Small Acts of Capitalism

"I need to find a priest of Gond," I announced, once Lada and Imoen were seated at our table in the Old Skull. "Preferably before I run any lower on ammo."

"Ammo ...?" Imoen asked, while Lada rubbed her forehead with one hand.

"Ammunition, sorry," I said. "I only have a couple hundred bullets for my pistols, and that's just not going to be enough to last."

"That's for sure," Imoen said. "I can go through that many bullets with my sling, in just a day or two. And that's assuming I'm primarily using my bow and sword."

"What do you plan to do?" Lada asked.

"I figure I could trade them a chance to copy my loading press, and give them my printouts on the needed components, in exchange for a better supply of ammo," I said. "I could settle for smokepowder if I had to, but I'd rather have powder that's not as hard on the guns."

"You're going to have to learn how to use another weapon," Imoen said. "If that's all the ammunition you have, it's not going to last until we can find one of them."

"Do you have any idea how to find one?" Lada asked. She looked up as one of the waitresses approached the table. "Hi, Dora."

"Hello, Lada," Dora said, laughing. "I will never understand how you recognize me, even though you can't see me, will I?"

"It's your perfume," Lada said. "And the way you walk. I'd just like some cider, if you have any."

"Cider for you," Dora said. "And for the two of you?"

"Whatever Jhaele and Turko have cooked up will be fine for me," I said. "Unless you have a Gondite hidden in your pantry, that is." I started to turn back to Imoen, then remembered I hadn't ordered anything to drink, so I added, "And a pitcher of ... do you still have any Glowfire in stock?"

"A Gondite?" Dora asked. "I'm not sure I want to know. I'll check on the Glowfire, at least. Imoen?"

"I'll take the same as Fred," Imoen said. She looked at me with a teasing smile on her face. "So Lada's finally convinced you to try wine, huh?"

"I happen to like wine," I said, crossing my arms and giving Imoen a humph. "It's not my fault that I can't get Spatlese here. So far, Glowfire is as close as I've found." I looked up at Dora and said, "If you're out of Glowfire, why not bring me something that tastes similar?"

"You like the hard requests, don't you?" Dora laughed. "Two dinners with Glowfire and one cider, coming up."

"I don't know what Spatlese is," Imoen said, "but it must be pretty good if you're comparing it to Glowfire." She looked at Lada and said gently, "You've got to eat something, love. You'll make yourself sick if you don't."

"I'm not hungry," Lada said. "But I'll ask Dora if she can get me some bread and cheese to nibble on. OK?"

"Works for me," I said. When Imoen opened her mouth to protest, I shook my head. Imoen closed her mouth, but shot me a look that said we would be talking later.

"Now that we're here," Lada said, "I'm supposed to find a temple of Ilmater, right?"

"Right," I said. "And I'm supposed to find a temple of Kelemvor. Or, if we can't find temples, we should try to find priests who can guide us."

"There's plenty we can do here, though, while we're deciding how to go about looking," Imoen said. "I've been hearing things since we got here yesterday, and there's a lot that we can do, even with the lack of experience you two have."

"That sounds good," I said. "I'll be right back, OK? Why don't you two talk about what you've heard, and decide what we'll be most likely able to help with?"

"Where are you going?" Imoen asked, just a moment before Lada opened her mouth, then shook her head and closed it.

"I need to talk to Jhaele," I said. "She might have some ideas, too." Among other reasons, but I'm not going to mention those.0

"That sounds like a good idea," Lada said. "Imoen? What kinds of things did you hear about?"

"Well," Imoen said, "there's a farmer near town who's losing sheep to something that sounds to me like spiders ...."

By the time she got that far, I was half-way across the room, and lost whatever else she said in the general noise of the inn.

"Dora!" I called as I got near the bar.

She looked up and nodded, then called back, teasing, "Too thirsty to wait for me to get back to your table?"

"No," I said, laughing. "Nothing like that. I was going to ask if you've ever heard of a grilled cheese sandwich."

"Grilled cheese what?" Dora asked, putting down the pitcher she was holding. "What's a sandwich?"

"Easy to eat food," I said. "Do you do any of the light food prep, or is it all done in the kitchen?"

