A FEVERISH CONFLICT
“Why the hold up?” The merchant strained his face and asked.
“One of them is the shortest way to the town, while the other is the longer one. Which one would you like to know?” Caige offered.
“Of course, the shortest one.”
“Then the shorter one it is.” Caige said as she was about to point out the direction to the coachman, but she was then caught hold by an unexpected hand.
The hand belonged to the girl she had rescued back then, as Caige looked back in a hurry. She appeared to be someone a year or two younger than her. A human and the other an elf.
“Would you mind telling us, about the specifics of the direction you are about to point at?” Alicia asked in an irresistible sweet voice. Innocence leaking from her facial expression, the kind who might had never seen the brutality of the outside world.
To Caige she only appeared to be another human, a mask that covered the top of her face and black hairs falling to her back, but glossier and more maintained than her own. While the elf had a well-trained body with the irregular marks on her hands, which she noticed beforehand, the kind left while holding a pointed weapon for too long. The other who might not had even hurt a fly in her life.
She could have easily told that the two strangers were of high breeding and from the upper parts of society from their outfit, manners and accoutrement. No matter how hard a traveller tried to hide their identity but sometimes the rich quality of clothes which they cannot do without could reveal a lot about them.
Until now for Caige, the two were only a means of making money for her and that’s why she offered them a place in the cart. After she herself went and talked with the master of the cart. That’s right, there was a specific purpose both Caige and Maia had teamed up and to achieve that purpose they were willing to go to any length. There was no way Caige could have ever let go off that purpose, because that’s alone what gave meaning to her existence.
But now, somehow, or rather it was for the first time she felt such dominance, nonetheless from someone who looked so meek. She absolutely had to answer that question and could not decline Alicia’s advances even when they had met only a while ago.
“The shorter path has got a lot of caves and high points from where there are high chances for the wolf monsters that reside in this forest to attack us. As for the longer route it is a clear path and preferred by travellers for avoiding monsters.” Caige said.
Breaking in between the merchant shouted, ”Then we should definitely choose the other route?”
“But that’s why the longer route has become bandit’s territory, which only a residence of that town, someone like me might know of.” Caige’s voice ended with a hush as the cart fell in utter silence.
“⸺What? You fool. Are you trying to get us killed? If I am correct aren’t those the infamous bandits that is said to be in control of even the town’s administration. They may as well number hundreds in members count.” The merchant kept on babbling about how great the bandits were, while others listened with a dramatic shush. Some were already aware of the danger, and those like Regis were warned.
Except for one in the cart who by now had developed a keenness to see the bandits at work. Alicia a self-proclaimed magical genius and who had just now started traveling in this new fantasy world, where she was reborn; saw this only as a means of her entertainment rather than a threat.
“So, we should be going with the longer route.” Caige reaffirmed with a devilish smile.
“Hold up! It’s not fixed yet. Take the shorter route. The demi-human girl will be able to protect us from the monsters.” The merchant stood like an obstruction.
“I guess not. I am tired from the previous fight and this time I only might be able to run. Why should I risk my life to protect you?” Maia rebuked the merchant’s claim and pretended to fall on her back and closed her eyes trying to sleep. But it was so casual, that none could deny it as simply being an act.
“Surely you had enough rest already, so do what you barbaric beasts are good at.”
Maia sneered at him, and he fell silent.
“So, would you like to value your life more or the goods you have?” Caige asked the merchant to make an inconceivable decision.
The merchant was now stuck in a bind. In the means to get the demi-human girl, he had revealed too much about himself. Like the expensive perishable goods, he carried and how urgent it was for him to reach to the town before the sunrise to sell them immediately. He had already subscribed to a huge loan and the previous debts had been cropping up on him.
Even if he wanted, he could not just recommend to camp here for the night, leading him to incur a huge loss from which he won’t be able to recover. That hooded girl had figured him all out and now he was playing right into her hands.
At the end he was only hoping to use the demi human for his own advantage but failed. Now his life rested on the palms of this child who looked so mirthful now. At the end he had no choice but to teach those brats the hard way, about how the adults discipline children. The merchant thought to himself.
