Novel Excerpt, 11/2
This is a continuation of the excerpts I’ve written before. Between them is an unwritten bridge scene where the stranger buys the inn in the town of Daleswall, causing quite a stir. This proceeds from that event, and is what I am doing for NaNoWriMo. Since I won’t get much opportunity to write anything else this month, I will post the story here as it progresses. It’ll be ugly at times, but I hope it doesn’t actively make you vomit.
A week had passed since the stranger bought the Silver Bear Inn so dramatically, surrounded by the majority of the small town of Daleswall. The common room was more active than usual since that night, with small numbers of folk present during all hours of the day. Claiming anything to the contrary, they were there because curiosity and the thirst for gossip demanded it. Careful eyes watched the stranger as he moved around the inn, his dog forever at his heels, repairing accumulated years of damage and rot. Carts and wagons appeared during the week from Brethford to the south, bearing large amounts of lumber and lacquers and other assorted materials. During the day, the stranger worked on the interior of the inn, moving outside during the last hour or two of dying sunlight to patch the holes in the roof. More knots of casual watchers kept an eye on him then as well, under the guise of early evening strolls and impromptu visits.
Although few people spoke to the stranger, nearly everyone spoke about him. The younger girls, enamored of the idea of a mysterious handsome stranger, talked endlessly of his romantic and imagined past. At night, they would whisper to one another of glorious tales where he would bear the speaker away on a fabulous steed to a long-lost palace. Foremost among them was Alys, despite her being old enough to know better; she was the source of expertise for the girls, based on her being the first person in town to speak to the stranger, a fact she did not neglect to mention when the subject of the stranger arose.
The older women varied from open adoration to narrow suspicion. Laecima led the supporters of the stranger’s presence, of course, her husband having sold him the inn to begin with. Like Alys to the young girls, Laecima was the source of knowledge among the circle of women. Unlike her younger counterpart, she was less than forthcoming with juicy details of the stranger’s life, despite her close proximity to him. She was happy to be able to remain working in the inn, and although she said nothing to anyone, she was inwardly relieved that her husband Jordin was relieved of the burden of maintaining the large building, a task he’d failed at too often as the years passed.
Those who viewed the man with suspicion were led by Prella, the thatcher’s wife and Alys’ mother. Her stiff and haughty demeanor rarely varied in the best of times, but now her spine was iron. Dismissing Laecima’s positive reports as having been bought off, Prella gathered the worst of the rumors to her as a comforting blanket against the chill. Cahra the farmwife reported that three of her husband’s goats had developed oddly colored spots on their tongues since the stranger’s arrival. Dalni, the blacksmith’s wife, was often called upon to tell of the night she’d awoken suddenly and went outside, and the strange lights she’d seen coming from the upper room of the inn where the stranger slept. Speculation held that the stranger was a sorcerer, and his conjurings were bound to cause woe to the good people of the town. Prella’s acid tongue was spared only when the stranger himself was present; in those moments, her mouth curved in a knowing smile as she openly studied the newest resident of Daleswall.
There was less division among the menfolk. Comrick the once-Talebearer and Old Jordin were respected elders of the community whose words carried much weight and authority. The silver coins the stranger paid for various goods also eased many concerns; rare had been the exchange of monies for services in the years since the decline of the mines to the north, when the merchant and supply wagons no longer passed through the town. To be sure, those spurned by the stranger when approached for offered services, like Prella’s husband Mic the thatcher and Honner the carpenter, held a very different opinion of the arrogant and self-important new owner of the inn. They quickly learned to keep their grumblings to themselves after Comrick’s remark that the pair’s reputation for drinking, shoddy work, and delays was now vast enough to reach every corner of the world. The pair huddled together among Honner’s rusty tools, drinking the bitter ale the carpenter spent the majority of his time working on. Without services to exchange or coins to buy the stranger’s drinks, it was the only drink the pair could find.
The younger men made a study in ignoring the stranger, for the most part. They listened impatiently when their female peers spoke of him before loudly declaiming their own prowess or activities, much of them exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. The young and unmarried continued their courting rituals, while the young and married kept an eye on their spouses, and both groups struggled with envy over the attention paid to the stranger.
The children of the village knew mostly one thing: there was a new dog in town, one that the other dogs avoided and one that didn’t frolic or play, despite the best efforts of the children. Both dog and stranger ignored the children, except when approached too closely, when both would emit a low growl of warning. In both cases, it served its purpose, keeping the children back, as well as too afraid to throw mud or snow as was their usual custom.
