My father filled his glove with some for me. I hugged it in one arm and peeled the gleaming brown shells from the creamy nuts. “My favorites!” Riddle told me as he stole one. He walked beside me, talking of Winterfests he recalled from his boyhood in a small town. I think he ate as many chestnuts as I did. Two giggling young women passed wearing holly crowns. They smiled at him, and he smiled back but shook his head. They laughed aloud, joined hands, and ran off into the crowd.
We stopped first at a saddlery, where my father seemed discouraged to hear that his new saddle was not quite finished. It was only when the man came to measure the length of my legs and then to shake his head and say he’d have to adjust his work that I realized the saddle would be for Prissy and me. He showed me the flaps, with a bee carved into each. I stared in surprise and I think that made my father as happy as if the saddle had been ready. He promised we would come back next week, with the horse, and I scarce could take it in. I could not say a word until we were outside. Then Riddle asked me what I thought of the bees, and I said honestly that they were very nice, but I would rather have had a charging buck. My father looked astonished and Riddle laughed so loudly that folk turned to stare at us.
We stopped in several shops. My father brought me a belt of leather stained red and carved with flowers, and a bracelet with flower charms carved from antler, and a little cake full of raisins and nuts. At one shop we bought three balls of white soap scented with wisteria and one with peppermint. Very softly, I told my father I wished to bring back something for Careful and something for Revel. He seemed pleased by that. He found buttons carved like acorns and asked if Careful might like them. I was not sure, but he bought them. Revel was much harder, but when I saw a woman selling embroidered pocket kerchiefs dyed saffron and pale green and sky blue, I asked if might buy him one of each. My father was surprised that I was so certain he would be pleased with such a gift, but I had no doubt at all. I wished I had the courage to ask to buy a small gift for Perseverance but felt shy of even telling my father his name.
A boy had a tray full of tiny seashells. Some had been bored to string as beads. I lingered long, staring at them. Some were twisted cones, others tiny scoops with scalloped edges. “Bee,” my father said at last. “They’re only common seashells such as litter any beach.”
“I’ve never seen the ocean or walked on a beach,” I reminded him. And while he was musing on that, Riddle scooped a heaping handful of the shells and funneled them into my two cupped hands.
“To have until you can walk on a beach with your sister and pick up as many as you want,” he told me. Then they both laughed at my delight and we wandered on. At a hastily constructed stall, my father bought me a market bag such as my mother used to carry. It was woven of bright-yellow straw, with a sturdy strap that went over my shoulder. I set it down and into it we carefully put all we had bought. My father wished to carry it for me, but I was happy to feel the weight of my treasures.
When we came to a little market square full of tinker and trader booths, my father gave me six coppers and said I might spend them as I wished. I bought Careful a string of gleaming black beads and a long piece of blue lace: I was certain she would delight in those gifts. For myself, I bought enough green lace for a collar and cuffs, mostly because I knew it would please Careful that I had done as she suggested. And finally, I purchased a little money pouch to add to my belt. I put the last two coppers and the half-copper the tinker had given back to me in my pouch and felt very grown-up. In the street, some men stood and sang, blending their voices, right there in the falling snow. There was a fat man who sat in the little space between the buildings, surrounded by a light so bright that most people could scarcely abide it and turned their gazes away from him as they passed. I saw a man juggling potatoes, and a girl with three tame crows who did tricks with rings.
The streets were busy for such a chilly day. In an alley between buildings, an ambitious puppeteer and his apprentices were setting up a show tent. We passed three musicians with red cheeks and redder noses playing pipes together in the shelter of one of the square’s evergreens. The snow began to fall in earnest, in large fluffy clumps of flakes. It spangled my father’s shoulders. Three beggars limped past us, looking as miserable as anyone could. Riddle gave each of them a copper and they wished him well in cold-cracked voices. I stared after them, and then I felt my gaze drawn to a pathetic lone beggar camped on the doorstep of a tea-and-spice shop. I hugged myself and shivered at his blind gaze.
“Are you cold?” my father asked me. It came to me that we had stopped walking and I had heard his query twice. Was I cold? I reached for words.