|Tabarnas, Rachel and Micras were looking down on a toy castle.|
"So that's it, is it?" Rachel asked, her tone was harsh. "You're just going to make her produce rainbow grease for you, like a slave?"
Tabarnas jumped. He had been wondering how on earth he was going to find Rachel. It was job enough to locate stock that didn't move in the stacks. How one was supposed to find a lost and frightened little girl was a problem he had not even begun to consider the answer to.
"Oh, young lady," Tabarnas said. "You mustn't sneak up on old people like that, I might have had a heart attack or something."
"Would have served you right if you had you mean old slave driver," Rachel replied. "I thought you were nice."
"I don't know where you got that idea from," Tabarnas said. "I'm a goblin merchant, as a breed we're not noted for our bon homie."
"Er, sorry, foreign words trip from my tongue. I speak business in every language, you see... Because I'm a merchant, not a slave driver, a merchant."
"So you're going to let the mermaid go?" Rachel asked.
"I'm not going to 'let' her do anything, she's her own fish person, she is mistress of her own destiny."
"Well, good," Rachel said. "I knew you wouldn't be a big old meanie about it. So how are we going to help her?"
"Help her?" Tabarnas asked, a puzzled look upon his face. "We? Young lady-"
"Rachel," Rachel interrupted him.
"Rachel," Tabarnas said. "You seem to be the victim of a misunderstanding. Firstly, 'we' are not, uh, 'we'. There is you and there is me. That is how things work in the market. Secondly, and for the very same reason, I am not helping anyone. I will render services in exchange for remuneration, of course. But if I went around doing things out of some fuzzy headed do-gooder notion that wouldn't make me a good merchant now, would it?"
"You told me a story, that was nice," Rachel pointed out.
"You didn't enjoy it much, as I recall," Tabarnas replied.
"It was a nicer thing to do than standing around here being a nasty old grumpy guts like you're being now," Rachel said.
"Has anyone ever told you that you are impossible?" Tabarnas asked her.
"Only James and..." Rachel ran to a stop. "Oh! James! Did you rescue James?"
"Ah, now, there was a small problem..." Tabarnas began but it was too late, Rachel had begun to cry.
"Oh no," she said. "James, you lost James. This is all your fault!"
"Now I think that's a little unfair-"
"No, you're right..." Rachel said.
"Well, I'm glad-"
"It's all my fault, me and my stupid wish!" Rachel sat on Tabarnas's step stool and dissolved into floods of tears.
Tabarnas didn't know what to do or how to feel. He had been a goblin merchant his entire long life, over half a millennium at this moment. He bought, he sold, he bartered, he did stock taking, accounts ledgers and paid his dues to the Merchant's Guild. The only thing that Tabarnas did that was not the action of a goblin merchant was collect as many amusing stories as he could. He packed them into the corners of his brain that were not occupied with matters of trade.
Being confronted with a disconsolate little girl who had lost her talking mouse was not a situation that he had any idea how to remedy. He wondered if Cressie would be able to do any better. He swiftly came to the conclusion that, in fact, she would in all probability make things worse rather than better. Cressie had no spare corners in her mind, the whole mind was merchant from top to bottom.
Before Tabarnas could unpick the predicament any further matters were taken out of his hands. The soft and lilting sound of a beautiful melody washed over the small yard between the tents on the pitch. The song had no words but appeared to be, at one and the same time, choral and coming from a single throat. The song was soothing as it was beautiful and came from the throat of Teleosti, the mermaid.
Rachel stopped sobbing and looked up at the mermaid in wonder. For just a moment the thrust and bustle of the market appeared to recede and a placid atmosphere of calm came over the scene.
The song ended and Teleosti smiled down at Rachel. Rachel stood and went over to the mermaid's tank.
"Your voice," Rachel said. "It's so beautiful."
"Thank you," the mermaid replied. "So are the feelings of love you have for James. I can only sing a song so beautiful when something pure and joyful inspires me."
"Oh, you mean I..." Rachel couldn't finish what she was trying to say.
"I was singing your love for James, Rachel," the mermaid said. "That should keep you strong while you find him again."
"Oh it will, it will!" Rachel said. "Thank you so much... oh, I don't know your name."
"I am called Teleosti," the mermaid said. "But my friends call me Eos, you may call me that, if you would like to. I haven't made any new friends since I began the quest to find my people's lost treasure, so a new one would cheer me up right now."
"Oh, yes, of course Eos, we can be friends, of course! I've never been friends with anyone but James and now I have two new friends in one day, Eos and Tabarnas."
"Ah..." Tabarnas said. He felt that it was incumbent upon him to point out, once again, that he was a goblin merchant. For which reason he did not have friends, only customers.
Rachel and Eos looked over to him, both appeared much happier than they had been for the entire rest of the afternoon. Tabarnas saw no business value in ruining a good mood, indeed bad moods were well known to sour business.
"The market will be closing soon," Tabarnas said. "I suppose, Rachel, that we had better find somewhere for you to stay."
