Silence pervaded the alley until two boys entered it. The boys chatted constantly as they walked to the end of the alley and turned left onto Thockmarr. The echoes of their conversation softly faded away as they continued walking to the marketplace.
“I’m glad William let us go early,” Matthew, the taller boy said. “Even if the day’s mostly gone.”
“Yeah,” Ben replied. “The barkeep’s a grump. He’d have us cleaning the inn all night.”
“Did you see his face when William told him we didn’t have to work tomorrow? Or for the rest of the week? I thought his face was going to burn up as red as it got,” Matthew said, laughing.
“And when he started to say something back, he stuttered and spit on William,” Ben laughed. “I thought William was going to get rid of him right there.”
“I never saw David apologize so much.”
“You know,” Ben said, “that he’s going to take it out on us really hard when we go back to work.”
“I know. But we have the rest of the week to forget about it,” Matthew replied as the two turned right onto the Street of Travellers. “I wonder what’s new in the marketplace?”
“I don’t know, but that group of men in the inn kept talking about a lot of the stalls being used. I tried to listen to their conversation as I was gathering up dishes, but it was too loud most of the time.”
“At least you got to go out into the main room,” Matthew said, frowning.
“I had to wash dishes all day. And when I wasn’t doing that, I had to clean the kitchen floor and walls. *And* take the garbage out away from the inn. It stunk and was drawing lots of flies and bugs. Skarlin was cooking when he got a whiff of the garbage outside the back door. He told me to quit cleaning and take the garbage far away from there.”
“I wondered why you smelled so bad, but I was too busy to ask. When I came back in the kitchen you were gone again. And the next time I saw you, you didn’t stink anymore.”
“I know,” Matthew laughed. “Skarlin told me I smelled as bad as the garbage after I was done moving it. He told me to go and get the smell off of me, and he said he didn’t care if I jumped in the Coldwell to do it.”
“We’re getting close,” Ben said, changing the subject. “I can see some of the stalls from here.”
“I see them, too,” Matthew said. “Look, see that stall that’s broken in half? The one next to it is where mom used to buy bread. The vendor’s not there now. I don’t know what happened to him.”
“How do you know that’s where he was?” Ben asked. “And how do you know he isn’t on the other side of the marketplace now? Vendors change stalls all the time.”
“He never did,” Matthew replied. “He was always there when mom took me with her to the marketplace.”
“Oh. Well, if there are new stall holders here, where do we start looking first?” Ben asked.
“I guess we just roam around and look. I don’t want to look at anything with food. I’ve seen enough of that for today.”
“They might have sweets,” Ben suggested. “That’d be worth looking at.”
“Look,” Ben said, pointing. “That’s new.” Matthew looked to where Ben pointed and saw a booth displaying rugs. They walked over to get a closer look. It was one of the outlying booths and not many people were around it.
“Don’t touch them,” warned the merchant. “Keep your dirty hands away from my rugs.”
“We weren’t gonna touch them,” Ben said. “We just wanted to get a better look. Besides, my hands are clean.” He held up his hands, palm up, to show the man.
“I don’t care how clean your hands are. Don’t touch my rugs. Some of these rugs are delicate and can be ruined by a hand print.”
“What’s the use of having a rug like that?” Matthew asked. “You couldn’t put it on the floor.”
“The *floor*?” the merchant repeated in a high voice. “You don’t put my rugs on the *floor*!”
“Why not?” Ben asked. “What else do you use a rug for?”
“Go away!” he shouted as he pointed away from his booth.
“Come on, Ben, let’s find something more interesting. Who cares about useless rugs, anyway?” As they turned to leave, they heard him curse and ramble on about kids, respect, and his rugs.
“I hope the rest of the new stall holders aren’t like that one,” Ben said. “And there aren’t that many people here. I expected to have to push our way through crowds the way those men talked. There’s lots more people in the summer when the farmers bring crops in to sell.”
As the two walked from the outlying scattered stalls of the marketplace to the more closely grouped central stalls, the amount of people increased.
The whole marketplace covered several streets and alleys when it was full, but now, in early spring, only the inner area seemed populated.
“Look,” Matthew said, pointing. “There’s Corambis’ booth. We could get him to tell us about our future. What we’ll be when we grow up.”
“Do you really believe he can do that? I mean, that he can tell people’s futures?”
“I don’t know, Ben,” Matthew answered, stopping to stare at Corambis’ booth. “But lots of people go to him. Look at it now, there’s people waiting outside his booth for their turn.”
“Yeah. I guess he knows what he’s doing or he’s good at foolin’ people.
Now, come on,” Ben said, tugging on Matthew’s arm. “I don’t want to stand here all day. There’s got to be more new merchants here than just that rug man!” Ben pulled Matthew a few steps before Matthew turned and walked on his own beside his friend.
“Okay, I’m coming. We’ve been through the marketplace lots of times. I doubt we’ll find many more new — Hey, what’s that?”
“Where?” Ben asked.
