Twelve, Twelve shillings.” the soldier says, “It’s all I can afford. You’ll need to wait here while I go and collect the money. Will you wait? Is it enough?”
A PIECE OF BLUE SILK
(An extract from Crowman)
What is the name of this town? I do not recall. It is like so many other towns; a wall, a gate, a market, an inn, and soldiers. Erebus’s soldiers are everywhere. We wait to be allowed out of the gate. There is some kind of hold up. It looks as if the soldiers are checking for something. Perhaps my journey will end here. Eventually it is our turn. A soldier comes up to the cart.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“Kota.” I reply.
“That’s a long way.” replies the soldier cheerfully, “What are you taking there?”
I slip down from the wagon.
“Come let me show you.” I say, “Silk, some of the finest you’ll ever see.” And I open the canvas flap at the back of the wagon.
“When I get there I’ll be able to sell this for a fortune. I’m getting old and this will be my last trip. When I sell this I will have enough to settle down.”
The soldier looks and runs a hand over a bolt of fine sky blue shot silk.
“It’s beautiful silk,” he agrees, looking over the load. I know what he is thinking. He is imagining his lover dressed in blue silk. He wishes to do her a kindness. A soldier is not paid well, it is a poor life, yet every soldier has a lover. Why is that?
“Yes it is beautiful.” I agree, “I paid a good price for it. But I will get a better price when I sell it. There is a lot of it though and it took nearly all my coin to buy it. I had hoped to sell a little here to pay for our lodgings. I took that bolt to the market and the best offer I got was ten gold pieces for the whole bale. I’d rather starve than let someone steal from me.”
The soldier is startled. Ten gold pieces is a lot of money, but not an awful lot of money. Certainly more than a soldier could afford to pay. He sighs. The picture of his lover in blue silk begins to fade from his mind. I must work quickly.
“He said he wanted a sample to show a customer and like a fool I cut him a length. Look here.” And with that I pulled a length of cloth a yard long out from under the bolt of blue silk, a yard is not a lot of cloth, but it is enough for a chemise or bodice, “Totally worthless to me now.”
I must be careful. I can tell the soldier has a good heart and that means he will be harder to fool. I cannot just give him the cloth. He would think I was trying to bribe him, and that would make him suspicious. I take the blue cloth and start to fold it away. I shake it out on to the wagon and in the torch light the blue silk billows like the sky in sunlight, and settles on the wagon like a blue ocean. Because the soldier is not greedy he will not ask me for it, or offer me a price.
“You would think the fool could have offered me a few shillings for it at least,” I grumbled. The price is ridiculously low but I know the soldier will not be able to afford more, and if he could it would no longer be a small act of kindness to buy it for his lover.
“How many shillings would you want for it?” asks the soldier. I can hear hope in his voice.
“Why? Do you like it?” I ask, “Soldiers don’t wear blue silk very often.” My voice is laced with surprise.
The soldier blushes slightly, I forget that most of them are still children.
“It’s not for me it’s for someone else,” the soldier says and blushes more, now he is thinking not of his lover in her dress, but of her grateful and happy eyes.
“Well…” I hesitate, if I ask too much, the deal is off, too little and I arouse his suspicions.
“Twelve, Twelve shillings.” the soldier says, “It’s all I can afford. You’ll need to wait here while I go and collect the money. Will you wait? Is it enough?”
The soldier is more honest than I thought. Twelve shillings is almost a fair price. I would rather he had offered less and let us on our way. I hesitate and the soldier misinterprets my pause.
“Fourteen shillings,” he says, “The sergeant owes me two shillings I’ll get them from him.”
I cannot let him talk to his sergeant about us that could be disastrous.
“How much have you got on you now.” I ask, “I had hoped to make the next town today. I don’t like to camp wild at my age, it hurts my bones. Give me what you’ve got and it’s a deal.”
Again the soldier sighs, “Six shillings. But I’m off duty soon. I’ll give you the six now and catch up with you and pay the rest.”
“Yes, six shillings.” I agree, “The thing is worthless to me anyhow.”
I take the six shillings that the soldier has in his pouch, he offers me a few copper that he has left over, but I wave them away. I hand him the folded silk which he stuffs into his jerkin and then he waves us on. We are through the gate.
How many lies did you tell today old man? How many more lies will you tell?