Chapter 79. Kraut Merchants And Where To Find Them
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The remaining of visit to Kraut is... indescript, I suppose, would be a better option. Nothing more of importance was discussed, the last three days devoted solely to working out the schedules and setting up dates and agreements for who, when, how much, what for and other assorted sundries. The situation with Kassandra had been tactfully shoved out of attention by everyone involved, the official version simply being that "master artificer from Champagne fashioned magical eyes out of exceedingly rare ingredients by royal request". I'm not sure why Alphonse was so nonchalant about claiming the agency on this one, but then again... Royal seer is essentially one of his closest personal retainers, it does stand to reason that he would take an opportunity to reward her for years of faithful service once it presented itself. He also doesn't seem to be making much of a secret that master artificer in question is me, and actually insists that I must receive some kind of payment from him specifically for "invaluable aid rendered".

Since I'm not really interested in being seen as extortionist (Father disagrees, by the way. By his reckoning, I should have outright asked for money from Alphonse. He DOES concede that having Alphonse offer the reward himself was a better option in the end.), we settle the deal with a present of rare alcohol from king's personal cellars. As such, I'm a proud owner of six crates full of assorted riesling and lemberger, ages ranging from fifteen years to a full hundred. In addition to this, I have two kegs of bock lager. Well, as far as I remember, that is. I have promptly forgotten Kraut names while trying to come up with suitable analogs from my own memories. Klaus is thankfully absent. Not sure if he's simply busy or cognizant of the fact I'm plotting to murder him once over every time I'm reminded of his continued existence.

Spreading myself over the Berlinger was... lukewarm in results, let's say. I got some interesting data, but Klaus himself keeps a tight reign on his stuff, and according to my observations, actively tamper-proofs pretty much everything. While I can get to his papers if I really want to, there is no reasonable way to do so quickly without drawing a lot of attention. So, most of my mass that I leave in Berlinger is now concentrated within the Merchant Guild, with a couple of clandestine burrowers slowly grinding their way through the castle walls. Overtime, I should have some good observation points and sabotage the security in covert ways sufficiently to have a good idea what Klaus is up to at all times.

It is the last day before the departure, and I have just finished conversing with representatives of Merchant Guild. As Klaus had promised in the beginning of our visit here, they came to offer their apologies and restitution. It is clear that they are doing so only because Klaus ordered them to, and are distinctly discomfited by the fact they have to "admit" to a wrongdoing that was not of their making. As such, their apologies, while quite glib, are obviously pre-written and lack any actual contrition. Furthermore, the visitors are strictly the representatives of sea traders dominating the south of Kraut. Which is odd, because Berlinger is a landlocked city. And yet, I'm not presented even with a token member of land traders. Curious.

The restitution they initially offer is grain and coin. And while I can accept the last, I have exactly zero intention or ability to load what comes to five tons of grain on the airship. Explaining that to the merchants, amusingly enough, lifts their spirits noticeably. They're startled when I point that out, but after some needling, admit that their guild was plagued by persistent rumor that I intend to use airships to force them out of business. So finding out my airship isn't up to taking even two quintals of grain, much less a dozen of them sets them at ease. I tactfully avoid mentioning that I could potentially design jumbo zeppelins that could compete with ships on equal terms in cargo lift. It's a huge investment and unnecessary in any case. For now, at least. After some negotiation, we renegotiate their compensation to be offered in form of assorted exotic samples and foreign trinkets. Well, and a selection of local delicacies and specialties. We part ways soon after, both feeling much more sanguine about achieved deal. Me, because I managed to talk them into providing rare seeds and saplings of several plants that are not endemic to Champagne and hard to obtain there. Them, because in their local prices, they managed to "talk me down" to slash off almost a quarter off the sum they were prepared to expend on placating me and thus left with feelings of coy accomplishment.

I say coy accomplishment because I have put some surveillance on them, and while Kraut language stumps me a lot, I can figure out the general gist of conversation, and what I am hearing is a mix of "she's not as avaricious as we thought" and "a little bit of this and that is far less of a burden then a lot of one thing". I imagine the grain idea was Klaus doing his level best to annoy me with petty shit, because he of all people should have had the fucking idea that I can't fit dozen quintals of grain on the zeppelin. Not to mention that grain is the most common and unremarkable product there is.

However, once they get back to the guild, there is a bit of kerfuffle between them and a couple of other merchants. Or, more precisely, there are two clearly delineated factions, and my visitors are happily reporting to one of them, while other (dressed in simpler clothes and possessing of rougher exteriors) is split between listening in and grumbling that they were excluded from talks. Land traders, no doubt. A bit of eavesdropping later, I pinpoint their apparent leader - a wiry man with the blackest bushiest beard I have ever seen in this world. He is referred to as "Herr Munchausen" by his fellows and with irritated snorts by southern faction. Much to my surprise, he leaves the guild shortly after midday and heads towards his own business, presumably... Yes, a fairly well-sized shop occupying the corner of marketplace. It is titled as "Munchausen's Emporium" and seems to be a sort of general store cum thrift shop, because his clerks seem to buy assorted stuff from people almost as often as they sell something.

I think I want to talk to herr Munchausen. As such, I shift my mass towards the tailing eyespider in out of sight corner, and ask Bridgit to blink over to me. Then we both stroll out into the marketplace. It takes me but two minutes to catch a boy running by by the scruff.

"Lozn mir geyn, modne mentsh!1Let me go, strange person!" - I suppose I deserved that. Still, I have means of persuasion. Keeping my grasp firm, I hold up a crownmark before his eyes. Urchin stills immediately, looking at the coin attentively. I let go of his clothes, and he predictably remains right where he is, listening to me. Money talks, yes.

