Friday Fiction: Of Merchant and Magic Part Five

Tycho Galnaar Rhonarida settles in for a quiet winter. Perhaps.

Chapter Five – Winter into Spring


The notary-mage studied Tycho and the seal, then stood. He walked around the merchant and out the open front of his work-area, into the main market and currency exchange. The stocky man pulled a stout cord hanging beside the door.

Clatter-tap, clatter-tap, clatter-tap. Everyone within hearing paused and looked to the notary. He raised his hands to his mouth and called, “Is there any man of good repute who can identify this person standing beside me?” He pointed an ink-stained finger at Tycho.

After a moment, three men in merchant’s or craftsmen’s clothes walked up, along with one of the ship-captains. “I know him. I am Ventris Bormanson.”

“I know him. I am Henk Wesserman,” the captain said.

“I know him. I am Gregor Smithson.”

“And I am Haako Peltzerman, and he is Tycho Galnaar, husband of Gerta Galnaar born Krewatzi.”

The notary wrote all four men’s names on his wax tablet. “Your seals, please, honorable gentlemen?”

Tycho stepped to the side of the doorway as the witnesses presented their seals. The notary inspected each one and made a mark on his tablet. “Thank you, gentlemen. The honor of the proud city be with you.” He and Tycho bowed to them, and the quartet returned to their business. Tycho would send a small thank you to their businesses later, as an apology for interrupting their activities. He’d served as witness for other merchants and masters. Should they prove to have vouched falsely, their seals would fail and all would know, because of the magic that tied all seals from Rhonari together.

The notary returned to his seat and wrote the names and seal confirmations out in a fair hand in the large book kept for just such things. He turned the book around and presented Tycho with a quill and the ink-pot. Tycho signed his name and marked that this was a renewal. When he took the book and ink back, the mage observed, “This is a short renewal, Meester Tycho. Has ought gone wrong?”

“Not yet, sir, but I made four over-saltwater voyages, and forded the Gheel twice, getting soaked to the skin the second time. I do not wish to tempt Maarsrodi or Korvaal by hoping that all remains well.”

The mage leaned forward, studying him more closely. He leaned closer, coming out of his seat, black eyes narrowing, the corners of his mouth curving down with concentration. Then his eyes flashed open and his thin, angled eyebrows rose. “Ah. You were born under Donwah twice, were you not?” The man kept his voice down lest the sound travel past the threshold.

“Three times, sir.”

“All is explained. Too much saltwater in the blood.” Tycho braced for a look of pity, but the notary-mage on duty seemed to shrug, as if it were one of those things that might happen to any man, like being short-sighted, or losing a great-hauler to rain-cough. Tycho could not see if the spells remained strong, and thus the early renewal. The notary picked up Tycho’s seal and set it on a piece of blue-green silk-stem cloth. Out of habit Tycho looked away like any man would when magic flared. The priestess of Donwah had explained it to his father when Tycho showed no sign of magic as a small child—three of the goddess’s stars had been in the sky during Tycho’s birth, even though he’d been born for Maarsdam. He would never work magic, and man-cast magic would not affect him as much as other men. God-cast magic would strike him just as hard as anyone. His father had sworn the family to silence, lest the lack hinder his eldest son’s chances in life.

A few of the notary-mages knew, but they kept their own council per their guild laws. The chief priest of Maarsrodi knew, of course, because he saw all men’s hearts through the power of the god, as did the priestess of Donwah. Gerta knew because she confirmed bought spells and goods, and because infertility charms did not work on him. Nothing in the laws of the Free Cities or elsewhere prevented a man from work because he lacked magic, but he’d seen some of those whose lack was known. He made a little warding off sign to prevent the discovery.

Tycho looked back and watched the second part of the spell-renewal. Without magic-sight, all he saw was the mage dripping a little blue-green ink onto the face of the seal, then stamping a mark onto a piece of parchment. The man’s black skull-cap did not quite reach the remaining fringe of his hair, and Tycho wondered idly how old he was. At least thirty-five, possibly closer to forty, well into the age of mastery. No one became a market notary without being a master as well as knowing all the laws of Rhonari, all the laws the Free Cities held in common, and trade and business rules.

“It is ready. Please try not to rinse it in salt-water this time,” the notary said, winking. Tycho glanced over his shoulder and saw two men waiting just outside the door with what looked like receipt halves in their hands and scowls on their faces.

