The Magician, Ch 18
Money By Magic
After we had eaten, we began to walk along the balconies. I was feeling serene and otherworldly, far away from all the noise and activity, as though I wasn’t quite a part of this world anymore.
Eventually, James led us down to the street level and everything was so direct then, so bright and present, it came to me like a wave of sounds and colours, a shock. The churned, muddy slush was slippery on the cobblestones and you could feel the cold coming in now, even though the sun was still in the sky, getting more golden, turning towards the orange hues and letting us know that night would be coming soon.
I took James’ arm and snuggled up to him, grateful for his presence and tranquillity, grateful to be a part of this island that was us and which gave me strength.
As we walked along the many stalls and stands and simple blankets on the floor where all manner of wares and goods were being displayed, I tried to get back a sense of what it was to go to market, how one looks around and tries to find something that would attract your attention, a flash of brightness, a colour, a scent, an unfamiliar texture or a shape, a recognition of something you might be searching for, but it was all too much, and at the same time, too far away, and immaterial, you might say.
I thought that the horse was waiting for us at the livery stable, that we would go back to James’ house at the foot of the mountains, where the snow was white and bright, where no hurrying feet had trampled it into a soggy mess and where there was space to be, to do and to think.
Where there was space for magic.
I could feel James taking a deep breath and slowing us down.
“Well now,” he said, and his merry general bearing had returned. “Look at us! We are wandering about like a couple of lost souls. Now that we’re here, we should make an effort and take what’s good about it, and make the most of it.”
He made me smile and I gave his arm in mine a little squeeze of fondness. I was just glad to be here with him and to be absolutely honest, I couldn’t think of a single thing that I might have wanted to buy here that I could imagine would make me any happier than I already was.
That was such a strange state of affairs!
I had had such yearnings, in the times before, for all and everything you might be able to pay for with a coin – dresses and wraps, shoes and stockings, bags and jewellry and ribbons for my hair, food stuffs, ordinary and extraordinary both, vases, beautiful plates and cooking ware that was new and shiny – everything! I would have wanted everything. And I could afford nothing.
Now, I have the notion that all I had to do was to point at an object, and James would just buy it for me. Again, let me be honest. It wasn’t a notion – I knew it was the case. And this being so, there was no need, and with there being no need, what was left?
I wasn’t sure and I looked to James for some help on the topic. I was about to say something when he spoke. “Would you like me to show you how you can make money by magic?” he asked.
“Here? Now?” I was astonished. “Yes, yes of course! I would love to know how you can make money by magic.”
“Alright,” he said and smiled happily, rubbed his gloved hands together and started to look around with a newfound air of excitement.
I had no idea what he was looking for and when he started to walk forward, still looking around as though he was searching for something very particular and I followed him, fascinated, through the market that wasn’t now as crowded as it had been when first we arrived.
“Aha!” James called out, and headed towards a very nicely made stand that was a white and gold painted hand cart with a canape of white and grey stripes above. The stand had had no customers at all, just a tired and grim looking older woman keeping guard over a selection of cheap jewellry.
There wasn’t any gold, just silver bracelets, broaches and bangles, some with mother of pearl and others set with semi-precious stones and simple beads. The jewellry was made nicely enough, I thought, but certainly nothing special.
James went up to the stall and smiled brightly at the woman, held out his hand to her. She looked at him suspiciously but then shook his hand nonetheless.
“Beautiful jewellry you have here,” he said to the woman, who was about my age, but a great deal more portly, with thick black hair, weathered brown skin deeply lined and a very foreboding expression indeed.
She stared at him for what seemed to be half an eternity whilst I held my breath, then her face cracked into a smile. She had let him in, I thought, and wondered what he was going to do – charm her to give him her money? I hadn’t a moment’s doubt that he could. I had a few tastes, first hand, of what he could do and how he could make me think and feel anything he chose to, and I knew he hadn’t even been trying particularly hard.
“It’s a shame there aren’t any more customers,” James said lightly, and the woman sighed and nodded her assent as he added, “Especially as your jewellry is so well made, and lovingly crafted.”
