Novel Excerpt, 11/5
The door leading from the kitchen swung open, and the round form of Domic pushed into the area behind the bar bearing a plain square wooden chest. The dark wood and dull metal trim made the container easily forgettable, but the detailed instructions for its care delivered to Tevas by the innkeeper’s agent let the merchant know that it contained something more than just clothing and oddments. The strain on Domic’s face as he struggled to place it atop the bar bore evidence to the weight of the mysterious contents.
The innkeeper scanned the chest carefully, and rather insultingly to Tevas’ mind, looking for evidence of mishandling. While he performed his investigation, Domic moved to the table, scooped up the merchant’s half-full mug, and drained the contents. The pair began squabbling over decorum and necessities of thirst, as well as deference to superiors and common courtesy. Their argument came to an abrupt end as a heavy metallic thud sounded between them. A leather purse, fat and glorious, lay on the table, tossed by the innkeeper.
“Laecima approved the provisions,” he said. “The wax seal on the chest was unbroken, although the lock is newly scratched. Good thing it’s Enkori; makes skeleton keys useless.” Tevas’ face reddened in what he hoped would be interpreted as indignation. He’d not noticed any wax seal on the chest. “Remaining half of the payment is there. Our accounts are squared.”
The merchant weighed the purse in his hands. If the contents were silver, then it felt about right. A foolish merchant would accept the payment uncounted; a lesser one would go somewhere private and count. A merchant like Tevas, however, eschewed either of those options and opened the purse, stacking the coins carefully in sets of ten while he did so. The silver shined as only new-minted coinage could, reflecting the candlelight with a gleam that made the merchant’s heart sing. The final tally was exact – disappointingly so, as Tevas always preferred it when his services earned a bit extra than the agreed-upon price – but the merchant pulled the agent’s letter out nonetheless to verify the total with perfect exactitude. After the second such perusal, the merchant was satisfied, and the letter returned to its place and the purse disappeared inside his robe.
Filled with the warm smugness of a lucrative contract fulfilled, Tevas magnanimously and politely ordered food and drink for himself and his lackey. The purse he’d just secreted in his clothing contained as much coin as he would normally earn in a month of trading. The provisions ordered, while fine and somewhat expensive, accounted for a mere third of the payment. Only a thief, thought the merchant, would pay so much for the security of his personal effects. Tevas, more generous than the exact-paying innkeeper, placed a pair of silver coins onto the table to pay for an additional night’s rest and its attendant meals and drinks. As he ladled some of Laecima’s fine stew into his mouth, the merchant, as he had since acquiring the innkeeper’s goods, wondered idly about the contents of that chest. As he pondered the possibility of a stolen golden reliquary from a particularly prosperous temple, Tevas failed to notice the innkeeper easily hoist the chest onto one shoulder and carry the chest upstairs.