“Well, that is a nice trinket, true ‘nuff.” The merchant, a sly-eyed human male (she thought – it was so hard to tell. She assumed breasts (or lack of such) created the defining difference based on the one time she had seen male Viera) held out a hand. “Let’s see it, then.”

 She reached forward with ever-increasing hesitation and almost pulled back, but a rumble from her belly gave her the impetus to finish the motion. It had been three days since she left the Wood, by her shaky reckoning – it had been difficult to count time in the dark, nauseating bowels of the comically large Outsider boat – and thus three days since she had eaten. She opened her hand and let her mother’s earring drop into the merchant’s hand.

 “Hmm.” The man peered at the earring through some sort of eyepiece. “It looks nice, sure ‘nuff. Not sure this is real gold, though.”

 “What?” The hooded cloak she had taken from the boat hid her ears by pinning them down her back, which hid her identity as a Viera but also muffled her hearing, so maybe she had heard wrong? “Yes, it is real gold.”

 The man frowned at her. “That’s a queer accent, no mistakin’. You sure you’re from Ul’dah?” She opened her mouth to respond but he waved a hand. “Never mind, makes no difference. Gil is gil, am I right?”

 She frowned. “What do fish have to do with it?”

 He tossed her an odd look, then shrugged and pulled a small device from under the counter. “Let’s just weigh it, eh? That’ll tell us right enough.” He set the the device and fiddled with a knob.

 She frowned. “What is that?”

 The merchant gave her another odd look. “It’s a scale. You’ve never seen a scale? Curious. Your parents did a poor job of raisin’ you. Oh, don’t get all offended – everyone should know about commerce. This weighs things. See how the two plates are even? Well, we put some weight on one end,” he set six small cubes on one of the plates, which lowered that side of the device while raising the other, “then we set your item on the other, like so. Each of these cubes weighs exactly one ponze and, as you can see, adding your trinket to the other side didn’t make it move at all. The goal is to get the two sides exactly equal – that way we know exactly how heavy your piece is. Of course, that doesn’t take into consideration the stones in it, so that will need factored in. Let’s see.”

 He removed cubes until the plate with the weights lifted, then went through a swift series of adding and subtracting cubes of varying sizes. Each move got the plates a little closer together, until they eventually hung in perfect balance.

 “Just as I suspected,” he murmured as he removed a final tiny cube. “This isn’t real gold. If it was, it would be at least another ten onzes. I’d wager the stones…”

 She frowned. “That is not…” Something bumped into her leg and she looked down to see a small child plopped on the ground. “Are you all right?” she asked as she bent down to the child.

 On the way down, she caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of the merchant’s hand, the one that had not been busy moving little cubes, resting under the side of the scale with her earring. One finger was lifted just enough to touch the bottom of the tray. The hand moved quickly away as she bent and for the briefest of moments the scale seemed to tip toward the side that held her earring, but by that time she had bent down enough that her view of the scale was obfuscated by the counter and she could not be certain. Once she had made certain the child – an adorable thing with tufted cat-like ears and a grey tail – was not harmed, she stood again to find the scale had been emptied. The merchant was peering at her mother’s earring through his eyepiece again.

 “Hm. Not certain of this stone, either. Costume jewelry, I’m guessing. I’ll give you…”

 She snatched the earring from his grasp, ignoring his protest, and placed her fist with the earring in the pocket of the cloak. What had she been thinking? It was all that was left of her mother – she could not sell it for any price. “I do not like you.” It was all she could think to say in the moment. She blinked back encroaching tears. “It was my mother’s and it is real gold and the stones are real as well and you are a liar.” She turned away, ignoring his blustering comeback. Regret and sorrow etched twins paths through her heart and down to her gut where they pooled with her hunger and opened a dark and empty chasm of grief through which she felt she was falling.

 She had to get out of this horrid stone city – maybe once she was among trees again, she would better know what to do.  She chose a direction that she hoped would lead to an exit and stumbled away from the market.

Author Sunscryer
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