69. Haggling
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Shadow approached the butcher with some trepidation. This was really her first time just… meeting someone on her own, aside from when she first met Annie and Jonas. Or the trapper. But that hadn’t gone so well.

Every other time she’d been introduced, she’d had someone there who knew her already. The closest she’d come was Maggie and her friends, but even then, Annie had introduced her to Maggie and the rest of the kids, and then Maggie had introduced her to Ara and Roy.

Now she had to go up and just… introduce herself to someone. And then yell at them until they gave her meat for cheaper.

She slumped a little. She wanted to make friends! Not… haggle.

But it was something she’d need to learn. It didn’t escape her notice that the chicken meat was significantly more expensive than the bread had been. If she wasn’t hunting all the time for her food, she’d need to be able to pay for it. Annie was so nice, being her mom and paying for everything for her, but she really wanted to be able to pay for herself. Shadow still wasn’t sure how much money she could actually make once she found a job to do.

That made her curious again about checking out the tasker’s guild, or maybe the hunter’s guild? She had to admit the latter made her a little nervous, given the fact they had a bounty out on shadelings. She was pretty good at hunting though. Maybe there was money to make there? Kirrik was a hunter. She’d need to ask him how much it paid.

She did wonder how she would go about carrying back her prey… she certainly couldn't carry a whole deer by herself. Maybe she could work with a team? Shadow knew her mom most likely would prefer her not to hunt for a living though…

She shook her head. That was still stuff to consider later. The stall had cleared of people and she was only barely still approaching it.

She took a deep breath and sped up again. She needed to do this.

The large woman working the stall finally noticed Shadow’s approach. The woman glanced at her, and then looked around for a second before her gaze settled on Shadow again.

“You looking to buy some meat, child?” The woman asked in a neutral tone, giving her a curious look.

Thankfully, the stall was low enough that she only had to stretch a little bit to get in a decent writing position.

Shadow took a deep breath. She could smell the meat, but her stomach barely stirred given the anxiety she was feeling.

She steeled herself and started writing.

‘I am! My name’s Shadow! What’s your name?’ Shadow introduced herself.

The woman’s eyebrows shot up, a small smile crossing her features.

“Name’s Nessa. Nice to meet you Shadow. You write instead of talking?” she asked curiously.

Shadow nodded her head.

‘My voice is bad for speaking. It doesn’t make the right sounds.’ Shadow wrote, doing her best to calm her beating heart.

Nessa nodded, and gave Shadow another once over, her brows furrowing a bit as she took in Shadow’s features. She definitely took note of the paws, taking a full couple of seconds to stare at them.

Shadow’s heart rate went up rather than down.

“I must admit I haven’t seen a beastkin quite like you before. What kind are you, if you don’t mind saying?” Nessa asked, tone distinctly more curious than wary.

Shadow felt a little tension leave her. She gave Nessa a conservative smile before she started writing.

‘I’m shadeling-kind! We’re pretty rare. Our features are little closer to our kind than most beastkin’s are.’ Shadow explained. This was a topic she’d gone over plenty with Annie, so she was confident in her answer.

Nessa’s eyes widened again, roving over Shadow’s form a second time.

“Well, I'll be! You’re not kidding! If you didn’t…” the woman started, before catching herself. “...Hmm. It’s no matter. Now, what were you looking for?” she asked, her face setting back into neutrality, though perhaps with a slight smile.

Shadow straightened herself as much as she could. She was both thrilled with the fact that her story had held up and somewhat terrified of the haggling to come.

‘I want to buy two chickens!’ she stated, trying her best to look serious.

Nessa’s eyes flicked to the message and then back to Shadow’s face. Her eyes brimmed with barely concealed mirth. She grabbed a pair of plucked and gutted chickens and flopped them on the counter.

“Well, little… uh... Shadow. That’ll be two silver twenty. And... I don’t mean any offense, but are you a little miss or mister?”

Shadow blinked, surprised. She'd never had someone ask her that before.

‘I’m a girl!’ She explained.

She supposed it might be hard to tell with her clothes on, and the city’s reek mucking with the scent. Well, not that humans could tell by scent anyway. Annie and Jonas had been pretty certain about that. Not that they really needed to be able to. Humans were reasonably distinguishable just by sight (though she did get it wrong sometimes…), the different sexes normally looking distinct, even with clothes on. Thinking back to her swarm, she could imagine it'd be difficult to tell brothers and sisters apart with clothes on and no scent to go by.

Then she recalled the first half of the sentence.

She’d been feeling better, but was instantly tense again. Now she needed to haggle.

Nessa nodded in response to her answer and Shadow started writing.

‘I…’ she started, pausing and giving Nessa a nervous glance, but still trying her best to seem confident. ‘I’ll give you… 1 silver 40 copper… your… your chickens look... mealy. And… not fresh. I could get other chickens... somewhere else... for less.’ Shadow wrote in bursts. Her eyes locked onto Nessa’s now annoyed stare.

“1 silver 40!? What are you on about, girl? I’ll have you know these chickens were slaughtered this morning, and they aren’t mealy! What does that even mean?” Nessa demanded, frowning.

Shadow looked at Nessa, her heart plummeting as the friendly woman glared at her.

She started scribbling in a panic.

‘I’m sorry! Please don’t hate me! I didn’t mean it! Your chicken is good and it smells fresh even with how bad the town smells and I shouldn’t have said it was mealy that was lying and apparently not a thing for chickens but I didn't know and that’s bad but I was trying to haggle and Jonas said I should try to—’

“Whoa! Whoa, girl, calm down!” Nessa exclaimed, taking a gentle hold of Shadow’s writing paw.

Shadow locked eyes with the woman again, half curled in on herself.

“Deep breaths now. It’s okay. I’m not mad.” Nessa assured.

Shadow did as she was told, her fluttering heart slowly returning to a more normal rate.

After a bit of breathing on Shadow’s part, Nessa started speaking again.

“Feeling better?” the butcher asked.

Shadow nodded. She did feel kind of like crying, though.

“Alright, now what’s all this about?” Nessa prompted, letting her paw go.

'You really don't hate me?' Shadow asked.

"No, dear," Nessa reassured her.

Shadow hesitated for a second before starting to write.

‘I… I’m supposed to be trying to haggle. Uncle Jonas said it’s really important to learn how to do but I don’t want to be mean and yell at people and make them mad at me!‘ Shadow looked up at Nessa with sad, distraught eyes. ‘He’s gonna be really disappointed. I messed it all up. I didn't want you to hate me...' she wrote dejectedly.

“Oh, honey,” Nessa said, with a concerned look. “That’s… you don’t need to haggle that way. It can work, but you don’t need to yell or be mean to get a good deal,” she finished.

Shadow looked at her with wide, hopeful eyes.

‘Really?’ she wrote, her ears perking up.

“Yes, really. Hells, being friendly works just as well, or better, most of the time. All you need to do is push for what you think is fair, and don’t let people sell you short. No need to go calling people names or deriding their wares. You can be firm and friendly and get the same results,” Nessa explained.

Shadow eagerly absorbed the wisdom, nodding along with the lesson. She thought she might like this version of haggling much more.

“I’d be happy to tell ya more but…” Nessa gestured to some people that had gathered, waiting for Shadow to finish her business.

Shadow slumped a little.

Right. She was here to buy meat. And she’d still totally messed up the haggling.

‘Sorry for taking so long… You... you wanted 2 silver 20?’ She asked sadly.

Jonas... probably wouldn’t be too disappointed…

Nessa rolled her eyes.

“What did we just talk about? Friendly but firm.

What? Oh. Oh!

Shadow perked up again, a thrill of hope flowing through her. She locked grateful eyes with Nessa and received a friendly smirk in return.

Shadow squared herself.

‘I would like the two chickens for 1 silver and 60 coppers! I think that price is fairer.’ She wrote, giving Nessa a friendly grin.

Nessa leaned back and her eyebrows shot up again.

“Damn! You’ve got some chompers on you, girl!” she exclaimed.

Shadow snapped her mouth shut and shrunk down a bit, giving a shy nod. She returned to smiling, but this time kept it small without showing too many teeth.

‘Sorry!’ she apologized.

Nessa just waved her off.

“Nothing to be sorry about. Not your fault you’ve got impressive teeth. Just surprising.” She said, before taking a breath. ”About that offer though, I’m thinking that’s still too low. Maybe it’d be fair if the chicken were low quality, but it’s not. As I said, these chickens were freshly slaughtered this morning and well cared for before that. I can do 2 silver flat.” she offered.

Shadows eyes lit up. That was in Jonas’s price range!

But it was the maximum…

‘Well… 2 silver is okay, but I think 1 silver 80 would be better because…’ Shadow paused, thinking.

‘I would be very happy if you gave it to me for that?’ she asked hopefully.

Nessa burst out laughing. She laughed for a good ten seconds before she gathered herself enough to respond.

“Aye! I suppose it would. You’ve still got some work to do there, but it’s not a bad start. Alright. 1 silver 80 it is.” Nessa acceded.

Shadow threw her forepaws up in victory, doing a small spin. She was back to grinning at Nessa in full again, but the lady didn’t seem to mind, now that she knew what to expect.

She’d done it! She’d haggled!

Shadow twisted a bit and started to carefully prise open the coin purse Jonas had given her with a claw from each paw, feeling a prideful glow in her chest from her success.

She couldn’t wait to tell Jonas.

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