July 31, 2021

Divining anonymity

‘So, for one coated iron rod, 250 grams of aloe vera gel, a stack of twelve fine pieces of parchment, and a willingly given Phoenix feather, that comes to sixty eight labels and four silver marks.’ The customer was nodding along, already pulling coins from her purse. ‘And I’m rounding down, not many people come in for Phoenix feathers. I want folks like you to come back again.’ The shopkeeper said with a leading smile. She nodded. ‘Too pricey for a lot of folks.’ He prompted. She shrugged still counting the coins. He rolled his eyes. ‘Alright then, wait here and I’ll fetch it all, please could you sign your name here too.’ He prodded a ledger on the counter and turned to walk into the back.

‘Oh? Really?  Why is that? Surely you don’t need my name.’ He stopped and turned and forced a smile through a sigh. I really should get a sign made for this, he thought. She looked almost offended.

‘It serves two purposes. As proof of purchase, I’ve signed one too that you can take away, to show what you have is from my shop and that should anything be faulty you can come back with proof of what you bought. And -’

‘Yes, well, you don’t need my name for that.’ He sighed,

‘No. But the second reason is that a willingly given Phoenix feather is an incredibly rare item. I am obliged to take your signature on behalf of the wand core council who track these things, and for the Phoenix herself who has asked to know the name of the mage making use of her feather.’

‘Oh.’ She replied and looked at the ledger. She saw a page with two identical lists of the items she had collected with lines underneath for signatures.

The shop-keep smiled apologetically and wandered into the back. Students, he thought, it’s all well and good learning all these things but no one’s teaching them how the world really works.

The shop-keep, Murban is his name, didn’t complain out loud, he was once a student of the University after all, and they make up more than half of his patronage. He retrieved the items and carefully placed the feather into a made-to-size metal case. He walked back and put them on the counter and took a tote bag from underneath.

‘Is there anything else I can - . I’m sorry, I really need you to sign  your name if you want the core.’ She caught his eye.

‘Well what’s stopping me signing a fake name?’ He frowned, confused. The ginger tabby walked across the counter and reached her head out to the woman expectantly.

‘Nothing, of course. Except you won't get the benefits of being a returning customer, the wand core won’t have your name for whatever they want to collect it for, and when the Phoenix finds out - ‘

‘What? How would the Phoenix find out?’

‘A Phoenix is a magic creature, you understand?’ He paused but she just looked on expectantly. ‘You know the basic principles of divination?’

‘Yes. Of course.’ She said. Sticking her nose up,

‘Well, a Phoenix who gives their feather away is certainly likely to check in once in a while, see what you’re up to.’

‘Oh well what if -’ She started to raise her voice but caught herself and was dampened by the sound of the cat purring under her hand. ‘What if I don’t want her to check in?’

‘Well, then I encourage you to purchase an unwillingly given feather. It’s more likely that it’s owner has since died or at least doesn’t know of the feather to divine.’ She took a moment to think while she petted the cat.

‘Do you have any of those?’

‘Unwillingly given?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yes.’

‘How much are those?’

‘They are 10 labels less expensive.’

‘So much cheaper? Surely they can’t be that different?’ Mur, that’s what his friends call him, started to get quite annoyed. Two other customers were looking around and another had walked in quietly while they were talking and had gone straight to the weapons rack.

‘Yes they are quite different, but I’m afraid I’m not a professor. The difference is in the library if you would like to look for it.’ He’d had enough. He reached out to scratch behind the cat's ears briefly, who purred but stopped with Mur’s retracting hand and she stalked off towards the weapons rack.

‘But surely that’s a breach of my privacy if she can just spy on me?’

‘Well, you do have a piece of her.’

‘Yes but willingly given.’

‘Look, if you’re that concerned, buy the unwillingly given feather or invest as well in a scry patch charm.’ He indicated one of the necklaces in the display case to his left. It contained an assortment of necklaces with pendants emblazoned with various runes.

‘What is a scry patch?’

‘It’s a charm with an enchantment to redirect less powerful scrying eyes.’

‘Less powerful? So it might not even work?’ Mur just looked at her. ‘Do you have one for yourself?’

‘Yes. This whole shop is protected.’

‘The whole shop?’

‘Yes.’

‘And how much is the patch?’

‘This one is 10 labels.’

This one?’

‘There are others of varying degrees of power.’

‘What is the cheapest?’

‘The least expensive are two silver marks.’

‘Will it work?’ He just looked at her again without answering. ‘Okay, well give me the second least expensive charm then.’ He rolled his eyes again, not trying to hide it this time and fished  through a draw beneath the counter for a necklace with noticeably fewer runes on its pendant. He put it in the bag,

‘Right. That’s a round 69 gold labels please.’ As she counted the coins Mur packed everything into the bag, sighing at the queue that had formed. This is not how he liked to run things. ‘Will that be all?’ He took the coins and placed them somewhere under the counter.

‘That will be all for today thank you.’ She said with an affronted air as she took the bag in her hand. Mur couldn't help but notice her signet ring of her house, robes from the University, and a pocket full of traceable coins. Mur rolled his eyes one last time and smiled at the next customer.

Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash