“No PDA’s. No laptops. And no paper! Now empty yer pockets!” The man smelled of wine and red pepper. He looked Malcolm up and down with one eye while the other gazed off into the distance.
The young man obliged. He had been told the rules and the necessity of following them. He didn’t care about the reasons. He had to get to the Market. He brought forth two pens and a black leather wallet stuffed with gold coins. He’d been told not to bother with paper money.
The hairy man sniffed at them. “All right. That all you got?”
“Go on, then. We got more waitin’ in line.” He turned his back on the young man.
Malcolm snatched his belongings and strode past the break in the low stone wall to the path beyond. He replaced the wallet in his pocket but kept the pens firmly in hand.
The night air was chill, and fog clung to the ground in patches. It was something like a tale Malcolm’s mother would tell, which was only fitting. After all, the town ahead was the Writers’ Market. Everything here was something out of a story. Even the unpopulated space between the wall and the town was thick with tales untold.
To his left lay a graveyard. He could see shapes trudging about the headstones. On the other side of the path an orchard. He heard a desperate laugh and running feet from the trees. Ahead, the road into town. Malcolm could hear music playing bright and fast. Time to hurry. He had a mission tonight.
A moment later the buildings were around him. A great crowd pressed against him, and he feared the possibility of pickpockets. Soon his hands were sore from gripping the pens so tightly, but he had been warned. He needed to have his pens with him at all times. In case he found what he searched for.
Before, Malcolm had thought the city was simply like one lifted from some clichéd fantasy story, but he had been wrong. The buildings were made of wood, of steel, of brick. They were gothic, Arabic, colonial.
The crowd was as varied as the architecture, and all held pens. Some clutched packets of paper bound with twine or wire or glue. They ran away from the Market, back to wherever they called home. The hubbub was deafening. Malcolm could understand not a word.
He struggled through the crowd and pushed himself into the nearest building that seemed safe, a large wood and plaster structure that had a filled cup painted on a hanging sign.
He burst in through the door and found himself in a brightly lit room crowded with men conversing affably with one another. A bar ran the length of one wall, and behind stood the most welcome of sights: a bartender. Malcolm was well-acquainted with many of these.
He sat on one of the wooden stools along the bar as the man with the shaved head approached him. “What’ll it be?”
“The local brew.” Malcolm smiled. He had learned much in his own travels, though he was young. Always drink at least one round of the local brew, no matter how bitter.
“You’ll have be more specific. Every brew is local for us.”
He considered a moment with an awkward smile. “A pale ale, then?”
“We have fermented blizzard.” The barkeep poured a drink lighter in color than Malcolm would have expected.
He tossed a coin onto the counter. “That enough?”
“No, but you’ll pay one way or another. Everyone does. It won’t cost much, though. Just mention me in your first story, and we’ll call it even.”
“Mention you?” His mind worked. “I was told there were two types of people here. Authors and the others – well, I suppose they aren’t people, are they?”
The bartender nodded. “I suspected you were new. Yeah, there are only authors and stories here. I am one of the latter, but I get by just fine. Enough people include me in their tales, and I prefer not to be the center of the action. Of course, so many people have made me a fat woman that there’s another bar across town where that story went to reside!” He barked a laugh. “We get together every now and then and compare notes.”
He pointed at Malcolm. “You tell me faithful, you’ll get more than a few more cheap drinks here. You try and make me something I’m not, well, you’ll have more to worry about than spit in your drink!” He barked again and moved to another customer.
Malcolm sipped his brew. It had the bitter sting of a snowy tempest.
The bartender returned. “Looking for a particular kind of story?”
He shook his head. “I wanted to visit first, get my bearings. Find out what the prices are like.” It was not the truth, but better that none knew how desperate he was.
“Ah. Well, the prices can change with the whims of whatever tale you speak with. My price is very slight. Keep it faithful, keep it me in your story, and I’m content. Most, of course, cost more. A few years of your life. Large pieces of your wealth. Your marriage. Anything is fair. Over in the Shadow Quarter, sanity is an asking price.”
“I see. I think I might just wander, then, and see the sights before I barter.”
The bartender looked at him with a knowing half-grin. “You don’t have a premise in mind, not even a genre?”
Malcolm nodded as he stood. “I suppose that’s true.” And indeed it was.
