The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, Page 9Catherynne M. Valente
And now that Glasswort Groof had said it, the Market silks did seem rather tattered, the booths splintering, the whole place groaning and sorry. Had it been that way before? September could not be sure.
“But you! You’re wanting something. It’s all over you, like musk and brume! And whatever it is, we have it, there’s simply no possibility that we don’t.” Glasswort licked her lips.
“And what are we lacking, if it smells so strong?” said September. Her stomach growled after the carrots, though she knew better, she did know better. “What kind of Market did you catch out in the woods?”
“Why, can’t you tell? It’s a Grand Arcade of Bones’ Desire!”
“My bones don’t want anything!” September laughed.
“I don’t think shadows have any,” Ell murmured.
“Shows what you know, sunny-girl! I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about their Heart’s Desire—well that’s a load of rot. Hearts are idiots. They’re big and squishy and full of daft dreams. They flounce off to write poetry and moon at folk who aren’t worth the mooning. Bones are the ones that have to make the journey, fight the monster, kneel before whomever is big on kneeling these days. Bones do the work for the heart’s grand plans. Bones know what you need. Hearts only know want. I much prefer to deal with children, boggans, and villains, who haven’t got hearts to get in the way of the very important magic of Getting-Things-Done.”
September tried to feel what her bones were needing, but they only felt tired.
“As for what you’re lacking, I think I know, I do! Groof’s nose knows a hundred wants and more. My nose is my wand—for selling, for buying, for longing, for sighing, for striking a bargain on the bone-bald barrelhead! Come, come!”
They followed her into the little Market. It made itself over especially for them, trying to hide its shabbiness and put its best face forward. Each stall showed hints of wonders dug out of the depths of their yearnings: vials of ocean water and delicate silver mechanisms for sending messages between Marids, who float in time as in a tide. A bouquet of glittering lemon ices in sheet-sugar cones, a dashing red coat of scales just so very like skin, and a full, illustrated, ribbon-marked leather-bound set of encyclopedias labelled M through Z. Saturday and Ell looked longingly at them. September tried not to see the girl-size wings and caps of darkness and real swords guaranteed to slay eighty-five percent of Dark Lords—and even her mother’s dear, dusty chocolate cake on a tarnished silver pedestal.
“Not that I am totally obsessed with merchantry!” said Glasswort Groof as she led them in an artful circle round the Market. “Goblins are well-rounded, though you’d never think it from the dastard tales folk tell of us. For example, I enjoy stamp collecting as well as haggling. The stamps that pay our letters’ way Above are works of art, practically bigger than the envelope! I’ve an early Mallow three-kisser with a rampant rhinocentaur on it in pewter paint. Pride of my collection. And it goes without saying I’m quite the gardener. Goblin vegetables pack twice the punch of fruit with half the delicacy of a simpering little apricot. Soon turnips will be all the rage!”
“I’m afraid,” September said softly, then cleared her throat and tried it again. She refused to be ashamed—she’d been swooped up without so much as a suitcase, after all. “I’m afraid we haven’t any money. As you said.”
“Nonsense!” cried Glasswort, and she laid her finger aside her nose, which was hard and bony and covered in bits of jade. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I smelled you across the black plain. Had to wait til you were out of the Duchy’s Protection, but I knew you’d pay for the wear on my pocket watch. You’re rich as a bowl of beets.”
Saturday frowned. Shimmers of blue moved like water in his shadowy forehead. “We’re not that,” he said. “We’re not paupers; I’m sure I’ve got a pint of breath here or perhaps a teaspoon of tears, but rich is pushing it.”
The Goblin girl clucked, her frog-colored cheeks puffing out and in. “I don’t know, Marid, Breath is down this week, but Tears have made a strong showing. Voices are up, up, up, Firstborns are at rock-bottom basement prices, and Blood has suffered a bit of a drop since the Winds came back. Still, it’s a bull Market and you’ve got plenty. Pity about that kiss, though.”
September started, then colored, remembering that Saturday—Saturday! The shyest boy in the world!—had kissed her in the Samovar.
“Oh, yes, girl. First Kisses are currency standard! If I’d only caught you sooner you could’ve bought up half my stock for one pucker-up. Too bad—but that’s what comes of hanging about with royalty. They bleed you dry. Now, I believe this is your stop.”
They had come to a booth wound about with bolts of dark silk and fringes of bluebuckwheat and heavy luckfigs. Two pedestals tipped with violet velvet pillows stood inside. Languorous tangerine-colored lights curved up in an arc that read, NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF TEMPTATION.
“We don’t need anything,” said Saturday indignantly. “We’re going to Tain for the Revel! Everything we need will be there!”
“Ah, but how will you get there, my little blue man? Tain is far away in the center of Fairyland-Below, and the Revel begins at midnight. I’m afraid you need Tickets, Direction, Aid and Abetting! But, of course, my human friend is much more interested in an audience with the Queen than with Reveling about and mucking up her shoes.”
