Adventure Log Two
p. I have always liked travel. Getting to a new city is the most exciting part, but it’s also interesting to see the parts in between – the farms, the forests, the mountains, the rivers, the ever-changing sky.
But I’m sick of the Atrocidan landscape. Mile after mile of bleak, barren wasteland. The only people I met in a month of travel were trying to kill me.
Naturally, I was excited to get back to civilization. Frontier can’t match the energy I enjoyed in Adamston, but it still has far more to offer than the village – or the wasteland. Furthermore, unlike in Adamston, I had money to spend – which makes all the difference in a city.
My first order of business – well, after a hot bath, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep in a real bed – was to buy some decent clothes. I don’t think that Paki and Tianna understand, but decent clothes are a necessity of doing business. People of importance simply don’t take you seriously when you show up dressed like a peasant.
I had very specific requirements. The dress of a top-tier merchant can be gaudy or restrained, fragile or durable. Every choice sends a message. My message is that I’m a young merchant of a wealthy family, prosperous and successful but still very much at the stage of business where frequent travel is required. My clothing will be tasteful, restrained and durable.
For material, this leaves only one option: silk. Silk is expensive, as all of it has to be imported from Axeria. This in itself makes a statement. But it’s also the perfect material for a traveler. Silk is less irritating to the skin than any other fabric. It’s cool in hot weather. It dries quickly. And although it doesn’t look it, silk is remarkably durable. It can stand up to abuse that would shred any other fabric.
Since I want to avoid a gaudy look, I have to show quality in a more restrained and elegant fashion. First, there’s the cut. My new business suit fits perfectly, made to match my body. Then there’s the dye. To look tastefully prosperous, you want good dyes and you want to use plenty of them. Dark-colored clothes are more expensive than light-colored ones. I went with deep indigo, a shade which complements my hair and eyes. Finally, there’s the jewelry. Jewelry serves as a display of wealth, but it’s also a convenient way of transporting wealth. Any merchant can quickly and accurately estimate the value of each of my pieces and accept them as cash – from a simple silver-and-amethyst earring to the sapphire on my forehead.
My weapons, too, will be elegant, but as a recent target of assassination attempts and monster attacks, I want them to be functional as well. A rapier of good crucible steel, capable of bending double without breaking, its hilt silvered and elaborately worked, but also capable of protecting the hand. A matching dagger. A pair of lethal little hand crossbows, with wrist straps so they can be dropped and retrieved in a confusing combat. I shopped for new armor as well, but I didn’t find anything better than the vest that Mama made for me, and I’m rather sentimentally attached to it.
I did, however, buy new traveling clothes to wear with it. Two clean new linen shirts; leather breeches; sturdy boots; lots of pockets; a new cloak; a broad-brimmed hat. In theory, such an outfit should cost around ten gold, but I had very specific requirements and I paid easily twice that.
I left my old clothes at Paki’s sickhouse. Someone there will need them. Sometimes I think the boy is a saint, the way he automatically serves those most in need. Then he creeps me out. Yet I also feel a protective affection for him. I never had a little brother, but sometimes I think of Paki that way. It’s rather a confusing mix of emotions. I don’t think I’d spend my morning mopping up miners’ vomit for anyone else.
The Wild, Atrocida“Perhaps you have only lived in the village for a couple of years,” Tiana snapped, “but it’s my home. I will not give up on my mission. It’s a matter of life and death to my family.”p.
Her rebuke stung. This was the second time in a month that I had come within a hairsbreadth of death in the service of the village. When I will it, my flesh can be as light as air. But when the Gauth’s terrible eye struck me, I felt how tenuous the bond really is that holds me together. The slightest further shock would have broken my spirit’s hold on my flesh and I would simply have dissolved into a mist. The feeling is already fading now, the memory hard to hold on to, like a dream. But I felt, in that moment, that what will kill me one day is dissolution.
I wanted to run. I didn’t want to die defending a box of rocks from a creature none of us were ready to face. But Tiana stayed, and Paki needed her help. So I forced myself back into battle, and I was the one who struck the creature down. Courage isn’t particularly a merchant virtue, but helping your friends when they need you is. I was reasonably proud of myself.
Nevertheless, I thought that with a little bit of foresight we could avoid this sort of situation again. If I came close to death both times, Paki came far closer. I won’t give up on helping the village, but dying foolishly will do them no good. Far better to go to a fallback plan.
