The Hidden Blade by MarieMullany | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil
Master MarieMullany
Marie Mullany

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Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3

In the world of Sangwheel Chronicles

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Chapter 2

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A river barge brings you goods that come from far away

A river man rides a barge from home to far away


Load your boat in Lumeaux, you load your boat in Lumeaux

You ride the Bay of Kar-na, you ride the Bay of Kar-na

A river barge brings you goods that come from far away

A river man rides a barge from home to far away


Row the barge and pole the barge, even though it aches

Bronbad to Etennie's Lake, Bronbad to Etennie's Lake

A river barge brings you goods that come from far away

A river man rides a barge from home to far away


Iselra to Somfaux, a canal takes you there

Iselra to Somfaux, the canals were dug fair

A river barge brings you goods that come from far away

A river man rides a barge from home to far away


Somfaux to Claudin's lake, drifting on the water

Somfaux to Evart Town, spill in ocean broader

A river barge brings you goods that come from far away

A river man rides a barge from home to far away


Somfaux to Trolkaren, do the dyers go

Somfaux to Trolkaren, that's a long row

A river barge brings you goods that come from far away

A river man rides a barge from home to far away

The River Barge Way

Louis considered his hats carefully. They lay on the bed before him as he tried to decide who he should be to visit the Marketplace of Somfaux.

Gently he picked up each hat and ran his fingers over the brims and up into the crowns, considering the style of each before placing it back onto the bed. He was glad that they had survived the long river barge journey from Lumeaux without damage. These hats were a critical part of his trade. They possessed their own personalities, and it was those personalities he saw looking at them now.

The everyday peasant, with its brown canvas cap, would be fine if all he was looking for was everyday talk, but there would be more interesting information to be had today. On his ride into town last night, he had noted the carp banner of the Countess de la Cham flying from the western guest tower of the Somfaux Castle. Baron Tybalt’s liege was either already in town or arriving within the week for a visit. The visit would surely attract rumor, gossip, and merchants.

The farmhand could speak with farmers and servants but would have little cause to speak to merchants. Even less cause to speak to such merchants as those who dealt with the nobility. The farmhand wouldn’t do for Marketday. 

He could go as a merchant. He touched the baggy merchants’ hat with the bright band and soft velvet cap. A merchant with a fat purse and no merchandise, looking to change gold to light, easily transported goods.

Perched on the edge of the bed with the merchant hat in his hands, the others carefully packed away, he gently, sensually, rubbed the exotic fabric. It felt right. Leno the Merchant was an established identity that he had used often in the south. It would be the ideal opportunity to bring Leno out again and see what he could procure, along with the information that accompanied the goods, of course.

He would go on foot, leaving his horse in the stable under the care of Jon, the innkeeper’s son. The innkeeper, Jenkin, and the barmaid, Nina, would expect him to breakfast as the same person who had arrived last night. He would wear Leno’s rich green doublet under his grey travelers’ cloak for breakfast. The autumn days were cold enough that no one would remark on a cloak in the drafty Silver Leaf Inn.

The morning candle had burnt out by the time he made his way downstairs to the common room of the Silver Leaf. Nina was lighting the day candle and greeted him with a coquettish smile. She had flirted with him last night as well, and he assumed she padded her pockets by entertaining the patrons of the inn in a horizontal fashion. He smiled back at her, putting just a touch of a leer into his gaze.

“Breakfast for you then?” she said, “To restore you some after your long journey?”

“Yes, thank you,” he smiled his reply with a wink and watched as she sauntered off to the kitchen, her hips swaying in an enticing fashion that brought a completely unforced smile to his lips and a rush of blood to his loins.

Breakfast was as uninspiring a meal as dinner had been the night before, consisting of day-old bread, yellow cheese, and a porridge that was on the watery side. Meat, it seemed, was reserved for the evening meal. Louis ate with little relish but made sure to finish the whole meal. He waved goodbye to Nina and left the inn through the front door.

The street that held the Silver Leaf Inn was not one of the better ones in town. Situated behind Somfaux’s walls, it was a step up from the dingy paths crisscrossing the shanty town that had sprung up outside the walls, although it still reeked of refuse and stale beer. Across from the door hunkered a barrel in which a beggar called Mole lived.

As Louis walked past the barrel, the beggar poked a grime-stained head out of his burrow and stared at Louis blearily. Louis stopped and dug out an ein.

“Get yourself a bite to eat,” he said pleasantly, offering the small copper-colored coin to the man. Beggars could be useful if properly sweetened over time and this one lived right on his doorstep, as it were. Mole gave him a gap-toothed grin and the coin vanished under his grimy smock.

“I be thanking ye,” his voice was a bit slurred, even this early. Louis nodded at him and walked on as Mole vanished back into his barrel.

Somfaux was a large town. The network of canals that connected it to Iselra had turned it into a hub of commercial activity. Town, in fact, was a modest word for the settlement. It was large enough to be a city, although it would not be recognized accordingly unless there was a political earthquake. In the Empire it was more about the status of the ruler than the reality of the settlement. Somfaux was physically larger than Rocaille, had more wealth, and was more populous. Despite this, Rocaille was the seat of power for a Duchy, and as such, would forever loom larger in the Empire’s estimation.

At least, this was true for the nobles of the Empire, who lived behind the sash and dealt in politics and power. Merchants invested their interests in trade, and the only reason to visit Rocaille was to garner favor from the Duchess. For a man invested in trade, Somfaux was the beating heart of the Empire’s barge routes, and it was here that the merchants flocked.

Louis made his way through the narrow alleys, strewn with the refuse of life, to the town’s biggest market square. At the top end of the market square the broader boulevards showed a clear separation between the poor quarters of the working class and the richer houses of the merchants and chevaliers.

Large as Somfaux had become, it offered few permanent shops. Most commerce was still conducted on Marketday in the squares set aside for such enterprise, where the local craftsmen hawked their wares, and farmers displayed their produce in stalls rented from the baron for the occasion.

Louis stopped in a quiet alley close to the square and stripped off the travelers’ cloak, revealing beneath it the green doublet with its seed pearl buttons. He stuffed the cloak into his side-sack, slung over one shoulder as was the custom here in the south. Carefully he took the merchant’s hat with its bright band and green baggy cap out of the sack and settled it on his head, pulling the cap so that it sat jauntily on his crown, the tip hanging to the side.

He touched his purse and his heart, feeling the blood pulsing through his body, his mind stilling in time with that rushing flow. He reached into himself on the beat of his heart, his mind sinking below the layers of skin and flesh, tapping on the core strength of his elämää. He released the power as he touched his lips, feeling his face shift slightly, becoming leaner. He knew that his skin tone would darken a few shades, disguising his northern heritage, and he felt the slant of his eye sockets smooth out. As he touched the soft merchant’s hat, his well-disciplined mind boxed up Louis into a quiet corner, and he remembered - knew - who he was. Leno the Merchant walked out of the alley that Louis the Traveler had entered.

Leno had not been to Somfaux before. He had come close with journeys to Bronbad and Iselra, but the journey from Lumeaux, where he made his home, was a long one without an adequate chance for profit. However, chaos breeds opportunity, and with the succession crisis there would surely be chaos in Somfaux. So here he was, ready and willing to do business with anyone who wanted to turn their small treasures into gold.

Somfaux showed clear indications of transitioning away from wagon-and-stall Marketday commerce, although the transition was not yet complete. Approaching the market square, Leno could see that many of the stalls were temporary, constructed only for Marketday, and carried the fresh produce of the farms or crafts of the guilds. In contrast, dotted throughout the less desirable and therefore cheaper stalls in the market square, some merchants had started setting up permanent shops to serve clientele no matter the day of the week.

The commercial situation in Somfaux ran up further complications by its location as a hub in the river trade network. The wharves and warehouses of Somfaux never slept, and goods flowed through the city in a vast river of wealth.

Leno browsed the stalls, learning names and faces. He ignored the general trade goods and farmers produce, instead getting acquainted with the jewelers, the gem cutters, and the traders in the rare and exotic. He was known as a merchant who dealt exclusively in rare and valuable merchandise.

An oddity among the vendors who sold drinks in the market piqued his interest. Each establishment appeared to sell only wine and ciders, or only beer. Perhaps it amounted to nothing more than a regional quirk? He decided to find out and approached a street vendor selling wine by the measure. He handed over his cup and the man poured from the weathered skin slung over his shoulder in the common fashion.

“Good morning to you, friend,” Leno said, saluting the man with the cup and knocking back the below-average wine. He paid for a refill, “I’m new in town. Is it always this busy on Marketday?”

“Today be a little busier than most,” the vendor replied, “It’s harvest time, and as though that’s not enough excitement with all the farmers coming in and spending their money, the Lady Yolanda, she being our baron’s countess, is coming for a visit.”

“Why would she be coming for a visit?” Leno asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well now, you know of course that his Grace, Duke Gaspard, died and him having no heir to take on the sash?”

“Of course,” Leno agreed.

“Well, the nobles, they all be visiting each other, shoring up alliances and such. No one knows if it will come to war, or if the Emperor will appoint a duke, or if there will be some other means of settling the matter,” the vendor said, “So, everyone be preparing for everything.”

“Ah. Well, such be the way of those behind the sash, I suppose. Tell me friend, why is it that the taverns seem to serve only wine or only beer here?”

“The guilds be feuding,” the man said glumly, his brows knitting together in a worried frown, “It’s very bad for business. Not all the taverns have taken a side yet, but they surely will if it carries on.”

“Bad news indeed,” Leno agreed, “At least the harvest was good.”

“Aye, but it serves for naught if the guilds be making us all pick a side,” the vendor swallowed a glass of his own wine with a grimace, “Naught to be done. Maybe my next ride on the Wheel will be in less exciting times, eh?”

“As you say! Thank you for the wine, friend.”

He returned to browsing the market’s wares and received a stroke of good fortune, running across a gemcutter who knew Leno by reputation.

“Leno?” the gemcutter, who had introduced himself as Jacqui, stroked his chin, “Did you do business with Byran the Jeweler from Bronbad?”

“I did indeed, a few years ago,” Leno confirmed.

“He speaks very highly of you. He’s one of my main customers, travels here from Bronbad twice a year to trade in gems.”

“Well, I appreciate his absentee vote for my character,” Leno smiled.

He spoke to Jacqui about the quality of gems in the Somfaux region for a short while and then steered the conversation to nobles by the simple expedient of asking if they shopped with Jacqui.

“The baron patronizes a few jewelers for his wife,” Jacqui's chest puffed out, “All of them buy their gems from me.”

“That makes sense to me,” Leno chuckled, “Any gemcutter who is the primary source for Byran has the quality fit for an Emperor.”

“I thank you,” Jacqui said with a small nod of his head.

“And what of Countess Yolanda? Is she a frequent visitor?”

“Not so frequent,” Jacqui replied, “Chamdor has its own guilds, small though it may be. I have heard, though, that the baron is looking to purchase a gift for the countess. A welcome gift and perhaps something to prove his loyalty to her.”

“You think she bids for the ducal sash?” Leno raised his eyebrows in query, “Should one provide her with a gift that she might remember if she achieves it?”

“It might be that she does, although she is getting on in years. It will likely be on behalf of her son and he, of course, will lead the armies if it comes to that. Only in Treval would they expect a woman to take the field herself, here we do not expect such things of our mothers and daughters,” he scoffed.

“Naturally not,” Leno agreed, “What if it’s the other way around?” he asked, “Could the baron be seeing himself rise to duke?”

“I don’t believe so,” Jacqui dismissed the idea, “Baron to duke is a long step and there are many with a more decorated sash than he. Now, would you like to see the merchandise?”

Jacqui presented an exquisite assortment of gemstones, and Leno ended up buying a few choice pieces, a sapphire and two opals well worth the trouble of transport. They went into his sack and he continued along the market, buying here, selling there, and gathering information as he went.

The most interesting rumor he uncovered had been one overheard between a dyemaster and vintner.

“Tybalt is not going to raise a finger to stop it,” the vintner said.

“This feud isn’t good for his pocket either,” the dyemaster’s voice was softer and Leno struggled to make out her words.

“It is not, but he has a bigger game afoot. Also,” the vintner’s voice dropped, and Leno had to close his eyes, drawing again on his elämää. He sent the small rush of power to his ears, focusing his hearing on their conversation, “…he might not be a practitioner himself, but he’s willing to use any means to gain the purpure sash.”

“Don’t speak of such things here,” the dyer hissed sharply in rebuke and the two separated, their conversation over.

Leno found that brief exchange fascinating. At least some of the baron’s subjects suspected that he was nocking his arrow at the ducal sash of Iselra. More, they thought him willing to go to any lengths to reach it.

Louis returned to the Silver Leaf Inn after lunch, once again wearing his grey cloak; Leno’s hat safely stored in the side-sack. As he approached the door, Mole’s head popped out of the barrel.

“You be wanting to wait a candle flicker,” the beggar said, laying a finger against his nose, “Farin be inside.”

“Who is Farin?” Louis asked.

“Well, Jenkin be payin’ him to be sure that naught terrible be happenin’ to the Silver Leaf,” Mole explained.

“That’s no concern of mine,” Louis shrugged. Somfaux was rich enough that the merchants paid the local rechtshus for a town guard, but of course they focused on keeping mercantile endeavors safe. Businesses like the Silver Leaf had to see to their own protection.

“Aye, but Farin be a dangerous ‘un,” Mole’s voice dropped, and Louis had to lean in to hear his words, “There’s them as say he be a trollkarl.”

Louis’s eyebrows rose, “I’ll be careful,” he replied, drawing away from the stench of the man and handing over an ein.

He walked into the Silver Leaf’s common room. It occupied a single large space, filled with rough wooden benches. Rushes a day or two too old covered the floor. Through a doorway off to the left he could see the smoky interior of the tap room where the serious drinking happened. At the back of the common room, a stairway led up to the second story consisting mostly of rooms to rent and a storage closet, which likely saw use as a room on occasion given the cramped confines of the regular accommodations.

Through a half open curtain that partly shielded the way into the kitchen Louis could see Jenkin, the proprietor of the inn. He was a tall, lanky man with a gleaming bald spot on the crown of his head. His amiable face was set in a frown as he spoke to a bulky man with a baggy hat. The hat had a square band with a tasseled tuft that spilled from a floppy peak in a manner that reminded Louis of a scholar’s cap. The bright blue felt of the hat complimented the man’s brocade tunic, a deep forest green patterned in bronze, its buttons glittering in the firelight from the kitchen ovens. Jenkin’s defeated expression, as he handed over a small pouch with the telltale bulge of coins, spoke of a sour contract.

Louis turned his gaze away and headed to the taproom to find a seat by the bar. Five workmen were playing dice for einars in the corner in what looked like a friendly game of dreima. A farmer and his wife with their two strapping lasses were having a drink by the bar as they waited for the evening meal. Judging by the travel dust on their clothes, they had arrived in the city earlier in the day with their harvest. Next to them was a man wearing the badge of the players guild. He appeared too old for an acrobat and Louis didn’t see an instrument, so he doubted that he was a jongleur, likely a magsman here to offer his stories. Talking to the magsman was another guildsman, this one with a journeyman’s badge from the cobblers guild.

Nina was working the taproom, her strawberry blond hair shining in the candlelight. For just a flicker of the candle he was reminded of daffodils in the sun, and he saw her, not here in this bar but in a green field, picking flowers. He shook his head, dismissing the momentary fancy, and paid for a beer.

Her dress clung to her in all the right places as she went to tap him a mug of lager and he leered a little. Not only would she be a welcome distraction, but she might also be a very useful source of information. The fastest way to turn her into an asset would be to bed her, which would hardly be an onerous chore.

The bulky man, who had been shaking Jenkin down, came striding into the taproom like he owned the place. He paused in the entrance and glanced around the room with narrow eyes. He clearly knew the guildsmen because he nodded at them and they nodded back in greeting, avoiding his gaze. He dismissed the dice players and the farmers, and noticed Louis sitting by the bar. He smirked, bared his teeth, and bore down on Louis.

Louis looked up at him, shrinking in his seat, playing the part of a cowed farm lad in the big city.

“You’re in my seat,” he growled menacingly.

“I don’t want no trouble,” Louis slipped off the stool, “I didn’t know it was your seat,” he said, thickening his voice with the local accent, “I’ll jus’ move.”

He wondered if the man would take it further, but apparently, he was satisfied with running Louis off 'his' seat. Louis moved to the other end of the bar and waited for Nina to come by.

“Who’s that?” he asked, ordering another beer.

“That’s Farin,” she said softly, “It be good you gave him the seat,” her voice dropped further, and she leaned towards him to whisper fearfully in his ear, “Jenkin pays him a bit to make sure we don’t get no trouble here. He can be trouble with his bully boys,” she dropped her voice so low that Louis could barely hear the words, “They say he knows sang sorcellerie.”

“But that’s death to know,” Louis breathed back, allowing the horror to reflect on his face and making the sign of the Wheel under the table.

“Aye, but he’s still here,” she nodded significantly, “And in that rich tunic too,” she glanced around, her eyes shifting nervously, “I’ll just be fetching you another beer then.”

Louis watched her go, his mind very far from her buxom bottom.

It was interesting that the rumors about the man were so rife that she spoke of them to a stranger in a bar. He wondered what she would reveal in private. Casting a furtive glance at Farin he noted that the man was strictly left alone by the other patrons. He leaned on the counter before him and let his mind wander. How deep did the rumors go, and was there any truth to them?

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