Merchant King

14 – A Shady Offer

Ice cream was selling like…well, ice cream on a hot day to people who’d never had it before. Hadiin and Marian both worked the counter, turning ice cream cones into silver coins as fast as they could.

Alessabell and Dalton returned an hour after opening for business. She joined Marian at the stall while Dalton found himself a wooden club and hovered around the wagon full of ice cream and profits, giving a dangerous look to anyone who approached too closely. 

This freed up Hadiin to run to the Merchants Guild and arrange for the auction. 

The woman at the Services counter was thrilled to assist him. “Of course, sir! Four thirty? We’ll have a raised platform set up for you. Might I also take the time to contact a few parties who might be interested in bidding?”

He smiled. “That would be fantastic. The more, the merrier.” He ran back to the stall and replaced Alessabell, who went to look for for food, as none of them had had lunch. Hadiin felt himself flagging hard without fuel on top of the lack of sleep. Still, he was having fun. It was a bright and sunny day and he was giving out treats and making people happy. And some customers could just put a smile on his face. 

A little girl had been waiting in line with her three friends. They were all about five years old. Only the top of her hair reached the table. She reached up, as far as she could, and dropped four dirty, sweaty silver coins on the table top. Then she looked up with huge, round eyes and spoke very politely and seriously. “Four screams pwease.”

He looked down at the four coins, then at the four quiet, earnest and absolutely adorable children gazing up at him in shy hope of receiving these amazing sweets they’d no doubt heard so much about. 

The ones being sold for four silver—each. 

The little girl stood there, fingers on the table, patiently blinking up at him. The boy immediately behind her looked worried they’d be turned away and that it would be the worst thing he could possibly imagine.

He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. 

Marian, standing next to him, snorted and giggled, unable to contain herself. “Oh gosh. That’s the cutest thing ever!”

Hadiin bowed his head to the little girl. “What flavours would you like?”

The girl froze and looked scared. She obviously had no idea there were different flavours or what to pick. 

He couldn’t help but chuckle. He winked at her. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” He looked at all four mini customers. “Think you kids can share?”

They obediently nodded like the good little children they were. 

Hadiin heaped a huge serving of apple ice cream onto a waffle cone, about three times what he normally gave out, then handed it over the counter. “This one is apple.”

Eyes opened wide and little jaws dropped. A boy in overalls and a red shirt clumsily stepped forward and took the dessert with reverence, as if terrified of dropping it. 

Hadiin gave them each a similar cone for pear, mint and rose, the last to the girl. “Now, each one is different. So make sure you all share with each other, ok? And don’t run. Find some place out of the way to sit down and eat it right away.”

Four little heads nodded in awe and then the children very slowly walked away, giving everyone else a wide berth. 

Hadiin’s next customer strode up. He looked about forty, was decently dressed, and had ink stains on his hands. “So…it’s one silver now, right?” He slid a single coin onto the table. 

Hadiin gave him a flat look. “Sure. If you can match their level of adorable innocence and tell me that the memory of this ice cream is going to stay with you for life.”

The man hesitated, then his shoulders slumped. He handed over three more silver and accepted a regular ice cream cone. 

Nearing their third hour of sales, Hadiin looked up after putting yet four more silver into a used bucket. 

A large, self-confident man stood in front of him. He had the look of someone formerly athletic, but who had developed a swelling beer belly due to living life a little too well recently. He was middle aged, his blond hair professionally styled, and he wore a fine suit of blue and tan clothes that no doubt cost more than anyone else in line could ever afford. He had gold rings on multiple fingers and a longsword at his side with a ruby in the pommel. Three men standing around and behind him could only be described as thugs, though definitely of the higher-quality kind one would officially label ‘personal guards’.

“Afternoon, sir. My name is Anton Weesely.” He had a knowing smile, a gravelly voice, and his eyes appreciatively studied the pot of silver sitting between Hadiin and Marian before roaming over the cleavage Marian was adept at flashing each time she bent when handing over a cone, and then coming to rest on Hadiin, studying him. 

Hadiin nodded. “Hi. What flavour?”

“Oh I’m not here to try one.” He waved the idea away as if it was ridiculous. “I don’t like sweets.”

“Then, how can I help you?”

“I’m here to buy the recipe.” He stated this as if it were a certain fact, a matter of course, not in any way a negotiation. 

Hadiin felt a bit riled at the man’s rude assumption but remained polite. “Ah, of course. We’re holding an auction today at four thirty. The winner will get the recipe and exclusive sales for two weeks starting tomorrow. And just before that, at four, we’ll be selling the recipe to anyone who wants it, to be delivered after the exclusive period ends.”

Anton smirked. “I don’t think you understand. I’m here to buy the recipe now, with permanent excusivity. I have no interest in going through an auction or sharing the recipe with anyone else. A hundred gold.” He waved one of the thugs forward. “More than fair.”

The personal guard, dressed in black leather armor, deposited two hefty bags of coins on the stall table. 

Those in the line and crowd behind him gasped at the sum. Even Marian lurched and almost dropped the cone she was giving out. 

But Hadiin studied the man in front of him without answering right away. From what he could see, this Weesely fellow was arrogant and entitled and rich. A noble? A well-to-do merchant? He seemed to be used to getting whatever he wanted and apparently bullying was evidently one of his primary business strategies. No doubt backed up by the three stone-faced guards around him and the swords everyone was carrying.

Now, a hundred gold was a lot of money. And if Hadiin did try to haggle at this point, the buyer might give in and go as high as a hundred and fifty, as long as Hadiin didn’t press him too hard and allowed Weesely to feel dominant. Because that was what tactics like this were about: power. The arrogant prick wanted it and he wanted to take it from others. 