“Donwah have mercy, it and I will both stay drier this year.” He took the seal back and put it into its waterproofed leather bag, inclined his body in a slight bow, and put ten vlaat into the box for such things. Better pay more often than needed than be caught without proof of his identity and repute.

“…And I told you the quality wouldn’t be the same as if you’d bought what I had in stock.” Tycho moved as fast as was dignified and seemly away from the threshold of the notary’s office, lest he be caught up in the dispute. He vaguely recognized the thin man in farmer’s boots and trews, and if it was the same person, he’d talk both the merchant and the notary through dinner and supper both. He followed his nose to one of the food stalls, made certain that none of his sons, apprentices, or servants were around to tattle to Gerta, and bought three battered and fried snow-fish halves, with salted crisp-bites. At his nod the woman sprinkled all of the food with a little vinegar, then handed it to him on a folded bit of old packing paper.

Tycho stepped out of the way of the people coming and going and ate his forbidden treat. What did people do who were born in the islands, where everything was hot and highly spiced, if they had cold, damp natures? Some of the sailors claimed that there were cooling fruits that grew on the islands, so maybe they ate lots of fruit and fish. The prospect displeased Tycho mightily, and he savored the crisp crunch of the batter and hot flesh of the fish, sweet and firm to the tooth and tongue. Once a month wouldn’t hurt anything, and it was so cold and damp out that the air would ease some of the imbalance of essences. He did not lick his fingers after he finished, instead wiping them on the edges of the paper before putting it in an old-scraps barrel for the Scavenger’s children to collect.

“Ho, Tycho, well met,” a voice called, and he bowed as Dalmat Enkerman approached. “Have you heard ought of Andrade?”

Tycho considered. “He and I left Guill at the same time, but he came overland through Harnancourd, or so he’d planned. I carried some bulk goods for him, and they have been sent to his wares-house. I expected him back this week or the next, barring weather.”

“Hmm.” Enkerman brushed his hands over the front of his oiled-cloth cloak. “His wife and a journeyman are concerned, because he has not sent word since he left Guill. He usually sends word every week. Through Harnancourd?”

“Aye, Harnancourd. He had late-season business to conclude, or so he said at the elevation of Rinmundo to journeyman.”

“Thank you. I’ll wait another week before asking out for news. Are you coming to staff sparring tomorrow?”

He had been remiss in his training, Tycho knew. It would show if he did not resume practice with staff, sword, and knife very soon. “Yes, I will be there.” The city guards’ duties included instructing those merchants who wished to learn or to stay proficient with staff and blade. Tycho did not enjoy the work, but he preferred being alive to the other alternative.

“Very good.” Enkerman bustled off. Tycho made a mental note of the questions and crossed the long-narrow market square. The small rain had begun falling, a heavy mist that might turn to either snow or the heavy, bone-freezing winter rain. Speaking of bone, Tycho redirected his path a little to the left, to Bondarsman’s house beside Temple Lane. The main door stood open for business and Tycho ducked inside. The cobbles of the floor needed to be swept, he noticed, and the wagon tracks cleaned up. Rough-woven sacks of raw bone slumped against a stack of travel boxes, as if they’d arrived so recently that the apprentices had not had time to sort and move them. Bondarsman must have gotten a late shipment in.

Bondarsman was in his office, talking to someone in a yellow and red striped tunic or half-jacket and flat yellow cap. An apprentice bowed. “May I be of service, good sir?”

“I wish to see, ah, that there,” he pointed to several open shipping chests and sacks. Worked bone spoons, hooks for hanging garments or herb bags, bone buttons, bone needles and awls, bone combs and brushes, and other household goods sat out on display. Tycho crossed the open wares-house floor and peered at the spoons. Some looked larger than usual, and he wondered which beast they’d come from, and what hide had once covered them. A set of knife-handles in a stack beside the spoons caught his eye and he leaned closer, inspecting them. They all had little designs carved into the handles, tracery or animal shapes, nothing that might give offense or be a god symbol. “Are these a sale lot?” He pointed to the knife handles.

The apprentice’s eyes widened and he wiped his hands on his heavy canvas trousers. “Ah, good sir, I don’t, um, that is, er,” he looked from Tycho to the closed office door and back, face turning pink. “They might be. Excuse me, please.” The boy turned and fled. He disappeared around a wooden partition and Tycho heard panicked whispers. What in the name of stranded fish was going on?

