At the Goblin Market
She picks her way through the muck and the grass, cowflops along the cattle bins and birdshit by the aviary. The Market is always a mess when you have to get through the livestock to find the really good deals. It's on purpose, she knows. She assumes, anyway, because the people who sell time or dreams or good looks and fortune always want to ask you a thousand and one questions before they decide to accept your payment. As though they want to make sure their product is going to the right person.
Which is ridiculous, because she's seen some very unsavory, undeserving people walk away with the choicest of merchandise.
She isn't after the usual, today. She doesn't want to collect dragon's teeth or talon scrapings from the old witch's chicken-footed house or toejam from the feet of a giant. The trader she's looking for is in a corner of the market, with a rickety and bare wooden table and a curtain strung up around an iron ring on a pole in the back. No calls or patter, the trader sits with fingers drumming on the table, looking bored.
"I'm..." she clears her throat, and the saliva rasps against the back of her mouth. "I'm here to make a trade."
One brief up and down look dismisses her like a sickly heifer. "No. Useless. Come back tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" she asks, off-guard. What would be different about tomorrow? "What would I be tomorrow that is not of use today? I'm here to make a trade. Name your price."
Eyebrows shooting up. "Just like that? You'll pay anything? Impossible. I'm too busy."
"You've had no customers all day." Which she doesn't know for certain, but the aisle is empty and there's no sign of fresh footprints in the stall. "I can give you a lock of hair or a year of servitude, or a hundred words of my voice if you want." She's heard all those prices before.
The trader leans forward, hands steepled. "You're that desperate, are you?" She'd heard the prices but she hadn't thought they were so steep. "Why would you want to trade with me? You're pretty enough. You should find a husband, raise a few brats, that'd take your..."
"I don't want to find a husband," she shouts, slamming her hand on the table so hard it shakes. A bubble of silence wells up around her then pops in a rush of muttering and whispers. "Or maybe I do... I just want to make a change. I don't fit. I'm not right."
For the first time the trader seems interested in helping her. "I can make a change. But it's for life, dearie. You can't change your mind a second time."
"It's not my mind I want to change," she mutters, then squares her shoulders and nods. "I'm ready. What's your price?"
The trader's smile is a bare sliver of lips, and all teeth. A triangle smile stabbing into the chin.
It's a steep price. But she knew what she was getting into the moment she set foot in the market. Nothing here comes cheaply, not even a taste. "Agreed," she nods, and the trader gestures her under the curtain.
And when he picks his way through the cowflops and the patches of slick grass again, shoulders back and head lifted high, it feels good. It feels right and how things should be, boots hitting the ground with a buoyant confidence to his stride.