For a legendland challenge; Theme = Courage, Prompt = Artist's Choice (potion) and 100_tales, 096 Writer's Choice: Courage
Sebastian's latest endeavour involves making and selling a potion to give people courage. Of course, Sebastian's schemes rarely go to plan
"Roll up, roll up," Sebastian called gleefully. "Get your potion before it sells out! Don't be afraid, get Courage!"
Sebastian was widely known as a map-maker. He preferred the grander term of cartographer, but education these days wasn't what it used to be, and if you advertised yourself as a cartographer you'd get people bringing you their wagons for re-painting. Besides, fancy terms alienated large sections of the unwashed masses and since these gullible fools made up a large portion of his client base, Sebastian knew better than to irritate them.
Of course there were occasions when some fancy talk was needed; it was just a question of picking your moment. And Sebastian was good at picking his moments.
Mapmaking was all very well, but Sebastian found that specialising often led to being forced out of business when some other – bigger, stronger – merchant muscled (sometimes literally) into your territory. So, once established as someone who was mostly trustworthy*, he'd begun to branch out.
[*the "mostly" bit was important; people wanted to know you weren't going to rip them off. After all, even if you were overcharging, you needed someone to give you their money in the first place. Staying in one place for a while proved you were reliable enough that no-one had felt badly enough about a transaction to rip any of your bits off, so a shop was better for the long haul than a stall.
The flip side of cultivating a reputable persona was that there was a lot of business to be had in the grey areas; things that weren't exactly illegal or definably wrong. Nothing too heinous; things a Confessor wouldn't approve of, but nothing that would earn serious jail time and nothing that involved murder or physical harm.
The point being that, if you were too trustworthy, people might not bring you their slightly dubious merchandise - like a crate of wine flagons that had fallen off a cart, for instance - because you might turn them into the authorities. That's what truly trustworthy, upstanding citizens did, or should, do. Being mostly trustworthy however, meant you got first refusal on many a shadowy deal. It was a difficult - though often rewarding – balancing act.]
Besides, if – Creator forbid – anything ever happened to his precious, magical, mapmaking device, Sebastian needed something to fall back on. So far, none of his other schemes had been particularly successful. Oh sure, that business with the shadow water had been a money-maker for a moment or two, but the whole thing had backfired when he'd (and who could blame him?) tried to dilute the precious liquid to make it go further – and, by a happy coincidence, make him more money. Things had come to a head when the Seeker had shown up, along with the Mother Confessor, a Mord'Sith, and a very angry wizard of the First Order.
If it hadn't been for the fact that his business partner was Thaddicus Zorander, Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander's un-magically gifted (or magically un-gifted, he'd heard it both ways) brother, things might have gotten out of hand.
In fact it had been Thaddicus who'd brought him the shadow water in the first place. Sebastian didn't want trouble with Zeddicus; he'd had a close enough shave with the man on their first encounter when Zeddicus was irate to discover that Sebastian was selling magical maps showing the Seeker's location.
The whole Seeker business was something troubling to Sebastian. He hadn't decided if things were better or worse since the Seeker had shown up. There were less soldiers to spend money in Sebastian's store nowadays as a result of his activities, but plenty of new business opportunities continued to present themselves, such as the short-lived shadow water scheme. On the other hand, sure, Darken Rahl had been a tyrant, but things were relatively stable when he'd been in charge. No screelings or banelings running amok around the countryside for one thing. Then again Sebastian had to admit that he'd made a few coins selling screeling amulets**. It was too early to tell where the balance tipped.
[**the amulets were just decorative copper and came with a carefully written disclaimer written in tiny script on the accompanying parchment. The disclaimer stated that, while purported to have magical screeling repellent properties, the amulet was not guaranteed to guard against an actual screeling attack. Of course anyone stupid enough to try to use the amulet to ward off a screeling probably wouldn't be coming back for a refund.]
The influx of magical threats was what had given Sebastian his latest idea. The various monsters that terrorised innocent citizens had one thing in common; they caused fear and panic. People spent their lives looking over their shoulders, had nightmares – if they could sleep at all. And even if they weren't worried about a gar attack, people suffered from all sorts of fears and worries about everything from drowning to spiders. Sebastian had the solution. He was going to bottle courage.
The idea had taken form while he was lying awake, staring at the full moon, and remembering a – on reflection, really creepy – prayer to the Creator that his mother had favoured; something about taking his soul while he slept. He hadn't been a brave child and the sort of stories and songs he was regaled with at bedtimes did nothing to stiffen his resolve; quite the opposite in fact. And while he'd developed a talent for dealing with people, and had been forced to do some fast talking on more than one occasion to save his neck, the rational fear of being beaten and thrown down a well wasn't what haunted him. No, it was the irrational fear of a gar breaking into his room at night to eat him that bothered him.
If only there was a solution – a magical solution, he'd thought, to overcoming fear. Well, aside from downing several pints of ale, because while the fear did go away, other issues tended to present themselves in its place, such as a lack of coordination and a passing need to relieve one's bladder.
But why couldn't there be such a potion, Sebastian wondered. And thus the idea took root.
