In the course of one’s travels, one is sure to find that commodities scantly valued in one kingdom are the subject of treasure maps and legends in others. Merchants love nothing more than to fool the ignorant outsider into paying more than he needs to, but after you gain a passing knowledge of the proper value of things, the wily merchants you come across will be left stroking their beards, wondering how a mere tourist managed to beat them at their own game.
The vast and wondrous lands of the mighty caliph are seemingly crammed with nothing but the turbaned heads of the cunning Abassid merchants. If you do not mind yourself, you can quickly be talked into purchasing an elephant or a rhinoceros, either of which, I have found, tends to die of dehydration rather quickly.
Despite their cunning, the Abassid have a taste for oats, a grain whose growth has proven impervious to the harsh sun of their bright exotic lands. I have traded a small sack of oats for such things as a pack of camels, a cache of Abassid silver, and, once, a treasure map said to lead to a vast secret trove of oats. That last one, the map, led to no such trove, and accurately illustrates the extent of Abassid cunning.
Should you ever be unlucky enough to find yourself in the devastated lands of the grim Tartar, you will quickly discover that gold, silver, and ingenious baubles are of no interest to their crude, barbaric tastes. Dogs are their instruments of commerce and the sole recognized measure of value and wealth. A man who can afford to raise a herd of 200 hounds is considered a very rich man by their estimates, meaning he can afford to sit around getting drunk on stinking, fermented, rotten mares’ milk all day long. Dogs also stand unrivaled as their favored source of food. When they sacked Kiev, they feasted on the inhabitants of the city’s expansive kennels for nearly three weeks. And dog pelts, along with those of a vast array of rodents, feature prominently in their accoutrements. Because they value dogs so highly, they will often give up great piles of gold and silver for more dogs. However, there is a very good chance that they will simply impale you with arrows and take whatever dogs you intended to trade, so do proceed with extreme caution.
This rich land, so recently pagan, is now full of bustling Baltic traders peddling dried fish across the sea lanes. Despite their reverence to their new Christian Lord and Savior, the Pomeranians’ devotion to Ahti, the pagan god of herring, remains unshaken. Once a fortnight, they sacrifice mangel-wurzel to him, ensuring strength and thickness for the deity’s moss beard. Much to the Pomeranians’ chagrin, mangel-wurzel are in abundance only in far-off Bohemia. A trip to Pomerania should therefore be preceded by one to the kingdom of Bohemia, a docile land whose foreign commerce and tourism have been irretrievably hampered by an epidemic of vicious bears that, over the years, seem to have developed a taste for the weary traveler.
After a harrowing journey back, with just one wheelbarrow of mangel-wurzel, I turned away a large pile of copper ingots and instead traded the mangel-wurzel for a seemingly inexhaustible supply of dried fish—a decision I now regret, as the charm of dried fish, even for a man on the verge of starvation, fades quickly.
The Gypsy settlements, which will dot any substantial journey, are home to a lively and bustling trade. The Gypsies are an unpredictable lot, often stockpiling perishable goods and delighting as they observe their expiration in the sun. Their various strange concoctions are said to cure a variety of ailments, though my experiences with their aphrodisiacs and cures for baldness have all been disappointments. Nevertheless, bartering for resources by offering the ingredients of their nostrums can be highly lucrative. Some easy ones to come by are olive pits, chestnut bark, muddy water, and horse saliva. More difficult ones include zebra hoofs, eagle urine, four-leaf clovers, and peppercorns (on account of their actual value).
Caution is needed, however, even after concluding a favorable trade. The Gypsies are expert magicians, jugglers, and fortune-tellers and their amusements can quickly drain a sizable wallet. That, and they are adept pickpockets.
Understanding what to buy and what to sell is the cornerstone of any affordable excursion to foreign lands. I myself was living comfortably in Wrocław on the profitable barter of beeswax, but then, while I was on a countryside excursion, a large Moravian army bombarded the city for three days and nights before finally capturing the town. My beeswax was either ruined in the flames or seized during the terrible massacre. Luckily, I had my gold with me and continue to travel in comfort, but such are the vagaries of life and bartering in the day of the intrepid traveler!