“What are these things?”
She looked up from laying them out and smiled. “That,” his hand was hovering over a small square of wood, the inside of the tablet filled with wax, letters inscribed on the top of the wooden frame, “now that is a ticket to the Library in Alexandria.”
“Why does it mean that the cards perished? A few survive. It would take you back if you knew how…” She grinned secretively. “It waits for another.”
“These?” Two small bottles lay next to the tablet, stoppered and waxed. One was a twisting swirl of purple and pink, while the other was a swirl of warm green, mixed with blue. The old woman stretched her arm out and picked up the pink-purple one. “This is a potion for love, one of the few created that work. Dangerous.” She laid it down and gently touched the other bottle, “And this is a potion for friendliness. Drink this, and every stranger will accept you as his closest friend.”
He was silent as she went back to her bag, his eyes and fingers drifting over the sprawl on the table. His fingers gently touched the dried grass of a woven circlet, then drifted to the paintbrush and small tube of paint that lay next to it. There was what looked like a piece of coal, a scrap of folded paper lying half-underneath. He went to pick it up and open it, but put it down again. “What’s this?” he asked the woman instead, pointing to a bundle of long feathers tied round and round with string.
“Wings, my dear. But only if you have the magic to create them.” She unbent and gave him a smile. “Most of these things are not for this day and age; some wait for ages to come, or ages past, for the right person to claim them from me. Some need magic that won’t come for thousands of years; some need a half-second of sunlight. The right person, too – that’s the most important thing. Worth more than all the gold you could own, something from my sack.”
“Doesn’t anyone ever try to steal them, if they’re so valuable?”
“What good would they do anyone?” She shrugged. “It’s just feathers and string unless you know how to make them do what you want.”
“Can you? Don’t you ever use any of these?”
He got an amused look. “I could. But what use would wings, or love, or truth,” her hand hovered over a small leather-bound book, worn with age, “or valour be to me?” She lovingly picked up the grass crown and ran her knarled fingers round the intricate weaving. “I merely carry these things.”
She finished fishing in the sack, placing an apple and a small silver-lined bowl with everything else. A rolled piece of parchment came out last, the wax seal bearing the impression of a griffon. “A letter?” he asked.
“To the right person. To you, empty, maybe, or bearing a curse.”
“So is anything here for me?”
“I don’t know. Are you drawn to anything?”
He spread his hands over the table, feeling the different textures slip through his fingers. He bruised the apple, and for a moment he could smell summer, fruits and wine and leaves, hearing the whisper of joyful laughter in the background. “What is that? The apple?”
“An apple of the Hesperides.”
“Eternal youth?” A nod was his answer, and she began to put things back in her bag. He gently put the apple back on the table.
“I don’t think I can take anything. Answers to my curiosity, maybe.”
Her gold eyes met his and as she straightened, he saw that she had once been beautiful, unearthly. She smiled at him, a warmth that washed over him. “Wisdom, I think. A lot of people could have done with that. Well, I can give you something.” She picked up the last object from the table, a leather thong on which hung a tiny gold disc. “For wisdom and for memory.”
He looked down at it nestling in his palm. “Thank you.”
And when he looked up after slipping it over his head, she was gone.