A Meeting Between

A Daughter of the Lilies and Children of Eldair

Crossover Fan-fiction

Thistle, Brent, Lyra, and Orrig belong to Meg Syverud of Daughter of the Lilies.
Embera, Koe, Iva, and Indri belong to Jemma M. Young of Children of Eldair.
The Bazaar Between and the Unnamed Bookshop Owner are stage dressing that went out of their way to unduly lengthen the story by trying really, really hard to become characters in their own right.  (Jury’s still out on whether they succeeded.  But waiting for a consensus would’ve lengthened the story even more.)

In a world that’s not a world,
There’s a space that’s not a space,
Where the meetings that could never be
Just happen to take place,
When the farthest-flung of fiction
Find they’ve stumbled on the scene
Of the twining, colored crossways
That form the Bazaar Between.

Along a bustling row of crowded booths and shops, four figures thread a throng ranging from the familiar to the utterly foreign.  Indeed, though displays of brilliantly colored, exotic wares line each side of the thoroughfare, they can hardly contend with the true riot of color that swirls down the street in the forms of dresses, robes, scarves, scales, skin, fur, hair, and wings.  The foremost of the four, a swathed and hooded person who, though average in height, stands shortest of her companions, looks from one side to the next in a delight that even her close-wrapped clothing can’t conceal.  To her side and a little behind, a tall, burly young man hovers over her shoulder, eyeing the crowd as though suspecting it of a plot to trample the group (and perhaps particularly the woman in front of him) at any moment.  A towering orc and an elf stroll a few paces behind the first two at a relaxed pace.  The elf alternates between an appreciative examination of the various fashions and the various weapons on display throughout the market, both in the shops and in the crowd.  The orc simply takes in the sights, though he keeps a watchful eye on the rest of his little group, as well.  

“There!  Yes!  I heard it again: The Bazaar Between.  That must be the name of this place, don’t you think?” the front, shrouded figure asks the other three.

“Pfft,” The elf rolls her eyes.  “It’s a stupid name, if it is.  The Bazaar Between?  Between what?  I mean, it’s an interesting enough place.  And hey, it’s civilization – if we can’t go back the way we came, at least this beats being stuck in the middle of nowhere.  But still.”

“Well, I mean, that’s the question, isn’t it?  Between what?  After all, we know that was a magical boundary of some sort back at that cave mouth, and I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something –”

“Eeeh, stop overthinking it, Thistle.”  The elf waves off the speculation dismissively.  “This place actually seems like it could be fun, but not if you keep sucking all the fun out of it.”

“Oh…” the girl called Thistle drops silent and seems to shrink a little further inside her hood.

The young man shoots a glare at the elf.  “Lyra!”

“What?  C’mon, Brent, you’re not telling me you want to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out the nature of life, the universe, and whatever-this-place-is, are you?”

Brent takes a threatening step toward Lyra, but doesn’t manage more before the orc in the back places a restraining hand on his shoulder.  “Brent.  Lyra.  Enough.  Lyra, let Thistle be.  Brent, ve not need trouble.  Both of you, be on best behavior.  Thistle, do not vorry: you fine.”

“But Orrig!”  Brent and Lyra both protest in chorus.

“Enough!  No more fighting.  Or else.”  Orrig fixes each of them in turn with a pointed stare, then returns to his survey of the surrounding market.

Thistle looks away, abashed, and Brent turns forward stiffly, obviously still aggravated.  Lyra rolls her eyes again, but returns to watching the crowd and market around her.  The party walks a few more paces before Thistle perks up.  “Oooh, look!” she exclaims, and her voice carries the smile her face coverings hide.  She points to a shop on the other side of the street and a few store-fronts down.  The sign over the shop bears a single, simple word: “Books.”  Without waiting for a reply, she darts through the crowd, slowed only by the quiet exclamations of, “Oh, sorry!” and “Excuse me,” and “Please pardon me!” she feels compelled to mutter as she slips past one figure after another on the crowded street.

“No, wait!  Thistle, wait!” Brent calls after her, something near panic edging his voice.  He plunges into the crowd as well, trying to follow in the young woman’s wake.

“Augh, a bookstore!?  Does she have to find the most boring thing in this entire market?”

Orrig sighs.  “Come, ve cross street.”

“What?  We’re not going in there?”

“Can vait outside, but ve need stick together.”

“But –”

“Ve can let you pick other shop later.”

A smile that means trouble lights Lyra’s face.  “How ‘bout a pub?”

“…Ve see.  Now come.”

… … … … …

From the other side of the same crowded street, four other figures also amble through the crowd.  The three girls – a human, an elf, and a girl that is neither one – walk along in a knot, pointing at various wares and taking in the sights, though the last of the three occasionally looks back to the towering but slender man who follows close behind them, trying to include him in their observations and discussion.

“Ooooh!  Did you see that dress?  Wasn’t it amazing?”  The elven girl gushes.

“Eh, it’s a dress,” the human shrugs.

“Oh, come on, Iva.  I know you couldn’t go sword fighting in it, but seriously!  Embera, please tell me you saw it.  It was stunning!”

“Oh, um… I’m sorry, Indri, I must’ve missed it.  Which one was it again?”

The girl named Indri throws the back of her hand over her face in mock despair.  “Aaah, me!  My life is a tragic wasteland, for my best friends are fashion-blind, and can’t give perfection the appreciation it deserves!”

Embera giggles a little, and even Iva smirks.  “Truly, we weep for you,” she retorts wryly.

“Your tears are not enough!” Indri rounds on Iva, pulling up to her full height and gesturing dramatically.  “I demand justice!  Justice done to the heights of beauty and fashion!”  Iva’s smirk widens, and she deliberately shoves past Indri’s shoulder to continue on her way.  Indri drops her pose in a fit of laughter and also turns to continue the walk.  Embera giggles again, then slows her pace to fall in step with the tall man in back.

“I didn’t see the dress because I was looking the other way.  I heard someone else saying it: ‘The Bazaar Between.’  I mean, it must be the name of this place, but what kind of place is it?  Do you have any ideas, Koe?  Is it a world?  Is it – well, is it ‘Between’ because it’s between worlds somehow?  There certainly are a lot of different kinds of… umm…” Embera trails off as a large, dragonfly-like creature hovers by, its several pairs of wings tracing an impossibly slow wave in the air, “…people?  Um, here…”

“I’m still working on that one.  There certainly are many beings here I’ve never seen before, and I think I’ve seen some completely different types of magic, as well.  We can’t possibly be on Eldair, I’m certain of that.  But where we are, well… I don’t know.  Maybe if I could get a look at the stars here, I could figure out more.  So far, though…”

Suddenly Embera stops in her tracks and grips Koe’s arm, grinning widely, her eyes fixed straight ahead.  Koe falters to a halt.  Then he sees Embera pointing.  “Look,” she follows the action with words almost sooner than Koe can pull his thoughts together.  “Maybe we can find out more in there.”

Koe tears his eyes away from her face and the hand on his arm to see what she’s looking at.  They land on a shop sign a few doors down that reads, “Books.”

“Hey Iva, Indri,” Embera calls to the other two girls, who have by this time ambled several paces ahead, “Koe and I want to go look in there.”

… … … … …

“Can I help you, dearie?” the old woman behind the shop counter looks up from a book as Thistle darts into the shop.  Hardly more than a booth, but considerably deeper than it is wide, bookshelves line every wall of the little space, interrupted only by a narrow door behind the back counter.

Thistle looks around eagerly but indecisively.  “Oh, um… I don’t know, do you have any books about plants?  Or maybe magic?”

“Bless you, yes, but I’ve not the space to bring out all my books on either subject, let alone the two at once.  Do you have a more specific topic of interest, or would it suit you if I brought out the ones that relate to magic and plants both?”

“Both?  Oooh, yes, please!”  Thistle nods eagerly, then adds with a little more hesitation, “But, I mean, if you have to do all the work of bring them out… I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Tut, tut, it’s no trouble.”  The woman begins tapping out a complicated pattern on a blank square of gray set into the counter.  

As the shopkeeper is thus busied, Embera and Koe enter the shop.  They only barely manage to glance around when, instantaneously, the books on the shelves are replaced by an entirely new set of books.  Both stare at the shelves, wide-eyed and speechless.  Thistle actually squeals a little… just as Brent stumbles through the door, huffing and muttering imprecations against something that sounds oddly like carts and overgrown aardvarks.  His head snaps instantly toward Thistle.

“Augh, Thistle, what happened?” he cries, then turns on the shop owner menacingly.  “What did you do to her?!”

Before the shopkeeper can answer, Thistle whirls to Brent, gripping each of his arms in her excitement and gushing, “No, no!  You missed it!  It was incredible!”  She then spins back to the woman behind the counter so fast that she doesn’t see his face reddening behind her.  “How did you do that?  That was amazing!”

“Oh!” Embera chimes in.  “Did you see how that happened?  I’ve never seen anything like it.  At least, not in real life – TV, maybe, but…”

“Hmmm…” Koe looks around the shop speculatively.  “Did you have these books somewhere else, and they switched places with the ones that were here?  But how did you set it up?  I can’t figure out how it might have been done.  I mean, Korkoff’s Theorem of Replacement is the only thing that could accomplish anything close to this effect, and it usually only switches two objects back and forth.  Farran managed to extend that to five, but I still don’t see –” Koe breaks off, realizing that everyone in the shop is staring at him with expressions ranging from mild incomprehension to complete confusion.    “S-s-sorry.  I d-didn’t m-m-m-mean t-to l-l-lecture…” He reddens and falls silent.

“Oh not to worry, not to worry” the shopkeeper smiles.  “I can see you lot are an inquisitive set.  And analyzers, too.  Aaah, but then, isn’t that so often the way with book-lovers?  Well,” the wizened little shopkeeper nods to Koe, “I can say, young man, that so far as I could understand, your guess has the right of it, at least as far as it goes.  Most of my collection is stored elsewhere, and I’m able to pull some in and send out others.  But I’m sorry to disappoint the lot of you: I can’t tell you any more than that.  Partly I’m bound by my word – the whole set-up was done by a Visitor as a Trade, and one of the terms was not to tell how it works.  But more than that, I couldn’t tell, anyway: I don’t properly understand the thing, myself.  Oh, he tried to tell me all about it, but I couldn’t make heads nor tails of what he was saying.  Mind, we get Visitors from all sorts of places here at the Bazaar: places with different magics, different technologies, even different rules of reality.  This Visitor, well, I think he came from one of the stranger worlds.  Couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how he was saying things worked in his own place.  But that happens, and after all, who am I to talk of strange?  The Bazaar hosts strangers and strangeness from so many different worlds, I suppose it must be stranger than all of them to manage it.  But listen to me prattle, when you’ll all be wanting to actually look at the books.  I- oh!  Oh, dear.  Well, good day to all of you, as well.  It’s not often I get so many Visitors in at once, but welcome to you.  Welcome.”

Thistle, Brent, Emberra, and Koe all look back to the door, where Orrig stands just inside the shop, looking around.  The little space looks even smaller for his presence.  Lyra waits outside, leaning against the wall.  Iva and Indri also seem to have just arrived, and they eye the doorway and the already crowded shop as though trying to decide whether to even try entering.

“Aaah, hrm,” Orrig ponders.  “Ve not stay long, I think.”

Outside, Lyra makes no effort to hide her cheer of, “Yes!”

Orrig ignores it.  “Just vanted check in vit friends, then vil leave room for other customers.”  He nods to the shopkeeper politely.

“Oh, not a problem, not a problem.  Whatever you need.”

Orrig nods again, then turns to Thistle, “Ve vill keep looking around.  You vant you should stay here until ve come back for you?”

“Hmmm?” Thistle, who had been unable to keep herself from browsing book titles even while the shopkeeper was talking, glances over at Orrig.  “Oooh!  You mean I can stay?  Yes!  Yes please!  I think I could stay here a week!  She’s got so many wonderful books!”

“Brent, you vant come vit us?”

“I… er, that is…” Brent rubs his neck with one hand nervously.  “Uh, shouldn’t someone stay with Thistle?  Don’t want to leave anyone alone, right?  I’ll just… I’ll stay here.”

Orrig narrows his eyes.  “You not leave shop or get in trouble?”

“What?  Orrig!  Of course not!  Why-”

“Okay, den.  Remember: best behavior.”  Orrig turns to leave, only to find his path blocked by the three at the door.  “Hrm.”

“Aaah, sorry,” Iva says.  “I think we were about to do the same thing as you.  Just a moment, and we’ll be out of your way.”  She looks past Orrig to catch Embera’s eye.  “Hey, Indri and I have finished looking through the shops around here, but we saw one down the street we want to look into, and I saw a weapon shop that advertised sparring spaces, too.  We’ll go check those out and then meet you back here.  I figure we’ll probably be done before you want to be.”

“Oooh!” Lyra pokes her head in the door.  “Did you say a weapon shop with sparring?  But… you were heading in the direction we just came from!  HOW DID I MISS THAT?  I wanna go!  Orrig, can we?  Hey!  Can you guys take us with you to show us where it is?”  

“Lyra, qviet.  Do not be interrupting.”

Lyra huffs but pulls her head back out of the doorway.

Once comfortable that she can speak without cutting anyone off, Embera answers Iva, “If you and Indri don’t mind, that would be great.  I’d love to stay here longer, and I don’t mind waiting for you guys to get back.  Koe?”

“I am perfectly happy staying here.”

“Okay, sounds good.  We’ll meet you back here in a little while.”  With that, Iva turns toward the door, Indri follows suit, and they both step outside.  Orrig follows a few steps behind them.

