Barefoot Rank

A Fantasy Short Story Written By Dan Crawford

Barefoot Rank

by Dan Crawford

Dan Crawford is older than he used to be.  He thinks his three novels, published in the 1990s, are about due to be rediscovered, although they were not all that discovered at the time.

More TTTV Stories by Dan Crrawford

A frown fretted the face of the shopkeeper. Hands on hips, he turned to consider the front room of his store. The first of the year was a perfect day for counting the money in the till. He sighed.

Olki enjoyed counting the till, admiring new faces on coins from new kingdoms, recalling the faces on the coins of older ones, and trying to remember which nations issued solid silver and gold coinage, and which simply plated over cheaper material. (Rettruvia used oatmeal.) It was a jolly way to spend a morning.

Once you found the till.

Had that silk hat full of dancing slippers come in since he’d counted up last? Yes, because it was resting on that teakwood tiger weather vane the four gremlins had dragged in (a bargain: he had swapped them a magic cutting board that never ran out of fruitcake). He really needed to get around to sorting those. Customers were particular about whether they were buying slippers that made you dance better or a pair that made you dance forever.

The screaming buttons in the hidebound package had come in since that, and really, had he not shifted those obsidian belt buckles yet? He shook his head. All sorts of useful chores awaited him in the new year. After he had checked the till. First things first, especially on the first.

His frown faded, and he nodded to himself. He had the best security of any shop he’d ever seen. No one could break in and snatch the till without long search, and if they tried to read his mind to find out where it was, why, the till would be safe as ever.

His head came up. No sense starting the tiresome search with customers waiting. His ear had caught the faintest of taps on the door, hesitant, as if a curious dragonfly had swept its wings against the wood and then backed away, afraid the wonderful shop was bait in some predator’s trap.

He started for the door, his vision of dragonfly wings vanishing as a hoarse voice from outside barked “Anybody to home?” The cough that followed this was louder than the inquiry.

“Coming, sir!” Olki threw open the door and bowed to whatever had saved him from time-consuming organization.

The caller was a large, square man with one scarred hand on a rough wooden crutch and the other gripping the door frame for support. He was breathing heavily, and blood trickled along the door hand. “Good morning, sir,” said Olki, with a bow toward the front room. “Welcome!” Reaching the store was an adventurous trip, and this customer had obviously only just made it.

Hiya.” His caller smiled a gap-toothed smile, which squinched up a very large round nose. This grin also made the visitor’s eyes hard to find between scarred round cheeks and overgrown brows. His profession was hinted by a dented breastplate over a thick leather jacket, none too recently washed and in need of repair. That he was good at his job could be read in the severed tentacle skewered on the end of his crutch (which also showed he had approached the shop through the swamp rather than the forest.)

The stranger’s eyes widened at the sight of the piles and heaps of treasure around the front room. Those eyes seemed especially drawn to the pile of lanceheads leaning against the plush pyramid. Olki, something of an expert on lanceheads, knew the large one with polar bears etched on it was especially rare, Leaning on the crutch, the caller put that hand on the haft of a battle axe, though Olki, moving past the visitor to close the door, felt that this was from habit rather than hostility. The visitor pulled himself up a little. Blood flecked his face, and the rest of him was flecked with mud. He had fallen several times while crossing the swamp, which luckily was too sluggish in winter to let him sink. Fortunate, too, that the mud was so frozen, as it did not smell pleasant at the best of times.

If this is Olki’s joint, youse is going to be Olki, am I right?”

The visitor’s diction might be odd, but his logic beat that of most callers who made it this far. “I am, good sir.” Olki bowed again. “And you are….”

A round, blood-spattered chin jerked up. “Ain’t nobody’s good sir, that’s for ring ding sure. I’m a Summon.”

Olki bowed again. A Summon was a mystic servant, the creature of an amulet or ring, called into being to run errands or fight battles for the wielder of the charm. As Summons existed in this world only when summoned (hence the name) they had no past and little future. They were not, technically, human, and many considered them marginal beings at best. But Olki’s last customer had been a talking dandelion.

