Writings: Cold Creditors (Accidental Hero)

Note: This was previously published on my Patreon.

[TW: Misgendering, Sexual Harassment]

Chapter 1, Accidental Hero
Chapter 2, Sister's Sword
Chapter 3, Metal Malice

Story so far: Harken is an adventurer who has done what no one else has: raided one of the shrines which were sealed during the great cataclysm. He'd intended only to loot the place for coin and machinery parts to sell, and was shocked to find himself blessed by a dessicated monk whose body blew away after granting Harken a piece of his power. Plagued with doubts as to what he should do next, he has returned home seeking his sister, only to find the local merchant's son has been harassing her in Harken's absence.


Cold Creditors

The next morning dawned pink and rosy, with soft spring breezes that kissed every inch of bare skin and ruffled Harken's hair--and reminding him how much he needed to have Teagan cut it again.

Teagan left the house before he'd pulled himself out of bed, taking her berries to the farms to haggle for what could be gotten. If she haggled well, they'd have fresh milk tonight; if she froze up instead, they'd be lucky if she didn't give the berries away for free. With Tea it was impossible to predict whether she would bargain with wit sharper than her sword or whether she'd retreat into herself, mumbling and unable to make eye contact with her audience. Even as a gamble, however, she was a better negotiator than Harken.

The exception to this rule was their dealings with Garvan. He was the head trader for the town, patient with Harken's brusque manner, and knew what Harken was worth to his business. Ranchers brought him milk and cheese if they did not wish to haggle directly with their neighbors, and farmers brought their produce throughout the seasons, but the machine parts Harken brought in could only be gotten from the packs of traveling merchants and the occasional warden killed by the town guard.

Metal parts were valuable to almost everyone, their price driven up even further due to their scarcity and the dangers harvesters faced. Tubes covering the wardens' spidery legs were prized by farmers for distribution of water over fields. Ancient bolts and screws were used in the creation and maintenance of farming tools, ranching implements, and strong fencing. The enormous gears--only be found in the biggest wardens and deepest ruins--were vital to run communal windmills that ground corn and wheat into fine meal. Smaller components, like lengths of thin flexible wire, were good for tying or binding. Odd pieces that fit no practical purpose were remade into art, decorating the homes of those who could afford such luxuries.

Sometimes a traveling merchant might have parts to sell, scavenged from ruins encountered on their way to the tiny village. Indeed, Harken had played the role of traveling merchant in other villages, unloading and selling parts which were too heavy or too numerous to lug back with him. But most merchants took their metal goods to larger towns, where traders could afford to buy an entire lot for resale rather than sort through a pile looking for the best bits. It was in these towns where scavenged parts could be used to their fullest potential, and rumors spread of places which had electric lights and mechanical tractors and plows.

If Garvan dreamed of making Fogwich more than it was, he never showed his ambitions; he did not hoard the best parts for his own collection, nor did he invite engineers from larger towns to come show the little village how to replace candles with electric light and manual plows with mechanical ones. He did not care what his customers did with the parts Harken brought in, being interested only in the profits he received when reselling Harken's finds at a steeper markup than what Harken himself could command. Yet what Garvan lacked in imagination, he made up for in reliability: he always bought everything Harken found, no matter how obscure or useless a part might seem. Garvan knew he could find someone who would want it.

For this much, Harken was grateful. He tried to focus on his gratitude now as he lugged his canvas bag of warden parts up the gentle slope where the village lay on the outskirts of the forest. He tried hard to not focus on Garvan's son Lorccán, on Lorccán's visit to the house the day before, or on Teagan's reluctant confirmation that Lorccán had been harassing her while Harken was away. Those things were not, strictly speaking, Garvan's fault. Perhaps he did not know his son's unwelcome flirtations had escalated to pressure and veiled threats. When Harken told him, he would be appalled and apologetic--and he would help.

Harken would tell him, that much he'd already determined. He'd tried to speak with Garvan before about Lorccán's behavior and those talks had not gone well, but now he knew what he'd done wrong. Harken had tried to be gentle and soft in his complaints, not wanting to upset the older man with tales about his son's misbehavior. He'd hoped also to avoid angering Lorccán in ways that would lead to retaliation. That worry was now far in the past; Harken would nip this threat in the bud now before he left Teagan alone again.

He crested the top of the slope that led from the forest and the village loomed before him. Fogwich wasn't large by any stretch of the imagination--just a tiny collection of log buildings at the top of a hill which in turn gazed down on farms below--but it felt big after the tight enclosure of the forest. The morning sky was still the warm pink of spring buttercups, the sun's gentle rays heating the faded logs that formed the walls of the village homes. Though it was early, already many of the village residents were roused; Harken could smell bread baking and saw lines hung to hold laundry. It was a good day for it, he decided, throwing another glance at the sky. Not a cloud hung there save the ones which forever encircled the faraway castle.

"Morning, Harken! I see you're back safe and sound?" A broad-faced woman with a laughing grin waved at him as he passed, balancing a laundry basket on her hips as she did so.

"Morning, Lily," he called back with an answering smile. "Sound as I was to begin with, I reckon. Safe from everything but your smile."

Laughing, she waved him on as one of her twins toddled out on fat legs to gawk at him. "Get on, flatterer. Tell Teagan to stop by sometime for a drink. I miss her!"

"She's been a bit busy killing wardens, but will do," he answered, dropping the wide-eyed child a wink before he moved on.

Garvan's store was in the very center of the village, an imposing two stories of log walls and glass windows. They were dusty now, but when his late wife was alive the windows had been kept at a high shine to tempt customers with sight of the goods inside. Garvan carried everything from warden parts to crops and produce sold to him by the villagers. A farmer or rancher could command higher prices, of course, if they sold their produce themselves--and some did, or preferred to haggle and trade for Teagan's bounty from the forest--but Garvan's store was where travelers stopped to buy, and it was easier to sell to him than to waste time watching the roads for potential buyers to call out to.

A little bell on the door rang as Harken entered, calling out his presence to anyone on the first floor. Garvan looked up from where he sat in his favorite chair, enjoying his breakfast; Harken could smell the oil and eggs and felt his stomach turn over in a growl. "Morning, Garvan," he said, his voice losing the sing-song he'd granted to the smiling Lily. "I have parts to trade. Got your account books out?"

The older man finished the bite he was eating without haste, his fork scraping the tin plate. "Harken. Now why would I have my account books? Not like I was expecting you. How've you been?"

"Oh, not too shabby," Harken shot back with a grin, heaving his pack onto the nearest clean table and working at the bindings to open it. "You know. Raided a shrine. Killed a warden. Normal everyday things."

Garvan only snorted at this. Harken was never quite sure how much the older man believed from him; probably he thought Harken scavenged from the dead and silent ruins of the past. That had worked well enough for older explorers before Harken's time, but now those ruins were picked over and bare. Those who craved parts had to risk the wardens' fiery eyes to claim them, and rarely worked alone as Harken did.

He ignored Garvan's lack of enthusiasm, spreading out his parts. "Garvan, these are fresh. Tubes still flexible, wires clean and unstripped. Worth at least two hundred fifty for the lot. Maybe three hundred." Garvan would haggle him down to two hundred, he knew, and then they'd go over the account. If Harken figured right, they owed some over that but not so much that the rubles from the shrine couldn't cover the difference. He and Teagan would be free of debt for a few weeks while they considered what next to do.

"Can't pay more than a hundred fifty," Garvan said, almost as soon as he'd finished.

"You're killing me, Garvan. Two twenty-five. Anything less would be robbery."

"I said one hundred fifty, Harken."

Harken frowned, his brow drawing tight. "You talked me down, Garvan. Two hundred, it is. Even though you're stealing food from my mouth." He moved to shake the man's hand.

"Harken." He looked up from his plate and shook his head, looking tired. "I can't pay more than a hundred fifty. Take it or leave it, boy. Best I can do."

"What?" Harken stared at him, his frown deepening. "Why not? I- You know I don't want rubles, right? Just credit off our books. You'll make the money back."

"Business has been slow. Too few travelers in the past months, with too little money on them for my prices. Goods sit on my shelves taking up room and going stale."

"Mechanical parts don't go stale!" Harken's voice was too loud in his ears and he had to remind himself not to shout. "Travelers are always sparse in the winter but pick up in the spring. You'll sell these, Garvan. Hell, I could sell them, if I took them to a town."

"Then take them," Garvan said with a careless wave. He knew what Harken knew: that the time and danger of the journey would not be worth the difference in sales price. It was dangerous to travel encumbered by a pack full of parts, the weight making him slow and unable to react in a pinch.

Harken forced himself to breathe through his nose, cradling his anger in a deep quiet place inside. He didn't understand why Garvan was being so curt when he was usually more polite than this, but the trader was getting older and more brusque. Perhaps it had been a mistake to bother him at first light, while breaking his fast. He tried another tack, gentler now. "Alright, set that aside for a moment. Garvan, can we go over the books? I know it's been a while, but I'd feel better knowing how the account stands."