“You should look in the graveyard. That’s where we bury the old stories, the ones that are long dead. There’s always authors out there, trying to dig and find a way to breathe new life into them. Most often they fail, but you might find an author or two willing to give you a few tips. Look out there.” And then the bald man was off to another customer.
Malcolm considered. A graveyard was as good a place as any to find a good story. He finished his drink and reentered the busy street, making his way back to the mist-shrouded plain outside the Market.
The ground was soft, as if it had been turned over many times. Headstones sprouted from the ground in every size and shape. Here a monolithic stone displayed ancient text. “Here lies a tale that none would tell but those whose voices were not heard.” There a simple rock bore writing. “A ballad born from one writer’s voice but drowned in the banality of life.” There, a headstone. “Truth.” Someone had a sense of humor.
His fingers twitched. He wanted to write it all down, but he had no paper. He had his skin, but he’d been instructed that if he felt the need to use his own body as parchment, the tale must have great worth.
There were several figures here, men and women, all digging. None made eye contact.
Malcolm approached a man. He was attired in a dirty overcoat and a dark suit. His hands were caked in mud. He scratched at the inside of a casket, pulling up scraps of paper and stuffing them into his pockets. An electric lantern sat atop a nearby headstone.
“Hello.” Malcolm’s voice was uncertain.
The other man turned and scowled. “This one’s mine.”
“This is my story. I’ll take what I want.” He clutched another fistful of scraps to his chest.
“I didn’t think anyone was allowed paper here.”
A wry smile mocked Malcolm. “Of course you’re not allowed to bring any in, but if you dig here or there, you can find stories that haven’t been disturbed in ages. You can find their paper, and salvage something. Enough to take back with you, push out a short story or two of your own. Enough to get a bit more money.” He buried the scraps into pockets inside his coat.
Malcolm’s breath quickened. Perhaps this is what he had come for, but he didn’t want to break any rules. He didn’t want to risk punishment. “I thought you were supposed to buy stories from, well, the stories.”
“Of course you are. Of course you are.” The man spoke the last to himself. He refocused his attention on Malcolm. “What are you doing out here if you’re looking for a story?”
“The bartender told me I might find one here.”
He chuckled. “He did?” He seemed to consider a moment, and then his words came faster. “Take a look around. Only dead stories here. Most you could find are a few scraps here and there. Course, in the hands of the right author, it might be enough. You might breathe new life into something so old that it feels right to people. Or you might fumble.” He paused, examining the scrap he now held in his hand.
His attention snapped back to Malcolm. “Listen, if I give you some of these scraps, will you leave me alone? I have so much work to do.” Without waiting for an answer, he plunged a hand into his jacket and thrust a few scraps of paper at Malcolm. “Here.”
The young man took the papers automatically and backed away. A scrap of a dead story might be enough for him, maybe, but it was too dark here to see what the scraps held.
Time to return to the Market.
He smiled. He had paper. What writer isn’t glad of some device on which to record the ideas that only they can access?
He glanced at the scraps. The old author had played him for a fool, it seemed. These sheets were blank. Well, at least he had something on which to write a story.
The young man searched without aim. He came to a place where gypsy wagons lined the street. Women, men and children shouted to the passing crowds from the wagons, or they watched, their eyes hidden by deep, dark eyelashes.
“I am the tale of two lovers cursed by her father!”
“Swords flashing! Blood flowing!”
“Ideas to tickle the brain!”
They all called their wares, from tawdry to urbane to magnificent.
Malcolm paused before one wagon whose roof was melted wax that still sprouted hundreds of lit wicks. A woman in silk robes the color of age sat on the ladder-step leading into her home. She had an aged beauty, long curly hair, and eyes that were gold. She smiled at Malcolm. “Have you come to buy?”
“You didn’t call out to me as I passed.”
“I do not need to sell myself in so mundane a manner. What I have is of value, to the right person. Are you interested?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps you could give me a sample.”
She smiled. “Of course. Come inside, so no other may hear what I shall speak to you.” She turned and entered the wagon made of melted wax.
Malcolm might as well see what this was. He followed the woman.
Inside, the wagon seemed to be lit by flickering candles, though Malcolm could see none. It smelled of a thousand different scented waxes, as if every candle in the world had been burned here, just once. A cacophony of scents, yet it did not offend the senses.
The woman sat behind a low table that filled the bulk of the wagon’s interior. Malcolm sat on the floor opposite her.
