By: Vota of Abuido
Date: 21 AP
Context: The following is an excerpt from Vota of Abuido’s personal journal. Vota was a traveling cirathan merchant who would go on to become the richest, and most influential, man in the Pel League
Finally got out of that forest today.
I swear, I’m never leaving the road to chase after a rabbit again, I don’t care how hungry I get.
Walked an hour along the road, my backpack strap broke twice. The repairs are getting less effective.
I saw a city a few miles in the distance. Decent size, built on the far side of a river, no walls, a wide stone bridge, later learned it’s called Legurid.
There was some big commotion in the grassy field on my side of the river.
I quickly checked my wallet only to find I had just three coins to my name. I didn’t lose any when I went tumbling off that cliff, not that the loss of three coins would make a difference. The hunger pains shot from my gut up into my chest, but I had a backpack full of crap, a winning smile, and I knew I could sell enough to buy a meal.
I hurried into the commotion. It was a donut arrangement of stalls and vendors, with hundreds of cirathans bartering their goods around, coins clinking around in pouches. Everyone was a cirathan, and while a lot of them seemed to be travelers like me, it seemed like most were locals to the nearby city. As I looked around, I noticed that all the locals have at least one article of clothing that’s colored green, while the travelers have at least one which is blue. They never wear both, and the vendors are wearing neither. This makes me stand out since my tattered clothes are a hodge podge of whatever fabrics I’ve been able to scrounge together. Each stall has tarps set up to block out the sun, and there’s a crisscrossing network of triangular blue and green flags hanging overhead.
Heading deeper into the donut of stalls, I realized that they’ve all been set up around a large, empty field that’s been sectioned off with a hastily erected wood fence. The inside field must be at least 50 feet in diameter, with nothing but slightly overgrown grass, and a few natural bumps and divots in the landscape.
As I looked around the commotion, I eventually saw one of them on the other side of the field. Super tall, muscles like a horse, brown hair, small eyes, and his ears were long and pointed.
“Is that… what a peldak looks like?”
Then some guy came up to me, “first time seeing one, kid?” The cirathan who approached was a bit fat in the gut and face, but he looked kind enough. He wore a green sash around his left bicep.
“Yeah, I’ve only heard of them. Aliens, right?”
“That they are. I hear they came from some distant land beyond the stars. Weirdos, the lot of them, but they’re good people. So, green or blue?”
I looked up at him. His smiling face told me he knew that I had no idea what that meant. I made an obvious gesture of looking to his sash, “uhh,” then I turned back to look at his face, “green.”
“Haha! Smart kid. Now run along and enjoy the war.” Then he just left, as if that explained anything.
I decided to just ignore it. My goal was to get something to eat.
Found a nice spot on the grass, dropped my backpack, unfurled my rug, then arranged all my garbage out for the people to enjoy. Through a combination of my age, disheveled appearance, natural charm, and wit, I ended up selling almost everything.
[In the original journal, Vota included an itemized list of 47 wares and how much he sold it for]
Made a small profit. Almost made it worth trekking through the forest for so long.
At one point in the middle of my borderline theft, one of those peldaks came up to me. I stood to greet her.
“Hey,” she said, leaning forward with her hands on her knees. Even when crouched down, she still towered over me, what a monster.
She smiled, then pointed to an item on my rug, “what that?” She had a heavy accent and wasn’t very fluent in Cirathan Standard.
“Uh, it’s a roll of fabric. I’ve no idea what kind, but it’s soft to the touch.” I picked it up and held it out for her. Usually I’d have made up some story about how she simply MUST buy it, but the height difference caught me off guard.
She ran her hand along the roll, “ooh! Very soft! I like, how much?”
I raised an eyebrow, “how much do you have?”
“Nothing yet!” She said proudly.
“Then… I can’t sell it to you.”
“That… you don’t have any money, so that’s irrelevant.”
She suddenly pouted, then pointed to the fenced-off field behind her. “I fight-,” she paused for a second, then started speaking slower. “I am going to fight. I will win. I will then have money to buy… soft… thing. Understand, gold?”
