The market was noisy, bustling, crowded, and quite a bit dirtier than Ciel was accustomed to, and he couldn’t help feeling somewhat apprehensive as he stood and attempted to take it all in. He’d been to many sweet shops, haberdashers, restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, and various other shopping venues – but those were nice clean establishments whose proprietors were concerned with image and luring in clientele; the vendors in the street market had their wares laid out on blankets, across crates, in carts, on tables, hanging from wooden racks… it was surreal. On top of that, there didn’t seem to be any real organization to the layout, save for one wide manure-dotted cart-path right through the middle of it all, so everyone seemed to be piled atop one another, bumping and jostling for the best position to buy or sell the most while trying not to step in anything. Worst of all were the vendors themselves, shouting about their wares and how fresh, new, exotic, homemade, homegrown, imported, luxurious, juicy, easy to prepare, time-saving, or otherwise impressive they were; Ciel felt as though every one of his senses were being bombarded from all angles, and he found himself momentarily frozen to the spot, blinking his wide blue eye and resisting the urge to hold his nose.
“Young Master?” Sebastian’s voice, warm and surprisingly comforting amidst the chaos, pulled him from his startled daze. “Are you all right?”
“It’s…” Ciel looked at the crowd, the piles of manure, the nearest stall with its garish awning and piles of cheap foreign wares. “Big.”
The devil chuckled, remembering a recent evening when the boy had said exactly the same words with that same look of shock… although fortunately, it had been more awe than horror in his voice and expression that time. “Yes, it is.”
“What are we here for again?” A small boy pushed past Ciel, and the Earl jumped aside just in time to keep his cloak from being smeared with mud from the incredibly filthy goat the child was dragging along behind him, despite the goat’s loud bleats of protest.
Sebastian took a small black memorandum-book from the inner breast pocket of his coat and read off the list: “Six bottles of milk, a dozen apples, a rope of sausages, and Finnian has requested we look into purchasing at least three more laying hens to avoid overtaxing the ones currently supplying the manor with eggs.”
Ciel’s face crumpled with dismay. With all the noise and smells and people, he figured they’d be lucky if they managed to find each other - and that was taking the contract into account. “All right, fine. Where do we start in this mess?”
“We might begin by stepping out of the entryway,” Sebastian replied dryly, and Ciel was mortified to discover that they had indeed stopped just inside the entrance and were blocking the pedestrian traffic somewhat.
“Let’s go that way, then,” the red-faced Earl barked, and set off at a brisk walk, with Sebastian following behind at a respectful distance and trying not to laugh.
He hadn’t gone more than twenty paces when a vendor to his left began shouting at him: “Furs! Furs and skins! Rabbit, ermine, mink! You there, little sir! A rabbit’s foot for luck, a fox tail for your pony’s bridle!” When Ciel looked up to see who was addressing him, the big man brightened and began waving a chain hung with fox tails at him. “Yes, come and choose your favorite - black, red, silver, even white! Come and see! Soft and luxurious, the finest fox tails in London!” Ciel sincerely doubted they were the finest, but they did look soft, and white fox was somewhat difficult to find locally, so he approached the booth to investigate.
“Are you interested in purchasing fox tails?” Sebastian asked, taking out his memorandum-book in case his little master had just thought of a new toy he should need to take notes on.
Ciel looked up from the white tail he was examining and raised an eyebrow at his butler. “Not at the moment. Not these, at any rate.”
“What?” the big man on the other side of the table blustered. “Why not? What’s wrong with ‘em?!”
“This isn’t really white fox fur,” Ciel replied, parting the strands to look at the skin underneath. “It’s been bleached. It’s most likely just common red fox.”
The vendor’s face turned red and broke out in a sweat. “What?! Nonsense, boy! Absolute nonsense! I sell nothing but the finest!”
“The finest red fox, possibly, but not white.” Ciel released the fox tail and it swung limply from the chain as if it were ashamed of itself. “I assure you, it’s been bleached – I hope you didn’t overpay your furrier for this.”
The vendor was getting redder and sweatier by the moment, spitting and sputtering indignantly. “You must be blind, boy! What would a child know about good fur, anyway?”
Ciel bristled. “I know real fur from dyed or bleached fur.” He didn’t bother to mention that he had studied dozens of samples while researching possible designs for making affordable stuffed animals with real fur – an idea he’d scrapped after discovering how quickly inexpensive pelts dried out and became rather morbid-looking.
“Bah! Step aside, little prince, and let your father look at it! He seems to have a good keen eye, eh, gent?”
“My…?” Confused, Ciel looked up and followed the man’s gaze over his shoulder to… Sebastian?!
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, sir—“ the demon began, looking somewhat disgruntled.
“No need to be modest! Step up, sir, you’ll see the quality for yourself! Your lovely wife would surely love some ermine for her winter gloves!”
“I am unmarried,” Sebastian answered, much to Ciel’s amusement. “And at any rate, I’m just—“
“Ah, a widower! Such a fine man to spoil your little lad so! Indeed, soft fur is the sweetest touch for a child other than his own mother’s! Wrap him in a warm cloak, a soft hat, a pair of mittens!”
The devil was beginning to look quite vexed, and Ciel was sure he was going to crack a rib trying not to burst out laughing at his expression; he was half tempted to buy something from the man just to repay him for brightening up his day.
“Sausages!” A man three stalls down shouted. “Pork or beef, salted meats! No finer hand-stuffed sausages to be had!”
Ciel glanced up at Sebastian – who was still trying his best to explain to the fur vendor that he wasn’t Ciel’s father – and decided to go check out the other seller’s wares on his own; sausages were on Sebastian’s shopping list anyway, and the sooner they procured all the items they needed, the sooner they could get out of the market and go the bloody hell home, where it was cleaner, quieter, and smelled an awful lot better.
The Earl’s hand clenched a bit more tightly around the handle of his walking-stick. He hadn’t wanted to come to the market at all, preferring instead to have things delivered or to send a servant to fetch whatever was required – but all of the other servants had already been sent on various errands, and Sebastian had steadfastly refused to leave Ciel alone in the mansion or to allow the day’s shopping to go unfinished, and so the little Earl had had no choice but to go along with him. He felt rather as though he’d been railroaded into the whole thing, and it had put him in a sour mood; the damp, chilly weather did not improve matters, nor did the fact that Ciel did not particularly care for crowds.
Being so small, it was easy for him to go unnoticed by taller people, or dismissed as an unimportant child – both of which he hated with a burning passion. The more people there were around him, the more likely it was that he would be pushed aside, tripped, stepped on, or bullied, and although Sebastian would not stand for such a thing if he saw it, the devil did not have eyes in the back of his head, and Ciel had had more than one unpleasant experience while attempting to navigate a large crowd. Of course, he could simply stay close to Sebastian and eliminate the problem entirely, but scuffling about at the demon’s side made him feel rather foolish and childlike, which he also hated. Once, on a very tightly-packed street, he had actually reached out and caught hold of Sebastian’s hand, for fear of losing him in the crowd, and it was only when the devil had looked down at him in surprise and then gave him a warm, amused smile that Ciel had realized what he had done, and he had immediately jerked his hand back as if he’d been burnt. Sebastian had gently teased him for it the rest of the afternoon, which had made things ten times worse when they’d had to go down the same street to get back to their hotel, and to keep Ciel from being pushed around, the demon had picked him up and carried him – Ciel with one arm, their purchases with the other. The boy had felt the eyes of many, many people on him, and although Sebastian had quietly reassured him that no one there knew them and there was nothing to be embarrassed about, Ciel’s cheeks had burned and he’d been particularly nasty to his butler that evening. (He’d been so bad, in fact, that Sebastian had actually threatened to spank him – and although Ciel was the master and had absolutely no doubt that as master, he deserved to do as he liked… he also had no doubt that if pushed hard enough, the demon would actually do it, and so he’d toned it down somewhat.)
The market was crowded, yes, but not terribly so, and Ciel figured it was unlikely he’d be overlooked – of course, there was also the fact that he was the only well-dressed gentleman in the place, and he did stand out quite a bit against the backdrop of so many commoners, so he didn’t think much of leaving Sebastian behind to deal with the fur seller.
“Why, hello there, young gent!” the man at the sausage cart greeted him. “Care for a sample? Best dried beef in London, full of flavor and keeps well in a pocket for long carriage travels! Give it a go, eh?” He held out a thin strip of what looked a lot like shredded shoe leather.
“Er… no thanks,” Ciel began, but the man would have none of it.
“Just go on and try, little man! You won’t be disappointed, I promise!” He took Ciel’s hand and put the strip of beef into it. “Trust me, ol’ Jenkins wouldn’t steer you wrong!”
People nearby had begun to watch, and Ciel, not wanting to appear rude in front of so many onlookers, put the end of the strip in his mouth and bit down; it took a bit of work and the use of his back teeth, but he managed to pull off a fair amount and chewed it carefully.
It was quite salty, but that was to be expected, and went well with the taste of the meat itself; it was also a bit more spicy than Ciel would have normally preferred, but it wasn’t overpowering – and when it came right down to it… “It is good!” the Earl exclaimed, blinking at the remainder of the leathery strip.
“Ha ha! You needn’t sound so surprised, lad!” the vendor guffawed. “I did tell you, didn’t I? Just ‘cause it ain’t pheasant doesn’t mean it’s no good.”
“How do you sell this?” Ciel asked just as Sebastian reached them, still looking a bit disgruntled.
“By the bag, a dozen per. Last you all month, if you ration it out good.”
“Buy two bags,” Ciel instructed, and although Sebastian raised an eyebrow at him, the demon obeyed, and bought the rope of sausages he needed as well. Ciel walked away from the stall satisfied, his mood somewhat improved, and tucked the remainder of his beef strip sample into a pocket for later.
“May I ask why two bags were necessary?” Sebastian wasn’t terribly thrilled at the notion of his young master eating such common food – and he was even less thrilled at the notion of finding little stashes of the stuff all over the house and in the pockets of the boy’s clothes. He made a mental note to thoroughly examine every garment before taking it out to be cleaned. “He did say one would last a full month.”
“Only one of them is for me,” Ciel replied, approaching a stall displaying several bottles of milk and sticks of butter. “The other is for those four.”
“Young Master is most generous.”
“Nonsense. It’ll just keep them from being hungry between meals, so they can continue with their work.”
Within an hour of their arrival, the sausages and apples had been purchased and bagged, the milk and hens had been paid for and arrangements made for their delivery, and the shopping was officially finished. Ciel was looking forward to getting home and having a hot bath and a cup of tea; he was getting cold, and he worried he’d never get the smell of the market off of him, or at least out of his cloak. He was bending his head toward his shoulder to sniff the wool as subtly as he possibly could when something caught his eye: a large vendor’s cart, brightly painted in many colors and displaying a huge assortment of sweets: lemon drops, chocolates, caramels, taffy, lollipops, ribbon candy, spun sugar, rock candy, peppermint sticks, horehound lozenges, and even candied apples. It was a thing of beauty.
“Young Master,” Sebastian said in a fatigued sort of tone, half scolding, half resignation, “if you eat sweets now, you won’t finish your dinner—“
“I’ve been perfectly reasonable all day,” the little Earl retorted, making a beeline through the crowd toward the beckoning siren of sugar. “I deserve a reward.”
“Shouldn’t rewards be given by someone other than oneself?” the demon asked, though he knew he wasn’t going to get a reply; when that boy wanted sweets, he got them, come Hell or high water, and Sebastian had the feeling he wouldn’t be able to drag his little master away from that candy cart even if he had all the minions of Hell to back him up.
“One of those, please,” Ciel was saying to the kindly old woman selling the sweets. “And a scoop of those, in a separate bag. Also, one of those.”
“And a packet of the licorice, as well.”
Sebastian sighed. It was highly unlikely he was going to get the boy away from the stall without a great deal of fuss, so he decided to look for something the boy would like, in an effort to placate his ravenous sweet tooth – and after a moment of searching the jars of sweets, he found just the thing he was looking for. “My word, what a large lollipop.” Ciel immediately looked up, just as the demon had suspected he would; Sebastian could have stood there all afternoon addressing his stubborn little lord in various ways with no response – but the mention of an impressive sweet had certainly gotten his attention.
“What is it?” Ciel asked. “Show me!”
Smiling, the devil reached up to one of the jars and withdrew a brightly-colored lolly consisting of a strip of ribbon candy wound down the length of a long wooden stick to form a long spiral of sugar. “This one.”
“Oh!” the old lady beamed. “The unicorn’s horn! Very popular, that is! Less messy than a flat lolly, too.”
Ciel took the sweet from his butler and examined it; the thing would take hours to eat, and probably contained enough sugar to keep him awake all night – why on earth would Sebastian choose that one? He looked up at the demon with a querying expression, and the wicked sparkle in those garnet eyes made him look back at the lolly, consider how he would eat it, and then…
The little Earl’s cheeks turned a charming red, and the tips of his ears went pink.
“Is something the matter, Young Master? You’re quite flushed all of a sudden.”
“I’m just cold,” Ciel snapped. “Let’s go home.” There was a pause before he added, “And buy one of those unicorn lollies.”