Losing a whole year...
The sun fairly sparkled as it set over the Rocky Mountains, casting a pleasant glow over the world. A small group sat perched on a rock formation, casually visiting. They seemed to be an odd assortment of people – one man stood nearly seven feet tall, built like a football player. Another was a petite girl barely out of her teenage years, willowy and blonde. Then there was an older man with white hair sticking out at all angles, and a woman in her mid-20’s; her eyes the color of kelp. There were several others with the small group, each of them as strange and out of place as the other. Their demeanor indicated tenseness in the group, however they were nothing but smiles and casual chatter with one another.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, the area around them seemed to change ever so slightly. A birds’ cry caused each of them to turn their head, as though they could hear something different then just the bird. The woman with eyes the color of kelp stood, turning and striding confidently down a small bluff into a thicket. One knew if they walked down there, that they would find a quarter mile of thick trees – and in the center, a small clearing, deserted except for a wizened squirrel that lorded over that area of the forest.
To the eyes of any casual observer – of which there were none, as they were in an area far away from any humans – they were a group of friend off for an evening stroll in the woods. To the eyes of the others, they were finding themselves in a new world.
The woman with eyes of kelp led the small group. She pushed through the last bit of trees, her eyes sparkling as she spoke to her friends with a soft, wavery voice. “This is it, gang. Remember the rules. Stay with another, avoid RotHook, make sure you don’t eat any Goblin Fruit that you don’t know, don’t barter away something that you can’t replace, and for God’s sake…if the Gentry show up, run.” With that, she turned, stepping out of the trees into what should have been an empty clearing.
A gasp from the petite young girl made the woman with eyes of kelp turn towards her, grinning as she leaned down, speaking softly, “Welcome to the Goblin Market, Katrine…”
She led the young girl through the Market, her eyes casually moving over the wares for sale. This was a regular market; every other month when the moon was full, in a clearing known only in dreams. The girl was new, fairly fresh from the Hedge, and she had never seen such a place. Her eyes grew large as saucers as they drew near a table filled with mirrors. The woman with the kelp colored eyes snatched her hand, giving her a warning glance and speaking softly as she moved her away towards less dangerous wares.
“Those are not for the likes of us, Katrine.”
Guileless blue eyes looked up to her mentor, a look of confusion plain upon her face, “Why, Captain?”
The woman just smiled and shook her head, “Here is not the place to discuss such things. Come.”
The Market was a fantastic place, filled with every scent you could imagine (and some you wished you could forget.) Creatures of every shape, size, color, and temperament filled the area, with merchants yelling in every language imaginable (and some you never thought you would hear!) Like many Goblin Markets, this one saw few Lost. Those who were would smile tersely at one another as they passed, nodding in acknowledgment of their shared ordeal.
At this particular Market, one woman stood out from the crowd. An ethereal beauty surrounded the Waterborn as she casually perused that which was available for sale. Black-Blue hair flowed down to her waist in braids, the hair adorned with tiny shells at various intervals. Pale skin with the faintest green hue, and eyes the color of sea kelp. She carried herself with dignity and grace, her movements fluid. One could see the ocean in her every movement.
The lovely Elemental walked through the Market with her charge, the willowy blond girl watching everything around her with wide-eyed wonder. To the casual observer, the woman was there on a pleasure stroll, perusing each stall with interest. To any one who could see into the souls of men and women – she knew exactly what she came for, and she was only biding her time.
She paused after nearly an hour of browsing, glancing around to the large Ogre who accompanied her through the gate. He moved to her side, swiftly distracting the young girl and pulling her away. The Captain smiled grimly, striding forward to the one booth she had deliberately passed by. Sitting along the front of the booth were 6 young men and women. They were dressed in high Victorian fashion, and each sat with a vapid gaze upon their faces. A nervous looking Goblin came scurrying forward, sputtering and talking at her knees.
The Captain just turned a cool gaze on him, a sneer on her lips. “Is this all that you have? Where are the fresh humans? Where are the…lively ones?”
