Chapter 11: The Green
It was a wholly enchanted place at night, the Green.
A sprawling field, the grass uncut between where dark gold tents flattened it out, surrounded on the outside by forest and then sea, dotted on the inside with all manner of stages and stalls.
Quest had expected it to be like the Marketplace in this respect, with the same sellers and buyers and wares; but it was entirely different. Where the market had been lit and crowded, the Merry Company Circus was darkly eerie, with lights fizzing and popping, like tiny fireworks, inside glass dome-and-pole structures planted sparsely along the path. The path itself trailed off in endless directions. It was set out clearly; but Quest would not have been able to tell, for the life of her, how she knew where it started and stopped.
Dark was everywhere. Blue darkness, accented with the golden tents and the twinkling of the lights. People moved in awed murmuring droves between them, going in and coming out. They ran and they laughed and they swung and cackled. A young man twined flowers around his sweetheart's hair as an old couple wandered by, hand in gnarled hand. Here was not the frenetic pace of the market. It was slow, delicious, and peaceful; and altogether magic, in a dark and strange way.
A hand tapped her shoulder, and Sashay said, "We're helping Willis set up, Quest."
They had chosen a corner near the entrance, but not too near. As Lace had pointed out, Willis should be noticed, but the subject oughtn't feel like they were being held back from seeing the rest of the circus.
He had a small easel and a stack of clean white paper, thick, for the watercolors. Before they had even finished putting together his workstation a small line of interested circus goers had formed, and Quest and Sashay decided to leave, to give Willis more room. Lace opted to stay with him, and she sat in the long grass and began braiding it into bracelets. She said, cryptically, that she had seen enough of circuses before.
"Whatever that means," said Sashay, perusing a display of ornate compasses. There were, surprisingly, very few displays of any kind. The tents held signs quietly telling what was within; no garish colors or huge announcements, as they had used for advertisement. Just "TEA ROOM", "HAPPENINGS ROOM", "GLASS RIDDLES AND DREAMS", and so forth.
Unexpectedly, Sashay looped his arm through Quest's and they strolled through the tents arm in arm. She thought it was the same as when he had taken her hand, back in the Marketplace; just a way to stay together. But he offered no such explanation.
She decided not to ask for one.
They ducked through the entrance of the HAPPENINGS tent, finding it dimly glowing. It was filled with shelves, smoke, and dust swimming through the candlelight. The shelves were covered with small china pots and porcelain bottles and labeled, oddly, "Places" and "Feelings". Sashay moved to one shelf and Quest to another, and she opened a Places bottle and inhaled the sharp scent that escaped.
Instantly, she was standing between a great roaring fireplace in a cavernous hall, with snow howling outside tall diamond-paned windows and a banquet set out on a long table. The smell was everywhere – spicy and sweet, like ham glaze, and cinnamon.
The bottle was still in her hands and she put in the stopper. In a second the fire, banquet, and snow all vanished around her.
So that was what was contained in all these pots and flasks – experience soporifics, bottled happenings.
Another, from the Feelings shelf, smelled of wildflowers and meadow; and Quest was alarmed by the sudden feel of someone kissing her cheek and putting their arm around her shoulder. She quickly capped the flagon, flushing, and decided not to risk another Feeling bottle.
"They come from all over the world," said a voice beside her, and Quest turned to see a tall woman, dark-skinned and with a mass of wild curls tucked and twisted around a colorful scarf over her head.
"You mean, these are actual people's real experiences?" said Quest.
The woman's mouth twitched in amusement. "Real as life," she replied, straightening pots on the shelf. Her voice was accented with something foreign. "Some are more elaborate than others."
"How do you come by them?" said Sashay, coming up next to Quest.
The woman shrugged. "A scent, a melody can bring back memories in an instant. I simply take this and bring the memory deeper and fuller. Someone comes in with a specific feeling they want to keep forever, I put it in two vessels; one for them, one to remain here to be sold."
Quest said, "That's what it costs?"
"Sounds pretty costly to me," said Sashay, "sharing private feelings with strangers."
Quest thought of the wildflowers and silently agreed.
"I have only so many experiences I can take from myself," said the woman, shrugging again. "I draw memories from people all over the world, from every walk of life. Diversity is key. My business is flourishing excellently." She smiled at them both and, beckoning, went behind the counter. She took an empty bottle and said to Quest, "What is one of your happiest memories?"
Before she could stop herself, Quest's mind flashed back; back to rolling blue water, and smooth worn deck beneath her, and a pair of hands sweeping her up; a deep laugh and black beard above her, and the smell of salt spray and her father's jacket.
"Wait!" she cried, but the woman had hold of something bright between her fingers, and she was stuffing it in the bottle and pouring something clear and bright over it. Before Quest could protest again, the woman held her hand to her lips and said, "I am making only one, for you. You need it."
Quest watched, fascinated, as she corked the bottle and affixed a yellow label to the neck.
"What does the yellow mean?"
"It means there is but one in the world." The woman handed it to Quest, who thanked her.
"Now you," said the woman, crooking her finger at Sashay. "What is one of your happiest memories?"
"Mine?" stammered Sashay, with the same alarmed look Quest had felt on herself; and whatever his mind had flashed to unbidden, the woman had it between her hands in a second, and she collected it in a small blue vial with another yellow label.
After they thanked her, they each tried other Experiences; there was a silent winter wood, a tiny library and hot tea, and a party in full swing with dancing and a twinkling, glinting, gleaming chandelier.
As they were finally leaving the tent, the woman suddenly whispered in Quest's ear: "This is one of his happiest memories."
"What?" said Quest, startled, but the woman was rubbing her fingers and blowing something that looked like stardust, the remains of Sashay's memory, on her hands toward Quest's face; and suddenly before her eyes and all around her, Quest saw herself. Her nose and smile. Her hands and her eyes and Quest, everywhere, walking and laughing and living -
- in another moment the air was cleared and there was only the woman, her dark wise face giving away nothing, and Sashay behind her, saying "Are you all right, Quest?"
"Yes," Quest said, in a small voice.
She suddenly felt how very much taller he was, and how nice he smelled, like pine needles and sea and Sashay.
As they walked away, she realized she had forgotten to ask the woman's name.
They wandered from tent to tent, looking at this and that. There was paper that tasted deliciously like the picture printed on it and paintings that moved, dancers, contortionists and even trained dragons.
The sky was glittering with stars, fizzing like the lights in the glass. Quest looked from the stars to the lights, and to the stars again; and for a moment she could not tell which was which.
Elfine's Note: Hey! I'm aliiiive! I have no excuses to give, but posting will hereafter continue as usual. I've missed you all :)