--Chapter Three: Garroner
Part of the reason why The Windmill Road was such a small town could be attributed to its being only one stop on a path and rarely anyone’s final destination. Had someone with insight and knowledge of urban planning come across the location, it would have struck them as the perfect place to build a city. Many were already beginning to treat it as a temporary home. They would come to The Windmill Road in the late spring to gather and decide who would follow which trade routes to the East this year.
These were the farmers, who lived scattered throughout the heart of Aren Country. They all wanted to sell their goods in the East, but in order to get the best prices for their products, they would have to avoid competing with each other. So if there were three wool traders this year, one would go to Incria, one to Desdon, and one to some of the smaller towns in between. This crafty, systematic monopoly stayed a secret to much of the rest of the world, though of course, because their chosen place of conspiracy was also one of the most visited taverns along the most traveled road in the country, rumors did spread. No one except for the tavern staff and the farmers knew for sure, though... And they were not going to talk about it anytime soon.
The late spring meeting was the first of three to happen each year, and it was always the first truly large crowd of the year for the Windmill Tavern. They descended on the village on the fourth full moon after the frost, when the spring crops were to be harvested. They came with wagons and carts filled with commodities, and since there was very little room in the town for every one of these transportation devices, most of them remained parked in the grass behind the hotel.
Isa, Jinn, Till, and Essa knew the night would come, but they never had gotten used to the sudden crowd. The tavern bustled with activity all night long, keeping the staff awake and very busy long past their usual closing hours.
Isa recognized most of the farmers from past years, though occasionally a new face showed up: a son or daughter now old enough to travel the trade route and learn what the family business was all about.
Apparently the big news was that the hard winter had a few unexpected benefits, chief among them the melted snow giving the ground enough moisture to make up for last year’s drought. Moderate rainfall the past few fortnights meant that most of the spring crops were doing well. Only the animal farmers, whose cattle had not been free to roam lately, and the two vineyard owners, whose grapes were too large to make good, sweet wine, could say that this was a bad year. Others were ecstatic, and the mood never left the building even long after the last of the visitors had left for the night.
Isa needed a break after the first two hours of dealing with the incoming crowds. She knew, though, that she would get no rest, because the others were as exhausted as she and needed her help. She went behind the bar to trade places with Till at present, and in response to an old man on one of the stools, she reached for some brandy and a glass to pour it in. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cerie, still a little green sphere of foggy light, and although Isa could not see a form or expression beneath the glow, she fancied the fairy was watching the whole scene with somewhat of an amusement. Cerie had not moved much in her three fortnights there, except occasionally to fly out the window in search of whatever it was fairies ate in the wild... Isa did not know. Flower petals maybe?
The old man properly thanked Isa for the brandy and went back to talking to a younger man next to him. Isa overheard enough to learn that they were cotton farmers from separate families. They had already agreed that the younger one would head northeast while the old man went southeast.
Since fabric farmers were often involved with other professional heartland merchants, especially tailors (who not only fixed clothing but made it by hand as well), Isa asked out of curiosity, “Do either of you know where the tailors are in this room? I’ve been hoping I could buy a nice new dress...”
One of the understandings the farmers and the townsfolk had in The Windmill Road was that the former would get discount lodging and meals during their stays for the meetings, and in return, the latter would receive discounts on any number of the goods in transport.
Therefore, Isa’s question did not strike either of the men as odd. The older one smiled and pointed with his thumb to a booth on his right.
“Watch out, young lady,” said he. “There are four of them this year. Bit of a miscommunication, that. Nobody knows where the fourth among them is going to go, but he’ll probably be forced west to see if he can trade at port. They’re drawing straws for who gets to trade where.”
Isa understood immediately. It was a rare yet unfortunate event that there would be too many merchants of one product to let all of them travel eastward. The one going west would have to make it through to Pril, and that was never the easiest or most rewarding of trips, since that entire city viewed trade on land in such a way that one might as well imagine an entire city pause to look in silence at the merchant and wonder for a moment... “Trade by land... You can DO that?”
When the four tailors were done deciding each other’s fate, three of them left for the night. One stayed at the table, and while he did not exactly look dejected, he was clearly not in the best of spirits. So this is the loser, Isa thought. She walked over to him and said, “Down on your luck?”
The man leaned his face into his hands and said, “I guess so.” He was a plainspoken and otherwise simply plain man, the type one could easily ignore in a crowd: brown hair, medium build, no accent, neat but simple beard... He looked to be in his thirties, though Isa had never been able to tell the age of men with beards, mostly because the hair covered too much of time’s wrinkles to tell how many were there.
