What do you do with too much money?
The problem with luxury is that it feels really good and is all too easy to get used to. Having found a treasure of nearly 500 gold pieces, I was moved to buy a new robe and cloak, eat a lot of artfully cooked food, and visit a beauty salon to have my hair combed and trimmed, an operation which took a lot of time, conditioner, and wine for anesthetic.
Dan Ur-Jennan was completely taken by the horse I'd bought at Crosspasses. "He's not really lame, you know," she said to me while watching him being groomed one evening. That horse got more combing and brushing than I did, poor thing. "His shoe is twisted, see how it's off-centered a bit? Probably did it when he wrecked. Bet if we got a farrier to pull the shoes off, he'd be sound as they come."
"Danner, if you get a farrier to take the shoes off, and he goes sound, you can have whatever money we can get for him."
"GET for him? Aren't you going to keep him? Are you nuts? Ninety-nine percent of the world's population would love to have this horse, and you're going to sell him? Aren't you sick of walking everywhere?"
"Aser, you're an idiot. You're getting old and gray and don't you think it's about time you started to think about what happens when you start getting achy and tired to boot? Having a horse to ride will save wear and tear on your old legs."
"NO. Shamans don't keep horses."
"Then give him to me. I'd use him, shaman or no. I'd name him Melvan and we'd travel ... !"
"You'd have to get a saddle with bags to carry your herbs, and a flag-holder on the saddle for your staff. A saddle pad, and saddle soap. And pants -- in winter you wouldn't want to be hiking your robe up over your thighs to straddle the beast. A farrier every two months to trim his feet. Don't forget the cost of hay when grazing on the common isn't available. And shelter in stables for the horse and saddle when the weather's bad. He can't stay in a hollow tree, you know. Add in the cost of extra laundry to clean saddle blankets and your clothes due to the animal smell, the loss of revenue when the poor people we generally deal with see that you are wealthier than they are (a war horse, on a shaman's income?) and then you have to take on the really tacky jobs, like exorcisms and acne just to make ends meet to keep up the horse, and pretty soon you're working almost all the time to pay for the hay and the quarters and the clothes and the washerwoman and the extra weapons so bandits don't steal him ... "
"You're a crab, Aser. "
"You're an impetuous punk, Danner."
It's the Bigger And Better Syndrome, and it built the pyramids in Egypt and the Colossus of Rhodes, and sent the Vikings to the New World. More money, more property, more needs to support the property, and more money again. And happiness? Where does that come in?
Having built enough equity in the tiny house on the edge of the glade, the slightly crowded family buys a bigger house, and refinances for another 30 years. This assumes that their income will remain the same (unless taxes go up, and they always do) until the main wage-earner is 60. They buy this big-ass house on a skrunky lot in town. Now they buy furniture -- nice stuff, the old cottage craft looks like junk in the new rooms, and the monthly payments are up again. Whoops, curtains for all the windows -- the old flour sack things look out of place. Now the mama has to supplement the income by going to work, and there will now be a nanny to pay and feed, and inevitably, toys and goodies to appease the kids who desperately miss the working parents. Nanny does children, not dishes and rugs, so now we need a maid. And then a gardener, unless the wage-earning parents want to spend all their time working at home when they're not 'working'. The kids grow up, as they always do, and the property deteriorates, as it always does (unless you pump new paint, new carpets, new fixtures into it), and just about the time the damn thing is paid off, you are too tired to enjoy it, and no matter how much renovation has been done, it's still 30 years old and what do you need all this space for anyway, since all you do is eat, sleep and work?
"Danner, we have got to get rid of this gold in some way that won't cause a lot of trouble. We are being corrupted by wealth. Look here, this is Twosday beer number three, and you've got so used to being clean and combed that the archer with the moustache at the end of the bar has just bought us another round."
Danner peered at the archer, blew him a kiss, and then said to me, "He's a loser. I can tell by the itsy bitsy moustache. You want to lose the money? I can lose us the money. Then we can take off and head north and find us some Norsemen. HIFF you know what I mean," she added beerily. "Hey, Fishface," she said to the lizardman on the next barstool, who had been playing dice with his mates, "I bet I can roll a better number than you." She poked him insultingly on his scaly upper arm.
"Whatcha mean by 'better'?"
"Whatcha mean by 'higher'?"
"More big dots on the dice, Einstein."
"My name isn't Einstein. It's ..."
"YOU WANT TO BET OR NOT?" Danner demanded.
"Sure, Shaman. One roll, most dots wins. How much you bet?" He slithered the long forked tongue around his face, refreshing himself.
"Four hundred gold pieces," Danner slurred.
I felt the hair raise up on my head and gave her a sharp kick on the leg with my toes. "Danner, this isn't exactly inconspicuous."
Every head in Commie's bar swiveled in our direction. The lizardman blinked and looked at his comrades. "Four hundred? Gold?"
"Yah, four hundred in gold. Or are you elf-girls all out of allowances?"
Lots of lizard teeth showing amongst the group. "How's a shaman get that much gold to bet?" asked Einstein, which was a much brighter question than lizardmen usually ask.
"I'm a shaman. I can turn cowpies into gold coins if I want. Quit kicking me, Aser, I'm telling you!"
"Deal, Shaman, let's roll. My dice." Einstein scumbled the three dice along the counter. Two fives and a six, I counted, and the barkeep (they're like referees, of course) counted aloud.
Danner sneered contemptuously. "Here's where you either get rich or wise, Einstein." And she rolled the dice carelessly. Raspberries. Three sixes. Silence in the entire bar. "Uhhh. Wisdom doesn't come cheap, Warrior of the Lizard Folk. This is an ... omen to warn your people not to gamble lightly!" Her voice had become sententious, full of depth and teaching. She shook her staff a little to make the point.
The lizzes started emptying pouches onto the bar, to the continued silence of the patrons. Laboriously they counted out four hundred in gold, which pretty much bankrupted the whole group, and the archer who had bought us drinks we hadn't drunk was suddenly beside Danner's shoulder, grinning unctuously. "You bought two for us, now I'm buying two for you," she said to him, drawing her dagger and holding it upright between them. "Go to the other end of the bar to take possession of them."
He left, and I muttered from beneath my hood, "Way to go, Ace."
"Dammit, Aser, how was I to know I'd turn lucky after all my years of losing at everything? Good damn thing we have the horse to carry all this, you got to admit."
"Lucky, lucky us. We're out of here at dawn tomorrow, and I will dispose of the gold, please don't try to do me any more favors in the mean time."
"Hey! We could head off for the troll country! They love gold, and we could just pitch coins off into the brush for them to search for -- like an Easter egg hunt. Or we could dump a bunch off on the border between the orcs and the AARP, you know, that bunch with the metal detectors?"
"Danner, as your elder, I ask you to shut up."
Too much money entangles you with too many possessions. And if you mention it, too much of a reputation. Gold from cowpies, heaven help us.