Novel Excerpt, 11/4
He heard the laborer grunt in response, but he did not move as directed. After a long pause, the man in the work-stained tunic finally spoke. “You’re talking to the innkeeper.” Tevas’ eyes shifted down to fix his gaze on the man once more as he leaned back against the bar he’d lately been working on. Arms folded, eyes hooded, and mouth in a half-smirk, the innkeeper said, “You’ll be paid when the goods are here and inspected. Anything I don’t like you can haul back to your wagon.”
Tevas kept his indignation bridled with a titanic force of effort. “I, sir, can vouch for the quality of the goods, and can assure you that perfect care and confidentiality was exercised in the transport of those personal items you entrusted to my care.” His eyes still roamed the ceiling as he spoke, mostly from the jarring appearance of the innkeeper. His predispositions were so unfounded that the merchant was off balance, but he now congratulated himself on his smooth recovery.
Again he was answered with a grunt. The innkeeper straightened from his insolent lean and moved behind the bar once more. The rasping woodsaw began its song once more. Tevas nearly began shaking in fury, his face red and angry. “Well?” he bellowed in consternation, “what of my room? I also require a drink to wash the taste of the village mud from my throat! What kind of inn is this?”
Tevas felt his face draining as fury was replaced by fear. The innkeeper’s slow rise from behind the bar, eyes fixed on the merchant, reminded Tevas of a certain brigand he’d run foul of so many years ago. It was the eyes, cold and flat, and the posture, like furious action a hair’s width away, that called the image of the horrible day he’d spent groveling in the mud while his precious goods and moneychest were seized. The merchant took an involuntary step back, even though the innkeeper never moved towards him.
“This is my inn,” the man said finally, a hard edge on his voice just like that robber from long ago. Another long pause stretched on before the man broke it again. This time his voice was softened slightly, but nowhere near the usual tone of a proprietor to patron. “How many rooms do you require? And would you care for ale? Wine would take a bit of time, since it has only now arrived.” His words were proper, but the tone made it seem to Tevas that the blame for the wine’s delay rested solely on him, even though the merchant had arrived within the time frame stipulated.
Still, Tevas felt somewhat mollified, as at least the words if not the attitude were closer to what he expected. “A single room, the best at the top of the stairs will do. My driver will bed down with the animals and wagon while my lackey will of course attend me and stay in my room. Ale will suffice.” He settled his girth into an unhappily creaking chair, resting his walking stick between his outstretched feet.
Moments later a wooden mug thumped onto the table in front of the merchant. Tevas snatched it eagerly, fond as he was of Jordin’s brew, and began gulping steadily. The innkeeper spoke conversationally as he drank. “Room’s taken. Yours is second floor, first door on the right. 5 cuts per night, meals included. Bath’s extra. 1 cut for the ale.”
Tevas began choking on the ale. 6 precious copper coins? For a third-rate room, barely decent meals, and watery ale? Jordin never charged him for the room – after all, Tevas Vastwit, Merchant Magnificent brought the world to this town! The inn was blessed that he deigned to stay here instead of passing on to a different village. Indeed, no other merchant even plied these roads, and this upstart would dare charge Tevas and drive away this backwater’s sole link to civilization? The merchant intended on delivering this harangue in withering fashion, as soon as he expelled the foaming ale from his lungs.
His tormentor cut him off before he could start, leaning his hands on the table. In low tones, the man went on. “The prices are high, yes. You have the choice of bedding down in the stable instead. Jordin never charged for the ale or the room. Jordin no longer owns this inn.” He straightened and half-turned away, before adding, “The more money I earn, the more provisions I buy from you. In a way, I am merely holding your coins briefly before handing them right back. If this village is going to learn how commerce works, they’ll need to see it in action. Better for both of us in the long run.” With that, the man turned and sauntered back to the bar.
The merchant’s mind chewed over the strange fellow’s words. They did have the ring of wisdom, in a way. Tevas revised his opinion of the man, now that he had more information. The new owner of this inn was a robber, a thief, a ruffian of a sort that earned a hefty take and had nothing to do with it. In order to lay low, he called in a favor with a rich and mysterious nobleman and retired to a sleepy inn in the middle of nowhere. After a few years of bilking the locals and probably outright theft, he would be able to return to whatever urban locale he hailed from, or to another city altogether, secure that pursuit was long over. Yes, Tevas knew of the type. The man had given himself away by referring to the coins as “cuts”, a term used by the lower classes, especially thieves and soldiers.
The merchant ostentatiously fished a purse from within one voluminous sleeve. He made a point of shifting it in his sweating palm, sending the coins inside singing merrily off of one another. The coins inside were of low value, of course, mostly brass and tin, with an occasional copper in the mix. He made a show of picking through the metal, as if trying to find something so lowly as a copper within his hefty pouch, finally producing a half-dozen coins with the markings of the Anticus mint. He made the pouch’s return inside his sleeve just as showy. If the shady innkeeper went for this particular coinpurse, he would be sadly disappointed at its contents.