“The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”
Town after town, nameless after the first five, did the impresario and his companion travel. The journey was difficult for a human with all four limbs. For one that didn’t have any, Harrison counted himself remarkably lucky to have his friend’s assistance. The days were growing colder, the horses more and more fatigued and irritable, the crowds at each oration more and more thin. The wagon trundled along as he watched the mountainside scenery pass by; primarily in the form of pines and spruces as large as the giants he felt sure once walked the earth.
How nice it would be to walk in such a wonderful, quiet land, he thought to himself. One could almost melt into the background. Aside from the wind and the creaking of the wagon’s wheels, it was uniquely silent and heady with the scent of cold wood and snow. The wind whipped his ears and nose, fluffing his hair up into delicate tufts. He sighed, wiggling further into the oversized coat the impresario had given him as a Found-Day present—since, of course, his birthday had been long forgotten when he was left out on the streets of England.
Harrison blinked and then squinted as the wind came especially sharply through the back of the wagon. He shivered and shrugged his shoulders in an attempt to get the coat to wrinkle up some more around his neck, but it refused and slid back to its resting position.
It seemed to be a moment that would go on forever, but sure enough, the cold and quiet mountainside landscape morphed into the little gulleys and dirt paths that signified a small township just ahead. Soon, there came other telltale signs: horse hooves clopping, the chatter of passers-by; the “whoa” and motion of the wagon shuddering to a halt so that the impresario could conceal Harrison from view.
The two exchanged a glance from which few words but much meaning could be drawn; and Harrison, beleaguered and tired of being a spectacle to the nosy townsfolk, accepted the darkness that the shutters of the wagon brought. He laid his head against the wall and recited his lines to himself, as if he hadn’t had a lifetime to memorize them. Odd, it was, that that was the thing God had blessed him with, in the place of four working limbs: a fantastic memory. It seemed unfair at times, but if Harrison was nothing else, he was humble. Like a good lad learning his catechisms, he spoke his lines over and over until he felt withdrawn and weary.
Nightfall came sooner in the winter, of course, and after the old man had set the chair, the candles, the curtains, and him; he recited his lines once more with gusto to an audience of perhaps ten people. Smaller and smaller—crowds were getting smaller all the time.
“I met a traveler in an antique land…” he began.
By the end, his voice was quite hoarse, though he didn’t dare complain. He sucked in the dry mountain’s winter air mercifully and kept the story going until his last few verses.
“Our revels here have ended…”
The impresario wandered around the thin crowd, hat held out enough to be noticeable but not enough to be considered downright begging. One coin dropped in. Two others followed. One woman enjoyed the oration so much that she very nearly emptied her purse into the hat; which he was deeply grateful for; and yet felt morbidly sorry about, because he knew it would only carry them for so long. As he thanked the dispersing crowd and turned back to the wagon, he noticed the boy was shivering wildly, like a little aspen leaf. Hurriedly (as hurriedly as one can move with age-tainted knees) he draped the oversized coat over Harrison and went to work on disassembling their stage. It wasn’t all that hard to do, but he would have appreciated some help, and the eyes on his back while he worked certainly weren’t that much of a help.
‘Hush, now, the lad can’t help it,’ he quieted his meandering, irate thoughts. With each oil lamp he snuffed out, he reminded himself of that: ‘The lad can’t help it. The lad can’t help it.’
As the final sideboard of the wagon was shuttered up and latched in place, Harrison opened his mouth to ask when supper might be. The impresario interrupted before he could even speak.
“‘Nother difficult choice we have to make, Harrison.”
Harrison shut his mouth and pressed his lips into a thin line. He hated making difficult choices, primarily because the substance of said decisions was usually between a meal and some other necessary item.
“What is it?” He asked, teeth chattering as the wind blew past them.
