Chapter 20: HORSETOWN
The young man drove a hard bargain with Armad. In exchange for his services of driving the workers to and from the work sites and hauling materials, he gained the fair exchange of spices and some of the fruit that came in off of the ships. He started out early that spring after the work sites had a decent supply of stone. Few people would begrudge him the time as spring was in full bloom and walking back and forth to the site was a pleasant trip.
Parry started on that beautiful morning by dropping off the men at the site. From that point, he crossed the bridge with his light load of valuables and proceeded with his wagon, down the walk-path. Instead of weeks that it would have taken to work his way across the river with a wagon, it took a few deep breaths to cross the still unfamiliar bridge and several days to get to his first stop. It was a farmhouse not far outside the trade post called Junction.
For years, serious traders traveled to Junction twice a year to meet with other traders from across the land, even the hard to meet Wagon people stopped in to trade. They were the best source of exceptionally well, trained horses and were known to trade them for almost anything that interested them. They were tough traders, but their interests were highly variable.
Junction was an intersection point located roughly where the apex of the plains reached north and met the foothills of the mountains that climbed further north and west to the seas. It was over these same foothills that Eastward led to the Red River, it Gorge that it had dug and the separated new town of Red Valley where he came from.
Junction was one of the few places for trading that was acceptable to all of these groups but only in recent years had there been a fairly regular trade. Somewhere in the area was a man that was making it easy for the fairly disparate groups to meet and trade by acting as a go between during the rest of the year. Messages and trade items could be left with him and fair trade value would be gained.
Along the path, the trail widened to flat rolling grass. Parry noticed several dead ends with plenty of grass for grazing and streams coming off of the mountains. Shortly, he came up to an older man chopping wood, presumably for his winter stock.
“Good evening! I am traveling the land, looking for trade opportunities.”
“You can call me Jack. I run the spring and fall trade sessions. It will only be about a week and the outriders of the plainsmen will be here. You might do well to wait. By the way, have you had dinner? My wife and children would greatly appreciate company.”
Parry nodded, he took his time unhitching his horse and brushing him out, put him in the first stall, gave him a fork full of hay and some water. Checking the other stalls, he made sure that the other horses had sufficient water and hay to hold them for the night.
He stopped at the wagon and picked out a small bundle of select spices and other trade items that he would normally show potential traders. Entering the house, Parry scraped his boots on the bar just outside the door. Seeing that nobody wore any shoes and that there was a pile of shoes just inside the door, he took his off. As he was finishing up, a beautiful young woman came to him with a pan of water and a small towel. “Trader Parry, I offer you custom of the house; a meal and water. When you are done, the reserve barrel for the dirty water is just there to your left.”
Looking to his left, where she indicated, he saw a large barrel half full of water that was not quite drinkable. He washed up, put out the waste and hung the towel that she had given him.
Walking out of the alcove into the main room, he saw a younger lady, no, a girl that was setting the table for five. The plates were not new but the silverware was of good solid hammered iron. The larger serving spoons were wood and the knives were of course a better metal for it was no joy to cut into meat with a wooden knife or even an iron blade that wouldn’t keep an edge. Perhaps someday someone would be able to make a cheaper knife that would cut but not be too sharp for young children to use for things like spreading jams and butters. Parry stepped up and gave the young lady a hand.
She looked up to him and smiled. “Good day to you sir, can I help you?”
Returning her smile he stated, “Rather, might I ask, how might I help you? Can I fetch water or get wood for your cook fire? My name is Parry. May I ask your name?”
She nodded to him, “My name is Lona. My brother who you have probably not met should be bringing in some firewood. I think that you have already met my father John and my mother is Diedra. Where are you from?”
Smiling back at her he replied, “I’m from up the road a bit, a little port town called Red Valley.”
“Isn’t that quite a trip? The River Gorge has to be bypassed and worse yet you used a wagon. Have you been on the road long?”
“Actually, no. The River Gorge has been bridged and now it only takes a few days by wagon to get here. I am looking for trade opportunities.” As he spoke with her, he unhooked the sample package, took her by the arm and led her over to her mother. “Ladies, this package is for you as a gift to the house. There is a variety of spices and other treats that we have where I live as well as some of the things that we trade for through our shipping. I gift it to you in exchange for the visitor’s rights that you have given me.”
Diedra gasped when she opened the package. “This is far too much! Visitor’s rights are the custom of trading families. We don’t barter or trade on it.”
Parry nodded his acceptance of that fact. “Let us consider this a gift from me to your family so that I might introduce to you the things that I have to trade. When I am not here to brag on my goods, I know that you will fairly represent them. I am just now starting out and will be offering ‘fair trade’ at every chance I get.”
John had been listening to this discussion and decided that it was time to talk to the boy. “Parry, could you join me outside while the ladies take care of finishing dinner? Diedra, how long will it be?”
“Take care of the horses. Take your time and I will give a call.”
He led the way outside and looked in on the first horse. “I see that you took care of the horses.”
“Yes, sir.” Carefully, responded Parry.
“Thank you. On another subject, I would like to discuss with you some of the niceties of trading. Come on into my woodworking shop.”
“I thought that you were a farmer or a rancher.”
“I am that too. Out here, you have to be able to do a lot of things. One of those things that you must be able to do is trade shrewdly.”
“I would prefer to be honest.” Parry looked over the shop noticing a lot of tools that he wanted to learn to handle.
Showing a bit of his exasperation, John drew him over to the worktable and handed him a large, flat, iron ring. “Hold this here.” John indicated a hand span above the table and began placing curved planks of wood within it. “Trading and negotiating a ‘fair trade’ depends on more than just giving everybody what you think your trade is worth. Sometimes you have to be stubborn, strict or downright nasty.”
Puzzled, he asked, “Why would you want to be nasty?”
“Simply put, you have to be believed before you can be trusted, and you have to prove yourself every time you meet a new person and often between.” The staves that were being placed in the ring were now crowded enough that they were getting tight.
“I thought that giving a fair trade would be enough to make you trusted.”
“Perhaps.” John began lining the inside of the ring and set a round cap on the top. It fit in a notch at the top of the curved boards and the whole unit began to resemble the barrel that it was meant to be. Over the top half, he slipped a similar ring and slid it down until it was tight. With a hammer and a flat ‘steel’, he pounded it tighter. “Flip it over.”
Parry did so and caught the first ring before it slipped off the barrel as he flipped it. John handed him the hammer and steel. Parry looked at the tools and tapped the ring into place.
“Not too tight. You don’t tap it totally tight until you fill it with whatever you are storing it.”
“If giving a good trade is not all that there is to a ‘fair trade’ then what more is there?”
“Consider this. If you give someone something that is worthy but not what is needed, then is it in reality a good trade?”
“Not really. I guess that it would be better if I knew the people that I am trading with a bit better.”
“If you are trading with a stranger, how would you best figure out what your trade is worth to him?”
Parry thought a bit. “I suppose that you could ask questions.”
“ I could tell him all of the failings of my trade as well as the advantages.” While they were discussing this, they put together three barrels.
“You might not be believed.” Parry nodded his acceptance of this possibility.
“Then how is one to give the information so that it will be believed?”
“With a little give and take. First you ask for a high price and when they refuse, you give some information to make it worth the price. After they refuse again, you give way and lower the price a little. They will do the same with their trade. Somewhere between your price and theirs, there will be an agreement. One way that you can be more than fair is to know ahead of time what your final price should be and start high enough that you have enough time to give them all of the information but not take so much time that the trade becomes a problem.”
“You make it sound like a lot of work.”
“So it is. So is being sociable. Not everybody is cut out to be a top trader. It takes a lot of patience to do it correctly. To insist you are giving ‘fair trade’ is to say that you have a life time of experience and the blessing of M’Lady giving you information on your trade.”
Parry considered his barter this trip on the way back home. He had stayed a few days, learned how to make barrels and left with a schedule that would tell him when and who it would be best to trade his goods with. The trade goods that he had brought with him were in John’s safekeeping with the promise that they would be distributed with the best intentions. Some, he had been told, would be used to demonstrate their worth in serving meals.
As an introduction to the trading community, Parry considered this a successful trip. The lessons he learned about making and using barrels were priceless. Perhaps he would learn more on other trips, perhaps not. Definitely, he would be back if for no more reason than to see more of Lona.