1) A bold merchant with a catty mouth.
2) The forgotten dungeon in a secret wall of a castle (or hidden in a forest!).
3) Representation of a mute, or the cause of turning someone mute (perhaps the removing of tongues)?
4) A golden eyed feline sculpture — "Said to send one into a spiral of deep depression if one stares into its eyes too long - You can either see your demise, or your soul. Either way it upsets them all.
Marden spotted the wanderer the moment he stepped into the line of stalls where the merchant had set up. You had to watch the little creatures. Fortunately, their method of colorful and often mismatched dress made spotting them easy. They looked like young teenage humans for the most part except that their eyes were a little more almond shaped, and they had a slight point to their ears. That was not what made them dangerous. Wanderers believed in trading fairly. The problem was that they did not hold value to items in the same way that most others did. They might give you a worthless, albeit very colorful, feather in hopes of receiving a gold bracelet. Trying to explain the lack of value to the item usually ended in frustration for the merchant.
The other thing you did not do is let them try on an item of clothing or taste something. A wanderer took this as gifting and would expect to keep the item. He had seen many merchants who had encountered them the first time make this mistake. Fortunately, you did not see them in towns very often. Wanderers were free folk that gave no allegiance to town or king. They traveled in caravans across the land following the migration of their guiding dragon.
As the wanderer approached Marden's stall, he put his more precious items back a bit. If you took your eyes off a wanderer, they would often take what appealed to them. Oh, they would leave you something so in their eyes they had traded, not stolen. The problem was, it might just be a black shiny rock.
Marden nodded as the wanderer came to his boards. "Move along sir, I have nothing worth trading with you today."
The wanderer raised a brow. "Should you not let your customer decide what is of worth?
If I had a customer, I would most decidedly let him choose. Yet, at the moment, I do not seem to have one." Marden shrugged as if it were a great burden.
"Well then, you sir are in the best of luck. I am a customer, and I have something I think will interest you." The little man shrugged off his pack as Marden groaned.
"Just be off with you," Marden growled. "Your departure is all I want. You will scare off other customers with that freehold stench."
"Just wait a moment, I am sure I have something in here you would be interested in." The man smiled up as he dug around in the large pack.
Marden had been about to tell him where he could stick whatever he planned to pull out of that bag when the sight of gold caught his eye. Not one to risk losing an item of real gold, he bit his usually sharp tongue.
"Ah, here it is." The wanderer pulled out a strange round blue stone. It was unusual; Marden had to give him that.
"I am more interested in whatever you have in there that is made of gold." Marden licked his lips. It was rare to see a wanderer with anything of real value.
The wanderer blinked at him in surprise a few times then looked down into his pack. "I doubt you want that old thing. Why, it is rather a disturbing cat."
"I would love to see it." Marden placed his hands behind his back to hide his anticipation. Would not do to be too greedy.
"Well if you insist." The wanderer pulled out the feline statuette and placed it on the counter. The gleam of gold had come from its eyes.
Marden picked it up and examined it. It was made of pure medure. How could that be? Medure was a hard, rare metal and was difficult to work. Yet the cat's details were perfect. The whiskers that poked out from its nose, the curled tail in front of the feet. Marden took a deep breath attempting to center. He dared not look to excited or it would cost him too much in trade.
"I see what you mean, rather old thing. However, my daughter does love cats. I think she would love such an item. May I ask where you got it?" Marden caressed a finger around the perfect ear. He realized he had mad a mistake the moment the question came out his mouth and groaned inwardly in preparation for the story that was bound to come.
"Ah, well I was in the forest west of Graven's pond. A dark place and many do not enter I'm told. I didn't see anything to be afraid of when I was there." The man shrugged. "Anyway, I found this strange door in the side of a tree. Odd that, don't you think? A door in the trunk of a tree?" The man paused for Marden to nod appropriately.
"Well, I couldn't resist that," the wanderer continued. "I had to know. It was locked, but I'm rather good at helping people past such things." He shrugged as if that discounted his breaking into the locked door. "I'm sure who ever locked it didn't intend to be gone so long. I did wait for a time as is proper. Anyway, I got in the door and down the steps. Tricky matter that was because every third step had these traps under them. I guess who ever the door was locked against is dangerous for one to go to such lengths to protect the stairwell."
"Yes, Yes, go on. I wish to know how the cat is a part of this tale?" Marden urged the man on.
The man leaned on the boards with both his elbows and placed his chin in his hands before he continued. "Now sir, every good find needs its tale. Patience now." He took a breath. "Where was I, oh yes, the stairs. I got to the bottom and found three rooms. One was obviously not a nice place. There were chains on the walls, cages, a rack, and the smell of old blood. However, one of the other rooms had hundreds of boxes and such. The cat was up on this shelf. It caught my eye right off just like it did yours."
Had the wanderer stumbled upon some treasure hold? "Tell me, what was in the room besides the cat." Marden's heart was beating fast.
"Oh, odds and ends. Weapons, more of that stone the cat is made of, some interesting stones like the one here." He indicated the strange round stone. "Really, there was many things. I could bit carry a lot so I chose things that I thought were unusual. People have been quite willing to trade what I have found."
"I would love the cat. Is there anything you seek that I might trade for it?" Marden was worried as he had the most food items. His wife was a great cook and gardener, and he was a wood carver.
"I am running low on food and I am looking for a gift for my mother. I heard you had necklaces?" The wanderer looked at Marden hopefully.
"Aye. Sure they are for your mother?" Marden smiled as he pulled out a few necklaces he had made from local stones and carved wood beads.
"Well, not ready to settle down with a mate. But I guess it wouldn't hurt to take an extra in case I find that spirit that could travel the winds with me." The wanderer looked them over. "I want these two and to fill my pack with food."
Marden did not intend to settle for just the cat. "Well, the cat isn't worth that much. You know, I would love to see those boxes you talked about. How about this, the cat and you draw me a map of where the door. In exchange I will give you what you ask. I am rather a curious sort myself."
The wanderer considered for a long moment. "I cannot do that in good conscious. The cat is disturbing."
"I am okay with it being disturbing," Marden quickly assured the man. He did not see anything wrong with the cat. It appeared perfectly made to him.
"Well," hedged the man. "Okay. I have been wanting to get rid of it anyway. I just couldn't bring myself to toss it out." He put his hand out to shake on it.
Marden shook eagerly and fetched a parchment for the little man to write out the map. While he did that, Marden carefully loaded his pack with the blue stone and as much food as would fit around it. While the wanderer watched him carefully, Marden already felt a bit guilty so he had no intentions of cheating the man further.
After the little man left, Marden quickly packed up the wagon. The goods not sold were packed away and the boards sat beneath the wagon. Others looked at him curiously as he was leaving market so early, but none cared enough to ask which suited the merchant man just fine.
Rather then heading home, Marden headed for Graven's pond. There was a chance that the story was just that, a story. He knew, however, when it came to trading, wanderers were honest folk if you discounted that they did not understand the value of things. As his korpen dragged the wagon down the narrow road, he took out the cat to look at it. It was so beautiful, and there was something about the eyes. As he stared at it, he found himself drifting. Marden saw himself with his tongue pulled way out, and someone was sawing it off. He tossed the cat into a bag. He must have fallen asleep, yes that was it. It was a strange dream. Nonetheless, he tossed the cat into a bag and shoved it under the seat.
It took most of the day to get to the pond. He considered whether or not he should wait until morning. He finally decided to look for the door at least until the woods became to dim for safety. People avoided these woods saying they were haunted. Marden did not believe in spirits and such.
The map was rough at best and twice he found himself off track. Just as he was about to give up, he found the door. It was so well constructed that he almost missed it in the fading light. He tried the door and found it unlocked. Maybe who ever had built it, had not returned since the wanderer had found it. He quickly found a stick, some pitch and weaver's moss. Building a torch, he soon had a proper light for going down the stairs. Having paid attention to the tale, he carefully stepped over each third step. His heart was pounding with excitement.