“‘S cold out here, laddy. We can go without breakfast tomorrow and get you a scarf from the seamstress’s shop or we can have supper tonight, breakfast tomorrow, and maybe a little left over for supper in the next town.” The fire the old man was trying to start just didn’t seem to want to spark up. Harrison watched as the sticks drew smoke, but never quite took to flame.
“I’ll be fine without a scarf, sir,” he conceded. The old man glanced at him, face lined and weary. His blue eyes bespoke of some deepened kind of melancholy that the boy couldn’t begin to understand; and wasn’t sure he wanted to.
“All right, laddy, your choice, then.”
And that was that. For dinner, they shared another bowl of beans roasted over the fire. They were unnaturally sweet, Harrison thought; though that could have been his rumbling stomach enjoying the food past its usual delectable flavour.
The old man, as had been part of his ritual lately, broke out a bottle of whiskey and drank himself silly to “keep himself warm”. It worked, of course, as his cheeks and nose took on a rosy glow that wasn’t entirely the wind’s fault, but Harrison couldn’t help noticing that it also made him a little louder. On and on the impresario sang about some poor lass hanged by the river Saile, and how he’d wear his father’s sash. It was both depressing and cheerful. Harrison just hoped it wouldn’t end in a visit to a harlot, because that was the last thing he wanted to think about tonight.
“Y’ want some, laddy?” The old man stood and wavered for a second. Harrison’s eyes were wide, almost positive his friend was going to keel over into the fire that they’d managed to get started in spite of the bitter wind.
“No, I’m quite fi-” Alas, when a drunk old man has his mind set on something, he is not likely to let go so easily. Harrison gasped as the impresario drunkenly stumbled forward and doused his head and the front of his shirt with the rest of the bottle’s contents.
“Aye,” the old man whispered to himself. He hacked and spit into the snow with an upset expression. “Good, isn’t it. Isn’t it, Harrison.”
Harrison was silent, shivering as the wind blew and set the alcohol on his skin alight with the feeling of an icicle’s stab.
“It’s good, you ungrateful—” the old man paused, and seemed to be conversing with himself. Harrison watched, trembling from the cold, with eyes as wide as the moon above them. “No, no,” the man murmured to himself, lurching backwards and slumping against the log he’d been resting on. He laid the bottle gently in the grass, as if laying down a sleeping child. “The lad can’t help it,” he said to himself, rolled over, and passed out quite suddenly.
Harrison sat. It was all he could do, really. The clouds rolled over the moon above them and for a minute, the only light in the world emanated from the glowing red embers in front of them. The boughs of the spruce tree beside them crackled in the wind, and he shivered. It was going to be a very, very long night.
Harrison wasn’t able to sleep. It wasn’t the wind; he’d heard that howling many a night before. It wasn’t that they were outside, either, or that at some time in the early hours, their horse lumbered over to their side of the spruce to leave a less than pleasant gift which made him wish he’d been born without a sense of smell, too. It wasn’t even that the impresario was snoring quite loudly and occasionally coughing and hucking more black scum from his throat. It was the cold that kept him awake.
Come morning, the sun was glittering throughout the mountain town, bringing with it the faux semblance of warmth and security. Harrison had stopped shivering long ago; after all, it didn’t help. Instead, he counted the breaths he took, and blew rings of steam in the frosty morning air. Being propped upright all night took a toll on his spine, but he could barely feel anything anyway. He was surprised that there were no snowflakes resting on his eyelashes, or icicles hanging from his nostrils (that he could tell, anyway). Eventually, the old man stirred, and they went about their morning as usual. As the impresario hauled Harrison out to the deeper woods so they could relieve themselves, Harrison sought to ask a question.
The man answered with a grunt, which wasn’t out of the ordinary in the slightest.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Dangerous pastime,” the man made an attempt at a joke, but he winced as his headache from the night’s whiskey pinched his scalp with venomous fingers.
“Quite.” Harrison nodded, unsure of whether his ears were still attached to his head because it was so cold. “I was wondering if I might be able to change my mind and request that scarf instead of breakfast.”
