Chapter 2 — Lignumholtz Market
A buzz of bartering and chattering voices droned down the stone street, beckoning forward. Heeding their call, Sakalina walked swiftly toward the heart of the village. She passed buildings on either side of the cobblestone way. The bricks, stones, and wood of one structure seemed to be stitched together to the next, except for an occasional alleyway. Collectively, either side of the avenue seemed like a mass of huddled faces of giants. Looming about her like monstrous eyes and mouths, some doors and windows were open, and others were shut. Sakalina’s eyes narrowed as she spied the clearing at the end of the avenue.
Sakalina dashed into the central courtyard, and slowed from her rapid pace to take in the aromas and sounds of the open space. The village market in Lignumholtz was not as busy as some of the others in Twigsylvania, but it could never be reasonably accused of lacking variety nor competition. Sakalina found a small patch of cobblestones amidst the convention of vendors, and knelt down, claiming the space as her own. She pulled a purple cloth from her bag and spread it on the stones. She opened the harvest bag at her other hip. Then she took each of the eight twigs she had harvested that morning, and gently placed upon the cloth. With each she made sure that the leaves she had carefully retained during harvest and transport were displayed in the most appealing manner. She smiled at her bounty, momentarily admiring the contrast of green twigs upon the purple cloth. Sakalina stood proudly beside the presentation of her produce.
“Best twigs in the village!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, and they were the ample and well practiced lungs of a climber who had been peddling her wares for several years.
Around her there were purveyors of pottery, vendors of vegetables, and fashioners of fine cloths. Other trinkets and devices filled in the holes between the major marketers and hawkers. Some of the sellers had simple venues such as Sakalina’s, while others had brought along a table. A few had set up shop under a canopy, and some even had taken the time to erect a tent with poles and sides. A throng of people wandered through the mats and booths, chattering and buzzing in the morning breeze.
A man dressed in a blue shirt and tan trousers approached the little purple cloth. Sakalina shouted at him, “These twigs will write smoother and last longer than any others you’ll find here.” Her hand swept an arc low, skirting above the leaf-tops of the truncated twigs.
Blue-shirted man glanced down and his footsteps slowed.
“How can you make a claim like that?” he asked.
“Customer reviews, personal testing, and an independent analysis panel. Best in the village two years running, according to the Lignumholtz Messenger!” she exclaimed with bravata.
The prospect looked up at Sakalina’s curious hat, as if judging a fashion contest, then his eyes dropped back down to the presentation upon the purple paisley patterned mat.
“These?” the man implored, referring to Sakalina’s twigs.
“These indeed. These are the younger siblings of the award winners from the very same tree, and I care for that darling scribina tree myself. That tree makes me very proud to offer up its bounty.”
“May I try one?” blue shirt asked.
“Certainly,” Sakalina agreed. She opened the sack at her other hip and withdrew a board and coil-bound notebook. Her dexterous fingers flipped the book open to a clean page and extended it toward the man.
He took the book in his left hand.
“Which one?” Sakalina asked, noting the hand with which the man had taken the book.
He looked down. “Second from the left, the row toward you.”
She took his description to mean his left, and with her right hand, she lifted the chosen twig by its barky stem and handed it to the man.
“Yes,” he said, handing it back to her.
Within a flash, Sakalina’s knife was out of its sheath and whittling away at the cut end of the twig, the leaves toward the growing tip bouncing with her swift strokes and she rotated the shaft of the twig as she went. Twenty-two seconds time, no more, and Sakalina produced to the man a freshly sharpened pencil. The leaves and growing tip of the scribina twig were preserved at one end, and the other end, where Sakalina had cut it from its tree, was now fashioned into a pencil.
Without a word, the man looked carefully at the twiggy pencil in his hand and examined the handiwork of the writing tip. The green-grey core of the twig had been exposed and sharpened to a dangerous-looking point. The man looked up at Sakalina and smiled. Then his eyes were down on the page and he pressed the greenish pencil tip to the paper. His smile deepened just from the feel of it in his hand and upon sensing the pencil’s first kiss upon the empty page, Sakalina could have sworn she heard a stifled giggle beneath his lips.
He began with a simple stroke, then another, and the third was formed more quickly. The began writing more swiftly and wildly, and his face glowed with joy as the page filled with green-grey scribblings. His writing was elegant, and he had drawn a figure in two of the corners of the page as ornaments among the words.
“Seventy five,” he said.
“One hundred fifty,” Sakalina volleyed back at him. “Just look at the richness of that color. The beautiful patina upon the page, and that’s no special paper. It is all in the twig, I tell you. Your handwriting is remarkable, I might add. I could see the delight in your eyes as you feel the smoothness of this most excellent twig, right sir? One fifty. Surely, it’s worth it.”
Blue-shirted man flushed upon her accurate appraisal of his appreciation of the pencil’s pedigree.
“Well young lady, I will admit, it is a pleasant pencil. How about one hundred even?” he asked, attempting to pull the price back down.
“One twenty, sir, and this marvelous pencil is yours,” she bandied back.
Blue shirt man looked at her carefully, then down at the page of writing. He shook the pencil to feel its weight and assess its center of gravity. The man looked at the leaves critically as he rotated the scribina twig in his hand. He had to admit, the quality was excellent. He wasn’t about to talk the young lady down. Still, he wanted to be sure what he was getting.
“Is it guaranteed?” he asked. “Your claims about long life? How good are they? Will it keep writing as smoothly as this?” He shook the book with the elegant writing.
“Or half your money back,” Sakalina boasted.
“Half?” he asked.
Sakalina explained to him, “I can’t resell a used pencil. Well I won’t at least; you know some others do. Only fresh long-lasting quality from me.”
“Deal,” blue shirted man agreed. He held out the book to Sakalina and kept the pencil in his other hand.
Sakalina took the book back, put back her knife, which she had been holding since fashioning the tip on the pencil. Sakalina made a fist, and held it out to the man.
The man made a fist around the twig pencil, and met Sakalina’s knuckles with his.
“I shall pay one hundred twenty credits for this pencil,” he said.
One of the formerly clear gemstones in his ring flashed red for a second, then went clear again. The gem in Sakalina’s ring flashed green, and continued flashing on and off with half second pulses.
“I accept this offer,” Sakalina said aloud.
Her ring-gem flashed solid green for two seconds, then ceased its flashing and became clear again. Their knuckles parted.
“Thank you, sir,” Sakalina said. “I am confident you shall enjoy your marvelous new scribina twig.”
A smile was his only response. He held the scribina twig in front of him as he walked away and disappeared into the crowded marketplace.
Sakalina sold two more pencils to youngsters about her age, and three to a couple to whom she gave a lower price per twig as a quantity discount. She had sold six of her eight for the day, when she noticed that some of the other younger sellers were packing up shop. She placed the two remaining unsold twigs back in her harvest bag and shook off the purple cloth before placing it back in the bag at her other hip.
Realizing that she had forgotten her lunch, Sakalina stopped at one of the food booths in the market and grabbed a few items for her mid-day meal, performing the same kind of ring-exchange she had done with her customers to transfer the funds to the food vendors. She left the marketplace along one of the cobblestone streets that led away from the center of the village.
• • •