"Willst verdienen? Notiz mitbringen Herr Münchhausen.2Want earn? Note bring herr Munchausen." - I butcher Kraut mercilessly. His face screws up in confusion, but clears up quickly as I hand him the note and dangle the coin in front of him again. He snatches the note up and disappears into the shop at a run. Some shouting erupts in a moment, but given the lack of his forcible ejection, it seems I`ve picked a resourceful messenger. Indeed, he comes up in five minutes, bringing a neatly dressed young man in tow.

"Many pardons, but are you the foreign ladies who wanted to speak with herr Munchausen?" - the man asks me in fluent, if somewhat accented Albish.

"Indeed. Care to show us in?" - I offer, tossing the coin to the kid. He grabs it and shouts "File danken, fremd dame!3Many thanks, foreign lady!", disappearing in nondescript direction. Holy shit, does the boy run.

I'm led into the shop, and straight past clerks up the stairs. We pass a couple rooms that are clearly offices... and past a heavy door which seems to delineate the business and private parts of building. Very curious. Finally, I am guided into a sitting room of a sorts, already occupied by herr Munchausen himself.

"Good job, Adolph." - he offers in Albish, his accent similar but much less noticeable - "Tell Edna to set up some tea and refreshments, if you please."

He sketches a shallow bow to me, as Adolph leaves the room, offering - "Jungfrau Gillespie... I am Gustaf Munchausen. What do I owe the honor of this visit? Oh, before anything, please have a seat. Pardon me, I am a little discombobulated right now."

I sit down as he suggests, taking up one of the chairs. Bridgit gracefully settles into another next to me. Gustaf sits back into his own, across the small table. "Good day to you, herr Munchausen." - I begin - "I have been visited by a delegation from the Berlinger Merchant Guild today, but much to my surprise, all of the people present were southern merchants. It strikes me as strange that the Guild would be represented solely by sea merchants in the landlocked city. As such, I have decided that paying a visit to someone in the know, such as you, is in order."

"Yene mmzrim!4Those bastards!" - he grumbles - "Pardon me. You are right, by all rights I should have been included into that delegation. To offer my own apologies for the offenses 'our' servant caused, if nothing else."

I can practically hear the quotes around "our". That just won't do. "Herr Munchausen, you and I both know that the servant in question answers to Klaus, not to Merchant Guild." - I admonish him lightly - "So do not bother with apologies. I am well aware you had no say in this, nor did Guild. Klaus simply used you as an excuse."

He sighs and nods. "It is as you say, jungfrau Gillespie." - he agrees - "Well then, what can I really help you with, in that case? To elaborate on your earlier question, Guild roster assigns seniority per wealth, so while my house is one of the founding ones and I always have a vote in the Guild, sea merchants outrank and outnumber me and mine by a lot, and thus, have free hand to exclude us at their whim." He pauses, blinks, leans towards Bridgit.

"If you pardon my curiosity..." - he begins slowly - "Would you happen to be... of house Baumhoff?"

Bridgit nods slowly. "I am." - she agrees - "Bridgit Baumhoff, maid of my lady Gillespie."

He heaves a shuddering sigh. "Geter in himl!5Gods in heaven!" - he says quietly, looking downwards - "You did survive then. Bridgit, you probably do not remember me, but your father Kristoff was my friend and partner. I'm deeply sorry I couldn't be there when he... when he..."

Bridgit shakes her head. "I do remember you, feter6uncle Gustaf." - she offers - "I was actually trying to make my way back to Berlinger to find you when I was found by master Gillespie. Sorry to say, but I was fearful of the journey across the mountains, and when master Gillespie offered me to become a maid in his household, I took the offer."

She smiles and leans towards me - "But it is for the best, because otherwise I would not be able to meet my mistress and become her maid."

Munchausen smiles wanly. "Well, I am glad you have found your place in the world." - he offers - "I was hoping that maybe... Ah, nevermind. That deal had been closed years ago."

Bridgit leans over the table and pats his hand lightly. "All is well now, feter7uncle Gustaf. But I must ask. Would you happen to suspect who was it who sent assassins after my father?" - she proffers.

"Suspect, sure. It was that thrice-damned Verwaand!" - he retorts, his eyes lighting up with anger - "Cowardly bastard currently resides in Champagne, as far as I know, wealthy and careless! Agh, what would I not give to wring his neck for what he's done to you!"

Bridgit smiles at him again. "Ah, good, you do know." - she offers - "In that case..." She suddenly cuts herself off and looks towards me - "Mistress, may I tell?" I nod to her. Munchausen has plenty of reasons to hate Verwaand and zero to sell us out. Might as well score some brownie points with the man.

"Wait, wait. Tell me what?" - he asks, befuddled.

"My lady Alyssa had found out what Maximilien Verwaand did." - she continues - "He admitted everything, feter8uncle Gustaf. And he paid for his crime properly."

Herr Munchausen blinks. Blinks again. Leans forward. "Paid for his crime, you say?" - he offers in a loud whisper.

"I've strangled him with a piece of wire." - I tell him blandly - "A suitable alternative to hanging, I believe. Bridgit had witnessed his end personally. A little present for my favorite maid."

He recoils back... Then bursts out in a bout of bitter laughter. "A present, indeed." - he chortles, calming down - "Jungfrau Gillespie, you have my heartfelt thanks for taking care of Bridgit... and for avenging Kristoff. It is a cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless. Would you two join me in raising the glass in his memory?"

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