"All in the kitchen," Dora said. "Why?"

"Well," I said, "if there aren't any objections, I could show you, and Turko, what I mean. It would be something you could sell to people who don't have time to sit down for a full meal, but still want something to eat."

"Anything that makes Jhaele more profit is a good thing," Dora said, smiling, as she opened the bar to let me through. "Follow me."

I followed Dora into the kitchen, where Jhaele and Turko were discussing something in quiet voices. She crossed the room to them and added her voice to theirs, while gesturing in my direction. After a few moments, Jhaele came toward me.

"You say you have a recipe you'll teach us?" Jhaele asked. "What's your price?"

"Honestly?" I asked, realizing I hadn't considered that question. "I hadn't thought about it. Why not just give us a percentage discount while we're here? Whatever percent you think the recipe is worth."

"You hadn't thought about it," Jhaele said, an eyebrow approaching her hairline. "You ... hadn't ... thought ... about it." She broke into laughter and draped an arm over my shoulder. "You, lad, need to learn to adopt a slightly more mercenary attitude, if you want to get by in the world. A percentage discount it is, then. Now, come over here and show us what this recipe involves."

Jhaele led me across the kitchen, still chuckling, her arm still draped over my shoulder. We stopped by Turko and Dora, who were watching with open curiosity.

Jhaele snorted at their expressions. "He's a cute kid. Needs some seasoning, but I daresay his ladies will take care of that problem. Now, let's see what you've got to show us."

"All right," I said. I was still getting used to that 'kid' label. Since Lada and I had chosen to have our new, healthy bodies aged just enough to match Imoen's age, we were both somewhat or in my case, quite a lot younger than we had been. Going from nearly 50 to 16 is a major shift in perception, even if you're in a world where 16 is old enough to have the responsibilities and freedoms of an adult.

I looked around the kitchen to see what was available to work with. A nice big grill for frying on, kept hot with good hard wood, all the knives I could want, and hopefully the food supplies I needed, although they weren't obviously available.

"First," I said, "I'm going to need bread, cut in slices a half inch thick. That's the perfect thickness for sandwiches."

Dora disappeared through a nearby door, then stuck her head back out and called, "Do you need anything else from the pantry?"

"I need butter, whatever kind of cheese you use for melting into hot dishes, and tomatoes," I called back.

"I don't know what a tomato is," Dora said, "but I can get the other stuff."

"Hmm," I mused. "Yeah. A tomato is probably from Maztica. That would make it outrageously rare and expensive, unless there's an Aurora's outlet nearby."

Turko looked me over, obviously trying to figure me out. I silently wished him good luck on that job. Dora returned with a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese, and about a pound of butter the cultured kind, it looked like. That should make the sandwiches better than usual.

"Thank you," I said, as Dora put the supplies on a counter. I looked at Turko and asked, "Do you mind if I use a couple of your knives?"

"Go ahead," Turko said, a surprised and pleased look on his face.

I looked through the collection, picked out a bread knife and a long, thin knife that was probably intended for filleting things, but would work perfectly for slicing cheese, and began work.

"First," I said, as I cut a dozen slices of bread, "you slice the bread, as close to a half inch thick as you can. Any thicker, and it doesn't fry up right. Any thinner, and it tends to fall apart while you're frying it."

I set the bread slices aside and sliced the cheese, as thin as I could manage with the knife I was using.

"The cheese should be about as thick as a dagger's blade," I said. "Too thick, and it won't melt properly. Too thin, and you won't get enough cheese."

I found a butter spreader and began buttering the slices of bread. Once they were all buttered, I put the cheese between slices, with the buttered sides facing out. With the sandwiches assembled, I put them on the grill, and stood watch over them while they fried.

"You can put just about anything between slices of bread to make a sandwich," I said. "I'm fond of bacon and cheese, or ham and cheese. Mutton makes a good sandwich, too, if you slice it while it's still hot, and smear it with freshly grated horseradish." I flipped the sandwiches, and continued talking. "And, if you take a mini loaf of bread, say, about six inches long and maybe two inches wide, and cut a slit in the top, you can put a sausage into the slit and have a sausage sandwich to eat on the road. I love those sausage sandwiches with sauerkraut and mustard on them." I checked one of the sandwiches and nodded. The bread was just the right color and crispness. I took the sandwiches off the grill and put them on a serving plate. "Here you go. Give them a taste and tell me what you think."

