Voices Scene 2

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Voices of the Deep

The Journeyman’s Jug was never dull. That was why Howard liked it so much. As the name suggested, it was always packed with apprentices and recent journeymen grads from the two guild schools in Westrim. The Merchant’s Guild Academy was right around the corner on Landfall Lane. So naturally, Westrim’s wealthiest merchant sons and daughters all came here to see and be seen, to wheel and deal, to celebrate and commiserate. The Crafters’ Guild College on Whitehill Way added its own collection of misunderstood, angst-ridden artisans to the mix as well.

“Hey isn’t that Hanna at that bar?” Rob pointed across the tavern with a tilt of his head. The three friends sat in their usual corner booth, the one with a commanding view of the entire tavern floor and the shadowy illusion of privacy.

Susan squinted across the crowded floor in the direction Rob had indicated. “Yea. Haven’t seen her in a ‘turn!”

Howard watched as the willowy Hanna flicked one of her long braids over her shoulder. She was surrounded by a ring of admirers, apprentices and journeymen both by the look of it. “She’s gained herself quite the entourage.”

“She’s so hot right now.” Rob was staring wide eyed at the copper skinned Hanna. No doubt that’s why he missed the venomous look Susan shot him.

Howard smirked as he caught the hidden glare. “Oh, she’s hot all right, if your into that undernourished, waifish, sort of look.”

Rob aimed a swift kick toward Howard’s shin, but he missed. “I’m talking about her art, you peasant. She’s just finished her first ‘turn at the Crafters’ Guild College, but already she has people lining up for commissions.”

“That’s not all she’s got them lining up for…” Susan took a hefty gulp of her ale as she fired another glare off in Hanna’s general direction.

“Jealous much?” Rob arched an eyebrow at Susan, who shook wrinkled her nose at him.

“I heard that when the College auctioned off her apprentice collection each piece went for more than five hundred gold. She’s working on a sculpture right now for the Crimaldi family and the commission is over a thousand!”

Howard whistled as Rob turned back to stare at Hanna speculatively. “Not bad.”

“Not bad? Please, she’s positively bankable even if she never reaches journeyman level.”

“Speaking of bankable, whatever happened to what’s his name, Fergus? You remember him right, the Master Merchant’s Dorian oldest son?”

Rob arched a chiseled eyebrow in Susan’s direction. “Oh yes, didn’t you have a thing with him a few ‘turns back?”

Susan grunted. “Don’t remind me. What a pompous windbag. I guess I should have seen it coming.”

Howard folded his arms across his chest. “Should have seen what coming?”

Susan waved her hand airily as she took another swallow of ale. “Nothing. Water under the bridge and all that…”

Rob rolled his eyes. “She means the fool tested positive for Doormaker affinity two ‘turns back and they carted him away.”

Howard winced. “Oh. That’s a real shame. Fergus always seemed to have such good prospects in the Merchant’s Guild.”

Susan sighed theatrically. “Not anymore. It was all very hush-hush at the time of course. They packed him off on the first barge for the Citadel at some ungodly hour of the morning. No one has heard one word about him since. Even the family doesn’t speak about him anymore. But then again, when was the last time anyone listened to old Dorian’s family anyway?”

Rob tipped his head knowingly. “About turns ago, I’d wager.”

Susan flashed a sickeningly sweet smile. “Cutting, as always dear Robert.”

“As I always say about magecraft, useful when you’re in a bind but…”

The three young aristos chimed in together “…definitely not bankable.”

Susan sniffed. “Speaking of bankable, you should try this.” She deftly slid her glass across the counter to Rob. He took a careful taste, swishing it around in his mouth to savor the taste. He pursed his lips thoughtfully before passing the glass off the Howard.

Howard thought the art of polite quaffing was too much effort, like so many other things in his life. He looked at Rob’s serious and thoughtful expression and downed the rest of the glass in one go. Upending the glass on the table, he searched for suitable shock in Rob’s mobile face, and was not disappointed.

“Really Howard, you are a peasant!”

Susan snorted prettily. “Take it easy big spender! That stuff’s a gold a glass.”

