At around noon in the village, a small figure dressed in a bright red robe made her way to the Trading Post. She fidgeted for some time outside the General Store until she gathered her courage and dashed inside.
It was ironic that she did this just before the guards decided to question her. They had become overly suspicious of this fully cloaked stranger who was simply loitering around.
Inside, the store was empty save for the assistants who were restocking the shelves or the others scribing on the account books. Part of the reason for her loitering on the outside was because she was waiting for a customer to leave.
Most of the Trades were handled by the Shop-Bar-Meat facility outside of the south gate. Very few transactions took place in here nowadays except for locals coming to restock supplies.
This place had turned into more of an accounting office. Calculating the sums owed by the Military and distributing the profits to the lucky merchants that happened to invest.
One said merchant, a Mr Kim was rumored to have broken down in tears and cried in the snow just last week. His profits were rumored to be equivalent to nearly half of his families yearly income. For an old merchant family that was a staggering amount indeed.
The young girl moved nervously to the counter. A young man in his twenties sat there with a calculating look over one of the large ledgers. He had a quill pen in his hand that gave him the air of a sophisticated scholar.
“Ex…excuse me sir…”
As a firm contender for the now vacant position of Master at this Trading post, John was viewed as one of Griz protégé. Although he lacked certain social qualities, he was the best for the job. His short comings could be made up by accumulating experience over time.
For the ones in the know, this was an opportune time to shower some praises and presents. Later on the new Master would at least be kind in his dealings with them. From the lowest villager to the garrison commander, he was invited to chat and given gifts after work.
Assistant John’s head had literally swollen to twice its size. He had even started for the last few days to assume the airs and demeanor of a Young Master. To the other workers in the shop he was already an unreachable figure of power.
‘He was the Trading Post representative for this village!’
Now in front of him stood a young girl nervous and shaking. The other assistants glanced and could only imagine the outcome of this person. Surely after the furious talking down this girl could only retreat in shame.
Not to mention if she was good-looking under that wrapped scarf. Rumors had it that John had a scandalous reputation concerning young girls. It was said that he even tried to rope in the current Master in his vices.
“Say what you need, stop acting like somebody is going to eat you.”
To the gruff voice from the young man the girl seem to pluck up some courage. She removed the scarf from her head. What greeted the onlookers was a genuinely pretty face with long cascading black hair toppling down.
The rest of the clerks shook their heads. There was only one outcome for a gem like this in the village. There were too many men with ill intentions in this outlying village. Providing she was not already tarnished before during this rough Winter.
“My brother sent me with a message for the Trading Post Master.”
“Speak then, I am like the Master here. Who is he and what does he want my help in.”
Miki tilted her head and looked at the man. The few times she ventured here was to collect those clothes rags for the girls to sew. The Master here was to her an unreachable entity, yet the small boy she knew treated him like the average person.
“Amm… my brother’s name is Chu and he said this message is for a Mr. Griz only. He stressed it is IMPORTANT like life and death. If Mr Griz is not here then I can only return and…”
“WAIT! WHO is your brother?”
Assistant John toppled of his stood and dropped the quill he was using to write. He saw the girl back away and immediately fixed his clothes and restrained his voice. The shout had obviously scared the girl. Not to mention caused the other workers to focus their attention in his direction.
Under the shock of the other clerks Assistant John started to speak as if he was another person. The clerks who knew him for a long time could only swear he was talking to Griz.
“Please, I am so sorry for that momentary outburst. Forgive me for being so rude to a child like yourself. Please, please have a seat and repeat what you want done.”
Miki was shocked by the man’s change of tone. It was like cold Winter shedding its coat for warm Summer.
“Amm…yes like I said, my brother Chu sent me with a message for Mr Griz personally. Time is of the utmost importance. He said something about it was money or something…”
“AHHH!…sorry, sorry. Yes, time is money. Yes only words like that would fall off that bastard’s….I mean that person’s mouth.”
John glanced at the girl hoping she wasn’t paying attention to his words.