Lyra wastes no time in stepping forward.  “Name’s Lyra.  So, can you show us where this sparring shop is?  I mean, I’m happy enough to escape looking at books for the rest of the day, but sparring in a weapon shop?  Now that sounds awesome!

“It’s just down-” Iva begins, but Indri cuts her off.

“We’re going that way, anyway; we might as well show them.”  Indri falls into step with Lyra.  “I’m Indri, by the way, and this is Iva.”  She waits until they’re a few steps away from the bookshop before adding conspiratorially, “So, since you all seem to know each other, I assume you can answer this: Muscles back there – just how big a crush does he have on Hood Girl?”

“What?  Brent and Thistle?  Ha, you have no idea!  It’s ridiculous.  I mean, you should’ve seen what I got him to do once just to get an ice cream bar to give to her!  But hey, same deal with Bean Pole and your brunette friend in there?”

“Their names are Koe and Embera,” Iva interjects stiffly.

“Aah, right, okay.  So?”

“Weeeeeell…” Indri takes over again, “We’d actually never met him before we got here.  Embera seemed to know him, though – said something about him saving her life and nursing her back to health and stuff, so….”  Indri shrugs significantly.

While Indri and Lyra chat, Iva looks up at Orrig.  “So, I guess you decided it was okay to come along with us.”

Orrig nods.  “Vould have been best to keep team together.  But vill be fine.”

“Yeah.  As soon as Embera saw books, that was the end of wandering around for her.  She and Koe have been too busy trying to figure this place out to really look at anything, anyway.  Indri and I kept looking back to see them yards behind us.  Probably for the best to just leave them in one place and meet up with them again.  I think we’re actually less likely to lose them that way than if we were trying to stay ‘together.’”

“Hrmph.  Vas same vit Thistle, puzzling over vhere ve are.  She vas in front, so easier to keep track.  But then she saw sign for books and ran off.”

“So, hey,” Lyra calls back to Iva in an apparent pause of her conversation with Indri, “what sparring are you gonna do at the shop?”

“Depends on how they have things set up, I suppose.  I’ve been learning sword-fighting, but what I’d really love would be to get a fencing foil in my hand again…” Iva frowns hard at the pavement for a moment.

“Aah, hm,” Lyra replies.  “It’s archery and a bit of hand-to-hand stuff for me.  Don’t suppose either of you know any martial arts…”

… … … … …

“Well,” sighs the old shopkeeper once the group at the door has left, “I’ll admit I wasn’t sure quite what I was going to do for a minute there – it’s not every day my poor little shop sees that kind of crowd.  Not that I mind, of course, not that I mind.  It’s just that it would have been such a tight fit, and it can be hard to work out arrangements for so many different kinds of books.  Aaah!  Speaking of which…” she turns to Embera and Koe, “you two can be thinking of what kinds of books you’re looking for, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to give this young lady a little bit longer to browse her selection, since I’m going to have to put them away to get yours out.  And the same goes for you, young man,” the shopkeeper looks to Brent, “though it didn’t sound as though you came here looking for books.  Still, if you think of any topics you’d have an interest in, I’d be happy to bring out what books I have on that for you, so long as you can wait.  Are all of you okay with that?”

“Sure.  I mean, I’m sure while we wait we can find something interesting in the books you already have out,” Embera smiles.

“Actually,” Koe adds, “maybe you can just answer what we came to find out.”

“Well now, well now, I can try, to be sure.  What is it you wanted to know?”

“We’ve been trying to figure out what this place is, and where it is.  We’ve heard the name of the market, but beyond that, we’ve been puzzled to figure it all out.”  As Koe speaks, Thistle actually looks up from the back of the book she’s been browsing, allowing it to drift slowly down to the pile she’s already gathered in her arms.

The old woman nods knowingly.  “Aaah.  Yes, yes, inquisitive ones, indeed.  I might’ve known, I might’ve known.  Well, let’s see what I can tell you.

“As you might’ve guessed from what I said earlier – or figured out for yourself, perhaps – the Bazaar is a connecting place.  Different worlds, or universes, or whatever you want to call them – it’s a meeting point between all of them.  So there you have the name.  It’s not really, properly a world.  You’ll have arrived through a passage up on one of the mountainsides, so you saw on your way in how those mountains run all the way around the Bazaar.  But those are the end of the place; there’s nothing beyond them.  I’ve lived here nigh as long as I can remember, and that’s long enough and then some: I’ve never heard of anyone getting even as far as their highest peaks.  But there are, of course, all the doors and windows to the Elsewheres up there.  At any rate, that’s all I know about the what and the where.  Does that help at all?”

Thistle listens intently, eyebrows lowered as she considers the information.  Koe, too, seems to be thinking through the old woman’s description.  Embera’s eyes widen, however, and a wavering spark of hope leaps up in them.  “So… so if this is a between-place… and there are connections to lots of different worlds…” she ventures tentatively, “is it possible to go exploring between them from here?  And… have you… have you ever had anyone here from a place called Earth?”

“Aaah, dearie,” the shopkeeper’s voice softens, “You’re a Displaced One, aren’t you?  I mean, you got here from a world that wasn’t yours.  I know the look – I’ve heard like stories often enough over the years, and not a few have asked like questions with a like hope.  But I’m afraid I can’t tell you what you want to hear.  This place just doesn’t seem to work that way.  I’ve sometimes had Visitors come back, you see – they can end up here more than once.  But not a one of them have ever left here without returning to the place they started from.  Doesn’t matter which door they come in through nor what window they use to leave; it’s always the same.  And often as not, they don’t even remember being here until their next visit, though those that forgot when they got back to their own place said they did feel rested or refreshed beyond what they could explain.  But anyway… anyway.  Most I’ve been able to make of it is this: this place is not enough of a world to properly change someone.  Or at least not much, not much at all.  They’ll always return to their own place in, to all appearances, the same condition they were when they got here.  And most to your point, it seems that travel to anywhere but where they started is more of a change than the place can manage.”

“Oh,” Embera replies quietly, unable to keep the disappointment from her voice.  “Well… okay, then.”

“Aw, dearie.  I know I’m breaking your heart, and it breaks my own to do so.  I mean it truly.  The place still means well by you, if you take my meaning.  It can’t do what you hope, but I think you’ll not regret your stay.”

Embera looks, if puzzled, still a little bit settled by the remark.

Brent, however, frowns.  “What’s this about a place ‘meaning’?” he cuts in.  “That doesn’t make any sense, and I’m not sure I like the sound of it…”

“Oh dear.  I’d meant that to ease worries, not create them.  Then again, I suppose Visitors do often find the turn of phrase strange.  How to explain, how to explain?  It’s… perhaps it’s something you can feel.  Somehow, it seems that most Visitors can.  Think what it was like when you first came through from your Elsewhere.  You crossed a line and couldn’t go back… but did you panic?  Were you afraid at all?  Any of you?”  The old woman looks around at the four.

“I felt intensely curious…” Koe muses.

“It was… actually kind of exciting.  New magic, a new place… almost a mystery to figure out,” Thistle adds.