There were three rooms. The first seemed to be some kind of meeting room. There were strange symbols on the floor, walls and even the ceiling. The next room held the devices of capture and torture. This made Marden swallow down some fear. Best he fill the sack that he brought and be quickly off. Who knew if the owners were long deceased or just away for a bit.
The third room was filled with treasure and boxes the like of which he had never seen. He opened one up to find it filled with precious stones. Another box held trading tokens and medure slips. Box after box held amazing treasures and between them were stacks of raw medure and weapons. He took a dagger for himself then set about filling the bag he had brought with as many medure slips as he believed he could carry. As he was finishing the hair on the back of his neck stood up and he slowly turned around.
A woman holding a bow drawn and ready to fire was standing in the doorway. "Well, well. What have I here. Brother, I do believe I have caught a thief."
Marden did not know what she was. She was taller than most humans he knew. She was very pale and her hair was white despite the youthfulness of her face. The woman was dressed in black leather pants, over which she wore a red dress like garment that came to mid-calf.
A man stepped behind her of the same build and other than the fact he was clearly not a woman, the two looked alike. "Why yes, Caterine. It would seem you have."
Marden dropped the bag. "I meant no harm. The door was unlocked. I ... thought the treasure abandoned." He put his hands out pleading. "Please, I'll tell no one of your dwelling. Just let me go, and I'll never return."
"What do you thank, Terin? Should I let him scurry off?" The woman's voice was melodious and compelling. "Though he has lied once already. We both know the door was picked and there is the matter of the traps he knew full well to step over."
The man tapped his chin a few times. "We have not had a plaything for sometime. Let us ensure he will tell no one nor lie again."
"I swear. I'm not lying." Marden's hands were sweating and he could hear his own heart beat. "A wanderer gave me this map. See?" He quickly fetched out the map and held it out.
Caterine moved so her brother, Terin could take the map. "It would seem he was indeed given a map," the man said as he looked it over.
"So two thieves. What is the wanderer's name?" Caterine snarled.
"I don't know. I did not ask. He traded me food and necklaces in exchange for the map." Marden was beginning to hope they might let him go if he were forthcoming enough. "I can describe him. He was about four and half feet. He wore a green vest and yellow leather pants. He had his hair in about seven pig tails sticking randomly about his head." He glanced between them.
"Well, that is a start at least," Terin said. "We will have to find him. Can't have ever him selling maps everywhere he goes. If one man traded for it, you know he is bound to offer such to everyone."
"And this one?" Caterine indicated him with her bow.
"Let us ensure he speaks of this to no one." Terin grabbed Marden roughly by the arm as Caterine kept her arrow pointed at the merchant. "Make one wrong move and I promise that it will be your last. She never misses."
Marden let himself be dragged into the next room. When he realized he was to be chained to the wall, he attempted to resist. He received an arrow through the leg for his efforts. He screamed in pain and looked around to see she had already managed to thread another arrow. Chained to the wall, Marden groaned in pain.
"Told you not to make a wrong move. You are lucky she wants a new plaything." Terin shrugged. "I will leave you to him. I need to go find our little wanderer."
Caterine laid down her bow and picked up a vial of powder. "I assure you that he will still have plenty left for you when you return with our second toy," purred the woman.
Terin turned and walked out as Caterine approached Marden. She had a reassuring smile on her face. "Don't worry love, this won't hurt." She carefully spilled the powder around him then blew some into his face. Marden sneezed at the strange burning that immediately filled his nostrils.
"What is that?" he coughed out.
"Oh, that. It is just a little something I am about to add some magic too. It will make you biddable. I do so love a plaything that does as it is told. But, we must ensure you never speak of this again." She turned to him after she set the powder down.
"Ekess shio youwei, truth qe told. ekess shio youwei bidden authot." The intonation was foreign and strangely cold.
Marden felt his head swim and things grew blurry. His last free thought was that he did not want to open his mouth. Yet, he found that he did and he stuck out his tongue as he was bidden. He watched in confusion as pincers were attached to the end of it. He had a distant thought as to 'what was the knife for…" then pain filled his brain and the taste of blood filled his mouth. It was Marden's last conscious thought.