Sammy shouldered her way through the clothes stalls and into the small clearing around the knick-knack stall. She slowly turned 360 degrees to scope out her surroundings, waited a moment and then approached the table. Old door knobs, odd-shaped bottles and cheap-looking jewellery covered the surface, lacking any kind of arrangement, dumped where they lay. Yet beams of sunlight had found their way into the clearing, projecting directly onto individual items of junk, illuminating them like holy artefacts and making them appear to possess value in excess of their real worth.
“Come closer, child,” encouraged a voice from the dark recesses behind the stall.
Sammy couldn’t see her, but she knew who it was.
The old woman in the pale blue headscarf stepped into the light. Her piercing dark eyes peered out from the caves in her leathery face, scurrying up and down over Sammy’s skin. Sammy shivered but tried not to show any outward appearance of fear. She folded her arms tightly across her chest.
“Why have you been following me?”
“So we could meet each other,” the old woman said. She had an unusual accent. The sort of accent you’d hear coming from a mysterious stranger in an adventure movie. It was nothing like Sammy had ever heard before and a million miles away from the broad northern accents of the other stall owners.
Sammy assessed the situation. They were trapped together in a corner with nowhere to run if the woman attacked. But then could she really do anything in the middle of the market without someone seeing? Sammy reasoned that she probably wasn’t going to attack. She would have done it at school yesterday when no one was around.
“Why do you want to meet me?” Sammy asked. “I don’t know you.”
“You don’t know me, but I know you. I used to know your father.”
“So who are you?”
“My name is Esther. You are Sammy.”
“Yeah, I’m Sammy. What do you want? And how do you know my dad?”
“I want to show you something,” Esther said. She gestured at the items on the stall. “It’s on here. See if you can find it.”
Sammy approached, but kept her eyes on the woman. What was her game? “This?” She picked up a golden sword hilt, inlaid with gemstones, and turned it over in her hands. The blade had broken off, leaving only a thin shard protruding from the end.
“That is an ancient dagger hilt. The blade snapped off in the black heart of a monster.”
“A monster?” Yeah right, Sammy thought. “What about this?” She was reaching for a teardrop-shaped bottle filled with pink vapour when a golden bracelet with a green gemstone the size of a fifty-pence piece caught her eye. The gemstone was set into the front of the bracelet with an ornate clasp that seemed to be some kind of mechanical device. It had clock-style hands pointing straight out, left and right on either side, as if displaying the time quarter to three and engraved around the setting were strange looping letters in an unusual script that Sammy had never seen before.