"I thought you didn't help people unless it was for money," Rachel said, a smirk at the corner of her mouth.
"We can... work something out... in the morning," Tabarnas said. "First of all we had better tell Cressie. I don't think you will find her to be as soft a negotiator but we can hardly hide you away from her now, can we?"
"I suppose not," Rachel said. She did not sound like she was looking forward to meeting Cressidia again, which marked her out as something of a wise child.
The two of them stepped towards the flap at the rear of the stall. Before they could go inside the fluttering shape of a glowing white owl flapped out of the stacks. It flew over to land on the edge of Eos's tank.
"Hooo! Thought you could get away from me did you, vandal!" the owl said to Rachel. "Well, no such luck, my head rotates all the way round and my eyes can spot a mouse three miles away."
"So," Rachel said. "If James is less than three miles away, you'll be able to spot him. Oh, but you're not to eat him."
"Whooo is James?" the owl said. "And why would I find anyone for you? You uncouth child!"
"Nobody in this place is very polite or particularly nice," Rachel complained. "Except for you Eos, and you're not from around here originally."
"Why should I be nice to the person who destroyed my home?" the owl asked.
"I did no such thing!" Rachel objected. "I've never even seen your smelly home. I wouldn't destroy it anyway."
"Oh no?" the owl shot back. "Not even when your good friend the gnome pointed out that you could get outside instantly if you just damaged some stock?"
"Oh! No!" Rachel said, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. "You were inside that doll's house?"
"It was not just a doll's house, I will have you know," the owl said. "It was a genuine _haunted_ doll's house, you tipped it onto the floor as if it didn't even matter."
"You did what?" Tabarnas cried. Until now he had been too confused by the owl flapping about to put the whole thing together. The understanding that this troublesome little girl had cost him stock sparked outrage in his heart. Add to this the fact that the item was an authentic haunted doll's house and the outrage almost grew greater than he could bear.
"I got lost, in your stupid stacks," Rachel said, unrepentant petulance written across her face. "The gnome came back and reminded me about the anti-vandal charm that set the troll loose. I just thought it was a doll's house."
"But... it was... haunted..." Tabarnas said, his head was spinning, it was his turn to sit on the step stool.
"You've still got the ghost," Rachel said. "Although, if you sell him we're back to slavery again. I am surprised at you, Tabarnas, I thought you were just a merchant."
"I knew it was haunted," Tabarnas said. "I didn't know what by, the thing was only a foot and a half tall and it had three floors."
"I was for sale!?" the owl objected. "Micras Whitney is not for sale to anyone, at any price, dead or alive," it announced. Then, more quietly: "In this case, decidedly dead."
"Well, looks like I did you a favour," Rachel said. "If you'd sold that haunted doll's house you would have sold Micras along with it, and that would have been bad karma."
"Bad what?" Tabarnas asked.
"Karma," Rachel said. "James told me about it, it means if you do bad stuff then bad stuff happens to you."
"But I wouldn't have known," Tabarnas said. "Apparently neither would the owl."
"It is true that I had become very comfortable in my lodgings," Micras agreed. "But this is no excuse to sell them. And me along with them."
"I don't even remember where we got the silly thing," Tabarnas grumbled. "Probably in one of Cressie's job lot acquisitions. Sorry for the inconvenience everybody."
Tabarnas most certainly did not mean that last sentence, and he knew that everyone present knew that he didn't either. He didn't care.
"Well, it looks like now you've got to find three of us somewhere to stay," Rachel said. "Me, Eos and now Micras as well. You should be more careful about what you keep in your stock room. Magic mirrors full of trolls, haunted doll's houses. Who else do you have back there that you don't even know about?"
"Look!" Tabarnas said, tapping his cane upon the ground sharply. "This is Riseandshine and Titsadaisy Goblin Merchants. It is not Riseandshine and Titsadaisy Flop House and Mission For The Dispossessed. I think I've just about had quite enough for today."
"Well, the sooner we rehouse Micras and find me a bed the sooner we can get on with tomorrow," Rachel said brightly. "I'm sure tomorrow will be better. Besides it can't be that hard, you must have another doll's house somewhere in that stock room, it's massive."
"Not that I know of..." Tabarnas said, thinking hard. He had to admit that the child was talking sense. If they could re-haunt something else then the ghost owl would be happy. They could finally put this awful Tuesday behind them and move on.
A memory resurfaced from the story telling parts of Tabarnas's mind. The memory's subject happened to cross reference with a stock item so it was close to hand. Tabarnas could remember almost every item of stock attached to a story.
"I think I have the place, just the place," Tabarnas said. "A curiosity that I am not intending to sell and it will be just the thing."
"I'll be the judge of that," Micras said. "But very well."
"The best part is that I think we'll be able to give Rachel a bed in the same place. Maybe we can talk to Cressie about the whole thing when she's in a better mood."
