Chapter 10. Barley

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The door to the Abstract opened and the village of Stur viewed the world inside.

The common folk of the region were mostly farmers, they spent most of their days toiling in the fields and handling livestock. They were located in a realm of grassy hills and stubborn mountains, their fealty was to home and to their clan.

The villagers of Stur had awoken to find the curious door waiting for them in the market. At first they thought of it as just a prank done by the children, but as one of their number attempted to take the door for themselves and was unable to lift the object, they began to get paranoid.

Was this some sort of omen? A test of the fairy folk perhaps? They talked amongst themselves, cautious of this new thing.

Eventually, after much debating and talk of pagan gods, they tried the handle.

There were gasps and cries as a bizarre world of the Abstract revealed itself. The strongest of them, a man with hands that knew the feel of the earth well and had seen his share of raiding parties entered.

A woman with skin the colour of midnight and as bald as a stone greeted him, “Welcome to the Abstract,” she said in the language of the man’s forefathers.

Fairy,” the man breathed in awe. He looked at the creature before him. Her dress looked incredibly elaborate with materials that were too fine. She wore embroidery and gold earrings and rings, crafted by what the man suspected were mythical creatures.

Gulping, the man didn’t know if he should bow or swing his axe at the dark skinned fairy. He spoke carefully as if speaking to an elder, “Who are you and why have you come to my village?”

Your village?” a grumpy old man called out from outside.

My name is Kt… My name is Krula.” she gestured to the room before her, “And this is the Abstract. It is a magical tavern and store. It is run by the greatest sorcerer in the world and my master, Frank.”

Hank?”

No, no. Ph-ank. Frank.”

The man looked at the tavern side of the Abstract, the well-made chairs, the floorboards, the counter with its many bottles and foreign liquids. He saw a man by the bar with a woman with blonde hair, they were both cleaning glasses.

So this be the work of a sorcerer, huh? And why has your master come to be here?” he asked.

My master goes where the wind takes him,” Krula said and gestured to the counter. “Magical swords, spices, clothes, and comfort. Mead straight from the cups of the Gods. Ale made by devils. Wine made from dreams and nightmares. Food from different worlds. Anything and everything can be found at the Abstract. Come in and browse our wears.”

The man looked back at the crowd that was growing at the doorway, “It’s a sorcerer’s den, boys. She says he’s here to sell things.”

The men entered first, gaining courage from their pitchforks and obsidian knives. They moved cautiously, fearing that at any moment they would be attacked by some goblin or wicked creature. They kept their eyes on two women and the man.

A farmer whose beard was so long and thick that he could have worn it as a scarf, approached the dark skinned woman, “Do you have any seeds?”

Krula looked to her master who was doing nothing in particular, “Master, this man wants some seeds.”

What kind?” Frank asked.

The man looked unsure if he should answer, “Barley.”

With one hand the bartender pulled out a large hemp sack of seeds that was the size of an twelve year old boy. “That will cost you half a day of memory.”

The farmer looked up at the bartender not understanding, “My what?”

Wait.” The man with the axe lumbered over to the counter. He viewed Frank like he was an unfamiliar animal. “You’re the greatest sorcerer in the world?” he was more than a bit sceptical.

Apparently,” Frank said with a shrug. He held up the glass that he had been previously cleaning. A stream of water shot out from a tap, did a loop in the air, and dived right into the glass. “Why, what’s the problem?” the bartender gulped the sparkling contents.

The man with the axe, along with several of his friends stepped back and viewed the exit. He held up his hands and gave a smile that was more gums than teeth. “No, no. Nothing wrong, Mister Wizard.”

Can we go back to the part where you want to take my memories?” the farmer said.

Frank sighed as if this was thousandth time he had to explain this, “I’ve been all over this world and I have discovered one very annoying fact. No one has any money on them. So, until this world hits the Industrial Age, the Abstract is going to have to get creative.”

The bartender held up a finger to the farmer, “I don’t need gold, or animal skins, or your women. I’ll barter for your memories, youth, skills, hair, blood, life, emotions. The things you people take for granted. I will buy them from you.”

Seeing the blank expressions on his audience, Frank pointed at the bag of seeds, “You want this?”

The farmer felt the eyes of the room upon him, “Y.yes, sir. You don’t want a worker or somebody to move a table for you? I haven’t got much in this world.”

The bartender held out his hand, “A boring memory. A cold day in winter, you shivering and hungry. You won’t even miss it. That’s worth a future with a full stomach isn’t it?”

Not sure if this man was insane or just stupid, the farmer took the bartender’s hand and winced as what felt like a needle pierced his brain. They separated and the farmer shook his head as if getting cobwebs out.

You alright?” one of his friends asked.

Fine.” The farmer looked back at the bartender, “Can I take the seeds now?”

Seeing that their friend got huge bag of seeds for free, the other farmers moved towards the counter.

Ten minutes later and the women and children of the village watched as their men folk exited the standing door carrying new silvery tools, bags of grain, smoked meats, baskets of eggs, and a bag of salt. The men managed to hold in their laughter until they got outside.

A woman with a baby in her arms approached her husband with a look of worry, “What happened?” she looked down at the basket of eggs and the fifty sausages that were strung around her husband’s shoulders. She gasped, “What are you doing? We can’t afford that.”

Have no worries, woman.” He then he looked at the baby in her arms with a look of confusion but shook it off, “There is an odd wizard in there that sold us this stuff for nothing.”