At this, the old man stopped in his tracks and very nearly dropped Harrison into the snow. The charcoal-haired boy could feel the hard gaze on the back of his neck. “Eh?”
“You asked me last night. And I should much prefer a warm scarf to survive this bitter winter than a breakfast of hardtack and water.”
The man grunted again, and their morning activities resumed. Harrison wasn’t sure whether this was acceptance or denial, and so he was left to do a lot of what he had been doing recently: waiting.
Harrison prided himself on being a patient young man. He certainly had to be—why, if he was impatient, then no one might ever help him again. Best to be as unassuming and humble and patient as possible, yes. But sometimes this patience made him feel as if all that was in his head was cornmeal mush. On occasion, he started talking to himself on long wagon rides, just to hear his own voice. He practiced what mathematics he could—and made up some, too—and tried to spell words aloud. Eventually, though, the impresario told him to keep quiet, or he’d “come back there and make ye keep quiet”. A lot of his life was like that. Quiet. Reciting words to himself. Pretending to know things. Keeping quiet. Keeping patient, kind, humble. All nice things for a less-fortunate, to make himself more appealing to the general public. And yet, enough to drive a man crazy.
Going into town, it appeared that the general public was very interested in a young man with no limbs strapped to an old-timer’s back. He closed his eyes and imagined hands to shield his ears from the ladies whispering and leading their slack-jawed children away. One man recognized him from the oration, and walked up to say so, blessing him “in the name of the good Lord”. Harrison decided he quite liked that man in particular, as scruffy-looking as he was.
“Here we are, lad,” the impresario said as he stepped into a rather dingy building made of darkwood. Harrison couldn’t see much but the door and a few artifacts near it; long, thin stalks of wood, almost the height of one of the larger candles the old man had bought a year or so ago on one of their many journeys; swatches of fabric nailed to a piece of black wood, and a few assorted balls of yarn.
The interior of the shop smelled sweet and warm, like oatmeal and a little bit of something animal-esque. Perhaps wool, Harrison thought to himself as the old man slung him and his chairboard down to the floor of the establishment.
“Hello?” The man, with crinkled brow, said loudly. There came a responding titter from the back of the seamstress’s shop.
“Hello, be with you in a quick minute!”
Harrison was astounded at the scene before him. The shop was small, and cozy, but was absolutely covered in shelves of yarn upon yarn, fabric upon fabric, linen and cotton and wool all neatly tucked away by dye lot. There were so many to look at: fruity reds, blazing oranges, shiny yellows, verdant greens, watery blues, and deep, royal purples. It was at that very moment Harrison became convinced that the owner of the shop was the owner of all the colors in the world. How else could he possibly have so—so—much of it?
He took a breath and noticed a stairwell in the corner, from which a little red-haired girl peeked out at him. The second they made eye contact, though, she turned and galloped up the stairs, very nearly tripping over her dress in her escape. Despite knowing she’d been spying on him, like most children did for the sheer curiosity of his condition, he found himself laughing silently at her endearing clumsiness in doing so.
“I apologize for the wait, dear sir.” The lady that waltzed around the corner of the shop that led to the back rooms was humming lightly to herself, holding a pair of the slender wooden sticks that Harrison had noticed earlier. She was wearing naught but a simple dark blue worker’s dress and a smile, but Lord above, was she ever something to look at. Every single one of the impresario’s harlots was outshone by this simple woman. She looked as if the sun bid her good morning every day, and the moon sang her to sleep at night. She had the bright eyes of a child, but the dashing red lips of a woman. The gentle hands that carried the slender sticks tucked their instruments into a pocket of her dress and carefully wove themselves together in a prayer position, at which Harrison surely prayed—merely that he would be blessed with her countenance long enough to keep a brilliant memory for the winter. “How might I be of assistance this morning?”