A sturdy young man emerged from behind the partition, dusting his hands on his journeyman’s apron. He walked with a little bit of a limp, and Tycho noticed a bandage on one ankle. He bowed to Tycho. “Your pardon, good sir. Erik is new to the trade. The knife handles?”

“Yes. Are they a sale lot?”

The journeyman looked up to the ceiling, blinked twice, and covered his mouth with his hand as he tried to recall. “Yes. Yes, sir, they are. They came in yesterday and I remember seeing the tax receipts. They are from Griklant and came with a commissioned order.”

The office door opened with a sharp screech, although whether from the hinges or Bondarsman’s mouth Tycho couldn’t tell. The bone trader had the highest pitched voice of any man Tycho had met, and sharper than most women. “No, I will not take him on as an apprentice and I will not purchase any hides. Hides are nothing but wasted weight in the freight wago—” The scrawny merchant saw Tycho and cut his words off so sharply Tycho half-expected to hear them clatter on the floor like dropped pottery. “The man behind you is a hide merchant.”

Tycho weighed insulting Bondarsman back, but decided against it for the moment. “I’m interested in those knife handles from Griklant.”

“Which? Oh those. Take them, please,” he flicked the fingers of his right hand toward the boxes, as if shooing the carved bone away. “Get them out of here.” A little gleam in his eye gave him away, and Tycho rested his hands on his heavy belt as he considered what price to offer. The few carved northern-made handles he’d seen for sale had been snatched up in the southern cities. “They’re taking up space. Give me a half-vlaat for the lot and they’re yours.”

Tycho reared back, acting insulted. “A half-vlaat for the lot?”

“Aye. I didn’t order them, don’t need them.”

“Neh, if they are that cheap you might as well burn them for the glass-makers to use. I only want them if they are worth at least eight vlaat to you.” He’d not reverse-bargained in a while.

“Eight? Maarsrodi would strike me dead for taking such advantage of a city-man.” Bondarsman shook his head, grabbing the quill he’d tucked behind his ear before it fell. He pointed with the quill. “Three-quarters if you absolutely insist, but no more.”

The stranger in red and yellow, and the apprentice boy, grew more and more confused as Bondarsman raised his price and Tycho lowered his, arguing back and forth until they settled on three and three-quarters vlaat, and Bondarsman would deliver them to Tycho. Did the stranger not know about back-bargaining? Probably not. The two men of Rhonari shook on the price and Tycho paid a vlaat down, then signed the sale book. Bondarsman preferred not to trade south of Platport, and Tycho was willing to risk the vlaats on the handles selling well farther south.

In fact, if Liambruu was not trading this year, it might be worth his while to go even farther south than usual. Northern goods fetched good prices in the south just because of their novelty. Like the bone knife handles. Northern bone had a tighter surface than southern and lasted better, or so Tycho thought. But he would need to have his agents look into the market, and to see if the demand justified the higher cost of going that far. Much of the way would be overland, if he went, alas. But that was in the future. Now he needed to speak with the waiting trader.

The stranger in yellow and red lingered in the main wares-house floor, holding a dark brown hat with a broad brim and crimson strings. He was taller than Tycho had first thought, and wore dark red under the open yellow and red striped, thigh-length half-jacket. A little fur trimmed the jacket’s lapels, and a little more peeked out from the collar of the under-tunic. It looked like pond-rat fur, and Tycho mentally shifted his guess of the man’s place of origin east and a little north, to the great wet forests.

“You are a hide merchant?” The stranger spoke carefully, as if weighing each word for its value. He slid the round sounds more than a native speaker, and Tycho patted himself on the back for his correct guess.

“Yes. Not furs,” he raised one finger in warning. “Hides alone.” Tycho considered what he had in his wares-house, what he could assemble in credit, and how long until he could sell any hides. “I might be interested in doing business.”

“Good. I came to collect payment. Letter of payment like under-melted ice—looks solid, breaks under foot with first step. Do not want to take hides back.” The tall man glowered over Tycho’s head, hands flexing as if he wanted to hurt someone, or shake them until they paid.

Behind him, Bondarsman mouthed, “Liambruu?” and raised one eyebrow. Tycho guessed that might be the case, but this was not the place to discuss such things. “Come, let us go somewhere we can speak freely without stopping others’ business.”

“I come.”

