The Travelling Salesman

- March 2023 Popular Vote Pick

The wind howled through the barren landscape, as the travelling salesman made his way towards the small town of Lydbridge. The sun’s searing heat bore down upon him with unrelenting force, threatening to turn his skin to parchment. He was tired and hungry from his long journey and hoped to find food and shelter within the town walls.

He winced as his horseless carriage jostled over yet another pothole in the road, causing the whole vehicle to shake and rattle. Despite his best efforts to brace himself, the impact sent a shudder through his body, and he could feel the aches and pains from the journey building in his muscles.

The carriage was a marvel to behold. Magic-fused stones provided propulsion, the controls consist of a series of levers, each serving a specific purpose. One lever controls the speed of the vehicle, allowing the driver to increase or decrease the pace as needed. Another lever is used to change the direction of the vehicle, turning it left or right. He didn't care much about how the internals of the contraption worked, just as long as it did.

The bespoke carriage had side panels that could open to create a lean-to for his stall. It was brown, dust-covered and weather-worn, and it creaked along the cobbled road, bouncing and swaying from side to side as it hit every pothole and bump in the road. With each jolt, the carriage rattled and creaked. The salesman knew he would have to get it repaired soon if he wanted it to survive many more journeys like this. Such was the burden of being on the cutting edge of technology, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up and build levelled roads.

But for now, he just had to endure the discomfort, and hope that he would reach his destination soon. As he bounced along the road, he reminded himself that the road to success was never smooth and that sometimes, one had to endure a bit of hardship to achieve one's goals.

The travelling salesman straightened his dust-covered brown three-piece suit in preparation for his arrival in town, as the unmistakable sight of civilisation started to appear on the horizon.

Must look presentable.

Despite the wear and tear on the outfit, it had endured during his travels, the suit was clearly of high quality. A white dress shirt, neatly pressed, contrasted sharply against the brown fabric. A faded light blue bow tie completed the ensemble, giving him an air of old-world charm and sophistication.

He wore grey gloves, which seemed to match the hue of the dust that clung to his clothing. His short brown hair and pointed beard tapered down to his chin were neatly trimmed. A pair of aged spectacles perched on the bridge of his nose, giving him an intellectual air.

His brown top hat was the perfect complement to his ensemble, and a pair of driving goggles adorned the brim. To this day he regretted acquiring them. His carriage couldn’t get fast enough to require the protection of the goggles.

And don’t get me started on these backwater roads.

Roads, Ha!

He took a moment to take in the barren landscape. A few sparse trees dotted the desolate landscape, and the surrounding grasses were yellow and withered. Hardly worth the effort of moving his head. The only thing noteworthy was a large blowfly hitching a ride on the front of the carriage.

Well, that’s just lazy.

His heart lifted at the sight of the town emerging from the horizon like a mirage in a desert. The old stone walls, battered by time and weather, still stood tall and proud, a testament to the history and resilience of the people who had built them. The heavy wooden gate was reinforced with iron bars and bolts, a formidable barrier that had kept the town safe for centuries.

As he drew nearer, his gaze was drawn to the two guardsmen with pikes who emerged to bar the road. They stood like statues, their weapons at the ready, eyes scanning him warily. The traveller knew better than to make any sudden movements; one wrong step could provoke a deadly response.

Soldiers with muskets were walking the parapets of the walls, their eyes trained on the lone traveller. They watched him like hawks, ever vigilant for any sign of trouble.

He slowed his carriage to a complete stop a few feet from the heavily armed guards, his hands visible and empty in a show of submission. He knew that any sudden movements or attempts to resist would be met with swift and brutal retaliation. He looked the guards up and down, studying them closely. One was a young, eager-looking man, his eyes darting around nervously. The other was older, with a grizzled face and a cynical expression.

“Good afternoon my fine gentleman, I would…”

“’old on geezer,” The younger guard said, “’ere you think you off to?”

The traveller could sense his nervousness and tried to calm him down. "I am just a traveller seeking shelter for the night," he said, his voice soothing.

“Lydbridge is closed!”

“Closed? Young man, your colleagues several leagues north have directed me this way. Very tense man that Captain was.” The travelling salesman said.

“Well you can’t stop ‘ere” The young guard shook his head.

“Please, I’ve eaten naught but dust the last few days. Sleeping with one eye open. A lonely salesman is the perfect prey for unscrupulous bandits and thugs.”

"Sorry guvnah, but we can't let anyone in right now. ‘ere have been too many hamlets and villages destroyed recently.” The young guard leaned in, “They suspect necromancy you see, so we can't take any chances."

“Shut up lad.” The older guard said curtly, trying to swat away a large blowfly.

“Sorry, Sarge.”

“Necromancy? My word,” The travelling salesman shook his head. “Such awful meddling in the unnatural.”

“Just rumours.” The sergeant said dismissively.

"What's in the carriage?" the young guard asked, his eyes scanning the covered wagon.

"Just some potions and elixirs," the traveller replied, trying to keep his tone casual. “Cures for what ails, and more.”

The young guard frowned. "I’ll ‘ave search it. Just to make sure."

The traveller hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Of course. But I assure you, there's nothing dangerous in there."

As the young guard began to search the wagon, the older guard stood by, looking bored. "Just what I figured," he muttered. "Just another salesman trying to grift the townspeople."

“Grift the townspeople? My good sir, it is the townspeople who will grift me! I’m practically giving away my wares!”

The distinct sound of glass clanking made the salesman jump down from his seat. He rushed around to the side to see the young guard holding a glass vial to the sun, in a bizarre attempt to ascertain its contents.

“You have a good eye, my friend. For the cost of a few coppers, you will be the envy of your friends as the young maidens will be throwing themselves at your feet”.

“How much is a few?”

“Ah, twenty-five.”

“Give you five.”

“Twenty is as low as I can go, the ingredients only are worth twenty-two. Plus my time in making said item. Can’t rush these things, otherwise, my reputation for high-quality serums, infusions and philtres would be in tatters. The cost of doing business.”

The young guard looked frustrated, but he didn't argue any further. Instead, he turned to the traveller. "Can you prove that you're not a necromancer?" he asked his voice mustering as much authority as it could.

The traveller sighed. "I'm afraid I cannot prove a negative, young man. But I can assure you, I am just a simple salesman passing through."

The older guard snorted. "Leave it be, lad. You're not going to find anything."

The traveller gave the older guard a grateful nod. "I appreciate your trust," he said, his voice dripping with condescension. The young guard went back to rummaging through the back of the wagon.

The older guard just rolled his eyes. "We're not idiots, you know. Like I said - rumours. Probably just bandits or some such."

“I ‘eard that the necromancer has enough bodies for a small army now.” The young guard’s voice rang out between the sound of banging bottles.

The traveller raised an eyebrow at the sergeant. "And you're content to just ignore it?"

The sergeant shrugged. "It's not our job to worry about that. Our job is to keep this town safe. And we do that by not letting any troublemakers in."

The young guard emerged from the wagon, looking disappointed. "Nothing here but a bunch of herbs and spices," he grumbled.

The traveller smiled thinly. "I assure you, they're the finest herbs and spices money can buy."

The sergeant snorted as he continued to wave his hand about. "Save your sales pitch, mate. We've heard it all before. Damn fly."

“Well, I’m sure if there was a necromancer roaming the countryside, if he ever came across you two, he would be in grave danger.”

The sergeant made a noise that was a cross between a chuckle and a snort.

“That’s ‘nuff old man, turn back the way you came.” The young guard ordered, pointing in the direction that the salesman travelled.

“Old man? I’m thirty-five.” The Salesman couldn’t help but be offended. “Unless, of course, you were addressing your sergeant.”

“I’m thirty-two.” the sergeant said.

The young guard’s jaw hit the ground as he looked at his sergeant’s face. Examining every grey hair and crack that was etched deep.

“Oh, a veteran of the Seed War.” The salesman said in a revered voice. “Who knew that farmer’s magic could prove so, vexing?”

“Aye.” The old guard grunted.

The young guard’s expression changed from shock to puzzlement. Like he was trying to remember the night before a hangover, the harder he searched his memory, the more elusive it became.

“Some farmers would artificially age their crops to increase yield by adding certain concoctions to the water used to feed the crops” The salesman explained to the young guard. “But when those same concoctions are added to an army’s water supply…”

“The usurping bastards got what was coming to them.” The sergeant cut in.

“Yes, they reaped what they sowed.” The salesman’s sly smile returned.

“Look,” the sergeant said, “we’ll let you in”.

“Oh bless you, kind sir”.

“But,” the sergeant continued “there is a newly instated toll to get it.”

“There is?” the young guard blurted without thinking.

The sergeant shot the young guard a death stare, “Yes. There is!”

“They teach them how to march, but they don’t teach them how to think, do they, sergeant?” The salesman said.

“No, they certainly do not.”

“Well, I’m sure a modest fee is a better alternative to sleeping in the wilds, how much?”

“Five silvers.”

“Five!” The salesman gasped as he rifled through his money pouch, “Why don’t you wear a balaclava next time? Here.”

“The cost of doing business.” the sergeant bit down on one of the coins before tossing it to the younger guard, pocketing the rest.

The travelling salesman climbed back into the driver’s chair of his carriage with a huff. He quickly played with the controls to start rolling forward. The sergeant signalled to the watch tower to open the gate.

“Nice doing business with you.” The sergeant called out as the travelling salesman passed through the gate and vanished into the seething mass of humanity that was Lydbridge.

“Hey Sarge, wot you think he meant when he said that captain was? You know, past tense?”

The older guard’s shoulders slumped.

“Shut up lad.”

The travelling salesman drove his carriage towards the bustling town square. The people parted before him like a stream around a boulder, their eyes following him with curiosity.

A large blowfly landed on the salesman’s hand. He slowly brought his hand closer to his face.

“Send the horde,” he instructed blowfly. “Oh and remind me to get my silver back.”

The blowfly rubbed its forelimbs with glee before flying off.