“You’ll be paid in gold?”
She looked annoyed, mumbled something in her alien language, then reached out and gripped a strand of my hair. “Gold! Goldy.” Her face crumbled as she realized I hadn’t washed my hair in some time. “Dirty, goldy hair.”
“Oh, so you were just making fun of me.”
She nodded fiercely, then wiped her fingers on her pants.
“Well, fine, I won’t sell it until you’re done with your fight. So, you’ll be in the war, I guess?”
She suddenly stood tall, placing a hand on her chest, “peldak mercenary! Peldak want military base in Pel League. Green want base in territory. Blue want base in territory. Who win war decide where base go.”
“Huh,” I grabbed my chin in thought. “A peldak military base would mean peldak travelers, and they’d obviously bring stuff with them. That’d make it easier to trade with these aliens. Yeah, I can see why both sides would want the base closer to their territory.” I looked up at the woman, and she had a blank look on her face, her ears up and alert, staring at me. I think I was talking too fast, so she was patiently waiting for me to finish.
I flash a nice smile, “I’ll save this fabric for you, good luck in the war.”
She bounced back, “thank you! My name Ilona, watch fight close.” She suddenly let off a toothy grin, “it be blood bath.”
Then she reached forward and ruffled my hair. Her right cheek twitched a little, a disgusted reaction from feeling the thick layer of grim on my hair. Still, after she ran off, she politely waited until she thought she was out of sight before rubbing her hand on the back of someone’s green shirt.
I continued to sell my worthless knick-knacks until it was just the roll of fabric left, then I packed up my spot and went to find a food vendor.
By my estimations, factoring in how much money I needed to save for buying more products in the city, and assuming I slept outside rather than getting a room at an inn, I had about 6 meals worth of money saved up. 12 days worth of food, if I don’t mind going a little hungry. Assuming I don’t get lost again, that’s more than enough time to buy some goods, find a new city, then offload all the crap I buy.
Around when I started eating, a voice boomed through the field, “the first battle is about to take place! The betting is now closed!”
I perked up a that, “betting? For money? What?”
“The peldak mercenaries are now entering the warzone!”
Grabbing my food, I followed the crowd and went to the fenced-off field. I pushed my way to the front, then sat down, leaning against the wooden stakes to continue my meal.
There were two peldak men out there, and a cirathan girl standing in front of a large wheel. The wheel had a lot of words on it, but nothing I knew how to read.
“First!” She said, “let’s find out what the rules of the battle will be.” She walked to one side, grabbed the spokes of the wheel, then spun it with all her might.
The crowd around me speculated on what it would land on, and who’d have the advantage in that case.
“It’s spinning that fast… it’s losing speed that quickly… It’ll land on whatever that section says.”
Sure enough, about 10 seconds later, it landed right where I knew it would. “And there it is!” The girl yells with a delightful smile. “The first battle will be a bare knuckle brawl!” With that, the girl backed up and let the two men stretch and set up for the fight.
One peldak wore green pants, the other wore blue. Both were shirtless, and their muscles were insane. The veins bulged under their pale skin, their backs rippled with so much hardened flesh that I couldn’t even see where their shoulder blades were. Their biceps were far thicker than my skull.
When I looked to their faces though, I knew green would win. Both looked confident, but green had this sort of fierceness in his grey eyes, while blue looked too relaxed. Maybe blue was overconfident, but as I took a closer look, I realized green was maybe an inch smaller, and had a bit less muscle. Hardly noticeable, but the difference was there. It didn’t change my opinion though, green would win.
The woman blew a whistle, then the battle started.
The pounding of flesh against flesh, the savagery of two men stepping forward and wildly throwing their fists around and hoping something would connect. No strategy, no finesse, just pure strength as two giants laid into each other. The crowd cheered for their chosen fighter, and I couldn’t believe that anyone alive could take such punishment. Each punch looked like it could break stone, let alone a man’s bones.
The chest, gut, face, colliding knuckles, their skin turned red under their opponent’s assault, then began to swell and bruise. Despite it, neither man retreated, or showed any sign of stopping.