By the time Tycho helped his sons and two apprentices finish unloading Norkashnic’s hides so the man could get himself and his beasts under cover, the small-wet had turned into larger drops of cold rain that felt like daggers of ice when they hit unprotected skin. The narrow wagon fit easily into Tycho’s wares-house gates, but the three great haulers had to stay out in the weather because of the wagon’s unusual length. “Is good.” Norkashnic stated when they finished and strapped the heavy canvas and leather cover back onto the wagon. “May your gods bring you only good, and may false-king’s gods send him only woe.”

“So may it be,” the boys chorused.

Norkashnic pulled on a waxed-fabric coat over his colorful clothes, saluted the household gods, and departed. Tycho had already paid him, and now two large stacks of northern hides sat beside the chest of knife handles in the ground floor of the wares-house. Tycho wanted to get something hot to drink and eat, but considered the weather and the hides and swallowed a sigh. He had to set a good example for the boys. “Lower the hoist straps. No point in letting these sit where they might get wet or tempt rodents.”

Bastiaan looked as if he wanted to argue, and had the same expression on his face that his mother used when she didn’t think the time was quite ripe to voice her objections. Ewoud sighed and pointed to the youngest apprentice. The boy drooped, probably tired from moving the thick hides, but didn’t say a word. He slumped, walked to the hoist chains, and lowered the straps that fit around the goods to be lifted into the storage floors. “Which floor, sir?” Bastiaan asked.

“Second.” He didn’t want the apprentices poking around the third and fourth floors just now. And he had some other hides on the second floor. “The chest goes on the first floor, with the other miscellaneous goods.”

Gerta surmised that he’d worked through dinner and had a larger than usual supper waiting when they finished. “He had a contract with the Liambruu crown and two merchants for hairy-ox hides and snow-hunter hides, plus a few mixed hides, all tanned. He came from Wiga, got in two days ago, and…” He didn’t have to finish the sentence.

Gerta frowned. Ewoud finished chewing his fish stew and asked, “Sir, the king defaulted?”

“Yes, he did. There was no money waiting.”

Gerta frowned deeper, but waited until after they’d finished eating and the younger boys had been sent to bed before she asked, “My husband, what said the priest?”

“He accepted our offerings and said that because the pledge had been broken, there was no harm in my taking delivery and paying for the hides. All but one have been tanned, and that one,” he shook his head a little as he thought about it. “I’ve not seen anything that thick. I sent word to the armorers to see if any of the shield makers or armor makers are looking for that kind of material.” If not, he might see if it could be cut smaller as it was, and tanned for boot-soles. “He said it took two hundredweights of tanner-bark to tan all the hides, and I believe him. They do it in hollowed out logs to get even more brown-water from each tanner-tree.”

“Did he say what he was buying?” She sat with her eyes closed, likely tired from the day’s work preparing for the upcoming festival and feast.

“Grain, wheat and rye and water-grain, glass, bog-iron, and a set of mill-stones, but those will wait until next year. He placed an order and put money down. They are building a new temple in Wiga and need building stone, but no one had any since sailing season is ending.” Tycho shrugged stiff shoulders. He shouldn’t have been working so hard. That was what sons and apprentices were for. “It took half a day in Bushmaak to agree on the price for the water-grain.”

Gerta made her “not surprised” noise. Tycho was impressed that it only took half a day. A few years ago the traders had ended up bringing in three judges and the priests of Maarsdam, Gember, and Korvaal before reaching an agreement. Yet another reason to stay with hides and leather. Everyone agreed that man must have wheat and rye and the other land grains in order to live, and everyone agreed that they took land and labor to grow. But water-grain grew free for any who chose to do the work of gathering it, and only a handful of river-dwellers lived on it. So was it a luxury good or a grain? He tried to stay out of the argument. He didn’t care for the flavor and texture, and Gerta thought it too expensive for everyday use. Had he been setting the price, Tycho thought he’d apply the same rules as were applied to bog-iron, another gift of the gods.

“All of one ham was sold today. The butcher kept ten percent for stocking and carving the meat.” She yawned. “Sorry.”

Ten percent was very good. The man had handled meats for Tycho before and could keep his mouth closed when asked. Tycho approved.

“Good. I’m for bed. The ceremony starts at the third bell tomorrow.” He pushed out of his chair. Gerta stood, and then reached for the iron coal-hoe and bent to bank the fire in the main hearth. He went to their bedchamber as she descended to make certain that the maid had taken proper care of the kitchen fire. Ewoud had gone to a gathering of some of the merchants’ heirs and would sleep in the trade house, since the meeting had not finished before the closing of the gates.

