((OOC: The profiles for Racket, Tom, Cissa, and Fiasco are here, and the profiles for Jojari and Sanjay are here. Note that I'm retconning Fiasco's history since the story arc war kind of died. Anyone is welcome, particularly Redwallers. ;D))
"Now remember yer lines, and don't rikkerfrisk this one up, Worm," Racket hissed.
The group of vermin certainly made quite a sight as they approached the gates of Redwall. They were a convoy of three covered carts on large wooden spoked wheels. On each cart's covering, the words 'Honest Tom's Travelling Discount Merchants' had been painted sloppily on. The 'Honest Tom' in question was leading the group. He was a weasel, known better to his friends by the unfortunate nickname of 'Worm'. Tom, or Worm as he was usually called, was the public face of the group, since he was the least frightening vermin any of them knew. Woodlanders were unlikely to trade with them if they were too intimidated, and the weak little weasel was the furthest you could be from intimidating. He wore a very gaudy looking tailcoated jacket with epaulettes, billowing pantaloons from the East, and he had a gold-topped cane clutched in his paw. He also had an odd little velvet cap on his head. It was a disguise of sorts, to make him look richer and fit into a higher class of society. Worm felt stupid in this getup though, and wished he could just wear his usual ragged clothes.
Behind Worm came Racket, pulling the first cart. Racket was the tall, broad fox that was the brains of the group. It had been his idea to start a travelling merchant group in the first place. Racket, Worm and Cissa, the rat that walked beside him, had originally been part of a vermin gang of thieves. When the gang had been split apart in an ambush, the trio had gone off on their own. It seemed passing around trinkets from one part of the country to the other was a far more lucrative option than stealing them, especially since 'honest' work allowed them to get into fancier locations with good food and comfortable beds. Racket had actually managed to find some faded orange pantaloons that fit him, since he had decided the group needed more acceptable outfits. He had dumped his old Long Patrol jacket for a long dark coat. It was frayed and muddied around the hem, and both sleeves had been torn off at the elbows. It was nowhere near big enough to button up over his thick chest and barrel-like belly. The fox liked it though, it had big inner pockets and was good at keeping things concealed. Racket had a hat on too; he had told the whole group to wear hats, it would make them look more sophisticated. His hat was broad brimmed, though the brim curved up at the sides. There were several broken feathers decorating it.
Behind this cart came another, being pulled by Sanjay. Sanjay was a blind fox, so he was being guided by his close friend Jojari. Jojari was a weasel who had been crippled and without the use of his legs ever since he was born. The two had found each other whilst in slavery, and escaped together. They were the moral centre of the group, since both of them absolutely forbade trading in slaves. They had run into Racket's group a few seasons ago, and Jojari had been able to prove to the fox his extended mercantile experience was invaluable. Jojari had previously travelled with a roaming group of merchants, so he knew the ins and outs of the business. Jojari sat atop this cart, calling out to Sanjay every so often in his light, piping voice. He was dressed only in rags, claiming they were comfortable enough for him. He had acquiesced to Racket's insistence they all wear hats, and put on a green hunting cap, with a single feather stuck through it. Sanjay usually only wore trousers, but Racket had given him a floppy wide-brimmed hat to cover his blind eyes.
The last beast in the troupe wore no hat. He had nearly bitten off Racket's arm when the fox had tried to force the issue. If the burly Racket wasn't enough to keep the travellers safe, Fiasco certainly was. Having a Feral Cat amongst the troupe was a blessing and a curse. He was a superb rear-guard, hence why he was pulling the last cart. He was fearsome, and trained in unarmed combat, which was very useful when a lot of camps and villages they visited prevented them from carrying weapons. The trouble was, Fiasco was a very moody young adult, with quick changes of temper that could occasionally land them in trouble. He also refused to wear any more clothes that a pair of cut-off breeches, and nothing else. It was an improvement from the loincloth and war-paint he had worn when he had first met the group. Surprisingly, out of all the beasts Fiasco could have befriended, it was Jojari the Feral Cat had bonded with the most. Perhaps it made sense, both were young, and Jojari knew when to talk and when to be quiet. They made strange friends, the hulking giant and the tiny cripple, but it was an arrangement that suited everybeast. The group still hadn't gotten the full story out of Fiasco as to where he had come from, but they gathered he had run away from his tribe.