“Yeah,” Embera nods.  “I… I was just really interested to explore.  And from up there, this Bazaar looked absolutely fascinating.”

Brent crosses his arms and looks a little aside.  “Well, of course I wasn’t scared.”

The woman chuckles.  “Well, it works a little differently with everyone.  But the point is, this place can’t harm its Visitors – after all, harm is a kind of change – and they tend to have a way of feeling that.  I’d like to think they usually leave at least a little better off, even if it can’t be by much.  But still, in a way, Visitors are quite protected here.  And usually, even if they don’t know that, they feel a certain sense of security as a result.

“But now that I’ve talked all your ears off, it’s high time I left you lot to actually browse the books.”  She then looks back to Embera, who’s still looking melancholy.  “And dearie, I know there’s naught to say that will quite draw the sting.  I hope you find your right place, and soon.  But in the meantime, do try to enjoy yourself here; it’ll do you good.

“Now, I’ve some things I need to tend in the back, but I’ll be out to check on you all again shortly.”  As she speaks, the old lady picks up the book she’d been reading when Thistle entered and ducks out through the small back door, leaving her four remaining guests alone.

Embera and Koe both turn their attention to browsing the shelves.  Embera begins muttering titles every once in a while as she reads: “Magical Plants of Chorodryn, Alchemical Properties of Plants Common and Rare… oooh! Magic For Your Garden.”  She pulls out the last volume and starts skimming through it.

Thistle, meanwhile, quickly seats herself on the floor with a whole pile of books and begins skimming through them with avid interest.  After a few moments of bored and awkward browsing, Brent grabs a couple of books at random, then sits near Thistle.  He opens one of them and starts occasionally turning pages… at least until Thistle runs across an illustration that’s simply too amazing not to share.

“Oooh!  Ooh, Brent, look at this!” Thistle taps at Brent’s arm, then turns to hold the book where he can see it.  “Look how incredible this is…” she launches into an explanation of the pictured plant, its various uses, and its features of interest.  As she speaks, Brent quickly discovers that her book is infinitely more interesting than the ones he’d found.  He sets his books aside and scoots a little closer to her… so he can see the book over her shoulder, of course.

Koe, meanwhile, wanders most of the little shop, studying the titles, before finally commenting to Embera, “So, plants seem to be the topic of the current book selection.”

Thistle, who happens to be in the process of setting aside Plants for the Budding Mage to Grow, overhears and nods in response to Koe’s comment.  “Kind of, yeah.  When the shopkeeper asked what books I’d like, I asked if she had any on plants or on magic.  She had too many, so she just brought out the ones about both plants and magic.  Can you believe how many she has?”  She reaches over for another book, this time grabbing one called Plant Hybrids: Natural and Magical.

“Oh, so that’s why there are so many plant books,” Embera glances up from the work she’s currently skimming.  “You like plants, then?”

“Yeah, that’s my magic.  I mean, it’s not the only thing I can do, of course, but it’s my specialty: I grow flowers.  And, you know, I like them generally, too.  I mean, who doesn’t, right?”

“Really?  You have magic that can grow plants?  That sounds amazing!  What kinds of plants can you grow?”

Thistle pauses, taking mental stock of her seeds and how she’s used them.  “Oh, well, I mean, that kind of depends.  I try to keep a pretty wide variety of seeds handy, because you never know what you’re going to need, right?  Ivy’s pretty easy, and I love morning glories, though I can’t bring myself to use them on a monster.  I could use more throwaway plants, but… I just can’t bring myself to call any of them throwaways!  They’re all so fascinating.  But yeah, um… trees.  Trees are a lot of work, but I can grow one if I need to.  I’m just really tired afterward…”

“Oh my goodness, I am so jealous!” Embera cuts in, setting her book aside completely.  “You must have an incredible garden!  I love gardening.  It’s so rewarding to see the plants grow and develop.  I’ve worked a lot with fruit trees, and of course vegetables and things.  I’m learning some magic, too – earth magic, actually.  It’s really useful for preparing the soil, and I’ve used it to build walls to protect plants from the weather.  But to actually be able to make the plants themselves grow…!”

“You mean you have a garden?  I’ve not had a chance to actually garden in… well… anyway, I still love growing my flowers.  But having a space of your own for growing food and flowers and getting to watch and enjoy it all – that must be wonderful.”

“Aaah… yeah…”  Embera’s voice trails off, and she reaches for her book again.

Oh no!  I… I hope I didn’t say anything wrong, Thistle frets, then seeing Embera go back to her reading, drops her eyes and opens her own book, as well.  I guess I’ll… uh… just read some more, too.  She sets about browsing and pointing out the occasional picture to Brent until, maybe a chapter in, she sits bolt upright.  “Oooh!  Ooh, isn’t that gorgeous?” she holds up a two-page spread of a tree in multi-colored bloom just long enough for Brent to get a glance before looking back toward Embera.  “Oh, hey!  Um… you!  You said you’d worked with fruit trees?  You have to see this!

“Huh, what’s that?”  Embera sets her book aside again and shifts to stand so she can go see what Thistle is talking about.  Thistle also gets up to meet her.

“Okay, so it’s a book about hybrids,” Thistle explains as she gets up.  “So far it’s mostly been about terminology – hybrid, graft, chimera…. differences and similarities between the natural and magical forms of them – that sort of thing.  So it was giving examples of natural grafts, and that’s how it comes to this picture.”  Thistle holds out the book before Embera has quite reached her side.  “Look at it!  Just look at it!  I guess it’s called The Tree of 40 Fruit.  It says it’s got over 40 different kinds of fruits and nuts grafted onto one tree!  Can you imagine it?  And they didn’t use any magic to do it at all!”

“Wait, The Tree of 40 Fruit?  I know about that!  Or something called that, at least.  If it’s what I’m thinking–” Embera reaches the book and looks at the picture.  “Yes!  Yes, that’s it.  So The Tree of 40 Fruit…”  Koe, now curious, makes his way over toward the two, taking up a position behind Embera to look over her shoulder.

From his seat on the floor, Brent watches the three hover over the book, then looks away with a frown.  Of course, why shouldn’t Thistle want to share something interesting with another plant- and book-lover?  It only makes sense – she always wants to share things she finds interesting.  And now she’s got someone to share with who actually knows what she’s talking about.  Not like… not like me.  Frown deepening to a scowl, he reaches to pick up one of the books he’d abandoned.  He opens it, but stares blankly at the page for a few minutes before glancing back up at Thistle.  Though she’s not talking, her eyes sparkle with excitement, and the shape of her smile almost glows through the fabric covering her face.  Wish I were smart so I could talk with her like that, too.

“And it actually isn’t just one tree,” Embera continues.  “It’s the name of a project by an artist named Sam Van Aken.  He grew up on a farm, and he started grafting plants together as… kind of a living sculpture?  He was doing a whole series of these trees.  I don’t know that any of them are that big yet; that picture is kind of an artist’s illustration of what they could end up looking like.  I ran across… actually, I think this exact picture when I was researching grafting for some work my… my mom and I were doing… for the community garden.”

