A somewhat mismatched group walked along the road, past fields of various grains. In front was Cletus, followed not far behind by both Sarah and Faron, with Douglas in the back. The two women strode confidently, certain in their wealth and status. At least that was the intention they had. Faron was quite used to a confident stride, but usually that involved a full set of armor instead of just quality traveling clothes. Cletus was the most confident, merely having to act like his normal self. It might be a problem if he were recognized, but he was not particularly famous, especially in Testror. It would also not be expected for a prince to be traveling on foot. Douglas played the role of a distracted servant especially well. Distraction was his natural state, after all. He rarely ever had need or desire to stride confidently, so his normal reserved posture let him blend in as much as he could given the darkening average skin colors.
Ahead of the group was a bridge leading over the river into Xada. It was the first major city along the way, and where they were first entering civilization. They all looked a bit tired and dirty, but that merely helped give off the picture they intended. Nothing remarkable about them.
“We’ll have to check out the markets,” Cletus said. “It’s hard to pass off as a traveling merchant without any goods. Something small but profitable might be best. We can’t exactly afford animals and goods to fill a full sized wagon.”
“It was nice to have a reliable wage,” Faron commented. “And travel expenses covered.”
Sarah shrugged, “I never really had a normal job. In Secure Vantage we got a small stipend, but mostly expenses for food were covered by trading. Wizarding isn’t a reliable source of income in an isolated community.”
They kept the conversation limited as they entered the city. They got a few odd looks from the bridge guards, but their packs contained little of interest. They were dressed nicely enough the guards clearly didn’t want to push them too hard with the search- and in turn they didn’t make things difficult for the guards. Of course, Douglas’ bag appeared to have little of interest inside of it, though it actually contained all of their spellbooks. And armor and some weapons. Cletus had a sword at his side, but heavier armor wasn’t suited for walking all day. Faron and Sarah had knives at their sides- though Sarah wouldn’t be much use if she had to draw it. While they were willing to bring up Cletus’ status as a prince, until they had to they preferred to keep magic related items they had secret.
Before heading to the markets they secured two rooms at an inn. They would split into two pairs of men and women. That was to make everyone the most comfortable, and was acceptable enough while traveling. It would have been most normal for Cletus to have one of the ‘concubines’ in a room with him, but that would either mean leaving a servant in a room with the other or buying a third room they’d rather not pay for. Both women could socially stay in the same room with Cletus, but that was impractical because Cletus would prefer not to sleep on the floor. That was where he would certainly be relegated, in such a scenario. Appearances weren’t worth the discomfort.
The market was packed full of people, even in the late afternoon. Colorful canopies covered throngs of merchants and many more customers. Myriad fruits and vegetables were on display, while further on there were household goods. Dishes, pots, cutlery, rugs… anything small enough to carry away and some things that were not. Other stores had bolts of cloth and jewelry. Sarah found herself somewhat interested in the various goods, but found the press of people to be somewhat overwhelming.
As Douglas pushed his way through the crowds to keep up with the rest, he found himself bumping into a young boy, not yet a teenager. They looked at each other for a moment, the youth wide eyed as he retracted his hand then fled the scene and disappeared into the crowd. Douglas checked his belt, but of course everything was still there. He could touch his coin purse, but nobody else could. That was one extra benefit of how wizard’s shields were often formed.
That left a problem, however. The pickpocket knew. Douglas could hope that his fleeing in terror would be the end of it. The word might even spread to others to leave him alone. That would be fine… but they were in Testror. Douglas wasn’t supposed to be able to use magic. He wasn’t going to go around without shields because of that, but it certainly led to an awkward situation. It had been nice to have a few minutes of being incognito.
Douglas pushed ahead through the crowd, trying to get ahead of the others and catch their eye. Especially Sarah’s. He couldn’t call out to them even if the crowd weren’t so boisterous, but he also couldn’t just walk around with them. Maybe he was being paranoid, but he couldn’t easily talk to Cletus or Faron for reassurance.
Eventually he got ahead of the rest. Finding a place where he wasn’t ‘with’ them but Sarah could still see him was difficult with the crowds, but he eventually used the corner of a booth as a blocker. As well as he could, he signed what had happened. He didn’t want to spend overly long on it, because the merchant began to give him some suspicious looks. Sarah waved him off with the promise to meet up later.
Everything was explained to Cletus- in Bryrian. It probably wasn’t an emergency, but Douglas had been found out. Pickpockets weren’t something he had considered. Normally, he walked around in clearly princely garments… and since all princes were mages, that meant pickpockets would be doubly foolish to try their hand, no matter how much wealth they might theoretically snag. They would be very unlikely to succeed in such an endeavor against a magic user- though Cletus was aware some did not have constant shields- but if they were caught they would lose more than a hand. While there were rare cases of princes who lost a coinpurse, such weak and careless princes usually didn’t last long. He was enough older that anyone sensible steered far away from him.
As he looked around, Douglas was already gone from sight. Either slipped off into the crowd or actually invisible. The former was more likely, because he hadn’t felt any magic… but the latter wasn’t impossible from him. “We’ll continue our business here, then,” Cletus said to the two women. “At least neither of you have pockets to pick.” They had neither pockets nor visible coin purses. Though they were supposed to be together at all times, each person having some coins for emergencies was a good idea. Douglas had sewn small areas where they could keep coins. They were concealed as a matter of practicality and aesthetics rather than necessity. Otherwise, they might have had Douglas hide his coins as well. “Still, the eyes of pickpockets are not to be underestimated. We’ll have to be careful for the two of you.” One foreign mage was an anomaly. Two foreign mages and another woman… that was something they didn’t want people talking about, or especially acting upon.
Any enjoyment of the market was tempered by the reminder that they were in enemy territory. Despite the fact that two of them had grown up in the empire, only Cletus could get away with having magic- and only if he weren’t associated with the others. But just leaving themselves vulnerable to attack wasn’t something any of them were willing to do.
Instead of spending the full amount of time he would have preferred inspecting goods, Cletus worked with the women to find some reasonably priced textiles- after they bought a cart and donkey to carry them. While they weren’t the best for judging the quality of the fabrics, Cletus was at least comfortable negotiating prices. If nothing else, they would fill up the cart and not lose too much money if the goods were poor. Though they didn’t actually have to sell anything. If they could actually make profits, though, it would be for the best. They didn’t have unlimited funds. There were the Testror coins and the small amount of Scoubarran currency that Cletus and Faron had on them when captured- but they hadn’t had reason to carry around large amounts of their wealth in coinage, especially not while going to the battlefield. They might be able to withdraw from banks if they had to, depending on what information had gotten where- but Testror still wasn’t the best place to do so.
Faron nudged Cletus and pointed with her eyes. “Mages over there. Let’s leave a different side of the market, shall we?”
The mages in question- princes, obviously- were scanning the market for something. Douglas? Maybe they were just looking at the market. It wasn’t strange to have a couple in a city like Xada. Even so, they might sense the magic shields the group had if they got close. However, unless they were especially good at sensing Cletus knew that it would have to be very close indeed. Everyone had trained to have as little of their magic as possible leak out. Some of the techniques were courtesy of Douglas- just how much sneaking around had he been doing? Quite a lot, probably. He seemed the type, though Cletus never had much in the way of actual conversations with him.