On one of the violet velvet pillows, three elegant-looking tickets swirled into being, painted parchment with their names stamped upon them and a curious dark serpent wending through the decorated capitals and edgework. September’s own ticket said, under her name: THE WEEPING EEL, 7:35 EXPRESS, COACH CLASS.
“What am I bid for the tickets?” chirped Glasswort Groof with a grin. She had her quarry and she knew it. “Now, don’t go thinking you can hoof it. There’s no faster travel than by Eel, no more thrilling or willing, and you’ll never make it even by Wyvern wing, which, if you’ll forgive me, young sir, is not half as fast as phoenix or pterodactyl. It’s only the truth I tell! And it just so happens that while we’ve been jawing, my girl has been moving us toward the station—we’ll be there before you know it, and I’ll have you all ready to go with fine, legitimate tickets—looking a little shabby for a Revel, I admit, but at least you’ll be punctual!”
“I…I don’t know!” said September fretfully. The Goblin spoke so fast, but surely they needed those tickets—and now. Her heart beat wretchedly with fear, and Ell rocked from foot to foot with anxiety. “I haven’t got anything but a rind of moonkin and a couple of onions, and you were talking about standard currencies and breath is down and tears are up, and I’ve just no idea what you mean by any of that.”
“Goblin futures,” said Ell, settling down now that he had something to lecture about. “The math is frightful. I think it might actually fall under Queer Physicks. In terms of pure buying power, two Kisses make a Phial of Tears, three Phials make a Pound of Flesh, Five Pounds make a Maiden’s Voice, eight Voices make a Prince’s Honor, and sixteen-and-one-half Honors make a Firstborn. But they’re all traded on the Grand Market, and some days a Prince’s Honor isn’t worth your best Kiss. They trade other things, too. Breath, Blood, Wishes, Hours.”
“How can you trade an hour?” September asked.
“Oh, Hours are delightful.” Glasswort sighed. “You can pile them up in a vault with Half Hours, Quarter Hours, Minutes and Seconds, and what a sight to see, all the colors, the shapes, one on top of the other! Of course not all Hours are worth the same. An Hour from a great battle is far more lucrative than a Sleeping Hour. A Queen’s Hour will trump a Stray Cat’s Hour every time. And, Mr. Wyvern, I must correct you, the Firstborns have been taken out of circulation. You would not believe how the Market got flooded! Parents these days! After the Incident, the currency was completely devalued. You-Know-Who and his stupid straw-into-gold trick. I myself barely survived the crash. You won’t meet a Goblin who doesn’t have a passel of children to look after these days. I’ve got three of my own. Now the
tickets,” said Glasswort, without missing a beat. She held out her thumb, squinted her eye, and clucked again at each of them, sizing September and Saturday and Ell up.
“I’ll have your moonkin rind and three hours off you,” she finally said.
“What about us?” asked Ell.
“No need. That’ll pay for the lot.”
“But we could split the hours, one for each of us,” insisted Saturday. There he was, thought September, the boy who wanted to protect her. Who gave her his favor.
Glasswort Groof laughed. It sounded as though it came from underwater. “I don’t want your time! I want hers. She’s got a Heroine’s Hours to barter with, and that’s worth ever so much more than you could shake out of your pockets, even if you had them, my jolly shadow-boys. As for her rind, it’s had the sun on it. Fat and gold as a pat of butter. I want it, and I will have it.”
“I’m not a heroine,” September said softly. “Not this time. I’m a Fairy Bishop. I’ve work to do.”
“Bishop’s Hours are fine by me, however you want to call yourself, upsider.” Groof leaned back on the rail of the booth, in her element.
September sniffed and picked at something imaginary on the ruff of her coat. “Well,” she sighed, “the rind you can have, but how about we settle on a half hour and call it clear?” September had a shrewdness in her she’d hardly begun to use, and out it came with banners flying. She was not about to give up three whole hours—why, that was forever! She’d gone with her mother to buy seed and feed and greens plenty of times. She knew the price on the barrel was rarely the price you had to pay.
Glasswort clapped her hands. “Good girl! Oh, Skinflint-Pan bless my generous heart! Humans never want to haggle it down these days. Firstborn? Yep, spit in the hand, deal’s done. Never thought of saying, ‘What about the second-born? Or better yet, let me keep my blubbering, clumsy children and will you take a nice armoire from the hall?’ Now. I can’t take less than two Hours, my sweet little celery root. You’d be leaving me bereft and cheated. Times being what they are.”
September pretended to consider it, picking at some invisible fluff on the ruff of her wine-colored coat. “How about fifteen minutes and a kiss? I’m not feeling terribly weepy at the moment, but I’m sure I could think of something sad and summon up a Phial or two to seal it.”
