During the next few days Chu roamed around the lodge giving the impression of a bored little boy. This was only the opinions of the guards and the other lodgers. Unknown to them, his mind was working like a well oiled machine.
The lodge was relatively vacant. Chu did notice one of those merchants who Griz was speaking to the other day. If he didn’t know better he would have thought the poor fellow was schizophrenic. Every day the guy would run out the Lodge compound and return muttering and cursing to himself. It did provide some form of entertainment in this dull place.
He was hoping that everything went well and that the others were ok. The girls didn’t come to visit him as he had instructed them to stay in his parent’s home. Last thing he wanted was any unexpected trouble.
Every day his old man brought across a hot meal prepared by his mother. That served as his means of relaying any message to the others.
Chu couldn’t help but curse Griz silently. The man had visited on the evening on his return from the barn. Griz sang the tune that he was allowing him to lodge for the entire winter for free. It was only appropriate however, that Chu pay him for the meals provided.
Griz went on to say he was sure Chu was not a pinch-penny as to expect the lodge to provide a free meal on top of such generosity. Chu didn’t forget to remind him that this was all his idea, but it was like reasoning with a stone.
It was a cold afternoon when he saw Ming at the entrance speaking with the guard. On seeing him the boy waved and entered when the guard allowed him to pass. Ming had run the trip of bringing him the food. They talked and laughed for a moment and then returned to the room for the meal.
Soon as the door closed Chu pulled the boy to the middle of the room. They sat down while he covered them both with the blanket. If anyone had seen them it was obvious that they had entered the room to have a meal. Still he felt it prudent to take no chances.
The conversation was held in a whisper under the sheet. Even if one was listening all they could hear or see were muffled voices under a gray cover. Unless Griz had someone like Lucy or Simon who had awakened with some special hearing capabilities, they were safe.
As for Simon, Chu was certain he never read anything about the boar demon lifestones giving anything other than some strength related ability.
“How did it go?”
“We did as you said and hid the rest of the stuff in the cellar. The wolf…”
Chu slapped him
“Package, I told you its package when you talk about it okay. Now go on.”
Ming rubbed his head
“The package was placed in the passageway and we blocked it on the cellar side, we double wrapped it in canvas for protection. It was hard work for us, but the three of us did it in a day. It will remain frozen until winter is over. As for the meat Clod wrapped them up in cloth and hung them up inside a canvas bag. He said the frost won’t get to it and it should last for some time.”
“Yea, it took us that long because Clod insisted to scatter some of those dried herbs around the barn and cellar entrance, he did it in the passageway also. We placed some old lumber haphazard around it and the partially dismantled the oven on the trapdoor entrance. Clod is certain that even if you walk around with dogs they can’t smell anything below.”
Chu was relieved on this good news. No matter if anyone traced the wolf demon back to the barn, the trail would stop there. If those herbs could confuse the wolf demon then it should be able to block anything that tracked with smell.
“Other than that we did everything according to plan. Lucy and Clod are at your house and everyone is fine. Clod and your old man will deliver the food. Its much safer with the two of them. Your mother chatted with the neighbors that she decided to keep some dogs to avoid suspicion from the cubs. She would collect scraps from the garrison and inn to raise them.”
Chu nodded. That was smart thinking on the part of his mother. Any noises by the cubs would be passed on as a tantrum made by dogs. If Dyna and the others were careful in keeping the cubs content, then it should not be a problem.
That would only be until some of the greedy villagers might come knocking for free meat. Chu had long noted that there were no stray animals roaming freely in this village. No owner meant it was the silent consent for ‘free for all’.
Luckily the house was located in a quiet path away from the main road that ran from the north gate entrance to the south. The Trading post lodge and general store was located near the south gate. Small service shops and tradesmen conducted business along this road until close to the north gate. The garrison headquarters and barracks occupied that area.
As a frontier village it was designed to be able to provide some form of defense from attacks. It was also made to be able to accommodate the farmers and other traders who lived in the outlying areas in times of war.
Chu was satisfied in not having to worry about the small details.
“And the other thing?”
Ming grinned sheepishly
“We left the barn five days after. We only took so long since you said to give Lucy time to recover. We spent that time in making the barn look like it was abandoned. Before we left Clod even removed the front doors to make it even more uncomfortable. I separated from the others just before the village and made my way to the slums.”
“Did you get it done?”
“It was just like I said before. The younger men were all shacked together with old man Bai. They had broken down some of the old folks shacks and had it piled up near theirs for firewood. Most of the old people are now forced to live in the shacks closer to the forest. I got Old woman May to cause a ruckus between the residents and the ruffians. I used that to sneak in and complete the task.”
Chu couldn’t believe that the first namesake of his was actually a bandit or stooge in this world. Imagine the first person you ever met carrying your name was a crook.
“How in the world could you get all those old people to come out in the height of winter?”
“How else, I paid them with ten freshly made rock bread. I smuggled it in afterwards for them, a couple at a time. Didn’t you say a person will do anything for food?”
Chu could only shake his head in silence. Ming’s reliability was excellent but his reasonings were seriously misconstrued.
“Its money. I said a person will do anything for money. Stop going around misquoting people.”