Her voice was husky, as if she had not spoken in a long while. “I am the tale of Sanya Kinholder, who bonded her human family with that of an elf’s and the wages she earned for her brave folly. I am not a long story, though I am older than most. I was told first in glades that stand greener than anything left upon your world, before wine tasted as sweet or ale as bitter as you know it. It has been long since I was told. If you tell me true to the world of men, you will be well recompensed. What am I worth to you?”
Malcolm listened politely. “I thought I would hear a sample of what you were.”
“What I am is a story, and I cannot give merely a part of myself. I can tell you little without becoming yours. Decide now what I am worth to you, and I will decide whether you are worthy of me.” She smiled at him, as a teacher would smile at a pupil that struggled to find the correct answer.
“I would be willing to part with all my gold.” Malcolm reached for his wallet, prepared to hand over his money.
“You were not told how things worked here, were you? No, I suppose it is nearly impossible for one author to speak so openly to another concerning the manner in which we do business here.” She rested against the back wall of the wagon. “The first man who bought me gave me three years of his life as well as his relationship with his eldest son. He produced me quickly and accurately. All his tribe regarded him with wonder.” She leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table. “Now you come, trying to purchase me with gold. I have no interest in man’s metal.”
Malcolm could not spend years of his life for this tale, and he would not sacrifice his marriage. Or his children. “Well, I suppose I should consider this, then. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find my way back here, though.” He reached inside his own jacket, and retrieved the paper the old author had given him. “Do you have addresses here?”
The woman’s eyes shone. “You have paper? Where did you get it?”
Malcolm glanced down, suddenly realizing what he had done. “Another author gave it to me.” He fumbled for words. They escaped his grasp by mere inches.
“Well, if you have paper at the ready, I might as well tell you something of worth, young author. You may have this for free. This is not my tale, of course, but my youngest sister’s.”
Malcolm flattened the scrap on the table.
The woman began. “She was young, and had not been told even once. She longed to feel the touch of an author, to be told. She sold herself cheaply. The author that bought her was good and kind, and told her truly to those beyond the Market. She blossomed and grew quickly in stature here. She reveled in herself, and soon other authors courted her. She did not listen to their entreaties, though. Her heart, her very self, belonged to only one author.”
The woman shook her head in bemusement. “When we tales are young, we delude ourselves into thinking we can only be told by one voice. We learn, though. You men, you die and fade faster than ink dries upon a page.”
She spoke the next phrase very quietly. “Yet we continue.” She paused a moment before continuing. “And if we wish to be told beyond one of your brief spans, we must find new voices to take us up. We must resign ourselves to know that we will never find another storyteller as gentle as our first.” Her voice grew quiet. She shook her head again. “Enough of that. I must conclude the story, mustn’t I?”
The smile on her lips did not reach her eyes. “My sister had not learned this lesson. She gave her whole self to this paramour, and he courted her for years, as only an author can woo a tale. Then he longed for more. He wanted another tale to tell, to make himself more famous in that world of yours. So his eye wandered, as an author’s does.
“My sister did not understand. She was so very, very young. Her first love had abandoned her. She did what so many young tales do.” She whispered, “Her remains are in the graveyard still.” After a moment of silence the woman’s eyes darted to Malcolm’s. “I think it is time for you to go, now. If you find you wish to purchase me, your feet will guide you here, even if your eyes and heart forget the way.” She stood, gesturing to the door.
Malcolm finished jotting the last thought and exited the wagon without speaking. He turned to thank the woman, but the wagon of melted wax was gone. Somehow he was not surprised.
The young man gazed at the little story on his scrap of paper. His eyes pushed the words this way and that with his mind, finding the best possible combination of syllables to serve the strongest sentences.
His feet carried him deeper into the Market. He found himself entering an area where the buildings appeared to be made of spiders’ legs. Malcolm decided he would rather not explore here. He turned to leave.
“Mister, what’re you reading?” Malcolm felt a tugging at his sleeve.
Looking down, he saw a child dressed as a street urchin, complete with dirt-smudged cheeks. The child — Malcolm couldn’t determine a gender even upon close inspection of the face — smiled at him. “Well?”
The young author gestured at the paper in his hand. “I was deciding the best shape for the tale I just got.”
The child giggled. “Silly. Its best shape is the one you first saw it in! Tales always present themselves as they want to be known, and if you paid for it, well, that’s the best way to do it!” The child’s teeth were straight and white. “What’s the story about?”