“What’s that in front of the small tent?” Matthew pointed towards a small tent down the street. The tent stood next to several empty stalls.
“I don’t see what you’re pointing at,” Ben told him.
“That one,” Matthew said, walking toward the tent. “There’s something in front of the tent. It looks like animals.”
“I see it,” Ben replied. “One of them looks like a cat. I don’t know what the other one is.” As the boys got closer, they noticed that the two animals they saw never moved.
“They don’t look right,” Matthew said as they neared the tent. “They’re stone!”
“They looked like real animals from back there. You sure they’re stone?” Both boys were in front of the tent. There were two small tree stumps placed in front of the tent, one on each side of the opening. Upon each stump was a stone sculpture. Matthew reached out and felt the cat figurine.
“They’re stone. But they look real. Like something turned a real cat into stone.”
“You don’t suppose that’s what happened, do you?” Ben asked. “And what’s the other one supposed to be?”
“It’s a shivaree,” a female voice said from inside the tent. “A smaller version of one,” the young woman said, stepping out of the tent. Her hair was long and black, and she had dark eyes to match her hair. She smiled as she looked at Matthew, whose hand was still resting on the stone cat.
“I didn’t mean to touch it,” Matthew said, pulling his hand away quickly.
“It’s alright,” she said. “They are stone. You would have a hard time breaking them. My name is Sharin, and I sculpted those.”
“You made them?” Ben asked, eyes wide. “How’d you get them to look so real?”
“That’s my secret,” she replied. “If I told everyone that, then I wouldn’t be the only one to make them this real. I have others inside. Would you like to look at them?”
“What kinds?” Ben asked.
“I have some of people and some of animals. Come inside and see them,” she said opening the tent flap. Ben looked at Matthew, who shrugged and went inside. Ben followed him in. Two lamps lit the inside of the tent to show two rows of stone figures on the ground on the left side. On the right side was a table with various rocks and stone blocks upon it. A hammer and several chisels were on a smaller table in the back and were next to an unfinished figurine.
“See, Matthew,” Ben said, “I told you there would be new people with interesting things to sell.”
“New?” Sharin asked. “I’m not new.”
“Not new? How long have you been here?” Matthew asked her. “I don’t remember seeing you before.”
“I’ve been in Dargon for a few years now,” she explained. “Although, I only started selling my sculptures about a month ago.”
“These look almost real,” Ben said as he studied the figurines on the ground. Most of them were of animals in varying poses, while a few were busts of people. “I don’t recognize any of these,” he said, pointing to the busts.
“I had some nobles come here to have a likeness made of them in stone. The ones you see there are the ones that have not been picked up, yet. I only do them when asked, because it takes a lot of effort and time to do them. And I don’t get paid for them until they’ve been picked up.”
“Have you ever sculpted a dragon?” Matthew asked.
“A dragon? No, I have never made a dragon. I don’t even know what a dragon looks like. There to your right,” she said to Ben, “is another shivaree. And three from that is a wolf. I have seen both of those here in Dargon.”
“You only sculpt what you see?” Ben asked.
“Mostly. I can sculpt what I have not seen, but it usually does not look as life-like.”
“How much does one of these cost?” Ben asked.
“The smaller ones, I sell for 10 Scrod. The larger ones can go up to two Sterling.”
“We don’t have enough, Ben,” Matthew said.
“Enough for what?” Sharin asked.
“For a dragon figurine,” Ben answered. “But you don’t even know what one looks like, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Do you know what one looks like?” she asked. “If you could describe it well enough, I could sculpt it.”
“But we don’t have enough money,” Matthew stated.
“Would you work for it?”
“Work? What could we do?” Ben asked, his eyes lighting up with the idea.
“I could sculpt the dragon for you, and you could take it throughout the marketplace and tell people about me. You could show everyone you see the dragon and tell them about what I do.”
“How long?” Matthew asked, shrewdly.
“Say four days? Since this is near the end of the day, and it will take me some time to sculpt it, you could work for four days — starting tomorrow.”
“Done,” Ben replied, looking at Matthew. Matthew looked at his friend and saw the glint of hope and expectation in his eyes.
“Done,” Matthew said, turning to look at Sharin. “But please make it look as real as you can.”
“I do my best always. Now let me get a sketch of this dragon. What does it look like?”
“It’s got scales all over its body,” Ben told her. “And a triangular head with big round eyes. Two horns above its eyes that curve back behind its head. When it opens its mouth, there are rows and rows of sharp teeth and –”
“Wait, wait!” Sharin pleaded. “I can’t draw that fast, and I need to get the details down before I start on sculpting it.”
Ben slowed down on his description as Sharin sketched the dragon on a piece of slate. Matthew added his thoughts on what a dragon looked like, and when Sharin was done, they looked at the drawing. Ben wrinkled his nose and shook his head. He pointed and made more suggestions on what a dragon *really* looked like.
Sharin smiled and made the changes. Matthew stood watching, while Sharin drew another sketch of the dragon. This time she got it close enough that Ben was happy. She looked at Matthew, and he smiled and nodded his assent.
