Chapter 10 Scene 2

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 35 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

They met no one as they traveled. The Migration led them steadily north for two days. The debate amongst the Guildmasters grew with every passing hour. The argument had flared to mutinous proportions when they reached a prosperous Gathering at the junction of three Migrations. The caravan creaked to a halt, windblown sand spilling from the cracks in the wagons. The sun settled toward the desolate western dunes like a tired old man seeking the comfort of a favorite chair.

Simon felt old himself as he climbed down from the lead wagon to the packed sand of the northbound Migration. He and Bernard arrived at the side of the trailing wagon to find the lizard handlers in heated discussions with two of the Guildmasters.

“… that you can find this Fallen Stones place if nobody even knows its location? What proof do we have that it even exists?” Merchant Guildmaster Massim was a sturdy fellow, with shrewd eyes under bushy eyebrows.  He had an expressive face and a talent for negotiating that was without peer. His arguments were fluid and adaptable, and his body language portrayed whatever message he felt appropriate to each transaction. His first lesson to apprentice merchants was never to let the truth get in the way of a good sale. Among traders, there were few that could be called his equal.

But his persuasive skills were lost on the lizard handler.

“I have never been to your Doormaker Citadel, yet I don’t doubt your assurance that it exists.”

Massim countered smoothly. “That comparison hardly seems valid under the circumstances.”

“We honor our bond with the Doormaker Council. None but the Prophets grant entry to Ten Fallen Stones. Only a guide can show the way. We take you to where such a guide may find you, but no further.”

Simon interrupted before the argument could come to blows.

“This looks like a well established Gathering. Which Tribe maintains it?”

The older handler looked from Guildmaster Massim to Simon. A look close to gratitude flashed briefly across his sun darkened face.

“The Star Seekers winter here. They are a wealthy people, well provisioned by the trade caravans that pass between your Fertile Plains and Guardian Village.”

Simon had known that, but nodded appreciatively as if the information was new.

“Guildmaster Massim. I think this will be a good place to stop for the night and restock before attempting to cross the high desert. I trust you can help Magus Bernard manage our purchases?”

Massim was not fooled. He sniffed loudly, his nose twitching.

“The Star Seekers will no doubt hold their best stores in reserve for the coming winter.”

Simon suppressed a frown, before sharing a look with Bernard. The air mage grimaced, but nodded as Simon offered the greedy merchant the concession the mages had discussed the night before.

“Mmh, I am sure you’re right. But with certain … incentives … drawn from the Council share of the test team stipend of course …”

Massim’s mustache twitched furiously, but he allowed himself to be diverted at last.

“Perhaps.”

Bernard took the dour Guildmaster by the arm and led him toward the Gathering.

“Come, Master Merchant. There is trading to be done.”

Confident that Bernard would be able to handle Massim, Simon addressed the lizard handlers next. “We will rest here tonight and continue tomorrow. I think your animals will appreciate the stop.”

They were no doubt grateful to flee the displeasure of the Guildmasters.

“They will indeed Magus.”

Both of the tribesmen nodded solemnly with their left hands extended palm forward. Then they retreated to tend their restless mounts before the giant lizards could gnaw themselves out of their traces and wander off into the dunes.

Simon turned to find Guildmaster Jillian watching him with wry amusement. The Master Crafter was a formidable woman. She was tall and broad shouldered, with arms as well muscled as some soldiers. Her strength gave her a commanding presence, but the work of her hands was surprisingly delicate. The jewelry she created with precious metals and stones was much sought after all across the Fertile Plains. Her eye for detail was discerning, and now she had turned that piercing gaze on Simon.

“A pity you weren’t chosen for the Merchant’s Guild, Magus Simon. Never have I seen Guildmaster Massim so easily maneuvered.”

“And why would I need to maneuver the Master Merchant, Master Crafter?”

She smiled disarmingly. But like a predator showing their teeth in a display of dominance, Jillian’s smile held no warmth.

“Will you bribe me now too Simon? The Council can’t offer the right coin to secure my cooperation. You know that.”

Simon deflated with a sigh. She was right, as ever.

“What do you want Jillian?”

She raised her chin and held her broad shoulders back.

“A little honesty. The currency the Council is most unwilling to spend. But yours will do, I think.”

“You know I can not reveal the plans of the High Council, even to you.” Especially to you, he thought to himself.

“For nearly fifty ‘turns the high desert has held nothing but death for us. Water will run freely in the desert again before we find willing apprentices there. What does the Council truly seek among the Prophets? What do they want badly enough to spend our lives on?”

Simon stiffened. Her question struck to the heart of the matter, as always. He had forgotten how observant she was. He had to smile in spite of himself.

“You should have been apprenticed to the Doormakers, Jillian.”

She waited in silence. Simon knew he couldn’t outlast her, but he tried. He sighed again before he continued.

“No one will ask you to spend your lives.”

He tried not to put any special emphasis on his words, but she saw through them easily. Jillian’s eyes widened marginally, and then filled with a look halfway between pity and despair.

“Oh Simon. Not our lives then. Just yours. I’m sorry. You really should have been a merchant, shouldn’t you?”

Once more, he could only sigh at her intuition.

“And you, Jillian, really should have been a Doormaker.”

Jillian had no answer. She shook her head, turned, and slowly walked away.

Simon stood staring after her as the setting sun draped the desert in a curtain of night.

“But just now, I’m very grateful that you’re not.”

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