It turned out that being a cloth merchant was boring. It wasn’t so simple as he thought it would be, but Cletus found that the complexities involved weren’t very intellectually engaging. It wasn’t a brainless endeavor since determining what to buy and sell took some guesswork. If they had to get by solely on the group’s ability to pick and trade cloth, their overall profits would be nonexistent. Being able to buy damaged cloth to repair and the value they regained that way allowed any mistakes about which cloth would have more value where to be smoothed over. Normally a few small coins difference in the price of a bolt of cloth wouldn’t matter to Cletus, but that was only relevant when simply purchasing for a use. He never bought on a large scale… and if he paid a few extra coins in one place and got a few less somewhere else it was just straight money and space wasted. They didn’t have to sell at a loss, but sometimes that was needed to make room.
They weren’t quite able to justify upgrading to a larger wagon, since they couldn’t afford to fill it out and trade taxes would be higher. They weren’t losing money, even counting travel expenses, but neither were they financially secure. Even so, they were able to continue traveling without issue, their magic yet undiscovered. Their continued successes in that department were comforting, though as they drew closer to the core of Scoubar they were likely to pass more princes. They again debated the idea of Cletus publicly using his status as a prince. There were so many of them, after all. Nobody might be looking for him in particular, especially if they were presumed dead in Othius. Unfortunately there was no way to know the full extent of what information got back to Scoubar. Instead, they did their best to avoid princes without seeming too much like they were doing so.
On the surface, life in Scoubar didn’t seem that bad. It was filled with people just like any other place. Trading one ruler for another didn’t matter much for most people. Farming and production continued, trade from city to city and even between what had formerly been separate countries worked without issue. Some places were better off than others and some were poor and desperate, but that wasn’t different from elsewhere.
However, Douglas still felt an atmosphere of unease. Scoubarran soldiers patrolled far more than should be necessary for public safety. Though there was much trade from inside Scoubar, nothing much came from other countries. With how far their borders had expanded Douglas understood it was hardly necessary, but it was the principle of the thing.
Most importantly, despite Scoubar being ruled by a Mage-King and having a very large number of mages in the Princes, the countries under their rule weren’t very… magical. There weren’t small scale hedge wizards plying simple magic to make a living nor were there much in the way of scattered libraries. Magical knowledge was highly centralized towards Aysgarth or locked up in private residences of the princes. It was quite like Vospia, but worse. Vospia was quite concerned with where people came from, but at least they didn’t go around murdering everyone who could do magic. Murdering or… maiming. There were too many men who had their tongues cut out, and those who survived the process found life much more difficult. Douglas couldn’t speak, but he still had a tongue which he found quite useful. The women probably had it worse, being taken away as brides for the princes where they could be expected to bear one or two children before their inevitable deaths. Perhaps normal people barely noticed those who were missing or crippled since those who could use magic were a small proportion of the populace to begin with, but Douglas noticed.
He had half a mind to talk to each and every one of the men with their tongues cut out and teach them silent magic. In a certain way, the Mage-King and Douglas wanted the same thing. More magic. It was just that the Mage-King seemed to want all of it to stem from him and his bloodline whereas Douglas just really wanted more people with the capability and training. Any agreements on what the world should be like were extremely surface level at best.
There were several reasons Douglas held back, however. First was that he simply didn’t have time. They stopped for a day or two at most in any one place, and no proper teaching could happen in that time. He would also risk exposing himself with that behavior. It was unlikely any of the men would turn him in- the chance that they had any sort of loyalty to the Mage-King was negligible. Even so, their activities were likely watched. Not all of them and not all the time, but enough. They were some of the most likely to harbor resentment against the Mage-King. Even so, he had learned they were left free because they might have more children. Though not as high of a chance as when two mages had a child together, it was still more likely for someone who had magical potential to have children with it. If they were boys, they would experience the same. Girls would be taken away when it was decided the time was right.
If Douglas had gone his whole life without hearing anything about Scoubar, he would have been happier. However, it was too late for that now. So instead he thought about how he could destroy the Mage-King. He wouldn’t settle for less, if he was capable. He thought of all sorts of crazy assassination plans including collapsing the Imperial Palace- he hadn’t seen it but he knew it must exist. The most practical option, however, was likely what they were currently doing. The Sisters should at least be able to provide information they could use.
But before they could meet them, they had to… wait around? They were now in Haron where they would supposedly be able to meet some higher ranking Sisters. Douglas hadn’t seen any signs of them yet, so his current activity was browsing the markets and stores for good cloth. Or at least the right cloth. They had a business to keep up, and it was the only thing Douglas could really do since he wasn’t allowed to just stay in the room studying magic.
Then he felt something. It was like a hand resting on his shoulder, but only in the vaguest sense. His magical defenses reacted automatically and the ‘hand’ was withdrawn. Douglas startled at the unexpected contact and looked around. Whoever had done it was quite cautious, hiding their magic well and not committing to their investigation too much. If they had, his defenses would have not been so gentle. He couldn’t do anything flashy in Scoubar, but if unraveling someone’s defenses resulted in them being noticed he couldn’t help it.
Of course, if one of the princes was involved he could end up in trouble. Whether the one in danger would be Douglas or the prince he wasn’t sure, but Douglas wasn’t willing to walk around undefended. It took time to set up good defenses and if he left himself undefended the might be found out by magic he wasn’t ready for regardless. He’d rather had nasty counterattacks ready.
It was unlikely to be a prince, however. They were generally obvious in both garb and magic. Douglas turned his head towards where the magic had come from, but saw nobody blatantly obvious. He felt traces of magic, but there were many people around in the area. Douglas had some thoughts to use some of his own magic to seek them out, but he really didn’t want to antagonize the Sisters. He still tried to pick them out without magic, though. It was likely they would have some flaw. If nothing else, he could be quicker about pinpointing the location where the magic began next time. He wasn’t sure what he would do if he found one, but he wasn’t completely trusting of a group that let one of their own become a mage-hunter. His defenses would remain just as they were.
Sarah was shaken awake in the middle of the night. “Come, wake up.” Faron’s voice didn’t do much to comfort her, but she had sort of been expecting something like that. “We’re going to meet the sisters.” Sarah began recasting her defensive spells. Faron didn’t stop her, but she did comment, “Stick to the basics. We don’t want them to think you’re there to fight.” Sarah grumbled. She wasn’t the one from the country murdering and enslaving mages. Well, at least those actions were much more subdued. She wasn’t sure if it was still fair to consider herself from Vospia. She’d prefer to be from Secure Vantage, but it was not really a place that could be talked about nor as influential as a whole country. Yet. There was quite a gathering of powerful mages among their members, and contacts to others.
“What about the others?” Sarah said as they walked past the other rooms out of the inn where they were staying. Faron just shook her head.
Sarah understood. The sisters weren’t willing to meet the others yet. They were men- and more importantly Cletus was a prince. One of their most hated enemies. Sarah hoped she could at least persuade them to trust Douglas, but she would only really be able to talk to them through Faron. Her Scoubarran was still quite unrefined.
Faron had mentioned her last venture where she met Theda, but they weren’t sneaking around residential districts. Instead, they found themselves entering the back door of some merchant offices. It wasn’t long before they spotted a woman with a fully concealed face who silently gestured for them to follow. The woman led them into a large meeting room where a half-dozen women with their faces also concealed sat looking down at Sarah and Faron, large cloaks concealing their shapes and the clothes they wore. So, they were that sort. Hopefully Faron could handle things, because Sarah wasn’t sure if she could deal with their pretentious posturing. The fact that they were also keeping themselves hidden while conversing with people who had come to help didn’t make her feel better.