Blue, who had the slight edge in height and muscle mass, began to push his opponent back. It was slow and subtle, I only noticed after glancing at green’s feet and seeing how dirt piled up at his heels: a result of sliding.
I thought for just a moment that maybe I picked the wrong fighter, that green would lose.
But then green brought his hind leg around and smashed the ball of his foot into the side of blue’s head. Blue’s head whipped around, the light from his eyes gone, and he fell limp to the ground.
As green, sweaty and bruised, raised his fists in victory, a bit more than half the crowd started booing. Maybe 70% of them booed, even though most of them were wearing that color.
“Bah!” A man in a green hat hissed, “I knew I shouldn’t have bet on blue. I could have sworn he would win though.”
I grabbed my chin, “so despite supporting one team or another, people just bet on who they think will win? But it was so obvious that green was the better choice! I wish I bet… Wait, when does betting for the next round end?”
Green shambled over to the left side of the fenced-off arena, embracing his fellow green-wearing peldaks. Five cirathans were needed to carry blue to the right side, where the rest of the blue-clad peldaks eagerly awaited revenge. Among their numbers, which were a few dozen, Ilona hopped the fence and walked out. Opposite her, from the green side, a man stepped out. He was shirtless, she wore blue pants and a tight blue shirt that only covered a strip across her chest.
“Pfft, poor girl’s gonna get herself killed,” a man said.
“Well I dunno, she looks feisty, she could probably put up a good fight.”
As the two approached, I analyzed every last detail. Their walks, their faces, how much their feet sunk into the dirt. While the man had nearly half a foot on Ilona and was clearly bulkier, their footsteps seemed comparable. It was as if they were the same weight, like she was just denser. Plus, her legs were noticeably thicker, and she had more faint scars around her body than him, so I think she’s been in more fights.
I reached into my backpack and pulled out the roll of fabric, then held it between the bars of the fence.
Ilona immediately glanced over, then flashed a hard smile. In her small eyes, I saw absolute confidence in her victory. She’d win, and it’d be a splendid show for everyone.
With that, I shoved the fabric roll into my backpack and took off. Sprinting through the market, I found the betting station, “can I still bet on the next match?!” I slammed all my coins down, “on blue girl! Ilona! All on her!”
The man behind the wood counter glanced down at me, “are you old enough to gamble?”
“I’m old enough to have a job as a traveling merchant, now accept my bet before it’s too late!”
He shrugged and did as he was told, handing me a ticket with my bet information.
Holding the small ticket tight between my fingers so it didn’t flutter away in the breeze, my skin went cold. As I stated at it, a tightness spread in my gut, far worse than even the most severe hunger pains.
What did I just do? In my hands sat a scrap of paper that represented all of my accumulated wealth. If Ilona lost the fight… that’d be it for me. I’d be starting over from square one, everything I worked for would be over, assuming I could even survive long enough to try again.
My body wouldn’t stop shaking, and I hurried back to the arena so I could at least watch my fate play out. The wheel landed on something in their alien language just as I returned. “The match is zemsta!” The girl yelled, and I’m still not entirely sure what that means.
The two fighters got into a deep stance, their left foot forward, then extended their right arms, grasping their hands tight.
Then, the cirathan girl blew her whistle.
Nothing happened on the surface.
But I, and most in attendance, were in absolute awe.
It looked like they were just standing there, but the was a subtle shifting of their weights, a flexing and relaxing of individual muscles, a visible tightness of their grips and brows. No part of their body moved more than a few centimeters, but it was a complex tug of war using each strand of muscle in their bodies.
All within the span of a second, she flexed her abs, which made him tighten his shoulders, then she flexed her bicep, his jaw shifted, her toes dug into the dirt, then his butt clenched. It just kept going and going, never losing this intensity for even a moment. A constant back and forth, a treat for the eyes. They seemed evenly matched. My large eyes told me that, in this game of subtlety, neither of them could afford grandiose moves like throwing a punch or a kick. They needed an advantage first.
