Merchant King

15 – Profits and Taxes

More and more people entered the Guild hall and streamed towards the crowd. Weesely and his men were among them. Marian, Alessabell and Dalton quietly stood behind Hadiin, looking nervous. 

Hadiin wasn’t nervous anymore. He was in his element. Though a tingling excitement ran through him, a thrill of anticipation at the money he might make right away, the public speaking portion of the day didn’t phase him. He actually felt some of his confidence return. 

He spoke loudly, over the noise of those around him, drawing them into his words. “There will shortly be an auction for the recipe, including the secret ingredient which is the very key to making ice cream possible.”

“Is it magic?” someone shouted.

“Is it expensive,” another called.

He was prepared for that. He waved over everyone’s heads and a female Guild staff member jogged over from the Services counter and joined him on stage. 

She bowed to the crowd. “Hello, everyone. I’m a member of the Merchants Guild. I have here a truth stone to be used to verify the claims made regarding the recipe.” She held it for all to see. It was a cut gem about the size of the end of one’s thumb. “If the stone lights up red, a lie is detected. If the stone lights up white, truth is told.”

The stone flashed white.

Heads nodded. Everyone was familiar with the concept of truth stones, apparently. Hadiin had only learned of them upon speaking to the Guild about the auction. A fascinating and potentially very troubling device. Not that he had any intention of lying. But he would have to take care in how he phrased things and avoid awkward questions. 

He smiled at the audience, truth stone in the hand of the young, uniformed woman next to him. “No magic is required to make ice cream,” he clearly stated. 

The stone flashed bright white. 

The crowd murmered in surprise.

“All of the ingredients are organic, that is to say they are natural. They are easy to obtain and not expensive at all.”

The stone flashed white again. 

This time, surprise was quickly followed by sounds of excitement. 

“I promise you that any restaurant or cafe could easily make ice cream for themselves. You could even make it at home.”

White flashed again. It was clear, not a flicker of untruth nor half truth. 

Exclamations of excitement washed through the room. Hadiin let them talk for a minute, letting interest build. The staff member with the truth stone bowed and stepped away, returning to the Services counter. 

He waved his hands for silence. “The auction today will be for exclusive access to the recipe. Whomever wins will be able to sell as much ice cream as they can without any competition at all during that period. And that includes from me and my associates.”

Heads bobbed. Things were looking up and up with every statement. Which was how he’d intended it to sound. 

“Ice cream sales have been wild these past two days,” Hadiin continued. “I imagine it will become a staple part of any menu. And there’s more to it than just the flavours we’ve been selling. Why you can make it any flavour you want. And you don’t have to serve it plain, either. Ice cream with cake. Ice cream on pancakes or with fruit. A scoop of it in your tea. Ice cream drizzled in chocolate. Now I know chocolate is expensive, but just imagine how much the nobility and other rich folk would pay for that kind of treat, hmm?”

That got some laughs and wide eyes as people clued in to the possibilities. And the potential profits.

“You know,” Hadiin looked out over the audience and spoke with false wonder, “we served a lot of people here in Belleville the past two days. I can only imagine what would happen if someone with the funding were to take the recipe for ice cream to the big city. Especially if they were the only ones selling it.”

There were a few angry faces and no doubt silent curses from those who had already realized what huge profits such a move would offer, and who would have preferred to bid against people who hadn’t figured out the same. Likewise, there were also looks of epiphany as others finally did realize just what might be possible. All in all, visions of gold danced in everyone’s heads. 

“Before we get to the auction, however, I’d like to offer the recipe for sale right now to anyone who wants it. You see, I know we might sell the recipe for more if we auctioned off a monopoly, but I believe that would be going too far. The truth is, ice cream is such a wonderful creation that we want everyone to be able to enjoy it. So, today, anyone who wants to can buy the recipe for five gold. The recipe will be held here, by the Guild and in two weeks time, after the exclusivity period is over, buyers will be able to pick it up and start making ice cream for themselves.”

