Chapter 39.1

“Pray tell me, why is my pass not allowed? You can clearly see it has been issued by Cidala’s Merchant Association.” Tyler’s eye twitched as the guard in front of him gave yet another excuse as to why he was not allowed into Castle Livon. Granted, it was still pretty close one of the closest castles on the defensive lines to the Evidia border, but that is all the more reason to allow Merchants to sell their inventory.

“Security reasons. You are not on the authorized list of merchants. You can sell to any of the neighboring towns, but not to the castle directly.” The guard simply said, motioning him to leave. Tyler restrained his anger and left in a huff, knowing full well how much time was wasted in this journey. The whole reason he came to Livon was to secure his backup supplies, ones only he knew about. As the former royal guard, he had set up stashes of supplies, just in case he was in the area and there was an emergency. Usually, that involved paying off the innkeepers of the inns that Paige had wrecked, but now he used the money to further fund his intelligence gathering. Intelligence gathering that was not going well. By all accounts, the war had already shifted toward the Evidia border. But recent rumors painted a much darker story.

 “I shouldn’t have left some of my stashes in secured areas. But who would’ve thought that I’d no longer have access to it either.”  He took one last look at the castle behind him and left dejectedly. Drawing himself up, he walked confidently toward his lodging. He noticed a lot of stares being directed toward him and ignored it. Even some Warriors themselves were looking enviously at him. It wasn’t every day that a Merchant who could rival a Warrior in physique walked down the crowded path away from the castle. Tyler carried his merchandise with him at all times, as both a security measure and a training one. 

Tyler walked with a purpose, each step measured as his bag bounced up and down in a rhythmic motion. At shy over six foot tall, he stood out amongst the crowd, and so did his equipment. His bag was larger than he was, and each step rattled a few loose shutters. His boots were mudstained, but if you looked close enough you could tell there was a fair amount of blood on them as well. Although his bag labeled him as a traveling merchant, it didn’t take a guardsman a second glance to tell he was dangerous.

“Hey, hey hey mister! Do you have any treats?” A small voice called out from behind him. Turning carefully, his bag swung around him and just missed the carriage that had passed to his side. Looking down, a young boy was staring at his bag with awe. Well, awe and curiosity. Most merchants elected to use wagons to travel, but Tyler rather relied on his own two feet, and a small packhorse instead. Most threats to a Merchant were hardly threats to an ex-Vanguard.

Tyler gave a wry smile and pulled his bag off his shoulders, the loud thump as it hit the ground startled a few passersby. “I do have some, but it is costly.” He said in a grave tone, although his eyes said differently. While it might seem mundane by anyone else’s standards, Tyler truly enjoyed interacting with the common citizens he vowed to protect. He never told anyone why he had resigned from his position after getting his class, only vaguely stating that the Royal Family had a policy of not letting those with Vanguard stay in the position of the Captain Royal Guard. In truth, he was just…tired. Tired of politics. Tired of responsibility. He wanted to help the country, not manage the upper class and their personal desires for the nation. 

So he left. He kept his badge and shield just in case the country ever needed him again, and after the war started in earnest he quickly came back and focused on helping the Royal Family deal with the issues at hand. No one ever asked what he had done in that time that he had left, and he probably wouldn’t tell. Especially Paige. He knew that Paige probably had an inkling of what he did, since her network of contacts was probably just as large as his. Focusing on the task at hand though, he quickly whipped out a bag from the side pocket closest to him and spread the goods on a light, solid plank of corkwood he sometimes used for displaying his wares. The cry of joy instantly attracted the attention of the surrounding kids, who stared wide-eyed at the goods displayed. 

Candy. Rock candy, to be precise. Tyler had noticed that Rebecca had been sucking on something one day during his regular sweep of the castle and had asked politely for some. He was instantly hooked on it the moment he tried it, and had badgered Paige for quiet awhile, even going so far as to turn a blind eye to Rebecca’s and Paige’s party for a week. Of course, Rebecca’s mom had been quite furious with him at the time, but the secret recipe to it was worth it. After leaving his position, he opened up a sweet shop in a town he had never visited, and strove hard to keep a low profile, even going so far as to not sell to merchants. The local kids were dismayed when he left, and he never quite forgot the feeling of a child’s bright smile whenever they tried one. 

“A copper piece for a stick, A silver for five sticks.” Tyler shouted out loudly to the parent’s chagrin. It was cheap enough for a small treat, yet expensive enough in bulk to push away any thoughts of buying out his inventory, something else he learned when he opened up his shop. 

While watching the children, he took careful note of what the parents were discussing as well. The best information always came from what rumors were flying around, for each rumor had a grain of truth embedded. Usually anyways. But one conversation stuck out more than the others. Straining his ears while enteracting with the children, he quietly homed in on the conversation.

{…I can’t believe the price of grain increased again. Now it’s almost one silver per pound of flour!}

{Just be happy the price of meat has been staying low. Besides, you can always get corn instead….}

‘…hmm, so the price is increasing here too. The cost is even higher close to Evidia. Are the merchants not travelling this close to the borders anymore?’ Sweeping his eyes across the path, he noted only four different merchants organizations, all of them locals judging by their familiarity with the passing townsfolk. 

‘Dangerous situation the defensive line seems to be in. How much damage did the castles take if they are checking the identities of merchants? Royal procedure is eighty percent of the castle must be damaged for lockdowns to occur. But General Williams letters said that the castles along the southern defensive lines were holding. Curious. And the fact that no one really knows is odd as well.’ 

Selling the rest of the candy with a smile, he put up his wooden board and walked over to his lodging; a rather old inn with a stable attached to it. Checking the inside of the stables that were situated off to the side, he noted that his pack mules had already been groomed and fed for the night. Nodding at the sight, he walked inside the inn and noticed that dinner was already being served, despite it being just past noon. “Byron, any messages for me?”

The bookkeeper looked up to see his best customer. “Tyler! Funny you should mention it. I saw a messenger falcon fly in, but he wouldn’t let me get close to him. The colors matched your descriptions though so it should be the one you’ve been waiting for. Do you want me to try and get him?”

“No, I’ll get him. I’ll have dinner and some elk nibblets as well.”

“Okay, it’ll be out waiting for you.” Byron nodded and ordered one of the waitresses to grab Tyler some leftover raw nibblets from the kitchen. “So, are you thinking of heading out soon Tyler? You’ve been waiting on that messenger falcon since you’ve arrived here two weeks ago.”

Tyler nodded. “I am. I’ve already visited the towns closest to Evidia, and unfortunately business isn’t as good as I  thought it would be. They still won’t let me into the castle, even with the Cidala’s merchant association backing me. I was hoping to make some money selling some miscellaneous items, but it looks like I’ve lost money on this travel.”

Byron shook his head in consolation. “Cidala produces the majority of the food for the army, but it was a good bet to use their name. Your items are good, especially the bows, but not many would need specialized equipment. If you had processed the ores, maybe it could have been sold to the castle, but some blacksmiths may be willing to take the ores.”

“Yeah, at then at least half my expected profit would be gone. It’d take at least a true Blacksmith to process the ores, and even then they’d have to take the time to manually smelt it. The army would have shipped it to the royal blast furnaces at their own costs. That right there would save me at least ten gold coins in purchasing power alone.”

Byron frowned. “Hmm, I didn’t think of that. Well, the army hasn’t sent out any conveys for a few months now, so it must have enough supplies for now.”

Tyler stiffened and agreed with a nod of his head. Seeing the waitress come with his nibblets, he accepted the bowl and walked outside, thinking to himself. ‘They haven’t sent out a convoy in a few months? How much restoration does the castle defenses need? Castle Fredman held out the longest out of the southern defensive lines, and even the civilian shelters were left intact. Or was it because of the defenders here? Warrior Bultron and Veronica had helped take charge of this castle when the war started. Did Veronica’s demon heritage play a role? Did the defenders retreat all the way into the central keep? Or did they want to dismantle the castles here instead?’

Whistling in a loud pitch, he threw a few nibblets into the air, waiting for the falcon to catch it. Say what you will about Paige, but her ability to seemingly tame any animal had come in use in more ways than one. First that Elder Boar, then this Peregrine Falcon. The falcon alone made communications easier, although they still rarely communicated this way. Although it may be fast, it was also highly conspicuous, which limited their ability to send messages this way. Donning his gloves, he held arm up as the falcon descended, holding out the nibblets in his hand. The message was brief and concise, and judging by the handwriting it was most likely Paige who wrote it.

[Cm bk nw, Le/Ap bus’s grwth. Bow supp rdy for p/up. M rdy /teach.]

“Really Paige, would it have killed you to write it out?” Tyler said after reading the message a few times. “Guess it’s time to head back.” Quickly writing a response, he let the falcon go and watched for any birds flying from the castle, which none did. Tyler grimaced as no bird was released from the castle to follow the falcon back east. “Castles Fredman, Livon, Carmel, Cison, Freton, Millon, Vaste, Tangre. Essentially the entire southern defensive line has been locked down by Royal Guards and in various stages of repair. Central and northern defensive lines should be assumed to be in the same state. No wonder the Imperial Family took control, even if the Royal family wanted to, there is no way the Royal Family could afford the repairs on so many castles concurrently.”

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