The woman sighed again and said, “Thank you for your kind words, sir. My husband and my son make these, and they indeed put much care into the wares.”
James nodded and said, “It would be a real shame to go home with so many beautiful things left unsold.”
The woman nodded too and looked very sad. “Yes,” she said, “It has been very disappointing today. I blame the riot, myself.”
“Yes …” said James and gave me a little sideways look. “That was very unfortunate. But never mind,” he continued, much more brightly and the woman was clearly hanging on his next word, following where he might lead her. It was fascinating to observe. “Never mind,” said James, “It is still light and there’s still time left. Tell you what. Give me a third and I’ll get all your wares sold before the sun is down.”
The woman looked shocked. “A third? All my wares …?”
“Yes,” said James, now very quietly and sincerely. “Give me a third and I’ll sell everything on this stall before the sun has set. If I don’t, I will forfeit my third and buy what’s left on top. Is that a deal?”
The fat woman was visibly shaken and actually swaying. She was battling with herself and the ideas that he had proposed. Without her knowing it, her hands made some small movements in the air, just above the display behind which she was standing. I noticed that James’ gloved hands too, started to make very similar movements – tiny movements, entirely below the threshold of their awareness, but noticeable, and to me, there was the memory of when we had talked with our hands, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something similar going on here.
The woman was staring into James’ eyes, then she seemed to snap back into herself. She took a deep breath, wiped her hand across her face, gave a nervous little laugh and said, “Alright. Why not? I haven’t got anything to lose. Just to be sure – a third of everything sold, but if there’s anything left here on this cart when the sun goes down, you get nothing and you’ll buy what’s left yourself?” She laughed again, nervously and shook her head, for this proposition seemed entirely preposterous in all ways.
James took his gloves off, taking his time to do so. He put his hands in his pocket and extracted a pale brown leather bag. He carefully unknotted it and from it, poured a quantity of gold coins into his hand. They shimmered beautifully in the late afternoon sun and had both me and the woman entirely captivated as he moved his hand with the coins this way, then that.
“That’s exactly right, good woman,” he said, smiled and returned the golden coins to the bag, then the bag to his pocket.
“Is it a deal?” He held out his bare hand across the wares to the merchant woman. She hesitated for one more heartbeat, then she laughed out aloud and took his hand, shook it as though she was trying to pull it off altogether and cried out, “Yes! It’s a deal!”
“Alright!” said James and smiled brightly, then turned and winked at me. “Stand here,” he said and indicated a spot near the center of the cart. “Look at the things and look at them closely. Pick something you really like, choose one thing. And pay attention to the rest.”
I smiled back at him although I really thought he was quite mad, and what would he do with all that unsold jewellry when the sun went down? Make the woman forget there’d ever been such a bargain?
Both the woman and I were rivited on him, just completely fascinated and waiting for whatever it was he might be doing next. He was just such a very fascinating person, so full of surprises. I hadn’t finished the thought completely when James took a deep, deep breath and then his voice rang out, it literally rang out with the force of church bells, rising high and powerfully above the general noise of the market, easily and without effort,
“From the deepest, most secret coves
of the oceans of Sandanea,
washed by the gentle waves
and taken from their home of hottest sands,
the most beautiful shells in the world,
and precious stones of many colours
that have for the ages been used
to celebrate the goddesses
of beauty and of love,
to win the hearts
of the fairest of maidens
and the greatest of ladies,
we have them here,
we have brought them here,
for you to take away today,
for you to take away today
and for a price so little
that it might as well
be nothing there at all,
you too can bring the magic
and reclaim your goddess,
make her smile
and make her shine for you –
yes you, dear sir, and you as well!
“Come over here
and with your own eyes
you can see
how beautiful these gifts here are,
and you know well enough
just what will happen
if you give a gift like this
to your dear lady!”
James had taken hold of one of a group of soldiers who had walked by and now, the whole group was there, laughing, a little the worse for wine, looking at the jewellry as James kept talking, of the mysteries and the beauty, of the rewards of gratitude to come and the prices that weren’t even there, and these rough men started to dig in their trouser pockets for their coins, and their girls and wives for once were in for a real and grand surprise that night.