Grumbling, the trader rose from his seat, his joints creaking as he moved. Drawing one of several heavy books from a shelf behind the main counter, he threw it down with a heavy thunk and set to flipping the pages. "Here we are," he said, eyes sweeping down the little numbers that represented the line of credit Teagan and Harken held at the store. "Five hundred and twenty-two rubles."

"What?" Harken's voice was hoarse in his throat. The number couldn't possibly be right. He reached out to grab the book, spinning it in place to examine the page. "No, Garvan, that can't be right. It should be a little over two hundred. Two-fifty at the most..." His words trailed away as he examined the numbers and the words next to them. "Garvan, when did your prices--"

A chill ran down his spine and he looked up, feeling the pinch of tears in his eyes, little unwelcome betrayers of his emotions. "This isn't your handwriting, Garvan."

"No. Lorccán has been handling my books for the last few months. Boy is learning the business at last, and doing well. And, yes, he's raised the price of a few things."

Things that Harken and Teagan couldn't make for themselves, Harken noted, his eyes flicking back over the page. He could feel his sight blurring and blinked rapidly; he could not cry, or Garvan would cease taking him seriously. "I wasn't informed. Was Teagan? We wouldn't have bought so much if we knew."

"I assume he told her, yes," Garvan said, unconcerned. "He's been visiting her a lot these past few weeks. Setting his cap for her, really. It's cute. The whole town gossips over them."

Harken set his teeth and tried not to growl. "Garvan, that's... the other reason I came today, actually. Lorccán has been harassing Teagan. Pressuring her, using our debt to push her into... things she doesn't want to do. I need you to talk to him, Garvan, to tell him to stop."

Cold blue eyes swiveled slowly up to stare at him until Harken felt he was being pierced with a warden's tracking ruby. "Is she claiming he forced her? A strong warrior like Teagan?"

The conversation wasn't supposed to go like this. Harken had to force himself not to take a step back from Garvan's cold stare. "What? No! It's-- It hasn't gotten to that point. I won't let it. But, Garvan, there's a-- You must understand there's an imbalance between them! It's not appropriate for Lorccán to visit our house without an invitation, nor to keep bringing up the account with Teagan. I handle our account!"

"So because your family is in debt to mine," each word was slow and heavy with angry sarcasm, "we must never speak with any but you, lest it create an 'imbalance'. Do I have that correct?"


"Teagan is a warrior, is she not? One of the best of the town guard?"

"Yes, but--"

"And my son holds swords only long enough to sell them. But he represents the threat here?" His eyes narrowed as he studied Harken. "You're jealous. I see now. You want him for yourself."


The older man slammed the account book shut, causing dust to rise and making Harken cough and wheeze. "I will take one hundred and fifty rubles off your account for the parts, and I don't want to hear anything more about my son. If you girls are determined to fight over him between yourselves, I won't stop you. But if you try to ruin him with malicious rumors, you'll not buy or sell here again. Am I clear?"

Harken's heart was in his throat, pounding so hard he thought he might burst. "No. No, Garvan. You are not listening to me. If Lorccán comes to our home again, he won't leave unbloodied. And I won't buy or sell here again of my own accord. If you want a shop without warden parts or gems for traveling merchants to take back with them, that's on your head. But keep your son away from us if you want him unharmed."

Turning on his heel he stormed out, slamming the door behind him. He stalked down the road, Lily's parting calls falling on ears which could not hear her for the blood pounding there. Five-hundred and twenty-two rubles. Three hundred and something now, after the parts. More than the two hundred from the shrine. Maybe if he sold the gems he'd held back to save, but would Garvan give him a fair price?

Even if he wiped their debt clean, cashing out everything they had in order to do so, what then? Things could not continue as they'd once done, not if Garvan and his house were now their enemies. There was no way to afford staples they needed at Lorccán's prices; Teagan and Harken would sink forever into debt with no hope for reprieve--especially when Harken's goods were being bought for less than they were worth.

But their house was here, their home. This village and the forest had been their life for years, almost ever since Harken had met Teagan and they'd decided to make together the family they'd each always wanted. How was he going to tell her that everything had changed? Modification of her routines upset her deeply, and he knew she would fight this one tooth and nail.

She'd want to give Lorccán what he wanted, not understanding there was no compromise in this situation, no case in which everyone could be happy. Lorccán wasn't proposing a fair trade of service for coin or credit; what he wanted was the two of them indebted to him, servicing his desires from fear of being cut off from the store. Garvan's threat--to be silent or lose all trading rights--would only be repeated from here.

No, this was not a thing to be negotiated or dealt with, but to be fled from without delay. Harken's step quickened as he reached the forest. He would go home and make his plans. But what, oh goddess whose gifts now dwelt within him, was he going to tell his sister?


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