The next morning Tycho, Gerta, and the five children walked together to the temple of Maarsrodi. They all wore red and brown with brown sea-dog fur lining and trim, and the adults wore their chains of status. Their clothes were not the fanciest on view, but very well made and of prime wools and durable furs. Everyone who saw them would know that Tycho had been blessed by the gods. The rain had stopped, and bits of cold blue sky appeared among the clouds. Winter had come to the Free Cities.

At the third bell, all the temples on the worship square near the docks opened their doors, all but the Scavenger’s temple. Instead, a portable altar had been set up in front of the white-painted doors, and eight black candles burned behind glass wind-screens. The Scavenger’s priests wore black cloaks with black hoods, patched with black and dark brown. Under their hoods they wore black half-veils, covering the lower halves of their faces. The priestesses of Donwah wore top half-veils, to show that no man or woman could see the eyes of the goddess of the great waters and thus truly know her. All the temples sat on raised platforms of soil and brick and stone, elevated so that the usual floods wouldn’t enter them, just as the first cities and farmhouses had been built on mounds of dirt. The temples themselves were made of brick, painted in the gods’ colors or left bare red. Stone or baked-clay images of the gods stood above the doors and in the walls, telling everyone who was worshipped there. They were square, not long and narrow, and lower than the surrounding buildings. The temples stood on the oldest ground in Rhodari, between the city and the sea.

Two priests or priestesses from each temple brought links of iron chain out of the sanctuaries, each link as long as from Tycho’s fingertips to his elbow. Four of the master smiths stood at the end of the temple road beside a stack of connecting links. Men of the dock-men’s guild waited off to the side. The priests brought their pairs of links to the smiths, held them up for all to see, and handed them to the craftsmen. The smiths fastened the links together with smaller chains as the dock-men each took a link or connector. When the smiths finished, the priests and priestesses turned to face the close-packed crowd. “The port is closed,” the called as one. The dock-men carried the chain to the end of the road and hung it from enormous black iron rings built into the buildings on either side of the way. Shipping season had ended. The port was not completely closed to all shipping or to fishing boats, but the contract year had come to an end and no major trading voyages could go out. Ice would finish closing the port in a few months, if this year were no different from the rest.

A wail of mourning rose from the watchers. “How will we work? How will we trade? How will we live?”

The priests waited until the sound faded, then called, “Why weep? For this is the time of rest and preparation!”

A cheer echoed from the walls around the square, and the crowd surged out of the square, heading to the guild feasts or the holiday markets, or just going home to get out of the cold if they could. Tycho and a number of other merchants went to the temple of Maarsrodi to pay their respects and leave any extra offerings they felt were due to the god. Tycho also left a smaller gift to Donwah, since he had been born under her watch. He wished he hadn’t been, but so it was, and who was he to try to surmise the gods’ reasons for what they did or didn’t do?

The next day, despite the holiday, a messenger came from Antil Webeker, the junior mayor, summoning Tycho to an urgent small-court. He brought Ewoud along so the young man could see what it was like. A servant had started a fire in the chamber’s ornate fireplace, and the heat felt welcome after the cold walk from the house. The pale chamber always seemed cold to Tycho—a pleasant coolness in summer and chill but ache-inducing come winter. The paneling was lighter and simpler than in the great room, probably because the smaller court had been constructed later, during a space of hard years when the city had far less money to spend on luxuries like inlaid paneling.

He turned from the fire to see the others taking their places in front of the wooden rail-bar and brown-draped judges’ table. Antil Webeker had tied dark-brown cloth to his merchant’s staff and Tycho went cold. So did the other men as they entered the smaller gathering room and saw the death-cloths on the mayor’s staff and the judges’ table. He could guess who had died, and what the problem was. There were always problems, always always.

The dozen or so men and a few other witnesses stood in a loose half-circle behind the wooden bar separating the judges’ table from the rest of the room. A small door opened behind the table, and three men in white judges’ masks and dark blue gowns entered, followed by a woman in dark brown wearing a gold chain of authority and carrying a red-sealed leather folder. A boy—perhaps eight years old—walked behind her, carrying a ledger and peering around as if he’d never seen the room before. The woman and boy had pale faces, and she seemed to be shaking as if with chills. They stopped and Webeker spoke to them. The woman nodded and led the boy off to the side, into the area reserved for petitioners and witnesses. Webeker turned to the gathered men as the judges took their seats. The woman handed the folder to the clerk, who in turn passed it to the closest judge then took his place in the back, recording every word.

