing boys. “Yoorst hear me, that boy’s going to be gallows-bait if someone doesn’t see to him. His parents…” her words faded into a grumbling mutter as she returned to work. Tycho could imagine what she’d said, since he’d growled the like more than once. Boys needed masters, needed to learn a skill even if they’d been given to the Scavenger. The gods were patient, but even their patience had ends.

By the third bell Tycho had the booth arranged as much as he could. He would not set out anything more, lest he tempt the weak or greedy. Or Lord Valrep. A baker’s journeyman came by selling still-warm bread pockets with meat, and Tycho bought two. They had Gember’s sheaf on their soft brown top, but even so he bit carefully. Nothing bit back, and he recognized the meat, so he added that baker to his private approved list. He did not care to join the list of travelers felled by meat pies. Or bad wine, or unripe fruit, although that wasn’t as bad as some things. Like meat pies of uncertain age and content.

Market guards, paid very well by the temples of Guilldun and Maarsdam, would keep the unwise out until the gates opened tomorrow. Tycho confirmed that the sealed bundles remained sealed, slid the rain-shields on the front of the booth closed, and left.

***

The next evening he wondered what evil spirit had inspired the Confraternity of Maarsrodi to agree to an apprentice elevation on the first night of the market. The soon-to-be journeyman appeared to have the same thought. He looked tired already, as he should, given how Meester Johnlo had been running his boys left and right all day. The last of his goods had arrived after the market began, so he had to find the weigh mage and witnesses, then move the goods to his booth without disrupting the market. Wine barrels, even the smaller casks for sweet and frost wines, could not be rough-rolled to their destination once the market opened. Johnlo glowered at his cup, no doubt unhappy with the quality of the wine. It was one of the southern whites, sharper than it should be for the purported age and origin. But it went tolerably well with the roasted haunch of hauler-bird and the casserole of late-season schaef-kid. Tycho had made a mental note that if they had a few spare kids next spring, he would ask his wife to make the casserole, or something similar, if she could.

“Ah, Tycho. I found one of these today.” Talman poured bits of metal out of his pouch, poked them with a fat finger missing the nail, and then slid one across the table. “It was left on the counter, not used to pay.”

“Huh.” Tycho picked it up, rubbed it a little, and sniffed. Ugh. Another of the false coins, although… He squinted at the design on the reverse. “I can see why you didn’t trust it.” Coins from Chin’mai never, ever appeared at minor markets like this one. He’d seen exactly three in his life thus far, and he owned two of them.

“I don’t like this, these false coins. Makes everyone look bad.”

“Agreed. You can keep that piece of trash.”

Before they could say more, the senior merchant from the confraternity stood, tapping a small bell at the head of the table. Silence settled on the large room, filled by the twenty or so men of Rhonari and Bushmakk and their journeymen. “Well met and welcome in the name of Maarsrodi.” They company stood and bowed as one to the small statue in the corner of the room. After the men sat, Meester Gerrt said, “Johnlo Nahartha petitions us to accept the elevation of his apprentice Rimundo.”

Johnlo stood, wiping his mouth with a bit of bread as he did. “Rimundo has served seven years with minimal fault and has learned the foundation of the wine and drinks trade. He has traveled to Sinmartin and Harnmont, has assisted with wine making as well as with the trade, and I have found no more fault than usual with his conduct.”

Rimundo ducked at the last comment and everyone else chuckled, earning glowers from Johnlo and Gerrt both. Well, given what everyone in the market had overheard that afternoon, and what those who had travelled with Johnlo remembered, he’d find fault in Maarsdam’s paradise if given enough time or a hard enough arrival.

“Has he a journeyman’s place?”

Everyone looked to Rimundo. The lean boy gulped, wiped his hands on his trousers, and said, “Yes, sir. I have a place with Harmann in Vlaaterbe for the next year before returning to finish with Meester Johnlo.”

Grunts, a few murmurs of surprise, and nods met his words. Tycho wondered why the away year came first, but he didn’t deal in wine and perhaps that was a wine-trader tradition. Since the boy had already traveled outside the usual market and trafeld routes, starting with an away-year wouldn’t be as much of a shock. Yes, that was probably it.

“Does anyone have just cause that Rimundo should not be elevated to journeyman?” Gerrt and Johnlo both glowered as more whispers and mutters flowed around the long tables. “Well?”

Silence returned. Rimundo gulped again and his shoulders in their sturdy white cloth shirt and leather vest sagged a little.

