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Clarkson's turns out to be exactly where the clerk said it was. Despite the overcomplicated directions, Hikaru finds it without difficulty, taking a street out of the square and walking past a number of mercantile shops. Further down the street, the ringing sound of metal on metal suggest that there is a blacksmith at work too.

Hikaru detours long enough to locate and, briefly, observe the blacksmith at work.

The blacksmith turns out to be a red-haired muscular woman, built like a brick, banging out a horseshoe on her anvil. Her focus on her work has a zen-like quality as she works the metal with precise, hard strokes. She ignores all distractions, including Hikaru's observations.

"Close the door, that Hades-sent smith is at work again. Don't want to get ash or smoke in here," are the words that greet Hikaru as soon as he steps inside of Clarkson's. Clarkson is barely five feet tall, with hair only in the vicinity of his ears. He squints at Hikaru and looks at him up and down.

Hikaru shuts the door.

"Are the rumors true? That the heir to the High Reeve has come?" the short, rotund clothier asks. "You're here for the Ball, too, or else you wouldn't be here, right?"

"As to your first two questions, I cannot say," Hikaru replies calmly. "As to your last question, yes, I am here for the Ball. And, yes, I find myself in need of suitable attire for the event. I was told at the hotel that your store comes highly recommended."

Clarkson waddles up to Hikaru and looks up at him. "I think I can find something in your size and have it ready for you in time. Your, ah, coloration will prove to be a bit of a challenge, but sometimes we get visitors here from strange places. And I get the strangest things in payment, too. Like yourself, Mister, ah ...?" He pauses and regards Hikaru.

"Saganami, Hikaru Saganami," Hikaru replies. "I'm Japanese. Show me what you suggest, please."

"Very well, follow me, please," Clarkson coughs. He leads Hikaru into one of the back rooms, and with the aid of a footstool and a measuring tape, soon is busying himself around Hikaru. There is a poetry and economy to the man's motions. For all of his grumbling and talking to himself over the next five minutes, there appears to be a method to his madness.

He disappears into a side room and returns with a black tail coat and trousers with a waistcoat in a lighter but still dark grey.

"You will want a winged collar shirt and a bow tie, as well," Clarkson says. "With a little tailoring, and for the right price, I can have this fit you in time for the ball."

Hikaru inspects the suit with care and decides he likes what he sees. Reminds him of the style worn back before WWII, perhaps as far back as the turn of the century even. Hikaru nods at Clarkson. "Very good. I like what I see thus far. However, let me ask your opinion, what about a waistcoat in a dark red? Or is this color scheme the current fashion hereabouts?"

"A very dark red might be appropriate, sir," Clarkson says. "Black and grey are traditional. Dark red might be a bit transgressive, but perhaps appropriate to your, ah, origins, sir."

Hikaru pauses, thinking for a moment. "I will also need appropriate shoes and socks. And would some sort of hat and cane complete the ensemble?"

"Shoes and socks can be obtained," the tailor says. "A hat is currently passť, although a cane would be acceptable." He pauses a moment. "A dress sword would also do in place of a cane. I can see you are the type of man who might know something about defending himself. Your bearing and stance, sir."

Hikaru nods and smiles. "In that, you are correct," he says. He shakes his head. "However, I have no use for dress swords; they give their wielders an over-inflated sense of self-confidence, I find. I have a sword that should be eminently suitable for this affair, should it be needed. Let us go with the dark red waistcoat then; I am obviously an outsider and can be forgiven if my fashion sense does not lend itself to blending in completely."

"All right, then," the little man says in a tone of satisfaction. "Your own sword should suit propriety well enough with the clothes you wish." Clarkson steps back from Hikaru and looks up at him.

"A half hour, I should have them altered and ready for you." He pauses a beat.

"Now, before I begin the work, Mister Saganami, perhaps we should discuss the matter of payment. What can you offer me for the ensemble?"

"I have cash," Hikaru says. "American dollars." He pauses. "Or is there something else you would prefer?" Hikaru figures the odds of this store having a working credit card machine are so low as to be practically nonexistent.

"American dollars," Clarkson says, with a moue of displeasure. "You do realize how difficult it is to make any use of them here in New Deptford? Someone has to leave the Chancel, travel to some grocery store or whatnot, buy things without attracting too much attention ..." He frowns again and stops his ramble. "I would have thought you would have understood. Since I don't think you have any Free Silver notes, I prefer the medium traditional to those who travel between realms. Information. Favors. Acts."

Hikaru regards the man for a few moments. "No, this was not explained to me," he says eventually. "Is it more difficult leaving this place than getting in?"

"For residents, certainly," he says. "One does not simply leave the realm of the Goddess. That might attract ... undue attention. For the likes of august personages such as yourself, Mr. Saganami, you would have no such difficulty."

Hikaru considers the situation for a few more moments. "You spoke both of 'free silver' notes and information. Tell me more of these silver notes, if you would please. How do they work, where can one acquire them?"

