Donin looked up at the peaked top of the campanile as the bell under that crest tolled for the fifth time. He thought yet again about climbing the intricately patterned brick facing of the tower, slipping through the arches just below the verdigris roof, and attaching some metal slats to the bell just to change its tone for a while.
The noise of the Venilek Market that had ebbed during the bell-sounding rose again to its normal levels. Donin’s booth, solidly built but not quite permanent, was on the Traders Avenue side of the triangular market, across from the bell tower but farther up, closer to Thockmarr Street. There weren’t many permanent booths in the market, and they were mostly at the Street of Travellers end of Thockmarr, but Donin hoped to own one someday.
For now, he was solidly in the semi-permanent section, which meant that he didn’t have to pack up every night and tote his wares into one of the storage bays on the other side of Travellers. That meant that he could sell longer, not to mention the fact that pottery was heavy, and not having to lug it around every day was a blessing that his back appreciated.
Donin listened to the vendors all around him crying their wares. He never bothered with the hawking any more; he was the only one selling Corathin Pottery goods this side of the Coldwell River, and everyone knew it. Corathin Pottery fairly sold itself, which was evident just by looking at all of the gaps on his shelves. That was why Donin was looking around so intently: the shipment from the pottery was late.
“Timbek!” Donin looked around for his shop assistant and found him on the other side of the booth chatting to some pretty young women. “Timbek, keep an eye on things. I’m going for a walk.”
Timbek waved distractedly as the women giggled at something he’d said. Donin smiled, shook his head, and slipped out of the booth, wistfully remembering when he was young.
He walked roughly eastward through the neat lanes that existed at this end of the market. The vendors were selling glassware, carved wood, leather items, metal pots and decorations. The more permanent booths contained more costly items like weaponry and jewelry. The merchants weren’t necessarily as durable as their stalls were: Donin recognized Trills Candles and Hailibek’s Leather, but several of the signs he passed — Glass by Rodina, Broins Hornware — were new.
The farther east he went, the more temporary the booths became and the less substantial the wares. By the time the booths vanished, to be replaced by carts and finally blankets placed haphazardly about, they were selling rags and scraps, which gave way to grains and roots and vegetables at the pointed end of the market. In fact, down where Travellers and Traders crossed Merchant’s Way, the market spilled all around the five-way intersection at least once a sennight when the outlying farms brought in their surplus, more often during harvest.
Donin wove his way between the temporary selling spots and stood at the point of the marketplace, scanning the distances for the wagon from Corathin that should have arrived yesterday. Last day of the month, that was how it always worked. But there were no wagons in sight.
He walked back up Traders Avenue, wondering whether the recent small spate of disasters could have had anything to do with the late delivery, what with the causeway being down. But the distant location of the Corathin Pottery was on this side of the Coldwell River, so that couldn’t be the problem. The sounds of the market — haggling, hawking, rustling of wares, happy chattering of customers shopping — echoed off the pavers of Traders and the wooden fronts of the warehouses on Donin’s right. The smell of dirt from the vegetables was replaced by the scent of spices, and then the scent of wood as he walked further north and west.
He could see the gaping shelves of his booth when he heard a shout of “Stop, thief!”
He looked around, but when the call came again he realized that it was Timbek doing the yelling.
Donin sprinted up to his stall, arriving to find two city guards already there. He was briefly glad to see the blue and grey uniforms, but when he recognized the familiar visage of Liat, one of the guards who regularly patrolled through the market, he was no longer quite as happy: the dilapidated condition of Liat’s uniform reflected the general attention he paid his duties. The younger of the two guards, though, looked interested in the goings-on and Donin wondered who he was.
Donin stopped next to Timbek, who pointed at a silver coin resting against the wall on the other side of Traders at the feet of a well-dressed gentleman. “I … I dropped it, Donin, and it rolled over there. That guy was just starting to look down, and I … I didn’t want him to grab it, or … or something …”
Donin frowned at his assistant, then walked over to the gentleman. “Your pardon, good sir,” he said. “Did you drop that coin?”
The well-dressed man looked down, then looked back at Donin with a haughty expression and said, “No,” with an inflection that made it impossible to believe that he had ever even seen such a low-value coin.
Donin stooped, picked up the coin, and smiled apologetically to the gentleman. He looked over to reassure Liat and his companion that all was well, but they had already walked on. He sighed, walked back to his booth, slipped inside, and put the coin in the cash box.
When he looked up, the gentleman had walked over to the booth and was looking at the shelves. Donin said, “Can I help you with something?”
“You’re Donin, yes? I’ve heard you’re the only one who sells Corathin pottery on this side of the river, but I don’t see much of a selection here.”
Donin’s heart sank. He’d been afraid of this. No matter what he said, this man would spread the word among his friends — the high class loved to gossip, everyone knew that — and he’d have to pay some runners to go spread the word when his stock was replenished or his customers would never come back.
He opened his mouth, hoping inspiration would give him the right words, when he heard the slow rhythm of wagon wheels on the pavers of Traders. He looked to his right, and saw a very sweet sight in the form of Kolen, the delivery person from the Corathin Pottery.
“Fortune smiles on you, good mi’lord. You will get the first choice of the latest delivery, which is only now pulling up!”
The wagon drew up alongside Donin’s booth. Two boys hopped off its tail and began unloading it quickly and carefully. Each pot or bowl passed through the hands of the gentleman after it was unpacked and before it was placed on the shelves. Donin decided, as he placed a blue jug and a green bowl on a shelf, that it was going to be a good day after all.