“Know where you’re staying, ‘prentice?” the map-merchant said. His smile gave him the appearance of a poorly washed snake.
“Yes. The Hog and Pike.”
“It so happens that the Hog and Pike is on this map!”
“No one can read that map. It’s written in gibberish!” He prodded the map, and pulled a finger away, disgusted. Some of the ink dripped from his finger. He sniffed it. “It’s not written in gibberish. It’s written in gravy!”
“Don’t matter what kind of medium you work in, sir; art is art.” The map-merchant sniffed. His gaze turned haughty. “I don’t suppose a Philistine like you could understand such a thing.”
“A Phili-what? What did you just call me?”
“Means you got no culture, foreigner.”
Shadrach shook his head. “Look, I don’t want one of your maps, but I need to find our lodgings. I’ll pay you for the cost of a map if you can lead me there. Good enough for you?”
The map-merchant turned his head away, offended. “No. You mocked my craft.”
“Oh, come on now, really?”
“These maps ain’t easy to put together, I’ll have you know. And while you couldn’t possibly understand the underlying message from writing in what you so callously refer to as gravy, that’s no excuse for poking fun at all the hard work that me and the missus put in to creating a service for visitors to our fair city.”
“Will an apology suffice?”
“I’ve been wounded.”
Shadrach wiped his palm across his face and released a lengthy sigh. He spoke in a measured monotone, through clenched teeth. “Look, I’m sorry that I questioned your chosen art. I beg that you can forgive me for being a Flintstone. As a token, I’d like to buy two of your maps, if you would be so kind to accompany me to the Hog and Pike.”
“Fine. Three. Whatever.” Shadrach paused. His eyes narrowed. “How much are these things, anyway?”
“I’d call this highway robbery if we weren’t on a thoroughfare.”
The mapmerchant shrugged. “Sleeping on the road is fine. Fresh horse-dung can serve as a pretty nice pillow, never minding the smell.”
“Fine, fine, fine,” Shadrach muttered, reaching into The Wizard’s purse. “I’ll pay you back at some point, sir,” he whispered, and dug out the necessary coinage. The map-merchant regarded the currency skeptically, before shoving it in one of his pouches and handing over three massive rolls of parchment.
“A wise purchase, good sir. You’ll get good use out of those copies, I’m sure.”
“I don’t want the maps, I just want an escort to the Hog and Pike!” Shadrach cried.
“What, and me look like I just take people’s money? That’s no way to establish one’s self in the world of commerce, sir. I won’t have my reputation sullied by a foreign apprentice. Won’t do.” He stepped in front of Shadrach and The Wizard and gestured. “Come along, then. It’s not far.”
Shadrach grumbled, laying the maps over the lap of The Wizard. He snored peacefully, his spidery fingers twitching beneath a generous expanse of beard. “Not long now, sir. Provided he’s not leading us to some mugger’s den.”