“And what can I do for you, sir? Have you been sent here by your wielder on some quest?”

Not so much.” The big man propped his crutch a little against an ivory box, splattering it with mud. Setting an elbow on the crossbar so he could use both hands for talking, he explained, “Me last wielder walks into a trap, y’getme? Mighta been me: I’m right behind him. Wisht now I’da been quicker. Y’getme?”

Olki nodded. “What happened, sir?”

He goes all stifflike, and this case plunks down around him. The wizard or whatever cackles and the lights blunks out. ‘Youse’ll never problem me again!’ he says. I cuts me way through a buncha critters, y’getme, and I’m outa there. But me wielder’s still got me ring and I’m not in it. When me wielder dies, I goes back in ta wait for the next wielder, y’getme. But it doesn’t go like that.” His brows furrowed, hiding his eyes again, and his flapping hands settled palms up, even with his shoulders. The man was puzzled by this predicament.

Olki nodded again. “I see.”

So I thinks maybe me wielder and everything he’s got on him is destroyed by this wizard or whatyougot. If the ring’s destroyed, I’m goners, but I guess that ain’t the way it works.”

That was the way it worked, but Olki saw a loophole. “Was it a crystal case that dropped around him, sir?”

The Summon reached up to scratch under his beard. “Yeah. Yeah, now yez says so, coulda been. What’s the gag?”

The wizard has him in suspended animation.” Olki said, adding, as the bulky brows came down again, “He is not dead or destroyed, but frozen in time. If someone comes along and breaks the spell, he’ll come out just as he was when he went in. So your ring is not destroyed either.”

The massive head nodded, though not in any satisfied way. “But if he’s not doing nothing, after a bit, I’m sposed to just fade back into me ring.”

There’s your answer,” Olki said. “Your ring is frozen where time does not function. Time has stopped for it and your wielder.”

The Summon nodded again, murmuring, “Ah. Ah.” Then he looked straight at Olki. “And that means what?”

“‘After a bit’ won’t come until the spell is broken,” said Olki, leaning forward. “Time is not passing where the ring is.”

The bristling brows came toward the round nose again but bounced back up, as did the visitor’s huge hands. “I get it! That’s how come I walks around any ways I wants. He ordered me ta kill all the walking trees and I does that, so now I got nothing to do, no orders from him while he’s makin’ like a sleepin’ princess.”

Exactly.” Olki bowed to honor his logic again. “You are free, sir.”

If yez calls it that.” The stranger’s cheer at the deduction vanished, and he shrugged, grimacing with pain. “It don’t feel good. See, when me job’s done or me wielder gets hisself offed—usually a fifty-fifty proposition, y’getme—I goes back inta me ring, where I gets healed up and waits around ‘til I gets called again. Without that ring, I can’t get healed up no more and I can’t get killed, neither. Does I just limp around like this ‘til something gets me down and I can’t get up no more?”

Olki was interested. People always came to him with problems, but no one had shown up with this one before. “Well, sir….”

The visitor set both fists on his cracked belt and opened his eyes wide at Olki. “I don’t complain a whole lot, y’getme? But I’m not used to being sirred alla time.”

Olki’s principle was to treat customers with respect, but another principle of his that no customer should be needlessly uncomfortable. “Do you have a name, good sir?”

The stranger rubbed a fist across his left cheek: this was a problem HE had never encountered before. “Well…I been called a lotta things, y’getme. There’s writing on me sword, which I don’t seem to find now me ring’s gone frozen, and this prince I work for once tells me it says ‘The Simp’s Sword’. So I guess I’m The Simp.” His eyes rolled to Olki as if checking to see if this was the right answer.

It did not strike Olki as terribly useful, so he bowed again. “In any case, how can I help you, sir?”

The Summon shrugged at the sir, accepting it. “Has yez gots any weapons or thingums that could knock me off? Y’getme?”

