Verd, part three

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Arthur allowed himself to be dragged to an enclosed wagon, a wooden contraption with a multitude of leather straps connecting it to a pair of horses.

He smirked. It was clear that each step of his journey decreased the level of technology available, but keeping his thoughts to himself he climbed inside the wagon. To his surprise he found himself seated on comfortable, padded leather. When they started moving he learned that unlike the cart they rode earlier this wagon was equipped with decently efficient shock absorbers. Sitting inside the carriage he barely noticed when they passed through the outer gates.

The carriage stopped and he heard muted voices apparently coming to some form of agreement and then they continued. Here great lamps above them lit the streets with a warm, yellow light. As they rode on he was slightly surprised by the size of the city and the height of the stone houses flanking its streets.

People strolled along the sidewalks, some clad in garbs much like his own and some in clothes far more discreet. But for the ever-present noise of horses and wagons he could almost have believed himself in one of the holiday cities in central Europe where tourists flocked to enjoy living out history for a week or two. That and brightly uniformed soldiers strolling around in pairs or small groups, ugly weapons within easy reach.

They stopped again. The doors opened and Arthur stepped down a wooden block with carved stairs that must have been placed there but moments earlier. Harbend followed behind him and paid the driver.

"Sir Wallman, we have arrived at Two Worlds, the best hotel in the city," Harbend said weighing a pouch of coins in his hand.

"Two Worlds?"

"It was renamed some years ago."

"I see."

Arthur gave the building an appraising look. It was a six stories monstrosity built of red granite and white marble. He felt as if confronted with an unusually failed replica of a city palace from imperial Vienna a thousand years earlier. Gaudy as a Martian palace in all it's pink, vulgar splendor.

He shook his head and doing so he saw his own reflection staring back at him from the inlaid mirrors in the grand wooden doors facing him.

"I thought you would feel more like home here, sir."

"Now, what the..." Suddenly aware of his own clothes and hairstyle he blushed slightly before fully enjoying the elaborate joke played on him and laughed loudly. "We're most definitely beginning to understand each other."

He walked to the doors, waited for them to open and remembered were he was. Just as he was about to push them open they were pulled inwards and a boy in silk livery the color of sun dried bricks raced out to pick up their bags.

Arthur entered. The hall was indeed as resplendent as the exterior suggested, with two great marble staircases curving up to the second floor and a huge, ostentatious chandelier providing most of the light. Statues, paintings and the occasional richly ornamented lamp cluttered the walls, and the sheer amount of massive stone kept it cool even in summer heat.

No one there except the uniformed guards who had opened the door.

The porter didn't return and Arthur assumed the rest of his luggage was carried in through some back door. Harbend passed to his right and climbed the stairs, and Arthur, not knowing what else to do, simply followed.

The hotel, after he awkwardly made peace with its gaudiness, turned out to be first class; his suite as luxurious as anything he'd experienced at home with the obvious technological implementations lacking. It more than made up for it with everything made from the finest natural materials he could imagine.

Arthur left Harbend in the living room and went in search of a bathroom. It welcomed him with the surprise of having running water. Peeling off his clammy clothes he realized just how sweaty they had become.

He spent a wonderful half an hour in a tub of hot water, a luxury unavailable for several months. Finally satisfied he got up and dried himself. With a feeling of relief he entered the bedroom, toweled body still steaming from the hot bath.

He hadn't brought a formal business suit and settled for a pair of green, knee length trousers, an orange bolero with tails and his best red silken shirt. Happy with the outfit he still suspected he'd better buy clothes here unless he wanted to draw too much attention to himself. The day wasn't over yet and with that knowledge lingering in his mind he resolutely threw the doors wide open and walked into the living room.

Harbend waited for him there, as did the crates, hoisted onto a large hardwood table and Arthur wondered how the porters had managed hauling them up the stairs.

It was probably time to convince Harbend to sell off the token trading goods contained in the crates. Paying Harbend a little extra for the trouble wouldn't hurt neither.

"Time for business?"

"If any," Harbend answered unhappily from the chair where he sat.

"I'll open the boxes so you can evaluate the worth of what I have to sell."

"Do so."

Arthur chose not to take note of the tension in Harbend's voice.

"Well, start with this one I think." Arthur leaned over the table and put a hand to the lock. The lid sprung open and revealed an uneven surface of brown leather.

Harbend rose and stepped closer. "What is it?"

"Books. I had some works converted into bound paper some years ago when I played with the thought of coming here the first time, but there never seemed to be time enough."

"Books?"

"Yes, I have dictionaries, works on grammar, etymology and other academic works in the field of linguistics."

"Excuse me, I fail to understand."

Arthur thought for a while before facing Harbend. "I have books where words are defined. I've also brought books explaining the rules and history of my language. On top of that there are a few works on our view of how languages work and develop within scope of the society they exist in."

Harbend was silent at first. "And all in paper?" A smile slowly spread over his face.

"Yes. I was told you had a written language. Taking into consideration your level of technology I assumed that pages or rolls of text would be easier to sell than the equipment we use at home."

"Indeed. It will bring a good price, far better than you think." There was nothing left of Harbend's sullen disappointment now.

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