Fine, Blue Fighting Boots
and Nera had to wait in line to be served at the shoe stall. Two
Elvish cobblers, dressed in tight red stockings and leather aprons,
worked as fast as they could.
This was going to be the last chance to get a new pair of shoes, and everyone was there. The Landlander in front of them tried to squeeze his big hoof into a pair of green felted boots. They didn’t fit of course, so he had to try on another pair.
Finally it was Nera’s turn.
The cobbler looked down his long nose at Meah. A pair of thick white eyebrows lifted for just an instant at the sight of Nera.
‘Well, well, well, me boy,’ he said, in Elvish, ‘Where do you hail from, and what can I get you?’
Nera tucked the silver pendant into his tunic and stared straight back at him. ‘One pair of fine, blue fightin’ boots, please,’ he said.
‘Oh! It’s fightin’ boots you’re after – is it lad? Everyone wants fightin’ boots nowadays. Step right up and I’ll measure ya foot. Size 8 … now then, let me see what I’ve got. Fine, blue fightin boots, ya said, eh?’
‘Here we go boy – the finest in elvish leather, and fibrepillar-lined too, I might add. And just what might ya be fightin lad? Surely not those ‘orrible hairy ol’ Firbog?’
Nera puffed out his chest. ‘I have been fightin’ them, Sir – down in Big Forest.’
The cobbler was taken aback. ‘Big Forest?’ he said.
Nera nodded. ‘An you’ll be fightin’ em soon enough, too, I reckon.’
The cobbler pursed his lips and tilted his head. ‘Big Forest? Is that where ya come from boy? You shouldn’t be meddlin’ with Firbog. We Elvish stick to ourselves.’
Nera grabbed the cobbler’s arm as he held out the boot. ‘We used to stick to ourselves, but not any more. There’s lucky to be anyone left alive in Big Forest. And if they’re very lucky – they’ll have broken through the Faylinn Wall by now.’
Nera shoved his foot into the boot.
The cobbler’s face turned ivory white. ‘The Faylinn Wall? Ya don’t say, now.’
Nera put on the other boot and took a few steps. ‘And if your people don’t hurry up – they’ll be left behind. Don’t you know it’s The Time of Return?’
The cobbler put his hands on his hips, glanced sideways at his friend, and laughed long and loud.’That’s all just myth and legend boy.’
Meah butted in. ‘It’s true,’ she said in perfect Elvish, ‘The Time of Return is at hand, and your people are a long way from Big Forest.’
The cobbler stared at Meah. ‘One gold piece, one silver piece,’ he said, holding out a long-nailed hand.
Meah handed over two gold pieces and received a silver in return.
‘I never heard o’ such rubbish before, did you, Silvo?’ the cobbler said, turning to his companion.
‘Nah! Nothing can touch us up at Mount Beacon,’ the other replied, smirking all the while at Nera. ‘We’ve got the strongest city gates in the land. No Firbog is goin to knock them down in a hurry.’
Meah took Nera by the arm. ‘Come on Nera, let’s get out of here. I’ve got to find my paints.’
They found the fifth stall from the end, right next to the Landland Village Fish Co-operative.
Night was beginning to fall already and a cool breeze wafted out of the forest, chasing away the smell of fish from the stall. They moved on to the next market stall where the owner was preparing to pack up.
An elaborate blue and white, pin-striped sign hung above the stall. It was painted in gold lettering, and read: Amorgin Alchemies.
‘How do you do Sir?’ Meah enquired of the elderly blue-faced stall-holder who had popped his head up from beneath the counter. He was one of the Scented Folk.
‘I be fine, young woman,’ he said, from beneath a pair of thick gold-rimmed spectacles.
Most of the stall’s contents were still on display. Meah eyed an array of bottled perfumes, scented sticks, and aromatic oils, which were arranged in wooden trays on the counter.
Behind the stall-holder a series of small drawers contained a variety of herbs, spices, and medicines. Meah tried to read the labels but the words meant nothing.
The old man’s glasses stared back at her. ‘Oh Sorry! I suppose you’re wanting to get away, then?’ The glasses would not reveal what lay behind them; the more she stared, the more the thick lenses frosted over. They swirled with a life of their own – almost like the greying.
‘What can Amorgin do for you?’ he said, ‘Or you young Sir.’
Nera smiled and nodded in Meah’s direction.
‘Paints’ Meah said.
‘What sort o’ paints? I got jars of paint in water, cakes of paint in tins, scented paints … and then there’s powdered pigment, but you’ll need oil for that.’
‘Yes, that’s it, powdered pigment and oil. You haven’t got any paint in tubes?’
The old man scratched at the few remaining strands of silver hair on top of his blue head. ‘Tubes. What’s tubes?’
