“Last chance!” a barker yelled into the crowd, “Five for a copper!”
“Wouldn’t it three yesterday?” Alex asked, shivering as he tugged his cloak tighter around him.
“They wouldn’t desperate yesterday,” Lee said as he led them past the midway and continued onto the main street, “We ain’t got a lot of time. Let’s get in, pick something out, and get out.”
But as they approached Mrs Sambrees’s shop, Xaxac knew something was wrong. No lamps burned within, nor were any people milling about inside. The beautifully dressed mannequins had changed their outfits; gone were the cleavage displaying gowns and smart workshirts, replaced with high necklines and winter coats, but no one was inside to buy them. The place was deserted.
Lee attempted to open the door, but it would not budge.
A sign had been hung on the glass of the door from the inside, a new addition, but none of them knew what it said. Xaxac suspected it had nothing to do with muffins.
“She’s closed,” Lee said with great practicality, as if that settled the matter. “Let’s head back.”
“What?” Xac whined, “No! I won’t be able to come back! Aggie said I could get something!”
“Master Agalon don’t control merchants,” Lee said as if Xac was being particularly stupid, “She probably wanted to go to the rodeo. Probably been closed the whole time.”
“That don’t make sense,” Alex said, “Look at all the folk on the street. She’d make a fortune.”
“I don’t know about all that,” Lee said as he turned and began walking away from the building, “I don’t reckon a lot of these folks got Sakala money.” He had to pause and add, “Come on, boy,” because Xaxac had not budged.
He was staring at the sign that had been erected on the door. He felt as if it meant something, and if he could only decipher it he could get some more yarn.
“There… there was a textile art contest,” Xaxac said, “In one of the tents. Aggie had to judge a quiltin contest there. There was other booths. There was booths with yarn.”
“My orders was to take you to Sakala’s,” Lee said, “I ain’t trapsin all over Xren and creation. We gotta get back. We’re leavin.”
Xac frowned, cupped his hands over his eyes, and gazed into the empty shop.
He was almost out of yarn. He wouldn’t be able to make his father a solstice gift if he didn’t get some kind of material to work with. But the shop was undeniably closed. It didn’t even look like Mrs Sambrees was anywhere inside.
So he frowned, turned, and began to follow Lee back toward the stable where they kept the fighters.
“Sorry, Foo Foo,” Alex said and Xaxac looked at him, then let his eyes trail downward. Alex was wearing the same beautiful, knee-high boots he had worn for the entire rodeo.
As they entered the midway, Xaxac looked around at the booths that were lined up, the people shouting in an attempt to attract patrons, and the tents that lined the area. He recognized the one where Agalon had gone to judge the quilt contest. He looked up at the back of Lee’s head and took in the silver of his hair, the way he limped a little because of his bad knee, the sheer age of him.
Then Xaxac made a very bad decision.
He turned, in one motion scooped Alex up in his arms- and took off at a sprint.
Alex shrieked, then giggled, and Lee turned and screamed, “Xaxac!” but it died away almost instantly.
Because Xaxac was quick as a jackrabbit with reflexes to match. He zoomed through the crowd, dancing between the poorly dressed elves, and in a few seconds he arrived at the entrance to the tent.
He set Alex on his feet, but Alex clung to him.
“Lord, my head’s spinnin,” Alex giggled, “Do that again!”
“I lost him!” Xac giggled with him.
“Winnin that fight has destroyed you,” Alex said as he straightened out his cloak, took Xac’s hand, and pulled him into the tent, “Come on.”
Xaxac was almost certain he had been right, that the booths lined up on the far wall were merchants. Unlike the barkers outside, though, they were not shouting. The place had a homey quiet about it; many of the merchants were sewing, knitting, or crocheting, sitting calmly behind their booths as if they knew the patrons would come, as if they were uninterested in attracting anyone.
“Hey,” Xac asked as he squeezed Alex’s hand and stuck the other in his empty pocket, “Can I borrow some money?”
“If they can break it,” Alex shrugged, looked away, and admitted, “I didn’t tell Ky I had no money. I don’t reckon Bobby told him, neither. He’s… better about keepin secrets than your butler is. He woulda brought us here. We wouldn’t ‘a had to run.”
“Yeah,” Xac agreed and saw a sign that he recognized as having the same text from Sakala’s shop on one of the booths. He couldn’t understand what it said, but the symbols were all drawn in the same way, and he was fairly sure they were connected.
“There it is!” he said in his excitement and picked up the pace, tugging Alex along.
But Sakala wasn’t at the booth.
Xaxac was unfamiliar with the type of person he saw at the booth.
The man who stood there was so squat and thick that Xaxac did not think he was human, but he had a long beard that reached to his waist and hair enough to match it, all a dark brown that curled beautifully, which he had arranged pleasantly into a series of braids. He had been doing something as they approached that involved a lot of metal on metal tinking, but Xaxac thought it was the wrong rhythm for knitting, and he could not see what it was, because the man was so short the counter obscured his actions.
