Wolves at the Door (part 104)

Gil took a moment to just observe the hurrying crowds and the merchants who served them.  The merchants were kept busy by a steady influx of customers, who barely took the time to complete one transaction before rushing off to make another.  Neither group seemed likely to make time to talk with Gil.

Though most of the merchants had their stalls set up facing the well-trod pathway into town, some took a different approach.  One had a double-sided layout, dealing with the import/export crowd on one side, while the less crowded counter facing in Gil’s direction had a small but steady trickle of customers who had wandered over from elsewhere, just as Gil had.  The unusual set-up allowed the merchants to on-sell imported goods for a quick profit, without further congesting their main storefront.

Another seemed to have no goods at all on display, but was doing a brisk trade anyway.  Behind the merchant, where other stalls stacked additional stock, this one featured a half-dozen boys milling about, mostly Gil’s age or younger.  From time to time two or three boys would dash out the back of the stall, headed in different directions.  Other boys would race back in, carrying as much as their small arms could hold.  Gil watched for a while as boys came and went, but didn’t recognise any of them as the same boys returning.  The merchant must have a sizeable fleet of runners at his command.

Gil hadn’t seen a system like it before, but it made sense.  When time was at a premium, why not delegate? Leave your shopping to someone who knew where to find everything and could split the tasks up between multiple runners for maximum efficiency.  It must add enormously to the cost, but if the alternative was to go missing from your life for weeks at a time, how do you put a price on that?

After placing their orders, most of the customers hurried off to attend to other business.  But a few, evidently having no other business and not wanting to waste a moment once the runners returned with their goods, hung around the stall waiting impatiently.  Gil smiled.  Here at last was someone with time on their hands.  Perhaps they would welcome a chat while they waited.

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