So, it was a very odd collection of vermin that halted outside the gates of Redwall Abbey. Racket and Cissa were the oldest in the group, followed by Sanjay and Worm, and Fiasco and Jojari were the youngest. Worm dithered at the wooden gates, until Racket rolled his eyes and gave them a thorough pounding with his fist. His booming knocks stirred the Abbey to life. Everybeast's ears twitched as they heard the pattering of feet climbing up to the walltop. A furry face looked out from above them, and called, "Who goes there?"
"Ah, er, why, it's Honest Tom's Travelling Discount Merchants! Finest wares from Sampetra to Southsward! You know us, we were here last spring! We've got a few special orders from Redwall, delivered on time and in mint condition! So…uh... uh..." Worm faltered in his speech, eyeing Racket for prompting. The large fox rolled his eyes.
"So let the commerce commence," Racket growled quietly.
Worm nodded fervently, and finished his speech with a theatrical twirl of his cane. "So let the commerce commence!"
There was a moment of silence from the walltop. Then, the beast in charge of the gate realised he had seen the group before. This was not their first time in Redwall. "Oh, it's you bunch of loonies. I should've known you'd be back. Alright, come in, but we'll have to search your cart for weapons."
"Ha! Hahaha. Weapons," Worm said with a weak grin. Racket smirked, tugging idly at one of his ear piercings. Well, sure they could search for weapons. It was finding them that was the important part. Fiasco let out a yowl from the back as a group of otters opened the gates, and started poking around in the group's wares.
"You break it, I get mad," Fiasco warned the otter sniffing around his cart.
The otter put his paws on his hips. "Don't give me lip, cat. You're not in Redwall yet, and I suggest you keep your temper under control."
"Ahem," Jojari coughed politely from on top of the cart in front. "Begging your pardon, sir, but I'm sure dear Fiasco meant nothing by it. Only that if any of our merchandise is damaged during your inspection, we will expect full remuneration of the item's value."
"Yeah, the expression is 'You break it, you buy it', Fiasco," Sanjay called from the second cart. Fiasco glowered at the otter, but held his tongue.
The weapons search turned up nothing, though there was some debate on letting 'Honest Tom' keep his cane. Eventually he was let in with it, if only because the Redwallers reasoned that the weasel was hardly a force to be reckoned with, and there were already plenty of sturdy sticks in the Abbey grounds anyway. So, the band of merchants pulled their wagons into a semi-circle outside the abbey building, and went about setting up shop. They pulled wooden frames off the carts and set up tables, where they could spread out their wares. Worm, Cissa and Jojari would be seated behind these tables, and they would handle the customers, since they were the most approachable beasts. This was the 'face' of the operation, the part of trading that passers-by would see. However, both Jojari and Racket had worked out together that there was a lot more profit to be made in 'private' transactions.
Whilst those three were busy running the stalls, Racket and Fiasco would be off attending to the 'special orders' that had been briefly mentioned at the gate. On their last visit to Redwall, they had entered into some negotiations with a few Redwallers to deliver items that were not traditionally found, made or grown in this region. A lot of it came from slave plantations in Sampetra and abroad, which is why Racket and Fiasco had to deliver these orders in secrecy. It was frowned upon by most Redwallers to trade in exotic herbs, spices, sugars, tobaccoes and other plant materials that had been produced by slave labour. But there was a demand for them in Redwall nonetheless, and the vermin were more than happy to sell the goods to woodlanders that wanted something a little sweeter or finer, without asking too many questions about where it had come from.