By the end of the first week, the sagging inn was already showing signs of restored luster. The sagging beams inside were replaced, the missing wooden shingles on the roof redone, and wobbling tables refitted or reconstructed entirely. By now the winter’s cruel chill was beginning to recede, the snow melting and running in makeshift streams. A hundred small waterfalls coursed down the Daleswall itself, the massive cliff that overlooked the village and formed the back boundary of the Silver Bear. It was now the traditional time for the first merchant appearance of the spring, a week prior to the Festival of Ban. In any other year, this would be the eagerly awaited sign of winter’s close, but the stranger’s arrival ahead of spring caused a distraction and sensation that dwarfed the annual arrival of Tevas Vastwit, the Merchant Magnificent.
Tevas was the first merchant to leave the city of Anticus on the now-neglected North Road. Like the town of Daleswall itself, the road had once been a bustling tradeway, as raw materials passed south into the city from Altosmine and food, tools, workmen, and prisoners sentenced to hard labor passed north. For several seasons, Daleswall ale was a favorite in the city’s taverns, and the Silver Bear fostered a strong reputation as the best inn outside of Anticus.
Now, the North Road was plied by one merchant. Tevas, once a very minor trader with but a single wagon making up his caravan, became the sole regular supplier of the towns north of Anticus. His monopoly in trade allowed him still just a single wagon, but it was slightly larger than years previous, allowing him to unfurl a cloth banner down each side proclaiming his self-bestowed title. While his caravan did not grow, his self-importance and pride expanded to match his waistband. The enthusiasm for new arrivals from long-snowbound villagers helped them to overcome the merchant’s odious manners and spoiled blustering.
This year, however, Tevas looked forward to the awe he would inspire with his arrival, for now, at long last, he had expanded beyond a mere single wagon that forced him to ride in a well-padded seat next to his driver and lackey, Domic. No longer – now the obese merchant had a carriage befitting someone of his station. True, the once-golden lacquer had faded and peeled, and the cloth interior was frayed where it was not threadbare, and the wood was bug-ridden and dangerously brittle in places. The ride as often as not was reminiscent of a stormy sea voyage, forcing Tevas to keep a bucket on the floor for those moment s when he was overcome by the motion.
No matter; the merchant was enclosed in a carriage, no longer exposed to the elements that failed to leak through the roof, nor was he forced to sit next to his servant as if he were a common farmer. The cost of the new carriage and wagon driver was unfortunate, but the year promised to be lucrative. The wagon behind his swaying conveyance was full, and not just with common goods for the commoner.
The fat man rubbed his hands in solitary glee. There was a new resident of Daleswall, one sufficiently bereft of senses to purchase the Silver Bear. Not only was he dim enough to buy an inn in a dying backwater, but he was wealthy enough to purchase a vast amount of exotic wines and liquors to fill his empty inn. Such a combination of stupidity and wealth in a single man would make any merchant swoon in desire, and Tevas was no exception.
Not that he’d ever met the purchaser. Tevas, however, did not need to meet a man to take his measure. As to the new innkeeper’s wits, the merchant had ample proof of his lack of acumen by the mere fact of the purchase. A lesser merchant would be swayed by the cost and type of provisions purchased as an accurate measure of wealth. Tevas snorted as he considered this, pausing in his thoughts as he wiped the discharge of mucus from his upper lip. A lesser merchant would, perhaps, but Tevas knew he was no ordinary merchant.
His fat fingers scrabbled within the lining of his silken outer robe, unmindful of the fresh stains he deposited upon it. He touched the thick folded vellum secreted there in a hidden pocket, and the proof of his new client’s true wealth. Withdrawing the pages, Tevas ran an eye over it once more. A mere listing of the provisions desired and accepted payment for them, to the untrained eye, but Tevas was well aware of the significance of the stamps and names on the document.
The new innkeeper had used an agent to procure his purchase, a not unusual circumstance in the port city of Anticus. That itself held little significance. The agent used, however, was not one of the usual procurers in these types of affairs. In fact, this agent had only a single known regular client, and occasionally obtained requests to assist in the affairs of this client’s friends. Again, this was not unheard of in the more powerful circles of Anticus; the nobility and merchant lords had many such arrangements. No, what caused the greed of Tevas to swell in his breast like the first blooming of love was the particular agent used, and his single purported client. The name of Lord Aravan was a constant presence on the lips of the court gossipers, as the powerful nobleman was a sensation among all the citizens of the city. His fast rise to power after a sudden arrival, the vast wealth he held that made it possible, and his reclusive nature conspired to make him a favorite target of a wagging tongue.
Tevas carefully folded the papers and placed them in their pocket. A man buys an inn nestled in a remote backwater and uses the agent of the mysterious and rich Lord Aravan to arrange supplies must be a wealthy man himself. Wealth and stupidity, thought the fat merchant, are my favorite values.