I was certain that I was right about this. But still … Tiana’s rebuke stung. I decided I had better think carefully about why.
My father taught me that a merchant’s strength is his honesty. He also taught me that a merchant’s strength is his ability to understand other people’s perspectives without being seduced by them. It was my mother who showed me how these two virtues work together. She taught me that it’s impossible to be honest with others unless one is first honest with oneself. She taught me how to deal with insults by considering the source.
When I considered Tiana’s perspective, it occurred to me at once that she must be homesick. The air and the water flow eternally, but while the wind blows where it will, the river always flows from the same mountains to the same sea. If she has seemed irritable of late, I now realize that she was particularly so when I spoke about how glad I was to be back in civilization. The bustling city streets that comfort me are alien to her. My eagerness to get rid of the rustic garb Mama made for me – and back into professionally-tailored silk – might even seem to her like a rejection of the village. Salt on the wound, if she’s homesick.
Whether she is or no, she certainly is worried about the village, and Lower Ballarian in general. And she does have a point. Every delay in our mission means greater suffering there. Having lived there longer, she feels this more passionately, and so it’s natural that she would rather take greater risks than brook additional delays. But we must not be foolhardy. Every time we get into a fight, poor little Paki almost dies. His luck cannot hold out forever. None of ours can.
*The Wild, Atrocida
I’ve killed a Bloodspider and a Gauth too, but that’s not quite the same. Men and monsters are different.
For that matter, I really didn’t feel too badly about the mercenary back in the ruins. They were trying to kill us, and they nearly succeeded. In the heat of the moment, I struck to defend myself and my friends. It bothered me a little to think that I’d killed a man – but only a little. I let the last of the mercenaries live – though I offered him no help – because I am not, at heart, a killer. I’m a trader, a negotiator of networks, a merchant.
But the caravan master was different. That was the cold-blooded, deliberate murder of a helpless man. I had been thinking about it for two weeks. I had been approached by two secret societies. One of them wanted me to help the caravan master divert the supplies – masterwork weapons, as it turned out, disguised as lead ore – to their own supporters. This group, known as the Founders, wishes to overthrow the current government of Atrocida and install a stronger central executive. The other group is apparently devoted to preserving the status quo. They asked me to thwart the caravan master’s mission and make sure that the shipment reached its original destination. They claimed that our late friend, Mayor Liam Woodsworth, had been one of their number. This may well be true. It seems consonant with his activities – apparently devoted to opposing a secret society which meant to assassinate the President. It also makes sense of Merchant Barque’s strange eagerness to have us guard his caravan. Under pressure from both sides, he could make only the subtlest gestures.
Still, it’s clear that factors I don’t understand are at work here. Why would the preservationist faction want to secretly ship weapons, and why would the revolutionaries want to divert it to the military? Doesn’t the military have enough weapons already? For that matter, I can’t be certain what side Mayor Woodworth was on. For all I know, the Founders could be part of an effort by the President to increase his own power, and the Mayor could have been trying to protect him from a republican assassination. But this seems the less likely possibility; rather than claiming the Mayor as one of their own, the Founder evaded my questions about him.
When the caravan master fell under the Gauth’s gaze, I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to thwart his and the Founders’ mission without any blame to us. The ambiguity of his death would allow us to claim credit for safeguarding the shipment with the federalists while offering a convenient excuse to offer the Founders. This would allow us to avoid entanglement in the more dangerous aspects of Atrocidan politics. Or at least to delay it until the sides became clearer. Our mission could easily be derailed by such involvement. It also would allow me to make this choice without burdening Tiana and Paki. Paki in particular is too young to have to make this kind of decision.
I acted not quite on impulse, then, but seized an opportunity for which I had been looking. Yet now I question my decision. The caravan master was a wretch, and unlikely ever to become a better human being, but he might have, and I took that chance away from him. He might have been loved by someone who was a better person than he was. I was not fighting for my life, but seeking to avoid risk and inconvenience. In retrospect, I don’t think that was quite enough. If he had been a truly evil man, or if the complications I feared were clearer dangers, it would be different. My mother would certainly not have acted so (I’m less certain about my father.)
Also, the caravan master was the only one who knew the route. In my haste to avoid inconvenience, I forgot that rather important fact. Overall, I would say, a blunder.
There would be little point in crippling myself with regret, but I will remember this if a similar situation should arise.