Chapter 15: LESS IS MORE
Almost all of the men were getting a wide range of training. Many of them would do well when this job was done and he hired many of them for the completion of the docks and the ships that he would be building. Right now he would be losing a lot of profit by having to hire ships for his jobs unless he could get his own ships built. Enough of these men would sign on. It would just be up to him to convince the best of them.
Spring came and with it came messengers and lightly loaded traders that had planned to swim across the river and make their return trip with heavier or bulkier goods along the longer path. Thus it was that news of a new bridge was spread far quicker than they had planned. Weeks into spring, an occasional wagon showed up expecting to be able to use the bridge.
Parry was a young wood worker who rode his wagon with a bunch of men to the work place where he worked on the wood framing. He rented out the wagon to the traders after transferring the goods onto the wagon and took payment in kind.
After a few months, while the bridges were being finished, he built up quite a few contacts with the traders and by the time the bridge was finished in the mid-summer, he had contracts for delivering and receiving goods from most of them. The summer brought the completion of the bridge. At that time, he began making the trips himself.
“Ship on the horizon!” A call came from one of the taller buildings on the hill. Down on the docking level, they would not be able to see it but by the time the ship got to port it would be more than handy to have enough people on hand to help tie it up. Besides, everyone was curious and would want to be the first to talk to new people. Captain Jones had left only two days earlier and the other ship just that morning. It wasn’t warm enough to enjoy the day so some excitement in the form of visitors was something to look forward to.
Melnor heard the call as it was passed around town. He looked out his tower and saw that the ship was making way past the new port. On the instant, he raised his arms and pulled energy to him. The air cooled tremendously around him and the immediate area. Upon sensing that the time was right, he raised his staff from the table near him and as he held it above him, a ball of light appeared. It had no temperature and a bright, welcoming blue color. Walking to the balcony, he ‘pushed’ the ball to a higher level above his tower and allowed it to grow in brightness. Looking to the ship, he waited.
For once, the gathering clouds helped. As the sky darkened, the light stood out more against the background and formed a beacon for the incoming ship. As it pointed it’s prow towards their safe haven, Melnor brought his pointy nose back into his study. The beacon stayed in place, shining unwaveringly.
“Ahoy the shore! Permission to dock?”
“Aye, Captain,” Called out the dock master, “Bring her in close and we’ll tie her up! What supplies have you?”
“We have passengers, workers and a fresh fruit shipment from the islands. You may have first pick if you wish; Captain’s courtesy.”
“The dock master shook his head. Fruit was a better trade in the larger ports where people could afford it. It was needed at the shipyards where sailors often had no access to better foods and at the tables of the wealthy. Few here would be able to afford a rich man’s diet. More mouths to feed? It was difficult to feed their own at the end of a winter even if Melnor had overstocked the stores last fall. What was needed was meat and grain to fill the bellies. Never the less he welcomed extra hands.
“Bring all ashore at your leisure. I am sure that we will be able to arrange some sales for you.”
Armad was walking near the docks as he heard this exchange. Quickly, he went running out to Cappy’s home to find him just finishing lunch. “Good afternoon Armad, have you figured out how to pay off the men on their next payday?”
“Armad nodded an excited affirmative. “I need a loan of cash if you have any available.”
Cappy shook his head. “I don’t have enough. I’ve meat, spices and wood carvings of all types of quality, but not enough silver. As soon as a ship comes in, many of the men are going to want to leave if you can’t provide the promised earnings. If they decide to leave, they will want portable payment. I need to save as much as I can in order to provide that silver.”
Armad understood. He had worked with pawn brokers that worked the same way at home. He also knew what made them tick. “I have a deal for you. The first trader ship has hit port. I want to buy their whole stock of fruit.”
“Nobody is going to allow you to pay them in fruit.”
“No. I will set up a fruit stand, sell fruit at high prices and pay the men with the profits.”
“It might work. You are not behind in paying them yet and fruit is a favorite of the wealthy, but where are you going to find wealthy patrons?”
Armad grinned. “Look around you. Everybody in town has plenty of money in their pocket and nowhere to spend it. Everybody is so busy horse trading for small, portable wealth that nobody is selling food. They are all trading services for services and no cash is flowing. Now is our chance to grab some of it back.”
“We are going to be stuck with a lot of rotten fruit if you are wrong.”
“It will be fine if Melnor can help us. I’ve seen what he can do and I suspect that he can help preserve fruit as well.”
“There goes all of your profit.”
“Not if I can enlist his interest.”
It was a short walk to the tower and a long climb up. Melnor had doused his light as soon as the ship pulled in. “What are you in such a hurry for?”
“Melnor, can you preserve a shipment of fruit?”
The old wizard nodded. “Only, if it is in one contained area. Anything taken out will return to its normal state of decay and returning it may not put it back into protection. Is this something to do with the bridge?”
“No. A ship came in and I see a way to turn a profit. Do you wish payment, a debt, a promise or a share?”
