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City of the Rats

The power of the two recovered gems has strengthened Lief, Barda, and Jasmine, and given them the courage to continue their quest for the third stone. But first they must find their way to the forbidden City of the Rats, and conquer its evil warden.

"Now," said the man behind the counter. "What can Tom show you? And more to the point, what can Tom sell you?" He rubbed his hands.

"We need a good length of strong rope," said Lief, seeing that Barda was going to say nothing. "And also, something for sore feet, if you have it."

"Have it?" cried Tom. "Of course I have it. Everything for the traveller. Did you not see the sign?"

He eased himself out from behind the counter and selected a coil of thin rope from a shelf.

"This is my very best," he said. "Light, and very strong. Three silver coins, and it is yours."

"Three silver coins for a piece of rope?" Barda exploded. "That is robbery!"

Tom's smile did not waiver. "Not robbery, friend, but business," he said calmly. "For where else will you find a rope like this?"

Holding one end of the rope, he threw the rest upwards with a flick of his wrist. The rope uncoiled itself like a snake and wound itself tightly around one of the ceiling rafters. Tom pulled at it, to show its strength. Then he flicked his wrist again, and the rope unwrapped itself from the rafter and dropped back into his hands, winding itself up into a neat coil as it fell.

"Trickery," growled Barda, glowering.

But Lief was fascinated. "We will take it," he said excitedly, ignoring Barda's elbow in his ribs, and Jasmine's suspicious frown.

Tom rubbed his hands. "I knew you were a man who understood a bargain," he said. "Now. What else might I show you? No obligation to buy!"

Lief looked around excitedly. If this shop had rope that acted as though it were alive, what other wonders might it hold?

"Everything!" he exclaimed. "We want to see everything!"

Tom beamed.

Jasmine moved uncomfortably. It was clear that she did not like the crowded shop, with its low ceiling, and she did not much like Tom, either. "Filli and I will wait outside with Kree," she announced. She turned on her heel and left.

The next hour flew by as Tom showed Lief cushioned socks for sore feet, telescopes that saw around corners, plates that cleaned themselves, and pipes that blew bubbles of light. He showed machines to predict the weather, little white circles that looked like paper but swelled up to full size loaves of bread when water was added, an axe that never blunted, a bedroll that floated off the ground, tiny beads that made fire, and a hundred more amazing inventions.

Slowly, Barda forgot his suspicion and began to watch, ask questions, and join in. By the time Tom had finished, he was quite won over, and as eager as Lief was to have as many of these marvels as they could afford. There were such wonderful things. . . things that would make their travels easier, safer and more comfortable.

At last, Tom folded his arms and stood back, smiling at them. "So," he said. "Tom has shown you. Now, what can he sell you?"


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