“Please, wait here. Have a seat in the corner. I will get the Master personally, it wont take a second. Jung! get this young lady a cup of tea. Hurry!”
Assistant John bolted out of the shop and made his way to the lodge. He was well aware of the relation between that young brat and his Master. If there was one person he never wanted to cross was that boy. One glance at him revealed a hidden cunning like a wolf simply waiting to pounce on its prey.
For John that boy was a demon incarnate.
To Miki it seemed like John had just rushed out the back door. She had now moved to the corner to sit on a stool when he magically returned in a rush. Following him was the large towering person she never had the right to converse with. An old guard lagging behind them completed the group.
John simply gave a quick bow to her indicating he completed the task. Whatever happened was beyond the coins he received at the end of the week.(pay grade)
The first thing Griz noticed was a different girl sitting uncomfortably on the stool across from him.
‘How much kids did this brat recruit?’
“What’s your name girl?”
Miki swallowed in her throat and answered meekly.
Griz was elated by her squirming body language and her timid reply. He roared with laughter and turned to Simon beside him. He raised a muscular hand and pointed at the girl cringing on the stool.
“See…See that! This is how a kid of this age and standing should be speaking. Not like that damn brat. Sometimes I wonder if he just lacks common decency when talking to me. Always taking advantage of my generosity, damn punk!”
He turned to Miki and crouched down low over the counter facing her. In a voice low enough for only her to hear he spoke.
“That brat of a kid found it didn’t he?”
Griz was not a stupid person, he was just someone who had been dealt a bad hand in an occupation he was groomed for since he was a kid.
This was one of the many reasons he could relate on the same wavelength as Chu. It was also the reason he knew at once what this messenger sent by the boy entailed.
Miki, scared from the sudden outburst and a question that seemed to read her mind, nodded unconsciously.
Simon moved like lightning unbecoming of an old man and vaulted over the counter. He shut the doors to the Trading Post. Similarly John and the clerks quickly closed the windows and informed the guards via the back entrance to secure the shop.
The clerks from the shop obediently exited the shop leaving John and another senior member. This was the usual protocol when merchants conducted large deals.
Griz stood up and paced agitatedly for a while. He then composed himself and returned to the stool. He beckoned the clerks to gather around. These were people he had trained and nurtured in the ways of business, some even before he was transferred here.
“Lets here it. Don’t worry these are the only people I can trust. They are depended on my success and their family are also depended on mine.”
For a merchant to become successful within the Trading Company, a solid foundation of trustworthy helpers was needed. These people would become the backbone of their faction.
They were to be responsible for information gathering and well-educated to grasp any openings available to them. A faction without loyal subordinates would be doomed to fail from the start. A remote village like this was the best place to groom these people free from the influence of others.
Miki was speaking meekly under the gaze of the crowd.
“Chu said to let Simon meet him with a horse sled and some guards at the barn. Time is of the essence, a piece of fresh meat is bound to attract hungry predators.”
It took all of Miki’s willpower to get this message across to these important people.
“Simon get the sled and take a guard contingent with you. Hurry, we cannot lose this opportunity.”
“Wait, Chu said to bring me along also. He would know its us when he sees me.”
Simon had the horse sled move briskly across the grasslands. They had five guards on horseback who later joined them for company. Miki was sitting beside him all decked out in red.
The clerks in the Trading Post resumed work as normal. Customers only heard how some farmer came to the store to bicker about goods that were delayed because of the priority in transporting liqueur. A group of guards had to brave the cold to get this miserable person his cargo.
Chu spotted the brightly dressed Miki from a distance. They had no problems since morning and were simply playing the waiting game.
On seeing the dress standing out over the white landscape he hustled down even as the others had already used the pulleys to hoist the carcass up from the cellar. The trapdoor was resealed and hidden as much as possible.
Chu was certain that these guards would be much less interested in what he had to hide.
They were here for only one reason.
He had finally gotten rid of a most troublesome burden.