Melnor looked closely at Armad. He had brought the big man here for his own purposes and the man had absolutely flourished. Under his guidance, the town had become a small city. True, it might not last, but as of this point, the town was big enough that he would not have to travel unnecessarily to buy food or most of his supplies. Joe Armad had already given him most of what he needed for a comfortable life, far more than he had expected to have near his tower for many years to come.
“I tell you what; we’ll put the fruit in the lumber shed and sell it out of there. I’ll put a shield on the building and you can save me my favorite fruit for later, if they have some.”
Joe reached out a hand. Melnor reached out and joined him in this strange ritual of agreement. They shook on the deal and Joe Armad the Grocer strode off in search of his next goal. He needed men to help transfer the load to the shed. It was a good thing that the building was large. Perhaps a few planks that they had stored there remained for making display benches.
The clear weather that brought in the fruit and passengers, ended the day after the ships departed. Armad had arranged the purchase of fruit with any ship’s captain that wished to trade with him. Indeed, sales had been good. In addition to fruit, the women of town were selling bread goods through him and it wasn’t long before people were asking him to sell meat for them. The spell on the building made it an ideal food storage area and Melnor was just happy to get some of his favorite fruit. Leaving civilization to build his tower had left him no choice but to give up many things that he loved and he had a gourmand’s soul.
The grocery started out with a rush. Fresh fruit was much desired and the workers that contributed to the bridge had money or credit to burn. Now, Armad had credit to burn. There wasn’t much to celebrate in town, so having a bunch of drunks around wasn’t a problem. There were no shops to speak of and very little to spend money on after a long day’s work, so the town still remained a rural backwater. This was every bit the frontier, and luxury had not even been considered. Armad had his workers trained well and the grocery only needed a small bit of attention at the end of each day. Of the visitors on ship, there was one child.
He was a strange child, taciturn in nature; he formed a bond between Armad, Melnor and Cappy. Cappy had his finger on the pulse of the town and nothing got done without him having his finger in the pie. It was almost as if Cappy ran the town.
Two brothers and a big, happy go lucky fellow sauntered onto the docks as if they owned the place. The three men made an interesting group as the two brothers deferred to the third as ‘Grimley’ and he, in turn deferred to them as if they were under his personal protection. Not much was seen of them as they disappeared into the woods, only to be seen a few times in the next few weeks when they brought in meat, cured skins and rare spices that were immediately taken in by Armad.
“Good evening Lessa,” said Armad as she departed with the old fruit and greens that he could not sell. “What do you plan to do with the trash you have there?”
The diminutive lady looked him straight in the eyes and told him straight out, “You don’t pay me enough so I’m taking the remains of what can’t be sold and am making a stew.”
Armad shook his head and refused to get into a dickering session with her. He always lost. Somehow, she was the best trader he had ever seen. She always gave fair trade but also never lost a single part of her due and yet if he gave her extra, he always got fair return for that as well. “Lessa, take what you need. How is your meal house doing?”
“The shed is too small. I need a proper kitchen and a place to seat my diners.”
“I know you and know that you won’t accept charity or large gifts, but would you go into business with me?”
“Joe Armad!” She put her small fists on her hips and smiled the largest smile that he had seen on her since he had met her. “Are you offering me Fair Trade?”
He looked a little puzzled. “What is Fair Trade to you?”
It was her time to look puzzled. “Do ye not know what Fair Trade is?”
“I know what I consider fair trade but it sounds different when you say it. It sounds special and kind of Reverent.”
She thought for a bit and then replied, “Melnor told me that you haven’t been around here for long. I am a Priestess of M’Lady and when I offer Fair Trade, it is within my power to promise that the trade will be absolutely fair for both sides. No quarter given and none taken. It is the best trade anyone can get.”
“Fair trade. It sounds like a square deal to me. Yes, I offer Fair Trade. I will bring in some of my builders that need the work, build you a restaurant and attach it to your home to your specifications and let you deal with me on a fair trade business. You can share profits or give me a fair return on my investment. There is only one condition, as a partner, I expect to remain your friend.”
“That’s all?” Insisted the little woman.
Armad nodded. “One can never have too many friends.”
From around her neck, Lessa pulled a chain. On that chain was a gold coin. Kissing the coin, she held her other hand out to him, palm up. “Fair Deal.”
Armad laid his hand upon he open palm and repeated the words. “Fair Deal.” As she set the coin and her other hand on top of their joined hands, he felt M’Lady’ wake in his mind.
In the mind of all sentient beings around the world, in one form or another, everyone stopped as they herd M’Lady exult: “IT HAS BEGUN!”
Lessa’s eyes widened and looked closely at him, “So, you know M’Lady? You are not so much the stranger around here, after all.”
She shook her head emphatically. “You’ve done a lot more than just spoken. You have her favor. Few who are not priests, have her favor. I wonder what special plans she has for you.”
“I have an idea, but the bridge and your Inn may only be a small part of it.”