So, Racket and Fiasco met with beasts in deserted corridors, or empty rooms, or in a secluded part of the orchard, in order to exchange things away from prying eyes. It wasn't just consumable goods either. Dice, cards, and other gambling apparatus was very popular amongst the youngsters, but such activities were looked down upon for encouraging the young Redwallers in risky behaviour. In return, the Redwallers would use their access to all parts of the abbey to 'liberate' the cellar of a few bottles of this and that, and trade them with the vermin. Whilst bottles of October Ale and Strawberry Fizz were downed by the gallon daily at Redwall, these delicacies were almost unheard of in other regions of the world. The price of Redwall-made treats went sky-high the further you walked away from the abbey, so by the time it ended up in the Emperor's cellar on Sampetra, Honest Tom's quiet little bootlegging operation had earned them enough gold to live easy for a month or two.
It was a good job for Racket and Fiasco. Whilst the smaller vermin were good at keeping the woodlanders at ease, there was no need for 'customer service' from these two big beasts. The Redwallers they traded with knew exactly what they were getting into when they agreed to the special orders, so there was no need for ambiguity. If a customer failed to pay up what had been agreed, the beefy fox and musclebound cat were perfectly capable of growling out the same threats they had used back in their more violent pasts. The two of them usually got their payoff in the end, and they got a big kick out of what was almost a game to them, a game of secrecy, intimidation, and outsmarting anybeast who thought they could one-up them.
The final member of the group had quite a different job. Since Sanjay could not trade or make secret deals, he was left only with his talent for music. The blind fox set himself up with his lute in the Great Hall, and let his calloused claws strum harmoniously across the strings. The acoustics were good for him to sing, and a few beasts would put pieces of silver or gold into the floppy-brimmed hat he put on the floor in front of him. Nobeast from the band of merchants worried too much about him; it seemed unlikely that a Redwaller would steal from their friend, especially with so many beasts milling about. They knew it was a possibility though, there were already Redwallers stealing from the cellar to pay them. Besides, Sanjay was not senseless, he could hear if somebeast was close, and would be able to catch any would-be thieves that thought they could cheat a blind fox. His species was not thought of as cunning and wily for no reason, after all.
"Jewellery, finest silks, exotic clothes! Impress your friends, dazzle your rivals!" Cissa called. The rat had taken to this merchant business surprisingly well, since his usual profession was archery. He had a good, carrying voice for getting attention. It was a bit raspy, the result of his habit of smoking like a chimney most of his life, which was one of the factors that had made Racket decide against using him as the face for their operation.
"New in stock, a compendium of the Legends of the North! The true adventures of the great heroes of old, gripping tales of the first explorers across the frozen wastes, chilling horror stories from the shiprecked crew of the Iron Skewer!" Jojari was shouting. His stock was rather eclectic, everything from books to paintings and tapestries, to odd little bits of metal that you put on a teacup to stop it getting your whiskers wet. He could hear Sanjay singing in the hall, and smiled. He hoped his friend wouldn't be too tired to play by the evening. After the feast would be a perfect time to sing something soothing.
Meanwhile, behind the Abbey kitchens, Racket was pulling out a few brown paper packets and giving them to their customer, as Fiasco hurriedly packed the bottles of pilfered October Ale into a box labelled 'Plums'. The duo had gotten a few of the big special orders out of the way now. Fiasco would lazily transport the box back to his cart, hide the bottles in a secret compartment, then go for a stroll. Racket would then get the next special order out of his cart, and hide it in one the many pockets in his long coat. Then, the two heavyset vermin would 'coincidentally' meet up in an agreed upon secluded location to make the next exchange with a Redwaller. Even in an abbey where almost everything was provided, it was in the nature of vermin and woodlander alike to want something more. That wasn't the fault of the two shady dealers; they just knew how to exploit it.
"Let's get at least half o' these done before the feast, Fiasco," Racket muttered as their customer surreptitiously darted off. The fox licked his lips; one of the best things about trading at Redwall was they were allowed to take part in the sumptuous meals that the Redwallers diligently cooked up. Fiasco wrinkled his small black nose. Last time they had been, Fiasco had eaten quite a lot of hotroot soup before realising what it was, and had subsequently embarrassed himself quite a bit. The fox grinned, and roughly patted his feline companion's shoulder. "Aw, don't get yer tail in a twist. This'll be fun, I promise."