If he goes through the longer route then probably his goods will be confiscated by the bandits and if he resisted while saving them, he would be killed. The bandits were famous for their brutality and would easily kill anyone who went against them.
If he chooses the shorter path, then he can just force the demi human to fight the wolves and while they acted as meat shields, he could take one of the new passengers as hostage and then would force the driver to run away. Leaving the girl and demi-human as bait while he takes off.
A brazen smile re-appeared on his face.
“Let’s decide this in the most fairest way? How about we vote which way we go?” The merchant proposed.
Everyone accepted his proposal since everyone got a fair say to speak and make their own choice.
“So, the majority wins and the minor has to go with the majority’s decision. Since I know the directions I might decide to waive. So, what exactly happens if I decided to waive?” Caige asked.
“It’s simple you have to just accept whatever the outcome might be.” The Merchant replied.
“Okay. I got it. So, Maia what do you think we should do?”
“I will choose the longer way then.” Maia as if taking Caige’s question as a cue which it was, voted and went back to rest.
“I think the longer way.” The coachman replied.
“The shorter way.” Alicia voted.
“The shortest path.” Regis said.
While Alicia had her own motivation going she could also see that Regis was tired and she would be a bad friend if she couldn’t keep her in good health. Regis on the other hand, just wanted to get to an inn as quickly as possible and have a hearty sleep with Alicia. And also, because she found the cart too cramped for herself and wanted to breath in fresh air again.
Longer way – 2 vote
Shorter way – 3 votes
“Then its decided, we are heading in the shortest path.” The Merchant jovially declared.
“Hang on! What do you mean by it’s decided? I haven’t voted yet?”
“What are you playing at little girl. Didn’t you just say about waiving.” The merchant grumpily asked, Caige who suddenly questioned the results of the vote.
“Ahh! If I remember correctly then I just said that I might, and asked in case about this waive thing. I never actually acknowledged I am going to waive. Don’t tell me you are going to take my right to vote and still call it fair.”
“Shhh... Then hurry up and speak what you have to.” The merchant scorned at her.
“I choose the longer path.” Caige declared with the brightest smile she had yet made. But her cunning eyes said otherwise which targeted the spiteful eyes of those of the merchant’s. Making the number of votes equal and the situation a stalemate.
“Blasphemous! Why you?” The merchant turning towards the coachman, “Hey old man are you a fool? Why do you want to even chose the longer path if we can just go past quick the shorter one and might even avoid the monsters?”
“Young man, humans can be merciful at times if you give them what they want. But monsters would tear you apart at the first sight they smell you. So, I am going to play it safe, if the risk is too big.” The old man stated with his slow-moving mouth, almost blowing out all the patience the merchant had.
The cartman was right, all bandits needed, were their stuff. The only one who would be at a loss would be the merchant who had got valuable items on him. While others could pass, making him a scape-goat and selling him off. It was his fault to begin with that they got held up in the previous monster attack and the journey turned into late-night travelling.
The merchant looked at everyone’s faces and realised no one cared about him after he had shown such a sour character of his upfront.
“Gah! If that’s how you are gonna do it. I am ready to pay you twenty silver coin to everyone who vote in my favour.” The merchant offered. Of course, if he was able to reach the town and other cities then he can make big and that sum would be trifling for him.
“So, you are going to resort to bribery now?” Caige frolickingly asked, as if she had already seen this coming.
“Don’t give me your justice moral now, brat. This offer is open to all. But I might just need one more vote so think carefully who catches onto this golden deal first. It’s an offer which even a town’s garbage, homeless and penniless kids like you of the slums cannot resist.” The merchant disgruntledly looked at her.
Those words suddenly alarmed Caige and Maia as they felt offended. But Caige was able to maintain her calm, while Maia woke up, ready to punch and take action if the merchant once again passed such derogatory comments on them.
“That’s surely a generous offer for me in my old age.” The master of the cart started having second thoughts. With that amount he could finally dream of opening a permanent shop back in his hometown and set on a journey of a happy retirement. And he just might risk his life in his final days of this foreboding job. He already knew he couldn’t have saved this much even if he worked for six months round the clock continuously.