All three of them took a sandwich and bit into it. Dora looked surprised, then smiled, as she chewed hers. Turko was obviously analyzing his sandwich as he ate it, but was clearly pleased with the experience. Jhaele's face was completely neutral as she ate. I figured she must be an experienced poker player.

"These are grilled sandwiches," I said when they were finished. "You don't have to grill a sandwich to make it good, but my guess is that grilled sandwiches are going to be more popular than cold ones."

"So," Jhaele said, "this is your recipe, is it?"

"Yup," I said. "That pretty much covers it."

"Five percent," Jhaele said.

"Throw in free sandwiches as long as we're here, and you've got a deal," I said. I wasn't going to try to compete with her in haggling, but I knew I was expected to do at least some. I figured free sandwiches would satisfy both of us.

"Then we have a deal," Jhaele said, extending her hand. I took it and we shook. Only after the deal was concluded, did Jhaele smile. "You really do not know how to bargain, do you?"

"Nope," I said. "Never learned how growing up, and never had much opportunity to learn it after I left home. Where I come from, prices are fixed. No haggling allowed, unless you're buying something big, like a house."

"How are you supposed to know how to haggle over a house, if you've never had the chance to learn on small things?" Jhaele asked.

"Heck if I know," I said, shrugging. "It never made much sense to me, either. So, I take it you like the concept?"

"Are you kidding?" Jhaele asked. "I can use this to use up all sorts of things that are too good for stew, but not good enough for the table. Keep coming back, and you'll see a lot of sandwiches on the menu. And your idea for serving sausages? That's going to make our local drovers very happy."

"Excellent," I said, smiling at her happily. "Remember I said I hadn't thought about what to charge for the recipe? The reason I came to you with it is that I needed something to convince Lada to eat, and she absolutely loves this kind of sandwich. Dora, if you can take the rest of these out to her, and tell her that I suggested you bring her out a plate of bread and cheese but don't tell her that it's sandwiches I guarantee you'll see an interesting response."

"Now this is a man who loves his woman," Jhaele chuckled. "I'm going to want to see this response myself."

With that, Dora picked up the plate with the remaining sandwiches on it, and led the way out to the taproom, with me behind her and Jhaele bringing up the rear. When she got to our table, Imoen and Lada both looked up. I held a finger to my lips as I slid into my seat, so Imoen kept quiet, but looked at me curiously. I just smiled at her, having trouble holding in my glee at being able to surprise Lada.

"Here you go," Dora said as she put the plate in front of Lada. "Fred said you might want some bread and cheese."

Lada reached out to the plate, felt around on it for a moment, then picked up a sandwich. As she did, her face lit up with surprise and happiness and she gasped, "Grilled cheese! Oh, you love me!" She reached across the table with her free hand, which I took and kissed.

"I thought you might like a little bread and cheese," I deadpanned, then snorted as the laughter became too much to hold in. "Yes, I love you. Do you like it?"

"This is delicious!" Lada said around a mouthful of sandwich. "I've never tasted cheese like this before. And is that cultured butter on it?"

"I think so," I said. I looked up at Jhaele and smiled. "Jhaele seems to have approved, too, so we worked out a suitable price for it." Then I leaned over and stage-whispered, "Next time I need to make a deal, I'll sell her the recipe for noodles."

"Noodles?" Jhaele asked, her curiosity piqued.

"It's a food from Kara Tur," I said. "It's as common there as bread is here."

"You," Jhaele chuckled, "are a very naughty lad, dangling exotic recipes in front of me like that. We're going to have to talk. Very soon. But not when you're waiting on your dinner." She turned and walked back to the bar, chuckling as she went. On her way, some of the others in the room delayed her with talk, most of them looking our way as they did. In most cases, they ended up laughing with her as she continued on her way.

"You are in such trouble," Imoen teased, laughing. "Why didn't you tell me you had planned something like this?"