Hadiin, on the other hand, saw himself as a very different kind of man, a different kind of merchant altogether. Was he wiling to be a bit unscrupulous at times? Like secretly using slime as an ingredient, or leaving a spy tied up in the woods and at the mercy of monsters? Sure. 

But Hadiin prided himself on two things: being a gentleman, and having style. If nothing else, his magnificent mustache was proof of the latter. And everything about Weesely rubbed him the wrong way. 

Maybe it was instinctive. Maybe he didn’t like feeling threatened as he did business. 

Maybe he thought that if someone was willing to butt in an hour before the recipe went on sale and throw out a big number in public like that, then maybe it meant that they believed the recipe was worth a lot more than one hundred gold. Indeed, by stating the value out loud in public, for all to hear, and for all to pass on ahead of the auction, Weesely was in fact declaring a value, that the recipe was worth at least that amount. So, assuming there were other financially able buyers out there, Hadiin could expect more at auction than he’d get right now. 

So it was with financial ambition and gentlemanly disdain that he turned the offer down. “I’m sorry. I’m committed to the sale and the auction. You’ll have to try your luck there.”

Weesely looked surprised and a bit offended. “You’d turn down a hundred gold, just like that?”

“I believe I just did,” he answered calmly, though his tone was not reflected in the hurried pace his heart was beating. He ignored the way Marian kicked him and tried to get his attention. 

Weesely’s eyes narrowed and his lips twisted in a sly smile. “Perhaps you’re new in town. You don’t know who I am?” 

“I am new. And no, I’ve never heard of you.” Hadiin shrugged. “If you could step to the side, please, you’re holding up these good people who are looking to buy a cone.”

A hint of frown creased the other man’s brows and he didn’t budge. “A hundred and twenty five gold. That’s rather generous.”

A jump of twenty five gold just like that? Interesting. “I think the fairest thing to do is to have an auction. It’s already booked. The Merchants Guild and a lot of other interested buyers are expecting us. I’d hate to disappoint everyone.”

All amusement vanished. A hand dropped to the hilt of the sword at his waist and the ruby pommel glinted. “I rather think you should be a little more wary of disappointing me.”

The thugs at his side edged forward. 

A circle of silence spread out like ripples in a pond, quieting those in line and even beyond. More people stopped their shopping or selling in Market Street and turned to give the scene their attention. 

Hadiin stared at him for a long second, and then laughed. “Are you serious? Are you some two-bit gangster or something? This is hilarious.” He laughed some more and then looked around. “Is this a prank? Are you guys actors or something?”

The muscles in Weesley’s jaw flexed and he gave an involuntary and nasty smile. “Are you mocking me?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Hadiin saw Dalton, club in hand, back up a step. He couldn’t blame the man. It was one thing discouraging casual theft of the coins in the wagon, and another going up against pros with real weapons. Alessabell spotted someone and ran off with intent and Hadiin followed the direction she was running with his eyes and spotted a pair of town guards ambling along. 

He sighed and spread his hands in front of Weesely, trying to master his nerves. “Look, I’m the only one who knows how to make this stuff,” he lied, hoping to protect the others. “And I’m not scared of you. You can either drag me off in front of all these witnesses and torture me for the recipe, or just show up at the auction in an hour and buy it fair and square like anyone else.” Actually, the not being scared part was also a lie. Which was probably why he was absolutely failing to utilize his maxed-out Charisma stats and making a mess of things here. 

Weesely stared him in the eye a good half minute. Then he relented. “I used to be an adventurer. Well known in these parts. It’s how I got my start. So I can respect a show of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. This time.” He admired Marian’s body once more and then turned on his heel and pushed his way through the crowd. 

Hadiin relaxed in relief.

One of the thugs retrieved the bags of coin before following.

Marian grabbed him by the arm and hauled him back from the stall so that she could quietly hiss in his ear. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What?”

“You turned down a hundred gold?”

“Yes. Even he’s willing to offer that much now, we’ll probably get more at auction.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Then I made a mistake.”

“Not just one.” Her nails dug into his arm. “I agreed to help you and to be the muscle. But that does not mean I’m going up against guys like him and his personal army!”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that.”

“You’d better hope not. Or you’re going to be on your own.” She released him and spun back to the counter. She flashed a smile to the customers waiting. “Who’s next?”

Hadiin needed a couple of moments to recollect himself. He’d become a merchant to live the easy life. Where’d all this danger come from?

He watched Marian serving ice cream. He’d never seen her this angry. He just hoped that he could ride things out and that everything would go as wished for. 

They had so much ice cream made that, for the last hour, Hadiin recruited Alessabell to help give it out as well. He even sent Dalton with a bucket of mint to the gate as a thank you to the guards for this morning. And a second bucket to the Merchants Guild to give out to their staff. It couldn’t hurt to try to earn a little goodwill. Even still, they barely sold the last of their ice cream before the four o’clock deadline. 

Staff from the Guild ran across the street and it took two trips to carry all the silver coins to the bank. They weren’t thrilled that the coins were sticky from being in the used ice cream containers, but a quick spell took care of that. Magic was handy that way. 

Just after four, Hadiin climbed on a low stage in the section of the Guild foyer used by bulk sellers. About a hundred people crowded around the little platform, many no doubt just here to watch, but hopefully buyers and bidders as well. He raised his hand for attention. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you so much for coming. As you are all no doubt aware, we are here today to give you the secret to our wonderfully delicious new invention: ice cream.”

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