2nd of Quinbra, 1AE
Rain fell steadily onto the roof of the building well into the night, the thick thatching waterproofing the occupants within. Pools of water muddied the roads around it. No stables in sight, the horses huddled near the wall, manes flattened and stuck soaked to their necks, attempting some semblance of cover. Inside the inn, at the crossroads of Hereldon and Gara, the topic of conversation was the same as just about anywhere else in the newly instituted Empire: change.
“What’cha mean they changed the whole calendar?” The barmaid had stopped cleaning the mug in her hand, her fist and rag still buried deep within. What the man had just said seemed preposterous.
The man sitting on a stool opposite her gave a weary nod of his head. This wasn’t the first time he’d recited the tale. He took a swig of the frothy draught, and set it back down at the bar. “After the Fall of Velundane it was decided that since the would-be-Emperor, King Fajhi Ramis, died during the Chaos of Blackstar, his son Prince Karjhi would inherit the throne. Or so they say it was decided. There were whispers of a coup…” The woman behind the bar nodded impatiently for him to continue, her blonde hair bouncing in a ponytail. “Well, turns out our new Emperor is more than a little ambitious. In the months that followed he’s all but disbanded the Akarian Scholaria, he’s set up a new currency, and just this past week introduced the new calendar era.” The barmaid didn’t seem to grasp the concept. “Meaning, it’s no longer the year 2583AP. We’re to start counting up again from year 1.”
She removed her fist from the mug she had been cleaning, smacking it onto the polished wooden surface of the bar. “Benno, ye hear that? We got a new calendar too!” Her words were clotted in a thick layer of sarcastic disdain. That and a mighty accent.
“You have got to be kiddin’ me,” yelled a gruff man from inside the kitchen. He rushed out wiping wet hands dry on his oft-stained apron. He appeared ready to knock the crown right off the Emperor himself. He might have, were he present. “Every other day since the war’s ended it seems one of you travelers from who knows where delivers tidings and happenings of nonsense to my inn, and I’ve had it up to here!” The portly man raised and plateau’d his fingers as if comparing his tolerance level to some imagined object’s height.
“I’m-I’m sorry, I should have realized it wasn’t my place to spread news that hasn’t yet reached these parts by imperial crier.” The man lowered his head to the mug on the bar, eyes shadowed by his hood.
“No, lad.” The man in the apron softened. “I shouldn’t be yelling at my customers. I’m sorry. The name’s Benno. Benno Karlile. Welcome to Candlecant.” Benno shook the man in the hood’s hand.
“My name is Tom,” Leorn said, removing the hood from his head with a smile.
“Pleasure to meet you Tom. I see you’ve already met my daughter, Lucy.”
She shot a devilish grin at Tom, followed by a half-hearted curtsy. “Tom says it’s year 1 again, Benno!”
“Well…” Leorn said, still adjusting to the name he’d just fabricated. “Not quite. It’s not 1AP again. The Emperor’s decided that after 2583 years, 4 years of Paradox Warfare, and the sudden start of the first true Atelinorian Empire, it’s high time we begin a new age.” Tom took another swig of his draught. “We’re to deem this 1AE.”
“Well if that isn’t the damnedest thing. First they change my currency, and now I find myself in an entirely new age. I’m too old for change.” Benno shook his head and leaned back onto a stool behind the bar, clearly defeated. “What next,” he asked no one in particular.
“Wait jus’ one momen’,” Lucy said, her clipped speech and attitude demanding everyone’s full attention. “How can it be a new year? It’s the fiendin’ 2nd of Quinbra!”
Benno looked from the barmaid to Leorn in confusion.
Leorn began to shrug his cloak off, its tanned leather protecting him from much of the damp. “Yeah, that’s where it’s a little odd. Officially, the new year began yesterday, on the first.” Getting off his stool, he placed the heavy cloak on the coat rack by the bar.
Benno looked no less confused. “But Tom…” He wiped his dry hands on his apron once more, searching for words. “Quinbra’s the fifth month of the year. How in hyll does that make any sense? The new year always begins on Prime Zenith.”
“I expect it will make even less sense to those farther in the east, and in the Bend, as news appears to be traveling very slow. It could be months before they learn of all the Empire’s changes.” He pushed the mug over to Lucy. “Another, please.”
She smiled a toothy grin, which was not entirely pleasant to behold, but she poured the cup without complaint. Benno seemed in his own world for several moments, often opening his mouth to speak, or turning towards Tom with a finger raised in query, but he fell silent every time. He clearly had questions, many questions, but by the time he went to ask them another three would took their place.
The long ride from Etrikaf in the rain had exhausted Leorn, and he was starving. He looked up at Benno, expectant. When nothing was forthcoming from the man, he cleared his throat. “Is my meal almost ready?”
Benno jumped back to attention, his hands wiping themselves habitually on the dirty apron. “Comin’ right up!” He shuffled back into the kitchen, the lifting of pots and shifting of plates letting everyone in the vicinity know he’d gotten right back to work.
The inn was fairly empty at this hour. There was on older man by the fire smoking a pipe and reading a small book, but he seemed either too distracted from or too disinterested in their conversation. Another fellow was asleep on one of the tables behind him. Lucy was making small effort to seem disinterested in the man she knew as Tom, cleaning the very same mug as she had only minutes earlier. She glanced up at him occasionally, batting a lash, feigning disinterest once more, and so on. She left the main room, just as Benno shuffled in with his food. Rabbit stew and mashed peas. Leorn ate as though it were his first meal in days.
When Lucy returned, it was clear she had pulled her dress down a few notches, and tightened her corset. What little skin she had was now pinched and exposed into serviceable cleavage. Leorn truly didn’t notice, his food and drink consuming all of his focus. Eventually the mashed peas were but a dark green smudge on the plate, and he tilted the remaining stew into his mouth. He probably could have eaten more, had he been served a second helping, but he contented himself. He heaved a heavy sigh as drowsiness took him, and only then noticed Lucy’s presence opposite him.
“That was delicious. Be sure to tell your father I said so. I think I’ll take a room if you have one available.”
“Of course we do, Tom. Will you be payin’ up front or in the morn?” She leaned forward onto the counter.
Leorn got up to retrieve his cloak. “Now works fine.” He extracted the coin purse from its folds, the metals pleasantly scraping and clinking against one another. “What does my bill come out to?”
“Well, you had the two mugs…” She straightened, doing the math in her head. “Plus the meal and the room for the night.” She glanced appraisingly at the coin purse. “2 bars an’ a tenth.”
Leorn stared at her blankly for a moment, then asked softly, “Oh. Uhh..” He stood there awkwardly for a time more, unsure of himself. “I’m sorry- Benno has yet to change over his Hereldon currency to the Etrikafid?” His features were turning blanched.
Noticing this, Lucy sighed out, saying “oh, don’ you worry, Tom. Your fancy new coin is more than welcome here.” She turned about and yelled “Benno!” At the confused look on his face, she continued “I don’ understand the conversion, see.”
Benno had been busying himself with something upstairs. When he descended he carried a small metallic object with him, hefting it carefully in both of his palms. He placed it on an empty table nearest the stairs and shuffled forward once more, habitually wiping his hands on his apron. Leorn was now convinced this habit must keep his hands more dirty than clean. “Stop yellin’, girl. It’s near middlenight.” He pointed at the man asleep on the table. “You’ll wake our patrons.”
“The ol’ gaf is deaf as a dullrung!” She gave the last word a sarcastic flair, and put her palms to her hips.
“Oh hush.” Benno wasn’t a man to tolerate an argument, no less one from his daughter. He went behind the bar counter and asked what was the matter.
Lucy pointed at the coin purse on the bar top. “Tom says he wan’s ta pay with the Emperor’s coin.”
Benno looked taken aback, momentarily, and then considered the statement. “Well…” He seemed unsure of his next words. “The thing is. Well, we haven’t actually seen the coins pass through the Candlecant yet. I personally don’t know what they even look like, let alone what their worth is in comparison to Hereldon mint.”
“I see. Well, I’m more than willing to pay a bit extra if you’re worried I’ll be ripping you off.” Leorn knew how nonsensical the notion was, if what Benno had said was true and he truly knew nothing about the coinage. He could have made off like a bandit were he a less than honorable person. Alas, he wasn’t. He didn’t mind keeping his true name from the man, but that was a simple protection for both himself and the people he interacted with. To deprive the man of his livelihood was another matter entirely.
“No!” He said enthusiastically. “I won’t overcharge you. I trust you, Tom. I do. You seem a good man, and I’ll take your word for it. So long as you teach Lucy and I how the coins stack, I’ll be sure to charge you properly.”
“Alright then!” Leorn dug into his pouch, retrieved five of the new coins, and lay them out on the countertop. He spread them out in a line, from largest to smallest. “This is the Etrikafid Empire currency. The smallest coin, here,” he pointed at the coin to their left, “is the golden bite. It’s also the smallest denomination. It’s roughly worth a twentieth of one of your bars.” Lucy leaned forward plucking the coin up. It was square, thin, and had a small circle in its center.
“The next is the branch,” he said pointing towards the second coin. “It’s also made from gold. It features the tree sigil of House Ramis stamped on the front, and it’s date of minting on the back.” It was also square in shape, but without a hole in the center. “This is worth 10 bites and is the equivalent to your halfbar.”
