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Geivin gave me some coaching, then I watched the other traders for a bit, how they used their friends to start a crowd, how they talked, how they played games with the prices, till I reckoned I’d got the hang of it. They were just ordinary Singer’s tricks they were using; it was easy. For a Singer. Which I’m not.

We had a trial run under Geivin’s watchful eye. Then I set myself up on a patch of trodden grass, with Geivin tucked in behind me to help. The other two were my starter audience.

“Secrets of the Savages!” I called – well, sort of shook. Then I told myself not to be silly; imagine you’re on a dancing floor, girl, giving a message. “Salves that cure as you’d never dreamed!” My voice steadied. “All the secrets of the savages, handed down from the Elders, from the very Elves themselves! Abscesses, infected wounds, cracks, chilblains all cured with the secrets of the savages!”

“Secrets of the savages, woman?” sneered a farmer. “Then how did you get them?”

“Disguised myself as one of them, and lived among them for a whole year, stealing all their most secret recipes,” I replied. Then I dropped the pitch of my voice. “When one tribe got suspicious, I’d sneak off to the next.” I edged my tone. “A whole year of mortal danger, and you can buy it for just a handful of rings!”

I was attracting quite a crowd, now. Then I realised: it was just like a shaman declaring her message! I can do this!

“So you just walk into one of these tribes, just like that? Just a stray woman?” someone else asked.

Horror filled my voice. “No, no! It took me a month to prepare, to dress myself up as one of their shamans, their medicine women.” I became more matter-of-fact. “They’re always trusted, and never harmed or even touched. That’s how I learned so much!” It was working! I can do this! Now, concentrate. “See, a salve that will clear up an infected wound in a week, heal it in a fortnight, even if it’s a month old!” Let the volume lift, but don’t lift pitch, girl – you mustn’t squeak! “A miracle? No, a secret of the savages, a secret of the Elves that only these ancient savages have preserved.” Pause, and lighten tone. “We’ve lost so much!” Pause, and slow and heavy again. “See, a salve that will cure mouth ulcers in three days – you can feel it stopping the pain the moment you put it on!” Shorter pause, and faster. “See, a salve for chilblains – cured in a week!” Now give it them! “Secrets of the Elves, hidden in the depths of the trackless woods, preserved by the savages!”

“They go naked, don’t they? Did you go naked, lady? Can you show us?”

OK, that threw me. Geivin whispered behind me, and I repeated it. “Sure – after you!” It wasn’t brilliant, but it raised a laugh, and it was better than anything I could think of. Now back to the script, voice natural. “No, I told you, I dressed as a medicine woman.” Drop volume but project – tell the secret. “They have special robes and trappings, with complicated ties and straps, and every detail had to be exactly right or I would have been tortured to death!” Now lift it! “See how much I’ve had to go through to get these salves back just for you! Now who’s going to buy?”

“How much for the chilblain salve?”

“Thirty – no, for you, sir, twenty-four rings. Two chains. But it’s my last few jars of chilblain salve, and you look honest; just a chain to get rid of it. A deal? There you are, sir. My man’s got my gauge so I’ll have to trust you, but I said, you look like an honest man. And for you, lady? Thank you. The abscess salve? That’s got some very rare and strange ingredients in. Seventy – no, let’s call it sixty. Five chains, sir, since you’ve no way of knowing if you can trust me or not, I’ll let you take it for so little. Four chains? Oh, no, sorry. I’m almost giving it away as it is. I might just shave three rings off, but no more. Oh, all right. Four and a half – no. I’ll prove I can be generous, fifty rings. Done. Here you are, sir.”

It was easy; just like being a shaman. I sold seven pots of salve, and made over sixteen chains – nearly two hundred rings.

“The test is next market day,” said Hawk. “Whether your customers come back for more, or try to kill you.”

I sniffed. “I need more little pots.”

“The potters are mostly over there,” Geivin pointed across the Marketplace – strange how everything involved crossing the full length of the Marketplace.

“Of course they are,” said Hawk, “Everybody knows that.”

Geivin ignored him. “But can’t we stop for some wet nellies? Pleeease?”

So we did – and he was right; they were well worth a ring or two.

We found a potter who was making little glazed pots by the basketful. We spent two chains – twenty-four rings, or two pots of chilblain salve – on a hundred of them.

“We make these ourselves back in the Longwoods,” said Hawk. “These’d be worth a couple of deerskins.”

“What are deerskins worth here?” asked Stack.

“I’ll show you,” said Geivin. But we were interrupted by a voice like a flint scratching rock.

“Pleease good sirs good lydy a link or two of your kaindness good sirs good lydy it’s not for me it’s for my byby here good lydy see he’s etten not for a daiy we be triuly hungry lydy it’s only a link or so jiust for a maouthful of food –”

Stack had turned to listen to her but Geivin pulled us away.

