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July 29, 2023

The Merchant's Last Tale

"The Alleyway was full of eyes..."

A well dressed man telling a story to a crowd.

Nestled in a small clearing, a grassy island in a sea of verdant forest, stood a lonely inn. Not lonely for a lack of people, mind you, but rather for the absence of other buildings. Aside from a foul outhouse and a poor excuse for a shed, the inn sat alone, with only the trees to look upon. It was jealous of the trees who all had each other to talk to. It was even jealous of the people inside of itself.

In fact, at that very moment, it had felt a burst of energy from inside as a group of men reacted loudly to something. The inn had assumed that there was some incredible story being told by one of the travelers stopping by for some rest. It had spent all it’s time surrounded by, and surrounding, humans but never learned any of their languages. It had, in some way though, come to understand them quite well because it was correct in it’s assumption.

Inside, standing in front of a large stone fireplace, was a man recounting a tale. His skin was deeply tanned and his hair was black, his features only made the more dark and mysterious from the shadows the fire cast on him. Sitting and standing in a semi-circle around him were a dozen or so people, some travelers and some full time residents of the lonely inn.

“T’was in the city of Lyria I plied my trade before I took my business on the road” the man said, with all of the charm he could muster.

“Selling jewels ain’t no trade,” a woman in the crowd replied, “did you even cut ‘em?”

The man was used to being met with suspicion. A traveling merchant is already difficult to trust, and a foreigner at that.

“No, I did not,” he said. “That was the craft of my good friend and business partner, Argus. I could tell you more about it if you would like.”

The people in the crowd shared glances and low murmurs, but none protested, which was as close to an expression of interest that he would ever get from these people. He quickly collected himself before launching into the story he had told a dozen times before.

“Years ago I accompanied a merchant caravan to your city of Lyria, traveling from the deserts in the south. I had become so captivated by the flora, the flowers and greenery that grew abundantly out of any available patch of earth, that I had decided to stay. It was shortly afterwards that I had heard of the jeweler, Argus. He had been seeking someone with skill in mathematics, which is widely taught where I come from. Through a mutual acquaintance we were brought together, marking the beginning of a lucrative partnership. See, the man was impeccable with the shaping of precious metals and the setting of gems, but he had very little skill for running a business, which is where I excelled. I quietly played my role operating the day to day of the business while Argus came to be known as the most skilled jeweler in the region.

It was during one evening, after we had secured the shop for the night, that I was walking home in the darkness. We would normally close much earlier, but on that day we had been awaiting a customer who had promised to come and purchase a fairly valuable ring. He had not come for the entire day, and I was prepared to close the shop at the normal hour, but Argus insisted we give the customer more time. I begrudgingly agreed to stay and wait with him. It wasn’t until the sky was a deep purple that Argus had agreed to close our doors.

With a lantern in one hand and a cudgel in the other, I made my way through the darkened streets. The occasional faint light pouring out of a window would cast shadows on the path ahead, playing tricks on my vision. You see, on that night I was as elegantly dressed as I am before you now,” he said, gesturing to his clothing. A move that made some people in the crowd grimace. 

“So I must remain vigilant for those who would think to rob me of my hard earned wealth. It was a good thing that I was so aware too, for I could see movement ahead, as well as the glint of steel against my lantern light.

I thought they must be brigands and moved quickly into an alley, making sure to extinguish my lantern so as not to be seen. It had taken my eyes some time to adjust to the darkness as I rushed through the narrow paths, sometimes kicking things quite painfully as I moved. I heard the sound of shoes on the stone road as whoever was chasing me moved closer. I decided that the wisest move was to not move, but rather, to stay completely hidden and silent so that they may pass in their hunt for me. My plan had worked, as the sounds of their movement came and went, never entering the narrow path between homes that I had hidden in.

After a reasonable amount of time had passed I re-lit my lantern so that I may exit without further hurting myself. It was then that I saw them, the reason I travel the road today. Two floating specks of white, lightly reflecting the glow from my lamp. As I tried to determine what they were, another pair appeared, this time closer. On these I could see that they were eyes. White sides with a deep black center. Another pair opened, revealing themselves from the darkness and, before I could do anything, the entire alleyway was full of eyes. They all stared directly at me, though I could see not what they belonged to. No bodies to support these floating pupils.

My instinct for survival overtook me even more strongly than during my escape mere moments before. I dropped the lantern and once again ran through the darkness, knocking over anything in my path. I must have caused quite a disturbance, as I can remember people coming out of their homes to see what the noise was about. Nevertheless, I arrived to my home without further incident. I barred my door for the remainder of the night and hardly made it to sleep. The whole event really gave me a enough of a fright that I had decided on that night to leave the city for a time, though I would continue my trade. That is why I am here with you all, making my way through the countryside sharing these beautiful wares.” 

He swung his arm towards a table in the room which was watched over by a large, brutish man. On it was a fine cloth, on the cloth were fine rings and amulets, and on the faces of the crowd were looks of suspicion. “I know not what surrounded me that night, but I am grateful that it motivated me to travel, for meeting the people of the country has proven to be a wonderful experience.”

He gave them his best attempt at a sincere smile. The reaction of the people was lackluster to say the least, and his charming demeanor began to melt away. The man knew how to tell a story, and that made some people suspicious. He was sure that some believed him to be a charlatan, a common swindler peddling fake gems. The people began to disperse, leaving the man somewhat disappointed by their lack of enthusiasm. He decided it better to hold off on pushing a sale too soon, lest they ask too many questions. He had assumed people outside of the city would be easier to sell to, but instead learned that they were shrewd and wary of outsiders.

He had sat down and eaten alone after his small performance. Shortly after he had felt the call to make an offering to their outhouse. Having borrowed a lantern, he made his way to the small wooden shack. With him gone, one child found the courage to ask her mother about these eyes the man had seen, to which she responded “that must be the gods sweetie, punishing that man for bein’ too greedy.”

The blackness of the trees surrounding the inn was darker than the cold night sky above. The moon hardly shone, denying the merchant of any assistance on his walk to the wooden throne. The lantern light illuminated the narrow dirt path in front of him. He had not made a sale in the last week and was beginning to debate himself over the viability of this venture. He had been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice a pair of shimmering eyes somewhere just outside of his lantern light, but the inn had noticed.

In fact, the building had seen multiple pairs of eyes appear in the field surrounding it. It had seen them approach the outhouse slowly, like cats sneaking up on an unsuspecting mouse. It wanted to call out to the man and warn him, but it didn’t speak his language. It thought to encourage the outhouse to try and warn him, but instead decided that speaking to the outhouse would be worse than just watching the man die. So, the inn was resigned to watch as this stranger was killed, in fact he was killed in a very disgusting way, even to a building. A little later it even watched as someone else came across the man’s body, it heard them shriek, it felt the people’s surprise as they heard the news, and it observed them descend on the poor man who was simply standing over a table of shiny rocks, all the while thinking that maybe it would be better of if it was still just a pile of stones and a bunch of trees.

I hope you enjoyed that!

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