“Kill you, sir?”

I’m thinking that’s the best way outa this fix.” The big hands spread out, fingers at full stretch. “Maybe yez can be offin’ me just a little, until me wielder’s clock gets unlocked, or whatyougot, an’ I’ll be in it again. Or maybe I can just be deaders. It can’t hurt so bad as all this.” He waved those fingers down to suggest further wounds were hidden under his torn leather clothes.

Customers had asked Olki for ways to die before this but he discouraged such purchases. (It was no way to ensure return business, for one thing.) “You’re a man of much experience, sir. I can see that.”

The Summon shrugged again. “Mebbe so. Still hurts.”

But if you wait, sir, some quester might take you on and heal your wounds, looking for a useful sidekick. With a magic weapon or two to enhance your skills….” Olki nodded toward the treasures on his shelves.

The Summon shook his head. “Not really sidekick material, me. Y’getme? I’m more the ‘Hold ‘em off whilst I gets the princess down this ladder’ type.”

Olki waved a hand toward the glittering shelves. A feathered tiara waved back at him. “I am sure I have something here that would finish your story, sir. But I also have magic orbs and amulets which once held their own Summons and are now empty.”

What you say?” The Summon stepped forward, winced, and grabbed at his crutch to prevent a topple. He was panting with this exertion when he went on, “Can youse do that? Put me in a new ring?”

It should be possible, sir. Some are fairly straightforward.” The early attempts by student sorcerers, for example, didn’t take much work at all…and weren’t much good either. But a customer in need was not in need of depressing information. “If I speak the spell to make the Summon return to its amulet, you should be taken into it, since the original Summon no longer exists.”

Oh, I been thinking ‘bout that ring since I gets out of that lair.’ The Summon shook his big head, spraying some thawed mud and blood. “Fixed up nice inside, it was, so’s whenever I gets back, there’s beer in the keg and knuckles and kraut on the fire. If youse could….”

He broke off, overcome by the idea, and licked his lips. His hands went to jagged openings below his belt. “I never gets much o’ the treasure, but what coin I got….”

Olki bowed. “Thank you, sir. But remember: you will be inside the amulet, which I will sell to the first customer who wants one.” He bowed lower.

Right, but….” The Summon clutched his crutch again, staggering under the weight of another thought. “Youse mean yez wouldn’t wanna get paid twice? I gets ta keep me money?”

Yes.” Olki stepped a little closer to the big man. “Though you will be at the beck and call of whoever buys the amulet.”

The Summon shrugged. “That’s kinda what I do. And, thinkin’ ‘bout that, I been around longer than anybody who used me ring. Not that I know what becomes of a lot of ‘em. When they stops summonin’ me, I don’t know if they’re dead or livin’ so happy ever after they ain’t needin’ me no more.”

“You remember them all?” Olki’s eyes had turned toward the front shelves. The customer’s boots—and that tentacle–were still dripping. He’d prefer not to take the Summon farther into the store.

Lots of ’em, specially the ones what wielded me ring for a while. Ya goes on longer with the ones who’s better fighters, y’getme? Rough work and then ya die, but then it’s back inside the amulet ‘til the next call.” The Summon got the crutch situated under one arm and took a step closer to the shopkeeper.

Olki had moved to the shelves, and was repressing the tiara trying to force itself into his hand. Its feathers had sucked in any number of heroes, but none had ever come out again. “I understand you’re more likely to die than be dismissed when the job is over.”

Ha!” The Summon’s hands swung up, and he nodded definite agreement. “At’s ring ding for sure! Oughta count up the differnt ways they offed me.” His mouth pursed, folding up cracked lips. “Rather get me head sliced off than me arms or legs: that way yez doesn’t have to watch yerself bleed to death. While as fer getting yer head bashed in….”

Quite, sir,” said Olki, his voice firm. He was not squeamish, but some of his artifacts found such stories overly stimulating. The obsidian belt buckles were already leaning a little toward the customer. He’d never get them to sleep tonight.

