Chapter 12 Scene 6

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 53 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Bernard fumed silently as the wagon creaked to a halt in the fading afternoon sun. The test team had traveled for two days after leaving the Star Seeker’s camp before running into a small wagon train of merchants traveling to Guardian Village.

The merchants in the train were from Riverton, a city a few days journey southwest of the Citadel. One of the oldest parts of the Fertile Plains, the city and its prosperous surrounding villages were home to numerous farms, cloth merchants, and crafters. The wagon train was on its way to the Harvest Bazaar with the bounty of the season to sell.

Since there was safety in numbers, Bernard had not been able to argue against joining the test team’s wagon to their caravan when Guildmaster Massim had suggested it. But they had made much slower time since joining the larger group. And now the wagon train leaders were insisting on stopping for the night when they were within sight of their destination!

“Ever since we joined this blasted caravan we’ve had nothing but delays!” Bernard ran his fingers through the ragged tangles of his graying hair in frustration. He sat on the front bench of the wagon next to the lizard handler they had hired in Edgeways.

More often than not their taciturn guide had chosen to walk along next to his team on the sands rather than ride. But today he rode, though he had done little to hold up his end of the conversation that morning. Now he smiled as he flicked his eyes toward the frazzled air mage.

“So you have said for the past three days Magus. And yet we are much closer to Guardian Village today than we were then, are we not?”

Bernard rolled his eyes. “Not more than three whole sentences out of you since we left Edgeways and now you’re a jester?”

The handler’s sun darkened skin stretched as his smile widened. “Perhaps, Magus. Perhaps.” He looped the reins to their mounting post and vaulted down to the sands even before the wagon was fully stopped. Bernard envied the tribesman his resilience as he walked forward to attend to his animals.

Bernard lowered himself to the ground much more slowly, rubbing his aching lower back and rolling his neck in small circles to loosen his aching muscles.

“Careful old man. We wouldn’t want you to break something.”

“Oh very funny Jillian! Everyone¬† is a jester today.” Bernard turned toward the Master Crafter with a withering glare.

“Did someone wake up on the wrong side of the wagon this morning?”

“Oh, is there a right side of this Doorless contraption? I seemed to have overlooked it then! Besides, when you’ve reached my venerable age you can wake up on whatever side of the wagon you want!”

“Of course.” Jillian put her hands up in mock surrender, barely able to keep the sarcastic smile from her lips.

“Oh very well, I deserved that. But I don’t know why everyone is so cheerful all of a sudden.”

“Don’t you feel it Bernard? We’re in sight of Guardian Village. Journey’s end. They’re not cheerful. They’re relieved.”

Bernard’s bushy eyebrows beetled together like dogs sniffing noses. “What has them so spooked? Was this a difficult trip?”

Jillian hooked Bernard under the arm and drew him with her as she strolled along the row of parking wagons. Merry shouts rang out as teamsters chocked wheels while slouching guards leaned on their weapons. The bustle raised plumes of dust as tents were unfurled and the caravan efficiently transformed into its nightly mobile camp.

“Elements be praised, this trip was uneventful. But between the sandstorms and the raiders, the risks are always high for them.”

“Then why the delay? Why not ride the rest of the way into the village tonight so we can all sleep in beds?”

Jillian’s rich laughter added a counterpoint to the sounds of reptile teams being unhitched, canvas being snapped tight, and stakes being driven. “When have you ever known a merchant to be so direct Bernard? They must wait outside the village tonight while their messengers negotiate stall space in the Bazaar. There are favors to be made and bribes to be paid before these traders will be allowed to set up shop.”

Bernard sighed heavily. “I suppose we will need to send a negotiator of our own.”

Jillian nodded. “I suggest sending one of Massim’s men. He’ll obtain the best position we can get on the trade floor.”

Bernard raised one eyebrow at the Master Crafter. “And what concession will he ask?”

“I suspect his choice of location in the bazaar will be calculated to attract merchant applicants. That may be enough of a concession for him.”

“Well, let’s go convince him of that then, shall we?”

Jillian nodded smartly as the two wheeled back toward the test team wagon and the unsuspecting Master Merchant.

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