Even Regis, started thinking, of saving money on her travelling and also if she could make some money while at it. Savings is after all important, from the moment she heard that her father was short on money and could not offer her daughter a travelling sum, despite being a king.
Regis had promised to herself that she would earn a huge sum and gift it back to her father who so whole-heartedly had supported her. Maybe travelling for a bit longer on cart wouldn’t hurt much. And an encounter with the bandit or monsters was still just a probability. Either way she could have taken care of them, if she knows where the enemy is. Her arrows would surely shoot them down. Regis grinned, thinking to herself.
Alicia found this conversation interesting as it involved money and she wanted to see how transactions and business were carried in real life in this world. As she waited and watched further before reaching to her very own conclusion.
“Yes, that’s right. Once you make back to town you can have good life with this money. Just think it of as an insurance for risking your life.” The merchant tried to further motivate others to fall under his greed spell.
“Humans are really stupid creatures, who can’t even make correct decisions for themselves.” Caige taunted.
“Are you that afraid that you are going to lose now. Resorting to meaningless remarks. Let’s start the voting again.” The merchant announced in his loud voice as if declaring that victory was already in his bag. Just by parting with few silver coin, he can turn the tables in his favour, since the votes were equal previously. All he needed to was add another vote to his account.
“I already know I don’t have that kind of money to make others vote for me. But, I do know a way to still steal the votes in my favour.” Caige’s charisma was in full bloom, as if she was emotionally accepting the truth of her present.
Caige continued, “Maia I would need your vote this time. Master of the cart and you elf girl…”
“Yes..” Regis muttered in hurry on being called out of nowhere, while the coachman nodded. Everyone eagerly listened to Caige in waiting.
“You have my vote, Caige.” Maia responded simultaneously.
“I have already got Maia’s and mine vote. So, if you two want to earn more money as I can already see you being called out to it. I offer you forty silver coins each, for each vote you make in my favour.” Caige put forth her proposal which blanked everyone’s brain.
“What’s the meaning of this? You only have two votes right now while others have not voted. You are going to lose either way. Stop making false promises.” The merchant was really a verbose as he kept on baring his fangs towards Caige.
“I call it a strategy. For someone like me as you say who grew up in slums. I am not like other greedy humans who cheat to make an extra penny. Nothing too great… we will be continuing our fair game, but in my style now.” Caige’s eye lit up with an evil grin rivalling that of the merchant now, who felt cornered.
That’s right! This battle for Caige wasn’t simply for one to choose the better option of the two paths. On either way, whether it was bandits she could handed over the merchant, or on the longer path they would have to break their way through the wolf monsters. In truth, the first question was irrelevant for her when her final motivation was for her to earn big.
For Caige, the only battle in her life was for the pursuit of earning more and more money. For her it was something synonymous to power something close to ⸺ life itself.
She was not born with strong instincts or physical capabilities like Maia. Shewa sone of those unfortunate outcast who could not even use magic power or had even a skill in her possession. By the time she took hold of her consciousness and realised what was happening around her, abandoned by her parents, traded as a slave and finally making a run and landing in the dumps of a slum.
She had already learn by know that if she was not born with anything then it was not her fault, but if she died with nothing she was surely to be blamed. From their her conquest of becoming the richest person began as she used her intelligence to claim everything she wanted.
The greediest and wisest of all, or so she calls herself.
“If you can really do it young girl. Then my vote is for you!” The coachmen said with a puzzled face, still unsure of Caige’s plan of how it would work.
“I think I will then vote for the longer way too. It would be more than enough to cover the travelling cost and staying at the inn. Right Alicia!”
“I abstain from voting.” Alicia declared.
Though no one paid much heed to Alicia’s declaration, everyone felt weirded out by her irrational decision. But Alicia, who really wanted to find out the result, knew that she could stop further voting only by making the total number of counting votes odd. So, she took on that role.
Longer way – 1 vote
Shorter way – 4 votes
“Don’t mess with me. How are you going to even pay that sum?” The merchant jumped in frustration shaking the cart.
