The Strange Customer


Melyda woke to the sound of a lark singing as it flew into the early dawn sky. For a moment, she contemplated trying to get back to sleep, but she quickly realized she was far too keyed-up for that, even though she'd been up until midnight dancing. She smiled as she got dressed, realizing that her tenseness came more from anticipation than anxiety. The events of yesterday had exorcised the last of her fears and doubts, and the clinging thoughts about the past. She was ready now to face her future.
She slipped down to the kitchen and wheedled some breakfast out of the kitchen staff. She went to the barn to eat it, collecting Ari and Khale from the kennels on her way. Once she'd finished, she hitched Gypsy to her wagon and, with a wave to the stablehands and another to the guards at the gate, she drove off to her assigned stall. Ari and Khale trotted along beside the wagon, making many forays down other streets and alleys to investigate new sights and smells.
Melyda maneuvered her wagon behind the stall. This area of the market was quiet, though she could hear the sounds of many people from the area devoted to selling fresh food. She estimated that she'd have a couple of hours before people started wandering by her stall, so she put that time to good use. She had set up her known inventory of books in an eye- catching display, and had gone through two crates of books she hadn't yet had time to look at, before she had her first customer.
She opened another crate once that customer, a cleric, had left. This first sale had certainly been encouraging--his arms were filled with books, and he'd promised to return in a day or two to see the rest of her inventory. Melyda smiled to herself as she began cataloging and assessing the condition of this crate of books. "Ah, yes," she said to herself as she pulled out the first book. "I got these from Baron Ordmar. He certainly was anxious to get rid of them."
Her smile widened as she saw the title of the third book she pulled out-- "There and Back Again." 'It's in excellent condition,' she thought as she thumbed through the pages. 'Elanor will certainly be pleased.' She set the book aside, in the pile containing some books that Sir Connery had wanted and a few she thought the Bards might be interested in.
Melyda continued to pull books out of the crate, in between the spurts of sales. Business wasn't heavy, but it was steady, and many people bought more than one book, or left requests for titles or authors, hoping she'd find them in her as-yet unopened inventory. It was nearly an hour before she got to the last book in the crate from Baron Ordmar.
This book brought a frown to Melyda's face and puzzlement to her blue- green eyes. She had a natural ability to detect magic--a legacy of her half-elfin mother--and this book was positively humming with magic that was unknown to her. She looked at the title.
"'A Philosophy of Change.'" She snorted softly. "That's no help." She set the book in another pile, with other books that contained unknown (to her) magic. She helped another customer, then dashed behind the stall to grab another crate of books, pausing to give Ari, who was guarding the wagon, a brief but fond caress. She wondered, as she brought the crate into the stall, if she could find a good mage to investigate that book.
[Lord Pennyworth]
A rather rotund, well-dressed gentleman with a jolly face and a neatly trimmed reddish beard stood before the book stall, perusing some of the wares. His ears were swept back, indicating elvish heritage. Finding an old encyclopaedia of trees, he held it up and looked over at the bookseller.
"Pardon me, milady." He said, in a very aristocratic sounding voice, "Perchance might this tome be for sale?"
Melyda bit back a facitious remark, though it was difficult to leave such an opportunity for a joke alone. Instead, she replied mildly, "Of course, sir. As you can see, it's a very fine edition--no missing pages, no fading of the pictures. I'm asking one Sparrow for it."
[Lord Pennyworth]
"One Sparrow? My dear lady! I will pay you two Sparrows. One for your fine book, and one for your generosity!"
He fished into his pocket and pulled out two coins, handing them to Melyda and gently closing her hand over them.
"Now now, Miss." He said, "I will not let such kindness as yours go unrewarded. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Pennyworth, procurer of tomes and volumes for the Library of Antiqaria. I have come in search of a rare book, which, if in your possession, may make you a very rich lady indeed. Would you have a copy of a tome entitled, "The Philosophy of Change"?
He watched from the rooftop as Gris went through his spiel. The former actor was doing a plausible nobleman, and seemed to be keeping the bookseller at ease. Of course he didn't expect the fool to actually suceed in recovering the book, but at least he could tell him where Melyda had kept it hidden.
Melyda kept a calm, friendly face as the nobleman pressed the coins into her hand, even as her heart thumped from the force of her startlement. She knew the book wasn't worth that much; presumably, he knew it too. Why was he being so generous?