"Because if I did, Lada would have heard it?" I asked, looking at her innocently. "So what kind of jobs did the two of you work out as suitable for us?"

"You and I are going to go check out the spider situation tomorrow," Imoen said. "If you don't mind, that is. Lada wants to see if there is a weaver in town who might be interested in giving her a chance to do some work."

"I don't mind," I said. "You think the spider job will take us all day?"

"Not likely," Imoen said, "but finding it probably will. Hopefully, we'll make enough off it to buy you a sword."

"That would be good," I said. "The sooner we start earning our keep, the sooner we can get to the business of finding our teachers."

"And the sooner I can stop worrying about how long we have before my coins run out," Imoen said. "I'm just glad I was the one carrying all the coinage Penny and I picked up in Irenicus' complex."

"Would it make sense for me to use one of your spare swords?" I asked. "Until I can buy one of my own, that is."

"You have a good point," Imoen said. "If you're going to rely on your pistol, a shortsword should be enough of a backup weapon, and I do have a couple that smell of magic, in addition to the one I kept for myself."

"You can smell magic?" Lada asked, confused.

"Not literally," Imoen said, smiling as she reached out to touch Lada's cheek. "It's just a figure of speech, love."

Dora returned to our table, carrying a mug of cider for Lada, and a pitcher and two mugs for Imoen and me. She put it down and smiled, without saying anything, as she headed back the way she had come, swaying her hips just a bit more than was necessary as she walked.

"Let's see what she gave us," Imoen said, picking up the pitcher and pouring. "It's obviously not Glowfire, or she would have said so."

The liquid that poured from the pitcher was dark, almost black, and sparkled, like a champagne. Imoen pushed a mug toward me, once she'd filled both. I picked it up and smelled the aroma of honey and blackberries, in about equal amounts. When I sipped it, I was pleasantly surprised. It was obviously a blackberry melomel, but it wasn't heavy or cloying. In fact, it was positively effervescent. Imoen and I looked at each other over our mugs, both of us obviously surprised.

"This is good!" I said, finally breaking the silence.

"What is?" Lada asked, putting down her sandwich as she spoke.

"Dora brought us a blackberry melomel," I said.

"And it is delicious," Imoen said.

"Can I taste it?" Lada asked. Imoen and I both pushed our mugs toward her. When we noticed what the other was doing, we both laughed. Meanwhile, Lada picked up one of the mugs and took a sip, then put it down carefully. "Wow. That is good. I might even order that instead of cider tomorrow."

"I don't blame you," Imoen said. "I'm used to cheap and harsher liquors. This is something I'd drink just for the taste."

"Same here," I said. "Unless they have beer this good, I'm going to be sticking to this."

"What about tea?" Lada asked.

"We can ask Dora," I said, "but I think it's like Europe and Asia. They use alcohol here, and tea in Kara Tur."

"What are you talking about?" Imoen asked.

"Back on Earth," Lada said, "until they learned how to purify it, different cultures made water safe to drink in different ways."

"In Europe," I said, "they made beer and wine, and in some areas they distilled the beer and wine into whisky and brandy. When they had to drink water, they'd mix it with the beer or wine, in order to make it safe to drink."

"And in Asia," Lada said, "they made tea by boiling water and steeping the leaves of different plants in it, so that it was not only safe to drink, but had different medicinal qualities."

"And then there's Africa," I said, grinning. "That's where coffee came from."

"Coffee?" Imoen asked, a faint whimper in her voice. "Why did you have to introduce me to coffee?"

"Because I didn't expect we'd be coming here so soon, if at all?" I said, reaching out to take her hand. "I'm sorry, love. I didn't expect we'd be deprived of coffee so abruptly."

"I know," Imoen said, pouting. "But I want some anyway."

"I have a bag of beans in my bag," I said. "If we're careful, we can make it last at least a month."

"We just have to not drink it every day," Imoen said. "Not if we want to have good coffee."

"That's right," I said. "If we try to drink it every day, and still make it last a full month, it'll just taste nasty because we won't use enough to make a good cup."

"Yeah," Lada said. "And you'll have the headaches anyway, so it's not worth it."

