Chapter 12 Scene 8

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 55 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Dirk was always amused at the Bazaar. The variety of goods that changed hands at these stalls every harvest boggled the mind.

“Ah Dirk! What errand brings you down to our humble town so early in the ‘turn?”

Dirk turned to find Geoff the herdsman smiling up at him. “An’ a good morn’ te’ ye Geoff! Good herd this ‘turn?”

The herdsman shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve had better ‘turns. I’ve had worse. Are you in the market?”

Dirk laughed. “Oh aye! An’ jes’ where would I keep a wee goat, I ask ye’?”

Geoff shrugged again. “No harm in asking, though the answer never changes. So what are you shopping for?”

Dirk shook his head. “Nah shoppin’. Ye know me son, Lorn, to be sure.”

“Ah, yes. Let’s see, he would be nearly sixteen this seasonturn wouldn’t he?”

“Aye. An’ as near to a man full grown as he’s like to get. High time for the lad ta’ see a bit more o’ the land.”

Geoff raised his eyebrows. “Then you’re apprenticing him here at the Bazaar?”

“Aye. He’s set his cap for a merc post. An’ he’s learned near on ta’ all I can teach.”

Geoff snorted his disbelief. “Oh I doubt that. There’s no better mountaineer in all the Barriers, I’ll warrant.”

“Ach! Jes’ none older, as me son would swear it! Tell me true, Geoff. Isn’t the Bazaar strange this turn?”

“It’s too early for one thing. That’s fine for me, but it will be hard on the farms that couldn’t get in all of the harvest.”

Dirk narrowed his eyes. “But thas’ naught but half the story is it.”

Geoff looked around before nodding conspiratorially. “True. The traders aren’t interested in the usual goods this ‘turn. They all want more ore, and more livestock, but fewer crafts and produce. The only food they’re taking is dried meats and preserved meal.”

Dirk looked around the stalls with this new information in mind. The villagers had a manic air. He could see that they were trading much higher for provisions than normal and accepting less for their own goods. “Aye. But what does it mean?”

“Trouble brewing in the Fertile Plains. Look there.”

Dirk looked toward Old Max’s pavilion as three messengers walked toward it from the main road. The leader strode with such purpose that he could only represent a major factor or a wealthy patron. Few outside the Citadel would have such bearing. The two messengers behind him looked like hired muscle by comparison.

“Do ye’ know ‘em?”

“The big one wears a Riverton token on his arm. There’s a major cloth factor there that used to buy my wool to before I switched my herd to goats. They trade more with Jonas now. They’re too late this ‘turn though. I hear Jonas has already sold most of his wool.”

Dirk turned to the herdsman with a raised eyebrow.

Geoff nodded. “So I hear. I told you, strange times this ‘turn. The boy there is probably from the farmers’ cooperative. Riverton’s traders can usually be counted on for good honest trade. We’ll see what they’ve got this ‘turn though. That fellow in front looks too polished for Riverton folk, if you ask me.”

Dirk nodded. Two other messengers left Old Max’s pavilion just after the Riverton group walked in. One looked around surreptitiously as he tucked an empty pouch inside his jacket. The other was folding a writ carefully as he talked with his fellow. They were both dressed in traveling clothes.

“Geoff, good to see ye. I’m off te’ see how me boy fared at the merc post.” Dirk nodded his farewell to the herdsman and walked toward the pavilion where Lorn would be waiting. He slowed long enough to watch the two departing messengers duck behind one of the trading stalls.

At the merc post he found Lorn in discussion with a merchant. The man looked restless to Dirk’s trained eye, shifting his weight from side to side a little too often and fidgeting with a ring he wore on his right hand. A touch of pride swelled Dirk’s chest as he watched his son deal with the shady character. Careful to stay out of the merchant’s line of sight, he circled around until he caught Lorn’s eye. He raised his chin slightly and waited for Lorn’s response. Without interrupting the flow of conversation, Lorn gave the slightest shake of his head. Dirk nodded before winking at his son and backing out of the pavilion. Evidently Lorn had not found a respectable assignment yet, and didn’t expect one to come from the fellow he was talking with at the moment. From first appearances alone, Dirk tended to agree. But he had promised not to intervene and the boy had not asked for his help, not yet.