As they approached, the man looked up at them and smiled and a tiny sea dragon the size of a medium-sized bird with beautiful blue shimmering scales seemed to wake up from a nap it had been taking in a basket of equally blue yarn and flew to alight on the man’s shoulder.
“Welcome to Sambrees’s Fine Textiles and Supplies!” The small man boasted.
“Textile supplies!” The dragon agreed, “Textile supplies!”
“Is this Sakala’s stuff?” Xaxac asked as Alex smiled and leaned forward to stroke the dragon’s head with two fingers.
“Don’t be doin that,” The man warned, “he bites.”
“He bites!” The dragon agreed, hopped back and forth around the man’s broad shoulders, and snapped only when he was a good distance away in a manner Xaxac found more playful than serious. “Textile supplies! He bites!”
Xac huffed, and the man turned to him and did not answer his question. Instead, he spoke in a voice much too dramatic for the situation.
“I’m crazy Harry!” He declared, “Final day closeout sale! My prices are in-sane!”
“Crazy Harry!” the dragon echoed, “Insane!”
“Is Sakala here?” Xac asked.
“Nah,” the man said, “She went out with-”
But he was cut off by the dragon who spread its wings, hopped onto the counter and screamed, “Crazy Harry! Insane! He bites!”
“Oh my god, I love him,” Alex put his hands on his knees and bent to be more on the dragon’s level, “I love you. What’s your name, little feller?”
“Crazy Harry!” The dragon proclaimed, but Xaxac did not believe him.
“Stop it,” Crazy Harry demanded of the dragon and it cocked its head at him, did fall silent, but kept hopping around the counter.
“Ok, well, I still want some yarn,” Xac said, “Y’all got any angora in green?”
“Angora in green!” The dragon repeated to Harry, “Angora in green.”
“I want it,” Alex said of the dragon, “Oh my god I love it! It’s a sea dragon, Xac! There’s a bunch of these little fellers on the water continent. You can teach um to talk!” Then to the dragon he said, “Say ‘Alex’!”
“Crazy Harry!” the dragon said.
“Say ‘Alex’!” Alex demanded.
“Insane!” the dragon told him.
“Say ‘Alex’!” Alex said a bit more forcefully, and Xaxac did not share his enthusiasm. He was of the opinion that the dragon’s repetitive schtick would get really old really fast.
“Say Alex!” the dragon said and Alex shrieked in delight.
“Say ‘Bunny Foo Foo’,” Alex requested, and to Xac’s surprise, the dragon began to sing.
“Down came the fairy and the fairy said,
Little Bunny Foo Foo, I don’t wanna see you-”
“Stop that,” Crazy Harry said. During the conversation he had turned and rifled through the stock behind him, but he had since returned holding a basket of green yarn. “This what you want?”
“Yup!” Xac said, “I’ll take all of it!”
“And the dragon,” Alex said, “I love him!”
“He ain’t for sale,” Crazy Harry said, “He’s a friend a’ mine.”
“Friend of mine,” the dragon agreed and flew back to Crazy Harry’s shoulder.
“Pay the man, Alex?” Xac begged. He wanted to leave. The reality of what he had done was settling in on him, and he was afraid Lee had gone to tell Agalon that he had run away from him.
“Pay the man!” The dragon echoed and Xac glared at it.
“Xaxac!” Lee snarled, put a hand on Xac’s shoulder and spun him around, “Boy, you have lost your goddamn mind!” Xaxac saw him rear back, but did not move, because he thought he deserved the slap that Lee delivered to the side of his face.
“Fair,” he said, but apparently the dragon disagreed, because it spread its wings, flew between them, and began to scream.
“Crazy!” It screamed, batting its wings in Lee’s face, “Insane!”
Lee threw up his hands to bat it away, and Xaxac came to the realization that there were claws on its tiny feet. The dragon wore a collar around its neck inset with some sort of blue crystal, likely to designate its status as a pet, so it was by this that Xac grabbed it and threw it backward into the booth. It landed in one of the many baskets of yarn, righted itself, and hissed in a disagreeable manner.
“My god!” Lee said.
“No fighting!” Crazy Harry said as he counted out Alex’s change, “World’s rough enough as it is.”
Alex, however, seemed to hold the opinion that what he had just seen was the funniest thing that could have possibly happen to a person. He was laughing so hard he had to hold onto the counter for support.
“Yeah, well,” Lee said as he straightened his workshirt, “You oughta keep that thing on a leash.”
“That your young’un?” Crazy Harry asked.
“No,” Lee said, sounding as if he had been gravely insulted.
“Then don’t be hittin people at my booth,” the man slid a stack of coins toward Alex, turned to look at Lee, and spoke without his normal playful tone, “I’m Crazy Harry. My policies are… insane.”
“Getcha things, Xac,” Lee demanded, “We’re gone.”