The next shop caught Penelope’s eye when she saw an array of crystal spheres suspended in the shop window, each a different size and depicting a different scene with enchanting realism.
One showed an animated underwater scene filled with vibrant coral and fish swimming in shallow currents. Another showed a dark cavern, the quartz walls of which were illuminated in eerie detail by the ghostly glow of blue mushrooms. Intrigued most of all by an achingly familiar scene of silver and crystal trees, Penelope leaned closer to the shop window, her nose touching the cold glass and her breath fogging the view.
The renowned—and sacred—Crystal Grove was a treasured landmark of the Starwood realm, cultivated with care by Penelope’s family for many generations and a significant source of the realm’s wealth.
Penelope looked at the sign above the shop door, which read ‘Whistleweather’s Emporium of Novel Sights and Skylarks’.
Pushing through the heavy door, Penelope found herself in what at first seemed to be a toy shop. The large, open space was fitted with shelves and display tables of all different colours, shapes, sizes and materials. No two pieces of furniture matched. Yet somehow, each oddly painted table and ostentatious cabinet all seemed to go together.
These tables and shelves were stocked with a chaotic variety of products, from novelty eye pieces, game boxes, puzzles, and—strangely—alchemy kits to grow your own bone pets, to expensive models of the stars, finely crafted telescopes with gold handles, and large quartz terrariums displaying fantastical scenes like those in the shop’s front window.
The shop was a wondrous mix of gaudy novelties and fine devices.
Penelope wandered about the store, examining the unfamiliar trinkets with delight. A raised platform towards the back of the shop boasted an enormous telescope pointed upwards at a domed section of ceiling. Stepping onto the platform and looking up, Penelope gasped at the sight of the winter constellations shining with breathtaking clarity. Each star was a cold, clear point of light that Penelope ached to reach out and touch, but the ceiling was at least twice her height.
“The Coral Cluster, as it would appear in the sky now, were the sun snuffed out,” said a cheerful voice behind her. Penelope turned to see an elderly man wearing a fine suit and tall hat polishing quartz lenses behind the shop counter.
“It’s so beautiful, the stars feel close enough to reach…” Penelope succumbed to the impulse to reach upwards, raising her hand towards the stars.
The man chortled. “That they do! My projectoscope there does a magnificent job showing us the secrets of the deep skies… among many other mysteries.” The man turned his attention to a small contraption sitting on the countertop and began fitting a lens piece into a long wooden tube. Penelope watched, entranced, as the lens turned from clear, to blue, to purple, to silver as it was twisted into place.
“All done,” the man said with a satisfied nod, carefully placing the device beneath the countertop. “Now, which enrapturing trinket or flight of fancy might you be after today?” The man smiled with good humour, his green eyes bright and inquisitive beneath thick grey eyebrows.
“I’m not really sure… I just saw the Crystal Grove in your window and was curious. Your projectoscope,” Penelope articulated the unfamiliar word slowly as she stepped towards the machine, “can it show me a different kind of view? Like the ones in your window?”
The man scratched his whiskered chin. “We don’t usually take requests, but perhaps we can make an exception in the name of true curiosity… which one caught your fancy, my dear?”
“I was hoping you might show me my ho— the Starwood Palace. Is that possible?”
“Just a jiffy,” the man said, shuffling his way around the counter and groaning as he knelt by the machine. As he began adjusting various knobs and levers, the image overhead wavered, flicking rapidly through different scenes faster than Penelope could make sense of. At last, the image settled into a top-down view of Starwood Palace, showing the arched ceilings of long halls, sharp turrets and spires, glass gardens, orchards and stables, and even the small pond by the western border.
It was vaguely unsettling, looking down over the palace while Penelope herself was craning her neck to look up. She felt unsteady, almost as if she were about to fall upwards. Nonetheless, the sight of home made her chest ache with longing and her eyes blur with tears. “Oh, thank you,” Penelope sniffed. “Thank you, Mr.—?”
“Whistleweather, Abel Whistleweather, at your service, Miss—?”
Penelope turned to Abel, who was smiling up at the display on the ceiling.
“I’m Penelope. Penelope Starwood.”
“Oh, my…” Recognition sparked in Abel’s eyes as he turned his gaze to her. “A pleasure to meet you, Princess.” Abel gave a low bow, sending his hat toppling from his head, which he caught with a flourish before it hit the ground.
Penelope laughed and wiped her eyes. “And you as well, Mr Whistleweather.”
“Please, call me Abel, Princess. You know, your family was here—”
“Here?” Penelope yelled, turning to look about the shop only to find the other shop patrons peering quizzically at her.
“Not today, Princess,” Abel laughed. “But recently, yes. The Queen of Starwood was here with your young sister, Princess Clarity I believe, and—”
“When were they here? Where are— why were they—” Penelope’s tongue tripped over several questions as she tried to ask them all at once.
Abel held up a hand with a kind smile and Penelope fell silent, bouncing impatiently on her feet. “Perhaps it would be easiest if I showed you the reason for their visit, and I can answer all of your questions in private. I don’t open my personal collection of artefacts to the public, but I believe in this instance it would be more than appropriate… would you like to come with me, Princess of Starwood, and I’ll show you what your mother and I have been working on?”