It is, of course, to be expected that the oceans of Faerie are not like the oceans of mortal man. Mortals have many stories concerning the adventures of those who become lost upon strange shores, hopping from island to island, unable to find their home port. Sometimes these tales are of sailors who are genuinely lost, sometimes they have chanced upon a crossway, a portal between worlds, that happens to be in the ocean.
The lands of Faerie are, to be kind in the telling of it, eccentric in their geography. The existence of places like the Patchwork Market of Bridgetown which are no more than a week's journey from just about anywhere do not help matters. The existence of magical doorways, far-flung fringe realities and sorcerous transportation devices make things even worse.
Faerie forests are renowned for being chaotically too easy to get lost in, the only reason that the oceans do not have greater notoriety is that there are very few long-lived Faerie sailors. When it comes to trade routes there are other ways to negotiate the oceans.
The most popular method of crossing the oceans is to walk across the sea bed. This is not as tricky a task as one might suppose, all that is required is the magic of a sea elemental and land-dwellers can become sea-dwellers in an instant. Some folk have found the environment so much to their taste that they have established whole kingdoms under the surface of the waves.
Merfolk, those who not only dwell beneath the waves but slide easily through the water with the use of sinuous tails, those who breath equally well in water and open air without the intercession of limnades, kelpies, potamides, ceffyl dwr, vodyanoy, nix, kappas, nymphs or selkies, are thought to have originated in those parts of the fringe that are wholly submerged in water.
There is a deep and somewhat unfair mistrust of merfolk because many of them can walk on land with legs before transforming to swim under the ocean with tails and fins. To some this makes merfolk kin to shapeshifters, but as shapeshifters can assume any form they choose where as merfolk have only legs or tails to choose from many other people identify this prejudice as unfair.
This does nothing to prevent irate magic users of various kinds from occasionally cursing merfolk to stick in one form or another. A merperson locked upon land pines for the ocean, greatly reducing their lifespan. A merperson locked into ocean going form is far happier but has the obvious disadvantage that they must be partially submerged in water at all times.
Princess Teleosti Shaleshore, Eos to her friends and close acquaintances, was one such unfortunate mermaid. Cursed by an evil witch (more properly a morally misaligned druidic practitioner but the common term is understood by all) she has spent the last three years unable to walk upon land. She has spent nine months out of the last year in a single tank.
Initially she had the bad luck to be sold to a circus, thereafter a sideshow proprietor won her tank during a game of six suit cramble. The sideshow owner loved all varieties of cramble, this is how he ended up losing his main attraction to a mysterious man sporting a tall hat, a narrow gaze and a grin that should teach people to be more careful. The man in the tall hat gave brief charge of the tank, now set up in a pitch in the Master's Quarter of the Patchwork Market, to a gangly youth in a fake moustache. After an incident involving a troll and a broomstick the gangly youth was transported away to destinations unknown, along with a talking mouse and a pumpkin, and Eos, at last, found herself in the hands of people who actually cared to hear her opinions, thoughts and feelings.
One of these people was a little girl called Rachel. The talking mouse, James, had been her friend in a place called the Skull Garden. Rachel assured Eos that the Skull Garden was a lot nicer than it sounded. Another of the people was the ghost of a talking owl called Micras Whitney. Micras had spent a long time living in a haunted doll's house, he was sometimes a little short-tempered as he had been out of the company of others for an undetermined length of time. The last of her new companions was...
...was arguing over the price of something, which was one of the places that Tabarnas Riseandshine, for this was the gentleman's name, felt most at ease. Eos knew, as did Rachel and Micras, that the item that Tabarnas was haggling over was something of a necessity for the smooth continuation of their journey. Tabarnas had them under stern instruction to keep this intelligence strictly to themselves.
"Without a recent inspection certificate from the Office I can't possibly part with more than a sovereign for this," Tabarnas said as he squinted through a jeweller's eyepiece at a small silver ring.
"I said it would be fine to slip it onto the young lady's digit," complained the old woman. "You do that and see what happens, fishtail gone, legs aplenty, you mark my words."
"And what if it runs out of charge whilst she's wearing it, eh?" Tabarnas asked. "Things could get messy."
"It's a constant single-user effect field, it doesn't have a charge, it just works," the old woman groused.
