The woman looked vacantly at Wary for a moment before calling to someone out of sight behind her.
“Ketill! I’ve got a haggler out here, doesn’t understand the prices on the board!”
A door flung open behind the counter and a hulking beast of a man entered. His cloak billowed, black embroidered patterns on black fabric; the hood draped over his head, hiding his face in shadow; his massive arms were bare and intimidating.
“Show this peasant what we do to those who don’t like the prices on the board.”
The man moved toward Wary, who tried to reason with him.
“I can read the board! These prices are fine!”
But he wrapped his arms around Wary and began to squeeze. Wary kicked and squirmed as he was lifted into the air and the grip around him tightened.
All of the sudden, the girls sprang into action; Inga pulled a dagger from her boot and pointed the tip firmly behind the man’s knee while Una slapped the surface of the counter to gain attention; the loud crack rang out and the room fell silent.
“Ma’am, you haven’t even inspected our grain. I think you’ll find its quality is far greater than the puny stuff the farmers in these mountains bring you.” She said in a pleasant tone. “That’s all my friend up there was trying to say. You’ll have to forgive him, he’s not very knowledgeable about these kind of negotiations.”
The woman glared at Una, unimpressed. “Why would I listen to a child?”
“Let me show you what I have to trade, you’ll see how much more you can charge for it.” Una glanced over her shoulder at Inga, still in position. “Or I can have my sister cripple your brute, he won’t be much use to you then.”
The standoff continued, but Una had another move up her sleeve.
“Signey, grab a sack of the grain. We’ll let them see for themselves.”
Signey wasn’t used to taking orders from a teenager and gently protested.
“Girls, I think these people would rather we be on our way.”
“Please. Just show the woman what we have for her.”
The woman gave Signey a nod, signaling that it was ok for her to go. When she returned, Signey untied the top of a sack that was the size of a loaf of bread and handed it to Una who tossed it on the counter, letting its contents spill out in front of the woman. She grabbed a handful of the golden brown grain, opened her palm, and watched as it trickled through her fingers.
“We don’t see grain like this often. It is usually small and brittle, practically useless.”
“We come from a village in a low valley; the land is more fertile, not like the unforgiving rocks way up here.”
“You must have traveled a long distance.”
“The hike was many days, yes.”
The woman was more at ease as the conversation continued, eventually ordering Ketill to release Wary. He hit the floor with a thud and gasped to fill his lungs with oxygen.
“Finally! I thought you all forgot I was up there!” From his back, he gave Ketill a slap on the leg. “Big guy, here, was probably getting tired.”
Ketill frowned down through his hood, obviously unfazed, anything but tired.
“I think we can make a deal, kid.” The woman said to Una. “I’ll take all you’ve got and I’ll give you a good price.”
The four of them nearly broke out in celebration.
“I’m glad we could come to an agreement.” Una held her hand out to the woman.
“Not quite. I want to be the only seller in Gatespoke with grains as good as these. If I’m going to pay such a hefty price, I can’t have scalpers undercutting me.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. We will return, and we will supply you, and only you.”
Una waited this time; she had offered to shake hands once and didn’t want to appear desperate.
“In that case… We’ve got an agreement, child. Now, shake my hand!”
They laughed and the others came forward to greet the woman.
“You can call me Hild.”
She waved over the man in the cloak.
“You’ve already met Ketill.”
“Yes, we got very close, he and I.” Joked Wary.
Hild counted up their gold and handed it to them with an exclamation.
“May our deal be profitable and long-lasting!”
It was more gold than any of them had ever earned at one time. Taking it back to Wilverth meant they could buy more badly needed supplies from traders, and if the deal they just struck with Hild indeed held up, Wilverth would no longer be a poor village.
Wary could not contain his excitement during the long trip home.
“Did you see the look on her face when Una started negotiating with her?”
“She was almost as shocked as me.” Signey replied.
“How did you learn to barter like that?”
Una, embarrassed by all the attention, said, “Me and Inga played that game a hundred times. It was fun!”
“Fun? I thought my bones were gonna get broken!”
They finally arrived home and word soon spread of their success. Wary and Signey made it known that they intended to spread the wealth, and that anyone with crops could be included in future outings. Some congratulated the twins on their foresight to make the dangerous trek in order to help the village, while others thought they simply got lucky. Regardless, the four of them were making regular trips to Gatespoke and bringing back sacks of gold. When herders came through, they bought as much livestock as they could handle. New seeds and tools for farming were distributed. Furs and pelts were purchased by the stack. And finally, wages were paid to those who took shifts in the guard towers. No one in Wilverth would go hungry or cold as long as this kept up.
But then the rumbling came back.
The horns kept atop the watchtowers sounded, putting the whole village on alert. They gathered and watched as the familiar convoy of King Rikard the Last strolled through the gates, reminding them of the horrors they had seen and hoped they would not be forced to endure again.
“I understand you all have done well for yourselves,” began the King. “It seems that some of you have turned my uprooting your village into a positive thing. You’ve fortified yourselves, as best you can, anyhow, and have become a thriving community! Therefore, I will be taxing your trade profits, effective immediately.”
A hush fell over the crowd as their hopes were dashed away and their hearts collectively sank. And then, a small voice cried out.
Heads turned, including King Rikard’s, scanning to see who had spoken. He locked eyes with two faces, nearly identical, staring back at him. The King jumped off his Bull Skogkatt and the people made way as he walked toward the twins.
“Which one of you dare defy your King?”
“I did.” said Inga, sternly.
Una put her hand on Inga’s shoulder, indicating to her to back off. King Rikard took it all in and added to his new ruling.
“To ensure that your confidence doesn’t rise to the level of this girl’s, and that your walls don’t get too high, and that your loyalty to me doesn’t wane; you will have new residents… some of my Giants will be monitoring your village from this day forward. You will provide for them food and you will obey their orders.” He turned and climbed onto his saddle before continuing. “And you can thank that one,” as he pointed to Inga, “for the pleasure.”
The King’s procession filed out, leaving behind two Giants who took up posts inside the walls. The crowd slowly dispersed, many of them averting their eyes from the Giants.
“That’s just great, our hard work goes straight to the King now.” Una cursed. “And, on top of it, now we have to take care of those things! We’ll be worse off than before!”
“I wanted him to know.” Said Inga
“I just… He’ll recognize me next time. He won’t get us confused. He’ll know it’s me.”