Below Covent Garden lies the Untermarkt, where anything and everything has a price: a lover’s first blush, a month of honesty, a wisp of fortune.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from A Market of Dreams and Destiny by Trip Galey, a high-stakes historical fantasy set in 19th-century London—out from Titan Books on September 12.
Below Covent Garden lies the Untermarkt, where anything and everything has a price: a lover’s first blush, a month of honesty, a wisp of fortune. As a child, Deri was sold to one of the Market’s most powerful merchants. Now, after years of watchful servitude, Deri finally spots a chance to buy not only his freedom but also his place amongst the Market’s elite when he stumbles into the path of a runaway princess desperate to sell her royal destiny.
But news of the missing princess and her wayward destiny spreads. Royal enforcers and Master Merchants alike are after it. Outmanoeuvring them all would all be hard enough had Deri not just also met the love of his life, a young man called Owain, whose employers are using the Market for their own nefarious schemes.
Deri soon finds that the price of selling the royal destiny, making a name for himself, and saving the man he loves is dear. The cost of it all might just change the destiny of London forever…
After finishing with Merchant Codex, it didn’t take Deri long to locate the next person he had to deal with. The market’s shift had rearranged things in his favour, this time. He wasn’t far from the right alley, and the canny old goblin he sought was loud, so if Deri just listened…
‘Eyes of every size! Hair so very fair! Come buy! Come buy!’
There. That was Blatterbosch. The old goblin’s voice with its strong Black Forest accent was unmistakable. Deri turned toward the sound and shortly found himself standing in front of the stall he sought.
Blatterbosch crouched amidst his wares like a toad in a flowerbed, naked save for a loincloth that only the most discerning of eyes could pick out from the goblin’s statuesque form. Ladies’ fingers, pale and cold, nestled among jars of grass-green eyes. Twists of hair in all colours of autumn leaves hung like shimmering vines in a fringe across the front of the stall. Things rarer still, iridescent scales and gossamer wings and even a satyr’s pride, were scattered about like garden ornaments, calculatingly placed to command attention.
Deri resolutely ignored the satyr’s pride. It was never a good idea to be distracted when dealing with a goblin merchant. It was an even worse one to interrupt when said merchant was concluding a deal. So Deri waited, foot tapping, as a young woman with flaming locks of auburn hair traded its luminous beauty for the strength of ten men. She flexed her fingers and Deri prudently took a step to one side. Until she had some practice with her newly bought brawn, there were likely to be broken teacups and broken bones in her future. Deri had no wish to be the first casualty.
Still, as soon as she stepped away from the stall Deri darted in to take her place. Time was precious, not to be wasted. Almost before Blatterbosch could greet him, he had parcel in hand. It was wrapped in snow-white butcher’s paper; Deri preferred not to dwell overmuch on the way the somewhat squishy contents regularly pulsed out a beat.
‘Ah!’ Blatterbosch’s eyes—all five of them—glowed. ‘You have it! Danu’s dugs, how did Maurlocke manage to persuade her to give up her second heart?’
‘I’m sure I cannot say, Merchant Blatterbosch.’ Manners were important in the Untermarkt. Almost as important as they were to the High Society toffs up top.
‘Yes. Well. In any case. Tell your mystrer I am most pleased to have done business with ym. Most pleased.’ Blatterbosch held out a hand for the parcel.
‘Ah,’ Deri said delicately, ‘I’m afraid your negotiations with my mystrer only covered my bringing the parcel to your stall. You neglected to settle on a fee for my handing you the parcel.’
It was outright robbery to ask, but Deri had dealt with Blatterbosch often enough to know when he could press his luck. Still, it was always a risk. His shoulders tensed, but he kept a pleasant-yet-slightly-apologetic look on his face.
The old goblin favoured Deri with a long, measuring look, eyes narrowing. Deri didn’t flinch. Didn’t dare flinch. Then Blatterbosch laughed, a vast booming sound that set the merchant’s mounds of flesh to jiggling—even the display merchandise on his stall.