"And what if it develops a fault, what if it's faulty and you've just worked a couple of tricks to stop us finding out until it's too late?" Tabarnas asked, casually accusing an old goblin woman of being a thief or a con artist.
The old woman pulled a chain affixed around her neck from the top of her blouse. "Bellespire Merchant's Guild Tag," she said. "I think you'll find it's all in order. If it turns out to be a dud and you are not offered a full refund you can report me."
"Still," Tabarnas said. "Two sovereigns, seems expensive. How do I know I won't get to the next market place and find these on sale five crowns apiece?"
"You're welcome to try," the old woman said nonchalently. "You want to buy it here the price is two sovereigns."
"How about three bronze marks and a box of single charge pewter clover charms. Twenty in the box recommended retail price half a crown apiece."
"And how do I know that all twenty are in full working order?" the old woman asked, unimpressed.
"My magical goods are all certified by the Office," Tabarnas fiddled with his own collar and produced a chain similar to the old woman's. "Here is my tag from the Merchant's Guild of the Patchwork Market."
The old woman sucked in her lips, she appeared to be short quite a few teeth so her lips travelled a long way on their journey.
"I'm a fool to myself," she said eventually, sticking out a hand. Tabarnas shook it. "But I want to see the paperwork on those charms."
"Not a problem, dear lady," Tabarnas said, he appeared immensely pleased with himself. He disappeared into the back of the trader's wagon for a moment and returned with a plain box made of thin, light wood. He opened the lid of the box on its hinge to reveal an official looking document, he moved this aside to reveal twenty small metal charms moulded into the shape of four leaf clovers. "I think you'll find that to be in order."
"Very well," the old woman said taking the box and her three bronze marks. "There's your ring."
"A pleasure doing business with you, good woman," Tabarnas said. "I hope the Patchwork Market proves to bring you good fortune."
"Ay," the old woman said. "And I hope the trader's road is paved with gold."
The old woman stowed her charms in her pack and slipped the marks into her purse. She shouldered the pack and hobbled off along the way the trader's wagon had come. Tabarnas went over to Eos's tank.
"Deal done, legs are yours, my dear," Tabarnas beamed, holding out the ring.
"And I have a pretty dress all ready for you here," Rachel said. "I found it in a trunk in the back of the wagon."
"Yes, quite," Tabarnas said. "You can pay me back for the clothes later."
"Tabarnas!" Rachel said sharply. "Stop being a big old meanie-pop."
"That dress is stock," Tabarnas said, affecting a wounded tone. "I would not be doing my duty as a goblin trader if I did not redeem a fair market value for every item of stock in my inventory."
"Why don't you tell us a story?" Micras asked from his perch on the corner of the wagon's roof.
"Do we really have to cover that ground again?" Tabarnas demanded. It was an established fact that goblin traders did not tell stories, something that Tabarnas did all the time.
"Until you understand the concepts of compassion and generosity, yes," Micras said.
"Generosity?" Tabarnas asked. "I just traded for a counter-spell charm that will allow a mermaid to walk upon the land when she is otherwise incapable of doing so. I never mentioned remuneration for that item."
"Only because you intend to sell her tank once she's no further use for it," Micras replied. "I know the mind of a goblin trader."
"Humph!" Tabarnas said. "I'm sure we can all make some mutually beneficial arrangement at the appropriate time. For now, would you like to try out your new trinket, my dear?"
"Not while everyone's looking," Eos said, she felt her cheeks colour.
"Oh, indeed not," Tabarnas said. "Come on, owl, Rachel, let us give Eos some privacy."
"Rachel can stay and help me," Eos said.
"Very well," Tabarnas said as he retreated down towards the front of the trader's wagon. "Come Micras, maybe I shall tell you a story."
"Please hurry," Micras implored Eos before flapping after the old goblin trader.
Eos took the silver ring, a smooth, oval green stone set into it, onto the ring finger on her right hand, it fit snugly. No sooner was it in place than she felt a familiar tingle from her lower half, the water instantly appeared to become colder and, if possible, wetter.
Using her new legs Eos climbed out of her tank and down the side where Rachel helped her into the blue and purple tie-dyed summer dress that she had chosen.
"Oh yes," Rachel said, clapping with delight, "you look very pretty!"