"Silver notes are the currency put out by the Bank of New Deptford," Clarkson says. "Backed by the full faith and credit of the bank. Here, let me show you." He reaches into a pocket and pulls out a billfold and puts a bill on the counter. It has a more grey than green appearance than standard American money, and is larger as well.

Hikaru studies the note.

"Silver Note. Worth 10 dollars in silver. Bank of New Deptford," it says. There is an engraving on the front of the temple that Hikaru saw across from the Hotel, and on the back is a classical picture of a woman on a horse. Instead of "In God we Trust," the note says "In the Goddess we Trust."

"Silver notes," Clarkson says, retrieving the money.

"I see," Hikaru says. "Interesting. And these notes, and presumably others like them, are good in all enclaves such as this one? Or is there some sort of network or alliance that only recognizes them?"

"What is the exchange rate then between the notes and American dollars, do you know?" he asks Clarkson. "Where is this bank, and is it open?"

"Bank's open, other side of the square. Mister Dobbler wouldn't miss a chance to make some money off of visitors. Far as the rate, that's going to be between you and him," Clarkson says. "Currency between enclaves, or between enclaves and the outside world are a matter of negotiation. Just as we're negotiating now. But in general, money from enclaves is recognized in other enclaves more than the green stuff. The backing of a Goddess is more respected than the You-Nigh-ted States."

Hikaru nods his head.

"You might not have time to get to the bank and back here and pay me to get your clothes in good order before the festivities," Clarkson tuts. "So, tell you what, sir. I'll give you a 5:1 rate. 5 of your American dollars for 1 silver dollar. The clothes will cost you 50 silver dollars, so that's two hundred and fifty American dollars. Ol' Dobbler might likely give you a better rate, but you best hurry if you want to take that chance."

"Three to one," Hikaru counters. "With the added proviso, that should I need to acquire additional apparel here in New Deptford, I will purchase it from you." If Clarkson is willing to barter for dollars, that means he has some way of getting himself or the money back in the outer world. So now, it becomes a question of how much effort is involved in the doing of it. Let the haggling begin.

"I like that provision, but not the rate," Clarkson says. "I still have to do some legwork afterwards, and I speak of more than the clothes. 9 American dollars for 2 silver dollars."

The haggling continues for a little bit. In the end, Clarkson is willing to trade $350 in American dollars for the clothes and the extra silver notes, with the proviso in place, or go up to $400 dollars for clothes and notes if the additional proviso is not added.

"I must admit, Mr. Saganami," Clarkson says. "Outsiders don't seem to like to haggle much, you're definitely an exception to that rule." The grin on his face is broad.

Hikaru hands over $350. He smiles back briefly.

Hachiman would have bargained better, and longer if necessary, Hikaru thinks to himself. But you can learn a lot about a place and people by interacting with their merchants.

"It never hurts to try and bargain," Hikaru says. "I'll need those as soon as you can get the work done. Have them delivered to my room in the hotel, if you please." He smiles once again.

Having the suit delivered as part of the deal is a minor victory, but one his father would have strived for as well.

Clarkson seems ready to haggle on this as well, when the sound of loud hoofbeats comes through even the closed door of the shop. A small commotion appears to follow on the heels of the horse (and presumably, rider). The window of the shop, unfortunately, did not permit easy viewing of who or what the rider was.

"That sounded like one of her ladyship's horses," Clarkson says. "I did not realize she had decided to make a Progress through New Deptford. More sounded like she was trying one of her stallions out on his paces, though." He shrugs.

"Best you move along, then, Mr. Saganami, with your tour of the town and return to the Hotel in good time. Would not do to anger her if you are late." He pauses a moment. "I'll see that the clothes are delivered to your room."

Hikaru bows slightly. "Thank you, Mr. Clarkson," he says then turns and leaves the shop. Once outside, he looks around, checking for signs of the commotion, and perhaps sign of the horse and rider.

The commotion, and the overall focused interest of the town, requires no special sleuthing ability on Hikaru's part to track and find. All roads lead, as it were, to the front of the Hotel Palio, where a crowd has gathered. The focus of the crowd's interest, given the obvious deference shown them, is two women. One is wearing a tunic and a girdle and looks like she has stepped out of central casting for Clash of the Titans. The other is far more conventionally dressed, except for the fact that she is not wearing shoes.

The woman out of Greek Mythology bends down and picks up a statuette of a horse standing on the ground and offers it to the other woman.

"I think that's the High Reeve's daughter for sure!" one of the townspeople says, loud enough for Hikaru to hear. "Especially with that horse. I bet she gets presented at the Ball officially tonight."

Hikaru glides through the crowd and out into the space between the crowd and the two women. He bows slightly and then says, "Good day ladies; I am Hikaru Saganami, scion of Hachiman. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"

(Continued in Storms and Horses)

Page last modified on April 20, 2012, at 11:07 PM