Novel Excerpt, 11/3
The merchant’s arrival caused less of a stir than he’d imagined. The town over the past week had gotten used to the carts and wagons from Brethford, so Tevas did not get the novelty of being the first visitor to the town after the snows cleared. His carriage did seem to impress some of the residents, however, as Tevas noticed several of them looking at its magnificence and talking in low tones to one another as he looked out the carriage windows. He willed the sickness in his belly to be still as the carriage swayed up the final rise to the Silver Bear.
He managed to win that battle, close though it was, as the conveyance mercifully creaked to a halt outside the inn doors. Tevas waited patiently for Domic to come around and open the door, as befitted a man of his station. After several minutes passed, Tevas pursed his thick lips and furrowed his brow. Reaching for his stick, he rapped loudly on the wooden door, causing a rain of splinters and dust to fall from it. It took two more rappings before the door finally jerked open.
“Oh, for Ban’s sake,” Domic said in his high-pitched voice. “Is the handle broken already?” Nimble for such a large man, Domic pushed into the carriage, checking the inner door mechanism. “Seems to be fine now,” he said, sliding back out.
Tevas’ face was red and shaking, a child ready to burst into a tantrum. “No, you fool,” he shouted, “I was waiting for you to open the door like a proper lackey! What were you waiting for?”
Domic bowed in front of the door. “My pardon, great lord!” he proclaimed in an even higher falsetto. “Would my lord care to sully his oh-so-powerful feet in the common ground trod by us lesser creatures?” He pulled a dangerous-looking wooden step free from the underside of the carriage. “If my lord will accept the worthless hand of this worthless lackey, he can safely alight and grace the mundane world with his magnificence.”
Tevas batted the proffered hand away with a growl. “I should fire you and leave you to walk all the miles back to the city.” He was nearly doubled over as he strained to exit the carriage with a degree of dignity. He gingerly placed a slippered foot onto the creaking step, eased his stick onto the ground for balance, and tottered unsteadily to the ground. “Maybe then you would learn your place and the proper degree of humility to your betters,” he added as he smoothed his crimson robe.
Domic giggled as he replaced the now-treacherously leaning step and closed the carriage door. The merchant’s empty threats washed over him with no effect, because he knew the merchant’s wife would never allow Tevas to fire him. The “servant” was actually a 20 percent shareholder in the enterprise, and was quite possibly the only person alive who could put up with Tevas’ petty ambitions and abrasive personality. The pair squabbled like old lovers as certain bundles, chests, and boxes were unloaded from the wagon, the hired driver keeping a stony face at their antics. Domic’s strength was evident as he easily hefted barrels of liquid onto a meaty shoulder, and the provisions intended for the Silver Bear were quickly offloaded.
As the driver pulled the wagon towards the carriage house at the side of the inn, Domic began ferrying the provisions through the back door. Tevas, in the meantime, swept open the newly re-hung door and thumped into the inn. As he expected, nearly every table was empty; only the old Talebearer sat with a mug in front of him. The rasp of a woodsaw was the only sound in the room. Tevas cleared his throat loudly. Old Comrick, as well as the mutt curled at his feet, glanced up at Tevas, nodded gravely towards the merchant, and returned to the small book he held in one hand.
Love, or a feeling like it, blossomed in the merchant’s chest once more. Volumes such as the Talebearer held were expensive, and even in the dim candlelight he could see a shelf across the room filled with additional books. Tevas’ mind automatically calculated an approximate value for those volumes as his tongue ran over his lips. The total he arrived at was agreeable enough that the merchant completely forgot about his ignominious arrival. The fact that this innkeeper kept such objects of value so easily at hand, where anyone could slip away with one, showed the merchant a blatant disregard for monetary sense.
Tevas could already picture the man. A stoop-shouldered man, bespectacled like a clerk, wispy grey hair floating free on a mostly bald skull. A man who had earned a small fortune, probably as an inheritance from a merchant family or the like. Nobility seemed out of the question, as Tevas found it hard to imagine a nobleman wanting to live in the squalor of a town of grubbing farmers and common townfolk. Although, Tevas amended, the youngest son of a noble, sent to a scholarly life with a generous sum, and seized with a desire to live among the salt of the earth as senility struck, remained a possibility.
The rasping saw ceased, and a workman stood up from behind the bar. Tevas didn’t recognize the man, probably hired on by the new owner to struggle vainly against the rapidly deteriorating structure. He directed an insolent look towards the merchant, despite his lack of a shirt and sweat-and-sawdust covered skin. He was broad-shouldered and well-muscled, with the agreeably pale skin of a nobleman. Tevas considered the possibility of hiring him on as driver and fetcher, since he looked strong enough to outwork Domic. Briefly the merchant imagined this workman as his new lackey, working shirtless and sweating under the steady gaze of his master.
The man evidently remembered his place, pulling a lacquer-stained tunic over his head and shaking Tevas from his pleasant reverie. Wiping his dusty hands, the workman approached the merchant and asked laconically, “Need something?”
Tevas frowned at the abrupt and altogether impolite greeting to someone of his stature. The merchant kept his eyes skyward as he addressed the laborer. “Fetch the innkeeper, workman, and inform him that he is graced by the presence of Tevas Vastwit, Merchant Magnificent.” Inclining his head to the side, he added, “Also tell him that remuneration is due for the delivery of certain provisions and personal effects, and thus to bring his coin purse.” The merchant placed his hands on his belly with smug satisfaction, as well as the warm feeling common to the merchant class at the thought of pending remuneration.