Gerrt nodded once. “Then I call on Andrade as senior member of the company.” The lean old stock-fish merchant creaked to his feet and carefully stepped over the bench, then walked to the head of the table. Gerrt bowed and yielded his place to Andrade. The senior journeyman present also stood and walked over to stand four paces behind the senior merchant. Gerrt took a casket off the seat beside him and opened it. Andrade removed a chain from the casket and hung it around Rimundo’s neck. Everyone but Tycho could see the chain glow, so long as the boy spoke true.

Andrade glowered at the boy. “So. You stand for elevation to journeyman.”

Rimundo glanced down, and Tycho wondered if he was confirming that, yes, he was indeed standing. “Ah, yes, sir.”

“You know what that means?”

“Um, ah, it means that I will work with customers, and be responsible for moving wine on my own, and for confirming quality, um, and for um, ah, for keeping the secrets of the trade?” The boy had already sweated through his shirt with fear.

Why wasn’t Andrade following the usual ritual? Tycho glanced at the other traders and saw impatience, puzzlement, and two men who had folded their arms and looked smug, as if they had won private or public wagers. Ventris shook his head a little, as if he’d expected this. Well, Ventris was Andrade’s junior business partner, so if he was not surprised, Tycho decided that there had to be a reason for Andrade’s choice. Maybe he just wanted to throw the boy off-balance, to see how he handled the pressure. That would be Andrade.

“So. Who is your patron?”

“Maarsrodi, sir.”

“Trade patron?”

“Yoorst of the Fields, sir.”

“Parentage?”

The boy turned red. “Ah, ahem, that is, er—”

Johnlo interrupted the hemming and scuffing. “He was a foundling fostered to Ventris, then apprenticed to me through the temple. Year of the spotted cough.”

More murmurs flowed up and down the trestle tables, but no one raised a protest. Ventris stood, adding, “No non-citizens were listed on the death rolls at the time of his deposition in the foundling box, brothers.” Grunts of satisfaction met his words and Ventris sat again.

Andrade frowned at the gathering, not pleased with the interruption, or so Tycho guessed. “As I was saying, you are a citizen’s child, raised by citizens, and trained in the trade. Do you swear to abide by the laws of the city, should you be allowed to join our ranks?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Will you do your duty to your brothers in Maarsrodi, faithful to the god’s commands and ways, and honor your elders and superiors?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. What do you bring as proof of this?”

Rimundo gulped yet again, turned to look at the side door into the great chamber, and clapped his hands three times. More apprentices swarmed in, carrying flasks of red and gold wines, and trays of meats and pastries. The spicy scent tickled Tycho’s nose and he wondered if any were that sweet-hot spicy thing from farther south. His physician had told him to avoid it lest it curdle in his bowels, since he was cold and moist by nature, but it tasted so good…

“I bring wines and food of the season, sir, selected for the occasion and the meal.”

Tycho’s neighbor leaned over, whispered, “I hope he has better taste than the steward,” and flicked thick, scarred fingers at the bottles on the table. Tycho nodded his agreement.

“What say you, brothers? Do we accept Rimundo of the house of Ventris as journeyman?”

The traders all shifted so they could see the journeymen. The journeymen muttered among themselves. After some discussion, one fat young man stood and announced, “Honorable masters, we find Rimundo suitable to join our ranks by repute, training, and conduct.”

The man closest to the head of the table also stood. “We brothers in trade find Rimundo suitable to join the ranks of journeymen.” He sat firmly, making the bench below him creak.

“So be it,” Andrade called. He removed the truth chain and took two paces backwards, allowing the watching journeyman to shake out a white leather apron. Rimundo walked to where the journeyman stood, accepted the apron, and put it on. Andrade tied the strings in the back, then thumped the boy lightly on one ear. “Join the ranks of entered journeymen, and do honor to your master and your trade.”

Five rounds of wine and two of fortified wine followed the elevation, all provided by Rimundo the Journeyman. By the time the feast ended, Tycho had begun to wonder of Maarsrodi had inspired the lady-sister to give him an upper-floor room out of spite for some forgotten failing. When the land-birds began shrieking before dawn the next morning, Tycho decided that indeed, he had erred and given his deity offense. And that he was no longer so young as he had once been, alas. Thanks be for cool air and water. He rinsed his face and hands, then his mouth, and decided for a small breakfast with mint tea.

Still, he was better off than some of the people making their way to the market as the morning stars faded. At least his headache didn’t blind him, unlike a man from Griklant, a fur trader who staggered. The man’s color reminded Tycho of unripe grain. There was something to be said for drinking boiled water before wine and spirits, if only because it lined the stomach and allowed the wine to pass more quickly so it could not sit and ferment in the gut. Or so the physic book claimed.

If a wine headache were the worst the day brought, the market would have started auspiciously, Tycho decided.

(C) 2017 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

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