The Goblins eyes widened, shaking in excitement. It was rare to find a Changeling willing to purchase a slave – rare indeed! Though the Changelings were always willing to pay more then any other denizen of Arcadia, save perhaps the Gentry. “Yes…yes, Ma’am! Here, here, they are back here.”
The Goblin led the Captain to the back of the booth, missing the grimace of dismay on her face when he proudly showed her his wares. An infant lie in a cradle, looking up at Jocelyn with wide, intelligent eyes. She felt a pang in her heart as she looking at the infant, biting her lip briefly. The Goblin turned, his eyes excited as he spoke rapidly up at her, “Do you like it, Ma’am? Brand new, newly taken…lovely specimen! She doesn’t even bite!”
The Captain just nodded once, “Indeed. I am very interested in this one. When does she go on auction?”
The Goblin looked down at his bare wrist, studying the hairs there; and then looked up into the night sky, stroking the three long hairs that adorned his chin. She could tell that he was deep in thought – she could also tell he was not the brightest crayon in the proverbial box. “In an hour, Ma’am! She’ll go for a nice price, yes yes she will…You must be there to get her!”
The Captain nodded once with a scowl, before turning on her heel and marching away from the booth. As she moved out of sight, a troubled frown crossed her face. An infant in the Goblin Market – whomever purchased the child would surely find themselves face to face with a Gentry sooner or later…if they were not already in attendance. There was something about the child, a look in the girls eyes perhaps; that made Jocelyn feel she had no choice but to try to rescue the girl child from her inevitable doom.
With a brief nod to the Ogre, and another to the Wizened – her course was set.
The aforementioned time drew near; as the moon began to reach its apex in the sky. Murmured words exchanged with the Ogre pulled the young girl far away from the auction block. With her motley at her back, The Captain moved towards the booth, her face set in stone. She felt her stone at her back, leaning forward to whisper softly into her ear.
“I don't see them here yet, Sprout. But I can't guarantee they won't show up...”
She nodded once, speaking softly, her lips hardly moving, “If they show up – remember the rules. You run, I'll distract them.” She looked at him, brooking no argument.
He sighed and just nodded, fading back into the crowd as she pushed forward through the throng of creatures to watch the auction. Her face carefully schooled, she watched the auctioneer as he brought broken creature after broken creature out before them. It brought back a memory; one of many...
“Why can't we save them all? Why can't we get them all out of here?”
“I wish we could Joss...I wish we could. But we can't. We can't save them all...and some? Are beyond saving. We do the best we can...”
The memory of his voice gave her a surge of strength as she took mental stock of what she could use to purchase the child. The Goblin was driven by greed – that much was a given. But what would really excite him? What would seat the deal? That was the real question, and the real challenge in this situation.
The auction continued, the humans fetching below normal prices. The Merchant didn't seem to be the least bit worried. He knew that his prize was coming up soon, and that he would more then make up for the lack of sales. A hush fell over the crowd as the last adult was led away like a cow to slaughter. The entire Market knew what was next – there were no secrets in this world. Like a comet shooting across the sky, the laughter of a young girl child filled the air. A collective gasp was heard; the rumor was there, but no one would believe it until they saw it.
A perfect specimen. A child, two years old. Curly blond hair and green eyes – the child that every Gentry and their toys longed for. A perfect specimen that would be a blank canvas for the corruption of the Fae. And every single creature at the Market that night wanted her.
The Captain listened as the bids began to fly wildly from all corners of the auction. From Gems of Gammara (guaranteed to grant at least one wish to perfection), to extra hands and eyes, to a rather toady maiden's hand in marriage. The bids flew, and the Captain carefully gauged the Auctioneers eyes. The more esoteric bids seemed to entice him; but it was the bids that were personal that really seemed to get him going. It struck her from no where, the price that she would pay for the girl child.
“Don't ever barter away anything you cannot live without, Joss. They won't go back on their words, and you won't get it back. And don't give away your dreams...they are your most important asset.”
