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Volume 3181a
Presents
ROSE OF STORMGAARD
By Ken St. Andre

Chapter 2:  Rose

They split up when they entered the city.  Rose took a bag full of goblin weapons and headed for the Thieves Market on the west side of town.  Thorn, Calyx, and Petal took the goblin heads to the central Watch station to collect the bounty.  Ten gold pieces per head would make a hefty 230 gold to be shared among the companions.

As Rose walked through the streets of Stormgaard, she felt again the nagging dissatisfaction that had been bothering her for a while.  She wondered if she should tell her friends tonight about her decision to leave Stormgaard and go to Khazan.  This little city of about ten thousand people was beginning to seem too small to her. She wondered if they would come with her, or if they would remain in Stormgaard.  Although elves and dwarves lived in Khazan, city of monsters, she didn’t think it would be a good place for her friends. Still, she wasn’t planning to leave tomorrow. They would have time to talk about it.

More than half the merchants had closed up shop for the day when Rose entered the great open square that was the Thieves Market.  Even a small city like Stormgaard had several markets within it. This one was especially for the poorer citizens. If Rose had found good steel weapons, she would have gone to the Armory Market; if she had jewels or any kind of fine stuff, she would have taken it to the Duke’s Countinghouse Market where the nobles came to spend their money. Rose hoped that Grumbles, the kobold weapons merchant hadn’t already quit, and there he was, just piling the last of his copper daggers into his shabby pushcart.

“Ho, Grumbles!  Not so fast!  I have some things for you.”

The scruffy-looking kobold, clad in ancient frog-leather, grumbled.  “I’m closed! Closed! Closed! Closed!”

Rose hurried over to him.  The market place was semi-deserted.  Everywhere the last merchants and customers were departing.  An old gray blanket and a straw-filled cushion still remained on the ground beside Grumbles’ pushcart.  There was one small pile of iron throwing stars on it.  She put a booted foot on the blanket so the kobold couldn’t pick it up.  So long as a blanket was on the ground, the kobold was technically open for business.

“Won’t you stay open a little bit longer for me?  Please, Grumbles!  I have some fine flint axes and daggers to show you—the best goblin workmanship you’re likely to find.”

A snaggle-toothed smile broke through the curly gray bush of hair that obscured the kobold’s lower face.  Of all his regular customers, Rose was by far his favorite.  She brought him the strangest stuff, and also bought the good stuff when he got it.  “Alright!  Make it quick!  What have you got?”

Rose emptied her sack on the blanket.  Twelve flint-headed tomahawks and nineteen chipped stone daggers fell out, and one large rectangular block of basalt with a hole suitable for a handle ground out of one edge.  “I know it isn’t much,” but you can have it all for 10 gold pieces, including that almost fine goblin skull cracker.”  She gave him her most dazzling smile.

Grumbles looked incredulous, his face a comic parody of shock and dismay.  He hawked up a wad of phlegm from somewhere in his lungs and spat in the general direction of her boots, being careful not to get any of the gunk on his blanket or her footwear.  “Ten gold!  The whole lot isn’t worth ten copper pieces.”

“Oh, it’s worth a lot more than that.  Just last week you were selling tomahawks like these for five silvers each.”

“And it took forever to sell them.  Why if that bandit chief hadn’t stopped by . . .”

“There’s always a bandit chief looking for cheap weapons.  You can sell this stuff.  Still, ten gold might be a little steep and not leave you much profit.”  She looked thoughtful and considerate.  “Because you are my favorite, I’ll bring it down to five gold.”

The kobold cackled, very softly, just a weird burble in his throat really.  He cracked his knuckles and looked up at Rose.  She was twice his height.  “Oh, she’s good at this,” he thought, subvocalizing, and Rose could almost hear him.  “She knows I love to bargain.  Bargain, hells! I love to haggle.  I’d stay out in the rain for a good haggle.”

“Since when do you care about my profit margin?  And what are you doing way up there, instead of looking a kobold in the face like an honest seller.  Taking advantage of your height!  Hmmmf!”

