The Heartburgh market was a square of bare ground where local farmers and crafters sold their wares. Most of the stalls were empty.
“It’s busier if you come early in the morning,” Flame told Steuan. “Or on the weekend.” She led him to one of the farmers’ stalls. “Though most of the herbs you’re going to find are cooking herbs.”
“Some of the most common herbs have actually long been used in traditional medicine,” said Steuan. He picked up a packet of herbs. “Take this dill, for example. It’s been used for thousands for years for treating stomach ailments. And this parsley has historically been used to treat rickets and eye disorders and improving oxygen metabolism.”
“Wow, I had no idea,” said Flame. “How do you know all this?”
“It’s my passion,” he said.
Ermyntrude, meanwhile, headed straight for the hand-made jewelry. Bartram trailed behind her.
To keep from being spotted, Geoffrey and the general slipped behind a booth selling commemorative peasant shirts, handed-painted with slogans such as “I got wasted at the Drunken Pie,” “I left my heart in Heartburgh,” and “I got attacked by bandits in the Northern Mountains and all they left me with is this lousy T-shirt.”
“Is he buying vegetables?” the general asked Geoffrey.
“Looks like it.”
“Is that a vulnerability we can exploit? Maybe, say, slip in some toxic mushrooms? Or a deadly spider?”
“Maybe. We’ll need to know more.”
“What if he’s just buying ingredients for dinner? What if he can cook? Do you know what they say about men who can cook?”
“No. What do they say?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I was asking you.” The general peered between the clothing racks. “Now he’s mansplaining radishes to her. Do women really fall for that kind of condescending attitude? He’s got her eating out of his hand.”
“You’d be surprised how much people are willing to tolerate if it comes from someone with a bare, muscular chest.”
“No,” said the general. “She’s literally eating out of his hand. I think he’s feeding her cherry tomatoes.”
“I didn’t think they had tomatoes on Krim,” said Geoffrey and squeezed the general aside so he could look. “He’s feeding her radishes.”
As Flame and Steuan moved on to the next booth Abigail and Ayoob arrived. Abigail headed straight for a little fenced-in area in the center of the market. A large wooden crate full of hay and straw had been flipped on its side and several goats and sheep were tied up to the fence, having a snack. Abigail climbed up on the crate. Ayoob picked up a stick and banged on the fence posts with it.
“Hear ye, hear ye!” he yelled. “The transcendental mystic Abigail Yaxley is here. She will be leaving on a pilgrimage this afternoon to the sacred caves of Mount Onofil. If you need her to carry your requests to the spirits, step up now.”
“She jumped the gun,” said the general. “We never even talked about what the Heartburgh religion should be.”
Heartburgh residents paused in their shopping and turned to look at Abigail.
“Live is hard up in these mountains. So hard! Everything here is trying to kill us. Nearly each day, someone dies. If we’re not trampled by cows, we’re kidnapped and tortured by bandits, ripped apart by bears, drowned in flash floods, or struck by lightning. From the first day I came here, I felt something each time I looked at the mountains.” She spun around, gesturing at the mountains around her. Her heavy wool cloak fell open. Underneath it, she was wearing a long white robe.
“Is she wearing a nightgown?” the general asked Geoffrey.
“I felt the mountains calling to me,” Abigail continued. “Today, I’m going to go and listen to what they have to say and discover our destiny.”
“I bet ten silvers her destiny is to be eaten by a bear,” said a merchant selling furs in the next stall over.
“I’m betting wolves,” said his customer. A crowd quickly gathered around them, each person placing their own bets. Death by exposure quickly became the most popular option, followed by stung to death by bees.
“Does anyone have any requests?” Abigail asked. “When I commune with the spirits of the mountains, is there anything you want me to ask?”
“Yes,” said Ayoob, “I, your humble follower, have a request. I’m waiting for a shipment from Krim City, and it’s running late. Can you please pray that it gets here soon?”
The general shoved Geoffrey out from behind the stall. “This was your idea,” he said. “You go ask for something. Don’t leave Ayoob standing there all by himself like an idiot.”
Geoffrey stepped forward. “Oh, great and wise Abigail.” He looked around. People were paying attention. Including Flame. “I’ve been inspired by your selfless devolution to a higher purpose, exalted Abigail. I only have one request.” He glanced at Flame for a fraction of a second. “Divine Abigail. My mission here in Heartburgh is to find my own heart. To become more compassionate. Someday, I want to leave Krim a new person, with a new faith in humanity. I want to dedicate my life to public service. Please give me the wisdom, the courage, and the inspiration to start on this path.”
Abigail nodded at him benevolently. “Your words move me. I will take your prayer with me into the mountains,” she said.
Geoffrey stepped back and whispered to the general, “Your turn.”
The general cleared his throat and stepped forward. “I, uhh…” He looked up, searching for inspiration. “I want to ask for lightning to strike down our enemies. The bandits and the spies, the charlatans, the quacks who prey on our residents. I want Heartburgh to be safe and protect.”
Geoffrey clapped, and Ayoob joined in, followed by a few of the other villages.
Nobody else stepped up to many any public requests, so Ayoob helped Abigail down. At that point, several people came up to her and whispered in her ear, forcing money into her hands.
Once the initial interest died down, Abigail walked out of the market square. The general hurried to catch up.
“We’re you going to wat for the rest of us before you just went and picked a religion?” the general asked her. “And I thought you were going to pick some major religion, and just be its priest, or prophet or something. Instead it seems like you are setting yourself up to be some kind of god.”
“That was my first thought, too,” said Ayoob. “A major religion, or at least a reasonably well-known one. But Abigail told me that all the established regions have armies of attorneys on staff ready to file trademark infringement cases.”
“Well, I just hope that the mountains don’t get annoyed and kill you,” Geoffrey told Abigail.
“Well, I’ve got a plan for that,” she said. “You and Ayoob are coming with me.”