“The boy needs a scarf for the winter,” the old man grumbled. “Will you make one?”
The lady turned to Harrison, then, and under her gaze he felt as if he might be looking nature itself in the face. “Of course, sir. Anything for lovely artists such as yourselves.”
She said it to both of them, but only looked at Harrison whilst she spoke, and for that he felt special. Under her gaze, he was not an impunity, he was not a burden or disgrace or a poor soul—he was simply an artist in need of a scarf. Suddenly, he realized how hungry he was for that sort of understanding.
“I’ve got some things to take care of.” The old man continued gruffly. “I’ll come back for him in a half hour, maybe a little longer. That suit you?”
Harrison wondered if it might take a good while to make a scarf, especially if it were by hand, but perhaps she had one nearly finished already and could make up for such a short amount of time.
“Yes, sir, it does.” She beamed at him, and off the man went, patting Harrison’s shoulder as he turned out of the door.
“Hallo, there, mistress—what is your name?” Harrison asked, once more astounded with the ready ease she had as she hoisted him up without a sound but a heavy breath and carried him into the back room where she had piles and piles of yarn and fabric. Close as she was, he could detect a little of the scent she used, and it was an extraordinarily unique one. Something close to a flower, but not quite.
“(Y/N),” She answered. “And yours is Harrison, I presume?”
“Yes, but how did you-?” He began, and then remembered the orator’s ticket the impresario had posted on the notice board the night before. “Oh. You came to the performance, I understand?”
“I did.” She nodded, and with a quick hum and movement, she swept her slender wood sticks out of the pocket of her dress so fast it looked like she hadn’t even touched them. “What is your most favorite color, Harrison?”
“I… I don’t know.” It was a lame reply; which he admonished himself for.
“Don’t know?” She inquired, tapping the sticks in her palm.
“No, I… I’ve never given it much thought,” He said sheepishly. “I suppose I like them all.”
“Well, all is nice, but I rather think green suits you.” She graced the underside of his chin with a touch as light as a butterfly’s wing flap and lifted his head but a millimeter so to see his eyes better. “Yes, yes, it’ll match just perfectly. You have two little emeralds set in your skull, do you know that, Harrison?”
“I do now,” He answered, still at a loss for words, watching with enamour as she plucked the most favourable shade of green from her piles and piles of material.
“Wool is warmest, you know, especially when it’s thick. But try not to get it wet. It stinks.” She wrinkled her little nose and gave a laugh. Harrison thought it might rival the birdsong he’d heard in the Willamette Valley at sunrise. “I’ll have you a scarf in a few minutes. In the meantime, would you like something to eat? I can ask Madeleine to put on the kettle.”
The artist, strapped to his chairboard and perched among throngs of beautiful thread, was going to kindly refuse the offer when his stomach gave a loud growl. Apparently, the beans they’d had last night hadn’t held him over. “Well, ah, yes, that would be lovely, thank you.”
(Y/N) smiled, bowed her head a little in recognition of his acceptance, and turned to the doorway. “Madeleine!” She called, once, twice, and raised her voice on the third call. “Madeleine!”
The little red haired girl Harrison had seen earlier came running through the door, once again nearly falling over her own feet. “Yes ma’am, sorry ma’am, what is it, ma’am?”
The woman laughed delightfully and allowed her knitting sticks and the brilliant green yarn to rest on a little table that was almost covered with fabric. “Put on a kettle of water for some tea, dear, and see how much of a breakfast you can scrounge up for our guest.”
The girl blinked, nodded, and then glanced furtively between Harrison and (Y/N). Finally her gold-hued eyes settled on Harrison. “Has she done it yet?”
“Done what?” Harrison asked, but (Y/N) shook her head.
“Not yet, not yet. Element of surprise, dear. Now go.”
Madeleine ducked her head and ran off, this time keeping her feet clear of the fabrics and yarns that could easily bring her tumbling to the ground.
