288 A Tale of Taxes and Thieves
"Aegin, why are you not wearing the chain you were gifted?"
Because I'm not a dog you can collar? Because if someone were to give a decent effort to try and kill you, I don't think I could be bothered stopping them? Because I'm only sticking around for another week tops? Take you pick of the answer, thought Aegin. But instead he went with the classic, "I lost it".
"Lost..." Reishin Irons turned to his assistant, "We'll have a new one prepared for you".
"Terribly sorry," Aegin stated, "Owning my own things is a rather new concept".
"Yes, I imagine it is difficult," Reishin Irons stated.
Neither of the two sounded like they meant what they said, but that was the end of their conversation.
Aegin sighed in boredom and stood, headed for the door.
"Where are you going, Aegin?" asked Bosca, sounding exasperated.
Aegin paused turning back to Bosca, then he pointed to his assistant whom Aegin hadn't bothered to learn the name of, "Do you want me to frisk him for hidden weapons?".
The Assistant went pale as he looked a little shocked. Bosca sighed, "Why would you do that?"
"No? Then perhaps I should investigate him for anything he may be doing to undermine you?" asked Aegin.
Bosca frowned, "Aegin, please get to the point".
"You are not scheduled to leave this afternoon, you have guards out in the hall, and the only one in here is him. If he and they are no threat, exactly why am I here?" asked Aegin.
Bosca pursed his lips in clear discontent. Yeah, Aegin wasn't exactly thrilled with this arrangement either. He'd hang around a bit longer for the gold perhaps but that was it.
"You were hired to be a bodyguard, and-"
"You're still alive, there is no immediate threat, I'd say job well done," Aegin replied, "Unless of course you want to extend the job requirements? Word of warning though, with how bored I am at the moment, I'm liable to squeeze far too hard if you ask me to hold your cock as you piss".
For a moment nobody said a word, Bosca looked as if he was ready to burst with anger at the disrespect Aegin had just shown, instead he took a breath a spoke.
"Your payment will be halved for the day if you leave-"
"Deal, I'll see you this evening in the pits," Aegin said, then he turned around and left without another word. After all, that was still 250 gold he was getting paid for doing shit all, wasn't like he was losing out.
Had he intended to come back here? Not really. They were two insignificant humans. Petty thieves. And yet...they had not run from him. Perhaps that was what it all came down to, the fact that they had not run nor assumed the worst after watching him feed.
"Aegin?" asked Rima in confusion as she opened the door to him. She was one of the shortest young women he'd ever met. Barely up to his chest. And so petite that one wrong move would surely snap her in two. Yet, this girl seemed tougher than she had any right to be.
"Afternoon," Aegin said, stepping around her to come inside their little one room apartment, "I brought lunch".
Rima frowned, "Shouldn't you be...?"
"I got bored," Aegin shrugged. Tigin stood from where he was sat in the corner trying to mend a jacket. His fingers were far too big for the needle so he was struggling. Aegin nodded a greeting to him, putting the food he'd brought on their little table. Rima sighed and closed the door.
Tigin really was a big guy. He towered over Aegin, and his body was quite broad too, if a little malnourished for someone of his size.
"Aegin...we didn't expect to see you so soon," said Tigin.
Aegin suddenly realised that perhaps he'd read the invitation wrongly last night. Perhaps Rima had just said it to be polite.
"I can leave if-"
"No, no," said Rima, "It's fine. We're just still wrapping our heads around the fact that someone directly below the Reishin is speaking in such informal terms with us".
"Someone we heard about as being part of the Nine Reapers of Herguard only a year ago," Tigin added.
"The Reapers are so well known here?" asked Aegin.
"Of course," Rima nodded as she took one of the buns that Aegin had brought with him. She took a big bite and talked around her food, "Ehfi un ose ah eepuss!"
Aegin frowned, turning to Tigin, who took the food much more politely, "Everyone knows the Reapers here". He translated absentmindedly and Rima nodded as she chewed and then swallowed before taking another big bite. Aegin felt he should be grateful that she was chewing at all.
"Why though?" asked Aegin, "I mean, I know you said that it wasn't uncommon for the higher ups in the city to have a foot in both light and shadow, but Herguard is a six week journey across the Jade Sea at best".
"And Rene is the city that gets all the business coming from the Southern Continent," said Rima, taking a break between bites. Though she talked quickly enough that Aegin would have missed something if he wasn't paying attention, "Do you think jewels alone are enough to appease all those Traders? Of course not! Slaves is a massive market here".
Aegin did have to admit that he'd seen plenty of Western Slaves over his years at Herguard.
"Where do all the slaves come from?" asked Aegin.
Rima looked at Tigin, then back at Aegin. They both appeared somewhat paler than a few seconds ago. Tigin swallowed his mouthful before he spoke up to answer, "Have you met Reishin Irons' tax collectors yet?"
Aegin raised an eyebrow, "I know his treasurer".
"No, his Tax collectors," said Tigin.
Aegin shook his head, "Can't say I have".
"Well the taxes are frankly, too much for anyone to pay lawfully if they're not on the Reishin's payroll or under the Reishin's protection," said Tigin.
Aegin connected the dots, "Those that don't pay..."
"They get shipped off to the Slave Auctions," Rima finished.
Aegin sighed, "That's why there are so many thieves in the city, right?"
Rima nodded sheepishly.
"How much is the tax?" asked Aegin.
"Depends on the Tax Collector's mood," said Rima.
Aegin frowned, "Huh?"
Rima shrugged as if there was no need for further explanation. Tigin spoke up to explain, "When the Tax Collectors come around, they determine if you have a business, what you've sold that week, the amount of mouths you have to feed, the quality of your clothing and belongings. A heap of other factors. Then they tell you the tax price you are to pay to the Reishin for his continued protection and patronage".
"It's usually anywhere between eighty silver and five gold for those in our Sector, but it can be higher," said Rima.
Aegin frowned, "I heard many stories about the West. None ever spoke of this. It was always about the Desert Tribes".
Rima and Tigin frowned, "Well the Tribes aren't on the coast".
Aegin raised his eyebrows in surprise, glancing at Tigin, "Really?"
Tigin nodded, "I have tribal blood sure, that's pretty obvious, but the Triad cities and the land this side of the Lapis Harengi aren't considered Tribal Lands".
"The Lapis Harengi?" asked Aegin.
Rima sighed, "Look, the Triad cities hold the balance of power on this side of the continent. Really it's more accurate to call it a sliver a land compared to the rest of the continent, but it is also the more fertile land. Rene here in the south is the connection to the south. In the north, Fashtin is the connection to Eldovia. You may have noticed the huge mountain range in the distance to the west?"
"That's the Lapis Harengi, the Shining Peaks," Rima continued, "It's where all the jewel mines are located. Roughly halfway along this range is a massive valley. This is where the Third Triad City Havena is located. With the trade of the west in one city, the trade of eldovia in another, and the trade of the south in another, the Triad cities, despite their activeness in what you would consider unlawfulness, are kept in balance. After all, the West isn't like Eldovia where we have one supreme ruler, or like the south where we are divided into different countries. The Tribes have always firmly believed that the land has always been here, and that we were blessed to be placed upon it, therefore we cannot own it so much as it owns us. There are those who decree that certain lands are their traditional lands, but that is not ownership so much as a blood claim".
"So beyond the Lapis Harengi, lie the Tribes?" asked Aegin.
Rima nodded, "Hundreds of them. Some well-known and well-established. Some small and barely surviving, others still are nomadic. But each Tribe has their traditions".
Aegin sighed. No wonder he felt so underwhelmed. He'd barely scratched the surface of the West.