Arasa scowled at the map the trader had spread on the table between them. The crude markings the barbarians of Kumron used to draw their landscapes were confusing her. She could read and speak in Kumronite-lon, but it had only been a month ago that she'd heard of a 'Womb of Tarden', some holy-place deep within the southern lands beyond the mountain peaks of the Frost Wall. Not nearly enough time to brush up on their map-symbols.
Frustrated, she turned the map sideways, then upside down, hoping that it would make more sense that way. The trader gave her a look that said she was the barbarian, and deliberately turned the map back around.
"Here is the Third Tree Pass, which is the one southeast of us, if you follow that road into the mountains," he explained with exaggerated patience in his native tongue. That, and he was having to speak over the drunken laughter coming from two tables over. "And this is the Spotted Deer Path, the main road through this section of Kumron. If you stay on it until you reach the king-state of Copper High, then turn east and follow this road, which is called the Dog's Leg, you will eventually come to the king-state of Flying Fangs. Inside the walled city of Flying Fang Tribe is where you will find the Womb of Tarden. Now, just to view the map is two Moons. To buy the map, and take it with you, is two Suns...and that, only because I am somewhat familiar with these roads."
Since she was trying to budget her expenses, Arasa grimaced. "How much to just let me copy it?"
"...Eight moons," the leather-clad trader allowed, dipping his head thoughtfully. "Six, if you can copy it tonight, before I retire for the night. And if you must hold it overnight, I'll need collateral to ensure I'll get it back. But good luck finding a scribe in this place."
Since they were seated in the tavern portion of a walled cross between a trading post and a small hunting village, she didn't doubt his skepticism. Scribes didn't exactly flock to such a remote location. "I can copy it myself. So long as this map will take me to the Womb of Tarden and back, I'll be happy."
"It will take you there," the man agreed, holding out his hand. "Two Moons for the viewing, which you will pay now."
One of the other patrons in the tavern, wending his way back from the kegs in the corner, peered over the trader's shoulder as she dug the silver coins out of the pouch slung on her sword belt. He had odd pale skin flecked with tiny brown spots, and vigorously curly, coppery colored hair. Even his brows and lashes were copper-colored, accenting the green of his eyes. He looked rather exotic, really.
"...What's that supposed to be?" he asked, lifting his mug to his lips.
"A map of Kumron, just south of here," Arasa replied, sorting out six coins.
The redhead snorted. "And you're paying for that?'
The trader craned his head, glaring at the other man. "Do you mind? We're in the middle of a business transaction! Business which is none of yours."
"You should Truth Stone him," the stranger stated, "to make sure he's not cheating you."
"I would, if I had a Truth Stone," Arasa pointed out dryly. "But I don't."
The freckled man flashed her a smile. "Then you're in luck. I happen to have one."
"You?" the trader scoffed.
"I'm a mage. I make them. Tell you what," the redhead added to Arasa, nodding at the map. "If he's telling the truth about that being accurate, I'll only charge you a single Star for the use of my Stone. If he's lying, you pay me one of those Moons."
Arasa weighed the cost against the accuracy she needed, and nodded. Her quest was too vital to risk being tricked. Slipping the rest of the coins back into her pouch, she kept one silver Moon, and fished out a copper Star. "You have a deal. Bring out the Stone."
"I will not sit here and have my honor questioned like this!" the trader protested, rising from his seat in indignation.
The redhead planted his palm on the trader's shoulder, forcing him back down with a thump. "You'll sit here and answer the sajé's questions, or be judged a liar and suffer accordingly."
© 2007 - 2010 G. Jean Johnson