“The coin in the middle is the golden twinbranch. It’s a bit larger, with two overlapping branches.” The stamped image was slightly more defined than the last, and the coin was circular instead of square. “A twinbranch is worth two branches, and has the same value as one of your Hereldon bars.”
“How can that be worth a whole bar? It’s made of gold!” Lucy grabbed the coin up and ran her nail along the ridged edge.
“The value is what the Empire makes it. Gold may not be worth as much as silver or adaktium, or even your Hereldon linkton, but it’s worth will increase the more it’s mined for the use of coins. It’s very common, yes, but that makes it easier to produce enough so that all 12 Kingdoms may join in on the new economy with a relatively equal share.”
Lucy and Benno looked at each other in confusion. Likely they didn’t much understand Leorn’s reasoning. “If there’s sense in a thing, best not question it,” Benno said while shrugging and scratching his head.
Leorn pushed on. “This fourth coin, the pansteíma, is still gold on the inside. It’s plated with silver though. Not a terribly smart idea in my opinion. With time I’m sure they’ll lose their plating and revert to gold. But you’ll notice it’s a bit larger than the last. The twelve crowns represent all 12 Imperial Kingdoms.” Pushing it towards Benno, he pointed out the 12 crowns more closely. “This is worth 5 twinbranches.”
Lastly, he pointed towards the black coin, which stood out amongst the rest. It shone as well as the gold and the silver, which seemed at odds with its deep black swirling texture. “This is a blackstar.”
“I don’t ‘spect we’ll see many of these floatin’ through here…” Benno said in wonder. He picked it up and cupped it with both hands. Both he and Lucy were transfixed with its dark beauty. They brought it closer to the light of a candle and it shimmered aggressively. In the center was stamped a large and writhing circle. Black rays shot out in all directions in the images background, giving it more life. It was an impressive representation of the now-fallen Blackstar, Atelinor’s most iconic paradox, a Mæleer. To see it on a coin was stunning.
“Probably not. The circulation is extremely limited, based mostly on demand. It’s worth about 5 pansteímas.” Their eyes went wide at the mention of its worth. Their Hereldon currency had no higher denomination than a doublebar, but that went out of circulation ages ago, and even still was worth little next to the blackstar they now held. At Leorn’s outstretched hand, they relinquished it. “The black metal, as you’ve probably guessed, is adaktium. It’s very strong, but not so weighty as gold.” Leorn dropped it into his coin purse.
After a stunned silence from the two, Lucy spoke. “Well, mighty doxin’ hyll!”
“Watch your tongue, girl,” Benno responded to her. Turning back to Leorn he said, “Thank you, Tom.”
“If I kept track of everythin’ you said correctly, I believe you owe me…” he looked at the four remaining coins. “Two twinbranches and two bites?”
Leorn thought for a moment. “Uhh… Yes. I only have one twinbranch on me, though,” he said, pushing the coin forward. Pulling out another few coins from his purse’s depth, he said, “so I’ll give you two branches and the bites.”
Looking pleased with his takings, Benno scooped the coins into a drawer, and grabbed the man’s wrist. The men shook arms. “Oh! You wouldn’t happen know how to fix a timeclicker would ye?” He walked around the bar, scooped the device up from the table near the stairs, and brought it to him. “For whatever reason, Tom, the past two days it’s been acting erratically, slowing down gradually. And now it’s not moving at all. It’s a new model too, which is strange.”
“Huh. I haven’t heard of a timeclicker ever going bad.” The device was rectangular in shape, with a glass tube that ran it’s length. A stone ball lay motionless in one of the indents indicating hours. When laid flat it harnessed the pull of a Coroleer which spun the stone into it’s different indents. This ball lay just past noon, and was not spinning at all. Leorn’s brows furrowed. He shook the contraption. The ball rocked around and landed in another indent within the glass tube, but there was still no pull from the Coroleer.
Can it be, he asked himself. Surely the Coroleer paradoxes aren’t dying too? He was afraid of the answer he might find, but he needed to know. The Mæleer’s had disappeared during that last fateful moment of the war. What of the other paradoxes?
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to fix it.” Standing up he asked for his room.
Lucy took him up the stairs to it. After she unlocked the room she turned to him with a sly grin. “Fer some more o’ those fancy Etrikafids I could probly make your stay a bit more… pleasant.” She raised her eyebrow in query.
“No thank you,” Leorn said, not unpleasantly, and he closed the door to his room behind him.
This is primarily an exercise in worldbuilding. What happens after instituting an Empire? what changes can be expected. Why are the paradoxes dying?