 

He pushed the feathered tiara behind a pink leather boot. This would call for checking through the larger containers to find amulets and charms, but maybe while he was at it he’d find the till. He reached into the oblong tub Queen Rebuthiel had used to wash her snakes. “What did your amulet look like, sir?”

The customer leaned heavily on the crutch to recall. “Not much: just one room with a bed an’ kitchen an’ a little room in back for me boots an’ of course the….”

No, sir.” Olki considered a display of rings in the black Zysman box, and shook his head. One laughed, one produced a slice of cheese and a blueberry whenever the spell was spoken, but nothing here really had a Room To Let sign. “From the outside.“

Never got a good look,” said the Summon, shaking his head again. “Can’t hold it. A guy gives it to me once when the quest is all done, but it goes right through me hand. Never meant to be a wielder, I reckon.” His face came up, all apology. “There was a spell or whatyougot for callin’ me up on it, but naturally I don’t know about that.”

Naturally, sir.” Olki snapped his fingers at the obsidian belt buckles, which were still leaning toward the customer; they probably smelled blood on him. Soon they’d start to whine about wanting a drink.

Under the broad necklace that turned into a nightgown, he found a hexagonal brooch. Drawing it from its hiding place, he explained, “The hooded Summon which was commanded by this created a geyser of steam which obliterated the villain, the hero, and heroine, and itself.”

The Summon’s brows came down as he peered at it. “How come?”

Olki shrugged. “The only witness didn’t hear the command, so we may never know.”

His visitor continued to peer at the brooch. “That’s diamonds, that is.”

Olki brought the brooch closer. “You have a good eye, sir.” He held it so the light twinkled on the stones.

I gets ta open a lotta treasure chests, in case there’s a boobytrap,” the Summon explained. “Not too expensive, is it? I works fer a couple princes and like that in me time an’ they’re not a lot of obejoyful to hang with. Y’getme? It’s the bums an’ three time losers who’ll have a beer an’ a song with yez.”

“Well, there are other possibilities.” As Olki set the brooch away, his eyes went to a small bear sitting in its favorite chair. No one would expect anything valuable to come out of its mouth. Opening that, Olki pulled out a large ring.

His customer was dubious. “Mighty big jool there.”

Olki held this up to the light, displaying the black characters which seemed to float on the light brown gemstone. “That is actually an orb which spells out where treasure is found, whether a drink is poisoned…it has all manner of uses. It could summon a giant cat; but the cat told such horrible jokes that one day its wielder ordered it to jump over the moon.” Olki turned a thumb toward the ceiling. “It may still be on its way back, but it started nine hundred years ago, come Tuesday, and there has been no sign of it.”

A cat?” said the Summon, pulling a little away. “What’s it like inside, then?”

I can summon you from it once you’ve been inside, sir, and if it doesn’t suit, we’ll try another charm.” He passed his hand over the orb three times, murmuring the four words to wake its power.

When he withdrew his hand, the dark spots on the convex surface read “Unclaimed Summon Present”.

Olki held the ring toward his guest. “It knows you’re here.”

The Summon looked on with interest but obviously no comprehension. “I’ll take yer word for that.”

Olki ran a thumb around the setting. “Open.”

The letters on the surface broke into a swirl of black and orange, spun twice, and congealed into ne words. “NOT UNTIL HE HAS A BATH!”

What’s it say?” inquired the customer.

It thinks the experiment would be…uncomfortable.” Olki set the ring back into the bear’s mouth. “We can perhaps set that aside for later.”

Reaching into a lower shelf, he tipped an imitation silver remfball championship trophy toward his knees. He was sure he recalled setting that pocketful of baubles from the unlucky incubus…. A shadow dropped from where the trophy had been holding it upright against the back of the shelf.

Ah!” Abandoning the trophy, Olki took hold of the shadow and brought it out. His customer whistled.

The thick sheath which held the heavy dagger had three loops on it for holding additional blades. Olki took the worn grip of the spiky hilt and drew the blade ringing from its shelter.