‘Oh, never mind, show me the pigment and oils.’
Amorgin bent back beneath the counter and pulled out a box. He plonked it on the bench in front of Meah. It looked like a jewellery box, or a miniature sea chest – the kind that pirates sometimes had. It was made from a dark, cherry-red wood and had the letters AA carved into the lid. Like the sign above the stall, blue and gold pin-striping ran around the edges.
Amorgin opened the chest with a small gold key and flipped the lid to reveal at least a dozen small tins of paint. ‘Here we go,’ he said, pulling out a red one about the size of an egg and handing it to Meah, ‘Volcano Red, be careful with this one, won’t you?’He pulled out another. ‘Squid-Ink Blue.’
Meah unscrewed the lid and examined the red. ‘Be careful of what?’
She screwed the lid back on. ‘Are these toxic?’
‘Toxic? What strange elvish word is that?’ Amorgin wanted to know. He turned his head to look at Nera.
Nera rolled his eyes.
Meah pulled a face. ‘You know, can they make you sick?’
For a split second Meah thought she caught the eyes crinkle in mirth behind their frosted lenses. ‘Depends what you do with them,’ he grinned back at her, flashing two rows of small white teeth between dark blue gums.
‘Aw look, I’ve got no time to dither. How many colours are in that box? Are all the primaries there – reds, yellows, blues and … and white and black?’
‘Certainly, Miss. There are at least a dozen different colours. All boxes are not the same, so I can’t guarantee nothing, mind. You might get two Volcano Reds or yer might get two canary yellows but they’re all there.’
Meah tapped at the box. ‘Ok, I’ll take this box then. Now, please can you show me the oils?’
‘An absolute pleasure, my dear.’ Amorgin pulled on two brass handles on either side of the chest and removed the layer of pigments to reveal a tray containing at least a dozen bottles of oils.
‘But what are all these for?’ Meah asked, picking up a bottle and examining its contents.
‘Well, you’ve got oil of black pine, oil of paint pod – of course, oil of yew, oil of red cedar and …’
‘Ok! Ok! I’ve got that, but how do I use them?’
‘Experimentation is the usual method, but I advise using the paintpod oil as a main medium. The others have their uses, which I’m sure you will find out soon enough. Just be sure to experiment, my girl.’
Meah put the bottle of oil back in the chest and lifted the whole layer off using the brass handles. The bottom layer contained a mixing tray and an assortment of brushes.
‘Cool!’ she said, ‘I’ll take it.’
‘A pleasure young lady. That will be four golds.’
Meah turned to Nera and whispered, ‘Look, he wants four gold coins and I only have three and this silver one. What will I do Nera?’
‘You’ve got to haggle, Meah,’ Nera said ‘This is the haggling area, and he wants you to haggle. Offer him three. He wants to shut shop, so he won’t want to haggle too long.’
She turned back to Amorgin, and said, ‘I’ll give you three gold coins.’
‘Three and one silver. These are the finest quality you’ll find anywhere,’ Amorgin replied.
Nera nudged Meah in the back, urging her on. ‘Will you take three gold and one bronze?’ she said.
‘Is that your best offer?’
Meah nodded, determined to give as good a haggle as she got.
Amorgin’s head tipped forward and his glasses slipped down his long blue nose. Two fog-coloured eyes peered back at her. Then he chuckled, ‘All right, it’s a deal then. Three gold, one bronze.’
Meah handed over the amount and received one bronze coin in return.
‘Here ya go my dear, happy painting,’ Amorgin said, handing over the box of paints.
Meah and Nera thanked Amorgin and were about to leave when he said, ‘Here, hang on, don’t you want something to paint on?’
He bent back beneath the counter and came up with a pile of thin wooden boards. They were about the size of a writing pad, smallish, but quite firm.
‘These go with the paint box,’ he said. ‘They’re Scented Wood and already primed with rat-skin glue, so they’re ready to go. And here’s a few crayons to experiment with. If you like em, just come back and I’ll show you the whole range. They come in all colours.’
Meah took the dozen or so paint boards and the fist full of crayons and thanked Amorgin again before heading back through the falling dusk to Sel’s stall.
She was happy about the crayon bonus, but felt a little depressed that she had spent most of her money. ‘Gee Nera, how come we didn’t have to haggle for your boots,’ she said, prodding him in the stomach.
‘I’m sorry Meah, I wasn’t thinking about the cost. I don’t normally have to worry about that sort of thing,’ Nera sniggered.
Meah raised her hand and pointed at him. ‘What do you mean – that sort of thing? Do you think you’re some kind of a ponce of a Prince who never has to worry about anything?’
Nera fingered the silver pendant around his neck and refused to say any more.
‘All we have left is one, lousy bronze coin. What we’ll get for that, I don’t know,’ Meah said.