The vendors were readying themselves to close shop when Nigel arrived in the marketplace. Immediately, the vendors' attitudes changed. They were caught somewhere between admiration for Nigel's past endeavors and fear of the fact that he had been severely punished by the king, himself. Selling goods to him was somewhat like consorting with a once-revered demon.

A particularly sweet vendor, a teenage girl named Alariea, smiled and waved. She had always been the most hospitable and the least worried. She unpacked a box of coffee beans and held it out to Nigel. "Need this, I presume?" she asked, her young face unleashing smile-wrinkles.

"Yes, please, Alariea," Nigel responded, smiling in answer to Alariea's ready cheerfulness. He counted out the necessary coins. "How's the family?"

Alariea's smile fell a bit. "Well," she said, pausing, "we've been worse, I suppose."

"What is it?"

Alariea shrugged. "The crops aren't faring as well as usual. The elo orchards are getting stripped of fruit, and we don't know why. I guess it's the way of things. Life isn't meant to be easy." She began to wrap her wares again, storing them in neat little rows in her cart.

Sighing, Nigel absently drummed his fingers against the coffee box. "What kind of a creature steals eloes before they've ripened? I'm sorry this happened to you."

"We all have our burdens to bear." Alariea replaced her dismal manner with a brave smile. "Anything else you need? I should get back, before it falls too dark."

Nigel patted the poor girl's shoulder. "Things'll get better, I'm sure. Until then, at least you'll have your faithful coffee customer."

A sincere smile pervaded Alariea's gloom, and she tilted her head to the sky. "Bless you, Mr. Gress," she said, "bless you for your kindness."

The End

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