Howard looked at the overturned glass, empty but for a trickle of amber dripping onto the polished table. The ale had a crisp taste that he wished he had taken more time to savor. He was just starting to feel a bit of a kick after the fact. A warm burn was starting in his throat and slowly working its way down into his gut. “A gold a glass eh? What’s so special about it?”

Susan bent her head toward the center of the table conspiratorially. “It’s sourpear.”

This clearly got Rob’s attention. “The new sourpear ale they just started importing?”

Susan smiled her self satisfied smile. “The same. Comes from some hillfolk town in the Barrier Mountains.”

Howard raised his eyebrows. “What, north of Velton?”

Susan broke out in a fit of giggles. “Damn Howard, the Velton ranges are just foothills. The Barriers run clear across to the Eastern Sea.”

Rob snorted. “Don’t taunt him now Susan. You know Howard’s grasp of geography was always a little weak…”

“Very funny. I can still sail rings around you any day.”

Rob raised his own glass of currant cordial. “Too true. The buzz is that some merchant caravan from Farview finally managed to cross the desert and reach the eastern foothills of the Barriers.” He finished the last swallow from his glass and set it carefully on the table with light clink.

Susan winked at a passing waiter to catch his attention. She drew a small circle on the surface of the table with her index finger, ordering another round. “Right. There’s this podunk town out there on the back end of beyond called Guardian Village. And they make this sourpear ale there. Can’t be made anywhere else evidently. Oh you’re the best, love.”

Susan’s waiter had returned with three glasses of the amber colored ale. She quickly paid the young man three gold, then tucked a fourth into the pocket of his trousers with a salacious wink. Howard couldn’t help but notice that all the gold came from his diminishing pile of race winnings. Ah well, easy come, easy go, he thought.

“Why can’t it be made anywhere else?” Howard asked the question that his merchant mind immediately formulated.

Susan looked at him askance. “Do I look like a Master Farmer? The cold weather in the mountains or some such, how should I know? I’ll tell you one thing though. Those overland traders in Farview are making serious bank. Think about it: overland caravans don’t have water mages.”

Howard tipped his head sideways, sipping his second taste of the sourpear ale more slowly. “Don’t they use earth mages or air mages on those wagon trains?”

Susan looked at Howard sidelong. “Not in the Great Desert. An earth mage might come in handy to move the caravan along in a pinch, but most traders don’t bother. And an air mage? They can’t send message drones that far anyway. I’m telling you, no Doormakers on the payroll means no magecraft tariffs from the Merchant’s Guild.

Rob sniffed disdainfully, his nose ensconced deep in his glass of honey colored ale. “I suppose you’re right. For land merchants, they’re probably be making a mint!”

Howard shook his head. “Only if they sell their entire inventory in Farview. They’ll have to ship by barge on the Council Canals beyond the bargeport. That’s water magecraft, isn’t it?”

Rob shook his head. “Not the same as having a mage on payroll. The Major Canals are equally accessible to all traders. They’re publically managed by the Council in Doormaker Citadel. Use of a Major Canal doesn’t constitute an unfair trade advantage. So it accrues no Merchant Guild tariff.”

Susan grunted. “Well, look who’s been brushing up for the aptitude test?”

Rob had the dignity to look affronted. “Me? Make an effort? Please. Some of us are just naturally talented.”

Howard barely managed to avoid snorting gold a glass sourpear ale through his nose as he burst out laughing.

Susan pounded the table as tears streamed from her eyes. “Make an effort? Oh, god he’s killing me!”

Rob made a valiant attempt, but could not keep a straight face. “All right, maybe a little effort then. But you won’t be laughing tomorrow at the aptitude tests. Placing high in the Merchant’s Guild Academy will land me a plum trading run like Salton or the Silver Coast. Then you’ll see who’s making bank.” Rob took a long draught of his ale with satisfaction.

Howard laughed. He raised his glass. “My friends, a toast to serious bank.”

“Here here!” The sound of clinking glasses was distinctly audible over the ever-present chatter of Journeyman’s Jug.

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