The Country WisdomEpisode 2
Continue the adventures of Mauve, now a merchant apprentice!
Cedric Neumann & Laureline Brun
“-Mauve! Are you awake?” said a feminine voice.
I opened my eyes slowly. Nepta, a beautiful little girl, was calling me. She had been my first friend here when I had moved in with Simiar. A sticis, Simiar was my father’s business partner in the city. He was the master merchant that I had met briefly during my first visit and he had offered to take me in. He offered my father to take me on as his apprentice, it was an unexpected opportunity!
My dream of living in the beautiful city of Altenor came true that day. I accepted immediately! But my parents had taken a year to give in… I know now that this is an eternity for a Sticis living by the tide. It was a miracle that he didn’t take on another apprentice in the meantime.
When I finally returned to the city that had been dominating my thoughts since that first visit, I was ecstatic to see it again. The first days were extremely difficult, I had to find my bearings, but the warm welcome of Simiar’s shoal helped me to adapt.
In the space of a few months, they had almost become a second family. It must be said that the Sticis are easy to understand as long as you live in the moment with them, that you enjoy and that you deal with matters at the time they consider appropriate. His shoal had shown a certain tolerance towards me while teaching me the habits and customs of the city.
“-Mauve! Are you listening to me? the little voice called out to me again.
-Oh yes, excuse me Nepta…
-Father is calling you! He wants to see you urgently. He’s waiting for you in his office and he hasn’t counted the scales. You’re lucky that he’s talking to you about his secrets, I’m almost ten years old after all! He could trust me… “
I gave a slight laugh at the sight of her disgruntled pout, then stroked her head before standing up. I also loved that scaly expression that meant not giving away a thing.
“-Don’t worry Nepta, he doesn’t tell me much, just merchant tales. I’m sure one day your father will make you a great merchant and trust you with real secrets! But in the meantime, maybe you should go get dressed,” I concluded, laughing again.
The little girl looked down at her clothes and, realizing that she was still wearing her nightgown, she immediately ran off to change. I watched her walk away smiling. She was truly adorable; her sparkling face filled me with joy every day.
After this pleasant awakening, I dressed quickly and set off for my master’s office, intrigued by this sudden summons. From what I had seen so far, he rarely went to his office… and I had never been invited. What were we going to talk about?
I knocked gently.
“- Mauve? Come in, please.”
I discovered Simiar decked out in the most expensive outfit. My excitement soared as I entered the room.
“Come closer,” he said, motioning me to sit down in front of him. “I want you to come with me to settle an important matter. I think it’s time for you. Listen…”
I nodded vigorously, happy with the turn the discussion was taking.
“- I will take you to meet someone very important: Linbay, a merchant from the port. She is an extremely influential and tough businesswoman. We’ll have fun, but I’ll have to use all my negotiating skills. This is the type of situation you will also have to deal with, so watch and listen to everything that is said, and above all, behave perfectly. By the way, we will be accompanied by…”
His lips, facial fins and gills were still moving, but I was already not listening to him anymore. I was going to meet the famous Linbay! I was silently thanking the Atorium for this opportunity when my master’s gaze landed on me, a small amused smile on his lips.
“-Well, I trust you Mauve, don’t disappoint me. We’re leaving in half an hour, meet me in front of my office. Don’t be late.”
I then ran to my room and put on the nicest clothes at my disposal. I had to be perfect for this meeting. Once in front of the master’s office, I was at the height of my excitement. He smiled at the sight of my outfit, he appreciated my choice. Once mounted in his cart, he started to explain me the details of the negotiation.
-“We will offer rare atoriums, useful for combat and weapon improvement. Really, we serve as an intermediary between the dockers’ guild and the militia of a dynasty. They prefer to buy the goods from us, rather than risk being associated with a shadow guild. This benefits our business,” he concludes with a smile. “We’ll try to get as many of these little jewels as we can, in exchange for a minimum of bags of grain and crates of dried herbs, barrels of pucerin nectar… Our other alternatives are less promising and less lucrative. Our trump card will be this beautiful atori dial, I negotiated it last week. This object is very much in demand when an Ordeal approaches. We will have to show it off and use it well, it is the most valuable thing we trade.”
I nodded, having understood my boss’s business strategy: he was going to wait a while, then offer this asset for exchange, as a second round of negotiations. He hoped to surprise Linbay and get as many goods as possible. I was already looking forward to it!
We quickly arrived at the docks, where the dockers’ guild was located. I quickly smoothed my clothes with my left hand, took a deep breath, and followed Simiar’s footsteps.
A docker or a sailor, difficult to distinguish them, as tall as he was wide, was waiting for us in front of imposing doors. He invited us to enter. Obviously, I said to myself, such an important negotiation could not be carried out in the street, in full sight.
There, in the middle of crates and barrels, we waited for what seemed like an eternity! Everyone was anxious. Even my flies didn’t seem to want to move from their perch. I noticed several times that the guards were playing with their weapons. One of them had a fresh tattoo, the redness and the beading blood itching him, but he didn’t seem to be in pain. He often scratched and chafed himself as he watched the shadows in the room.
The docker returned with a woman. She led us into a large, opulent room. This place was clearly made for business: the only furniture in it were chairs and a table, and everything about it exuded power. Bizarre sculptures and dark paintings stood proudly in the four corners of the room; a blood algae floated in a giant tube amidst desiccated corpses; alters, documents, and a dagger with a blunt pommel that must have been meant for a tentacled being lay on the round table. At least two atoriums, whose purpose escaped me, completed this eccentric decoration.
My master and I took our places opposite Linbay and his associates, assisted immediately by our men. The polite exchanges in the languages of all the species present began.
Linbay, in the center, caught my attention, she impressed me; she had an undeniable presence and nobility. Her eyes reflected an immense wisdom. I felt like a fool looking at her. My beautiful clothes looked like rags next to the precious fabrics that covered her half-woman, half-fish body. But I had to pull myself together, this deal was of the utmost importance to my master, and I had to put on a good show, for him and for my future.
I respectfully greeted the leader of this assembly.
“Let me introduce you to the atoriums you have come to acquire,” began Linbay, placing a large box on the table. The discussion was beginning to get to the heart of the matter! My legs began to tremble.
She opened it and took out various objects, of different colors and shapes, and began to explain their uses, insisting on their usefulness, their rarity and their great value. My master merely nodded, commenting from time to time to confirm Linbay’s praise of the atoriums. He was focused on the sticis and was only concerned with her. My throat was dry. The discussion was so cordial that one would have thought that Simiar and the merchant were good friends. But the objective of the latter was not long in revealing itself.
“-So, what do you have to offer me in exchange?” Linbay finally asked.
It was time, my master was going to deploy all his best business negotiating strategies. I was at attention, ready to learn from this teaching, but Simiar didn’t say anything. Instead, he instructed the third member of the team to show a few goods while he explained that the bags and the boxes were on a boat and would be delivered as soon as possible once the agreement was concluded. He showed his samples, their quality, their origin, praising their merits and their effects, but Linbay remained unmoved, slick like a sea of oil, in the flat calm on a calm day. I felt sick to my stomach. Finally she frowned. I started to panic; was this a normal situation? Was Simiar about to be refused the deal? He seemed calm but I knew he was tense. As he pulled out a box, I recognized an imperceptible twitch of his dorsal fin, the same one I had noticed when he was seriously scolding Nepta.
“- I think we have in our possession an object which may greatly interest you. Allow me now to present this to you.” One of my legs continued to shake and my stomach began to knot. My throat was completely parched. Something was wrong. I began to observe with a new eye the weapons and objects, all dangerous, in this room…
Simiar opened the small box containing the atori dial.
“I will not make you the affront to explain what it is about. But I would like to point out to you that there will be a trial soon, and that this object could be a great asset for your guild. I am sure that many shadows would be invincible with a power such as this.”
My blood was pounding in my temples, something was wrong! I was sure of it. I waved to Simiar but either I was too discreet because I didn’t want to be seen, or he was too focused to pay attention. Our guards had left just after we entered. We were alone facing 4 dockers in the middle of a dangerous room.
My nerves were shattered and I couldn’t help but intervene, while my master looked on in bewilderment.
As firmly as possible, I raised my trembling hand and closed the box.
” – We know. I said, bluffing. If you want to do business with us you should be more honest with my master and if we don’t get out of here, our sponsors know where we are.
My master had almost immediately regained his impassive face and was looking at Linbay with intensity. He must have been cursing me. My mind was melting, I was calculating everything at once: what to throw at whom, how long it would take us to get out, how to avoid the hook of the docker who was facing me, the lengthening of my hand on the dagger; and I doubted my folly …
Clap … Clap … Clap …slow applause echoed in the room.
“- How did you know? What atorium or magic did you use?” said a second Linbay who emerged from the shadows. We were barely breathing. Her voice was warm and unthreatening, she sounded amused. “I like brave and impulsive people.” The person in front of us gave way before respectfully and completely withdrawing, leaving the room.
I sat down slowly, short of breath, even more afraid of my recent instinctive boldness. I felt better and worse at the same time, my leg was tense and my stomach was leaving my abdomen. Anxious, I blushed slightly and looked up at Linbay. She smiled at me slightly and resumed the discussion with Simiar. As a good barracuda trader, the latter resumed the negotiation with the firm intention to take advantage of the situation. The verbal joust continued for a long time. In the early morning the deal was concluded.
As we were leaving, Linbay spoke to me.
“I like you, kid, you have guts. If you ever need something, you know where to find me.”
With these words, her dockworkers escorted us to the entrance of the building and that was that. Everything had gone so strangely wrong. I had almost gotten us killed but I had been right, there was something fishy going on and I had won Linbay’s favor, yes it was me who had done it. I had done it! Then I turned back to Simiar, crazy with joy. His yellow eyes sparkled at me:
“- Congratulations Mauve. I thought I was doing you a favor by bringing you here today, but it looks like you were the one who was honoring me with your presence.”
He paused for a moment and then continued.”From now on, you will officially be my associate, which means more autonomy but also more duties. I’ll give you assignments to do alone. I’ll set up an office for you in one of the guest rooms. How did you know about Linbay?
– I, I, I didn’t know. I just sensed something and acted on it.
– Good,” he said, thoughtfully. Knowing how to sense a wave and slip into it at the right time is an important skill.”
I held back from jumping for joy, and thanked my master, well… my partner, profusely.