He looked dejected by the faint hearth-light. "So, you heard the baker."
"Yeah," she admitted warily.
"I didn't want to do this, but we don't have a choice. Out in the woods, we got a stash, the last of our family fortune. Over the years we've just been diggin' it up, a little at a time. Now we gotta go get the last of it, or we're gonna starve. I think I'm gonna need some help this time, I'm gettin' older, and I want you to come with me. But you can't tell anybody. Cause there's more stuff in there than just money."
"All right. When?" What, besides money? she wondered.
"Tomorra. We'll go down, ask one of the boatmen to take us across the river. It's away deep in the woods, it'll take us a while to get there. That's all I wanted to say. Go back to sleep. And don't tell your mother," he added.
Melantha stifled a snort of laughter at the very idea, and promised not to. Then she went back into the bedroom, but didn't sleep right away. It was always possible that the old man was delusional, but if he wasn't.... She'd been raised on tales of the family's former glory, but had never actually seen any tangible evidence of it before.
Earlier that same day, Roman was down in the marketplace, sent by his father to make some purchases as a test of his haggling ability.
"I tell you, these lettuces are worth a kopeck each! Look how sparkling green they are..." the vendor implored him. "Not a single worm! These are without a doubt the finest lettuces in all the land!"
"They don't look very good to me..." he hesitated.
"What are you talking about! Look how iridescent they are, how they sparkle in the morning sunlight! I will not take less than two kopecks each for these fine, fine lettuces."
"You insult me?!"
Out of the corner of his eye Roman noticed that the man had a box of mushrooms as well. He had seen ones like them once before, Celestial Eye mushrooms. Very good for some magics. They were rare, as far as he knew, and usually dealt in by merchants specializing in magic supplies.
"Perhaps, if you give me a kopeck for each of these fine, fine lettuces, I would be willing to throw in two potatoes each, to sweeten the dealbut only because I like the cast of your face, my friend, and because I have such respect for your great father Ivan Kiprusoff."
"Two heads of lettuce for a kopeck. And the potatoes," Roman added.
"What?! Do you treat me as a fool? I was making you a special deal. One head of lettuce and four potatoes a kopeck," he countered.
"I accept your offer."
The vendor put everything in a bag and said, "Kind sir, I give you my thanks."
Roman eyed the mushrooms again and said, "Pardon me, sir, I do have a question. That box of mushrooms over there. Are those for sale?"
"Yes. Um... a silver piece for the box. I do not know what they are, some loggers sold them to me, said there was a whole glen out in the woods somewhere. If I find some more, I'll be sure to tell you."
Roman paid for them with his own money, and without any haggling. "Did you know these loggers?"
"Yes, I do some business with them every so often. I sell them lettuces."
"So they come into town fairly often?"
"Would you be able to show them to me?"
"If you go down to the timber sales, it is Andre Gurigov. You'll know him, he only has one eye. It is his younger brother Yuri who sold me the mushrooms."
"Thank you, very much. Good day, sir."
"You are very welcome."
Roman headed over to the timber sales area to look for Yuri, and found his one-eyed brother quickly.
"Yuri? No, he went back to camp," Andre told him.
"They found these mushrooms near camp?"
"Those? No, Yuri got lost last week, really bad, he was somewhere far out in the forest."
"Hm. Do you think he'd know his way back?"
"You could ask him," the man shrugged.
"Where is your camp? Do you think he'd mind?"
"No, no...." Andre gave him directions. "I'm sure he can tell you something."
"Thank you kindly, sir." The young wizard returned home to drop off the lettuce and potatoes, and showed his father the mushrooms, which were worth at least ten times what he'd paid for them.
Ivan was pleased. "Very good, son! A merchant has to have an eye like that. The sudden opportunity. So, this afternoon I want you to work with Stefan in the accounting office."
"Actually, father, I was hoping to go out to the logging camp, see if I can find the field where these were found. There may be more."
He looked doubtful, then shrugged. "I suppose. Good initiative."
"Thank you." He went down to the wharves and crossed the rivermust remember to call it the Windrush, its Thyatian name, rather than the Waterolde, which could earn him a thrashing. The logging camp wasn't really a town, just a collection of houses holding extended families and surrounded by vegetable gardens, largely but not entirely self-sufficient. He found the house without any trouble, and found Yuri overseeing a roasting pig with several women.
"Hail, stranger. Can I help you?"
"Yes, that's me."
"I'm Roman Kiprusoff, I come from across the river."
Yuri nodded. "I know your father."
"I was in the marketplace and one of the shopkeepers had a box of these, I was hoping you could show me where you found them." He produced one of the mushrooms.
"Ah. The damn mushrooms, only thing we got out of that afternoon. We saw a hart, you see, Andre and I, and went after it without thinking. It led us on a merry chase, and by the time we looked up we didn't know where the hell we were. So we continued in that direction, and not knowing where the hell we were, for a couple hours, and along the way we happened on a clearing full of these. Somewhere. Couldn't tell you where."
"To the east?"
"Well into the woods, but I wouldn't try to go over there yourself."
"Did you see anything else around there, a cottage?"
"No, nobody lives out there. It's all bear territory. Think you could take on a bear?"
"Not today," Roman laughed.
"I'm not sure anyone is familiar with that part of the woods, except... Petrov's kid." He spoke to the women in Traladaran for a few moments. "Nadya. Petrov's house is over there, she might know where they are." He pointed out the house.
"Thank you kindly."
"Glad to be of service."
Nadya was helping her mother pluck geese, and sneezing fairly often, when a well- dressed youth walked up to their house. Roman saw a old woman and a very large, much younger one sitting there, surrounded by feathers.
"Excuse me, ladies. I am looking for Nadya Petrov?"
"That's me," the girl spoke up quietly.
"I was wondering if you would be able to help. I was just speaking with Yuri Gurigov, who wandered into the forest to the east and found a clearing, with many of these mushrooms." He showed her one. "But he doesn't know the way back, and he told me that you might."
She studied it. "I have seen those mushrooms."
"It's very far from here. The day is too far gone for us to make it there, it's an entire day's journey."
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