Chu didn’t have to wait long to witness something akin to a gold rush.
The Trading Post convoy came first in the middle of the week after a huge snowstorm. Fifteen sleighs filled with goods and equipment. From garrison commander to slum dweller, everyone was shocked in the village. No one expected the Trading post company to risk such a venture. More amazing was the fact that they only traveled across the roads with just five guards.
This merchant company had balls and was cheap to boot.
Griz hustled to the gate to meet the convoy. Chu and Ming tagged along like two school children on their first outing. An old man heavily cloaked stepped gingerly down from the first sleigh. When he removed his scarf and hood, Griz immediately stepped forward and greeted him.
“Overseer Pi, I did not expect someone of your standing to accompany the convoy?”
The old man shook his frozen beard and laughed
“Haha. When we received your letter the Master and I were nearly convinced you had gone mad. It was your other letter that piqued our interest in this venture. When three reputable merchants decide to pool nearly a third of their wealth together, it caused us to take notice.
We came to the conclusion that the first letter was based on something you had to be sure about. If the Master didn’t have to remain in Karst he would have made the trip himself. I had some doubts but as we got closer to the village it was dispelled. On your behalf the Master has increased the amount of goods you requested. I think you will be seen in a very favorable light once winter is over.”
Griz bowed and was ecstatic on the news.
Chu wryly smiled as he looked at the schizophrenic man laughing like a maniac while running around the convoy. Griz seemed to have cajoled the two merchants into taking the plunge with him. No wonder that man was mad with worry for the past few days.
Like the old man said, if it wasn’t for three merchants requesting goods on their own along with the Trading post, the deal probably have not been done. It also spoke volumes as to the capabilities of these Managers. They were able to gain insight and deduce the correct reasoning behind Griz’s two letters.
It was a very formidable existence which could gather this amount of supplies and ship it on a whim so fast. Chu was beginning to think that he had to make a trek into town to experience the Empire. It was like back on earth, life in the city was a gauge on how advanced the country was.
This rough-neck living in the boonies was not an educational friendly environment suited for growing up kids. He seemed to have forgotten that he was possibly the only twelve-year-old caretaker existing in the Empire.
“Alright let’s get out of this cold. Master Griz, I look forward to working with you.”
Overseer Pi gave a slight bow and spoke to Griz. The latter nodded and under covetous eyes the gates were opened for the convoy to enter the village. It didn’t take long before the Trading post lodge and stockroom bustled with activity.
Chu on the other hand remained in his room away from the hustle. He didn’t want anyone tripping over him in this busy place. Keeping a low profile was what he planed to do in the first place.
As for talking with Griz, the man would find him eventually for discussion. Right now he didn’t want to affect his time in the limelight.
Two days after, Chu was sitting on a chair in a small room. Griz was on the opposite side sipping tea. Ming and Simon were standing close to the brazier, trading elaborate war stories.
“Well we are finally done with the tally of the goods. If things go well this will be a slightly profitable venture. Hopefully we won’t have to stand a loss.”
Griz sighed and placed down his cup continuing
“It won’t raise my pay since I work for the Trading post company. That little information was good to know. Since we agreed on you staying here for the winter, I think I will keep my word as an honest merchant. Consider it my payment for this little help. How about I throw in a few silvers in the mix.”
Griz expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the boy. He sipped his tea before it became warm.
“Please Griz, you have done so much for us already. I could not possibly bear the thought of asking for more. Any little crumb that you are willing to spare us will be highly appreciated.”
Chu waved his hands as he displayed the best of smiles.
The sarcasm was so thick it could be cut with a knife.
“Brat what do you really want?”
“You really think I am some idiot for the slums huh? Trying to fool me with some silvers. Don’t think I didn’t hear the talk about how you and two other merchants pooled money for goods. A third of your trade is going to net some fine profits in the coming days. I wonder if you will simply abandon us little children when you move on to bigger pastures.”
Griz choked on his tea. This boy’s ears were too sharp and his brain too quick.
Truth of the matter was that if they were successful in the oncoming trade, they were looking at near triple their investments. With the Trading post company as a backing they were most likely guaranteed to be the only Merchants within the village. A third of a merchant family investment was nothing to scoff about.
“What do you want then. If the trade becomes as profitable as I expect, then most likely I am going to leave this place at the end of winter. You want me hire you as a servant?”
“Heck no, I am not aiming for such a high position. How am I going to be able to strike fresh deals in that position.”
Griz glared at the boy sipping his tea. If things went as planned he would secure the Head post by this spring. All he had to do was leave all this behind for a more lucrative post.
Griz was trained to be a man of business. In his mind the boy had outlived his usefulness to him. It was time to move on to a bigger feeding ground. Leaving him with a couple silvers was more than enough to satisfy his conscience. There was nothing wrong in that thinking.
He was a Merchant, a businessman. Stepping over someone and discarding others was a way of live. In fact right now he didn’t mind booting this kid out from the Trading post. He had already served his usefulness.
Before he could turn his thoughts into actions…
The boy drummed his fingers on the table. Griz had grown accustomed to this characteristic trait. His heart had already started speeding up unconsciously.
“Hey Griz, I have a deal for you.”