‘And what price do you ask for such a dangerous feat as passing me a parcel, little one?’
Of course the merchant had seen through Deri’s polite fiction. He knew Deri was angling for a bit of profit for himself, rather than on behalf of Maurlocke. Deri braced himself, running calculations in his mind. Something minor enough the merchant would part with it, but with enough value that Deri could hope to sell it on for a profit. Ideally, something that would, in the long run, cost the merchant nothing. Deri pointed to the second-finest spill of hair draped across the top of the stall.
‘The lustre of those locks for a single evening.’
It was a small thing. The lustre would return, the locks could be sold on with no lessening of value. The question was, would Blatterbosch see it that way?
‘Very well.’ The merchant laughed again. ‘I like your brass, boy. You have a deal.’
‘Thank you, master merchant.’ Deri handed over the parcel and collected his payment, all tied up with a single, intricately knotted hair. ‘May your day continue to be a profitable one.’
‘Yours as well, young man. Yours as well.’ Blatterbosch waved him away absently, four of his five eyes already seeking in the crowd for the next mark.
Deri allowed himself a satisfied grin as he dove back into the crowd, tucking his prize safely away in one of the many hidden pockets sewn throughout his coat. Not bad. It’d taken more time than he’d have liked, but he managed a bit of profit, so it all evened out. Now, to sort out Merchant Maurlocke’s lunch. He could tell by the bells that he was running out of time.
Deri was two-thirds of the way to collecting Merchant Maurlocke’s lunch when a voice hissing down at him caused him to pause.
‘Hisst, kit! Slow and hark, and you may find the opportunity for an extra bit of profit.’
Deri followed the sound to a ginger tabby, grooming herself whilst perched atop the pole of a nearby market bell. ‘Milady Bess,’ he said, ‘you’re looking well.’
Bess stretched the leg she had been cleaning and shook it. ‘Well enough. The first left and third right after and you’ll find a nice bit of opportunity. If you are interested, of course.’
Of course he was interested. He was always interested. Even without the bells ringing encouragement in his ears, he would be interested.
He didn’t thank Bess, of course. To do so in the Untermarkt would be more than passing dangerous. He did, however, sketch a little bow in her direction and add a bit of fish to his mental list. It paid to keep one’s allies happy, even if that meant smelling of cod for a bit.
The first left and the third right sped by quickly, ending on the Street of Sworn Words. Unexpected. What could Bess have been referring to? Deri’s eyes raked the crowds. There!
Near the stall of Bruteria Promise-Maker, where vows and oaths and geasa hung in rows, all bound in knots of parchment and chains of silver and pewter and gold, a young man stood with a small bit of paper in his hand and despair in his eyes. About his age, Deri would hazard, with a labourer’s arms and a shirt not more than a few days from being disdained by even the rag-pickers. A workhouse boy, judging by the threadbare brown trousers and shirt which might once have aspired to cream but had long since washed away to sullen grey. It was lemon as anything to guess his problem; Promise-Makers were exceptional at finding loopholes, and charging you an arm and a leg on top of your original bargain to hold them to whatever terms were struck.
‘You promised Missus Graspar a geas!’ the young man was repeating, clearly not for the first, or even seventh, time.
‘And she is welcome to have it,’ Bruteria countered smugly. ‘Why don’t you just pop back and tell her to come herself and collect it?’
‘But she sent me to fetch it!’
‘Does the signature on the receipt say Owain on it?’
‘Do you have a sealed and witnessed writ conferring Missus Graspar’s authority on you?’
‘Then it’s not my problem.’ Bruteria crossed her arms across her chest.
‘Which one is it?’ Deri interrupted, stepping up next to the young man apparently named Owain.
‘What?’ Owain half-turned to Deri.
Bruteria twisted her lips into a lopsided knot of displeasure.
‘Deri,’ she warned, ‘this is none of your concern.’
‘Business is business, as they say, Bruteria,’ Deri replied. ‘Which chain were you sent to collect?’ he asked Owain again.
‘I—I’m not sure,’ came the reply.