Some cirathans thought the display was boring, or they wondered when the fight would start, but that minority must have been blind. Of all the matches I saw that day, this was the only one which displayed complete mastery over their muscles.
They even started sweating, and the weight of each bead of sweat actually impacted their reactions! That’s how finely-tuned each motion was.
I don’t know enough about zemsta to understand the fine techniques, but I know it was beautiful.
It ended in just half a minute.
Despair lined the man’s face, and victory belonged to Ilona. Less than a second after the man’s face soured, she seized the opportunity and yanked her arm back. He was sent face-first into the grass, too exhausted to get up. I was the first to clap, but everyone started cheering no matter what outcome they bet for, that’s how much of a visual treat it was.
Ilona fell to her butt not long after, sweating and panting like a dog. Both fighters needed a team of cirathans to help walk them out of the arena.
Though great as it was, I won a bet. I ran back to the betting counter, my plan being to collect that money, then continually re-bet everything to get higher and higher payouts. Sadly, I was denied. Apparently, every fight needs to happen first, then you can collect your gambling wins.
Sucks, but oh well. I watched the rest of the fights, and I’m surprisingly good at picking out victors. It was so easy to tell who was going to win that I genuinely don’t know how anyone could get it wrong. In fact, after Ilona, drenched with sweat and out of breath, came over to buy the roll of fabric, I immediately went back to the gambling counter and bet on the next fight. I won, of course, then spent the rest of the ‘war’ checking my pockets every few minutes to make sure I didn’t lose my tickets.
Ilona fought a few more times.
The rules of these peldak wars is that, if the peldak wins their match, they can fight again. If they lose, they’re disqualified for the rest of the war. The green and blue teams will continue their matches until one side is out of usable fighters. So if green has 10 fighters, and blue has 1, but blue wins 10 matches in a row, then blue wins. In the same scenario, if green loses 9 matches in a row, but then wins the last match, then green will win the overall war since blue’s only fighter is disqualified.
Sadly, Ilona didn’t get zemsta again, and the other zemsta matches weren’t as interesting. She won twice more, but then ended up losing her fourth match due to exhaustion. I like her, but on that match I would have bet against her if I could. She was so bruised and tired that it was obvious she couldn’t win.
In the end, the greens won the war. The peldak military base will be built in the territory of this city.
But more importantly, I got a lot of money.
A shockingly large amount of money.
I got more profit from just two bets than I did from my last three rounds of merchant sales combined.
It makes me wonder; do I have a knack for gambling? I’m not particularly attracted to the traveling merchant lifestyle, I just like money. If I could consistently earn more from gambling, then I see no reason not to lean into this talent.
I caught up with Ilona just as her group was about to leave for another city. The suns were setting and most of the blue team were limping, with those who couldn’t walk being carried away on wooden carts pulled by some strange, giant birds. “Hey!” I yelled.
She turned to me, the left side of her face bruised and swollen, “wha-? Oh! Gold boy!” She slurred her words a little.
“You said you’re a mercenary, right? Are you going to take part in another war?”
“Yes! Soon,” she said with an eager smile. Though the side of her face was all swollen, she wasn’t missing any teeth. “War common. Also guard caravan. Better no combat rules, kill bandits.”
“Where will the next war be?”
She stared at me blankly for a second, “Ciratha!”
“The… the planet we’re on..?”
She gave a nod full of undeserved pride, then reached down to ruffle my hair. Her knuckles were busted and the bandages wrapped around her hands were damp with blood. A lot of red was smeared on my golden hair, and I recoiled under her touch. “Watch again! Promise team win war next time.”
With that, she turned and followed her caravan into the horizon.
I might have to seriously consider following these peldaks around and betting on their wars. Forget the traveling merchant life, that sucks. This is where the real coin is at! So long as I can get a good look at the fighters before the match starts, I can win.
But that’s a problem for later.
With all this extra money, I went into the city and bought a room at an inn. The inn came with a dedicated bath, which was obviously essential at this point.
But I haven’t slept in a bed for so long!