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Ready. I think I'm ready. I don't have the order, but I can do this. She steps up to greet Lord Falcon. "Lord Falcon, always a pleasure to see you."
"Of course, Merchant Vendor," he nods graciously and warms to her smile.
"That's a very nice color on you. Is that a new cloak?"
A grin appears on his face. "Yes, it is. It's the new style."
"It suits you. But, I'm sorry to say I have some bad news. The moon blossom patch I needed was destroyed. Your order would take another month to complete."
"I see," he says disappointedly.
She lightly touches his shoulder and puts on a sympathetic smile. "I know you were looking forward to your hunt."
"It's mating season. When they're most aggressive."
"And I noticed you chose a color that would blend with their surroundings."
"…very honorable of you. Hunt them with the same methods they use to hunt with. Hunt them in a way they can understand and respect you for."
"Well they are majestic animals."
Melfina lays out several spellbooks on the counter. "Here are several colors that I thought would work just as well, especially this one." She pushes forward her favorite choice and beams a self-satisfied smile.
A laugh bellows forth from his chest, "That's perfect! I should have let you choose for me in the first place."
"Excellent choice," Melfina says elatedly, and the pressure that had been weighing on her vanishes. "It'll be ready in a few short hours. I have all the ingredients, all of them fresh since they're pretty common and easy to obtain. There won't be any problem this time."
"Oh excellent. My lady hates these hunts. With all the gold I'll be saving, I can get her a gift," he grins.
"How much? No wait, don't tell me. I'll just pay you twice the amount of a regular spellbook."
She knows he's right, and is being more than generous. She also knows it's not enough. "Thank you."
"'Til this afternoon then."
Melfina watches hope walk out the door. She collapses into her chair and smothers her head in her arms.
Moments pass and she hears the heavy footsteps that can only be Stark.
"I saw Lord Falcon. I take it you couldn't convince him."
She answers with her face still buried, "I did. But I forgot I can't charge the same price. I'm so stupid."
A silence settles between them. There's no advice he can give her, and no more options to take.
"I can stay if you need me."
"Just leave me alone. For a few minutes."
He leaves, and Melfina sits. Not moving. Not thinking.
She must have fallen asleep, because someone speaks up in what she thought was an empty room. "Midday naps. I thought I was the only one that took'em. Great for the skin and they rejuvenate the mind. A sharp mind equals nicely trimmed trades."
Melfina looks up to see the always vibrantly dressed Tom Recsu.
With nothing left to do she tells him everything.
"I don't loan out gold," he says with regret. "I've tried it. Too much stress. But… while I can't say that I've dealt with mage shops before, I'll consider buying something from you."
Her blood races, and she replies without thinking, "There is one thing that might work." What am I doing?
Melfina stands and leads him to the library. "This is where I keep my rare books." She opens her cabinet and pulls out two books. "This is a Tome of Lost Knowledge. I have… two… of them. I… uh… I can part with one of them. I'll keep the one that's in better condition…" her voice trails off, not knowing how to continue.
Tom picks up the book, feels its weight as if that meant something to him, and flips through the pages. "Well, it certainly looks old."
"Tomes of Lost Knowledge are the oldest spellbooks in existence."
Tom carefully sets it down. "I can't afford something that rare, Melfina."
"You understand my situation." I hope you'll understand. "I can sell it cheap. That's what you do. I want to sell, and others will buy something like this." Like it, but not this specifically.
"I suppose I can flirt a bit with spellbooks. This'll be a good first experience. Maybe it'll even become a permanent part of my business." Tom's heartwarming smile burns into Melfina's heart. "I know it's not much, not as much as it's probably worth from what you said, but all I can afford at the moment is a quarter million."
She can save her shop, but seeing him feel guilt for thinking he's ripping her off magnifies her own.
He mistakes the look on her face and his own guilt builds. "I know it's not enough, Mel. But it's all I can afford. The rest of my money is tied up elsewhere. But I'll tell you what. I'll give you half the profit I make when I sell it."
But you won't be able to.
He mistakes the reason for her silence and continues. "Whatever I can do to help. You've always been generous with me." He pulls out a check, ready to hand over a fortune for a book that isn't even worth a handful of ash. "Just say the word."
Her heart pounds, and she hesitates only a second before answering. "Ok." I can't lose my home. Not again.
Tom writes the check, signs it, and offers salvation.
No, I can't. But she takes it anyway. Her body has gone numb, and so have her thoughts. She extends the imitation Tome and Tom and he reaches for his newest purchase.
She feels a tug, and realizes she hasn't let go. "No... no wait... no. I can't. I can't do this, Tom." She looks his caring face, while her eyes are desperate for forgiveness. "I have to find another way."