Her voice was strong as she spoke, the words carrying over the crowd to the Auctioneer. He perked immediately, his greasy green eyes meeting hers. “I bid the memories of a Young Girls' only True Love!”
Another collective gasp was heard among the crowd. To offer memories willingly was unusual. To offer memories of something so sacred as True Love was unheard of. Every eye in the Market was on her as she stepped forward. The Auctioneer was nearly blue with the excitement in his face as his shrill voice echoed over the crowd. “All of the memories Ma'am? From meeting to ending? Every last one?”
She nodded once, giving a slight smile, “All of them. Every last one.”
The Goblin cackled brightly, “SOLD! To the Lady Captain in Blue!” The crowd erupted into a furor of noise. Perhaps they had not won the girl child, but they were all gleeful to watch one of the Lost willingly forsake the precious memories of her short life. She could hear her compatriots behind her, the sharp intake of breath at the precious gift she would give for a mere child. There was no time to explain it all to them, she strode towards the block; the crowd parting themselves before her.
Greasy green eyes met hers as the Goblin crouched down until he was nose to nose with her. He dropped his shrill voice to a whisper as they conducted their final business.
“You agree to give me all memories of True Love, Ma'am? And you can confirm this was True Love?”
“Yes. On both accounts.”
He cackled and looked at her curiously for a moment, waiting for the Lost to attempt to pull one over on him. “You know you don't get these back? They are mine...”
“I know. Just do it. I would like my wares...”
He let out a chortle and placed his grimy hands on either side of her head. She knew how this game worked – slowly she closed her eyes and summoned memories of her husband; of her one True Love. The Goblin was ruthless – drawing the memories away before she could fully relive them one last time...
“Who...who are you? Where am I? Is he gone, is he dead?”
“You are safe, dear one...we'll take care...”
A dozen roses, a picnic in the mountains, “Joss...will you...”
“Do you see them, love? The dolphins?”
“All I can see is...”
She could feel the memories draining from her mind, as the tears streaked her cheeks. There were so many memories for the short time they'd had together – but every memory was blessed. Even the bad ones were beautiful.
“You aren't going with us, Joss!”
“You can't tell me not to come! You need me. I need to be there.”
“It's too dangerous...”
“Our lives are nothing BUT danger. Please...I can't let you go alone...”
A bewildered group, lost in the Hedge. There was no reason for them to have been lost, aside from the Gentry chasing them. Eyes burned into hers, “I love you, Joss. Now go.”
Her last look at him, as a Gentry shook him like a rag doll...
She struggled against the last memory, wanting to keep his face forever in her mind. But the Goblin was more capable then he seemed and he tore that last one out as well. All that remained in her mind was an emptiness. She knew she had been married, she knew she had loved him...but she could not remember his name. And come to think of it, she could not remember his face, either. All that was left was a scent, a wisp of nostalgia that the Goblin left for her.
She looked to him, slightly confused, as he leaned forward to whisper, the long hairs tickling her ear, “Don't say I never left you anything, Lady Captain. You've got his scent.”
Nodding once and wiping the tears from her cheeks, she straightened, looking him in the eye. “I would like my purchase now, please.”
A bundle of kicking limbs was placed into her arms, and she felt the emptiness in her heart flood with a different kind of love. A beautiful infant, a perfect child. And for a brief moment, she contemplated raising said child; showing her all of the love and affection any one could want. Clutching the bundle close to her chest, she turned and walked through the crowd. Again, they parted for her – though this time they all looked on in jealousy, desiring that which she had fairly purchased.
The moon hung full overhead, as she reached her motley. They all looked at her, their expressions unreadable except for that of the young girl. She had been crying, and she looked bewildered. The Captain smiled gently and placed a hand on her shoulder, “I'll explain it all later, Katrine. For now, we should be on our way.”
Her Ogre held her back just slightly as they moved towards the entrance, giving her a hard look. “You broke your own rules, Joss. What the hell...?”
“Shhh. Look at her? Could I have just left her there to be a slave?”
He just shook his head, “I hope the little brat is worth it.”
“She is. I really think that she is...”