Wolves at the Door (part 37)

Gil frowned at the rock in his hand. It looked no different now that it was partially charged with magic.

“So how do I use this to pay for something if I don’t have those other bits and pieces? You can’t do anything without the wooden doodad, right?”

Alfvin grinned.

“Believe me, those who make a living by selling goods will make it easy for you to pay them. They will always have measuring stones and transfer tubes available for customers. Eventually, of course, you should get a set of your own. There are some unscrupulous types around who would use non-standard enchantments or oversized stones to swindle the unsuspecting. The only way to be sure is to use your own.”

“But if you don’t have your own?”

“You should be fine if you stick with established merchants. But there is always some element of trust involved in any transaction.”

“And the merchants are trustworthy?”

Alfvin smiled again, more wryly this time.

That would be an exaggeration. There are a few I know well, whom I trust and count as friends. But in general, I trust that the merchants will act in their own interest. The profit to be made by cheating a customer is small compared to the damage their reputation would suffer if they were caught doing so. And reputation matters here, more so than in most places. It is not like they can fold up their tent and move on to the next town.”

“Not the next town perhaps, but this place is pretty big and pretty crowded. Couldn’t they just move along to a different neighbourhood?”

“That might work for a while, but not for long. This place might seem large compared to the villages you are used to, but it is the crowds that make it seem so. The actual distances involved are not that different. You can only go so far before coming out the other side. And the crowds are always in motion: it would only be a matter of time before somebody recognised them and the rumours started spreading.”

“Okay. So the merchants are honest, or pretty-much-honest, because they can’t afford not to be. But trading with some random character you meet is riskier because they don’t have that sort of reputation at stake.”

“Quite so. Unless of course the random character happens to be devilishly handsome, generous to a fault, and needs your assistance in future trading journeys. Then, you should trust him with your life.”

Gil could not resist rising to the bait.

“Well sure. But what are the chances of meeting someone like that?”

“…Twice in one lifetime? Astronomical, I should think.”

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