Malcolm assuaged the curiosity of this strange child. “A tale, I guess.”
“The best kind! Was it a brave tale?”
“It’s a tale of love. I think. I’m not entirely sure.”
“Love? That’s stuff for tall people. I like monsters!” His eyes lit up. Suddenly the child glanced at the crowd moving around them. “Why are we talking in the street? If you buy me some food, I’ll tell you another story about a tale, so you can start a collection.”
Another free, or nearly free, tale? Having two stories to choose from once he returned would be better than just one. He nodded to the urchin’s offer.
The child grabbed Malcolm’s free hand and led him to one of the buildings constructed of spiders’ legs. A sign hung above the door. “Mammon and Mirth.”
“I think I remember a tavern near the entrance of the Market.”
“I like the food here!” The child tugged again. Malcolm allowed himself to be moved.
The interior was lit by incandescent electric bulbs.
The child hopped onto a red leather barstool. “I want two today.”
The bartender nodded. His mouth was so low on his face it seemed as if his chin was grinning. He paced back to a door and mumbled some words.
The author forced himself to sit. “How much will this be?”
The bartender approached, his eyebrows raised. He did not make a sound.
“I’m paying for…” He glanced at the child. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“I get called all sorts of things.”
The bartender returned his attention to Malcolm.
“I’m paying for the kid, I guess.”
The man with the strange mouth gestured at the author.
“No, nothing for me. Thank you.”
He held up three fingers, and Malcolm reached for his wallet, pulling out three coins. “This good?”
The bartender took the money and retreated to the back room, leaving Malcolm and the child alone at the bar.
He looked at the young one sitting next to him. “When will I get this tale of monsters?”
The child relished every word as he spoke them. “He was a big story, the best kind, full of twists and turns and betrayals. He thought he was really something. Always paraded around, grabbing authors and daring them to try and meet his price. A lot tried, and he always laughed at them. But then he met a man who was willing to pay the price he demanded, so he told himself to the author. He thought he had it made; after all, the author was faithful in his adaptation. At least, at first.
“See, the author thought the tale was too big and powerful. So he took the story and erased some of the harsher parts. The story here, he stopped wandering the roads so much. He wasn’t so confident in himself anymore.
“Then the author thought the tale was too long, so he cut out the parts he thought he didn’t need. The story here suddenly seemed shorter. He started staying home.
“Then the author did the worst thing of all. He added romance to the poor story. He tried combining the strong tale with some other story he had bought.
“I never saw what happened, but I heard about it. I guess that strong, brave tale caught sight of himself in a mirror, and fled to the graveyard. He didn’t want anyone else to ever see what he’d become.
“See, you gotta be faithful to the story. Otherwise, you might end up with a monster instead. At least, that’s what the teachers try to tell me, when I’m paying attention. Personally, I don’t like it when they moralize. But I guess Aesops always make the best teachers.” The child shrugged.
The bartender reappeared, bearing two platters stacked with something battered and deep-fried. He set both large plates before the child.
Malcolm stopped scribbling on his papers. “What is that?” He pointed with his pen.
“Fried calamari. You can only find it here in the Shadow Quarter. All the dead giant octopus stories make great food. Not sure why they usually live here. I don’t think squid are all that creepy, but I guess you authors do.” The child savored a bite.
“I think I’ll leave you to enjoy it. Thank you for the story.”
“Course. Anytime you want to buy me food, I can give you another. Got a million of ‘em.”
Malcolm ducked out of the building and hastened from the Shadow Quarter, his increasingly crowded scraps of paper firmly in hand.
As he walked, the hard-packed dirt road transformed into cobblestones. A slight mist became a thick fog, and the streetlights changed from guttering torches to sputtering gas lamps. Small packs of people congregated in circles of light cast by the lamps.
There were fewer doors on the street here, and the buildings were Victorian. They leaned at odd angles against one another.
He passed one mob shouting prices to a man in a deerstalker hat and an overcoat and cape. The man had a distinguished nose and a pipe firmly between his teeth. He raised a gloved hand. “My next adventure, I fear, will wait another night to be told. You are all dismissed.” His voice was refined British, with just a touch of a nasal quality.
He stepped quickly across the street to Malcolm’s side. “My good fellow, I see you have paper that is yet unsoiled by the barbarous pen. Did a tale not give your worth?”
Malcolm shook his head. “Nothing like that. I have two tales I received at little cost.” He spoke elevated English just by standing close to this man.
