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
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
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!"
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?"