Lenona 1, 1014
“Well,” said Neil, rubbing his hands together as he stared at the red-and-green sign by the door, “here goes nothin’.”
He turned the sign over.
Behind him, Ailís sent up a cheer, even though — or perhaps especially since — there was no one around to hear or see. He’d sent word around the docks, around town, hell, around the kingdom that today was the day he’d be opening up his shop. He’d told everyone the time, too: just after morning services. But nobody was here but him and Ailís, who had gotten the day off from Baron Ferreira.
Neil was hoping that wasn’t a bad sign.
Ailís softly stole up behind him and rubbed his shoulders. “This is good,” she said, as if she was reading his thoughts (or his churning stomach). “Ye know Baron Ferreira said he’d be by later. An’ terday’s a right busy day, ye know that.”
Neil nodded. Today was the day school started up again after the Agnestide break. They had barely had time to see Nellie and Josie off for another term and Jake off for his first before rushing to services and thence to the shop. Plus, plenty would be dropping by the churches throughout the day to pay their respects. And there was the baking of St. Denise’s bread, the sales going on at many bakeries, and just about everybody who owned or ran a shop was doing something special for the day.
Plus it was the first of the month. It was amazing how many things needed to be done on or around the first of the month.
So Neil turned around and smiled at his wife. “Aye. Ye’re right. Besides, folks won’t be headin’ ter market jest yet.”
“Right,” Ailís nodded. She ran a hand through his hair and cupped his cheek. “Besides, once folks get a look at this place …” Her eyes grew unfocused as she took in as much of the low white building with the red-tile roof as she could from this admittedly inconvenient vantage point. She shivered: the shiver of a woman who couldn’t quite believe her luck. “They’ll come back again an’ again.”
“Right,” replied Neil. It was better to think that way, and keep positive. But even when he wasn’t just keeping positive, Neil had to admit that Ailís had a point. Baron Ferreira had outdone himself with this place. Just looking around — who wouldn’t want to come to this place again and again?
Well … they wouldn’t if they didn’t think the price was right. Or if the service was shoddy. Or if the vegetables and grains weren’t up to their standards. Or —
So much for keepin’ positive, Neil thought, barely refraining from shaking his head. But from the corner of his eye he saw —
“Aww, don’t tell me we missed the grand openin’!”
Ailís spun, one hand over her heart. She laughed. “Grady! Toinette!”
“The same!” laughed Toinette as she hurried up to kiss Ailís on both cheeks. “Ye’ll have ter tell us what we missed!”
“Aye,” added Grady. He stepped forward to pump Neil’s hand. “Were there a ribbon-cuttin’? A grand ceremony? Speeches?”
“D’aww, nothin’ that interestin’,” Neil admitted. He jerked his head to his left. “I jest turned the sign over an’ called it a day.”
“Bah! Neil! Ain’t ye got no sense o’ ceremony?” asked Grady.
“Oh, pish!” Ailís laughed over her shoulder. “An’ what did ye do fer yer openin’ day, Grady Brogan? O’ the fishmongers, I mean,” Ailís added.
Neil did his best not to shudder; Grady didn’t bother to try. And no wonder. They both remembered the opening day of Grady’s first business, the little shop he had built on the land by his father’s house. Finley had been told for weeks when opening day would be, but the night before, he still decided to “celebrate” by going out on a bender. He’d wandered in at dawn, piss-drunk, and when he and Ailís had gone over to wish him good luck, they had found the shop in a state of chaos as Finley wandered around, slurring about how much money the shop was going to make and how he’d die a rich man thanks to his son. Grady had been in a panic, and it had been up to Neil to take Finley’s arm and ask him to tell him all about his plans — outside.
Compared to that, today was already going swimmingly.
“All right, all right, ye got a point.” Grady sighed at Neil. “We didn’t do much either. It were enough ter jest get the mornin’ catch all laid out an’ nice an’ ready ter eat.”
“Speakin’ o’ which …” Neil cocked his head to one side. “Who’s watchin’ yer shop?”