Glasswort frowned deeply. The corners of her mouth glittered. “Tears must be genuine, my dear, or they’re worth nothing at all. I could make you weep, if I liked. Making children weep is easy, as easy as pulling potatoes. But I don’t want your crying. I want your time. An hour and a half, and not a minute less, and I’ll have that kiss, too. Second Kisses aren’t as premium, but they’re steady money.”
“I think we could hitch the Eel.” September shrugged. “I saw a man jump the rails into a grain car out on the tracks by the creek. Didn’t look that hard.”
Glasswort Groof bawled laughter. “You try it! I’d love to watch. I’d be telling that tale for ages. You’ll end up fried as dinner, kid. You don’t want to know what an Eel’s third rail looks like. An hour and a quarter, the kiss, and a lock of your hair—final offer, take it or leave it.”
September made a gargling, sniffing, spitting noise in the back of her throat as she’d seen her father do when he didn’t want some butcher to know what he thought of the price of beef. “Show me a line of folk waiting to buy those tickets, and I’ll take the price you set. No?” She turned around, looking behind her. September was enjoying the pantomime. It occurred to her that this was a grown-up pleasure, a game like jacks or rummy. The older, wiser part of her thrilled to it. “Nobody? The rind and one hour, then. No Kiss, no Tears, and my handshake on the deal.” September stuck out her hand.
Groof hooted in delight, spat in her hand (her spit globbed bright magenta), and shook on it.
“Well,” September said somewhat nervously, now that it was done. “What’s an hour in the scheme of things? Can I choose when to spend it?”
“’Fraid not,” the Goblin admitted. “Buyer’s Market. But like you say, what’s an hour?”
September squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. She expected it to hurt, as it had when the Glashtyn took her shadow, but all she felt was the warm hands of the Goblin girl on her forehead, and a single sharp tick of pain, like a hand snapping into place on a clock face.
“But child, you can’t go to the Revel looking like that,” Groof whispered confidentially, now she had the Hour safe in hand. “You’ll shame your folk back home. Do you want everyone to think your world is a no-account country whose chief export is grimy, determined girls?”
“I look fine!” September protested. The red coat pulled defensively around her, quite huffy at the implication.
A-Through-L grinned through his great long whiskers. “Oh, but don’t you want to dazzle Halloween when you see her? When we—well, when he—goes to see his grandfather finally, he’ll make sure he has been bathed up right! He might even invest in a cravat! Oh!” Ell stopped as though he had just thought of a terrible, wonderful thing. “Do you think there’s a shadow of the Municipal Library in Tain?” He sat down suddenly on his dark haunches as though the thought had never occurred to him before, swirls of worried, hopeful violet moving in his tail.
September had not thought much about what might happen when she met her shadow. Did she want to dazzle it? It’s really like seeing a school-friend who moved away years back, she thought. You want to look nice, but you don’t want to make them feel poorly. Not if you want to make friends again.
While she considered this, the Market went to work.
On the other pedestal, on the other violet velvet pillow, a dress slowly formed out of mist and shadow.
It was like no other dress September had ever seen. Just looking at it made her feel shabby in her faded, re-sewn birthday dress and old red coat. It was orange, to be sure. No dress that was not could tempt her. But it was a dark, reddish, grown-up orange, stitched with droplets of gold. Garnets hung on its plunging neckline. The shimmery copper-crimson skirt had soft, draping tiers held up by jeweled black rosettes. A deep, dark green silken rope circled the waist three times and a pair of bright copper pocket watches dangled from the slim bustle.
It was too old for her. It was too fine and knowing. September, a practical and still very young girl from the fields of Nebraska, found that, for no reason at all, it felt to her strangely dangerous. Her red coat’s fur collar bristled and it drew in close around her as if to say, You don’t need that trussed-up thing. I can keep you safe. I don’t want company.
“That’s a lady’s dress,” whispered September.
“It’s a Watchful Dress,” beamed Groof proudly. “Made in the Blunderbuss Bluffs by Banderos of the first rank. It’ll never let you down—and I’ll pin a pretty brooch on it for no charge. When the stone goes dark, you’ll know your Hour’s gone.” With a flourish, a pin appeared in the Goblin girl’s hand and she stuck it on the breast of the Watchful Dress. It was very pretty, silver, with a glowing misty white stone surrounded by tiny, tiny gems like speckles of hoarfrost.
“September,” said Saturday gently, “let me buy it for you. I’ve tears enough for it, I’m sure.”
“This dress costs much more than tears, my lad,” Groof said sadly, shaking her great green jeweled head. “More than kisses and hours. And no haggling—you haven’t the time. Listen!” And they could hear, like a train whistle in the distance, a low, sweet melancholy moan. “The Eel’s coming into the station.”
All around the Market, blue lamps lit up out of the dark mist. A bell tolled softly. A hanging, swaying sign swung into sight: FEVER-ROOT STATION.