#20 – The Merchant

When the knight put him and the minstrel in their little shelter, and ran off to go do bloody things, the merchant resented the confinement. When he heard the girly shrieks of grown men, he felt a bit better about not being involved. The soft logs above were pressed too tight to allow any reading light through, so he made an effort to reassure the minstrel. Although her face was calm and easy, she was gripping her sharp stick with white knuckles. The looks she tossed him, caused him to involuntarily slide himself away. When he got bored with his own thoughts, he tried to invoke some of hers. He was ignored at first, then shushed after. There were three times where panicked footfalls raced near, then away. When they heard the great groaning that lasted for a minute, he tried to go out to see what was happening, only to get pushed back down.

He made the mistake of eating to distract himself, and wound up scraping his tongue against the ceiling bark, in a desperate attempt to taste anew. He picked his nose to garner a reaction, but wasn’t seen. He thought about numbers for a while, the time and distance the Sun-Stained traveled, the wealth in pounds he left behind in the slaver’s mountain, the days he had known the cold beauty beside him. He started to whisper jokes to himself, going through all he could remember, subject by subject. Never once did the minstrel laugh, but he was convinced he saw her smile when he was mocking the gods. He was certain he heard her growl when he told the one about the barn fire. He finished his mental list with puns about food, when his hunger encouraged him to shut his mouth.

He was in the middle of a nap when the knight was heard clomping back. The merchant gave up his side of the gully, and the knight, looking very purple, sprawled out on his back. He just lay there as the minstrel played with his blue foot goo. He pretended to eat the sick mush, and encouraged the knight to try also, but was ignored. He acted tired, and lay down. The hardest part was peeking to see if the minstrel had fallen asleep. She sat upright for hours just staring off to nowhere, listening. When the rain started, the middle of the gully became a river around him. He held back most of a yelp, when the water hit his skin, and wormed to the bank. His companions didn’t respond.

The merchant got to his knees, and whispered in a voice on the cusp of hearable, “I’m stepping out for a piss.” and waited. When silence was returned, he inched to the palm heads, and pulled one inside. He slowly pressed it down, and left it where he had slept. Slipping out under the stars, he was disappointed to notice that he was too late for moonlight. The merchant dashed to the edge of the jungle, and peered out.

The coast was littered with things, but it was too dark to tell what those things might have been. In the center of the crescent, a collapsed building drew his attention. It had been built in the shallows, and had fallen away from the city onto the mainland. The water lapped at the splintered and sunken beams. The water was unusually cold despite being only knee high, so the merchant stripped two good pairs of pants off some lifeless legs. With his legs bundled, he waded in. Moving the beams seemed to be his biggest difficulty, until he tried to pull a body out of the seabed. He gave up trying to free the RaHaZa prince’s left hand, and settled for the most of the wealth on his right. He could not pry off the bracelets that had been crushed into the prince’s wrist, so he had to find a dagger on the beach to cut them away. He continued in his determined manner for hours.

Opportunities of such magnitude, rarely came the merchant’s way. He was living a personal fantasy. He day-dreamed of telling his ‘old friends’ about his chance to be the sole looter of a battlefield, but in his day-dreams, all his ‘old friends’ were fellow lords. He would have to invent a better story for his lord friends. His poor friends would hear the true story.

He thanked the gods, for something they didn’t do. Then he thanked the city for not having an army, and for not caring what happened. He thanked his tutor, who taught him to be clever inside the caravan carriage. He thanked his father and mother for selling him as a babe. He thanked the Sun-Stained for dying without a big fuss. He thanked the knight for being a psychopath, but he refused to thank the minstrel. He drew the line with her. So far, she was more grief than gift. From their meeting, and the broken black mirror, to the slaver mountain, where she spat down at him, the minstrel had been a nuisance. He questioned why he was currently around her, and could find no reason that didn’t make him feel used.

He aggregated his prizes, pillage and plunder within a sack, which he had personally made of three pairs of needle-pinned pants. He took pride in his handiwork, and reasoned that if he should ever spend all this gold and such, he could find work as a cloth crafter. With the stars nearly washed away, he took his three-pants-sack to the jungle edge, and lined up a view of the city. Within his sight, he placed the tower beside a key black building that curved like a sword, and a part of the north wall that arched like a gateway. The merchant backed up, while keeping his eyes on the city. He dug a hole with blade and hand, tested the depth and dug some more. He buried the sack, and stood above it. The merchant checked his vantages from the spot, crossed his left arm in front of himself, and used a dagger to cut three lines into his forearm. The lines marked the distance of the walls and tower.

With his loot stored in a safe, memorable place, the merchant returned to the gully hut. He was clumsy getting back in. His body was exerted. The merchant reached for his paper satchel with the intent of penning a cryptic treasure map, but could not find it. He doubted that his papers had gone far, and with himself at the city’s edge, he reasoned that soon he wouldn’t have any need for second hand information. With a bright, new dawn stirring the world, a fortune secure, and the prospect of visiting a legend, the merchant slept with a priceless peace.

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