“Nobody!” said Toinette cheerfully. “We’re closed terday. We said it’s ’cause o’ the holy day …”
“But it’s really ’cause all the kiddies are back in school, an’ Toinette an’ I have been takin’ back-ter-school day off fer a while now.” Grady winked. Neil laughed. Yes, he could imagine that was so — and even though his kids weren’t all in school yet, he could completely understand why.
“But what are we waitin’ fer?” Grady suddenly cried. “When are ye gonna give us the grand tour, Neil?”
“Oh! Oh, er — eh, come on in!” And Neil threw open the red double doors and ushered them all inside.
He liked how the shop had turned out. He was only renting it from Baron Ferreira — he had insisted on that — so he hadn’t had much say in it. But the man had good taste. The white plaster walls kept the place bright and airy, while the black frames made for a nice contrast. The red floors and doors were good accents, too. More important than the decor, though, was the produce.
Neil had a lot of it. He’d made good work of Baron Ferreira’s rented lands over the past year and a half. He had all the staple crops — tomatoes through eggplants, lemon and apples and oranges, as many types of grains as he could think to grow. And there were extras. Cabbages and radishes, carrots, potatoes, leeks. Neil had even made deals with some herbalists and spice-growers to sell some of their wares in his shop. They weren’t much, and they certainly weren’t expensive, but they were something.
Hopefully nobody who came in would have cause to complain of lack of selection or quality.
“Hmm …” murmured Grady, and Neil turned to him, nervous to hear the verdict.
“Looks good!” Grady finally pronounced.
Neil let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.
“Don’t be so nervous, Neil,” Grady replied softly. “I’d say it puts the customers off, but that will only make ye worse … seriously, Neil, they don’t bite. Well,” Grady hesitated, “most o’ the time …”
Oh, bloody hell, thought Neil.
But what could Grady tell him about customers or their horrors that Neil hadn’t heard before? Ailís had worked in Baron Ferreira’s bakery for years. She mostly did baking, but she also was often behind the counter these days. She had seen what customers could be like and had told Neil all about it. And Neil himself had seen, too. There were all sorts of little stalls on the docks. He’d watched how pushy and demanding some people could be with the stallkeepers. It was like something in some folks’ brains just stopped working whenever they had coin to spend.
“Though, I’ve got a question fer ye, Neil,” said Grady.
“Ye got any eggplants? I’ve had a hankerin’ fer some baked eggplant fer days now …”
Why was Grady asking him this? Neil knew Grady. Berach was the Brogan brother who cooked. Grady was usually content to leave that kind of thing to the women. He was good at cleaning up, though; Ailís and Toinette both agreed on that.
However, that was neither here nor there … “Aye, we’ve got eggplant.” Neil gestured. “It’s over there. On the shelf behind the tomatoes.”
Grady, though he must have seen, didn’t move. He simply stood there, eyebrows slightly raised, waiting … or so it seemed … but for what?
“Er …” Neil scratched his head, then, acting on a sudden hunch, asked, “Would ye like me ter show ye?”
“Aye, thank’ee,” answered Grady. So Neil led him around the produce display in the middle of the shop, right to where the eggplants were. Part of him couldn’t believe he was doing this. Surely anybody with eyes would be able to see exactly where the eggplants were — they were some of the biggest, and certainly the purplest, produce in the shop! If it was the strawberries or the tomatoes, Neil might understand them not being that noticeable, but the eggplants?
However, if Neil’s hunch was correct …
Grady stuck both hands on his hips, leaned slightly to the right, cocked his head to the left, and stared those eggplants down. He rubbed his chin and scratched his head. He shifted his weight to the other foot. Then he crossed his arms before his chest. And Grady watched open-mouthed.
For heaven’s sake! It was just an eggplant! If Grady wanted it, surely he’d buy it. If he didn’t —
But that was the wrong way to think, wasn’t it? Neil had seen how customers could act. Some of them were more choosy about how to spend a farthing than Neil would be over a whole silver. And every last one of the customers always wanted to know they were getting their money’s worth. Even if they were pleasant. Even if they seemed reasonable. Nobody wanted to think they were getting ripped off or fed a line.