“Talk not to beggars!” he muttered. “Listen them not! Give them no attention! Walk away!”

“But if she just wants a bit of food for her baby,” I began

“Listen not!” An earnest hand was dragging me by the sleeve. “How d’you know she just wants it for her baby? She’s just a beggar. Listen not never ever to beggars!” and suddenly I was hearing old Peidr’s voice coming out of Geivin’s mouth.

The woman had found some new victims, but Stack was still staring at her. “You mean people give her rings just for asking?”

“Come away!” Geivin tugged at his sleeve as well. “Come away from such folk!”

Stack looked at me and we both shrugged. But we did as we were told, for the moment, and Geivin took us to see about deerskins.

It was the other side of the Marketplace – yet again. In two of the furthest stalls were two faces we recognised. They were dressed differently; when they came to us they wore skins and cloaks; but we still knew them. Travelling Folk.

There were two huge carts roofed over with wooden planks parked end to end across the end of the row; there were planks bridging the gap between them. They had six huge wheels each, and I’d say they were easily ten times the size of the tacky little two wheelers we use to carry tent poles around from camp to camp. We took cover behind them and listened.

A customer walked up.

“Any deerhides?”

“One or two. They’re getting very scarce, now.” The trader pulled a deerskin out from the pack.

“That’s one of mine!” hissed Stack. “Look, there’s the shoulder tear where my first stone smashed the bone! That was in a stack of twenty – they gave us two knives for them.”

There was a bargaining session going on, but we couldn’t catch all the details. We did hear the final deal, though.

“Nine chains four. Done.” And they struck hands.

“One hundred and eighty – one hundred and eightysix chains and eight rings! That’s – er – two thousand two hundred and forty rings! That’s what they’d’ve got for the stack!” I was stunned.

So was Stack. “And they paid us with two crappy knives, not worth a chain! Bastards!”

“But we can’t sell them here directly because Tent Folk aren’t allowed in Brothy,” mused Hawk. “Now, who d’you suppose brought that ban in?”

But I was looking elsewhere. I nudged Hawk. “Geivin’s tiring,” I murmured, “and the painkillers will be wearing off. We ought to stop soon.”

He nodded.

A couple of rings bought us a big loaf of bread. But we also needed a skin for Geivin to sleep under; and that was when things went wrong.

Hawk was checking through a pile of sheepskins, and I saw a nice one and Hawk pulled it out for me to get a better look. The woman was all smiles – and then her face changed.

“Your hands!” she exclaimed. “Your hands! You’re painted – all of you, you’re painted!”

“They’re just tattoos,” began Hawk, but she had turned on her heel.

“Savages!” she screamed. “These people are savages!” A crowd gathered instantly from nowhere. “They’re painted savages! They’ve stolen clothes like the thieves they are – and look, this bitch is stealing my sheepskin!”

I dropped it, but it was too late. The crowd was smouldering. Hawk picked up Geivin, Stack moved in front of us all, and I slipped gently to the back.

“Savages!” the woman screamed again, and this time voices repeated it: “Savages!” “Savages!” “Savages!”

Stack stepped forward, and suddenly shouted, stretching out his arms and girning a hideous face. The crowd stepped one pace back. “Run!” he shouted – but we already were.

The crowd chased us the length of the Marketplace, along the weavers’ street, and back into the far end of the Marketplace, by the Travelling Folk. A man was standing there, by one of the carts; he beckoned us across and we ran to him and into the cart as he slammed the door behind us, The space inside was amazing. Amazingly tight.

“There they go!” I heard him shout. “Look – over by the pigs! Go get them!” I heard the mob rumble past, and then it was quiet. He turned back to us.

“What the hell do you think you’re playing at!” said the man – well, I say man, but he wasn’t that much older than us. Much cleaner and smoother, though, and plumper, too. “This is precisely why we pay your chief to keep you all away from here! Can you take not orders any more?”

“Why should they?” came a woman’s voice from further in the cart. “You can never.”

Hawk appeared to have some difficulty with his voice, but give him credit, he had it under control after a few words. “We are not of the Mistwater Tribe, and I think it is the Mistwater Tribe Chief that you have an agreement with. We have spoken with the Mistwater Chief, but he told us nothing of this town or of your agreement with him.”

“Yes. Nobody tells you anything.” It was a man’s voice this time. “Just like here.”

Our host sighed. “So why are you here?”

“We were travelling eastward, and lost our way on the open land, turning too far north.”

“And you were aiming for?”

“I think our shaman could explain that better.”

I stepped forward slightly. “We had heard a tale of two Power Hills to the east,” I said, “and we were trying to find out what truth there was in the tale.”

“Now would you believe it!” came the hidden man’s voice. “A woman who speaks not till she’s told to! I’ve always said these folk were far ahead of us in some ways.”

There was the sound of an open hand connecting with something soft. Like a face.

