Every wagon owner expected to call at Whandall Feathersnake's wagon den, to present respects and get a glass of the best wine or tea or both, to meet the wizard who was Whandall's guest, to learn why Whandall Feathersnake kept a boy from a bandit family as guest, to test bargaining skills. Had Whandall Feathersnake gone soft from living in town?
Fighting Cat Fishhawk hailed Whandall with a glad cry. Ruby Fish-hawk's son was four years older than Whandall, a touch of his mother's kinless ancestry in the ears.
"Give my warmest respects to your mother," Whandall said.
"Won't you see her yourself?"
Curse. "Perhaps not. I will not go farther than the Springs this trip," Whandall said. "Tea or wine?"
"Both, please, but little of the wine. The Springs? So you believe the stories of gold in the hills above?"
"Lurk, make us some tea." Whandall had taught him how. It was best to have something to do to cover a social gaffe. And Burning Tower was eager to be hostess for her father, but Whandall had sent her on errands. She wanted to help, too much.
"Condigeo is getting soft," Fighting Cat said. "I sold a Marsyl carpet, used, for seven sea turtle shells."
"Good price. Are sea turtles so common now?"
Fighting Cat grinned. "No more common than ever."
Whandall sensed a story. "How?"
"I don't talk so much."
Whandall grinned and waited... and lighting Cat grinned hack. Whandall said, "Excellent!" and they moved on to what Whandall needed, which was two repaired wheels, water jars, root vegetables, and dried meat.
When Fighting Cat left, Whandall told Lurk, "My first trip, the caravan had just found out we had a wagonload of refined gold. I'm passing Fighting Cat's wagon, he pulls me into his travel nest by the arm. Shows me a necklace that would look wonderful on Willow. I admired it. He wanted nine thumbweights of gold. Far too much, but it really was a beautiful necklace, and I was-I wanted very much to please Willow. He showed me each turquoise, blue to match Willow's eyes, tiny gold flecks. He pointed out the absence of cracks, that there was no yellow or green, which are flaws, but I didn't know it then.
"I kept looking. It was clear I wanted it, but the gold wasn't all mine- we hadn't divided it yet-and I wasn't saying anything. He told me its history. Offered me three Shambit figurines to go with it, still nine thumb-weights. Y-" Lurk wasn't listening closely, getting bored.
Some things you say because they'll be understood later. "I already knew nobody could force me to buy without actually drawing a knife. So I was entertained. He showed me everything he had, and I smiled and admired and watched him go from nine thumbweights to two and a half. Willow loved it. And I told Fighting Cat what he'd done wrong a year later."