“Andrade Godkurt and his two oldest sons are dead. They died outside the gates of Harnancourd, killed by road-robbers.” Webeker stopped, waiting for the hisses and snarls to fade. All the traders made the horns, warding off similar fates. “They were not alone, but had gotten separated from the rest of the group by difficulties with the ferry. Before you ask, the lord of Harnancourd is investigating to see if the difficulty was deliberate or because of an accident.” He shifted so that he faced the woman.

She spoke calmly and clearly, her voice carrying so all could hear. “My lord and husband left instructions for such a thing. But he did not anticipate his primary heirs dying with him.”

The judge on the left-hand end of the table broke open the seal after showing it to the group. Tycho leaned forward, then nodded like the others. What he saw matched Andrade’s seals on the barrels he’d brought back for him. If the magic matched he could not say. No one raised a protest, so he took the seal to be genuine. The judge removed papers from the folder and showed them to his associates and the junior mayor as the watchers watched in silence. Tycho wondered how close to Harnancourd’s walls the men had been when they were attacked. It had been a few years since he’d travelled that route, and he recalled a bend in the road just north of the river and ferry, where rocks and trees had hidden the way ahead. If Andrade had been there alone, and had decided not to wait for the rest of the larger group to catch up…

“This will states that Marta Godkurt born Corwindes is to give authority to Karl Andrade Godkurt, eldest son of the couple. No provision is made for an exception.” The judge sounded irritated behind his mask, and Tycho and several others made “tsking” sounds of disapproval. What had Andrade been thinking? “Marta Godkurt is to turn over all books and the chain of authority to Karl Andrade. She will receive her dower and a widow’s portion. The unmarried children of the house will receive a quarter share of the estate, payable upon their majority, and will remain in the house with their mother and Karl until they come of age.

“All unpaid debts are owed to Karl and he is charged with collecting them. Karl receives authority to pay all known outstanding debts, either in full or in proportion to the amount owed until such time as all debts can be cleared. All contracts are transferred to Karl and Karl alone.” The judge set down the page, and Webeker appeared to be fighting the desire to speak. “Karl Andrade Godkurt is dead, and left no testament or widow.”

Tycho winced. Ugh, what a disaster. By city law, Andrade’s estate lapsed to the city and would be divided among his creditors in its entirety, leaving nothing for his widow or surviving child or children. Children? Tycho tried to recall but couldn’t. Widow Godkurt nudged her youngest son, and he stared at her. She leaned over, whispered, and he straightened up, carrying the ledger to the judges. The man on the right end of the table stood and met the boy, taking the heavy book from him and sending him back to his mother. The judge passed the ledger to the man in the center, who opened the book and studied the most-recent entries. “Current holdings are valued at two gold kog, eighteen vlaat in the city now and three kog, one thin-half-kog four vlaat outstanding. Debts owed three kog, nineteen vlaat.”

“That is if my lord of Harnancourd releases what remains of my lord husband’s goods, sirs,” the woman said. She remained calm and Tycho admired her composure. She had the dark skin of someone from the sea islands to the east, and looked young, with a round face under her headdress. Was she his first or second wife? Second, Tycho remembered. The first had died of winter cough twelve years ago.

Tycho considered what Andrade had owed him and raised his hand. The judge with the ledger nodded. “I release half Andrade Godkurt’s debt to my house. I, Tycho Galnaar speak.” It wasn’t much, a few vlaat, but mercy to the widow and child seemed only right.

“I release a quarter of Andrade Godkurt’s debt to my house. I, Dalmat Enkerman speak,” came from behind Tycho. The others followed suit, releasing parts of the debt in order to leave at least survival funds for the remaining family. Andrade had paid his debts on time as best he could when the gods willed, and had shown mercy himself on occasion. To do any less would be to tempt Maarsrodi’s displeasure.

The judge who had read the will stood and turned to Widow Godkurt.  “What man will speak for you, Mistress Godkurt?”

He could hear her swallow. “No man speaks for me, honored sir. My father is dead and I have no brothers or brothers-in-law within the Free Cities. My son, our son, Andrade Marlo is ten years from manhood.”

And the will had made no provision for anyone other than the oldest son, now deceased, to act for the estate. The judges huddled together, as did the merchants.

“Can you take a ward?” Talman asked Enkerman.

