Inside were some nice chairs and tables to form a waiting area where patrons could chat amongst themselves while waiting to be served. Behind that were the trade counters, large square tables with a chest in the middle and seats on each side. An employee of the establishment wearing a short-sleeved shirt and vest was sitting at one of the two tables giving an inviting smile and gesturing for the guests to sit down. They sat down, glad to not have to wait as the waiting room was empty. Castor sat down opposite the coin exchange employee who said, “Welcome. I am Silvio.” Silvio rang a bell that was on the counter. “One of your attendants may sit here to act as an observer.”
Marielle sat in one of the remaining chairs as another employee came out from a door that led to the back of the establishment, then sat opposite Marielle. “I am Rupert, I’ll be observing. What is the transaction you would like to make today?”
“Good morning to both of you. I am Castor and this is my assistant Kara,” said Castor gesturing to Marielle. “And we are employed by the Castellian family.” He pulled up his sleeve to reveal a silver bracelet with the Castellian crest as an ornament.
“Then we will only charge the preferred exchange fee,” said Silvio. Marielle glanced around at the walls and noticed two banners that hung, bearing the crest of the Castellian family. “And what will you be exchanging?”
“I would like to exchange three gilden. What is the rate of exchange today?” Castor asked.
“You are in luck, today the rate is thirty-six venti and forty conti per gilden. Minus the ten conti for the preferred exchange fee.” Silvio brought out his abacus and Castor did the same. Marielle heard the quick succession of taps as they both moved the beads at incredible speeds. “So for three gilden, you will receive one hundred and eight venti and ninety conti.”
Castor nodded his agreement, removing his abacus and bringing out a scale that placed on his side of the table. Silvio did the same and his coworker Rupert stood up and went through the door to the back of the establishment. He quickly returned and placed the agreed quantity of coins in front of Silvio, counting out as he placed it, and sat back down. Silvio opened the chest in the middle of the table to reveal two compartments. Each placed the agreed-upon amount in the compartment closest to them, Castor placing three gilden and Silvio placing the venti and the conti in the compartment closest to him. With a push from Silvio, the center of the table rotated and the chest was reversed. With all eyes on him, Silvio took out the three gilden then weighed each against the coin-standard. They passed the test then Silvio returned them to the same compartment. Up next was Castor, he pulled out the venti, placed them in front of him and began weighing, it took longer this time because of the quantity, but the process itself was just as simple. Then did the same with the conti.
“They’re all fine,” said Castor.
“Then the transaction is complete,” said Silvio, taking the three gilden back out of the compartment. The two employees then stood up and waited as Castor organized the coins into two bags that he placed under his robe.
“Let's be off then.” Castor stood up, and they headed out the entrance in the same single file order as before.
“That seemed like too much work to just exchange coins,” said Marielle. “And they took a fee.”
“Of course, they need to make a profit,” said Castor. “No one works for free. Well, actually, slaves work for free, but that’s different. Trust me, the fee they charge is more than worth it. If we went to a store-front and tried to spend a gilden they would try to say the exchange rate was only thirty-five venti. Now that would be a hefty fee to pay.”
“I just don’t feel like exchanging coins should be something they charge a fee for. It’s not like they are making anything. Why go there when no matter what we leave there poorer than when we entered?” In Marielle’s mind, they were like the money lenders her dad would talk negatively about.
“I’m sorry to say, my lady, that I can see Cressa has failed to get you to think like a merchant.”
They moved in a straight line to the market stalls where a wide variety of meats, vegetables, and food staples like flour were being sold. Marielle had never seen such a selection of cured meats and exotic vegetables. Each stall had something interesting that she wanted to point out and pester Castor to explain, but she refrained out of politeness.
"Honestly, my Lady, I don't know that much about what food to get," said Castor as they strolled past a few stalls without stopping.
"Sara can cook. Sara, please tell Castor the items you will be comfortable cooking and he will haggle for them," ordered Marielle.
"Yes my Lady," said Sara meekly. She looked attentively at the items on display before speaking in a soft and submissive voice. "My humble and insignificant suggestion is we should buy cured chicken, boar, and goat meat. I also see many root vegetables and leafy greens we should get. Goat milk and butter. Flour, oats, rice and eggs."
"Let's start with the cured meats then," said Castor, directing Sara into the crowd. "Let's get closer to this butcher, then you point out a piece of meat we should get. Then leave it to me. Marielle, please observe the merchant's dance carefully."
They approached the stall. On the table were various large cuts of meat, covered in a generous amount of salt. In the back against a thin wooden wall were wooden cages stacked up with live animals inside. Sara pointed to three pieces of meat.
"Greetings good Sir," greeted Castor brandishing a warm smile. "Beautiful day isn't it? How much for these pieces of meat here."
"Greeting," said the large burly man that was the butcher. He was grabbing a chicken from a cage and holding a large blade. His apron showed the stains of blood that foreshadowed the work he was about to perform. "The boy will help you."
To the side there was a boy, who looked younger than Marielle, conversing with another customer. They finished up their transaction and the boy ran to the back to deposit the coins into a chest then ran to greet his new customers. "Greetings," the boy said. "How can I help you?"
"Greetings young lad," said Castor brandishing a warm smile. "Beautiful day isn't it? How much for these pieces of meat?"
"Yeah, it's a nice day. Those are good cuts of meat there, so six venti."
"Six venti!" said Castor, exaggerating his dismay. "You would be lucky to get a single vente for this. Do not take me for a fool. Come let's find another butcher." Castor turned and started walking away from the counter.
"You don't need to be so dramatic," the boy said calmly. "I can do five venti. That's the best I can do."
Castor shook his head. "If I went back with that and I told my master it cost five venti he'd have me beaten. Why? Because he'd assume I was stealing from him. Give me the real price and I'll buy it, we need to prepare for lunch so I don't want to waste any more time."
"Four venti and a hundred Conti. That's as far as I'll go I'm afraid."
"Four venti and fifty Conti it is."
The boy let out a sigh then brought out his scale. "Alright, let's just settle up."
Castor reached into his robe and handed over the coins. The boy started weighing them and they were all checking out. Eventually, they were all weighed and the boy held out his hand to receive more. "Where's the rest of it?"
"The rest of what?"
"This is only four venti and thirty-five conti," the boy said clearly annoyed. "Where are the other fifteen conti."
"I'm afraid that's all I have." Castor hung his head in shame apologetically. "I'm sorry, I should have told you that before you weighed the coins. But come now, would you let this sale pass you by when you have the coin already in hand?"
"Fine…" the boy said, taking the coins off the scale. "Take it. But if you try that again we won't want your business after that."
Cressa picked up a large piece of meat and placed it in Sara's basket. Then he placed two into his own basket.
Next were the vegetables. They moved forward to another stall that had baskets filled with root vegetables, garlic and onions hung from the roof and to the side were barrels that Marielle knew had to be filled with fermented vegetables. Sara pointed to the root vegetables she wanted and again Castor would do the bartering.
This time he was dealing with a middle-aged woman. She was wearing white dirt-encrusted clothing. "Hello lovely, we would like to buy some of these carrots and potatoes."
"I can sell it individually, or by the bucket full," said the vegetable stand shopkeeper. "The price is ten conti each or a venti for a bucket full for both of those."
"I would like a bucket full of both but not at that price. How about a venti for the two buckets?"
"No. The price is the price."
"How about you throw something else in for that price. Two venti is quite a bit of coin."
"I'll throw in two heads of cabbage then, I need to get rid of some cabbage. Are we done here?"
"What about a few of those?" said Castor pointing at the onions.
"You're already getting the cabbage, don't press your luck."
"Why let a few onions get between you and two whole venti? A pretty lass like yourself could do so much with two venti."
"One onion. That's it." Castor handed over the two coins and they took the vegetables. This time they wrapped the purchased goods in the plain bits of cloth before putting them in the wicker baskets.
They moved on to a dairy stall where they bought the goat cheese and goat butter for another three venti. Then another stall to buy a large amount of flour and some dried beans for two venti. Finally, they visited a stall that sold spices where they bought a wide assortment of powders for five venti.
Throughout these transactions, each time the price was settled, Marielle would have a look of bewilderment on her face because she felt the prices were too high. As they walked out of the tented area back towards the carriage she asked Castor, "Aren't the prices we paid too high? I helped my parents in Jorland with their ledgers and the prices they paid were far lower."
"That's because Jorland is primarily a farming community," Castor responded and Cressa nodded in agreement. "And I doubt they bought many spices as the spices should be cheaper here in Venocia. You see, Venocia is a city that can't feed itself. It's a fact that the Senate is all too aware of. Most of the food we bought was brought in by boat so taxes would have been paid on their import. The men sailing the boats need to be paid and the company that owns the ships needs to make a profit too.
“In fact, a big part of the Castellian business is our connections to farming villages. We will send representatives over to them during their harvest festivals to inspect their harvest and buy all their excess grain and vegetables. We then bring the food to the city, in doing so the family makes a hefty profit.”
Once they reached the carriage they put the two baskets away and grabbed two empty baskets to still be carried by Sara and Cressa. "We still have shops to visit," said Cressa looking to the side of the square where the actual permanent storefronts were. "We need utensils, dishes, candles, and mattresses. We can leave this safely here, the valet should stop anyone from rifling through our carriage."
They headed off again, with new baskets, towards the storefronts that lined the side of the square. Castor explained that the storefronts were where craftsmen would sell their goods. Compared to the tent stalls, the storefronts were low traffic areas because of their high priced goods and services.