“What does she mean?” the artist asked, almost nervous.
(Y/N) didn’t answer at first. She picked up the large loaf-shaped skein of green yarn and stroked it as if it were a small cat, smiling to herself. She plucked the string from its side and began to unwind it, humming to herself all the time. Then she looked at him, with those curiously bright eyes. “Harrison, do you believe in magic?”
“Well, I…” he began.
“Think carefully, now,” she said. “Not just any magic, mind you. I don’t mean black magic. I don’t mean devil’s crafts. I don’t mean parlour tricks, either.” She pursed her ruby red lips and began to whistle. The thread trembled in her hands, but Harrison thought it was her who had the tremor.
He thought carefully, and then answered. “No.”
“Then what do you believe in?” Her smile grew wider and she continued to whistle, louder this time. The thread jumped out of her hands, catching Harrison’s attention. But she must have tossed it in the air herself, for it fell back into her palm in the due course of gravity.
Before he could get a word in, the owner of the fantastical seamstress shop burst out into song. Not any song with words, in particular, but—but—
Mozart’s Alla Turca?
She sang it loudly and clearly, as if she were the instrument herself, laughing through each note with a lovely “ha ha ha”, a choir lady practicing her vocal exercises. This wasn’t what captured Harrison’s complete, undivided attention, though: the forest green yarn; as if listening to its owner, was jolting and bouncing and dancing through the air. The two knitting sticks pranced along with the yarn and were soon entangled in it. Harrison watched with mouth agape as the sticks began to weave, faster than daylight, the green strand into a perfectly measured scarf. One inch, two inches, almost ten—the faster she sang, the faster they worked, and soon half a vibrant green scarf was dangling from the two levitating instruments of wood.
“Isn’t it amazing?” hollered Madeleine from the doorway. (Y/N) clamped her mouth shut and the knitting sticks and half a scarf dropped to the floor.
“Madeleine,” the woman said in a voice that was supposed to be scolding, but really was just playful. “What have I told you about terrifying the customers, jumping out like that?”
“You told me not to,” Madeleine conceded. “But I’ve brought you a tray of biscuits and butter and jam, and besides, Mr. Avery was old. That man would have a heart attack every time a bird flew past him.”
“Goodness sakes,” (Y/N) said, and then raised her eyes to the sky, apologizing to Mr. Avery silently. “You should take care to be polite with every guest, dear. How’s the tea coming along?”
“Fine,” Madeleine replied, scuffling over and shoving some fabric off of another concealed table near the artist so she had somewhere to put the platter of biscuits and toppings she’d brought with her. Were he not unsure if he was awake or perhaps in a dream state or—well, God forbid the cold had gotten to him, maybe this was some sort of sickness making him see things—were it not for all this nonsense, he might have been irate with the girl for leaving food next to him when he was hungry. Madeleine continued on her way out the door, seemingly impervious to the look that (Y/N) was giving her. “And there’s still oatmeal enough in the pot, too, so I’ve put that over heat as well.”
“Are you just going to walk away and let the poor man starve?” (Y/N) asked indignantly, with hands on her hips, the spitting image of a mother hen. Harrison tried to blink himself awake, sure he really must be dreaming. The red haired girl blushed fiercely and mumbled a “no” before plunking down on a stool next to the young man and asking him which he preferred, butter or jam.
At the moment, Harrison couldn’t think straight, but he answered “Either.”
“How about both!” Madeleine chimed.
“Madeleine,” (Y/N) warned, picking up the scarf and searching for a seat near the pair, hoping to get the rest of the scarf finished in a manual fashion.
“Jam it is.” Madeleine sighed and plopped a spoonful of rich red jam on top of a fluffy biscuit. Harrison decided it would be in his best interest to focus on the food being offered to him before he tried to decipher what exactly allowed (Y/N) to control the knitting sticks like that. It seemed to be her singing—a quite ordinary voice, she had, nothing like the fairytales he’d heard—that controlled the scarf. Although perhaps it could be an illusion; like an intricate pulley system. Perhaps Madeleine was helping behind the scenes, somehow. He wasn’t sure.