The waver in Embera’s tone lasts only a moment, but Koe notes it.  He doesn’t have to see her face to know the stiffly-held chin, tight-pursed lips and welling but restrained tears he’ll find there… yet he does look, and his heart aches.  Oh, Embera, why?  Why must you hold your griefs to yourself?  I can’t bear to see you carrying them alone.  He’d often thought one of the most terrible parts of walking through her past in the vision was being unable to interact, to offer comfort or aid.  But now… now, in the same time, able to speak and be heard, act and impact, he discovers a new kind of helplessness.  Because he knows that here and now – in front of strangers, no matter how friendly – it’s simply not the time.  He can speak… and yet, he cannot.  But I can still do something.  He reaches out a hand and rests it on Embera’s shoulder.  You’re not alone, Embera.  I know I can’t undo your pain, but I’m here.  I wish I could do more.  Though… I know that what you really want most… would take you away forever.

Embera had thought she’d managed to fight down the wave of sorrow before anyone noticed.  She’d reverted to reciting the grafting methods they’d used and the strains of trees they were working with and why they’d chosen them – words that would come on autopilot, while she fought to regain control.  But the touch of Koe’s hand and the sad concern on his face when she looks back at him tell her she failed.  Embera’s voice catches again, and she falters… but the hooded stranger – had her friends called her Thistle? – jumps into the gap with an account of some of the magical grafting techniques in the book she’s still holding, and speculations about various combinations of grafting methods.  Embera thinks she could almost hug the woman in gratitude.  I’m trying; I really am.  I’m enjoying this!  It’s just…  Just that she can’t let herself think about how much talking like this reminds her of talking with her mother.  Or with Meia.  She can’t let herself think about how they’re both lost.  Can’t let herself think…  Stop!  Enough.  This is a fun time; you’re not going to ruin it.  You’re not going to lose this, too.  And you’re not going to be any more of a burden.  Just… enjoy the conversation.  You can do that.  She fights a cheery smile onto her face, making sure to look back up at Koe.  Don’t worry.  I’m okay, really.  See?  I can be strong…  Then she turns to Thistle again, grabbing up the thread of one of her ideas and diving desperately into speculations of her own.

Thistle listens to Embera’s theorizing with avid attention, fascinated by the potentials of some of her points.  As the girl had described developing the community garden with her mother and the grafting work they’d done together, Thistle did feel a longing pang at the outlines of a relationship she’d never known.  What would it have been like to have such a mother?  But then the wavering pain at the end of the description had also not been lost on Thistle, and when the girl faltered, she’d tried to take up the burden of conversation for a bit.  Still, despite the young woman’s renewed stream of ideas, Thistle can’t help wondering if she should’ve asked what was wrong, instead.  Like it’s any of your business.  No one appreciates prying.  You, of all people, should know that.  Or perhaps you’d like her to ask why you hide your face?  Thistle frowns a bit.  It’s not that she wanted to pry.  It’s just… the girl was so clearly hurting.  Surely there’s nothing wrong with wishing she could help.  Oh, help.  Right.  You, help.  You can try, perhaps.  You’ll end up making a blunder of it, of course.  Just like you do with everything else.  Better just to stay out of it and mind your own business, if you’re capable of doing anything so sensible.  I’m trying to watch out for you, you know.  But do you ever trust me?  Do you ever listen?

Thistle tears her thoughts away and forces herself to re-focus on what Embera’s saying.  It’s something about wondering how wide a species gap one could graft across with the aid of magic.  It’s a fascinating question.  She starts picturing various plants, trying to imagine what would be the most interesting, the most unlikely, and the most useful combinations.  Mind racing through ideas, her gaze drifts absently aside… to where it falls on Brent, still sitting dejectedly on the floor.  But… but why is he still sitting down there?  Why hasn’t he joined the conversation, too?  I can’t possibly imagine.  Blunderer.  It’s not like you abandoned him or anything.  And when he deliberately stayed behind so you wouldn’t have to be alone, too.  I’d almost think him foolish enough to harbor feelings for you.  But then again, they would be doomed, wouldn’t they?  Because eventually he’d see you and learn what you really are.  Oh, but don’t worry: I’m sure you’ll be spared that.  After all, it’s most likely nothing more than curiosity.  It’s not like there’s anything about you that someone could really care about….

“Ah!  But I’m babbling again, aren’t I?  Sorry!” Embera blushes.

“What?”  It takes Thistle just a moment to shove the stream of mental disparagements into the background in order to answer, “No!  I love your ideas!  And you know so much about grafting.  It’s fascinating!  I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop brainstorming combinations for the rest of the day.  I wish we could try some of these to see how they’d work.  Hey, Brent!  Brent, what plants do you think would make interesting combinations?  Come on – come over here and join us.”

Not even making a pretense of reading anymore, Brent sits looking away from the party around the book and scowling.  At Thistle’s invitation, he looks back over, trying to dismiss the scowl, though he’s not entirely successful.  “Huh?  Uhhh… no thanks.  You know a lot more plants than me, anyway.  You’ll come up with better ones.  I’ll-”

“No, no, come on!” Thistle crosses to where he’s sitting and starts trying, albeit futilely, to tug him to his feet.  “I never meant to leave you back here; I was just excited.  Come on over and join us!”  Finally he gives way, though when he does he has to catch Thistle to keep her from falling backward.  Thistle hauls him over to Embera and Koe, where she takes the book back.  Brent doesn’t really say anything, but he does look a little happier.  

Embera waits for Thistle to return before saying, “I wish we could try some of this out, too.  And I’d love to see how you use your magic to grow things!  But you’re right: we don’t have anything to plant or anywhere to plant it, so… I guess it’s not possible.”

“Well, now, I don’t know about that.”  The group around the book gives a little bit of a start at the voice of the shopkeeper, who they’d almost forgotten, coming from just beyond the doorway.  A moment later, the woman follows her voice, lugging a book along with her that’s much larger than the one with which she left.  “I figured it was about time to ask what books you two patient ones there would like to see, but it sounds like you might have something else you could use some help with first?”

“Oh!  Well, I don’t know.  We’d been talking about this book,” Embera motions toward the book Thistle’s holding, and Thistle holds it up for the shopkeeper to see, “and we were trying to think of different ways to use the techniques and what plants could be combined.  And Thistle mentioned that her main area of magic is growing plants, which I would love to see, and I know earth magic and a lot about gardening, and so I was wishing we had somewhere we could do some experimenting.  Do you know of a place where we could do something like that?”

“Well, now, as a matter of fact,” the woman bends down to shuffle through some apparent shelves underneath her counter, “I’ve a task I’ve been needing done for a fair bit now,” she stands again and lifts the lid of a small box, which proves to contain a variety of seeds and tubers, rhizomes and bulbs, “and it might be just the thing to help you and me both out, if you take an interest.”

