Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Day at the Fair

A bit of  something I'm tentatively calling The Boy Who Wouldn't Say No (definitely just a working title):

His mother used to tell him when he was a small boy that fairs were the most amazing, wondrous, messy things.  As the red-headed man  stepped out of the tent and into the cool spring sunlight the last day of the fair at Redhaven, he began to believe she was right, at least about them being wondrously messy.

It had rained off and on during the course of the fair, and the grounds were trampled into a sea of mud, mixed in with all the remains of human activity the last few days. He picked his way carefully across the walkway and took a seat at a damp but mostly clean bench and sat down, ignoring the looks of the passers by who gawked at the man sitting there in his work cloak and armor.  Mercenaries, the fighting men who were an essential part of all trading houses,  just like merchants themselves, were an unusual spectacle to the locals.

Instead, he looked up. The sky was a brilliant blue, and for the first time since the trade fair began, there was not a hint of cloud.   A bird circled overhead - an eagle maybe, or more likely a hawk.  The mercenary admired how it glided, barely moving a feather.   

“Are you just enjoying the fine weather, or waiting for all of us to get off your field so you can go back to hunting  mice again?” he said.  “Patience, friend. It won’t be much longer. But I can tell you, friend hawk, you won’t be the only one glad when we leave.”

He stretched his legs out in front of him, and kicked a clump of mud off the toe of his boot.  Not as patient as the hawk, people were milling around the gaudy tents that invited them to spend their money -  cloth and trinkets from the south, tools and worked metals from the east, soft furs from the north, spices and medicines from everywhere.  It was the last day of the trade fair, and the townsmen dressed in their best clothes, had turned out in numbers, hoping for bargains before the merchants all packed up and their town returned to normal for another year.

The merchants, having made their big deals and settled accounts with each other, were staying put in their booths where they were more than happy to oblige the locals in their quest to spend silver and gold. The redheaded man watched the bargain hunters mill by, mildly amused as they stopped in this booth and that, fingering the goods and arguing with the vendors, pinching every coin in their pouches three times before they let one go.  Their women, dressed in fine linen, or silk if they had it, gave their husbands sultry eyes and sighs and pouts to loosen their purse strings.  Sometimes it worked.

A small child, golden-haired and sticky-faced from some concoction the food vendors sold, almost ran into the fighter where he sat on his bench, but was rescued at the last minute by the strong hands of another fighter, younger, dark-haired, and smiling.

“Whoa there, little guy.  You don’t want to bump into my friend Hawk.  He might eat you,” the black-haired mercenary said, steering him clear of the bench.

The little boy’s eyes grew big.  The young man gave the boy a pat on the backside and the child took off running.

“Eat him, eh? Muirnin, you are an ass,” Hawk said as the young man joined him.  “Ought to eat you for keeping me waiting.”

“Sorry,” Muirnin said.  “There was this woman over by old Deasun’s tent.”

Hawk snorted.  “There’s always a woman.”

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