It was much cooler outside than it had been in the inn the night before, for which I was thankful. I could feel the heat exhaustion lingering on my limbs and didn’t think I could have made it to the market square if it hadn’t been.
Said market square was hardly recognizable once I reached it. Festive banners criss-cross the entire square, booths filled up the sides, blocking the sight of the usual store fronts, and a large wooden stage had been set up near the fountain. The booths just went on down the streets that left the market for as far as I could see above the crowd that was out, despite the early hour.
Checking to make sure my money was safely tucked away between my breasts (best anti-pick-pocket method), I walked through the throng, my skin tingling at being among so many people. I could see fire magic being used to cook, blow up what looked like rubber balloons, or puffing up instant treats that resembled marshmallows. Water magic swirled through the air, casting rainbows onto the ground, only to drop into glasses of fruit or water baubles filled with fish and flowers. I even caught sight of a few wind and earth magic users, though the first had been harder to see than the first since their magic was mostly invisible. The earth magic I saw in a clay sculpture, who listened to a clients orders, molded almost instantly what they asked, then handed it off to a fire user who cooked it before handing it back, a glistening ceramic figurine.
I hesitated before one of these stalls, where a glass blower and a fire mage worked in tandem to create glass works of ark that sparkled like crystal in the sunlight.
The glass blower, who I assumed was a wind mage, stopped mid puff to smile at me. The fire mage did something with her hands to harden the glass where it hung, a perfect ball, before tapping where it connected to the pipe.
“See something you like, miss?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I’m buying for a grumpy teenage boy, not myself, sadly. Is it okay if I look?”
“Of course. I’m sure anything would be glad to be seen by your beautiful eyes.”
The fire mage, a woman with orange hair twisted on the back of her head in a tight bun, whapped him on the thigh with her tongs. He jumped and hissed.
“That was the lamest pick up line yet,” she said.
“Can you not hit me with your still hot tools? Please and thank you?”
I got the amusement of watching them bicker a bit, their relationship probably that of siblings, as I admired the various shapes and colors of the glass. I particularly liked that of a Chinese dragon twisting up the winged and four-legged body of a European shaped dragon, their jaws opened wide at each other’s throats.
“Do dragons exist?” I asked.
“In other countries, they do,” said the glass blower, sliding over his stool to lean against the counter towards me. “The longer ones are in southern Milan and Pinistan, while this one, the one with wings, are in the far north Yinaria, right before the land stops thawing in the summer.”
“Ho, that’s so cool. Pity they’re not here.”
He laughed. “An adventure seeker, I like that. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say it’s a pity dragons aren’t in Lisu.”
He gave me an odd look. “Are you not from around here?”
When I shook my head, his smile just got more debonair.
“Well, they say the country of Lisuania is blessed by god because it’s the only country that’s not besieged by dragons of any kind. Countries which have to deal with dragons don’t have the luxury of having smaller villages, as having livestock of any kind attract them and you need at least fifty skilled men to kill a dragon. Kind of hard to do that with your run of the mill farmers and shepherds.”
“Huh…” But even after he said that. “So cool. There’s more kinds than these?” I pointed out the fighting dragons.
“Oh yeah.” He flashed some teeth. “I’ll make you one from the sea to go with those beautiful blues of yours if you take a turn around the festival with me.”
I saw the fire mage behind him roll her eyes, busy unsticking glass flecks from the pipe with a flame on her finger.
Impressive, that someone would still see me worthy enough to flirt with after being fried alive the night before and bathed in the rain. I hadn’t even put in any time to doing my hair, other than to tie it out of my face.
“I’m sorry, but I work at an inn by here that’s short on hands. My boss only let me go for this short time to get that present I told you about.” I tried my best at a polite smile. “I’ve already spent too much time here as it is, but your work was just so pretty. Thank you for telling me about the dragons.”
He visibly wilted. As I walked away, I could hear the ginger woman laughing at him.
I wished I had twenty more eyes and a whole other week to myself to look around as I walked. But I had told the glass blower the truth. I wasn’t irresponsible enough to reward Hal’s kindness by leaving him to be overwhelmed tonight. How Milly and he had handled it before I came I’d have to ask. I had a suspicion that the regulars who had gone outside to take their drinks had something to do with it.
At least the stage was empty most of the time I was walking about, or I would have never left.
But I managed to find something I thought Gus would like within my price range and, giving one last forlorn look at the festivities, trotted back to the Red Swallow Inn.
There were already a few patrons in for an early drink when I returned. I caught Gus mopping mud they had trailed in.
“Happy birthday!” I chirped, holding out the little velvet pouch.
I had forgotten about his weird avoidance of me that morning until he was staring at the gift in my hands, stupefied.
I rolled my eyes. “No, for the air, yes for you. Who else has a birthday today?”
With the mop in one hand, he reached for the pouch in the other and opened it. From within he pulled out a durable, black leather cord necklace where a beautiful, jade and silver pendant hung. A bird with a long, flowing tail like a peacock, which I had been told was a phoenix, had been engraved into the front of the pendant and outlined in gleaming, needle thin silver. It was about the size of a silver dollar.
His eyes went wide in wonder. I could see his youth when I could catch him off guard like this. Otherwise, it was like he had been born an old man.
“Yeah, I tried to get the manliest looking one. It’s a—“
“Magic stone,” he said for me.
“You can store your magic in it in the case you ever want to do an especially large spell. When I asked about a limit they just sort of laughed at me, so I guess that means it can hold a lot.”
“It should. It’s a green one. Only a few years worth of storage from a royal magician could break those.” His eyes got a little shiny and he blinked hard. “Lilly…I…are you sure you want to give this to me? Wouldn’t you find more use in it than me? And it must have been really expensive, I’ve…I’ve never even reached the limit of my magic.” I never had the chance I heard unspoken in the air.
“One day, you’ll have that chance,” I said. “And I got it for you, so if you don’t just say thank you and maybe give me a hug—“
He all but tackled me in a hug then.
“Thank you, Lilly,” he said against my shoulder. His voice sounded thick.
“Your welcome,” I squeezed him back, leaving a kiss on the edge of his ear.
I chose to forget that he had ever been avoiding me to start with.
Sadly, though, he was out his surplus food for the next two weeks.
I just couldn’t help it.
The hugs from Milly and Hal were just as good as I handed over their gifts as well. Though not as pricey as Gus’s, Milly’s was still a very fine glass hair stick and Hal got a water-magic tool that looked like an hour glass that was used by water magicians to keep water at a set temperature for an indefinite amount of time. I was confused as to why they acted so touched until it occurred to me that they had thought I’d be reasonable with my income and buy myself fresh underwear, treats, and period pads, but I’m cheap and just use rags like the slob I am, heh heh…heh…
Actually, I love being clean and bathe three times more than everyone I talk to besides Hal and Milly, who are known as notorious clean freaks, but whatev.
For Derrick I got him a fine, stainless steel razor set for his face. It still amazed me that this place had stainless steel, but then I guess it shouldn’t since there were such a thing as Earth magicians.
“In case you’re feeling lazy about your face looking nice, this should never get dull. At least, while you’re alive. And stop acting so surprised, we’re friends, aren’t we? And if nothing else you’ve saved my skin, literally, several times over.”
Even so, Derrick looked awfully close to hugging me too, and only his natural over-polite awkwardness held him back.
“May the hero come,” he said, which was the traditional way of saying ‘thank you’ when given a midsummer’s gift. Like I said, Christmas.
I smiled, even as I wondered to the little hero grouching at me in the corner of the common room for giving a love slave a gift.
“May the hero come indeed,” I said back.