The Merchant

The merchant was a catlike figure, clothed in a motley of colourful silks.

His market stall was always surrounded by swarms of clamouring customers, reaching over each other with sweaty fistfuls of coins, bartering and bludgeoning, trying to be the first one there, to get the pick of the stock.

The merchant made a pretty penny wherever he ventured, but he never stayed too long. Never long enough to be driven out, or locked up. He came always as a hooded stranger, ingratiating himself. He travelled wider and wider and yet never seemed out of place, making friends among the fishwives and tanners, becoming ubiquitous. He blended in to the market scene, men would swear that he had always been a trader there…as long as they could recall anyway. He quietly peddled his wares – harmless little souvenirs from faraway lands, little woven purses for the ladies, leather belts and engraved silver buckles for the men, wooden toys and woollen animals for the children.

But then, as the weeks went on, the crowds would become more and more frenzied, they would queue for hours at his stall, they would search for him in the streets, try to find out where his house was, thought they always failed. He was almost an apparition, he was there at the break of dawn, before the other traders had even risen from their beds, and yet while the other stalls were still being packed away, he seemed to have vanished, not even leaving the treads of his wheels or a pointed footprint in his wake.

The lawmakers could never understand the crowds, why people seemed so desperate to buy these silly trinkets. They had searched his stall for secret supplies, smuggled goods, strange drugs, signs of black magic or foul play, but never found a thing – just little knickknacks. Harmless, useless things. A wooden windmill that turned and played a tune, a nacre jewellery box, a handsome felt hat with a merry decoration, some glass marbles in assorted colours, a drinking horn with a leather strap. The lawmakers would scratch their heads. They would send patrols to watch the man, to see where he went to after the market closed, but some strange happenstance would always get in their way: they would fall asleep, or a fire would break out, or a child would be lost, or they would each swear they had seen him run in the opposite direction, and lose sight of both him and each other in the chase.

Only one person knew the truth about the merchant. She had followed him from town to town. She was no fool, and she was not under his spell. She protected herself with charms and totems, she never approached him, or looked into his eyes. For she knew him not as a harmless merchant, but a powerful magician, with such skill at spellweaving he could imbue any item he chose with a curse. He used his powers now out of simple greed, but once he had been an even crueller soul. Now, he left only the hordes of poor and destitute in his wake. Once, he had left death, plague and misery.

The poor women he had lured to his bed. The poor children he had lured to their deaths.

 

By RN
(Prompts: daze, sold)

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