“Don’t bite me,” Madeleine instructed firmly as she held up a thick biscuit half topped with jam. To appease her, he took the smallest bite from the edge of the biscuit, marveling at the summery taste of strawberry preserves.
“I’m so sorry about her,” (Y/N) said exasperatedly, the knitting sticks clunking and clicking together in her hands as she worked swiftly to finish another quarter of the brilliant green scarf. “She doesn’t know how to be…”
“Polite!” Madeleine chimed again. “Mm, not clumsy! How about—”
“How about you run along and bring us some tea and oatmeal?” (Y/N) interrupted the child, who just laughed and bounced up to run to the kitchen. Before she left the room, though, she turned with a sudden “oh!” at the forgotten biscuit with one bite taken out of it still in her hand. Quickly, she dashed over to Harrison and motioned for him to open his mouth. He did, and got a handful of strawberry-topped biscuit crammed in.
It seemed as though (Y/N) would never run out of apologies for the six or seven minutes it took him to chew through the entire thing, but the only reason it took so long was because he was laughing all the way through it. Eventually she began to laugh herself, and with it, was able to finish the scarf in record time. Her hands were a blur, fixing the thread here and there, untying knots, knitting row after row after row…
“How do you do that?” Harrison asked when his mouth was finally free of its strawberry contents.
“A little bit of talent. A lot of miracle work.” For the world, she looked like a tired housewife, leaning over her work and searching for little imperfections that she could fix with a whistled note. She seemed to glow less brightly, now, but Harrison liked her even more when she seemed human; and less ethereal.
“And the magic?” He asked with caution, and loved the way the corners of her lips perked up in that secretive smile of hers.
“Oh, Harrison. Don’t concern yourself too much with it. I’m not a witch.” (Y/N) said, and hurried through another five rows of stitching, humming lightly between thoughts. “I was born with the ability. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s a good trick, isn’t it?” She stopped working for a moment to look him in the eye, and the solemness he saw there was no laughing matter; the complete opposite of the mood she’d created in her little fabric room. “It’s a two-bit trick to any outsider, Harrison, because they wouldn’t understand. In fact, they’d probably have me tried and hanged for things such as witchcraft. T’is the way the world turns, I suppose; humans are critters not often given to the treasures and privileges of such outlandish things as magic, and if they were they certainly would ruin it with violence and treachery. What better entertainment than a war of witches and wizards? Tch,” she made an exasperated noise, “They think they’d understand, Harrison, each and every one of them thinks they are perfection in final form and takes it upon themselves to cull what is frightening or useless to them. If everyone has not magic, and only one person does, the rest of the flock comes down to kill. To serve supposed justice, as the pride of lions serves the lone gazelle. Well,” she said, staring into thin air as if seeing such a thing before her very own eyes, “well. There ought to be no justice at all, then. But I would say that.” She leaned in towards Harrison with a funny look in her eyes, and the smile came back, only more haunting than endearing this time. “I would say that, after all, because I am a human critter. I think I am perfection. I think I should make the decisions.”
Harrison, vaguely understanding everything that had just been unveiled to him, nodded soulfully. “Your secret is safe with me, mistress. I would seek to protect your life with everything in my body.” He looked down at himself and smiled. “And that is the only way it can be, I suppose; seeing as God has avoided the justice of lending me extremities with which I may otherwise protect you.”
At this, she tossed her head back and laughed loud and long. It was a glorious sound, especially when accompanied by the light slap of her hand on her knee. “Oh, I knew you’d understand; you’re an artist after all. Harrison, who knew you were a funny man! You ought to try that out on your next oration. Do you know any of Shakespeare’s comedies?”