"So, what do you think?" Dora asked, as she put plates down in front of Imoen and me. The plates had roasted vegetables and what smelled like mutton on them.

"This is delicious," I said, hoisting my mug. "Do you make it yourselves, or buy it locally?"

"We make it right here," Dora said, smiling proudly. "You really like it?"

"I'd rather have this than any beer I've tasted," I said, "and almost any wine, for that matter. Do you have the straight mead, or only the fruit blend?"

"We have several fruit blends," Dora said. "Blackberry, apple, cherry, currant, and blueberry are the ones we're pretty sure are ready to offer in the taproom. We have a straight mead, too, which everyone says is the best in the Dales, but the fruit blends are what we're proudest of."

"You should be," Imoen said. "This is the best wine, of any kind, I've ever had."

"I agree," Lada said. "That's even better than your cider, and I really like cider."

"I'll be sure to pass that on to Jhaele and Durgo," Dora said.

"Before I get too distracted," I said, "I'd like to ask you something a bit more down to earth."

"Sure," Dora said. "What do you need?"

"Can you tell me where the village hides its graveyard?" I asked. "I noticed it's almost sunset, and I'd like to make sure I can get in my prayers without offending anyone."

"You ...," Dora looked at me curiously. "You're a follower of Kelemvor, I hope?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," I said. "As far as I know, you don't have a priest here, but that shouldn't stop me from praying, right?"

"Oh, no!" Dora said, a look of relief on her face. "If you worship Kelemvor, you're welcome here." She smiled, wistfully. "I remember seeing him when he was here."

"And you were, what, 10?" I asked, grinning teasingly at her.

"I was 12!" Dora shot back, then blushed, before adding, "He was strong, and handsome, and brave, and every one of my friends thought he was, too."

"Uh-oh," Imoen said, reaching across the table to gently poke me in the side. "Looks like you've gone and distracted her."

"Yeah," I said, chuckling. "Too bad Velsharoonies aren't so easy to distract, eh?"

"Velsha ...," Imoen broke into laughter. "Are you trying to stir up fights with followers of evil Gods?"

"Na," I said, laughing with her. " They do that, every time they animate some poor sod who just wanted to rest in peace."

"Rest in peace?" Dora asked, her attention back on us. "Who? What?"

"Just talking about what Cyricists and Velsharoonies should do," I said, chuckling as my laughter ran down.

"Oh dear," Lada groaned. "Now he's on a rant, and you'll never get him to stop."

"Who?" I asked, doing my best to look innocent. "Me?"

"Yes, you," Imoen laughed. "Now eat your dinner and let poor Dora get back to doing what she gets paid for."

"I'd sure like to see those damned Zhents get planted where they belong," Dora grumbled. "Everyone here lost someone to them, the last time they invaded." She looked at me and said, "If you want to pay your respects, just follow the road toward the Tower of Ashaba, and look to the south when you reach Hangman's Knoll. It's not much of a graveyard, but that's because most families bury their own, and those who don't are buried by the temple they belong to. We haven't had a proper priest of Kelemvor here yet, so we don't have a graveyard to match the village."

"Thank you," I said, giving Dora a nod of respect. "If you're willing, I'd like to hear the stories of those who are buried there, after I return this evening. And if you spread the word to anyone else who'd like to tell their stories, I'll be happy to hear them, as well."

Dora squeaked, blushed, and then bent down to give me a quick hug before running off to return to her work. I didn't really know what to do, so I returned the hug, and when she had left, I looked at Lada and Imoen and asked softly, "Did I do OK?"

"It sounded like you made her happy," Lada said.

"It looked like it, too," Imoen said. "So I guess the answer is yes."

"Thank goodness," I said, then started in on my meal. "So, as soon as I'm done eating, I'm going to the graveyard for a bit. I'll be back as soon as I'm done, OK?"

"OK," Lada said. "Don't forget to take a sword with you. Please? I don't think most people will recognize your pistols."

"I don't think they will, either," Imoen said. "Lada's right. Even here, it'd be best if you took a sword with you."

"All right," I said, between bites of food. "I agree with you both. I don't want anyone thinking I'm unarmed."