A fighting man, the Summon looked on with respect. “That’s gonna be the kind with the extra knife inside, right?”

Nodding, Olki reached to one of the spikes and drew it free. “Nice,” said the Summon. “Coupla me wielders had ‘em like that.”

Olki held this new blade upright. “This is the amulet. It used to call up an immense baby with blades for fingers. I didn’t quite understand what the woman who brought it had to say about the baby and where it went. Some story about flamingos. She wanted to get rid of it because she’d wasted three perfectly good dogs without result.”

The Summon had come up close enough for Olki to smell the thawing swamp mud, but drew back. “How’s this?”

Olki had a feeling this sale was fading. “The wielder would sacrifice a dog to summon….”

Those big hands swung out flat and negative. “Not fer me, please. Had a dog once. Took him inta me ring; dunno how that worked. Fights alongside of me for the longest time. Called him Pal because he was me pal, y’getme.”

Olki slid the enchanted knife back into its hiding place. “I see, sir.”

One night I gets called up by a new wielder. She’s this forest witch what doesn’t got no use fer dogs, an’ she uses this wand ta call up a demon what stabs his pitchfork right inta me Pal.” The customer’s lower lip was chewed for a moment. “I thinks maybe this puts him back in me ring, but I never sees me Pal again.”

Olki set the dagger back on the shelf. He would have to remember it was right behind the trophy, next to the enchanted tattoo needles. “In the long run, I’m sure she regretted the unnecessary violence, sir.”

The Summon wiped one eye, leaving a new smear of blood along that cheek. “Couldn’t do nothin’ to me wielder: not me job, y’getme. But I liked to sit an’ listen to me next wielder tell about how he offed her duchess-like and looted me ring and all her treasures. He did fer the demons, too.” Those hands came up to help describe the action. “One of ‘em he gets by the horns and jabs his knee, which’s got spikes on the armor, y’getme, right inta this demon’s….”

Quite, sir.” The belt buckles were climbing onto each other for a better look at the customer. If one fell on the floor, there’d be way too much cleaning up the spilled ichor….

Never took nothing home with me again,” the Summon went on.. “ Oncet or twicet I tries to get me wielder inside for safety, y’getme, but I couldn’t.” He shrugged. “Maybe I din’t care so much.”

Olki was nodding with sympathy, but his mind was on disentangling the long glass rectangles from the goblet of ensorcelled dessert forks. Pushing down the spoon which apparently objected to its colleagues, he pulled the tinkling assembly of string and glass free. “This magical hanging lyre used to….”

Looks kinda breakable.” The Summon understood the sharp rise of Olki’s head and went on, with an apologetic tone, “Nice as wind chimes, but who’s gonna carry that inta battle?”

Olki held it up to the light as it jingled a sweet serenade. “Eight chieftains of the Ariontari, as a matter of fact.”

Um,” said the Summon. “Well, looks can….”

Twisting the bracket at the top rang out a bit of the war song of that barbaric horde. “All in the same week,” Olki admitted. “Not one of them lasted more than one battle.”

The Summon nodded. “Broke, did it?”

No, the soldiers just didn’t want to march behind a leader who jingled. In fact, the boulder-slinging Summon it called up left it in disgust.” Olki tucked it into a tub of battle socks, where it wouldn’t tangle (or jangle). In doing so, he brushed a wooden handle. Pulling this from the shadows, he rang this far more robustly than the glass charms.

The Summon put up his hands. “Is it always ringin’ as loud as that?”

That’s about as quiet as it gets.” Olki put a hand over the clapper. “This belonged to Forew Catbotherer.” Turning it very gently, he showed the three scarabs of different shapes which studded the handle..

That’s a coded instruction,” Olki explained. “If the wielder rings it one long and two short, you come out with a roll of thunder.”

