"The first act of true power displayed by a mortal was not one of sword or sorcery. No in fact, amidst the Unshaped's unquestioned reign over reality, the first thing the folk could do to warrant attention was to offer a bargain."
- An excerpt from the exalted journal of Artesi Galvani
In a previous entry, we discussed members of chivalrous orders in Outer World. In this one we will discuss a group that is just as adventurous, if a bit less romanticized: The Traveling Merchant.
Of the vocations in Outer World, traveling merchants might be one of the most widely recognized. Every settlement, from the grand city of Aeon to the smallest lantern towns, has seen at least one peddler grace their streets. They come in all shapes, sizes, and walks of life. Any of them worth their salt has an eye for opportunity with the wits to grab it when the time arrives.
In an effort to be as brief and spritely as a potion seller making a deal, today's entry will be expressed in three brief anecdotes:
SELLING THROUGH YOUR HAT
Most wandering peddlers wear headgear of some kind. Hats of course, but headwraps and bandanas are also popular among them, depending on the region. For example, broad brimmed hats are useful in the Blazing Garden and parts of the Twilight Meridian where the sun is a persistent issue. Fluffy hoods, caps, and face coverings are more desired in the colder regions like the Shadowed Lands. Something akin to a helmet is great for the less stable parts of the Buried Kingdom for debris related reasons.
An unspoken tradition among wealthier merchants (or ones attempting to appear as such) is to accessorize with small or otherwise impractical headdress as proof of their financial success. The reasoning is that things like broad brimmed hats denote a merchant who needs that extra bit of protection thanks to needing to walk about on their own two feet and such, whereas one wearing a functionless little cap is wealthy enough to afford some sort of covered transport or, even better, doesn't need to travel all that much at all.
Some merchants will employ an opposite strategy, donning a very rugged looking bit of headwear to make sure to not look pretentious when dealing with more practical, rural folk. When an Outer Worlder mentions that someone "wears many hats" they are insinuating they are a duplicitous or disingenuous individual - something that has apparently confused Dimensional Strays from time to time.
THE GUILD AND THE SCIONS
It's hard to discuss matters mercantile in Outer World without bringing up the two most potent merchant factions on its surface, namely Shard's Guild and the Merchant Scions of Galvanus. These two organizations deal and broader trade than their names might suggest, and are often quietly at odds with one another as a result.
Shard's guild is a bureaucratic entity that sprang from the merchants of that country seeking a way get the footing deal more evenly with the established powers of the Church of the Sacred Chain and the Patricians. Their efforts more than paid off, and the organization became as powerful those two factions (and just as suffocating, depending on who you ask) becoming the third part in Shard's elite political triumvirate. The secret to this growth was to reach beyond the borders of their homeland, securing resources that couldn't be controlled or cut off by their rivals, and using their accumulated wealth to bolster their power back at home. This ruthless strategy did little to endear them to powers abroad, however.
In contrast, the Merchant Scions of Galvanus organized to keep from economically (and physically) strangling one another. The archipelago lacks the looming centralized powers that Shard has and while this granted the merchants living there a great deal of freedom it also allowed the larger syndicates to take advantage of their power to undercut rivals with underhanded tactics, even leading to outright violence in some cases. Rather than allow an increasingly volatile situation to worsen, a loose alliance between these merchant families was formed. This turned out to be serendipitous for a number of reasons, including the fact that when Shard's guild attempted to dominate trade in the Twilight Meridian, the Scions where far better equipped to deal with them.
While these two factions generally attempt to subtly undermine and outmaneuver the other via economic and political means, it's also not entirely uncommon to see guild agents clashing with the colorful killservants employed by the merchant scions out in the open. This has led to disaster more than once, a recent example being a particularly bad exchange between a guild sage and a scion employed murder maid leading to the destruction of an ancient river god's shrine and subsequently, a great deal of retributive flooding in the area.
At least the deals have been good as of late.
Among travelers a certain peddler is spoken of exclusively in rumors and half-whispered tales. You only ever find him on crossroads. He's a little too long, dressed in fashions you've never seen, and has a face that's impossible to remember. His wagon is pulled by a creature that's an undecipherable mass of limbs and fur, and its interior is far larger than should be possible.
It's dark within, and you can only ever see exactly what you need to. No more, no less. His partner sits in one corner, happily humming as her many arms customize and craft things both banal and arcane. He stands behind the counter and makes you an offer or listens to your order.
His prices are steep, fair, and sometimes seem impossible, but never are. One warrior claims to have traded something precious they don't recall for a ancient magical sword. The blade has served them well, but the regret never leaves them.
If a deal has been made, he'll go in back to retrieve what you paid for from the shelves and send you on your way. If the deal was pleasant, he'll give you his card: you can call him again by tearing it up at a different crossroads on a future date.
You are not allowed to see or touch the shelves. Ever.
Legends speak of a the folk's first true act of power, a bargain made with an unshaped. No one knows exactly what this first deal was, but everyone knows who made it.