He'd found a box of bottles in the storeroom, nice squat ones with decorative edging. You could never underestimate the value of good presentation. He washed the dust off them and polished each one by hand.
Next, he sat down and wrote out a list of ingredients.
# One strand of a spider's web – well a whole web would just sound gross, not to mention easy to obtain, but a strand, now, that suggested a delicate item that had been carefully procured.
#One pinch of ground horn of Shadrin – exotic ingredients always impressed people, especially those so potent that you only needed one pinch of it.
#Water from the healing spring at Hartland – Sebastian was particularly proud of this item for several reasons. For starters, since hardly anyone had ever crossed the Boundary and back and lived to tell the tale, this was a lie that would not be discovered (unlike that very unfortunate incident with the water from the Blessed Waterfalls of Fiveacres, loudly refuted by a customer who had been born in Fiveacres; the place was flat as a pancake, with a single gentle river, not a waterfall in sight.) For all Sebastian knew there could be a healing spring in Hartland, and there was no one around to contradict him. Secondly, for the extra "wow" factor, he'd chosen Hartland in particular because it was the village where Richard Cypher had been raised before becoming the Seeker, and nothing helped sales like celebrity association. With Darken Rahl dead, Richard Cypher was the biggest living celebrity. Thirdly, this link with the Seeker underscored the effectiveness of the potion, because who was braver than the Seeker, who'd grown up drinking this water?
#Three white and three red rose petals - because people had fears about love, and because three was a magical number, and because white and red were strongly associated with Confessors and Mord'Sith respectively – and what stronger, braver women were there?
#Base solution of rum – the only active ingredient – the only ingredient, in fact, because Sebastian was fresh out of Shadrin horn and rose petals and didn't like spiders.
At the bottom of the list, Sebastian drew 2 crude figures. The "before" man was weak looking and cowering in fear. The "after" picture was a brave man standing upright with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. Beneath the pictures he wrote in as tiny but still legible script as he could manage, "Results may vary. Not guaranteed to make the drinker fearless. Do not attempt heroic deeds without the proper training and equipment. No refunds."
He used his magical map maker to run off several copies of the poster to pass out to people. Next, he filled the bottles with grog – no point giving the punters too much rum – and corked them securely.
Finally, Sebastian wrote out the labels, just the word "Courage" written in bold, beautiful lettering, and attached them to the bottles. And then he went to sell them.
Two days later, when Thaddicus arrived back from an errand, Sebastian was tied by his feet and suspended from a tree. The mapmaker's hair brushed the dirt as he struggled. His tunic was stained, and Thaddicus saw why as a piece of rotten fruit was thrown by a bystander. The crowd's mood was ugly as Thaddicus pushed through them to get to Sebastian.
"What happened?" Thaddicus asked.
"Slight technical hitch," Sebastian explained. "No pun intended."
"He's a fraud," someone yelled to general agreement.
"I assure you that Sebastian's maps are of good quality and highly reliable," Thaddicus said loyally.
"Not the maps. This." A woman came forward and pressed the bottle into Thaddicus's palm.
Thaddicus read the label and looked at Sebastian. From his upside down vantage point, Sebastian grinned helplessly. Thaddicus sighed. "Is this what happens when I leave you alone for a few days?" To the crowd, he asked, half-expecting the answer, "What's the problem with the item?"
"I took it to my uncle," the woman said. "He's a wizard you know.
"A Third Order wizard," Sebastian said dismissively, as this made a difference.
The woman didn't think it did, so she continued, "He did a reversal spell on this and there's none of the ingredients mentioned except the rum! And even that's diluted!"
"What ingredients?" Thaddicus asked. After some debate, someone from the crowd brought him a poster. Thaddicus read the poster, looked at Sebastian, and sighed.
"But it worked," Sebastian protested. "Alma chased a spider out of her house with a broom instead of running to get husband from the fields to catch it. Bryan said he'd never had a better night's sleep! Renald said he felt like he could take on a gar! And win!" He gestured so emphatically that he began spinning around. Thaddicus reached out and stopped him from turning.
"Is this true?" Thaddicus asked sternly, using the tone his brother would when he suspected people of lying.
There was some general muttering and then a young man stepped forward. "I suppose so, but he was lying! I call that fraud!"
Thaddicus nodded. "Yes, but with good intentions, don't you see? Sebastian sold you something precious. He sold you the belief that you were brave and strong – and you were. That's far more valuable than any potion that you'd need to keep taking to feel that way. Sebastian has shown you that you are all warriors at heart."
The crowd debated this. A lot seemed to hinge on the fact that they were almost out of fruit anyway, and besides, it was getting late.
"I'll offer half refunds if you bring me the bottles back!" Sebastian offered.
"Done," said Alma. "Cured of my fear of spiders and half a shot of rum; half of what I paid you seems fair for that."
Later, when Sebastian had washed the dust and fruit from his hair and clothes, he thanked Thaddicus for his help.
"And at least I made a small profit," he said, not dismayed in the least. "And I did help people, didn't I? Oh, and I also got the bottles back. You know, for our next scheme."
Thaddicus just sighed.