"Mel. It's ok. Don't worry about it, really. This happens all the time. Sometimes it's hard to let go. These kinds of items create special bonds with their owners. No need to explain. We'll just forget about it." He smiles again, and takes back his check.
He pauses just to make sure she doesn't change her mind again, then rips up her last chance.
"Well, I came here to buy some supplies. I'll take twice the regular. I can at least help out that much."
She packs up his order, and once again watches all hope walk out on her. Someone stirs in the corner of her eye, and there stands Gamblor.
"You should have done it."
"Easy! You were doing so well. He's a professional, Mel. It happens all the time to him! This experience would have made him even better at what he does and helped him in the long run."
"No Gamblor, it's not right!
"Is it better to lose your shop!"
"Of course it's not better! How could it be better!"
"Well that's what you chose!"
Melfina looks around for anything to throw at him, when she looks up, Lord Luna fills the entrance, with Stark right behind.
"Problem?" he asks as he looks from the sealed ink jar in Melfina's hand over to Gamblor.
"No, everything's fine," she answers hastily.
"It's good to finally find you on the floor, rather than in your library."
"Lord Luna!" Lord Falcon's voice booms from behind, as all three move into the shop. "This scribe of yours is quite the vendor. Not even inventory problems can stop her when she wants to make a sale. And my wife was very happy to hear how much I'd be saving with the new selection!"
Lord Luna looks steadily at the scribe as she finishes the transaction.
"So how's business Merchant Vendor Melfina," Lord Luna asks.
He knows. She stares at the floor.
"As I thought."
"So you were right, Lord Luna," says a woman of an age with Melfina, hidden by the towering forms of the two men. Not a woman. An itch. A bad itch she thought she was rid of. "It's been such a long time, Mel. Lord Luna told me of your situation, and of course I came to help out an old friend."
"Reba," she hisses.
She wags her finger and tsks at her! "It's a good thing you are an old friend. I insist that everyone show me the proper respect. You know it's Lady Reba."
"What do you want?"
"Is that anyway to greet someone who offers help?"
"Why, are you going to return my house and start working for the League so everyone knows what a slut you are!"
"Such impropriety. But what else should I expect." She looks at the shop with disdain. "But you're right that I am here to bring you home."
"Come work for me, Mel. You were never meant for this. Running a shop all by yourself. I knew you couldn't pull it off. My original offer still stands. For such an old friend, I'll even only ask a fraction of what I charge the other merchants. You can even have your old room back," she says with a deceptively innocent smile.
"I'm sure the smell won't be too hard to get rid of. My lovely little Sasha took to your room as her bathroom, and I didn't have the heart to stop her. You know how finicky she is. It's a good location, as you know. You won't be able to keep stocked no matter how fast you work."
Melfina grinds her teeth. Anger so hot it melts all thoughts before they can fully form.
"You have no where else to go. You know this is the best deal you can get. I have all the resources you could need. And the manpower so you don't need to waste time restocking. No running out of supplies like what got you in this situation. You can focus solely on scribing."
Something tickled her memory.
"It would be so good to have you around again," She looks Melfina up and down. "I'll even buy you a new dress. Something more… fitting… for Luna's standards."
She wanted to slap that smirk off her face.
"I know you're stunned into silence. No need to thank me, Mel. You'll do that with the money you make. With my first cut, I'll think I'll buy a nice, new pillow because knowing you're around will help me sleep soundly."
Then she remembered. A chance. Melfina grabs a pen and two sheets of paper and starts writing furiously.
"A thank you card isn't necessary," she says condescendingly.
She signs her name at the bottom of the second sheet, puts her seal on it, and folds both over. One last series of hand motions and she's done.
"What is that?"
Melfina grabs two bags and slams them into Gamblor's hands. He looks down and reads the two words scrawled onto the paper.
"Bring that here," commands Lord Luna.
Gamblor looks back at Mel, then moves. In one smooth motion he picks up the ink bottle she was going to throw at him, and launches it at Lord Luna. Stark grabs his lord out of the way while Gamblor snatches the Tome and dashes past them.
Stark turns to pursue, but Lord Luna commands, "Stop. I'm done here. You stay. Make sure she doesn't remove any other goods from my shop." He turns back to Melfina. "I'll be back tomorrow to settle this breach of contract. You have one last night to say good-bye."
Lord Luna walks out, followed by that whore, Reba.
She looks at Stark. "Why didn't you say something!"
"But... you have a contract. You have to honor it."
She lets out a wordless scream then yells out, "Get out!"
"I'm sorry, I have my orders."
* * *
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