“Oooh!”  Thistle steps forward to look into the box.  “Hmm.  I recognize a few of these.  A lot of them I can’t tell one from another, but I’ll bet there are a bunch of different kinds.  And some of them – ooh, wow, like that one – that’s a strange one…”

Embera joins Thistle in studying the contents of the box.  “Which one?  Oh, that one?  Yeah, you’re right…”

The shopkeeper watches the two in amusement.  “Well, now, that does look like taking an interest to me, so I’ll go ahead and tell you the task: I’ve rights to a very small portion of the ground outside my door, but I’ve not done anything with it, and my shop is a mite plain.  I would love to get some of these growing out there.  But I’ve only a very small space, mind.  And the soil needs a fair bit of working – hard as a rock, right now.  So if you girls wanted to take these and get them planted – or spliced together or combined or I don’t know what – well, as long as I ended up with a pretty display out there by my front wall, you’d have done me quite the service.

“And on another note, by-the-by, I ought to tell you that here at the Bazaar, things work a bit differently than most Visitors expect.  We don’t properly sell things – not on a permanent basis – and we can’t take any kind of coin for trade.  It’s got to do with what I was saying about this place not being able to change Visitors: apparently a change in possessions counts as, well, change.  So when they cross back to their own place, something about the magic of the crossing returns anything they bought here to the seller’s shop, and any money they paid for it returns to the pouch or pocket it came from.  We could be a fair bit worse off, but it’s still all a bit inconvenient, you can imagine, for a place of trade.

“But we’re a creative lot in the end, and we’ve managed a way around it.  You see, we’ve found that the two things a Visitor can leave behind are their knowledge and the results of their work.  And while they can’t take anything from here with them, they can enjoy it while they’re here.  And so those are the things we exchange in a Trade.  Now, in this case, the Trade I’d like to offer you is that you take on the task of planting my garden, and in return I’ll offer each of you the choice of as many books as will fit in one of these satchels,” she pulls a decently-sized brown shoulder bag out from under the counter, “to borrow until the time you return to your own worlds.  And remember, there’ll be no need to return them to me; they’ll come back again when you go.  And as for you, sir,” the woman looks at Koe, “though you don’t seem to me so much interested in gardening, you strike me as a scholar.  You’d be welcome to write in my book here on a topic of your choice in exchange for the same.  And,” the shopkeeper shifts her attention to Brent, “though I’d venture a guess that you’re a student of a more active trade, I still value tales of adventures and the like.  If you find any books you wish for the loan of, you’d also be welcome to write in my book, unless you were minded to think of some task to do instead.

“So, what say you all?  Do the Trades sound fair?”

“Oooh!  Yes!” Embera cries, then catches herself and whirls to Thistle, “Oh, but I can only prepare the soil.  We’ll need you to do the growing.  But I’d love to see what you can do!  Please?”

The grin that shows even through Thistle’s face covering says Embera need hardly have pleaded.  “Of course!  This is going to be so much fun!

… … … … …

“I think it could use a little something more here,” Embera points to a sweep of bare vine and looks at Thistle.  “What do we have left?”

Thistle pokes through the shopkeeper’s box, which Brent is holding with mostly genuine patience.  Then she turns to study the shop front as a whole.  A raised border of shaped stone encloses the narrow bed Embera’s established at the base of the shop’s front wall.  Just over the top of this, ferny and variegated leaves intermingle with the nodding arcs of coral bells, lilies of the valley, and a delicate mist of baby’s breath.  Straight, iris-like stalks rise out of this cover, each bearing not only an array of brilliantly-colored irises, but also a variety of coordinating tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil blossoms.  Behind and above these, another set of stalks sway with the weight of dahlias, lilies, and ranunculus.  And against the wall itself, an intricately-braided lace of vines climbs up and outward into a fan of draping wisteria clusters interspersed with a star-speckle of white jasmine and dogwood blossoms and the occasional burst of brilliance in a clump of clematis or roses.  Still, it does appear that somehow, amidst the masses of blooms, one arcing, woody stem remains bare aside from a few small, curling wooden tendrils.

“Huh.  How did we miss that?”  Thistle steps closer to look at the vine up close, then returns to look into the box again.

“Well, we didn’t miss it completely; we can still fill it in,” Embera points out with a grin.

Thistle lifts and examines first one seed from the box and then another, but she puts them both back.  “I’m down to the ones I don’t even recognize.  It’s hard to say whether they’ll work there or not…”

“What does it matter?  Do a solo rather than a spreading implanting here, and we’ll find three or five other spots to do the same.  They’ll be focal points.  And if one of them doesn’t work, we can just cut it off and add it to the bouquet,” Embera motions toward a flower-mounded vase that Koe seems to have received charge over.

“Mmm… maybe.  It is a bit too much of a blank spot, or I’d suggest leaving it alone for contrast.”

“Yeah… hm.  Well, you could always work right here,” Embera points to a spot near the base of the empty length of wood, but still several inches away from the nearest greenery and bloom.  “It would leave most of the branch empty, but it would still reduce and balance out the blank spot.  And… OOH!”

“Oh, what?”  Thistle waits eagerly to hear what she’s come to recognize as a new brainstorm.

“Try for a triple seed merge!  Maybe you’ll end up with something really unique to draw attention there.”

“What?  A TRIPLE?  I’ve failed most of the double merges, and of the ones that even grew, we’ve only been able to use a couple.  You think I’ll manage a triple?”

“Hey!  What is it we’ve been saying?”  Embera gives Thistle a prompting look, and the two begin reciting together, “It’s not failure; it’s refining the list of options.”  Embera’s voice drops a bit.  “My mom always used to say that.”  The words slip out like quiet fugitives, and Embera looks down guiltily, berating herself for letting them escape.

Koe gives a concerned frown.  “Embera….”

“No, it’s alright, Koe,” Embera forces a smile.  “It’s good for me to think about her, right?”

Thistle looks away for a moment, debating, then steels herself and forges ahead.  “I… I envy you a little bit.  I mean, you seem to have had such a wonderful relationship with your mother.  She taught you so many valuable things.  I… well.”  Thistle breaks off, hesitating.  Brent, who’s been staring uncomfortably into the seed box but listening with intent curiosity, studies her surreptitiously.  He can find neither words nor the nerve to say them, however, before the moment passes and Thistle looks back to Embera, forging ahead again.  “If you’re stuck a world away from her like the shopkeeper thought, it’s no wonder you miss her so terribly.  I hope you’re able to return home to her someday.”

Embera’s smile wavers, though she tries to hold on to it, and a tear escapes down her cheek.  “I… thank you.  I hope… I hope so, too.”  With the last words, her voice breaks.  Thistle hesitates for just a split second, then steps forward impulsively and embraces her.  Finally overcome, Embera buries her face in Thistle’s shoulder and allows herself to weep, quietly but freely.

Koe steps closer and places a hand on Embera’s shoulder, but he says nothing, allowing her her tears.