Nothing?! I don’t believe you, you didn’t sell him your soul or our first born son?”

No, love. Just a year of memories. He said he would give me all this food for the most annoying days of my life, days where there was nothing but the sound of screaming and toiling.”

Close by a woman let out a frustrated scream, “You’re father’s dead, Kegg’an. You should know, you’re the one who buried him.”

The villagers heads turned to see a young man arguing with his fourteen year old wife, “What are you talking about?” the man said horribly confused, “I know I haven’t seen him for a while but…” he stopped and his eyes went wide in terror. “Oh no.”

What?” a nearby old woman asked. Like everyone, she couldn’t help but overhear the young couple.

The young man in question held his head, “I sold the wizard the worst day of my life for this new coat. A.and I sold him the second worst day for some new shoes.”

The day your father died and the day you buried him,” the old woman summarized. Her old face contorted into a mask of rage and she turned her head to the door. Hobbling forward like a force of nature, she entered the Abstract, full of righteous fury.

Seeing the old woman’s face, Krula wisely stepped aside.

Can I help you, ma’am?” Frank asked.

Seeing someone new to boss around, the old woman raised her voice, “Yes, give them boys back their memory.”

Is there something wrong in the purchase?”

Aye, you traded them useless things for their memories, you cheat.”

A few more woman entered the Abstract along with their husbands. The man with the axe stepped towards the old woman, “Let it be, mother,” he said, but was given a dismissive wave from his senior.

If somebody is displeased by the transaction, I think they would be able to come in by themselves,” Frank said. He looked to the old woman’s son, “Do you want a refund?”

No, lord wizard. I am happy as I am.”

The old woman turned on her son, “What, what did you buy? What did you give him?” it was then that she saw that her oaf of a son was holding a hemp bag. She looked inside and had to blink, “Bacon. You almost have a whole pig in there. What did you sell for that?”

I sold him a dream I once had.” the son stood straighter, “Ten nightmares from my youth. Dreams that I no longer remember.”

The old women frowned and glared at Frank, “Nightmares. What would you want with a full grown man’s nightmares, or the memories of a boy burying his father?”

I plan to, oh that’s right, it’s none of your business,” Frank smiled.

Don’t talk to my mother that way.” The man said.

Frank rolled his eyes, “I’m here for another four hours. So this is what’s going to happen. You have four hours to convince these people to refund the stuff they bought. If so much as a single seed is missing, or there is a mark on their clothes, or they used their tools, I’m not going to take them back.”

Or,” Frank raised a finger, “you can buy back their memories.” he opened up a bottle of fizzy liquid that smelled a bit like lemons. “Come on. What are you, sixty? That’s 21,900 days. I can heal that hip of yours. I can give you back all your teeth. A hot meal. What is a sunrise worth to you?”

You’re a monster,” the old woman said, her eyes hard and her tone cold.

I’m just a salesman.” Frank saw that a young mother was looking at the bottles on the shelf, “Can I interest you in a new dress, or a new bow,” he opened his hand and golden necklace with an emerald appeared, “or maybe this?”

At seeing the jewel, the women and a few of the men stepped forward, their eyes absorbing the way the gold glimmered and the green stone twinkled.

Another woman in her forties ran forward to the counter, “I’ll take it. What do you want for that?”

Frank’s eyes moved to the old woman who was clenching her gums, “How about a lock of your hair and the most emotionally staggering week of your life.”

Deal,” the woman said and used a knife she kept to sheer off a dozen long strands of her black hair. When she passed them to the bartender she lost a small but important piece of her life. A time that she was grateful to part with. She actually managed to stand that bit straighter.

Frank went into his pocket and drew out a small ball that glowed a deep green, “What do you think, old girl,” he grabbed the old woman by the wrist and forced the ball into her hands, “want to talk her into taking this back?”

The old woman clenched her eyes shut and held back a scream that was a mixture of rage and sorrow.

What are you doing?” her son cried out as he took the ball into his hand and froze.

What’s happening to them?” the woman with the necklace asked.

Casually, Frank picked up the ball out of the man’s hands. “The worst week of your life. The day that your father saw you as a woman and forced you to pleasure him, and the week you spent in the aftermath. Of course, it happened over years, but that first time had the most impact. And they got a glimpse of it. I also put a block on your memories so all you feel is a blank spot.”

I’ll murder him,” the man with the axe promised but his rage was not directed at Frank. He looked to the woman with the jewellery but could not attempt to look her in the eye.

His mother held her stomach and her expression was pained. She spat on the floor.

Frank held the ball up to the pair who stepped back as if repelled at the sight of the terrible thing. “Do you want me to give this back to her? Do you want me to refund this?”

They both shook their heads. They had seen and felt everything, the terror, the humiliation, the confusion, and the isolation. It was not something that they wished on their neighbour.

The woman with the jewellery looked sick, “My father…” she hesitated and tried to think.

Do you want the block off?” Frank asked. He knew that he had stepped out of bounds with the block but the woman didn’t need the torment. She might actually have a chance at feeling something more than disgust when she looked at another human being.

No, no I don’t think so.”

And that was how trade worked, two parties exchanging something that neither of them needed for something that they did. It was a principle that built empires, it drove people to create and improve upon their world. It was also the thing that destroyed planets and lives, but you couldn’t have everything.

Frank’s eyes moved to Krula who had become little more than an observer, her eyes were not on the people but on the ball that her boss was holding. He could tell that she was searching her memories for any holes, uncertain if something was missing and not sure if she wanted to know the answer.

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