The soldiers started to buy the jewellry, and that attracted others, including a whole bunch of giggling servant girls, and each one of those also went away feeling like a queen with a new crown, and all they had bought was a little bit of silver and a little bit of shell, of semi precious garnet, or of quartz.
James was totally unstoppable. There wasn’t a person who walked by who didn’t fall under his spell and bought a thing. When he sold a small heartshaped pendant to a priest to give to his housekeeper of many years as a gift of gratitude, I was really and truly ready to go down on my knees and worship him.
Oh my god!
He sold a pendant to a priest!
But more than that, the way he did it, these were not bad bargains, just the opposite. I just knew that each and everyone who bought and received, and those still to come for whom a gift would be given this day they never in their wildest dreams would have thought they would be given, something magical was taking place here, way beyond the simple selling and the trading.
Each person, old or young, rich or poor, man or woman, every single one left with a smile and clutching their new found treasure and a joy in their hearts, a lightness in their step.
I went and stood with the merchant woman who had long ago stopped counting the coins and these were just lying now on the top of the cart where once there had been unsold jewellry and both of us were just amazed, entranced, fascinated and in the end, we were close to tears.
The sun was still a bright red orb that sat above the smoking chimney tops of old Lamora when the very last piece was being fought over by an thin old dried up looking woman, and a buxom young girl.
James interceded. He took the piece, a small plain broach with a totally unimpressive brown little stone, and he gave it to the old lady.
“Here, my dear,” he said, laid it in her hand, closed her fingers over it, turned the hand and placed a kiss upon it, “This is a gift from me to you. May it bring you much happiness and joy in the days to come.” The sharp looking, angular old woman with the tight bun of white hair seemed to melt before my eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered, breathless and her eyes were open wide. James nodded and she ran away, clutching the little broach, and I saw myself in her, running away with my little crystal orb, and I had a notion how she must have felt. Perhaps I didn’t. Her life was not like mine, that showed in her face, in her body and in her bearing. Perhaps it meant more to her to have received this gift than even the crystal ball had meant to me. I watched her go in wonder.
“Why did you give it to her? You didn’t even charge her for it!” exclaimed the buxom young girl angrily and stomped her foot in the slush which sent it flying.
James turned to her and smiled most beautifully into her anger.
“My dear,” he said, and his voice was so gentle and so loving that I felt it vibrate through me as well, even though I was a good long way away and behind the cart and not standing right in front of him, nailed into place by his eyes and being as the girl was now, “My dear, you have your beauty and you have your youth. Be glad of it, be grateful and be kind to those who don’t. You have no need for further decoration.”
The girl looked shocked and then she looked ashamed and blushed, looked down.
James said, “I give you my blessing on this day. Is that enough?”
She looked up at him slowly, and she nodded very seriously. “Thank you,” she said, a little uncertain but clearly moved and deeply so, “Thank you sir, and I am sorry …”
“It’s alright,” said James, nodded to her and that was her dismissal. She walked away but kept on turning around, looking back, every other step until the crowd had swallowed her again.
There we were, the three of us, and there was the cart, and it was full of money where there had been jewellry.
“Now that’s what I call alchemy,” said James, then he started to chuckle, then laugh and the merchant woman and I looked at each other helplessly, shrugged our shoulders and then we started to laugh as well, until we were literally lying on the cart, the three of us, exhausted and in cramps for all the laughing.
“In all the kingdoms, all the hells, I swear I’ve never seen anything like it!” the merchant woman gasped eventually. “How am I going to tell my husband about this? He won’t believe me – I don’t even believe me that I’d seen this!”
“Until you put the coins in front of him,” said James and wiped laughter tears from his face and nose. “Then he’ll have to believe you. So, how about my third?”
“Absolutely,” said the merchant woman, “You have earned every penny, thrice over! I can’t keep you, can I? Take you home?”
James laughed heartily at that again and straightened from the cart upon which he had been leaning. “Ah, much as I’d love to, I’m afraid I’m already spoken for,” he said and winked at me.
And I winked back.
* Money By Magic: Excerpt from The Magician by Silvia Hartmann