Still Waters Run Deep: Part 1

A fantasy serial by Siri Paulson

 

Another town, another floating market. Payut settled his conical straw hat more firmly on his head and paddled closer, already planning what he would say. The market thronged with narrow boats, hawking fruit and rice, fans and sarongs to the townspeople on the docks. Every town market smelled almost the same, with small variations if one went far enough up the waterways – a different spice mixture here, a different oil there. This one smelled of incense and fresh fish and deep-fried bean curd. His stomach gurgled.

As he brought his boat in to an empty spot on the docks, children were already crowding close. “It’s the charms man!” they shouted, overlapping each other in their excitement. “What did you bring us?”

Payut smiled. “Dolls and toy soldiers, fans and tops. I even have an emperors-and-footmen board for sale.”

A little girl called down, “Don’t you have any charms?”

Payut kept his smile in place. “Of course. Love charms, schoolwork charms, charms to make you faster at martial arts or steady your hand at weaving sarongs.”

An older girl, who looked very like the first, frowned at him. “What about health charms?”

Here it came. “You don’t need any health charms, Little Sister. You’re the very model of the five harmonious elements.”

The little one shook her head vigorously. “It’s not for her. Mama is sick.”

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