It’s the ninth and we all know what that means: the arbitrarily chosen day of the month that I pass out cookies from The Demon’s Surrender! This month of March is the month of Mae, as previous months have been the months of Jamie, Nick and Alan.
I hope you will enjoy. It was hard to find a snippet for Mae that was not full of devastating spoilers. She is a plotlicious lady.
She’d only glanced over, in time to see Alan reach up to fetch down a scroll for Mae on a high shelf, but when she looked back Nick was gone, silently as if direct light had hit a shadow.
She did a swift scan of the crowd, used to picking out one face in an audience, and of course saw Nick beside Alan and Mae. Mae scowled up at him and Nick leaned against the stall and in towards Mae, whispering something in her ear.
Mae’s face turned thoughtful as he spoke. After a moment she nodded briefly, and slipped out from between the stall and Nick’s body, setting off purposefully through the Market. Alan stayed behind, a book open in his hand.
He did not look after Mae and Nick, but everybody else did.
Everybody saw Nick at Mae’s back like a shadow that could not be dispersed, a dark sentinel, like the bodyguard to a queen.
Everybody saw Mae moving through the Market. With every step she took the lights nearest her flared into brilliance, the difference as great as if stars were blooming into suns above her head. The light around her hair spread and shone, as if every moment a new golden crown was being placed on her head, a succession of hundreds and hundreds of crowns.
Sin had taken the night off from dancing to make herself seem like the leader of the Market.
The demon had thrown his support behind her rival, undone all her efforts, let Mae shine and let everyone know his power was at her command.
Sin had no idea how to match this.
The Market was winding down, Sin on the ground directing the people unwinding the wires that held up their lanterns and curtains from around the trees.
“Careful with that,” she called up to one of her dancers. “Break a beacon lamp and we’ll never hear the end of it. Coil up the wire: we’ve got to stow all this away.”
She slid her hands to the base of her spine and arched, feeling her back pop and crack a little in a way that said she would be feeling all this tomorrow. She was only going to get a couple of hours’ sleep and then it would be time to wake the kids and bring them to school.
“Hi,” Mae’s voice said behind her, and Sin straightened her shoulders despite her back hurting. “Haven’t seen you around a lot tonight.”
“Hope your fourth Market was a good one,” Sin said, keeping her voice warm and the fact Sin herself had been part of more than a hundred Markets implicit.
Mae’s eyebrows rose, obviously taking Sin’s meaning. She always stood a little combatively, short but filling as much space as she could. Currently her arms were crossed and her elbows sticking out.
“It was, thanks,” she said, her voice slightly stiff. Then she uncrossed her arms and reached out, putting one hand on Sin’s arm. Sin looked down at Mae’s hand, very pale on Sin’s skin, her nails painted bright turquoise. “Look, Sin. I don’t want Merris to succeed in setting us at each others’ throats.”
Sin looked down at her, and remembered that Mae’s mother was gone, and as far as she could see Mae’s father and brother were out of the picture as well. Mae was staying with her Aunt Edith in London to be near all of them.
“I don’t want that either,” Sin answered slowly, the words sticking in her throat. “I would have welcomed you to the Goblin Market. You know that. But I can’t – I won’t welcome you into my place.”
“I can’t stop trying for it,” Mae said. “This thing, with Celeste’s pearl. I want it.” She swallowed and continued. “But if you get it before me, I swear I’ll do everything I can to help you. You’ll be my leader, too.”
Sin couldn’t say Mae would be her leader. She couldn’t even contemplate that happening. But Mae’s hand was gripping her arm tight, and she’d liked Mae from almost the first moment.
“Thanks,” she said awkwardly. “I appreciate that.”
She usually felt energized by the Market, glowing with all the small victories of the night and filled with new purpose. Not tonight. She summoned up a wicked smile for Mae anyway.
“I like the pigtails you’re working tonight,” she told her, and thought of Mae laughing at the book stall with Alan. “Anyone interesting around?”
Mae shrugged. “My pigtails are not the irresistible mantraps you might think.” She let her hand drop from Sin’s arm, but grinned up at her. “It must be kind of awesome. Being – well, you know.”
“No, tell me,” Sin coaxed, amused.
“Well, being completely gorgeous,” Mae said, and went a bit pink. “You could have anyone you wanted. You wouldn’t even have to try.”
Sin thought about the boys at school and the guys on the street who bothered her because they thought black girls were exotic and easy and not to be taken seriously. It wasn’t something she could turn off, not entirely, so it was something she’d learned to use.
She thought about getting up at six in the morning to stand outside in the raw air, mist lying clammy on the grass, and shave her legs using a basin and some cold water. She’d fixed her hair, hung the lanterns, planned the dancers’ performances and costumes, and now the Market was being packed up and all her success was fading away with the morning. She had tried everything she knew, and she had not even been able to charm Alan Ryves.
Not that she cared about that.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “But it’s not easy.”
Mae rubbed at her face, the only sign she’d given to show she might be just as tired as Sin was. “What is?”
“You’ve got a point,” Sin told her, and felt relaxed enough with Mae to give her a sideways hug before she made for her wagon, already thinking of the luxury of crawling in between soft sheets, the kids breathing slow and steady on either side of her.
She found Matthias the piper sitting on her front step, turning his pipe over and over between his hands.
“Sin,” he said, rising gracefully to meet her. “You did well tonight.”
“Not your fault you were outdone.”
Sin refused to lose ground in front of a pied piper, so she made herself smile. “You say the sweetest things.”
“She’s a clever girl, that Mae,” Matthias said. “Maybe a bit too clever. You know she’s been murmuring about a possible spy at the Goblin Market.”
Sin made a face. It was just another of Mae’s hundreds of ideas, like that of making profit and loss sheets, or inviting necromancers and pied pipers to travel with the Market.
“Maybe she’s looking for an excuse if the magicians seem like they know too much, and someone wonders where they got the information,” Matthias said. “I heard from a little bird that she’s been seen talking to people from the Aventurine Circle.”
The sleepiness cleared from Sin’s mind suddenly. She was very aware of Matthias’s watchful dark eyes, waiting for her reaction, of the cold grass around her ankles, and of the familiar weight of her knives against her back.
“Do you have any proof?”
“If I had any proof, I’d have brought it,” Matthias said. “You Market people may not think much of the pipers, and we may think you’re a little set in your ways, but neither of us want a leader beholden to magicians, do we?”
Sin’s mouth shaped the word No though she did not say it, simply watching Matthias. She’d trusted Mae. She didn’t know if she could trust the piper: they were all mercurial and strange, valuing singing more than speaking, music more than the faces of those they loved.
But if there was any possibility this was true, she could not afford to ignore it.
“Imagine the advantage she has, if the magicians are helping her,” Matthias said. “She could beat you. Imagine what would happen to the Market then.”
Sin licked her lips. “Any ideas on what I should do?”
“We saw the magicians down by the river near Southwark Cathedral,” Matthias said. “Maybe you should go check the place out for yourself.”
Sin nodded, slowly. “Thank you.”
“One more thing?”
Matthias walked lightly as all the pipers did, noiseless and barely stirring the grass with his passage. He brushed by her on his way down the hill and his voice hit her ear like the music of the Market, beautiful and sinister.
“Watch your back.”
If this cookie makes you think you would like to read an advance copy of the Demon’s Surrender, you could always enter the Promotion Notion competition.
Also now the four main character cookies are done, I must think of what to do with the remaining cookies. Minor characters? Action scenes? Kissin’ scenes? A musical number? Your thoughts as always are welcomed!