Maybe that only made sense. But the lengths some people took it to …
“Can ye tell me a bit more about this eggplant?” asked Grady, gesturing.
“Um, well,” Neil replied, “it’s …”
It’s purple. It’s got seeds in it. It’s good in a salad. What else d’ye want ter know about it?
“I grew it meself,” Neil replied, inspiration suddenly striking. “Aye. In — on me own lands!” That was close, wasn’t it? After all, even if the lands in question weren’t Neil’s property, he was renting them, wasn’t he? And working them, too.
“Grew it yerself,” Grady repeated. “So ye’ve been carin’ fer this plant ever since it were a seed, eh?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Neil, trying to sound proud and confident, like he’d heard other shopkeepers speak.
“I see …” Grady turned back to the eggplant and scratched his chin again. “Ye know, they say that eggplants an’ such, they’re only food fer people who ain’t got anythin’ better. Ye know? It’s peasant food.”
… Yes? thought Neil. And what was wrong with that? Neil was a peasant, and he’d rather eat like the person he was than try to pretend to be someone he wasn’t. But that couldn’t be the answer …
“Well, that’s true …” Neil started, trying to think the next step ahead, “but …”
Think, think, think!
“Well, sir — think o’ it this way. Who d’ye think is healthier an’ more wholesome, a nobleman or a peasant?”
Grady looked surprised, and not fake-surprised, either, but real surprised. Good. “Er …” Grady smacked his lips. “A nobleman.”
“Aye, ye’d think that, wouldn’t ye?” answered Neil. “But ye’d be wrong.”
Grady’s eyes bugged out of his head, and Neil knew he’d better start talking fast if he wanted to make this sale — and what was slightly more important, not annoy his brother-in-law.
“I mean, think o’ it this way,” Neil went on. “A nobleman — aye, he might look stronger an’ healthier than yer average peasant, I’ll give ‘im that. But he gets all he wants ter eat. He sleeps in ’til noon if he wants. An’ work — a nobleman don’t do much work. Maybe, if he’s a fightin’-type, he might train, but that ain’t real work, right?”
“We-ll,” Grady murmured, “I guess it might not be, dependin’ on how ye want ter look at it …”
“Think about it this way, sir. A peasant man, he’s workin’ sunup ter sundown, with only a break fer lunch in between. A nobleman … well, first he’s got ter get up. Then he’s got ter get himself dressed an’ armed. Then he’s got ter get his worse, an’ his equipment, an’ often as not his lads … that’s gonna take a while. Then he practices fer an hour or two, takin’ turns with his mates … sure, the work’s strenuous, I’ll give ’em that, but d’ye think they’re doin’ it until they’re ready ter drop? D’ye think that they only give ’emselves scarce half-an-hour fer lunch before goin’ back? Or d’ye think they give themselves a nice big meal smack in the middle o’ the day, an’ then sit around ter digest it a while, before goin’ back out?”
Grady smirked and nodded. “All true, Neil, all true.”
“Right. Now, I ain’t gonna deny that a nobleman gets himself good food,” Neil went on, amazed how easy it was to warm up to this topic. “He does. But his food, it ain’t got ter power ‘im through much. Whereas a peasant man — he’s workin’ in the fields all day, every day, come rain, come shine. He’s breakin’ his back jest ter put food on the table. But … but he survives, day in, day out. He keeps goin’. Now I axe ye, Gr–Master Brogan, who d’ye think is healthier, really? The man what lives soft, or the man what pushes himself ter the limit each an’ ever day?”
Grady slowly nodded. “The man what pushes himself — an’ survives. Aye, he’s probably healthier.”
“Aye. Aye. Tell me, Master Brogan, ye think a peasant-man with all he does every day,” Neil asked, hands on his hips and his most thoughtful expression on, “d’ye think he’d survive on the rich food a nobleman eats? Or d’ye think he might need somethin’ a might … better?”
“Seems he might need somethin’ better,” Grady agreed.
“Right. Right. Exactly right!” Neil gestured to the eggplants. “An’ that’s what this — all of this whole shop — is. It’s really better fer ye. Now, we don’t tell the noble folks that …” Neil winked, “’cause otherwise they’d buy it all up, an’ then what would we eat? So we stay things like food what grows close ter the ground is lowlier, that meat is what’s best fer a man so nobles should eat a lot of it, an’ stuff like that. But we know what’s what.”
Grady slowly nodded. “Aye. Aye. But I’ve got one more question fer ye.”
“What, Master Brogan?”
Oh bloody damn.
He’d not been looking forward to this part. Neil knew what he wanted to make off each purchase, but even he knew you couldn’t just tell the customer the price you wanted them to pay and have them give you the money and call it a day. Everybody haggled. Everybody wanted to feel they were getting a bargain. And if you quoted somebody a price in the hope of them ending up down near where you wanted it to be, and they thought it was too high … they’d walk. And there went all your hard work.
“Well …” Neil replied, “I were thinkin’ that a copper a dozen were a fair price.”
Grady blinked, and Neil wasn’t sure whether that was real or faked. “A copper a dozen?” he asked.
“Aye … think about it from me perspective, sir,” replied Neil. “It takes a long time ter grow one o’ these puppies from seed ter bearin’ fruit. They’re finicky little things, too, so’s ye’d got ter be extra careful. Hours an’ hours o’ hard work go inter makin’ each an’ every one o’ these eggplants — an’ that’s only what us Sims are doin’, that don’t even count the plant!” Neil laughed.
Grady didn’t laugh with him.
Damn. “But fer a good customer like ye,” Neil corrected, “I think three farthins a dozen ought ter do it.”
“Three farthins? Done!” replied Grady. “I’ll take two dozen.” Grady looked sidelong at the plants; Neil was clever enough to pick up on what that meant and went rushing over to the counter to grab a gunny sack with handles for him. At least he had plenty of these around for folks who didn’t bring their own sacks or baskets, though Neil wasn’t sure what he was going to do when they ran out. Buy more, he guessed.
He hurried back and helped Grady pile the eggplants into the sack. He hoped that Toinette had some plans for these eggplants, otherwise Grady might have just bought himself a white elephant. But that wasn’t Neil’s problem … was it?
As soon as the bag was packed and Neil’s conscience quieted, he led Grady over to the counter where the cashbox was. Grady handed him two coppers.
“Out of two coppers, sir?” said Neil, stalling for time.
“Aye,” replied Grady with a slow, almost stately nod.
That didn’t help. Neil at least knew what the change would be without having to recourse to the counting beans carelessly dropped over the cash box. Two farthings would be the change. But that didn’t help him much. This was a special cashbox; it had a careful mechanism that let you hide the money and keep it nice and safe. It was supposed to deter thieves, though Neil thought a better way of deterring thieves was to take the majority of your money home with you each night. Still, Ailís felt safer with this box, and Neil wasn’t about to tell her no.
The only catch was that Neil never could easily find the catch that released the secret drawer and let Neil at the money.
Was that it? He pushed the black depression at the center of the upper right-hand corner. Nope, that wasn’t it. Maybe it wasn’t in one of the depressions at all. Perhaps it was in a raised part? That would be a more sensible place to put a lever or a button …
Neil kept poking, prodding, pushing, until — finally! — he found the lever! He pushed it–
He’d forgotten how quickly that drawer came out. It went flying and caught him right in the gut.
“Neil!” gasped Ailís.
“I’m fine!” Neil lied. He’d probably have a nice set of bruises tomorrow, but … well, this would just have to do. He rubbed his stomach and gathered the two farthings that was Grady’s change. “Here ye go, sir. Have a nice day.”
Grady took the farthings in his hand. He weighed them. Then, slowly and deliberately (and just before Neil closed the cash box, thank goodness), he put them on the counter. “Keep the change.”
Now ye tell me!
“Oh … an’ Neil?”
“Aye?” asked Neil.
Grady moved around the counter and shook Neil’s hand. “Congratulations on yer first sale. Treat ’em all like ye did me, Neil, an’ ye’ll be rollin’ in the cash in no time.”