“If you did less talking and more counting,” came the woman’s voice, “I would need not to be nagging you! You leave Deis to deal with these folk and get these damn rings checked!”

“I’ve heard the tale, of course,” said Deis – slightly desperately, I thought. “But how much truth there is in it I know not – I’ve been seeing the Sendry but once, and that far north, at Fleot, and never crossing it then.”

“Sendry? That’s the name of the big river, is it?”

“Yes. But look, the mob’ll’ve died down now. You should be able to get away easy if you’re care-” but at that moment the door was flung open.

“Hey!” a lad shouted outside. “There’s been some savages robbing some of the market stalls, and the mayor’s called them for a hundred! A hundred! Can I try for them, d’y’think? – Oh.” The lad sidled into the cart.

“Make your greeting, Teyid,” said Deis. “Our guests are folk from one of the tribes to the south.”

“Oh, sorry. Er, I’m Teyid.” Teyid held out his hand, but Deis murmured something. “Er, I mean, Teyid Retty’s son at your service.” Teyid didn’t seem quite sure who to aim his hand at. Hawk took it – just to put him out of his misery, I suspect.

“Hawk-on-high-bough son of Rope-tight-woven of the Causeway Tribe at your service,” he said. “I believe we may be the people you referred to. What exactly does ‘calling us for a hundred’ entail?”

The boy – he was no more than eleven, I guessed, lithe and much darker than Deis, but obviously related – the boy stammered a moment, but finally got some words together. “If anyone brings the mayor proof of your death, he’ll pay one hundred chains.”

“Nice idea,” muttered Stack.

“Yes, nice idea,” I echoed. “So anyone can kill a random stranger, chop the head off, and claim it’s one of us.”

Deis laughed. “I expect they would prefer a big patch of tattooed skin. But a hundred’s far too much.” He looked at Teyid. “Mam and Da are in the back cart, doing the reckoning. Go through and help.”

“Aaawww!” But he went.

Deis turned to us. “And – but look, you’ve got to get away. A hundred’s a lot, and there’s some folk in this town with a real hate of sa – er – I mean...”

“Tent Folk,” I said firmly.

“Tent Folk!” It was almost as if he were tasting the words. “Tent Folk. Nice one. OK, yes, there’s some folk who really hate Tent Folk, and the hundred’ll just turn up the heat. You ben’t safe here now. You’re going southeast – did I understand you?”

“Yes. Roughly, anyway. But you can give us better advice, surely, if you please? Would you tell us where we can cross the Sendry?”

“I said, I've come never even as far south as Glossot, not on the Sendry, but I know what is said.” He puffed his cheeks out. “Glossot’s the only bridge, but they name places further down where you might get someone to ferry you across. There's a place called Nonnot with a proper ferry to take a cart, at least in the summer.” He paused again. “Glossot’s more or less east, but there’s mountains in the way. You should go southeast to Behennot, if it's a real place and not just a story, and then northeast.”

“Why do they all end in –ot?” OK, it wasn’t important, but shamans ask questions.

“No idea. But there’s Chessot well to the south of Nonnot as well – that’s where the Aivly joins the Sendry, but you’ll cross not the Sendry there, so they say. ” He shook himself. “Look, you’ve got to get out now. You can go south –”

“No they can not – not by road. First place the rats’ll look.” The man’s voice seemed a little more distracted than before.

“OK, not south. But southeast, you’ve got to cross the river. That means north across the Town Ford, or –”

“They have no chance that way either.”

“OR – OR THE SLAPFORD. NOW I’M SAYING NOT THAT WILL have no guard,” his voice dropped back to normal pitch, “but it’s narrow, so you’ll be able to spot an ambush.”

“So how do we get that far safely?” Good old Hawk, always straight to the main point.

“Get out of here now, while there’s still plenty of people around. East to the river, follow it to where a stream comes in from your right. Follow the stream – it’s steep – until you’re on a shelf that becomes a valley right. You go left, the shelf loses its other wall and becomes a ridge dropping to the river. It’s marsh on both sides. Then cross the river on the same line. Turn right in the village and follow the road to Bulken. Nasty place, but you’ll be well out of things by then. Now go!”

“And forget not to put in a good word for us with your chiefs!” called the woman.

The shelf that the stream tumbled out of turned out to be the valley we’d been sleeping in; so we slept in our shelters. It was a chance, but we guessed that if they were sure they could catch us on the roads they wouldn’t waste time in useless searches. We hadn’t managed to buy a hide for Geivin to sleep under, so after I’d salved him again he slept with me. Fortunately he was on the downhill side facing out, so when he wet himself in the night it drained away from us and I stayed dry. It shouldn’t have been fortunate: it should have been expected. I should have expected it. A proper shaman would have. But I didn’t.

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About the author

Adge

Bio: Just a retired mathematician who likes writing stories about the beautiful part of the world he lives in. Checkout https://ko-fi.com/adge0304 for more stuff!

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