“Oh, sorry,” she squatted down, bringing her face to his level.  The sudden downward movement made her unbound breasts bobble up and down entrancingly under her light green blouse.  The kobold wound up watching her cleavage instead of her face.  He couldn’t help it.  Grumbles was male.  Of all the Kindreds human women had the best breasts.  A man just wanted to . . .  He shook his head to clear out those thoughts.  Human and kobold, she wouldn’t even consider it.

“I’ll give you a copper piece for each knife; two coppers each for the tomahawks, and a silver for the skull cracker.”

Rose leaned forward to grip him by both shoulders.  His attention wandered from her face to the even better view of her mammaries.  “Grumbles, I love you like the uncle I never had.  Why are you so mean to me?  That wouldn’t even pay me for the effort I made in bringing these fine weapons to you.”

“You’re right, I’m mean.  And I love you, too, Rosie.”  He blushed a bit at his daring to tell her of his love.  She was one fourth his age, double his size, and the wrong Kindred.  Talk about impossible!  “Alright, I’ll double that, but just because I hate to hear you whine.”

“Is that really the best you can do for me, Grumbly Wumbly?”  She pouted, then opened her bag and reached for a tomahawk.  “I bet that Harkenhack the dwarf would give me a better price.  It means a long walk for me to the Armorers’ Quarter, but . . .”

“You wouldn’t sell to Harkenhack, would you?  He’s just a blacksmith. He wouldn’t know a good weapon if it bit him!  Snort!”

“But I’ll have to if you won’t give me even half of what my merchandise is worth.”  Another tomahawk went in the bag.

“Stop!  Lucky for you that it’s the end of the day, and I have some money from the day’s sales.  5 coppers for the knives, 8 coppers for the axes, 15 coppers for the skull cracker.  And that’s my final offer!”  He looked as stern as he could.

“Done!” cried Rose with a grin on her face.  “And here’s a kiss to seal the deal.”  She pulled him in and mashed him up against those firm breasts he had been admiring.  She gave him a loud kiss right between the eyes.  She stood up and lifted him right off the ground, then dropped him.

Grumbles smiled a hidden smile.  Rose always got so physical and appreciative with her bargaining.  Maybe that was why she was his favorite customer.  He reached into a hidden pocket of his vest and pulled out two purses.  The smaller pouch held silver pieces, and larger one held copper. “Twelve axes at 8 copper pieces each equals 96 coppers.  Nineteen knives at 5 coppers each equals 95 coppers.  1 useless chunk of rock at 15 coppers will finish it.  What’s the total, Rose?”

“Two hundred and six copper clinkers.”  She had the total in her head almost before he finished asking the question.  “To make it easy on your gnarled old fingers, let’s just call it 21 silver pieces.”

“I can make change.  I’ve got it right here.”  The kobold rattled the purses, and started to open the one full of copper coins.

“You know how I love round numbers.  Give me the extra, and I’ll help you with the pushcart.”

“Done and done and done!”  Grumbles chanted the ancient bargaining agreement of the Stormgaard market.  He opened his silvers purse and poured a pile of coins into her two cupped hands.  He eyed the pile, made a quick mental count, then carefully took 4 more coins from the pouch to finish the payment.  Rose also did a mental count, then dumped the 21 coins into the front pocket of her leggings and buttoned it closed again.  The coins might clink a little as she walked, but they should be safe from light fingers down there.

The kobold stopped loading the cart to wet his gnarled finger and hold it high up above his head.  A bit of breeze riffled his curly beard.  “There’s a storm coming tonight.”

“That’s nothing new for this city.  There are a lot of storms here . . .”

“Hence the name Stormgaard!” they chortled out the words at the same time.

“But I’ll be safe and warm in the Black Dragon.”

“All I have is a filthy burrow that I have to share with other kobolds.”

“Quit complaining!  Those other kobolds you’re talking about are your six loving wives.”  She piled the last of the rocky weaponry into his cart and gripped the handles.

Still joking with each other, they made their way out of the Thieves Market and off in the direction of the Smallkin Quarter of the city.  Rose didn’t really mind.  It took her in the general direction of Steamy’s Public Bathhouse where she planned to meet her companions and split up the loot before they all went on the Black Dragon.


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