“No. I’ve taken one two years ago, and that’s more than enough.” Enkerman ran a hand through the bit of hair that had escaped his soft black cap.

“Not me.”

“I can’t.”

“Tycho, what about you?”

He looked at Ewoud, who glared at the floor. Taking the woman and her son on would mean that Tycho had to run both businesses, and that his son would share the responsibility of paying off Andrade’s debts if Tycho could not do it. He considered his assets, losses, and what Gerta would do if he surprised her with this. Chase him through the market with a fishing-spear or laundry bat came to mind, although he wasn’t certain where she’d find either one on short notice. And without magic… No, absolutely not. He couldn’t afford the risks. “I cannot.”

They heard a surprised noise from the judges bench and looked that direction. “And are you willing to swear this under god oath?” the man in the center seat demanded from the widow.

“I am, honored sir.” Whatever it was she sounded confident of it. The clerk got up and eased out of the room, returning quickly with a priest of Maarsrodi and some wood for the fire. The priest carried something in a blue-green cloth, which he set on the judges’ table. They in turn stood and backed two steps away from the table, clearing space for him. He laid the cloth on top of the ledger and unfolded it, revealing a cube of iron-stone and a chain.

“Come here, Mistress Marta Godkurt born Corwindes.” The woman walked to the priest. “Stop. Stand here,” he pointed down, moving a little so that all the men on both sides of the table could see what transpired. “Extend your hands, palms up.” She did as ordered. She wore no rings, Tycho saw. Interesting. The priest laid the chain over her hands and moved the loose ends of the black chain so that they touched the grey-flecked, dark green iron-stone.

“Mistress Godkurt, who kept Andrade Godkurt’s records?” One of the judges demanded.

“I kept the Andrade Godkurt’s records.”

A second judge asked, “Who handled his accounts within Rhonari?”

“I handled his accounts within Rhonari.”

She held her hands still, and the men around Tycho murmured, “all true.”

“Will you discharge all duties of a citizen of Rhonari and a trader in faith?”

She swallowed. “I will discharge all duties of a citizen of Rhonari and a trader in faith, so far as my sex permits.”

The priest pointed to the woman. “All have seen and heard her oath?”

“Aye,” the men chorused.

“Marta Godkurt born Corwindis, you are charged with all privileges and duties of a free merchant of Rhonari, so far as your sex permits, until such time as you and your son return to this court for him to assume those duties.” Antil Webeker met the eyes of each man in turn. “You have seen and witnessed her oath.”

“It is witnessed.” Tycho joined in with a clear conscience. He had not seen the truth spell, but he had seen and heard her vow before the company and a priest.

“Go now, Widow Godkurt, and assume your duties.” The priest removed the chain from across her hands and she walked past the wooden bar, standing with the men as one of them. Tycho wondered if she were strong enough to handle one of the pole arms the city militia used. If not, she’d be assigned to work the walls, boiling water and throwing it on any attackers and other similar duties. Four other widows served the city in like fashion.

“If there is no further business for the court?” No one wanted to mention anything if they had it, Tycho knew. Webeker looked to the leftmost judge, who nodded. The mayor thumped the butt of his staff on the floor. “The court is dismissed.”

“And that, Ewoud, is why you do not travel with me,” Tycho said once they were clear of the building and well on their way home.

“Now I understand, honored father.”

Tycho made a mental note to review his will when they got home. He’d be going south again come spring, and he did not want to leave anything to Radmar’s whim.

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

The draft of the full novel is finished, and I anticipate releasing it in the first half of next year, schedule permitting.



7 thoughts on “Friday Fiction: Of Merchant and Magic Part Five

  1. Congrats.

    No wonder you said that Tycho was risk averse. That is definitely risk aversion.

    He seems normal to me, but I am abnormally risk averse.

    • Yes. Given all the potential difficulties, excitement, surprises, et cetera in his business, he defaults to the safest setting when one is available. Even then… life can be, let us just say, interesting.

    • Thank you! I’m going to put a “Works Consulted” list in the back of this one, although most of the titles are going to be in German.

        • No, it doesn’t. Children who show signs of a religious vocation are watched as they go through their normal schooling and apprenticeships, and then are brought into the temple in their late teens for training and initiation. The priests and priestesses have living quarters associated with the temples, or in rural areas, housing not far from the temple. Those priests and priestesses are often also physicians, or beast-mages, or have another skill that serves the community.

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