- "How did I become a milionaire? Well, when I was a girl with only a pfennig to my name, I went to the local farmer and bought an apple. Then I walked to the market and sold the apple for two pfennigs. The next day I bought two apples from the farmer and walked to the market again and sold the apples for four pfennigs. And so it went on, every day; I walked to the farm, bought some apples, and then walked to the market to sell them at a profit. And by the time I was twenty-five years old, my grandfather died and left me a million crowns."
- —Johanna Sainzburg, Fresh Fruit Magnate[3a]
Merchants are speculators who arrange to move large amounts of goods from city to city, seeking the market that they will make the most handsome profit in. They seldom interact with the populace as they deal in bulk, generally selling their goods to Burghers and Tradesmen. Merchant Guilds are extremely influential in the Empire and they are slowly usurping the position once held by Nobles in the Old World. Even the poorest Merchant tends to be very wealthy, indeed, many use their wealth to buy legitimacy, purchasing titles or marrying their children into Noble families.[1a]
Most merchants deal in simple goods- alcohol, fabric, craft goods, pottery. More ambitious merchants can make their fortunes selling exotic goods such as gromril or exotic spices. However, these goods require long treks over dangerous trade routes and good foreign contacts to reach the market towns of the Empire.[3a]
A Day in the Life
- "Those bolts of exotic Cathay silks? Pfft. Who’d want those? I’ll give you fifty gold crowns for the entire cartload because I feel sorry for you. I’m doing you a favour."
- —Anonymous Merchant[2a]
To be a merchant is to know the value of a gold coin and a silver tongue. They know what flows in and out of the gates of a city better than any soldier or guard. They know how to speak eloquently with nobility, and conduct the most vulgar of conversations with criminals. The gift of words is a merchant’s most valuable asset.[2a]
Those starting out in the career of the Merchant are Traders, who bring shipments of goods from rural villages to local market towns.[3a] For traders, much time is spent traveling. A good merchant knows the path that goods must make from beginning to end, and a very good merchant knows all the people along that path. Traders spend much time meeting people, and getting to know who may prove to be allies or hindrances later in their careers.[2a]
As time goes on and the trader's coffers begin to fill with gold, they may join a Merchants' Guild and become the junior business partner to a master merchant.[3a] During this period, less time is spent in travel, and more is spent in the city. Such time, however, is not idle. With the knowledge gained in traveling, merchants learn to better negotiate with ship’s captains and caravan leaders for favorable transportation costs, and with various guilds for the numerous goods and services that they need.[2a]
The most powerful master merchants are known as Merchant Princes. These individual may have operations in multiple cities, including warehouses, sales offices. Many merchant princes branch out into banking, moneylending, and investing.[3a]
A merchant’s evening is usually spent in the company of others, preferably of those with influence. For the merchant, this is as much about appearances as it is the opportunity to make allies. Lowly merchants seen sipping wine with a powerful countess may find themselves shortly doing business with genteel clients, even if they never speak a word to the noblewoman. Likewise, a few rolls of the dice with a notorious criminal in a gambling hall may lessen the number of bandit attacks on a merchant’s caravan routes... particularly if the merchant is a gracious loser.[2a]
The life of a merchant is one of constant motion. If merchants are not busy working on a venture, then they are certainly planning the next one, or at least laying the groundwork for a new opportunity.[2a]
- "After sixty years in the trade, here are the three most important lessons I've learned. One: friendship means nothing. Two: without ambition you're nothing. Three: no matter how fruitless the prospect, you can always squeeze more blood from a stone."
- —Ubel Rikard-Goellner, Merchant Prince[3b]
Most towns and cities have merchants’ guilds, to which most credible merchants belong if they wish to be successful. The size and scope of such guilds is dependent on the size of the town in which they reside. A small town might only have a single guild encompassing all sorts of trade, while a large city might have several guilds dealing with more specific goods, such as foods, cloth, or precious gemstones.[2a] In recent years, the power of the Merchants' Guilds has begun to rival that of the noble households.[3a]
More savvy merchants also are in good standing with related guilds, such as the shipmaster's guild or even the thieves' guild. The extent of this relationship with other guilds ranges from actual membership, to some casual friendships and a few well-placed gold coins.[2a]