Merchants are Novans who trade but do not produce goods.
Although merchants are the only Novans who engage exclusively in trade, they are not the only traders on Nova. Most craftsmen sell their good to the “end user” directly, and some even travel far distances to do so. The importance of merchants to the Novan economy is not that they move goods from one place to another but that they do so over long distances.
Long distance trade is difficult and fraught with risks. Besides the risk of bandits or orks, simply moving goods over long distances in any bulk is expensive. Mule trains must be fed, while ships are expensive to build and maintain. Accommodating these factors while still turning a profit is a full-time job that requires a much deeper appreciation of finance and business than most Novans care to acquire.
By dedicating themselves to this art, merchants make regular long-distance trade a reality. Most merchant goods are expensive luxuries, such as spices, exotic cloth, or precious metal – any goods that have a high price to weight ratio. Most of this trade is too expensive for all but the wealthiest Novans. However, each merchant caravan or convoy carries news as well as goods, making merchants an important part of maintaining a common Novan culture.
Successful merchants are wealthier than even some lords, making them the wealthiest Novans not born to their position. Even less successful or strictly provincial merchants are often the wealthiest people in their region of Nova. However, merchants are among the lowest-status professions on Nova, below even farmers. When merchants are invited to a lord’s or knight’s banquet, the seats farthest away from the host’s dais are often a riot of colors and rich fabrics.
Merchants’ low social status is not born out of a sense of jealousy on the part of the higher estates, nor even a mistrust of long-distance trade and finance as a relatively novel profession. Indeed, there have been professional merchants on Nova for as long as historical records exist. Rather, merchants are perceived as existing on the periphery of feudalism, which is the historical lifeblood of humanity against the ever-present threat of the ork. Unlike farmers, merchants are not numerous enough to contribute significantly to feudal levies, and unlike craftsmen, they do not provide war materiel. This perception is somewhat inaccurate, as merchants can contribute more coin to a muster than any other profession. However, not every human army receives significant (or indeed, any) merchant financing.
Indeed, merchants’ most significant contribution to an army tends to be in war against other humans. Wars against orks tend to be fairly short affairs one way or the other, and in any case, Novans generally have sufficient dread of the greenskin that they are willing to extend a campaign against an ork incursion if need be. Against other humans, though, armies can require incentive to keep their feudal vows of service if a campaign threatens their harvests. Merchants are the obvious solution to this problem, but there is little honor in papering over the fact that an army’s feudal vows to its overlords have limits.
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