After a few minutes, Embera quiets and then steps away.  Thistle releases her and also steps back, her own eyes betraying tears as well.

“Thank you,” Embera says quietly.  “I… I think I needed that.  My friends… my friends are wonderful.  But after a while… I hate being such a burden to them.”

“Never,” Koe cuts in now, quietly but almost fiercely.  “You’ve never been a burden – not to me, and not to Iva or Indri, either.  I’ve seen you all; I know.”

Embera half-smiles at Koe.  “Thank you.”  She looks back to Thistle.  “And… and again, thank you.  For seeing and understanding.”

“Of course,” Thistle’s own voice quavers a little bit, and she adds just barely audibly, “I’m just glad it actually helped.  I was kinda afraid I’d… said something wrong and just made it worse for you or something.  Seems like… that’s about all I can usually manage, even if I only want to help.”

“What kind of crud-pile is that?” Brent harumphs loudly.  “Thistle, you do nothing but help people, and you’re good at it, too.  How can you not see that?  I-” he breaks off, suddenly self-conscious.  He looks away and down at the ground.  “-‘M tired of holding this stupid box,” he grumps instead of continuing.  “You gonna to do anything more with these seeds?”

“Thanks, Brent,” The shadow of a small smile shows through Thistle’s face coverings..  Then, after a moment’s reflection, the smile widens, and determination glints into her eyes.  “And of course we still need the seeds: we have a triple merge to do!”  She pokes through the box for just a second before looking up to Brent.  “Wait!  I’ve got an idea: you pick out three for me to use!”

“What, me?  Noooo, no, no, no.  You’re the one who knows plants.  I’m just the box-holder.”

“C’mon, you can even close your eyes if you want!  I just don’t want to agonize over picking through when I don’t know one from the other, anyway.  Hand me three, and I’ll work with those.  Please?”

Brent shifts his weight to his other foot.  “Alright, fine.  Umm…” he pokes through the seeds, picking up three at random.  Thistle holds out her hand, and he places them in her palm.  “Three seeds.  There you go.”

Thistle’s smile stretches the sides of her face covering.  “Thank you!”  She then turns back to Embera.  “I had an idea.  Prep me just a little bit more soil.  I think it may just be too complicated merging, sprouting, and grafting in all at once.  I want to try doing the merge and starting the plant in the ground.  Then we can join it to the rest of the plant using the natural-graft acceleration technique the book talks about.  What do you think?”

Embera considers the plan.  “In some ways, the magical techniques are less invasive – no cuts or wounds, or at least none that are exposed for any length of time.  But I can see what you mean about the complexity of doing it all at once.  If you think it might work better this way, let’s give it a try.”  Embera motions at the ground, and a small portion of soil churns up at her feet.  A few more pulls and pushes at the soil, and it appears broken up, soft, and ready to use.

With the planting spot ready, Thistle cups the seeds in her hands, concentrating her magic into a miniature sun around the three seeds and, just when it looks about to burst, hurtling them like a meteorite into the ground.  A clump of strange, curly, wispy leaves with occasional white, feathery fronds bursts from the ground.  Three, then five, then six, and then seven stems follow, quickly forming buds that swell and burst, unfurling into a triple-layered cone of almost glowing blue, with long carmine stamens curling out from the center to swoop over one edge and a multi-pointed tail like that of a columbine sweeping back from the base.

“Wow, that turned out perfectly!”  Embera kneels to examine the plant.  “I almost hate to do anything more to it.”

“No, no!  It’s a test, remember?  We have to see it through now!”

“Okay.  Well…”  Embera looks from the new plant to the intended destination on the vine, then cuts a slit in the vine with a knife the shopkeeper had loaned them for the project.  She kneels back down and hunts around the plant for the best place to cut.  “At least have to save the foliage, too.  It’s as good as the flowers,” she mutters, finally choosing a place just above the soil line.  “Well, here goes,” she makes the cut, trims the other side so the stem forms a “v,” and wedges this base into the slit in the vine.  “Ready.  You’re up,” she nods to Thistle, continuing to hold the plant in place.  Thistle places her own hands around the slit at the base of the plant, once again focusing a brilliant ball of light onto the spot.  She holds it for a few seconds, then releases it, stepping back to examine the result.  Embera lets go as well and studies the new junction critically.  “Looks like it took.  Actually, it looks really good.”  She nods her approval, and a wide grin sweeps across her face.  “Let’s do some more!”

… … … … …

“Augh!  It looks perfect – you’re done!” Brent groans, actually pulling the nearly empty box of seeds away from Thistle’s examination.

“But… but there are still a few more in there…” Thistle protests, reaching futilely for the box.

“It’s perfect – you’re done.”  Iva echoes emphatically, strolling up to the group and stopping just far enough back to survey the newly-adorned shopfront.  Indri, Lyra, and Orrig follow close behind.

Lyra crosses her arms.  “So, what’d the building do to deserve the plant attack?”  At Thistle’s slightly crestfallen posture and Brent’s more than slight glare, Lyra rolls her eyes.  “Pfft, lighten up, you two.”  After a beat, she adds, “Looks nice.  Satisfied?”

“Nice?  It’s beautiful!Indri steps closer, giving the display a critical examination from top to bottom.  “You did the stonework around the base, didn’t you, Embera?  You’re getting so good at that!  And the rest of this – wow!  I know I don’t know plants as well as you do, but how is all this even real?”  She reaches up to finger some of the leaves, as though to test whether the growth might be fake, after all.

“Thanks, Indri.  Yeah, I created the border and prepared the soil.  Thistle did most of the work from there, though.  Her magic can actually make plants grow!  Isn’t that amazing?”

“I did not do most of the work!” Thistle protests.  “You were helping me pick plants and figure out how make the best combinations and all sorts of things every step of the way.”

“Well, okay, we worked together.”

“And you did an excellent job,” Iva affirms.  “Did you do it for a Trade?”

“Yeah, we did,” Embera nods.  “How’d you know?”

“Oh, we learned all about Trades back in the sparring shop,” Indri supplies.  “Besides, you wouldn’t just leave graffiti on a wall, even if it was living flower graffiti.”

“It’s time to go now, though,” Iva adds.  “Where’s Koe?”

“Go?  But we can’t go!”  Embera protests.  “Koe is probably still writing in the shopkeeper’s book for his Trade.”

“And we haven’t gotten to choose the books for our own Trade yet,” Thistle adds.

“Did my old ears hear something about the two of you being done out here?”  The shopkeeper shuffles up to the doorway.  “Well, I’d like to see what you’ve managed, and then I’ve got your bags all ready to fill…” the woman steps out the door and trails off when she sees the mass of growth that now dominates her wall.  “Well my, oh my,” the little shopkeeper manages after a moment of staring.  “Why, it’s incredible.  I never imagined… never imagined.  You girls have more than earned your Trades, and that’s a fact.”

“And you Traded for the right to borrow books?” Iva asks.