“Now that I have the drawing, you’ll have to go,” she told them. “I don’t let anyone watch me when I sculpt. It’s a family secret that has been passed down from generation to generation.” She ushered them out amidst pleas of wanting to stay. “Come back in a bell or so,” she said as she closed and tied the tent opening.
“A bell?” Ben cried. “What are we going to do for a whole bell?”
“Whatever you want,” came the answer from within the tent.
“I want to watch you,” Ben said, but there was no reply.
“Come on, Ben,” Matthew said, pulling his friend away from the tent by his arm. “We’ll go look for some more new stalls. And I’m hungry.”
“Okay. Let’s eat first. I’m hungry, too.” The two boys wandered the marketplace looking for something to eat. They found some dried, spiced meat that they bought and ate. When the fire started burning their mouths, they bought a mug of cider. Unfortunately, it didn’t help, and the two tried to fan their open mouths with their hands, all the while gasping for air.
“Hot, yes?” The vendor asked, smiling. “I warned you it would be! Do you believe me now?” They nodded their heads emphatically as the continued to fan their mouths. “Too hot, yes?” Again they nodded. “Here, then,” the vendor replied, filling two mugs with an off-white liquid. “It’s milk, drink!”
Matthew and Ben drained the mugs in one long drink. The milk cooled the fire in their mouth, but did not get rid of it entirely.
“I normally charge for the milk, but, ah, you two reminded me of when I first ate the spiced meat,” the vendor told them, grinning. “There was lots of hollering that day.”
“That was hot!” Ben said.
“Hot? Huh, you don’t know hot until you try Simon’s sun-sweet stew,” the vendor replied. “That is hot. Don’t know anyone who’s finished a bowl of it. Makes that meat you ate taste like water, it does.”
“Why make something so hot you can’t eat it?” Matthew asked.
“Why? People want it. They buy it. I don’t ask why they want it — don’t know, don’t care. They want it, and I sell it,” the vendor answered.
“Yeah, but if you knew why they wanted it, couldn’t you give them more of what they really want?” Matthew asked. The vendor looked at Matthew in a quizzical fashion. Moments later, he smiled.
“You mean if I knew why they wanted spicy, I could give the right kind of spicy. Many more people would buy, yes?” he asked Matthew. Matthew nodded. “Huh, if that were possible … I’d be a rich man. You find that answer, tell me. I’ll share the profits.”
“Has it been a bell, yet?” Ben asked.
“No,” Matthew replied. “I don’t think so. But we can go check, anyway.” The two thanked the vendor for the milk and left. They walked back to Sharin’s tent, but the flap was still closed.
“She’s going to take a whole fortnight to make it,” Ben whined.
“Ben! The next bell hasn’t even sounded. Give her time. You want it to look real, don’t you?”
“Well, you don’t think she can just take a stone and mold it to a dragon in her hands, do you?”
“You saw the hammers and chisels on her bench. Give her some time to make it.”
“I wish she could just mold it out of stone. It wouldn’t take so long, then,” Ben sighed. “Let’s go see if we can find anything else that’s new.”
The two of them turned away from Sharin’s tent and once more walked through the marketplace.
A bell echoed loudly through the marketplace. Ben stopped walking suddenly and turned towards Sharin’s tent. “Let’s go,” he told Matthew impatiently.
“I’m right behind you,” Matthew said, turning. The two hurried through the marketplace, and when they came into sight of Sharin’s tent, they saw that one flap was blowing open by a small breeze. Ben broke into a run, and Matthew had to run to keep up with him. Ben came to a halt as he heard voices inside the tent, and Matthew almost ran into him before he could stop.
“What are –” Matthew started to say.
“Shhhh,” Ben said. “Someone’s in the tent with her. And he sounds mad.”
“… is wrong with you?” they heard a man inside the tent ask. “You could have nice clothes, better tools, and a real place to work — not this pieced together tent.”
“I like working on my own,” Sharin replied. “I don’t need anyone’s help.”
“J’Mirg’s bones, girl! I’m offering you a life of luxury.”
“I don’t want your life of luxury!”
“I need your sculptures. My business is not doing well, but with your sculptures and my customers, we could make a fortune. We would be helping each other.”
“No,” Sharin replied.
“I could make life very unpleasant for you,” the man threatened. “Even cause you to go out of business.”
“Get out,” Sharin said, her voice slightly higher than normal. “Get out now!”
“I ask you again. Will you work for me?”
“No, I will never work for you!”
“You will!” the man said, loudly. “You will work for me one way or another!” The man stormed out of the tent and came face to face with Matthew and Ben. He didn’t slow his pace as he told them to get out of his way. The boys quickly moved aside, and the man went his way.
“Kind of mad, wasn’t he,” Ben stated, matter-of-factly. Sounds of crying could be heard from inside the tent. Matthew was the first inside the tent, closely followed by Ben. Sharin was leaning against her workbench with her face buried in her hands, tears leaking out from around her hands.