Chapter 29: Don’t take it personal, please! part
“Are you sure this is going to work?”
“Nothing is certain, but at least it will give us a second chance if things go wrong on the first try”
Ayumi and Ryu exchange words while the rest of the group shows signs of anxiety. The plan is to split up before entering the city, Bob and Luke going first and spending the night there, if things go well they’ll spend two nights there and everyone will reunite.
Ryu provided them with some food and trinkets to trade, telling them tirelessly to pay attention to everything they see. Luke is eager to be the first to make contact, so he walks outside the cave, his excitement overflows and for the first time he looks genuinely happy.
“Hurry up Bob, we’re wasting time”
“But Ryu said we’ll take our time, it must give the impression that we’ve come a long way”
“Don’t be a spoilsport!”
“But if things go wrong we will be completely alone”
“Don’t be scared man, just do what I tell you and nobody will mess with us. Just put on your best poker face and don’t say anything, just by seeing you they’ll shit their pants”
When they get to town they are surprised to find no one in the streets, despite the fact that smoke comes out of most of the houses. Buildings look solid, but old and some in very poor condition. Compared to the cottages in the clearing they are ugly, but much more robust and also larger.
“check it out!”
Bob says pointing to a house bigger than the others, two stories high.
“What about that house? it’s bigger, that’s all”
“that’s not, they have a lamp hanging at the entrance and the door is not closed”
“should we go in?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s better to go around the town first”
Despite the cold, they decided to postpone their entry into the strange house in order to obtain as much information about the town as possible before being forced to leave. Ryu’s distrust is contagious, especially after telling them about some of the possible results of an unsuccessful first interaction.
They could be mugged, scammed, killed, even imprisoned for not having some form of identification. Despite this, Luke maintains a blind optimism to be recognized as a hero and admired by all the inhabitants. Due to the size of the town it was not difficult to cover it completely in a short time, apart from some somewhat larger buildings and the lamps that are lit outside, there is nothing else to highlight.
“What do you think happened Luke? why are there no people around?
“I don’t know, surely if they knew we were heroes they would come out to welcome us accordingly”
“shhh! remember Ryu told us to keep the hero thing a secret.”
Luke nods, even he thinks it’s a good idea to keep his hero status hidden. The moment a hero is revealed as such is important as it marks the beginning of a series of incredible adventures and rewards of all kinds. After returning to the house they saw at the beginning, they push the door gently.
Luke says as he steps inside. All the people seem shocked to see them.
The place is well furnished and looks like a kind of medieval tavern. There are about twenty people spread out among all the tables, but most of them are at the bar. Behind the bar, an astonishing redhead girl seems busy taking orders from those who drink, while a young blonde takes care of delivering food orders to the tables.
Luke confidently walks to the bar, completely forgetting about Ryu’s plan, as Bob follows close behind. His goal is to flirt with the bartender without thinking about anything else. However, before reaching his destination a group of men stops in front of them and cuts them off.
“This is a mining town, here there are only miners and whores and you don’t look like a miner”
Says the man who seems to be leading the rest of the group with a crooked smile. Luke, who was distracted by the miles of cleavage that the bartender boasted, was not prepared for this interruption and his mind went completely blank unleashing everyone’s laughter.
Bob, who was supposed to keep a poker face throughout the encounter, can’t help but laugh while patting Luke on the back. Luke, red with shame and anger, grits his teeth as the sounds of laughter increase.
“Hey! you do look like someone who can wield a pickax, come sit with us we’ll buy you guys a drink”
Despite the humiliation Luke received, they both nod and sit next to the men. The awkward moment caused Luke to regain enough mental clarity to remember that he is on a mission and that the outcome is of the utmost importance.
“Tell me, where do you come from? bring any news from the north?”
“No, sorry, we don’t bring news, we come from a small village that happens to be nearby”
Luke replies looking at the skinny and gangly man who asked him the previous question.
“As far as I know there are no nearby villages”
The man shrugs. The group consists of four men of dissimilar appearance, the largest in size being a man who stands silently drinking a pint of what appears to be beer. At his side is the Leader, a man less robust but just as muscular. The other two are next to Bob, both look skinny and in poor health but all wear the same cloth clothes and leather shoulder pads.
The young blonde approaches the group leaving six pints of foamy beer on the table, but she doesn’t miss an opportunity to wink at Luke, who shows no interest in her.
“We are here to trade”
Tthe leader asks with greed in his eyes as he hands out the drinks in front of everyone. If all goes well, he could get a good profit, in addition to making contacts outside the town, he is now happy to have been the first to approach the couple of unknown travelers. Inviting them to drink was a test to see if they were nobles or not, since a noble would never accept a drink from a commoner.