“Why would we pay for it if everyone is going to get it eventually?” someone up front asked. 

“Because it could still take weeks or even months for the secret to get out,” he answered, very glad the truth stone wasn’t still next to him. “Maybe you decide to wait for the secret to get out on its own. And during that time, the rival cafe down the street is selling ice cream like it’s going out of style and you’ll have missed out on all those profits.” He’d also planned to hedge his bets with pre-sales in case the auction bombed.

There were grudging sounds of acceptance from more than a few corners. Of course people had been betting on eventually getting the recipe for free. And they would; the secret was too hard to contain. But were they willing to risk losing out on potential revenue? Hadiin was gambling they weren’t. Five gold was a low asking price, a small gamble. He had been willing to bet that some people would want to get in early and pay for the chance. 

The helpful Guild staff member returned with a clipboard and a line formed. Over a dozen people came forward to give their names and hand five gold over to Marian, who’d been leant a cloth bag to hold it. She looked quite pleased as they bag filled up. When the sale was finished, the staff member took the bag directly to the bank to deposit it. 

Hadiin clapped his hands. “Thank you for waiting, everyone. Shall we begin?”

There was silence as no one wanted to be the first to throw a bid out. If they did, it might be too high. Better to wait it out and start the process as low as possible. 

He had no patience for that. Nor did he want the recipe going for too little. “Shy, are we?” He fake laughed. “Well, I’ll get things going then. For those of you who haven’t heard, someone already tried to buy the recipe this afternoon. They offered one hundred gold. That guy did, as a matter of fact.” He rudely pointed at Weesely, calculating that the man was known to the people here and that his earlier valuization would hold weight here.

A ripple ran through the crowd. Some were shocked, others annoyed, a few not surprised. 

Hadiin noticed the tax collector from the previous day smoothly join Marian and the others. The man watched the crowd through his round-rimmed glasses, full of interest, hands clasped neatly behind his back.

“Actually,” Marian helpfully spoke up, “when we turned them down, they immediately jumped to a hundred and twenty five.” Apparently she’d regained her courage as well. 

“Thank you, Marian. So, shall we start things off with a hundred and twenty five?”

A hand rose. “I’ll bid that.”

“One fifty!”

“One sixty!”

“Two hundred!” Weesely shouted from the back. When heads turned his way, his eyes cut back at them, daring anyone to bid higher. 

The tax collector grinned like a shark. 

No further bids came. More than a few people looked intimidated by Weesley. 

Hadiin wasn’t having that. Weesely might be dangerous, but he was also stopping the bidding process from rising. He pointed at the man. “Sorry, you won’t be allowed to bid. Everyone, please ignore that man.”

“What?” Weesely looked up in angry surprise. “You can’t do that!”

“Yes, I can,” he stated matter-of-factly. “It’s my recipe and I can do whatever I want.” 

A few people looked up at him like he was mad to upset the former adventurer-turned-what? Gangster merchant?

It was important that he maintain a facade of being entirely unaffected by the other man and the silent threat of vilence. If he evinced courage, it would give others in the crowd the same. He smirked. “I don’t know how things work around here, but I think commerce is best conducted without the threat of stabbings being involved, how about you?”

A few dared to laugh at that.

His charisma was proving effective. He pushed it. “Come now. Serious buyers, let’s hear from you. Who wants to exclusively own the hottest product in the market and make a lot of money? And enjoy the fact that that guy isn’t doing the same?” he joked, nodding in Weesely’s direction without looking that way.

This time, the laughter was widespread. 

Weesely looked ready to explode. A vein pulsed at his temple. 

“I’ll bid two hundred and one!” a man called. And more laughter erupted as the bidder bested Weesely.

“Two fifty!” a woman called out. 

“Three!”

“Four!”

“Five hundred gold!” 

Hadiin could hardly contain his joy. What an astronomical sum!

Marian stood dumbfounded, her mouth hanging open. 