“Sadly, I do not,” Harrison repented. “But I should learn thousands to hear your laughter when I tell them to you.”
(Y/N)’s cheeks glowed a lovely shade of pink, and she was just about to reply with something particularly lovely when Madeleine came trundling back into the room with a little cart in tow; since she could not carry both the oatmeal and the tea and more biscuits upstairs all at once. She spent a moment trying to pick her way through the fabric on the floor before the seamstress reprimanded herself for never being able to keep a tidy room and began to whistle a jaunty little tune. Amazingly, and before Harrison’s very eyes, each skein of yarn and bolt of cloth seemed to gain a life of its own and dance its way over to a large, all-encompassing shelf on the far wall. Into the little cubby-holes they went; like badgers and bears of many a rainbow’s color settling down for a winter hibernation, and when all was good and through (Y/N) dropped her whistling tune and sat once more beside Harrison while Madeleine skipped happily into the room with the cart rattling behind her. With the grace (or lack thereof) of such a young girl, she prepared a cup of hot tea for their guest with two sugars and a drop of cream; and while it cooled and rested on its accompanying saucer she fed him more strawberry-topped biscuit and even was so generous as to spoon-feed him some oatmeal. (Y/N) partook in naught but the tea; saying she’d already had breakfast, but Madeleine clearly hadn’t filled up on much, and so treated herself to some biscuit as well.
In a moment of profound generosity that he had been shown by these two ladies, Harrison said aloud, “Might we keep some oats handy for when my friend returns?”
“Certainly,” (Y/N) said immediately, and Madeleine gave a funny look.
“Hasn’t he got his own breakfast?” The girl asked before (Y/N) could shush her.
“Well, perhaps, but we’re a bit low on finances as it is.” Harrison explained patiently, and paused in his speaking while Madeleine offered up another spoonful of hot, sugary oats. Again, he began: “And if I could get him something, anything; I feel as if that would be a little bit of payment for everything he does for me now. It’s not easy being armless and legless,” he said, looking at the little girl, who squirmed with the intensity of his gaze. She looked as if she wanted to ask a million questions, but her caretaker, the seamstress, would strike down each on the matter of strict morals and the code of “everyone deserves their privacy”. Madeleine looked to (Y/N) for guidance, but the woman was finishing up the tail end of the scarf, and was focused on the green yarn.
“What’s it like?” she whispered to the artist, who smiled.
“In honesty, it’s a bore,” he said, and explained to the girl how patient one had to be; how humble; how unquestioning. (Y/N) listened as she stitched extra-thick fringe into each end of the scarf, and took to embroidering a little pattern along the length of it in a new, beautiful gold color. “And the waiting is the worst part, really. You can’t do anything yourself, and no one has the time to dedicate their lives to you, so wait you must. I would give anything to run around on legs like yours. Clumsy as they might be, they’re still legs.”
Madeleine’s face grew warm, and he very nearly laughed again, recalling how she’d nearly tripped up the stairs when he first saw her. But then he supposed this approach was rather cruel, and supposed that nobody wanted to hear a body complain about his life without such extremities. So he tried to think of something good to say. Eventually, he did.
(Y/N) caught sight of the way her customer’s eyes glimmered in the light, an edge of emerald on a canyon of thought deep enough for someone to jump into. Indeed, he thought for a good long while. In the meantime, Madeleine helped him sip his tea, and (Y/N) held the scarf up to him for the assurance that she’d made it to be long enough and thick enough to be of substantial warmth and use. When he finally spoke, it drew their attention immediately.