“Ah, I see. Two tales? A travesty. I shall make it a triumvirate, if you will join me for some tea.” He smiled invitingly.
Malcolm agreed, and the man in the long coat led the way through fog to a tall, thin door. The man produced a key, and they entered into the building.
Inside coat racks lined both sides of a pleasant entry hall. The host unbuttoned his jacket and hung it on a high hook, then turned to his guest. “May I take your coat, Master…?”
“Just Malcolm, thank you. And, if you don’t mind, I like wearing it.”
“Well, Master Malcolm, my home has served to host many patrons, and you would not be the first to enter enshrouded. Come, I believe Penny should be –”
A woman of perhaps twenty years bustled into the hall. She fell to the floor in a deep bow. “Forgive me. I was in the kitchen preparing your tea.” Her cheeks were the color of beautiful roses, and her smile reminded Malcolm of a schoolgirl speaking to a popular boy.
“My dear, dear woman, there is nothing to forgive. Please bring the tea into the drawing room, if you would. I have a guest.”
“Of course, Jarvis.” She stood and exited, glancing over her shoulder while trying to make sure the master did not spy her furtive glances.
Malcolm looked at the taller man. “Jarvis? I thought you had another name.”
He looked at the author, his eyes half-lidded. “Oh, there are many of us in this part of the Market. I’d think nearly every male story here either centers on some great detective or his nemesis. And nearly all the women here are romances. Some day I shall investigate why there are not many male romances. In any case, very few of the romances know how to survive without a man to take care of them. I am told it is quite different in other quarters of the Market, but I so rarely take the opportunity to travel. Here, the drawing room. Make yourself comfortable.”
The room housed a fireplace lit with a cheery English fire. Malcolm was not sure what made the fire English, but witnessing such a blaze anywhere else would not be right. Several padded chairs and low tables completed the room.
The author chose a couch and sat.
Jarvis took a high-backed, stern chair and knit his hands together. “Now. You have two tales upon your canvas, and tales abhor duets. I will complete a trio for you. Let me think. What tale shall I give you, with no cost but the time to hear it?”
The tall man considered. The fire popped cheerfully.
Penny bustled in, carrying a tray that held an ornate tea set. She poured for Malcolm. “Would you care for any cream?”
“No, thank you.”
She handed him a cup, and Malcolm sipped as she poured for Jarvis. The young man was not surprised to find the tea perfect in every way.
Penny handed Jarvis his tea. “Will there be anything else, Jarvis?”
“No, no, thank you Penny.” He waved her away, and she smiled glowingly in return as she hurried out of the room.
“Now that we have our tea, I shall speak. Is your pen at the ready?”
Malcolm nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“Now… Now. Once in this Market lived a curious young story who did not yet know itself. It had not discovered where it commenced nor where it concluded, and so did not know where in the Market it should reside. In truth, it rarely knew its own gender, it was so very young.
“In its wanderings, it came to the graveyard, where we bury stories that have been forgotten by your kind, or tales that have been so horribly destroyed by your tellings that they have passed to wherever dreams go when they die.
“Now, our brave young wandering story found a sight stranger than he had expected. He spied an author digging on a plot of land. A malformed story sat upon a gravestone, begging to be released from a contract between he and the author. The author showed the hideous story his own signature upon the words the author had written, guaranteeing that the author had every right to tell the tale however he wished. You see, as soon as a tale signs the papers that hold its story, it is sealed into that form until such a time as the author releases it. And this tale had signed itself away foolishly.
“The author turned his back and continued digging until he cried eureka. He had uncovered the grave of a story that he had known in his youth. He picked up the scraps of paper that are all that remains when a tale dies, and he took the papers that held the deformed tale. He combined them in a feat of alchemical devilry. Suddenly that deformed tale was even more deformed, but the author enjoyed it.
“The witness was subject to cliché, as so many younger tales are. At that moment it stepped upon a dry twig, and the author turned to see him standing there. He had been discovered.
“The young tale attempted to flee, but the author ordered his new monstrosity to track him. And so the little naïve child of a tale was returned to that wretched gravesite. And there the author multiplied his crimes: he sacrificed a tale that had not willingly handed himself over. He took the child, and melded it with his already hideous monstrosity, and discovered he had created something new. Something he thought would bring him great fame. Something that brought him exile from the Market.