Eos was already missing the water, but practicality had to trump creature comforts. While everyone else slept in the miniature castle strapped into the back of the trader's wagon Eos had been forced to sleep in her tank last night with only the iron golems Felix and Gerda for company. The water did get a little cold overnight for Eos's taste, even with her wearing her tail. If she could sleep in the castle, even being forced to walk on legs, it would feel a little more like the home she was so desperate to return to.
"Thank you Rachel," Eos said. "I think it's a lovely dress."
"Boys, you can come back now!" Rachel called up to the front of the trader's wagon. Micras and Tabarnas reappeared.
"So we can be on our way, then?" Tabarnas asked.
"We certainly can," Eos said. "We'll have to go to the next market and see if we can get news of Vespula Velvet."
Vespula Velvet was the witch who had cursed Eos's land. Eos believed that the curse had been placed so that Vespula could take over the kingdom of Deepshoal for herself. Eos was protected by a strong charm worked by her fairy godmother, Eos could not be harmed as long as Caer Deepshoal stood tall above the Plains Deep. Vespula had settled for exiling Eos to a faraway kingdom, cursing her so she could not walk upon the land.
The counterspell ring was a good thing, it would prove invaluable in allowing Eos the freedom to pursue justice for her kingdom. Even so, it was an artificial aid allowing her to do something she could once achieve all by herself. If someone stole the ring she would be in very deep trouble.
Eos did not like to look upon the dark side of any given situation. It is best to be grateful that I am, at last, among friends, she considered as she sat upon the front of the trader's wagon, with Rachel and Tabarnas to her left, Micras perched upon the corner of the footwell to her right. The mechanical horse trotted along the road to the next market at Steephill Fell and the day grew in warmth.
"Tabarnas," Rachel said, breaking Eos's reverie. "Why did you give that woman the box of charms? If she sells them for what you said she would you'll end up paying more for that ring than if you'd just given her the two sovereigns she asked for."
Tabarnas sniggered, keeping his eyes on the road. "You must have a touch of goblin trader in you, girl," he said. "That's very astute. What she didn't know, and I did, is that Farthingbright's general store received a massive shipment of pewter luck charms about three weeks ago, crashed the market. The recommended retail is a half crown apiece but at the moment you'd be lucky to shift one for more than a florin."
"So you lied to her," Rachel said, putting the matter into blunt terms.
Tabarnas knitted his brow and puffed out his cheeks in irritation.
"I did not," he protested. "I told her the recommended retail, which is true. If she holds on to them for a few months she may be able to get recommended on them. She's just unlikely to get that much right at this moment, and we have six boxes of the stupid things. It's called trade."
"Sounds like a fancy way of telling a complicated lie," muttered Rachel.
"That's very much what trade is," Micras said.
"It is not!" Tabarnas blustered. "It's... it's... beyond the comprehension of those without a nose for business. A category that I can now tell you both fall into."
And so the wagon continued upon the road to Steephill Fell with the small party bickering all the way. The journey took them no more than three more hours, the mechanical steed was pretty fast. When they reached the town Tabarnas found a place to park the wagon. After he had set Felix and Gerda to watch the stock Tabarnas locked up the wagon.
"Right," he said, pulling on the padlock that he had threaded across the back door of the wagon to test that it was properly closed. "We have about three hours until the evening bell. I will go and find a market pitch for tomorrow and suitable provisions for our evening meal. The rest of you may do as you please."
"I will head to the town square," Eos said. "Perhaps someone there knows about Vespula."
"Can I come with you?" Rachel said.
"I might have to go into the tavern," Eos said. "That's really no place for a child."
"I'm not a child," Rachel complained. "I'll be twelve next year, maybe thirteen."
"Maybe thirteen?" Micras asked. "Why the uncertainty?"
"Well, I lived all my life in the Skull Garden, until about four days ago," Rachel explained. "James told me about years and birthdays, we started counting but I don't know how old I was by then. We have guessed that I am somewhere around eleven years old, but we don't know for certain."
"You lived your whole life in the garden?" Micras asked.
"As far as I know," Rachel said.
"Just you and James?" Micras pressed on, it was clear that he was leading somewhere with his inquiry.
"Yes," Rachel said. "Just me and James."
