Penelope and the Sisters made their way through the snowy footpaths back to the upper village concourse, across the busy road, and through the central garden to the fortune fountain.
Though it was winter, the garden boasted a wide variety of plants from different regions and seasons. Contributions from each of the realms of Edenwood Valley were carefully cultivated and alchemically nurtured throughout all seasons, making for a lush and eclectic garden of vibrant flowers, crystalline trees, and luminescent ferns.
Penelope sat herself on the stone wall of the fountain. Mist curled along the surface of the water, and Penelope traced her hand through the pool. The water was warm, even in the chill winter air, and Penelope glimpsed flashes of small shining fish through the mist.
A large clock stood tall nearby which read eleven in the morning.
“Now, there’s a brunch for the Sisters of the Edenwood Magical Order soon that we’re itching to go to,” Sister Rosin said peering up at the clock. “It’ll be dead boring for you I’m sure, Penelope, dear. So why don’t you take the coin purse and use the rest to buy, well, whatever you’d like! There’s enough there for a powder or two, or even a small charm if you—” Sister Rosin cut off with a wheeze as Penelope threw her arms around the short, round woman in a strong hug.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Penelope said with an excited squeal. Sister Heely laughed. “Just be sure to meet us back here at the fountain by mid afternoon. Three past noon should be plenty of time, and then we can begin the journey home before it gets too late.”
“I will!” Penelope exclaimed, tucking the coin purse safely into her inner coat pocket. She had four whole hours to explore the village! By herself!
Penelope waved as the Sisters hurried through the park towards their brunch. When they were out of sight, Penelope turned to go the other way. Penelope had brought with her a small purse of her own savings from pocket money over the years. Deciding she should stock up on a few practical supplies before spending it all on enchantments, Penelope strode off towards Papyre. She only got lost the once and had to retrace her steps through the narrow cobbled alleys before she found the small shopfront, aglow with clackstone crystals.
Penelope stepped through the glass-paned door into the warmth of the shop, which was filled with patrons scooping small crystal pebbles into paper bags, or inspecting the various messenger papers for letter writing. Penelope picked up a small wicker basket by the door and squeezed through the crowd towards the firelight clackstones.
The golden ones were best for heating large open rooms, and looked prettier than the silver. Penelope picked out several stones from their container, added them to a paper bag and placed them carefully in her basket.
The green clackstones were best for burning garden trimmings into rich compost, and worked particularly well with the red clackstones for outdoor winter fires. Penelope added several more colours, shapes, and sizes of clacktone to paper bags and tucked them into her basket.
Then she made her way to the ink station, with elegant pens of wood, bone marble, and even Darkwood owl feather. There were inks for writing, sketching, and etching, as well as pans of water paints.
Penelope smiled at a childs set of inks for pebble printing, recalling the small set of colour-changing inks Sister Rosin had brought back from the market for her when she had been young and scared of the woods. Penelope had scratched animals and flowers into the pebbles using a crude quartz carving pen, and covered the headboard of her bed in wild patterns which flashed from pink to purple to yellow. It had given poor Sister Heely a headache to look at, and Penelope had painted over it herself a few years later.
Penelope picked out some new pens of common duck feather, as well as a few small stacks of messenger paper which, when folded, would be carried on the wind to the postal houses for sorting and delivery. With her basket filled she approached the counter, handed over several coins from her own purse to the cheerful attendant, and tucked her parcel into her own bag.
The snow had stopped falling by the time Penelope made her way back to the upper village, and the sky had cleared to a pale watery blue. Messenger papers—folded into birds, stars, and snowflakes—wheeled overhead, flowing into long lines on their way to the post house, no longer in danger of turning to mulch in the snowdrift.
The concourse was thriving with shoppers. Penelope emerged from a small laneway and was swept along with the crowd.
Though it has been years since she had seen them in person, Penelope recognized the faces of several members of Edenwood Valley’s royal houses.
Penelope was happy to see the twin Princesses of Heartwood a little further up the path. She was about to call out to them when she spied Princess Ivy of Sweetwood heading down the path in her direction. Penelope pulled up her hood and kept her head down, breathing a sigh of relief as she passed Ivy without notice. When she looked up again, she saw the Heartwood twins entering a perfumery.
Penelope lingered by the shop window, intrigued by the glass bottles of glimmering liquids and balms on display. Penelope could see the twins enthusiastically sampling scents. The shorter twin, Melinda, touched a glass stopper to her wrist where a pale golden rose bloomed from bud to full flower, finally bursting in a shower of light. Melinda inhaled the scent with evident delight. Penelope considered joining them, but perfume wasn’t what she was after.
Walking with determination, conscious of her precious few hours of freedom, Penelope sought out shops which might trade in stronger enchantments.
The first shop she entered was long and narrow, with sparkling glass shelves displaying small bottles and slim, intricately carved cases of powders, creams, serums and balms boasting all kinds of beautifying benefits.
Before Penelope could do more than gawp in bewilderment at the overwhelming arrangement of displays, an attendant bounded up to greet her. The attendant, whose nametag read Meia, smiled warmly and guided Penelope to a small testing enclave set into the nearby wall.
“What are you after today, my dear?” Meia enthused, gesturing grandly at the range of sample products on the enclave table. Her dark skin gleamed with pearlescent pink highlights. “What is that?” Penelope asked, unsure of where to start. Meia held out her arms, turning them under the lights so Penelope could see the full glimmer of pink and gold.
“It’s our exclusive Sunset Sensation body cream.” Meia held up a small glass pot. “It’ll look so beautiful on brown skin like yours!” Meia smoothed a small amount of the cream on Penelope’s hand. It felt warm, like the golden heat of early spring sunlight.
Penelope held her hand to the light, mesmerised by the sparkle.
“It suits you so beautifully!” Meia gushed. Penelope agreed.
“Were you after something specific today, or would you like to try a few more products to see what suits?”
Penelope scanned the store, unsure of which bright display to look at.
“I.. ah.. I’m looking for something that will make me beautiful…” Penelope trailed off, feeling uncertain.
“Well, you’re certainly in the right place for that. But darling heart, you are beautiful! Just look at your cheekbones!” Meia positioned a mirror in front of Penelope, adjusting it to best catch the light.
“I mean… beautiful like a real princess… like the others. I need to find my true love, so that I can see my own family, you see, but next to the other princesses, well they’re all so… elegant and perfect, and I need something that will make me look as beautiful as them so I have a chance, but I don’t have all that much money, I mean I have a little now but…” Penelope stopped, embarrassed, as Meia stared at her in consternation, cheeks puffed out like a fish. “Can you help?” Penelope pleaded in a small voice.
Meia laughed, a deep loud belly laugh that eased Penelope’s tension as she laughed along.
“Darling, it’s your heart that calls to true love. I’m afraid nothing in here will mask unkind spirits, but something tells me that’s not a problem you have…” Meia placed a finger on her chin and regarded Penelope with a mischievous smile. “What I can do is add a little pizzazz to those pretty eyes, and a cream to make those freckles symmetrical.”
“My freckles?” Penelope exclaimed, pressing her hands to her cheeks feeling suddenly self conscious as Meia tugged on a stray curl of Penelope’s hair, examining the colour in the light.
“Oh, don’t worry, darling heart, it’s the latest trend is all… now, let’s see here—” Meia swiftly selected several pots of assorted colours, and began unstopping the lids. A quarter of an hour later, Penelope left the shop with golden eyelids, moonlit cheeks, buttered lips, hair encrusted with a gel that glittered like gems in the sunlight, and a small bag of product samples tucked safely into her pocket.
Feeling bemused, but quite pleased with herself, Penelope re-joined the crowded concourse path.