“The forceful taking of a tale, a rape of a story, is one of the few things that will enrage every single tale. It happens sometimes. An author is not willing to pay a price, and he has his way with one of us. When that happens, we exile the man, never allowed to return to find a new tale to prey upon.
“That is what happened then. We allowed him his monster; we wanted nothing to do with it any longer. It was a pitiable beast that would have no home here. And we pushed him out.
“But sometimes, it is said, that author returns to the gravesite, searching for lost scraps of paper, desperate for another tale. That is why we do not allow an author paper when he enters the Market, so only we can give you what you need to capture us. So beware, young author. Beware taking what is not yours to take. Or you may face exile and a life without tales. And that truly is a life of the damned.”
Jarvis leaned back and puffed his pipe.
Malcolm’s pen stopped its racing. “Should I ask you to sign this?”
“Tis not my tale, young man. Simply one I have heard that is not yet manifest. That will come in time, though, I wager.” He lowered his pipe. “But now, drink your tea, and enjoy the fire with me. Your paper is filled?”
Malcolm was surprised as he looked down. His scribbled words had indeed filled the scraps. “Yes.”
He stayed another few minutes with the Englishman, sipping the tea in silence. After they had sat for a short time, Jarvis spoke.
“Then, out into the night. I expect you have spent enough time here this evening, and you should return form whence you came. Though, if you prefer to linger, perhaps you should pause at the tavern at the road’s end. It is good to bid farewell to the Market there, I am told. I will walk you to the door.”
The detective led Malcolm out to the damp night. The door shut behind him as he stood on the cobbled street. It was quiet now. The author heard no footsteps save his own. He ventured into the night, away from the home of Jarvis.
Malcolm gave his feet to the road, intent to exit the market. He had three tales. More than enough. He had been told if he set his mind on leaving, he would find the path at the proper time.
Soon he stood once more under the sign of the filled cup. He decided to take Jarvis’s advice and enter for a farewell drink. The bar was nearly empty now, but the same bald bartender smiled at him behind the bar.
“Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, off shift?”
The bartender smiled broadly. “You ever hear of a story that sleeps? Only the very old ones do that, and though I am old, I am not yet worn!” He barked his laugh.
Malcolm sat on a stool. Just down the bar from him sat the only other patron, an old man who seemed exhausted. Malcolm turned to the bartender. “Pretty quiet.”
“In this section of the Market, sure. Other taverns, they’ll be busier this time of day. What’ll it be?”
“Is the price the same?”
“Another of the brew you gave me before.”
“I’ll have that right up, then.” The jovial tale vanished to a back room.
Malcolm glanced over at the tired figure again. “Are you a tale, then?”
The man turned, and Malcolm spied the face. Sudden recognition brought a smile. It was the man who had been digging last night, the one who had given Malcolm the paper on which he recorded the stories. And not only that, but in the bright light of the tavern —
“I can’t believe it’s you! I’ve read all your books — they were fantastic!” Malcolm rushed over, grabbing for his pen and a spare scrap of paper. Of course all the papers were filled, but perhaps a corner was left white – ah, here was one. “Could I have an autograph? Please?”
The older man didn’t say a word. He grabbed at the pen, signed the page, and marched past, leaving the tavern. He seemed perturbed, Malcolm thought, but it did not matter. He had his idol’s signature.
The older man fell to the ground, and suddenly he was not there. A pile of words, not made of ink, but the very essence of words formed into the shape of a man, took his place.
Malcolm rushed to him, but the bartender was there first. “You thought I did not recognize you? You thought you could drink here? No. We knew who you were. We knew what was happening.” He rolled the old man over to look him in the face. “You’re one of us now, thanks to this young man. You gave him paper to write your story, and we made sure he heard the tale. And you yourself signed it. You can never leave the Market. And now, now we shall do with you whatever we please. No story shall ever suffer because of you, ever again.”
Malcolm did not stay to see what happened. As he raced out of the tavern, he found the street crowded with many others. They were all tales, all intent on entering the room with the old author.
He sprinted to the sentinels and past to his own home far beyond. Yet, he had the tale he needed. And it was exactly what he had wanted. Malcolm even made it home just before bedtime.
He never told his children how he had acquired that particular bedtime story, a tale they had never heard before. They never requested to hear it again, but they remembered it for the rest of their lives. They never again twisted a tale. They kept to the truth of every story. And perhaps that is as it should be.
As for Malcolm’s idol, he never published another book. Malcolm never checked to see why.