“It’s simple you are going to pay for each of us. By buying my votes from me at a much higher price than you previously did. The result will be still in your favour. But now you surely realise what happens when someone messes around with us.”
“⸺Tsk. Unbelievable. You treacherous wench…”
“Call me what you want. But do you actually see now, good sir. Someone who according to you lives a cheap life, can actually make it big by ripping off from people like you who think they can do whatever they want with money. So, how about you pay each of us the sum I promised, and they will vote in your favour. Let’s see how far can you go with your fair fight, if you weren’t just bluffing about paying us or try to run away with the money.”
Everyone’s eyes were now focused on the merchant who was on his four, unable to think his way out of this.
“Fairness is really a nice thing, but only in books and fairy tales. So, why don’t you flaunt that money of yours that you are so proud of and spend a little more than you promised.” Caige stomped angrily on seeing the merchant prostrate and staying quiet. Her own grudges seemingly leaking out.
“⸺I can’t.” A flat voice came from below.
“Huh…” Everyone squeaked.
“I can’t… paying one person twenty coins was a burden already, but paying every one of you forty silver coins is impossible. I don’t have that much money.”
“What? So, you were only pretending up till now. And here I thought I could make big with today’s catch. Maia it seems that today we have got the shorter end of the stick. We might as well head through the longer way. Since that’s what was decided.” Caige responded mercilessly.
“Since everyone is canvassing. How about I give you one gold coin to every negative voter for going through the shortest path.” It was none other than Alicia who spoke. As she continued in her carefree voice, “Surely one gold coin is more valuable than a silver coin.”
“Wait! Alicia what you are doing.” Regis asked worriedly, as if she could already see how things would be going from here on.
“Nothing much, but aren’t you tired and I don’t want to wait here any longer. Also, I wouldn’t like the food and other commodities to turn bad because of a little conflict.”
“I know but do you even have that kind of money?”
“Yes, I sure do. Here…I got you all covered.” Saying that Alicia took out a gold coin from her dimensional storage. While to other it appeared as if she pulled it out of thin air.
“Aliiiiicia!” Regis stuttered, while Alicia felt confused for her perplexed looks.
“That’s not a gold coin. But a Gold Crown coin! Its hundred times value of a gold coin and ten thousand times a silver coin.” Regis explained.
“Is that so…”
Before Alicia could finish, Caige push aside Regis and holding hands of Alicia she said, “We have a deal. Maia you are in charge of the safety of the cart, as usual…”
“I am on it” Maia replied with a stoic face as she moved to the front of the cart, watching in between the crack of the drawn in curtains.
“Alright! Regis, I got everyone covered for you.”
The stunned expression on everyone’s faces and the tension inside turned from being palpable to that of exhilaration.
“Hang on tight girls and gentleman, my horses are going to take their final ride before I get to enjoy my freedom with my daughter back at home and retire to live our happy life. Start talking to the wind my boys.” Saying that the coachman whipped the horses twice with the rope in his hand on the back, without actually hurting them. The coachman sounded young again, and with his promised credit, was looking to a bright future with his only family member left. At least that’s what appeared from the afterward congratulatory talk between Caige and him.
Regis who kept on protesting and asking for questions was shut down by Caige and her domineering personality, who quickly started working on with Alicia for the details.
While Maia who was happy with the earned amount, saw Alicia with a sour face for getting so close to Caige and so did Regis eying at Maia’s friend.
“Hey there I too need some money. If I change my vote now, surely…” The merchant vouched in, sounding as smug as he could. But since Alicia had said that only negative voters would be getting one big gold coin. He thought to butter up with his words and get his way again.
“Maybe in your dreams, deadbeat.” Alicia said in a defiant tone, lacking all her generosity.
“Work and earn money on your own. He who does not work, neither will he eat.”
Alicia’s words sent flying everyone in the cart with laughter, as they continued their way across the plains, bound for the flat horizon and finally reaching their destination town.
ALICIA ASCALON ASHBORN
The cart was moving at a steady pace and we were about to cross through another forest before entering into the Plum Village, which Caige described to me and Regis as our last stop.