‘Then hire me to help you. I can promise my price will be much more reasonable than Bruteria’s.’
Deri couldn’t resist shooting a little smirk at Bruteria. The merchant sneered back. No self-respecting goblin would brag of being reasonable.
It was dangerous. Baiting Bruteria was asking to make enemies. Worse, Maurlocke might take exception to his obviously siding with a fellow human over his adopted market brethren. But Deri didn’t like those that penny-and-tuppence’d their customers.
‘What’s your price?’ Owain asked.
Too late to back out now. Bad enough to be seen interfering with another’s market business, far worse to back out after offering to make a deal. What was his price? Owain didn’t look like he had much to spare. Without quite thinking, Deri blurted out an offer.
‘One piece of advice for one night on the town is my going rate.’ Deri quirked a smile at Owain. ‘It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be fun.’
Bruteria made no move to hide her snort of contempt.
‘Deal,’ Owain said, seizing Deri’s hand.
Owain’s hand was warm, his grip strong. The touch was like lightning.
Deri pulled his hand away and draped a smile across his face like a veil.
‘The receipt gives you enough right to claim your mistress’s order. Bruteria never actually said you couldn’t take it. She asked you a series of questions that made you think you couldn’t, sure. But she isn’t going to stop you. She can’t. She won’t help you, either, unless you pay her, but I suspect she’s already made the offer and you will not—’ Deri glanced at Owain and corrected himself ‘—cannot meet the price for her aid.’
‘True enough.’ Owain sighed.
‘But if you take the right chain, she cannot stop you. So, which one is it?’
Owain looked at the multitude of chains of paper and gold hanging about the market stall.
‘I have no idea.’
‘Check the receipt,’ Deri suggested.
Owain looked down at the slip of paper in his hand.
Bruteria’s stall was hung predominantly with paper and gold, the former to hold agreements fast, the latter because the truth shines golden, and that metal best holds geasa. There were a few strands of silver and jet amongst the others—modest pieces, for the most part, binding forged for more unusual purposes.
Owain’s eyes scanned Bruteria’s wares. There were still more choices than one. He looked to Deri, eyes beginning to panic.
‘Think about who commissioned the piece. That will always show through. Something of them will have to. It’s like a signature on a document. The working is no good without it.’
Owain glanced back at the stall and after a moment, he reached out and picked up a precise length of tightly twisted silver and pewter.
‘This one,’ he said. ‘It has to be.’
‘Then take it, and be gone!’ Bruteria glared at the two. ‘You’re keeping honest business from my stall!’
Owain let out an explosive breath of relief. Deri laughed and stuck his arm through Owain’s, pulling him away from the stall. The thrill of contact was no less for the presence of cloth between them.
‘Best clear the way for other customers,’ Deri murmured to Owain.
‘Oh, right. Of course.’ Owain allowed himself to be steered into the crowd. ‘Why does it have to be so complicated? What’s wrong with plain money for stuff, no tricks?’
‘It’s boring,’ Deri answered without thinking, ‘and what would most of us do with a bunch of dead metal anyway? It’s easy enough to get, in Faery. The last blush of innocence, though, that’s truly rare. That has lasting value.’ Deri bit his tongue before it spilled any more freebies.
‘I’d not thought of it that way,’ Owain said.
‘Most mortals don’t need to.’ Deri glanced around at the crowded market. ‘I suppose you can find your own way. Unless you’d like to hire a guide?’
‘I can find my own way.’ Owain smiled. ‘Thank you, though, for your help.’
Deri recoiled from the words. ‘Never thank a merchant,’ he said. ‘It implies they didn’t drive a hard enough bargain. And after all, you paid me for my advice.’
‘Right,’ Owain agreed. ‘A night on the town.’
‘Three nights,’ Deri corrected.
‘One for each piece of advice I gave you.’ Deri smiled.
‘But—’ Owain blinked. ‘That was the deal, wasn’t it?’
‘It was indeed, my new friend. It was indeed.’
Excerpted from A Market of Dreams and Destiny, copyright © 2023 by Trip Galey.