Now, what is he on about? Tebo wondered.
Atop the tall stone tower that dominated the harbor, Johnny Apple was flapping his arms and dancing around on the balls of his feet. His wild red hair was bouncing in a way that reminded Tebo of a chicken with a broken leg. Not that all that nervous movement was unusual for Johnny, but today there seemed to be more manic energy in every step. Even at this distance Tebo could tell that he was excited.
Tebo’s chuckle produced little puffs of vapor in the cold air. He shook his head as he thought of Johnny, while he lined up small kegs and rough wooden shelving. He wasn’t sure when it had happened, but at some point Johnny had stopped being an oddity and become a friend. There was a special quality to Johnny that was hard to define. There was no malice in him. He was openly friendly, trusting and generous of spirit in a way only common to young children. He had also found, in listening to what Johnny said, that there was a keen and observant mind behind his awkward exterior. Johnny wasn’t simple or addled as some folks said – he just processed what he saw differently.
Tebo placed baskets on the completed shelves to hold the items they sold. Satisfied, he stretched and breathed in deeply. The smells of wood roasted nuts, meats and offal permeated the small square by the harbor. Many of the stalls were still boarded for the winter. There were few trade goods this time of year, unless Duar traders passed through. By the time spring arrived people would be living off whatever they had stored up. Some would see hard times. Tebo couldn’t wait until the warm weather when the number of merchants would grow and the market fill with goods of all kinds. His stomach grumbled and he looked towards the store to see if his father was done.
Garlem used his massive arms to roll out and position the last barrel of smoked fish. He looked at Tebo, and his broad bearded face lifted in a small grin. It’s like watching a rock smile, Tebo thought. He smiled back. A hairy rock.
Garlem looked up at Johnny still capering madly on the stone tower and shook his head. With fingers as thick and sturdy as spear shafts he pried the lid of a barrel then reached in and pulled out a handful of dry apples. He tossed them to his son who snatched them out of the air with deft movements of his hands. “You’d best get that boy off the tower before he hurts his-self.” Garlem stepped into the stalls small storage bin and pulled out a couple of burlap bags. “Fill these with whatever nuts and berries we have left and run to Josef. Tell him I expect no less than ten loaves, and he’ll throw in a couple of sweet rolls if he wants me happy.” He grinned at Tebo. Josef was an incredible baker. Garlem scratched his beard. “And if Johnny doesn’t fall before you get there, take him with you. Tell him he can take dinner with us tonight.”
Garlem looked at his son, then gave a short nod and winked as he hurried over to assist the widow Yglara. The old woman wore a look of perpetual dissatisfaction and was jabbing at the smoked fish in one of the baskets as if they had somehow offended her.
Tebo chuckled and grabbed a sack, snagged some cheese from one of the crates and dropped in the dried apples. He loaded Josef’s goods into the large reinforced back pack, nearly half his height, and slid his arms through the harness. Tebo bent his legs and lifted without obvious effort. He looked over at his father and grinned as Garlem rolled his eyes at him. Yglara was a character, that was certain. She was up before any of the merchants. Sharp as a knife, spare as a stick, and sour as pickled bitterfruit. Tebo grinned remembering his father’s words. He knew it was all show though. Garlem always slipped extra food into the widow’s basket.
Tebo followed his nose to a stall where Herog and Sam were busy turning skewers with stringy slices of marinated meat, taban and winter root. Tebo did his best not to look at the thick scar angling across Herog’s neck. Herog would laugh his rasping laugh when Sam claimed they were twins, but the two were obviously of different races. Maybe even different species, Tebo thought as he eyed the mismatched pair. He held up four fingers and Sam flipped the indicated quantity through the air to Herog, who caught and wrapped them in sea-leaf in a motion almost too fast to follow. Herog held up two fingers of his own and Tebo paid, adding the bundle to his pack. He nodded in thanks as he lifted it onto his shoulders.
As he turned Tebo’s heart skipped a beat. He could no longer see Johnny’s red hair which meant that Johnny was probably standing nearer to the sloping front edge of the tower. There might be some ice up there today and it was a long way down to the water. The broken rocks at the base would not afford a soft landing. Tebo started to run.