Dirk wandered casually across the market square, perusing the stalls as he went. So it appeared to be a coincidence when he stopped at the same trade stall the two messengers had returned to. There was only one other customer at the moment. Dirk browsed while the trader and his last customer haggled.

It was fairly obvious to Dirk that she would be the merchant’s last customer this ‘turn. The factor didn’t have very much left to sell. He had a few trinkets on his shelves that hadn’t been bought, and weren’t likely to be bought here in the north. He saw a hand driven spice grinder worth what Mabel’s Inn probably earned in a seasonturn. There was a crystal pendant that probably came from the crafters in the center of the Fertile Plains. There were a few bolts of cloth remnants, rough woven, and too small for any use other than mending. And there were a couple of clay urns that had probably been used to transport preserved fruits from the Fertile Plains to the Bazaar. They were bulky, heavy, and empty. The cloth and the urns were the subject of the current negotiation, by the sounds of things.

“I could never let such fine quality fabric go for so little!”

“Spare me the drama Dorian! They’re scraps of homespun and we both know it.”

“Madam! You wound me. On my honor…”

“Your honor, my mirror. They’re rags Factor! Are you a ragman now? And besides, we both know I’m doing you a favor here.”

Factor Dorian’s eyes rolled nervously. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean…”

The woman’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Wagon train a bit heavier on the way out than on the way in Dorian?”

Dorian glared at the woman. “What are you suggesting Darla?”

The woman sensed victory and savored it. “Which goods will weigh heaviest on your axles tomorrow Factor? The full shipment of fortified pearapple wine that no doubt shows on your tariff manifest, or the raw ore and un-spun wool bales you replaced half of that with this ‘turn?”

The merchant lowered his chin, his face reddening as he spoke through clenched teeth. “Which one of those fools told you…” He choked on whatever he had been about to say when he noticed that they were not alone. Dirk, for his part, continued looking intently at the spice grinder near the entrance, feigning ignorance of the unfolding drama.

“I swear I’ll wring my fool of a cousin’s neck for this.”

Darla laid her hand on Dorian’s arm. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary. Just think of this as a convenient arrangement for our mutual benefit. I get some storage urns for the winter and some scraps of mending cloth. They would just be taking up space and weight on your wagons that you can’t afford to spare anyway. Right?”

“You are mercenary, madam.”

Darla chuckled. “No, merely practical. Do we have a deal? One silver each for the urns and three coppers for the cloth?”

Dirk nearly choked in amazement. The factor would have paid more than that for one of the urns alone when it was new. But to his amazement Dorian accepted the deal.

“Cousin! Get in here and help Madam Darla with her purchases! Do you think you can manage that?” One of the messengers answered the factor’s summons. His eyes were wide at the glare of menace Dorian leveled toward him, but he stammered his fearful agreement as he scrambled to obey.

Dirk had to smile at the look of satisfaction on the woman’s face as she left the tent with Dorian’s terrified cousin in tow. He smoothed the smile away from his face as the merchant approached him.

“I see you have a discerning eye for craftsmanship sir.”

Dirk realized that the merchant was referring to his detailed inspection of the spice grinder. “Aye. I was jes’ wundrin’. Where would a beauty like this be made, Merchant, or was it Factor…?”

“Dorian, my good sir. I am Factor Dorian, and these are my wares. I purchase goods of quality from all over the land and transport them to places where they are in demand. This fine grinder was made by the machine makers of the Crafter’s Guild in the glorious city of Thayer south of Doormaker Citadel.”

Dirk nodded as though he was impressed. “So she’s traveled a wee bit then, has she?”

Dorian gave a polite but hollow chuckle. “Oh, I should say she has.”

Dirk pointed to the crystal pendant. “And this fey trinket?”

