Read The Seven Markets Online

Authors: David Hoffman

The Seven Markets

BOOK: The Seven Markets
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For Jessy

Ellie spotted the first flier on the road into town.

She was stepping around a particularly large rock that had embedded itself in the dirt when a whisper of movement caught her eye from the side of the road. She stopped and turned, hoping for a finch or perhaps a bluebird. It would chirp, tilt its head at her, and then continue on about its birdly business. Later she could sit down and attempt to sketch it from memory.

Instead, she saw the flier.

Mama had cautioned her against dallying, and while she could feel eyes on the back of her neck, Ellie decided a quick look couldn’t hurt.

From the condition of it, the flier had been nailed to the tree a good while. At least a week, possibly two or even three. Funny she hadn’t seen it any of the dozen times she’d been back and forth to town.

It was yellowed and cracking, and all around its border were tatters and tears where the wind and the rain had been at it. One corner was folded back, not straight as if by a human hand but rough and uneven. As she stared, a gust of wind picked up from the direction Ellie had come and took the paper in its hands, folding the edge back once more. This was what had caught her eye, almost as if the flier was waving for her to come and take a look.

Ellie pulled her shopping bag up onto her shoulder and, rising up onto her tiptoes, began to read.

THE MARKET
, the flier read, each word made of blocky letters, the writing plain but somehow odd, as if written by a person unfamiliar with the language.

MIDSUMMER’S DAY, OBERTON VILLAGE
, it continued, and as Ellie read, she was aware of her heart beginning to race. It was a cool morning, with a sharp, chill edge to the air, but she’d begun to sweat.

MYSTERIES, WONDERS, AND DREAMS
.

She stood back, searching for anyone out on the road with her. Mama had cautioned her to get an early start, and Ellie, always an early riser, had set out before the sun. She had the morning all to herself.

A sudden, greedy urge came over her and Ellie reached up to snatch the flier down from the tree. A single nail held it in place. It would be but the effort of a moment, the merest twist of her hand, to tear it down, fold it up, and secrete it in one of the hidden pockets in her skirts.

Her hand paused, fingers outstretched. What was she doing?

She caught her breath and stood back a step. She wasn’t foolish enough to believe tearing down a single flier would prevent her neighbors from noticing the Market when it arrived in three days. Did she hope to waylay the entire village, concoct some distraction to remove them so she could have it all to herself?

Did she believe this was the only flier that had gone up in the night?

No. She remembered Papa’s stories from when she was a girl. There was no hiding it.

Ellie paused, keenly feeling the time she’d spent in the shadow of this tree. She read the flier’s words a second time, then, with a terrible effort, turned her back to it and continued into town.

The Market was coming.

She completed her errands in her usual efficient way, a keen ear open for any mention of the Market or the fliers that she now saw were hung all around town.

Early as the hour was, Ellie didn’t see many people at Tanner’s Goods. She bought several kinds of thread and a few bolts of cloth, as well as a length of lace to tie in her hair. She was tempted to broach the topic of the Market with Mister Tanner, but something held her tongue. The grocer, usually a jovial, boisterous man, was oddly taciturn. Several times Ellie nearly asked him if all was well, but again, the words did not come.

She returned to the street, regretting her silence. She felt foolish and very young. The Tanners had been her neighbors her entire life. She would return at once and ask after him, and that was all there was to it.

Only Ellie did not return to speak with Mister Tanner. Instead she walked a little farther into the village and bought two loaves of bread from Alain McCullough, a boy her own age.

“Morning to you, Ellie,” Alain said, his smile open and welcoming.

“And to you, Alain.”

Did you see the fliers this morning?
she wanted to say. Only to, again, find herself struck with silence. And again, though he looked every bit the boy she knew, Alain McCullough had a drawn look about him. Ellie’s first thought was that his mother, who frequently suffered from pains in her hands and elbows, had taken a bad turn, but the shadow hanging over his face was different. Ellie saw that it came from within.

She paid for her bread, thanked Alain and his father, and went on her way.

At the apothecary, Ellie waited while Mister Garrett measured and mixed her reagents. Mama’s list was extensive; Ellie suspected she was getting a jump on stocking up for the winter. It had been a lean year in some ways, and such would be in keeping with Mama’s character. Ordinarily this would give Ellie a good bit of time to mill about in the shop, talking with and listening to the other customers.

She counted six other people in the shop. All were folk she recognized. Every one of them had lived in or near Oberton as long as she could remember. Neighbors and friends, just the sort you’d expect to find in town running errands early in the morning.

Seven of them, counting Ellie, in Mister Garrett’s small shop.

The place was silent as a tomb.

Ellie watched from the sides of her eyes as Mister Anderson, the solicitor, browsed a shelf of powdered digestive aids next to Mister Gabriel, one of two partners at Oberton’s only bank. Ellie had seen the men in town before, laughing and talking together, thick as thieves. Now they might have been the most distant of strangers.

