Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Old Avon looks up: “That’s going to cost you.”

He always says that. Doesn’t matter if you pick up a piece of twine or a gold ring, his opening lines are fixed.

I grin: “Can’t be worth much if it’s ended up here.”

“It’s here for someone. Worth will be determined by them.”

That’s not his usual banter.

I try to roll with it, words coming too quickly: “What if that someone is me?”

He smiles, knowing he’s thrown me: “If it is, I’ll give it to you.”

There’s no guile in his eyes. He means it. I just stand and look at him, the little box almost forgotten in my hand.

“Open it, laddie.”

I bring it up to my eyes. I never wear glasses outside, so things like this need to be up close. I rotate the box and jump when a cold corner brushes the tip of my nose. Avon chuckles.

It’s dark grey stone, polished to the point where it looks wet. The minuscule filigree gold and silver knotwork must be machine-etched, as I’m pretty sure any artist would have gone crazy trying to do that.

“He made it for his first love, a girl named Helene. When they parted, she gave it away. Said it was an embodiment of love and desire. Said it needed to carry on the truth he betrayed.”

Sure it was. Made ‘with love’ in a sweatshop in Kirkuk.

I open it. There’s a little silver sword set into the underside of the lid. Music starts. It’s not tinny, it’s not some sad old ballad. It’s like there’s an invisible band about me, playing their hearts out. Instrumental. I know the words. Can’t quite remember them.

“Please say you’re not going to buy that.”

I turn my head and meet green eyes. Just. I know? Emeralds. We danced. Music. Like this? What? She’s smiling and it makes the freckles across her cheeks darken.

She repeats her query in French.

“My dad was French. He didn’t stay long enough to teach me.” Why did I just tell her that?

The eyes seem to get bigger: “I could teach you.” She looks nearly as surprised as I probably do.

Suddenly, something makes sense. I tear my eyes away and speak to Avon.

“Give it to her.”

Avon smiles: “I was thinking the same thing. Your first gift.”


I turn back and the eyes are waiting to swallow my ability to speak.

“You’re serious? You’d give that to me?”

Avon laughs: “Only if you take him for a cuppa and a bacon sarnie.”

She glances at him. I feel words brimming under my tongue. Then she looks back, and I’m mute again.

“I’m Jen. Jenny.”

I can speak!

“Art. Arthur.”

She smiles even wider and I feel things inside me dance to the music. I have no idea what it means, and I don’t care. She reaches out and closes the box with one hand while linking her other arm through mine.

“Let’s go, Art.”

Aldo watches them stroll off before settling to pack his stall. It’s been a long sojourn, but the nudging of societies toward the future is a delicate thing. There is no longer any room for grandiose schemes. Every future king was once a child, and good parents achieve more than good intentions ever did.

A decrepit van pulls up. The woman who gets out moves with a grace that defies her wizened features.

“Come on. It’s a long way to the next pitch.”

He smiles: “Hush, Nyneve. We always have time.”