Secrets, Shady and Otherwise
Like any trader, Melvos has trade secrets. Most are business contacts and sources of advance or insider information (about demands for goods, events that will cause shortages, fads and fashions, and new goods or when new supplies will become available). Some involve knowing who to bribe (or hire for shadywork such as forgery, intimidation, arranged delays to befall rivals, and even thieves, vandals, sea pirates, and arsonists) -- as well as how much to pay and how such hires can be controlled.
Other, more benign types of trading secrets exist (usually the only sorts a Sembian merchant will admit to having, except when speaking very obliquely): sources of quality goods and knowing the market. The latter really means building up experience in knowing local politics and local shortages, wants, and needs, so buying and selling hunches will be correct or profitable far more often than mere random decisions, which often bring little profit or even financial disaster.)
Down the years, one Hammerstars secret to making trading profits has been to buy up footwear of all sorts, whenever possible. Melvos knows well that almost all civilized Faerûnians are constantly seeking better-fitting and more durable shoes, boots, and clogs. A scrip for such wares can make a handsome profit if resold before the goods arrive (so another merchant is stuck with the risk of possibly shoddy or unattractive goods). Melvos has learned the following reliable sources of footwear:
- Durable and cheap but ugly or everyday looks boots: Ravaerigo Reland Cobbling of Milvarune; Ravaerigo is the jovial, rotund, and very shrewd head of the large and hard-working Reland ("RELL-and") gnome family of tanners, bootmakers, and repairers.
- High-fashion style boots for female humans, elves, and half-elves: Shastra Iluarel of Manytrails House, in Yhaunn; Shastra is the beautiful, soft-spoken, and very shrewd trade envoy for Manytrails, run by the Iluarel (Il-OO-ah-rel) half-elven family for many Yhauntan half-elves, gnomes, and halflings.
- High-fashion, superbly made shoes and boots for males (when only the very best will do; most sales are to nobles and rising wannabe nobles, but Sembian guild awards and gifts are often of superb footwear): Marlus Evenndren Designs of Daerlun; the haughty, fiery-tempered and effeminate Marlus Evenndren is brilliant but widely disliked for his sneering condescension and "thinking himself to be royalty, or even better."
- Cheap, plentiful, all-sizes (but not so durable, seldom lasting more than one season) clogs, slippers, sandals, and shoes of everyday design: Ilbrelm Nasker of Alaghôn; Nasker is a patient, stolid, hard-working man who takes in deformed, maimed, outcast, orphaned, and penniless folk of Turmish and gives them warm shelter, food, and a large family of fellow workers in return for hard daily work. "Work fast, do much in a day, keep prices low" is Nasker's motto. His work has (temporarily) shod many a Faerûnian who can afford no better.
Footwear is only one of many goods Melvos Hammerstars trades in. His head is filled with scores of sources and hundreds of contacts for all sorts of things, from candles of specific hues and scents to wagons of particular designs, and he usually trades at The Six Coins traders' club on westfront The Dolphinrun (the street that runs southwest from the Dolphin Market onto the largest, double-armed wharf of Saerloon), or at the haughty and exclusive maroon-tapestry-shrouded traders' club and fine dining lounge Maskynel's, on westfront Sevilandar Stride. ("The Stride" is the street that links Dolphin Market and North Market, and the most glittering shops of the city line it.)
Every trader develops allies and friendly favorites with which he trades in relative trust; for Melvos, his still-small circle of such fellow traders consists of Haeriburt Tanvelro (a fat, stone-faced, jowly and jet-haired textiles and sundries trader) and Storn Reskilar (a tall, nervous-seeming consummate actor who looks as craggy and impressive as many a high priest, and trades primarily in goods containers: jugs, casks, coffers, chests, and bottles).
The favorite Hammerstars shady business practice is to use fictitious rival companies (actually just warehouses and a few former minstrels too aged to travel) to buy up stores of goods and so artificially drive up prices. Like the majority of Sembian merchants, Melvos considers this price-fixing practice to be "just sensible business if you can get away with it," and not unethical at all. No laws prohibit it except when a state of war or "need of Saerloon" (official shortage) is declared, and Melvos Hammerstars would consider himself stupid not to use it whenever it brings him financial advantage.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, sf, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .