Hot sun pounded down on another open marketplace filled with people, though Dakor’s market was smaller than that of Xata. The clear skies and brightness mixed with the press of people into an uncomfortable atmosphere, at least for those who were used to different environs. Similar multicolored awnings covered merchant stalls, though many of them were faded and torn. Many were new as well, but they were clearly not so carefully maintained and frequently replaced.
Cries of merchants hawking their wares and people haggling mixed with more general sounds of people and activity in the stalls. Sizzling meat could be heard cooking, releasing the smell of nicely browned meat and overpowering spices that mixed chaotically with shops nearby selling fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Bodies pressed up against each other as a small cart pushed its way through the crowds to shop buying and selling cloth. While many merchants would have regular deals with trusted traders, they also couldn’t resist a good deal. Cletus shifted himself into a better position before he started espousing the virtues of their wares to one of the nearby vendors. Having checked for the presence of nearby wizards already, his voice was amplified with magic to cut through the noise. Influencing the minds of others with magic was a tricky business, but sometimes just being perceived as powerful was good enough.
Cletus had plenty of practice with that, though he was currently keeping the most influential part of his identity concealed. There were so many princes that anyone who knew where Cletus was supposed to be and why he shouldn’t be in Testror was extremely unlikely to be present- but spreading word would be a mistake. Instead he was hiding in plain sight.
“Look, look!” Cletus gestured dramatically, “We come from afar, bringing fine cloth from Dalgare. With the borders closed, you won’t find such so easily in the future.” Cletus wasn’t sure if any of the cloth they had was from Dalgare, except what they were wearing. But the quality of the cloth he and Douglas could vouch for. “Come take a look,” he thrust a roll into the hands of a merchant, making sure they rubbed it with their fingers, “Is this not the finest cloth you’ve ever felt?” There was a bit of a trick going on. Some people chose to disguise poor cloth with a wrapping of finer cloth, but while it might be a good scam for making money quick, it would make them memorable. Instead, they would be as honest as any of the other merchants. In short, they would display their goods in the absolute best light- with a little bit of fluffing from magic to make it reach the peak of freshness it could have.
“It is rather nice,” one of the merchants made the mistake of responding.
“And cheap, too! You’ll not find a better price per roll for something of the same quality,” Cletus was not much for public speaking, but he had led men and dealt with many merchants. It was simpler to exaggerate the price of a bolt of cloth than to maneuver words with the other princes and hope they didn’t plan to use you for a power grab of some sort. Cletus quoted a price that was close to what one of the merchants might be able to get for the cloth and let himself get haggled down. Truth be told, they didn’t need to make large profits, but the margins weren’t terribly high just a few cities over. The merchants doubtless knew Cletus’ claims would be exaggerated, but that was how the game worked. He was convincing enough with fine enough goods that they could resell for a profit, without having to go anywhere.
But of course, a traveling cloth merchant couldn’t merely sell cloth. It was also important to buy. While Cletus did his part, Douglas looked through the cloth on display. Some of it was quite good, but would be too pricy. They had to be able to make a profit and the margins on certain rolls would be too thin. So, more than pick out just what was good quality, Douglas also looked for damaged goods. Some merchants did their best to cover up the damage, other smaller vendors clearly had little to sell. Some didn’t even have stalls, but among various knick-knacks splayed out in front of them on half-decent rugs were some moth ridden bolts of cloth, some torn or rotted. The truly bad pieces Douglas had Faron purchase. A reputable cloth merchant couldn’t be seen such shabby cloth unless they wanted to throw suspicion on their other wares. A few blemishes, however, and Cletus could try to haggle down the prices.
Damaged cloth was truly worth less. Anything that compromised the integrity of a bolt limited what sorts of garments it could be used to make, either requiring stitching and patchwork or careful selection to make smaller sections of clothing. Those who were poor might be content with patchwork clothes, but it wasn’t profitable to take poor cloth from city to city when finer cloth could have its place. But that was where Douglas’ experience came in.
A whole bolt of linen was laid out on the floor and across the bed of an inn room. Four people sat around on either side of it or with smaller pieces of cloth in their laps. It was one of those in better condition, but it had gotten caught on something during unloading, tearing a hole in several layers. Because of the placement, several meters of cloth were effectively ruined. However, that was with normal techniques. While Douglas was leery of his ability to repair such damage even with good stitching, he didn’t have to deal with that. In fact, he’d learned ‘proper’ stitching techniques later. First, he’d done it purely with magic.
After making sure there was no material missing, Douglas would make use of a spell he was quite familiar with. Threads knit back together one by one and the damage was simply undone. Of course, it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. It was simple to be impatient and allow threads to be skipped- which led to loose ends- or to allow them to cross over which led to strange little lumps or twists which could be picked out by a modest inspection. Such mistakes could be fixed, but Douglas found it was usually easier to just cut the area apart again instead of trying to magic it back together from an awkward point. Clean cuts were easy to fix.
Douglas didn’t work alone. All of the others were learning from him to some extent as well. This was, after all, their current method of making income. It took some work translating it into a version that could be spoken, and while that version was eventually easier to use Douglas’ quirks of spell creation meant it took some time for others to begin to be effective. They got to practice on some of the worst cloth, cloth that wouldn’t be valuable even if they could repair it. They didn’t start with the most complicated damage however.
Cuts were easy, tears were a bit harder. Sometimes thread unraveled and bits and pieces were missing, which magic couldn’t just create anew. The material had to come from somewhere, and that was usually from the surrounding material- making it thinner or reshaping it. The other option was to take cloth from an end to use as material to fill in holes.
Douglas had been taking care of some of the moth-ridden cloth. They had some nice silk that was utterly ruined but had also cost them practically nothing. There were small holes all throughout, and larger holes elsewhere. The largest usable portions were probably squares the size of Douglas’ hand, but in fact nine-tenths or more of the cloth was still there. There were just hundreds of holes that needed the material replaced.
Each hole basically required its own spell. Douglas could try to repair a collection of holes at once, but when he’d done it in the past threads tended to attempt to attach to each other between different holes. If it was perfectly flatly laid out it could be fine, but Douglas preferred to just re-memorized the spell. Many times. He’d done basically the same before, and he was much more experienced now than when he had been working with Countess Irieby or even when he was in Vospia working with Margaret.
“I hate it,” Faron declared. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever had to do with magic. I understand repairing clothing, but this…”
Sarah shrugged, “It’s just repairing it a step before it becomes clothes. Better than throwing it away, even if you can afford it. Did you not consider doing anything like this when you were a ‘soldier’?”
Faron shook her head, “I would just get it stitched up normally or replaced. No point in using magic on something like that.”
Douglas signed to Sarah. She nodded, “He’s right, you know. It’s nice to have things looking like new. I didn’t have much chance to learn how to stitch and especially not magic to repair clothing, but I would have liked it. It’s a shame to have an expensive dress get ruined because of a little tear.”
“It’s hard to keep track of the little threads,” Cletus complained as he worked on a small scrap he had. “They don’t like to combine together. I think I let them get too thin, too.” Cletus stroked his chin, “I feel like too much of that is currently relying on the image. I’d prefer to have the spell formula be more exact. It would need to be different for every type of cloth, maybe even every bolt, but it shouldn’t require large changes. I can’t believe you keep that clear in your head and do it silently.”
Douglas spread out his hands. It was the only way he’d ever been able to do magic. He could certainly understand why it would be easier to do if one could speak, not having to form a wordimage and twist it into the power, but he simply had no choice. Despite his inability to speak, however, he never found himself unfortunate in the field of ability to use magic. There were many situations where only having silent magic was quite helpful, and it made him think about things in different ways regardless.
Faron stared down at the section of cloth she had been working on which had developed a permanent wrinkle from the lengths of the fibers in the cloth not matching up. She sighed. “I hope we don’t have to go further than Letu. I’d like to be done with this.”