Tabarnas could tell that no one who had met Cressidia would possibly have held out any hope of her being in a better mood ever. Right now there were more pressing matters to deal with so nobody said anything.
"Now, before we go in," Tabarnas said to Rachel, "you just remember to stick by my side in the stacks. I can't have you junking stock because you keep getting lost."
"I'm sorry Tabarnas," Rachel said. "It won't happen again."
"You see that it doesn't," Tabarnas said as they made their way into the stall. They ducked through the gap in the display shelves that formed the entrance to the stacks. "We're already in enough trouble as it stands."
"I thought there was no 'we'," Rachel said. Tabarnas was dismayed to see the return of the insufferable smirk to the girl's face. "I thought," she continued uneccessarily and with far too much smugness, "that there was just 'you' and 'me'."
"Yes, well," Tabarnas said. "We will definitely be having a conversation about the matter in the morning for now... where was the blasted thing? Let me think, second right, third left. Behind the storage bin for winged sandals and other lightly enchanted footwear, yes, here it is."
Tabarnas, Rachel and Micras were looking down on a toy castle. The model was remarkably detailed, not to say quite odd. The castle had a rounded wall, a gatehouse, a traditional wizarding tower, a grand hall and a few outbuildings. In the courtyard an intricate and beautiful model garden had been created. From the tallest point of the main building a metal pin carried a red flag bearing the device of a frog wearing a crown.
"There is a most fascinating story about the castle upon which this model is based," Tabarnas said proudly. "It's another story of the great prince Avan Weatherstrong. You see, he was travelling in a far away land. One where the entire ruling family found themselves transformed. Turned into frogs by the evil sorcerer..."
"Tabarnas," Rachel said. "Another time. Right now, this looks fine for Micras, if he likes it." She looked up at the owl.
"It will do," the ghost said not committing to anything.
"I don't see what it does for me, though," Rachel said.
"Ah, well, you see, that's where you fail to understand the precise nature of the artifact. Now, do as I do, carefully."
Tabarnas put his finger onto the top of the flag pole and intoned:
"In the name of the Grand Frogfellow Clan, bid me entry to this monument erected in your honour. Created so that none would forget the acts of Seditas Wolfjaw until this world should end."
Tabarnas loved the strange falling sensation, the tingle of well-applied sorcery accompanying the transition. Whenever a new volume of collected stories came into his possession he would make his way to the garden of the model Caer Frogfellow. This was where he would secret himself away to read.
He knew that Cressie would take a dim view of such activities. So, he had concealed the model carefully in a part of the stacks reserved for the storage of low value unsaleable tat.
Tabarnas did not have much of a chance to feel clever about what he had done because within moments Rachel was at his side in the garden. Micras, being a ghost, didn't need the model's magic to transfer scale.
"Impressive, don't you think?" Tabarnas beamed, positively glowing with pride. "You are now standing in my favourite item in the whole world."
The model garden was stunning in its detail. The ponds were made of polished glass and the hedges crafted from tiny pieces of wood. Each bore a mark indicating they had been hand carved by pixie workmen. The castle was a remarkable piece of work.
The large frog statue mounted on a pedestal in the central fountain was perfect in every detail. The giant frog's right leg draped across a recumbent wolf. The symbol of Frogfellow's eventual victory over the sorcerer Seditas Wolfjaw. It was one of Tabarnas's favourite stories and he burned to tell it right away.
"If you're thinking of launching into a story," Rachel said, gauging his mood perfectly, "don't. I've had a long day and I need some sleep. I assume you're going to tell me that the castle is an exact replica inside, so I will be able to find a bed."
"Yes, just so," he said. "It really is a fine story, the tale of How Avan Weatherstrong Defeated Seditas Wolfjaw."
"The last story you told me about that prince he was fighting a wolf," Rachel said. "One wolf story in a day is quite enough."
"He wasn't a wolf," Tabarnas complained. "He was a sorcerer, he just happened to be called Wolfjaw, it's just a surname, like Riseandshine. I'm called Riseandshine, I'm not the sun."
"So, once I've slept and I want to leave," Rachel said, ignoring Tabarnas's hope that she would allow him to tell the story. "How do I manage that?"
"Just curtsy to the frog statue and thank him warmly for his hospitality," Tabarnas explained. "I bow because I'm a man, women curtsy."
"What if I want to bow?" Rachel said.
"Do what you like," Tabarnas said, irritable that his storytelling ambition had been thwarted. "It'll work or it won't."
"There's no need-" Rachel began but she got no further.
"Tabarnaaaaas!" the greatly amplified and terrifying voice of Cressidia rang out. From their low position it sounded like the mighty battle cry of an enraged giant. "There's a market keeper here to see you, something about a troll and property damage."
"Oh, fiddlesticks!" Tabarnas said feeling his heart sink in his chest.
"Looks like you'd better thank the frog for his hospitality," Rachel said. "And I'll see you in the morning."
Which she did, at which point there were more problems to solve, but those are the subject of another day's tale.