Making First Contract

Oriana wandered around the market for awhile, gazing in wonder upon the assortment of strange items that were for sale. She couldn't make heads or tails of most of the items, but occasionally she would see something more familiar; a stall selling bows and arrows, fresh produce, animal pelts... These were the ones she skipped past, though—she wasn't here to see the same old things she saw every day.

Eventually, she began to grow somewhat self-conscious about the fact that she didn't have a register with her. She drew stares constantly for it and all the shopkeepers would eye her even more suspiciously than usual when she drew near their wares. It wasn't long before she stopped wandering at random and began to seek out a place to buy one.

This proved to be very difficult. She had assumed that since everyone had one, they must sell them all over, but she failed to realize that since everyone got one as a kid and took the utmost care with them, there was very rarely occasion to sell one.

The stall she was looking for turned out to be hiding away in the far corner of the market, an area looking distinctly more run-down than the rest of the market. The children here were rail-thin and covered in dirt, the stalls needed repair rather desperately, and the wares were mostly very unpleasant looking devices Oriana couldn't figure out the use for. It wasn't until a shopkeeper demonstrated one to a potential customer that Oriana realized they were traps, like the kind she used to catch animals sometimes, but made for people.

She shuddered and made her way over to the stall with the book emblem above it. "Sirene's Register's and Seals" was emblazoned below it, and it stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the stalls in the area. It was well-maintained and the wares were in good shape (and not deadly). It seemed that although 'Sirene' didn't make very many sales, the ones she did make offered her a generous profit.

Oriana closed the distance slowly, walking as she stared at the registers that were available. They were beautiful! Oriana had seen books before, but not like this. Even the registers the villagers carried around didn't look nearly this nice. Maybe it was due to wear and tear, or maybe she just wasn't in the nicest part of the village, but the ones here put everything she had seen so far to shame.

Though she kept the customary Cynic gaze of general distrust on her the whole time, the shopkeeper here, Sirene, didn't seem to mind Oriana's presence nearly as much as the others had. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that Oriana not having a register on her, while an oddity, was a rare opportunity to do business.

When she reached the stall itself, Oriana put the coins her mother had given her on the stall, following a process that had been explained to her back at the cottage during one of Oriana's many questioning periods in the last two years. It gave the shopkeeper a chance to check the authenticity of the currency and was the only real way to convince them you weren't going to steal their wares. And for their part, shopkeepers had a standard contract posted that stated they would not steal their customers' money.

Once she made sure Sirene was satisfied the money was genuine, she took a closer look at the registers. Sirene seemed to be hinting subtly that a lot of them were out of Oriana's price range—guiding her toward considerably less ornate books when she stopped to stare at the most expensive-looking ones—but her mother had given her a fair sum and her selection was still wide.

She knew she had found her perfect match as soon as she saw it in amongst the others. It was a green book, the exact same colour as the leaves in the forest back home, and it was trimmed with real gold with a matching gold pen. The chain coming off of it looked like very sturdy steel, but was light and very shiny. It even had a picture of a cottage that looked kind of like the one she lived in on the front of it. It was her own little slice of home in such an unfamiliar location, and for once, she didn't mind the familiarity.

Just as she was about to point the register out to Sirene, the shopkeeper lunged across the stall at her. Alarmed, Oriana backed away from the stall. Had she done something wrong? Sirene seemed to be trying to wave her away.

Or so she thought. Further investigation revealed a boy a few years younger than her had snuck up behind her while she was busy. He was easily the dirtiest and skinniest child Oriana had seen so far, and he looked as grim as death. He probably never had a reason to smile before, Oriana realized with a twinge of pity.

He didn't seem to be doing much other than staring at Oriana, but Sirene seemed to think he was trying to steal something and was trying to shoo him away.

"Do you know him?" Oriana asked, meeting the boy's eye. It shone through the dirt on his face, a purple brighter than she had ever seen in pictures or in the forest.

"He is an orphan," Sirene answered, still trying to get rid of him. "His mother died during childbirth and his father a few years later. He skulks around here, staring at my wares and not buying anything."

Oriana had never had a father, but she couldn't imagine not having her mother around. Did he live on the streets? That would certainly explain all the dirt. But how did a boy so young survive like that? How did he eat?

"Nobody lets him stay with them?"

Sirene stopped flailing at the young boy long enough to shoot Oriana a curious (and of course, suspicous) look. "He has no register," she said, as if this explained everything. "And no money to buy one."

Oriana thought about this for a minute, still locked in a staring contest of sorts with the boy, and realized that this probably meant nobody trusted him in their home. The more she learned about this place, the less she liked it. Who would leave a little boy in the streets all on his own just because he didn't have a stupid book!

Her gaze was finally broken by the arrival of Sirene from behind the stall, with a broom she was using to swat the boy away. Oriana frowned as the boy skittered off behind some crates at the side of a nearby building. She could still make out his eye staring at her from a crack between them.

Oriana slowly made her way back to the stall, deep in thought. She touched the register she had picked out, but her eyes were scanning the other ones. She found what she was looking for tucked away in the back, half-hidden by other registers.

"I'll take that one," she said, pointing to it.

Sirene pulled it out from the others, eyebrow raised. It was actually a failed attempt at a register that she hadn't thought she would ever sell. It was a handsome colour—a deep wine red—but it was abandoned before it could receive any decoration. A defect in the spine had prevented the pages from lining up properly, leaving it slightly twisted, and evidently Sirene had decided it wasn't worth any further effort.

Unlike the other registers, it didn't have a chain or pen attached to it, so Oriana picked out a couple basic ones to match it.

"It's for him," she explained, and although Sirene didn't seem to understand the point of it, she didn't object.

"What about the seal?" Oriana asked.

Sirene looked at her like she was an idiot. "He has to make it himself, of course."

"Right, of course," Oriana said, but the constant scrutiny was starting to bother her.

Oriana paid for the register and gave Sirene some additional money to pay for the boy to make a seal later. Even with a significant discount due to the condition of the register, this put a fair sized dent in Oriana's pile of coins. She was sure she would no longer be able to afford the one she had picked out earlier, and a silent shake of Sirene's head confirmed this when Oriana looked in its direction again.

Another register took its place fairly quickly; Oriana had decided she didn't want to come back here again anyway, so she wouldn't need it for very long. The replacement wasn't in nearly as bad shape as the one she picked out for the boy, but the pen was very basic, the chain heavier and more dull, and the gold trim was missing. It was the same green colour, but it had a bird instead of a cottage on the cover.

After paying for her own register and the fee to make her seal, Sirene ushered her into a booth beside the stall and pulled the curtain closed behind her. Oriana was left staring at a blank piece of heavy parchment and a very strange looking contraption. It took her a few minutes to figure out that she was supposed to draw what she wanted her seal to look like on the parchment and feed it into a tiny slot on the machine.

She decided on a rather basic seal, just a miniature image of her bow and an arrow, and fed it into the machine. She then turned a crank on the side of it and after a moment of effort and a somewhat unpleasant sound, a freshly carved stone-faced stamp fell with a clunk out of the bottom of the machine. Oriana grabbed it and admired the result. It was very simplistic, but just the fact that the machine had somehow made a stamp out of her drawing was fascinating.

She left the booth and pocketed her minuscule pile of remaining coins. It was a shame; she had originally planned on buying something fun to take home, too. But this was more important. Once her register was chained around her waist, she immediately left the stall.

She brought the defective register over to the building where the boy was still hiding, and from the opposite side of the crates, she handed him the book, chain, and pen. He just continued staring at her, though he looked somewhat frightened now.

"They're for you!" she tried to explain, getting exasperated. This 'lack of trust' thing was starting to get on her nerves. How did anyone get anything done around here?

She sighed, and pulled out her newly-purchased register. She turned to the first page, the inside cover of which had a built-in pad for the stamp, wrote something on it, stamped it, and pulled it out. It came out easily, not needing to be ripped as she had assumed it would.

"'I, Oriana Gale, promise to not harm the little orphan boy with the purple eye in the market,'" she read aloud, handing the page to the boy. She thought it was a pretty good imitation of the sort of stupid things the Cynics put in their contracts.

This time, the boy took it without hesitation, and read it over as if to confirm it said what Oriana claimed it did.

Oriana offered the book toward him again and waved it around. He only paused a moment before grabbing it and immediately chaining it around his waist, placing the page Oriana had given him within it. Then, he went back to staring at Oriana, the expression on his face remaining unchanged the whole time.

"Geez, not even a smile?" Oriana complained. She'd thought for sure he'd crack at least a small one.

She stared at him for another moment before looking behind herself. Nobody seemed to be paying the pair of them any attention.

She lifted her eye patch and gave the boy her absolute favourite cross-eyed, tongue stuck-out silly face, one she had practiced for hours and hours in front of the mirror in her room back at the cottage.

But instead of breaking into a grin, the boy's eyes just widened and he ran away.

"Hey! Come back! You still have to make your seal! And I was going to buy you something to eat..." she called after him, but by the time she got to the last sentence he had already disappeared, and she was left talking to herself.

She stared down the alley for a moment longer to make sure he wasn't going to pop up again, and then left to find her mother.

"What a weirdo..."

The End

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