“Nearly as far. I’m told that the crystal came from the southern edge of the Great Desert. But I acquired it from the Crafters of Riverton, who fashioned the magnificent setting and the beautiful silver chain. Thinking of a gift for a lady friend are you sir?”

“No… jes wundrin’. The grinder though, looks of some use. What would ye’ take in trade?”

Now the factor began to look uncomfortable. “Trade you say.”

Dirk nodded. “Aye. I’ve heard ye’ deal in spirits.”

“Ahh. Yes well, you see the market for wines and fortified spirits is not quite what it used to be.”

“That so? Makes no matter te’ me. Will ye’ take stag horn velvet? Tis’ mos’ rare.”

“Oh yes. I’m familiar with stag horn velvet. As you say, very rare, only to be found in the highest peaks of the Barriers. But sadly, I would not be able to sell it for what it’s worth, you see. With the current market in the Plains what it is…”

“Oh, aye. I’ll be off then, an’ a good day to ye’ Factor.”

As Dirk stepped out of Dorian’s stall, his hands were clasped behind his back and his lips were pursed. The Factor’s behavior was indecipherable. Were Guardian Village’s tariffs that different for finished goods like wine than for raw materials like ore and wool? Why would the merchant lie about his outbound cargo? And why choose ore and wool instead of wine this seasonturn?

Dirk put such thoughts aside when he noticed the three Riverton messengers across the market square negotiating with one of Old Max’s clerks. The young man was carrying a large chart and pointing out empty trading stalls. The polished leader of the messengers would listen to the clerk, nodding his head as the youth pointed out the advantages of each option. Then he would look to his confederates briefly before resuming discussion with the clerk. He was clearly charismatic and convincing. All of the clerk’s suggestions were warmly received and just as warmly rejected. The clerk even laughed along with the messenger several times at some jest that Dirk could not hear across the crowded market square.

After several options were discarded, the messenger put his arm around the clerk’s shoulder and turned him to face the open center of the market square. Now he started pointing out locations himself. They were larger pavilions than the clerk had offered, and more prominently displayed. The young clerk looked wide eyed at the messenger and quickly shook his head. But the messenger simply nodded as he continued to present his plan. Now he was sketching pictures with his hands, pointing first to one side of the market and then the other. He swept his hands to indicate the flow of the market’s patrons and then pointed to the two messengers behind him before pointing at the clerk himself.

Before long the clerk was shrugging and then finally nodding along with the messenger. The clerk was quickly swept up under the messenger’s arm again. The leader now pointed from the market square to the clerk’s chart while Max’s assistant transcribed several notes. When they were finished, the messengers nodded all around. The lead negotiator shook hands with the clerk heartily and clapped him on the shoulder before tipping the young man a smart salute and leading his Riverton comrades back toward the town’s main gates to the south. They left the clerk waving, and looking wide eyed at the charts he had just re-written for the benefit of these traders. Dirk let out a low whistle as he watched the young man scratch his head and return to Old Max’s coordination pavilion.

Dirk casually followed the three messengers. When they reached the village’s main gates he turned aside to climb the stairs up to the town wall. He watched as the messengers returned back down the winding road. He lost site of the three when they entered the wagon train camped on the plain below the town.

He was about to head back to Mabel’s inn when a flicker of motion to the east caught his attention. A second flash confirmed his first sighting. Someone, or something, was working their way north into the foothills beyond the eastern edge of town. Silently he peered over the wall toward the jumble of ridges that grew up from the edge of the desert. This confusing maze of serrated stone had earned the Barrier Mountains their name. Filled with blind canyons and ledges that lead nowhere, the mountain range was nearly impassable without an experienced guide. Guardian Village was settled in the only open valley that penetrated into the interior of the Barriers for several days’ journey. There were few people who could successfully navigate through the foothills to the east or west of the town. So who, or what, was out there? He continued to watch, but the elusive traveler did not make a third appearance. Dirk scanned the terrain north of his last sighting, before descending the stairs and turning up the main village road toward the town’s northern gate.

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