Her startlement increased as she heard his request. To be asked about it so soon after she'd discovered it...still, she was the only book- seller at the Festival. Why shouldn't he ask, if he'd been looking for it for some time? Melyda could think of no compelling reason not to be honest with him.
"Aye, I do, my lord. However...I have made it my policy not to sell any book that contains or is influenced by magic that is unfamiliar to me," she gestured to the relevant pile of books, "until I can have a mage look at it and verify that it is safe. I feel I would be remiss in my service if I didn't. If you would be willing to wait a day or so, I'll make sure this book is the first to be checked, and I'll let you know as soon as possible what the results are."
[Lord Pennyworth]
"Ah, I understand your caution, Miss." He said politely, "Is it not said, 'Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards'? Still perhaps I might be able to assist you. I do know something about the arcane arts. If you will permit me to peruse the manual for a few moments, perhaps I might be able to shed some light on its contents?"
Melyda frowned inwardly. She had no concrete reasons for her unease, but it was there all the same. She looked at him soberly for a moment, then made up her mind.
"Actually, my lord, I think we should wait for the mage to study it. I've heard of bespelled books that unleashed destructive magics the moment the cover was cracked. If that were to happen here," she gestured to the now-crowded lanes of the Festival grounds, "the results could be disastrous." In actuality, she'd only heard of that happening once, but it made a convenient and, she hoped, convincing excuse.
[Lord Pennyworth]
"Too true, milady, too true." The man said. "Well until such time as you can find a trustworthy mage, then. I will, however, leave you a down payment for the book. Perhaps once your fears have been assurged you will permit me the honour of purchasing it outright."
He laid a gold eagle coin on top of a pile of books in front of the seller.
"Adieu, good lady."
Kieraan watched as his hireling melted into the crowd. He waited a few moments before going to meet him in the nearby alley.
"So she does have it, then?"
"Garn, sure she 'as it!" Galrich said, pulling away the false beard and moustache. "She's got it just a lying there, as if it were not but a picture-book! Easy pickin's it is, boss!"
Melyda stood for a moment, staring at the eagle coin she had picked up from the pile of books, then glaced up and watched Lord Pennyworth's retreating back. 'This is a down payment?' she thought. 'What is *in* that book?' She turned her gaze to the book, beginning to feel a bit fearful of it. She carefully put the eagle in her belt pouch. Then, for no logical reason she could think of, she took "The Philosophy of Change" and put it at the bottom of the stack of magical books. Somehow she felt a little bit better to have it out of direct sight.
As she began to open the next crate of books, she heard the cheerful whistling of a familiar tune slowly getting closer. She leaned out the open window of her stall, peering around until she finally spotted Sammel through the crowd. "Over here, Sammel!" she shouted, grinning and waving cheerfully. He worked his way through the crowd and gave her a hug.
"Good morning, Melyda," he said as he released her from his hug.
"Good morning yourself, lazybones. Finally dragged yourself out of bed, I see," Melyda teased.
"Now that's hardly fair!" Sammel protested. "I've been here in the market for two hours already. I've already made some very good deals. I decided I'd take a break now and drop by to see how you were faring. I'd have come earlier, but I wanted to give you a chance to settle in and get comfortable with your customers."
"And you didn't want to get roped into helping me set up."
"Well, that too." Sammel grinned unrepentantly. "So how are you faring?"
"Wonderfully...for the most part." Melyda pulled "The Philosophy of Change" out from under the stack and showed it to Sammel, telling him about her business with Lord Pennyworth. Sammel listened with a thoughtful frown.
"Hmmm...this all *might* have an innocent explanation. But then again, it might not."
"Exactly," replied Melyda as she tucked the book back into the stack. "And I won't know for sure until I know more about this book." She suddenly grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil and scribbled furiously for a moment. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Of course."
"Could you take this note over to the Bard Hall and find someone who can recommend a good mage who could come down here right away? Lily Gammidge or Karyn Silversheen would probably be able to give such a recommendation, assuming they're not too busy. Somehow, I don't think this matter can wait until evening."
"A good idea, Melyda. In fact, I'll find the recommended mage myself and bring him or her down here. I think a personal appeal will have more effect." Sammel made a piteously appealing face.
Melyda laughed. "Thank you very much, Sammel. Oh! Before you go..." Melyda scribbled off another note. "Drop this note for Elanor Gammidge off at the Hall too. I found the book she wanted."
"Wonderful!" Sammel exclaimed. "I'll be back as soon as I can." He tucked both notes into his belt pouch, then made his way through the crowd toward the edge of the Festival grounds.

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