Twilight was descending, and Arran was starting to worry. Rutus had said the Market was a day away. Surely they should have reached it by now?
“How much further is it?” he asked Mary.
“For the third time,” Mary said, sounding even more annoyed than she had the previous time, “I don’t know! I’ve been here once before, and that was a long time ago.”
“You said nothing changes.”
“That doesn’t mean I remember exactly how far it is from a signpost to the Market.”
“It’s been a day.”
“Yes, and-” Mary broke off. “There. Happy now?”
There was a light up ahead; a blue light, hanging off a pole on the edge of the road. Arran gave it a wary look as they passed it. “What does that mean?”
“It’s the edge of the Market.”
“Why’s it blue?”
“Because it’s the edge of the Market.” She sounded like she was gritting her teeth. “Let’s find somewhere to stay, and sort everything out tomorrow.”
“What sort of place?” Arran wondered if anywhere here had hot water, or a hot meal. “And my watch is the only thing I’ve got, and I’m supposed to be spending that on a hand. How am I meant to pay for somewhere to stay?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “I have a favour owing that will get me a bed for the night, and they’d probably throw one in for you too. If you wanted to head off on your own, then please do.”
“All right! You didn’t tell me that.”
“When exactly in the time between seeing that light and now,” Mary demanded, “could I have told you?”
“Well, you didn’t say!” He spotted another light up ahead, a white one. “What’s that?”
“We’ll see when we get to it?” Mary suggested acidly.
It turned out to be the first stall in the Market, a small booth selling snacks that was shuttered for the night. As they passed it, Mary pointed ahead. “There, that’s the main Market.”
The road was unrolling ahead of them, and Arran tried to take it all in. It was a funfair…but also contained trees, and small huts that looked like piles of cardboard and corrugated metal and tarpaulin mixed with branches, dotted between the brightly-painted rides and the lit stalls with their hanging toys and sweets. He could hear a lot of noise, with snatches of screaming and music floating between the chatter and voices, and there was a smell of unwashed bodies and food mingling with popcorn and heat. There weren’t too many people around; most of the ones out were either cloaked or sort of grey, and vague. They faded in and out between the lights dotted around, providing odd patches of shadow in between the colour.
“This way,” Mary said, turning to go between a ferris wheel and a large stall with a stuffed shark hanging from the edge, looking slightly constipated. Arran looked into the stall and saw another grey shape, a man with his hands tucked into his pockets, talking to someone…
“Are they…real?” he asked Mary, catching up with her.
“What, the shadows? No, they’re in the real world.” She gave a thin smile. “Don’t step through them.”
“Will something horrible happen?” He tried to sound skeptical.
“No, it’s just cold.”
“Oh.” But he avoided the next one he saw, just in case.
Mary led him towards a trailer, parker behind the scaffolding-and-board rear of a ride. He could see the vibrations from the ride itself, and wondered what it was. “Here,” Mary said, raising one hand to knock at the trailer door.
“We’re staying here?” The caravan had once been cream, but years of grime had turned it a dull grey. The windows were covered with ragged curtains and the tires were flat. Strangely, the door was in relatively good condition.
Mary shrugged and knocked. “If you don’t like somewhere free, you find someplace else.”
He was about to answer when the door swung open by itself, and Arran felt his jaw drop. Light spilled out; a warm, friendly light that bore with it smells of roast chicken and sweet pies, smoke from the fire and a hint of unwashed bodies. The view through the doorway was of a traditional inn; flagstone floor and wooden bar, oak-beamed ceiling and heavy tables. Electric lights were dotted around the walls, but it still had a rustic feel.
“Will this do?” Mary asked sarcastically, turning with a faint smile. “Feel free to stand in the cold if it won’t.”