“Why yes.  They each get to fill one of these,” the shopkeeper holds up the two satchels.

“They have to pick out enough books to fill those?” Lyra cries impatiently.  “That’s going to take FOREVER!”  Orrig places a hand on Lyra’s shoulder to settle her.  She shakes it off and spins to face him, “Well, it is!”

“But… I mean, what’s the hurry, anyway?” Embera asks hesitantly, directing the question toward Iva and Indri.  “Is there somewhere you’re in such a rush to get to?”

“Yes!”  Indri jumps in enthusiastically.  “We found a fancy dress shop that’ll let us get all dressed up and wear the outfit around in exchange for us leaving our current clothes there so they can study them for pattern ideas.  They have the most amazing gowns!  I already know which one I want to wear… though, of course, I’ll probably try on several others, first.”

Thistle’s eyes light up for just an instant, but almost immediately she looks away and mumbles, “I’ll… just stay here at the bookshop.  Lots of reading to do here.”

“But-” Embera studies Thistle in concern.  “Well, I’ll stay with you, then.  We can both read and talk about the books as we go.”

“Oh, no you don’t!  You have to come!”  Indri insists.

“Augh, dress clothes?” Brent groans.  “I’d rather stay at the bookstore!

Iva crosses her arms.  “Everyone’s coming,” she states matter-of-factly.  “Thistle, Orrig mentioned the problem of your not being able to let people see you.  But you don’t have to worry about that.  They’ve got very private dressing rooms, and in terms of things to wear, they have everything you could possibly need: gloves, long undergarments, scarves, shawls, even masks.  They have all kinds of robes and armor along with their dresses.  I might be looking through the armor, myself, and Lyra’s already found a couple sets she wants to try on.”

“Darn right, I do.  They have the most killer armor I have ever seen.”

“Have traditional ceremonial orcish battle harness,” Orrig adds.  “Very rare: not often used.  Also usually don’t survive ceremony.”

“See, they’ll have something for everyone,” Iva’s tone leaves no room for argument.  “Now let’s get going.”

“But… but our books-!” Embera pleads.

“Well, now, let me think, let me think,” the shopkeeper breaks in.  “I might be able to help you there.  You girls did so much more than I’d expected… and your friend in there – I think he’s trying to fill my book.  I do believe you’ve earned something more than I’d first promised for your Trade.  Hmmm… yes.  Yes, you just wait here a moment….”  Before anyone can answer, the shopkeeper ducks back inside the shop.  She returns a few moments later with two fairly small, plain black purses.  “Now, I don’t often loan these out, mind, but I daresay you’ve earned it.  They’ll be better for you than having to carry around a lot of books, and they’ll save you the time of having to pick and choose.  They’ve got a rather special charm on them, you see: if you fix in your mind what kind of book you want, they’ll fetch whatever I have in my collection that comes closest.  You can think of a title, an author, or a topic, and when you open the bag, you’ll find your book.  Now, you can have it fetch you up to five books at a time, but after that it won’t be able to get another until you’ve put one back.  And I’ve offered one to your tall friend inside, too – he wrote enough in my book to deserve it, and if he hadn’t, I think you girls would still have made up the difference.  So there you are – do you consider our Trade fulfilled?”

“Why- wow.  Thank you!”  Thistle takes the bag the shopkeeper holds out to her and examines it curiously.

Embera takes the other.  “Yes, thank you so much!  This will be great!”

“Excellent!” Indri cries.  “Now let’s get going!”

“Oh, hey, let me go get Koe.”  Embera darts inside and returns a moment later leading a rather hesitant Koe.

“A-are you s-s-sure?  I wa- wasn’t – wasn’t quite d-d-done…”  He looks back into the shop fretfully.

“Awww!  But I do think it’ll be fun.  And even if it’s not, we’ll still have as many books as we could want to read while we’re there.”

At the prospect of still being able to read, Koe looks at least a little mollified.

Brent, however, stares from one member of the group to the next in growing disgust.  “We- we’re really going to go off and play dress-up?  Orrig!  You can’t be serious!”

“C’mon, you big baby,” Lyra laughs at him.  “You heard Orrig – even he found something interesting at this place.”

“Told Lyra she could choose shop to visit.  She chose.”  Orrig adds.

Lyra’s head snaps in his direction.  “But… what?  I wanted-”

“Or could say you chose shop with sparring?” Orrig eyes Lyra pointedly.

Lyra glances around the group, then rolls her eyes.  “Ffffffine.”  She whirls to shake a finger at Brent.  “But this better be good.  Don’t you DARE ruin it.”

“But-”

“Brent,” Orrig cuts in, “that box yours?”

“No, but-”

“Do not forget to be returning it.”  Orrig turns, preparing to leave.  Brent hands the box back to the shopkeeper, grumbling none-too-quietly under his breath.  His muttering loses some of its heart, however, when he catches sight of Thistle chattering excitedly with Embera about books and plants… and dresses.

Finally formed into a loose cluster, the eight set out to thread their way down the street… together.

 

 

 

 

Trivia:

— All information about the Tree of 40 Fruit came from http://www.treeof40fruit.com/ and http://www.epicurious.com/archive/chefsexperts/interviews/sam-van-aken-interview .

— At the time of writing, I’d also recently read Namesake for the first time.  I believe the original idea for the Bazaar was in some ways rooted in that story’s Goblin Market.  However, I kind of like to think of the Bazaar and the Goblin Market as polar opposites: the Goblin Market (at least, from the impression it’s made on me so far) promises great gain that one seeks at equally great hazard; the Bazaar offers little if any lasting benefit to its Visitors, but what negligible impact it can make is invariably good.

— By out-of-story fiat, the book the shopkeeper was reading when Thistle came in was Phantastes by George MacDonald (which book I was also reading at the time of writing).  It is one of her favorite books, and she has a plaque above her door with the following quote from it:

But it is no use trying to account for things in Fairy Land; and one who travels there soon learns to forget the very idea of doing so, and takes everything as it comes; like a child, who, being in a chronic condition of wonder, is surprised at nothing.  (Phantastes, Ch. 4)

When she gets Visitors with lots of questions who simply can’t be satisfied by her “I don’t know”s (of which there are understandably many), in the end she’ll simply point to the quote.  Thistle, Embera, and Koe certainly had the potential to reach that point, but other topics kept coming up before it became too much of a danger. (Read: Trying to fit that in would’ve added even more length to the story. :-p)

— The book Koe wrote into for his trade was not, of course, an ordinary book.  It was The Receptacle for The Encyclopedias and The Tales.  The Encyclopedias and The Tales are collections of all the information and stories the shopkeeper has received in Trade over the years, organized by topic in the case of the Encyclopedias or by similarity in the case of The Tales.  Anything written into The Receptacle automatically appears in the appropriate place in The Encyclopedias or The Tales, along with proper citation of the writer as well as their world of origin.  The Encyclopedias and The Tales expand and even materialize new volumes as needed to accommodate each addition.

 

 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *