"Bingo is waving. Cheesaholic sighted three blocks down and coming in hot and hungry." Jethro had spotted his cousin on the 4th floor of an inn, waving and pointing.
"Places everyone. Don't crowd the customer. He won't need much encouragement to buy heavily." Grandma had been planning for her new best customer's visit for some days now. Orders had been placed with other clans for older varieties and they'd worked hard on their own fresh batches. Cheese was a tricky thing needing a couple of days up to several years to age, depending on the type. The clans often traded around varieties for types they didn't have stock on.
Fate had been fickle as always. They could go months selling wheels of cheddar to housewives and barely making enough to live on. And then get several big customers all at once. Two months prior they had been cleaned out by two "special" customers on three separate occasions before they disappeared and weren't seen again.
This new buyer had heralded the good times again. Several clans had made them very good trades for the type of aged cheddar they produced. This new stock had helped them attract some new customers. One of those customers had the lovely habit of paying gold coins, and in advance. His package was sitting in the corner, already wrapped and ready to go.
Milo was having a bit of difficulty this morning. At one point as he was moving stealthily through an alley near the night market, he felt a small tug on his tail. Turning carefully, he saw a familiar four-year old street urchin standing there. The child looked up at him hopefully. "Apples?" Milo put his fingers to his mouth and said "Remember, shhhush!" The child nodded and repeated the gesture. Milo took his hand and they wandered over to a fruit vendor. Within only a moment the boy’s older sister had run up worried and followed the two of them. Other children had gathered. Milo noted the flat bellies and hopeful eyes.
He took a couple of silver pieces out of his pocket. The fruit vendor looked hopeful. "How much for a bag of apples each day for a week?"
"Well, I suppose one silver would cover it. But I'd give you a bag a day for three weeks for 2 silvers." He'd figured out what Milo wanted. Maybe if the little thieves got an apple or two a day, they'd leave off from stealing from him. Milo handed him the two silvers. Then he turned to his little friend’s sister and handed her two more silver. "For bread or other things. They look hungry."
The girl took the money, then worriedly looked at him. "And what's the deal? No one just feeds us for nothing. What do you need?"
Milo hadn't thought of that. He'd bought food because he knew what it was like to be always hungry and scrounging food.
"Small ears hear things. If you hear anyone asking around about me, let me know. And I always need to know where the Stinky Cheese shop is. It tends to move around a lot." The girl nodded, that was something they could do. One of the children told him the where abouts of the cheese shop, just a few blocks away. He patted a few heads, and ran off that direction, soon being able to follow his nose to their fragrant house of fromage.
He noted they had an expanded inventory and extra staff. Dozens of complex flavors assaulted his nose and he wanted to try them all. The halflings were ever so helpful, offering small samples, packing up the bricks and wheels he wanted and giving him explanations of how each type was made. Eventually he'd selected most of the stand. "How much for all of this?"
Grandma looked at the pile. She knew down to a penny how much they had spent to acquire it all. The trick with this type was to just slowly increase the price until he was paying more and more. The addicts barely noticed unless they were short on cash. She'd checked around. This one was a miner who was bringing in significant amounts of money each week. She could probably get as much as a gold out of him.
She gestured at the pile of cheese. "Well, some of this is quite hard to import. Aged for years you know. I'm thinking for a good customer like you, we can do all this for a gold and a half." Always good to go higher, then let the customer haggle you down. It made them feel better.
Milo nodded and took out two gold coins. Harry had offered him some of the profits of their work. "How about I just pay you two gold? I'm going to need a bit more than this in about a week. Maybe twice as much? I'll give you four gold when I come back then. It would help out to have it all packaged except for a few samples.
Grandma rapidly agreed. She'd read this one wrong, he was richer than she thought, and also had a much higher need for cheese. Time to get the clan to work. Milo loaded all the cheese into some big backpacks he'd brought along for the purpose and turned to leave. He didn't get far.
A small winged lizard hissed at him from its perch on another customer's shoulder. The gentleman was well groomed with silver hair and a finely trimmed mustache. He was clothed in an expensive black velvet robe inscribed with mystical designs in gold thread. Rings adorned many of his fingers and small gems whirled about his head giving him a sort of glowing halo.
The lizard that rode on his shoulder hissed again at Milo. He found it annoying both in looks and attitude. The man smiled at Milo, and his eyes seemed to look him over. He felt horribly exposed. "Apologies. It seems my little Krysofolax doesn't like you."
"Well, I guess that's fair, I don't like him either." He gathered his bags and moved quickly away from the hissing little thing.
He didn't hear the conversation the wizard seemed to be having with the small dragonling.
"Interesting. A rat-kin running around as if he had nothing to worry about. I know, I know, he probably has something to keep others from seeing him as he is.
"Oh dear, you really don't like him at all, do you? What do you mean 'smells bad, old bad'"
"Now that's interesting? Very interesting. "
Turning to the halflings, who were pretending they saw and heard nothing, he asked "I'm hoping your last customer didn't abscond with my Emmental? I was so looking forward to a slice tonight."
The package in question was quickly brought forth. "Oh, never sir. We kept it safe, and watched that one closely, Mr. Philistron." Jethro might be flippant at times with some customers, but not the ones that can wipe you and your clan off the face of the earth with their spells.
"Just so. And I thank you for your work protecting my little package." He pushed forth a small gem, but kept his finger on it. "Does he come by often? My poor pet was quite frightened. I probably shouldn't come around when he's here.”
Jethro understood the implied question. "He wants us to have an extra-large shipment ready in one week sir. I'm sure we could send word when he gets here, so you can avoid him and not have your pet upset again. He, uh, he is a very good customer sir."
The Wizard Philistron moved his hand away from the gem. “I see, well I can certainly understand the need for good customers. I think that you’ll find that I’m a better one. He pushed forward a large ruby which Jethro pocketed.
"Thank you for your understanding of the situation." He took his package and his pet, and wandered through the market. No pick-pocket got near him. Cut-throats and pirates smiled and tipped their hats, ladies bowed as he went by. As he crossed a high, arched bridge, a small airship descended to meet him and take him to dinner in one of the mansions high above.
Milo continued on his way, and began his descent, loaded with fine cheese and an assortment of alchemical glassware.