The Gold Road: A Merchant’s Journey

Author: Tacitan Vano
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I have been many things in my life. Soldier of fortune, innkeep, gambler. Even a hired escort for certain Nibenese ladies of high standing. But three summers past, I found myself with an urgent need to leave the Imperial City, and me without a coin in my purse.

In desperation, I hired myself out as a guard to the first west-bound merchant caravan I could find. My new employer was a grizzled, one-eyed Argonian called Teeba-Tei. I could tell she had her doubts, but she simply shrugged. “Two crowns and two meals a day,” she offered. “If we reach Anvil with all our cargo intact, I’ll pay a twenty-crown bonus and hire you again for the return trip.”

I’d hoped for higher wages, but I was in no position to negotiate. I agreed and we set out shortly thereafter.

Teeba-Tei’s caravan consisted of three wagons, six guar, and a half-dozen drivers and guards. Olive oil, pickled eel, and bolts of ancestor silk packed in wooden trunks made up her cargo. I soon learned my employer expected her hired guards to walk, not ride. I was already footsore by the time we reached the end of the bridge over Lake Rumare!

At Weye, we turned south on the Red Ring Road, following the lake shore until we reached the Gold Road. That night we camped at an old Imperial milegate, where Teeba-Tei told me she expected guards to stand watch. Rather glum about the prospect of days spent walking and nights spent not sleeping, I considered abandoning the whole situation. But at least the food was decent.

The Gold Road was a river of wagons and travelers. My feet hurt, yes, but the weather was fine and the scenery was rather pretty. On our second day, we paused by a place where crumbling ruins towered beside the road, and I started to wander that way for a closer look.

“Not a good idea,” Teeba-Tei advised me. “The Gold Road is safe enough here, but danger lurks on all sides. Goblins, beasts, bandits. And stranger perils.”

“Stranger perils? Like what?” I asked.

Teeba-Tei pointed at the ruins. “That is Ceyatatar. Ayleid ghosts haunt the place and are known to burn the curious alive.”

“I’m not that curious after all,” I said, and returned to the road.

As the days passed, my feet toughened and I came to enjoy the camaraderie of the caravan. Vlastarus, Skingrad, Ostumir, Kvatch—one by one the cities and towns of the Strid Vale came up to meet us as we made our way ever westward. The Gold Road ran through endless fields of ripening grain, charming orchards, and belts of shady forest.

At Gottshaw Inn, we crossed from West Weald into the Gold Coast proper. For the first time in days, we slept indoors. I was grateful for the respite, but Teeba-Tei was ill at ease when we rose the next morning. “What’s the trouble?” I asked.

“Strangers at the inn last night,” she answered. “They were asking questions about our cargo. Be vigilant today. They could be bandits planning an ambush.”

West of the inn, the Gold Road veers away from the Strid Vale into the Colovian foothills. Few people live in the area, and fellow travelers were few and far between. I gripped my sword hilt at every thicket we passed, but to no avail. The bandits Teeba-Tei feared ambushed us in a ravine a few hours later.

“Drop your arms, surrender the wagons, and you’ll live!” their leader called down from the rocks above.

“Come and take them, dryskin!” Teeba-Tei shouted before I could open my mouth and urge a more cautious response. And that’s exactly what the bandits did.

Old Teeba-Tei fought like a lion before she was felled by a quarrel in the back. Several of my newfound comrades fell as well, and the drivers of our last two wagons fled. They drove like a Dragon was chasing them, back toward Kvatch. The few brigands still standing pursued them. I managed to avoid serious injury, more by chance than skill. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

When the dust settled, I found myself forgotten in the ravine beside our lead wagon, and none but the guar and the dead for company. Clearly Teeba-Tei would not complete her journey to Anvil, nor would she be able to pay me. But two trunks of fine silk remained in the wagon, and the road before me was clear.

“Farewell, Teeba-Tei,” I told my former employer. Then I took the reins and drove to Anvil to sell the silk. With the profits, I bought a cargo of my own. And so began my career as a merchant.

What can I say? They call it the Gold Road for a reason!

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