"Well, then, who looked after you when you were too small to look after yourself?" Micras asked. "I have seen babies, until they grow to four or five years old they can't walk, or talk, or do much of anything. Someone has to take care of them."
"Oh, yes, I never thought of that," Rachel said. "I mean, I think I haven't... Now you come to say something I can't help but think that I must have noticed this, or thought something, or asked a question..."
Rachel stumbled to a stop, her face blank. Suddenly she inhaled, her gaze came up and swept round looking at the faces of all her companions.
"I remember... something... there was... there was a green lady," she said, excited. "I remember she used to sing me a song, she was so pretty, like Eos."
Eos blushed at Rachel calling her pretty, she'd have thought that she would have got used to the little girl's guileless compliments by now. The fact was that not since she had lost her status as a princess had anyone called her anything nice. The sideshow owner had always referred to her as 'fish face'.
"I can't remember any more," Rachel said, a note of sorrow in her tone. "It's all fuzzy, the harder I think the fuzzier it becomes."
"I think that someone is under a spell of forgetfulness," Micras said.
"How do you know about spells?" Tabarnas asked spikily, he still hadn't got over the argument about the difference between good business and bad fibbing. "And how would you know who is under one?"
"I wasn't always a ghost," Micras said. "When I was alive I was a shamanic familiar. That's why I can talk."
"A familiar?" Tabarnas scoffed, "that doesn't mean you know anything about magic."
"I know more than you," Micras said. "Anyway, I was just making an observation. Now I am going for a snooze. Goodbye."
The owl circled and swooped through the wall of the wagon and out of sight.
"You really should be less rude," Rachel said to Tabarnas.
"Well, he just acts like he knows everything," Tabarnas said. "It rubs me up the wrong way."
"That's no excuse," Rachel said.
"We should really get on with our chores," Eos interrupted another brewing squabble. "Rachel, you had best go with Tabarnas, I'm afraid I cannot guarantee that I will be going to places that you should come too."
"Alright, Eos," Rachel said. "Maybe I can teach Tabarnas some manners while I'm with him."
"Maybe so," Eos smiled. "I will see you both back here after evening bell."
So the friends took different roads, Tabarnas and Rachel heading along the main street to find the master of Steephill Fell Market and Eos alone headed for the town square to ask after news of Vespula Velvet and the kingdom of Shaleshore.
No one in the square could help Eos and so she was forced to visit the town tavern. The tavern building was large, offering a variety of halls and lounges that catered to different kinds of clientele. In the trader's bar Eos talked with a merchant who knew that in the jailhouse at Avon Temple he had seen a troll imprisoned that had claimed to once work for a witch in the caves beneath Deepshoal.
It wasn't much to go on but it was something. Before evening bell Eos returned to the trader's wagon where Felix and Gerda were sat at the side of the road playing a game of dice.
"Hello fish-lady," said Felix. "You don't have a tail."
The iron golems were strong, pleasant company, and completely immune to all forms of magic save for the alchemy that animated them, they were not, however, terribly bright. They had been built to fetch, to carry and to provide security, not to dazzle with conversational prowess.
"No Felix," Eos said. "I have a magic ring that allows me to use my land legs. Have Tabarnas and Rachel not returned?"
Felix did not have to answer, Tabarnas came hurrying around the corner, his face pale.
"Oh! Eos! Eos!" he cried running over to the side of the wagon. "Something terrible has happened!"
"What's the matter?" Eos asked. "Where is Rachel?"
"That's just it," Tabarnas explained breathlessly. "We had come out of the master's office and I was just cutting a deal for some fresh fish in the merchant's arcade nearby. I looked around and Rachel had gone, I searched and I searched but I couldn't find her anywhere. I thought maybe she'd come back here."
"She hasn't been here," Gerda said. "Would you like us to go find her?"
"One of you... Gerda," Tabarnas said. "Please find her."
Gerda stood straight up, towering over Tabarnas, Eos and the trader's wagon.
"I'll come with you," Tabarnas said to the golem. We have to find her."
"I agree," Eos said. "I'll come too."
So, as the evening bell sounded across Steephill Fell the golem, the goblin and the mermaid set out to find Rachel, and they did, but how and where will be told in another story at another time.