Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 30 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Daine hadn't been to a market in years, and never to one that was as grand as the market in the town. Lured by the midwinter festival, the main square was seething with jugglers and players, vendors and con-men, wealthy ladies in fine frocks and filthy children who jeered after the nobles for a few thrown coppers. The side streets were just as packed, and every shop was thrown open for customers. The wind was bitter, but someone had lit braziers along the main walkways, and with the press of people it was almost too warm.

At first Daine had to cling to Numair's arm, feeling like she would be swept away in the tide of people and never seen again. They sold the chain in the first blacksmith's stall that they found, and then wandered around aimlessly until they found an apprentice jeweller, who peered nervously at the blackened silver and named a price without thinking to ask what the runes said. As she handed the bag over Daine felt as if she was lighter, as if her freedom could be purchased for those scraps of metal. She smiled for the first time since they'd walked into the terrifying crush of people, and Numair squeezed her hand tightly for a moment.

Where shall we go next? He asked silently, watching the apprentice carefully as the nervous boy counted out money into a purse. Daine looked around, trying to see past the people and into the stalls which were set out under bright canopies.

We need to find a bow. She replied, and he laughed gently.

Yes, sweetheart, I suppose we do. But we don't have to do all the things that need to be done right away. Have you ever seen a juggler?

And so began the happiest day of Daine's life. They spent the first few hours watching the players and the dancers, listening to the bright piercing flutes that the musicians played as the men and women span around in the market square. Because it was midwinter their heads were adorned with evergreen bouquets, and Daine couldn't believe that the bright green leaves stayed on their brows when they jumped over each other, and somersaulted through the air. The crowd cheered, and a troupe of jugglers pushed through the gathered players to throw brightly coloured balls through the air in a dizzying tangle. Then, when the crowd started sounding restless, they lit torches from one of the braziers and started flinging them through the air with the same wild abandon.

"Your eyes are like saucers." Numair teased her, when she couldn't look away. "I don't think you've blinked in the last hour."

"How do they do it?" She demanded, speaking aloud for the first time since they'd been amongst strangers. "Aren't they scared?"

"It's practice." He watched them levelly for a moment, a smile playing at his lips. "They practice until they're not scared any more, and then they practice some more. They are exceptionally good, aren't they?"

After the jugglers there were more dancers, and then a large man who told bawdy stories until the watchers were falling over each other laughing. After every show the cobbles were showered with coins, and small children with ribbons tied in their hair scurried forward to collect them in wicker baskets. When the dancers came out for the third time, Numair suggested they find something to eat, and then they wandered along the line of market stalls.

It was another hour before they even found a stall that sold food, because Daine couldn't stop herself from slowing down at every table and marvelling at the things they were selling. Where a small market might have a single butchers, and a trinket trader, this fair had dozens of people selling beautiful crafted wares as gifts for the midwinter holiday. There were shining bracelets and knotted leather headbands, gloves and boots and sweets and weapons. Daine stopped a few times to pick up a bow from the weapon stores, but as soon as she picked them up she shook her head and put them back. They were too light, or too heavy, or just badly made. Even though it had been years since she'd held a bow, some instinct in her hands told her straight away that the weapons weren't right.

They found a shop that sold simple clothes, and spent their first few coins on a stack of tunics, shirts and leggings. Daine felt oddly relieved when she tucked her clothes into her bag, and her hands brushed against the rough-woven fabric. They felt like they belonged to her: not just because she had bought them with her own money, but because they were the right kind of clothes for Daine to wear. She thought that Annette would never wear something so common, and the thought made her oddly pleased.

"Do you like this?" Numair asked, holding something in his hands. She smiled at him and looked to see that he was holding a belt. It was made from soft leather that still looked strong, and the craftsman had carefully tooled the leather to make the natural fades in colour look like the curves of petals and leaves. She ran a finger along the design, holding her breath as if she might scare the beauty of it away with a single sound.

"It's lovely," she said, "But I have a belt. And it's too nice for me."

"Too nice?" He raised an eyebrow, and his eyes challenged her. She blushed and looked at her feet.