Alessabell was trying to do sums in her head and on her fingers. “Two per… times five… That’s…” She whirled to her husband. “Ten gold!” she quietly screeched and began jumping up and down in her green dress. 

Dalton silently laughed and threw an arm around his wife in disbelief at how much their cut would be. It was certainly a lot more than they’d expected to make today when they’d gone to sleep last night.

The tax collector steepled his fingers and looked very pleased. 

Hadiin waited about twenty seconds. “Five hundred. Going once? Twice? Sold!”

There was polite applause and a dignified woman of about fifty in a black and white dress much covered in ruffles, glided forward, snapping a fan open to hide her victorious smile. 

Marian’s brain finally kicked back in and she spun in circles, hands over her mouth, happy as a clam. 

Weesely stood in the back of the crowd, fuming, and glaring daggers at Hadiin. 

He ignored the fool. “Thank you for coming everyone! May you all have a very fine evening!” he called, ending the auction. 

Most people began drifting away, talking amongst themselves about the sale, with plenty of excitement over the final bid.

The buyer, a lesser noble but apparently a greater merchant, who happened to be in town from the city today, looked quite satisfied with herself as she negotiated with the Guild to exchange the funds. She gave one of the clerks a discreet thank you for having been alerted to today’s sale. When it came time to hand over the recipe, staff shooed everyone away so that only the buyer and Hadiin stood in a circle alone. The hand holding the fan had a ring with a stone on it. 

Hadiin had a clipboard in hand with a tiny piece of paper on it. He wrote down the entire recipe and instructions on how to make ice cream. 

From her attitude, she was obviously a mature woman of strength and experience. When she was handed the note and read the list of ingredients, she didn’t bat an eyelash. She did look him in the eye however. “This recipe for ice cream is complete and accurate in every way?”

“Yes, it is.”

The ring on her finger lit up. She nodded but no longer smiled. With a flick of her fingers, she waved a staff member over, folded the note over, and held it to a candle carried by the staff member. The note burned up and only ash fell to the floor. The buyer gave Hadiin one last look, her emotions unreadable, and then turned away. Perhaps she wasn’t happy to learn what the ingredient was. After all, when the public eventually found out, it could turn into a public relations disaster. Or not, you never knew. 

Her own guard stepped into her wake. He was much better dressed and outfitted than Weesely’s goons. Little chance of the thugs going after her for the recipe. 

Marian threw herself at Hadiin and hugged him. “Five hundred!” she squeeled in his ear. 

Before celebrations could get out of hand, however, the tax collector smoothly stepped in. “Well, that was quite a sale, Mister Hadiin. Well done. Now, one must do their duty. Let’s see now.” He pulled out a notebook. “Sales of ice cream today totalled to 17 gold and 32 silver. Presales of the recipe…you sold thirteen at five gold each for a total of 65 gold. And of course, the final auction for 500. That’s a total revenue today of 582 gold and 32 silver. The tax rate is twenty percent, so that will be 116 gold and 46 silver owed to the town.”

“Oh my gosh,” Marian muttered, slightly deflating. 

Alessabell looked stunned. “That’s more tax than we’d earn in ten years working.”

A slow smile crept over Hadiin’s lips and a rising tide of pleasure actually managed to match the excitement he’d gotten from the sale. He’d been waiting for this. “Actually, that’s incorrect,” he told the man in the glasses. 

The tax collecter blinked. “Sorry?”

“Tax on 17 gold and 32 silver is…3 gold and 46 silver, I believe? There’s no tax on the rest.”

“Excuse me?” the man looked genuinely offended. “Are you actually trying to cheat your way out of your taxes, sir?”

Marian looked like she couldn’t decide if she was more worried or hopeful.

The smile widened. “Not at all. It was very clearly explained to me that there is a twenty percent tax on all goods sold. That man over there told me so.” He pointed at a clerk at the Services counter. 

The man flushed a bit as all heads momentarily turned his way, but he nodded in agreement. “That’s correct.”

The tax collector frowned. “Exactly. Which is why you owe—“

Hadiin interrupted him. “On goods sold. I asked specifically about that. But the recipe isn’t a good. It’s intellectual property. And no one’s made any mention of there being a tax on that.”

The tax collector blinked and the sputtered, trying to come up with a reply to deny Hadiin’s arguement. “You’d dare ruin your relationship with the town of Belleville and the Merchants Guild over this?”

“You’d dare ruin your relationship with a brand new merchant who went from 3 gold to almost 600 in two days and who will likely make many times more than that in the future? Much of which will indeed be paid in taxes?”

Surprisingly, it was the clerk who came to Hadiin’s defense. He looked at Hadiin without the silent mockery he’d had the first time they’d met. “The argument is accurate. No tax would apply to the either the pre-sale of the recipes, nor to the auction of the recipe.” The slightest hint of a smile formed. “How…impressive.”

“Nonsense!” the tax collector exclaimed indignantly. “I’ll use my audit skill and prove…” Whatever his skill had done once triggered, it evidently, wasn’t providing the answer the man had hoped for. He slumped and scowled. 

Marian screamed with delight and hugged Hadiin again, even harder this time. “We’re rich!” She looked up at him with far more respect than she ever had before. 

He felt rather proud at at that. And more than a little pleased. The money was an excellent win, but seeing that look on her face… He blushed a little. “Yes, Marian, we are. Or at least, at this rate, we will be.”

She threw back her head and laughed, not letting go of him. 

He rather enjoyably hugged her back.

💰

They paid the couple next. Alessabell and Dalton had earned two gold for renting out their kitchen for a few hours and then spending the day helping. They’d earned ten from the action and one gold and thirty silver from the pre-sales. Staring at the thirteen gold sitting in his palms, the manual labourer, who likely earned mere silver a day, was stupified. “I’ve never held so much gold at once in my life,” he murmered. 

Alessabell’s eyes sparkled. “This will be life changing.”

Hadiin couldn’t resist. He motioned for Alessabell to hold out her hands and, when she’d done so, he deposited another ten gold into her hands. “He shouldn’t be the only one standing around holding that kind of money, should he?”

She looked up, aghast and yet thankful. “You—? Are you…?”

“A gift.” He looked seriously at them both. “And, honestly, a bit of guilt money. I may have told people that I was the only one who knew the recipe. But who knows what others will believe? They may come around asking questions. It might be best if the two of you went on a second honeymoon for a month. By then the secret should be out.”

“We never went on a first!” Alessabell giggled. 

Over the moon with Hadiin’s generosity, they expressed their thanks many times and then finally hurried off to deposit their good fortune. 

Hadiin put his arm around Marian’s waist. And, to his relief, she didn’t pull away at the intimate contact, allowing their hips to touch. Which was good. Because he had plans for how to celebrate. “So? The best dinner we can find and rooms at the most expensive inn in town?” He winked and twirled his mustache. 

She laughed and agreed. 

At dinner, they feasted. And they drank. A lot. And when they eventually stumbled up to their room (Hadiin had secretly booked only one), Hadiin’s hands were all over the young woman’s voluptuous body and her protests were very weak amidst her laughter and excitement. 

With rosy cheeks, she let him lead her to the bed and then saw what awaited there. She gasped. “Look at all that gold!”

Hadiin had had inn staff cover the bed with a little more than two hundred and fifty gold coins. “Your share, my dear. Now, didn’t you say that you wanted to swim in gold?”

“Yes!” She dove in, digging her arms into the coins and rubbing her whole body against them. And when Hadiin helpfully offered to remove her clothes so that she could feel the coins on her skin all over her body, she did not object at all. And when he got naked too and fucked her on top of a small fortune, many pleasant orgasms followed. 

💰

Everything went very well for them both all evening long. 

It wasn’t until the middle of the night when everything changed. 

And they found themselves laying on the floor of their room, along with a stranger, all three of them bloody and near death—the gold gone. 

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