The Summon scuffed the toe of one boot on the floor, dumping more evil-smelling mud. “Er, um, I’m kinda scared of thunder. I helped kill six or seven dragons, y’getme, and a lot of wizards, but a thunderstorm…I can’t take it/”

Not a problem, sir.” It was becoming a problem. This customer was mighty choosy for someone not usually given a choice. Olki looked along the next shelf over. “Perhaps we could try some amulets with Summons currently inside.”

The Summon looked up, smiling again. “Hey, yeah! Gives me somebody ta shoot dice wit’.”

Funny you should say that, sir.” Olki reached into a carrot decanter and brought out three dice, grey, orange, and brown. “These are the Dice of the Tomb Waiter; each combination brings out a different Summon: I think triple four is still unclaimed/” He rattled them in his hand.

Mighty big company,” said the Summon, tipping his head to one side.

You might have a long time to get to know them all. If your wielder loses one of these, the other two are useless.” Olki rattled the dice again.

The Summon’s mouth screwed into a knot of disapproval; he shook his head. “Dunno how it works, but yez notices it. Time gets by. Two heartbeats, sometimes, sometime a couple hunnerd years. Not the same like it feels outside, o’ course. But I gets restless if there’s nothing to do. What’s fun is outside.” His hands simulated knives chopping down. “Don’t ask no questions, just bash people. I like the life. I know it hurts ‘em; who’d know better? Lots of times it gets messy. I wins a close one oncet. This pizook’s saber is slicin’ off me scalp so the blood….”

Quite, sir.” The belt buckles were pushing and shoving each other to get to the front of the shelf. “You look forward to being Summoned?”

His customer braced those boots, his hands up. “The ring pulls me out and I jumps out, sword in one hand and axe in the other, shoutin’ me battlecry. Halloooo….”

This broke off in a rattling cough. There were more flecks of blood on his chin and tunic.

Talk about things hiding in plain sight. Just to the left of the giggling belt buckles, Olki found that wicker hand. Twining fingers with it until it turned to steel, Olki turned to watch as the thumb produced a large blue individual with no neck and rather too much bicep.

Hey! My kinda feller!” the Summon exclaimed.

A look of pain crossed the massive blue face. Nose lifted, this turned to Olki. “Please tell me you are not going to sell my talisman to this…person.”

The genially superior expression which crossed the blue face when Olki said “No” disappeared again as Olki explained further. “Since you mentioned having some spare space, and hoping for a colleague in your work….”

I should prefer someone who is experienced in the preparation of seventeen-line verse forms,” said the blue Sumon. pointedly not looking at the shorter version.

Not to be ignored by a fellow figment, the latter replied, “Never prepared ‘em but I bet I’ve ‘et ‘em.”

A look of such affront curled the plump face that Olki tweaked two fingers and the man disappeared. The hand became wicker once more. He set it back on the shelf in front of the belt buckles, which clacked disappointment.

We can come back to that one if we find nothing else that will suit. Let me see….”

He stepped along the shelves to an umbrella stand, where he found a walking stick with a silver snake’s head. Clutch it in the right way, and the head came out, the snake’s body twining around the wrist, making a weapon the wielder could not drop. Olki, however, grasped it in the center. Hissing the word of command, he raised the stick higher.

A crouching figure with a four-eyed squid for a head, its tentacles gathered at the sides like two uncanny pigtails, looked around the shop.

Who gets bit, Boss?” this gargled.

Hey, I know you!” The customer waved. “Didn’t we meet at the Battle of Goranthow?”

Eekack!” spat the new Summon, and lunged.

Oh, yeah, Youse was on de udder side.” Dodging, he swung up his crutch. But Olki had spoken the second spell.

Putting the stick away, Olki reached past the umbrella stand to pick up a dusty pearl-covered frame. Raising this lute, he noted, “Each song played on this summons a different form of aid, from a Summon to a whirling halo of bladed bananas. We need only add a new song for you.”

He saw the Summon’s nose wrinkle again, and rumbled, “Of course, if you prefer a private amulet, you have only to say so>” This was becoming repetitious.

Tain’t that.” The big hands flopped out again. “I been summoned by wielders who had one of them and if they gets just one note wrong, the guy comes out without his shoes, or his sword, or his left arm or something.”

Olki bowed. “Pardon me, sir. I hadn’t thought of that.” This was useful information.

The lute had been leaning against a large pearlescent aqua bullfrog. Olki scratched it between the eyes and a previously invisible door opened in its stomach. Discarding a roast chicken ring and a death barrette, he brought out a charm bracelet, with delicate little moons, hearts, and kitties jingling on it.

U-u-u-um,” said the Summon. “Not so good around ladies, me. Dunno why. They gets all upcited when yez just slaps ‘em on the backside by way of hello.”

Olki started to return this to the frog, but thought it over. “Of course, it’s the charm, not the bracelet.” He tapped a golden chest in the row of charms. “A warrior might wear it on his sword belt, a pirate as an earring.”

He lifted the tiny lid. In moments, they had been joined by a tall, muscled woman with hair tightly bound in a ponytail that rose like a fountain from the top of her head. Her costume consisted of three hankies and a thick scarred sword belt.

Wow!”

The woman, sword in hand, swung without warning, her knee coming up in a manner he was apparently familiar with for, using his crutch as a pivot, he blocked it with his hip.

He grinned. “Youse is okay!”

She did not grin, and swinging her sword with her right hand, punched him in the jaw with her left while his eyes were on the blade.

He crumpled to the floor, his crutch beneath him, the tentacle still wiggling a bit. Olki sighed. “I thought you only did that sort of thing when ordered to do so.”

She turned to Olki, sword still raised. “Ah, you need to show your wielder where their authority stops. I get so tired of princes who think just because they have the ring they can….” She frowned. “Why, I’m still here! YOU must be wielding the charm.”

I am.” Olki held up the bracelet. “He’s another Summon.”

The woman looked at the heap of muddy clothes on the floor. “Ah, gee, I didn’t know he was so low on reserves. Well, put him back in his ring or what-have-you and we’ll talk business.”

He hasn’t got a ring. That’s why he’s here.”

She looked upon Olki with suspicion, and then turned back to the unconscious customer.

How can he be a Summon then?”
“It’s a long story. He came here to find a new amulet or charm to go into; he can’t heal

without it.”

I know that but…golly.” She put her sword into the polished sheath on her belt. “You aren’t going to just leave him lie there, are you?”

No, bad for business. But the only amulets I can put him in while unconscious are the kind you don’t get out of again.”

Golly gosh, he looks bad.” She knelt next to the Summon and put a hand to his crutch. The ring on her finger made the tentacle vanish, “Well, look, can you put me back in my charm again? Maybe if I hold his hand he’d come along. I was just mixing up some buttered noodles and chamomile tea. Think that would help?”

I doubt,…” She looked up, anxious. He nodded at her. “That it would hurt. Hold on.”

Fully prepared to see his customer lying alone on the floor as a mist gathered around the woman, Olki was gratified to see the fog spread from her to the ringless Summon.

The treasure chest charm, sitting between the silver anteater and the empty locket, did not move again, so the transfer was complete, and the two Summons were somehow sharing the space within the amulet. Olki tossed the bracelet up in the air and caught it. The amulet would bring in twice as much now, with double the entities available, but perhaps there was a place to put it where no one would not find it for a while. It might be best to let this amulet age a bit before passing it along.

Reaching under the middle helmet in a row of plumed headgear, he slid the bracelet into a small brown sack which could be turned into a never-emptied buttermilk container. He hadn’t had a caller ask for such a thing in months.

Patting the helmet as he returned it to its place, he nudged the blue bascinet next to it, and heard a clink. Aha! He lifted out the metal box with pleasure. So that was where….

His face fell when he raised the lid. Nothing here but that collection of unset enchanted rubies. Snorting, he tossed a ruby to the obsidian belt buckles, which subsided to digest this offering, and tucked the box back under the helmet.

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