"I didn't mean like that. I just... Alanna might say..."

He ran his fingers gently down her cheek, and then lifted her chin so she had to look up. He smiled when their eyes met and kissed her forehead.

"I didn't mean anything by it, magelet. I told you, today we're not doing anything that other people expect us to do. Alanna's quite happy to stroll into court covered from head to toe in mud, but she has no more right to tell you to do the same than Hazelle has to dress you like a doll. You're a beautiful woman, Daine, whatever you wear, and you should have things that make you happy."

"Are you the salesman now?" She whispered with a hint of mischief in her voice. He laughed and flushed slightly.

"Well, perhaps that was a little intense. Really, I just want to know whether it would make a good midwinter's gift for you!"

"Gift?" She blinked at him, and he turned away, covering his mouth to smother a laugh.

"Dear Shakith, my love, but sometimes you are so bafflingly innocent that I can't believe you're not doing it on purpose to tease me." He grinned at her, and joined the line of people waiting to pay the shopkeeper. Daine pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling as if she'd swallowed a butterfly. If she was bafflingly innocent, she thought, then he was bafflingly nice. What was the word she'd thought of for it in the prison – caring? She caught up with him and took his hand, resting her head mutely against his shoulder when he squeezed it in reply.

"There's a weapons seller outside," he said after a while, as another customer was complaining that their new boots pinched their toes. "Why don't you go and have a look? I'll be out soon."

The seller was packing knives into a crate when she stood nearby, shivering in the sudden chill as evening drew in. He glanced at her briefly, and then turned back to his task. Daine looked at the bows he had hanging along one of the wooden beams, but the few she hefted were too light, and she sighed. It seemed like they wouldn't find a bow today, after all.

"They're not right for you." It wasn't a question; the trader had his arms folded and a scowl on his face as he looked at her. She forced herself to smile, used to the rough way the salespeople spoke after a whole day among them, and agreed with him.

"You need something heavier." The man continued, and the girl blinked. The few other weapons traders who had spoken to her had asked if she wanted something smaller, easier for a girl to use, but she had outgrown such bows before she was even ten years old. Before she could ask how he knew that, the man had turned away and was rooting in another crate at the back of the stall.

"Um, you don't have to worry..." she started, knowing that most traders only kept the most expensive weapons out of the main display. As much money as Alanna had given her, she knew she could never afford the gorgeous weapons that were hidden away. They were for knights and kings, not normal people. The trader snorted through his nose, and it was such an odd sound that she stopped talking. He sounded almost like a deer, snuffling in the peat!

"Here." His voice was curt as he put the bow on the table. She hesitated, and his scowl deepened. "Well, child, go on! Pick it up and try it. It won't hurt you, you know. I didn't make it for you to be scared of it!"

She took the bow in a flustered rush without even looking at it. The wood felt warm, as if it had been lying in the sun, not hidden in a box in the middle of winter. It even smelled faintly of the odd, musty scent of a warm forest basking in the autumn sun. There were no splinters or rough patches when she ran her fingers along the curve of wood, and she smiled. That meant there were no weaknesses that would make it break, or weaken after a few short months.

"Here." The man's voice was a little gentler, almost apologetic as he held out a string. She smiled her thanks and strung the weapon, feeling an excited thrill as it bent pliantly under her hands. It was perfect – so much like the bow she'd had as a child that it seemed to come to life under her hands. She pulled the string back to her ear and smiled widely, releasing it with the ease of years of practice. Every other bow she'd touched that day had felt awkward under her hands, but with this one her un-practiced clumsiness seemed to melt away.

"It's perfect!" She said, and her voice was incredulous as she turned to look at the trader. "How did you..."

Her mouth fell open. There was nothing there. The stall was empty. No boxes of hunting weapons lay about on the ground, and there was nothing except a leather quiver full of arrows lying on the abandoned table. He couldn't have left in so short a time; she'd only been turned away for a few seconds, and it would take more than one trip to carry all those wares. The bow cooled in her fingers, and all that was left of the man was the lingering scent of the autumn forest.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 30 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>