“The best part,” he said, “is that I travel. I have been everywhere. I have been to so many villages and towns and cities all over the country, and even all over the world, that you wouldn’t believe. I’ve met all sorts of different people. And maybe they are simple creatures,” he inclined his head towards (Y/N), who listened patiently, but lowered her eyes with bashfulness, “and they do come off as crass, unpolished, bitter; sometimes downright mean. But there is a fondness and a kindness in most places that we travel through. It leaps out of the corners in the summer, and takes to being weary and sleepy in the winter. But it is there. I do love the people I recite for.” He fell silent for a moment more, time in which Madeleine fed him the last of his portion of oatmeal. “Besides that, the scenery is a blessing. My only wish for you is that you view it all, someday. Each leaf, each petal, each sunrise and sunset. I wish for you to see the birds flocking in the clear blue sky, and I wish for you to watch a quiet snowfall. I wish for you to see the rapids of a river and I wish for you to see the endless, endless prairies and fields where the wild grasses grow.” Harrison sucked in a deep breath, perhaps the deepest he’d ever taken. He felt alive, remembering all that scenery, though he could have been running a fever from how cold he’d been last night. It would, in truth, be a miracle if he didn’t fall ill. But still, he praised on: “I wish for you to see a garden of flowers, a wild buffalo, a forest so deep and so tall that the trees make you feel as though you are naught but an insect; because this is where beauty lies.” He clamped his mouth shut, suddenly, but before he could quell the impulse, he had to say it: “And I see nature in your face, (Y/N).”
At that, she smiled like never before, and her cheeks were alight with the pink of a wild rose Harrison had seen on one of his great many travels. If he hadn’t fallen in love already, he was certain to do it now, and was only snapped away from his trance by Madeleine squealing in exuberant joy at his profound sentiments and the doorbell of the shop ting-a-tingling once more.
“Harrison?” the impresario called out.
“Ah, there he is,” (Y/N) intoned softly, with a loving glance at the artist, still strapped to his chairboard, but with a rosier, healthier complexion to his face and an assurance of good food in his stomach. “Here you go, my darling. Something to remember me by when you’re off on your travels.” She tucked the green-and-gold scarf around him with an unmatched delicateness, and he felt warmer than he had since the short and sparing summer months which had left them so long ago. He leaned his cheek against her retreating hand for a moment, and she smiled gently and stroked a tuft or two of his charcoal black hair. Madeleine took this as her cue to arise and abscond; bringing the man waiting at the counter his bowl of hot oatmeal and an extra cup of tea from the cart.
“Should I meet you in another life, I’d—” Harrison began with the intent of romanticizing about the woman he’d just met, but she pressed a finger to his lips softly.
“We’ve already met in this one,” she said, and that was enough to warm him through his bones and down to his very soul.
It did not take the impresario very long to finish his meager breakfast—it never did, not in Harrison’s experience, anyway—and while it wasn’t the epitome of delight, exactly, to be strapped to his friend’s back while he gobbled down lukewarm oats and tea, Madeleine stood near the door and kept Harrison entertained. The two made faces at one another, stifling their laughter when the other’s face struck a particularly amusing chord with them. (Y/N) chatted up the old man as best she could and in the end, told him that both the scarf and the breakfast were free of charge, just because they’d given such a lovely oration the night before. The man seemed a little surprised at first, but expressed gruff gratitude with her and still felt inclined enough to leave her a penny, which she didn’t notice until the pair had left the shop. On the way out the door, Harrison smiled at her, the woman who had nature written all over her beautiful, pink-cheeked face; and she smiled back at him.
The impresario sat him down in the back of the wagon, with a quiet and yet tense aura, as if he’d been thinking about something especially difficult. But nothing, not even the question of their finances, could bother Harrison this day as he turned his head slightly back and forth, admiring the cozy feel of the jewel-green scarf tucked around his neck. He wondered if it were at all possible that she had sung some of her magic into it for him—the mountain wind didn’t seem so biting all of a sudden, and it felt as if he were in his own personal beam of sunlight, which he was eternally thankful for. And as the wagon rattled onward to their next town, their next performance, his next recitation, he watched for her curious eyes and ruby red lips dancing in the window-glass of the shop.
The memory of her smile would last him the rest of his life.