Isa knew her request for a dress would cheer the man up, but she worked into it gradually. Eventually he agreed to show her his materials before sunrise the next day. Isa did not learn right away what type of clothes this man specialized in, but at least she found out his name: Garroner. He had traveled the Windmill Road in previous years and never expected a fourth tailor to show up, but...
“Well, what’s to be done?” he said, followed with a sigh. “That’s just the way of the market sometimes. New ones come, old ones go.” He did try to smile, though, since he was, after all, speaking to a customer.
“I have a few very nice dresses that will fit you; see what you think in the morning.”
Despite Isa’s total exhaustion when she finally went to bed for the night, she woke up early, excited. She took some of her money and walked outside to where a cart stood outside the hotel. It was the only one whose owner had woken up this early after such a late night, and its horses were facing west, ready to ride out of town.
Garroner had dark circles under his eyes, and Isa imagined she did, too. Nonetheless, the man was very attentive. He said, “I have four dresses that might fit you. My wife made two of them, I made one, and my daughter did most of the work on the last one. She’s still learning, but I gave it a few touch-ups... Well, judge for yourself.”
The tailor had set all four of these dresses on the top of the giant fabric heap beneath the cart’s rain cover. The first dress was a simple blue number, which looked informal but comfortable. Isa could get a lot of use out of a dress like that. The second dress was much more formal: white with a red sash around the middle. The third and fourth were both lightweight, summer dresses, and they looked almost identical except that one was beige and the other was dark green.
Isa liked them all, so she decided to buy all four. Garroner’s eyes opened wide at her request, but he did not refuse. Almost cautiously he asked what price she was willing to offer. (This was the usual way of negotiations and haggling throughout Aren Country: the buyer named the first price, and the seller would try to bid up from there.)
Isa took her coin purse off from where it hung around her neck and opened it. She offered fifty linnes (half an alligon) and took four gold coins out of the purse to show she had the money.
Garroner did some mental math and said, “Make it sixty and you have a deal.”
“Sixty it is, then, minus five for your tab last night.”
Garroner smiled when the exchange had been made. “Wow. At least now I don’t feel so bad about having to travel west... You just covered most of my expenses for the fabric this year.”
Isa rested her new dresses over her left arm and said, “I was wondering about that, actually. Why are there four tailors this year? I only remember two from last spring...”
Garroner leaned back against the side of his cart and said, “Well, the other two aren’t from the towns; they’re from Incria. You see, not all of us tailors are wandering salespeople. In the cities, there are tailors who keep shop all year round. They mend and manufacture most of the clothes people wear in the eastern cities and surrounding towns. Many of these clothes are of fairly poor quality, made and sold cheaply. What we travelers deal in are called “western-style” clothes, and they’re considered luxury items. That’s why we’re still able to travel with our carts to the different places and manage to sell for decent prices. The city tailors see us as competition, which I suppose is fair enough.
“The way I understand it, there were two tailors from Incria who wanted to move into the business of cross-country trade. They did not know our customs at first, but they asked around. Other merchants told them that if they wanted to join in the heartland trade routes, they should get their goods ready over the course of the winter and spring and meet at The Windmill Road as we did last night. So they learned enough to know what to make and where to go; they did not know the rules of competition until last night, though.
“Bryar—he’s the other tailor you saw last year—and I met these newcomers yesterday just as everyone was coming into the town. Even though they were new and we were the veterans of the trade, we decided to treat them fairly and draw straws to determine who would go northeast, southeast, east, and west. I got west.”
Garroner shrugged. “There’s really not much more to it than that. My family and I worked on these clothes all winter and early spring. I was thinking I wouldn’t get a chance to make a profit this year, but... well, I guess I’m back and business, and I have you to thank.”
“Well, your family and you make such lovely dresses... You know what? I bet you could just go east and follow one of those city tailors and compete against them. They’re probably trying to sell their same old cheap wares at an inflated price.”
Garroner nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised. But rules of the trade are rules of the trade. So I’ll head west into whatever market lies out there. I’d better start early so I can return home in time to make more for the autumn trade.”
Isa said sympathetically, “I don’t suppose it occurs to me often, but you really have to spend a lot of time away from your family, don’t you?”
The tailor cleared his throat and said, “For me, it’s only four fortnights a year: two in the spring, two in the fall. Some of the others, farmers mostly, make three trips: spring, summer, fall; they have it a bit harder.”
The sun would rise in only a few minutes. Isa had to prepare the tavern for the morning rush—and it would be huge today, as all the merchants set out.
Garroner thanked Isa again and mounted a seat in front of his cart. Isa waved as his two horses trotted steadily away from the sunrise.