This village fell in the free territory of the demon continent. After the True Demon Lord, father vanished. Other demon lords stopped annexing territories in his respect and to avoid further conflicts after the Great War ended. And so, local feudal lords took control, but it only led to the under-development of the towns and native people.
Slowly, the number of hobo people increased, the economy dwindled because of less trade, and common people took arms and revolted. Bandit groups plagued the forest and whatever region they could claim for themselves and grew up in numbers. Specially the one in control were indiscriminately killing and looting on a whim.
“Alicia from where did you even get that big money?” Regis lumping to my side asked in secret.
“Oh! It’s something I got for my expenses on travelling.”
“What? Isn’t that close to spoiling you rich? And how many of those you have? We don’t know how long our journey would be after all and we might get caught up in some kind of financial emergency!” Undoubtedly Regis was thinking for our future travels, she was already deep into this and I too commended her for her unwavering passion.
“Well, father has not much use of it, and I only have this kind of coins on me to offer. Don’t worry I have enough to fill dozens of room with them!”
That’s right, I had already raided a gold-digger dragon in the labyrinth and claimed all its riches for myself and father added extra to me.
“I should have put much thought before asking it, since its coming from you. But next time be careful because this can attract some unwanted attention!” Regis reminded me of the hateful glares of the merchant directed towards me.
I have only given the big gold coins to Caige, Maia and the coachmen who put on a negative vote. Also, they were people who helped me and Regis out, by accepting us on the ride.
As for Regis, she was travelling with me. So, our sentiments were more aligned to ⸺ ‘That which belongs to you, belongs to me as well.”
On the other hand, the merchant with green-jealous eyes kept cursing everyone throughout the journey. Even after winning the votes in his favour, he just couldn’t be happy and content.
And most of all, I was more than pleased to turn all the wolf monsters in the forest into quiet little peaceful bodies. My web magic was more than versatile for our safe travels.
After travelling on cart for around three hours, and in between Caige kept us entertained with her ideas and description of her town. For better or worse, she was living alone and Caige was a part of an orphanage. And what the merchant said about them was not far from the truth. But they looked happy with whatever they were doing.
Not to forget the amazing stunt Caige put in front of everyone and clobbered the merchant in the game of wits, finally earning a life changing sum. But now I knew an idea as to how money was important to people again or how I was always tight on the only little pocket money I got from my guardians to spend on all my daily necessities.
“We have arrived at the Plum village.” The coachmen said, bringing the horse to a stop next to a solitary tree. He dismounted and tied the reins to the tree.
Caige then opened the curtains wide and fresh air came in, like a spring’s morning drizzle. Faintly, in the distance, I could see mountains, deeply embedded inside a packed sheet of dense forests. If nothing else, there was the town gates, feebly built with minimum defences and no barrier in place to detect or repel monsters.
The town appeared to be more noiseless than necessary, as it was completely covered in the darkness of the night. One could have called it a peaceful view with little less to do as small brick houses randomly dotted themselves along the main road.
But the number of eyes that I could sense keeping a watch on us said, otherwise.
“Do, you want to help me find the best inn for you both to stay for the night. I am well acquainted with this place, and I could get you a discount. Not that I think you would need it?” Caige confronted me and Regis, not deciding to move from our way. And with that smile on her face, I could tell she was not going to take a no for an answer.
“Alright. We are ready to go along with you.” I said and Regis nodded, finding zero faults with the offer.
We reached the inn pretty quick, or in other words there were not that many great buildings in the town. For one part, I and Regis could easily tell the poverty in the place hiding behind the decorated front walls.
The receptionist at the inn seemed to be a little susceptible with taking two girl travellers in the middle of the night as her customers. But when Regis advocated for us with some magical words of her won, she instantly agreed and offered us the biggest room in the house. Though Regis did point out that the set price was almost equal to openly highway robbing us. But the receptionist was adamant about the price and constantly rebuked Regis by saying that it was impossible for us to get a better room with safety in the middle of night.
Both of us finally agreed. Since in the morning we had to look for another transportation method to get us to the port town. After seeing off Caige and Maia, we went back to relax in our room, where Regis almost fell asleep after feeling the bed.
Note for readers
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