She saw Greta Jacobs, a year younger than her but certainly no stranger. Ellie met the other girl’s eyes. They exchanged a curt nod, and though they had plenty to say to each other, Greta quickly turned away, back to browsing the shelves.

Ellie collected her shopping, tucked it away in her bag, and exited the shop. As she left, it seemed the silliest thing in all the world that she didn’t turn around and strike up a conversation with any person at random. Another flier flapped in the morning breeze not two steps distant, daring her to shout it over the rooftops.

The Market! Coming to Oberton!

She kept Mister Garrett’s shop at her back, finished her shopping, and left the village to begin walking home.

The farther she traveled, the more foolish she felt. When she came again to the yellowed flier she had seen on her way into town, she approached it with caution, feeling the same way she’d have felt standing before a hissing, foam-mouthed animal.

Taking small steps, Ellie drew ever closer, never taking her eyes off the gently flapping paper. A single double-headed nail, hardly more than a staple, held it in place. Each time the wind touched it she was sure the flier would tear free and be whisked away. If she couldn’t read it again, how could she be sure, positively sure, she’d read what she thought she’d read?

Finally, in a burst of brave action, Ellie shot forward and pressed a hand against the flier, flattening it up against the tree. She devoured the words on its face in a single quick breath, reading aloud. They had not changed. Gratified, she read it again. Proof to Ellie that she had neither imagined them nor that was she mistaken in their meaning.

The Market was coming to Oberton. Coming in three days’ time.

“What a foolish people we are,” she said, understanding her silence and the silence of her neighbors had stemmed from uncertainty. None of them had wanted to be the first to say the words. None of them had wanted to find out they were imagining it.

Ellie licked the tip of her pinkie and touched it to the tip of her thumb. She drew a quick, simple sign in the air before the flier. She spoke two short, twirling words under her breath.
Protection.
A second passed in which nothing happened.

Ellie took the flier between her fingers and pulled it off the tree.

Still, nothing happened.

Nothing continued happening for several more seconds before Ellie decided yes, it was safe.

Relieved, she folded the flier in half once, twice, three times. She tucked it into a hidden pocket in her skirts. She could show the flier to Mama and Papa and they would believe her when they saw it.

Ellie hurried home.

Papa’s reaction was not what Ellie expected.

“You take it back,” he said. There was a faint tremor of fear in his voice she found utterly unfamiliar. “Right back where you found it. That you’d be so foolish! An’ I thought we raised you smarter than that.”

Ellie pouted and looked to Mama for help. But Mama was busy cataloging her groceries. If she had anything to say, she wasn’t offering it up yet.

“It’s safe, Papa,” Ellie said. “I promise it is. I did it just like Mama taught me. Said all the words just perfect. It’s safe, I’m sure it is.”

“Sure, are you?” He wagged the flier in her face.

“Yes, Papa.” She was on the verge of tears. Seventeen summers and ready to bawl. It took everything she had to keep from fleeing to her bedroom.

“After everything I told you about the Market, you’d go and pluck a flier right off the face of a tree? Ellie, I thought we taught you better.”

“You did!” she said. “But Papa, you didn’t see, you weren’t in town. The fliers, they were everywhere. Everywhere! Just like in the stories. But no one was talking about them. No one was talking at all. Just
morning to you, ma’am
and
here’re your goods, sir.
If I hadn’t brought it back, I wouldn’t have had the words to say, I know it.”

She was standing by the table and fairly collapsed into a high-backed wooden chair, burying her face in her hands.

Footsteps sounded from the kitchen as Mama approached. She laid a hand on Ellie’s shoulder and Ellie could feel her breath on the fine hairs covering the back of her neck.

Mama whispered several words, almost too low to be heard. Ellie recognized them as the words she’d spoken when taking down the Market flier.
Protection.
She looked up, and careful not to let the tips of her pinkie and thumb touch, traced the same lines in the air.

“It’s all right, Rennie. Let the poor thing be. No harm done.”

Papa blustered, but gradually the redness left his cheeks. After a short time he became again the genial man Ellie knew. He sat opposite her at the table, laying the flier out between them.

“I still say—”

“Done is done,” Mama said, cutting him off. “And anyway, she’s done right. Which you would know if you weren’t letting your excitement get the better of you. The Market, you silly man.
The Market
.”

Ellie looked up and saw the broad, familiar smile of her Papa beaming across at her.

“I suppose we were due, weren’t we? If the stories are to be believed. Still, it is quite a thing.” He reached across and squeezed his daughter’s hand. “Apologies, dear heart, I surely meant no harm. It’s just, well, it was a bit of a shock. But your Ma’s right: I know you’d do it right.”

“Thank you, Papa.”

He turned the flier around so the words were facing him.

“Three days,” he said. “Just like the stories. Still, a bit more warning would’ve been nice. And you say no one in town would talk about it?”

BOOK: The Seven Markets
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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