“lucky that we met then, do you sell or buy?”
“To buy first we would have to sell”
“Are you saying they don’t have money?”
The whole group seems to suddenly lose interest in both of them. However Luke was already prepared for this and continued talking as if he didn’t realize anything.
“Yes, it is true, we do not have a single dime on us. Do you think my boss would let me travel with money in my pockets to an unknown place?”
The leader’s curiosity was piqued once again
“Okay, let’s see what you got”
Bob gestures to Luke, who opens the vegetable fiber sack one by one taking out various objects, pieces of various skins, vegetable fiber rope, a bag of mochi, another of croquettes, a piece of polished wood from each tree that they have been able to cut down in the forest, dehydrated fish, meat and some trinkets.
“These are products from our village, if you are interested in any of them, we could reach an agreement, as long as you have the means to invest of course.”
The leader carefully observes the various products in front of him and begins to separate those that interest him from the others that don’t.
“Fish is quite common in this place, after all we live near the river, we have better quality rope than this and we have no shortage of wood. On the other hand, the pelts and the meat do interest me, what is found in those bags?”
In his mind, Bob is surprised that Ryu guessed the result beforehand, even though it wasn’t luck. Ryu and Ayumi thoroughly discussed the topic of trading before deciding which items to display, how to display them, and what price to ask. As they did not have the slightest knowledge of the currencies of this world or the price of things, the first thing is to check the value of the various services that they can acquire. That’s why they only provided enough for them to get by and some product samples. Bob’s job is just around to make sure no one steals from them, but Luke’s job is much more complicated.
Luke has to make sure he gets a good price, and negotiating blind is a pretty tough task.
“I see that you are interested in our food, as far as I know, it cannot be found anywhere else”
The last part is not a lie since Luke actually does not know other places.
“Interesting, can I try it?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t offer free food to everyone who is interested or else I’d run out of merchandise before I make the first deal” Luke says with a heartless smile
“you’re right kid, at first I took you for an arrogant dumb kid, but you actually have a good head on your shoulders. Well, how about this, since the drinks are on me this time you will provide the snacks”
“You cannot compare the cheap beer of this place with the incredible quality of our products”
“that’s correct, because I have not yet tried them”
He shrugs, certain that Luke will fall to his provocation. But Luke’s smile remains unblinking.
“First of all I would like to know if there is an inn and how much it costs for one night. I need at least the necessary money for a two-day stay, otherwise, even if we reach an agreement, I could not fulfill it even if I wanted to, since we would be forced to go back”
“why two days?”
“Because more people from my village will come, of course”
“Are they escaping the winter?”
“I am not at liberty to discuss those details”
“Well, at this inn they will charge you five copper coins for bed and board per day. In the brothel, though the price is higher, service is much better. Here Rina will do nothing but ignore you if you flirt with her, and in the worst case she could kick you out”
“In that case, since you are willing to buy meat, how much do you think will be enough to cover twenty copper coins?”
Says Luke ignoring his last remark. Bob took it as his queue and placed another bag in front of the gang’s leader. who, after inspecting the quality of the meat, sets aside a lot indicating that this will be enough.
“Don’t forget this is the beginning of what could be a lasting business relationship, you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot, do you?”
Luke sneers. Upon hearing this, the gang’s leader takes a smaller portion for himself while faking a cough.
“Excellent, it will be a pleasure doing business with you. I’m Luke by the way”
“I’m Rudd Ironwood”
They both shake hands in a sincere gesture and finally drink the beer that had been served on the table for some time.
“Ahhh! It’s so good, Hiraku would surely kill for a drink, why the long face Luke?”
Bob says while patting him on the back using a bit too much force
“I’ve never had beer before, it’s...disappointing”
“Don’t be a spoilsport and drink some more, it’s a special occasion after all, for a long and prosperous business relationship!”
They all exclaim in unison and take a long drink. Rudd wipes his mouth on his sleeve and slams the mug down on the table.
“Isn’t it time we tried the snacks you brought? Uh?”
Luke resigns himself and opens the bag in the middle of the table for everyone to taste. Without the slightest hint of manners, the four miners take out handfuls of food at a time and chew it loudly.
“This is great! I have never eaten anything so good!”
The skinnier miner says happily, until his gaze meets Rudd’s, then he falls silent. Although they all agreed with their partner’s opinion, they couldn’t be so open about it or else they would have a hard time reaching a lucrative agreement.
“Yeah, I guess it’s not bad,”
Rudd says casually, but this interaction didn’t go unnoticed by Luke, who starts to smirk.
“I’m glad you liked it, it’s actually very rare. The first thing you tasted is called Mochi, it’s a first class delicacy, not so much for its sweet taste as for its smooth texture. On the other hand, the croquettes are prepared with great care by an expert, I cannot reveal the ingredients but I can assure you of their high quality”
Rudd fearing that he has lost his advantage in the negotiation ponders for a while and then replies
“Its such a pity that in a mining town like this there are no rich people willing to pay large sums of money for such exquisite food, even if they want to do business it will be difficult”
Luke cheers inwardly as Rudd seems to have fallen into his trap
“oh this? Although mochi can be considered a dessert, croquettes are actually preserved food. We don’t know its duration but so far we have never seen it go bad. Its just an everyday food”
As much as the miners wanted to hide their astonishment, their faces immediately gave them away
“So, this... how much is it worth?”
“We don’t know, it’s a secret that has been developed for a long time in our village and to this day it has never been traded before. But, we might consider your offer as long as it accommodate the market”
“Well, I can’t actually offer much right now”
Rudd gulps down his beer and stands.
“we can discuss matters tomorrow at noon, it’s been nice meeting you two, so we’ll be taking our leave now”
“aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Oh right, right!”
Rudd takes some copper coins and places them on the table. As soon as Luke and Bob are left alone they examine the coins.
“Yeah! we did it!”
“Be quiet Bob, remember our mission. But everything went great”
“You seem distracted Luke, what is it?”
“can’t you see that redhead beauty over there?”
“uhm, yes, she’s pretty, so what?”
“I’ll go talk to her, wait in here”
Luke goes straight to the bar as soon as he notices the girl is idle.
“Good morning miss”
“Good day sir, how can i help you?”
“me and my friends are travelers, we just got here and we don’t know much about this town, do you mind showing me around?”
“This is a tavern, if you want beer I’ll serve you beer, if you want cider I’ll serve you cider, if you want to die then keep flirting”
Luke hesitates for a second then goes back to his table, the crowd doesn’t miss this and start mocking him loudly.
“now it’s my turn”
Says Bob as he walks straight to the barmaid.
“Good morning miss”
“Good day sir”
“Please excuse my friend, he didn’t mean to bother you”
“no problem sir, anything I can help you with?”
“yes actually, what kind of services do you provide?”
The girl remains unfazed and was just about to say something similar to what she said to luke but Bob keeps talking.
“You see, we’re very tired and need a place to rest. Also, I’d appreciate it if you tell us the name of this town”
“Oh, excuse me sir I thought... nevermind. it’s 3 copper per day, 5 copper if you want food too”
“We need to stay two days so 12 copper is it?”
“That’s correct sir”
Says the barmaid, bowing lightly towards Bob as soon as she receives the payment. It’s not usual for clients to pay upfront and this made her very happy. Ever since she bought the tavern she’s been regretting it.
What seemed to be a very lucrative line of work, turned out to be much more work than its worth. Even more after the brothel started to allow men to stay in the whole night. This was actually a confabulation between the tavern’s previous owner and the brothel’s madame, who wanted to scam Rina out of some money and forcing her to marry. Now she’s every passing day more and more indebted.
“Please call me Bob by the way, I don’t feel comfortable being called sir”
she replies smiling. Luke who’s been watching the interaction between them couldn’t believe his eyes. Not only she bowed to Bob but also kept smiling the whole time, leaving Luke flabbergasted. Also, nobody mocked Bob and he just went back and sat next to him.
“that’s how it’s done”
“wait are you saying...”
“no, I’m just messing with you, i asked her for two rooms”
Luke sighed in relief when he heard that, otherwise his self esteem would have been crushed mercilessly.
They stayed at the tavern for a while trying to eavesdrop on anything that could be useful, but it proved to be useless. Most of what they could hear was just chit chat and comments about the two travelers that dared come mid winter.
Judging by everyone’s words it was actually pretty rare to receive travelers this time of the year and that’s why everyone was so surprised to see them arrive when they did. They also learned why there was no one outside in the streets, it was because its cold.
They both felt stupid when they realized how obvious it was.
At night they went to their rooms, they were comfortable enough and each had just a bed, a night stand a chair and a cloth hanger. The bed, though, was a real soft bed. It wasn’t a straw bed, but a real soft bed with sheets and blankets, the pillows were filled with soft feathers.
It was the first real night sleep Bob had ever since he came into this world.
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